The Enduring Legacy of the Great Explorer
Bill Tilman was an extraordinary man. A highly decorated warrior of two world wars, he traveled tens of thousands of miles—often on foot—in some of the most remote regions of Asia, Africa and South America, and trod the summit slopes of over a hundred peaks. He and the celebrated mountaineer, Eric Shipton, pioneered large tracts of the Himalaya including key routes on Mt. Everest, scantily dressed in old wool sweaters, woolen britches, and hob-nailed boots. They did not approve of grandiose expeditions believing that an assault on a Himalayan giant could be organized on the back of an envelope. And they proved time and again that such frugal exploits could indeed be successful.
After twenty years of mountain exploration, Tilman bought the first of three wooden pilot cutters he was to own, and set about teaching himself to sail. He then voyaged nearly every year for more than a quarter century to the frigid waters of the Antarctic and Arctic in search of new mountains to climb and places blank on the map.
Tilman has been portrayed by some as an anachronistic, taciturn stoic, a misogynist, and a resolute taskmaster with little or no time for anyone who didn’t live up to his high standards and expectations. Some have even described him as a self-indulgent risk taker impervious to the safety or sensitivities of others.
This new look at his life by documentary photographer and writer David A. Glen, dispels most of those assumptions. There emerges from his portrayal a man whose basic shyness and reticence to boast of his astonishing achievements belied a great sense of honor in the way he conducted his life. Using an unusual approach to biographical storytelling, Glen tells of how, as a young man growing up in Kenya, his wanderings abroad with the enigmatic explorer–experienced vicariously from reading Tilman’s fifteen, masterfully-written travel narratives–were to later have a profound infuence on his own life of exploration in far flung corners of the Earth.
This is for Glen as much a personal odyssey as it is a rich evocation of a truly exceptional man, exotic places afar, and a unique period in mountain exploration that will never be forgotten.