Eric Shipton had come out to Kenya in 1928, to farm coffee, which may be the reason for his friendship with similar coffee farmers, the Jacksons. He became a famous mountaineer, climbing the Kenyan peaks before attempting Kamet with Frank Smythe in . At 7816 metres their successful ascent meant that they held the record for the highest altitude climbed at that time. Shipton went on to have a very colourful career, but was overlooked to lead the 1953 Everest expedition even though he was by far the most experienced Everest hand on the planet.
Two letters from him to Wynne survive in the diaries, the first written on the long route march needed to reach Base Camp: it is transcribed below the picture, and a map of the Indian Railways indicates their route to Kathgodam, from where they had a long and arduous walk – much harder in those days to get to the peaks.
First letter from Eric Shipton
31st May, 1931. En route to Base Camp, Himalayas.
Dear Mrs Jackson
I thought a line from here might interest you, to let you know how we are getting on.
I had a short but very amusing stay in Bombay before Smythe arrived. I was met by a fellow called Oslen who had been instructed to do so by the people Marge had been staying with in Madras. He strongly disapproved of my hat and took me off at once to buy one which was a little less barbaric. After this he had further trouble in making me conform to civilised ways; he gave me an excellent time though, among other things I saw my first “talkie” – I rather liked it.
I had a good many things to do – seeing that all the Expedition goods were landed free of customs etc – and when Smythe arrived we left directly for Ranikhet. The journey up was very hot and dusty as I suppose all Indian journeys are – through vile country. At Muttra (now Mathura) where we changed, we had a five hour wait and so we went along to the R.A. Mess. We were given baths, dinner and far too many mixed drinks, with the result that we nearly missed the train and passed the rest of the journey in a very pleasant condition! From Kathgodam we were taken in a bus for fifty miles into the hills – rather a wonderful drive.
Ranikhet is a delightful spot – right in the midst of oak and chestnut covered hills. We were given the Forest Bungalow to live in, and there we spent a very pleasant three weeks making all the arrangements. People were frightfully good to us and did all they could to help, besides giving us a very good time. It was my first view of Army life in India and I was very interested. We were asked to stay at G.H. at Nani Tal which was great fun.
The arrangements on a show like this involve rather more work than one would imagine, and we had our time well filled. Everything was ready by the time the others arrived and we left two days afterwards. All sorts of firms had sent us things and we had to leave masses of stuff behind. Huntley and Palmers sent us ¼ton of biscuits landed free at Ranikhet, also Ovaltine, Malted Milk, Chocolate etc appeared. The most acceptable gift however was a new portable H.M.V with 40 records.
We have been marching for 14 days now. I am in splendid company and I like all my companions very much indeed. The journey has been through wonderful country, range after range of forest covered mountains. I’ve never seen such complicated country. the flowers are glorious and Holdsworth, the botanist of the party, is in his element.
We have had frequent views of the great peaks of the Trisul Range which we have now passed. Their features are on quite a different scale to those of the Alpine peaks. Owing to the strange plastic (?) ice, enormous hanging glaciers, more than 1000 feet thick, form in every possible place on their faces. Another feature in the thinness of the ridges, through which you can see the sun shining from a distance of twenty or thirty miles Everything looks fearfully formidable.
Three days ago we crossed over the Knani (?) Pass from which we got a superb view. We saw the whole of the Kamet and Badrinath ranges and over the great glacier region where the Ganges is supposed to rise. We are going to attempt to explore that part but how much time we will have for it depends on how Kamet treats us.
Life is very good at the moment – days are full of interest and evenings in the mess tent are huge fun. One does not know whether or not to look forward to our arrival at Base Camp where the holiday part of it ends. I think we all do though. Our equipment is excellent – we each have a small Meade Tent to ourselves while the sleeping bags are splendid, they are wonderfully comfortable and can be regulated to four degrees of warmth.
I’ll add to this if there is time at the Base Camp from where the next Times despatch is to be sent by runner. I hope you can read some of this as writing in a sleeping bag renders my normally bad writing dreadful.
I hope you are all well and that things are doing satisfactorily. One feels amazingly remote from Kenya here and one forgets all the problems of rain, fences etc. My love to you all. Eric.
4th June, Niti
We are delayed for two days here owing to transport difficulties. We are 2 marches from Base Camp and have a lot to do sorting out kit etc which will enable us to cut short our stay at B.C. As O.C. stores I am very busy making up provision boxes for the high camps. We leave tomorrow. This is just going off with the despatch runner. In haste. Eric.