Everest - 1975
In The Third Man Factor endnotes, I make reference to the experience of British climber Nick Estcourt on Mount Everest in 1975, and mention C.J. Williamson’s article ‘The Everest Message’, which appeared the next year in The Journal of the Society of Psychical Research. This is the closest example I found to the “mediumistic” attribution to the phenomenon offered by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (page 62 pf TMF). It is an interesting case because it wasn’t really invested with the usual features of a Third Man episode, e.g. Estcourt was not in trouble, and received no sense of help. He was, however, climbing alone and wasn’t at all frightened by the visitor – thinking it was just another climber.Estcourt reported that as he climbed he became aware that he was being “followed by the appearance of a man.” He turned and saw a figure behind him, and thought it was another climber. He shouted out, but there was no response. He stopped and waited for the person, then noticed that this other climber had also stopped, so Estcourt continued on. He turned three or four times and the figure was always behind him. Finally, as he approached his destination, he turned and the figure was gone: “It seemed very eerie.” He feared the person had suffered a fall since he could see almost the entire way back and his unidentified companion was nowhere to be seen. It would have been impossible for him to have had turned back, Estcourt concluded.
These perceptions would of themselves have been notable, but the episode became stranger still when it was later revealed that a psychical researcher, C. J. Williamson, apparently had precognitions about just such a visitation. During a 1974 session of automatic writing, Williamson received a message, “that something psychic was being planned to happen on the mountain during the British 1975 expedition.” He considered the message to be of such importance that he sealed it in an envelope and deposited it at the Bank of Scotland. The envelope was only opened when, upon the expedition’s return, he heard through press reports “that something strange had indeed been experienced by some of the climbers.” At Williamson’s request, the sealed message was opened by a respected academic in front of a witness. The message stated, in part: “On the mountain they will see others, not of their own party, others who simply could not be there in the physical body.” The expedition leader, Sir Chris Bonington, dismissed any suggestion that Estcourt, a veteran climber, had not been properly acclimatized, ruling out at least one explanation. A subsequent investigation of the incident published in the same journal in 1978 argued persuasively that encounters with a sensed presence are a “common experience in extremis”, and are certainly not unusual at high altitude. Common enough, in other words, that someone could have made a calculated guess that it would happen on the 1975 Everest expedition….