The Assault on Everest
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 1 Mar 1928, p. 69-82
Odell, N.E., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
This address was accompanied by lantern slides. Some background and history of Mount Everest expeditions from 1892. A few details of the first two expeditions. A detailed description of the third expedition of 1924, with which the speaker was associated. Included are facts and figures about the mountain and the geographic area; participants in the expedition; organization; climate; difficulties; the approach; base camp. Plans for a further expedition by the Mount Everest Committee of the Royal Geographical Society and the Alpine Club of London. Purpose of these expeditions. The death of Mallory and Irvine. A love of adventure and pioneering. Plans by other countries for an expedition to Mount Everest. Hope that the British expedition will reach the top.
Date of Original
1 Mar 1928
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
WWW address
Agency street/mail address

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
1st March, 1928.

CAPTAIN ODELL was introduced by PRESIDENT FENNELL, and spoke as follows, illustrating his lecture by lantern slides : The Mount Everest expeditions are of an interesting origin. In 1892 a subaltern in the Indian Army, Lieut. Bruce, who was spending a good many of his holidays climbing in the Himalayas, first in the Northwestern Himalayas in Kashmir, conceived the idea of getting up a private expedition to make the attempt on Mount Everest, the highest known summit in the world, and permission was sought for the passage of an expedition to approach the mountain by the natural route from the south, up from India through the State of Nepal to the southern slopes of the mountain; but whenever permission was sought for the passage of an expedition through Nepal, the Nepalese Government steadfastly refused to grant it, Nepal having a special privilege of entirely excluding foreigners. There is just one British resident in the capital of Nepal. Repeated attempts were made to get permission for an expedition, and Lord Curzon when he was Viceroy of India was very keen that the Royal Society should get together a party and make the attempt. Just before he returned to England from his Viceroyalty things began to change. However, the war came on and it was not until 1920 that permission was obtained to approach the mountain from the north, or Thibetan side, through the good offices of Sir Charles Bell, then British Resident in the State of Sikkim. That route was adopted by each of the three expeditions. The first expedition of 1921, which was a reconnaissance, reached a height of 23,000 feet on the northern slope of the mountain. The second expedition of 1922, reached 27,000 feet. Of the third

expedition of 1924, with which I was associated, I propose to tell you a little today.

The mountain lies on the northern border of the State of Nepal, between the main Himalayan chain and the great plain of the Ganges, extending over the northern part of India. Our first point to reach was the wellknown hill station of Darjeeling. That was our jumpingoff point for our long journey of about 300 miles through Sikkim and up the slopes of the mountain. Darjeeling is a most beautiful spot, perched on a little mountain shelf some 17,000 feet above the sea level, a great resort of people from the plains of India. It is on a hillside, with profound valleys reaching down 6,000 feet below the elevation of Darjeeling--between Darjeeling, and the great snowy chain of the Himalayas themselves. The dominating feature of this view is the third highest summit in the world, rising to 28,250 feet, constituting one of the very finest mountain views in the world. You look some forty or fifty miles across these deep valleys of Sikkim from which rise wonderfully coloured opalescent mists to that great floating range that lies to the north. At Darjeeling we all foregathered in March, 1924, for this third expedition. Before we left we had to recruit our mountain porters. These were a specially selected group of men who came from the hill districts around, and largely chosen by our leader, Gen. Bruce, the subaltern who originated these expeditions in the '90's. Gen. Bruce is a name which is a by-word in the hill districts of India; he has served in the crack regiments all his life, and we could not have had a better man than he for taking us on the long journey through the mountains. Gen. Bruce celebrated his 58th birthday in Thibet with a very fine bottle of rum 150 years old. (Laughter.) Unfortunately, just after that Gen. Bruce got a bad attack of malaria and had to return to India, a great loss to the expedition, but fortunately we had a very fine man in Col. Norton, who had been with the second expedition in 1922, and had made a high altitude record without an artificial supply of oxygen. Col. Norton had a distinguished career in the war, and he made another high altitude record in this expedition by reaching over 28,000 feet on the mountain. The top of the mountain, I might remind you, is 29,140 feet. Others of the Europeans were Dr. Somerville, and George Mallory, those two in that last tragic party that never returned from their attempt on the summit; Dover Bruce, a cousin of Gen. Bruce; Capt. Bell, who took the well-known film of the expedition that has been shown in this country, more particularly in the States for the last two winters, Capt. Bell calling it "The Epic of Everest." We had some 55 of these specially selected porters, who were for use high up on the mountain. They were to help us in pitching our high mountain camps, and we really did not give them very much to do until these camps had to be pitched. We carried them along with us all through Thibet and whenever we wanted very much done around our camps in Thibet we hired local labour. These specially selected men were keen to go on the expedition. There were four or five hundred of them who came to Darjeeling, and greatly disappointed were those who were not selected. Those who were fortunate enough to be selected, the 55 chosen ones, became veritable heroes, and when they returned from this expedition they could get any job they wanted in Darjeeling.

