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  Mallory and Irvine The Final Chapter: Mail bag 5


We have received hundreds of e-mails on the Mallory and Irvine Story. Many are very interesting. We think you will enjoy many of them. Note we cannot answer all the e-mail/questions, but you will see some comments below...

Reader's Letter: Your theory has Mallory descending through the Couloir.

I think the attempt by Norton and Somervell two days earlier may have had an influence on what happened and supports your theory.

Norton and Somervell had tried a route BELOW the ridge, traversing steadily below the second step and then heading into the Couloir. Norton had to do the latter part alone after Somervell had to stop. He found the high traverse into the Couloir " a dangerous place for a single unroped climber"  and had to retreat. 

Mallory was at the end of the day, without oxygen and after suffering a 2 hour snow storm. Obviously he would need to find the easiest and quickest route down, but he would also have been well aware of the difficulties Norton had experienced. He would not have been confident of succeeding in terrain where Norton felt he was "too dependant on the mere friction of a boot nail on the slabs".

This might explain why, in your words: "Mallory goes down into the couloir,  farther down, and across the snow terrace".

Mallory's knowledge of Norton and Somervell's route also makes it unlikely that he re-traced his steps down the north east ridge. On the one hand his loyalty and feelings of responsibility to Irvine suggests he would have tried to go that way back. But if he had left the ridge, say at or above the second step, he would then have been able to track back to his camp by joining the earlier section of Norton and Somerville's route. This would have been a logical route from that position, but it is much higher on the mountain than where his body was discovered.

I think the condition and difficulty of the Couloir route is a really important factor in the theory. The position of his body indicates the Couloir route but could Mallory really have safely descended through the Couloir ? Please could you comment further on the type of terrain he would have gone through and the level of difficulty he would have faced ? With thanks and best wishes.

EverestNews.com:  It would have been difficult. It is very hard to compare Mallory to the others who have done it...

Reader's Letter:  Did the oxygen bottle you found still have oxygen it in. If not, doesn't seem likely anyone would pick it up: just adding dead weight where they'd want to shred weight. 

EverestNews.com: Yes, the bottle still contained oxygen when we  found it.

Reader's Letter: It is nice to see someone go out on a limb and tell us what they really think. Thank you.

Reader's Letter:  I've read somewhere that Mallory carried a picture of his wife and it was missing on his body.  It seems plausible that if he indeed did carry the picture and it was no where to be found, that he probably left it on the summit.  So in this case, the lack of evidence (missing picture) might add credence to the notion Mallory summited.  Pure speculation, but it would seem to strengthen your theory in my view. 

Reader's Letter: Has anyone on your end contacted someone in the medical profession.  With the advancement of technology it could be possible to track how high a person has climbed by some markers in the bloodstream.  I know its far fetched but mysteries are being solved every day with new medical techniques.  Maybe Mallory's body is there for a reason.  And that being future testing and maybe conclusive proof.  There has got to be a way to prove how high he climbed.

Reader's Letter: Dear Mallory and Irvine Team Members,

Since I first read about the M&I controversy in February of 2004, I felt Mallory had summitted.  I was very excited when a couple months later I found there was going to be an expedition to recover the camera.  I believe your theory, since it logically fits behavior expected of those individuals, especially the type of decisions that arise unexpectedly, but must be dealt with quickly.  You have already addressed so many issues, but I am hoping you can address a few more.

First, most people don't realize the 4 minute mile was broken 100 years before Roger Bannister.  Therefore, I was a little put off when Anker, who zoomed up near the top of the 2nd step almost before his climbing companion could even warn him, decided Mallory couldn't do this at his reported skill level.  When I read some accounts about Mallory, his extraordinary physical aptitude for climbing (try wandering around nude for weeks on Everest), his exceptional skill, bravado, and line of travel up a mountain, I feel he is the exception to the rule.  Is this your concurrence, for either the route you feel he took, or for the more common route of the second step.

