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INTRODUCTION

Colonel Howard-Bury and the members of the Expedition of 1921 had effected the object with which they had been despatched. They were not sent out to climb Mount Everest. It would be impossible to reach the summit in a single effort. They were sent to reconnoitre the mountain from every direction and discover what was for certain the easiest way up. For it was quite certain that only by the easiest way possible—and only if there were an easy way—would the summit ever be reached. In the Alps, nowadays, men look about for the most difficult way up a mountain. Hundreds every year ascend even the Matterhorn by the easiest ways up. So men with any turn for adventure have to look about for the difficult ways. With Mount Everest it is very different. The exhaustion produced from the difficulty of breathing in enough oxygen at the great heights is so fearful that only by a way that entails the least possible exertion can the summit be reached. Hence the necessity for spending the first season in thoroughly prospecting the mountain. And this was all the more necessary because no European so far had been within sixty miles of Mount Everest, so that not even the approaches to the mountain were known.

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During 1921, under the leadership of Colonel Howard-Bury, this reconnaissance was most thoroughly carried out. Mr. Mallory found what was quite certainly the easiest—indeed the only practicable—way up the mountain, and Major Morshead and Captain Wheeler mapped the mountain itself and the country round. They brought back also much valuable experience of the conditions under which a definite “all-out” attempt to reach the summit might be made. Ample data were therefore now at the disposal of the Mount Everest Committee for organising an expedition to make this attempt.

And first the question of leadership had to be decided. This was a definitely climbing expedition, and a climbing expert would be needed to lead it—and a climbing expert who had experience of Himalayan conditions, which are in so many ways different from Alpine conditions. The one obvious man for this position of leader was Brigadier-General Hon. C. G. Bruce. He could not be expected at his age to take part in the actual climbing. But for the command of the whole Expedition no better could be found. For thirty years he had devoted himself to climbing both in the Himalaya and in the Alps. He was an expert climber, and he knew the Himalayan conditions as no other man. And, what was of scarcely less importance, he knew the Himalayan peoples, and knew how to handle them. Any climbing party would be dependent upon the native porters to carry stores and equipment up the mountain. But climbers from England would know nothing about these 

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men or how to treat them. It was essential, therefore, that there should be with the Expedition some one who could humour and get the best out of them.

This was the more necessary as one of the chief features of these expeditions to Mount Everest was the organisation of a corps of porters specially enlisted from among the hardiest men on that frontier for the particular purpose of carrying camps to high altitudes. This idea originated with General Bruce himself. So far Himalayan climbing expeditions had been dependent upon coolies collected at the highest villages and taken on for a few days while the climb lasted. But this was never very satisfactory, and coolies so collected would be of no use on Mount Everest. General Bruce’s plan was very different. It was, months beforehand, to select thirty or forty of the very best men who could be found in the higher mountains, to enlist them for some months, pay them well, feed them well and equip them well, and above all to put into them a real esprit de corps, make them take a pride in the task that was before them. But to do all this there was needed a man who knew and understood them and who had this capacity for infusing them with a keen spirit. And for this no one could be better than General Bruce himself. He had served in a Gurkha regiment for thirty years. He loved his Gurkhas, and was beloved by them. He spoke their language; knew all their customs and traditions, and had had them climbing with him in the Alps as well as the Himalaya. And Gurkhas come 

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from Nepal, on the borders of which Mount Everest lies.

For organising this corps of porters, for dealing with the Tibetans, and, lastly, for keeping together the climbers from England, who were mostly quite unknown to each other, but who all knew of General Bruce and his mountaineering achievements in the Himalaya, General Bruce was an ideal chief.

