Simonson Q&A on the Mallory findings (summer 1999)
Simonson Q&A on the Mallory findings with
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
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
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
Q.) What is this issue of
Irvine sitting upright? How does one know he is sitting upright unless he has
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
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
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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