Mt. Everest, 1924

George Mallory

George Mallory

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.

Andrew Irvine

Andrew Irvine

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.

Mount Everest, north side Photo & graphics by Luca Galuzzi

Mount Everest, north side
Photo & graphics by Luca Galuzzi

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?



Filed under Books, Story behind ITLS


  1. That is a great mystery. Sounds like the start of a great novel

  2. I love how you ask questions of your readers. Brilliant!

  3. Ellis, thank you for stopping by my blog KickFearNow and giving it a Like. I’m glad you did because I just read this wonderful piece and learned 2 things. First, I must not give up on my dream of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and second, I need to get hold of your book and give it a read. It sounds fascinating. History, geography, and a good mystery — intriguing. Look f

  4. Thanks for the like! This is an amazing story – I’ve read Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air and knew some of this, but not all.

  5. What a fascinating article! I can honestly say a little bit of my Nat Geo obsession is probably showing right now. I love mysteries like this, and I love learning about people’s adventures and extraordinary ordeals. I hope they do find Irvine’s camera some day. You’ve certainly convinced me to take a look at your book. I’ve added it to my wishlist on Amazon.

  6. Jim

    Great post. Really fascinating stuff

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  8. Truly fascinating stuff! If they did summit, how wonderful it would be to have it revealed finally!

  9. I love historical mysteries. They provide so many intriguing what-if? questions.

  10. mouthfulofwords

    Very cool!

  11. I think it is wonderful how we as writers can take a piece of history and start with the “what ifs” to build a fascinating story.

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  13. This is so in my line of interest. I love history, I love the adventure years of the 1880s to 1920s of mountains, glaciers and the poles. Turning it into historical fiction is my favorite way to learn about that time, as you probably know, some first hand accounts of disasters such as those that hit Shackleton can be very dry reading. Will look for a copy of Into the Land of Snows immediately!

  14. It would be fascinating if the camera was ever to be found. The cold would be preserving the film quite well. And, should it be found, hopefully someone would be around with the knowledge to process roll film.

  15. I’ve always found Everest fascinating but hadn’t read that rationale about why Mallory was descending. Wouldn’t it overturn history if that camera was found!

  16. I used to hope that they had found their own Shangri-La. When young used to love that James Hilton novel.

  17. Oh, the questions that abound in my head and the “what if” adventures that are taking place. Thanks for sharing this very interesting story.

  18. Today, I am so happy to read many great Blog, you are one of them!
    I’ll bookmark it enjoy end of the day! Thanks for sharing!

  19. Wow! You took a brief, unresolved moment in history and grew a novel out of it. It’s similar to what I did for my book. I am sure you will agree–what fun! I will soon be venturing into the land of the snows…hope it’s not too cold. I hate cold….thanks for this!

  20. Such an intriguing story. My husband,. who knew Ed Hillary well, and wrote his biography, feels as I do, that evidence does point to Mallory succeeding.
    I also find it fascinating that Mallory’s brother, Air Vice Marshal Mallory, also died on a snowy mountain top. In 1944, en route to Ceylon to take up command in the Far East, his plane crashed in the French Alps, killing his wife., and eight others.

    • Yeah, Wikipedia outlines quite a few of his line that were killed mountain climbing but one grandson (or great grandson) did summit Everest in the 90s(?) leaving photos of Mallory and his wife citing “unfinished business”. And I am very respectful of the work done by Sir Edmund that helps the Sherpas reforest, educate, and provide medical care. Wonderful legacy!

  21. And I’ve got “Snows” sitting in my reading pile. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m glad I didn’t get to it before reading this post. Must make sure it’s in the February reading pile now.

  22. I really enjoyed your book, so I enjoyed reading this as an addendum. And that Andrew Irvine was a beautiful man, wasn’t he? Those early western climbers were quite a crew. I’ve always been fascinated by Edward Whymper, first European to climb Mt. Chimborazo in Ecuador – furthest point from the earth’s centre (because the earth bulges at the equator), apparently jumping up and down on the summit, the gravity is noticeably less.

  23. Well written–I never knew about these climbers!

  24. I too didn’t know this story before….I love this sort of thing, real life mystery!

  25. vam

    Reblogged this on verum intus, fulsi vacuus and commented:
    The speculative questions are so monumental … !

  26. I knew some of this story before, especially after the 1999 discovery of Mallory’s body, and you’d encapsulated it well in this post. ‘Into the Land of Snows’ is certainly on my wishlist, though it may take a little while before I clear some of my reading backlog, sorry!

  27. Ellis, I haven’t commented much lately, but I am reading your posts still. I have a pretty good excuse, I broke my leg on Dec. 29th! But back to this post–I read Jeffrey Archer’s novelized account of the climb, “Paths of Glory”. It was actually quite good. If you’re like me, somehow you can’t help but hope that he indeed achieved his dream of summiting and was on the way back down.

    • Gosh- sorry about your leg! Get your cat to purr on it. No kidding- the frequency of a cat purring knits bones. Vets have known this for decades. When did you last see a cat in a cast? Anyway, yes I’d love for the camera to be found and photos taken from the summit to be recovered. Haven’t read Archer’s book.

  28. I didn’t know this story before. Fascinating! And what a great basis for your novel.

  29. howmyspiritsings

    I too love finding historical facts that inspire questions that lead to new adventures in writing. Well done!

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