1. Aspi D Moddie
  2. George Lowe
  3. Ian McNaught-Davis
  4. Richard (Dick) Isherwood
  5. R Martin Scott
  6. Nawang Topgay Sherpa




(1921 – 2014)

“Life is not so much what happens to you, as the way your mind looks at what happens”

Aspi Modie.

Aspi Modie.

Except for a short spell that Billy Badhwar held the post, Aspi could rightly be said to be the first formal Indian member of The Himalayan Club to have been appointed its President. Prior to that the Club’s Presidents, as well as it’s Honorary Secretaries, were British counting ahead of the time that the remarkable Charles Crawford led the Club from 1948 to 1953 in Calcutta. It was during his tenure that Aspi joined as a member in 1949. Crawford’s departure for England marked the virtual end of the dominant British administration of The Himalayan Club and its golden period of influence as the foremost mountaineering entity in this part of the world, with Calcutta as its base and Darjeeling its frontier of operations. Everest was climbed in 1953 and it reflected the gracious period of the Club’s style and prominence then. The members of the time to name those who were yet in India and of whom, Aspi used to speak, were Trevor Braham, Bob Lawford, C J Henty, Brian Ritchie, Harold Williams and latterly Soli Mehta who were then, at one time, Calcutta based. Gurdial Singh, Balwant Sandhu, Jack Gibson, Mohan Kohli and later Suman Dubey were to become his friends. Aspi followed Brian Ritchie, the last of the British presence, as President, and held the position with distinction and authority, from 1975 to 1982. Of course everyone in the Club had by then met him or known of him, for at the time of his death at the age of 92, he was the eldest, or near to that the longest and most respected serving member of the Club, covering a period of 65 years.

I had the privilege of knowing him from the time of our youth, though he was nine years senior to me in age. He introduced me to membership of the Club in 1953, though on a trek together in 1950 to the environs of the Satopanth glacier in Garhwal, having taken me under his wing so to speak, he opened for me a world of learning, adventure, poetry, of poets and writers, appreciation of nature, birds and forests, concern for the fragile Himalayan ecology, a belief in the Creator quite different from that of religious texts, and yet he could quote with relative ease from the Vedas and Upanishads, the teachings of Christ and that of Buddhism, extensively from the Koran, an ardent believer in the Vohu Mana the good mind as pronounced by Zarathustra, with so many writers and sages and their words of wisdom and truth being his constant fellow travellers with Vivekananda, Aurobindo, T S Eliot, Tagore, the Shinto Masters, Einstein, being prominent among them. He read everything that presented itself of value and happening and commented upon it through his numerous articles and writings. His fertile and enquiring mind manifested itself in a non-ending search and whose scholarship covered a universe, including the nitty gritty of economics, sociology, history and environment, that reflected itself in career pursuits. Yet he was down to earth and had a sense of humour that made it easy for him to laugh at himself and he did that often. Disguise it in any way one might, he was, and remained a Renaissance man.

Born to Parsi parents, Aspi grew up in a carefree but highly disciplined home, under the overview of a father who was deeply religious, preoccupied with his career as a civil servant in Bengal and responsibilities of office at the time of the British Raj. The liberality came from the presence of a gentle and uncomplicated mother. The period was also that of the First World War. A portrait of his father in uniform was a reminder of the time, and possibly one which influenced the start of his own career. His father for his contributions to the Raj, was the recipient of an MBE and the title of Khan Bahadur.

Aspi saw boarding school life from the unusual age of four and a half at a distant convent school in Halflong, now in remote NE India hills. When his younger brother Kersy was ready for school at age seven, both were sent off to Victoria, an English boarding school in Darjeeling district, for the rest of their school education. They were then the first two Indian boys there. In his own words, “a good public school was the best thing our father did for us. It gave us a good education, good masters, the tradition of a House system of Everest climbers (Mallory, Irvine and Kellas), and not the least, competitive toughness and discipline, which most Indian homes, or institutions then did not offer.” In Mallory House, the first seeds dropped of future mountain passions and pre-occupations. In a later capacity and as Vice-Captain of Mallory House, Aspi was the notional ‘keeper of Mallory’s compass’, donated to the school by Mallory’s widow. It had been retrieved by Noel Odell at the last camp on Everest of the 1924 expedition at twenty seven thousand four hundred feet. Years later, after Victoria school had undergone a time transformation and was an Indian semi Government school we, in the Eastern Section of the Himalayan Club, made an effort to locate the compass, and for a fleeting moment Chandra Shekar Ghosh (Domo), a member, held the valuable object in his hands, encased in a pouch with the initials GLM. It had remained in the safe of the Bengali Principal of the School who hadn’t any idea of what it represented until we explained its history to him. That, and our combined sense of fair play, precluded any attempt to bring the compass with us and make it a part of The Himalayan Club’s prized possession and folklore.

