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  Mallory and Irvine The Final Chapter: Eric Simonson Q&A on the Mallory findings (summer 1999)

Eric Simonson Q&A on the Mallory findings (summer 1999)

Eric Simonson Q&A on the Mallory findings with questions from the staff and our EverestNews.com Insiders members


Q.) Many readers are interesting in how this expedition got started and the role of Larry Johnson and Jochen Hemmleb. Maybe the readers could hear the short story of their role in getting this expedition going, and what they are doing now.

A.) This expedition was the idea of Larry Johnson and Jochen Hemmleb, both Everest historians.  Larry contacted me during the summer of 1998 about organizing a Mallory Expedition which would join my Everest team in 1999 to the North Side.  I had planned to organize a commercial climb for 1999 along the lines of our successful 1998 International Mountain Guides expedition that Dave Hahn had led for me. From the beginning of our conversations, however, it became apparent to me that for this Mallory Expedition to be successful, it could not just be an "add on" to a commercial climb.  It had to be a dedicated expedition.  Our priorities had to be the search, number one, and any summit climb would have to take second place.  When I committed to organizing the expedition during the Autumn of 1998, it was one this basis.  That was one reason the expedition was so challenging to put together for me, even though I have done dozens of big trips before.  I had no clients writing checks.  We had to raise every nickel of the 300K we needed starting from scratch, and we had about 3 months to do it. We worked very hard all winter to get the sponsors on board to support the expedition.  Back in the dark days of December, when everyone thought we were nuts, it seemed like a long shot that we would ever get on an airplane, let alone find anything.

Since getting home, Larry, Jochen, and I are working very hard with The Mountaineers and the other team members to finish up the official Expedition Book which will be titled Ghosts of Everest, and which will be published by the Mountaineers Press in October.

Q.) Do you believe the climber the Chinese found in 75 (?) was Mallory?

A.) Absolutely not. The Chinese described a climber who was facing up, and who had a hole in his cheek. This was definitely a different body.

Q.) Any photographs found on Mallory's body?

A.) No

Q.) Have you been in touch with British Film Institute that now is looking at the film of Mallory’s expedition, which sounds like sat somewhere all of these years until your discovery?

A.) We've seen the film, but there is nothing new on it.

Q.) The watch: We understand the rust marks indicate that the hands stopped at either 10:20 or 3:50. Is that correct? Meaning the theory, as no one can know for sure.

A.) I'm not sure... ...we are having it looked at by a watch expert to see where they really were.  Also, to see if the mainspring ran down, or whether it stopped due to a blow (a fall?).

Q.) Is the current theory that Mallory fell first ? and why?

A.) We don't know.  It must have been a fairly hard fall to break the rope (or maybe it caught on a rock?).

Q.) What is this issue of Irvine sitting upright? How does one know he is sitting upright unless he has been found?

A.) I haven't heard that he was sitting, unless it was the Chinese climber who said it.

Q.) There was a "camera location statement" some people seem to believe at the press conference at Katmandu. Leading some to think you said something to the effect, we know where the cameras is. Any comment?

A.) I think we have a better idea of where it might be, because we have searched (and therefore EXCLUDED) some real estate from the equation.  We didn't find Irvine or the camera.

Q.) Some Everest climbers feel that Conrad’s climb was not a "true free climb" of the second step, as we are told Conrad himself said he did not free climb the second step in that he had the step on the ladder. Would you agree?

A.) The ladder was overlapping the crack at the top...he had to stick his leg through the rungs of the ladder to get at the crack...and he stepped on the ladder.  Anyone who knows what a great climber Conrad is will understand that he wasn't cheating...the ladder was in the way!  His suggestion is that maybe someday the ladder can be re-positioned to the right of the corner.  Then people who want to climb the crack can do that, and people who want to climb the ladder can do that...without any "overlap"!

Q.) Therefore do you believe the second step can be free climbed? Also did Messner free climb the second step ??? Do we know?

