(1897 — 2001)

Nobody will ever forget the professor, arriving in helicopter from Kathmandu, jumping out agile like a youngster at 5000 m above sea level and then holding an animated, fiery speech to his scientists, who had gathered in front of the research camp on the meadows of Lobuche, at the foot of Everest. He was at the unbelievable age of 92 then, the famous research station "La Pyramide" had not yet been installed and the Italian scientists, living in tents and in a nearby hut — and most of them unfamiliar with the hardship of earlier Desio enterprises — needed, he felt, a "moral push".

Prof. Ardito Desio, aged 103 years, 2001

82. Prof. Ardito Desio, aged 103 years, 2001

Well, they got it... he talked, had a break of a couple of minutes, climbed back into the chopper and off he was!

He was certainly looking after his men, keeping situations under control.

Prof. Ardito Desio, lecturing in Milan, 1989

83. Prof. Ardito Desio, lecturing in Milan, 1989

Ardito Desio was born in Palmanova del Friuli on 18 April 1897 and already in early years discovered his passion for the nearby mountains, climbing and studying the peaks of the eastern Alps between Monte Canin and Monte Coglians. After the first world war, in which he participated as a volunteer, he graduated in geology and worked as an assistant at the University of Florence, later in Pavia and Milan, where he directed as a professor the Istituto di Geologia from 1927 till 1972, and only retired at 75, having reached the age limit. Besides his cathedra activity and other research during this time he did his first journey to Africa (1926), participated as a scientist in the Duke of Spoleto's Karakoram expedition (1929), traversed the Libyan Sahara (1931), a place he would return to several times, making the first geological map of the whole of the country, but in between he also married (1932), went to Persia (1933) and Ethiopia (1938) where he had a narrow escape in an ambush by locals. It is impossible to count here all his activities, but every mountaineer obviously knows a highlight: Ardito Desio was the leader of the triumphant Italian K2 Expedition 1954, when Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni reached the summit of the great "Mountain of mountains" — in my eyes the most beautiful peak, other than just the second-highest — in the world. The whole of Italy was jubilous! Several books appeared, but the intricate aftermath of this expedition kept everybody busy for quite a while. Then life went on.

Ardito Desio and K2.

84. Ardito Desio and K2.

Though he was full of ideas, not all of Desio's plans worked out: 1962 he reached the South Pole by plane and was impressed by the temperature of 47°C below zero, when he left the aircraft. He kept warm feet in the comfortable reindeer boots of the K2-expedition, but deplored somehow to have arrived practically "as a passenger of a sort of an airline" — so different from an autonomous personal enterprise, of which he was dreaming. As a matter of fact, neither a traverse of Antarctica, nor an expedition to the Sentinel Range had come true. But Desio, it seems, would never be knocked of his feet, he was always positive. There was another journey to Afghanistan instead (1961), then again to the Karakoram (1962), then to Burma (1966), to Tibet (1980).

Ardito Desio with Tensing Sherpa (right, first ascent of Everest) and Achille Compagnoni (first ascent of K2) in 1980.


85. Ardito Desio with Tensing Sherpa (right, first ascent of Everest) and Achille Compagnoni (first ascent of K2) in 1980.

Having created with Agostino Da Polenza in 1987 the project Ev-K2-CNR for the re-measurement of Everest and K2 which was linked to the Italian National Council of Research, this project was amplified in 1989 to construction of the scientific research station "La Pyramide" at 5050 m near the base of Everest. The erection of it took over a year and it became an important base for scientific studies and future enterprises.

Ardito Desio with Kurt Diemberger in 1999.

(Kurt Diemberger)

86. Ardito Desio with Kurt Diemberger in 1999.

And then? "Cross your arms and lean back" was never an option for Desio.

