The First High Climb
When first the prospect of going to Mount Everest opened for me I used to visualize the expedition in my thoughts as a series of tremendous panting efforts up the final slopes. Later it became a symbol of adventure; I imagined, not so much doing anything of my own will, but rather being led by stupendous circumstances into strange and wonderful situations. Now it has become a problem; with no less interest, and even excitement, the Expedition brings to my mind’s eye a view of the long mountain slopes set at intervals with groups of little tents, with loads of stores and sleeping-sacks, and with men. My object at present is to state this problem — partly because without it the story of our attempts cannot well be understood, and partly because the problem is still with us. Everest is not yet climbed. Nor do we know for certain that it can be climbed. But we may see how much nearer we are to a solution as a result of this year’s Expedition.
The first element in this problem is to supply a camp one stage below the North Col. The reconnaissance of last year had made it plain that this could be done, but it seemed not unlikely with too great a strain; the difficulty is in bringing the porters fresh to this point. General Bruce has proved that this can be done, at all events with his guidance, and we were able to set out this year from our camp at 21,000 feet with full confidence that our porters were in the best of strength and spirits.
The problem of climbing the mountain from that point to the summit, from 21,000 to 29,000 feet, was left after last year’s Expedition briefly thus: a way to the North Col at 23,000 feet had been found in September, but it was by no means certain that this way would prove convenient, or even serve at all in May and June before the monsoon. Upwards from the North Col it was fairly certain that no great obstacle would present itself below the final ridge, and it seemed probable that the true north-east ridge to the summit, if it could be reached, would not be insuperable. Our experience in 1921 had also pointed to the period before the monsoon as offering the best chances of favourable weather. In such conditions as prevailed after the monsoon last year it was at all events certain that Mount Everest could not be climbed. Supposing, then, that all the conditions of the mountain should turn out for the best, what were the chances of success? It was known that men could climb to a height of 24,600 feet — the Duke of Abruzzi’s record. It was certain, therefore, that they could exist a great deal higher, for the difference between breathing at rest and breathing with the effort of climbing up is immense. My own experience led me to believe that it would be possible to climb at least to 26,000 feet, and probably in one day, from the North Col. But the ultimate limit would be determined, not by a man’s capacity when starting fresh on a single day, but when starting on the last of several days after using up his reserves of strength by successive efforts above 21,000 feet; for the reserves are not made good by a night’s rest at these great heights. There remained the problem of providing camps to allow the climbers to reach this theoretical limit, or the summit of Mount Everest if that proved to be the lower. It seemed likely that the limit in practice would be determined not by the endurance of the climbers, but by the capacity of the porters to carry loads above 23,000 feet, and by the organization of transport within their powers.
Considering this year’s Expedition with reference to this problem, the climbing party was first concerned with the way up to the North Col. It was obvious to all of us, when we reached the Base Camp and could study the conditions of the mountain, that many of the slopes were icy, even on the north face. Strutt’s party returning to the Base Camp on May 8 gave a gloomy account in that respect. The almost level glacier was remarkably icy up to 20,500 feet. Somervell and I, when we went from the Base Camp on May 10, with orders to act independently and get as high as we could, fully expected prolonged step-cutting up to the North Col. On May 13 we set forth from Camp III. with one coolie. Of the slopes which Bullock and I had used in our ascent to the North Col last year, all except the final and steepest one were glittering ice. But we saw that by cutting up a short, steep slope at the bottom we could reach a gently sloping corridor, and so gain that final slope which was the key to the ascent. Choosing this way we found good snow almost continuously above the first ice. Thus we avoided, not only for that occasion but for the whole of the prolonged assault, a great labour and a great danger. It is essential to have a way up to the North Col where the coolies can very largely look after themselves, and, as it was, the labour of getting up on that first occasion proved quite sufficient.
On the North Col a quite unexpected difficulty arose. The final slope I spoke of gives out on to a wide snow shelf. Above it is an ice cliff, broken occasionally by deep fissures. Last year we had easily found a way round this obstacle in the direction of Mount Everest, and so reached the lowest point of the col. Somervell and I now found this way barred by an impassable crevasse. We stood at the edge of it for a little while, wondering whether it could really be true that we had come so far to be baulked by a crevasse, and debating the use of a ladder. Then we went back and explored in the direction of the North Peak. We found a steep way up at the further end of the ice cliff, and after leaping two large crevasses proceeded along the hummocky and broken ground beyond; at length we saw a clear way to the level snow from which the north ridge springs. But it does not follow that a party of the future will be so fortunate. One might well be cut off altogether in such a place, which evidently changes a good deal from year to year, and in a country where wood is difficult to obtain another expedition would do well to equip itself against this contingency.
