A German author gives his perspective on Maurice Wilson
11:02 a.m. EDT Jul 3, 2003
Peter Meier-Hüsing is a journalist for a German broadcast station, an occasional freelancer, and author of a book about Maurice Wilson. He first heard of Wilson in a book about Reinhold Messner’s successful solo attempt on Everest in 1980. It was then that he felt the widely unknown story of the eccentric Wilson deserved to be told in its entirety.
Meier-Hüsing started his investigations and wanted to know what motivated Wilson, why most Everest historians overlooked him, and why when he was mentioned it was in a manner that described him only as completely mad. It is Peter’s opinion that Wilson’s so called ‘madness’ is in the end not really different from the ‘madness’ of other extreme mountain heroes like Messner, Bonatti, or Buhl. Rather, it was the public opinion during Wilson’s time that tagged him as being crazy.
Through Meier-Hüsing’s research he learned more about Wilson and found him to be a very self-confident person who was very interested in the Buddhist religion and philosophy. Maurice respected the religious rules in the Everest region. For example, Wilson did not kill any animals, which was something that was not respected by other early English expeditions. Meier-Hüsing points out that this fact is mentioned very seldom in the literature about the man. In addition, Wilson was a highly respected man in the Rongbuk monastery on the north side of Everest.
Peter Meier-Hüsing has recently sent ExplorersWeb his views on Wilson:
For my research I started to gather my material: Wilson’s diary, official files from the ‘Indian Office Library’ and old letters which I received from an English journalist named Dennis Roberts; he was the only man who wrote a little book about Wilson in 1953. A lot of the material, however, I used for the first time.
On the 29th of May 1934 Wilson left his two Sherpas Rinzing and Tewang on the East Rongbuk Glacier under the ice walls which led up to the North Col. They camped near the Camp III of previous expeditions at approximately 6500 meters. He had told his Sherpas that he would go alone and that they should wait for him for 2 weeks. In case he didn’t come back down, Wilson told them they should all go down.
"Off again, gorgeous day!"
His last diary entry is from the 31st of May: "Off again, gorgeous day!" But that doesn’t mean that this was his last day alive! Of course it is possible that he was still alive a few days more and got higher. How high is impossible to know right now. Perhaps he got a little bit higher than the North Col, but not any more I believe.
His efforts on the lower parts of the mountain show how really unskilled in mountaineering he was. He was exhausted, had no experience with the thin air and only a little food. Undoubtedly he died at Camp III, where Shipton’s team found his body in 1935.
When he came back down, where were the Sherpas? I believe the two Sherpas did not wait two weeks, because the weather turned bad (the monsoon) and one of them was ill. They had done what they could for Wilson and followed their leader who was reliable the whole time, but then they must have looked to save their own lives!
Maybe a bit higher than the North Col
So perhaps Wilson come back to Camp III a few days after the 31st of May but was too exhausted to manage his own rescue (he died near the old food stores under the snow, why he didn’t he use them?) and there was no sleeping bag. There are some mysteries about absent equipment, but those he lost higher above on the mountain I believe. In summary I am sure Wilson reached the North Col or a little bit higher and the Sherpas left Camp III before he came back - they couldn’t help the man who was more dead than alive.
There have been some questions about that tent at 8500m. Was it really seen there and whose tent was it? Thomas Noy writes that there is no record of a team going that high previously. This combined with a tent from Wilson's expedition that went accounted for led him to believe that this tent may have been Wilson's.
Whose tent is that up there?
Noy’s witness for the tent sighting is a member of the Chinese expedition of 1960, a Tibetan named Gombu. When the Chinese mountaineers reached the upper slopes of Everest in that year there were remains of three former camps up there. The Camp VI of 1924 at a height of 8140 meters near the north ridge, the Camp VI from 1933 at 8380 meters at the northeast ridge, and the Camp VI of the 1938 expedition near the North East shoulder at 8305 meters.
Meanwhile all three campsites and their remains have been examined by expeditions, especially by the two Mallory/Irvine research expeditions organized by Jochen Hemmleb and Eric Simonson. They talked in 2001 in Peking with veterans of the 1960 expedition and after that they are sure that the mentioned English tent that Noy declared as Wilsons is the one of Camp VI, 8380m from 1933. That’s all!
Nobody knows if the tent which was found near Wilson’s body was his or the one of his sherpas. The official police report from Darjeeling about the interrogation of the three sherpas after their return doesn’t mention any of the equipment they brought with them, however.
- Peter Meier-Hüsing
Next week we’ll feature an interview with Thomas Noy.
Peter’s book, “Wo die Schneelöwen tanzen,” is only available in Germany, but may be translated into English in the future.
Image of Wilson’s remains courtesy of Thomas Noy