George Mallory

George Mallory
George Herbert Leigh Mallory

George Mallory
Born 18 June 1886(1886-06-18)
Mobberley, Cheshire, England
Died 8–9 June 1924 (age 37)
The North Face, Mount Everest, Tibet
Alma mater Cambridge University
Occupation Teacher, Mountaineer
Spouse Ruth

George Herbert Leigh Mallory (18 June 1886 – 8/9 June 1924) was an English mountaineer who took part in the first three British expeditions to Mount Everest in the early 1920s.

During the 1924 British Mount Everest Expedition, Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew "Sandy" Irvine both disappeared somewhere high on the North-East ridge during their attempt to make the first ascent of the world's highest mountain. The pair's last known sighting was only a few hundred metres from the summit.

Mallory's ultimate fate was unknown for 75 years, until his body was discovered in 1999 by an expedition that had set out to search for the climbers' remains. Whether or not Mallory and Irvine reached the summit before they died remains a subject of speculation and continuing research.

Mallory is famously quoted as having replied to the question "Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?" with the retort "Because it's there", which has been called "the most famous three words in mountaineering".[1][2] There have been questions over the authenticity of the quote, and whether Mallory actually said it. Some have suggested that it was a paraphrase by a newspaper reporter, but scrutiny of the original report in the New York Times leaves this unresolved. The phrase was certainly consistent with the direct quotes cited in the New York Times report, so it cannot be said to misrepresent Mallory's attitude.[3][4]


Early life, education, and teaching career

Mallory was born in Mobberley, Cheshire, the son of Herbert Leigh Mallory (1856–1943), a clergyman who changed his surname to Leigh-Mallory in 1914. George had two sisters and a younger brother Trafford Leigh-Mallory, the World War II Royal Air Force commander.

In 1896, Mallory attended Glen-gorse, a preparatory boarding school in Eastbourne on the south coast of England, having transferred from another preparatory school in West Kirby. At the age of 13, he won a mathematics scholarship to Winchester College. In his final year there, he was introduced to rock climbing and mountaineering by a master, R. L. G. Irving, who took a small number of people climbing in the Alps each year. In October 1905, Mallory entered Magdalene College, Cambridge to study history. There, he became good friends with members of the Bloomsbury Group including James Strachey, Lytton Strachey, Rupert Brooke, John Maynard Keynes, and Duncan Grant, who painted several portraits of Mallory. Mallory was a keen oarsman and rowed in the college eight for his three years at Cambridge.

After gaining his degree Mallory stayed in Cambridge for a year writing an essay he later published as Boswell the Biographer (1912). He lived briefly in France, where Simon Bussy painted his portrait, now in London's National Portrait Gallery.[5] On his return he decided to become a teacher. In 1910 he began teaching at Charterhouse School, Godalming, Surrey, where he met the poet Robert Graves, then a pupil, and he went on to act as best man at Graves' wedding in 1918. In his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, Graves remembered Mallory fondly both for his encouragement of Graves' interest in literature and poetry and his instruction in climbing. Graves recalled: "He (Mallory) was wasted (as a teacher) at Charterhouse. He tried to treat his class in a friendly way, which puzzled and offended them."

While at Charterhouse he met his wife, Ruth Turner (6 October 1892 – 6 January 1942)[6], who lived in Godalming, and they were married in 1914, just six days before Britain and Germany went to war. George and Ruth had two daughters and a son: Frances Clare (19 September 1915–2001), Beridge Ruth, known as 'Berry' (16 September 1917–1953), and John (born 21 August 1920). In December 1915 Mallory joined the Royal Garrison Artillery as 2nd lieutenant and in 1916 participated in the shelling of the Somme, under the command of Major Gwilym Lloyd George, the son of then Prime Minister David Lloyd George.

After the war he returned to Charterhouse, resigning in 1921 in order to join the first Everest expedition. In between expeditions he attempted to make a living from writing and lecturing, with only partial success. In 1923 he took a job as lecturer with the Cambridge University Extramural Studies Department. He was given temporary leave so that he could join the 1924 Everest attempt.


In Europe

In 1910, in a party led by Irving, Mallory and a friend attempted to climb Mont Vélan in the Alps, but turned back shortly before the summit due to Mallory's altitude sickness.[7] In 1911, Mallory climbed Mont Blanc, as well as making the third ascent of the Frontier ridge of Mont Maudit in a party again led by Irving. According to Helmut Dumler, Mallory was "apparently prompted by a friend on the Western Front in 1916 [to write] a highly emotional article of his ascent of this great climb";[8] this article was published as 'Mont Blanc from the Col du Géant by the Eastern Buttress of Mont Maudit' in the Alpine Journal[9] and contained his question, "Have we vanquished an enemy?" [i.e. the mountain] to which he responded, "None but ourselves." By 1913 he ascended Pillar Rock in the English Lake District, with no assistance, by what is now known as "Mallory's Route" – currently graded Hard Very Severe 5a (American grading 5.9). It is likely to have been the hardest route in Britain for many years.

