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40 year-old letter found on Everest: "Dear Son, there are so many interested in your expedition"
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May 18, 2005 17: 37 EST
Previously published Apr 22, 2005 13: 28 EST
The Canadian South Side expedition is experiencing a real adventure this season. Team leader Ben Webster broke his leg near Camp 1 and had to be evacuated; Shaunna Burke went with him to Kathmandu and will need several days to get back to Base Camp.

Meanwhile, Garry Hartlin, the Algonquin College teacher who is now the primary communications technician at Base Camp, found a mystery letter miraculously conserved in the ice pinnacles near BC. It was penned by a proud mom, more than 40 years ago...

Once upon a time, on St. Patrick’s day

March 17, Happy St. Patrick’s Day at Rolling Acres

Dear Son,

It is quite foggy this evening after a rainy night and morning, then a pretty good after noon for the parade. At home here, it has been a very pleasant day. Uncle Frank and Aunt Norah, Aunt Peg and Aunt Ester had dinner with us and spent the afternoon. Each wore some green, and your father sat in the green room to receive them. Uncle Frank took the rocker and announced he was J.F.K.

JFK and Ed Sullivan

I had a green and white table with green tossed salad, broccoli, peas, cucumber pickles and olives for green food with lamb and green mint jelly. We had Irish bread and green and white ice cream. But best of all we had a real fine time just chatting.

I fell sure each one enjoyed the few hours we were together. Now your father is watching T.V. waiting for the Ed Sullivan show. I bet he’ll have some Irish dancers on. We have some crocus and daffodils peeping through on the south side of the woodshed. On the north side there is a shield of ice and snow.

Today, as always you were inquired for and your father enjoyed reporting. Son there are so many interested in your expedition, they think it is tremendous, but not many feel they have what it takes to tackle a job like that. We are questioned wherever we go, church, stores, school.

The New York papers

The New York papers are still on (…) considerable thought about the expedition saying that they, as many of us, were watching the progress of the expedition and there were so many times being printed we might like the clipping. He also said they had sent you some mail. Sara Roberts, Marion, and Agnes have also told me they had written…

…We try to imagine what it is like where you are now. We seem to realize how little we know about the geography of Asia, but we do study maps and articles, and try to think how far you are on your journey.

God love you and keep you safe, and may your fondest wishes come true!

Our Love,
Mom


A photographer and geologist named Barry Bishop

The next morning, Garry ventured through the ice pinnacles again, hoping to find more treasures. “All I found was garbage, and lots of it. So, as of tomorrow, I am taking a plastic bag with me and collecting garbage for one hour each day. I will be here for at least four more weeks, which should clean up a fair piece of the Khumbu.”

Curious about the letter, Garry did some research, making interesting conclusions.

“I have done some digging into my mystery letter, he reported. “First of all, Ed Sullivan aired from 1955 to 1971 only on Sundays. Second, March 17th was on a Sunday in 1963 and J.F.K. was in power until 1963. The only American Everest Expedition was in 1963 and was sponsored by the National Geographic Society. I found the list of names from that expedition and the only name that was remotely Irish was a photographer and geologist named Barry Bishop who summited Everest on May 1st 1963.”

Rescued from a crevasse fall

“So, how did this letter end up in the ice pinnacles? As he and fellow climber Lute Jerstad descended from Mount Everest, they fell into a crevasse but were miraculously rescued without injury. The letter must have fallen out of his pocket or he left his backpack behind with the letter still inside.”

“This makes this letter 42 years old! What is so strange is that I have seen first hand what this glacier can do to foreign objects. Wood is ground into slivers, propane cans are crushed, aluminum ladders are twisted and broken and fabric is ripped to shreds. How this neatly folded letter survived, is beyond me, but is pretty cool none the less. Oh, I also have a partial letter from what I think is his father. It is much harder to read; as time permits I will type it out for you.”

Shaunna Burke and Ben Webster were returning to Everest to finish an attempt which ended in high winds at South Col last year. Sponsored by Telecom Ottawa, Ben Webster, Everest summiteer and producer of the award nominated 6-part mini-series for the Discovery Channel was leading the small team and streamed satellite video to high schools of the Ottawa Carelton School Board. Shaunna has been on Everest twice filming for the Discovery Channel and is returning this year to summit and carry out her Ph.D. thesis on the psychology of Everest climbers.

Image of the mistery letter courtesy of Algonquin College/Everest – A Higher Learning Experience.

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