As he described it often, it was as a school Scout, that he was introduced first to the beauty and mystery of the Himalaya on a trek to the Singalila ridge, between Darjeeling and Nepal, when from twelve thousand feet at the age of twelve, he gazed in awe on three of the highest peaks of the world, the massive throne of the gods of Kangchenjunga, the distant summits of Everest and Lhotse, and also Chomolhari in distant isolation to the east of Tibet. He caught the mountain infection then and it remained everlasting.

His other passion was History, and again, as he described it, it came from his History Master and Headmaster at Victoria and the urge remained in him through life. They dipped him into ancient Greek and Roman history, also that of Europe and some Indian. The ancient Buddhist mound of the Paharpur monastery near their home in central Bengal stimulated his historical imagination beyond that of books. And so it became an integral part of the man, the intellectual framework as it developed in him with which he viewed his later contemporary world – “the Indian world post Independence, the Western world after the end of imperialism and decolonisation, the Chinese since Mao, and the Islamic world of fundamentalism, as also the American fluctuation between isolation and economic cum missile strategy.” Whatever were his later wanderings into politics, economics, the sociology of development and environmental science, of which he wrote extensively, it was History that remained the window of his world perspective.

After a sheltered life at school that ended in 1939, two happenings brought him into the real world. The first was going to Allahabad University for a post graduate course in History; the second was joining the Indian Army. He was disappointed in the former as the History Department’s reputation as being the foremost of its time exceeded the reality. But Allahabad then was a nursery for all-India services, being the hub of Indian political thought and aspiration, a real Indian environment and that too Hindi-speaking. The shortfall of the learning at Allahabad University was more than made up elsewhere. Anand Bhavan, the home of the Nehru family, was nearby and of easy access in those non-security days. Jawaharlal was a distinguished neighbour, and sight of such people like him, Kripalani, Maulana Azad, Subhash Chandra Bose, Gandhiji himself, brought more understanding of Indian history and the idea of India to young socialist minded college unionists, than all that the University could impart. Nehru’s Discovery of India had an impact on Aspi’s own search and identity with India. Much later, near to the conclusion of his wanderings and career influences, Aspi was to write his literary opuses The Brahmanical Culture and Modernity; The Failed Mahabharata : Making of the Indian State and Leaders of Straw : India’s First 50 Years. The dominant question asked was, did ‘Swaraj’ mean having British colonial systems and laws in Indian hands, and were there no lessons, positive and negative, learned over the two thousand years of recorded Indian History?

After University, his intention was to sit for the ICS examination, the career of his choice, but British India closed recruitment in 1942 for the duration of the war. With his brother already in the Army and with the Japanese closing in on India’s eastern frontiers he too chose to join as an Emergency Commission Officer for the duration of the war. It was of short duration as careers go, with a posting to the Fourteenth Arm on the Burma Front. There he experienced chaos and unplanned preparation to what an infantry and staff officer was subjected. He came out wounded in an accident that reduced him to category C, which meant he was unfit for military operations. With a slow process of recovery his days in the army ended with a half job as a member in the air-priorities board in Calcutta, “a sort of anti-climax of the injured.”

He sat for the ICS Exam in 1945. After his demobilisation in the army in 1947 he was offered a position in the Indian Foreign Service as a consequence of his declared interest. The assignment was that of a Trade Agent to Gyantze in Tibet. He said that he received the offer on the strength of two earlier treks that he had undertaken and a climb on Lama Angden, but family compulsions denied him from accepting it. It was not long before that he had got married and the idea of a posting to a far distant land was not considered right for a young family man. The IAS had been formed and a posting nearer to home by the end of 1948 to Muzaffarpur in the Tirhut division of North Bihar as an Assistant Magistrate became his. Here he came to learn of life in the collectorate, of petitions, litigations and administration, of law as administered in an age old relationship of market place government and those governed at the grassroots in India. He was later posted to Madhubani sub-division in Darbhanga district, on the remote Nepal Border, long considered a punishment posting, but it was one that came with independent charge. He described life in “The Collectorate’s versatility, as that, of a court, a bank (with its hub being the Treasury), a market, sometimes a theatre, for the humble peasant’s needs that acted as the district headquarters.” As a district Collectorate it provided an example “how we do it,” serving many purposes. “We surround dull, austere official business with the atmosphere of mela and tamasha.” But the roles exposed him to learning the hard realities of life and poverty. In the seven years that encompassed his tenures, he was to witness abject human suffering through shortages of famine, the relief work that compounded it through annual Kosi river floods, of medical needs and lack of provisions, conditions that left an indelible mark upon him for life.

