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  Mallory and Irvine The Final Chapter: John Noel

The history of Everest is replete with eccentric, daring and enterprising characters. Among them is Captain John Baptist Lucius Noel who joined the 1924 Third British expedition to Everest as a Photographer and Filmmaker.


Noel’s career began, as did that of many Everest climbers of that era, in the army. During World War I Noel was captured by the Germans and held as a POW until he escaped. His interest in Everest became apparent when he snuck across the border into Tibet in disguise and became the first European to come within 40 miles of the mountain. His illegal foray brought back much needed information that would lead to an official and much larger Everest Reconnaissance expedition in 1921.


In what must have been an enormous and unusual sum at the time, it is said, Noel purchased the photographic rights for the 1924 expedition for £8000. This sum is all the more remarkable given that Noel resigned from the army and forfeited his pension to join the expedition. Noel’s still photos were taken on glass slides that he carefully carried up the slopes of Everest along with his other equipment. They were developed at Base Camp in a specially darkened tent. He filmed the expedition with a 40-pound camera that he hauled as high as the North Col (23,000 feet). Perhaps his best-known photo is that of climbers high on the mountain spreading blankets in the snow to signal to the team below that Mallory & Irvine had failed to return from their summit assault.


A book of his photographs “Everest Pioneer: the Photographs of Captain John Noel” was published by his daughter Sandra Noel in 2003. The book is not yet available in America. His filmed footage with music by expedition member Somervell survives to this day.

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