On May 13, then, we had taken the first step towards establishing Camp IV. The one porter had carried up one tent. Nothing more could be done until more porters were available. Fortunately the transport arrangements below were now working so satisfactorily that on the 15th Strutt, Morshead, and Norton were able to join us at Camp III., and we were able to keep eight coolies from their convoy.
We had now to decide how best under these circumstances to tackle the problem, and principally whether we should attempt to make two camps or only one above Camp IV. at the North Col. The question, when we came to examine it in detail, was practically decided for us; with only nine, or possibly ten, coolies immediately available, the operation of providing a No. VI. Camp, involving nearly double the labour of providing only Nos. IV. and V., would take too long, besides in all probability demanding too much of the porters. As it was we had a margin of strength — an invaluable margin. The plan allowed two coolies for each of four loads from Camp IV. to Camp V., and it was hoped that by this arrangement they would be able to reach 26,000 feet. The ten more loads were carried to Camp IV., under the North Col, on May 17.
On the 19th we left camp at 8.45 a.m., carrying up bedding and all warm things available for the porters. The day was fine and sunny. At 1 p.m. Norton and I were putting up tents, while Morshead and Somervell were fixing one more rope between the terrace of our camp and that of the col itself. These domesticities occupied the afternoon, and when sundown came at 4.30 we turned in for the night, all well and fairly comfortable, proudly possessing six thermos flasks.
Prospects seemed extraordinarily promising. It was our intention to carry on in the morning only four loads — two of the smallest tents, two double sleeping-sacks, food for one and a half days, cooking-pots, and two thermos flasks. Our nine porters, who were housed three apiece in Mummery tents, were perfectly fit, so that we had two porters for each load, even so having a margin of one porter. Everything had been managed so happily and satisfactorily that there was hardly a doubt that the men would be able to establish camp higher up the mountain on the morrow.
On May 20 sunlight hit the tents at 5 a.m. according to our time. I immediately got up to rouse the party. There was no sign of life in the porters’ tents, which were hermetically sealed. Muffled responses from the interior carried no conviction of minds alert and eager. It was necessary to untie the elaborate fastenings by which the flaps were secured. The porters, I found, were all unwell — we eventually ascertained that four of them were seriously mountain sick. Five were willing to come on. It was hardly surprising that they felt better when they were persuaded to come out of the unventilated tents.
Further delays were caused by the cooking operations. It was easy to make tea with the water from our thermos flanks, but we had decided to start the day with a handsome dish of spaghetti. Unfortunately, the two tins provided for that purpose, instead of being gently nursed the night long near the warmth of human bodies, had been left out in the cold snow, and edible spaghetti was eventually produced only after prolonged thawing.
We started in the end an hour late, at 7 a.m., quickly making our way to the North Col, whence a broad snow ridge ascends at a gently increasing angle. It was clear that sooner or later steps would have to be chipped in the hard surface. We were able to avoid this labour at first by following the stone ridge on the west side.
Morshead, if good cheer be a sign of fitness, seemed the strongest and went first; we proceeded at a satisfactory pace in the fine early morning. Perhaps, after all, we should camp at the required height of 26,000 feet.
“Illusory hope of early sun begot!” We presently became aware that it was not a perfect day: the sun had no real warmth, and a cold breeze sprang up from the west. I found myself kicking my toes against the rock for warmth whenever we paused, and was obliged to put on my spare warm clothes — a Shetland woolie and a silk shirt. The porters were evidently feeling the cold more acutely the higher they went. The ridge of stones ended abruptly, and it became clear that if we were to establish a camp at all, we must race for shelter to the east side of the ridge. Cutting steps at high altitudes is always hard work. The proper way to do it in hard snow is to give one blow with the ice-axe and then stamp the foot into the hole just made; but such a blow requires a man’s full strength, and he must kick hard into the hole. On the higher Himalayas the amateur will probably prefer to make two or three chips of a feebler sort in cutting his steps. In any case, 300 feet of such work, particularly if hurried, is extremely exhausting, and we were glad to rest at length about noon, sheltered under rocks at about 25,000 feet.
