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The Assault on Mount Everest 1922: Excerpt

The Assault on Mount Everest 1922 was written after the 1922 expedition, which was man’s first attempt to scale the highest peak on earth. A
The Assault on Mount Everest 1922
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29 May is celebrated worldwide as Everest Day. On this day in 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay touched the summit of the highest peak on earth. It was the ninth expedition to the Everest, all earlier missions being failures. The first expedition was in 1921 and the second in 1922. The 1922 expedition was the first attempt to actually climb the peak. It was a failed expedition and resulted in the deaths of seven Nepalese porters but it also established a record of climbing 8,321 metres. This expedition was led by Charles G Bruce who after returning documented the entire mission in a book titled ‘The Assault on Mount Everest 1922’. 

We publish an excerpt from the book as a special feature to commemorate Everest Day. 

Chapter IV

The Problem

I

It is very natural that mountaineers, particularly if they are members of the Alpine Club, should wish success to the Everest Expedition; for in a sense it is their own adventure. And yet their sympathies must often wobble. It is not always an undiluted pleasure to hear of new ascents in the Alps, or even in Great Britain; for half the charm of climbing mountains is born in visions preceding this experience—visions of what is mysterious, remote, inaccessible.

By experience we learn that we may pass to another world and come back; we rediscover the accessibility of summits appearing impregnable; and so long as we cannot without a tremor imagine ourselves upon a mountain’s side, that mountain holds its mystery for us. But when we often hear about mountaineering expeditions on one or another of the most famous peaks in the world, are told of conquests among the most remote and difficult ranges or others continually repeated in well-known centres, we come to know too well how accessible mountains are to skilful and even to unskilful climbers. The imagination falters, and it may happen that we find ourselves one day thinking of the most surprising mountain of all with no more reverence than the practised golfer has for an artificial bunker. It was so, I was once informed by a friend, that he caught himself thinking of the Matterhorn, and he wondered whether he shouldn’t give up climbing mountains until he had recovered his reverence for them. A shorter way, I thought, was to wait until the weather broke and then climb the Matterhorn every day till it should be calm and fine again, and when he pondered this suggestion he had no need to test its power, for he very soon began to think again of the Matterhorn as he ought to think. But from the anguish of discovering his heresy he cherished a lesson and afterwards would never consent to read or hear accounts of mountaineering, nor even to speak of his own exploits. This was a commendable attitude in him; and I can feel no doubt, thinking of his case, that however valuable a function it may have been of the Alpine Club in its infancy to propagate not only the gospel, but the knowledge of mountains, the time has come when it should be the principal aim of any such body not only to suppress the propagation of a gospel already too popular, but also to shelter its members against that superabundance of knowledge which must needs result from accumulating records. Hereafter, of contemporary exploits the less we know the better; our heritage of discovery among mountains is rich enough; too little remains to be discovered. The story of a new ascent should now be regarded as a corrupting communication calculated to promote the glory of Man, or perhaps only of individual men, at the expense of the mountains themselves.