A.) Absolutely.  Conrad called it 5.8 (sea level), 5.10 (at 28,300 with no O2). Messner climbed the Great Couloir...not the ridge (or the Step). The only other ladder-less ascent would have been the Chinese in 1960.

Q.) What did the photo taken by Andy from what was assumed to be Odell's view, indicate the position at which Odell viewed Mallory and Irvine on Summit day? Did you learn anything from Andy on this?

A.) I don't think there was anything new from this.

Q.) Where was the watch found?

A.) In George's pocket. Andy and Thom used the metal detector to find it when they went back a second time to the search site to finish the job once and for all.  They potentially gave up a summit bid to do this, because they felt it was so important to put the question to rest whether there was a camera buried anywhere in the area.

Q.) Do you believe the material under Mallory's exposed foot is them remains of the missing boot ?

A.) Yes.  One boot was complete and the other was only partially found.

Q.) Where EXACTLY was the 1924 oxygen bottle found? How many bottles were at that location? Did the bottle still have gas inside? If so, how much pressure was there? Were any other items found along with it? Is the recovered bottle the one Eric found in 1991? Would is have stayed full over all of these years even if not used?

A.) Yes, this is the bottle I found in 1991.  I told Tap and Jake where to look, and they found it.  It was by a boulder on the route about 150 yards from the base of the First Step.  There was no gas in it.

Q.) Do you know what happened to the oxygen apparatus carried by M&I ?

A.) It was never found.  However, we found a really cool pack frame from the 1933 expedition at their Camp 6 in the Yellow Band. There is a picture of this VERY FRAME, looking out the door of the tent at Camp 6, in the Ruttledge book Attack on Everest (for you Everest historians out there!). 

Q.) Who owns the Photos?

A.) The team members.

Q.) What about the decision to publish the photos. There has been some controversy.  What do you think?

A.) I feel strongly that this expedition was conducted to benefit all of our knowledge of one of the most important Everest stories.  I certainly concur with what Tom Hornbein said in his preface to Everest: The West Ridge ...as I soon learned, Everest was not a private affair.  It belonged to many men."

The success of this expedition has not come without its controversies, the largest of which will probably be our decision to publish the photos of the remains of Mallory. While some members of the Mallory family supported this decision, others did not, and we recognize and appreciate their perspectives, too. No disrespect was felt or intended in publishing those photos. We saw the story as just too important not to tell fully, a story so rich in its history and newsworthy in its content that no matter what we chose to do, argument would surely ensue. We could not wish to agree with everyone on this, as matters of taste are indeed not universal. We do hope that our decision to donate proceeds from the publication of these photos to non-profit organizations dedicated to Himalayan communities demonstrates that our objectives were not aimed at undeserved profiteering.

Q.) What are you doing with the artifacts now?

A.) The items are in temporary storage at the Washington State Historical Museum in Tacoma, Washington.  They are not on public display, but are being kept in the research facility where they are being stored in a temperature/humidity controlled environment.  We have hired a professional archeologist to supervise the documentation, photography, and analysis of them.  This includes such work as comparing blood stains on the clothing (are they Mallory or Irvine's...could there have been an earlier accident?), the time on the watch (did it run down or did it stop due to impact?), and forensic analysis of the body photos to gain a better idea of where they fell from, based on the extent of the injuries.  We expect to be able to reveal these results in the expedition book, Ghosts of Everest  (as I said before, to be published by The Mountaineers in October).

When we are done with our research, it is my expectation that the items will be turned over to a museum in the UK, and we are working with the Mallory family to  figure out the best place for them to go.

Before they go back to the UK, it is my hope that we can arrange a showing in the USA, perhaps at the American Alpine Club meeting in November. Best Regards, Eric

Eric has been guiding professionally since 1973. Eric's climbing resume in the U.S. includes 16 ascents of Mt. McKinley and over 260 ascents of Mt. Rainier. He summited Mt. Everest via the North Ridge in 1991. He was, of course, the leader of this year Expedition which found the body of Mallory...

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