When I met Desio for the first time, he was already 68, but still heading the department of geology as a professor at the University in Milan and Tona — my wife — was finishing her studies with him. We had brought him a porter-load of stones from our 1965 Hindu Kush-expedition, including a heavy block of granite from Tirich Mir for a chemical test of the age of this mountain (it turned out to be "born" — namely its rocks — millions of years ago in the so-called Tertiaire period). I was impressed by all this accuracy, and had the feeling, that magicians were at work, who could look through and behind the mountains, into the deep, and back and forward in time, some phantasy included. So, I had decided myself to contribute to the finishing of a geological map of the Tirich Mir area collecting rock samples from any important place, even high up on distant ridges and peaks. It was great to get some insight into the structure of these mountains — and it was great to talk to Desio about these experiences. It never came to my mind to speak about K2 with him, although I knew that he had been the leader of this so successful Italian expedition. For me that was simply a different matter. Certainly I understood that his accuracy must have been in favour for this huge siege enterprise of many men, not easy to conduct.

Only years later I got to know that Riccardo Cassin had been with Desio to K2 for a last exploration before the expedition — and I could imagine that Riccardo would have liked to climb the mountain. How come he did not go? It should not be, for the sake of one of these scientific tests, which in my opinion were quite often of doubtful value regarding a person's ability of climbing at high altitude (simulative tests at low altitude cannot judge a person's ability to acclimatise and even less they can predict a person's physical conditions after a sufficient acclimatisation). At any rate Riccardo Cassin, while leading the Italian Gasherbrum IV expedition in 1958 four years later; according to Fosco Maraini, made a solo exploration up to 7500 m on Gasherbrum III without any problems ! However, the injustice of destiny has certainly avoided the confrontation of two very experienced but also very different strong characters on the "Mountain of mountains".

The ascent of K2 was doubtless a great success and a milestone in climbing history — the individual views of those men who made it possible are reflected in their writing and it would too far to go here into further details.

During my filmwork for Desio's later enterprises, for instance measuring the true height of Everest and K2 by G.P.S. in 1987, when after an error, worldwide doubt arose about which was the highest peak on earth — there was sometimes an occasion to talk to him. Frequently we were together with Agostino Da Polenza, who now was organising and leading the realisation of the often quite distant and laborious projects of Ardito Desio. Although the professor was in his nineties, he was still full of drive and ideas and active as ever. Even if he could not personally be with the crew doing the field work — his mind and experience were with the project. I think it was in Islamabad where I once tried to impress the professor telling him about a wild river crossing on camels' back at high waters in the Shaksgam valley, adding inadvertently that between the crossings we never stayed on top of the animals, because it was less tiring to walk on foot over the endless gravel fields of the riverbed, so much better than getting 'seasick' on a camel.

If only I hadn't said that! Desio shook his head: "Just get used to it! — we passed days and days on camels' back, crossing the desert."

Admittedly, mountaineers' skills may well be inferior to those of old explorers.

At that point, however, the book about his adventurous life had not yet appeared — and even today I believe that few people can really imagine, what all happened in these many years of a restless life, which touched — or "linked" — three centuries. When he gave me his book, I began to realise that. Even after reading Sulle Vie Delia Sete, Dei Ghiacci E Dell'oro (On the paths of thirst, ice and gold, De Agostini, 1987), and having studied a couple of his geological maps, the 400 scientific publications about his research in Italy and in various countries of Asia and Africa will remain for me a secret world, which I will never enter.

Another human experience (one of my last with him) also comes to my mind. During my seventh visit to the intricate mountain desert of the Shaksgam in May 1999, the goal of which was an exploration of Hidden Peak (Gasherbrum I, 8068 m) even today still unclimbed from China), our expedition leader John Climaco, having summited a nameless peak with another member of his Quokka U.S. Internet team, decided to dedicate that ascent ''to the legendary early explorer Ardito Desio'', whom he believed to be dead. When I told John that he was wrong and good old Desio was still very alive in Rome at 102 years, he was overwhelmed and immediately asked the professor via satellite whether we could come to see him in Italy. When we got to Rome and entered his studio, the tough explorer was just correcting the proofs of the fourth edition of one of his geological books. He was extremely pleased about "his peak" and about a nice heavy pebble I had brought him from the Shaksgam (he took a piece of paper, wrote down every detail and put it with the stone).

