I have a lot of time for Wade Davis, Canadian ethnologist and explorer, who had out of body experiences up the Amazon from a shamanic brew of this and that. He went on to champion isolated and marginalised communities like Inuit hunters and Polynesian navigators because each of those cultures expressed a unique way of being human and alive. When the last old wayfinder, the last old herbal experimentalist is gone, then that language, that interpretation of the human condition, is snuffed out. He has the most beautiful, compelling speaking voice. You could do worse than listen to him as the 2009 Massey Lecturer.
I was therefore surprised and delighted when a Wade Davis talking book appeared on Borrowbox. Into the Silence is the tale of the British Everest expeditions to Tibet in the 1920s. Whenever you hear some old grump complaining about how soft The Young of Today are, invite the old buffer to go back 100 years when youngsters really were well 'ard. And then reflect on how courage / folly is about pushing the envelope as currently constituted and that the goal-posts are ever-shifting. Gortex, Kevlar, microfibre, PET fleece make life outdoors much more comfortable and rip-stop nylon is a far better material for portable tents than canvas. But all that means is that hard chaws can stay out longer, go further, under sketchier circumstances . . . until they feel their own edge and step beyond it.
Knee-jerk racism applied in spades to the unEuropean members of the expedition who were usually referred to as "coolies" regardless of their first language or origins. The fact that these othered men, who had zero previous experience of mountaineering, climbed as high as the Brits while portering massive loads of supplies doesn't seem to have impacted the prejudice. In 1922, Mallory's ambition for the summit occluded his judgment to the extent of taking 9 Sherpa onto unstable snow too high up the mountain. The subsequent avalanche killed all but 2 of these employees whose families were compensated with a handful of rupees that seems niggardly to modern sensibilities. In 1924, John Hazard, required to bring a group of Sherpa down to safety after they delivered their loads, contrived through culpable negligence to leave four of the men behind. They were rescued by others the following day, imposing an unwonted load on the creaking logistics that may have compromised the whole expedition.