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1953: Everest stories - Charles Wylie

Charles Wylie was a serving officer in a Ghurkha regiment of the British Army, and was fluent in Nepali.

He was organising secretary for the expedition to Everest and looked after the 350 porters and 35 Sherpas attached to the team in Nepal.

The 33-year-old also designed the high altitude boots used on the mountain.

I'd been climbing ever since I was seven years old, in the Alps or on the hills in Britain, and I'd always been interested in Mount Everest.

At school my housemaster, Edwin Kempson, became an Everest climber himself. He went on the 1935 reconnaissance expedition and then the assault expedition of 1936.

I think that he must have recommended me to Eric Shipton, who at that time was the leader designate of the 1953 expedition.


"We had to walk the whole way from Kathmandu"

There were two parties - one went by sea with the bulk of our equipment. I was in charge of that little group of six of us on a steamer going out to Bombay.

We left Tilbury [Docks, in London] on 12 February 1953.

There were various bits to do in India. We had to see All India Radio to get the weather broadcast fixed up properly, so I went to Calcutta to do that.

Other members of the expedition went with the kit by train to the Nepal border and saw the equipment put onto the rope-railway as there was no road into Nepal from India at that time.

The rope-railway was a steel cable going about 20 miles [32 km] over a fairly high pass and coming down in the Kathmandu valley.

We had to walk the whole way from Kathmandu - I think it's 170 miles [274 km] - and with heavily laden porters that took us nearly three weeks.


"We couldn't have climbed the mountain in the way we did without Sherpas"

One of the main points for John Hunt's plan for climbing the mountain was that a really effective support base should be established on the South Col, so that the climbers who attempted to climb to the top would have the necessary support quite close behind.

But I spent as little time as possible there - it is a very inhospitable place!

My role at that time was to make sure the large quantity of stores could be carried up to the South Col by the Sherpas.

I felt very strongly that we couldn't have climbed the mountain in the way we did without Sherpas.

Amazement

I felt it was right and proper that John Hunt should have put Tenzing along with Ed Hilary in one of the summit pairs.

I worked through Tenzing who was the "Sirdar", or leader, of the Sherpas, and I formed a very close bond which existed until his death - and still exists with his family.

We were amazed at the impact that the news about climbing Everest made.

When we got back to the Kathmandu Valley, we were absolutely swamped by the local people who came up to meet us at the end of the track.

Royal visit

I should really say they came out to meet Tenzing. Poor chap, he was absolutely mobbed. All we wanted to do after three weeks walking was have a jolly good glass of beer and a good wash.

But we were prevented from doing anything like that by the thousands and thousands of people who came up.

I had to rescue Tenzing - who I regarded in a way as my protégé - and put him on some sort of transport back to Kathmandu.

We then found ourselves in the King's drawing room, which was quite amazing.


"Tenzing presented me with a lovely little puppy"

When we were walking back from Everest, Tenzing said he wanted to give me a present - a Lhasa Apso puppy. He bred Apsos in Darjeeling and this was a very tempting offer - I love dogs.

But I couldn't take one at that time, because there were so many other considerations.

But later on, when I was posted to Kathmandu as military attaché at the embassy, I went over to Tenzing's house in Darjeeling.

He presented me with a lovely little puppy who became my close companion and shadow for about three years while I was in Kathmandu.

In Context
A few years later Charles Wylie came within 150 ft [45.7 m] of the summit of the 22,940 ft [6,992 m] peak Machapuchare, also in the Himalaya range.

He worked for various Nepalese charities after retiring from the Gurkhas.

He now lives in Hampshire with his wife, Catharine.

Everest Glossary
Icefall
Chaotic and often dangerous area of glacier.

South Col
A col, or pass, is a lower gap in the crest of a mountain ridge. The "normal" route up Everest goes via the South Col.

Cwm
Welsh word for a glacially-scoured bowl in a mountain's side. Also called a corrie (Scottish) or cirque (French).

Top-out
Reaching the summit of a mountain.


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