Second, what is a person's visual assessment of how much longer up Everest they have yet to go when the 2nd step is cleared?  Of course, this requires considering the rate of travel Mallory used to move at, inhibited by the weight of the bottles.  Also, that no one had ever made it up to the top when Mallory would have gone.  Of course, I am asking since it would weigh into the scenario of the two separating and Irvine waiting to return. 

Third, at that altitude, what form and how much communication would have been possible?  Especially if Mallory went up the second step first and then they realized Irvine would not make it.  I am asking how detailed any instructions would have been.

EverestNews.com: The ability to communicate varies widely based on the climbers involved. Therefore, it is very difficult to say.

Reader's Letter continued:  Fourth, a friend of mine, who is an accomplished hiker, had to assist a novice from another party down a mountain once.  The novice was from another party and he had told his party to go on, since he was too tired he would head back down.  When my friend found him, the novice had blood on his face and was delirious.  Assuming the effects of the lack of oxygen are more severe on Everest, are you asserting that Irvine, already feeling oxygen deprived, simply rested at the spot the pick axe was found and then got up without full faculties to move on, thereby leaving it? Great job!

EverestNews.com:  We don't KNOW where Sandy sat down first and got back up. The clues are the ice axe, the "old dead" location (s) and it appears the oxygen bottle, plus some other evidence we are working on that we found. Based on the assumption that Sandy did not make it down, one would assume he rested and/or waited for George, then as the climbers say, he was "toast".

Reader's Letter: So, If George left Sandy at the second step, wouldn't he then have taken the camera in question?---He must have been heavily loaded--O2 gear, one hot cylinder, and maybe a spare (which I would have stashed along the path to the Summitt for the return trip), a rope, his axe, as well as the items he was found with.  Assuming that this was the case, where were these items (notably the O2 gear) left?  I would have to assume that the last thing to ditch (besides maybe the axe and rope) would be the camera with a summit shot. 

      As well, if the theory you put forth is true, then Sandy would not have had the camera that you went looking for, George would.  Does it seem reasonable that the best way to find the camera would be to retrace the assumed route that George would have taken trying to get back to their high camp.  Given that the O2 gear which was big, heavy, and metal, then it should be easier to find than the camera, and would point you in the right direction.  Perhaps re-searching the area around where George was found more exhaustively may turn up the camera.  Would you have abandoned it, if it did indeed have a summit shot?

By the way I have enjoyed reading of your expedition, and wish you the greatest luck in the future.

Reader's Letter: Thanks EverestNews.com...excuse me (after mulling the theory over during my daily run in the park) for adding a further doubt, and two probably hare brained suggestions.

My doubt is about evidence and proof. If Mallory had succeeded, alone, and returned to tell the tale, would he have been believed? If we assume he had no camera (unless he dropped it on the way down, which is unlikely), and that he was alone, then it was only his word for it. Would that have been enough? These days, it wouldn't. - but in 1924? With so much at stake, I find it hard to believe that Mallory would set out as you describe, helped over the Step by Irvine in sight of the summit, without any means of recording his greatest achievement. Mallory was forgetful but he was no fool, and too careful to have lost sight of that even in the excitement of the moment. Or would his word have been good enough in 1924?

So hare-brained suggestion 1: is there any way that Irvine could have seen and photographed Mallory's climb to the summit from below the Step? In your pictures the distance is not great and certainly from beyond the set it would be quite feasible to photograph a figure on the summit, especially as the weather was fine earlier in the day. Were there any sightlines anywhere near where the "old dead" was found?

EverestNews.com: The summits looks "right there", but it is actually pretty far. Very hard to say if he thought that he could have seen him.

