Now we’re in descent mode.
I already covered in Part I and Part II what I think happened on the uphill portion of Mallory & Irvine’s journey in 1924. And, now the hard part, the most dangerous part, the part when, statistically, most people die in the mountains: the descent.
As noted in Part II of the story, I believe George Mallory and Andrew Irvine reached the summit late in the day – dangerously, foolishly late in the day – on June 8, 1924. It was most likely sunset, or close to sunset. The temperature dropped as the sky became crimson. Monsoon storm clouds washed up and down the North Face of Everest, spitting snow and gusting wind from time to time.
And, Mallory & Irvine were exhausted. They had had a long, long day high on Everest, some thirteen or fourteen hours already above their high camp, which now sat 2,000 feet below them.
The first hour and a half of descent – coming off the summit pyramid and down to the Third Step – would have been smooth. The snow face below the final ridge is steep, and requires some careful climbing, but with the rope for safety Mallory & Irvine could have fairly easily followed their steps from the ascent down to the easier terrain at the Third Step.
The next 45 minutes would take them along easy ground again to the top of the Second Step. And, now, it really gets interesting.
Today, the descent from the top of the Second Step is pretty straightforward. A bit daunting, for sure, but straightforward. We have generally solid fixed lines attached to pitons and anchors in the rock, and a short, exposed rappel takes us down to the snow platform above the Corkscrew Chimney. The only major hurdle – which sadly has been the end for some modern climbers – is having the presence of mind to choose the right fixed line to clip in to; some of them are old, tattered, no longer fixed to anchors, or don’t actually reach the snow platform. But, aside from that issue, we’ve got it easy today.
And, a final note: In 2000, I was speaking to the Boulder, Colorado, chapter of the Explorer’s Club, telling the story of Mallory & Irvine and our 1999 expedition. At the end, my friend Glenn Porzak told an amazing story. In the mid-1980’s, he was at an Alpine Club meeting, and had the opportunity to share lunch with a dapper octogenarian named Noel Odell. After chatting about climbing and life for some time, Glenn said he finally couldn’t resist, and asked the question of all questions: Did Odell see Mallory & Irvine atop the First, or Second, Step at 12:50 PM on June 8, 1924?
For Mallory & Irvine, though, it was of course a different situation. No fixed lines. No pitons, stoppers, pickets, cams, or any anchor devices to fix the rope or set a rappel. And, unfortunately, there are really no rocks or boulders on top of the Second Step to sling the rope for a rappel. The only option would be to lower and downclimb. (As an aside, I have never had much trouble seeing Mallory & Irvine climb up the Second Step, but have always struggled with how on earth they could get down it again.)
In August 1999, I was in Seattle with our historian, Jochen Hemmleb, going over the artifacts and helping with the creation of our expedition book, Ghosts of Everest. I hadn’t seen the artifacts we collected on the expedition since we left Basecamp, and thus had forgotten about the blood on Mallory’s lapels. I noticed it when Tap Richards and I took clothing samples from Mallory’s remains, but, in the excitement of everything, made only a mental note of it. Seeing the clothing again raised a question: The blood, to my untrained eye, seemed deliberately placed, almost blotted, rather than splattered. Perhaps, I wondered, it indicated a previous injury, something that happened earlier in the day…something that precipitated the final, deadly fall?
The next day, Jochen and I took the clothing to the King County Coroner. After examining the blood stains, his professional opinion backed up the amateur assumptions of Jochen and I: The bloodd stains were indeed blotted, not splattered, and thus most likely indicate Mallory having tended to an injury before the final fall; perhaps an injury to himself, perhaps to Irvine. This post-expedition discovery made me realize the descent of the Second Step in 1924 might not have gone smoothly:
In fading, evening light, with temperatures dropping rapidly, it’s time to move. Mallory, being the more skilled and experienced rock climber, uses the rope they carried to lower Irvine down the Second Step headwall to the mid-point snow platform. Once there, Irvine flips the rope around his waist to give Mallory a hip belay. As they did on the ascent, Irvine stands close to the rock, ready to be a human step-ladder for Mallory, reversing the courte-achelle they did on the ascent hours before.
Doing a reverse mantel, Mallory scuffs on his belly over the edge of the Second Step. His feet dangle in the air, his eyes nervously scanning the North Face which drops some 9,000 feet directly below him. He finds scant handholds, and relies mainly on the friction of his body on the rock to keep from falling. His feet flail, moving about in the air above Irvine’s head, hoping to make contact with that human ladder. There’s not much Irvine can do to help aside from giving verbal instructions, for if he uses his hands to guide Mallory’s feet, then Irvine would have to let go of the belay. So, he holds tight, gives directions, and hopes for the best.
Suddenly, Mallory slips. The weight of his body moving over the edge of the rock outstrips the force of friction, and his meager handholds do little to stop him. Mallory clatters over the edge, hitting Irvine while he frantically takes in rope on the belay. With a thud, Mallory slams into the snow platform. Fortunately, the snow here is just soft enough in the evening – having been softened by the warm rays of the setting sun – to absorb some of the impact and slow the fall. That, combined with Irvine’s hip belay, avert death for the two for now.
