Where is the Picture of his Wife?

Reenactment: Photo of George Mallory's wife

At the top George Mallory wanted to leave a photograph of his wife. It hasn’t been found -yet. How far he got is unclear to this day. Clear is Mallory and Irvine had an accident. Unclear is if they were on there way up or down.

In 1924 the British climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine disappeared on Mount Everest. Did they make it all the way to the top? Were they on the highest peak in the world before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay 1953? Does that mean that the first ascent of the 8,848.86 meter high mountain, which has been officially recognized since December 8, 2020, took place in 1924 – and not in 1953?

Talk by great-niece on mystery of what happened to Everest climbers |  Oxford Mail
George Mallory (left) and Andrew Irvine (right)

George Mallory was considered the best British mountain climber of his time whose eloquent words matched the bold style of his climbs. He cut his chops on climbs in his native England and the Alps, but it wasn’t until 1921 that he found his lives dream, the mountain that would consume his ambition -Mount Everest.

Because it’s there…Everest is the highest mountain in the world, and no man has reached its summit. Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instinctive, a part, I suppose, of man’s desire to conquer the universe. (George Mallory)

George Mallory had been on two other expeditions to the summit of Mount Everest, in 1921 and 1922. A teacher who was considered to be intellectually and artistically gifted. At the same time a strategist who carefully thought through the ascent of Mount Everest.

Exploration expedition in 1921

1921, they had no maps, no guides. Nobody knew the area.

Mount Everest Expedition

1922 he returned with a camera to show the world Mount Everest. They climbed higher than anyone before, but an avalanche stopped them.

Failure only seemed to steel his resolve. Mallory returned to Everest in 1924 for his fatal third attempt.

Expedition column on Mount Everest

In February 1924 George Mallory and Andrew Irvine set out to their final third expedition. After months of traveling, the column of 300 pack animals and 70 porters walked off into the Tibetan highlands.

Camp on Mount Everest

George Mallory’s plan was genius. He wanted to reach the summit in stages. Up a bit, build a camp, return and draw strengths. A technique practiced to this day for acclimatization.

Glacier on Mount Everest

George Mallory didn’t want to use oxygen tanks. He had long rejected it, but at an altitude of more than 8,000 meters the air contains about two thirds less oxygen than at sea level. Sadly, the oxygen cylinders were unreliable, unwieldy, and a “cursed load when climbing,” as Mallory wrote. On June 6, 1924, the preparations were completed, Mallory and Irvine made their way to Camp 5. One last photo shows them with the monstrous oxygen equipment on her back. 

British climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine wanted to climb Mount Everest in 1924.  The photo from June 1924 is the last photo of them.  |  Image: picture alliance / AP Images

Mallory and Irvine leave late for the last stage

A day later they arrived at Camp 6. The weather was good, Mallory wrote another message for the expedition’s photographer, “We’ll probably leave early tomorrow so we have clear weather. You can look out for us from 8 o’clock. We either cross the ledge below the summit pyramid or we go up the ridge. Greetings, your George Mallory.” It is not known when the two actually left on June 8, 1924. Their magnesium torches and flashlights were found in the tent -they probably didn’t start until after sunrise, sometime between 5 and 7 a.m. They also left some of the oxygen equipment behind -maybe they had problems with it.

Mallory and Irvine are being watched

While the two of them were climbing from Camp 6 towards the summit, they were seen by Noel Odell, a geologist who examined the rock formations on Mount Everest: He looked towards the summit at around 12.50 p.m. and discovered Mallory and Irvine climbing a snow-covered ridge below a large rock step. He observed that the two were making rapid progress – but would take at least three hours to the summit and then descend late in the dark. Then there was also a heavy snow storm. Noel Odell anxiously prepared the highest camp for the return of the two. He was the last to see Mallory and Irvine alive.

Last photo of Mallory and Irvine on Mount Everest

Above Camp II. Mallory and Irvine experienced their first phase with bad weather with a storm and a sudden drop in temperature. They realized the way to the summit would be much harder than they thought.

Heavy snowfall and winds hit the team, the tents barely held up. The brutal conditions forced the entire team back to the base camp. Two men died -the expedition continued.

Descent to base camp on Mount Everest - 1924

Mallory and Irvine are not coming back

The search for George Mallory and Andrew Irvine was fruitless. The two climbers remained missing for the next few days and weeks. Speculation as to whether or not they had made it to the summit began. In 1933, Andrew Irvine’s ice ax was found on the summit ridge at almost 8,500 meters. But even this find could not give an answer.

Great Britain mourned the fallen heroes. Bells were ringing all over the country and George Mallory and Andrew Irvine became legends. Irvines body hasn’t been found to this day.

Excerpt from "The Times" on the death of Mallory and Irvine

In May 1999 a search team finds George Mallory

75 years later, in May 1999, five climbers are on their way to solve one of the greatest mystery in mountaineering history. The search expedition wants to find the bodies of George Mallory, Andrew Irvine and their camera. According to the manufacturer, the film could still be developed. Photos showing Mallory and Irvine at the summit would be final proof that the two were the first to reach the top of Mount Everest. 

Mallory’s frozen body was found by climbers on the Mountain’s north ridge in 1999.

Re-enactment: Mallory's corpse

George Mallory’s left leg lay over the broken one, presumably to ease the pain. It looks like his left fingers are trying to hold on to the ice, to prevent a fall or sliding down.

He didn’t suffer long. At these cold temperatures death comes fast. 30 minutes after the accident he must have been dead.

Reenactment: Mallory's nameplate
No confusion about who’s body had been found.

There is no confusion about who’s body had been found. His body was well preserved in the cold. The climbers find letters and notes, as well as his snow goggles, a pocket knife and matches. But no camera.

The written notes do not provide clear answers either. The team notices that Mallory is not carrying the photo of his wife Ruth with him. He had previously announced that he would deposit it on the Everest summit. Has he succeeded? Or was the photo lost before or after his death? His mountain companion Andrew Irvine has not yet been found either. What is certain is that the two died in June 1924 in the summit area. How far they got and whether they did not survive the ascent or descent remains open.

Personally, I want to believe they made it to the top.

I hope one day they find Andrew Irvine’s body and the camera! I never heard of George Mallory before I found his book quote. Now I am glad I dug deeper. I hope he and Andrew Irvine made it to the top.

14 thoughts on “Where is the Picture of his Wife?

  1. I thought I’d heard something about Mallory but didn’t look into it any further because I thought they were referring to Hillary. Thanks for this fascinating story and clearing up my confusion!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Where is the Picture of his Wife? — The happy Quitter! | Montana Outdoor Quest

  3. I had never heard much about the expedition, I do recall hearing they had found Mallory’s body. But I knew nothing of the photo or the lengths they went to to try to make the climb. Maybe Irvine’s body is the proof they need of a successful climb. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating! I certainly knew the names and the general story of the men losing their lives on the mountain, but I learned so much from your post! I’d like to read more, quite honestly. I’m with you–I hope Irvine’s body is discovered. Thank you for such an interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s hard to understand the drive that makes some want to do the seemingly impossible. But yet we read every day of such feats.
    Reading about their courage and fortitude does remind us that we can do some things that seem overwhelming.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s