Reader's Letter continued: Suggestion 2, unrelated: Irvine may have died while searching (ever the faithful soldier...) for Mallory, rather than just waiting or trying to return back alone. Could that explain what seems to be an out-of-the-way location for his body? Many thanks. My other thought while running in the park was that your theory would now make a terrific Hollywood blockbuster..."Because It Was There".. :-) Kind regards

Reader's Letter: You're research and attention to detail has made for some absolutely fascinating reading.  Before your reports on the Mallory & Irvine expedition, I was 100% convinced that neither of them made the summit.  Although I still feel that they didn't, I must admit that your research paints an extremely interesting scenario and has made me rethink about the entire mystery.  My question once again goes back to timing.  As one reader pointed out, Odell saw them both emerge from "the great rock step".  This must be the first step, because you're theory has them splitting up at the second step and Mallory continuing on alone.  You're theory also states that Mallory did not fall that far, so we should assume that he hiked almost all the way back to where his body lies today.  At first light on the following day of their summit bid, no one from the expedition team saw any movement on the mountain, so obviously Mallory and Irvine, (or at least Mallory), perished during the night.  Between the time of 12:50pm to first light the following morning, could Mallory have scaled the second step, made it to the summit, and then all the way down to near where his body was found within that time period? 

EverestNews.com:  The area where Mallory died, or at least where his body was found (which is where we believe he died), could not have been seen by them in our opinion. Nor could the couloir area where Mallory would have come down, therfore what was seen actually supports our theory. Because IF, you believe Mallory turned around at the Second Step and then left Sandy, then came down and got lost...(are you following?), the chance of him being seen would have been greater.

Reader's Letter:  G'day, a couple of wrinkles about the camera.

M&I, and indeed all the team, seem to have been good mates with John Noel and were aware that he had taken a huge gamble in paying PDS 8,000 for the film and still photo rights, and this had largely financed the expedition. The team would do all they could to make the expedition a success for him as well as themselves.

Thus, a few days earlier, Somervell was clicking away as Norton made his attempt. On a clear day, this would be better than having the lone climber taking the photos, there was a clear view of much of the route to the summit.

Mallory specifically gave John Noel guidance on when and where to film in one of his notes. But Irvine and Mallory would have been well aware that Noel might not get any pictures of them due to weather conditions. It is unlikely that M&I would have gone without at least one camera, probably two for back-up.

If your theory about Mallory going for the summit alone is correct, a decision might have been taken for Irvine (the expert in all things mechanical) to take responsibility for the photos of Mallory climbing to the summit, aka Somervell and Norton.

To get a better field of view of Mallory's route to the summit, Irving would probably have had to retreat a bit from the second step. At a later stage, he might have decided to return to the second step to wait for Mallory. 

One further comment, on the 'old dead' body in 'army-colored' clothes. What colors would 'army-colored' be to your source? Not everyone associates this with camouflage. Looking forward to more revelations

EverestNews.com: See here for more on the army-colored clothes.

Reader's Letter: YOU MIGHT POINT OUT TO EVERYONE WHO THINKS MALLORY TOOK A CAMERA, NORTON WAS IN THE EXACT SITUATION AS MALLORY (IF MALLORY AND IRVINE SPLIT UP).  NORTON DID NOT TAKE A CAMERA, THOUGH.

Reader's Letter: I have read all the books on Mallory and Irvine. These two people had an attitude that would have made it to any altitude that man could climb. Odell's first account was probably the right account. Odell was a scientist with a trained eye and was in excellent shape as attested by all on that expedition. He had been at the altitude many times and was well acclimated. It was only after the doubters had convinced him that he had been mistaken that he changed his story.

Reader's Letter:  Hello, I am mailing from Germany ...

Like the other readers I am fascinated by your theory. When I offer an alternative, it means not to belittle the merits of your theory or to question its soundness, but to exhaust other possibilities of theorizing on the same premises. My tentative vision of what happened on June 8, 1924 would be something like this:

On the most important day of their lives Mallory and Irvine rise up early. But we must assume something keeps them back at Camp VI, perhaps there are problems with the oxygen apparatus. Only such a delay could explain why Odell saw them probably at the First Step at 12.50 p.m. Anyway, they are the first men on the Northeast Ridge. Ahead of them is looming the Second Step, a mighty crag of silent resistance, and beyond, alluring and tantalizingly close, the summit pyramid. Still they are going strong, their oxygen not yet used up. „It is 50 to 1 against“, Mallory wrote in Camp I, May 27, in a letter to his wife, „but we'll have a whack yet and do ourselves proud.“ (Quoted in Peter & Leni Gillman, The Wildest Dream, p. 248.) What makes the odds against them, in Mallory's mind, is the monsoon, expected now every day, almost every hour. In 1922 it came on June 1.  