But Mallory is hurt; how could he not be after a fall like that? He and Irvine collect themselves, and tend to their injuries. However, there is not much time…the evening light is nearly gone, and there’s still a lot of mountain to descend before reaching the safety of Camp VI.
Moving more slowly now – thanks to Mallory’s injuries and perhaps Irvine’s, too – the pair descend carefully through the Corkscrew Chimney and across the easy, but horribly exposed, ledges below the Second Step and on toward Mushroom Rock. Mushroom Rock provides a spot for a brief respite. The urge to stop, to stay here and wait until dawn to complete the descent must have been strong. But, Mallory & Irvine must have known there was no way to survive the night without food and shelter. They had to keep climbing down the mountain.
From Mushroom Rock, thirty minutes of exposed traversing led them to the top of the First Step. As with all steep terrain, what is easy on the ascent is often a bit trickier on the descent. Following their earlier path on the ridge proper, Mallory & Irvine descend the First Step – slowly and carefully. It’s now dark, the nearly half moon providing just enough light to make out the terrain ahead. Perhaps an hour later, they’ve carefully picked their way down the First Step, and are welcomed by the “easy” terrain of the lower Northeast Ridge. The limestone ledges are wide here, the exposure lessened, and camp – still some 1,000 feet below – seems finally within reach.
In the failing light as the moon dips to the horizon, Mallory & Irvine here make the mistake many have repeated since: they choose the wrong gullies to descend. Ascending through the Yellow Band, coming from the bottom, both the Longland Traverse and the modern climber’s gullies are obvious lines to the ridge crest. However, from the top, there are many gully systems leading down into the Yellow Band, all looking roughly the same. Today, with decades of hindsight, we know to mark the exit of the gullies well so we can find the right ones on the descent. But, Mallory & Irvine were the first up here; there’s no way they would have known about this trap on the ridge.
So, I think they chose the wrong set of gullies. The ones I believe they chose begin just below the ridge crest, roughly 200 meters down from the base of the First Step. Like all these gullies, they lead tantalizingly into the Yellow Band. Curious, I investigated this particular set during my search with Dave Hahn on May 7 and May 19, 2004. Climbing alone, I first set out into the gullies from the 1933 high camp, which I found in 1999. My thinking was predicated on the bits of information provided by Xu Jing, saying he had found a body while climbing from Camp VI to Camp VII in 1960. Since there was not really an established “route” through the Yellow Band at that time, I tried to just follow the most logical path, which led me up this particular set of gullies. Roughly 2/3 of the way from the 1938 Camp VI to the ridge crest, the gullies hit a short but steep cliffband. With no rope and miserable, slab snow conditions, I retreated back the way I had come. On the 19th, I explored the same gullies, entering them from the ridge crest below the First Step. From here, they are very enticing, welcoming even, and seem from this perspective to lead without issue all the way down through the Yellow Band. But, of course, they don’t terminating in the same short cliffband I encountered two weeks prior.
These are the gullies I think Mallory & Irvine may have mistakenly taken. In the dark, exhausted, it would be an easy mistake to make. After descending several hundred feet in the gullies, they would have hit my little cliffband. Again, it’s short, but steep, and the exposure is the entire North Face. Just as on the Second Step, Mallory & Irvine would have used the rope they carried, with Mallory lowering Irvine down the cliffband. Once safely down, Irvine would have belayed Mallory – the more skilled rock climber – with a hip belay, hoping the small horns of rock he slung the rope over would stop any fall.
And then he fell. Perhaps it was precipitated by the injury I think he sustained earlier. Perhaps it was simply exhaustion coupled with darkness and cold. Or maybe it was just carelessness. But, regardless, Mallory fell, and fell hard enough to sustain serious injury from the rope tied to his waist with a bowline-on-a-coil. (In 1999 we saw and documented severe bruising and rip damage from the rope pull on Mallory’s waist, telling visually the story of a big fall.) The rope came taught, catching on a horn or fin of rock. The impact through the old, static, hand woven line is hard, wrenching Irvine upward and slamming him into the small cliffband. He fights and holds onto the rope, straining to stop the fall, to stop his friend and companion from falling into oblivion.
And then, nothing. The strain disappears as suddenly as it began. The rope has broken, severed by the rock and the forces involved. Mallory is gone, cartwheeling down into darkness.
Irvine, though, is still alive. Probably injured, but alive. Terrified, but alive. He listens for any sound of Mallory; there is none. Only the eery silence of the high Himalaya on a cold, now moonless, night.
Irvine knows he needs to move, he needs to get down, get help, send a signal to Odell. Maybe Mallory is still alive, down in the darkness. But what to do? Irvine struggles for a while in the gully, his lack of climbing background amplified by the current situation. Maybe there’s another cliffband below? he wonders. If I’m not careful, I’ll end up just like George. He decides the best thing to do is to wait, wait for daylight, wait for Odell. He can last through the night, he thinks, if he can just find some protection from the unending winds. Above him is a small dihedral, facing the lee side, just big enough to provide some shelter. Irvine scampers up to it and wiggles himself in tight, his clothing buttoned up tight to offer all protection possible.
