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Sir Robert Charles Evans, 1918-1995


Charles Evans was a mountaineer’s mountaineer: expert, unassuming and self-effacing to a fault, whose love of neurosurgery and climbing demanded judgment, skill and nerve. He began serious climbing in 1938 and after WWII, as soon as Nepal first opened to foreigners, made some remarkable explorations and climbs there.

In 1953 Charles was invited to Everest as deputy leader to John Hunt. He and Tom Bourdillon climbed to within a few hundred feet of the summit. But his equipment was not working well and to persist would have endangered both and faulted the expedition. With sound judgment they gave up their chance to be the first and Charles left his oxygen cylinders for Hillary and Tensing at 28,700 feet.

Two years later Charles led an equally harmonious team to Kangchenjunga, third highest, and considered by many the most difficult challenge in the Himalayas. Their success was widely praised, especially because the two teams stopped six feet below the top out of respect for the Nepalese reverence for the mountain.

Perhaps his most inspiring legacy will be the way he accepted his fatal illness, multiple sclerosis. As a neurosurgeon he knew all too well what probably lay ahead far him in 1960, but he showed wonderful grace under pressure as his body slowly deteriorated.

After giving up surgery he soon had to stop climbing, and he became Vice Chancellor of the University of Wales until 1973. He was able to sail for a few years, then handed over to his wife Denise, also an experienced climber and sailor.

Among many tributes and high awards he was knighted in 1969. Climbers and sailors and all who admire courage will miss Sir Charles Evans sorely, and the young will model after him.

Charles S. Houston, M.D.