HAROLD WILLIAM TILMAN (1898-1978)*
BILL TILMAN, or 'Bill Bhalu', as many of us called him, was a very unusual person, and either endeared himself to one or became decidedly antipathetic, to say the least. Having been trained for the army at the more technical Academy of Woolwich, rather than Sandhurst College, and therefore schooled at least in the rudiments of science, he delighted nevertheless in anathematizing all scientific pursuits. This can be gathered from his several books. A classic case, perhaps, being his objection to the glacier drill that I was carrying on our expedition to Nanda Devi in 1936, which he wanted to throw down the khud ! The purpose of this drill was, incidentally, to test the temperature at depth of Himalayan glacier-ice and compare it with Alpine and Polar ice. But in other contexts, particularly that of food, I was 'honoured' to be the butt of many a quip and witticism, as his books reveal. For wit was one of Tilman's strong points, and some of us felt that he carried in his pocket a dictionary of quotations to fortify much of his writing. For he had recourse to writing after every expedition, and his several books, covering his extensive travels, make entertaining reading. Chief among these, as far as mountaineering is concerned, can be said to be Everest 1938 and The Ascent of Nanda Devi (1936). The latter expedition proved to be a successful one, and after an exciting and strenuous climb in which the present writer was privileged to take part, all differences were forgotten; for on reaching the summit, as Tilman has declared, we so far forgot ourselves as to shake hands ! He has also rightly related that our success was entirely due to team-work on the part of both sections of the party, American and British.
Two other books of Tilman's must be cited : When Men and Mountains Meet (1946) and Two Mountains and a River (1949). The first deals partly with his peace-time adventures in Assam and Sikkim as well as with war-time operations in Albania, Syria, Kurdistan and Italy. The second book treats of travels in southern and SW. Central Asia, that extended as far afield as Kashgar and the source of the River Oxus.
As a young gunner officer he had served in France in the First War and won the Military Cross and a bar, being twice wounded; and in the Second War gained the Distinguished Service Order for his outstanding work in Italy and Albania with the partisans. Between the wars he had run a coffee plantation in Kenya, and with Eric Shipton from a neighbouring farm he had done some pioneer climbing on Mount Kenya. His time in Africa terminated characteristically with a bicycle ride across the continent and an ascent of Kilimanjaro en route. This was recorded in his book Snow on the Equator.
Hon. Member of the Himalayan Club since 1974,-Ed.
As moderate old age crept on, Tilman turned to another style of adventurous travel, which was really his own invention, namely sailing in high latitudes, with the objective of climbing some remote mountain. These voyages are recorded in seven seafaring books, which are full of information and humour. They were undertaken in old craft such as discarded pilot-boats, which he purchased cheaply in the Mersey or elsewhere. Of his three successive pilot-cutters, Mischief, Sea Breeze and Baroque gave him notable service for 22 years in the Arctic and the Sub- Antarctic, from Greenland to the Southern Ocean. With their scratch crews which were not always co-operative, or even mutinied, these voyages were not always happy or successful. It was on a second voyage to the South Shetland Islands with a friend and a small crew in another cutter, En Avant, that the party was lost in unknown circumstances. From Rio de Janeiro in November 1977 I had a postcard from Tilman on the eve of their departure. He indicated no presentiment at all of coming calamity.
N. E. Odell
HAROLD WILLIAM TILMAN (1898-1978)
ON 1 November 1977 the Cutter En Avant, a converted seagoing tug, skipper Simon Richardson, in which Tilman was sailing as a member of a crew of six, left Rio de Janeiro for Port Stanley en route to Smith Island in the South Shetlands. They never reached the Falkland Islands and there has been no news of them since that day: it seems unlikely now that we shall ever know how they perished.
The loss of his young companions was tragic, but for Bill Tilman this was perhaps a fitting end to a life of action and adventure. He had fought in both world wars, winning front-line decorations in each. In the twenties he carved a farm and coffee plantation out of the bush in Kenya. The thirties were the heyday of his African and Asian journeys which continued in the first five years after the war. Finally there was the remarkable period of his seafaring ventures in Polar waters starting in 1954 and continuing right up to the end. Had his final expedition reached its objective he would have spent his 80th birthday in the Antarctic. It is a unique record.
