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  Mallory and Irvine The Final Chapter: The Second Chinese Story

By Tom Holzel       Continuing on from...

Now that Mallory had been found, where is Irvine?  The question seems simple enough.  Some 30 feet of rope remaining on Mallory showed the two were roped together—as would be expected when crossing the treacherous slopes. Irvine’s body—and presumably the camera(s) the two are presumed to have taken—should be either on Irvine or somewhere on Mallory’s fall line.

The clues to Irvine’s location were scouted out by Eric Simonson and Jochen Hemmleb.  Simonson was the leader of the 1999 expedition that discovered Mallory’s body. In an interview with Everester Xu Jing, they learned that he had discovered a body during his 1960 climb. “The body was lying in a concave hollow or gully running down from the ridge crest. Again, he mentioned that the body was in a sleeping bag, but most of the bag was rotted away. The altitude, he now said, was 8300 meters (27,230 feet).”

Simonson and Hemmleb put Irvine’s body in an area along his assumed descent path, but much higher than Mallory. (As it is assumed Mallory was leading with some 100 feet of rope between them, from a purely topographic viewpoint Irvine should be about that much more to the right of Mallory’s fall line.

If correct, this location gives rise to some interesting speculation. It means, first of all, that the rope between the two climbers broke moments after the fall occurred.  This means it is possible that, unlike Mallory whose severe head injury killed him outright, Irvine was stopped much earlier in the fall and may have survived. Because the location for Irvine suggested by Xu is 100 to 200 yards to the left of Mallory’s fall line, it further indicates that Irvine was able to struggle on towards their high camp.  If, as is supposed, the fall occurred because of the two-hour snow squall, Irvine may still have been crawling towards his high camp during that storm. When it blew over, Odell scanned the slopes for signs of his friends.  But by now, the stricken climber may have already sought shelter from the paralyzing wind in a cleft in the rocks, a spot from which he never got up.

If Irvine is found closer to Mallory’s fall line, it would suggest that, like Mallory, he was incapacitated by the fall over bare rocks.  Indeed, stopping so high up indicates a sudden slam into a rock ledge. He would have died where he fell to a stop.

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