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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us