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A Rescue on Everest.

From "The Epic of Mount Everest".
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What should be done, Norton does not seem to have doubted for a moment. Some men might have hesitated. Some might have thought the position irretrievable. Not so Norton. He might justifiably have argued with himself that the weather was too hopelessly bad for anyone to venture on those ice slopes. It would be sad to leave the poor men to their fate. Still he must consider the lives of others as well as theirs and must consider also the object of the whole Expedition. If he sent out a rescue expedition they also might lose their lives. And if they did not actually lose their lives they might be so exhausted by the effort that they would be useless for any extreme effort on the mountain later, and the chance of reaching the top might be gone.

Norton might very reasonably have so argued with himself. But he did not reason at all. He instinctively acted. All along, his one fixed determination had been that on no account must there be any casualties among the porters this year. There was only one thing to do and that was to rescue them. They must be got down alive at all costs. Further, he himself must be of the rescue party - he and two others, and the two very best climbers, Mallory and Somervell. Only the best would do for this work. And this decision he came to - and the other two equally with himself contributed to it - although they were all three ill from their exhausting experiences at this 21,000-feet camp, and from their arduous work in pioneering the way up the North Col.

At the risk of his own life, at the risk of Mallory's and Somervell's lives, these men must be rescued. They were of a different race and of a different religion and of only a lowly position in life. But they were fellow-men. More, they were fellow-men in a common adventure. They were ever ready to risk their lives for their leaders. Their leaders must now risk their lives for them.

Fellowship told. And this sense of fellowship must have been deeply ingrained in the very texture of Norton, Somervell and Mallory, for in their present condition of cold and misery and illness, when life was flickering but faintly within them, it would be only the deepest promptings that would survive. All the superficial would have vanished long before. Unless this sense of fellowship was a root disposition with them, unless they could feel their fellows at home expecting of them that they should behave as men, nothing would have been seen of it now.

Yet all three were fully alive to the risks they were running. Mallory and Somervell had very bad coughs and sore throats which would, they knew, hamper them badly in climbing. Norton himself was, according to Mallory, not really fit to start. And the weather continued bad. Snow was still pattering on their tent as they sat in conclave. And Mallory writes that with this snow about it looked 10 to 1 against their getting up, let alone getting a party down. He himself had experience of being buried in an avalanche on this North Col, and of falling down a crevasse.

Luckily the snow stopped falling at midnight; and at 7.30 the next morning., May 24th, they were off. And when they got on to the slopes of the North Col they found the snow was not so very bad, as there had been no time for it to get sticky. It was heavy going though - hard treadmill work with the snow anything from a foot to waist deep, and they were half sick with the cold and the altitude. They drove themselves somehow or other over the fresh snow of the glacier basin and then up and up, slowly and wearily, puffing and coughing. Mallory led at first. Then Somervell took them up to where Geoffrey Bruce and Odell had dumped their loads the day before. Afterwards Norton, who had crampons - contrivances with sharp spikes fitted to the boot - assumed the lead and was able to take the party without step-cutting up to the big crevasse where they halted for half an hour. About 1.30 they were at the foot of the wall below the chimney. Every step was filled with snow. But there remained the thin descending line of rope fixed by Somervell, and grasping it with both hands they pulled themselves up the chimney. On two other dangerous sections Norton and Somervell in turn went ahead on the long rope, while the remaining two secured them. Then they came to the very dangerous "final 200 feet" and on the shelf at the top they could see one of the marooned porters standing on the edge. Norton shouted to him asking if they were fit to walk. The answering query came, "Up or down?" "Down, you fool," was the reply. And he disappeared to fetch his three companions.

Up to this point the condition of the snow had proved less dangerous than they had expected, but at the final traverse evidently presented real danger. This dangerous slope Somervell insisted on going across first, while Norton and Mallory prepared to belay the 200 feet of rope which they had brought with them for emergencies. They drove both their ice-axes up to their heads into the snow as a holdfast. And round these ice-axes they passed the rope, paying it out yard by yard as Somervell laboriously made his way upwards and across the steep ice-slope, punching big safe steps as he went.

He was getting nearer and nearer to the four men waiting on the crest of the slope, but when he had almost reached them he had come to the end of his tether - to the end of the rope which was holding him. He was still ten yards short of the men. What now should be done? It was four o'clock, and time was pressing. The climbers quickly decided that the men must chance the unbridged ten yards. They must come separately across the dangerous part and each as he reached Somervell would be passed across the taut rope to Norton and Mallory.

The first two reached Somervell safely. One of these reached Norton, and the second was just starting, when the snow gave beneath the remaining two - stupidly coming over together - and in an instant they were flying down the slope. For one paralysing moment Norton figured them shooting over the edge of the blue ice-cliff, 200 feet below. But they suddenly pulled up. They had hit upon snow bound by the cold of morning and the sun of midday to a holding consistency. They were told to sit still where they were while Somervell, as cool as a cucumber, first passed the second man on along the rope to Norton and then paid attention to their unfortunate companions.

The rescue of these two in their dreadful plight now needed the very acme of mountaineering skill. First Somervell had to restore the men's nerves, so he chaffed them till they almost laughed. Then he drove his ice-axe up to its head into the soft snow, untied the rope from his waist, passed it round the axe and strained it so as to make every foot of it tell, while Norton and Mallory held their end at extreme arm's length. Having thus made the utmost of the rope he let himself down to its furthest length, and, holding on to the end of it with one hand, stretched out the other arm till he could just touch one of the men. Then grasping him securely by the scruff of the neck he hauled him up to the anchorage of the ice-axe. The second he treated in the same way. And the rescue was effected.

The wretched pair were back in comparative safety, but their nerves were so shaken that they slid and slipped as they went along the rope to the haven of Norton and Mallory, and only saved themselves from further disaster by means of the rope handrail. When at last they were safely across, Somervell again tied the, rope round his waist and followed. And a fine object lesson in mountain craft it was, says Norton, to see him, balanced and erect, cross the ruined track without a slip or mistake.

A race with darkness now began, for it was 4.30 when they started down. Mallory led with one porter on a rope. Somervell followed, shepherding two others. Norton brought up the rear with a porter whose hands were cruelly frost-bitten and quite useless, and whose whole weight he had to bear in places such as the chimney.

By 7.30 p.m. as they were leaving the ice slopes of the North Col and were three-quarters of a mile from home ("home," Norton calls it, but it was only Camp III), figures loomed up out of the darkness ahead and they found Noel and Odell waiting for them with hot soup. Once more Noel had come in just when most wanted.

The climbers had rescued the four men, but the three were exhausted men. Somervell all the time that he had been punching those steps across the slope had been coughing and choking in the most distressing manner. Mallory's cough kept him awake all that night. And Norton's feet were very painful. The three had saved the porters' lives, but at what cost to themselves they were to discover later on when only a thousand feet from their goal.

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