1921 - 1924
In 1921 George Mallory would join the Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition as one of only two experienced mountaineers. Having gathered Sherpas, Bhutias, porters, supplies and 100 Army mules, later replaced with hill mules and yaks, they set off from Darjeeling, British India on 18 May 1921 for the 300 mile march to Everest. The expedition aimed to reconnoitre routes to the summit, and if possible make the first ascent of the highest mountain in the world.
With Nepal closed to foreigners, exploration had to be made from the north through Tibet, passing the Buddhist pilgrimage temple at Lapche and meeting the Abbot of Shekar Chode Monastery. The monks had never seen a camera before, and after much persuasuion the Lama agreed to a photograph that would become famous throughout the country. It was also given as a gift by later expedition members to Tibetans, who placed the image in shrines.
After exploring several routes, the North Col was reached via the Lhakpa La. Though conditions forced the expedition to withdraw, they had successfully found a potential approach through the valley of the Eastern Rongbuk Glacier to the icy slopes of the North Col, then on to the summit by traversing two exposed ridges.
A second expedition in 1922 would make several attempts to ascend via Mallory’s suggested route and reach a record 27,320 ft using oxygen tanks for the first time.
Did Mallory & Irvine achieve first ascent?
Now a veteran of both previous expeditions, George Mallory joined a third expedition in 1924, making a fateful last attempt to summit with Andrew Irvine. Carrying modified oxygen apparatus with multiple cylinders they departed Camp VI on June 8th, just 2000 ft from the summit. They would not return.
Mallory’s body would be found in 1999 at 26,768 ft. The image of his wife intended for the summit was not in his vest, fuelling decades of speculation. However, the Kodak camera that might provide proof was not found and opinion remains divided. Was their clothing and equipment of sufficient quality to progress in the extreme conditions at such altitude? Were they capable of surmounting the daunting 100 ft vertical wall known as the 2nd Step, as team member Odell believed he’d seen before the clouds rolled in? Perhaps time will tell, should Irvine’s body eventually be discovered along with the infamous camera...