It may well be asked how, holding such opinions, I can set myself to the task of describing an attempt to reach the highest summit of all. Surely Chomolungmo should remain inviolate, or if attempted, the deed should not be named. With this point of view I have every sympathy, and lest it should be thought that in order to justify myself I must bring in a different order of reasons from some other plane, and involve myself in a digression even longer than the present, I will say nothing about justification for this story beyond remarking that it glorifies Mount Everest, since this mountain has not yet been climbed. And when I say that sympathy in a mountaineer may wobble, the mountaineer I more particularly mean is the present writer. It is true that I did what I could to reach the summit, but now as I look back and see all those wonderful preparations, the great array of boxes collected at Phari Dzong and filling up the courtyard of the bungalow, the train of animals and coolies carrying our baggage across Tibet, the thirteen selected Europeans so snugly wrapt in their woollen waistcoats and Jaeger pants, their armour of windproof materials, their splendid overcoats, the furred finneskoes or felt-sided boots or fleece-lined moccasins devised to keep warm their feet, and the sixty strong porters with them delighting in underwear from England and leathern jerkins and puttees from Kashmir; and then, unforgettable scene, the scatter of our stores at the Base Camp, the innumerable neatly-made wooden boxes concealing the rows and rows of tins—of Harris’s sausages, Hunter’s hams, Heinz’s spaghetti, herrings soi-disant fresh, sardines, sliced bacon, peas, beans, and a whole forgotten host besides, sauce-bottles for the Mess tables, and the rare bottles more precious than these, the gay tins of sweet biscuits, Ginger Nuts and Rich Mixed, and all the carefully chosen delicacies; and besides all these for our sustenance or pleasure, the fuel supply, uncovered in the centre of the camp, green and blue two-gallon-cans of paraffin and petrol, and an impressive heap of yak-dung; and the climbing equipment—the gay little tents with crimson flies or yellow, pitched here only to be seen and admired, the bundles of soft sleeping-bags, soft as eiderdown quilt can be, the ferocious crampons and other devices, steel-pointed and terrible, for boots’ armament, the business-like coils of rope, the little army of steel cylinders containing oxygen under high pressure, and, not least, the warlike sets of apparatus for using the life-giving gas; and lastly, when I call to mind the whole begoggled crowd moving with slow determination over the snow and up the mountain slopes and with such remarkable persistence bearing up the formidable loads, when after the lapse of months I envisage the whole prodigious evidences of this vast intention, how can I help rejoicing in the yet undimmed splendour, the undiminished glory, the unconquered supremacy of Mount Everest?

1922 Everest expedition
Back row: Morshead, G Bruce, Noel, Wakefield, Somervell, Morris, Norton
Front row: Mallory, Finch, Longstaff, General C Bruce, Strutt, Crawford

It is conceivable that this great mountain, though still unsubdued, may nevertheless have suffered some loss of reputation. It is the business of a mountain to be ferocious first, charming and smiling afterwards if it will. But it has been said already of this mountain that the way to the summit is not very terrible, it will present no technical difficulties of climbing. Has it not then, after all, a character unsuitably mild? Is it not a great cow among mountains? It cannot be denied that the projected route to the summit presents no slopes of terrible steepness. But we may easily underrate the difficulties even here. Though some of us have gazed earnestly at the final ridge and discussed at length the possibility of turning or of climbing direct certain prominent obstacles, no one has certainly determined that he may proceed there without being obliged to climb difficult places; and the snow slope which guards the very citadel will prove, one cannot doubt, as steep as one would wish to find the final slope of any great mountain. Again, the way to the North Col, that snow-saddle by which alone we may gain access to the North Ridge, has not always been simple; we know little enough still about its changing conditions, but evidently on too many days the snow will be dangerous there, and perhaps on many others the presence of bare ice may involve more labour than was required of us this year. But granted this one breach in the defence of Mount Everest, shall we only for that think of it as a mild mountain? How many mountains can be named in the Alps of which so small a part presents the hope of finding a way to the summit? Nowhere on the whole immense face of ice and rocks from the North-east ridge to Lhotse and the South-east ridge is the smallest chance for the mountaineer, and, leaving out all count of size, Mont Blanc even above the Brenva Glacier has no face so formidable as this; of the Southern side, which we know only from a few photographs and sketches, one thing is certain—that whoever reaches it will find there a terrific precipice of bare rock probably unequalled for steepness by any great mountain face in the Alps and immeasurably greater; the single glimpse obtained last year of the Western glacier and the slopes above it revealed one of the most awful and utterly forbidding scenes ever observed by men; how much more encouraging, and yet how utterly hopeless, is the familiar view from the Rongbuk Valley! Mount Everest, therefore, apart from its pre-eminence in bulk and height, is great and beautiful, marvellously built, majestic, terrible, a mountain made for reverence; and beneath its shining sides one must stand in awe and wonder.