In Asia

In 1921 he participated in the British Reconnaissance Expedition, organised and financed by the Mount Everest Committee, that explored routes up to the North Col of Mount Everest. The expedition produced the first accurate maps of the region around the mountain. Although he was accompanied by several senior members of Britain's Alpine Club and by surveyors based in India, the debilitating effect of altitude resulted in Mallory, his climbing partner Guy Bullock and E. O. Wheeler of the Survey of India performing most of the exploration of the approaches to the mountain. Under Mallory's leadership, and with the assistance of around a dozen Sherpas, the group climbed several lower peaks near Everest. His party were almost certainly the first Westerners to view the Western Cwm at the foot of the Lhotse face, as well as charting the course of the Rongbuk Glacier up to the base of the North Face. After circling the mountain from the south side, his party finally discovered the East Rongbuk Glacier-—the highway to the summit now used by nearly all climbers on the Tibetan side of the mountain. By climbing up to the saddle of the North Ridge (the North Col, 23,000-ft, 7000m), they spied a route to the summit via the North-East Ridge over the obstacle of the Second Step.

In 1922 Mallory returned to the Himalaya as part of the party led by Brigadier-General Charles Bruce and climbing leader Edward Strutt, with a view to making a serious attempt on the summit. Eschewing their bottled oxygen, on ethical grounds, Mallory led his climbing team of Howard Somervell and Edward Norton almost to the crest of the North-East ridge. Despite being hampered and slowed by the thin air, they achieved a record altitude of 26,985 ft (8,225 m) before weather conditions and the late hour forced them to retreat. A second party led by George Finch reached a height of approx. 27,300 feet (8,321 m) using bottled oxygen both for climbing and — a first — for sleeping. The party climbed at record speeds — a fact that Mallory seized upon during the next expedition.

Mallory organized a third unsuccessful attempt on the summit, departing as the monsoon arrived. While Mallory was leading a group of porters down the lower slopes of the North Col of Everest in fresh, waist-high snow, an avalanche swept over the group, killing seven Sherpas. The attempt was immediately abandoned, and Mallory returned home to face criticism for poor judgement, a criticism that was to follow him to the next expedition.

Plans for another attempt were marred by the Royal Geographical Society's Everest Committee barring George Finch, on the grounds that he was divorced and had accepted money for lectures. The Secretary, Arthur Hinks, made it clear that for an Australian to be the first on Everest was not acceptable, as they wanted the climb to be an example of British spirit, to lift British morale. At first Mallory refused to climb again without Finch but acquiesced after being personally persuaded by members of the British Royal Family, at Hinks' request.[10]

Mallory's last climb

June 1924 expedition to Everest

Mallory joined the 1924 Everest expedition, led as in 1922 by General Bruce. Mallory believed that at age 37, it would be his third and last opportunity to climb the mountain. When touring the US, Mallory had boldly claimed that this next time would be different, to enthusiastic Harvard students. Mallory and Geoffrey Bruce set off for the first attempt, which was inexplicably aborted by Mallory at Camp 5 (C-5).

Norton and Somervell set off from C-6, and in perfect weather, managed without oxygen to reach 28,128 ft (8,573 m), a new record height.

On 4 June 1924, Mallory and Andrew Irvine set off from Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 6500 m (≈ 21,325 ft) and already began using oxygen from the base of the North Col, which they climbed in 2½ hours—such was the conversion of Mallory from anti- to pro-oxygen usage, Mallory having been converted from his original scepticism by his failure on his initial assault and recalling the very rapid ascent speed of Finch in 1922.

At 8:40am on 6 June they set off, climbing to C-5. On 7 June they reached C-6. Mallory wrote he had used only ¾ of one bottle of oxygen for the two days which suggests a climb rate of some 856 vertical feet per hour.

On 8 June, Odell was moving up behind the pair in a “support role.” At some 26,000 ft he spotted the two climbing a prominent rock-step, either the First or Second rock step, around 1PM; although some summit advocates suggest it may have been the, as then unknown, “Third Step.”[11] Expedition colleague Noel Odell reported the following:

At 12.50, just after I had emerged from a state of jubilation at finding the first definite fossils on Everest, there was a sudden clearing of the atmosphere, and the entire summit ridge and final peak of Everest were unveiled. My eyes became fixed on one tiny black spot silhouetted on a small snow-crest beneath a rock-step in the ridge; the black spot moved. Another black spot became apparent and moved up the snow to join the other on the crest. The first then approached the great rock-step and shortly emerged at the top; the second did likewise. Then the whole fascinating vision vanished, enveloped in cloud once more.

