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Full text of "A hermit in the Himalayas"

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ing to an old British military family which has been associated with
India for generations, his interest in and love of these white-mantled
mountains is phenomenal. As far back as 1887 he crossed the
unknown and unexplored Mustagh Pass from the Central Asian
side, after performing an amazingly lonely and dangerous journey
of three thousand miles through the entire length of China and
thence by way of the infinite desolation of the Gobi Desert, where he
and his camel could only travel at night. In much of this vast
landscape there was no hint of the existence of man, no single sign of
his activities. And it was near the Mustagh that he suddenly came
face to face with the second highest mountain in the world, the
renowned K.2, which is only seven hundred feet lower than

The thrill of that unique vision planted a seed which germinated
more than thirty years later when, as President of the Royal Geo-
graphical Society, Sir Francis formed the Mount Everest Committee.

The first task of the latter was to remove the political difficulties
which had till then barred all approach to Everest, for the Nepalese
and Tibetans were unwilling to permit their frontiers to be crossed
by any expedition for this purpose. Even Lord Gurzon, so accustomed
to have his own way, could not obtain this permission when he was
Viceroy of India. Everest is a sacred peak to them, although far less
sacred than Kailas. No Western foot will ever be allowed to stand
on the summit of Mount Kailas whilst religion keeps even a quarter
of its present force in Tibet.

The Committee, however, succeeded where Gurzon failed.
Its next business was to finance and organize the necessary prepara-
tions. Five expeditions have assailed the mountain under its auspices
during different years, and if all have failed, the failures are the
most glorious in mountaineering history.

But if Everest refuses to submit to profane feet, some of the other
if lesser giants have fallen to human endeavour. Frank Smythe took
an audacious party a few years ago up to the top of Kamet, an
altitude of twenty-five thousand feet. Their feet sank in soft snow,
they had to clamber over perilous rocks and they had to cut footholds
in solid ice. One slip was enough to send them over precipices to the
bottom. Lieutenant Oliver ascended the sloping flanks of Trisul
and reached the summit, a height of twenty-three thousand feet, in
1933, during a summer leave from the Army, panting, utterly
exhausted, but triumphant. Eric Shipton has struggled through and
up the inhospitable awful gorges of Nanda Devi into the immense
unexplored natural basin which the mountain hides. Dr. Paul
Bauer has twice tried to scale Kanchenjunga, but at 25,600 feet,
with the summit in sight, he could find no further foothold on those