1. How Far Did
Mallory & Irvine Get?
1A. Review of Jeffery Archer's Paths of
Care & Developing of Frozen A127 Film
3. Did Mallory & Irvine reach the
Q&A with Tom Holzel
4. The Search for Andrew Irvine
5. Q & A on The Search for Andrew Irvine
New Clue on Sighting of Irvine
Aerial Photographic Discovery of Irvine?
By Tom Holzel, Rev 10 April 2010
two British mountaineers were spotted high on Mt. Everest at
about 1PM, only a few hours from the summit.
Mists swirled in and lost them to view. It was veteran climber George Mallory
and his powerful young companion Andrew Irvine.
Both men were using early oxygen equipment, climbing in the last gasp of this,
the third expedition to the mountain.
The question that remains in every mountaineer’s heart has never been answered:
Did either make it to the top before perishing on the descent?
Mallory & Irvine on the SS California en route to Mt. Everest.
(Photo: Daily Telegraph, photographer unknown.)
Controversy broke out within months of the
expedition’s return to England. Where, exactly, did Noel Odell see the two
He said he saw them surmounting the infamous Second Step. Critics insisted that
was an impossible obstacle even for a climber as skilled as Mallory.
Counter-claims arose, with defenders of Mallory & Irvine suggesting that it was
simple jealousy of the climbing community, still hoping
to reserve the goal of First Ascent for themselves.
Odell saw the pair climbing the
severely difficult Second Step in less than five minutes. Critics claimed that
the Second Step was far too difficult
an obstacle and a few did not believe he saw anyone. Others hinted that Odell
mistook rocks for the two climbers. Modern critics claim that
Odell must have seen them climbing the much easier First Step. Both are
promontories on the NE Ridge. The First Step is easily circumvented;
the Second Step bars that route to the summit.
Everest North Face showing “the Mallory
It is not know which variation they took near the NE Shoulder.
is shown. (Photo John English, High Mountain.)
expedition, that of 1933, was far better equipped. Wynn
Harris found an ice ax belonging to Irvine along the ridge.
It was presumed this marked the site of an accident on their descent. But
descent from how high up? There were no further clues and the issue
seemed to smoldered out.
Reading the fascinating saga,
it was not clear to me that the disreputable role of oxygen had been adequately
factored into the puzzle.
After analyzing the ascent speed of all known climbs on Mt. Everest, the
resulting chart showed clearly that climbers using oxygen climbed faster
than those that did not.
Extrapolating from this data discovered the probable climbing speed of Mallory
and Irvine and suggested that having
reached the top of the Second Step as witnessed by Odell, they would each have
had an hour or so of oxygen left. The summit was
three hours away.
Mallory could not have given up
so close to his goal. He could have taken Irvine’s remaining oxygen, sent him
back down to safety, and made
a solo attempt to reach the top—which he might have reached. Or so it seemed to
me. Just a pre-publication notice of this idea in the
London Sunday Times created a 3-week firestorm of objections. When the
article was then published, Wynn Harris (who had found the ice ax)
was moved to apoplexy in denouncing these findings. Blowing on these coals had
certainly caused this great mystery to burst back into flame.
The next clue was discovered in
1979. Learning that Japanese climbers would be the first permitted access to
Everest’s North side
since WW-II, I sent a letter asking them to be on the look-out for a body on the
North Face snow field at 8200m. Astonishingly,
they replied that their Climbing Leader had held a brief conversation with Wang
Hung-bao, a Tibetan porter who had been on a huge
1975 Chinese expedition. He described “an English dead” he had discovered high
on the North Face. He had scribed “8100m” in the
snow with his ice ax. This could only be Mallory or Irvine! The day after this
revelation, Wang died in an avalanche. But this clue was
enough to galvanize interest in finally solving this great mystery. I mounted an
expedition in 1986 to search for the English dead and
the cameras the two climbers were known to be carrying.
Would pictures be found taken from the top of the world? We were not to
find out. The weather was atrocious and we were snowed-out.
Another American search expedition took to
the field in 1999. Led by Eric Simonson with a search plan devised by Jochen
the team met with excellent weather and with spectacular success.
On the first day of the high-altitude search, Conrad Anker stumbled
across Mallory’s body at 8165m in a snow field below the ice ax that contained
many other fallen climbers. The body was lying face-down,
the head nearly completely covered with scree.
The most notable new clue was a severe mottling around Mallory’s waist—
a typical rope-jerk injury.
In spite of this spectacular find, the
mystery seemed no closer to being solved. Advocates for success claimed that
none of the clues—
old or new--detracted from Odell’s sighting of the two on the Second Step, and
everyone agreed that if the two had got that far, at least
one of them would have made a dash for the top.
First and Second Steps. Odell had described seeing the pair crossing a snow
patch and then one of
them “breaking skyline” a few minutes later. The First Step is always
circumvented; the Second blocks the
route and must be climbed. Shown here are the two snow patches that might
qualify for the one Odell saw the pair crossing.
Controversy has raged unabated over
which Step Odell saw the two climbers. And everything hinges on which step it
At first Odell was certain he saw them climbing the very difficult Second
Step—and the expedition members took that for granted
at the time. Yet back in England, this consensus suffered a gradual shift. After
six months, the British climbing establishment had
slowly decided it could not possibly have been the extremely difficult Second
Step Odell saw them surmount. It must have been the
nearer and similar appearing First Step. Odell himself eventually recanted, but
after he was no longer a candidate for further expeditions,
he returned to his original belief. The underlying question has always been: Why
Odell was on the North Col and must have seen
Mallory's note sent down by porters to expedition photographer Capt John Noel.
It said in part: "It won't be too early to start looking for us either crossing
the rock band under the pyramid or going skyline at 8 p.m."
