A Biography of H.W. Tilman by J. R. L. Anderson 1980
The Mountaineers, 719 Pike Street, Seattle, WA 98101
There is immediate difference walking from scrub pine onto the rock and snow of a summit, or standing on a ship becalmed at open sea yet dwarfed before an approaching curtain of cloud and hard rain. But try to understand the life of a man who has made great land and sea journeys by running your finger along a raised relief map and following his routes. Why did he go? My curiosity became a hunger.
I read books about adventurers because in my car-commuting, bag lunch, day-hike existence, I crave to know what qualities and happenstance enabled people like H. W. Tillman to explore. What caused him to crunch his way up snow on the equator; to cross Africa on an English pushbike; to climb Nanda Devi (25,645 feet) in 1936, becoming the first human, along with N. E. Odell, to reach that altitude; all with only “stout boots, thick woolen stockings, ice axe and rope” as equipment?
Tilman was not one for large expeditions. His life is all the more interesting because he believed in small, fast moving groups in alpine style travel.
My finger traces the routes of his later sea years, during which he navigated his own sailing ships all older than himself to South America and beyond both polar circles. My fingernail breaks on the Patagonia Ice Cap.
In reading this biography, the secret is discovered. What enabled H. W. Tilman to spend most of his life traveling to the ends of the earth? Was it money? Abandon?
I came upon a passage in which a young Army cadet bursts out during one of Tilman’s quest lectures at Sandhurst. He asks all my stupid, vital questions in one:
“Please Sir, how do I get on an expedition?”
“Put on your boots and go.”
Blow off the maps, read this book, find out your boot size and go.