This is a sad, strange and touchingly heroic book. It tells of a mad, misguided adventure: one man's attempt to conquer Mount Everest.
Maurice Wilson belonged to the 'lost generation'. He fought in the First World War, winning the Military Cross, but found the transition to civilian life difficult. He led a restless, rootless life and suffered ill-health. This changed mysteriously in 1932 when through, it would seem, a combination of prayer and fasting he cured himself. His Mount Everest ambitions started to take shape. They could not have been more ambitious. His odyssey was to begin in Britain. He bought himself an airplane. He couldn't fly, was a poor student, but finally learnt the rudiments. Despite all the odds, and much official obstruction, he managed to fly to India. More obstacles followed, but on 21 March, 1934 Maurice Wilson and three Sherpas slipped out of Darjeeling disguises as Buddhist monks. Wilson's first attempt on Mount Everest was solo. It failed. He tried again this time with the three Sherpas. They made better progress initially. From the base camp, Wilson made two more attempts on the final ascent. A year later Eric Shipton's reconnaissance party found his body at the approaches to the North Col. They also found his diary: the final entry read, 'Off again, gorgeous day.' The diary provides an astonishing record of persistence, courage, and a faith that never wavered in the face of appalling hardship and adversity.
Although this is a chronicle of failure, the achievement can still be marvelled at. Here was a man with no flying or mountaineering experience whatsoever who managed to fly from Britain to India and then nearly conquers Mount Everest : there are even those who speculate he might have done so but even without that fanciful embellishment it is an extraordinary story.
This book, first published in 1957, has been out of print for a very long time. Its renewed availability will delight not just those interested in mountaineering but also connoisseurs of adventure stories.