Tilman won the MC in 1917 at the age of 19, bar to the MC later that year, both on the Western front where he was twice wounded; in the Second World War he served in France, Iraq and in the North African campaign before being parachuted into Albania and North Italy to serve with the partisans, for which he was awarded the DSO and made a Freeman of the city of Belluno. He received the Founders Medal of the RGS in 1952 for his exploratory work among the mountains of East Africa and Central Asia, the Blue Water Medal of the Cruising Club of America after his 1955/6 voyage to Patagonia. He was made CBE in 1973, an honorary member of the AC (which he joined in 1934) in 1976 and Hon, LL.D., St Andrews University.
For a notoriously taciturn man he was an astonishingly prolific writer and his climbs and travels are well documented with one book about Africa, 6 about Himalayan and other Central Asian journeys and 7 about his sea voyages. There is therefore no need for me to catalogue his climbing career in detail; all I will attempt is to indicate the pattern of his life and to say something of him as a man.
The origins of his interest in climbing are not very clear; they were probably the outcome of visits to the British Hills. Certainly he was already keen to climb when he went to Kenya and it was there, partly through the agency of Wyn Harris, that he first met Eric Shipton with whom he was to do so much. For Tilman, still very much a beginner, their (first) traverse of the twin peaks of Mount Kenya, well described in Shipton's autobiography and characterized as the hardest climb he had ever done, must have been quite an experience. Two years later he was the survivor of an accident on Dow Crag in which one of his companions was killed and the other very seriously injured. Tilman, himself seriously hurt, dragged himself down to the village to give the alarm.
He had now sold his Kenya farm and fairly soon after, his father's death left him financially independent. Later still the income from his books also contributed to his resources. From now on, apart from the interruption of the war years, travel was his life.
There followed the golden years of Himalayan exploration and climbing, all save one in company with Eric Shipton: the forcing of the route up the Rishi Ganga into the Nanda Devi Sanctuary, the post-monsoon Everest reconnaisance of 1935, the ascent of Nanda Devi, the Shaksgam Expedition and leadership of the 1938 attempt on Everest. Apart from the further failure on Everest it would be hard to imagine 5 more productive years.
After the war there were, for a start, 2 visits to Shipton in Kashgar, the second involving a journey right across Asia from Shanghai to Chitral, the last before the Chinese Communist revolution made such things impossible. Soon after that came the exciting prospect of the opening up of Nepal to Western travellers. Now the most accessible of all Himalayan territories it had, till then, been rigorously closed. Tilman was not the man to miss the chance and the years 1949 and 1950 saw visits to the Langtang, Ganesh and Jugal Himal, to Annapurna, and finally to the area he so much wanted to explore, Solu Khumbu, the country of the Sherpas and the gateway to Everest's southern approach.
In this return to Everest there was an element of sadness, first because he was now in his fifties and it marked the end of his time in the big mountains; second because he reported too gloomily on the prospects of access to the South Col up the Khumbu icefall. But he was right to draw back for this was perhaps; the beginning of the more organized and mechanized climbing of a later generation. Nor was he so far wrong about the hazards of the icefall which has already claimed 10 lives. His era was over.
None could have thought that he would rebound from the check, to enjoy another quarter century of adventurous travel in a style of his own invention. It is not for me to write of these later exploits but I must, in conclusion, say something of him as a man and as a mountaineer.
On the way through Sikkim in 1938 we were entertained at a formal dinner by the Maharaja at Gangtok. Bill made a short speech the keynote of which was a quotation from Thoreau to the effect that the simple life was the gateway to higher things. In retrospect this seems even more significant than it did then, for simplicity was the characteristic of all his journeys. He crossed Africa on a bicycle. The equipment for his Himalayan travels was of the simplest. Most of his sea voyages were done in a boat 50 to 60 years old. He preferred to dispense with such devices as wireless sets, crampons, oxygen.
