Andrew Irvine (mountaineer)

Andrew Irvine (mountaineer) bigraphy, stories - English mountaineer

Andrew Irvine (mountaineer) : biography

8 April 1902 – 9 June 1924

Andrew "Sandy" Comyn Irvine (8 April 19028 June 1924) was an English mountaineer who took part in the 1924 British Everest Expedition, the third British expedition to the world’s highest (8,848 m) mountain, Mount Everest.

While attempting the first ascent of Mount Everest, he and his climbing partner George Mallory disappeared somewhere high on the mountain’s northeast ridge. The pair were last sighted only a few hundred metres from the summit. Mallory’s body was subsequently found in 1999, but Irvine’s body has never been found.

Discovery of Mallory

In May 1999, Mallory’s body was found at 8,155 m (26,760 ft) by the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition, in a funnel-shaped basin on the "8,200 m Snow Terrace", some 300 m below and about 100 m horizontal to the location of the ice-axe found in 1933. The remains of a rope still encircled his waist, which exhibited serious hemorrhaging, indicative of a strong rope-jerk injury, and strongly suggesting that at some point either Mallory or Irvine fell while they were still roped together. Mallory was found with relatively few major injuries, compared to a number of modern climbers who had fallen the full distance from the NE Ridge and who were found very broken-up, suggesting he had survived this initial fall, and suffered a further accident. The presence of a golf-ball size puncture wound in his forehead seemed to be the likely cause of death, and was consistent with one such as that might be inflicted by an ice-axe. It has subsequently been speculated that an injured Mallory was descending in a self-arrest "glissade", sliding down the slope while dragging his ice-axe in the snow to control the speed of his descent, and that his ice-axe may have struck a rock and bounced off, striking him fatally.

A search of the body revealed two pieces of circumstancial evidence that suggested that Mallory might have reached the summit:

  • Firstly, Mallory’s daughter had always said that Mallory carried a photograph of his wife on his person with the intention of leaving it on the summit when he reached it,Hellen, N. (2003). "Body may prove who was first up Everest", The Sunday Times, April 27 and no such photograph was found on the body. Given the excellent state of preservation of the body and the artifacts recovered from it, the absence of the photograph suggests that he may have reached the summit and deposited it there.
  • Secondly, Mallory’s snow goggles were in his pocket when the body was found, indicating that he died at night. This implies that he and Irvine had made a push for the summit and were descending very late in the day. Given their known departure time and movements, had they not made the summit, it is unlikely that they would have still been out by nightfall.

Significantly, the search revealed no trace of either of the two Vest Pocket Kodak (VPK) cameras that the pair were known to be carrying from Irvine’s diaries, leading to speculation that at least one of the cameras must have been in Irvine’s possession. Experts from Kodak have stated that if one of the cameras is found, there is a good chance that the film could be developed to produce "printable images", due to the nature of the black and white film that was used and the fact that it has, in effect, been in "deep freeze" for over three-quarters of a century. Such images would potentially illuminate the fate of Mallory and Irvine more clearly than any other evidence.


Andrew Comyn Irvine Scholarships are awarded to Oxford University students on a yearly basis to fund mountaineering trips. They are awarded to students who carry on the spirit of determination and endurance that Andrew C. Irvine was known for.

Possible sightings

Sighting of Wang Hong-bao

In 1979, Ryoten Hasegawa, the leader of the Japanese contingent of a Sino-Japanese reconnaissance expedition to the north side of Everest had a brief conversation with a Chinese climber named Wang Hong-bao, in which Wang recounted that whilst on the 1975 Chinese Everest Expedition, he had seen the body of an "old English dead" at 8,100 m, lying on his side as if asleep at the foot of a rock. Wang knew the man was English, he said, by the old-fashioned clothing, rotted and disintegrating at the touch, and poked his finger into his cheek to indicate an injury.Suzuki, H. (1980). American Alpine Journal, 22, p. 658 However, before more information could be obtained, Wang was killed in an avalanche the following day.