While we were chatting about this great place, where he had been 70 years before we reached, I noticed a strange item hanging on the wall: it was a heavy old metal tube, a container for maps, about two feet long, and with a clear sign of a hole of a bullet. The professor smiled at my curious glance, took the tube from the wall and thoughtfully nodded: "... it saved my life in an ambush in Ethiopia. The bullet was meant for me...". That was good luck! — I thought looking at him — alive by pure chance just a matter of an inch perhaps, and he'd been dead forever! Instead here he is standing, alive, with quick 'flashing' eyes, gesticulating with his hands, telling his story, this great little man, over a hundred years old!

Does he, who was digging for over half a century through the planet's crust as a geologist, have a pact with the spirits of the earth? Somehow a shiver of wonder runs down my spine — now the professor is reaching out for a bottle, dark, as if filled with old wine "I wanted to find water", he says with a little laugh, "and I found this: it is the first bottle of petroleum from the desert in Libya!" Oil... A veritable treasure. God, what a surprise it must have been, a "lucky hit"! What a life — I think loudly — and Desio confirms smiling: yes, he was lucky, he says, and not only once being still alive. Really, was it just luck? Talking to Desio, one understands, how much system and exactness was combined with this luck. Today I am convinced he was a master of know-how in life, certainly not being spared from the difficulty of finding a balance between teaching, family and his undertakings. Always busy, determined in reaching his goals, not by chance other eminent figures like Chris Bonington or Reinhold Messner come to my mind, persons who discovered well how to handle life, relying on strategy rather than luck — and earning success. Something they got in common, even with so different lives. Desio, an explorer and adventurer with heart and soul, working incessantly, must have had so many dreams. But besides his dreams he had a cool and realistic way of judging situations. When in 1929 the young geologist, who wanted to do the phantastic enterprise of a "circle exploration" starting from the Baltoro towards the Sarpo Laggo glacier, then continuing through the Shaksgam and up the Urdok glacier, thus hoping to reach the Siachen glacier and then to return from there to the Baltoro. When he realised, that avalanches and bad weather at the upper Urdok prevented them from concluding the "circle", he changed the plan into an exploration of a never entered part of the upper Shaksgam, sending back half of his group, continuing on meager provisions just with one companion and a handful of brave Balti porters, with whom they finally made it till to the Kyagar glacier. There he was able to link up his exploration with Kenneth Mason's 1926 cairn on the opposite rim of the glacier, thus turning his enterprise into an unlikely success at the last minute.

It was from that place, I had brought him the big pebble.

When we left, Desio waved, with a twinkle in his eyes: "See you again — perhaps in 30 years!" What a team for the beyond.

Certainly — each of us on his own cloud.

Although this great man is gone now — I think, our experiences will remain a link between the old times, the now and the future.

Kurt Diemberger

Not many human beings have had the privilege to live in three centuries and two millennia. Ardito Desio, the famous geologist who passed away in Rome on December 12, 2001, had such a privilege, and was very proud of it; indeed, his vivid and dynamic spirit did not fade away. Ardito Desio was born in Palmanova del Friuli in the northeast of Italy, close to the boundary with Austria, before World War I. He participated in the war first as a volunteer (at age 17), reaching the degree of lieutenant of the Alpine Corp after many adventures. Attracted since his youth by natural sciences, specifically geography, geology, speleology, he studied at the University of Florence, where he graduated in 1920 and had his first experiences as a geologist; he then moved to Milano (in 1925) where he spent all his professional life. He started as a curator and lecturer in geology at the Museum of Natural History, and continued at the University of Milano, where he was Full Professor of Geology from 1932 to 1967, when he officially retired from teaching.

A very dynamic personality, Ardito Desio was extremely active and successful in promoting geology as a science (with the creation of special curricula oriented towards earth sciences) and a profession (with the creation of an officially recognized category of professional geologists). Desio was very attracted by unexplored or poorly known regions and took part in or organised a number of expeditions in Libya, Central Africa, several Asian mountain chains, and the Antarctica. He can be defined as an exploration geologist: a sharp observer, he had "magic fingers" in identifying fossiliferous rocks and used (and taught to his students) to make detailed notes of all fields observations, to sketch and document by appropriate means the outcrops, landscape, structural features, to map whenever possible the study area, and to prepare short notes to be published rapidly.