This being settled, the next question was the selection of the climbing party. General Bruce would not be able to go on to the mountain itself, and he would have plenty to do at the main base camp, seeing after supplies and organising transport service from the main base to the high mountain base. As chief at the mountain base, and as second-in-command of the Expedition to take General Bruce’s place in case of any misadventure to him, Lieutenant-Colonel E. L. Strutt was selected. He was an Alpine climber of great experience and knowledge of ice and snow conditions. But for the actual effort to reach the summit two men were specially marked out. One, of course, was Mr. George Leigh-Mallory, who had done such valuable service on the reconnaissance of the previous year; and the other was Captain George Finch, who had been selected for the first Expedition, but who had, through temporary indisposition, not been able to go with it. Both of these were first-rate men and well known for their skill in mountaineering. These two had been selected in the previous year. Of new men, Major E. F. Norton was an experienced and very reliable and thorough mountaineer. He is an 

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officer in the Artillery, and well known in India for his skill and interest in pig-sticking. But in between his soldiering and his pig-sticking and a course at the Staff College he seems to have found time for Alpine climbing and for bird observation. A man of high spirit, who could be trusted to keep his head under all circumstances and to help in keeping a party together, he was a valuable addition to the Expedition. Mr. Somervell was perhaps even more versatile in his accomplishments. He was a surgeon in a London hospital, who was also skilled both in music and painting, and yet found time for mountaineering, and, being younger than the others, and possessed of exuberant energy and a fine physique, he could be reckoned on to go with the highest climbers. Another member of the medical profession who was also a mountaineer was Dr. Wakefield. He was a Westmorland man, who had performed wonderful climbing feats in the Lake District in his younger days, and now held a medical practice in Canada. He was bursting with enthusiasm to join the expedition, and gave up his practice for the purpose.

As medical officer and naturalist of the Expedition, Dr. T. G. Longstaff was chosen. He was a veteran Himalayan climber, and if only this Expedition could have been undertaken some years earlier, he, like General Bruce, would have made a magnificent leader of a climbing party. As it was, his great experience would be available for the climbers as far as the high mountain camp. And this time it was intended to send with the Expedition a “whole-time” 

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photographer and cinematographer, both for the purpose of having a photographic record of its progress and also to provide the means by which the expenses of this and a future expedition might be met. For this Captain J. B. Noel was selected. He had made a reconnaissance towards Mount Everest in 1913, and he had since then made a special study of photography and cinematography, so that he was eminently suited for the task.

The above formed the party which would be sent out from England. And subsequently General Bruce, in India, selected four others to join the Expedition: Mr. Crawford, of the Indian Civil Service, a keen mountaineer, who had long wished to join the Expedition; Major Morshead, who had held charge of the survey party in the 1921 Expedition, and now wanted to join the present Expedition as a climber; and two officers from Gurkha regiments, to serve as transport officers, namely, Captain Geoffrey Bruce and Captain Morris.

This completed the British personnel of the Expedition. It had been my hope that a first-rate artist might have accompanied it to paint the greatest peaks of the Himalaya, but the artists whom we chose were unable to pass the medical examination, though the examination was, of course, not so severe as the examination which the actual climbers had to pass.

While these men were being selected, the Equipment Committee, Captain Farrar and Mr. Meade, were working hard. Taking the advice of Colonel Howard-Bury and 

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Mr. Mallory, and profiting by the experience gained on the previous Expedition, they got together and had suitably packed and despatched to India a splendid outfit comprising every necessity for an Expedition of this nature. The amount of work that Farrar put into this was enormous; for as a mountaineer he knew well how the success of the Expedition depended on each detail of the equipment being looked into, and he spared himself no trouble and overlooked nothing. The stores were of the most varied description, in order to meet the varying tastes of the different members. The tents were improved in accordance with the experience gained. Most particular attention was paid to the boots. Clothing and bedding, light in weight but warm to wear, were specially designed. Ice-axes, crampons, ropes, lanterns, cooking-stoves, and also warm clothing for the porters, were all provided, and much else besides.

But about one point in the equipment of the party there was much diversity of opinion. Should the climbers be provided with oxygen, or should they not? If it were at all feasible to provide climbers with oxygen without adding appreciably to the weight they had to carry, the summit of Mount Everest could be reached to a certainty. For the purely mountaineering difficulties are not great. On the way to the summit there are no physical obstacles which a trained mountaineer could not readily overcome. The one factor which renders the ascent so difficult is the want of oxygen in the air. Provide the oxygen and the ascent could be made at once. But to provide the oxygen 

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heavy apparatus would have to be carried—and carried by the climbers themselves. It became a question whether the disadvantage of having to carry a weight of at least thirty pounds would or would not outweigh the advantages to be gained by the use of the oxygen.

