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  Mallory and Irvine The Final Chapter: Everest North Slope Fatalities through 1985


Summiting Mt. Everest is a fulfilling but dangerous goal that many climbers dedicate their lives to. With its unpredictable and often violent weather and notoriously harsh conditions, the mountain and its legendary “Death Zone” have killed many mountaineers over the years, novice and experienced alike. The difficult Northern routes up Everest have been especially deadly claiming many lives prior to 1985.

The first North Face fatalities occurred back in the early years of Everest expeditions when the mountain was still a vast unknown full of hazards and dangers for the intrepid explorers. George Mallory was on an early expedition in 1922 when seven Sherpa died in an avalanche below the North Col. These are the first recorded deaths on Everest.

George Mallory and Sandy Irvine would ironically follow the Sherpas into history by perishing somewhere on the North Side as they made their famous and still controversial (and deadly) attempt at the summit in 1924. The two men were spotted through a break in the clouds working their way up the mountain. How far they got and if they ever reached the summit remains an unknown point. When Mallory’s body was found in 1999 it confirmed the men’s suspected fate. George Mallory appears to have died from a fall of unknown distance while Sandy Irvine simply disappeared. There is a report from a Chinese climber of finding an old body in a sleeping bag wedged in a crevice that may be Irvine’s; this remains unconfirmed.

After the 1922 disaster, which claimed the lives of seven Sherpa, more than a half-century would pass before there was another Sherpa death on Everest’s North Face.

Maurice Wilson would die in 1934 around 6000 meters...

In 1960 the Tibetan climber Wang Ji would die at around 6400 meters. In 1960, the Chinese climber Shao Shi-Ching, died at camp 4 at 7050 meters. In 1966 Chinese climber Ma Gao-Shu died in a fall while descending from 7790 meters. Another Chinese climber Wu Tseng-yue was suffering from exhaustion when he fell to his death while descending from 8,500 meters in 1975.

An Avalanche in 1979, would claim the lives of Wang Hong-Bo, Lou San, and Nima Tashi Sherpa. Nepalese Sherpa Ang Phu perished in 1979 in a fall from the Hornbein Couloir. Avalanches, a common occurrence on Everest’s snow-heavy slopes, would strike again in 1980 claiming the life of Japanese climber Akira Ube.

The next westerner to die on the North side of Everest would be one of the few women to die on Everest.  American Marty Hoey perished on an expedition in 1982 when she fell from the Great Couloir. Her name is immortalized on “Memorial Hill”, a collection of about a dozen stones with the names of Everest fatalities carved on them. Next to Marty’s stone are those of British climbers Peter Boardman who died of exhaustion on the North East Ridge at about 8,200 meters and fellow expedition member Joe Tasker who disappeared on the same day in May of 1982.

Another British climber, Tony Swierzy, would die two years later (April 4, 1984) in an avalanche at 6,150 meters. Australians Craig Nottle and Fred From would die in falls from the Hornbein Couloir in September of 1984. Spaniard Juanjo Navarro perished in a fall from 7,300 metes on the North Ridge in 1985 and Japanese climber Shinichi Ishii succumbed to an avalanche on the North Col, both in 1985.

This brings the number of deaths during Everest North slope expeditions to a total of 24 between 1922 and 1985.

Why is this important as it relates to Mallory and Irvine? Because, with the exception of Wu Tseng-Yue's death in 1975, all deaths on the normal route were below 8000 meters -- except those of George and Sandy

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