Radio Times/1923/10/19/My Assault on Mount Everest

My Assault on Mount Everest

By Brigadier-General the HON. C. G. BRUCE, C.B.

(Brigadier-General Bruce is one of the most intrepid of living mountaineers, and last year he commanded an expedition for the purpose of attempting to climb Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. He and his party broke all altitude records, but just failed to reach the top. In the following "talk," General Bruce describes some of the hardships and difficulties he encountered.)

THERE have now been two expeditions to explore and attempt to climb Mount Everest, and we are now preparing a further and third stage. The attempt to climb Mount Everest is the last, possibly, of the great main explorations on this globe.

We, as a nation, have, in spite of many gallant attempts, failed to be the first to reach the North and South Poles.

Mount Everest stands, as it were, between the two—a grand trio—and may be looked upon as the most romantic of the three great points of interest.

To begin with, it lies on the borders of the kingdom of Nepal and the territory of Thibet[1]: and has been, until the present time, quite as difficult of access an the North and South Poles.

Access from the south is still out of the question. But during the last few years, so friendly have our relations become with the Thibetan Government, that, owing to the kindness of the Dalai Lama, the ruler of Thibet, the last two expeditions have been allowed to travel through their country, and to approach the main chain of the Himalaya[2] from the north.

For almost innumerable generations Thibet was shut off from contact with the Western World, and had been visited—until the Younghusband Expedition of 1903-4[3]—by very few travellers.

The Dalai Lama.

At the present time, and under the enlightened government of the present Dalai Lama[4], there has been a vast change of outlook. He is a man of exceptional character, and the head of the Lamaistic religion in Thibet[5]. But besides that, he is also the political chief, for he combines the spiritual with temporal power in a manner exercised by no other head of a State in the entire world at the present time—not even omitting Japan. The seclusion of Thibet has been very largely broken down under his rule.

It is strange to think that the mysterious town of Lhasa[6] has now been connected with India by post and telegraph. And not only that, but we have for the last year been training Thibetan officers who have been attached to our Indian army for instructional purposes.

The films which have been shown are the first taken in Thibet, and for the first time we have been able to produce in Europe pictures which give some idea of the strange life and curious customs of the Thibetans.

Although an attack on a great mountain such as Everest does not require in any way protracted operations. still the actual effort required in making such an assault is probably as strenuous while it lasts, or even more strenuous, than any other test of physical endurance.

Therefore one of our difficulties is to produce our climbing parties, whether the actual mountaineers themselves, or the large gang of porters on whom the success of the mountaineering party entirely depends, at the base of operations without in say way exhausting their powers. That is one of the great problems.

When the Monsoon Breaks.

But even more important than that is the question of the weather. Thibet is one of the driest and most elevated countries on the world's surface. But we are dealing with the extreme southern border, and this southern border is slightly, but quite distinctly, affected by the south-west monsoon currents which break and expend themselves on the southern slopes of the Himalaya, but are still able to shroud the whole of the mountains themselves in an immense cloak of cloud for at least three of the summer months.

All attempts on Mount Everest must be carried out before the break of the monsoon with its soft and damp winds.

The prevailing wind in Thibet is a cold and extraordinarily dry western wind, and while this lasts the mountain remains hard and frozen, and, with the exception of the intense cold, in a comparatively safe condition.

When the warm winds conquer the dry west winds everything changes, and a condition is set up which can he quite well likened to the "Fohn" wind[7] which blows in the Alps in the spring, and melts the winter snow and causes the spring avalanches.

The expedition of 1922[8] had rather bad luck, in that the monsoon arrived about ten days earlier than usual.

The weather reports show that whereas in 1922 on June 7th the southern slopes of the Himalaya showed an excess of ten inches of rainfall, the record this year. on the same date, showed a deficit of twelve inches. This would mean that if we had had the luck to he attempting Everest in the present year, we should have had two to three weeks more time in which to carry out our attack.

Should these last condition be repeated, everything points to a successful issue to our labours in the year 1924[9].

Arctic Methods.

Further, our experiences on the last two expeditions[10] have taught us many lessons by which we hope to profit. We know exactly where our camps should he pitched. We know the approaches to the mountain. And it has been proved that our methods—Arctic methods—almost for the first time applied to mountaineering—are the right ones.

We took with us a very first-rate outfit of the best of foods that can he tinned, and soon, having collected all our supplies at our great base camp, at the head of the Rongbuk valley[11]—which is the great valley running north from the northern slopes of Everest—we proceeded to push up our depots until we had established a forward base at a height of 21,000 feet at the foot of Everest itself.

To give some idea of the work entailed I must explain that this base had to be supplied in a fortnight, and we had to push on to the advanced base supplies for fourteen Europeans and forty-five porters for a month.

Terrible Suffering.

The first party made an attempt without the extra help of using the oxygen apparatus, and attained the quite unprecedented altitude of only fifteen feet less than 27,000 feet.

They suffered terribly, as was natural, from fatigue and exposure, and, with the exception of Dr. Somervell[12], all in greater or lees degree from frostbite, especially on their descent, where they encountered bitterly cold and severe wind.

The second ascent, which used the oxygen apparatus, reached a still greater height of 27,235 feet, and no doubt would have attained a still greater altitude if it had not been for the fact that they were weather-hound for two whole nights in their camp at the astounding height of 25,600 feet, by a perfect hurricane of icy winds.

  1. Tibet. (Wikisource contributor note)
  2. See: Himalayas. (Wikisource contributor note)
  3. See: British expedition to Tibet. (Wikisource contributor note)
  4. See: 13th Dalai Lama. (Wikisource contributor note)
  5. See: Tibetan Buddhism. (Wikisource contributor note)
  6. See: Lhasa. (Wikisource contributor note)
  7. See: Foehn wind. (Wikisource contributor note)
  8. See: 1922 British Mount Everest expedition. (Wikisource contributor note)
  9. See: 1924 British Mount Everest expedition. (Wikisource contributor note)
  10. For the first, see: 1921 British Mount Everest expedition. (Wikisource contributor note)
  11. See: Rongbuk Glacier. (Wikisource contributor note)
  12. See: Howard Somervell. (Wikisource contributor note)

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925.

The author died in 1939, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.