Porters Crossing a River during Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman's 1934 Nanda Devi Expedition

Geographical, November 2011 | Go to article overview

Porters Crossing a River during Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman's 1934 Nanda Devi Expedition


For a brief period at the start of the 19th century, Nanda Devi, in northern India, was believed to be the highest mountain in the world. Now known to be 7,816 metres high, the peak has been relegated to 23rd place, but for decades, it remained the highest mountain in the British Empire and garnered a mythological status. Despite the fact that its name means 'bliss-giving goddess', few climbers have had the pleasure of reaching its summit. It stands in a vast rock amphitheatre guarded by a circle of peaks more than 6,000 metres high. The only obvious entrance to 'the Sanctuary' is through a steep gorge, or defile. Several mountaineers and surveyors attempted to penetrate it at the start of the 20th century-one, Hugh Ruttledge, claimed it was more difficult to reach than the North Pole. It wasn't until 1934 that 26-year-old Shipton and Tilman, who was almost a decade older, fought their way up the roaring Rishi Ganga river and became the first people to stand inside the fabled bowl. The pair first met in Kenya and went on to form one of the most successful climbing partnerships of all time. Eschewing the usual large-scale expeditions of their contemporaries, they travelled with small packs and a few trusted porters. …

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