Andrew Irvine (mountaineer)


Andrew Irvine (mountaineer) : biography

8 April 1902 – 9 June 1924

Irvine set sail for the Himalayas from Liverpool on board the SS California on 29 February 1924, along with three other members of the expedition, including George Mallory. Mallory later wrote home to his wife, that Irvine "could be relied on for anything except perhaps conversation".

During the expedition, he made major and crucial innovations to the expedition’s professionally designed oxygen sets, radically improving their functionality, lightness, and strength. He also maintained the expedition’s cameras, camp beds, primus stoves and many other devices. He was universally popular, and respected by his older colleagues for his ingenuity, companionability and unstinting hard work.

The expedition made two unsuccessful attempts on the summit in early June, and there was time for one more before the heavy snowfall that came with the summer monsoon would make climbing too dangerous. This last chance fell to the expedition’s most experienced climber, George Mallory. To the surprise of other expedition members, Mallory chose the 22 year-old inexperienced Irvine above the older, more seasoned climber, Noel Odell. Irvine’s proficiency with the oxygen equipment was obviously a major factor in Mallory’s decision, but there has been some debate ever since about the precise reasons for his choice.

Mallory and Irvine began their ascent on 6 June, and by the end of the next day, the pair had established a final two-man camp at 8,168 m (26,800 ft), from which to make their final push on the summit. It is not known what time they departed on 8 June, but there is circumstancial evidence to suggest that they did not have the smooth early start that Mallory had hoped for.

Noel Odell, who was acting in a supporting role, reported seeing them at 12:50 pm – much later than expected – ascending what he believed was the Second Step of the northeast ridge and "going strongly for the top", although in the years that followed exactly which of the Three Steps Odell had sighted the pair climbing became extremely controversial.

It has never been established whether they reached the summit. They never returned to high camp and died somewhere high on the mountain. The discovery of Mallory’s body in 1999, with its severe rope jerk injury about his waist, suggests the two were roped when they fell. Irvine’s body has never been discovered.