Recollections of expeditions tend to centre on camp life, transport and provisioning problems and^ food. In this field Bill certainly had a style of his own. He got a reputation for austerity but in the main this resulted from the quest for mobility and economy, for apart from Everest his climbing journeys were privately financed. He would rather dine off eggs and potatoes bought at the last village than off a hamper of delicacies brought out from England. But it was not entirely a question of self-denial, for he relished the tinned farmhouse cheeses which he always brought out and latterly took great delight on an off-day in baking a loaf or cake in an improvised over.
As a companion Bill was of course taciturn, but this came I think from the habit of solitude rather than from shyness, certainly there was no constraint in his silences. In this respect he was of course a complete contrast to Eric Shipton, the most gregarious and talkative of men. But he was in no sense inarticulate for he had both a richly sardonic humour and a gift for puncturing a pretentious argument with devastating common sense. Nor was he a real solitary, for he was always ready to pass the time with a game of chess or piquet. In his dealings with ordinary people there was a quality of real kindness and gentleness.
As a climber he was competent rather than spectacular and the qualities I associate with him are determination, endurance and dependability. But most remarkable of all was his natural authority. This came out most clearly on the Nanda Devi Expedition of 1936. We started off as a group of 8 climbers including some more experienced and others more technically skilled and without formal leadership. As we approached the serious business of tackling the mountain and the need for a recognized leader became evident, Bill was so obviously the man for the job that the question resolved itself with perfect ease.
He was indeed a great man.
WILLIAM F. UNSOELD (1926-1979)
WILLI UNSOELD died in an avalanche along with 21-year old Janie Diepenbrock on 4 March while descending Mount Rainier with 21 students. They had attempted to climb the peak but the weather turned frightfully adverse. They could not stay up under such conditions and descent seemed the lesser risk. Willi's rope was ahead on the steep slopes below Cadaver Gap when the avalanche struck. Two of the four on his rope survived,
I went out of my way to meet Willi years ago in the Tetons, where he spent summers as a climbing guide while on summer vacation from being a professor of comparative religion. Some eight years before, between undergraduate and graduate work and still some years before meeting his wife Jolene, he spent a prolonged time at Badrinath, inquiring into the wisdom of Hinduism. After seeing Nanda Devi, he said, That is the most beautiful mountain I have ever seen. My first daughter's name will be Nanda Devi.' And so it was. I came to the Tetons to congratulate him on the choice of the name, having been on the mountain in 1936. And so began a close friendship.
But I was one of hundreds who counted Willi among their close friends. No one who ever met him could avoid being deeply touched. Most who met him only once never forgot him and were moved by his spirit. If you had problems they fell into perspective under Willi's gentle questions. If you were not sure of which way to turn, Willi could help you focus on the right path. He would decide nothing for you but would make you clearly see what the proper course was. Willi's recent years were spent as professor at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where he taught not courses but the philosophy of life to hundreds of students, using his all-encompassing wisdom, learned from books, manuscripts, wise men, deep thought, nature and the mountains to develop in others a toughness of mind and a gentleness of spirit.
The Unsoeld family is closely knit. Willi became engaged to Jolene on the summit of Mount St Helens. She is still a skilled climber and a devoted mother, but she is also waging a one- woman good-government crusade. Willi's sons, Regon and Krag, and his daughter Terres carry on Willi's spirit, caught from him in their home and on numerous family excursions.
Throughout Willi's whole career, he dedicated himself to making the quality of life better for others. This is obvious in his teaching and in his contacts with all. He spent a number of years as the Director of the Peace Corps and then as a community development adviser of, the Agency for International Development in Nepal. He was later executive vice-president of Outward Bound in the United States. He was an ardent ecologist and a member of the Governing Council of the Wilderness Society.
Willi had a great love for the mountains. On his first visit to Garhwal in 1949 he unsuccessfully attempted Nilkanth. In 1954 he was on an attempt to climb Makalu. In 1960 he made the first ascent of Masherbrum. In 1963 he and Tom Hornbein climbed Mount Everest by a new route, the west ridge. In 1976 he was co-leader of the Nanda Devi expedition, on which his daughter tragically died.