There was no question now of getting our loads much higher before camping. The porters would have to return to camp; it would have been an unwarrantable risk to expose them further in such conditions; they must be sent down before they were frost-bitten and before the weather could change for the worse. Under other conditions it might have been necessary for some of us to accompany them on their way down; now they could safely be sent alone. No camping-place could be seen where we were, so we crossed round to the sheltered side, vaguely hoping that one might present itself. Eventually the porters with Somervell professed to have found the right place, and on the steep mountain side they proceeded to build a wall of stones so as to construct a comparatively flat place for one of the Mummery tents.
Norton and I, feebly imitating their efforts, proceeded to erect another, but somehow in our case the walls did not serve. One site after another proved a failure, until at last we found a steep slab of rock, which was at all events in itself secure, and so placed that it was possible to make up the ground at its lower end. Here we ultimately pitched our tent in such a way that the slab took up half the floor-space. A more uncomfortable arrangement could not have been devised, as the inevitable result was that one man slid down on to the other as they lay, squeezing them tightly together, and so increasing almost to the pitch of agony the pain caused by the sharp rocks forming the other part of the floor.
There, however, were the two little tents, perched fifty yards apart in some sort of fashion for security under the lee of rocks, containing each a double sleeping-bag for warmth in the night. Somervell melted snow with much labour for a perfunctory meal, and soon each bag harboured a pair of men, tightly packed, warming each other, and warmed by the prospect full of hope of a day’s mountaineering unlike all others, because we were to start from a point on the Earth’s surface higher than any before reached.
Perhaps none of us yet realized how much we had already suffered from the cold. Norton’s ear was thrice its normal size, and proved a considerable inconvenience by limiting the number of admissible dispositions for his limbs and mine in those close quarters. Three of my fingers were frost-touched; but luckily the effects of frostbite are not very serious in the early stages. Far more serious was Morshead’s condition. Too late in the day he had put on his sledging suit for protection against the wind; on arriving in camp he was chilled and evidently unwell. We had also to regret the loss of Norton’s rucksack; it slipped from his knees during a halt, and must now lie somewhere at the head of the Rongbuk glacier with its provision of warm things for the night; however, we still had enough among us.
Our chief anxiety was the weather; the west wind dropped in the evening, and the signs pointed to a change. At intervals during the night we noticed that stars were visible; nearer dawn we were disgusted to observe that the ground outside was snow-white. A little later, listening, we heard fine hail falling on the tents, and peering out of the tent door it was possible to make out that the cloud and mist were coming up from the east on a monsoon current.
At 6.30 a.m., with somewhat better signs, we extricated ourselves from our sleeping-bags and set about preparing a meal. Only one thermos flask had turned up overnight, so that our task was cold and long. Another ill-fated ruck-sack containing provisions slipped from our perch, but miraculously, after bounding 100 feet or more, stopped on a small ledge. Morshead, heroically exerting himself, recovered it.
At about 8 o’clock we were ready to start. We did not discuss whether in these conditions we ought to proceed. The snow which had fallen was obviously an impediment, and more was to be expected. But weather of this sort, with all its disadvantages to the mountaineer, may not mean mischief. In high altitudes the snow falls fine, and is not hard driven by the wind. So far as getting up was concerned, there was therefore little fear on this count. None of us, after a long headachy night, felt at our best. For my part, I hoped that the mere effort at deep breathing in the first few steps of the ascent would string me up to the required efforts, and that we all should be better once we had started.
Disappointment followed at the moment of setting out in hearing bad news from Morshead.
“I think I won’t come with you,” he said; “I am quite sure I should only keep you back.”
On such a question only the man concerned is able to judge. We three (Mallory, Somervell, and Norton) went on regretfully without him. Details of the climbing of the next few hours do not merit exact description. The conditions were naturally unfavourable: fresh snow covered the ledges and concealed loose stones, everywhere obstructive; but the general nature of the ground was not difficult. Despite the geological conjectures of last year, we did not find ourselves climbing chimneys and flakes. There was no sign of granite as we stepped up from ledge to ledge; and these ledges were uniformly tilted disadvantageously.
Plainly the rock is of a stratified sedimentary form, and as far as can be seen it must have the same general nature up to the summit, varied only by recognizable bands of lighter-coloured quartzite. It was a disappointment that the angle of the ledge was not sufficiently steep to require a more strenuous use of the arms, for the arms help one up, seeming to relieve the monotony of balanced footwork.