After leaving Darjeeling we got into the deep valleys of Sikkim. Later than the time we went in, these mountain slopes are a feast of colour. They are covered with rhododendrons, azaleas, and other flowering shrubs, and they make the mountain a fairyland. We passed over the high pass into the southern valley of Thibet; we crossed that pass at 15,000 feet above sea level into the Chimney Valley, and reached the Thibetan plateau proper at a little place called Khamba Jong, which is on the trade route from Lhasa to India. Up to this point we had been using mules and ponies, and we now took the yak, which is the main transportation animal of Thibet. This animal is essential to the life of the Thibetan on this high plateau. They have horses and ponies, but the yak is the beast of burden, and he supplies them with his long shaggy coat with plenty of wool (which they export and from which they make their clothes), and also supplies them with milk. The typical man of Thibet wears the long homespun cloak, and trousers to match, and long felt boots, and cap that he can turn down over his ears. The cold winds in Thibet during the better part of the year make that clothing seem hardly adequate. It is an extraordinarily frigid country, yet these people survive with that clothing, which keeps out a certain amount of cold. They wear scarcely anything underneath, and it is remarkable that they survive. The women of Thibet have a strange appearance on account of the extraordinary head-dress which prevails in southern Thibet. In Central Thibet it is somewhat different. This headdress is a frame into which the hair is twisted on each side, and a few hairs are taken from the top of the head up to the frame. As a final touch to their toilet they rub into their head large quantities of melted butter. The people of Thibet are extraordinarily dirty people; they never indulge in anything like washing. Considering the cold climate I suppose it is natural that they should not do too much washing, but water is very scarce in Thibet except for about a couple of months in the year.

Our camp was often submerged in the usual afternoon sandstorm. Every day in Thibet, about midday, there are high winds, carrying dust and sand, often in the form of a blizzard, and making travelling extremely unpleasant. We used to carry out our day's journey as far as possible early in the day and get our camp pitched and comfortable before the midday sandstorm. The sand penetrates food and everything.

Thibet is a land of monasteries. It is estimated that one-third of the total population are llamas or priests, housed in these large monasteries. The religion is Buddhism, but Buddhism largely mixed with the earlier religion of demonology. You see this earlier religion cropping out through the modern Buddhism in such things as the devil dances, a great feature of their religious ceremonies.

We proceeded south in order to reach Mount Everest, and from the pass some 18,000 feet above sea level we got a very fine view of the mountains some forty miles distant. The great elevated plateau of Thibet is 15,000 feet above sea level. These ranges we crossed over go up to 18,000 and 19,000 feet, and on these altitudes we had to become acclimatized before starting for the higher reaches on the mountain itself. When you first reach this high plateau you lose your appetite and cannot sleep. We did not actually suffer from mountain sickness itself, but one suffered from nausea at times, and after about a week or fortnight we were pretty well used to it. Then when we reached the base camp near the mountain, just over 16,000 feet, we had to start our acclimatization all over again, and it was that upper spell of this that was the most trying of all. We made our way through a pass and down certain valleys and came out around the end of a glacier that reaches down from the north face of the mountain. Before reaching that point we passed through an interesting village, one of the highest elevated villages in the world, at 17,000 feet, where there was an interesting Llama who presided over the local monastery, a very holy man very much respected in this part of Thibet, considered a kind of demigod, and his holiness seemed to be largely acquired by spending some 24 years in complete solitude in a cell up in this valley not very far from our base camp. This old man seemed little the worse for his experience; he was a big man looking thoroughly healthy and of good figure. Gen. Bruce, who had been out on the previous expedition, had become great friends with him, and he had been very pleased, in spite of his reincarnation of an earlier Thibetan god, to find he was about the same age as Gen. Bruce. We approached the mountain up the side valley, and we pitched our fourth camp on the side of the mountain, and then two more camps above at 25,000 and 27,000 feet, from which the attacks were made on the summit.