Rongbuk Monastery and Mount Everest.
Rongbuk Monastery and Mount Everest.

II

When we think of a party of climbers struggling along the final ridge of Mount Everest, we are perhaps inclined to reject an obvious comparison of their endeavour with that of athletes in a long distance race. The climbers are not of course competing to reach the goal one before another; the aim is for all to reach it. But the climbers’ performance, like the runners’, will depend on two factors, endurance and pace; and the two have to be considered together. A climber must not only keep on moving upwards if he is to succeed, he must move at a certain minimum pace: a pace that will allow him, having started from a given point, to reach the top and come down in a given time. Further, at a great height it is true for the climber even more than for the runner on a track in England that to acquire pace is the chief difficulty, and still more true that it is the pace which kills. Consequently it is pace more than anything else which becomes the test of fitness on Mount Everest.

Every man has his own standard, determined as a result of his experience. He knows perhaps that in the Alps with favourable conditions he is capable of ascending 1,500 feet an hour without unduly exerting himself and without fatigue; if he were to bring into action the whole of his reserves he might be able to double this figure. He will assuredly find when he comes up into Tibet and lives at a mean height of 15,000 feet that he is capable of very much less. And then he begins to call in question his power, to measure himself against his European standard. Every member of both Everest Expeditions was more or less of a valetudinarian. He had his eye on his physical fitness. He wondered each day, Am I getting fitter? Am I as fit as I should expect to be in the Alps? And the ultimate test was pace uphill.

The simpler phenomena of acclimatisation have frequently been referred to in connection with Mount Everest. But still it may be asked why improvement should be expected during a sojourn at 15,000 feet. It is expected because as a matter of experience it happens: though why the red corpuscles in the blood whose function is to absorb and give up oxygen should multiply in the ratio of 8:5, I leave it to physiologists to explain. Whatever explanation they may give I shall not cease to regard this amazing change as the best of miracles. And this change in the hæmoglobin content of the blood evidently proceeds a long way above 15,000 feet. Nevertheless the advantage thereby obtained by no means altogether compensates at very high altitudes the effects of reduced atmospheric pressure. It enables a man to live in very thin air (11½ inches barometric pressure, at 27,000 feet), but not to exert himself with anything like his normal power at sea-level. His pace suffers. If at 23,000 feet he were able to exercise no less power than at 10,000 feet after a few well-spent days in the Alps, he would probably be able to ascend the remaining 6,000 feet to the summit in a single day. But if you cut off the supply of fuel you cannot expect your engine to maintain its pace of working; the power exercised by the climber in the more rarefied atmosphere at these high altitudes must be less; a rise of 6,000 feet in a day will be beyond his capacity. Therefore he must have camps higher on the mountain, and ultimately he must have one so high that in nine or ten hours even his snail’s pace will bring him to the summit.

Camp II. at Sunset.
Camp II. at Sunset.

We must remember too that not only will his pace have suffered, his mind will be in a deplorable state. The experiments conducted in pressure chambers have a bearing on this point. I treasure the story of Prof. Haldane who, while in such a chamber, wanted to observe the colour of his lips and for some minutes gazed into his mirror before discovering that he held the back towards his face. Mountaineers have often observed a lack of clarity in their mental state at high altitudes; it is difficult for the stupid mind to observe how stupid it is, but it is by no means improbable that the climbers of Mount Everest will try to drink their food or proceed crabwise, or do some quite ridiculous thing. And not only is it difficult to think straight in thin air, it is difficult to retain the desire to do anything at all. Perhaps of all that tells against him the mere weakness of a man’s will when he is starved of oxygen is beyond everything likely to prevent his success.

