Maurice Wilson’s expedition to Mount Everest in 1934 is a remarkable and tragic tale in the history of mountaineering. Wilson, a British soldier and aviator, embarked on a daring mission to climb the world’s highest peak despite having no prior climbing experience.
Inspired by the failed attempts of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine in 1924, Wilson devised a unique plan to reach the summit. His strategy involved crash-landing a plane near Everest and then ascending the mountain on foot. With little knowledge of mountaineering and flying, he purchased a de Havilland DH.60 Moth airplane named “Ever Wrest” and set off on his audacious adventure.
Wilson encountered numerous challenges and setbacks during his journey. He faced criticism and skepticism from experts who believed his plan was doomed to fail. Despite warnings and obstacles, Wilson pressed on, driven by his unwavering faith and determination.
His flight to India was fraught with difficulties, including a crash landing and bureaucratic restrictions. After surviving these trials, Wilson proceeded to Darjeeling, where he spent the winter preparing for his climb. There, he enlisted the help of three Sherpas who had previous experience with Everest expeditions.
Disguised as Buddhist monks, Wilson and the Sherpas made their way to the Rongbuk Monastery, situated close to Everest. From there, he commenced his solo ascent of the mountain. However, Wilson faced harsh weather conditions, treacherous terrain, and the lack of technical climbing skills and proper equipment.
Despite his perseverance, Wilson was ultimately forced to turn back due to adverse weather and physical limitations. He descended to the Rongbuk Monastery, injured and suffering from snow blindness. Tragically, his body was discovered the following year by another climber, Eric Shipton, at the foot of the north col. The exact circumstances of Wilson’s death remain uncertain, but it is believed to be a result of exhaustion or starvation.
The audacity of Wilson’s expedition and his tragic demise have captured the imagination of many. Over the years, speculation has arisen about the possibility of Wilson reaching the summit and perishing during his descent. However, most experts and historians believe that he did not come close to achieving his goal.
The story of Maurice Wilson’s Everest expedition serves as a testament to the allure and unforgiving nature of the world’s highest peak. It remains an enduring tale of human ambition, resilience, and the indomitable spirit that drives individuals to push the boundaries of what is considered possible.
1. Early Inspiration: A Soldier’s Dream
Maurice Wilson, a British soldier and aviator, was wounded during World War I but declined a pension from the military. Despite his injuries never fully healing, Wilson sought a new challenge after learning about the failed attempts of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine to conquer Everest in 1924. Inspired by their courage and driven by faith and prayer, Wilson saw Everest as his destiny. He described it as “the job I’ve been given to do.”
2. The Flight: Journey to the Himalayas
Although Wilson had no previous climbing or flying experience, he embarked on an extraordinary plan. Determined to reach Everest, he purchased a de Havilland DH.60 Moth aircraft, which he named Ever Wrest. Despite his instructor’s doubts, Wilson was resolute in his mission. He took off in his plane, facing many challenges and accidents along the way, and eventually landed in Gwadar, western India, where his plane was impounded.
3. The Walk: From Darjeeling to Rongbuk Monastery
Denied entry into Tibet, Wilson spent the winter in Darjeeling, India. It was during this time, while fasting, that he encountered three Sherpas who had previously worked on an Everest attempt with Hugh Ruttledge. These Sherpas—Tewang, Rinzing, and Tsering—agreed to join Wilson on his adventure. Disguised as Buddhist monks, they commenced their arduous journey towards the Rongbuk Monastery, where they received equipment left behind by Ruttledge’s expedition.
4. The Climb: Wilson’s Solo Ascent
Equipped with minimal climbing experience and lacking proper gear, Wilson began his ascent from the Rongbuk Monastery. Facing treacherous terrain and inclement weather, he encountered numerous difficulties. After a week battling bad weather, Wilson made the difficult decision to turn back, expressing his frustration in his diary. However, undeterred, he resumed his climb with the assistance of Tewang and Rinzing, reaching an elevation of 6,900 meters. Unfortunately, Wilson’s diary abruptly ended, leaving his ultimate fate uncertain.
5. Wilson’s Fate: The Discovery of His Body
In 1935, Eric Shipton discovered Wilson’s lifeless body lying on its side in the snow at the foot of the north col. Wilson’s tent had been destroyed by fierce winds and storms. Shipton recovered Wilson’s diary, and he and his team buried him in a crevasse. While the cause of Wilson’s death is presumed to be exhaustion or starvation, the exact circumstances and timing remain unknown.
6. The Unanswered Question: Did Wilson Summit?
Over the years, speculations and theories have emerged regarding Wilson’s climb. In 2003, Thomas Noy proposed that Wilson might have reached the summit and perished on his descent. A Tibetan climber named Gombu claimed to have discovered a tent at 8,500 meters, suggesting Wilson’s presence at higher altitudes. However, mountaineering experts like Chris Bonington refute this possibility, stating that Wilson had no chance of success. The truth of whether Wilson summited Everest may forever remain a mystery.
