Harold William ‘Bill’ Tilman (1898 –1977) was among the greatest adventurers of his time, a pioneering mountaineer and sailor who held exploration above all else.
The son of a Liverpool sugar importer, Tilman joined the army at seventeen and was twice awarded the Military Cross for bravery during WWI. After the war Tilman left for Africa, establishing himself as a coffee grower. He met Eric Shipton and they began their famed mountaineering partnership, traversing Mount Kenya and climbing Kilimanjaro. Turning to the Himalaya, Tilman went on two Mount Everest expeditions, reaching 27,000 feet without oxygen in 1938. In 1936 he made the first ascent of Nanda Devi, the highest mountain climbed until 1950. He was the first European to climb in the remote Assam Himalaya, delved into Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor and explored extensively in Nepal, all the while developing a mountaineering style characterised by its simplicity and emphasis on exploration.
It was perhaps logical that Tilman would eventually buy the pilot cutter Mischief, not with the intention of retiring from travelling, but to access remote mountains. For twenty-two years he sailed Mischief and her successors in search of them—to Patagonia, where he made the first easterly crossing of the ice cap, to Baffin Island to make the first ascent of Mount Raleigh, to Greenland, Spitsbergen, and islands in the far Southern Ocean, before disappearing in the South Atlantic in 1977.
J.R.L. Anderson’s High Mountains and Cold Seas draws on a wealth of personal correspondence between Tilman—a compulsive letter writer—and his immediate family and close friends, crafting the first detailed account of the extraordinary life of this remarkable, but very private individual.
About the Author
Born in 1911, John Richard Lane Anderson was a writer of poetry, fiction and non-fiction whose lifelong interest in sailing and adventure is clear from his published work. He was employed by the Guardian newspaper in Manchester from 1951 to 1967, in both journalistic and editorial roles.
In 1966, Anderson led a Guardian-sponsored, small-boat expedition that built on interest in the newly ‘discovered’ and published ‘Vinland Map’. The voyage set out to retrace the journey of Norse settlers from Greenland to the north-eastern seaboard of America.
With publication of The Vinland Voyage in 1967, Anderson retired from journalism to concentrate on his own career as an author. His research for the voyage opened his correspondence with H.W. Tilman, an acknowledged expert in high-latitude small-boat voyages, and they remained friends and correspondents long after the voyage, with Anderson even attempting, unsuccessfully, to persuade Tilman to embark upon an autobiography.
Anderson reflected on man’s exploring instinct in The Ulysses Factor in 1970, illustrating his central hypothesis with a selection of biographical studies of explorers—some household names, others more obscure. One chapter is dedicated to the life and times of H.W. Tilman, considered by Anderson to be the very embodiment of his Ulysses factor.
In 1978, the heirs to Tilman’s estate commissioned Anderson to write a biography, giving him full access to their late uncle’s books, letters and personal papers. With his health failing, High Mountains and Cold Seas was to be Anderson’s final work and he died in 1981, shortly after it was first published. Long out of print, High Mountains and Cold Seas has been republished as a companion volume to the new complete edition of Tilman’s fifteen original works.
Tim Madge is an author, historian, journalist and editor. His books on maritime subjects include the second authorised biography of Bill Tilman, The Last Hero.
A yacht master and transatlantic sailor, Tim remains committed to the wilderness, outdoors and all it has to offer, following, albeit ‘very feebly’, in Tilman’s footsteps. These days that means paragliding whenever and wherever possible. Horses, yachts, skis, and occasionally climbing gear, still figure in his personal outdoor landscape.