Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Eric Shipton, Modern Alpinist Extraordinaire

If the last post on tips for trekking in the Shivalik Hills inspired you, perhaps you’d like to know more about famous climbers and explorers in Asia.  One of the greatest was Eric Shipton.  To mark his achievements, we’ve named a room in his honour at Himalayan Hideaway.

Born in Sri Lanka in 1907, Shipton discovered the allure of mountains at 15 when he visited the Pyrenees with his family.  When he was 21, he went to Kenya as a coffee grower, and first climbed Nelion, a peak of Mount Kenya, in 1929.  He met one of his future climbing partners in Kenya - Bill Tilman, who also has a room named after him in the Hideaway.  In 1931, Shipton and Frank Smythe were among the first climbers to reach the summit of Kamet, the second highest mountain in the Garhwal region, (Nanda Devi is the highest).  At 7,816 metres, this was the highest peak climbed at the time.  With Tilman, Shipton discovered the access route to the Nanda Devi sanctuary through the Rishi Ganga gorge in 1934.  

Mount Everest expeditions
Shipton was also involved with several of the Mount Everest expeditions.  In 1933, he and Smythe climbed to the First Step on the Northeast Ridge (8,400 metres) before turning back.  Two years later, he led an Everest expedition that included the young Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, who would go on to greater glory.  Shipton was also on the 1951 expedition which laid out the now famous route over the Khumbu Glacier. 

Proof of a Yeti?
It was also in 1951 that Shipton photographed what he claimed were the footprint of a Yeti.  Whether or not it was a practical joke continues to be debated.  The photographs certainly caused a commotion – the footprint was 33 cm wide!  The footprint was most likely the result of the imprint of a snow leopard superimposed on top of that of a mountain goat.  Shipton never confessed to having played a joke on his fellow climbers, nor did he mention it in either of his books, The Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition (1952) and Upon That Mountain (1956).

A different way of climbing
The bitterest disappointment of his life was that he was not made leader of the 1953 British Everest expedition in which Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to reach the summit.  The decision to make John Hunt expedition leader was most likely because Shipton preferred small groups of climbers rather than the large contingent of climbers, Sherpas and porters that was part of the typical Everest expedition.  Shipton and Tilman once joked that they could plan a Himalayan expedition “in half an hour on the back of an envelope.” Their no-frills style is now the standard:  lightweight, low impact, self-propelled, culturally sensitive, and motivated by the sheer joy of exploration.

Shipton continued exploring and travelling throughout his life.  In 1976, he was in Bhutan when he became ill.  Upon returning to England, he discovered that he had cancer.  He died in March 1977; he was cremated in Salisbury and his ashes were scattered on Fonthill Lake.

If you’d like to explore the Shivalik Hills or simply relax in harmony with nature, Himalayan Hideaway is the perfect getaway. For more details, contact our Delhi office (Phone: +91-11-26852602, 26968169, and e-mail:;

Tags: Himalayan Hideaway, Himalayas, Eric Shipton, Mount Everest, Frank Smythe, Bill Tilman, Tenzing Norgay, mountaineers, climbers, explorers, Shivalik Hills

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