After Madhubani, and a short stint at base in Patna in the textile commission, and a chance meeting led to an opening for him in Lever Brothers, India, the day that his second son was born. It turned out be auspicious for him. He made the change in 1957 based upon new challenges that the world of MNCs and that of professional management offered, of business, budgets, forecasts, planning and markets. So began a new career that extended till 1980, and when it ended he was a director of Unilever India, with his major responsibilities being that of defining business policy and corporate planning. The striking inroads he made in the corporate world meant entry into associated fields, and positions that he held with distinction, as Executive Vice President of Assocham, faculty member of IIM Ahmedabad, and visiting lecturer of the Indian Institute of Public Administration. He was associated with a number of other national and international organisations at various points of time, and among these he was Member for the Himalayan Region Planning Commission, and Member National Committee of Environment and Planning.

Post retirement, he lived at ‘Revills’ on Cuffe Parade in Mumbai, and within the leafy environs of his home, he wrote his books and the numerous articles that were published, including those for The Himalayan Journal and other publications. The changes he urged were for environmental protection, particularly of the fragile Himalayan region. His one sadness was that he could not enthuse The Himalayan Club to embrace his ideas to introduce effective ecological programmes and despaired on being told that ‘that was the role for scientists to pursue and not that of mountaineers.’ He brought about changes in The Himalayan Club, not least, that its very continuity, as we have it today, is the direct result of his strong opposition to its merger within the ambit of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, as some senior members of the club had proposed at the time that its British members were leaving. The trail of mountains and mountain paths flowed throughout his life as he blazed his numerous treks and travels through it. None was as insightful as his own planned reconnaissance of the unexplored route to Everest from the south in Nepal, till it got usurped by the Shipton expedition. He spoke extensively at forums of his travels and was particularly fond of the invitations he received from the Club’s Eastern Section and of his association with it.

His great retreat was to ‘Savera’ his peaceful home in Bhimtal, where he committed most of his ideas to paper. Twice each year he would make his pilgrimage there with his wife. He never tired of telling the tale of the leopard that loped his way over the tinned reinforced roof in a surprise visit. Though a modern man in mind and application, he remained orthodox in that he shunned the computer and the cell phone. He wrote in long hand his manuscripts and letters. The Postmaster at Bhimtal found in him a kindred spirit, as he zealously bought 10p postcards on which to scribble notes to family and friends. His faith in the efficiency of the Indian Postal Service remained unshaken and with it he never lost the art of letter writing. In later life he sought the skills.

Aspi leaves behind his beloved wife Kitty, son Arvand and daughter Behroz, son in law Riaz, and through them and his late son Varji, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild. His felt a deep loss when his brother and a son died before him.

His final two books were written and published in the last four to five years of his life, that on Tibet which he dedicated to the Dalai Lama; and the influential Witnesses to our Times, which is also the closest he got to writing an autobiography. He dedicated it to the memory of his beloved son Behram (Varji). In writing this obituary I have quoted extracts from it, though for a detailed insight of his life, one can read it in depth on (September 2008).

At the start of this obituary there is a quote from Khalil Gibran. It could well have been written by the poet to reflect Aspi, the man, his witnesses and times.




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(1924 – 2013)

George Lowe. (© Royal Geographical Society with IBG)

George Lowe. (© Royal Geographical Society with IBG)

If George Mallory’s off-the-cuff justification for climbing Everest, “because it’s there”, are the best known words in mountaineering, Edmund Hillary’s somewhat less enigmatic summary of the first ascent, “we knocked the bastard off”, must rank a close second.

Hillary never intended the remark for public consumption. He delivered the words to his fellow New Zealander and close friend George Lowe some 150 m above the South Col on 29 May 1953. Lowe had climbed from the Col to meet Hillary and Tenzing Norgay as they descended the mountain, but neither he, nor the rest of John Hunt’s team waiting anxiously below, knew whether the pair had reached the summit.

“They were moving fairly rapidly - the only tiredness showed in their slightly stiff-legged walking as they cramponed the last part of the couloir,” Lowe recalled. “I crouched, back against the wind, and poured out the thermos contents as they came. Ed unclipped his mask and grinned a tired greeting, sat on the ice and said in his matter-of-fact way, ‘Well, George, we knocked the bastard off!’ It was not quite matter-of-fact; he was incredulous of what they had done.”

Lowe later felt the need to put the record straight about this apparent profanity. Writing in the 1993 Alpine Journal, he said this remark meant no disparagement to Everest and was intended for his ears alone. In New Zealand slang, big mountains were referred to with admiration as “big bastards”, said Lowe. “Ed had to live with the fact that I told the BBC what he said on meeting me, and he has never forgiven me for it!”

Lowe’s sense of fun is in play here. And even were it not, Hillary had little to forgive. Grateful thanks were more in order, for Lowe had played a major part in making a summit bid possible. An accomplished ice climber, he had spent 11 days at around 7000 m, often battered by high winds, pushing the route up the Lhotse Face towards the South Col. Hunt described it as “an epic achievement of tenacity and skill”.

