Deciding to undertake the 60th anniversary trek to Everest Base Camp in May has opened up a whole new world to me. Not only had I never taken been remotely interested in Nepal in general or Kathmandu in particular before the planning began but I had also didn’t know anything about mountaineering or mountaineers or even the Himalayas. I didn’t even know that Mt Everest has one foot in Nepal and the other in Tibet.
In the last few months though I’ve found myself devouring anything I come across that mentions Kathmandu, Everest, mountains, training, trekking etc and I’ve come across some fascinating stuff, particularly about the pioneers of mountaineering in this region.
Does the name Eric Shipton mean anything to anyone? No? What about Sir Edmund Hillary? Now that’s familiar isn’t it? Even John Hunt is fairly well known as the leader of that 1953 expedition that saw Hillary and Tenzing stand on top of the world.
So who was Eric Shipton and what did he have to do with Everest? Quite a lot actually, as I’ve recently discovered.
The sports houses at Grange Lane Junior School in Scunthorpe, where I attended up to the age of eleven, were named Everest, Sherpa, Tenzing and Shipton, the first three were obvious associations but I had no idea why the fourth would be called Shipton.
So I did as all good writers do – I turned to research. This took me on quite an interesting journey, through newspaper archives, autobiographies and travel memoirs. I did get slightly sidetracked with all of the interesting accounts of the mountaineering in the Nepal region but ultimately I discovered some interesting facts about Eric Shipton.
Shipton was in fact a distinguished British Himalayan mountaineer, heavily involved in many expeditions from the 1930s through to the 1950s. He was the leader of the 1935 expedition that gave nineteen year old Tenzing Norgay his start as an Everest Sherpa and he was the one who made the decision, in 1951, to accept two New Zealand mountaineers onto his team that undertook the reconnaissance expedition to Everest, chalking out the now famous route over the Khumbu Glacier. Edmund Hillary was one of those New Zealanders, the rest, as they say, is history.
Initially Eric Shipton accepted leadership of the 1953 expedition but was then controversially replaced with John Hunt on the grounds of Hunt’s organisational skills.
Eric Shipton it seems was a popular mountaineer. In his memoir View From the Summit Sir Edmund Hillary maintains his affection for Shipton and voices his belief that they would still have been successful under Shipton’s leadership.
Mountaineering enthusiasts will know of him but unfortunately Eric Shipton’s name did not go down in the annals of history or the continuing public consciousness as did that of Edmund Hillary and the leader of that 1953 expedition, John Hunt.
I think I might be remembering him though as I climb those slopes and get my first view of the Khumbu Glacier and he was also known to have taken photos of what may have been a Yeti footprint, so I’ll be on the lookout, just in case.
Shipton’s Yeti footprint, with an iceaxe showing the scale
Don’t forget that you can encourage me in my efforts (to reach Base Camp that is, not to find a Yeti) by donating to the Because I’m a Girl Campaign. All you need to do is go to the Donate page at the top there and follow the prompts – easy really and you’ll be helping a really worthwhile cause.