Category Archive 'Mount Everest'

15 Nov 2020

A Classic Case of British Madness Combined With Gallantry

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Ian Birrell*‘s Spectator review of Ed Caesar’s new book, The Moth and the Mountain (to be released November 17) placed it immediately on my own must-read list.

It recounts WWI veteran Maurice Wilson’s doomed 1933 attempt to solo climb Everest by crash landing a de Havilland Moth biplane on the mountain’s upper slopes and then ascending on foot to the top.

Reinhold Messner, the first person to climb all 14 of the planet’s peaks higher than 8,000 meters, is probably the finest high-altitude mountaineer in history. His list of astonishing achievements on dangerous ice-clad crags includes the first solo ascent of Mount Everest without use of oxygen. Yet as he sat exhausted at 26,000 feet with two days still to go on that pioneering ascent, he thought of an eccentric Englishman ‘tougher than I am’ who had set out before him with one crippled arm and no crampons, let alone knowledge of some basic climbing techniques. ‘Do I understand this madman so well because I am mad myself?’ he wondered.

[T]he writer Ed Caesar, similarly captivated by the crazed early assault on Everest by the Yorkshireman Maurice Wilson, has told the extraordinary story of this intrepid ‘madman’ in an engrossing biography. It is a tale well known in the mountaineering community, not least since his frozen corpse has emerged five times from its glacial tomb on the slopes where he died; yet it remains clouded in as much mystery as those mists that cling to the great peaks. Was he a naive climbing legend, a mystical sage, a disturbed war veteran or even someone running from his gender fluidity, so unacceptable at the time? Or possibly all four of these things? …

The backdrop, as with so many things in the 1930s, was the legacy of savage trench warfare that tore apart a continent. Wilson fought with distinction, winning a Military Cross, but lost the use of an arm and saw one of his three brothers turned into a shambling wreck. His own efforts to win compensation were repeatedly rebuffed, leaving him with a loathing of officialdom.

It seems his traumas led him to trek the world aimlessly, dumping women and jobs in his wake. So was his bid to climb Everest an attempt to find glory or inner peace? …

Wilson began to read widely about Everest in 1932, hatching his plan despite the cruel details of terrible deaths in avalanches and blizzards. He was not deterred by the failure of four British expeditions, comprising the best climbers in the country aided by teams of porters carrying huge supplies. He began training his mind and body through fasting and prayer. He flirted with the idea of parachuting onto the lower slopes. Then he decided to fly there, so took lessons and bought a Tiger Moth; yet he was such an inexperienced pilot that when he left (looking ‘like a man going to a fancy dress party as an aviator’) he nearly crashed by taking off in the wrong direction with the wind.


Maurice Wilson’s Wikipedia entry.

* Outline frequently lists the wrong author’s name for articles decrypted from behind paywalls.

22 Apr 2019

If You’re Going to Die on Everest…

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You want to choose a strategic position on the route to the top, and you want to be wearing something distinctive.

The Epoch Times:

Crumpled near a rocky alcove (Green Boots’s Cave), jacket pulled up over his face as if still shielding from the wind, Green Boots serves as a popular marker for climbers ascending into the “Death Zone,” on their way to the summit. There are around 200 such body “guideposts” on Everest, becoming indicators of altitude more than anything else. As time passes, they literally freeze to the mountain and become hard to remove.

At heights where even taking a few steps takes great strength, using a pickaxe to free a body seems crazy, let alone hauling one back down.

It is believed that his real name is Tsewang Paljor. At one time, Paljor was an Indo-Tibetan border policeman from a small village called Sakti. He had summitted several other mountains in his career. He hoped to bring benefits to his family by summitting Everest as well, his mother told BBC after his death.

Accounts tell of how Paljor and two of his comrades, Tsewang Smanla and Dorje Morup, had either ignored or failed to see the signal from deputy team leader Harbhajan Singh to turn back when they were nearing the summit. Singh had sensed impending danger. Yet his colleagues pressed on.

One of the fatal mistakes that sometimes occurs in the Death Zone (near the summit, above 8,000 meters) is a euphoric “summit fever” that possesses some climbers. They are overcome by a desire to reach the top and disregard vital concerns for safety. This, according to Singh, seems to be what happened to his fellow climbers on that fateful day. Singh had turned back to camp, while they had plowed on. He received a radio call from them announcing that they had reached the summit, and there was momentary celebration. But the victory was short-lived. A blizzard hit during their descent, and they never returned.

For some 20 years, Green Boots remained where he had fallen. Ambitious climbers came to recognize his frozen form, his boots in particular, as a landmark, having to literally step over his legs along their push to the summit.

In 2014, Green Boots’s body was respectfully shoveled up and deposited on the lee-side of the mountain, perhaps out of respect. While retrieving a body is possible for the mountain Sherpas, it is both costly and dangerous. Over the years, the problem of visitors to Everest morbidly encountering bodies has led to some efforts to deal with the issue. Fallen mountaineers have traditionally been “committed” to the mountain, meaning their bodies were ceremoniously dropped into crevasses, pushed down steep slopes, or perhaps placed under a rock.

03 Jun 2018

No More Hillary Step on Everest

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The Hillary Step, before and after the Earthquake of 2015.