Then, on 28 May, Lowe had led the way up from the South Col. With Lowe, as well as Hillary and Tenzing, were Alf Gregory and Ang Nyima. At 8340 m they picked up a cache of gear left, after a gruelling carry, by Hunt and Da Namgyal. “Ed took the tent, Greg the RAF oxygen cylinder and I took fuel and some of Greg’s load,” he recollected. By now Hillary was carrying an estimated 63 lbs, Lowe and Gregory 50 lbs each and the two Sherpas 45 lbs each - all way over the 15 lbs reckoned to be a good load at such an altitude. This Herculean effort succeeded in placing a camp at about 8500 m from where Hillary and Tenzing would go for the top.

Wallace George Lowe was born on 15 January 1924 in the farming community of Hastings, North Island, the seventh of eight children, and the seventh child of a seventh child. His father was a fruit grower (an ‘orchardist’ in New Zealand parlance) and kept bees as a sideline. He got his queen bees from the Hillary family in Auckland - George delighting in the coincidence when he first met Ed Hillary, on a bus heading for the Mount Cook area on South Island where he (Lowe) had got a holiday job escorting tourists to a glacier.

Young George hardly seemed destined to be a climber. Aged nine, he had broken his left arm; it would not mend and had to be realigned seven times. It remained bent and virtually without muscle for the rest of his life. Added to this, he had an early fear of heights. He attributed his embrace of mountaineering to his determination to face up to his weaknesses.

Climbs with Hillary and others in the Southern Alps - notably a first ascent of the long, jagged Maximilian ridge on Mount Elie de Beaumont - led to the Himalaya in 1951 where he and three companions made the first ascent of Mukut Parvat (7242 m) in Garhwal. On the walk out, at the village of Ranikhet, the group picked up their mail, including a surprise telegram from the English mountaineer Eric Shipton inviting two of them to join an expedition about to leave Kathmandu for an exploration of the south side of Everest.

The telegram “turned four amiable New Zealanders, relaxing in the hill station lounge, into four tense tigers, caged, self-seeking, eying each other with jealousy,” Lowe wrote in his very readable memoir Because it is There (London 1959). But he and Ed Cotter were broke and had to watch, “riddled with envy”, as Hillary and Earle Riddiford departed for Nepal.

A year later, however, thanks to Hillary’s recommendation, Lowe was invited by Shipton to join the British expedition to Cho Oyu (8201 m), a tough rehearsal for the 1953 attempt on its neighbour, Everest. Cho Oyu remained unclimbed but Lowe and Hillary took consolation in an outstanding first crossing of the torturously crevassed Nup la from which they descended secretly into Tibet. The two colonial boys had certainly earned their ticket to join the chaps next year.

Lowe had trained as a teacher and was working in the same primary school where he had been a pupil. He had been given special leave for his Himalayan trips in 1951 and ’52, but a third time was pushing his luck. Leave was refused so he resigned.

Though Lowe would later return to teaching, Everest, almost by accident, opened a second profession, that of photographer and film-maker. Lowe had been a keen ‘stills’ amateur since his teens and when a bout of pneumonia rendered Tom Stobart, the expedition cameraman, unable to work at altitude, his movie moment arrived. Entering the Khumbu Icefall, it was the first time Lowe had held a ciné camera in his life; action sequences he shot high on the mountain contributed greatly to the success of the expedition film, The Conquest of Everest, which was nominated for an Oscar.

These new credentials, together with a familiarity with crevasses, led to his being invited by the geologist/explorer Vivian Fuchs to join the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition - an enterprise that occupied Lowe for three years. In a tracked Weasel vehicle called Wrack and Ruin he made the 2158-mile crossing in 99 arduous days, uniting with Hillary at the South Pole on 19 January 1958, his fellow Kiwi having approached from Scott Base in the opposite direction. Between Everest and Antarctica, he joined Hillary for an attempt on Makalu (8481 m) that came close to disaster when Hillary cracked three ribs in a crevasse rescue and became ill, and later in a hunt for the yeti (not found).

In 1959 Lowe returned to education, first at Repton School, Derbyshire, and then, from 1963, at the Grange School in Santiago, Chile, where he became headmaster. In 1962 he had married Hunt’s daughter Susan and their three sons were born in Santiago. The family returned to the UK in 1973 - the year of the military coup in Chile and the death of Salvador Allende - after which Lowe worked as one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools until retirement in 1984.

Lowe, like Hillary, felt a deep commitment to the Sherpas of Nepal and in 1989 he helped found the UK arm of Hillary’s Himalayan Trust, funding schools, health services, and other projects. The work was shared by his second wife, Mary, who continues as the Trust’s secretary from their Derbyshire home.

Lowe has been described as the ‘forgotten hero’ of Everest. It is unlikely he minded. Though witty and amusing company, Lowe shunned the limelight and expressed relief that he was not in the summit party. “Ed Hillary was the right one. I wouldn’t have had the diplomacy that he had,” he said. Lowe’s part though is likely to get a reassessment in the coming weeks with the publication of two books: Letters from Everest (Silverbear) and The Conquest of Everest (Thames and Hudson), both being a collaboration between Lowe and the historian Huw Lewis-Jones.

