Mount Everest Cartography
In 1925 the RGS prepared a new map, based mostly on the 1921 surveys and photos, for their forthcoming book about the 1924 expedition. The Wheeler map, drawn at 1:63’360 by the noted Swiss cartographer Charles Jacot-Guillarmod was easily the best Everest map to date. Jacot-Guillarmod’s command of Swiss-school relief techniques compares favorably to even the most current maps of Everest.
The Austrian cartographer Erwin Schneider, as part of the 1955 International Himalayan Expedition to Lhotse, began an extensive stereo-photogrammetric survey of the Khumbu region. In 1957 with the the Deutsher Alpinverein and Österreichischer Alpenverein he prepared a 1:25’000 map of Everest.¹ The map, drawn by Fritz Ebster, was published in an expanded form in 1960 and has been continuously updated since.
The Schneider map, beautifully printed by Kartographische Anstant Freytag-Berndt, included a wonderful representation of rock and terrain and 40m contours (although, interestingly, no relief shading). It was the first great map of Everest and is still considered a classic.
Meanwhile, back in Britain, George Holland, the RGS’ chief draftsman, began to prepare a new map using nearly 40 years worth of photos and surveys from his archive, as well as the newer French and Austrian surveys. The result, published in 1961 and updated in 1975, was similar in detail to the Scheider maps but significantly expanded the covered area.² As Ward states “It is now the landmark map of the area, against which all others are judged.”
In the early 1960s Eduard Imhof included this 1:100’000 map in his seminal Schweizerischer Mittelschulatlas. Although not a major project like the Schneider or Holland maps, it is nevertheless a beautiful relief presentation.
The final 1:50’000 map was drawn by the Bundesamt für Landestopographie, under the cartography director Francis Jeanrichard. In all the project took five years to complete and was published in 1988 as a supplement to National Geographic Magazine (Nov 1988).⁶⁻⁸ The result was not only a masterpiece of Swiss cartographic relief, but a fitting tribute to Washburn’s long career. As Ward stated in his review for the Geographical Journal: “[it] will remain the standard for a generation and reflect great credit on all who have been concerned in [its] making.”⁹
¹ Schneider, Erwin. Mahalangur-Himal. Begleitworte zur Alpenvereinskarte des Everest-gebietes 1:25,0000 Jahrbuch des Deutschen Alpenvereins. 1957 (82) 5–12. Between 1957–1966 Schneider with Forschung-sunternehmen Nepal Himalaya and Fritz Thyssen conducted a series of field surveys in Nepal that resulted in a number of maps between 1:10,000 and 1:100,000. These maps, most of which are still in print, are widely considered the best general-purpose maps of Nepal available.
² Holland, G.S., Crone, G. R. A New Map of the Mount Everest Region. The Geographical Journal 1962 Mar 128(1) 54–57.
⁶ For Washburn’s account of the project see: Washburn, B. Mapping Mount Everest. Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 1989 Apr;42(7): 29–44, or, Washburn, B. Mount Everest–Surveying the Third Pole. National Geographic 1988 Nov;174(11): 653–659.
⁷ The initial print run was almost 11 million. According to Washburn the Swiss wanted to print it but “they couldn’t print 10.6 million of anything.” It was printed by Meehan-Tooker, East Rutherford, New Jersey.
⁸ True story: In the mid-1990s, when your narrator was looking for the Washburn map, he directly contacted the National Geographic Society. The folded map was USD 14.99, but the back issue of the magazine (including the exact same map as a supplement) was USD 6.00. Thirteen years later, when your narrator was looking for the 2003 3D map at Half-Price Books, the folded map was USD 0.50, but the back issue of the magazine (including the exact same map), was USD 0.25. The economics of National Geographic simply elude me.
⁹ Ward, Michael. Sagarmatha-Mount Everest-Qomolungma by The National Geographic Society. The Geographical Journal 1989 Nov;155(3): 433–435.
Location: Mount Everest, Himalayas
Text: Jim Hughes, Everest Part II – The Later Maps, 2009