Since the problem of climbing Mount Everest presented itself physiologically, it was only natural in us on the Expedition continually to be watching acclimatisation. We watched it in connection with the whole idea of being trained for the event. Probably each of us had a different notion as to how he should be trained, and some thought more about training than others. On this point I must confess a weakness when I foresee an event in which my physical strength and condition are to count for so much; I am one of those who think more about training. I consider how I may add a cubit to my stature and all the time I am half aware that I might spare myself the trouble of such futile meditations. Experience seems only to show that, provided I habitually eat well and sleep well and take a moderate amount of exercise, I can do nothing to improve my endurance on a mountain. Probably some men may do more to this end. The week we spent in Darjeeling sufficed for all of us to brace ourselves after the enervating effects of our journey from England. Norton, who had come out rather earlier and prepared himself in the most strenuous fashion for the immense exertions of the Khadir Cup, was already finely trained—too well, I thought, for so lean a man. He and Geoffrey Bruce, my companion in the first party, together with General Bruce, Longstaff, and Noel, elected to walk a great deal in Sikkim, and so I believe did Somervell, Wakefield, and Morshead in the second party. The General, very frankly expressing the probable advantage to his figure of profuse perspiration in those warm valleys, also walked a great deal. For an exactly contrary reason—I hate the inconvenience that must arise on the march from wet clothes—I walked less than any of these; probably Longstaff and I rode more than the rest up to Phari Dzong. But when I heard how wonderfully fit were the two most energetic walkers of our party, and learned from Geoffrey Bruce of Norton’s amazing pace uphill, I could not refrain from testing my own condition on the first occasion that we approached a comparatively high altitude: coming up to Gnatong, where the bungalow is situated above 12,000 feet, I walked for all I was worth, and was well satisfied. Next day I felt far from well with indigestion and headache. General Bruce and Longstaff were also unwell, and it was a cheerless afternoon and evening in the two little rooms at Kupup, with hailstorms outside and too little light within. Norton and Bruce elected to sleep on the verandah, and these two, with me, if I were fit enough, intended starting early next morning so as to climb a small mountain, diverging thus from our path over the Jelep La (14,500 feet) for the sake of the view. We set off not much later than we had intended; but it was now Norton’s turn to be unwell, and he was properly mountain-sick 1,000 feet below the pass. However, we were not inclined to pay much attention to these little troubles; with a day’s rest at a lower elevation (9,000 feet), and the pleasures of feasting with the Macdonalds in Yatung, we were quickly restored.

Since the problem of climbing Mount Everest presented itself physiologically, it was only natural in us on the Expedition continually to be watching acclimatisation. We watched it in connection with the whole idea of being trained for the event. Probably each of us had a different notion as to how he should be trained, and some thought more about training than others.

The continuous process of acclimatisation was due to begin at Phari Dzong. There we should stay three days above 14,000 feet, and after that our marches would keep us between that level and 17,000 feet, so that a man would surely find out how he was affected by living at high altitudes. At Phari the whole party seemed remarkably fit, and any amount of energy was available for sorting out and checking our vast mass of stores. But the conditions of travel on these high plains became evident so soon as we were on the march again. Those who gaily started to walk, not troubling to provide themselves with a pony, found after a time that they were glad enough to ride; but then it became so bitterly cold that riding was more disagreeable than walking, and most of us, as we pushed along in the teeth of a blizzard, preferred to walk, and were surprisingly fatigued. Two of the party were ill when we reached camp, but more perhaps from chill than mountain-sickness. On the following day a system of sharing ponies to allow alternate walking and riding was more carefully organised. Even so, most of us must have walked two-thirds of that long rough march (about 25 miles), and while crossing the “Concertina pass,” as we called it, a name which explains itself, we had ample opportunities of testing our powers of walking uphill between 16,000 and 17,000 feet; it was evident that we were already becoming acclimatised and able to enjoy those mild competitions in which a man will test his powers against another as they breast a hill together. This was encouraging enough; but how far we were from “going” as we would go at 10,000 feet lower could easily be observed from our puffing and blowing and the very moderate pace achieved by great efforts.

