Everest 1933, by Hugh Ruttledge. Illustrated with 59 photographs, charts, diagrams and maps. London : Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd., 1934. Price 25s.
This account of the fourth Everest expedition is written in greater part by the leader, Ruttledge, with one chapter by Smythe, and a large final section devoted to observations and discussions of special aspects of the work, by the doctor, the geologist, and other specialists. It makes a fine book.
The perennially thrilling story of an Everest attack is related in the usual modest and matter-of-fact British manner, enlivened here by an easy style and a delightful subtle humor. Although unexpectedly heavy snows and a monsoon that arrived three weeks early prevented the expedition from reaching its goal, the attempt was noteworthy for two very definite achievements—a perfected expedition technique and a substantial addition to knowledge about the highest parts of the route. The equipment and provisioning of an expedition, the health and acclimatization of its members, the morale of the porters, the strategy of the attack—all these are matters of prime importance in high Himalayan mountaineering, for it is generally through failures here that expeditions are so weakened that they can be ultimately defeated by weather. Everest, 1933, merits all our admiration, for no such failures seem to have occurred.
The handling of that vital problem, acclimatization, was especially fortunate. The men were systematically held back at each of the lower camps, for really slow adaptation, with the result that when the time came for the final assault, almost all of them were fit—an unprecedented situation on Everest. The porters also made a remarkably fine showing carrying at high altitudes, every detail having been thought out that would help keep them well and cheerful. A successful experiment was the use of weather reports and forecasts, wirelessed from Calcutta. They proved surprisingly accurate, and very helpful. Norton’s 1924 altitude record of 28,126 ft. was probably not surpassed by this expedition, but three men went approximately as high, and thanks to increased experience and perfection of technique, what Norton and Odell had in 1924 put through successfully as brilliant individual tours de force, had now become almost a matter of course, merely part of the planned routine.
Valuable information about the approach to the summit was gained. The explorations of Wyn Harris and Wager eliminated the route previously believed the best one, that by the ridge and up over the “second step.” They found, instead, a way along the slabs of the north face, to a couloir which Smythe, following next day, agreed with them in thinking would prove a practicable approach to the summit. This year’s advance was stopped by loose snow in the couloir, and they believed it could be climbed safely only in a season when the rocks were dry and clear. The attempts of all three men brought out most forcibly the point, perhaps not sufficiently realized before, that Everest will never be technically an easy mountain.
Two clues were found to that always-interesting mystery, the fate of Mallory and Irvine. One was an ice-axe, lying under the crest of the ridge, much below the “second step.” The other was the discovery of two rocks at about the point where Odell thought he had a final glimpse of the men, rocks which through drifting clouds might be mistaken for human figures. These facts, though far from conclusive, point toward an accident below the “second step.”