Lowe died in Derberyshire on 20 March 2013. He was the last surviving member of the 1953 Everest climbers. When the 60th anniversary of the first ascent is celebrated in May, only the author Jan Morris, who was The Times reporter attached to the expedition, will be able to recall the moment when Hillary and Tenzing descended to Hunt’s advance base camp in the Western Cwm and George Lowe, leading the group down, gave an exuberant thumbs-up. Soon the world knew that Everest had been climbed.


(This obituary was first published in The Independent on 26 March 2013).



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Ian McNaught-Davis

Ian McNaught-Davis

Ian McNaught-Davis was a computer specialist, television personality and climber held in high respect among the international mountaineering community. In 1956, with his climbing partner Joe Brown, he made the first ascent of the Muztagh Tower, a 7000 ft sheer wall in the Karakoram, reputed to be impossible. As a skilful negotiator he spent 10 years as president of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA), when his energy and incorrigibly good humour guided the Federation through a difficult period of growth and change. His quick wit and beguiling charm opened a parallel career as a commentator and droll observer of the climbing scene, in particular such television epics as an ascent of the Old Man of Hoy in the Orkney Islands, in which he also took part, and a series of eight adventure films by Leo Dickinson. They covered a range of daring topics, from canoeing down the so called River of Everest to reaching the mountain’s summit without oxygen. McNaught-Davis’s unsensational Yorkshire tone allowed the images to speak for themselves, adding to the drama. Similar forays into television saw McNaught-Davis climbing the Eiffel Tower in Paris with Lionel Terray and questioning aspiring climbers at the foot of the Eiger North Wall about why they should want to climb it. Success in this part of his career earned him the title of ‘Mac the Telly’.

McNaught-Davis was born in Wakefield and won a scholarship to Rothwell Grammar School. He spent two years on National Service in the RAF, hoping to follow the example of his father, Stanley, who was a pilot throughout the First World War before helping to establish probably the earliest air route between London and Warsaw. Ian was enthralled by his father’s stories of flying sorties over the Western Front and later as a test pilot for the Polish Air Force, stories illustrated by photographs of Stanley standing alongside an impressive number of crashed aircraft. Unfortunately, defective eyesight ruled out any hope of a flying career in the RAF for Ian who served his two years as an aircraftman clerk. After demob McNaught-Davis began studies at Manchester University, graduating in mathematics. At university he also began his life-long love of mountaineering at which he showed immediate talent, although his appearance as a bespectacled rugby forward lacked the fashionable athleticism of later generations of climbers. He was an immensely strong and determined mountaineer who made a number of first ascents on British cliffs, in Greenland on the Hjornespitze and Berscarkerspitze and in the Russian Pamirs and on a British-Russian exchange expedition.

McNaught-Davis was less than impressed by the authoritarian attitude of the Russian hosts towards mountaineering. His habit was to cheerfully greet Vladimir, his host: “well done, Bloodymir! You mad, impetuous Russian dare-devil!” Strict Soviet rules and sense of etiquette made the relaxed attitude of the British climbers bewildering to their Russian hosts. On the summit of the Peak of Communism, the Russian leader, observing McNaught-Davis lighting a celebratory fag, demanded to know: “How is it Mac that you climb so well when you are so decadent?” The reply was not recorded but the difference in attitude was palpable.

McNaught-Davis was at the forefront of post-war university climbers, making first or early guideless British ascents of such difficult routes as the Pear Buttress of Mont Blanc and the North Wall of the Cima Grande in the Dolomites. Apparent recklessness as a car driver or motorcyclist was well known and as a raconteur he had few equals, but as a mountaineer, bulldog strength was matched with canny judgement. Joe Brown remembers him as someone slightly larger than life, a complete individualist capable of mixing successfully with any level in society without intruding, a sort of citizen of the world.

As a mathematician the advent of computers in the early 1980s gave McNaught-Davis a sharp new interest and he entered the industry, working for BP in oil exploration in East Africa and Singapore before returning to Britain as managing director of the British subsidiary of the American company Comshare Inc. handling the company’s European business. His fascination with computer technology and grasp of its potential, in days long before the birth of the World Wide Web, was strikingly prescient. A chance meeting with a television contact in a London pub resulted in an outline for a series of programmes explaining, in layman’s terms, how computers worked and what their potential was for disseminating information. This in turn led to a 30-part series on BBC television with Chris Serle and McNaught--Davis explaining the mysteries of computer technology. His easy style and ability to explain complex ideas in simple terms made the series a major success. ‘Mac the Telly’ had indeed mastered the medium.