A prolific author, Ardito Desio authored or co-authored over 400 publications, including a textbook on engineering geology, an autobiography, and a series of scientific monographs dedicated to the exploration of Karakoram.

To the readers of the Himalayan Journal the name of Ardito Desio is certainly familiar, since he is recognised worldwide as a protagonist of the geological exploration of that mountain chain. His first experience dates back to 1929, when he was invited to join the expedition sponsored by the Royal Geographic Society, lead by Aimone di Savoia-Aousta, Duke of Spoleto: he was the only geologist present, and published important papers and maps, especially on the Baltoro Basin. Numerous expeditions followed after World War II: his masterpiece was the organisation of the 1954 Italian expedition to K2, that gave fruitful results (conquest of the second highest peak on earth) both for mountain climbing and for science. His interest in the Himalaya persisted through the years, beyond any expectataion:at the age of 92 — after a big celebration in Peking — he took part in a physically very demanding excursion to Tibet. Finally, a very successful Himalayan workshop was organised in Rome by the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, on the occasion of his 100th birthday, on April 18, 1997: he was there, still in good shape.

Having been Professor Desio's student, then assistant, then colleague and having worked under his supervision and encouragement for over half a century, I was a witness to his dedication to science, his capacity to focus on problems, and his practical approach to facing difficult tasks.

Maria Bianca Cita

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Charles Crawford, who died at Bath on 9 June 2001, will be remembered for having projected the Himalayan Club into a new era which began with his presidency in 1948. The years immediately following the end of World War II were critical ones for the Club; hardly twenty years had passed since its founding, and it seemed to face an uncertain future. The war had brought Himalayan activity almost to a standstill, and the founders of the Club — men who belonged largely to the Indian civil and military services — had already left, or were about to leave, the country. In Shimla and Delhi, respectively the birthplace and the nucleus of the Club's activities, difficulties soon became obvious in finding office-bearers to carry out its basic functions. Seven difficult years, between 1940 to 1947, involving five presidential changes, led to the wise decision to move the headquarters of the Club to its Eastern section in Calcutta, the birthplace of the Mountain Club of India whose formation had preceded by eleven days that of the Himalayan Club, prior to the amalgamation of the two clubs in December 1928. The move at the end of 1947 meant that facilities had to be found in Calcutta to accommodate the Club's property which had been transferred from Delhi comprising official records, items of climbing equipment, and a valuable collection of books, originally held at Delhi, Shimla, and Dehra Dun. It was during this period that Charles Crawford was elected as president, and it must have been obvious to him that an enormous task lay ahead trying to join together almost a decade of broken strands, in order to revive and reshape the activities of the Club. At that time there were 572 members on the Register, almost half of whom belonged to the armed services. In 1949, by which time Charles had persuaded me into the role of honorary secretary, he was able to declare optimistically in his annual report, 'I am glad to say categorically that the Club is not dead: it is not even dying.' After a gap of seven years the first postwar Himalayan Journal, Vol. XIII, was published in 1946 edited by Wilfrid Noyce. Recovery of the Club's other activities was inevitably slow and painstaking. During a spell of about three years, I remember vividly the innumerable long evenings which Charles and I spent together scrutinizing old records and lists, attempting to trace over eighty 'lost' members, restoring broken links and endeavouring to establish new ones, in a struggle to get the Club back on its feet. In 1950 a new set of Memorandum & Rules was published, and in 1951 Charles introduced the first H.C. Newsletter. His endless energy and enthusiasm were largely responsible for the Club's revival. We knew that the Himalayan Club had come of age when, with the re-emergence of interest in Himalayan activity, we began to find ourselves inundated with requests for advice and assistance from a variety of sources worldwide. In 1952 John Hunt prepared a memorandum for the Mount Everest Committee outlining the basis of his plans for Everest in 1953, a copy of which he sent to Charles Crawford, with a request to try to recruit Tenzing as head of the Sherpas and as a member of the climbing party. Although Tenzing had been recovering in hospital from physical exhaustion after his spring and autumn attempts on Everest that year with the Swiss, Jill Henderson, the Club's energetic secretary in Darjeeling, succeeded in persuading him to accept Hunt's invitation, an event which altered his future life. It was probably the last occasion on which the H.C., fulfilling its earlier role, assisted in the selection of a Sherpa Sirdar for a major expedition. On the 23rd of January 1954 Jill Henderson organised a tea-party in Darjeeling for Sherpas and their families at which Charles, in his last official function as president of the Club, presented eight men with 'Tiger' badges, and twenty-two with the Queen's Coronation Medal for their role on Everest in 1953. It was the second such party ever held — the first having been hosted by General Bruce in 1924 — and almost certainly the last; although in January 2000 the Himalayan Club organised a special function for those Sherpas still living in Darjeeling, including the last three surviving recipients of the Club's 'Tiger' badge. The Himalayan Club today, based in Bombay, is a vigorous institution with a membership that 'continues to grow beyond 900'.