Noel Odell, geologist

At the time, Odell identified one of the men to have surmounted the Second Step of the NE ridge. No evidence, apart from his testimony, has been found that they climbed higher than the First Step (one of their spent oxygen cylinders was found shortly below the First Step; and Irvine's ice axe was also found nearby in 1933). They never returned to their camp and died somewhere high on the mountain.

It is assumed that Mallory and Irvine died either on 8 June or, at the latest, the next day. The news of Mallory and Irvine's disappearance was widely mourned in Britain to the extent that the two were hailed as national heroes. A memorial service was held at St Paul's Cathedral, London on 17 October and was attended by a wealth of family and friends as well as the prime minister Ramsay Macdonald, the entire cabinet and the royal family, headed by King George V.

Lost on Everest for 75 years

After their disappearance several expeditions tried to find their remains (and perhaps determine if they had, in fact, reached the summit). Based on reports from a Chinese climber that his tent-mate, Wang Hung-bao, had stumbled across "an English dead" at 26,570 feet (8,100 m) in 1975 (in spite of official denials), Tom Holzel launched a search expedition in late 1986. The Mt. Everest North Face Research Expedition (MENFRE) was snowed out, not able to even reach the 8100 m terrace. However, on the last day of the expedition, Holzel met with Wang's tent-mate, Zhang Junyan. Far from denying that Wang had found anyone (as the Chinese Mountaineering Association repeatedly did) Zhang admitted that Wang had come back from a short excursion and described finding "a foreign mountaineer" at "8100 m."[12]

In 1999 the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition, sponsored in part by the TV show Nova and the BBC, and organized and led by Eric Simonson, arrived at Everest to search for the lost pair. Guided by the research of Jochen Hemmleb, within hours of beginning the search on 1 May, a frozen body was found by Conrad Anker at 26,760 feet (8,160 m) on the north face of the mountain. As the body was below where Irvine's axe was found in 1933, the team expected the body to be Irvine's, and were hoping to recover the camera that he had reportedly carried with him. They were surprised to find that name tags on the body's clothing bore the name of "G. Mallory." The body was remarkably well preserved, due to the mountain's climate. The team could not locate the camera. Experts from Kodak have said that if a camera is ever found, there is some chance that its film could be developed to produce printable images, if extraordinary measures are taken.[13]

The expedition conducted an Anglican service for Mallory and covered his remains with a cairn.

Reaching the summit

Whether Mallory and Irvine reached Everest's summit is unknown. The question remains open to speculation and is the topic of much debate and research.

Mallory's body

From the discovery of a serious rope-jerk injury around Mallory's waist, which was encircled by the remnants of a climbing rope, it appears that the two were roped together when one of them slipped. Mallory's body lay 300 m below and about 100 m horizontal to the location of an ice axe found in 1933, which is generally accepted from characteristic marks on the shaft as belonging to Irvine. The fact that the body was relatively unbroken (in comparison to other bodies found in the same location that were known to have fallen from the NE Ridge) strongly suggests that Mallory could not have fallen from the ice axe site, but must have fallen from much lower down. Wang reportedly found Mallory's ice axe near his body (and took it with him). If this is true then Mallory not only survived the initial fall with Irvine, but was in possession of his axe until the last seconds of striking a rock that stopped his final fall. When found, his body was sun-bleached and frozen.

The other most significant find made on Mallory's body was a severe golf-ball size puncture wound in his forehead, which was the most likely cause of his death. The unusual puncture wound is consistent with one which might be inflicted by an ice axe, leading some to conclude that, while Mallory was descending in a self-arrest "glissade", sliding down a slope while dragging his ice axe in the snow to control the speed of his descent, his ice axe may have struck a rock and bounced off, striking him fatally.

Two items of circumstantial evidence from the body suggest that he may have attempted, or reached, the summit:

  • Mallory's daughter said that Mallory carried a photograph of his wife on his person with the intention of leaving it on the summit.[14]This photo was not found on Mallory's body. Given the excellent preservation of the body, its garments and other items including documents in his wallet, this points to the possibility that he may have reached the summit and deposited the photo there. On the other hand, no one who has subsequently reached the summit has reported seeing any evidence of this, or any other trace of their presence there.
  • Mallory's snow goggles were found in his pocket, suggesting that he and Irvine had made a push for the summit and were descending after sunset. On his attempt a few days earlier, Norton had suffered serious snow-blindness because he did not wear his goggles, so Mallory would be unlikely to have dispensed with them in daylight, and given their known departure time and movements, had they not attempted the summit pyramid it is unlikely that they would have still been out by nightfall. An alternative scenario is that Mallory may have carried an extra pair and the pair he was wearing were torn off in his fall.

