2021 marks the centenary of the first expedition to Mount Everest. To commemorate the occasion, The Alpine Club is hosting a landmark exhibition entitled ‘Everest: By Those Who Were There’ at its premises of 55 Charlotte Road, Shoreditch, EC2A 3QF.
The exhibition uses the words of expedition members from 1921, 1922 and 1924 to explore the mountain as a symbol of adventure and a site of significant tragedy. As well as diary entries and hand-written notes, visitors can explore the art works and photography produced on the expeditions, as well as the clothing and equipment that was first used to climb the mountain.
Today every detail of Everest, from its precise dimensions to the exact wind speed on its summit, can be accessed at the click of a button. But for the men of these early expeditions, it was an entirely different prospect. In 1921, even its exact location was uncertain and the first expedition undertook a 200-mile trek across Tibet as they, in the words of George Mallory, ‘walked off the map’ in search of it. The achievements of these expeditions, climbing as high as 8,572m in 1924, were accomplished with rudimentary equipment and no concrete understanding of the effects that such extreme altitudes would have on the human body.
Renowned mountaineer, former Alpine Club president and current Head of Exhibitions John Porter said: ‘These men lived in the true age of exploration. Driven by the need to escape the horrors of the Great War and a desire to see Britain first atop the “third pole”, they achieved the remarkable. By using their own records and possessions we hope to give visitors a true sense of the reality of the time and the incredible bravery it took for men like Mallory and Irvine to attempt the summit.’
The Expedition Party of 1921 -
(Back, L-R) Alexander FR Wollaston, Col. Charles K, Howard-Bury, Alexander M Heron, Harold A Raeburn
(Front, L-R) George Leigh Mallory, E Oliver Wheeler, Guy H Bullock, Major Henry T Morshead
Base Camp, 1922 - Photo by George Finch
Items on display include: a photograph taken on Everest by Howard Somervell in 1924 which was, at the time, the highest photograph ever taken; watercolour paintings of Everest; and Sandy Irvine’s ice axe, lost on Everest during his fateful summit attempt with Mallory in 1924, and discovered in 1933.
In addition to the exhibition itself, the Alpine Club Library has also produced an accompanying catalogue, laying out the aims, logistics and accomplishments of the three 1920s expeditions. Complete with high quality reproductions of expedition photography, maps and art work, this commemorative publication is sure to become a collector's item for any Everest or mountaineering enthusiast and we recommend purchasing early to avoid disappointment. Copies will be available at the exhibition itself and can also be purchased via the dedicated catalogue page
The club is indebted to numerous volunteers for their incredible effort in assembling the exhibition, and in particular to our Honorary Librarian, Barbara Grigor-Taylor, for her helming of this project. Almost all of the exhibits on display have been drawn from the Alpine Club Library's collections and the work of our dedicated volunteers cannot be overstated.
We hope that both club members and the wider public will take advantage of this incredible opportunity to see so many iconic facets of climbing history on display together for the first time.