C. E. J. Crawford

87. C. E. J. Crawford

Charles Crawford was educated at Marlborough and at New College Oxford, where he obtained a degree in Chemistry in 1934. He joined Imperial Chemical Industries in the same year, and after two years was posted to India where the company was engaged in important expansions. His career in India lasted almost 28 years, based initially at Calcutta. In 1937, the year in which Charles joined the Himalayan Club, he was persuaded by F. Spencer Chapman, a member of Marco Pallis' 1936 expedition to the Zemu glacier in Sikkim, to join him in an attempt on Chomolhari, a striking peak of religious importance to Tibetans. Although much of Charles' limited leave was spent on reconnaissance in searching for a suitable route, he was able to climb to about 6400 m on the south ridge of the mountain before having to return with a sick porter. In 1941 Charles married Jean Roxburgh, whose parents lived in Calcutta where her father was a Judge at the High Court. In 1950 Charles Crawford joined the Alpine Club, proposed by H. W. Tobin, seconded by T. G. Longstaff, and listing in his application climbs in the Swiss Alps, including an ascent of the Matterhorn with his wife. He had joined the Climbers Club in 1935 after climbs in the Spanish Pyrenees with E. Kempson, a member of the 1935 and 1936 expeditions to Everest. After a period as a Director of Imperial Chemical Industries in Calcutta, Charles moved to Bombay in 1961 as Managing Director of the Indian arm of the company.

On retirement from I.C.I. in 1964, Charles settled in Bath with his wife and family. His retirement years beginning in 1965 were occupied with full-time projects to which he contributed with his usual keenness and vigour upto almost the last two years of his life, when ill-health inhibited his activities. For fifteen years he taught Chemistry at St. Mary's School for Girls Calne, Wiltshire, where he established Science as a serious subject. The department which he headed and revitalised continues to thrive today. Simultaneously his position as a governor, and subsequently as chairman, overseeing the building of St. Andrew's Church of England primary school in Bath absorbed much of his energy; after a long series of frustrations and setbacks, the school was completed in 1991. At Bath Abbey, Charles was on the Parochial Church Council for five years and, for a time with his wife, was on the team of volunteer stewards at the Abbey greeting and guiding visitors throughout the year.

Charles Crawford retained his interest in the Himalayan Club, and it was very rare for him to miss the Club's Annual Dinners held in London. To his wife Jean during sixty years of marriage, their daughter, and two sons, we convey our deepest condolences.

Trevor Braham

Photo 87



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Major Robert Eric Hotz passed away on 30 April, 2001 after a stroke. Robert, 'Bobby' to his friends, joined the Himalayan Club in 1938. He was the Hon. Local Secretary in the 40s and 50s for the Delhi area and was well known for his warm welcome and hospitality to climbers. In 1958-59 he was President of the Club. For many years after his retirement he continued to be on the Club Committee. He remained a favourite meeting point for climbers visiting Shimla Hills and maintained contact with climbing/ explorer HC families of North India-Kullu, Shimla Hills, besides being local guardian to hosts of children whose parents from far away places sent their children to the nearby Lawrence School at Sanawar. My wife and I were fortunate to be his neighbours first in Agra, where he managed the Lauries Hotel, and later, when he retired to live at Groombridge, Kasauli, in the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.