It was a matter of slowly pushing up, first regaining the ridge by striking westwards, then following the ridge itself directly towards the great tower capping the north-east shoulder of the mountain. Ultimately, the power of pushing up depended upon lung capacity. Lungs governed our speed, making the pace a miserable crawl. From the Alpine point of view our lungs made us pause to admire the view oftener than is correct in the best circles. But our lungs were remarkably alike and went well together. Personally I contrived a looseness of the muscles by making an easy, deep-drawn breath, and by exercising deep breathing I found myself able to proceed. For a long time we had good hope of reaching the north-east shoulder, but, remembering the long descent to be made and the retarding circumstances of fresh snow, we agreed to turn back not much later than 2 p.m.
We had to consider Morshead left behind at Camp V. On his account it was desirable to get back to camp with time in hand to reach the North Col on the same day; and in any case it would be an insane risk to climb to the utmost limit of one’s strength on Mount Everest and trust to inspiration or brandy to get one down in safety; for the body does not recover strength in the descent as it does in the Alps.
At 2.15, some time after crossing the head of a conspicuous couloir on the north-east face, we reached, as it were, the head of the rocks, still perhaps 500 feet below the north-east shoulder of the mountain, and commanding a clear view to the summit. The pace of the party was extremely slow, and there was obvious risk in spending much more time in going up. Greatly as we desired to gain the shoulder — and we were not yet at the end of our powers — the only wisdom was in retreat. The aneroid registered 26,800 feet. We turned to descend with sufficient strength, we believed, for the long task before us.
Away to the westward the ground appeared to be less rocky, and to have more snow. Our obvious plan was to make use of any snow slope in that direction for our descent. We were, however, very quickly disillusioned, as the “snow slopes” turned out to be a series of slabs of rock lying treacherously under a fresh white mask of snow. We were obliged to get back to our ridge and follow down along our upward tracks. At 4 o’clock Morshead welcomed us back to our camp of the previous night at 25,000 feet. After gathering what we wanted and leaving our tents, sleeping-sacks, and other items, we proceeded back along the ledge which our track of yesterday had followed. It was difficult to realize immediately how the freshly fallen snow had made of this easy ground a dangerous passage. A nasty slip occurred, and three men were held only by the rope secured round the leader’s single ice-axe. The party proceeded very cautiously after this incident, and it soon became evident that it would be a race with the oncoming darkness.
When we regained the great snow ridge, no traces of the steps we had cut on the upward journey could be found; we had to repeat the step-cutting. That grim and slow process was observed at about 6 o’clock by Strutt from below in Camp III. Nor were our difficulties at an end after the passage of this slope. One of the disagreeable facts which differentiates Himalayan expeditions from those in lower mountains is that an exhausted man does not recover his strength quickly as he goes down. Morshead, although climbing very pluckily, and making the most tremendous efforts to get his breath, had now arrived at the end of his tether. At best he could proceed only a few steps at a time. Fortunately, it was easy going on the way down to the North Col as we watched the diminishing light. Norton supported Morshead with his shoulder while I was finding the easiest way down, and Somervell acted as rearguard. Lightning from blue-grey sinister clouds to the west began to flicker after sunset over one of the most amazing mountain views and one which seemed to be full of malice. What sort of wind were we going to find on the col after dark when our difficulties were due to begin once more?
Our luck was good, or Providence was kind, for, as soon as we had arrived at the starlit crevasses now dimly confronting us and Somervell had produced the lantern from his ruck-sack, so calm was the air that even with a Japanese match, after a dozen trials or so, we lit our candle. By its light we groped hither and thither to find our way; there were crevasses concealed beneath the trackless surfaces; happily no one fell through before we reached the edge of a little cliff. Here it was necessary to jump down about 15 feet into snow, a sufficiently alarming prospect with so dim a light to guide one; but the leap was safely accomplished. One of the fixed ropes, if only we could find it, would now take us down to the terrace where the five tents could just be seen still neatly pitched in a row awaiting our arrival. The rope had become buried by snow and our last candle burnt out. We groped for some time along the edge of the precipice and then began to go down at a steep angle, doubting whether this were the way. Suddenly some one hooked up the rope from under the snow. We knew then that we could reach the tents.
A little later, at 11.30, we were searching our camp for fuel and cooking-pots. None were found. A meal without liquid food was not to be contemplated; but the North Col, unless snow could be melted, was “dry.” The best “ersatz,” invented by Norton, was a mixture of jam and snow with frozen condensed milk. The sickly stuff was most unlike a drink, and I ascribe to its influence the uncontrollable shudderings, spasms of muscular contraction in belly and back which I suffered in my sleeping-bag, and which caused me to sit up and inhale again great whiffs from the night air, as though that habit of deep breathing had settled upon me indispensably.
