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
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
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
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.
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.
Yes, the bottle still contained oxygen when we found it.
It is nice to see someone go out on a limb and tell us what
they really think. Thank you.
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.
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?
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".
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.
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
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?
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
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?
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
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
See here for more on the
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
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
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.
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...
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