Andrew Irvine (mountaineer)


Andrew Irvine (mountaineer) : biography

8 April 1902 – 9 June 1924

In 1963, it was discovered that a characteristic triple nick mark on a military swagger stick, found among Andrew Irvine’s possessions, matched a similar mark on the ice-axe’s shaft, making it likely that the ice-axe belonged to Irvine,Odell, N.E. (1963). "The ice-axe found on Everest in 1933", Alpine Journal, 68, 141 although there is some doubt as to whether the marks were present on the ice-axe when it was discovered.

Discovery of the oxygen cylinder

In May 1991, a 1924 oxygen cylinder was found at c. 8,480 m (27,820 ft), some 20 m higher and 60 m closer to the First Step than the ice-axe found in 1933 (although it was not recovered until May 1999). Since only Mallory and Irvine had been on the NE ridge in 1924, this oxygen cylinder marked the lowest altitude they must have reached on their final climb.

New searches

In 2010, a team informally dubbed the Andrew Irvine Search Committee led by American Everest historian Tom Holzel conducted a new photographic search for Irvine using a computer-assembled montage of aerial photographs taken in 1984 by Brad Washburn and the National Geographic Society. This search led to the identification of a possible object at about 8,425 metres, less than 100 m from the ice-axe location, which is consistent with an identification of that of a body lying in a slot of rock, feet pointing toward the summit, just as Xu described his sighting.

A new expedition organised by Tom Holzel was due to explore the upper slopes of Everest in December 2011, presumably with a view to determining the nature of this possible object. By conducting the expedition in winter, it was hoped that there would be much less snow on the upper slopes, increasing the chances of finding Irvine, as well as the camera that it is hoped will be with him.

Comments by friends of Irvine

  • Upon hearing of the disappearance of Andrew Irvine along with his partner George Mallory, a family friend wrote: "One cannot imagine Sandy content to float placidly in some quiet back-water, he was the sort that must struggle against the current and, if need be, go down foaming in full body over the precipice".
  • Arnold Lunn, one of Irvine’s friends wrote: "Irvine did not live long, but he lived well. Into his short life he crowded an overflowing measure of activity which found its climax in his last wonderful year, a year during which he rowed in the winning Oxford boat, explored Spitsbergen, fell in love with ski-ing, and – perhaps – conquered Everest. The English love rather to live well than to live long".

Early life

Irvine was born in Birkenhead, Cheshire, one of six children of William Ferguson Irvine (1869–1962) by Lilian Davies-Colley (1870–1950).

His father's family had Scottish and Welsh roots, whilst his mother was from an old Cheshire family. He was a cousin of journalist and writer Lyn Irvine, and also of pioneering female surgeon Eleanor Davies Colley and of political activist Harriet Shaw Weaver. 

He was educated at Birkenhead School and Shrewsbury School, where he demonstrated a natural engineering acumen, able to improvise fixes or improvements to almost anything mechanical. During the First World War, he created a small stir at the War Office by sending them a design for an interrupter gear to allow a machine gun to fire from a propeller-driven aeroplane without damaging the propeller’s blades, and also a design for a gyroscopic stabilizer for aircraft.

He was also a keen sportsman and particularly excelled at rowing. His prodigious ability as a rower made him a star of the 1919 ‘Peace Regatta’ at Henley, and propelled him to Merton College, Oxford to study Engineering. At Oxford he joined the Oxford University Mountaineering Club, and was also a member of the Oxford crew for the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race in 1922 and a member of the winning crew in 1923, the only occasion upon which Oxford did so between 1913 and 1937.

Everest expedition

In 1923 Irvine took part in the Merton College Arctic Expedition to Spitsbergen, where he excelled on every front. He and the expedition’s leader, Noel Odell, discovered that they had met before in 1919 on Foel Grach, a 3000-foot high Welsh mountain, when Irvine had ridden his motorcycle to the top and surprised Odell and his wife Mona, who had climbed it on foot. Subsequently, on Odell’s recommendation, Irvine was invited to join the forthcoming third British Mount Everest Expedition on the grounds that he might be the "superman" that the expedition felt it needed. He was at the time still a 21-year-old undergraduate student.