Ominously, a cloud has been building since the late morning. Early in the afternoon the weather deteriorates. Snow starts falling and the gusty wind rises to a storm. Mallory can have little doubt that this is the onset of the monsoon. (He cannot know his error.) There is absolutely no way of fighting the monsoon. They tried their best, they can be proud, but the weather gods have passed a verdict and it must not be ignored by penalty of death: return at once!

Mallory accepts the inevitable. He may be terribly disappointed, but he's about to face real terrors. Personally he may be able to manage them - the lack of sight, the fierce coldness, the running out of oxygen -, but he is not alone. When Irvine dumps his last bottle, his lungs meet the thin air in a gasping shock. Irvine has not Mallory's acclimatization. He's on Everest for the first time, and this is 1500 m higher than he ever came till June 6. The merciless wind and the debilitating lack of oxygen prey upon his stamina. Does Sandy remember May 10, when after a very rough time in Camp III, Norton sent him and Mallory down to Camp II for a respite? On their way back Sandy suffered from an altitude-induced headache and severe dehydration. He „found it difficult to keep up with George ...“ At one point he „became completely exhausted panting about twice to every step and staggering badly at times.“ It was all he „could do with George's praises & curses to get down to II alive.“ (Sandy's own words, as given in Julie Summers, „Fearless on Everest“, p. 212.) Now it is even more serious. To get down, has indeed become a matter of life and death.

For some time Sandy is able to drive his body along by sheer will-power, over steep, snow-covered ground. The wind is whipping snowflakes with ferocious force, leaving sight for just some yards. Suddenly George feels a tug at his rope. He turns around and sees his companion resting on a broad, rocky ledge – completely exhausted. George tries to get Sandy back on his feet, but without avail. Sandy knows he cannot slip from where he sits. For him the struggle is over. Mallory is desparate. What can he do? There MUST be something to do!

Indeed, there is. When Norton and Somervell returned completely exhausted from their summit bid four days ago, Mallory offered them oxygen. If anything can put Sandy back on his feet, it will be oxygen! In Camp VI there is still some left. They used up most of the bottles not needed for summit day in order to get some sleep at night, but even one hour of air may save the life of Sandy. It´s a desparate plan, but Mallory knows there is no other. „I go to Camp for oxygen!“ he shouts against the storm. „Do you HEAR me? You stay here and wait until I'm back to you!“ The young man gives a silent nod. A moment later George is off, as if the snow had swallowed him. No one is with Sandy now but his trusted ice-pick.

George goes not the way they came. He is struggling down the Yellow Band to come as fast as possible to zones of richer air, making pace with all his skill and with what strength is left in him. He actually comes close to the lowest part of the Yellow Band from where he wants to make a rush eastward for the Camp. He cannot know that the limestone is veined with quartz as white as snow and smoother than the other rock. Only yards away from safer area, he slips and in a tumbling moment relives an experience from 1909, when he fell in a limestone quarry near the town of Birkenhead. Hitting the steep upper slope of the „snow terrace“, his right ankle – his „Achilles´ heel“ since 1909 - breaks again and the tibia and fibula above his boot. Nevertheless, George is fighting for his life. Arms outstretched he tries to stop his grinding slide. In the lower part of the slope a rock smashes his right brow. Mallory is slowing down. Only yards away from the rim where the slope falls off to the Rongbuk glacier 6000 feet below, he comes to his final rest.

