The Fall of George Mallory

I ran across a song titled The Fall of George Mallory, written by a band called Gatsby’s American Dream.  Having such an interest in the disappearance and legend of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine I thought I’d post the lyrics here.  The story has also inspired me in many ways.

And the birds eat your insides
clutching the mountain side
(it’s where the day takes you)
Did you think you would try to climb the face?
There’s longing and it breaks you
(synthetic lies)
You’re filling up with concrete

Didn’t miss a breath
When you climbed so high
Did you see your wife and child
And were you ready to die
A million miles away, would you throw it all away?

Simple dreams in the mainstream
Is where the day takes you
Simple dreams in the mainstream
But you just died a million miles from home

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Last Climb

Mallory & Irvine's Last Photo
Mallory & Irvine at the North Col, June 6, 1924. It is the last photo taken of the pair alive.

About a month or so ago I finished a really great book about the British Everest expeditions of 1921, 1922, and 1924 called “Last Climb”, written by David Breashears and Audrey Salkeld. As you might already know, the 1924 expedition took the lives of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine when they were lost on Everest and presumed dead.  This first portion of this book focuses primarily on the life of George Leigh Mallory and while the later portion focuses primarily on the expeditions to Everest he was a part of.  A small portion of the book details the discovery of Mallory’s body in 1999 as well.  It’s well-written and and entertaining, with lots and lots of pictures from the expeditions and Mallory’s life.

What I really liked about the book is that it provided just enough detail about the expeditions to give me a good idea of what it was like but not so much that the book dragged.  I’m not really that interested in mountain climbing, believe it or not, but Mallory’s story is what’s so fascinating.  For me the story is his drive to reach the top and his tragic death (along with climbing partner Irvine) and how his life and death affected his friends and family.

What I’m continually amazed by is that a 37 year old father of three would risk his life (and ultimately give his life) to reach the top of Everest.  He went on two other expeditions before the one that killed him, all within a four year period.  In between that he did a lecture tour of the states.  He was away from his wife and family for a good part of those four years.  I know times were different then and gender roles were different as well but it still boggles my mind that the desire to get to the top, to attain the title of first to the top of the world, could be worth risking his life for.  He expressed outwardly love and affection for his family but the mountain always won in the end.  When he died in 1924 he left behind three children, one three years old who he’d barely seen grow up.  Ultimately he’d never see him grow up; his son would grow up not with a father but with the legend of a man frozen to the side of the world’s tallest mountain.  On the one hand I feel a sort of reverence for someone that talented and determined but on the other hand I feel a bit of resentment and pity for someone so utterly controlled by what can only be called an addiction that he’d chance leaving his family alone in the world.  I suppose there’s no way really to feel strongly either way; it was a tragic death of a mountaineering legend and loving father and husband.

And what makes it even worse is that, based on the evidence so far, they most likely never made it.  I’d guess though that making it to the top would have provided little consolation to the family and friends of the doomed climbing pair.

Now sometimes when I’m outside in the bitter cold at night I think of Mallory up there on the side of the mountain.  I wonder what his last moments were like, I wonder if he was conscious as he lay there with a broken, freezing body.  If so, I wonder if he’d do it differently if given the opportunity.  I suppose he or anyone else would.  Then I walk inside a warm house and see my wife and my two boys; I pick the up and give them kisses and hugs, and I know that barring something unforeseen I’ll be around to see them grow up.  It makes me thankful that I’m not as conflicted as Mallory was and that my choices are very clear to me.

So if you’re even remotely interested in this story this book is great.  It’s definitely worth checking out.

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Parallels Between Grissom and Mallory

Grissom, White, and Chaffee

I’ve been watching this excellent show on Discovery chronicling the NASA space flight missions. It sparked my interest in the Mercury 7 and subsequent Apollo missions and compelled me to do a bit of reading. I quickly began to see parallels between the ill-fated Everest climb of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine and the fatal Apollo 1 tragedy that took the lives of astronauts Roger Chaffee, Ed White, and Gus Grissom.

I further drew more distinct parallels between Gus Grissom and George Mallory. I’ve written about the Mallory and Irvine tragedy in detail but I’ll summarize again here. George Mallory died in 1924, along with his young climbing partner Andrew Irvine, attempting to be the first to reach the peak of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. There is much speculation they made it to the top but died on the descent; however, the generally acknowledged opinion is that they died on the ascent, having never reached the top. Part of why their story is famous is because of the possibility they might have actually reached the top first (a missing camera might hold photographic proof). The pair, particularly George Mallory, achieved iconic status after the valiant-but failed-pioneering attempt to reach the peak.

Gus Grissom was the second American in space, member of the famous Mercury 7 astronauts, and was killed in a fire during a training exercise for the Apollo 1 mission. He died along with fellow astronaut Ed White (who was the first American to perform a space walk) and rookie astronaut Roger Chaffee. Continue reading

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Mallory & Irvine: Lost on Everest

On June 8, 1924 British mountain climber George Mallory, along with his young climbing partner Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, disappeared during their attempt to be the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Twenty nine years later Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay successfully conquered the summit of Everest and are considered to be the first to have scaled the peak of the world’s tallest mountain.

George Mallory
George Mallory

There is, however, rampant speculation that George Mallory and Sandy Irvine were actually the first to reach the summit, although no conclusive evidence has been discovered to prove it. They carried with them a camera that some believe might hold the proof of their ascent to the top of the world but it has yet to be recovered. This story remains to this day one of mountaineering’s greatest mysteries, still hotly debated amongst mountaineering circles some eighty years later.

An expedition was mounted in 1999 to search for Mallory and Irvine’s remains and to hopefully recover the camera that might solve this mystery. They were unable to locate Irvine’s body but they did locate George Mallory. He was discovered face down at about 27,500 feet on the North Face of Everest. He’d fallen at some point during the descent, severely breaking his right leg in two places, injuring his shoulder, breaking an arm, and suffering what appeared to be a fatal blow to the forehead. A broken length of rope was found tied around his torso and his ribs were fractured and his torso bruised beneath the rope. As he fell it appears the rope caught on something solid before it broke, subsequently sealing his fate. It’s assumed he was roped to Irvine when he fell but it’s virtually impossible to know for sure.

He didn’t fall far though; his body did not show the severe and significant injury that others had who’d fallen long distances on Everest did. Regardless of distance his fall was, nonetheless, fatal. Although Irvine’s remains were not found in 1999 it is believed that someone from a Chinese expedition may have spotted him in 1960 lying on his back between two large rocks. However, even recent attempts to find Irvine’s body and recover any artifacts and/or proof of a summit have been unsuccessful. It’s not impossible that the two fell together; Mallory coming to a stop and Irvine continuing to fall much, much further. Continue reading

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