Great Nutters of History: Maurice Wilson

I first found out about Maurice Wilson, oddly enough, from a wonderful little fictional work called Skepticism Inc, by Bo Fowler. I wasn't sure whether the story was at all accurate or even if it was pure fiction, but it didn't much matter. It was funny, and apposite to the mindset of the book.

Then a month or so back, I read an excellent book on the history of Everest mountaineering by George Band, a member of the successful 1955 expedition. The book mentioned Maurice Wilson, confirming, in a completely unexpected manner, that Maurice was real.

Here's how Skepticism Inc describes Maurice Wilson:

Maurice Wilson believed that if you fast for thirty-five days, subsisting on sips of water, and pray to God, then you could do anything. He attempted to climb Mount Everest to publicise this belief. 

Sounds good so far huh? reading on....

His plan was to crash-land a plane on the side of Everest and walk the rest of the way to the summit.

He took off from the London Aero Club, flew rather badly across Europe and the Middle East, and finally arrived in India, where the local authorities promptly impounded his plane, regarding him as a maniac.

Then the monsoon came. Wilson fasted for thirty-five days, subsisting on sips of water, and prayed to God. At the end of the thirty-five days of fasting Wilson felt incredibly weak, got a cold, and decided to go home. "

So far, this really appeals to my sense of humour, but it doesn't end there. Wilson vanished at this point, and newspaper headlines in 1933 blared "Everest Airman Missing". In fact, it's more likely he was held in Karachi under arrest for flying in on no paperwork. It seems he wasn't held for long and eventually set out, with guides, to conquer the mountain. FlyMicro.com takes up the story:

He then seems to have spent a year or so in Darjeeling living with Indian Mystics “mastering the Science of Yogism, subordinating the body to the will of the spirit until he could live for days without food, and endure cold and hardship sufficient to kill an ordinary man.”  Having sold his aircraft he set out with three guides to walk the 300 miles to the foot of Everest and then climb it solo.  It would seem he was last seen alive setting out alone up a glacier equipped with a tent, three loaves, two tins of oatmeal, a camera, and his silken Union Jack.

Remember, this was in 1934, a time when numerous attempts on the mountain had been made without success. It would not be climbed successfully until 1955, and even then only by a concerted, organised and well supplied effort. Our hero, Maurice, wanted to climb it solo, using wacky spiritual mumbo-jumbo to triumph where the best climbers of the day failed.

Can you guess what happened? Everest Facts brings us the thrilling conclusion:

1934: The eccentric Maurice Wilson attempts to solo Everest, having no mountaineering experience but possessing an inner faith to succeed. Camped at the base of the North Col, Wilson asks his Sherpas to wait ten days for him to return, after which they would be free to leave. He doesn't return, so the Sherpas return to Darjeeling, where Tenzing Norgay reports seeing them with large amounts of money. Wilson's body is later found at approximately 21,000 feet (6400 meters) below the North Col by members of the 1935 Reconnaissance Expedition. He was found in the remains of his tent; apparently he had died while in the act of taking off his boots. How far did he get? No one knows... His body was buried in a crevasse and it periodically resurfaces over the years as the East Rongbuk Glacier continues its steady advance downhill.

My. Hero.

Thomas Noy believes Wilson made it to the summit. I myself believe this is extremely far-fetched, as do most authorities on the subject (of which I am certainly not one). I'm inclined to believe Bo's paraphrasing of the story, even though in Skepticism Inc, he "froze to death 250ft up", significantly short of the rather impressive 21,000ft.

He was essentially a lone nut with a crazy idea, who reached for his dream and fell spectacularly flat.

I only wish more people knew his story.

posted @ Friday, March 23, 2007 3:56 PM

 
 
 
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