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Who climbed Everest first?
09:16 a.m. EDT Jun 26, 2003
Mallory and Irvine aren’t the only ones who might have summited previous to Hillary and Norgay’s 1953 ascent. Mountaineering historian Thomas Noy has recently contacted ExplorersWeb with some very interesting information about a relatively unknown British climber, Maurice Wilson in 1933.

Below is the first in a three-part series about Wilson, written by Noy. In 1985 Thomas traveled to Tibet and met with a Chinese climber who while on a 1960 Everest expedition saw a tent at 8500m. Noy believes that this tent is most likely a remnant of Wilson’s 1934 expedition. This being the case, Wilson was tantalizingly close to the summit. In comparison, Mallory’s body was found in 1999 at 8200m.

What makes Wilson’s expedition in 1934 even more extraordinary is how he arrived at Everest in the first place, via plane. With only two months of flying experience, including a crash, Wilson set off for Everest from the UK, solo, in a Gipsy-Moth airplane. This alone is a spectacular feat in itself as inexperienced a pilot Wilson was.

Following the three-part article about Wilson will be an ExplorersWeb interview with the man behind all the research, Thomas Noy. He is currently in the planning stages of an expedition to the North Side of Everest in a search for that tent at 8500m and any other trace of Wilson.

Part I of III: Maurice Wilson:

Forty-three years ago, somewhere around 8500 meters on the Tibetan side of Everest‘s summit pyramid, the remnants of an “old tent” were found, according to the elusive 1960 Chinese Expedition summiteer and native Tibetan, Gombu. What makes this discovery so astonishing, and so controversial, is that before 1960, the highest known camp ever placed on Everest was at 8300 meters. This other tent was much higher. Who put it there?

There is only one possibility: British visionary and mystic, Maurice Wilson. Impossible? Far-fetched? Not quite so fast…The essence of Maurice Wilson’s story is his indomitable, never-give-in willpower.

One tough guy

He was a decorated World War I hero, badly wounded in action. His 1933 flight from Britain to India alone is the singular stuff of legend. Had he not gone on to conduct his clandestine raid on Everest, that astonishing solo flight would be a monumental achievement in and of itself. He hiked overland, often at night, through Tibet to Everest, where his true character, and hidden legacy, repose. Maurice Wilson was one tough guy.

Below are the clues that lead a skilled investigator to deduct that he certainly surpassed:

The expectations of a skeptical world, and the mountaineering elite, for these many decades. According to this amassed evidence, not only did Wilson surmount the North Col, but he may have reached the summit - perhaps for the first time in history - only to die on the way down; his triumph lost to the eternal merciless winds. I’ll explain why.

Investigator’s background

First, a little personal background. To the left there’s a 1985 photo of me in Beijing with my friends, the famous Everest mountaineer, Mr. Chou Yin-Hua (on left), and 1960 expedition leader, Mr. Ching, who offered some fascinating insights about discoveries made during the summit ascent of the Chinese Expedition in 1960.

That day, both Mr. Yin-Hua and Mr. Ching urged me to ask their famous summit colleague, Gombu, about events high on Everest in 1960. According to Gombu, beyond the famous Yellow Band, the summit team had come upon the remains of “an old tent” at 8500 meters, just below the Northeast ridge. Astonished, I asked Gombu in Lhasa if his recollection was accurate. He emphatically answered in the affirmative after being asked the question twice.

“At 8500 meters, beyond the Yellow Band, we came upon a tent, one higher than another old tent at about 8300 meters. It was tied down with ropes. Inside, we found old clothing. This was at 8500 meters,” Gombu repeated. (picture #3 of Gombu with this investigator in 1985).

”It could only have been Maurice’s

There is no “rumor” to it, as Jochen Hemmleb would conveniently suggest in his DETECTIVES ON EVEREST. What makes Gombu’s rare and genuine, tape-recorded testimony pivotal is that this tent was found nearly 600 vertical feet above the highest known pre-war camp ever to be established. It could only have been put there by Maurice Wilson. In order to appreciate the significance of Gombu‘s testimony, it is necessary to understand some details of Wilson’s back story.

Tomorrow, Part II of III: Wilson’s missing tent

Images courtesy of Thomas Noy.

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