Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Maurice Wilson his odyssey and final ascent on Mt. Everest

Maurice Wilson. MountEverest.net
Image showing North Col. Mt Everest. HumanEdgeTech
Because of his misadventure on the high slopes near North Col in the Himalayas, Maurice Wilson, ex. Captain British army in 1933 declared that he would fly solo to Nepal and climb Mt. Everest alone without any help whatsoever. Neither he knew how to fly nor did he ever climb a rock cliff before. Through out his life, 34 year old Wilson was a controversial figure with unsteady marriages and jobs. But his determination and commitment  were commendable and they kept him going.

Maurice Wilson (21 April 1898 - c. 31 May, 1934) from Bradford  was the son of  a wealthy woolen mill owner and after having put in creditable services with the British army during the WWI, he went back to civilian life in 1919. He became mentally and physically sick during the transitional period after leaving the military. He lived in the USA and New Zealand briefly. Because of machine-gun injury, his mobility in left arm was not good. Besides,   he contracted an incurable disease - TB and later under the influence of a "strange man",  he took to fasting and prayer - a blend of Eastern Mysticism and Christian faith that cured him from his ailment. He later developed an obsession for this technique and became its votary. While resting in Germany, he read articles about the failed expedition to Mt. Everest in 1924 by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. Having resolved to scale Mt. Everest to complete the unfinished job of other two Britishers,  he wanted to try a new method not tried before: Flying a plane and crash-landing  it on the higher slope  and then walk up to the summit- Mt.Everest. A strange way of reaching the summit!!

He bought a three  year old  Gypsy Moth plane and got the license. His idea was to fly solo to India and from there on to Nepal. In 1933, the English Air Ministry focused their attention on him when his plan met with an accident and put restrictions on his solo trip to India. Despite the  ban, on May 21 1933 he took off to India without better training either in flying or in mountaineering. That he did not carry proper clothing and specialized equipment for higher altitude climbing shows how naive he was regarding personal safety matters.

At Cairo he was not allowed to fly over Egypt on request from the British Consulate. whereas at Bahrain, after long deliberation he was allowed to refuel on condition that he would return to England. When the plane became airborne, he turned the plane towards  India where he safe landed at Gwadar. western India after nine hours of flying. At Lalbalu, near the Nepal border, he was refused to fly over Nepal and his plane was impounded. This put a break on his flying into Nepal. Having been denied permission to enter Nepal, Wilson spent the winter in Darjeeling, fasting and praying. There he met three Sherpas - Tewang, Rinzing and Tsering, and resolved to enter Nepal illegally to climb Everest from the base. With a ban how could he enter Nepal and fulfill his passion?

Undaunted, Wilson and the three Sherpas on 21 March 1934 secretly left Darjeeling for Nepal. To avoid suspicion, the three Sherpa porters traveled incognito as Buddhist monks, while Wilson went along with them pretending to be deaf and dumb in poor health. During his stay at Rongbuk Monastery on 14 April, he got a chance to use the  equipment left behind by Rutledge's  (Rutledge was an ICS officer in British India) expedition. After two days' stay he set off alone for Everest. we come to know about his activities on the  high mountains from his diary which is with the Alpine club archives.  It was recovered from the mountain following year. He had tough time hiking on the Ronbouk glacier and had to try other route. After 5 days under pretty bad weather, he was
still two miles short of Rutledge's Camp III below the North Col. He began a tough four-day retreat down the glacier. He  reached the monastery exhausted, snow blind and in great pain from his war-wounds and a badly twisted ankle. On 12 May he set out this time with Sherpas Tewang, Rinzing after 18 days of rest and recovery. Their knowledge of glaciers was helpful to him. After 3 days, they crossed the glacier and reached the base camp III below North Col, but had to stay there several days because of bad weather. On 21 st of May he could make only unsuccessful attempt on North Col as his plan to follow the early route misfired.

Following day, the 40 foot ice wall  at 22700 feet near the North Col was a major bottleneck and for four days they had to camp on exposed ledges and little progress was made to cross the ice wall. At this stage, the experienced Sherpas pleaded him to get back to Monastery. Writing in his diary "this will be a last effort, and I feel successful" undeterred,  he set out again for the last time on 29 May 1934 alone. Too weak to attempt the Col that day, he camped at its base, a few hundred yards from where the Sherpas were camped. The next day he stayed in bed. His last diary entry was dated 31 May, and read simply "Off again, gorgeous day.
Remains of Maurice Wilson. Flickr
Since Wilson failed to return from his last  assault Tewang and Rinzing left the mountain, reached Kalimpong in late July, giving the world the first news of Wilson's death

A small reconnaissance expedition to Mount Everest in 1935 led by Eric Shipton  found Wilson's body at the foot of the North Col. They also recovered his diary in a rucksack. The body was buried in a nearby crevasse The assumption was that Wilson died in his tent of exhaustion or starvation. The exact date of his death is unknown. 

There  are some articles about the highest point on the mountain at which Wilson camped  last, perhaps  it was higher than any other camps set by the British teams before. It is believed these are all mere speculations because Wilson was a poor mountaineer and  never used proper clothing and equipment on his final assault.

Wilson derived inspiration from Mallory and Irvine, the mountaineers who disappeared near the summit in 1924. Unfortunately Wilson could make only an abortive attempt, considering his  poor experience and lack of mountaineering gear. He may be dubbed as eccentric, but never had he given up his passion   and  fought it out courageously in the face of imminent death. Thus he proved he was more a highly spirited British soldier than an experienced mountaineer, trying to uphold the British inquisitiveness and adventurism. His solo trip to India, using a small plane was a daunting job. Truly he was a man of nerves, not a screw ball!! He was both revered and reviled by the mountaineers and still he is an enigma, surrounded by layers of controversies.

Ref:
http://navrangindia.blogspot.in/2016/11/eccentric-british-army-man-maurice_21.html

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Wilson