(He meant 8 a.m.).
i.e., the summit pyramid begins at the Second Step. "Going skyline" means
cresting the ridge. It was well-known that
Mallory intended to climb via the NE Ridge and Second Step (the "Mallory
Route"), rather than the alternate Great Couloir or "Norton Route."
He had Norton’s testimony about his route, and kept it in mind as a possible
alternate when writing his note. Visually, both places
described in the note are very close to each other. Thus, Odell knew exactly
where Mallory expected to be at 8 AM on June 8th.
On that same day, Odell was climbing
up the North Ridge to resupply the highest camp, C-VI. At 26,000-ft he looked up
as the mists
parted and suddenly saw the NE ridge unveiled. Stunningly, he spotted Mallory
and Irvine climbing a step — but greatly behind schedule.
What thoughts would immediately have raced thorough his mind? It would certainly
have been the thrill of seeing his comrades so high
above him. But that must have been coupled with the shock that they were-five
hours late climbing the Step. This is where Odell jumped
to an incorrect conclusion: Because he saw them climbing upwards, even so late,
he naturally assumed they were still en route
to the summit. Since the Second Step is the only one of the two steps that must
be climbed, It would
never have occurred to Odell that
they would be climbing anywhere else than on the Second Step. Why would they? No
one ever talked about climbing the First Step.
It was not on the route. If they were en route to the summit, as Odell naturally
assumed because they were ascending, the only step that
needed to be climbed was the Second Step. And there they were!
Odell was enthralled by this "dramatic appearance" in
which "they were moving expeditiously as if endeavouring to make up for lost
After five minutes the mists closed-in and they were lost to view. But Odell’s
vision of the two on their way to the top burned into his
memory--minus only any recognition of where, exactly he had seen then. That
thrilling part his mind filled in without a second thought.
Yet why were the two climbers so late?
Many researchers have suggested that they were late because they started late,
started late because the unsporting oxygen equipment had needed another
emergency repair. But the evidence doesn't point
that way. They had raced up the North Ridge using only ¾ of a bottle of gas--a
climb rate of 840 vert ft/hr at the lower oxygen flow rate
—and an ascent nearly as fast as Finch’s amazingly fast oxygen climb in 1922
over the same terrain. They had reached the assault
camp C-VI in plenty of time the day before to have made any repairs to the
cantankerous oxygen equipment, were that necessary.
But we know the equipment was working perfectly because two of their spent
oxygen bottles were spotted just short of the First Step
by Eric Simonson in 1991. The altitude difference between them and C-VI divided
by one bottle’s duration (4 hours at the higher flow rate)
shows that they two were climbing at 275 ft/hr. –also excellent speed at that
altitude. (With open-circuit oxygen systems, climbing
speed decreases with altitude.) Thus, except for the lateness of the day, (which
can be explained by other reasons) there is no evidence
for a “late start” or a balky oxygen system.
Assuming a normal “early start” at --5
to 6 AM--and based on their demonstrated climbing speed--means they would have
First Step between 10 and 11 o’clock. Yet Odell saw them climbing a Step—which
we now suggest was the First Step--two to three
hours later—at 12:50PM. If they were only then on the First Step--what had they
been doing in this 2-3 hour interval?
Therefore, the crucial thing to
realize is that if they were seen climbing the First Step, it can only mean they
were no longer ascending.
It is a detour off their ascent route, but makes a marvelous vantage point from
which to study the continuing ridge.
The simplest and therefore most likely
scenario is that they were returning from their highest point.
Perhaps they climbed all
the way to the base of the Second Step's open-book crux. Up close, the actual
severity of this crucial obstacle must have hit hard. Mallory
had stated that the next time he made an attempt, it would be all or nothing.
He was through exhausting himself only to set another
altitude record short of the summit. The prospect of climbing the terrifying
Second Step overhang with 9,000-ft of exposure and no protection
or belay, and already on his last bottle of oxygen, must surely have seemed a
risk not worth taking. In addition, Mallory had already
thoroughly exhausted himself on this expedition with rescues of porter, and then
himself, and had an aborted assault without oxygen the
Thus, at noon, standing at the ferocious crux of the Second Step, Mallory
realized that this was his last hurrah.
The 250-yd traverse between the First
to the Second Step is steep and treacherous. Mallory might have taken this
stretch alone while
Irvine waited at the First Step; more likely they made the traverse together.
With no fixed lines, the distance takes a tricky one to two hours.
Mallory was the shining star of the
British Climbing Establishment—the Royal Geographic Society and the Alpine Club.
In 1921 he became
the first human to set foot on the mountain, and he spied a route to the summit.
In 1922 he had tried for the top and failed. Now in 1924,
at age 37, he was making what he himself had said would be his last attempt. By
switching to the “unsporting” use of oxygen, the gloves
had been taken off and he was attacking the mountain one last time by any and
all means, fair and foul. But the mountain had won again.
Hugely disappointed, they turned back to the safe ground of the First Step.
Now, at 1PM,
they had plenty of time. As a consolation prize, they clambered up the First
Step for a final look around. This was exactly
what the French did in 1981 when they, too, could no longer continue. Perhaps a
view of the backside of the Second Step would reveal
an alternate route. Certainly photographs were taken. Makalu glowered a scant 14
miles away. They ate some Kendal Mint Cakes.
Descending the Step, they began the long descending
traverse along the NE Ridge. A half-hour later (2PM) they were hit by a nasty
snow squall. Odell describe this as driving sleet and biting wind. “One could
not see more than a few yards ahead…”
[21a Oct 2008]
Once the squall began, they
would surely have roped-up, and Mallory would have taken the lead. If
they had ascended via the modern route
—cutting diagonally through the Yellow Band, Mallory would be looking
for the “Exit Cracks,” those several cuts in the terrain which
eventually lead to the then obvious route. But finding the cracks on the
descent is tricky, even in clear weather, and they are easily missed.