It’s estimated that roughly 4000 people have made it to the top of Mount Everest in recent years assisted by fixed ropes, professional guides, and bottled oxygen, but people still debate the question of whether or not, in 1924, George Leigh Mallory and Andrew Irvine summited the mountain without any of those aids, before their fatal fall.

The best positive argument goes that when Conrad Anker found Mallory’s body at 26,760 ft (8,157 m) on the north face of the mountain, the photograph of his wife that Mallory had promised to leave on the summit was missing from his effects.

The key negative argument in climbing circles contends that it would have been impossible with the limited equipment and lack of oxygen in the period for anyone to have conquered the Hillary Step, a nearly vertical rock face with a height of around 12 metres (39 ft) located high on Mount Everest at approximately 8,790 metres (28,839 ft), named later for Sir Edmund Hillary, the first known person to reach the summit in 1953.

Outside magazine is reporting that the rumors are true, despite the Government of Nepal’s effort to suppress talk on the subject, the changes produced by the Earthquake of 2015 are dramatic: the Hillary Step is now the Hillary Stair. The ascent will now be easier than ever, though the traditional death toll of of five or six a year will probably remain unchanged.

18 Aug 2014

Climb Everest On-Line



Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

11 Jan 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary, 1919-2008

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Edward J. Halliday, Sir Edmund Hillary, Auckland Museum, oil on canvas, 1955

Sir Edmund Hillary, conqueror of Mount Everest, (for whom the junior senator from New York was not named) has died at age 88. New Zealand plans a state funeral.

The Australian obituary & video.

AP story, slideshow, videos

Hat tip to Dominique Poirier.

24 Jun 2007

China Building Highway to Mount Everest

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The Chinese government has announced the planned construction of a blacktop highway to Everest base camp to facilitate the carrying of the 2008 Olympic Torch to the summit of the highest mountain in the world.


China plans to build a highway on the side of Mount Everest to ease the Olympic torch’s journey to the peak of the world’s tallest mountain before the 2008 Beijing Games, state media reported Tuesday.
Construction of the road, budgeted at $19.7 million would turn a 67- mile rough path from the foot of the mountain to a base camp at 17,060 feet “into a blacktop highway fenced by undulating guardrails,” the Xinhua News Agency said.

Xinhua said construction, which would start next week, would take about four months. The new highway would become a major route for tourists and mountaineers, it said.

An official from the Secretariat of the Tibetan government, who declined to give his name, confirmed the project was planned, but refused to give any details. Tibet and Nepal are the most commonly used routes up the mountain.

In April, organizers for the Beijing Summer Olympics announced ambitious plans for the longest torch relay in Olympic history—an 85,000-mile, 130-day route that would cross five continents and reach the 29,035-foot summit of Everest.

Taking the Olympic torch to the top of the mountain, seen by some as a way for Beijing to underscore its claims to Tibet, is expected to be one of the relay’s highlights.

26 Aug 2006

Everest Rescue Video

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National Geographic has a video of American Everest climbing team leader Daniel Mazur discussing his May 26, 2006 rescue of 50 year old Australian author Lincoln Hall from a narrow ridge 28,000 feet high on Mount Everest.

Hall, disoriented and suffering from cerebral edema, was abandoned to die the previous day by Russian expedition 7 Summits Club leader Alexander Abramov. Thomas Weber, a partially blind climber with the same expedition, making the ascent to raise money for charity, died the same day.

BBC report.

Ten days earlier, David Sharp was left to die on the mountain by 40 climbers who passed by the striken climber in the course of their ascents.

24 May 2006

40 Climb Past Dying Climber on Everest

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The 2006 climbing season on Mount Everest, with 9 dead already, seems likely to overtake the previous 1996 record of 12 fatalities. This climbing season featured a new kind of record as well, however, with reports of 40 climbers proceeding past a dying British climber on their way up.

Washington Times:

Mark Inglis, an amputee who conquered Mount Everest on artificial legs last week, yesterday defended his party’s decision to carry on to the summit despite coming across a dying climber.
As his team climbed through the “death zone,” the area above 26,000 feet where the body begins to shut down, they passed David Sharp, 34, a stricken British climber who later died. His body remained on the mountain.
Mr. Inglis, 47, a New Zealander, said: “At 28,000 feet it’s hard to stay alive yourself. He was in a very poor condition, near death. We talked about [what to do for him] for quite a lot at the time and it was a very hard decision.
“About 40 people passed him that day, and no one else helped him apart from our expedition. Our Sherpas (guides) gave him oxygen. He wasn’t a member of our expedition, he was a member of another, far less professional one.”..

About 200 people have died on Everest since the first expeditions in the 1920s. The corpses are stepped over by climbers traveling the most popular routes.

Sir Edmund Hillary, the first climber to summit Everest and a representative of a different era, condemned their action.

The New Zealand Press Association reports that Edmund Hillary has questioned the actions of Mark Inglis and others on the night British David Sharp, 34, died. “In our expedition there was never any likelihood whatsoever if one member of the party was incapacitated that we would just leave him to die,” Hillary, told the Otago Daily Times today.

Hillary said people have completely lost sight of what’s important and that the difficulties posed by operating at high altitude is no excuse. “I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mt Everest has become rather horrifying…people just want to get to the top, they don’t give a damn for anybody else who may be in distress and it doesn’t impress me at all that they leave someone lying under a rock to die.”

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