[This review is also reprinted from the Mountain magazine No. 18 (November 1971) by kind permission of its editor Mr. Ken Wilson.]


Surrender to Everest BBC 2, October 31st


Produced by: Anthony Thomas. Edited by: Phillip Shaw. Associate Producer: Ned Kelly. Photographed by: John Cleare, Ian Stewart and Jerzy Surdel. Sound Recordists: Bill Kurban, Arthur Chesterman and Ian Howell. Sound Editor: Rodney Glenn. Dubbing Mixer: Peter Lodge. Commentary written by: Murray Sayle and Nicholas Tomalin. Narrated by: Paul Scofield.

Hard on the heels of the Annapurna documentary comes Anthony Thomas's film on Everest. Comparisons between the two are inevitable; it is just as inevitable that the second should have to outshine the first in order even to be considered its equal.

In terms of filming competence Surrender to Everest gives nothing away to the Hardest Way Up.1 Despite inherently less spectacular subject matter, and virtually no high-altitude film, Thomas has nevertheless added to our understanding of climbing in the Himalaya. Some of the sequences are very moving: Sherpas pushing forward through a blizzard, the funeral cortege through the Khumbu glacier, the ridiculous Whillans Box clinging to the windswept slope, the frightening complexity of the Khumbu Icefall. The music—Moody Blues, rather than the usual cliched Sitar music—is refreshing and original. Cloud and storm, rapidly moving sunrises, howling blizzards and excellent synchronized sound recording give a convincing and enthralling atmosphere. Certainly one yearned for more high-altitude sequences, but the film crew, just like the climbers, were also prone to the ravages of illness, which kept them from the action. If one has any criticism it is that, as in the Annapurna film, there was too much footage of men pulling up ropes or climbing up ladders, perpetuating the myth that climbers use some form of Indian rope trick to gain height. What's needed in future efforts is some real first lead material and rather less of the pedestrian slogging behind. The film was also too long: we could easily have lost some of the approach march or one or two of those interminable planning shots up the side of the uninteresting heap of rubble they call the face. Readers of the Sunday Times reports or even our Everest feature {Mountain 17) might reasonably have expected the film to cast further light on the accident, the defection of the 'Latins', or the question of whether the lead was hogged. No such clarification emerges. The sparse dialogue (written by Murray Sayle and Nicholas Tomalin—both non-climbing journalists) offers us only well- worn platitudes—most of which fall somewhat short of the truth. On one occasion the writers really over-reached themselves, offering the conclusion that ‘Bahuguna died because nobody could bring him sufficient brotherhood'. Yet, clearly, any suggestion that the rescuers were negligent is uninformed bunkum. The Indian's death may well have been the result of an error—Axt not realizing his companion needed help, or the rescuers not having sufficient equipment, for instance—but to imply that the main participants callously and deliberately left Bahuguna to his fate is sheer nonsense and an insult to the experience and integrity of four eminent climbers. How can such an implication be justified? Even the Guardian TV critic noted (to his credit that ‘there was no material available at the time to support so harsh a charge'). In truth, the conditions utterly prevented the rescuers from doing anything further to help their companion. He was frost-bitten, exposed, and near death ; in such a storm the rescuers had no alternative but to retreat in order not to risk similar consequences to themselves. Futile heroism is not part of the mountaineer's stock in trade, although climbers have shown themselves astonishingly courageous when the occasion allowed (vide Whillans and Bonnington during the Nally rescue on the Eiger). Lions of the popular press may find the distinction difficult. Elsewhere (Sunday Times, 31 October), Sayle suggested that ‘nationalistic bickering, divided leadership and the breakdown of multilingual communications caused failure and death'. As far as the accident is concerned this criticism is again unfounded—indeed, it is a wild distortion of the truth.


  1. The television documentary on the Annapurna South Face Expedition of 1970—Ed.


Sayle should desist from making these remarks. His coverage of the event on the mountain was creditable, but his airy and oversimplified conclusions in several articles since are of little service to fact or to mountaineering, As the most prolific commentator on the event he bears a great responsibility. He would do well to brief himself more thoroughly before embarking on further articles about the expedition.

Unfortunately lay interpretations permeate the script of the film to some extent. The commentary persistently presents us with the conclusion that there was widespread international dissension, though neither the film nor the interviews fully substantiate the claim.

Vaucher and Mauri were certainly highly critical of Dyhrenfurth's tactics. But was that really an international rift? Both Dyhrenfurth and Vaucher are Swiss! Mazeaud justified his suspicion of Whillans with a chauvinistic press statement. But surely the fact is that he simply doesn't like Whillans. All the dissidents constantly stressed that they respected Haston (who, after all, is another Briton) but that they couldn't stand Whillans. (Moral: when on an expedition, only disagree with your compatriots, otherwise it's a breakdown in international relations). Admittedly, in the film Whillans confidently claims that the expedition's inertia stemmed from its inherent internationalism. This might well have been true ; but from his position high on the mountain, with poor radio contact, Whillans was hardly in a position to judge.

Furthermore, it is odd that he should make such a remark when it was a Japanese who was supporting him and when, lower on the mountain, all the fit climbers except the Austrians had expressed their willingness to help. In fact, such inertia as there was probably resulted more from illness, lack of morale and a vacuum in leadership than from the international character of expedition.

Sayle's conclusion that the expedition s collapse was due to international rift is unjustified; and the criticism of Dyhrenfurth's idealism offered in several press commentaries was also unjustified and overdone. In truth, Dyhrenfurth's hopes were annihilated more by illness and bad weather than by dissension.

Strangely, however, although these oversimplified 'explanations ' crop up from time to time in the dialogue, the film itself hardly touches on the real issues. There is little attempt to unravel the train of events that led to the accident, and the tactical disagreement is also poorly explained. The film offers only fleeting glimpses of Mazeaud and Roberts, surely two of the major players. For a proper analysis of the situation, more agressive and searching interviews would have been necessary In their absence one could only gauge the opinions of the ‘Latins' from the barely concealed disgust on their faces.

Throughout the majority of the film, the dialoue is a disappointment compared to the visually elegant and interesting photography. Near the end, however, it livens up considerably: there is some good footage from Advance Base and above— Cleare collapsing, gasping and retching, after an abortive attempt to reach the leaders, Petersons lively and pungent Americanisms, and the frail figures of Evans and Haston revealing the debilitating effects of altitude. But, characteristically, it is Whillans who snatches the laurels as he jauntily bounces into camp complaining about 'pate de froa grouer and bloody nuts', or, perhaps a comment on the fickle effects of altitude, whipping a bottle from his duvet he mutters, ‘Dougal is off his nut—he's allowed me to carry the whisky'.

Where else could you hear a Lancastrian say that about a Scot? But watch it Don: you might be accused of chauvinism!

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