After leaving Berkhamsted School and serving in the First World War, Bill Tilman spent time in Kenya as a coffee grower. Here, he met Eric Shipton and his interest in climbing began. Tilman turned down the offer of a flight home from Africa, choosing instead to cycle across the continent to the West coast and return to England by sea.
In the 1930s, Tilman took part in numerous expeditions to the Himalayas and in 1936, he successfully led the first ascent of Nanda Devi (7,816m). This was once believed to be the highest peak in the world and was indeed the highest summit climbed by man until 1950. Tilman also undertook two reconnaissance expeditions to Mount Everest in this period. In 1938, he succeeded in climbing past 27,000ft without oxygen.
"It gave us a curious feeling of exaltation to know that we were above every peak within a hundred miles on either hand." (Tilman reflecting on reaching the summit of Nanda Devi)
After serving in the Second World War, Tilman continued to explore remote and unclimbed mountains across Nepal, Northern India and the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan. He made several first ascents, Paldor at 5,896m being one of them and has a pass named after him in the Langtang region of Nepal.
After the war that Tilman developed an interest in sailing, and he travelled to both the Arctic and Antarctic to seek out new lands to explore. At the age of 79, he was was invited on an expedition to Smith Island in the South Atlantic. The expedition vessel disappeared whilst en route to the Falkland Islands and all crew were presumed to be lost.
A new senior boys house was founded in 2010 and named in honour of Harold William ‘Bill’ Tilman.