George Mallory

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George Mallory : biography

18 June 1886 – 9 June 1924

In 1922 Mallory returned to the Himalayas as part of the party led by Brigadier-General Charles Bruce and climbing leader Edward Strutt, with a view to making a serious attempt on the summit. Eschewing their bottled oxygen, on ethical grounds, Mallory led his climbing team of Howard Somervell and Edward Norton almost to the crest of the North-East ridge. Despite being hampered and slowed by the thin air, they achieved a record altitude of before weather conditions and the late hour forced them to retreat. A second party led by George Finch reached a height of approximately using bottled oxygen both for climbing and — a first — for sleeping. The party climbed at record speeds — a fact that Mallory seized upon during the next expedition.

Mallory organized a third unsuccessful attempt on the summit, departing as the monsoon season arrived. While Mallory was leading a group of porters down the lower slopes of the North Col of Everest in fresh, waist-high snow, an avalanche swept over the group, killing seven Sherpas. The attempt was immediately abandoned, and Mallory returned home to face criticism for poor judgement, a criticism that was to follow him to the next expedition.

Plans for another attempt were marred by the Royal Geographical Society’s Everest Committee barring George Finch, on the grounds that he was divorced and had accepted money for lectures. The Secretary, Arthur Hinks, made it clear that it was not acceptable for an Australian to be the first to summit Everest, as they wanted the climb to be an example of British spirit and to lift British morale. At first Mallory refused to climb again without Finch but acquiesced after being personally persuaded by members of the British Royal Family, at Hinks’ request.The Advertiser Treachery at the top of the World, p. 3, 21 February 2009

Mallory is famously quoted as having replied to the question "Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?" with the retort "Because it’s there", which has been called "the most famous three words in mountaineering". New York Times, 29 August 1923 There have been questions over the authenticity of the quote, and whether Mallory actually said it. Some have suggested that it was a paraphrase by a newspaper reporter, but scrutiny of the original report in the New York Times leaves this unresolved. The phrase was certainly consistent with the direct quotes cited in the New York Times report, so it appears not to misrepresent Mallory’s attitude.Holzel, Tom, and Salkeld, Audrey. The Mystery of Mallory & Irvine, Mountaineers Books, 2000, pp. 172–176.Rees, Nigel. Brewer’s Famous Quotations: 5000 Quotations and the Stories Behind Them, Orion, 2006, p. 309.

Early life, education, and teaching career

Mallory was born in Mobberley, Cheshire, the son of Herbert Leigh Mallory (1856–1943), a clergyman who changed his surname from Mallory to Leigh-Mallory in 1914. His mother was Annie Beridge (née Jebb) (1863–1946), the daughter of a clergyman in Walton, Derbyshire. George had two sisters and a younger brother Trafford Leigh-Mallory, the World War II Royal Air Force commander.

In 1896, Mallory attended Glengorse, a preparatory boarding school in Eastbourne on the south coast of England, having transferred from another preparatory school in West Kirby. At the age of 13, he won a mathematics scholarship to Winchester College. In his final year there, he was introduced to rock climbing and mountaineering by a master, R. L. G. Irving, who took a small number of people climbing in the Alps each year. In October 1905, Mallory entered Magdalene College, Cambridge, to study history. There, he became good friends with members of the Bloomsbury Group including James Strachey, Lytton Strachey, Rupert Brooke, John Maynard Keynes, and Duncan Grant, who painted several portraits of Mallory. Mallory was a keen oarsman and rowed in the college eight for his three years at Cambridge.

After gaining his degree, Mallory stayed in Cambridge for a year writing an essay he later published as Boswell the Biographer (1912). He lived briefly in France, where Simon Bussy painted his portrait, now in London’s National Portrait Gallery. On his return, he decided to become a teacher. In 1910, he began teaching at Charterhouse School, Godalming, Surrey, where he met the poet Robert Graves, then a pupil, and he went on to act as best man at Graves’ wedding in 1918. In his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, Graves remembered Mallory fondly both for his encouragement of Graves’ interest in literature and poetry and his instruction in climbing. Graves recalled: "He (Mallory) was wasted (as a teacher) at Charterhouse. He tried to treat his class in a friendly way, which puzzled and offended them."