'I believe we so far forgot ourselves as to shake hands on it.' - H. W. Tilman, on reaching the summit of Nanda Devi.In 1934, after fifty years of trying, mountaineers finally gained access to the Nanda Devi Sanctuary in the Garhwal Himalaya. Two years later an expedition led by H.W. Tilman reached the summit of Nanda Devi. At over 25,000 feet, it was the highest mountain to be climbed until 1950.The Ascent of Nanda Devi, Tilman's account of the climb, has been widely hailed as a classic. Keenly observed, well informed and at times hilariously funny, it is as close to a 'conventional' mountaineering account as Tilman could manage.Beginning with the history of the mountain ('there was ne') and the expedition's arrival in India, Tilman recounts the build-up and approach to the climb. Writing in his characteristic dry style, he tells how Sherpas are hired, provisions are gathered (including 'a mouth-blistering sauce containing 100 per cent chillies') and the climbers head into the hills, towards Nanda Devi.Superbly parodied in The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W.E. Bowman, The Ascent of Nanda Devi was among the earliest accounts of a climbing expedition to be published.Much imitated but rarely matched, it remains one of the best.
Harold William 'Bill' Tilman (1898-1977) was among the greatest adventurers of his time, a pioneering mountaineer and sailor who held exploration above all else. Tilman joined the army at seventeen and was twice awarded the Military Cross for bravery during WWI. After the war Tilman left for Africa, establishing himself as a coffee grower. He met Eric Shipton and began their famed mountaineering partnership, traversing Mount Kenya and climbing Kilimanjaro. Turning to the Himalaya, Tilman went on two Mount Everest expeditions, reaching 27,000 feet without oxygen in 1938. In 1936 he made the first ascent of Nanda Devi-the highest mountain climbed until 1950. He was the first European to climb in the remote Assam Himalaya, he delved into Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor and he explored extensively in Nepal, all the while developing a mountaineering style characterised by its simplicity and emphasis on exploration. It was perhaps logical then that Tilman would eventually buy the pilot cutter Mischief-not with the intention of retiring from travelling, but to access remote mountains. For twenty-two years Tilman sailed Mischief and her successors to Patagonia, where he crossed the vast ice cap, and to Baffin Island to make the first ascent of Mount Raleigh. He made trips to Greenland, Spitsbergen and the South Shetlands, before disappearing in the South Atlantic Ocean in 1977.