The climbers must then blunder their way down, still descending
diagonally, but not finding the easiest path. It is highly likely in my
that once the squall hit, they would have tried to descend as rapidly as
possible—and thus chosen some variation of the modern diagonal descent.
With the onset of the squall
and its driving wind, their greatest danger now lay not in getting
lost—there are many ways to descend from the
NE Ridge—but in becoming hypothermic due to their totally inadequate
that was only marginally effective on Everest,
and only in low wind and moderately low temperature. This is because the
insulation was not thick enough to prevent conductive heat loss,
and the material was not windproof enough to prevent convective heat
loss. With the onset of the squall both would now be entering the
first stages of hypothermia, with its attendant reduction in reflex
time, strength and judgment.
Due to poor visibility on the
newly snow-coated rocks, Mallory slipped and Irvine tossed his ice ax
aside to grab the rope with both hands.
Or Irvine slipped, perhaps while struggling to remove the now spent
oxygen system. The jerk of one climber's slip in a “gentleman’s belay”
is enough to pull his partner off his feet, but not nearly enough to
inflict the significant rope-jerk injury that Mallory’s body exhibited
his waist. As they both fell Irvine would have had a second or so
of time to react and try to slide feet-first. Mallory was caught
Perhaps Irvine was able to loop the rope over a rock to let it snag
early in the fall. It likely snapped from the strain—but slowed them
to enable them both to halt their falls. This fall inflicted rope-jerk
injuries around at least Mallory's waist. In just a few minutes, the
had gone from a tired, controlled descent to a desperate fight for
As the leader, Mallory’s first responsibility was to
young Irvine. But they were now separated by one of the many ledges of
the Yellow Band
—a ledge high and steep enough that neither of them could climb up or
down. Also, visibility was only a few yards, according to
Odell farther down. Probably injured, unable to climb back up to aid
Irvine, possibly disoriented from the shock of the fall, and certainly
beginning to feel the effects of hypothermia, Mallory had but one
choice—get down as fast as possible.
Mallory continued on, picking his way diagonally
He exited the Yellow Band and continued his descent onto
the “8200m snow terrace.”
Perhaps, like both Norton and Odell before him, he conducted a series of
glissades to speed his descent to Camp 4. But on one of these,
he lost control. Attempting to use his ice ax to self-arrest, it kicked
back and pierced his skull. He tumbled and
slithered to the very edge
of the snow terrace and crashed into a rock that stopped his fall. This
scenario explains why Mallory’s body was not nearly as
dramatically traumatized as others (e.g., Wu Zongyue) that had fallen
into his same area, but uncontrollably from higher up.
It was lying on this rock that Wang found Mallory (I
believe), possibly with the ice ax still stuck in his forehead. That’s
why Wang made
the gesture to his own face--to indicate the deadly puncture. (Or he
simply noticed the plum-sized hole and recognized its lethality.)
He said nothing about Mallory's nearly broken-off foot.
Wang then rolled Mallory off the rock in order to effect
a symbolic burial, placing a few rocks on the body, which, over the
into its pacific crucifix position.
This also explains the crossed-over foot--the whole foot improbably on
top of the broken one.
The major support for this new scenario is the realization that Wang
found Mallory's ice ax near his body! (according to
teammate testimony). It is just not possible that his ice ax would have
neatly fallen along side Mallory, had he taken a long fall.
But if he had been successfully glissading, he would not only be in
possession of his ice ax, but using it to control his slide.
It is thus is very likely to have kicked back during an attempt to halt
a slide which was getting out of control. This is nearly
the only way to explain the very unusual puncture wound inflicted on
When you integrate Mallory & Irvine's overall exhaustion, their lack of
adequate hydration (remember Norton & Somervell coming down
a few days earlier after a PERFECT day screaming "We want drink."), the
length and difficulty of the route, Irvine's lack of climbing
experience, and the total inadequacy of their clothing
to sustain them in a white-out snow squall--well, there just aren’t many
positive indicators left for a possible summit success scenario.
Certainly unquenchable drive alone just won't do.
Irvine, too, if still alive, realized that he could not follow Mallory
down, separated as they now were by an unclimbable ledges and the
He continued a descending traverse. Eventually he got to the edge of
another ledge—one of the many ledges that comprise the
Yellow Band. Too exhausted, too cold to climb back up and seek out yet
another descent route, he spotted a small rock clef
offering the possibility of some slight shelter from the freezing wind.
Dazed by hypothermia, he lay down and hoped for the best.
In spite of many searches made along
Mallory’s fall line, Irvine has not been found. A
big break-through in resolving the mystery
(and perhaps the final major clue) came in 2001, when Eric Simonson and Jochen
Hemmleb (of the 1999 Mallory & Irvine Research
Expedition) returned to Beijing to track down Xu Jing, a climber of the Chinese
expedition of 1960.
Astonishingly, he recalled
seeing a body lying on its back in a rock clef in the same general area as
Mallory’s but still in or above in the Yellow Band,
200-300m higher up. It could only have been Irvine.
In 1960 Chinese climbers had reached the NE Ridge by climbing
diagonally through the Yellow Band as all modern climbers do.
But they did not mark the route and each team found its own way up and down the
tiled strata. It was when descending in this
random fashion that Xu spotted the blackened body of a “foreign mountaineer.”
Thirty-five years is a long time to hold accurate memories
of exactly where this body was briefly noticed, and Xu could not specify where
in the Yellow Band he saw it. But his memory of having
seen the anomalous body was clear enough. Just like Wang finding Mallory, Xu
must certainly have spotted Irvine.
