1924 gold medal taken to summit of Everest to fulfil 'Olympic pledge'

 

But for an avalanche that killed seven men in 1922, Sir Edmund Hillary might have been no more than a Kiwi beekeeper, dreaming of adventure.

Twelve doctors, military men, and a teacher by the name of George Mallory, set off on the British Everest Expedition of 1922, the first adventure with the express intention of reaching the summit of the world’s highest mountain. They were also the first to carry bottled oxygen. The group made three separate attempts to reach the summit, the final one being led by Mallory, the author of the oft-repeated quote, “Because it’s there.” But his path up soft snow near the mountain’s summit caused an avalanche that killed seven Tibetan and Nepalese porters, and the expedition was abandoned

At the closing ceremony of the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France, the expedition's deputy leader Lieutenant Colonel Edward Strutt received gold medals for the entire group, for “Alpinisme” by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern games. Lieutenant Colonel Strutt pledged there and then to return to the summit with the medals. Four months later, Mr Mallory was dead, somewhere near the summit of the mountain, his body only discovered in 1999. Whether he reached the summit remains unknown. The answer almost certainly lies is in his camera, which remains hidden on the mountain.

Nearly ninety years on, the pledge to return the gold medals to the summit is about to be fulfilled. British explorer Kenton Cool tracked down the family of Arthur Wakefield, one of the expedition’s medics, now living in Canada. “Arthur Wakefield’s Olympic Medal is waiting for you in Toronto wrapped in a flame red silk handkerchief”, Mr Wakefield’s  grandson told him. In three days time Mr Cool will set off on his tenth journey to the roof of the world, accompanied by adventure cameraman Keith Partridge, from Touching the Void and the BBC's Human Planet.

The pair expect to summit in mid May. Arthur Wakefield’s family have been extraordinarily supportive of the mission, but their priceless heirloom will receive a quite extraordinary level of care.

“It will be kept, wrapped in its red handkerchief, sealed in a waterproof case. It floats. It has its own GPS tracker,” Mr Cool told the Independent. “I will have it blessed by the local lama, in Tibet. The sherpas traditionally carry what’s known as a prayer bag round their necks, in which they keep things that mean a lot to them. One of the sherpas I always travel with carries an eagles claw. I will be keeping Arthur Wakefield’s medal in one of these Buddhist prayer bags.

“I will be giving it back to the family on my return, It is so kind of them to lend it to us.”

The mission is sponsored by one of the London 2012’s top sponsors, Samsung, who are providing the necessary equipment to allow Mr Cool to broadcast live from the summit, the first time it has been done. He also hopes to telephone 2012 chief Lord Coe, while there, to tell him: “We’ve done it.”

Arthur Wakefield was not one of the more celebrated members of the 1922 exhibition. That honour goes especially to Mallory. His death was a great shock to the building excitement around the race to the top of Everest. His funeral at St Paul’s was attended by Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald, the entire cabinet, and King George V.

But Mr Wakefield’s role was not to be underestimated. He held daily surgeries for all the expedition and their porters, trying to understand the effects of altitude sickness, which remain in large part a mystery.

Though British, Arthur Wakefield had set up a volunteer army regiment in Newfoundland, Canada, who were decimated when they went over the top on the first day of the Battle of the Sommes. His descendants say he was profoundly affected by the horrors that he saw there.

Though several of the 1922 expedition made later attempts on Everest, this will be the first time any of the medals have been taken to the mountain.

When Pierre de Coubertin asked George Mallory, via telegram, if he would be available to attend the closing ceremony in Chamonix and receive the medal himself, he sent a three word response. “Absolutely impossible. Mallory.” He and Brigadier General Chrles G Bruce, the leader of the 1922 expedition were already booked on a boat from Southampton for the fabled 1924 atttempt. When the medals were awarded they were speeding down the coast of Africa.

Though he may not have wished it, Brigadier Bruce was spared the same fate as Mallory. He contracted malaria on a tiger shooting expedition before the summit attempt started. He never returned to Everest.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
life
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee