In an age before Google Maps, GPS and satellite phones, the unexplored landscapes discovered by pioneering explorers could only be recorded by pen and paper. In this short series, Avaunt will be featuring five excerpts from the sketchbooks of people who shaped – through word and image – our concept of the world over the past six centuries.
George Lowe, a man renowned for his generous and humble nature, was an essential part of the 1953 British Mount Everest expedition. Lowe, a mountaineer, photographer and teacher from New Zealand, used the skills he had developed on the ice in his country’s Southern Alps to carve out a route for the climbers along Everest’s Lhotse Face, and cut steps above the mountain’s South Col, preparing the final leg of the journey to the summit.
On 29th May 1953, facilitated by Lowe’s efforts, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to successfully reach Everest’s summit. Three years later, Lowe and Hillary were invited on the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition – the first expedition to cross Antarctica overland via the South Pole. This time adopting a different but no less critical role, Lowe was responsible for photographing and recording the voyage, as well as assisting in the sound engineering required for mapping and profiling what Antarctica looked like below the ice.
Lowe was a keen letter writer, note taker and journal keeper, regularly recording both the quotidian events of life on expedition and the significant, historical moments that he was witness to. Lowe’s journals offer a personal and nuanced account of his experience as an explorer. This sketch, from two pages from Lowe’s journal during the Trans-Antarctic Expedition, detail the efforts Lowe and his fellow crewmen went to to dislodge a Sno-Cat that had become wedged in a crevasse. While spending the winter in Antarctica, Lowe set up a darkroom in a hut to process and develop his film, and stored the prints in his journal for protection from the elements.
Explorers’ Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery and Adventure by Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert is published by Thames & Hudson, £29.95.