The series of expeditions undertaken by the British in the early 1920s to stand atop the Mount Everest had globally spawned interest towards the mountain. Even as the expeditions resulted in thirteen deaths including those of the then celebrity mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, the question whether the summit was reached in 1924 remained a mystery.
A legend himself, Francis Younghusband, the author of The Epic of Mount Everest, was the promoter and instigator of the first four sustained assaults on the mountain. He was also, according to a frequently repeated story, the inventor of the very idea of trying to stand on the top of the Everest. Francis wrote this book, the definitive account of the 1921, 1922 and 1924 expeditions – in the aftermath of Mallory and Irvine’s death, when it was not clear whether a further attempt on the mountain would ever be permitted.
Subsequently, numerous claims were made, several stories and accounts published and several generalities followed, but the tantalising mystery became even deeper. The heightened interest gave way to several such expeditions which were organised just to trace the remains of Mallory and Irvine so as to ascertain the claims of a successful summit attempt. It was more than seven decades later when by a mix of adventure and luck, the alabaster corpse of Mallory was discovered high on the slopes of Everest during the summer of 1999. The discovery had a spectacular universal impact. By now, Mallory was widely recognised as the emblem of the early Everest expeditions.
Mallory’s body was found to be lying face down at full stretch, with his right leg broken and fingers gripping the frozen gravel in a desperate attempt to slide no further. There was no camera, but by analysing notes in his pockets and other fresh data, his discoverers concluded that the probability of a successful summit was greater than previously thought. The mystery remains with the elusive camera and its cold, undeveloped film; the only way a definitive answer might ever be found.
The discovery of Mallory’s preserved body and some of his other belongings in the snow at 27,000 ft had renewed the interest in those early Everest expeditions. The book The Epic of Mount Everest, originally published in 1926 was republished in 2000 with some more photographs from the earlier expeditions. The Indian born Francis Younghusband, who made his reputation as a spy and explorer in China and Central Asia as well as led the 1903 British invasion of Tibet, condensed the descriptions of the three expeditions into one book.
Separate chronicles of the three Mount Everest expeditions had already been written by those who took part in them, and have been published in the three books, Mount Everest: The Reconnaissance, 1921; The Assault on Mount Everest, 1922; and The Fight for Everest, 1924. The book by Francis tastefully brings out the crux of all the expeditions in just about 250 pages. The current edition of the book has its introduction penned by the celebrity author Patrick French. It becomes even more interesting to read what one legend writes about the other.
Through this book, Francis not only captures the essence of the three British expeditions but has added his own analysis and explanations gathered from his mammoth experience of explorations, mountains and the Himalayas. “Everest indeed conquered their bodies. But their spirit is undying. No man onward from now will ever climb a Himalayan peak and not think of Mallory and Irvine,” he concludes.
Apart from mountaineering, the book contains a great deal of knowledge for a naturalist, historian, Himalayan lover and anyone who loves to travel. I’d recommend this book to every mountaineering, exploration and Himalayan enthusiast. The book is currently available at Amazon and other online resellers at an average price of Rs 150.