Left: George Mallory and Andrew Irvine © RGS/The Sandy Irvine Trust, from "Ghosts of Everest" ; Right: 1924 North Face locations © Pete Poston
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"I'm quite doubtful if I shall be fit enough. But again I wonder if the monsoon will give us a chance. I don't want to get caught, but our three-day scheme from the Chang La will give the monsoon a good chance. We shall be going up again the day after tomorrow. Six days to the top from this camp!"
--from George Mallory's last letter to his wife prior to disappearing on Mt. Everest with his partner Andrew "Sandy" Irvine in 1924
"My face is in perfect agony. Have prepared two oxygen apparatus for our start tomorrow morning".
- Sandy Irvine's last diary entry
News Fall 2009
Tom Holzel has posted on MountEverest.net a new "final timeline" of the movements of Mallory & Irvine. He also has discovered an important new clue about the old body Xu Jing saw in 1960. In a 1965 talk in Russia by a Chinese member of the 1960 expedition, Irvine was described as wearing "braces", which is a British term for suspenders. If true, then seeing these suspenders certainly seems to contradict Xu Jing's description of the body being completely inside a sleeping bag.
This revelation also seems to indicate that the Chinese know a lot more about the body than has been released.
I find it ironic that Holzel no longer has Mallory and Irvine separating at the top of the 2nd Step, while Mallory takes Irvine's oxygen and makes a dash for the summit, but Hemmleb does! Now in his latest book, Hemmleb "wishes" to show that Irvine huddles in the "shelter" of the boulders strewn on the plateau above the 2nd Step, while Mallory gallantly struggles on as far as the 3rd Step (presumably to make the summit but Hemmleb stops short of that. Must not stick your neck out too far, now, and make a stand).
And Hemmleb doesn't even mention this was originally Holzel's idea!
My main critiques of Holzel's latest theories are, (1) he has Mallory leaving Irvine behind at the 1st Step while taking Irvine's oxygen on a solo attempt. This is a blatant disregard of Irvine's known lack of mountaineering skills, where no responsible alpinist would ever leave such an individual behind, especially given the unsettled weather, (2) he continues to ignore Xu Jing's repeated statements that he saw Irvine on the Ridge, not on the face below, (3) he has Irvine's body pointing straight up the mountain when the testimony is he was "facing" Everest, i.e, pointing towards the summit, and (4) Mallory downclimbs the slippery tiers of the Yellow Band, only to re-emerge at the top of the Snow Terrace, whereby an out of control glissade crashes him into the rocks above his final resting place. Holzel then claims this is when he breaks his leg and receives the fatal head wound.
Holzel is a great believer in "Occum's Razor", that is, the simplest explanantion is the best. I think he's giving Occum shortshrift here, and I have to wonder that if the simplest explanation is the best, then why has there been such a large number of changes to his theories over the years? The facts haven't changed all that much.
Based on the "body on the ridge" scenario, I personally believe that after the fall at the ice ax site, Irvine continued on alone, but missed the spot where they reached the Ridge, and contined along the ridge to his final resting place by the "Exit Cracks". Then Mallory - who slid and fell down the face to a lower elevation - with his painful rope-jerk injuries to his ribs - descended and contoured his way over to their ascent route - the "Climber's Gully" that breaches the lower tiers of the Yellow Band. Why would Mallory take an unknown route down the very steep and dangerous Yellow Band as Holzel maintains, when Mallory knew of an easier way down?
It's while descending the steeper and more slippery lower part of the Climber's Gully - in the blinding sleet and snow - that I believe Mallory slipped and fell to his death. It's during the slip when he broke his leg as he tumbled down the bottom of the route, funneling him to his final resting place. I agree that his fatal head wound was suffered on the rock outcrops above his grave. Irvine, higher up and more exposed to the elements, possibily with his own debilitating injuries, perished from exposure.
I think this theory is much simpler than Holzel's, with his invention of a glissade down the Snow terrace with no evidence to support it. I think he's relying on the EverestNews.com interview of Xu Jing that mentions the discovery of a "foreign" ice axe near Mallory's body, but this statement has not held up according to Hemmleb, given to me in a personal communication last year.
And here is Tom's response:
(1) The First Step is a flat, safe, loitering place that climbers can mill around at, with no terrain danger whatever. Their C-6 is probably visible from that spot and a solo return (in good weather) would be uneventful for Irvine.
(2) Yes, I do. Such is the exegese of assembling a lot of factoids and having to winnow-out the ones that are contradictory to construct an organic narrative. This is the most difficult part of synthesis.
(3) As I understand Xu's description, Irvine's feet were pointing toward the summit, so at least that is pointing upward. My "bowling pin object" --a hard datum--certainly looks like a body with its feet pointing upward (but to the left instead of to the right). Again, close enough for government work.
(4) So? Is there any other way to explain how he got to where he is with that awful broken foot?
(5) Ah-ha! Changes suggesting a weakening of the faith. The answer to all sleuthers is that one refines one's theory as new facts (or new understanding of the facts) arise. The main new fact was the rope jerk injury around Mallory's waist, and the main new understanding was the analysis of what Mallory's broken foot must mean. (see "the Deaths of Mallory & Irvine—A Time Line" at the bottom of: http://www.velocitypress.com/CopyIrvine.shtml.
There is one factoid that still troubles me--Xu's statement that he saw Irvine to his right. This type of memory is qualitative and much less subject to memory faults than where, exactly Xu thinks he remembers seeing the body. And that position relative to a descending Xu either means I am wrong, or Xu was perhaps zig-zagging a bit in his descent to momentarily but Irvine to Xu's right.
Harvey V. Lankford, MD, has written a paper documenting the origin of the term "Glacier Lassitude" as a diagnosis for the debilitating effect of altitude as experienced by members of the early British Everest expeditions..
My new theory about Mallory and Irvine's last climb, where I believe Odell's sighting was erroneous, and have them taking the Couloir route instead.
Warwick Pryce is a new researcher who has arrived on the scene, and he has a new theory about how Andrew Irvine could have been the first person to stand on the top of the world.
Wim Kohsiek has a new interpretation of what Mallory's altimeter can tell us based on scientific applications of meterology.
Mallory and Irvine researcher Wim Kohsiek has two new thought-provoking articles about Mallory's watch and Irvine's location:
1924 Oxygen by Richard McQuet and Pete Poston
Mystery of Mallory and Irvine's Fate Google Earth Tour - my own ideas in 3-D with audio!
Little Known Free-Solo Ascent of the Second Step in 2001 by Theo Fritsche - I should never have written this - Anker and Houlding deserve credit for the first free ascent
Criticisms of the 2004 EverestNews.com search for Irvine --
Conrad Anker's comments on the unlikeliness of a direct route up the prow of the 2nd Step
Articles about my heroes Walter Bonatti and Chris Bonington --
Celebrating my 50th birthday on pitch 3 of Prodigal Son, Zion National Park, Utah
In my free time, I love to photograph and hike the spectacular redrock wilderness of the Colorado Plateau - please visit my Colorado Plateau Homepage.
And for most of my life I've been fascinated with the history, people, and culture of the Himalayas and Karakoram - browse my Mount Everest Trek (1996), Overland Journey from Kathmandu to Lhasa (2000), and K2 Base Camp Trek (2007) webpages.
As for my employment, I work for Western Oregon University where I have been a Professor of Chemistry for the last 20 years. My research interests are in applications of Laser Raman Spectroscopy to such diverse fields as Nanotechnology, Analytical Chemistry, and even a bit of Achaeology through the study of rock art pigments found in the Colorado Plateau. You can access my academic webpage here.