Climbers in this expedition were also aware of speculation that a camera might have been carried by Mallory (or Irvine) during their final climb,[15] and Kodak experts provided guidance as to handling of such a camera and film inside, in the event that such were found in the investigation.[13]

Oxygen supply

From the location of their final camp (discovered in 2001),[citation needed] a summit climb may be estimated to have taken them around eleven hours. Assuming they took two cylinders each, they only had about eight hours of oxygen available, so – although this depends on the flow rate, which could be controlled and was not necessarily used on full flow – the oxygen would almost certainly have run out before they reached the summit. The two flow rates available on those oxygen sets were 1.5 and 2.2 litres/min. Both are low rates for active climbing, and it is unlikely the two would have used the lower flow rate. One of their oxygen bottles was found some 200 yards (180 m) short of the First Step, which enables their speed of climbing to be calculated (~275 vert-ft/hr. Hillary and Norgay climbed at 350 vf/h at this altitude). It can be estimated that at best they might have reached the base of the Second Step with one-and-a-half hours of oxygen remaining each. Given the vertical distance remaining (~800 vft), the climb to the summit after the Second Step at the same climbing rate would be three hours. But climbing speed drops quickly with altitude. (Hillary and Norgay managed only 150 vf/h above 28,000 feet.) Thus, even if Mallory had taken Irvine's oxygen, he would not have had enough oxygen to reach the summit.

Although some recent climbers have climbed Everest without the aid of supplemental oxygen, these are extraordinary athletes, fully hydrated and wearing the latest wind-proof clothing, or Sherpas who are genetically endowed with high-altitude capability. Like the four-minute mile, this was not within the capabilities of climbers of the period. Thus, the best chance for Mallory to have reached the summit would have been if he had relieved Irvine of his oxygen at the First Step and sent him down to safety. However, the rope-jerk injuries around Mallory's waist tell the story that the two were roped together when they fell. Other historians suggest that, after having seen the extreme technical difficulty of the Second Step, the two may have switched to the "Norton" Route, via the Great Couloir. While theoretically possible, there is no physical evidence for this supposition.

Another possibility, prompted by Mallory's remark in his last note to John Noel that they would "probably go on two cylinders," is that the pair carried three, and not two cylinders each (Mallory's "probably" implying that the choice was between two or three, as a single cylinder would clearly be inadequate). Mallory's oxygen rig was not found with his body, and neither climber's backpack-style oxygen rig has ever been found.

Some believe George Mallory chose his climbing partner (Andrew "Sandy" Irvine) because he was excellent at repairing the oxygen tanks that had been controversial during that time.[16]

The difficult "Second Step"

Experienced modern climbers disagree on whether Mallory was capable of climbing the infamous "Second Step" on the North Ridge, now surmounted via a 15 ft (4.6 m) aluminium ladder first permanently fixed in place by Chinese climbers in 1975 to bridge this very difficult pitch. The Second Step was first climbed by the Chinese in 1960. It was climbed "free" (without artificial aid) by Spanish climber Oscar Cadiach in 1985. He rated the 15-foot (4.6 m) crack that forms the crux 5.7-5.8 (5+ UIAA grading), certainly accepted as within Mallory's ability. However, on Cadiach's climb, the Second Step was filled with a hard snow ramp that made its ascent considerably easier than in the conditions faced by Mallory. Austrian Theo Fritsche repeated the free climb solo — that is, without rope protection — in 2001 under dry pre-monsoon conditions (as in 1924), and supported Cadiach's assessment of 5.7–5.8. Fritsche completed the climb without supplementary oxygen (as did Cadiach), wearing only a light down jacket, but it took him a solid hour to achieve—hardly what a 5.8 climb of a few metres would require. He believes that Mallory could have summitted in his clothing on a good day.

In June 2007, as part of the Altitude Everest Expedition 2007, Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding successfully free-climbed the Second Step, having first removed the Chinese ladder (which was later replaced).[17] Houlding rated the climb at 5.9, just within Mallory's estimated capabilities. The climb was part of an expedition designed to film a re-creation of the 1924 climb as closely as possible. Eight years earlier Anker had climbed the Second Step as part of the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition but had used one point of aid by stepping on a rung of the ladder which blocked the only available foothold. At that time he had rated the climb at 5.10, certainly well beyond Mallory's capability; after the June 2007 climb he changed his view and said that "Mallory and Irvine could have climbed it". But by then Anker was starring in a film that portrays the two carrying three bottles of oxygen and as probably having summitted. The climbing community still remains split on the subject of whether Mallory was capable of having climbed the Second Step.

Mallory is known to have "swarmed up" a very similar obstacle in alpine conditions on the Nesthorn (3,824 m) in the Swiss Alps, and his companions were under no illusions about either his considerable ability or his visionary, idealistic self-motivation.

