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
Did Mallory and Irvine Summit Mt. Everest in 1924?
Mallory's last written words to his wife reveal a man torn by doubts, but still determined to make one last attempt on the summit of Mt Everest before his strength and the good weather ran out. On his third and last expedition to the mountain, Mallory and his partner Andrew Comyn Irvine climbed up to their last camp at 26,700 feet high up on the North Ridge of Everest. On the next day - June 8, 1924 - they were briefly seen by fellow expedition member Noel Odell about 1000 feet below the summit, before the monsoon clouds moved in and they disappeared forever.
Few clues as to the fate of the pair were uncovered in the 75 years between their disappearance and the discovery of Mallory's body by members of the 1999 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition. In 1933 an ice ax later shown to belong to Sandy Irvine was found at the base of the First Step. Nothing else was discovered until Tom Holzel reported that in 1975, a Chinese climber named Wang Hongbao, had discovered the body of an ancient "English Dead" at around 8100 meters (click here for more on Holzel's 1986 MENFREE expedition to search for M&I).
This body, originally assumed to be Irvine's since it lay almost directly below the ice ax site, ultimately proved to be that of Mallory's. It was clear that he had died in a fall, and the twisted, broken rope that was wrapped around his body indicated that he was tied to Irvine at the time. But there was no proof one way or the other that they had made the summit - 29 years before Hillary and Tenzing - since their camera was not found.
And then in 2001 Jochen Hemmleb and Eric Simonson revealed in their book "Detectives on Everest" that a second body had been discovered even earlier - in 1960 - by Xu Jing, leader of the 1960 Chinese expedition that was the first to successfully climb Mallory's route. If true, this body can only be that of Sandy Irvine. And the camera that he might be carrying....will it solve the mystery?
After this amazing announcement, several other climbers have reported seeing an old body at 8400 meters. One of them was Chhiring Dorje Sherpa, whom EverestNews.com hired along with his uncle to go look for Irvine in 2004. Chhiring Dorje was a porter on the 1995 Nihon University expedition that was the first to ascend the complete Northeast Ridge. On his way to high camp, he saw an old body at 84000 meters in "army-colored" clothing.
Chhiring never did find the body in 2004, but he and his climbing buddy Eric Meyers have been publicly seeking funding. Unfortunately in 2008 they had to cancel their search when there funding didn't come through.
In Jochen Hemmleb's new book "Tatort Mount Everest: Der Fall Mallory" he re-interviews Xu Jing, who made it abundantly clear that the body was on the Ridge, where no modern expeditions go. So Hemmleb organized a search in the Spring of 2009 to search there, but all they discovered was deep snow at 8400 meters.
There are many parties now actively searching for Irvine and the camera...it has basically become a race to get there first. No one has been successful since Xu Jing's statements to Hemmleb and Simonson in 2001 about his sighting, but it is only a matter of time.
Unless Sandy's not there......despite all the reported sightings. Sometimes I wonder....
Anyway, as much as the Mallory and Irvine story captures our imagination, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that these were living, breathing human beings with families that loved them. So Britain's Alpine Club issued a general statement concerning the treatment of climber's remains in the high mountains, but it clearly was meant to apply to how Irvine's remains should be handled.
There have been statements from the Irvine family expressing their wishes that the body not be damaged, that his personal possessions be returned to the family, and that the family be allowed to preview any photographs prior to publication. It's a near-certainty that if an expedition does find Irvine and the camera, then legal battles will quickly rage back and forth.
The legalities concerning ownership of the camera, and who owns the copyright to any images, is a complicated one, requiring detailed analysis of copyright law since even before 1924. Tom Holzel has posted two excellent articles about both these topics on his webpage that are highly recommended. You'll also want to look at his article on how to treat the film if found.
If you're a devoted Mallory and Irvine fan, please visit my Mallory and Irvine forum.
According to the Huffington Post, super climbers Ueli Steck and Simon Moro, while attempting a new route on the SW Face of Everest, got into a fight with the Sherpas fixing ropes up the Lhotse Face. Here is Simon Moro's response given in an interview with Planet Mountain.
This is big news, indeed. In Graham Hoyland's new book (which you can pre-order on Amazon), he reveals that there was a sighting of Mallory in 1933, which has been kept a family secret all of these years. Check out this interview here
No news about any searches for Irvine this year, although there are always things brewing under the radar.
Jochen Hemmleb's documentary of his 2010 search for Irvine is now available with English translation.
The first fatality of the year - Everest icefall doctor Mingmar Sherpa was killed when he fell into a crevasse in the Western Cwn.
It was bound to happen. Using Google Earth, you can now trek to Mount Everest as viewed from street level. Google has also announced in the past that they plan to use climbers to photograph the way all the way to the summit.
Mark Horrell is an British climber who climbed the Northeast Ridge of Mount Everest in 2012. He has a great blog where he explains why he believes Mallory and Irvine summited in 1924. Horrell is also the author of numerous Kindle books about the history of the Himalaya which you can download from Amazon.com. Highly recommended reading.
The politics of Mallory and Irvine continues - the British climbing establishment is quiet about Hemmleb's search but Holzel's is roundly condemned.
Hemmleb has been spotted in Kathmandu, and will be searching again even though he says they won't be. He said the same thing last year, and we know how that turned out.
According to KSL.com, Graham Hoyland is searching this year as well.
UPDATE: Hemmleb is at Advanced Base Camp (ABC) on the North side with lots of heavy video cameras.
UPDATE: Hemmleb failed to find Irvine this year.
UPDATED - 4/19/11
The results of Hemmleb's 2010 search expedition were unsuccessful, and here is a map of where he looked (look for the Big and Little Cracks on the ridgecrest). Hemmleb also has posted his latest theories on his webpage, as well as some complaining about criticism.
Attention searchers! - Tom Holzel tells you how to handle the film
A new article by researcher Wim Kohsiek, who has convincingly interpreted the time Mallory's watch was pointing to when it stopped, at odds with Jochen Hemmleb's interpretation that it was pointing to the time of Odell's sighting of the pair at 12:50 pm.
An interview with Graham Hoyland, author of the new book “Last Hours on Everest - The gripping story of Mallory and Irvine's fatal ascent”
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.