The higher location of Xu’s dramatic
sighting means that Irvine, also probably injured, did not fall as far as
Mallory. Unable to find Mallory
in the driving sleet, he continued on a while longer. But in the near white-out
he would not have been able to retrace the route, difficult
to follow even in clear weather. Descending through a random part of the Yellow
Band he, too, finally succumbed to his injuries in the
frigid squall. If Xu's sighting is correct, he sought shelter from the howling
storm in a small rock clef. His blackened features indicate he
did not die suddenly but slowly froze to death.
Although each climber was believed to have taken a
Vest Pocket Kodak (VPK) camera, no camera was found on or near Mallory’s body.
His was likely striped from his body during his falls and would be difficult
(though not impossible) to find. Irvine, however, seems to have lain
down to die. If he did not lose his camera in his shorter fall that broke the
rope, it would surely still be on his person.
The mystery of Mallory & Irvine has
fascinated mountaineers—actual and armchair—for generations. What a glorious
feat it would have
been for those two vastly under-equipped pioneers of Everest to have reached the
top. It is a dream that has thrilled and inspired adventurers
as much then—80 years ago--as it does today. Upon reaching the summit in 1953,
Sir Edmund Hillary looked for signs of his possible
predecessor but saw nothing. But theirs was no ordinary failure. The
stirring example of the intrepid pair was their great daring on slender
The pitting of their great dream against the implacable brutality of Mt. Everst--the
Mother Goddess of the Snow. Yes, they did not return,
but their bold effort lives on as no mere climbing success ever could.
See climb rate chart at “The
Mystery of Mallory & Irvine,” Mountain Magazine, Sept 1971. In
spite of clear evidence from as early
as Finch’s record ascent-speed using oxygen in 1922, and the
demonstrated high ascent-speed of Mallory & Irvine up the North Col,
1933 expedition leaders truculently refused to believe that any claimed
boost of breathing “artificial” oxygen was not outweighed by the
clumsiness of the apparatus. They took oxygen equipment but did not use
it. They took crampons but did not use them above the North Col.
They reached the First Step at SEVEN A.M. (!) but were cowed by and did
not approach the crux of the Second Step, which is the route climbed
by 95% of North Face mountaineers.
The Mystery of Mallory & Irvine, Tom Holzel and Audrey Salkeld,
The Mountaineers Books, (1986), 1999
Ghosts of Everest: The search for Mallory & Irvine, Simonson,
Hemmleb , Johnston, The Mountaineers Books, 2000.
This excellent work lavishly documents the discovery of Mallory’s body.
“Scree” is a collection of rocks that
have ablated off and which usually collect at the base of slabs and
cliffs. Also known as “talus.”
Story of Everest,
John Noel, p.214.
The Fight for Everest: 1924, Lt-Col. E.F. Norton, Edward Arnold,
1925. p 130. This is the official 1924 expedition record. A
This vexing question, and that of where Odell saw the two, has been
fertile ground for a myriad of suppositions, all driven by the desire
to achieve some predetermined outcome entailing a successful summiting.
Norton suggested that “this unaccountable delay was at least partly, due
to some mechanical defect in the apparatus which postponed
their start while Irvine was putting it right.” Fight, p 198.
Anti-oxygen climbers were always quick to denigrate the use of oxygen,
and were blind
to its proven benefits.
(himself out a crevasse) against time at the end after such a day just
about brought me to my limit.” (May 27), Fight, p237.
“My one personal
trouble has been a cough. It started a day or two before leaving Base
Camp but I thought nothing of it.
In the high camp (C-3) it has been the devil. Even after the day’s
exercise I have described I couldn’t sleep, but was distressed
with bursts of coughing fit to tear one’s guts—and a headache and misery
altogether; besides which of course it has a very bad effect
on one’s going on the mountain.” Fight p237.
“Norton has made me responsible for choosing the parties of the attack,
himself first choosing me into the first party if I like.
But I’m quite doubtful if I shall be fit enough.” (May 29), Fight p239.
If the two were roped in a "gentleman's
belay," i.e., simply roped only to each other, the falling climber will
experience no jerk unless
his partner can then affix—belay--the rope to the ground—unlikely in
Irvine's situation of having flung the ice ax aside. This
a mutual suicide pact--is only used today over relatively flat terrain.
This was a classic injury caused by the older self-arrest method of
holding on to the ice ax held next to one’s head with both hands.
It can work well sliding over packed snow, but is impossible to control
over snow-covered rocks.
don't usually come to a halt on 30° slopes for no reason. Mallory's fall
must have been stopped by an obstacle—
in this case, the large rock by his left arm. That suggests he might
have lain on the rock--perhaps on his back--not on the scree.
When Wang found him, he saw the deadly hole in his head (which he
reported) and flipped him over face-down onto the scree in
order to pile a few rocks on him.
Detectives on Everest, Jochen Hemmleb & Eric Simonson, The
Mountaineers Books, 2002, page 183. This work is a trove of excellent
and detailed research on the search for Mallory & Irvine. The 1960
Chinese expedition was the first non-British and first post WW-II climb
the North side of Mt. Everest.
Norton on the descent from his attempt: “Arriving on the big snow bed, I
glissaded for some little distance before I realized that Sommervell
had stopped behind, and I had to wait quite half an hour for him to
catch up.” Fight for Everest, p 114. Also, Odell on his return
from his support
climb to Mallory & Irvine on June 8th: “…finding the snow
between 24,800 and 23,500 feet hard and conveniently steep, it was
possible to indulge
in a fast standing glissade that brought me to Camp IV by 6:45 p.m.”
