HERE’S SOMETHING thought-provoking and challenging about the life of Maurice Wilson. Like Christopher Columbus and Thor Heyerdahl, Wilson wanted to prove a cherished theory by a heroic deed. He would climb the highest peak on earth—Mount Everest—and he’d do it alone.
No Obstacle Insurmountable
Not knowing the first thing about mountaineering, Wilson set to work. He bought a tent, sleeping bag, special clothing, an altimeter, and a camera with a self-timer so he could take a picture of himself on the summit. Then he started training.
In hobnailed boots and with a backpack so heavy he could hardly lift it to his shoulders, this bear of a man trudged from London to Bradford in West Yorkshire and back several times, each round trip about 600 kilometers (373 miles). Then he spent five weeks climbing mountains within reach, including Snowdon, the highest peak in England (small potatoes compared to Everest).
Perhaps he could take a shortcut in getting to the summit of Everest, he thought. Instead of spending weeks or months battling glaciers, bad weather, and insurmountable rock faces, Wilson decided to buy a small plane and crash land on the East Rongbuk Glacier, then set off on foot for the summit. In fact, he’d fly from England to India in the same little plane.
In 1933 he bought a 3-year-old Gypsy Moth, a biplane, had Ever Wrest painted on its fuselage, and took flying lessons at the London Aero Club. Wilson’s instructor eventually pronounced him incapable of becoming a good pilot and assured him he had no chance of reaching India alive. To fly 8,000 kilometers (4,971 miles) in an open biplane over undeveloped regions would have taxed the most experienced pilot to the limit. To Maurice Wilson it would be catastrophic.
Wilson tested his nerves by making a parachute jump over London. He provided himself with maps and worked out his first tentative flight. He hoped to start by flying to Freiburg in Germany, where he had once spent happy weeks, then fly over the Alps to Milan in Italy, Palermo in Sicily, across the Mediterranean, and on to Tunis.
He set a date for departure, but as it approached he became ill with severe tonsillitis. At once he resorted to his panacea for all ills: total fasting coupled with “belief” and prayer. He was soon fit once more.
With the Ever Wrest ready for takeoff, the British Air Ministry determined to block the apparent suicide. Wilson calmly, without comment, tore up the telegram that forbade him to fly.
On Sunday, May 21, 1933, Wilson said goodbye to friends and reporters. One urged, “Remember, Maurice, if you try to crash-land on Everest you could set off an avalanche, and that will be the end of you!” Wilson scowled and nodded.
He had decided to take off downwind. It seemed the heavily loaded little plane would never get up enough speed and was going to crash right at the outset. After what seemed like an eternity, the machine reluctantly went airborne. Wilson flew into the morning sun, became a dot on the horizon, and disappeared. His friends shook their heads and mumbled, “We’ll never set eyes on him again!”
So Far, So Good
A week later, Wilson landed in Cairo. There he received word that Iran was closing its skies to him. So he flew nonstop from Baghdad to Bahrain—1,000 kilometers (621 miles)—which tested his machine to the limit. In Bahrain the British consul denied fuel to this tearer-upper of government telegrams, so he turned to the black market. After
two weeks he reached Gwadar in India, having flown 8,000 kilometers (4,971 miles).
In Lalbula, near Purneah, he heard that Nepalese authorities had turned down his application to fly over Nepal. This plunged Wilson into despair. Weeks passed; the monsoon season began, and he saw his chances dwindling. Then his money ran out. He was forced to sell his plane for £500 and make his way to Darjeeling by public transportation.
There the authorities refused him permission to cross Sikkim and Nepal on foot. “Then I must get to Tibet illegally,” he decided. He searched for and discovered three Sherpas—Tewang, Rinzing, and Tsering—who had worked as porters on an earlier Everest expedition. They got hold of a horse for the journey and sewed provisions and equipment into wheat sacks.
Nearly a year after flying out of England, Wilson paid
for his hotel room in Darjeeling six months in advance, announced that he was going
on a tiger hunt, and during the night of March 21, 1934, set off with his porters. They traveled at night to avoid attention, bypassing towns and villages, braving icy streams, snowdrifts, and hailstorms. At last they crested the pass of Kongra La. Before them lay Tibet!
On April 12 Wilson could write in his diary: “Saw Everest this morning!”
Soon, with 20 to 23 kilograms on his back, Wilson set off alone up a valley to the East Rongbuk Glacier—a wilderness of ice towers, crevasses, and rock boulders. At 6,035 meters (19,800 feet) above sea level he reached Camp II of previous expeditions by other climbers. Snow began falling. He ate a few dates and a hunk of bread, pushed on two more days and then, exhausted and with his provisions gone, eyes and throat inflamed, limped back across the glacier to a monastery where he had left his Sherpas.
While Rinzing and Tewang fed him hot soup he scribbled in his diary: “I’ll not give up. I still know that I can do it.” Then he slept for 36 hours. He remained in bed another four days. About three weeks later he and Tewang and Rinzing reached the site of Camp III, and Wilson wrote: “Only another 8,000 feet to go.”
Rinzing went with him a short distance to show the way, then was adamant he would go no farther and returned to the camp. Wilson battled and crawled on, spending nights on tiny ledges over sheer drops. The final straw was when
he exhausted himself trying to climb a chimney in a 100-foot ice wall. Eventually, more dead than alive, he dragged himself back to the Sherpas.
After convalescing for some days he set out by himself once more. He was too weak to go far and soon pitched his tent, crawling into his sleeping bag. On May 31, 1934, he
spider-scrawled in his diary: “Off again, gorgeous day.” It was probably that day that he, alone in his tent and frozen to the marrow, breathed his last.
A Higher Vision
Such vision and perseverance deserve a nobler cause. Not to stand on the summit of Everest, but to look forward “to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). Instead of scaling a mountain, Wilson could have longed “for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16).
Questions for Reflection
1. Which is easier: to test yourself physically, or spiritually? Why is that?
2. To this point in your spiritual life, about what are you most (modestly) proud? Why that?
3. Do you ever feel God calling you to some greater level of comitment to Him and His kingdom? If so, what might that include? If not, why not?
4. How do you want to be remembered when you're gone? What are you doing now to make it so?
Some who made the higher choice have braved more trials than Maurice Wilson. “Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground” (Heb. 11:36-38).
What greater vision can possess any human being than to “see the Invisible,” as Moses did? “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27). This man of vision persevered. He kept to his course when his people rejected God through the rebellion at Kadesh; when the revolt of Korah left 14,000 dead; when the mixed multitude endlessly complained.
When God tested Moses by proposing to disinherit and destroy all Israel and build a new nation on the descendants of their leader, the prophet pleaded that the sinful nation be pardoned, and nobly offered to die in their place.
Moses never turned back, never gave up, never denied the way the Lord had led him in order to embrace a more appealing way.
In the end Moses stood on the summit of Mount Nebo, in the presence
of the One who made all mountains. Buried by God, he was also resurrected by God. And centuries later with Elijah, Moses visited with Christ, his Lord, on the Mount of Transfiguration.
In Moses we see vision and perseverance at their highest, noblest, and most sublime—the kind that is centered in Christ.
Frederick C. Pelser, the author of several books, lives in retirement in Cape Town, South Africa.