Fording the Bhong Chu.
Fording the Bhong Chu, a tributary of the Kosi River

It was a week later before we had another opportunity of testing our acclimatisation as we came up to the Tinki La, a rise of nearly 3,000 feet up to 17,000 feet. I suppose there may have been some slight improvement in this week; for my part, I was fairly fit, and after riding over the comparatively flat approach, walked up about 2,000 feet without a halt and experienced no sort of fatigue. But the party as a whole was disappointing, and several members were distinctly affected by the height. Perhaps this pass was one of those places where some local circumstance emphasises the altitude, for the ponies stopped and puffed in a way we had never seen before; but I fancy the reason of their condition was to be found in the steepness of the ascent.

The day after crossing the Tinki La, we had a short march to Gyangkar Nangpa, and, coming across the flat basin, had full in view before us Sangkar Ri, a prominent rock peak, the most northerly of a remarkable range above the left bank of the Arun River. The desire to vary the routine of the daily march by climbing a mountain had already stirred a number of suggestions among us, and now the opportunity seemed to offer itself; we were further incited by the prospect of a splendid view of Mount Everest if we could reach this summit, which lay not so very far out of our way. No doubt unconscious motives, too, promoted our attempt on Sangkar Ri. The pleasures of mountaineering must always be restricted for those who grapple with the highest mountains, if not denied in toto; but the ascent of a little rock peak of 20,000 feet might help to keep alive in us some appreciation of mountaineering as an enjoyable pursuit. And then we wanted confidence in ourselves. At present we could only feel how unequal we were to the prodigious task in front of us; so were we urged to try conclusions with Sangkar Ri, to put ourselves to the test.

The project demanded a high camp, at 17,000 feet, nearly 4,000 feet above Gyangkar Nangpa. Seeing that it would clearly be undesirable to employ more than a very small number of porters to carry up tents and sleeping-bags for the night, Somervell and I at first made a plan for ourselves alone; but when it was found that two others wanted to come with us, this plan was amplified to include them, and it was arranged that the four of us should sleep at close quarters in a Whymper tent. The porters who carried for us in the evening would take down their burdens in the early morning, in time to get them loaded on to the animals at Gyangkar without delaying the main body. The establishment of our camp did not proceed without some little difficulty; one of the porters gave out and had to be relieved of his load, and it was not until we had contoured a hillside for an hour in the dark that we found a suitable place. So soon as we had lain down in our tent, a bitter wind sprang up and blew in at the door; the night was one of the coldest I remember.

Panorama at Shekar Dzong.
Panorama at Shekar Dzong.