As for climbing difficulties, Mallory is known to have climbed comfortably at HVS (Hard Very Severe) standard (YDS ~5.9) in Wales and Cumbria. Many of his early pioneering rock climbs were undertaken on Y Lliwedd, a near-1,000 ft often-loose, usually wet cliff face, which is part of the Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa massif. Those who have climbed on this face in mountaineering boots, perhaps armed with only basic equipment, will understand the genuine difficulty of a climb of HVS standard – and come to truly appreciate Mallory's boldness and physical ability. But on this, his final climb, he had already taxed himself by a previous aborted ascent, along with the other normal strenuous activities of being on Everest.

There is some evidence available on the rockclimbing ability of Andrew Irvine—but all at sea-level altitudes. In her biography of Irvine (Fearless on Everest) Julie Summers notes that Irvine did climb the Great Gully on Craig yr Ysfa with Odell, a wet, five hour climb of VDiff (~5.7) degree of difficulty. Nevertheless, brief rock climbing episodes in above freezing weather are not like mountain climbing with its sustained, frigid courage-draining exposures. Given Irvine's limited climbing experience, it seems unlikely that he would have had the ability to climb the Second Step, and even more unlikely that he could have done so in the rapid manner described by Noel Odell.

The rope-burn evidence on Mallory suggests that the two climbers were roped together when they had their fall at the 1933 ice axe site, making it unlikely that Mallory had made a solo "sprint to the top." This would have involved Irvine waiting at the base of the Second Step for up to ten hours—an impossibility in that weather with their clothing.

Noel Odell believed he had seen Mallory and Irvine ascend the Second Step. The British climbing establishment increasingly questioned this opinion, and Odell eventually changed his story to say it was the First Step. Towards the end of his life, however, he reaffirmed his original view. If his eyewitness report is accurate, the topography he describes appears to fit the Second or even the Third Step on the ridge.

On the other hand, Everest historian Tom Holzel suggests that when Odell saw them climbing a Step, he assumed that, as they were still ascending, they must therefore be on the Second Step, as there is no need to climb up the First Step to reach the summit: climbers typically cross or traverse its base and continue around it. It was in keeping with the prevailing disdain for oxygen equipment at the time to put the blame on it for Mallory being five hours behind the schedule he had stated in his final note describing his assault plan of reaching the Second Step as early as 8am. Odell naturally assumed they were still ascending, but woefully late, and so would only have been climbing the Second Step. However, Holzel surmises that if they were already on their descent, the unproven oxygen malfunction, and the unlikely late start theories can be discarded, and they would have been close to estimates of climbing time in their descent from perhaps as high as the base of the Second Step. Odell then may have seen them clambering up the First Step as a vantage point from which to view and photograph the complex route to the Second Step before returning to the North Col (which is what the French did in 1981 when they, too, could no longer continue upward).

Recent observations taken from Odell's vantage point by advocates of Mallory's success indicate that the viewpoint is such that Odell would not likely have been confused or mistaken as to the location of the pair, and so had probably seen the men at the Second Step as he had initially reported-or even the Third Step.[18]

Further expeditions

The 1999 research team returned to the mountain in 2001 to conduct further research. They discovered Mallory and Irvine's last camp, but failed to find either Irvine or a camera. Based on rumours of the sighting of Irvine, Don Martin of funded a search expedition (unrelated to the 1999 and 2001 team) for the cameras and other clues that either had reached the summit, but found no significant new evidence. A fourth initiative in 2005 also proved fruitless.

Possible sightings of Irvine

In 1979 a Chinese climber named Wang Hung-bao reported to Japanese Expedition leader Ryoten Hasagawa that, in 1975, he had discovered the body of an "English dead" at 8100 m. Wang was killed in an avalanche the day after this verbal report and so the location was never more precisely fixed. The Chinese Mountaineering Association (CMA) officially denied the sighting claim. In 1986, Chinese climber Zhang Junyan (who had been sharing the tent with Wang in 1975) confirmed to Tom Holzel, Wang's report of finding a foreign climber's body. Zhang stated that Wang had only been out for 20 minutes. If this report was accurate, at that altitude and date the body must have been that of Irvine.