Robert was born on 13 February 1912 in Bombay. After schooling in Shimla and Nainital, he went on to take a degree in hotel management in Switzerland. It was during this time that Robert visited the Weisshorn where his uncle Hermann had died in a climbing accident. Robert was never awfully superstitious or religious, but a tinted picture of the Weisshorn always hung above the family breakfast table.

Robert E. Hotz (1999)

89. Robert E. Hotz (1999)

(Balwant Sandhu)

Robert then joined the family hotel business, managing some of the best-run hotels in India. Robert was the last of the Hotzes in India. His grandfather, Carl Robert Hotz, worked as a telegraphist on the Suez Canal project in 1864 before making his way to Bombay, where he met and married Florence Wilkinson. In 1908 he won the Calcutta Sweepstake, and with the proceeds Florence Hotz bought a property outside Shimla which became the first of the family hotels, Wildflower Hall.

This event, incidentally, gave rise to one of the many architectural inaccuracies that mar the authenticity of Shimla guidebooks, "that Lord Kitchener lived here and used it as his official residence"!

Robert and Mary Hotz at their home in Shimla hills in 1994.

90. Robert and Mary Hotz at their home in Shimla hills in 1994.

(Balwant Sandhu)

In fact, as Robert pointed out in a letter to The Tribune in 1993, the original property, known as Wildflower Cottage, was owned by Mr G.H.M. Batten and leased to Lord Kitchener for a number of years. It was only after Kitchener's departure from India that the property was bought by Florence Hotz who commissioned her architect son Roland to construct a 34-room hotel in 1911, naming it Wildflower Hall. She retained the lovely rose garden that Lord Kitchener had designed. Lord Kitchener did not live to see the hotel, and it was never the official residence of the Commander in Chief of the Army during British rule.

There is a point to this story. All his life Robert remained precise and thorough: no detail was too small to be truthfully recalled and recounted. Recollecting a talk show on Nepal sometime in the 60s, Bobby would often chuckle at catching out Toni Hagen calling a spur a re-entrant.

Robert's recall of climbing facts and feats, along with his love of limericks, made him a considerable raconteur.

Robert joined the 13th Lancers, D.C.O. during WW II, and served with the Regiment in the Northwest province of undivided India and then under Montgomery in Northern Africa. In 1940 He married Mary Luck at St. Crispin's Church in Mashobra, outside Shimla.

Their daughter Sandy later married the legendary film director David Lean. Following his death, Sandy now lives in England.

Shimla hills, 2000: (L to R) : Robert Hotz, Mary Hotz, Helga Sandhu, Kitty Moddie, Gurdial Singh and Aspi Moddie.

91. Shimla hills, 2000: (L to R) : Robert Hotz, Mary Hotz, Helga Sandhu, Kitty Moddie, Gurdial Singh and Aspi Moddie.

(Balwant Sandhu)

Mary Hotz, remarkable for her wit and fire (one of the most enduring monuments in Kasauli, a 'Raj' cast iron letter box outside Groombridge stands today, for Mary having asked the wreckers, "to go, get one as good and return with it, before you take this one away"), survives Robert; she has been stricken by Alzheimer's for the last four years.

Robert did not knock great mountain summits nor slay dragons in dark, deep places. Bobby will be hugely missed; an unassuming gentleman among gentlemen; a perfect host, courteous to a fault, with a ready and quiet wit; his friends walked miles to be with him; for days they carried flavour of the meeting. In Bobby's passing, HC has lost a knight of the golden era of Himalayan climbing.

Robert E. Hotz passed away on 30 April 2001. He had slipped into a coma after suffering a stroke on the 27th, combined with acute pneumonia. He did not come around. He was perhaps the oldest surviving member of the Himalayan Club in India. He is survived by his wife and daughter. He was cremated at Chandigarh and his ashes buried in the oldest cemetery in the northwest Himalaya, in our neighborhood at Subathu.

Balwant Sandhu

Some people bloom along, silent, distant, like a modest mountain flower, unseeking clusters. In the affairs of the Himalayan Club such a one was Robert Hotz. Half a century ago I knew him in his chosen modest role in Delhi. If I remember rightly, it was he who organised for us Club members, the first account of the first ascent of Everest by Hunt's team, in their transit through Delhi. Hotz, like it was a quiet but memorable occasion. We were the first to hear first hand the inside story, after the turbulent press publicity around Hillary and Tenzing in Nepal.

Balwant Sandhu, who has written the obituary as Robert's friend and neighbour, in the last days of Hotz took me to see him with Gurdial Singh, of what was a kind of informal reunion. Robert and his wife were sitting quietly in the November sun in their garden in Kasauli (HP). One tried to recall old times, but did not know how much registered. The quiet mountain flower was withering but his smile was still faintly there after a gap of 47 years. We walked away into the biggest gap in life, knowing it was the last time I would see him.

Aspi D. Moddie

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27 September 1932 — 8 March 2002

Peter Holmes, who headed Shell Transport and Trading between 1985 and 1993, brought to the international oil business the bold, adventurous qualities which characterised his earlier brief, but brilliant, career as a Himalayan explorer. During two wonderful years of expeditioning, 1955-6, he made several first ascents in Spiti , unravelling the complex geography of the Ratang and Parahio valleys. To quote the editor of this journal, "it was an exceptional piece of exploration of an area where previous surveys appeared to have been expressed on the maps purely by imagination."

Peter Holmes seems to have been born for a life of adventure. He was born in Athens and grew up initially in Hungary, where his father had a trading business. At the outbreak of the Second World War his mother took the family first to America and then to Britain. Soon after the end of the War he was sent to board at Malvern College, where he was taught by Wilfrid Noyce, the talented writer and mountaineer who would later spearhead the push to the South Col in 1953. Holmes struck up a friendship with Noyce and later spent long vacations climbing with him, whilst reading History at Trinity College, Cambridge. After Cambridge he did National Service, serving in the Korea war and winning the Military Cross. Then, instead of plunging conventionally into the world of commerce, he set off with his new wife, Judy, on a two year project of Himalayan exploration.

Sir Peter Holmes

88. Sir Peter Holmes

Those enchanted months in Spiti are described in Peter Holmes's entertaining book Two Mountains and a Monastery. Reading the book, one can see the qualities which would later make him such a force in the oil business. His journeys (the first one in collaboration with Trevor Braham) were determined, well-organised affairs, leaving no stone unturned and no raging torrent uncrossed, in the quest to unravel the tangled secrets of a region then barely mapped. More importantly, he seems to have had an insatiable curiosity about the region he visited. At that time very few outsiders had ever been into Spiti (and there would be very few more until the gates opened to mountain tourism thirty years later); Holmes seized this opportunity enthusiastically, talking to pilgrims, monks, farmers and traders, and photographing them with his beloved Rolleiflex. Receptive to the people around them, he and his wife found themselves befriended by a 12 year old boy, Shiri Dawa, who was determined not to accept his pre-ordained fate to spend his whole life in a monastery, but to see beyond the narrow limits of his valley.

Peter Holmes's explorations resulted in several first ascents, including the Ratang Tower. He sorted out some complicated terrain, crossing from the Ratang valley to the Parahio valley. Then, in one of those great moments, made the first crossing of a pass leading west out of the Parahio valley, expecting to descend straight into the Parvati valley. Instead he had the satisfaction of discovering that the old Survey of India map was completely wrong; his party had actually crossed onto the Dibibokri glacier and there was still that nala to negotiate before reaching the main Parvati valley.