The cold sets in. Primitive, debilitating cold. It sets deep, icy tentacles penetrating to the bone. And soon, long before dawn, Irvine is gone, too, to be seen 36 years later by Xu Jing.
Is that what happened? Well, who knows. Certainly not me. As I’ve said many times before, it’s nothing more than my opinion, based on a lot of passion, thought, and time spent in that high terrain.
And, it is based on my solid belief that the Northeast Ridge – including the Second Step – was within their ability in 1924. At the upper limit, certainly, but still within bounds.
Additionally, my theory is based upon something we did not find with Mallory on May 1, 1999…Mallory’s daughter, Claire Mallory Milliken, told our expedition in 1999 that her mother, Ruth, said George made one promise to her in 1924: he would take a letter from her and a picture of her and bury it in the summit snows. We never found the letter or picture on Mallory in 1999. Noel Odell never reported those items having been left behind in 1924 at Camp VI. And, personally, I can’t imagine George would have left them anywhere but where he promised his wife he would.
The answer, Glenn said, came immediately, with a twinkle in Odell’s eye: There was never truly a doubt in my mind…they were on top of the Second Step.
By my count, there are at least three different groups searching for Irvine as we speak: Jochen Hemmleb, keeping it quiet; Duncan Chessell, making his search known; and one more I’ve caught wind of but have been asked not to mention.
With all that activity, I can only hope that soon we may know more. Irvine may be located, the old Kodak VPK around his neck. Images may be pulled from the film, showing triumph…or not.
Or, perhaps Irvine will remain hidden, the keeper of the answers to the greatest mystery of mountaineering.
Ultimately, the question of whether they reached the top or not doesn’t really matter. For me, it is the simple fact that they tried, that Mallory, Irvine…and Norton, Somervell, Odell, Hazard, Finch, Shipton, Smythe, Wager, Wyn-Harris, and all the others bothered to push their limits, to try what many said was impossible. To me, this is the nugget of importance in the whole story.
Mallory himself said it best, so to end I’ll share some of his most famous and favorite passages:
Is this the summit, crowning the day? How cool and astonished… Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves. Have we gained success? The word means nothing here. Have we won a kingdom? No… and yes… We have achieved an ultimate satisfaction…fulfilled a destiny…. To struggle and to understand-never this last without the other; such is the law….
– George Leigh Mallory writing of “the Kuffner,” the Frontier Ridge of Mount Maudit in France (1911)
The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, “What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?” and my answer must at once be, “It is no use.” There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It’s no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.
– George Leigh Mallory, 1923, New York City
[NOTE: I’m sure this post will raise many questions, comments, and criticisms. Some may wonder why I don’t make much mention of the ice ax found by Percy Wyn-Harris in 1933. There will be other questions, and I welcome them all. Please write your thoughts and criticisms in the comments area, and I’ll do my best to respond to them quickly!]
The bloody clothing is from his head injury. When the ice axe hit his temple,you can see the splatter. Notice more blood on the left side of the clothes,that's from that head injury. I've seen it before working in hospital. He didn't have another injury before. Something tells me it was Mallory or Irvine slipping. He also was probably alive for just a bit before bleeding out. He clearly was able to cross his leg and grip into the snow.
Thanks, Amie, and I tend to agree with you. I'm not 100% certain the blood on his lapel - or even just some of it - might not be from an earlier injury, but who knows? Hard to tell after all these years.
Thanks again, be well, and if you missed it, check out the Virtual Mount Everest which is live now: https://jakenorton.com/virtual-mount-everest-tour-is-live
I believe the weren't so late in the day, and Mallory would have never tried to return to camp through a dangerous squall coming from below. Take shelter against a boulder and wait or keep up where clouds will clear sideways anyway. By the time Odell took off camp 6 around 3 they were about to start the descent from summit But oxygen not daylight vision in the longest days of the year was running out. Irvine body being bigger will have consumed more oxygen, emptying tank earlier and being less experienced he may have lost footing not much later walking delirious(dropped axe too)and his fall jerked on Mallory not expecting it and dragged both. Somewhere rope got hooked to snap.. but Mallory's body must have been a corpse already from his piolet impact to stop drag, but his body was tied to Sandy. The blood is indeed not splatter but trickled from skull last blood pulses however dead
Thanks, Hernando, for the thoughts and theories! All makes sense, and is very logical. Hoping someday we'll know more about their final day and ultimate fate.
And, if you didn't see it, I've got a Virtual Mount Everest tour now live on my website: https://jakenorton.com/virtual-mount-everest-tour-is-live
Enjoy, and thanks again,
Hello Jake, what do you think of this conjecture?
Hi Frank, thanks for the comment, and sorry for my delay! I think Michael raises a lot of good questions and possibilities, although I'm personally unconvinced that the route he suggests would be easier per se than the NE Ridge, or that Mallory would have chosen that route. Having looked at that terrain many times over 5 North Side expeditions, it's definitely not a simple route or way to the summit. Not sure if this helps at all!