Wang's sighting was the key to the discovery of Mallory's body 20 years later in the same general area, though Wang's reported description of the body he found, face up, with a "hole in cheek", is not consistent with the condition and posture of Mallory's body, which was face down, its head almost completely buried in scree, and with a golfball-sized puncture wound on his forehead. Some have speculated that Wang could have been referring to the hole in the skin of Mallory's exposed buttocks ("cheeks").[19] The 2001 research expedition discovered Wang's campsite location and made an extensive search of its surroundings. Mallory's remained the only ancient body in the vicinity. Some argue it must have been Mallory, not Irvine, that Wang had found in 1975, despite the variations in body posture. Zhang said that Wang had only been gone about 20 minutes. But he had waited while dozing in his sleeping bag, so Wang's stroll could have been of longer duration. Conrad Anker now believes Wang did indeed find Mallory and not Irvine.[20]

In 2001, another Chinese climber, Xu Jing, claimed to have seen the body of Andrew Irvine in 1960 (reported in Hemmleb and Simonson's, Detectives on Everest), although testimony is uncertain with regard to the location of his find. On two occasions, Xu placed it between Camps VI and VII (Yellow Band, c. 8300 m), though later changed it to the NE Ridge between the First and Second Steps (c. 8550 m) and directly on the NE Ridge. In spite of several such rumoured and reported sightings subsequent searches of these locations on the North Face have failed to find any trace of Irvine. Some climbers believe Xu spotted Mallory.

American researcher Tom Holzel [21] reported that Xu had spotted the body as he descended "by a more direct route" due to exhaustion, while his teammates had continued their assault. He was lying on his back in a narrow slot, his feet pointing towards the summit, his face blackened from frostbite. Holzel [21] has claimed that a location in the Yellow Band, matching this description exactly, has been identified at 8425m by his analysis of high-resolution aerial photography.

In July 2005 the Alpine Club of St.Petersburg, Russia, published an article to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the North Face climb by the Chinese expedition in 1960. The article[22] referred to the presentation by Wang Fuzhou (a member of the group which reached the summit of Everest on 25 May 1960) given by him in Leningrad before the USSR Geographical Society in 1965. It claims that Xu Jing had seen the body of a European climber at an altitude of some 8600m, just below the notorious Second Step. That Russian article could be a first non-mainstream and non-English-language source of evidence in the Mallory-Irvine story. In particular, it mentions that Xu laconically reported that he had identified the body to be "European" by braces (suspenders) that it wore.

Assessments by climbing partners

Harry Tyndale, one of Mallory's climbing partners, said of Mallory: "In watching George at work one was conscious not so much of physical strength as of suppleness and balance; so rhythmical and harmonious was his progress in any steep place ... that his movements appeared almost serpentine in their smoothness."

Tom Longstaff, who accompanied Mallory on the 1922 Everest expedition, wrote in a letter to a friend, "It is obvious to any climber that they got up. You cannot expect of that pair to weigh up the chances of return. I should be weighing them still. It sounds a fair day. Probably they were above those clouds that hid them from Odell. How they must have appreciated that view of half the world. It was worthwhile to them. Now, they will never grow old and I am very sure they would not change places with any of us."

Geoffrey Winthrop Young, one of the most accomplished alpine climbers of his day, held Mallory's ability in awe: "His movement in climbing was entirely his own. It contradicted all theory. He would set his foot high against any angle of smooth surface, fold his shoulder to his knee, and flow upward and upright again on an impetuous curve. Whatever may have happened unseen the while between him and the cliff ... the look, and indeed the result, were always the same – a continuous undulating movement so rapid and so powerful that one felt the rock must yield, or disintegrate." When informed of Odell's belief that Mallory had climbed the Second Step, Winthrop Young was convinced he made the summit. He wrote: "After nearly twenty years' knowledge of Mallory as a mountaineer, I can say that difficult as it would have been for any mountaineer to turn back, with the only difficulty past, to Mallory it would have been an impossibility."


A range of different outcomes has been proposed, and new theories continue to be put forward. Most views have the two carrying two cylinders of oxygen each, reaching and climbing either the First or Second Step, where they are seen by Odell. At this point there are two main alternatives: either Mallory takes Irvine's oxygen and goes on alone (and may or may not reach the summit); or both go on together until they turn back (having used up their oxygen, or realising that they will do so before the summit). In either case Mallory slips and falls to his death while descending, perhaps caught in the fierce snow squall that sent Odell to take shelter in their tent. Irvine either falls with him or, in the first scenario, dies alone of exhaustion and hypothermia high up on the ridge. The theory advanced by Tom Holzel in February 2008 [23] is that Odell sighted Mallory and Irvine climbing the First Step for a final look around while they were descending from a failed summit bid. As with all good mysteries, the fragmentary evidence leaves much room for speculation and hypothesis.

First "real" ascent, or just to the summit?