Fight, page 133. Thus glissading on Everest was a known and
camera is ever found, it must be handled with extreme care or all latent
images will be lost. It should immediately be
wrapped-up tightly in light-tight aluminum foil (to contain the parts if
broken), kept below freezing (store it in a double-boot filled with
and taken to a photo lab in Katmandu as quickly as practical. It can not
under any circumstances be x-rayed by the powerful checked-luggage
x-ray machines. It must be developed using a special protocol developed
by Eastman Kodak experts who have specifically studied this
Everest film problem. [See Instructions below.]
Human thermo-regulation expert
Professor George Havenith of Loughborough University (UK),
has tested a rigorously accurate recreation
of Mallory's clothing in a weather chamber. His conclusion:
"If the wind speed had picked up, a common feature of
weather on Everest,
the insulation of the clothing would only just be sufficient to minus
-10C [+14F]. Mallory would not have survived any deterioration in
. Windchill was what the pre WW-II clothing
could not keep out (although thin leather would have done a good
job), and Prof. Havenith surmises this factor led to hypothermia and is
directly led to M & I's death. This new scientific evidence counters the
previous claims that their simulated clothing, tested at Advance Base
a glorious day, was just dandy.
Review of Jeffery Archer’s
book “Paths of Glory,” a fictional biography (!) of George Mallory.
30 December 2009
(From amazon.com book review:
this a new trend? A recent blockbuster film--"Sherlock Holmes"--in
which Holmes is not the prissy gentleman
detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but a slovenly 1960's
hippy, and Dr Watson is no longer a bumbling senior
citizen, but a very dapper younger man. The two trade snarky insults
with all the fervor of a friendship that cannot say
But at least Sherlock Holmes was fictional! Now along comes Jeffery
Archer and recreates a revered historical figure,
George Mallory of Everest, that also bares no resemblance to the
personality and career of the actual figure. This artistic
license might work if he had painted an interesting portrait of this
complicated man and his tragic drive to conquer the
world's highest peak, but the portrait that results is a complete
soap opera rewrite. His detailed descriptions of Mallory's
teammates, their camp site palaver, even the geography of the
mountain, will make anyone cringe who has even a passing
acquaintance with this famous saga.
Mallory was an earnest Boy Scout riding the social coattails of his
Alpine and literary acquaintances. He was too personally
disorganized ever to be a leader of men, nor did he have the
interpersonal toughness for the job. The Alpinists respected
him for his astonishingly skill at rock and mountain climbing; the
literati adored his physique and fey demeanor. And he was
a good guy. Yet Archer has Mallory boldly taking over the Royal
Geographic Society's (RGS) Everest Committee selection process
with the commanding forcefulness of a Sergeant Major--qualities he
wholly lacked--and boldly leading two Everest expeditions
once on the mountain (he was on three). It is true that Mallory was
appointed "climbing leader" in 1924, but that position was
a mere pat on the back and tightly supervised by Colonel Norton, who
was a true leader of men.
While he has Mallory issuing ultimatums to the august governing
board left and right, Archer completely leaves out one of
Mallory's greatest achievements-- discovering the primary route to
the top from the Tibetan side and then being the first human
to set foot on Everest's mighty flanks. This first expedition to Mt.
Everest--the Reconnaissance Expedition of 1921--is not on
Archer's path to glory. This was when Mallory and Guy Bullock almost
circumnavigated Everest seeking the best approach
to its steep slopes. After five months of the most arduous
exploration, Mallory and Bullock finally discovered the hidden
eastern side of the North Col at the head of the East Rongbuk
Glacier. And it was at the beginning of this expedition,
when absolutely nothing was known about the mountain's geography,
that Mallory wrote to his wife that "we are about
to walk off the map." Of course that phrase is far too evocative to
leave out, so Archer merely lifts it to plug into another
Archer is so enamored with the politically correct Tibetan name for
Mt. Everest--"Chomolungma"--that he stuffs it into all
the climbers' mouths. But the term was never used by them, and first
appeared on Wheeler's 1925 map entitled "Mount Everest
and the Chomo-lungma Group." His tin ear is on loudest display when
he repeatedly has the taciturn Noel Odell call leader
Probably the most egregious display of political correctness (Does
that help sell books nowadays?) is Archer's assertion that
his Mallory had actually planned to select as his summit partner not
one of the proven RGS climbers, but one of their Sherpa
porters with amazing natural climbing abilities! This decision taken
when even Australian RGS member George Finch was denied
a place on the expedition because he was not English enough. Of
course the historical realities were that while Sherpas are
genetically endowed with the ability to work hard at high altitude,
none of them had climbed mountains before the arrival of
the English explorers and their "English air" (oxygen), and they
were later taught the skill as ever more expeditions required
The final description of the Mallory and Irvine's climb into history
lacks even the faintest patina of reality. They leave their
high camp (given as at 27,300-ft--it was actually at 26,800ft) at
5AM carrying eight hours of oxygen. 10-1/2 hours later,
they are still breathing the precious gas with presumably some still
remaining for their descent. The description of the summit
pyramid--available in scores of Everest chronicles, is also a hash.
There is no knife-edged ridge after the Second Step, and
there is no "vertical rock covered with ice that never melts from
year to year" with "112-ft left to climb." And, of course,
both men make it to the top before perishing on the descent.
What is the point of this? It is called a novel, but uses actual
names, places, and events all twisted into a Disneyesque cartoon.
There is no other suggestion that this entire tale is desperately
false. To further the deception, Archer prominently credits
Audrey Salkeld, a real Everest historian, with "special thanks." Oh
how Mrs. Salkeld must feel used!
Finally, a prominent blurb on the jacket of "Paths of Glory" reads
"`A storyteller in the class of Alexander Dumas'
--The Washington Post." A Google search and a search of the
Washington Post's archives could find no such quotation.