The rocks of these great peaks of the Himalayas are composed of sedimentary rocks that were once laid down at sea level, and have now been up thrust to these immense altitudes of 29,000 feet. Before we could get off from the base camp we had a great many jobs to do. We had to prepare the oxygen apparatus for use on the mountain. I was responsible for this apparatus, and at times we would find it very necessary in making our attacks on the summit. It had a good deal of knocking about on the way out to India and on the backs of the yaks across the plateau, and we had to spend whole evenings, often to the early hours of the morning, repairing it. The upshot of it all was that on the last expedition we found that we were able to acclimatize so thoroughly to these high altitudes that we could almost dispense with the artificial supply of oxygen, and we found the weight of the oxygen apparatus, some thirtyfive pounds, entirely offset any advantage we got from the gas. In the last expedition we had the experience of having human beings in these highest altitudes, approaching 30,000 feet, where the atmospheric pressure is less than one-third what it is at the sea level, and the supply of oxygen proportionately less, entirely without an artificial supply of oxygen.

We got off from the base camp and approached the mountain on the northern side where we could walk up along the sides of the glacier. Off to the west was another mountain which we called Bimari, which is the Thibetan for Daughter Peak. We named that after Mallory's daughter. He wanted to call it Dorothy Peak, but we decided to call it in Thibetan, and the best we could do was Bimari.

An immense cloud banner, which was a constant feature of the main peak, indicated constant winds. Just over the shoulder a mile or so we found a sheltered recess where we were able to pitch our No. 2 camp at 20,000 feet, that is, No. 2 above the base camp. That was one of the cosiest spots we had on the whole trip. It looked pretty frigid, but this great wall of ice gave us protection from the cold north winds; we got plenty of sun, and we used to come down from our exposed camps on the mountain and think this quite a Riviera. (Laughter.) Above this camp we had to get out on the open surface of the glacier and it was here that we had considerable difficulty in finding the way in and out among those gigantic ice pinnacles which are a great feature of the glaciers of the tropics. Later we reached a long line of the moraine which formed a very convenient causeway for our passage up and down the glacier. It was pretty rough going but it was infinitely preferable to going up and down these pinnacles. The most remarkable thing there was the ice scenery. We followed this trough two or three miles to the glacier and at each side were immense walls of ice which were being slowly melted into all manner of fantastic shapes, many of them rising some hundred feet above their beds. We followed this trough upward until it gave out on the open surface of the glacier, where it was necessary to adopt the usual precaution of roping up, and we made our way to Camp 3, which we pitched at some 21,250 feet above sea level. When we pitched this camp we were in for a very bad spell of weather; we had temperatures to 25 below, always with a high wind. I know that is not very much in this country perhaps, but 25 below with a high wind, and over 20,000 feet, is a very different matter from that temperature at sea level. We got a good many cases of frost bite here, and it was some time before we could go on and get our next camp established.

The North Call is a great wall of ice and snow, some 1,300 feet in altitude from its base, and was the scene of a very bad accident to the previous expedition of 1922, when an avalanche had come down from those slopes and carried down the party, and unfortunately some porters lost their lives. Mallory and Simpson nearly lost theirs also. We were particularly anxious on this last occasion to get a safer route if we could find one, and Mallory, Norton and I made a route on a steep slope, so we had to do a good deal of step-cutting, until we came to an immense wall of ice which looked as if it was going to cut us off from access to the higher slopes. But Mallory decided to lead us up the face of it, by a magnificent piece of mountain craft, and then we managed to make our way with other various minor difficulties till we reached the top of the North Call. We used a rope ladder, which we devised, and that became the regular way up and down from the camp, and it was away from the parts of the slope most liable to avalanche. Then we got our North Call camp fixed at 23,000 feet and that became the advanced post of the expedition. After we got that camp fixed we were driven back to lower camps on two occasions, and to the base camp, once owing to the extremely bad storms we were experiencing at that time. It was not only when the monsoon comes on, the monsoon that brings the heavy rains of India and the heavy falls of snow in the Himalayas, that you normally expect bad weather, but in this particular year 1924 we were experiencing such bad weather that we thought the monsoon had arrived at an unprecedentedly early period. All through May we had atrocious weather conditions, low temperatures added to these blizzards, and it made the pitching of these high camps almost impossible. After we had been beaten back to the base camp we set off again as a very much reduced party, only fifteen out of our 55 porters available, the latter part of the time, for use high up the mountain, and the rest were down and out of it with frostbite, mountain sickness or other indispositions owing to the bad conditions we had been experiencing. Some of our own European climbing party also were exhausted.