On the following morning, urged still by our unrelieved cravings, we set off at 6 a.m. I suppose a fresh man with tracks to help him might comfortably reach Camp III. in an hour from the North Col. It took us six hours, and we worked hard; we had to make a staircase beneath the new snow good enough for porters’ use, for we did not intend to sleep at 21,000 feet without our sleeping-bags. And it is worth remarking that the circumstance of new snow and covered tracks must always be a serious consideration to a tired party on the Chang La.
In the light of these experiences we may review afresh the problem of climbing Mount Everest. By far the most important modification of our previous view is in respect of the porters. Their power was far greater than was to be expected. None before had ever carried a camp above 23,500 feet; these men carried our loads to 25,000; Finch’s even higher to 25,500 feet, and some of them even repeated this amazing feat on three successive days. Nor is there the smallest reason to suppose that after sleeping a night above 25,000 feet they would be incapable of going on next day. They showed astonishingly little signs of fatigue. The mountain sickness to which some of them succumbed on the North Col was easily accounted for by the fact that they closed their tent doors and slept with too little air; nothing of the kind occurred again. The fact that the porters were capable of so much and endured so well has profoundly altered the aspect of our problem. It seems that almost certainly a sixth camp, at about 27,000 feet, might be carried up; and the limit of climbing, instead of being determined by the difficulty of fixing camps, will be determined simply by the factor of endurance among the trained climbers.
And what, after this year’s performances, may be expected of them? It will have been observed that the three of us who reached 26,800 feet climbed only 1800 feet in a day from our camp; but the maximum time was not available; bad weather delayed our start, and the descent was to camp below our starting-point. So far as time is concerned we should have had five hours more, and judging by the party’s performance up to their highest point, I haven’t the smallest doubt that with five hours more 700 feet might have been added to the record, and the day’s performance brought to 2500 feet. The question, then, which I should put is this: Is it conceivable, in the first place, that in two days above the North Col a camp could be fixed at 27,000 feet? and, in the second, supposing a party to start from 27,000 feet, could they conceivably climb in a day the remaining 2000 feet to the summit? We cannot, of course, give a certain answer; but at all events the question does not appear fantastic. The effort of climbing the last 2000 feet to the summit should not in itself be considerably greater than that of climbing the 2000 feet from 25, 000 to 27, 000; for the difference in atmospheric pressure is very small, only 0'8 of an inch between 27,000 feet to the summit, compared with a difference of 19½ inches between sea-level and 27,000 feet. The factors which will tell against the climber on this last section are his efforts on the previous days, from which it may be supposed he will not have recovered completely, and, possibly, ill effects from sleeping at these very high camps. But if any gambler has been laying odds on the mountain, he should very considerably reduce his ratio as a result of this year’s expedition.
I imagine that a number of physiologists, especially, would be inclined to reduce these odds on the mountain. I was told at Oxford last year, by Sir Walter Raleigh, that the physiologists said it was physiologically impossible to climb to the top of Mount Everest without oxygen — the matter had been proved by experiments in a pressure-reducing chamber. I told Sir Walter that the physiologists might explode themselves in their diabolical chamber, but we would do what we could to explode their damnable heresy — or words to that effect. I always, as a matter of course, take off my hat to scientists, as latter-day Olympians breathing a different if not purer air than common mortals. But the air of Mount Olympus (a base little lump after all) is not that of Mount Everest, and experiments made there with a pumped-out tank, interesting as they may be, are of no value in determining where precisely on that other hill of unrivalled altitude persevering man will be brought to a standstill; for it must be supposed of the persevering man that he has been acclimatized to rarefied air, while the Olympian and other victims of those experiments are only acclimatized to the atmosphere of Mount Olympus, which, I am given to understand, is particularly dense. Acclimatization — this is the factor at the root of the matter. The best experiment in this respect is to go to Mount Everest, or some other high mountain, and see how you feel; the scientists may explain your feelings, but when it comes to prophecy they have less right to be heard than a high-climbing mountaineer; the idea of the man who has tried as to how much higher he might go should be of incomparably more value than any conclusion proceeding merely from a laboratory. The best opinion on this question must surely be that of Somervell (may he forgive me for bringing his name into this controversial matter), who, besides climbing to 26,985 feet (accepting the theodolite figure as against the aneroid) without the aid of oxygen, has a trained knowledge of physiology. I think he will not disagree with any remarks of mine on this subject.