Willi Unsoeld was more than a skilled and successful climber. He was an ever-cheerful and dependable companion. Typical of Willi was the night during the descent of Everest. Darkness overtook them a little way below the summit. Ignoring his own predicament, Willi took Tom Hornbein's! feet onto his own stomach under his parka and kept them from freezing. He paid for his selflessness with nine toes lost to frostbite. But this did not keep Willi from difficult climbing. T can now get closer to the cliff without those toes to keep me out in space,' he said. Nor did his arthritic hips ground him either, even after both joints were replaced by artificial ones.
We shall never forget Willi's humor. One day, describing a climb, he told smilingly of a knife-edge along which he and his companions were moving. 'It was pretty much straight down on either side, about 7000 ft on one side and 5000 ft on the other. So we leaned just slightly to the 5000-foot side. There was no use in taking unnecessary risks.' Willi was not one who was afraid to walk along the knife-edge, and he helped us all feel the wind, see clearly in all directions and head in the right direction.
H. Adams Carter
SIR PERCY WYN-HARRIS (1904-1979)
SIR PERCY WYN-HARRIS, KCMG, MBE, died in February 1979 at the age of 75. Sir Percy had a distinguished career in the Colonial Service which he entered in 1926 after leaving Cambridge. He was also a distinguished climber, his career in the field of mountaineering having begun at Cambridge where he was Secretary of the University Mountaineering Club.
While serving in Kenya in the thirties he and Shipton made the first ascent of Nelion, the lower peak of Mt Kenya and the second ascent of Batian, the higher peak. He was picked for the Everest team in 1933, and with Wager he reached an altitude of 28,000 ft. He was also a member of the 1936 Everest expedition.
In 1958, after nine years as Governor of the Gambia Colony and Protectorate, he retired to his home in Suffolk. He became a Life Member of the Himalayan Club in 1972, in which he took a keen interest, and he was a regular attender at the London Reunions.
V. S. Risoe
THRITY F. BIRDY (1945-1979)
THRITY BIRDY's love for the mountains goes back several years. I first met her at the Climbers Club in Bombay and was impressed by her shy, soft-spoken manner and her ability. Her cool temperament and exceptional stamina were well suited to the larger mountains and her Himalayan achievements over the past few years speak for themselves. She had her earlier training in rock-climbing at Bombay and later trained at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. Her climbing prowess and skill were obvious. She had also trekked extensively in the Sahyadris (Western Ghats) around Bombay and in the Himalaya.
We climbed together in 1976 for the first time while climbing; with the Indo-Japanese Ladies Expedition in the Garhwal Himalaya. She was one of the successful summiters and climbed Abi Gamin (24,130 ft) on that occasion. The following year, 1977, we were back in the Garhwal Himalaya, very happy to be climbing together once again. This time, it was with the Ladies Kamet Expedition and she reached the summit of Kamet (25,447 ft) almost effortlessly.
Thrity was a steady, experienced and reliable climber and her sudden and unexpected demise is a great loss to the climbing world. She had the potential and the ability to have climbed even greater heights in the future and she will be sadly missed by one and all in the Indian climbing fraternity.
For me personally, it is the loss of one of my special group of companions with whom I have spent some of my happiest and most memorable days in the hills and the mountains,
THRITY F. BIRDY
THRITY and I were together in the University for six yearn but I hardly remember her except as 'just another' girl in my class, But in 1969 she was introduced to the mountain:, and after a quiet start with training courses at Darjeeling, she took the climbing world by storm. In 1972, we trekked together to Kalla Pathar and the Everest Base Camp. In 1974, she led an expedition to Deo Tibba and climbed her first Himalayan peak; Norbu Peak (17,150 ft). In 1976 she joined a Delhi based expedition to climb the difficult peak of Mukarbeh (19,910 ft). Her recent climbs included Abi Gamin (24,130 ft) and Kamet (25,447 ft) with national expeditions. The last was the altitude record for the Indian ladies which still stands and which established her as a leading lady mountaineer of India.