McNaught-Davis became a patron of the British Mountaineering Council and was a former president. He continued climbing into his 80s and Simon, one of his two sons, recalls sharing many adventures with his father. On one steep climb in the Canadian Rockies, a fall almost pulled both of them off the mountain. They survived and safely descended to the nearest town only to be told to move on because a Chapter of Hell’s Angels was about to appear and mayhem to ensue. McNaught-Davis was fascinated and immediately sought out the leading Angel, a fearsomely tattooed individual, disarming him with his thoughts on the relative merits of British and American motor cycles. They ended bosom friends, Simon recalled. He was just that sort of chap.

Three years ago McNaught-Davis was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and nine months ago with liver cancer. He is survived by his first wife Mary Alderman from whom he divorced and his second wife, Loreto. He had two sons Simon and John with his first wife and a daughter, Sarah, who died through illness in Africa.

Ian McNaught-Davis born August 30, 1929, died February 8, 2014 aged 85.

Ronald Faux
(Published before in The Times)

Ian McNaught-Davis was an honorary member of the Himalayan Club and was instrumental in coordinating and supporting all the Club’s activities in UK and Europe. – Ed.



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Dick Isherwood. (Geoffrey Cohen)

Dick Isherwood. (Geoffrey Cohen)

Dick Isherwood’s first expedition to the mountains of Asia was to Swat Kohistan in 1964, and his last trek to Manaslu was in late 2012, just a couple of months before his sudden death. Over nearly half a century in between he worked, climbed and travelled all over the Himalayan region.

Dick was born in Lancashire in the north of England and educated at Manchester Grammar School and Cambridge University, where he read zoology and did a postgraduate course in agronomy. He was a leading rock climber on the English and Welsh scene of the late 1960’s, accomplishing many of the hardest routes of that time. However he moved to Bangkok in 1969 and stayed in Asia for the next fifteen years. Subsequently he moved to the USA, but continued to make frequent visits to Asia for both business and pleasure.

Among Dick’s most significant first ascents were P. 6127 m in South Parvati with Rob Collister in 1973, Lamjung in 1974, Kanjiroba in 1976 and Dorje Lakpa in 1979. Additionally he made a number of early re-ascents or attempts on peaks in the Karakoram/Hindu Raj (e.g. Thui II, Buni Zom, K7 West, Drifika); Nepal (e.g. Annapurna II, Chulu East, Bauddha, Tsoboje) and China (e.g. Haizi Shan, Yangmolong). He climbed widely beyond the Himalaya too – making an early ascent of the Carstenze Pyramid in 1972, and ascents of many peaks in the northwest USA after he moved there in 2000. But perhaps what he enjoyed as much as the climbing expeditions was trekking through interesting and often unfamiliar territory. He was a skilled naturalist, with a particular interest in birds1 and was rarely to be seen without a large pair of binoculars.

Dick’s willingness to carry huge loads and tirelessly make steps in deep snow naturally made him a force on any expedition. Equally or perhaps more important he had very good strategic mountain sense, so his choice of where to camp, how much time to allow, when to start and when to turn back were infused with his ability to rapidly appraise the topography and climbing potential on a chosen objective. On the marches to and from the mountain he always relished the local food and drink, becoming something of a connoisseur of chang and rakshi.

In 1977 Dick took up a post to manage a UK-aided farm at Pakhribas in eastern Nepal. This gave him a hugely enjoyable two years in which he enlarged his knowledge of Nepali and did a vast amount of solo and accompanied trekking. He seemed to understand the rhythms and exigencies of village life in the Nepalese hills, and was at home with its variety of people: Tamangs, Gurungs, Gurkhas, Limbu and Rai. The agricultural project developed successfully under his leadership; although he sometimes expressed frustration with the bureaucracies involved in overseas aid, he had a real feeling for what would and would not work. At the end of two years, needing a change, he tried his hand at leading treks for the burgeoning American trekking company Mountain Travel. He was a popular and highly competent trek leader but Dick was too interested in exploring byways for this to become a career choice.

He spent about 18 months cycling around India’s bird sanctuaries and archaeological heritage sites in between a variety of mountaineering sorties2, then, after a year back in UK, he returned to work for Save the Children, first in Bangladesh and then in Nepal. With his wife Janet they adopted a child in each of these countries, then after a spell in Singapore they moved to the eastern USA to provide a steadier base for raising a family. Dick’s work still took him regularly all over the world supervising agricultural field research trials, but his family responsibilities allowed less opportunity for climbing expeditions. They lived next to a small lake and having taught himself to roll a kayak he took up sea kayaking on the east coast of the US, allowing him to pursue his bird-watching interests while seeking out remote places nearer home.

Aged 55 Dick retired and relocated to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula of northwest USA, where remote mountain and sea kayaking trips were on the doorstep. He took to making winter canoeing journeys in Baja California and made a fascinating canoeing trip to Bylot Island in the Canadian Arctic. Later he acquired a sailing boat and indulged in exploration of the San Juans and other nearby islands. He also returned many times to the Himalaya. In 2000 he joined a party making a winter traverse of the frozen Zanskar river; in 2002 he was on an Alpine Club expedition to Pokharkan in Nepal and between 2004 and 2009 he made four expeditions to Sichuan; in 2010 he joined us for an expedition to Sikkim. There were also frequent treks in Nepal, often with his son Sam.