Is George mallory's body still on the mountain?
It is indeed, at least as far as I know, still where we buried him in 1999.
Was Mallory's body moved to a different spot for burial, or, was it simply covered with rocks at the exact spot where he was found? How was the head injury concluded to be caused by the ice axe?
Hi Nitin, no, we did not move/relocate Mallory's body, but rather buried him where we found him. As for his head injury, it was never determined definitively to have been cause by his ice axe. Personally, I imagine it was more likely impact with a rock while falling down the North Face from the Yellow Band that caused the injury. Thank you, and be well.
But since Mallory's body was not mangled, just a fracture below his right knee, clearly he did not have a big fall!
In such a case of small fall, how can any rock hit so hard that it makes a hole in the skull?
Hi Deepak, Thanks for the note and comment. I don't think Mallory's fall was necessarily a small one! It was almost certainly (in my opinion) not from the ridgecrest, but likely still initiated somewhere low in the Yellow Band, and thus a fall of several hundred vertical feet down the mountain. Pretty big for certain! And, his injuries were not only the compound fracture of the tib-fib on his right leg, but also lacerations on his back, a dislocated elbow, and, as Thom Pollard found, a hole in his forehead. I could see the latter coming as he desperately tried to self arrest on the snowfield above his final resting place, hitting a rock along the way.
Hope this makes sense!
Hello Jake, I'm fascinated by your amazing work which I've just discovered, and will bookmark your site to pore over when I have more time. But in the meantime, yes, I am curious, please do explain why there is no mention of the ice axe found, it seems an obvious starting point to my unenlightened mind.
Hi Jacqueline, thanks for your note, and sorry for the delayed reply!
On the ice ax, personally I don't give it much weight as I see it as something that does not tell us much about their final days/hours on the mountain. It certainly tells us they were there on the NE Ridge near the base of the First Step, but to my mind it doesn't tell us much more. I can't imagine anyone being able to fall in that terrain - especially not fall hard enough to lose their ax and tumble downward. And, I don't see a convincing alternate reason why the ax was there in '33. It just seems very strange to me, and offers little in the way of theories as to what happened at the very end, so thus I don't give it much time. That said, it is a fascinating piece of history, and one of the most poignant bits found high on the mountain, despite the lack of explanation about why it was there!
Hope this makes some sense, and as noted on another comment thread, I'm planning soon to launch a community/discussion forum with a focus on the story of Mallory & Irvine and the pre-War expeditions, so stay tuned and please join when it goes live!
Hello Jake, your summary makes sense to me and largely fits the facts. I am in awe of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine as well as your self. I hope one day we may know the answer. I have a fascination as a helicopter engineer , traveling several times to Nepal to assist karnali, and a trip and one day to base camp and Lukla by helicopter to assist a rescue recovery. I envy what you have achieved. Russell
Thanks for your comment and for your work in Nepal on rescues and more! What was your work out in the Karnali area? That's one of my favorite parts of the country; amazing place!
If you want to dive in more, there's a lot of talk about the whole Mallory & Irvine story and more over at my community at community.jakenorton.com. Check it out if you want - it's free to join, share, learn, etc.
Thanks again, and be well,
Isn't Irvine simply covered in Shale either above or below Mallory
Or wedged somewhere in a slot, then covered by snow AND shale landslides moved by years of drifts and avalanches - maybe Irvine fell far further than anybody realises and is hundreds of meters below Mallory, buried under snow - its miraculous that Mallory just happened to be exposed but he probably moved quite a few times as well over so Future technology will send drones up which can react to winds and fly themselves, they will have rock piercing ability to find bone and human remains via X-Rays or ultrasound type lazers (obviously the police will be keen on that technology too for missing bodies all over the World). Or they will develop sattelites with some sort of similar idea which can look well below the surface into ice, rock etc. I don't believe that the Chinese removed him - as we well know with so many other tragic bodies up there, that is stupidly tough to do without super dangerous helicopter rescue - I do have one other theory though, that the Chinese may have got to Mallory first and simply removed his camera (and the secrets that were on it) - never mind the propaganda, maybe they just botched the job of developing the film and were too embarrassed to own up!! Besides, maybe they do have photos of both bodies - that's the trouble we live in a big mad World full of politics - and its not the easiest place to look for anything(!)
This has been such a joy to read, Jake and to speculate what happened to them. I've always imagined one fall, not two, but that was before I just learned of the blood stain pattern on Mallory's clothes. But your narrative on their ascent and descent is the best and most complete I've ever read! It would be an honor, joy and privilege to speak to you more about Mallory, Irvine and about you too of course!
Now about Irvines's body and the camera. So we all know the story about how Xu Jing found Irvine but I'm not convinced he told everything. I don't think Jing was alone when he found Irvine, or if he was alone, he was bound to eventually tell a friend or colleague. I believe that when Irvine was found, the camera was found by the Jing and the Chinese and was taken along with the other things found on Irvine. And once they did that, they buried him under the rocks like you did for Mallory, and that's why he's not been seen in 62 years even with all these expeditions being formed to find him. I think all the right areas were searched and if not buried, he would have been found in probably 1999 just after having found Mallory. I may very well be wrong, but between some of the contradictory info given by Jing where he found Irvine sounded like he wanted y'all to look in the wrong place.
