Being as familiar with the mystery as I am there wasn’t much history I wasn’t already aware of. Most people watching this film, however, probably don’t have any background on Mallory and his three attempts to be the first to stand on the top of Mount Everest. The film did a fine job of painting Mallory as the driven, talented, and conflicted person he was. The film was part historical documentary, part cinematic re-enactment, and part modern-day replication. It alternates between Mallory’s summit bids and Conrad Anker and Leo Holding’s summit attempt under the same conditions and (mostly) using the 1924 era equipment Mallory and Irvine used.
There are a number of theories as to exactly what happened on that day in 1924, as many of them include Mallory and Irvine reaching the summit as do not, and Anker also has his own opinions. He’s convinced that Mallory survived the fall and placed his good leg over his bad leg, expiring shortly thereafter from exposure. There are competing theories as to the actual cause of death (Mallory had a hole in his head which might have been caused by a kickback from his ice axe or an impact on a rock) and whether or not he was even conscious when he came to rest on the north face of Everest. Anker is an experienced climber who’s summited Everest and, don’t forget, he found Mallory. His opinion is as good or better than any. Anker stops short of claiming he believes the pair successfully summited the mountain but he entertains that it’s definitely possible they had the ability to, given they retained their strength and frame of mind. Continue reading →
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
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
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.
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.
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 →