Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society

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Jan 2017

Tue 10 Jan 2017
Boyd Harris - The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan,
it's people and an account of the first ascent of its mountain Chomolhari by
British mountaineer Freddy Spencer Chapman (1907-1971) in 1937..


Chorley Historical & Archaeological Society member Boyd Harris gave a presentation about the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan and the first ascent of Chomolhari, its highest climbed peak, but not the highest mountain. The highest peak remains unclimbed and further attempts on its summit are banned. Boyd visited Bhutan in 2015 to explore some of its remote villages in the north west of the country and also view Chomolhari from the east.
Bhutan’s official name is the Kingdom of Bhutan or The Land of the Thunder Dragon. Its mountain, Chomolhari 7,326 m (24,035 ft) was first climbed by the British mountaineer Freddy Spencer Chapman (1907-1971).

Freddy Spencer Chapman after returning from Chomolhari 1937

He set out with a small expedition in 1937 and successfully reached the summit with Sherpa Pasang Dawa Lama on 21st May 1937. Reaching the summit was the least of their problems as the descent proved considerably more challenging and they almost died on the way down. The career of Freddy Chapman was quite astonishing. His Mother died a week after he was born and his Father emigrated to Canada when Freddy was a small boy. He was cared for by an elderly Vicar, Ernest Dewick and his wife, at Raughton Head, Cumbria. It was here he developed an early interest in nature and the outdoors.

Flag of Bhutan

They later moved to Lindale and in 1920 was educated at Sedbergh School in Yorkshire (now Cumbria) and won a Kitchener scholarship to St. John's College, Cambridge, to study history and English. After various expeditions, including Greenland (1930-31 and 1932-33) expedition parties investigating climatic conditions and possible air routes between Europe and America.
In 1936 he joined a Himalayan climbing expedition and during this trip that he became the private secretary to the Political Officer for Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet for the 1936-37 Political Mission to Lhasa.

Sedbergh School established 1525

Chomolhari seen from the east in Bhutan.
In the foreground is a ruined Dzong (fortress)

Chomolhari seen from Tibet in 1936
Photo by Freddy Chapman

Great Buddha Dordenma in Bhutan
In 1937 Freddy secured permission to lead a small climbing expedition to the Tibetan holy mountain, Chomolhari. Chapman and Sherpa Passang Dawa succeeded in becoming the first mountaineers to reach the 7,326 m (24,035 ft) summit.
In 1938 Chapman returned to teaching, taking an appointment at the newly formed Gordonstoun School in the north of Scotland. One of his pupils was Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark who is now Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh. War was on the horizon and Chapman was soon called up for active service.

Paro Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's Nest)

Extensive agricultue

Drukgyal Dzong, a fortress and Buddhist monastery, now in ruins.
Built c1649 and burnt down in 1951 after a butter lamp fire.
It is due to be rebuilt in 2016.

In 1941 he commanded a guerrilla warfare school in Singapore, the Special Training School 101 (STS 101) top secret "stay-behind" resistance organisation. From there he was sent behind Japanese lines to organise reconnaissance and sabotage operations where he spent three and a half years (1942-45) in the Malayan jungle.
He started the war as a Territorial with the Seaforth Highlanders and ended the war as much decorated lieutenant colonel.

Bhutan's national and most
popular sport is archery.

After the war he was a successful author, speaker and teacher. He married and had 3 sons. However, the jungle had seriously damaged his health. On 8 August 1971 Chapman went to his study and wrote a note to his wife reading:
"I don't want you to have to nurse an invalid for the rest of my life"
He then shot himself.
When Freddy climbed Chomolhari it was from Tibet in the west. Boyd’s trek was in Bhutan to the east of the mountain.
Bhutan is a landlocked country located in the Eastern Himalayas. It is bordered by Tibet in the north and India in the south and separated from Nepal by the Indian state of Sikkim.
The climate is generally wetter with more cloud than Nepal to the west. It is now trying to promote tourism but is still catching up with the 21st Century and Television broadcasts only commenced in 1999.
Its many temples are some of the most beautiful in the world.