If evidence was to be uncovered which showed that George Mallory or Andrew Irvine had reached the summit of Everest in 1924, advocates of Hillary & Norgay's first ascent maintain that the historical record should not be changed to state that Mallory and Irvine made the first ascent, displacing Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. These mountaineers make the novel claim that a successful first ascent not only involves reaching the summit, but also returning to the bottom alive.[24] George Mallory's own son, John Mallory, who was only three years old when his father died, said, "To me the only way you achieve a summit is to come back alive. The job is only half done if you don't get down again".[25][26] Hillary's daughter, Sarah, when questioned regarding her father's take on the debate, said, "His view was that he had got 50 good years out of being conqueror of Everest, and, whatever happened, he wasn't particularly worried. That's my feeling as well."[27]

Sir Edmund Hillary's assessment

Sir Edmund Hillary echoed John Mallory's opinion, asking:

If you climb a mountain for the first time and die on the descent, is it really a complete first ascent of the mountain? I am rather inclined to think personally that maybe it is quite important, the getting down, and the complete climb of a mountain is reaching the summit and getting safely to the bottom again.[citation needed]

Sir Chris Bonington's assessment

Sir Chris Bonington, the widely respected British Himalayan mountaineer, summed up the view of many mountaineers all over the world:

If we accept the fact that they were above the Second Step, they would have seemed to be incredibly close to the summit of Everest and I think at that stage something takes hold of most climbers ... And I think therefore taking all those circumstances in view ... I think it is quite conceivable that they did go for the summit ... I certainly would love to think that they actually reached the summit of Everest. I think it is a lovely thought and I think it is something, you know, gut emotion, yes I would love them to have got there. Whether they did or not, I think that is something one just cannot know.[28]


Mallory was honoured by having a court named after him at his alma mater, Magdalene College, Cambridge, with an inscribed stone commemorating his death set above the doorway to one of the buildings. Two high peaks in California's Sierra Nevada, Mount Mallory and Mount Irvine, located a few miles southeast of Mt. Whitney, were named for them.

Mallory was captured on film by expedition cameraman John Noel, who released his film of the 1924 expedition Epic of Everest upon returning.[29] Some of his footage was also used in George Lowe's 1953 documentary The Conquest of Everest. A documentary on the 2001 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition, Found on Everest, was produced by Riley Morton.[30] Mallory was played by Brian Blessed in the 1991 re-creation of his last climb, Galahad of Everest.[31]

Tragedy in the mountains has proved a recurring theme in the Mallory line. Mallory’s younger brother, Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, also met his death on a mountain range when the Avro York carrying him to his new appointment as Air Commander-in-Chief of South East Asia Command (SEAC) crashed in the French Alps in 1944, killing all on board.[32] Mallory's daughter, Frances Clare, married physiologist Glenn Allan Millikan, who was killed in a climbing accident near Oak Ridge, Tennessee.[33][34] Millikan was the son of Robert Millikan, a Nobel-Laureate and one of three formers of the California Institute of Technology.

Not all Mallory-related mountain endeavours have proved fatal. Frances Mallory's nephew, Rick Millikan, became a respected climber in his own right during the 1960s and '70s. Mallory's grandson, also named George Mallory, reached the summit of Everest in 1995 via the North Ridge with six other climbers as part of the American Everest Expedition of 1995. He left a picture of his grandparents at the summit citing 'unfinished business'.[34][35]

Jeffrey Archer's book, Paths of Glory, is based on Mallory's life.

The 5-volume graphic novel Kamigami no Itadaki (2000) by Japanese manga artist Jiro Taniguchi and author Baku Yumemakura uses the 1924 expedition as a back-story. A mountaineer photographer believes he has found the missing camera that Mallory and Irvine took with them and tries to find the film it contained which may provide valuable clues as to whether they reached the summit. The book retraces the expedition and, by extension, looks at the world of mountaineering and its ever-present fatal accidents.

In Anthony Geffen's 2010 biographical documentary film about Mallory's life and final expedition, The Wildest Dream, Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding attempt to reconstruct the ill-fated climb, dressed and equipped similarly to Mallory and Irvine.

Keith Thomas and Glyn Bailey are creating a musical about Mallory's life called Mountain of Dreams to be launched in New Orleans in 2012-13.


