Mt. Everest, 1924
At age 37, George Mallory believed his third attempt to climb Everest would be his last. He joined the British 1924 Everest Expedition led by General Charles Bruce to finally accomplish his dream. Moving up the mountain in pairs, the team took on the quest without the aid of modern climbing gear or equipment. If you look at photos from the time period, it’s laughable to see how they are dressed. They look like English gentlemen out for a stroll on the moor. Maybe that’s one of the reasons so many modern climbers hold Mallory in such high esteem. They had so little, tried so hard, and just may have succeeded in realizing their dream. With high altitude climbing in its infancy, Mallory chose the 22 year old, Andrew Irvine to make the push for the summit owing to Irvine’s ability to keep the temperamental oxygen machines working.
From Advanced Base Camp (21,330 ft.), Mallory and Irvine set off on June 4, 1924. They made good time pushing up the mountain in good weather. On June 8th, they were spotted by Noel Odell at a location many believe to be the third step. A cloud moved in blocking any further view, and from that point on, Mallory and Irvine disappeared into history. They did not return to camp and were presumed dead after a time. Since then, there has been much speculation as to whether or not Mallory and Irvine summited Everest and beat out Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzin Norgay by several decades.
Green line: Mallory’s 1924 route
3rd- is Third Step
t1- location of Mallory’s body, discovered 1999.
And they very well may have. Mallory’s body was discovered in 1999 by a team looking to solve this mystery. The location of the body, far below the steps, indicates to some that Mallory had to be descending after summiting when he took a fatal fall. With his sun goggles tucked into a pocket, it is likely that the fall happened at night and not during the afternoon when Odell last saw them. In addition, Mallory was known to have carried a photo of his wife in his wallet with plans to leave it at the top of Everest when he summited. Although the wallet was found, the photo was not, leading many to believe he and Irvine reached the top and most likely fell on the way down. Irvine’s body has not been located but may hold some of the most fascinating of physical evidence. Andrew Irvine borrowed a camera with the intention of taking photos on the summit. Should his body rest with the camera intact, Kodak officials have said that the film is likely to be recoverable. And so mountain climbing’s most enduring mystery may someday be solved.
This mystery was so fascinating; I used it as a basis for the adventure I wrote about in INTO THE LAND OF SNOWS. What happens if the camera just surfaces one day? What would your average American teen do if he suddenly held the solution to this mystery? What would you do?