Dick had a wonderfully dry sense of humour, employed to great effect in his many articles for the Alpine and Climbers Club Journals. In 2005 he took on the task of compiling the Nepal section of ‘Area Notes’ in the Alpine Journal, the annual summary of principal mountaineering achievements. In 2009 he added the Pakistan Notes to his portfolio. With his vast experience of exploratory trekking in both countries, and ability to quickly grasp the essentials of complex mountain terrain, he was an ideal person for this task.

In his later years Dick sported a huge white beard. His grandfatherly air combined with some pidgin Nepali led to genuine camaraderie with porters and local villagers, who sensed his real sympathy with them. There was an occasion in the Alps when we arrived at a hut below Monte Viso where some Nepali Sherpas were doing summer work. These young lads were amazed to be hailed in their native tongue by this Father Christmas-like figure. Hours later as the rest of us went to bed the Nepalis were still grouped around Dick in a corner having a great blether and hanging on his every word.

Dick died unexpectedly of an intestinal haemorrhage in February 2013, when he might have expected to have many more years of exploring the more remote corners of the earth. He had many friends in UK, USA, Canada and Asia and we shall all greatly miss him.

Geoffrey Cohen


  1. HJ Vol. XXXIV (1974-5), p. 130. ‘Birds of Swat and Gilgit’.
  2. AJ 2010-11, p. 168. ‘ A Year off Work’.



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(1941- 2013)

Martin Scott. (Al Scott)

Martin Scott. (Al Scott)

Having a theoretical physicist as a father and a classicist as a mother, Martin grew up in an intensely intellectual environment. While he undoubtedly acquired his considerable intellectual prowess from his parents, he chose not to follow an academic career, but to plough his own furrow in industry after completing his degree in physics at Merton College, Oxford. On graduating, he first joined Schlumberger as a geophysical engineer and subsequently spent several years in exotic desert locations prospecting for oil. Feeling the isolation of this work he then joined ICL (International Computers Limited) where he rose to become President, in France, of what was now Fujitsu-ICL after twice turning round ailing sections of the company. It was during his long spell in Belgium and France that he became fluent in French.

Martin’s ability and strong competitive talents became evident at a very early age when, at school in Cambridge, he became both Head of School and swimming captain. At school he broke the record for the 100 yards breaststroke in a time that stood for many years. He retained a lifelong enthusiasm for swimming and regularly took to the local waters in Hampstead Pond. Martin also had a long-standing love of mountains, developing particular affinity for Scotland and subsequently elsewhere. His first recorded exploits were in the Zillertal around 1957, with more challenging ascents in the Picos de Europa in 1962, just prior to his long sojourn overseas. On returning to the UK he was persuaded to join the MAM (the Midland Association of Mountaineers) and later the Alpine Club in 1974. He was an active participant in both clubs, becoming a regular attendee at family meets after his marriage to Julia in 1973.

As a long-standing, active member of the Alpine Club, Martin was elected to the committee in 2001 and went on to serve both as Honorary Secretary (from 2003) and as Vice-President in 2008. Like all tasks, he took these positions seriously and put considerable energy into changing the AC into an organisation more fitting of the 21st Century. In this he initiated the electronic bulletin as a more versatile means of communicating with members and was a major supporter of the AC Climbing Fund. He also represented the Club as Chairman of the Mount Everest Foundation and as its representative at the UIAA.

I first really got to know Martin in 2002 when the AC organised an expedition to the Lemon Mountains of Greenland. Partnered together we made six first ascents and three new routes on previously climbed mountains as well as completing a significant circuit on skis. Since then we regularly climbed together, in Europe and in Asia. Particularly memorable were three expeditions to Tibet - to the Nyenchentanghla range and western Tibet - and another to the Obra valley in the Indian Himalaya. On every occasion we successfully made one or more first ascents while exploring the unfamiliar terrain. It was a productive time and Martin’s fertile mind and broad range of intellectual interests rarely let the lively evening discussions dry up.

In Europe Martin was an active participant at the Club’s 150th Anniversary in Zermatt in 2007 and he also took part in several of the 150th anniversaries of first ascents made by the early AC members. Notable among these was a re-enactment of the first ascent of La Grande Casse by Vanoise Guides in 2010. Fluent in French, Martin maintained a lifelong friendship with many well-known French climbers in the Provence region where he and his wife Julia own an apartment. It was a great pleasure to join him in this predominantly sunny part of France where extensive rock climbing at a variety of levels is available on Mont St Victoire, Chateauvert and, of course, the iconic sea cliffs of the Calanques. Being in France the evenings shared with his many French friends over one or more bottles of fine wine were especially memorable!