A127 Film: Care &
By Tom Holzel
(Rev 21 Oct 08)
Obtaining images from A-127 film
stored at 27,000-ft on Mt. Everest for over 80-years depends on many
factors, only some of which
will be within the control of the researchers who retrieve the camera.
Here are some of these factors, along with the Eastman-Kodak
authored developing protocol.
lying exposed to light is doomed. The task then is to try to save any
part of the film that has been protected.
If the camera
is already broken open, some segment of the film may yet be protected.
This suggests that the body be searched using
metal-detecting wands such as used by airport security screeners. Once a
hit is made, instead of rushing to grab the precious
treasure, think for a moment about how it might be recovered without
exposing any part of it to light. Ideally, a tent or blanket
could cover the body, and then the camera be felt-for and gently
removed, and immediately wrapped in aluminum foil--all under
a light-tight cover. Indeed, if time is available and the situation
lends itself to it, the actual camera retrieval could be conducted at
The camera may be broken, but still at least
partially light-tight because:
The camera is within its leather case
The camera has “broken in place,” i.e., the
broken parts have not separated and thus the camera is still partially
The camera is shielded underneath the body of the
climber. Thus, if Irvine is found, attempt to pat him down to search
for the camera in his clothing. Carefully search underneath him as well.
If you feel the camera within his clothing stop everything
and think: How am I going to get the camera into light-tight material
without exposing it to light? This is a once in
a life-time opportunity. Don't blow it due to haste! Ideally you might
place a tent next to the body, and do the pat-down at night.
Or cover the body in a tarp and pat it down under the tarp. THIS IS A
ONCE IN A LIFE-TIME MOMENT. DON'T BLOW IT!!
The film in the take-up reel may still be
The first step in recovering the camera safely is
to assume it may be broken but still together and immediately and
gently (but firmly)
bind it up. An ideal method is to have a few sheets of aluminum
foil available to wrap the camera in. Otherwise the camera should be
covered/wrapped with black plastic film (baggies) and wrapped in any
type of tape that will hold in cold temperatures (e.g., Velcro strips).
If no tape is available, wrap the camera inside the baggie with string,
or cloth strips or slip it inside a mitten and tie the mitten off.
Once retrieved, every effort should be made to
keep the camera below freezing. Placing it inside a double boot and
the boot with snow might serve as an emergency ice box, especially
during transport to a photo lab. If it cannot be kept below freezing,
keep it as cool as possible.
that once you have the camera, try to calm down. As long as you can keep
it cold, speed is no longer of the essence.
It is much more important to follow the procedure correctly and slowly
than to screw-up quickly. If you have to wait
a few days to make
an unobtrusive exit from Base Camp, do so.
film would be completely wiped out by any checked-baggage x-ray. It
would be further damaged by hand-carry x-ray, and in danger
of being opened for inspection. Thus, the camera cannot safely be
transported by air—except for one method—it could be air-shipped in
a diplomatic bag from the American Embassy in Katmandu. But this is a
The safest method is to carrying the film back
to a photo lab in Katmandu.
Searchers should obtain the Kodak chemicals in the
US to assure that they are available and fresh, and bring them to a
photo lab in Katmandu. If the film must be stored in a freezer until the
lab and chemicals are obtained, so be it. Obviously, media
security becomes an important element in selecting this lab.
following are suggestions of how to handle the camera up to the Kodak
developing instructions. Note, by “the film” we are talking
about the light-sensitive (image-containing) chemical layer or
emulsion, a film-like nitro-cellulose carrier, and a paper
or “backing” that is not attached to the carrier but may now be
stuck to it. The major danger is that the carrier will be dried-out
and extremely brittle—and could possible shatter into splinters. This
would destroy the image. Thus it must be soaked
to become more pliable.
Removing the Film from the VPK camera
experienced developing technician to handle the film.
This is no place for a hyper-active amateur
to learn the ABCs of handing film, no matter how well-meaning. The
technician should read and completely understand the
Kodak instructions (below). He should have all chemicals in place, at
temperature before beginning the development procedure.
You want a fuss-budget type here, not an artiste.
IN COMPLETE DARKNESS
(no safe light, but an infrared light source and viewer could be useful
to watch the development
process) let the opened camera come up to room temperature (60-70-degres
F—not critical) in air.
open the camera
by removing the side panel and immerse it in the Kodak PhotoFlow
solution at the same temperature.
the camera to get as much fluid into the camera and around the film
which is still in the take-up reel chamber.
AFTER 15 MINUTES OF SOAKING:
After 15 minutes in PhotoFlo solution, begin to
GENTLY extract the rolled-up uptake roll from its chamber so that the
is completely free of the camera. Remove the empty camera from the
During the 30-60-minutes of soaking, GENTLY feel
if the film can be unrolled from the uptake roll. It will probably be
spring-tight and resist unrolling, but once wetted, at least not break.
This is where the film technician’s experienced touch
will be most useful. The point here is to get solution everywhere
into the tightly wound film to help it relax.
Surgically cut off the potentially last exposed
frame of film if there is one stretched across the film plane (using a
scalpel) and set it aside in its own PhotoFlo solution.
As soon as the rolled-up film becomes pliable,
unroll it out as best you can, using a fixed clip at one end and a
at the other. Set this up ahead of time.
If the paper doesn’t want to
come off the back of the carrier while the film is being
stretched-out, GENTLY see if the paper
backing can be removed. (Originally, the paper was not attached to the
film carrier.) Wherever the paper sticks to the back
of the film, work in the Photo-Flow solution to help get it off. A
credit card with its edge dulled is handy to slide between the film
and paper backing TAKE YOUR TIME. Under no circumstances scrape
the delicate emulsion side of the film.