  1. ^ Climbing Mount Everest is work for supermen New York Times, 18 March 1923
  2. ^ Hazards of The Alps. New York Times, 29 August 1923
  3. ^ Holzel, Tom, and Salkeld, Audrey. The Mystery of Mallory & Irvine, Mountaineers Books, 2000, pp. 172–176.
  4. ^ Rees, Nigel. Brewer's Famous Quotations: 5000 Quotations and the Stories Behind Them, Orion, 2006, p. 309.
  5. ^ "NPG entry". Retrieved 3 October 2011. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Claire Engel writes: "One of [Irving's recruits] was George Mallory, who was then seventeen. Irving took them up various peaks, some easy, some hard, some very difficult. The first ascent was that of the Velan and it ended in failure, as the two boys collapsed with mountain-sickness. Yet by the end of the summer they had become hardened climbers." Claire Engel, Mountaineering in the Alps, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1971, p. 185.
  8. ^ Helmut Dumler and Willi P. Burkhardt, The High Mountains of the Alps, London: Diadem, 1994, p. 216.
  9. ^ Reprinted as 'Pages from a Journal', in Peaks, and Glaciers, ed. Walt Unsworth, London: Allen Lane, 1981, pp. 170–81
  10. ^ The Advertiser Treachery at the top of the World, p. 3, 21 February 2009
  11. ^ Holzel, Tom; Salkeld, Audrey (1986). First on Everest: The Mystery of Mallory and Irvine. New York: H. Holt. pp. 212–227. 
  12. ^ Holzel, Tom; Salkeld, Audrey (1999). The Mystery of Mallory and Irvine (2nd Revised Edition). London: Pimlico. p. 327. 
  13. ^ a b Holzel, Tom (21 October 2008). "A127 Film: Care & Developing Suggestions". Mallory & Irvine. Velocity Press. Retrieved 11 February 2010. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ "World: South Asia Everest pioneer's body found". BBC News. 3 May 1999. Retrieved 8 February 2010. 
  16. ^,
  17. ^ Sharma, Gopal. "". Retrieved 3 October 2011. 
  18. ^ Mallory and Irvine 1924 Theories
  19. ^ Van Luling, Todd (11 August 2011). "Dead Bodies on Mount Everest". Buzz Feed. Retrieved 17 August 2011. 
  20. ^ Personal note to Tom Holzel.
  21. ^ a b Holzel, Tom (7 January 2010). "An Aerial Photographic Search for Andrew Irvine on Mt. Everest by The Andrew Irvine Search Committee". Velocity Press. Retrieved 11 February 2010. 
  22. ^ Iordanishvili, Evgenii (July, 2005). "Vpervye na Everest s Severa". St Petersburg Alpine Club. Retrieved 21 July 2010. 
  23. ^ "Everest K2 News Explorersweb - the pioneers checkpoint". 18 February 2008. Retrieved 3 October 2011. 
  24. ^ "'Hillary is right when he says there has to be proof that Mallory and Irvine reached the summit before he did'". Retrieved 23 October 2010. 
  25. ^ "Climbing The Esoteric Book Shelf: "The Wildest Dream: The Biography of George Mallory"". Retrieved 23 October 2010. 
  26. ^ "Jeffrey Archer's insult to Sir Ed". Retrieved 23 October 2010. 
  27. ^ "Mallory mystery no worry for Hillary". Retrieved 23 October 2010. 
  28. ^ ""Everest: Mystery of Mallory and Irvine"". Retrieved 23 October 2010. 
  29. ^ IMDB listing for John Noel's Epic of Everest
  30. ^ "A clip from ''Found on Everest'' on Riley Morton's web site which includes a shot of George Mallory". Retrieved 3 October 2011. 
  31. ^ IMDB listing for Galahad of Everest
  32. ^ "Air of Authority — A History of RAF Organisation". Retrieved 26 August 2007. 
  33. ^ "Milestones". Time. 9 June 1947.,9171,779096,00.html. Retrieved 9 May 2010. 
  34. ^ a b Dunn, Tom Newton (8 August 1999). "Is this picture the proof that George Mallory conquered Everest?". Sunday Mirror. Retrieved 9 May 2010. 
  35. ^ Everest Summits 1995

Further reading

  • Anker, Conrad & Roberts, David (1999) The Lost Explorer — Finding Mallory on Mount Everest. London: Simon & Schuster
  • Archer, Jeffrey (2009) Paths of Glory. New York: St Martin's Press ISBN 978-0-312-53951-1
  • Firstbrook, Peter (1999) Lost on Everest: The Search for Mallory & Irvine. BBC Worldwide
  • Gillman, Peter and Leni (2000) The Wildest Dream: Mallory, His Life and Conflicting Passions. London: Headline (winner, Boardman Tasker Prize)
  • Hemmleb, Jochen; Johnson, Larry A.; Simonson, Eric R. & Nothdurft, William E. (1999) Ghosts of Everest — the Search for Mallory & Irvine. Seattle: Mountaineers Books ( Story of the 1999 expedition that located Mallory's body)
  • Hemmleb, Jochen, & Simonson, Eric R. (2002) Detectives on Everest: the Story of the 2001 Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition. Seattle: Mountaineers Books (Sequel to Ghosts of Everest, with new discoveries on Everest and revelations regarding the fate of Andrew Irvine)
  • Holzel, Tom & Salkeld, Audrey (1986) The Mystery of Mallory & Irvine. Revised edition: Seattle: Mountaineers Books, 1999
  • Robertson, David (1969) George Mallory. Revised edition 1999. (Biography written by Mallory's son-in-law, married to Beridge.) Faber and Faber Selected edition: Paperback 1999, with foreword by Joe Simpson ISBN 9780571203147
  • Summers, Julie (2000) Fearless on Everest: the Quest for Sandy Irvine. (Republished 2008) ISBN 978-1-904466-31-4

External links

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