Historic Postcards of Mt Everest
Mt. Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam" © 2011 Mahatma4711, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en"
Photos of Mt Everest, whether taken from afar across the Tibetan plateau or from the Everest Base Camp on the southern side, exist in their thousands as treks and tours open up this spectacular mountain to visitors from around the world. Not even a hundred years ago, the story was very different: expeditions still sought a way up the mountain and there were no established Everest Base Camps. The climbers nonetheless took photos of the mountain, to share with the press and, no doubt, their family and friends.
We’ve come across a set of postcards from the 1920s which show photos taken by explorers on the early European expeditions. Some of the main Everest expeditions from this period include: George Mallory leading in 1921 (becoming the first European to set foot on Everest), George Finch in 1922, Mallory again in 1924, as well as several others. The most famous of the 1924 expeditions was Mallory’s last, with Andrew Irvine. Debate still rages over whether Mallory and Irvine reached the summit before dying. If they did not, no expedition in the 1920s succeeded in getting to the top of the mountain.
The photos of that time reveal a very different story to the ones taken by smiling trekkers today at Everest Base Camp. This postcard, from the 1921 expedition, illustrates the struggle to find an ascendable side of the mountain, while this one is the highest photograph ever taken in 1922, at close to 27,000 feet – an Everest record in its day. A kind of precursor to photos of trekkers clad in North Face gear steadily progressing towards Everest Base Camp, this one shows a 1920s expedition on its way to an early Base Camp in the Rongbuk Valley.
Old images like these are a fantastic reminder of how recently Everest was a mountaineering frontier. Trekkers to Everest Base Camp and those who take on the summit are following in the recent steps of the explorers who took these photographs.