In December 1922, following the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon returned briefly from the Valley of the Kings in Egypt to Highclere. Whilst he was very aware of the scale of his discovery, he was surprised by the overwhelming global fascination with it and his purpose at this time was to review and plan his next steps in the light of this overwhelming interest. Thus, one of his meetings was with the Royal Geographical Society in London to learn how they had dealt with the press during the 1922 attempt to climb Mount Everest using oxygen.

Before Lord Carnarvon returned to Egypt in early 1923, he was told by a well-known fortune teller that he would die but return he did. The First World War had ended just over 4 years earlier, he had been ill but survived the 1919/20 flu pandemic and now he was carefully planning and anticipating the challenges ahead before returning to orchestrate the continued work in the tomb, as well as its grand opening planned for February. He had bought a Ford car for use in Luxor to make life easier and he had finally agreed a deal with The Times newspapers so that they would act as a media conduit for all the world’s press, thereby taking some of the pressure off him.

Much of the Earl’s life as a motor enthusiast had involved far more risk than most people would look for in their daily lives. He was likewise fascinated by early planes where you took your life into your hands each time you taxied across a field. He had many accidents but always recovered and had a fun sense of humour which kept him going, always saying the right thing to ease tensions and bring a smile.

The 1920’s altogether was an era of reaching beyond normal landscapes, of walking to the poles, of exploring the skies. Looking at photographs of the 1922 and 1924 Everest expeditions, it is hard to believe how these brave men managed to stay warm and fit enough to manage even the lower slopes. Lessons learnt from the 1922 expedition attempt were taken forwards to 1924 expedition and it is still unclear whether Mallory and Irvine did, or did not, reach the summit. However, they sadly died and are therefore remembered in the annals of history as heroic climbers and heroes. It was May 1953 before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay finally and officially climbed to the top.

To have any chance of success, Mount Everest expeditions need not only sheer physical strength and a great deal of experience but also a lot of detailed planning and preparation. In any team which is testing the edge, there is no room for a sense of superiority or complacency. In such a situation, they are the enemy as much as the weather. Notwithstanding, these were teams of people taking a huge risk, calculating it, offsetting it but nevertheless stepping well outside what would be most people’s comfort zone.

Today, the current global situation is “testing the edge” for millions of us. We need to react quickly and then remain efficient as the ground beneath us shifts, to respond to the mental challenges, work out what are the things that make us happy, which habits we should change and then put our decisions into practice.

Reading about Sir Edmund Hillary is inspiring. He was motivated, focused and disciplined and had a solution-based mind. He was a fixer:

“I have been seriously afraid at times but have used my fear as a stimulating factor rather than allowing it to paralyse me.”

Looking back, I wonder what the history books will say about this period? That, if we at first stumbled, we then worked and learnt together? I hope so. All of us are indebted to those at the front line, nursing caring, researching and supporting. Just as the 5th Earl’s wife set up her hospitals at Highclere and in London, so Sir Edmund Hillary said:

Beacon Hill, Highclere. The 5th Earl’s grave is at the summit

“I believe that of all the things I have done, exciting though many of them have been, there’s no doubt in my mind that the most worthwhile have been the establishing of schools and hospitals, and the rebuilding of monasteries in the mountains.”

Or, on a lighter note,

“Climb every mountain, ford every stream follow every rainbow, till you find your dream”.