A recently-published book of images from the 1953 British Everest expedition, co-written by George Lowe, the oldest surviving member of the team until his death earlier this year, marks the 60th anniversary of the team’s extraordinary journey to the summit of the highest mountain on Earth.
The Conquest of Everest, by George Lowe and Huw Lewis-Jones, includes a wealth of unpublished photographs – landscapes, candid portraits and action shots – from the private archives of George Lowe, as well as personal reflections from Sir Edmund Hillary, Sir Chris Bonington, Reinhold Messner, and others. The Conquest of Everest is published in hardback by Thames & Hudson, £24.95, and is available to buy from all good bookstores and online
(Images © The George Lowe Collection)
This photograph of Edmund Hillary and George Lowe with their two Sherpa guides and friends was taken in 1952, the year before the big climb. When they returned to Nepal the following year, they found that both Sherpa had been taken ill and had died for lack of medicine. In 1952, George Lowe was invited to join the British expedition to climb Cho Oyu, the formidable nextdoor neighbour to Everest, and the sixth highest peak in the world. But with a severely stretched supply chain, Hillary and Lowe only reached 22,500 ft before they were turned back by dangerous ice-cliffs. Wisps of clouds trail from the formidable rock pyramid of Mount Everest. From this angle, some 15 miles to the south-west, Everest appears as an impregnable challenge and half-hidden behind the ice-encrusted walls of Nuptse. With a large magnolia in his hat and a cup of tea in hand, George Lowe rests for a moment on the approach to Everest, in the rich forests and steep gorges of the Himalayan foothills. George Lowe took this photograph as Hillary and Tenzing made their way to their position high on the South East Ridge. Moving upwards, Lowe chipped steps until a site could be found for their tent. After the team left, the pair levelled the ice and rocks and erected the tent at c28,000 ft. At 6.30am the next day the pair set off for the summit. Near Base Camp, the beautiful but unstable pinnacles of the Khumbu Icefall present a daunting obstacle to anyone wanting to gain access to the Western Cwm and make an attempt at Everest. After various journeys by air, sea, rail and, ultimately, on foot, the team converged on Kathmandu, the capital city of the Kingdom of Nepal, in early March 1953. From there some 350 porters accompanied the party on a 17-day march into the Khumbu. In total, something like 13 tons of equipment and supplies were transported to Base Camp. On 25 May 1953 the second assault party, Hillary and Tenzing, left Camp IV. Edmund Hillary makes a quick check of their oxygen equipment, which they used all the way to conserve their energies. Tenzing’s ice-axe is prepared for the top, with flags wrapped around its shaft. It is 11.30am on 29 May 1953. Tenzing stands on the summit of Everest and waves his ice-axe, on which are hung the flags Britain, Nepal, the United Nations and India. On reaching this sacred spot, Tenzing placed a packet of biscuits, some chocolate and a handful of sweets into a hole in the snow as a gift to the gods said to live on the summit. The team had all chosen their favourite things to take with them, including mint cakes and chocolate, soups and Nescafe coffee, tinned pineapple and pears, pots of chutney, Cheddar cheese, sardines, mustard, and eight jars of Marmite. Photographing and filming on Everest was an unexpected delight and real honour for George Lowe. He directed a documentary called 'The Conquest of Everest', which was nominated for an Oscar. Back down safely at Camp IV on 30 May, our South Col and summit team pose for a photo: Hunt, Hillary, Tenzing, An Nyima, Gregory and Lowe. At Mana, a village just below the Tibetan border, George Lowe gives Edmund Hillary a well-needed haircut after the first great Himalayan adventure in 1951. Seven new peaks climbed during the trip, and on their return to Ranikhet the team received a cablegram inviting two of their party to join Eric Shipton’s reconnaissance expedition to the Nepalese side of Everest. Above the pair is the team’s major goal, the summit of Mukut Parbat with its dramatic snow-clad west ridge. Camp III was placed on the small snow terrace directly above them. On the first ascent and traverse of Elie de Beaumont, Edmund Hillary works his way up a steep snow-face, approaching the summit ridge, with the Whymper Glacier a great distance below. Edmund Hillary and George Lowe at the Malte Brun Hut, near the upper Tasman Glacier, New Zealand, in January 1951, from where they made many climbs together. Lazing in his pyjamas, Edmund Hillary enjoys a Sherlock Holmes adventure in the shade of his umbrella during the approach march of the 1952 expedition. On the left, Eric Shipton looks on.