Up to 1910’s
Mountaineer and surgeon Clinton Dent was the first to raise public question on the climbing of Mount Everest in 1885. After the successful British expedition of 22,600 ft peak near Karakoram in the Himalayas by Martin Conway in 1892, Dent further encouraged wrote an article for Nineteenth Century magazine entitled “Can Mount Everest be Climbed ?”
The debate and dream was far from reality by then. Any westerner reached closest to Mt. Everest was adventurer and photographer John Noel in 1913, up to 60 miles close from the east side of the peak in Tibet. Due to politics of the region any attempts would not be possible.
Noel was the one who started to plan to attempt on Mount Everest in 1915. But, the broke out of World War I dismissed the plan and again resumed in 1918.
In 1921, The Royal Geographical Society and the Alpine Club formed a Mount Everest Committee to launch an Expedition with nine members. In April 1921, the team left for Darjeeling to find a route up Everest and if possible to climb the peak.
Alexandar Kellas, a scientist from Scotland who had climbed numerous peaks around 6000m, in his fifties died of heart attack brought on by exhaustion and dysentery during this expedition. He was, about a day away to see the Mount Everest before he died.
1921 expedition team reached to North Col, George Mallory explored the Col between Mount Pumori and Lingtren, West Cwm, Khumbu valley from Nepal side during this effort.
In 1922, came with the full scale British Everest Expedition. The climbers reached to Rongbuk Valley in April 1922 after six weeks of trek across Tibetan plateau. Their first summit bid proved to be disastrous. Second attempt made by Geoffrey Bruce, Charles Bruce, a Gurkha officer Tejbir Bura and George Finch on 25th may 1922 could not bring any pleasant result. But, the team reached a record height of 27,300 ft/ 8,321 m before retarding. Finch wrote “we were tired from hunger and exhausted by the nightmare struggle for life, we were in no fit condition to proceed.”
The most important summit bid were made by 1924 Expedition team led by Edward Norton. The height Norton reached during this expedition was calculated as 28,126 ft and was higher than the point George finch reached earlier in 1922 which lasted as the highest point on Everest until 1952 Swiss attempt. Norton was also the first to reach the giant couloir which runs down the face from close to the foot of the summit pyramid. The place now is popularly known as Great Couloir or Norton Couloir.
1924 expedition also brought unsolved Everest mysteries on George Mallory and Sandy Irvine. The two men were last seen high on the north east ridge of Everest within striking distance of summit of Everest and disappeared into the arm of nature. Their expedition comrades return with news of their disappearance in the mountain which brought shock and first notice as the mountaineering is not mere fun sports but lethal game.
George Mallory and Geoffrey Bruce reached a height of 25200 ft without oxygen equipment. Norton and Somervell put their effort on the mountain without oxygen again and they returned without any significant achievement. The expedition seemed to be over but Mallory proposed that he and Irvine using oxygen should try one more time.
They left the North col at 9 am on 6th June and two days later from the shelter at camp VI at 26,800 ft they set out for the summit bid. Noel Odel took the last photograph, saw them climbing but they could not welcome them back in the camp with good news. They never returned …..
In 1933 another British expedition team attempted to climb but they suffered from bad weather which confined them in the tents and caused multiple health hazards. They set up a camp VI at 27,500 ft / 8382 m – the highest ever established before and reached 8,100 m similar to Norton in 1924.
In 1934 Maurice Wilson disappeared in a solo attempt and found his body by 1935 expedition member Charles Warren in Rongbuk Glacier. There were altogether four summit attempts in 1930’s all by British teams.
Post WWII Attempts
World War II and subsequent political development in the region closed all the routes to the Everest. Chinese control of Tibet barred the traditional route up to Everest for westerners. Nepal too were too wary of foreigners from long time and specially with British due to their colonialist record in the neighbor. But, to the mountaineers circle Nepal’s politics were shifting with hope.
The way up to summit from Nepal was unknown for a long period. In 1921, Mallory had looked the deep valley with Ice from the col between Pumori and Lingtren. In 1935, New Zealander LV Brynt photographed from the same point and in 1950 Bill Tillman and American Dr Charles Houston ventured into the Khumbu Glacier and concluded that unstable icefall below the Cwm was impossible barrier.
In 1951, the Everest reconnaissance expedition set out from Dharan –four weeks walk from Everest. Eric Shipton – veteran of all four expeditions of 1930’s was the leader and team comprises of Tom Bourdillon, Muray, Ward, two New Zealander Riddiford and Hillary. On 30th September, Shipton and Hillary climbed to a point at 20,000 feet on the peak of Pumori and examined the whole of South West face and Western Cwm.
By end of October, they reached far side of the Icefall and were on the western cwm first time anyone reached the place. They saw big crevasse as Bill Murray explained some 100 to 300 ft wide ad was at least 100 feet deep. Bill Murray wrote, “We were defeated and the team withdrew.”
In 1952 the Swiss were the one to seize an opportunity from unrivalled British to climb the Mt. Everest by obtaining permission from Nepal Government. The Swiss were in serious frustrations because they were excluded from all expedition attempts in 1920’s and 1930’s from Tibet. The Swiss became the first human to stand in the Western Cwm identified by the British. They crossed Lhotse Glacier, reached historic landmark South Col and embarked on Summit bid on 27th May 1952 comprising of four in a party. Raymond Lambert, Tenzing Norgey- who had been to Everest three times already, Rene Aubert and Leon Flory. Raymond Lambert and Tenzing Norgey reached to 28,220 ft breaking the British record that had hold for 28 years. Finally, the climbers had to give up with failure and frustrations in Mt. Everest.
After failure in Everest in the Spring of 1952, Swiss returned to the Everest in the Autumn same year for the second attempt, but the storm prevented them to reach little higher than South Col.
Again, the time came for British to try to win over Mt. Everest.
In 1953, Eric Shipton was replaced by John Hunt as the expedition leader and team consists of George Band, Tom Bourdillon, Charles Evans, Alf Gregory, Wlifred Noyce, Mike Westmacott, and NewZealanders Ed. Hillary and George Lowe.
They set off from the nearby town of Kathmandu called Bhadgaon on March 10 with 45 Sherpas and 150 porters. The second small team comprising of climbers Charles Wylie, Ward and Pugh departed on 11th March with 11 Sherpa and 210 porters. They used Tengboche as the acclimatization base for the climbers where they reached on March 26th.
On May 29th at 6.30 am Tenzing Norgey and Ed. Hillary set out for the final summit bid as the second attempt after the first attempt of Bourdillon and Evans were unsuccessful.
Tenzing Norgey at his 39th and Ed. Hillary on his 33rd stood on the summit of Mt. Everest on 29th May 1953 at 11.30 am and what happened afterwards has been described countless times. The conquest of Everest on 29th May was a triumph for every member of the team, was a gift for the Queen’s coronation in Britain and a crowning glory.
“The man who first stands on the summit of Mt. Everest will have raised the spirit of countless others for generations to come”. – Chairman of 1921 Everest Expedition Francis Younghusband
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