From Reconnaissance to Summit, 1921 to 1953

Edited by Peter Gillman

Introduced by Wade Davis

Preface by Jan Morris

Produced in collaboration with the Royal Geographical Society

Compiled, written and edited by Peter Gillman for The Folio Society, Everest: From Reconnaissance to Summit is an exclusive record of five key expeditions, introduced by Wade Davis and Jan Morris with superlative photography from the Royal Geographical Society archives.

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‘Gradually, very gradually, we saw the great mountain sides and glaciers and arêtes, now one fragment and now another through the floating rifts, until far higher in the sky than imagination had dared to suggest, the white summit of Everest appeared’
  1. George Mallory

Commissioned exclusively for The Folio Society, Everest is the ultimate account of five key expeditions to the summit of the world, using spectacular photography and reportage from the men who went there. Marking the 100th anniversary of the earliest British reconnaissance in 1921, it also covers the first attempt on the summit in 1922 and the tragic 1924 expedition that claimed the lives of Mallory and Irvine. It shows how the mountain proved unconquerable by a new generation of climbers in 1933, before the triumphant ascent of Hillary and Tenzing in 1953.


The words and pictures in this two-volume edition were selected by the award-winning mountaineering writer Peter Gillman. The first volume, A Photographic History, collects 268 of the most remarkable mountain photographs ever taken, including breathtaking panoramas, steep gorges, glaciers, ice-fields, pinnacles and close-ups of the ascents. The men’s testimony makes up the second volume, An Eyewitness History, in articles and dispatches, memoirs, official reports and private letters, each accompanied by a commentary by Gillman. Everest is introduced by Wade Davis – an authority on the early expeditions, who puts them in their historical context of the ‘Great Game’ played out between the British and Russian empires and, in the next century, the First World War. The preface is from Jan Morris, last surviving member of the 1953 expedition until her death in 2020.

Bound in printed and blocked cloth

Set in Walbaum with Mallory as display

Volume 1: 536 pages plus 2 fold-out panoramas (one 6 page, one 4 page)

Volume 2: 208 pages

268 colour and black & white photographs in volume 1, and 2 maps in volume 2

Silver tops

Pictorial slipcase

9¼″ x 10¾″   

‘I glanced up at the mighty summit above me, which ever and anon deigned to reveal its cloud-wreathed features. It seemed to look down with cold indifference on me, mere puny man, and howl derision in wind-gusts at my petition to yield up its secret — this mystery of my friends’
  1. Noel Odell

Peter Gillman is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the race to conquer Everest. His selection of photography from the Royal Geographical Society archives is a masterpiece of visual storytelling, further enriched by his detailed captions. The images are of amazing aesthetic and technical quality, thanks to the presence on the expeditions of skilled photographers such as John Noel, George Lowe and George Mallory. As well as capturing the sublime beauty of the mountainscapes and the skill and endurance of the climbers, they are pioneering works in the history of photography: the 1921 expedition supplied the very first recorded images of Everest and the Tibetan people. Some pictures have seldom been seen, while others, such as Edmund Hillary’s shot of Tenzing Norgay at the summit, rank alongside the most famous news photography of the 20th century. They include new digital scans from the fragile silver-nitrate negatives held at the RGS, providing a sharpness never before possible.

The eyewitness accounts in the second volume give unparalleled insight into the determination of the crews, the unforgiving environment and the wonder of the scenery, aided by two newly drawn maps. Many of the expedition members were exceptional writers, including George Mallory;  the mystery of his disappearance with Sandy Irvine inspires some of the most poignant and memorable passages. Everest is the greatest of adventure stories, with graphic descriptions of ice climbing, avalanches, snowstorms and traversing crevasses, and also a sweeping travelogue that takes in descriptions of wildlife, Tibetan monastic life and the challenges of operating a photographic lab at altitude. The agonies of failure – of exhausted men thwarted by the elements within sight of the summit – are as compelling as the accounts included from both Hillary and Tenzing of the final triumph. For a preface, The Folio Society is privileged to include one of the final pieces of writing by the late Jan Morris, who accompanied the 1953 expedition as a young reporter. Her recollection of a mystical encounter on the mountain offers a personal take on the scale and significance of the endeavour.

Peter Gillman is one of Britain’s leading mountaineering writers. His biography of Everest pioneer George Mallory, The Wildest Dream, won the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountaineering Literature in 2000. Extreme Eiger, his account of a dramatic ascent of the North Face of the Eiger in 1966, won the British Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild book of the year in 2015. Both books were co-authored with Peter’s wife, Leni. He has won a total of seven annual OWPG awards, several jointly with Leni.

Gillman has travelled widely, from the Himalayas to Patagonia, and has written extensively on mountaineering for the specialist and national press, particularly the Sunday Times. He met and interviewed two of the key figures in the Everest expeditions of the 1920s: photographer John Noel and geologist Noel Odell, the last person to see George Mallory and Sandy Irvine before they disappeared near the summit of Everest in 1924. He has been a keen climber and mountain walker throughout his life and is a member of the British Alpine Club.

‘The very notion of Everest has been transformed by a century of desire, triumph, disappointment and death. Well over 5,000 men and women have reached the summit. Some 300 have died trying; their bodies litter the mountain’
  1. Wade Davis, from his introduction

Wade Davis is an award-winning writer, anthropologist and explorer whose work has taken him from the Amazon to Tibet, Polynesia to the Arctic. His many books include The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985), One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest (1996), Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest (2011), which won Britain's Samuel Johnson Prize and Magdalena: River of Dreams (2020). He is currently Professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia.  

‘For me the whole matter of Everest had its own ethereal beauty—the grandeur of its physical setting of course, so magnificently supreme out there, the strenuous beauty of alpinist efforts down the generations to master its challenge, and for one of my own temperament the very idea of it, beyond analysis, patriotism, scoop or publicity’
  1. Jan Morris, from her preface

Jan Morris was a historian and travel writer who first made her name as a journalist, famously as the Times correspondent accompanying the British Mount Everest expedition in 1953. She has published some 40 books, including Coronation Everest (1958), Venice (1960; Folio Society edition 2008), Pax Britannica (1968; Folio Society edition 1992), Heaven’s Command (1973), Conundrum (1974), Farewell the Trumpets (1978), The Venetian Empire: A Sea Voyage (1980; Folio Society edition 2014), Manhattan ’45 (1986; Folio Society edition 2016) and Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere (2001).


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