Odell Noel Ewart

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Noel Ewart Odell 1890-1987
Noel Odell joined the Club in 1916, was elected Vice-President in 1945 and honorary member in 1973. He was also a founder member of the Himalayan Club and honorary member of a number of other mountaineering clubs including the American Alpine Club, the Canadian Alpine Club, the New Zealand Alpine Club and the Norsk Tinder Klub to which he was particularly attached. His wife Mona was also a member of long standing, having joined the LAC in 1921 and remaining a member till her death in 1977 (see AJ83, 270-1, 1978).
Odell qualified for the Club in the golden years of alpine climbing before the First World War and was a near contemporary of such great figures as Geoffrey Young, George Finch and Alfred Zurcher. His proposal form was seconded by Haskett-Smith. But we remember him most of all as our last survivor of the dramatic 1924 Everest expedition in which he played such a memorable part, spending many days above the N col, going twice up to Camp VI in support of Mallory and Irvine's attempt on the summit and being the last man to see them alive. His performance that year is all the more remarkable when it is remembered that this was his first Himalayan expedition and his first experience of high altitude, his selection for Everest having been based on his Alpine record combined with the strength and endurance he showed on sledging journeys in Spitsbergen. He had to withdraw for personal reasons from the 1933 expedition but came to the Himalaya in 1936 with the Anglo American expedition to Nanda Devi, and this was his second annus mirabilis when at the age of 46 he with Bill Tilman made the first ascent of this noble mountain, then and for some years the highest to have been climbed.
He was back on Everest in 1938 with Tilman's expedition but, as events turned out, did not go very high that year. After the war he continued to climb and explore actively in the Canadian Rockies with Frank Smythe, in Yukon and Alaska with an American expedition, and especially in New Zealand during his time at Otago University. On his return from New Zealand he was 66, but he remained active and vigorous right to the end of his life. Even at the age of 93 he attended the 75th anniversary celebrations of the ABMSAC and made his way, with some mechanical assistance, up to the Britannia hut.
As an expedition member Noel was a genial and easy-going companion. On Nanda Devi he was, apart from Graham Brown, the oldest of our party and, beiing a somewhat patriarchal figure, earned the nickname, which he rather relished, of Noah.
On Everest in 1938 he was teased unmercifully about his rather ponderous glaciological researches and t00k it all in. good part. He was an impressive man in his prime, and Charles Warren reminds me that when the Dzongpen at Shekar entertained us that year the chang girls characterized him as a godlike figure. I remember him most clearly of all on a little side-journey we took together, crossing back into Sikkim over the Lonak La, an excursion we both greatly enjoyed and one about which he often reminisced in later years. The only thing one found to criticize about him was his extreme slowness in dealing with his kit and in doing camp chores. Such things have a disproportionate importance at high altitude, and I have long suspected that it was this quality which made Mallory reject him and prefer Irvine for the final assault in 1924.
Odell was a geologist, trained at the Royal School of Mines where, after the interruption caused by the First World War in which he served in the Royal Engineers and was three times wounded, he qualified as ARSM. In the early twenties he joined the geological staff of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, working first in London and then in Persia; he next moved to Canada, working for a mining company and later as a consulting geologist. From 1928 to 1930 he was at Harvard as lecturer in geology, and from there he came to Cambridge, first as PhD student then lecturer in geomorphology, and was supervisor of studies in geology and geography at Clare College. He remained at Cambridge till the war started, and despite various interruptions Cambridge was to be his main base for the rest of his days.
The first of these interruptions was the Second World War which saw him, aged 50, recommissioned in the Royal Engineers, serving initially in this country but later transferring to the Indian Army in the Bengal Sappers and Miners.
Odell never was, and probably never aspired to be, in the front rank of geological research. His career was the result of perseverance and endurance, for he was not awarded his PhD till the age of 49, nor did he get his first professorship till he was 60, this being at the University of Otago in New Zealand, which must have been a very congenial post. A part of his rather splendid inaugural address at Otago in praise of mountains was read out at his memorial service in Cambridge. It is now in the University Library. After a spell back at Cambridge he did a further two years abroad, starting in his 70th year at the University of Peshawar. Geology had provided him with an extraordinarily varied life, giving opportunities for field work in many continents and for making a host of friends with whom he kept regularly in touch. He was a great letter writer. Clare College finally made him an honorary fellow in 1983, and he was a most loyal and devoted member of both College and University.
Loyalty is also the word that comes to mind in thinking of Odell as a member of the AC, for he was intensely proud of the Club and, even in his eighties and nineties, was an unusually regular attender at Club meetings and indeed at other mountaineering gatherings. Members for whom the events of 1924 and 1936 are ancient history will remember him as an upright and distinguished figure, still possessed of all his faculties and contributing, sometimes at great length, to discussions at Club meetings. Even in the week of his death he was at the memorial meeting organised for Don Whillans at the Royal Geographical Society. His sudden death that weekend was surely the perfect end to a long and active life.
