2021 is an important year for the outdoors community. This is the centenary year that marks the 1921 reconnaissance mission to Mount Everest.
Following this were the first summit events in both 1922 and 1924. The Alpine Club will be hosting an exhibition to commemorate the missions that were the catalyst for our collective obsession with the earth’s tallest mountain.
The exhibition will be titled ‘Everest By Those Who Were There’ and will be hosted in England’s capital. It’s a relief to see something positive happening in London for the outdoors after the city’s recent end-of-an-era misfortune.
To some Everest history buffs this may be the event of a lifetime. But surely any Everest aficionado would already know all the stories and will have seen all of the evidence?
The Alpine Club has access to a wide range of materials from the first three Everest expeditions thanks to expert compilation work from the club’s Honorary Librarian Barbara Grigor-Taylor among others. Many of these materials have not been shown publically until now, some items will be seen for the first time in a century.
The Alpine Club has given a sneak preview of some of the items on display. You can expect to see a photo taken by Howard Somerveil in 1924, which was at the time a record-breaker for the highest photograph ever taken.
Also, expect to see watercolor paintings of the legendary mountain and Sandy Irvine’s ice axe discovered on Everest in 1933 after his tragic summit attempt with Mallory in 1924.
The exhibition will use all of these collated historical sources, such as diary entries, to showcase the mindset of the pioneers and what it was really like to be on one of the original expeditions. But, of course, details won’t shy away from the mountain’s unfortunate history of tragedy.
Visitors can also expect to see the clothing and gear that was used for those initial climbs. Don’t expect to see any of your favorite outdoor brands; these adventurers look they’ve come straight from the Wild West.
Their gear was fundamental, and not much attention was paid to what such high altitudes could do to the human body as the information simply didn’t exist. This was almost three decades before Hillary’s historic first ascent, after all.
Even with this lack of knowledge and gear that would get a few laughs by today’s standards, climbs were made as high as 8,572m back in 1924.
Former Alpine Club president and current Head of Exhibitions John Porter put it quite well. “These men lived in the true age of exploration.
Driven by the need to escape the horrors of the Great War and a desire to see Britain first atop the ‘third pole,’ they achieved the remarkable. By using their own records and possessions, we hope to give visitors a true sense of the reality of the time and the incredible bravery it took to attempt the summit.”
An Opportunity For All
Londoners and those that are up to making the pilgrimage (current COVID-19 rules permitting) will be able to visit the exhibition from 21st June onwards on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 12:00-17:30.
The exhibition will be through the summer-long until October 17th, except for a hiatus during August. Set your GPS device of choice to guide you to 55 Charlotte Road, Shoreditch, EC2A 3QF. Alpine Club recommends booking in advance to avoid COVID-19 restriction issues; they also add that requesting alternative days is an option.
It looks like the Alpine Club is aware of the international interest in the event and is sending out copies of the exhibition’s accompanying catalog. In addition, there were limited catalogs (70 in total) signed by Everest luminaries such as Stephen Venables, Leo Houlding, Victor Saunders, and Sir Chris Bonnington. Unfortunately for fans, though, the signed copies have already sold out.
According to Alpine Club’s website, the catalogs are filled with high-quality photographs from the early expeditions.
With the help of artwork and artifacts, the detailed pages tell a timestamped story from the inception of the idea of conquering Everest all the way to the movements and mistakes that caused the tragic disappearance of Mallory and Sandy. The mystery of whether they actually reached the summit is still up to you to decide.
Some outdoors purists and mountaineering hipsters view the current state of the Everest scene to be like a theme park for the wealthy. Campsites are becoming cozier and there are controversially many fixed ropes along the mountain’s routes.
What will they make of those early brave innovators? Did they make sure to leave no trace as they walked on what many locals consider holy ground? How many of them paid more attention to self-validation than they did to the unforgiving slopes?
None of these questions will ever fully be answered, but as the Alpine Club is releasing never-seen-before information, perhaps we will get that little bit closer to uncovering the hidden truth. Or, at best, we will all gain a little more insight into the world’s most famous mountain.