History

Mystery on the world’s highest mountain

It is a cold morning in June 1924 on Mount Everest. After years of preparation George Mallory intends to become the first person in the world to reach the summit. This is the third time that he has tried to perform one of the riskiest feats that anyone can imagine. He promised his wife back home in England that he would never go there again, but with the eyes of the world upon him, he cannot resist the challenge. He is carrying a photo of his wife in his pocket, which he plans to put on the summit in her honour.

Mallory and his companion Andrew Irvine take their oxygen, ropes, altimeter, camera, a Primus stove and their provisions and go on their way. There is a lot that they will have to overcome in their quest, the cold, the risk of snow blindness, the lack of oxygen and the small amount of time that they can spend at such high altitudes. The final section to the top includes a vertical ice wall measuring 4.5 metres (almost 15’). Note: people who climb Everest today are able to ascend this section using a ladder that has been permanently installed. Mallory and Irvine do not have this luxury. The only things they have to help them are ice axes, hobnailed boots and gabardine jackets. As they ascend, their climbing companions at a lower height catch sight of two dots on the horizon disappearing behind a mountain ridge. All traces of them disappear shortly after, never to be seen again.

The ninth British attempt to climb Mount Everest takes place in 1953 and this time it is successful. Sir Edmund Hillary and the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay achieve world renown as the first people to reach the summit of the highest mountain on the planet.

In 1999, 46 years later, an expedition discovers Mallory’s frozen body close to the summit. His pockets contain several well-preserved objects. But there is something missing – the photo of his wife. Is this a sign that George Mallory reached the top back in 1924? He took the answer to this question with him to his death.

What actually happened to the two climbers is an unsolved mystery that is currently the subject of much speculation. For some people it is their life’s work to solve the mystery, searching for Irvine’s body that disappeared without a trace and the missing camera. They have painstakingly studied maps, aerial photos and panoramic images with lasers to find any unusual raised areas, and have also listened to observations made by new climbers.

A top Chinese climber talked about a European body that he had seen near the top of Everest. But before he was able to pinpoint the location, he himself died in an avalanche. So far Irvine is the only climber who has died on Everest whose body has never been located. There could be consequences if the camera is actually found. History may have to be rewritten about who was actually the first person to climb the world’s highest mountain.

The only thing that we do know is Mallory’s now legendary answer to the question: “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?”. “Because it’s there.”

February 07 2022

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