100 Years of Everest, 25 for Me

by JAKE NORTON

March 2024
100 Years of Everest, 25 Years of Everest, a slideshow for dZi in Chamonix, and another Mallory hopes to get to Everest!

Twenty-five years ago, I was hiking up a hill above Nyalam, Tibet, with Tap Richards and Eric Simonson. We had just entered Tibet the day before, following the Bhote Koshi (Poiqu) River onto the Tibetan Plateau, and were out for an acclimatization hike. It was the first Everest expedition for Tap and I - we had both guided Cho Oyu for Eric in 1996 and 1997, respectively - and finally had a chance to go to the big hill; we were young, excited, inspired. For Eric, this was old hat to some degree with 1999 marking his 7th expedition to the mountain.

Peaks of the "Tibetan Alps" rise above Nyalam Town in Tibet. These are all unnamed peaks around 5700 meters, possibly unclimbed as well.

As we climbed high above Nyalam, I couldn't help but think about seventy-five years before when another veteran and noob were about to head into Tibet. On March 26, 1924, the third British Everest Expedition left Darjeeling bound for Tibet. The veteran, George Leigh Mallory, was there for his third expedition to the mountain, and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine was along for his first big expedition anywhere.

Eric Simonson climbs high above the Bhote Koshi (Poiqu) river outside of Nyalam, Tibet, acclimating en route to Mount Everest at the beginning of the 1999 Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition.

Of course, in 1999, we were following closely the story of 1924. Eric, along with historian Jochen Hemmleb and author Larry Johnson, had put together the 1999 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition in hopes that we could possibly find some evidence of the duo from 75 years before. It was a daunting task: not only climbing the mountain, but possibly conducting rudimentary, high-altitude archeology in the process. I know I was both nervous and excited. I wrote in my journal as we set off:

The trepidation, intimidation has not yet left me. I depart Colorado Springs with a complex mix of emotions. I am at once excited and already longing to return home. I guess that is the dichotomous nature of a trip like this: The simple joys and stability of a comfortable life are hard to leave, especially when the break being taken is to spend 70 days in a tent looking for corpses on the world's highest peak.

But, everyone must do this at some point in life. Well, not this exactly, but in theory. To never leave the zone of comfort - whatever that may be, for it is different for each person - is to live a life doomed to mediocrity. Dynamism in life is created by challenge, by pushing one's personal limits and breaking through the thick wall of status quo. Without doing this, life becomes static and boring and - ultimately - unfulfilling.

So, it is with this in mind I embark...It will be a challenge like no other I've had. Mentally and physically I'll be pushed to my limits. There will be excellent, euphoric times, and ones that are melancholy and miserable. But, the challenge of it all will spark thought, change, and growth. And, for this, the excitement comes.

- Expedition diary, March 17, 1999

In hindsight - having not cracked open this diary since leaving the mountain 25 years ago - my thoughts were pretty spot on: it was a challenge like no other, forcing me and all of us out of our comfort zones and into a realm of thought, change, and growth. I'd like to say I had some sort of divine premonition, some ESP or the like. But, no, it was just thinking on the page what I already knew in my heart: an expedition like this could lead only to those ends, and that is why we do it in the first place.

The 1999 Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition search team. Clockwise from lower right: Dave Hahn, Conrad Anker, Thom Pollard, Jake Norton, Tap Richards, Andy Politz.

Given the 100/25 anniversary this year, I'm going back through my archives - old photos, stories, thoughts, ideas - from 1999, and plan to share them here in bits and pieces. Some will be written, some may just be photos, some may be video as well. But, all will be a tribute to the climbers of 1924, their massive accomplishments, and to my teammates from 1999. If you have something specific you're curious about or would like me to share, please drop a comment below!

And, before I sign off, a couple related bits of news.

First, for anyone who happens to be in Chamonix or nearby, I will be sharing the story of 1924 on the evening of April 6th at Blue Ice Basecamp in Les Houches. This will be a fundraiser for the dZi Foundation, and will be a fun, informative evening for a great cause. If you can attend, please RSVP through the link below. Hope to see you there!

Second, there's another Mallory headed to Everest this spring! Well, hopefully headed there. Freja Hollow is the great-grandaughter of George Mallory: George's son John Leigh Mallory had a daughter, Beridge (not to be confused with George and Ruth's daughter - and John's sister - Beridge), who was Freja's mother. Freja is hoping to visit Everest Basecamp this spring, which is both cool and exciting. But, she's had some major challenges in getting funds together for the trip, including a cancer diagnosis and mastectomy as well as the theft of her home-converted van. So, Freja has started a GoFundMe in the hopes of raising the cash needed to get her to the mountain. If you can spare a buck or two to help her get there and honor her great-grandfather, please do so! You can read about her story here and make a donation here. Thank you!

2 comments on “100 Years of Everest, 25 for Me”

  1. Hi Jake

    I’ve donated to Freja’s Everest fund.

    Perhaps a good idea would be to share the donation link etc on your social media to give it some more attention.

    Cheers
    William G

    1. Hi William,

      Thanks for your comment, your donation to Freja, and your thought! That is definitely my plan, just a lot going on at the moment so waiting for the right time!

      Thanks again, and all best,
      Jake

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