The Noel Odell evening organized by the Club in his memory was a unique and fitting tribute to a distinguished and popular member.
Peter Lloyd
H Adams Carter writes:
Noel Odell had a long and important connection with American mountaineering, extending over at least 51 years. He was the guest of honour at the American Alpine Club's Annual Meeting and Dinner on 29 December 1926. He became a member of the American Alpine Club in 1928 and was made an honorary member in 1936.
Noel, or oah as many of us affectionately called him, was a lecturer in geology at Harvard University from 1928 to 1930. While there, he was a great inspiration to the members of the recently formed Harvard Mountaineering Club. On weekends he helped hone our climbing skills. A still well-remembered new ice route pioneered in the bitter cold of Huntington Ravine in the White Mountains bears his name, Odell Gully. Before this time, the students had restricted themselves mostly to rock: he introduced them to steep ice. He inspired these Harvard climbers to organize expeditions to the great mountains of the world. It was his legacy that for the next 30 years all American mountain expeditions that were worth their salt were well represented by Harvard. In the summer of 1930 he was the senior member of the Harvard Mountaineering Club's summer camp in the Selkirk Mountains of Canada. He was with Americans in Labrador's Torngat Mountains in 193I and in north-east Greenland in 1933.
When four of us naive Harvard boys decided to tackle the Himalaya in 1936, of course we invited Noah to join us and to suggest which three other British climbers should make up the party. We all know how he and Bill Tilman reached the summit of Nanda Devi, which held the record as the highest summit reached for the next 14 years. I was lucky enough to be teamed up with Noah for much of the expedition, an education and a privilege I shall never forget. After the Second World War, Noah returned a number of times to America. In 1947 he climbed in the Lloyd George Range with Henry Hall, an American Honorary Member of the Alpine Club, who died at the age of 91 a couple of weeks after Odell. In 1949 he was in the summit team of an American expedition that climbed Mount Vancouver in Alaska, at that time the highest yet unclimbed peak in North America.
Noah never forgot his American friends in his later years. We welcomed him on our shores and were also warmly received by him in Cambridge and elsewhere. We would never make a trip to England without making an effort to see him. We are greatly in his debt, not only for what he did for American expeditionary mountaineering, but more especially for the inspiration and friendship he gave so freely to many of us American climbers.
Martyn Berry writes:
In about 1960 Noel Odell came to Oxford to lecture to the OUMC. Afterwards I mentioned to him that in a nearby room in the Geology Department (where I think Wager was still at that time Professor) a friend of mine was doing some important research in geochronology. The good Professor asked if he could have a look at the project. There was, of course, no one else about at that time of night, so I showed him round my friend's lab, trying desperately to remember what I could about mass spectrometers and talking glibly about isotopic ratios. Looking back, I am amazed at the kindly forbearance with which Odell treated a bumbling but enthusiastic undergraduate.
For some years I have been attending lectures at the AC as a guest of my colleague John Temple. I have often seen Odell, and a couple of times I have seen him in the Library being consulted by young Himalayan expeditioners, his head and theirs bowed over maps and books covering the table.
John and I arrived very early for the September 1986 meeting. I was reading in the Library when there was a loud thud from the stairs. A few moments later John came in and told Pat Johnson that a doctor was needed. She rushed out, came back immediately saying, “O God, it's Professor Odell”, and phoned up to the Committee Room. I wandered unhappily towards the door, doubting whether I could be of any use.
Odell was standing in the washroom, his profusely-bleeding head being cleaned up with loo paper by John. He was embarrassed but cheerful. Someone nearby said that Odell had fallen the full flight and hit his head on the wall.
Hamish Nicol appeared, brisk and professional, had a good look and said there was no serious damage. As soon as the bleeding stopped Odell said he had to go back up to meet the Bradford Washburns, and firmly resisted attempts to get him to sit down. So up the stairs he went, with John following close behind. “D'you know”, said Odell to no one in particular, 'I've never fallen any distance on a mountain yet.' 'Plenty of time for that,' said John.
Odell stood by the bar with a glass in his hand and talked animatedly for the best part of the next hour. When we moved in for the lecture he at last sat down, but was shortly on his feet again to deliver a brief and eloquent tribute to his old friend Jumbo Wakefield. He listened intently to Bill Brooker for the next 80 minutes, and contributed twice to the discussion. When we left he was standing, glass in hand, still talking.
Next morning I asked John whether the old boy might have woken up with a headache. “Only a hangover,” said John.
Quelle: Alpine Journal Volume 93, 1988-89, Seite 309-312

Noel Odel war Teilnehmer der britischen Everest-Expedition 1924. Nachdem Mallery und Irvine vermisst waren, kämpfte sich Odell auf der Suche nach seinen Bergkameraden bis auf die Höhe von 8500m vor und übernachtete elf Mal auf mehr als 7000 m. 1936 zählte er zu den Erstbesteigern des Nanda Devi.

1924 Best.Vers.Mount Everest über Nordost-Ridge ?Mallory-Route? bis 8500m,8848m,
1936 1.Best.Nanda Devi-Hauptgipfel,7817m, (Garhwal-Himalaya,Indien)
Gerd Schauer, Isny im Allgäu

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