Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis recounts the epic -- and ultimately tragic -- attempts by British climbers to scale Everest in the shadow of the Great War.
Wade Davis has been described as "a rare combination of
scientist, scholar, poet, and passionate defender of all of life's
An ethnographer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker,
he holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in
ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Mostly through the Harvard
Botanical Museum, he spent more than three years in the Amazon and Andes
as a plant explorer, living among 15 indigenous groups in eight Latin
American nations while making some 6,000 botanical collections. His work
later took him to Haiti to investigate folk preparations implicated in
the creation of zombies, an assignment that led to his writing Passage of Darkness (1988) and The Serpent and the Rainbow (1986), an international best seller that appeared in ten languages and was later released by Universal as a motion picture.
His other books include Penan: Voice for the Borneo Rain Forest (1990), Shadows in the Sun (1993), Nomads of the Dawn (1995), The Clouded Leopard (1998), Rainforest (1998), Light at the Edge of the World (2001), The Lost Amazon (2004), Grand Canyon (2008), Book of Peoples of the World (ed. 2008), and One River (1996), which was nominated for the 1997 Governor General's Literary Award for Nonfiction. Into the Silence, an epic history of World War I and the early British efforts to summit Everest, was published in October, 2011. Sheets of Distant Rain will follow.
is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2002 Lowell Thomas
Medal (The Explorers Club) and the 2002 Lannan Foundation prize for
literary nonfiction. In 2004 he was made an honorary member of the
Explorers Club, one of just 20 in the hundred-year history of the club.
In recent years his work has taken him to East Africa, Borneo, Nepal,
Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Vanuatu, and the
high Arctic of Nunavut and Greenland.
A native of British
Columbia, Davis, a licensed river guide, has worked as park ranger and
forestry engineer and conducted ethnographic fieldwork among several
indigenous societies of northern Canada. He has published 150 scientific
and popular articles on subjects ranging from Haitian vodoun and
Amazonian myth and religion to the global biodiversity crisis, the
traditional use of psychotropic drugs, and the ethnobotany of South
Davis has written for National Geographic, Newsweek, Premiere, Outside, Omni, Harpers, Fortune, Men's Journal, Condé Nast Traveler, Natural History, Utne Reader, National Geographic Traveler, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Globe and Mail, and several other international publications.
photographs have been featured in a number of exhibits and have been
widely published, appearing in some 20 books and more than 80 magazines,
journals, and newspapers. His research has been the subject of more
than 700 media reports and interviews in Europe, North and South
America, and the Far East, and has inspired numerous documentary films
as well as three episodes of the television series The X Files.
professional speaker for nearly 20 years, Davis has lectured at the
National Geographic Society, American Museum of Natural History,
Smithsonian Institution, and California Academy of Sciences, as well as
many other museums and some 200 universities, including Harvard, MIT,
Oxford, Yale, and Stanford. He has spoken at the Aspen Institute,
Bohemian Grove, Young President’s Organization, and TED Conference. His
corporate clients have included Microsoft, Shell, Hallmark, Bank of Nova
Scotia, MacKenzie Financials, Healthcare Association of Southern
California, National Science Teachers Association, and many others.
honorary research associate of the Institute of Economic Botany of the
New York Botanical Garden, he is a fellow of the Linnean Society, the
Explorers Club, and the Royal Geographical Society. Davis is also a
board member of the David Suzuki Foundation. He recently completed a
six-year term on the board of the Banff Centre, Canada’s leading
institution for the arts. He has received two honorary doctorates, from
the University of Victoria in 2003 and the University of Guelph in 2008.
In 2009 he delivered the Massey lectures, Canada’s most prestigious
public intellectual forum.
Davis's television credits include Earthguide, Spirit of the Mask, Cry of the Forgotten People, and Forests Forever. He produced, wrote, and hosted Light at the Edge of the World,
a four-hour ethnographic documentary series shot in Rapanui, Tahiti,
the Marquesas, Nunavut, Greenland, Nepal, and Peru. He is host,
co-writer, and co-producer of Peyote to LSD, a social history of the psychedelic movement. Davis is a principal character in the MacGillivray Freeman IMAX film Grand Canyon Adventure,
also released in the spring of 2008. He is currently working on a new
four-hour series of films for the National Geographic Channel to be
filmed in Colombia, Japan, Australia, and Mongolia.
When not in
the field, Davis and his wife, Gail Percy, divide their time between
Washington, D.C., and a fishing lodge in the Stikine Valley of northern
British Columbia. They have two children.
Peak on the crest of the Himalayas, southern Asia. The highest point on Earth, with a summit at 29,035 ft (8,850 m), it lies on the border between Nepal and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Numerous attempts to climb Everest were made from 1921; the summit was finally reached by Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal in 1953. In dispute is whether the English explorer George Mallory, whose body was discovered below Everest's peak in 1999, had actually reached the peak earlier, in 1924, and was descending it when he died. The formerly accepted elevation of 29,028 ft (8,848 m), established in the early 1950s, was recalculated in the late 1990s.
Just a couple of quotes...
"At Gallipole machine gun fire had literally severed his legs, and he was told after those two dreadful wounds to retire to England, and above all, have a relaxed life and never walk uphill, instead he set off for Everest."
"That night and with that scene in front of one, it was quite easy to realise that the price of life is death, and that, so long as the payment be made promptly, it matters little to the individual when the payment is made. Somewhere up there, in that vast wilderness of ice and rock, were two still forms. Yesterday, with all the vigour and will of perfect manhood, they were playing a great game - their life's desire. Today it is over, and they had gone, without their ever knowing the beginnings of decay. Could any man desire a better end?"