Latterly Martin migrated seamlessly into cycling, a pastime in which he also had a long-standing interest. He was an active member of the Aix Cycling Club that regularly organised energetic day tours. I vividly remember joining one of these events during which, being a non-cyclist, there was considerable concern that I should not overdo it. Martin, of course, did it all in his stride and went on to complete several long-distance multi-day tours supported by Julia. Especially notable were his traverse of France from the Channel to the Mediterranean and completion of the gruelling L’Étape du Tour on the route of the Tour de France up the Col du Galibier and the Alp d’Huez on his 70th birthday.

When, late in 2012, Martin was diagnosed with disseminated kidney cancer it was a very sad day for all those that knew him for his integrity, generosity and companionship. He died relatively peacefully on 31 May 2013 surrounded by his family.


(Reprinted with the kind permission of the Editor, Alpine Journal 2012.)

Martin Scott was also actively associated with the Himalayan Club and for the last few years was hon. local secretary for the UK. In this capacity he revamped existing UK membership and also convinced many young mountain enthusiasts to become members of the HC. He also ably represented the club on many occasions within the UK and European mountain fraternity. He with his wife Julia made it a point to attend the 80 Years celebrations in Delhi and joined other HC members for a trek in Garhwal. His passing away is a great loss for the Himalayan Club. He will be remembered fondly for his enthusiasm, wit and astute observations.




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Nawang Topgay.

Nawang Topgay.

Nawang Topgay Sherpa passed away on 02 November 2012. Born in the Tibetan year of the Ram, he was 82.

In April 2012, our team of three, in Darjeeling to talk to and record the lives of the climbing Sherpas, had walked down some precarious stone steps to a broken down hut. In a room no bigger than an alcove, Topgay lay in a narrow cot. His arm which had broken some time earlier and had not healed properly lay curled in an awkward position on his chest. He responded to our presence with a grinning ‘Namaste’ and when his daughter-in-law, Nima, asked whether he understood what we were saying, he replied ‘Bhujo, bhujo’ - I understand - in Nepali. The warm and smiling Nima and Da Temba, his son, told us of his life over tea and biscuits. They showed us the carefully preserved medals and citations. As a result of our visit, the Himalayan Club started sending a monthly stipend to Topgay to help cover the cost of his medicines and a few things besides.

Dorjee Lhatoo reminiscences as a boy, living next door to the energetic, teenaged Topgay in Toong Soong basti in Darjeeling in the early 1950’s - those were the days he says, when many Sherpas continued coming to Darjeeling from Solu-Khumbu in Nepal, to find work with mountaineering expeditions and when many history-making first ascents of the great Himalayan peaks were being achieved.

Young Topgay too had migrated in search of work. He was taken under the care and guidance of his father’s younger brother, Tenzing Norgay and lived with him till he found a place of his own. It was with Tenzing that he began his expedition work as a high altitude Sherpa carrier.

Those were the times of the outstanding and famous Sherpa Sirdars such as Ang Tharkey, Pasang Dawa Lama, Ang Tsering, Tenzing Bhote or Norgay, Ajiwa, Wangdi Norbu and many others still doing expedition work.

When Tenzing was appointed Sirdar on the ’53 Everest Expedition, he took on his two young nephews: Topgay and Nawang Gombu, his sister’s son. They both performed outstandingly well and in recognition of their achievement, they, with other select Sherpas were awarded the Himalayan Club Tiger Medal. The climb also coincided with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and with other Sahibs and Sherpas, they received the Coronation Medal too.

A year after Everest, the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute was founded in Darjeeling with the objective of introducing and promoting the sport of mountaineering among the youth of India. Seven outstanding Sherpas were selected to form the cadre of instructors under Tenzing Norgay as Training Director and Topgay was one of them.

Himalayan Club wreath made by P.T. Sherpa.

Himalayan Club wreath made by P.T. Sherpa.

He was later selected to teach at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi when it was founded in 1965. Known popularly to scores of students as ‘Guruji’ (teacher), his cherry cheeked youthful face can be seen in many early pictures of those times. Guruji retired from NIM and returned to Darjeeling where he spent the rest of his life.

We visited Topgay again on our second visit to Darjeeling in October. The setting this time around was much better. In a new apartment built on top of his daughter-in-law’s family home, Guruji lay in a cheerful room with a view of the valley below Toong Soong visible through his open window. He barely acknowledged us this time, muttering incoherently and vehemently. His loving family was still around him, raising him up, plumping his pillows and keeping him clean and comfortable. A few days later he died quietly and without any fuss. The entire community gathered to send him off in a traditional Sherpa funeral with his body curled up in foetal form, leaving the world just as he entered it. Nawang Topgay was the last surviving Sherpa Tiger medalist in Darjeeling and his passing brings an end to a historic chapter in the story of Himalayan mountaineering. He is survived by his two daughters and two sons and their families. Nawang Topgay, RIP.


The Sherpa Project
(Based on details by Dorjee Lhatoo)


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