We had ascended not more than 1,000 feet next morning when one of the party decided that he was too ill to go on; he exhibited the usual symptoms of mountain-sickness. While the other two suffered the disappointment of turning back, Somervell and I pushed on towards a snow col on the North ridge of the mountain. As it was desirable to reach this point without delay in order to see the view while it was yet unclouded, and to take photographs, I continued at my own pace, and eventually found myself looking down on Somervell some distance below me as he struggled up with frequent halts. I very soon made up my mind that we should get no higher than this. But after a brief halt and some refreshment when he had rejoined me, Somervell announced that he was prepared to go on. We began to make our way along a rock ridge, which became ever steeper as we mounted. Our progress was slow indeed, and I kept thinking, as I found myself more and more fatigued, “Surely we must give up now; a man in his state can’t go on climbing such rocks as these.” But whenever I asked how he was feeling, he would answer that he was getting along well enough; and as we gradually won our way up, and I kept my eye on my watch, I began to see that we had really a chance of reaching the summit. The rocks were by no means easy, and it is commonly said that the effort of climbing difficult rocks is just what will prove most exhausting, if it can be undertaken at all, to men affected by altitude. The struggle to overcome a steep obstacle must always interfere with regular breathing. Nevertheless, I am inclined to think that the advantage in sheer exhilaration of climbing difficult rocks compensates the greater trouble in breathing, and that so long as I am still in a state to climb them, I prefer even difficult rocks to snow. The actual exertion put forth in mounting even the steepest cliff is often overrated. If there are moments of intense struggle, these are rare, and though the demand on nervous concentration is great, the climber proceeds for the most part with balanced movements, requiring, indeed, the sureness of trained muscles, but no tremendous output of strength. With such balanced movement the two of us were able to go slowly upwards, without a rapidly increasing exhaustion, to the foot of a formidable gendarme. We had hopes in the first instance that he might be compelled to yield to a frontal attack. But, 30 feet up, we found our way barred by a slab, which was at once so smooth and so exposed that, though we felt it might conceivably be climbed, we decided it was not for us to climb it at the present moment; our allowance of rope was insufficient for operations which might require an “abseil” [1] on the descent. We therefore turned to the West side of our ridge. Here, of course, we were out of the sun, and the rocks were so cold that they felt sticky to the skin and blistered our finger-tips. However, we managed to execute a sensational traverse, and afterwards climbed a steep wall, which brought us out above the slab from which we had turned back. It was here that we experienced both the difficulty and the danger of rock-climbing at high altitudes. It was necessary, in a terribly exposed position, to pull oneself over an edge of rock on to a little platform. A big effort was required: but the reserve of strength had been exhausted. Having committed myself to this taxing struggling, the grim thought arose in my mind that at the critical moment I might be found wanting and my body refuse to respond when the greatest effort was required of it. A great effort was required before I arrived panting on the airy stance.

Lingga and the Lhonak Mountains.
Lingga and the Lhonak Mountains.

After these exciting moments, we reached the top of the gendarme without much trouble. But he had cost us too much time. We had to start from Gyangkar this same day in pursuit of General Bruce, and ought to cross the quicksands of the Shiling Plain before dark. We had already overstepped the time allowed for the ascent according to our intention. The summit now appeared perhaps 500 feet above us, and the intervening rocks were evidently going to provide some stiff passages. It was necessary, therefore, to turn back here and waste no time on the descent. The descent proved longer than we had expected; we chose a long traverse over steep snow to avoid the gendarme, and neither of us was in a condition to cut steps quickly. We observed, in fact, what I had observed last year with Bullock, that one may go down a considerable distance at a high altitude, and instead of recovering very quickly, as may happen in the Alps, one only becomes progressively more fatigued. It was 4.30 p.m. when we reached Gyankar and found ourselves happily recovered from our exertions. Sangkar Ri was still unclimbed. But we looked back on our expedition with some satisfaction. We had been little short of 20,000 feet when we turned back, and I had been greatly impressed by Somervell’s endurance. For though very much fatigued before reaching the col at the foot of our ridge, and further enervated by an attack of dysentery which had begun on the previous day, his condition seemed rather to improve than to deteriorate above that point. For my part, I had come near enough to exhaustion, considering the difficulties of the climb, and had suffered from a severe headache, but certainly felt no worse than I expected at this stage of our training.

