After being observed repairing his own boots — something a gentleman would never do — deputy leader Colonel Edward Strutt was heard to remark, “I always knew the fellow was a shit”.
The shit was George Finch, father of the actor Peter Finch. He and Edmund Mallory were the best climbers in the world, but they were worlds apart. The godlike Mallory was given to strolling about in the nude, when he wasn’t wearing the usual British explorer uniform of jumpers, scarves and pyjamas topped with a suit of Norfolk tweed. The Australian Finch came up with the idea of the “eiderdown jacket”, a bright green creation made of hot air balloon material. You know it as the puffer jacket. The London Alpine Club, which organised the 1922 Everest expedition, thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen. They weren’t amused, though, by his oxygen system, which they considered unsportsmanlike.
Mallory made the first attempt on the summit, in his tweed suit and without the assistance of oxygen, but failed. Days later Finch was allowed to climb using his down jacket and oxygen system. He reached 8,360 metres — the highest any person had climbed — before his exhausted partner forced his retreat.
Finch wasn’t invited on the London Alpine Club Everest trip in 1924. Mallory and his young companion Sandy Irvine (using oxygen but wearing tweed) died within metres of the summit. Might things have been different if the more experienced Finch had been his partner?
Finch himself gave up climbing nine years later after friends were killed in a climbing accident. He went on to a distinguished career as a chemist. Along the way he won an MBE for his bombmaking skills during WWI.
You can read all about this fascinating man here:
or listen to an interview with Robert Wainwright, author of Maverick Mountaineer here: