Sunday 31 July 2022

Book Review: Everest 1922 by Mick Conefrey

A hundred years ago the members of the British 1922 Everest Expedition were slowly making their way back to Britain, the first ever attempt to climb the mountain having ended in an avalanche in which seven porters died. But before that tragedy the expedition had been remarkably successful, achieving the highest point ever reached and the highest camp ever established, all with equipment and in conditions that seem astonishingly primitive today.

Everest 1922 is a detailed account of the expedition and brings to life a very different time, far removed from the ease of access and the crowds on the mountain today. Just reaching Everest was difficult as the whole area was poorly mapped, and no westerner had been near the mountain. Nepal was a closed country too, so the only access was through Tibet, which was reached via a long march from Darjeeling in India.

The book initially covers the 1921 Reconnaissance Expedition which found the way to Everest and reconnoitred various possible routes to the summit. For the western mountaineers this was real exploration. The Tibetans in the villages closest to Everest didn’t have any useful information on how to reach the mountain itself, let alone set foot on it. Once at the mountain the expedition members probed the valleys and glaciers on its flanks for an ascent route, eventually reaching the North Col, the key to climbing Everest from Tibet. The next year they returned with the aim of climbing the mountain.

The story of the 1922 Expedition is fascinating and gripping and Conefrey tells it well. The cast of extraordinary larger-than-life characters and their motivations, conflicts and relationships are brought to life. The descriptions of the difficulties in organising and financing such a massive venture along with the machinations and politics involved set the scene in the world of public school and military men back in London.

Mallory is of course the name associated with the first Everest expeditions and his obsession with Everest, which would end with his disappearance high on the mountain two years later, comes across strongly. He’s uninterested in the land they pass through, its natural history and the culture of the inhabitants, unlike some of the others. He just wants to climb the mountain.

Everest 1922 very well-researched and very-well written. I found it compelling reading, an entry into a long-gone world. Recommended for anyone interested in Everest and the story of mountaineering.

Everest 1922 is published by Allen & Unwin and costs £20.

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