My great-uncle’s string vest hangs in an inn in Snowdonia. It is displayed in a cabinet in the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel, along with ropes, a woolly hat, a tin mug, crampons, an umbrella and other memorabilia from the 1953 Everest expedition, of which the wearer of that vest, John Hunt, was the leader. These holy relics of alpinism loomed large in my childhood, as did my great-uncle’s tales of mysterious footprints in the snow and yeti howls carried on the wind. That iconic climb, when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay planted the Union Jack on top of the highest mountain on Earth, formed a semi-mythologised backdrop to the burgeoning of my own desire for adventure.
The story of Mount Everest is often told as though it ended there, with the first successful ‘conquest’ of 29 May 1953, and began only three decades before, with the 1921 British reconnaissance expedition (the members of which included the doomed George Mallory). In The Hunt for Mount Everest,