7. The Soviet Expedition: A Tent at 8,500 Meters?
Adding to the mystery surrounding Wilson’s expedition is the speculation of a rumored Soviet attempt in 1952. Some have suggested that the tent discovered at 8,500 meters could have belonged to a Soviet climbing team led by Pavel Datschnolian. However, both Russian and Chinese authorities have denied the existence of such an expedition, and no physical evidence or records supporting this claim have been found.
8. Books on Wilson’s Expedition
Wilson’s audacious attempt has been chronicled in several books. Dennis Roberts’ “I’ll Climb Everest Alone” (1957) provides a detailed account of Wilson’s journey and was reprinted in paperback by Faber in 2011. Other notable works include Tony Astill’s “Mount Everest: The Reconnaissance 1935” and Walt Unsworth’s “Everest.” In 2020, Ed Caesar’s “The Moth and The Mountain: A True Story of Love, War, and Everest” shed further light on Wilson’s adventure.
Who was Maurice Wilson
Born and raised in Bradford on 21 April 1898, Wilson’s upbringing revolved around the family’s woolen mill business. But the eruption of World War I altered the trajectory of his life. On his eighteenth birthday, Wilson joined the British Army, displaying exceptional courage and leadership skills that quickly earned him promotions. His bravery during an engagement near Wytschaete, where he single-handedly held a machine gun post against advancing Germans, led to him being awarded the Military Cross in April 1918. The citation praised his gallantry and devotion to duty, highlighting how his actions halted the enemy’s progress.
Unfortunately, Wilson’s heroism was marred by tragedy. Several months later, he suffered serious injuries from machine gun fire near Ypres, forcing his return home. These injuries, particularly to his left arm, plagued him with chronic pain for the remainder of his life.
Post-War Struggles and Wanderlust
Following his discharge from the army in 1919, Wilson, like many other individuals from the “Lost Generation,” grappled with the challenges of transitioning into postwar civilian life. He wandered for several years, living in various locations such as London, the United States, and New Zealand, while taking up a range of jobs. Despite achieving financial success later in life, Wilson never found true happiness. He battled physical and mental illnesses, experienced weight loss, and endured persistent coughing spasms.
Mysterious Healing and Spiritual Awakening
In 1932, Wilson’s life took a remarkable turn when he underwent a secretive treatment involving intensive prayer and complete fasting for thirty-five days. He claimed to have learned this technique from a mysterious man he met in Mayfair, who had allegedly cured himself and many others of incurable diseases. Although Wilson never disclosed the man’s name, doubts have been raised about his existence, leading some to question whether Wilson devised this treatment himself by blending elements of Christianity and Eastern mysticism. Nevertheless, this transformative experience solidified Wilson’s unwavering belief in the power of prayer and fasting, shaping the course of his life.
Maurice Wilson’s bold and ill-fated attempt to conquer Mount Everest in 1934 remains a testament to human determination and the indomitable spirit of exploration. His unwavering belief in faith and prayer drove him to embark on a journey that defied all odds. Although the true extent of his achievements may forever be shrouded in uncertainty, Wilson’s audacity and courage continue to captivate the imagination of mountaineers and adventure enthusiasts alike.
1. Did Maurice Wilson reach the summit of Mount Everest? The question of whether Wilson reached the summit of Everest remains unanswered. While some theories suggest he might have summited and perished on his descent, others deem it highly unlikely due to his lack of climbing experience.
2. What happened to Maurice Wilson’s body?
Wilson’s body was discovered by Eric Shipton in 1935 at the foot of the north col. Shipton and his team buried him in a crevasse, where he rests to this day.
3. Were there any other attempts on Everest before Maurice Wilson’s expedition?
Yes, there were several attempts on Everest before Wilson’s ill-fated endeavor. One of the most notable attempts was made by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine in 1924, which ended in tragedy when both climbers disappeared.
4. Are there any records of a Soviet expedition on Everest in 1952?
No, both Russian and Chinese authorities have denied the existence of a Soviet expedition in 1952. The alleged expedition, led by Pavel Datschnolian, remains unverified, and no concrete evidence has been found to support its occurrence.
5. Which books cover Maurice Wilson’s Everest expedition?
Several books document Maurice Wilson’s audacious climb. Dennis Roberts’ “I’ll Climb Everest Alone” provides a detailed account, while Tony Astill’s “Mount Everest: The Reconnaissance 1935” and Walt Unsworth’s “Everest” mention Wilson’s expedition. Ed Caesar’s “The Moth and The Mountain: A True Story of Love, War, and Everest” is a recent publication that explores Wilson’s adventure in depth.