We made our attempt from North Call the latter part of May, and after Mallory and Gen. Bruce had gone away up this north region of the mountain and pitched a camp at 25,000 feet. They had to retreat owing to the porters' refusal to go on, also because Bruce had strained his heart in carrying some of the porters' load in addition to his own share. They were followed up by Norton and Somerville, who spent a night at this camp, and next day their porters made their way into the clouds and at 27,000 feet pitched the highest camp that has ever been pitched on this world's surface. (Applause.) They spent the night there, and strange to relate Norton records that he had a very good night and slept well. Before this expedition started physiologists had said we should be able to sleep at about 21,000 feet. That was one little bit of physiological evidence we had gleaned. The porters were sent down from that high camp and the next day Norton and Somerville made their way on towards the summit. You can only go a few steps and then stop and gasp for breath. You take as many as eight or nine or ten respirations every step you go. Somerville on this occasion was suffering very much from his bad throat and was coughing up large clots of blood. They were going extremely slowly. Mountaineering difficulties were not excessive, nevertheless; atmospheric conditions were almost insuperable. However, at midday they had reached the top of the wall of rock at 28,000 feet above sea level. At that point Somerville broke down. He was able to take some rather remarkable photographs, especially one looking out over the top of the mountains to the westward of Everest, from the immense elevation of 28,000 feet. Then he took the last photograph of Norton, who decided to go on alone in an attempt to reach the summit. Norton eventually reached a spot in the great gully that goes down between the final pyramid of the mountain and the northern shoulder, and then, to his bitter disappointment, he had to turn back. It was getting late in the afternoon, he thought the way was clear ahead of him, but he realized that at the pace he was going he would never make the summit and get back to Somerville, about whose condition he was very anxious, before nightfall. He went back from that spot, which we later estimated to be about 28,100 feet above sea level. The spot was actually located and determined by theodolite from the base camp, knowing the height of the mountain. He got back to Somerville, found him somewhat recovered, and they started on their long descent down the north ridge of the snow, and got in late on the evening that Mallory and I had gone up to meet them. We brought them down in the dark to North Call camp, and then after large quantities of hot soup, which Irvine had been brewing in our absence, they were able to tell us all about this record attempt on the summit of the mountain.

We were now daily expecting the arrival of the real monsoon; knowing that when it came we should have to leave the mountain, for it would be quite impossible to carry on with the heavy falls of snow that always come with the first stages of the monsoon. However, Mallory was determined to put in one last attempt on the summit, and with Irvine as his companion he started off from North Call on the 6th of June. Somerville and Norton had not used the oxygen apparatus on account of the degree of acclimatization which we had reached, and partly on account of the fact that we had not sufficient oxygen cylinders available, owing to the shortage of porters; but mainly on account of the fact that we had so far acclimatized that the weight of the apparatus seemed to offset any particular advantage we got from the oxygen gas. But Mallory determined in this last attack to use every means available, and they took out the oxygen apparatus, a modified form of it that Irvine and I had got together, cutting out one cylinder and modifying the breathing apparatus considerably. They spent their first night out upon the North Call at Camp 5, and then the next day they made their way to Camp 6. They took their porters with them, and these porters the night they reached Camp 6 returned and brought me a message from Mallory which said they used very little oxygen, they had traveled very well, and all conditions seemed very promising in their attack on the summit next day. I had come up to Camp 5; I was following them up in support and also doing geological work at this time, and that night I slept at Camp 5. The next morning the two porters with me said they were suffering from mountain sickness and could not carry on, and so I had to take them some way down the ridge of the mountain to the North Call camp. Then I turned up again and went on up towards Camp 6 that Mallory and Irvine had slept at, and from which they started this same morning in their attack on the summit. It was a misty day and I could see little of the upper parts of the mountain. Very soon after midday there was a certain clearing and I looked up and there I saw two little specks moving up a snowy slope and approaching a rock step, a particular rock step that we had noted in all our calculations as to how long we should take to reach certain points on the ridge of the mountain and how long it would take from those points to reach the summit. This particular step I saw them approaching; I was very surprised to see that they had only reached this spot at this hour, soon after midday, which they should have reached, according to Mallory's time table, at about eight o'clock in the morning. I was very surprised to see they were late, but they still seemed to be moving very briskly; they were moving one at a time up the snowy slope, and it did not look by any means as if they were at the end of their tether. Then the clouds came down and I could see them no more. I made my way up to Camp 6, and I reached there just as the blizzard came on. I took shelter in a tent, and then decided to go on up above the camp to the slopes above, and as I went I shouted and whistled, to give direction to Mallory and Irvine, who I thought might be returning. Then I realized that they must be well above this, and very possibly might be above this patch of bad weather I was experiencing, they might be well up on the cone of the mountain some thousand to two thousand feet high. Then I got back to Camp 6 and waited there some time, and I remembered Mallory particularly requested me not to remain up at that high altitude at Camp 6; there was no room actually in the single little tent which held two only at a pinch; he wanted me to get back to the North Call camp, as he was going to return there that night if possible in order that he might denude that camp and get down the North Call slopes before the monsoon broke. I was responsible at this time for that North Call camp and running operations above it and below it, and taking parties up and down, and I felt bound to get back there to look after the porters who were stationed at the North Call. I got back that night, and I looked for signs of Mallory and Irving returning, some light from the mountain. There was none. Next morning at midday I decided to go up and search. I saw no movement through my glasses at Camp 6 above me. I went up. I took with me one porter, but very soon he broke down, and I had to send him back. I reached Camp 5 that night and spent the night there; tried to sleep but it was too cold to sleep. I had two sleeping bags, one inside the other, and all my clothes, and then I was cold. There was a violent wind all night, threatening to uproot the tent. In the morning I went on up and late in the afternoon of the next day I reached Camp 6. I found the tiny tent there had collapsed in the gale, but there were no signs that Mallory and Irvine had returned in my absence. I decided to go on above, and I searched all the slopes as far as I could, but I could only see a few yards ahead of me owing to the violence of the gale and the blizzard that was prevailing at this time. I realized that one might search those slopes for a very much longer time, in fact might search with a larger party and then not come across the remains of the missing party. So I decided it was necessary to get back as I was responsible for these porters on the North Call camp. I got back that evening. We could launch no further search party as we were all down and out at this time; and just after this the monsoon broke, preventing our launching an attack on the mountain, or searching for our missing companions.