Hi again, Mike,
Thanks for the note and detailed thoughts. You bring up some pretty interesting things re: Xu Jing, and especially in light of what Mark Synnott has revealed about the Chinese likely finding and removing Irvine's body back in 1975. Still no proof on that front, but sadly interesting nonetheless.
As mentioned in my last reply, consider heading over to my community where there's a lot of discussion going on on this and more: https://community.jakenorton.com/c/everest-1924/
Thanks, and be well!
I've been interested in the Mallory & Irvine story for years, and have only recently found your site. I wanted to chuck in my opinion as a garment and textile historian on the jacket that was found and bloodstains; of course with the caveat that I have not seen or examined the garments in question, I do find the idea that they may have been from a previous injury, even possibly an injury before the summit attempt, to be plausible. My question is mostly about the origins of the jacket; do you have any recollection of what it was made of/was there any indications of when or where it was made? My reason for asking is that I have examined a number of early 20th century clothes, particularly military uniforms from the First World War, and have noted that many of the clothes have persistent blood-staining, even after being washed, as there was not any immediate way to begin removal. Based on my knowledge, it would make sense to me if the bloodstains had occurred during another incident and were not effectively removed at the time. But to add another bit of information, I can say the staining is consistent with staining located on a particular piece in my personal collection that belonged to an Army doctor serving on the Western front; as he was my great-grandfather, I know both that he survived the war and that said staining was from the treatment of the wounds of others, given that by his own testimony he was never injured beyond a dislocated shoulder. While I'm not a forensic, I did just want to throw in my thoughts on the matter of the bloodstains and the clothes, for whatever merit it has in this discussion.
Hope you're well,
Thanks for your note and thoughts, and great to have your insight! And, sorry for the delayed reply - it's been a hectic summer!
On the bloodstains and the clothing, I'm by no means an expert on fabrics, so can't speak to that in detail, but The Mountain Heritage Trust did a great replica project and has a lot of information on it all on their site: https://www.mountain-heritage.org/blog/mallory-replica-clothing-revisited. I'd love to know what you think of that!
And, yes, on the stains, that makes a lot of sense with regard to your grandfather's story. I've wondered over the years if the blood could have come from (a) Mallory himself blotting a wound, or (b) from him blotting blood from an injury Irvine received. All very interesting, and would love to hear your thoughts!
All my best,
Can it be kindly explained why Mallory's gloves were found in his pockets and not worn on his hands ?
Hi Deepak, I can't really say for sure. One fingerless glove was found in his pocket, and I recall there seeming to be the remnants of gloves on his wrists, and it seemed the rest may have been torn away in a fall perhaps. But, I'm unsure why the glove(s) would be in his pocket. Sorry not to have a better answer!
Jake, absolutely brilliant research by you and your team. I am pretty much sure that Mallory and Irvine would have summited everest. Given the level of clothing, primitive oxygen cylinders and simple equipment as an axe they climbed up those steps with sheer dedication to climb and make a mark in human mankind.
However, I do have few questions.
Has anyone tried to reach Chinese authorities? Why they are so silent on camera?
Thanks, Dhruv. It's been a lot of work by a lot of people over many years, and I'm just thankful to play a small role in it all!
As for the Chinese, I know Mark Synnott has tried to contact them, but with little luck I think. My guess is - assuming the camera story is real - that they are shy about sharing what happened either because (a) the camera and film were destroyed in the process, or (b) they recovered images and they tell a story the Chinese would prefer not be told. Sadly, just as with Hillary and Tenzing, proving M&I reached the top would take nothing at all away from the Chinese 1960 ascent, as a true summit means returning, which M&I sadly did not. Hoping someday we'll know more.
The rope found on Mallory’s body appears in all the published images to be left-handed rope. This is very unusual. Are the images reversed, or was it actually rope with a left-hand twist?
Hi Rob, interesting, I am not enough of a rope smith to know for sure about left or right twists. But, most photos I would assume are correctly oriented. This one, from my website, I can assure you is correct: https://gallery.jakenorton.com/Galleries/Everest-Expeditions/Everest-1999/i-53dNHM9/A Eager to hear more!
I had always assumed the ice axe marked a fall location like the ‘33 expedition surmised (simply because they couldn’t imagine anyone abandoning it), but after reading through your description here and other places it seems like you are of the opinion that it would be an extremely unlikely spot for a fall. So do you think that Mallory’s resting place being on the fall line beneath the ice axe is just a coincidence? Or, was GLM’s body even ON that fall line at all or just close enough to fool the untrained eye?
With the snapped rope injuries to his waist, I think everyone can agree that they were roped together at the time of the fall. Would you also say that with all your searches through the gullies above Mallory that you feel confident that Irvine’s body is not on that fall line now, and that he either was A.) not incapacitated and thus moved under his own power off that line or B.) died on that line and was moved subsequently by natural or human forces?
Thanks for your comments, and my apologies for the LONG delay in getting to them. Your questions are great ones!
