American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

The Conquest of Everest

  • Book Reviews
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  • Publication Year: 1954

The Conquest of Everest, by Sir John Hunt, with a chapter on the final assault by Sir Edmund Hillary, and foreword by H. R. H. the Duke of Edinburgh. XX + 300 pages, 79 photos, including 8 in color, 28 sketches, and 4 sketch maps. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1954. Price, $6.00. English edition: The Ascent of Everest, by John Hunt. XX + 300 pages, 79 photographs, including 8 in color, 28 sketches, and 4 sketch maps. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1953. Price 25/—.*

To attain the highest peak in the world after seven previous expeditions had tried and failed, is a proud achievement, and this book is an appropriate account of it.

In his first chapter Hunt says:

The mission we undertook was not, in our eyes, in the nature of some competition on a giant scale in which we vied to outdo the efforts of previous expeditions, dramatic and popular as such a concept might be. Indeed, prolonged attempts to climb a difficult mountain are, or should be, essentially different from those of a competitive sport. A possible analogy, however, might be that of a relay race, in which each member of a team of runners hands the baton to the next at the end of his allotted span, until the race is finally run. The Swiss in 1952 received that baton of knowledge from the latest in the long chain of British climbers and they, in turn, after running a brilliant lap, passed it on to us. We chanced to be the last runners in this particular race, but we might well have not succeeded in finishing, in which case we would have handed on our knowledge to our French comrades who were preparing to take up the challenge.

(p. 6)

These are sentiments that will appeal strongly to American climbers.

The book describes the elaborate and careful preparation of the expedition, the long and well planned approach to the mountain, the painstaking procedure for acclimatization, the difficult transportation of stores to the higher camps, and the final successful assault. The expedition was well planned and well executed, and the party worked harmoniously throughout, which is a tribute to the skill of the leader. They had some bad and some good luck, but were fortunate in having good luck in weather when they really needed it.

There is a thrilling description of the passage of the Ice Fall, which on close acquaintance proved fully as harrowing as it seemed to us from the bottom.

The expedition relied heavily on oxygen, using two types of apparatus, both open and closed circuits, beginning its use at comparatively low altitudes and using it both for sleeping and climbing on the higher slopes. The difficulties of leakage, breakage, and freezing are fully stated, and it is recognized that, if climbers so dependent on oxygen should be deprived of it at high altitudes through accident or storm, they would be in very great danger. Failure of oxygen equipment appears to have been partly or wholly responsible for the inability of the first assault party, Bourdillon and Evans, to reach the final summit. The book therefore still leaves open the question whether the advantages of oxygen outweigh its dangers and disadvantages.

The appendices contain much useful information about equipment, food, and supplies.

Oscar R. Houston

*The Club is fortunate in the acquisition of copy No. 7 of the special edition of The Ascent of Everest, of which 20 copies were published and autographed by Sir John Hunt and Sir Edmund Hillary.

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