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
Does Mallory's watch point to the time of his death?
© Wim Kohsiek, Oct. 7, 2012
I became interested in the 1924 Mallory and Irvine climb on Mount Everest when I accidentally met Jochen Hemmleb on the way to Fairy Meadows at the base of Nanga Parbat in 2004. I read his book "Ghosts of Everest" and was impressed and amazed by what had been discovered in 1999. After that, my interest faded a bit till I read Wade Davis' book "Into the Silence".
I then wondered about Mallory's watch. In "Ghost of Everest" it was concluded that the watch did not give any clue as to what happened on the climb. Was this indeed so? A quick search on internet brought me to Jochen Hemmleb's recent article: ''What happened to Mallory and Irvine-A Synopsis",in which he proposes that Mallory's watch was damaged and stopped while climbing the second step, and to Pete Poston's article "Mallory's watch - does it really point to 12:50 pm?" (March 26, 2012),
Let me summarize the facts:
Now, my idea of what happened:
So, the minute hand was forced from its proper position, which explains the nonsensical time of 10 minutes before quarter past twelve. The original position is unknown. The hour hand was bent by about one hour and 15 minutes forward in time.
On the fatal moment, Mallory slipped, fell and died. The watch, which was relatively protected from the cold by Mallory's body warmth, now cooled down.
My conclusion A is thus:
The second hand is a tiny pin at the base of the watch and closely mounted to the plate, thus relatively difficult to get caught by clothing. It is also somewhat protected by the bezel, that sticks out from the plate. If this hand is blocked, the watch stops. Thus, inside Mallory’s pocket it may have been free. But Mallory’s fell, and his right leg was broken. The watch was in his right pants pocket. It could well be that the fabric of the pocket was pressed that much to the watch that the second hand was caught. In this respect it is interesting to note that the position of the hand was close to the upward position (60), as far as possible from the bezel.
Note on the cooling rate:
Here, admittedly, there are considerable uncertainties. Where exactly was the watch, close to his body, or more to the outer layer(s) of his clothing? What would be the cooling rate of a body, lying on cold rocks, exposed to strong winds?I will make an estimate of the heat loss of a body in two ways: (a) by means of the energy budget of a climber’s body, (b) by the heat loss through insulating material.
(a) In intensive sports, a body may require 700 kcal/hour, equivalent to 816 W. (http://www.nutristrategy.com). The major part of this is dissipated as heat loss through conduction to the environment and evaporation through the skin and by breathing, the rest is available for mechanical work.Note that the power to lift a body of 80 kg 300 m per hour, much larger than the climbing rate at 8000 m, is 65 W, thus the efficiency of the human body is low. (Actually, the efficiency of the human body at 8000 m is unknown to me, I found figures of 5.5% based on thermodynamical considerations and 25% based on O2 intake at 20 deg.C, presumably under sea level conditions, see http://secondlawoflife.wordpress.com/tag/energy-efficiency-human-body/).
Suppose the body loses 0.2 litre water per hour through evaporation (thus 4.8 litre per 24 hours). This gives a loss of 117 kcal/h. Add to this 15 kcal/h for the increase of potential energy climbing at 80 m/h and 10 kcal/h for breathing in cold air and out warm air at 30 litre/min, 556 kcal/h is dissipated as so-called sensible heat transfer from the skin to the air. Radiation transfer is negligible at night. This is also valid directly after death. The heat capacity of a body of 80 kg is 80 kcal/ oC supposing it be water. Dividing the two gives an initial cooling rate of 7 oC /h.
Note that this estimate is critically dependent on two assumptions: (i) the calories burned in the body, here 700 kcal/h, and (ii) the water loss through evaporation, here 0.2 litre/h or 117 kcal/h. Other factors are far less important.
(b) the heat loss of a cylinder.
Now, at a temperature difference of 37 minus –17 oC = 54 oC, the initial cooling rate is
3.9/rm (oC/h), where rm is the insulation resistance in s/cm. The rm of a 1 cm thick layer of wool lies between 1.5 s/cm and 2.8 s/cm, giving cooling rates of 2.5 and 1.4 oC/h, respectively.
In both estimates I have assumed that the body cools as a whole, but undoubtedly a gradient will develop, the outside will cool more rapidly than the core. In the second estimate the surface/volume ratio is smaller than that of a real body, which works to underestimate the cooling rate. Also, the watch was close to Mallory’s leg, which has a larger surface/volume ratio than the body as a whole.
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.