There is a risk that the paper liner might stick
to the front
of the film. This is the worst case and we are in trouble.
(See PLAN E). But DON’T PANIC. If the paper is sticking to the front,
i.e., emulsion side, of the film, develop it as indicated
below, but greatly extending the developing time to let the developer
will soak through the paper carrier and begin developing
the emulsion. This is where the judgment of the experienced
technician will be invaluable. The danger here is that
over-developing will increase image fog--possibly fogging out the
image itself. Anti-fog chemicals can only do so much...
Even after soaking for about 20
minutes, there is still a risk that the film will not want to unroll at
all, with the result that the water bath
might not be able get in to rehydrate or develop the film. Plan B
consists of putting the film and solution into a small chamber and
a vacuum with an Edmunds Scientific hand pump. This will cause the small
amount of air within the roll to be drawn out and replaced by liquid,
and might help release the bound-up roll.
Consider using a hypodermic
needle to inject solution in-between the layers. Slide the needle
in-between the carrier and the paper liner
as you are squirting-out PhotoFlo solution. Do this every quarter-inch
around the entire roll of film.
If all else fails in trying to
unroll the film, and you have hydrated for as long as 60 minutes, using
the surgeon’s scalpel, cut the film
width-wise (along the axis of the take-up reel). First make one cut to
see if you can peel off a complete circumference of that layer.
If it is still stuck, make a second cut at the opposite side, always
re-immersing the film in solution. Cut one layer at a time and immerse
in solution. Although it’s a shame to have to cut the film, the pieces
will be much more reliably developed and printed—and easily reassembled
with PhotoShop. Plan D might become Plan B depending on circumstances
and the judgment of the film technician.
Paper Carrier sticks tightly to the film:
If the paper carrier sticks to the
back of the film, that's OK. Just don't ruin the image-carrying
emulsion side by trying too hard to separate
the paper from the film. Just develop as indicated below. Prints will be
made back in the U.S.
If the paper liner sticks to the
of the film—the emulsion side—this is bad news. But it is still be
possible to develop the film without detaching
it in one of two ways: First, by letting the developer soak through the
paper carrier. Development times would be greatly extended for the
to leach through the paper liner, which increases the risk of fogging
the image. If, after, say, 40 minutes, this doesn't seem to be working,
(groan!) cutting parallel slits a few millimeters apart in the film
itself with a scalpel in order to get developer to all parts of
(Or just cut the entire film and paper into narrow slivers.) Once the
hydration process is started the film has to be developed and
fixed to completion. Again, the technician will have to be the
judge. Once developed and fixed, but not yet separated, the film would
brought to a lab in the US for further processing and printing. If
cutting the film into slivers is decided, the developed slivers can
reassembled with PhotoShop.
DEVELOPING THE FILM
Follow Kodak instructions below to
develop film. If after developing, the film negative comes out
featureless, or you were not able to separate
the paper carrier from the emulsion side, do not despair yet.
There are other techniques such as autoradiographic processing that can
from even the thinnest negative.
is strongly advised as there are many competing
rapaciously claims to the camera and its images.
Consult with an attorney before making the existence of the film or its
+1 617-293-1958 Cell
+1 617-266-1662 Home
Mallory & Irvine reach the Summit?
Q&A with Tom Holzel
03:14 am EST Feb 19, 2008
historian Tom Holzel climbed Everest as far
back as in 1986 in search of an answer
for Mallory and Irvine's fate.
Summit or not?
American historian Tom Holzel
climbed on Everest as far back as in
1986 in search of the answer. Yesterday ExWeb
published Tom's simple scenario for
Mallory and Irvine's final climb; a conclusion he
reached after assembling all the evidence.
"It's a big disappointment. But, as a historian, one
is obliged to follow the facts no matter
where they lead," Tom told ExWeb. Today a Q&A with
the M&I researcher who was forced
to have a change of heart.
ExWeb: Tom, you told us that way back in the
early ‘70’s you predicted that Andrew Irvine’s
body might lie below the ice ax on the snow field at
8200m. With that one article you re-ignited
interest in this famous mystery--and you created a
storm of protest. Then, in 1980, the
Japanese Alpine Club wrote in reply to your letter
to be on the lookout for Irvine, that a Chinese
porter on Everest told them he had discovered “an
English dead” at 8100m.
TH: Yes, and that was a great confirmation of
what until then had only been a possibility.
But this exciting news was not well received by the
British climbing establishment.
ExWeb: Why not?
TH: British climbers, particularly the old
guard, were really upset that it was an American
who was hot on the spur. And having the audacity to
suggest one of their heroic failures might
have been a success. Plus my brash nature really
offended them. For one thing, I failed in the
article to pay any homage to their list of great
men, as one of these great men, Sir Percy
Wynn Harris acidly pointed out. Also, the official
Chinese Mountaineering Association repeatedly
denied that any “foreign mountaineer” had been
ExWeb: But why should they be angry about
your turning failure into possible success?
TH: We never got a straight answer. But when
we left for Mt. Everest in 1986 to go look,
one book reviewer deliberately broke the embargo on
Audrey Salkeld’s and my book—
The Mystery of Mallory & Irvine--to wish us the
same fate as befell Mallory & Irvine.
That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the
ExWeb: Ooops! So it wasn’t just envy…?
TH: It was rancorous pique (ed: bitter
pride). Because it was they who should have thought
to look for the two climbers. Instead, they did
absolutely nothing to find out what happened
to Mallory & Irvine, claimed that the “English dead”
was another ‘Everest ghost,’ and complained
we were nothing less than grave robbers—all pretty
much in the same breath. It was
dog-in-the-manger at its finest: we never looked, so
how dare you?