I entered upon this tale with the object of illustrating the course of acclimatisation among us; but the return to Gyangkar was not for us the end of the story. It was now 138clear that we could not hope to cross the quicksands before night. However, we might hope to reach the ford by which we must cross the river Yaru with still enough light to recognise the spot, and thereafter we could rest in a sheltered place I knew of until the late rising moon should show us the tracks of the main body. We set off accordingly in high haste on the ponies we found waiting for us. Our instruction had been that these animals should be specially selected for their fleetness of foot—for Tibetan ponies can, some of them, travel at a fair speed, while others no amount of flogging will urge beyond 3 miles an hour. The beast I rode very quickly showed that he was one of these last. I had entrusted my ice-axe to a porter who accompanied us, and now told him to ride behind me and use it if necessary. For 5 miles he used it with a dexterity and energy beyond praise. Then I abandoned the pony, and, walking ahead of the party, easily outstripped the rest encumbered with this beast. Night fell when we were still 2 miles short of the ford. But as Somervell and I approached the spot and wondered exactly where it might be, we perceived lights a little way ahead on the further bank of the river, presumably those of a Tibetan camp, and soon a figure appeared on that side. We were hailed in Tibetan; our sirdar, coming up, spoke Tibetan in reply; the figure waded across to us; and it was explained to me that this good Samaritan was prepared to carry me over on his back. I readily agreed to so generous a proposition. He was not an easy steed, but I was able to hang on to him for a hundred yards or so until he deposited me on the other bank, a light enough burden, apparently, to be picked up and set down like a child. And 400 yards further we reached the lights. It was no stranger camp; the tents were ours, and the General and the rest were sitting in the Mess while dinner was keeping hot in the kitchen against our return.

Seracs, East Rongbuk Glacier, above Camp II.

Ten days later we reached our Base Camp at the foot of the Rongbuk Glacier (16,800 feet) and contemplated the prospect of rising another 12,000 feet and more to the summit of Mount Everest. At all events the whole party had reached this point remarkably fit, and no one now showed signs of distress from staying at this elevation. Remembering how Bullock and I had felt after our first exertions up here last year, I hoped to spend a few days at the Base Camp before doing very much, and as General Bruce’s plans worked out nothing was required of me at present. But much was asked of the reconnaissance party which started out on May 4.

It has been recorded in earlier chapters how in three days from the Base Camp they reached a height of 21,500 feet on the East Rongbuk Glacier. The cold was great and their hardships were unrelieved by the greater comfort of established camps enjoyed by those who followed the pioneers. From their accounts they were evidently affected a good deal by altitude before turning back with their work accomplished, and in spite of the cold they experienced the familiar phenomenon of lassitude so painfully and particularly noticeable on the glaciers when the sun makes itself felt. But on the whole they had been less affected by the want of air than was to be expected. They had this advantage—that they proceeded gradually; the distance to travel was long, but the ascent was never steep, and they found the upper glacier very lightly covered with snow; and it is heavy going and a steep ascent that most readily induce the more distressing symptoms of mountain-sickness. However, from the point of view of acclimatisation it was highly satisfactory that this party should have proceeded with so little delay to reach 21,000 feet.

Climbing Mount Everest
Party ascending the Chang La.

Meanwhile Somervell and I, chafing somewhat at our inactivity and with the idea that a long day on the mountains would do us good at this stage, on May 6 climbed a small peak above the left bank of the Rongbuk Glacier. It was a day of small misfortunes for me. As we were walking on the stony slopes in the early morning my triconni nails of hard steel slipped on a granite slab and I contrived to leave there an incredible amount of skin from the back of my right hand. And higher, as we worked along a broken ridge, a large boulder poised in unstable equilibrium slipped as I brushed it with my knee and fell on the big-toe joint so as to pinion my right foot. It was an awkward moment, for the place was steep; I just had strength to heave it over and down the mountain-side, and luckily no bones were broken. But walking was very painful afterwards, and perhaps this accident had something to do with the fatigue I felt as we neared the summit. On the lower slopes I had been going well enough and seemed fitter than Somervell; at 21,000 feet he was apparently no more fatigued than at 18,000 or 19,000 feet, while I could scarcely drag one leg after the other. And when we came back to camp I was surprisingly glad to take a little whisky in my tea.

Notes:

  1. Abseil- A method of coming down on a double rope.

This book is now in the public domain. The text and images in this excerpt has been reproduced from TheProjectGutenberg.

Charles Granville Bruce was a veteran Himalayan mountaineer and leader of the second and third British expeditions to Mount Everest in 1922 and 1924. In recognition of the former he was awarded a special prize at the conclusion of the first ever Winter Olympics.

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