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Old tent setup Old tent set up
Advance Dispatch
Pitching a 1933 tent

by Liesl Clark
April 23, 1999

As far as tents go, this one looks like it could have housed two people comfortably on the East Rongbuk Glacier at the foot of Everest's North Col. Everest climber Andy Politz found the tent after noticing several goraks—raven-like birds—making a lot of noise around a clump of yellow and white on the glacier. Politz, expedition leader Eric Simonson, and researcher Jochen Hemmleb excavated the site as best they could in 40-50 mph gusts of wind.

An inventory of the relics was conducted back at Base Camp so we could photograph and record where they were found. The digital photographs were then sent out to consulting experts.

Top of can Top of can

"I'm now convinced that this is a tent from the 1930s, and probably from the 1933 British expedition on Everest," said Politz, after taking on the challenge of setting up the tent in the middle of the sandy moraine at Base Camp. Using fellow expedition mates as "tent poles," Politz and Hemmleb were able to determine that the tent is an A-frame design with a center (pole-less) ridge. Mostly in tatters from years of churning within the East Rongbuk Glacier, the tent, nonetheless, maintained its original shape. Expedition member Jake Norton found a single pocket in the tent's interior. Unfortunately, nothing was inside. There is a built-in fly or integral frost liner that prevents frost from building up on the inside of the tent.

"If that tent is cotton with silk, that probably is from the '30s, because after World War II you have nylon," wrote in mountaineering historian Gary Neptune, owner of Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, Colorado. We were able to forward to Neptune, as well as Everest historian Audrey Salkeld in England, digital images of the artifacts. In this digital age, it's remarkable to have insights returned to us in Tibet from the other side of the world. "The basic ridge tent shape barely changed until after World War II," comments Salkeld. "My guess is that the fabric is a fine Egyptian cotton, rather than silk."

Tent pegs and poles Tent pegs and poles
Based on Jochen Hemmleb's analysis, the site appears to have been multi-generational, with expeditions from several years camping on top of each other's debris—the oldest pointing to 1933. Neptune agrees: "The description [of Hemmleb's] is probably pretty accurate as far as the ages of them being some kind of mix." And it was the tin cans that tipped us off to there being remnants from several expeditions there: "The date on the tin can: 22 VII 56 is interesting since that clearly cannot date back to the old British expeditions and is too early for Woody Sayre (who led an illegal attempt to the North side of Everest from Nepal in 1962). That makes you wonder if it is from the Chinese reconnaissance of 1958, or their 1960 expedition. For the latter they purchased various stores and gear items in the West," explains Salkeld. Neptune agrees: "The food tin thing was really interesting, and that lends credibility to the idea that the (other) tent parts may very well be the Chinese tent. A picture I have of the tents in a 1975 Chinese climb shows a profile that kind of matches a joint for the tent poles, which implies that the tents may be from that climb."

Tents from 1933 and 1975 are not a bad find at 21,750 feet. If anything, this find has served to cement our mission here: to learn more about what happened in 1924 to Mallory and Irvine. Documenting and excavating artifacts at altitude is a difficult achievement, and having had one go at it above Advance Base Camp, our team is now poised to go higher and continue their search.

Unanswered Questions (May 25, 1999)
Forty-Eight Yaks (May 21, 1999)
On Top of the World (May 17, 1999)
Summit Team Moves Higher (May 16, 1999)
Still at Camp V (May 15, 1999)
Snow Bound (May 14, 1999)
Outsmarting the Weather (May 13, 1999)
Last Trip Up (May 12, 1999)
Up to ABC/The Rescue (May 11, 1999)
The Image of Mallory (May 8, 1999)
In Extremis (May 7, 1999)
Pieces of the Puzzle (May 6, 1999)
Dearest George (May 5, 1999)
Mallory's Discoverers Return (May 4, 1999)
Mallory Reported Found (May 3, 1999)
Waiting in Silence (May 1, 1999)
Up to the Search Site (April 30, 1999)
To the North Col (April 29, 1999)
Waiting out the Wind (April 28, 1999)
Search About to Begin (April 25, 1999)
Pitching a 1933 Tent (April 23, 1999)
Early Camp Found at 21,750 Feet on Everest (April 20, 1999)
Up to Base Camp (April 23, 1999)

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