Last year marked the 60th anniversary of the first ever ascent of Mount Everest. To celebrate this milestone Huw Lewis-Jones, historian of exploration and editorial director at Polarworld Publishing, produced two books in collaboration with the late New Zealander George Lowe - the last surviving mountaineer of the 1953 expedition who passed away shortly before the books went to print.
British born Huw Lewis-Jones will be touring New Zealand this month, and he thinks we should be every bit as proud of George Lowe as we are of Sir Edmund Hillary.
"As a historian it's not often you meet your heroes and, better still, have the chance of working with them," says Lewis-Jones. "George was a modest fellow who never sought the limelight and has been called the 'forgotten man' of Everest, an unsung hero. Perhaps this is because he played his part so well. He was a master of his craft on ice and snow, ensuring the success of the final pair - Ed and Tenzing - who would step up onto the summit on 29 May, 1953."
So much has been written since that legendary expedition, but what Letters from Everest offers is an intimate treasure trove of previously unpublished letters written by Lowe to his sister Beattie and then distributed to his and Edmund Hillary's family while they were on the mountain - just in case they never made it back.
It is a gripping, first-hand insight tinged with uncertainty and written in below freezing temperatures with violent winds whipping the tent walls. The letters describe the torturous progress, forging forward in a constant fog of exhaustion, and the 'brotherhood of the rope'.
The other book collaboration between the late George Lowe and Huw Lewis-Jones, The Conquest of Everest is a visually commanding book featuring original photographs and other rare materials from the George Lowe collection, many previously unpublished, and complemented by classic images from the final ascent.
In his role of photographer George Lowe captured an air of purity that has long since been been lost due to commerce of modern day Everest. Stunning landscapes, candid portraits, and action shots are accompanied by heartfelt writings that describe the day-by-day moments of this historic expedition.
George Lowe was born in 1924 and grew up in Hastings, the seventh of eight children. When he was seven, he and the Lowe family survived one of the biggest earthquakes ever to strike New Zealand, resulting in the death of 256 people. His schooling continued for the next 18 months in a tent on a racecourse.
When he was nine he broke his left arm. Over the next year a doctor broke it a further seven times in crude operations that permanently bent it. The army rejected him because he couldn't stand to attention, and medical experts branded him a cripple, advising the safety and security of an office job.
He first met Edmund Hillary while working in New Zealand's Southern Alps just after the war. Sir Ed would later write that it was George who "set off the spark that finally got us both to the Himalayas." In 1951 the pair joined the first New Zealand expedition, exploring the Indian Garhwal and being part of the team that climbed the 23,760 ft Mukut Parbat.
The following year, Lowe was one of the lead photographers and climbers of the successful Everest expedition, forging the route up Everest's Lhotse Face without oxygen and later cutting steps for his team mates, Ed and Tenzing, up the summit ridge.
More expeditions followed, and between 1955 and 1958, Lowe not only traversed Antarctica but also became the first to reach the South Pole overland since Captain Scott in 1912.
With Sir Edmund Hillary, George Lowe's legacy is ingrained in the history of Himalayan and Antarctic exploration, in photography, filming and mountaineering worldwide, and in the provision of education for the children and young people of New Zealand, the UK, Chile and Nepal.
Says Lewis-Jones, "George's commitments to adventure, and later teaching, kept him away from New Zealand for much of his life, but it was always the place he considered home."
Huw Lewis-Jones is a guest speaker at the Auckland Writers Festival on May 14-18.