And the Mount Everest Committee were warned of another feature in the case. They were told that if by any misfortune the oxygen were to run out when the climbers were at a considerable height—say 27,000 feet—and they suddenly found themselves without any preparation in this attenuated atmosphere, they might collapse straight away. It was a disagreeable prospect to anticipate. But Captain Finch, who was himself a lecturer on chemistry at the Imperial College of Science, Mr. Somervell, and Captain Farrar, pressed so strongly for the use of oxygen, and Mr. Unna was so convinced he could construct a reasonably portable apparatus, that the Committee decided that the experiment should be made. The value of using oxygen could thus be tested, and we should know what were the prospects of reaching the summit of the mountain either with or without its aid. Captain Farrar, Captain Finch, and Mr. Unna therefore set about constructing an apparatus which would hold the lightest procurable oxygen cylinders, and which could be carried on the back by the climbers.

This final question having been settled, all the stores and equipment having been purchased, packed, and despatched, the members of the Expedition left England in March. But before I leave General Bruce to take up the 

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tale of their adventures, I must say yet one word more about “the good” of climbing Mount Everest. These repeated efforts to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain have already cost human life. They have also cost much physical pain, fatigue, and discomfort to the climbers. They have been very expensive. And there is not the slightest sign of any material gain whatever being obtained—not an ounce of gold, or iron, or coal, or a single precious stone, or any land upon which food or material could be grown. What, then, is the good of it all? Who will benefit in the least even if the climbers do eventually get to the top? These are questions which are still being continually asked me, so I had better still go on trying to make as plain as I can what is the good of climbing Mount Everest.

The most obvious good is an increased knowledge of our own capacities. By trying with all our might and with all our mind to climb the highest point on the earth, we are getting to know better what we really can do. No one can say for certain yet whether we can or cannot reach the summit. We cannot know till we try. But if—as seems much more probable now than it did ten years ago—we can reach the summit, we shall know that we are capable of more than we had supposed. And this knowledge of our capacities will be very valuable. In my own lifetime I have seen men’s knowledge of their capacity for climbing mountains greatly increased. Men’s standard of climbing has been raised. They now know that they can do what 

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forty years ago they did not deem in the least possible. And if they reach the summit of Mount Everest, the standard of achievement will be still further raised; and men who had, so far, never thought of attempting the lesser peaks of the Himalaya, will be climbing them as freely as they now climb peaks in Switzerland.

And what then? What is the good of that? The good of that is that a whole new enjoyment in life will be opened up. And enjoyment of life is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. And some of us know from actual experience that by climbing a mountain we can get some of the finest enjoyment there is to be had. We like bracing ourselves against a mountain, pitting our mettle, our nerve, our skill, against the physical difficulties the mountain presents, and feeling that we are forcing the spirit within us to prevail against the material. That is a glorious feeling in itself and a real tonic to the spirit—even when it does not always conquer.

But that is not all. The wrestling with the mountain makes us love the mountain. For the moment we may be utterly exhausted and only too thankful to be able to hurry back to more congenial regions. Yet, all the same, we shall eventually get to love the mountain for the very fact that she has forced the utmost out of us, lifted us just for one precious moment high above our ordinary life, and shown us beauty of an austerity, power, and purity we should have never known if we had not faced 

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the mountain squarely and battled strongly with her.

This, then, is the good to be obtained from climbing Mount Everest. Most men will have to take on trust that there is this good. But most of the best things in life we have to take on trust at first till we have proved them for ourselves. So I would beg readers of this book first trustfully to accept it from the Everest climbers that there is good in climbing great mountains (for the risks they have run and the hardships they have endured are ample enough proof of the faith that is in them), and then to go and test it for themselves—in the Himalaya, if possible, or if not, in the Alps, the Rockies, the Andes, wherever high mountains make the call.

GENRE
Biography
RELEASED
2020
4 January
LANGUAGE
EN
English
LENGTH
254
Pages
PUBLISHER
Rectory Print
SIZE
19.1
MB

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