We have considered so far only the problem of climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. To climb the mountain with oxygen is a separate problem; here Finch is the authority, and it is not my province to discuss the details. It will be remembered that Somervell and I when we went up for the third attempt this year intended to use oxygen; judging from what had been said by Finch, Bruce, and others too who had used oxygen up to the North Col we imagined we should go further with than without it. It was this possibility that decided us during that long day of June 4 while we lay in the sangar at Camp I., watching the clouds and the snow, to push up again — to be repelled finally by some danger that we ought not to face or to be conquered by the difficulties. The problem of climbing Mount Everest with the aid of oxygen seemed not so very far beyond our powers, provided the fair opportunity, when we thought of what had been done already. Perhaps the most significant fact was this — that three of us after climbing to a height only about 2000 feet below the summit had felt no special distress.
Two other considerations must engage our attention, because they affect the problem of climbing Mount Everest: the dangers involved, and the weather. This year’s expedition has emphasized the dangers. It has tragically pointed to the danger of an avalanche on the way up to the North Col — how grievous an accident it was can only be known to those who had tested those seven brave men, had contact with their gay indomitable spirits, seen their unflagging good humour, received tokens of their constant will to help, of their unfailing faithful hearts. An impartial judge may say that in the last analysis the accident was due to imperfect knowledge of snow in this part of the Himalayas; and with the comment that one never can know enough about snow, I should bow to that judgment. The lesson at all events will not be forgotten, and one may suppose that another party will not be caught in the same way.
About the other dangers it is necessary to say more, because they must vitally affect the organization of any attempt to climb the mountain. Every one will remember how Morshead’s collapse compromised our plan of descent. There is, of course, no question of his determination; his companions have nothing but sympathy for him and praise for his splendid pluck. The causes of this collapse are obscure; his heart was not affected; possibly it was due to want of liquid food. At starting from the North Col Morshead seemed fitter than any one; his failure was a complete surprise to all of us; and in view of it I think a party of the future should reckon that some such experience may happen to any one of them. At a high altitude even the strongest might suffer this loss of muscular power; and he will not recover up there. The danger in such a case can hardly be over-estimated; all calculations of time will be upset, and the awful fate of a night out, perhaps above 27,000 feet, will be hanging over the party. The only valid precaution against such an event is to have another party in reserve at the camp from which the first climbers have started.
Another danger, to which I referred last year, concerns the porters. It must be remembered that, though active men, they are not trained mountaineers. In favourable conditions they would probably climb down, say, from 26,000 feet without disaster. Even so, this practice is not to be commended; they are apt to straggle, and have no idea of looking after one another. And they are averse to using a rope. But on the crevassed North Col the rope must be used for safety; and conditions are not always favourable. As a general rule provision should be made to escort the porters, even when tracks are available. And this, again, points to a much larger personnel, capable of effective action at least up to 25,000 feet.
It may further be said, though it must be obvious to any mountaineer, that at high altitudes one climbs much nearer the margin of strength. There is singularly little reserve for an emergency, though I’m glad to say there was enough for emergencies in the case of the climb I have described. It is not too much to assert that all dangers through faults in climbing are immensely greater on Mount Everest than, for instance, on Mont Blanc or the Matterhorn.
Again, the sum of all these dangers is increased to an extent that cannot be over-emphasized by unfavourable weather. A party with one man hors de combat, a party who have passed that indefinite line beyond which mere weakness becomes a danger, a party of porters with no tracks to guide them and no compass lore, or finding fresh snow on the steep slope below the North Col; men in such circumstances are in gravest peril when the wind blows on Mount Everest. It is when we view our problem as a whole, in the light of the weather experienced this year, that we should be least inclined to optimism. Apart from any consideration of the monsoon’s date, and that of 1922 was admittedly early, the conditions before it came were not encouraging. The weather had a bad habit; it presented us with a dilemma; either we might have a taste of the monsoon and the threat of snow in the air — it will be remembered that snow fell while we were encamped at 25,000 feet — or we should have that bitter enemy, the north-west wind, the wind that drove us to camp a thousand feet lower than we intended, the wind that Finch and Bruce will not forget for its howling during the first night at their high camp.
Perhaps it is not impossible for men to reach the summit of Mount Everest, in spite of wind and weather; but unless the weather can mend the habit we observed this year, or grant a long respite, their chances of reaching it and getting down in safety are all too small. Man may calculate how to solve his problem, and… you may finish the sentence.
- Since writing this we have the figures worked out by Morshead from theodolite observations at the Base Camp; according to them we reached 26,985; but we cannot deduce from this the exact rise on the final day, since Camp V. is unfixed by theodolite.