J H Emlyn Jones was a fearless mountaineer who defused unexploded bombs and destroyed Nazi launch sites, before almost being part of the historic conquest of Everest.
John Hubert Emlyn Jones, known to all as Emlyn Jones, lived a life of great adventure and high achievement in a wide variety of fields.
Born on the Gower in 1915, Emlyn grew up in Llandudno, within striking distance of Snowdonia where his father’s love of mountaineering and rock climbing was to prove infectious. This love of climbing would, in time, lead Emlyn all across the British Isles and Europe, and to the Himalayas, and see him serve as president of both the Climbers’ Club (1966-69) and the Alpine Club (1980-82). Having spent World War II with the Royal Engineers, defusing unexploded bombs in London and later destroying the Nazi V3 ‘super-gun’ launch site at Mimoyecques, France, he first travelled to the Himalayas in 1950 with the great adventurer H W ‘Bill’ Tilman.
With that experience, and with a growing reputation as a strong and skilful climber, Emlyn was invited by John Hunt to join the Everest squad for the 1953 expedition. Ultimately Emlyn was unfortunate to miss out on membership of the final 12-man team, and was named first reserve. However, it was agreed that if Hunt’s team were unsuccessful, Emlyn would lead a second attempt on the mountain after the monsoon. After the historic success of the group, most specically Hillary and Tenzing, the news was relayed to The Times in London in code: “Snow conditions bad” meant that the summit had been reached; “Advanced base abandoned”, that it had been Ed Hillary who had been the first to stand on top of the world. However, the message was intercepted, taken at face value, and it was reported that Hunt’s expedition had failed. In a state of feverish excitement at the opportunity thus presented to him, Emlyn began to arrange his own team’s passage to Nepal for the second attempt.
The real story broke on 2nd June 1953, and he was forced to cancel his group’s arrangements. At a later commemorative event for the triumphant team, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth spoke to Emlyn about the nation’s joy at the announcement on coronation day, to which he, with characteristic honesty replied, “Yes Ma’am, but I’m afraid there were four of us whose joy was somewhat diminished!”.
Emlyn returned to the Himalayas in 1959 and led what may have been the first successful ascent of the beautiful Ama Dablam. Tragically his two lead climbers, George Fraser and Mike Harris, were lost as they approached the summit, only for bad weather to intervene.
Emlyn’s mental and physical strength ensured that he remained active; he returned to the Annapurna region in his 60s, and he celebrated his 80th birthday by reaching the summit of Snowdon (well ahead of some of the younger members of the party).