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Soup of This Day #157: You Know The One That Takes You To The Places Where All The Veins Meet

March 27, 2012

The north face of Mount Everest
The north face of Mount Everest, considered by George Mallory to be the best route of ascent in an 1922 attempt to conquer the ‘third pole’, the world’s tallest mountain – Photo: Carsten Nebel, 2005. Carsten Nebel is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Every now and then I read something that at 1st glance makes me think we’ve got it all a little backwards.

The latest trigger for this is a couple of articles that caught my eye via the really wonderful BBC News online. The 1st was accurately titled, ‘Avalanche research aids search for tastier ice cream.’

Let that sink in for a bit.

Research into avalanches, a natural phenomena that has an occasional tendency to destroy communities and lives, is being used to ensure that we have a tastier serve of ice cream.

I like ice cream. A lot. Particularly Cookie Cream Commotion, originally by Western Australian* dairy, Brownes.

*May have been bought out by large multinational that rhymes with Nestle and no longer even produces ice cream in Western Australia. I’d boycott it if it wasn’t so freaking delicious.

For all my love, ice cream doesn’t really like me. I’m lactose intolerant. It should be noted though that I still buy ice cream, albeit less than I used to. It’s just that I suffer for it. People suffer for avalanches too, although the level of distress is a hell of a lot more than the hit I take after scoffing down half a litre of Brownes’* finest.

*It’s always gonna be Brownes Connoisseur Cookie Cream Commotion to me but for those who actually want to buy it it’s apparently called Nestle Connoisseur Cookies and Cream. This contradiction makes it difficult for me to order it.

The 2nd article is related to the 1st via 1 of those less-nice-than-a-bowl-of-ice-cream avalanches. In 1922 an expedition made the 1st serious attempt to get up Mount Everest. The team was led by the splendidly moustachioed Brig Gen Charles Granville Bruce.

To be honest I don’t have any idea if he was even remotely moustachioed but when you check out his bio I’m sure you’ll agree that it was highly likely that he had facial hair and that it would have been frankly wondrous.

The Bruce, as he was probably never known, joined the Indian Army at the age of 22, seemingly fed up with the ‘pompous formality’ of England. He served with the Gurkha Rifles for 31 years and developed a passion for wrestling and climbing. For the former he had a wrestling pit built near his home. Fortunately for the latter hobby he already had a plethora of mountains nearby on which to get stuck in, otherwise he’d probably have tried to have 1 of them built too. With those that were available he trained the Gurkhas in mountain warfare, particularly the art of mountain running. Both of those things sound bracing but a little dangerous – You’d surely need a strong moustache.

He also introduced the Gurkhas to wearing shorts. He is in fact credited with bringing shorts to the British Army in general, although his name is not really associated with the clothing item in question any more. That last bit is a shame – Lord Cardigan had a piece of clothing named after him and the apparently arrogant and extravagant twit did very little to actually promote the knitted jacket. Bruce got a whole army into shorts and came out with an Olympic medal and malaria. More on those last 2 shortly (or brucely, as I move that it should be henceforth known).

The Bruce most likely wasn’t wearing abbreviated trousers in 1922 as his team assailed the big 1: Mount Everest and it’s 8,848m of elevation. They made 3 attempts, getting to within 500m of the summit, setting new altitude records in the process. They weren’t to be successful in their ultimate goal of reaching the very top though and even worse, tragedy was to befall them on their final ascent.

An avalanche struck as a group of porters were traversing a steep slope. 7 of them, all Indians, did not survive.

Nonetheless the expedition fired the public imagination and at the 1924 Winter Olympics the climbing party were awarded Olympic Alpinism Prize medals, presumably for trying really hard. The recipients were 12 British climbers and 1 Australian. Later the 7 deceased porters were also accorded medals, as was a Nepalese Gurkha serving with the British. This is apparently the only instance of a multinational team winning gold in an Olympic ‘event’. Olympic awards for alpinism, or mountaineering as it’s better known, were scrapped in 1946.

At least 1 1922 expedition member didn’t get to enjoy his medal for very long. George Mallory was back on the slopes of Everest a scant 4 months after the award as part of a renewed British attempt to make it to the top. That expedition was to be led by Charles Bruce once more but he got malaria while on a tiger shoot and thus had to pull out.

It happens to the best of us.

Mallory and fellow climber Andrew Irvine set out on a final push to the summit on the 8th of June, 1924. They were spotted at 12:50pm ascending strongly. Unfortunately that was the last view of either alive. In fact it was the last view of Mallory in any state for 75 years as it was 1999 before his body was discovered. Irvine has never been found.

Intriguingly, it is possible that the 2 made it to the summit, becoming the 1st to do so. Technically, since they didn’t make it back that isn’t the success that New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepali sherpa Tenzing Norgay chalked up in 1953 but still, given the type of equipment that they were working with, it would have been an extraordinary achievement.

Despite that it’s not what George Mallory is best known for.

At a lecture held after the 1922 expedition Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Everest. His words have been recounted by countless adventurers with a devil-may-care insouciance ever since:

‘Because it’s there.’

Stirring stuff to be sure but you have to ask if that’s why the 7 porters were climbing Everest. Probably it would have been handy to ask them before the avalanche struck.

Since that’s obviously not possible now I thought I’d ask this question of the ice cream researchers instead:

Could we use ice cream research to help with the whole avalanche thing?

It’s just a thought – It might save some lives.

You Know The One That Takes You To The Places Where All The Veins Meet

  1. Great piece of “cold” reality here! Witty, inquisitive…and inspiring enough for me to go seek out some ice cream…

  2. If I have inspired the consumption of ice cream then my work here is done. Sadly all I have in the freezer is mango sorbet – It’s not quite the same thing.

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