Fascinating. Adventure old-school style.

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Dates 24 June 2013 – 01 July 2013
Time spent reading 5 hours, 50 minutes
Highlights 27
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Hillary and Tenzing were at the apex of the pyramid but beneath them were the strong shoulders of many other men.

Nepal had very few roads outside the Kathmandu valley where the capital city lay. Vehicles destined for Kathmandu were taken apart in India and carried in by hand, piece by piece.

Over the dinners that punctuated two days of ‘tense UN-style negotiations’, they got through two bottles of sherry, three bottles of hock, three bottles of Cheval Blanc, three bottles of Krug, two bottles of port and numerous cigars and cigarettes.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

Hock and Krug make me think of Wine Gums!

At 26,906 ft, Cho Oyu was considerably lower than Everest but if they succeeded (and the Swiss failed), it would be the highest mountain ever climbed.

Charming and cantankerous by turn, ‘Griff’ was famous for his automotive exploits. He drove like a maniac and occasionally, when he forgot where he had parked his car, he took the train home, reported the car stolen and waited for the police to contact him with its whereabouts.

If mountaineering has any value, and its value after all is purely philosophical, it lies in the experience rather than in the result. If competition and above all nationalism are allowed to enter into it, it becomes debased and meaningless.

For the first time, Lambert had a good look at the South-East Ridge, which led to the summit. It was an awe-inspiring sight, almost like finding a new mountain perched at 26,000 ft.

The events of the following three months are some of the most contentious in the history of British mountaineering. Even now, the arguments continue as to what occurred and why. For many years, key documents lay hidden in private files. Today, it is possible to piece together what happened, although some mysteries remain.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran


Trying to climb Everest is not enjoyable. It is unpleasant in the extreme.

When Ed Hillary submitted his expenses for the 1951 expedition, which included numerous receipts from Nepalese and Indian teahouses, Lloyd was just as feisty and tight-fisted. ‘Gentlemen’, he admonished Hillary, ‘pay for their own cups of tea.’ To which Hillary replied, ‘We’re New Zealanders, not gentlemen.’

Wilfrid Noyce, the expedition’s resident poet, eschewed the rifle range and preferred to entertain himself with more literary pastimes. In his rucksack he carried both volumes of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Dante’s Il Purgatorio and six other equally worthy books. No wonder it weighed 27 lb.

On 25 March, John Hunt’s party arrived at Namche Bazaar, the largest Sherpa village in the Solu Khumbu and was greeted with the customary bowls of chang and hot potatoes, which as Tom Stobart noted, were kept warm in their hosts’ armpits.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

Chang and hot potatoes, anyone?

Fortunately, the Sherpas had no serious accidents in the Khumbu Icefall, although several came close to falling into crevasses, much to the amusement of their friends, who preferred to laugh rather than worry in the face of adversity.

Essentially, above 26,000 ft climbers live on borrowed time.

The Sherpas were up at 5.30a.m. but no one had the energy to cook anything more than tea, with handfuls of Grape-Nuts thrown in for sustenance. Charles Wylie ate his watery breakfast with a spanner.

John Hunt fell over and lay face down in the snow, unable to move for several minutes. When Tom Bourdillon’s oxygen ran out, he too collapsed from oxygen starvation. It was like the decompression chamber at RAF Farnborough where they had trained five months before but this time no gentle doctor chivvied him awake with fresh oxygen; there was only the relentless wind and a voice in the back of his head telling him that if he didn’t get up soon, he might never do so.

The climax of their feast, a tin of apricots in syrup, was not quite the treat that Ed had envisaged. When he removed the lid, the contents slid out as a solid block of ice and needed several minutes on the stove before they were edible.

Fortunately for film-goers everywhere, he did not record the scene in the tent later that evening as Alfred Gregory strained to defecate into a tin while he lay nearby in his sleeping bag. This was the true romance of Everest!

However, before they could get going, Ed Hillary had to cook his boots.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

Not a euphemism.

The rock face was about forty feet high, almost vertical, with no obvious hand-holds. A tricky pitch but the issue wasn’t really the topography. As Ed later joked, if this were the Lake District, it might have been viewed as a fascinating problem for weekend climbers. At approximately 28,900 ft it was a very different matter.

When asked why he hadn’t asked Tenzing to take a photo of him, Hillary replied laconically that, as far as he knew, his partner had never used a camera in his life and this was not a good moment to start.

Snow conditions bad stop advanced base abandoned yesterday stop awaiting improvement All well!

It would have made the front page whenever it was climbed but the coincidence of the news reaching London at the coronation added immeasurably to its impact. Everest was climbed on 29 May but for many it would forever be associated with June 2 1953, one of the most important days in Britain’s post-war history. Many thousands of people first heard the news on the streets of London when, at around 6a.m., it was announced by loudspeaker to the crowds who had stayed up all night to line the route of the coronation parade.

If I say Hillary first, Indian, Nepal people unhappy. If I say I first European people unhappy. If you agree, I like say both got top together almost same time. If everybody write that, no trouble.

On10Februaryhe flew to Washington to join Ed Hillary for a ceremony at the White House, in which the team was collectively awarded the Hubbard Medal, the National Geographic Society’s highest accolade.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

See National Geographic Magazine’s July 1954 issue for an article on this event. The same issue also contains Hillary’s account of the Everest ascent.

Until the 1970s the Nepalese government only allowed one team on the mountain at any one time but today things are very different. There is no formal limit on numbers as long as each team is willing to pay the minimum $70,000 peak fee. Additionally, since the mid-1990s the Chinese government has pursued a new policy with regard to Everest, allowing as many foreign expeditions on the Tibetan side as are willing to foot the bill.

John Hunt survived major heart surgery in 1995 but died three years later, at the age of eighty-eight; not bad for someone who had been warned by doctors sixty-three years earlier to take care on the stairs.