Hugh Norton

Old Member (1956)

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Norton of Everest

Norton of Everest

Publisher: Vertebrate Publishing

Publication date: May 2017

Edward Norton, the author’s father, is best known, certainly among mountaineers, for his exploits on Mount Everest in 1922 and 1924. This book is the story of his whole life and covers a great deal more than mountaineering, in particular his military career and his short but dramatic spell as Acting Governor of Hong Kong in 1940-41.


Norton of Everest, the biography of EF Norton, soldier and mountaineer, by Hugh Norton, published by Vertebrate Publishing, 2017, at £12.99 (183 pp., 4 maps, 12 b/w illustrations, 14 pp. of photographs, 9 in colour).

Hugh Norton (´56) was a direct contemporary of mine at Trinity, and remains a close friend.  A Wykehamist and classical scholar, he chose not to do Mods, and took a first in Greats after 3 years.  He was President of the Trinity Players in his last year.  His career was wholly with British Petroleum (BP) where he was an “arabist”; he represented the Company in North Africa and the Middle and Far East.  He was an Executive Director at the time of his retirement.

Norton of Everest is Hugh’s biography of his father, Col. Norton, the leader of the 1924 Everest expedition.  Biographies or memoirs of most expedition members, including Mallory and Irvine, who perished, have appeared.  But, according to the Canadian explorer  and anthropologist, Wade Davis, who has written an excellent Foreword, “Surely no account has been more eagerly anticipated than … the biography of … the incomparable Col. Edward Norton”.  On June 4th, 1924, “Teddy” Norton climbed to 28,126 ft on the North Face of Everest, setting an altitude record for climbing without added oxygen which lasted for 54 years until Messner and Habeler made their successful ascent in 1978.  That this could be done in 1924, with the clothing, equipment and expertise of those times, beggars belief.

Mountaineering and Mt Everest form only one of the seven chapters in Hugh’s book, but it is a suitably long chapter.  The other six are absorbing, and, putting flesh on the bones, show the character of a man who achieved the near impossible.  In a sympathetic portrait, Hugh shows his father as a soldier (Lieutenant General), as an inspiring and courageous leader of troops (MC, DSO) as well as of climbers and Sherpas, as an artist and naturalist, as Governor (acting) of Hong Kong in the lead up to the Japanese invasion in 1941, and, most impressively, as a profoundly modest man who (like many of his contemporaries) hated showiness or display.

There is much in this book, including the illustrations and maps, to enjoy.  It is a pleasure to read Hugh’s prose (no surprise there!) and I can recommend it to all Trinity men and women, and not just those of my generation!

Mike Hughes (1956)