We shared many happy climbing days whether rock-climbing at Pachmarhi, trekking in the local hills or just being with nature. She loved the outdoors and had mastered the difficult art of being happy in any situation. I have never seen her ruffled by any trivialities. In the publication of a book on local climbing, she had done a lot of reviewing behind the scenes.
She refused to be named as co-author, just as she had refused to be leader of a national expedition. She had a dislike for organisational work, and with her modesty was a way of life.
Thrity had strong determination and was challenging both as a mountaineer and as a person. Perhaps because of this, she remained aloof, but once the barrier was broken, she was as much a true friend as one can ask for. It will be indeed difficult for all of us to forget her grace and strength as a climber, those conversations and quarrels and happy days roaming in the hills.
It is said that those whom the gods love die young. Fate has taken away one of the brightest jewels from our family of mountaineers and the loss is certainly immense.
LEONARD C. J. MOULES (1912-1978)
THE climbing world will be saddened to hear of the passing of Len Moules who died of a heart attack in March 1978.
Mountain traveller and christian evangelist, Len was born in 1912 and as a young man worked with the World-wide Evangeliza tion Crusade in Garhwal, returning there after four years' war service with the Indian Army.
In the course of his work, Len travelled the trade routes and high passes near the Indo-Tibet border and an epic film of one of these journeys earned him his F.R.G.S.
W. H. Murray describes a visit he made to Milam-a few miles East of Nanda Devi. He describes Len cheerfully dispensing medicine, doing simple surgery, preaching and teaching, with little privacy yet surrounded by the love of the Bhotia people he had come to serve. Murray continues 'like us, Moules was a mountaineer, unlike us he had chosen to sacrifice an outstanding physical ability to an ideal of service higher than ours'.
Len returned to the U.K. in 1961 becoming Director of the W. E. C. and writing several very readable books. He leaves a widow and three grown-up children.
R. S. Mowll
ROHINI KR. BHUYAN (1939-1979)
BORN 6 October 1939, Rohini Kr. Bhuyan, the pioneer mountaineer of Assam and the founder Secretary of 'The Adventurers' Club of Gauhati, died on 5 October 1979 near the summit of Kedar Dome in a blizzard while coming down from the peak.
He started his life as a mountaineer from 1967, when he attended the Basic Course in mountaineering in the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling. The following year he attended the Advance Course in the same Institute and climbed the difficult Frey Peak (19,000 ft). Returning home he established the Assam Mountaineering Association, the first of its kind in Assam, and became the Secretary. He held the post up to 1974. In 1970, he organized the first Mountaineering Expedition from Assam under this banner and climbed Bethartoli South (20,730 ft). He was the deputy leader of the Kamet Expedition in 1972, but missed the summit by 350 ft due to bad weather. In 1973 he attended the International Mountaineers' Meet held at Darjeeling. That year he trekked to the Kalindi Khal (19,519 ft). In 1978, he climbed Bandarpunch (20,720 ft) along with P. M. Das, in an expedition organized by St Stephen's College Hiking Club of Delhi. He was the deputy leader cum climbing leader of the Kedar Dome (22,410 ft) Expedition. He reached the summit of the Dome on 5 October, 1979, at about 3.00 p.m. But we are unfortunate enough that he could not return from the Dome because of a deadly blizzard and died near the summit in his return journey.
He is survived by his parents, his wife, six brothers and his friends.f He had a plan to establish a Mountaineering Institute in Assam. He was the author of Bethartoli-Mrigthuni, the first and the only Assamese book on mountaineering.
P. G. Bhagwati
KENNETH C. HADOW
I REGRET to report the death at his home in Canada of Major Kenneth C. Hadow, MC. He was an original member of the Mountain Club of India, and became a Life Member of the Himalayan Club when the two clubs were amalgamated in 1929. He was Assistant Editor from 1929 to 1930 and was a member of the Committee from 1936 to 1937.
V. S. Risoe