By now the money had run out. Planning to return soon to the Himalaya and continue his exploring career, Peter Holmes applied for a job at Shell, which in those days valued adventurous polymaths. As Adrian Hamilton wrote in Holmes's obituary in The Independent, "It is hard to believe that he would have been recruited, let alone reached the top, in the more conventional, business-school dominated oil industry of today." In 1956 they did value Holmes and he ended up staying for nearly forty years, abandoning his Himalayan plans and rising to the very pinnacle of the business. It was during the oil crisis of the mid seventies that his talents really came to the fore. Fluent in Arabic, fascinated by different cultures and blessed with a natural gift for friendship, he gained the confidence of leaders in the Middle East. Later, in Nigeria, unlike most Europeans posted there, he found much to love and enjoy in the country, including walks and climbs, recorded in his book Nigeria, Giant of Africa. And in South Africa, determined to buck the trend and keep Shell operating in the country, forging links with the ANC leaders who would soon take over government.

In 1982 he became managing director of the Royal-Dutch/Shell group, then chairman of the British side in 1985 and chairman of the whole group in 1992-3. Despite running one of the world's biggest corporations, he never abandoned his other interests — climbing, photography, fly fishing, history and scuba diving. (Of his three daughters, one became a safari camp organiser in Zambia and the one a marine-biologist producer for the BBC Wildlife unit). He made possible Shell's long term sponsorship of the Royal Geographical Society's Expedition Advisory Centre and, long after his own brief Himalayan honeymoon had ended, he took enormous interest in what others were doing in the range. Leukaemia ended his life too soon, when he was still only 69, but since retiring in 1993 he had packed in many travelling projects, never losing the energy, enthusiasm and intelligent curiosity which had inspired those early adventures in the Himalaya.

Stephen Venables

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Sherpa Pasang Phuttar, Himalayan Club No. 17, passed away on 14 November 2001, after a short illness. He died peacefully at his home in Darjeeling attended by his two sons, two daughters and their spouses and their children at his deathbed. He was 91 years old.

A contemporary of Tenzing of Everest, Pasang Phuttar assisted in the explorations and ascents of number of Himalayan peaks. He first took up expedition work in the 1920s as a mere porter and progressively advanced to the role of High Altitude Sherpa and then to the rank of Sherpa Sirdar. Besides working for numerous trekking trips, he carried to the highest camps of the 1933 Everest expedition led by Hugh Rutledge and the 1929 Kangchenjunga expedition led by Paul Bauer. His contribution is mentioned in the accounts of the historic first ascents of Kabru North in 1935 with C.R.Cooke, and Nanda Devi in 1936 with Bill Tilman. Thereafter there was a long break in Pasang Phuttar's career, for nearly fifteen years, caused by a severe frostbite resulting in the loss of seven fingers while climbing Masherbrum with British climbers in 1938. The resultant effect of this loss was more severe on his means of livelihood as he had now been handicapped as a high mountain climber. As necessity would evoke ideas in such cases, with the 70 rupees he had received as compensation for the loss of his fingers he bought two small ponies and hired them to tourists and trekking trips to make his ends meet.

A hard working native Sherpa of Namche Bazaar in high Solu Khumbu, Pasang Phuttar soon managed to earn and save enough for additional horses and subsequently enough to become a contractor of sorts. However, when he saw and heard so much happening in the Himalayan mountaineering scene in the late '40s and the early'50s from his Sherpa friends; the call of the mountains was irresistible to him.

Inspite of his physical handicap, Pasang Phuttar eagerly took the offer to serve the series of Japanese expeditions of the 1950's as a High Altitude Sherpa and as a porter Sirdar. He was on Manaslu in 1956, Jugal Himal, Langtang and Himal Chuli in 1958 and 1959. As his handicap caused problems, he chose to end his mountaineering career, so his last expedition was the first Indian attempt on Mt Everest in 1960 led by Brig. Gyan Singh.

In his later years, Pasang Phuttar became a respected elder in the Sherpa community, to which he contributed immeasurably, especially in the building of the Sherpa Centre and its monastery. A Sherpa connoisseur of old expedition tales, we miss his presence at the occasional Sherpa congregations and we greatly miss seeing the familiar, grand old man, in his well worn black cowboy hat sitting conspicuously on the Chowrasta benches or regularly walking around the Mall road in Darjeeling every afternoon whether in rain or shine.

Dorjee Lhatoo



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