As for the ice ax location as a fall spot, I have never thought it possible to imagine a fall occurring from there. Certainly, one could build a scenario where a fall could happen there and get out of control. If you look at this shot below, taken in 2001 of Brent Okita as we were searching the ice ax site, you can see that the terrain is relatively benign, While it steepens below Brent in the Yellow Band, you'd literally have to get a running start and hurl yourself downhill to fall from there and keep going to the steeper area where a fall would be unstoppable.
And, while it seems Mallory is in a fall line below the ice ax, it's actually a bit deceptive. It is hard to say with certainty, of course, as things can happen that seem to defy logic. But, over on my unDefined Community, Robert Edwards did a good job of recreating a possible fall line from the ice ax, which - assuming falling goes roughly perpendicular to contour lines - ends up missing Mallory by about 100 meters. See the thread here. So, once more, it seems the ice ax tells us something important, but it is not - to my mind - where the fall initiated.
On the the gully searches above Mallory, I think a lot has been covered - by me in 2001, 2004, and a bit in 2019 - and by Everest News in 2004 and Mark Synnott in 2019 (essentially the same ground I searched in 2004). Nothing was found by any of us, but that doesn't mean we didn't (a) miss something, as the terrain is difficult, dangerous, and complex, and often covered with at least some obscuring snow, or that (b) something was once there, but was removed either by human hands (the Chinese in 1960, 1975, or the early 2000s) or by Mother Nature (which seems highly unlikely to me). So, while I wouldn't bet the house that there is something still to be found in those gullies and ledges, I wouldn't by any means rule it out, either.
Hopefully this makes some sense, and thanks again for the questions!
..or additionally I suppose he also could have simply continued falling and tumbled off the snow terrace that Mallory came to rest on.
That prompts another question: is there any safe/feasible place to search BELOW Mallory, and if so has anyone looked or been there? Messner traversed below in 1980 but I doubt he could see much in the high snow conditions of August.
Sorry for the jumbled mess of questions! You’re a great resource and we appreciate all you do.
Indeed, a fall below Mallory is a possibility, and if that happened, I think Irvine would certainly not have stopped, and ended up down in the Central Rongbuk. Some basic searching below Mallory would be possible, but given the increase in relative steepness below him, and the significant, heavy rockfall and avalanche/snow slide activity that would rain down on that terrain more forcefully and consistently than from Mallory and above, my guess is things below his remains would be flushed down the mountain much more so than above. Does that make sense?
I must apologise for the delayed response on my end as well! My autumn was uniquely busy.
The reconstructions look spectacular, but the note on the jacket being made by Burberry is interesting; while Burberry did produce service clothing, that may also be indicative that the clothing was purchased for the expedition. Hopefully there's some record out there that would be able to say one way or another, although I wouldn't know where to begin inquiring about that (I doubt Burberry would have those records).
The blood towards the bottom of the coat certainly looks like blotting to me, although I think the blood on the upper bits could very well be spatter (perhaps indicating two injuries, or blotting one that was spattering?). It seems to be a fairly minimal amount of blood, which indicates to me that perhaps one of them suffered some relatively minor injury on the way up, such as a nosebleed or a cut from a fall on rock. While I'm no mountaineer, in my search and rescue days I saw many incidents where a minor injury led to distraction and more significant injury, or was as a result of some confusion that had already occurred. Your theory seems very accurate to me, it really does seem like at least one of them was injured prior to the major fall that killed Mallory.
It could also very well have been an injury from early in the expedition; being soldiers, I don't think they'd be opposed to wearing bloodstained clothing throughout the trek. Something like a shaving nick or a nosebleed could have occurred. I do wonder, though, if that would have then been mentioned in records of the expedition, and it does seem less compelling. Still bears mentioning, of course, as laundry detergents at the time weren't the best at removing bloodstains, and I can't imagine they had the best facilities for washing clothes on the trek!
Good thoughts on all, Erica, and thank you! Glad you don't find my very anecdotal, un-academic trains of thought out of line. So many pieces of this puzzle that are still, well, puzzling. Hoping always that one day we'll have more answers, more information.
Thank you again, and be well!
Another scenario might be as follows, which tries to account for the anomalous locations of the ice ax and Mallory's body. Instead of Mallory falling first, it was Irvine who fell dropping his ice ax. Mallory's rope injury was caused by him being violently pulled by Irvine's fall before the rope breaks. Mallory stumbles downhill to look for Irvine, and falls lower down.
This assumes that the rope burn could arise in this manner, and the remnant would remain on Mallory as he heads down. Also, I know nothing about the rock features in the immediate vicinity where the ice ax was found.
I just find it hard to believe that Irvine abandoned the ice ax, but who knows.
Thanks, David, and definitely a plausible possibility. I still, though, struggle with how a fall of any severity or magnitude could occur at the ice ax site; it is just not steep enough. But, there are so many mysteries yet in this story!
Thanks again, and be well!
I truly believe the Chinese found Irvine and stole the camera from his body. They might have buried Irvine, not knowing his true identity, by covering him with rocks. We may be looking for Irvine for ever.
