10 Jan 2017
Boyd Harris - The Himalayan
it's people and an account of the first ascent of
Freddy Spencer Chapman (1907-1971) in 1937..
Chorley Historical & Archaeological
Society member Boyd Harris gave a presentation about the
Himalayan Kingdom of
Bhutan and the first ascent of Chomolhari, its highest
climbed peak, but not the highest mountain. The highest peak
remains unclimbed and further attempts on its summit are banned.
Boyd visited Bhutan in 2015 to explore some of its remote
villages in the north west of the country and also view
Chomolhari from the east.
Bhutan’s official name is the
Kingdom of Bhutan or The Land of the Thunder Dragon. Its
mountain, Chomolhari 7,326 m (24,035 ft) was first climbed by
the British mountaineer Freddy Spencer Chapman (1907-1971).
Freddy Spencer Chapman after returning from Chomolhari 1937
He set out with a small expedition in
1937 and successfully reached the summit with Sherpa Pasang Dawa
Lama on 21st May 1937. Reaching the summit was the least of
their problems as the descent proved considerably more
challenging and they almost died on the way down. The career of
Freddy Chapman was quite astonishing. His Mother died a week
after he was born and his Father emigrated to Canada when Freddy
was a small boy. He was cared for by an elderly Vicar, Ernest
Dewick and his wife, at Raughton
Head, Cumbria. It was here he developed an early interest in
nature and the outdoors.
Flag of Bhutan
They later moved to Lindale and in
1920 was educated at Sedbergh School in Yorkshire (now Cumbria)
and won a Kitchener scholarship to St. John's College,
Cambridge, to study history and English. After various
expeditions, including Greenland (1930-31 and 1932-33)
expedition parties investigating climatic conditions and
possible air routes between Europe and America.
In 1936 he
joined a Himalayan climbing expedition and during this trip that
he became the private secretary to the Political Officer for
Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet for the 1936-37 Political Mission to
Sedbergh School established 1525
Chomolhari seen from the east in Bhutan.
In the foreground is
a ruined Dzong (fortress)
Chomolhari seen from Tibet in 1936
Photo by Freddy
Great Buddha Dordenma in Bhutan
In 1937 Freddy secured permission to
lead a small climbing expedition to the Tibetan holy mountain,
Chomolhari. Chapman and Sherpa Passang Dawa succeeded in
becoming the first mountaineers to reach the 7,326 m (24,035 ft)
In 1938 Chapman returned to teaching, taking an
appointment at the newly formed Gordonstoun School in the north
of Scotland. One of his pupils was Prince Philip of Greece and
Denmark who is now Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh. War was on
the horizon and Chapman was soon called up for active service.
Paro Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's Nest)
Drukgyal Dzong, a fortress and Buddhist monastery, now in
Built c1649 and burnt down in 1951 after a butter lamp
It is due to be rebuilt in 2016.
In 1941 he commanded a guerrilla
warfare school in Singapore, the Special Training School 101 (STS
101) top secret "stay-behind" resistance organisation. From
there he was sent behind Japanese lines to organise
reconnaissance and sabotage operations where he spent three and
a half years (1942-45) in the Malayan jungle.
He started the
war as a Territorial with the
Seaforth Highlanders and ended the war as much decorated
Bhutan's national and most
sport is archery.
After the war he was a successful
author, speaker and teacher. He married and had 3 sons. However,
the jungle had seriously damaged his health. On 8 August 1971
Chapman went to his study and wrote a note to his wife reading:
"I don't want you to have to nurse an
invalid for the rest of my life"
He then shot himself.
When Freddy climbed Chomolhari it was
from Tibet in the west. Boyd’s trek was in Bhutan to the east of
Bhutan is a landlocked country
located in the Eastern Himalayas. It is bordered by Tibet in the
north and India in the south and separated from Nepal by the
Indian state of Sikkim.
The climate is generally wetter with
more cloud than Nepal to the west. It is now trying to promote
tourism but is still catching up with the 21st Century and
Television broadcasts only commenced in 1999.
Its many temples are some of the most
beautiful in the world.