‘We had climbed a mountain and crossed a pass; been wet, cold, hungry, frightened, and withal happy. One more Himalayan season was over. It was time to begin thinking of the next. “Strenuousness is the immortal path, sloth is the way of death.”’
First published in 1946, the scope of H.W. ‘Bill’ Tilman’s When Men and Mountains Meet is broad, covering his disastrous expedition to the Assam Himalaya, a small exploratory trip into Sikkim, and then his wartime heroics.
In the thirties, Assam was largely unknown and unexplored. It proved a challenging environment for Tilman’s party, the jungle leaving the men mosquito-bitten and suffering with tropical diseases, and thwarting their mountaineering success. Sikkim proved altogether more successful. Tilman, who is once again happy and healthy, enjoys some exploratory ice climbing and discovers Abominable Snowman tracks, particularly remarkable as the creature appeared to be wearing boots—‘there is no reason why he should not have picked up a discarded pair at the German Base Camp and put them to their obvious use'.
And then, in 1939, war breaks out. With good humour and characteristic understatement we hear about Tilman’s remarkable Second World War. After digging gun pits on the Belgian border and in Iraq, he was dropped by parachute behind enemy lines to fight alongside Albanian and Italian partisans. Tilman was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his efforts—and the keys to the city of Belluno, which he helped save from occupation and destruction.
Tilman’s comments on the German approach to Himalayan climbing could equally be applied to his guerrilla warfare ethos. ‘They spent a lot of time and money and lost a lot of climbers and porters, through bad luck and more often through bad judgement.’ While elsewhere the war machine rumbled on, Tilman’s war was fast, exciting, lightweight and foolhardy—and makes for gripping reading.
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.
Simon Yates is an internationally acclaimed mountaineer, adventurer and author who first came to prominence in 1985 after the first ascent of the West Face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes and the ensuing epic descent described in Joe Simpson's book Touching the Void. In a prolific career spanning almost thirty years, Simon's climbing adventures have taken him west to east, from Alaska to Australia; and from north to south, from the Canadian Arctic to the tip of South America. He has climbed with many of Britain's leading mountaineers including Andy Cave, Mick Fowler, Andy Parkin, Paul Pritchard, Doug Scott, establishing many first ascents in the process. He is the author of two previous books: Against the Wall, and The Flame of Adventure, both released to critical acclaim and the former finishing as runner-up for the prestigious Boardman Tasker Prize. Simon lives in Cumbria with his wife, young son and daughter. When not writing and lecturing he runs his own expedition company, Mountain Dream.