Most, if not all, New Zealanders know of Sir Edmund Hillary and his successful ascent of Everest. What many, including myself, didn’t know, was that the events that lead up to that first ascent of the world’s highest mountain could have meant that a different New Zealander could well have stood triumphantly on the summit in 1953.
Lyn McKinnon has researched and written an excellent account of the early years of mountain climbing in New Zealand, and the young men involved. Two in particular were Earle Riddiford and Ed Cotter. Contempories of Hillary and George Lowe, they climbed with them in the Himalayas. Cotter and Riddiford, along with Pasang Dawa Lama, made the first ascent of Mukut Parbat in 1951. Hillary and Lowe accompanied them on the first part of the climb but turned back after deciding the summit was too difficult to reach. It was this climb which brought the New Zealanders to the attention of the Alpine Club in London who were in the process of organising a British Reconnaissance of Mt. Everest. An invitation was sent to the four climbers while still in the Himalayas, for two of them to join the party. On receipt of the telegram, a day and a half of bitter dispute divided the men and set in motion events reaching even into our time. Only two men could go and this is where the title of the book comes in.
The two men who did go were the members of the expedition who eventually summitted Everest. The two who missed out, Earle Riddiford and Ed Cotter, have their stories told at last in Only Two For Everest. Lyn McKinnon has drawn on private papers as well as published work, and interviewed Ed Cotter, the families of both men and many other contemporary climbers to set the record straight about these two extraordinary men, whose climbing achievements have been eclipsed by the prominence given to the man who reached the summit.
Riddiford and Cotter deserved to have their stories told and McKinnon has done them justice in a book rich in detail and photographs.
Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra
Only Two for Everest
by Lyn McKinnon
Published by Otago University Press