Thanks Jihad, I think that something along those lines is, sadly, quite possible. I hope one day the Chinese will be more forthcoming about all the details of what may have been found. We shall see!
I've recently found myself fascinated on the story of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. I haven't looked too much into Everest as a whole, or other expeditions. My focus has pretty well solely been on Mallory and Irvine, though I am in awe of everyone who has attempted climb the mountain, and much more so those who successfully did so.
There is one pressing question that I have in regards to the discovery of Mallory's body. I work in the field of veterinary medicine and I have been lucky enough to assist with and observe necropsies done on animals whose cause of death wasn't quite known. Perhaps it's morbid curiosity on my part, but I would very much like to know what the process was like in regards to Mallory's body. Did you move the body to be able to make the observations you did? I find it difficult to believe that you would be able to thoroughly examine the body for clues without it, although I've seen it mentioned that Mallory was buried in the same position he was found in. Did you reposition him the way he had been discovered prior to burying him, or was that simply incorrect information? If you did return his body to that position, what was the thought process behind that decision? Also, was Mallory laid to rest in his clothing, or was his clothing taken as evidence/artifacts? I've seen comments on various sources that his clothing had been removed, which left me curious as to how he was laid to rest. I believe that, as prominent as he was, Mallory would have been treated with the utmost respect as a pioneer in mountaineering, and I would be incredibly grateful to hear what that respect would look like. I imagine things must be different than a modern funeral would entail- partially because of the location, but largely due to the specific circumstances. I am very much interested in the mix of science and respectful handling of the deceased. If you respond I would like to preemptively thank you for doing so and to once more express the awe and admiration for you and your team.
Hi Stormmie, Thanks for the note, and glad you've delved into the story of Mallory & Irvine!
On your questions, they're all very good and important. I'll address them below, but it's important to note that there were two searches of Mallory's body. The first was one May 1, 1999, when I was there and can speak directly about it. The second was on May 16, 1999, by Andy Politz and Thom Pollard. I was not there for the second search, so cannot speak with authority on that one, only through what I've heard from Andy and Thom. Hope that makes sense!
Yes, we did move the body to a limited extent on May 1, but not significantly. The movements that day were primarily to lift him up enough to access his pockets on the front of his jacket as best we could. From my understanding, on May 16 Thom and Andy lifted Mallory's body higher in order to get underneath him, and that is when Thom saw Mallory's face and reported the hole in his forehead.
He was indeed buried on May 1 in the same position as we found him, but we did not reposition him as we had never moved his limbs, etc. All we did was lift him up enough to feel underneath and access items he carried. I'm not sure if Andy and Thom repositioned him at all, but I can't imagine they would have taken him out of position much if at all as his body was completely frozen and not moveable.
We did take parts of his clothing on May 1, including the sleeves of his shirts and the front of his jacket, as they all seemed relevant to his story. The majority of his clothing, however, remained in place. On the 16th, Andy and Thom likely removed his pants pocket to retrieve the watch we had missed don the 1st, but I don't believe they took anything else. Again, I could be wrong on this as I was not there.
As for respect for Mallory, certainly. We all had, and have, immense respect for him and all the climbers of the pre-War era. As we searched his remains, I remember several instances of us all stopping and doing a "gut check" to see if, should the tables be turned, this is what we'd want done. We all agreed - with only our personal feelings as guidance - that Mallory would have wanted his story told. So, we continued as best we could. I know this part of the story is one that many, especially one prominent YouTuber, like to harp on and castigate us on every detail. Fair enough, I guess. As I've always admitted, we made mistakes. We made big ones. Could I turn back time, I would fix some of those, do them differently. But, I cannot, none of us can. All I know is that we did our very best up there, we tried to treat Mallory with utmost respect while also getting the job done we were tasked with, We put ourselves at great risk - not for money, as that same YouTuber and others insinuate, as that had not even crossed our radars at that point - to tell a story that fascinated, inspired, intrigued, and enthralled us all. I continue to believe firmly that we did right by Mallory, and have contributed well to the story of he and Irvine's final days and hours on the mountain. I still hope we one day will know more.
Thanks again, and hoping the above makes sense!
All best to you, Jake
[…] story, insisting that he saw Mallory and Irvine - not rocks, not illusions - moving. (See my story here about Glenn Porzak’s encounter with Odell shortly before his death.) Want to hear it from the man […]
Thank you for the thoughtful reply! It does make sense- and I'm grateful to you for indulging my morbid curiosity.
I am glad, in part on Mallory's behalf, that his story has been told. We may be missing some details and I certainly hope that one day Irvine is found as well. I find it deeply tragic when there are graves left to time. While I doubt anyone will be able to leave flowers on Mallory's grave, it is almost comforting to know that he was taken care of in the end.
I think a lot of people don't realize that you can be respectful while also searching for answers. I've seen some incredibly disrespectful comments floating around the internet on how his body was handled. There's only so much that can be done in those circumstances. As you said, everyone makes mistakes, and nothing is done perfectly. But you all found his body, assessed the information it gave you, and then gave him a burial. Considering the environment you all were working in, I think the effort alone speaks to the respect you all would have had for him in those moments.
