George Mallory

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George Mallory : biography

18 June 1886 – 9 June 1924

Assessments by climbing partners

Harry Tyndale, one of Mallory’s climbing partners, said of Mallory: "In watching George at work one was conscious not so much of physical strength as of suppleness and balance; so rhythmical and harmonious was his progress in any steep place … that his movements appeared almost serpentine in their smoothness."

Tom Longstaff, who accompanied Mallory on the 1922 Everest expedition, wrote in a letter to a friend, "It is obvious to any climber that they got up. You cannot expect of that pair to weigh up the chances of return. I should be weighing them still. It sounds a fair day. Probably they were above those clouds that hid them from Odell. How they must have appreciated that view of half the world. It was worthwhile to them. Now, they will never grow old and I am very sure they would not change places with any of us."

Geoffrey Winthrop Young, one of the most accomplished alpine climbers of his day, held Mallory’s ability in awe: "His movement in climbing was entirely his own. It contradicted all theory. He would set his foot high against any angle of smooth surface, fold his shoulder to his knee, and flow upward and upright again on an impetuous curve. Whatever may have happened unseen the while between him and the cliff … the look, and indeed the result, were always the same – a continuous undulating movement so rapid and so powerful that one felt the rock must yield, or disintegrate." When informed of Odell’s belief that Mallory had climbed the Second Step, Winthrop Young was convinced he made the summit. He wrote: "After nearly twenty years’ knowledge of Mallory as a mountaineer, I can say that difficult as it would have been for any mountaineer to turn back, with the only difficulty past, to Mallory it would have been an impossibility."

Theories

A range of different outcomes has been proposed, and new theories continue to be put forward. Most views have the two carrying two cylinders of oxygen each, reaching and climbing either the First or Second Step, where they are seen by Odell. At this point there are two main alternatives: either Mallory takes Irvine’s oxygen and goes on alone (and may or may not reach the summit); or both go on together until they turn back (having used up their oxygen, or realising that they will do so before the summit). In either case Mallory slips and falls to his death while descending, perhaps caught in the fierce snow squall that sent Odell to take shelter in their tent. Irvine either falls with him or, in the first scenario, dies alone of exhaustion and hypothermia high up on the ridge. The theory advanced by Tom Holzel in February 2008 is that Odell sighted Mallory and Irvine climbing the First Step for a final look around while they were descending from a failed summit bid. As with all good mysteries, the fragmentary evidence leaves much room for speculation and hypothesis.

First "real" ascent, or just to the summit?

If evidence were to be uncovered which showed that George Mallory or Andrew Irvine had reached the summit of Everest in 1924, advocates of Hillary and Norgay’s first ascent maintain that the historical record should not be changed to state that Mallory and Irvine made the first ascent, displacing Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Former Mount Everest summiteer Major H P S Ahluwalia claims that without photographic proof, there is no evidence that Mallory reached the summit and "it would be unfair to say that the first man to scale Mount Everest was George Mallory". George Mallory’s own son, John Mallory, who was only three years old when his father died, said, "To me the only way you achieve a summit is to come back alive. The job is only half done if you don’t get down again". Hillary’s daughter, Sarah, when questioned regarding her father’s take on the debate, said, "His view was that he had got 50 good years out of being conqueror of Everest, and, whatever happened, he wasn’t particularly worried. That’s my feeling as well."