Mallory and Irvine had left Camp 6 on the morning when I saw them as mentioned, going by way of this ridge, and I felt from what one saw of the other part of the mountain that very probably they would find no obstacles ahead of them, no difficulty from the technical point of view, and it is very probable that they had made the summit and something may have gone wrong on the way down. As to what it was, one can only guess, but knowing the skill of Mallory and Irvine it is pretty difficult to conclude that they had fallen and met their death. I feel satisfied that probably having made the summit, they would make their way down in the late afternoon, and then in the gathering gloom and darkness they would be unable to reach either Camp 6 or Camp 5 and would have to take shelter in some recess on this great north face, and then from exhaustion they would undoubtedly fall asleep and in the great cold of that high altitude would undoubtedly freeze to death in their sleep. That, I think, is just as possible an explanation, but of course it is only a guess as to what befell them. Some suggested that the failure of the oxygen apparatus may have been their undoing, but I do not think so, because I used the oxygen on my second trip up to Camp 6 and was able to switch it off at just short of 27,000 feet, and carry on entirely without its use. I do not think that even if the oxygen apparatus failed that Mallory and Irvine would have been prevented from returning.

That, gentlemen, is a short account of this expedition, and it is the intention of the Mount Everest Committee, members of the Royal Geographical Society, and the Alpine Club of London, to send out another expedition when we can get permission from Thibet. Another expedition should definitely make certain of the top, and carry on the scientific work that has been going on in these expeditions. We have failed so far to get permission from Thibet, but we do hope in the next few years that that permission will be obtained, and another expedition will go out and make certain of the top.

Some of you may have wondered what is the use of these expeditions that so often, and this time in particular, are followed by the loss of human life. Some think the death of Mallory and Irvine useless sacrifice. Surely that is not the case. In a material age they died in pursuit of an ideal, and there is surely many a worse thing to die for than in the pursuit of such an ideal. I think that it is very necessary to remember in these days that such a pursuit as mountaineering should be carried on by us as Britishers, and it would be a poor thing for the British Empire and for the world if the love of adventure and pioneering should die out. (Applause.) I hope, gentlemen, that the next expedition will be successful. There have been several plans for other countries to run an expedition to make the attempt--Japan, United States of America, Italy, have all mooted expeditions, but I hope during the next few years it will be a British expedition that definitely reaches the top of the world. (Applause.)

The thanks of the Club were tendered to the speaker by BRIG.GEN. MITCHELL.

Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


The Assault on Everest

This address was accompanied by lantern slides. Some background and history of Mount Everest expeditions from 1892. A few details of the first two expeditions. A detailed description of the third expedition of 1924, with which the speaker was associated. Included are facts and figures about the mountain and the geographic area; participants in the expedition; organization; climate; difficulties; the approach; base camp. Plans for a further expedition by the Mount Everest Committee of the Royal Geographical Society and the Alpine Club of London. Purpose of these expeditions. The death of Mallory and Irvine. A love of adventure and pioneering. Plans by other countries for an expedition to Mount Everest. Hope that the British expedition will reach the top.