I agree- I think Mallory would have wanted his story to be told. I think he worked too hard, put too much into it, for anything else. If he had made it off the mountain alive, he would have given us all the details himself. As it is, I think you all did a remarkable job doing it for him. And I think there's something almost poetic about Mallory's final resting place being on the slopes of the very mountain he tried so hard to conquer.
I can only imagine the mix of emotions you would have felt while handling his remains. I personally believe that too many of those individuals- on YouTube and other sites- are doing you and your team more of a disservice than you all could have possibly done to Mallory. I also think some of them exaggerate in an attempt to make you all look bad. It's easy, I think, for people so far removed from Everest to nitpick. But at the end of the day, you all braved one of if not the most inhospitable climates on Earth in a search for the truth, and upon finding it, you did what you could to lay him to rest. And that alone is pretty damn admirable in my opinion.
I do think it's very interesting to hear a first hand account of what that experience was like. While I've had to attempt to move frozen corpses, typically in an effort to get memorial pawprints from deceased pets, I didn't need to examine the bodies for clues. Add that to the location you were in, and I can only imagine how difficult it was to do. I certainly wouldn't know what to do in that situation. We've panicked trying to get pawprints before- and that's in the hospital, where there's more tools at our disposal than what you would have had on Everest. I genuinely think it's amazing how much information you all were able to get from his body.
Thank you again for the reply! And, of course, thank you for the care and consideration you showed Mallory when you discovered him.
Thank you, Stormmie. It is wonderful to hear from someone like you who can see and understand the realities of the situation we faced in 1999, and that as you said we could make mistakes while still being, at the end of the day, respectful. I truly appreciate you and your sentiments.
It seems, not to deviate too much from the discussion at hand, that we've entered a world where people are inclined to do and say and insinuate almost anything to get more views, more like, more eyeballs and dollars, even at the expense of facts. Everest and this story is but a small symptom of a much bigger societal ailment, sadly.
But, it gives me hope and inspiration when I interact with people like you who see through the hyperbole. Thank you, and thank you for all your hard work and diligence toward our four legged friends and family members!
All my best,
I loved reading this and it’s so mysterious as to where Irvine is. Was he taken by the Chinese ? Maybe maybe not I honestly doubt it too as to how many body’s are up there still being the supporting evidence. They could’ve taken irvines camera but why would they not share that information? Then again how do they know they didn’t find some long lost climber that went up there with a small team nobody knows about ? The article I have is a statement from a descendent of a mountaineer who spotted Mallory’s body in 1936. Idk if it’s true or not but maybe you could reach out to the relatives of his to see if there’s any records or truth to it.
I loved reading this and it’s so mysterious as to where Irvine is. Was he taken by the Chinese ? Maybe maybe not I honestly doubt it too as to how many body’s are up there still being the supporting evidence. They could’ve taken irvines camera but why would they not share that information? Then again how do they know they didn’t find some long lost climber that went up there with a small team nobody knows about ? The article I have is a statement from a descendent of a mountaineer who spotted Mallory’s body in 1936. Its sources say it’s from a diary with copy’s of letter the mountaineer sent and receive?(not sure about about the receiving letters) his name was Frank Smythe I believe and Idk if it’s true or not but maybe you could reach out to the relatives of his to see if there’s any records or truth to it. Maybe he found Irvines body and recorded it in his diary’s somewhere?
Thanks for your note and comment. Yes, very interesting to wonder what the Chinese may or may not have found in 1960 or 1975, and what in turn they may or may not have done with it. I think sadly much of their high-level reaction to the story of Mallory & Irvine is based on the false fear that any proof of a 9124 summit would take away from their 1960 climb. But, even if they reached the top, M&I would not in most people's book get credit for the first ascent, as one needs to make a round trip, getting down safely. Sadly, though, I would not be surprised if Irvine was found in '60 or '75 and his body either removed, or key evidence removed and disappeared.
As for the Frank Smythe sighting, I find it a bit questionable personally. Frank was a great climber and man, but to see a body all the way from Basecamp clearly enough to identify it - even with a telescope - is a very tall order. I'm not saying impossible, but I think highly unlikely. His son, Tony, has shared from what I understand all the information regarding the sighting, so I don't think there's more to dig up, just more to ponder and think about!
Thanks, and be well,
This is an excellent forum to share thoughts and information on the Mallory/Irvine mystery. After reading all of the blogs, I still have one question. Where is George Mallory's hat/helmet? You would think since it had a chin strap and was made of leather it would have held up as well as the other clothing artifacts. Any thoughts on this? I am curious to know your perspective.
Thanks for your note and comment. On your question - Mallory's hat - it is still with him from what I know. We removed samples of his clothing, but never touched his head/face in 1999. My recollection is as you note: the hat was well-preserved, from the little we could see. In fact, when I first arrived I was convinced this must be Irvine because of the blond hair I was seeing, which turned out to be the light-colored fur lining of the hat. Anyway, it should still be with Mallory in his resting place.
Thanks, and best,