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  Mallory and Irvine 1924 Theories

George Mallory Theory Three

The "fall theory" by Tom Holzel

The two were seen by Odell climbing the First or Second Step obstacle and the ice ax marks the point of a fall. This theory can be elaborated from its simplest form to a complex possible summit ascent.

In its simplest form, Mallory and Irvine were spotted clambering up the First Step.  With about an hour of oxygen left, Mallory was appalled by the dangerous traverse that lay ahead to the base of the formidable Second Step.  They mounted the First Step to see if the other (Kangshung) side of the NE Ridge gave an easier route past the Second Step.  It did not.  Realizing that even if they continued, they would just reach the base of the Second Step as their oxygen was running out—or perhaps they could just manage to climb it.  And then what? A steep climb up the summit pyramid without oxygen when it was already time now to turn back?  Perhaps they began the traverse toward the Second Step, but soon realized the futility of it. So they turned back.  A half-hour later they became enveloped in a fierce snow squall.  Mallory, leading slipped and fell.  Irvine tossed his ice ax aside and grabbed the rope with both hands—but in vain—and the two men tumbled down the rocky slope of the North Face. Both sustained severe rope-jerk injuries until the hawser-laid rope broke.  If it broke early in the fall, Irvine may still be higher up on the ice ax fall line.  If lower, he would have continued falling all the way to the head of the Rongbuk Glacier below, his remains buried in its heavy snow accumulation.

A more complex variation places the sighting of Mallory & Irvine as climbing over the Second Step—the Step Odell originally assumed he saw them surmounting.  I suggested that Mallory would not want to drag the inexperienced Irvine along into much greater danger.  He would take Irvine’s remaining hour of oxygen and belay him down the Step to return to C-6 alone.  Now with two hours of oxygen remaining, Mallory had an excellent chance of reaching the summit. But, exhausted in retreat, it would have been a near miracle that he got as far as he did before falling to his death less than 15 minutes from safe terrain.


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