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  Inside Out - Yorkshire & Lincolnshire: Monday June 30, 2003


Maurice Wilson
Wilson's eccentric antics attracted attention
Mallory and Irvine's Everest story

Could a mill worker’s son from Bradford have been the first person to climb Mount Everest? Maurice Wilson’s story is a fascinating one of eccentricism, faith and fetishes!

Wilson was a real life comic book hero, who in the 1930s announced to the world that he would crash land a plane on the slopes of the world’s highest peak and then walk to the summit.

There was however, just one problem – Wilson had never flown a plane before or done any mountain climbing!

Divine intervention

Historian Audrey Salkeld
Historian Audrey Salkeld recounts Wilson's adventure

Wilson’s story starts during the First World War.

He became badly injured as a First Lieutenant in the West Yorkshire Regiment and spent the post war years drifting in an out of society.

He eventually left Bradford for New Zealand, where he ran a ladies clothes shop, before leaving again on journey where he would dabble with mysticism and the power of the mind.

Audrey Salkeld, an Everest historian says, "He believed that if he could get divine help he’d be able to prove that he could do something marvellous."


Barry Collins, who’s written a play about Wilson says, "The British Empire didn’t want this crazy man to fly out solo to the Himalayas so they did everything they could to stop him."

Wilson eventually left England in 1933, making it to India in a Gypsy Moth plane despite having just basic maps.

But he was eventually forced to sell his plane and make the rest of his ill-fated attempts on foot.

Summit attempts


It is the world's tallest mountain at 8,850 metres high.

It is 60 million years old.

Water boils at 70 degrees c. at the top of Everest.

Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing Norgay were the first to officially climb the mountain in 1953.

Wilson set up camp at around 21,000 feet and planned to fast and use the power of faith to get to the top.

But he struggled to get past the North Col. Eventually exhaustion took over and the following year Wilson’s body was found wrapped in his tent.

Collins says, "I have this feeling that he couldn’t come home again. He’d made such an enormous public fuss in the newspapers that he was going to prove the existence of God and what faith can do."

"If he’d gone back a failure it would have been the end for him psychologically so he ended up dying on the mountain."

Expert’s opinion

An American supporter of Wilson believes that he did get to the top and died on his way down rather than the way up.

"The Chinese expedition of 1960 found a tent that was 700 feet higher than any other high camp established on Everest. Where did that tent come from? It could only have come from Maurice Wilson."

But Sir Chris Bonington, a legend of British mountaineering is sceptical.

Sir Chris Boninngton
Sir Chris Bonington laughs off the suggestion that Wilson succeeded

He says, " I think it’s pretty unlikely that Mallory and Irvine reached the summit of Everest, but with Wilson I think you can say with absolute certainty that he would have no chance whatsoever."


But there’s one more twist to Wilson’s adventure. Rumours have continued to arise that Wilson had a secret.

Collins says, "It appears that when Wilson was found there was women’s clothing in his rucksack and I’ve heard someone say that he was decked out in women’s underwear".

The story was fuelled by the discovery of a ladies shoe at 21,000 feet by the 1960 Chinese expedition.

Audrey Wilson says "We can’t pin the woman’s shoe find on Wilson but knowing that he worked in a ladies dress shop in New Zealand all these things have come together to build a picture of Maurice Wilson as a transvestite or shoe fetishist."

See also ...

BBC: Everest online
BBC: Mallory and Irvine's story

On the rest of the web
National Geographical
The Mountain Institute
Chris Bonington official web site

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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