ExWeb: Your theory was that Mallory & Irvine
surmounted the very difficult Second Step, and
then Mallory combined Irvine’s remaining oxygen with
his own in order to have enough to reach
the summit. And sent Irvine back down by himself.
TH: Yes. At the time, that was the only
realistic assembly of facts that gave them any
of at least one of them having got to the top. And
still pretty much is.
ExWeb: But you don’t feel that way anymore?
TH: The Old Guard was adamant—almost
apoplectic—that Mallory would never send Irvine back
to his death. Solo travel on Mt. Everest was just
not done, they exclaimed—especially to indulge in a
vainglorious effort to reach the top. This while
proclaiming out of the other side of their mouths
that Mallory was unstoppable, someone who would
never turn back while there was any chance, etc.,
ExWeb: Do you still feel the same way now?
TH. No. I knew that their solo-bit complaint,
sending a climber back alone, was malarkey (ed: BS)
—they did it on every expedition beginning
with the first one 1921 on their return from the
North Col. But they were accidentally right about
Mallory not sending Irvine back from the Second
Back in 1971 nothing was known about the actual
difficulty of the Second Step and the traverse to
reach it from the First Step. Sir Percy had
eyeballed it from below and declared it unclimbable.
He also declared the Norton Route the only way to
go. Since then (1933) the Second Step
has been climbed a thousand times, the Norton Route
two or three times.
When Western climbers were finally let in, they
learned that the traverse from the First Step to the
Second—about 250 yards—is treacherously
steep and very scary. So critics were right when
they said that Mallory would not have sent Irvine
back down alone from the Second Step.
This new fact weakened my theory.
ExWeb: And then it was Mallory who was found
below the ice ax where you predicted, not Irvine…
TH. Yes, and that hurt the theory even more.
ExWeb: Why is that?
TH. Mallory could have been returning alone
from his summit assault and just fallen to where he
was found. He would certainly have been
utterly exhausted. But his body exhibited severe
rope-jerk mottling around the waist—a clear sign
that he had received a strong rope-jerk from
a falling partner.
ExWeb: So you say he could not have been
coming down alone. He must have been descending with
TH. Yes, and Irvine could not possibly have
sat around above the Second Step completely out in
the open in the midst of a snow squall for six
hours to wait for Mallory to return. Or even for an
hour or two in that fearful cold.
ExWeb: So you concluded they never split up,
and they must have returned together?
TH. That’s the way it looks. And the puncture
wound in Mallory’s forehead looks an awfully lot
like that which would result from his own ice ax
while trying a self-arrest.
ExWeb: So isn’t one way to look at it that
the Old Guard was right—they didn’t climb the Second
Step and they didn’t make it to the top?
Given that, isn’t your latest theory just an
explication of that?
TH. That would be painful to admit if one
didn’t look at the whole picture. Prior to my 1971
article, the issue was essentially closed.
Nothing was explained, and the Brits felt there was
no sense in speculating further. Searching was never
mooted. They simply blamed their
failure on the failure of the ”artificial” oxygen
system, which caused them to be so late when Odell
saw them. Sir Percy blamed the two tanks
on Mallory’s back as having acted like runners on a
sled to speed him to his death! It never entered
their minds to look for evidence, especially
the cameras the two took.
ExWeb: And your latest scenario is…?
TH. I suddenly realized that all the palaver
about Mallory & Irvine being late was based on two
huge false assumptions: The first false assumption
was that they were late because of oxygen equipment
problems; the second false assumption was that when
they were seen five hours late, they
were still ascending.
ExWeb: So when Odell spotted them they were
already coming down?
TH. Clearly. If you plug that assumption into
the equation, suddenly ALL the known facts make
sense—and you don’t have to turn a blind eye to
all those clues that damage whatever your latest
success scenario is. Or make up scenarios out of
ExWeb: You’re saying all “success scenarios”
have holes in them?
TH. Unfortunately, including mine. Some much
bigger than others. To get the two—or even one of
them—to the top requires you to finesse
important clues. Or contrive elaborate evidence-free
scenarios. As a historian, you simply can’t do that.
You have to simply and realistically
account for all known evidence. But, if what you
want is to establish a glorious myth, then, of
course, anything goes…
ExWeb: So now you’ve done a complete
turnabout from your original success scenario. Are
now ALL the ducks in a row?
TH. This latest theory is straight-forward,
accounts for all known facts, leaves nothing out and
doesn’t contrive complex alternate universes.
So it must be what happened. They failed and I show
exactly how and why. What a pity. I certainly wanted
to have seen them reach the top as
much as anyone.
ExWeb: This will make a lot of Mallory &
Irvine fans unhappy.
TH. For sure. And it made a lot of editors
unhappy, too. I’ve never had a problem getting
half-dozen articles published on this subject—
as long as I was pushing the “How Mallory made it”
scenario. But this negative assessment is
heresy—none of the mountaineering press would touch
ExWeb: Except us?
TH. Bravo. That’s why I’m here!
Tom on how the film in the VPK camera should be
handled and developed
In 1986, Everest expert and co-author of the book
"First on Everest - The mystery of Mallory and
Irvine," Tom Holzel set out to find Mallory's
In addition, Tom was the one to track down Zhang
Junyan and corroborated the late Chinese
mountaineer's Wang's story about the discovery
of an "English body" on the mountain.
Odell says he saw Mallory and Irvine climbing the
second step in less than five minutes. The section
has only been free-climbed a few times since.
Oscar Cadiach (K2 Magic line, 7 main 8000ers,
Everest twice), who climbed the second step without
oxygen said, "It took me one hour to climb
the 50 meters-long step. I hoped two hours more
would be enough to reach the summit, but breaking
trail in soft snow ended up with us
topping-out six hours after climbing the Step."
The Search for
(For trenchant business assistance,