Some time later the wind subsides as if appeased by human sacrifice. The clouds vanish, the whole mountain is bathed in sunshine. The newly fallen snow begins to evaporate. On a warming ledge beneath the Ridge a lonely figure starts to move. It comes to its feet on shaky legs and like a child which starts to walk, it moves along with groping steps. Sandy Irvine follows his own shadow. He never thinks of the ice-pick. Within his mind he sees a tent. The shadow of his will is moving towards the tent. Time is lost in lazy light. But then the tent is fading. The desire to get rest again becomes too strong to resist. Lieing on his left side, he nestles to the snow ...

Take this scenario as sort of a mental exercise in accordance to the main premises of your theory (Irvine dying at ca. 8400 m and Mallory ca. 240 m deeper and distinctly more to the west, with injuries indicating a short fall). So Mallory – in this scenario of climbing down from the ice-pick site - would have moved somewhat to the EAST of the ice-pick site, in a steep diagonal. This would be the right direction: eastward, towards the Camp. So the scenario would be in accordance to the site of Mallory's death and equally to the premise that Irvine died in the place your source described (some distance east of the ice-pick site and, as I understand it, east of Mallory's site).

IF the assumed Irvine site proves to be true, the rope around Mallory's body could be dismissed as an immediate link between Mallory's and Irvine's death. In this connexion I find it interesting what the English reader said: that the rope could have been torn when Irvine started up the Second Step, and that Irvine played down his injuries, giving Mallory a thumb's up for going on alone. In the end all depends on corroboration of the site where you assume Irvine has died. That Wang Hong Bao's description of the „old English dead“ reads like what your source has told, seems to be a strong indication that your assumption of Irvine's death site in 8400 m could well be true. But corroboration is vital in solving this long-lived mystery of death. So keep up your splendid work, and all my thanks and respect.

One last remark which you and your readers might find interesting. I was surprised to read in the biography of the Gillmans (p. 235) that Mallory visited the widow of Robert Falcon Scott right before he left England for the 1924 Expedition. (Scott's widow had married a brother of Mallory's friend Geoffrey Young.) Talking with Kathleen Scott seems to have disturbed Mallory. On the travel back „in a taxi with the Youngs he told them he did not want to return to Everest.“ Talking about premonitions: In his last letter to his wife (May 27) Mallory wrote (p. 248): „The candle is burning out and I must stop.“ The symbolism can hardly escaped his consciousness. One day later he wrote to his sister Mary (p. 248): „... but we may be delayed or caught by the Monsoon or anything.“ And to his mother (p. 248): „It will be a great adventure, if we get started before the monsoon hits us, with just a bare outside chance of success and a good many chances of a very bad time indeed. I shall take every care I can, you may be sure.“ Cordial greetings

EverestNews.com:  Nice to see an alternative theory! We have asked for alternative theories but received few. Keep working and thinking! On the theory, our climbers didn't see an alternative route down the mountain that way, nor do we see a route, like we think you are talking about, in the video.

Reader's Letter:  Thank you, EverestNews.com! I think, what makes your site especially great, is that you use the potential among readers from all over the world who learn your views and what they are based on and who bring in own ideas, questions and suggestions and sometimes even answers. This is like a global teamwork with you and your colleagues at the center of research, analysis and interpretation. It must be a plague to handle bags of emails, but that way your work gets the finest scope of attention. A big group can survey more ground of thinking than a small one - less is neglected.

The global scope of collaboration is perhaps the only way to cope with a riddle of such dimensions. Your initiatives and use of Internet offer better chances to solve it than ever. Patience and dedication will prepare a solution in the future. Meanwhile it´s the most exciting thing to read in circles all around it ... After all, everyone can learn from the climbers of the past and the present! Tuebingen in Southern Germany

Reader's Letter: No one ever mentions the picture that George is known to have of his wife. He said that he was going to leave it on the summit. No picture of his wife was found on him. That and his desire to summit and his ability tells me he summited.

EverestNews.com: Thanks for all the e-mails and support. We are going to need to cut this Q&A off and get back to work. We will be posting several more articles soon. Feel free to submit your comments to and thank you for your support. Maybe we can do another Q&A in a month or so...

Dispatches

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