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  Mallory and Irvine The Final Chapter: The Mystery of Mallory's Watch


Author: Thom Pollard

Date: March 8, 2004

Mallory and Irvine sleuths continue to debate the issue of the watch found on Mallory, and what it tells about the time of their accident.

             May 16, 1999 – 26,500’, Everest North Face

        Stopping to enjoy the view from over 26,000 feet I watched Andy Politz descend into the darkness.  He grabbed a bright orange fixed line beneath his arm and loped down the face, facing forward, quickly fading from view.  Snow fell gently. A hazy horizon made me feel like I was walking on clouds.  Everest’s north face was as beautiful as I’d imagined it. However, on this night it felt peaceful, a safe place to relax and take it all in.

Late in the afternoon of May 16, 1999 Andy and I returned to the site where George Leigh Mallory had come to rest 75 years before. My oxygen tank had been off for two or three hours while we searched in vain for the camera. The sun set as we read Mallory’s eulogy, his body now buried in the best grave we could offer him. While everything seemed clear at the time I began to feel as if some of the particulars of the day were starting to fade from my memory.

Shortly after arriving at the site Andy powered up the metal detector.  We hoped it could do what our eyes couldn’t: pick up the location of Mallory’s camera. I crawled around on my hands and knees going after anything that made the metal detector blip: a metal clasp beneath Mallory’s chin held his leather helmet tight; hobnails on his boot; and, a broken watch inside his pocket.

The minute and second hands had broken off.  The hour hand remained, though, stuck forever between one and two. Could it be that Mallory and Irvine fell sometime between one and two?  Highly doubtful. His pocket was perfectly clean, not a shard of glass to be found. It obviously meant that the watch was broken, cleaned of its glass, then placed inside Mallory’s pocket. Curiously, the watch was rusty. Melted snow or sweat had rusted the watch.

Photo was taken at Camp 5, May 17, 1999 by Thom Pollard. Andy Politz is holding the watch. He stashed it away shortly after. The hour hand was never seen again. copyright©Thom Pollard

Let it be known that the watch tells nothing more than this: his watch broke before his fateful accident. At the time his watch broke Mallory was in good enough condition to take it off and stow it in his pocket. Early on the morning of May 17 I photographed Andy’s hand holding the watch with the hour hand still affixed. Somewhere between there and Advanced Base Camp the hour hand fell off, lost forever amidst the detritus of Everest lore.

IN CLOSING: Why dispel one subject for M&I sleuths without adding another? In the article Face To Face With George Leigh Mallory, could it be the hole in his forehead was the ‘hole in his cheek’ of an ‘old English dead’ that Chinese climber Wang Hong-bao spoke about in 1975?

(Pollard’s photography will be featured in the April 2004 issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine, highlighting the Viracocha 2 Expedition, an ancient-style reed ship voyage from Chile to Easter Island.)

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