Throughout 1949 and 1950 H.W. ‘Bill’ Tilman mounted pioneering expeditions to Nepal and its Himalayan mountains, taking advantage of some of the first access to the country for Western travellers in the 20th century. Tilman and his party—including a certain Tenzing Norgay—trekked into the Kathmandu Valley and on to the Langtang region, where the highs and lows began.
They first explored the Ganesh Himal, before moving on to the Jugal Himal and the following season embarking on an ambitious trip to Annapurna and Everest. Manaslu was their first objective, but left to ‘better men’, and Annapurna IV very nearly climbed instead but for bad weather which dogged the whole expedition. Needless to say, Tilman was leading some very lightweight expeditions into some seriously heavyweight mountains.
After the Annapurna adventure Tilman headed to Everest with—among others—Dr Charles Houston. Approaching from the delights of Namche Bazaar, the party made progress up the flanks of Pumori to gaze as best they could into the Western Cwm, and at the South Col and South-East Ridge approach to the summit of Everest. His observations were both optimistic and pessimistic: ‘One cannot write off the south side as impossible until the approach from the head of the West Cwm to this remarkably airy col has been seen.’ But then of the West Cwm: ‘A trench overhung by these two tremendous walls might easily become a grave for any party which pitched its camp there.’
Nepal Himalaya presents Tilman’s favourite sketches, encounters with endless yetis, trouble with the porters, his obsessive relationship with alcohol and issues with the food. And so Tilman departs Nepal for the last time proper with these retiring words: ‘If a man feels he is failing to achieve this stern standard he should perhaps withdraw from a field of such high endeavour as the Himalaya.’
About the Author
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. 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 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, he delved into Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor and he explored extensively in Nepal, all the while developing a mountaineering style characterised by its simplicity and emphasis on exploration. It was perhaps logical then 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 Tilman sailed Mischief and her successors to Patagonia, where he crossed the vast ice cap, and to Baffin Island to make the first ascent of Mount Raleigh. He made trips to Greenland, Spitsbergen and the South Shetlands, before disappearing in the South Atlantic Ocean in 1977.
Ed Douglas has been climbing for over thirty-five years and has been a writer and editor for the last thirty. He launched the magazine On The Edge while at university in Manchester, and has published eight books about mountains and their people. His books include biographies of Tenzing Norgay, rock-climbing visionary Ben Moon and the late British mountaineer Alison Hargreaves. His ghostwritten autobiography of Ron Fawcett, Rock Athlete, won the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature in 2010. Three of the essays in his latest book The Magician's Glass were either shortlisted for or won at the Banff Mountain Book Festival in Canada. Douglas's journalistic work most often appears in The Observer and The Guardian. He is the current editor of the Alpine Journal and lives in Sheffield with his wife Kate. They have two grown-up children.