The passing away of Norman Hardie (28 Dec 1924 - 31 Oct 2017), kindles memories of men, whose word was their honour, and mountains whose lofty existance was not just a mere geographical fact but an embodiment of holiness, ever changing but eternal, a presence worthy of prayers, a sanctum inviolate.
For the people of Sikkim, Kangchenjungha was one such holy icon; an almighty giver of blessings, an object of ones prayers.One may raise ones eyes to gaze upon it in reverance but one should never step on its lofty summit.
The 1955 British expedition to Kangchenjungha (8586m) gave their word to the Chogyal of Sikkim, that even if they found it possible to reach the top they will stop short of the summit, so that the mountain remains inviolate.
Joe Brown and George Band "summitted" on 25th May and Norman Hardie with Tony Streather the next day. BUT both teams stopped short of the summit keeping their promise to the Chogyal.
George Band (left) and Joe Brown (right)
Tony Streather (left) and Norman Hardie (right)
This was the first ascent of what was then the highest unclimbed peak in the world, a remarkable feat not repeated for 22 years, and even more apprecible because the "summiters" summitted, without having stepped on the summit, to honour a solemn promise.
The expedition leader Charles Evans has this to say in his book -
George says that a lot of people have asked him: "Wasn't there a great temptation to go those last few feet ?"; and that the answer is no." For one thing, "he says, "I was too tired to want to take another step. BUT apart from that, I'm glad we left no footmark on the top." I think that we all felt the same. Had it not been for our promise, we should have gone to the top, without doubt; but as it was, keeping the promise cost us no regret. The gesture seemed fitting enough.
Mountains will remain mountains but men should be men, when men and mountains meet.
Photos Courtesy: Kangchenjunga The Untrodden Peak by Charles Evans