On 29 May, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to successfully
summit Mount Everest, taking this famous picture as proof of their success.
At the summit, they buried a cross and ate some candy before heading back down to rejoin
their team and celebrate their success.
The pair were hailed as international heroes, with Edmund Hillary being knighted for the
accomplishment, and Tenzing Norgay receiving the George Medal, one of the highest honours
one can receive from the British government.
But Was there anyone else who may have reached the summit long before Edmund Hillary’s
There very well may have been.
There have been several expedition before Hillary and Norgay tried and summit Everest.
Among these is an expedition launched in the 1920s, which would aim to be the very first
to climb to the summit and which would disappear under mysterious circumstances, spiraling
into one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century.
In 1921, George Mallory and Guy Bullock set off on a British expedition to survey the
everest, with Mallory becoming the first European to set foot on the mountain.
They made it to just over 7000 metres (just under 23000 feet), but were unprepared to
However, on this expedition, the two climbers found what they thought might be a route to
the top from the North Col, and made note of it for future expeditions.
In 1922, Mallory tried this route again, once again making it no further than the North
Col before being forced to turn back.
This time, however, he got caught in an avalanche, losing seven porters, and nearly dying himself.
All of this brings us to the 1924 Expedition.
This was, once again, a British undertaking, and once again, Mallory was set to try for
the summit, this time with Andrew Irvine at his side.
Irvine was a 22 year-old undergraduate student who had zero high altitude climbing experience
but was nevertheless an avid sportsman, having been an accomplished rower, and had incredible
engineering acumen, being an expert at repairing the supplemental oxygen equipment used by
the British mountain expeditions; An unwieldy bottle-like apparatus which were heavy, unreliable
and prone to breaking or leaks.
Irvine would also be invaluable for maintaining the cameras, stoves, and pretty much every
other mechanical device during the expedition.
With the help of Irvine, Mallory was able to increase the functionality and strength
of the oxygen tanks, designing a tank that weighed 5 pounds less than usual called the
“Mark V,” but it was still a cumbersome beast to drag up a steep mountain, at around
Nevertheless, this oxygen was seen by Mallory as the key to reaching the forbidding summit
The two set off for the summit on 8 June, 1924.
After several days of ascending the face of Everest, Mallory and Irvine had climbed up
to 8168 m (26,800 feet) on the eve of their final push to take the summit in order to
set up a small camp, after which Sherpa guides were sent to tell the rest of the expedition
who were at another camp farther down the mountain that they planned to reach the peak
the following morning.
The next day, on June 8, 1924, Mallory and Irvine set out for the summit of Everest in
although the last person to see them, team geologist Noel Odell who watched through a
telescope, noticed that something must have gone less smoothly than planned as the pair
began their ascent at 12:50 in the afternoon rather than the early morning hours that they
had originally stated.
Nevertheless, Odell reported that the two climbers appeared to be climbing strongly
and reached a place at around 8,604 meters (28,227 feet) called the Second Step, just
below the summit pyramid, without incident.
Odell felt sure at the time that they would have no trouble reaching their goal, but then
a thick bank of sudden clouds and mist enveloped them and they were lost to view.
This picture was the last picture taken before they left the camp.
This is the last time anyone saw them alive, And, so began the greatest mystery of mountaineering:
Did George Mallory & Andrew Irvine reach the summit of Everest in 1924, a full 29 years
before Sir Edmund Hillary & Sherpa Tenzing Norgay?
No one but Mallory & Irvine...knows for sure what happened on that fateful day.
No one can say with any degree of certainty that they reached the top on 8 June, 1924,
and likewise no one can say with any degree of certainty that they did not reach the top.
However, There are a few key pieces of evidence that might help solve the mystery of what
happened to Mallory and Irvine.
In 1933, a member of the Fourth British Everest Expedition by the name of Percy Wyn-Harris
found an ice-axe at around 8,460 m (27,760 ft) which it was determined must have belonged
to Irvine due to the characteristic three nick marks that he was known to put on his
Later testing and scouring of diaries and equipment logs showed that it was Irvine's
Why an ice axe - an invaluable piece of equipment - was left behind a decent distance from where
it was expected to be is anyone's guess.
There have various theories regarding the ice axe, including that it was evidence of
the scene of a fall, that it had been dropped accidentally, or that it had simply been placed
there to be picked up again on the way back down.
In 1960, a Chinese climber found what he described as a body sitting upright in the shelter of
a rock on the Northeast Ridge, the approach that Mallory and Irvine would have been using.
Once again, very few European climbers would have used this route, largely because access
to it had been closed in the 1950s by the Chinese government.
Any European bodies at that altitude must have gotten there before that time.
This body has not been rediscovered.
In 1975, another Chinese climber spotted a body that he described as "English dead,"
with clothing that disintegrated when touched.
This body was rediscovered in 1999, and determined to be the body of George Mallory.
Although Mallory’s body has been found, Irvine’s never has.
The 1999 expedition found several interesting clues, of which Mallory's body was not the
This expedition found Mallory and Irvine's oxygen bottles along the First Step, along
with evidence that they hadn't been functioning properly.
This suggests any number of terrifying possibilities, as oxygen is extremely important for climbers
at high altitude.
Without it, the two men would have been sluggish in their responses at best, and unable to
function at worst.
Also interesting was the evidence of how Mallory died.
Severe rope jerk injuries show that he fell, but was caught, at least initially.
What ultimately killed him, though, were the numerous other fall injuries he'd gotten,
including head trauma.
It's absolutely clear that at some point, Mallory fell, and that caused his death.
However, the injuries from the fall were not the only injuries he, or possibly Irvine,
Blood on Mallory's collar matched a pattern of blotting an injury rather than of bleeding
freely, suggesting that one of the two men had been injured before the fall.
How this influenced the climb, no one knows.
But what offers the most tantalising clues about the climb are Mallory's personal effects.
One his personal effects was his snow goggles which were found in his pocket, which seems
to suggest he was heading down the face at night since they would have been necessary
in the blinding white of the daytime snow.
A night time or early evening descent would seem to suggest that he was on his way down
from reaching the summit at a late time, which coincides with their unexpectedly late departure.
It is thought that if they had not reached the summit then it would be unlikely Mallory
would still be at that high location at such a late hour, although it could also mean that
he was coming down after he had simply given up trying and failing.
He was also found with his watch, rope and equipment lists.
However, there was one thing that was missing, that has fueled speculation more.
Mallory carried a picture of his wife up the mountain with him, promising her that if he
reached the summit, he would leave it there, burying it under the snow so she could be
there with him as well.
That picture was not with him.
This doesn't automatically mean that he buried it on the top of the mountain - perhaps at
some point he took it out of his coat to look at it and it blew away or got lost? - but
it is a tantalising clue nonetheless.
The only clue that would solve the mystery at this point would be to find Irvine, and
find the camera that he carried with him.
Irvine, however, has not yet been found despite several expeditions.
It's possible he will be, but as of today, he's gone.
And for now the mystery must be left unanswered.
But bearing in mind all the circumstances, considering their position when last seen
and given Mallory strength and determination, I like to think that Mallory and Irvine saw
the view from the top of the world before the end.
Hopefully, one day Irvine's body will be found and the camera will show what happened.
Until then, it is an unsolved mystery.
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