George Band: Member of the triumphant 1953 Everest expedition and conqueror of Kangchenjunga

With the death of George Band, the "family" of British mountaineers who forged close bonds in the 1950s, notably on the crowning 1953 Everest expedition, suddenly seems much depleted. Band was the youngest of the climbers taken to Everest by Colonel John Hunt, and though Hunt, Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary died some years ago, Band tirelessly kept the Everesters' show on the road at anniversary galas, lectures and through charitable work.

Band played an important role in forcing a route through the Khumbu Icefall, the chaos of ice cliffs and crevasses that bars the way to the upper reaches of Everest. But his greatest achievement came two years later on another Himalayan giant. On 25 May 1955, he and the Manchester climber Joe Brown became the first to stand – almost – on the summit of Kangchenjunga, at 8,586m the third highest mountain in the world. In deference to Sikkimese beliefs, they stopped several yards short of the summit cone, leaving its sacred snows undefiled.

Everest and Kangchenjunga confirmed Band as one of the top alpinists of his day and provided the nexus for a network of climbers, their families and friends who in essence would constitute the British mountaineering establishment for the next half-century.

Born in 1929 in Taiwan, where his parents were missionaries, Band was educated at Eltham College, south London, and Queens' College, Cambridge, where he studied geology. At the forefront of a mainly Oxbridge set pushing the standard of British climbing in the Alps, Band's 1952 season included a string of first British or first British guideless ascents. Hunt was impressed; additionally, national service in the Royal Corps of Signals appeared to make the athletic young man a natural for radio duties. When Band pointed out he had actually been a messing officer, Hunt responded, "Better still, then you can also help with the food."

At Base Camp, to vary the daily "compo" diet, Band's mess duties on one occasion entailed holding the tether of a yak as it was shot, then helping to gut it. "At least there was no shortage of cold storage around," he recalled in Everest: the Official History (HarperCollins, 2003). "To celebrate, we had scones for tea and then a tremendous supper of yak brains and liver, followed by jam omelette."

Band's cheery writing style tends to obscure the committing nature of some of the climbing he did on Everest and elsewhere. He spent a week in the hazardous Khumbu Icefall, along with a small group of other climbers, weaving between ice walls and bridging crevasses, opening the way into the Western Cwm, the great glacier trench that leads to the final ramparts of Everest.

A bout of flu obliged Band to descend to the valley, but he returned to help ferry loads up the Cwm and on to the Lhotse Face, as well as performing his radio duties, monitoring weather reports, and dishing out rations. His high point was escorting a group of Sherpas to Camp VII at 7,300m. He was at Advanced Base Camp with Hunt and others for the emotional moment when Hillary and Tenzing were escorted in, having, as Hillary put it: "knocked the bastard off".

Three days later, on 2 June, at Base Camp, Band tuned in the radio to the Overseas Service and the team listened to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Then came an extra announcement: "Crowds waiting in the Mall also heard that Mount Everest had been climbed by the British Expedition." The climbers were dumbfounded that the news had got back so soon – a scoop for James (now Jan) Morris of The Times who accompanied the expedition. Band recorded in his diary: "A lively evening. Finished off the rum. Sick as a dog!"

Back home, the Everesters were feted as heroes; Band returned to Cambridge for his final year and five days after his last practical examination headed for Pakistan and an attempt on 7,788m Rakaposhi in the Karakoram. The CUMC team reached a feature called the Monk's Head, 6,340m on the southwest spur, before being thwarted by days of fresh snow. Band told the story in engaging style in his first book, Road to Rakaposhi (1955).

He wrote the preface while on Kangchenjunga. Led by Charles Evans, a Liverpool surgeon, "Kangch" was a compact and low-key expedition compared to Everest '53, with less national pride at stake. As the climbers would be exploring new and dangerous ground there was no expectation of reaching the top; it was termed a "reconnaissance in force". The team was also more socially mixed, exemplified by the pairing of Band with Joe Brown, a jobbing builder from Manchester and rock-climbing phenomenon.

Ascent would be via the 3,000m Yalung Face. The team endured screaming winds and blizzards, but eventually Band and Brown pitched their tent on an inadequate ledge at 8,200m. Next day dawned fine and after a couple of pints of tea and a biscuit the pair set off for the summit. Shortly before the top they came to a wall broken by vertical cracks – an irresistible temptation to Brown. Cranking up the flow on his oxygen bottle, he disposed of the highest rock pitch ever attempted, though it would have been a modest Very Difficult grade at sea level; Band followed, and there, 20ft away and 5ft higher, was the summit snow cone. They respectfully left it untrammelled.

Lecturing and writing kept Band independent until 1957 when he pleased his parents by getting "a proper job", beginning a long career with Shell, initially as a petroleum engineer. Oil and gas development took him to seven different countries before his return to England, where, in 1983, he was appointed director general of the UK Offshore Operators Association.

After retirement in 1990, Band immersed himself in the affairs of bodies including the Alpine Club, the British Mountaineering Council, the Royal Geographical Society (serving as president of all three) and the Himalayan Trust, the charity founded by Edmund Hillary to provide education and healthcare to the Sherpa people of Nepal. He took over as chairman of the UK arm of the Trust in 2003 and worked ceaselessly as its ambassador even as his health was failing. He authored two more books, the Everest history and Summit: 150 Years of the Alpine Club (2006) and led adventurous treks in the Himalayas for the company Far Frontiers, of which he was chairman. In 2008 he was appointed OBE for services to mountaineering and charity.

News of Band's cancer came as a shock to the mountaineering community. While other Everesters had aged and many passed on, Band seemed to defy the years. When the Alpine Club celebrated its 150th anniversary in Zermatt in 2007, Band was in his element. For the media, AC leaders and their celebrity guests made a mass ascent of the Breithorn, a 4,164m snow summit. Band had climbed it in 1963 during the club's centenary celebrations, via the tricky Younggrat. Fifty years later he reached the summit again, albeit by the easier standard route, but at 78 a testimony to Band's unquenchable enthusiasm for the mountains.

STEPHEN GOODWIN

George Christopher Band, mountaineer, oil industry executive, author: born Taiwan 2 February 1929; married 1959 Susan Goodenough (two sons, one daughter); died Hartley Wintney, Hampshire 26 August 2011.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before