Sandy Irvine, (member of the Oxford University
winning Boat Race crew) 1923 © The Sandy Irvine
Trust, UK. Not to be reproduced without permission.
Perhaps none of the
many stories and legends of Everest so captures its dramatic and tragic spirit
than that of George Leigh Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine. The two men were
lost in an attempt at Everest’s summit in 1924 nearly, 3 decades before the
first recognized summit by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The mystery
of whether the two men reached the summit and died on the way down is still
debated to this day.
What is known is that
by 1924 George Mallory, a handsome and
member of Victorian society was one of Britain best climbers.
He had been to Everest on several previous expeditions and had studied the
mountain, concluding that the path to the summit was long but climbable. Andrew
“Sandy” Irvine was a ‘fixit’ man. He had a reputation for being able to fix
anything and his expertise was greatly needed in dealing with the expedition’s
comparatively primitive and balky oxygen equipment.
The two men left
their camp on at the top of the North Col together; making their way over the next
two days to camp V and then to camp VI. On the morning of June 8th
they left their high camp headed for the summit. Geologist Noel Odell spotted
them briefly just 800 feet below the summit before a veil of mist and blowing
snow hid them from view forever. The two men were “'going strong for the top“
according to Odell but were never seen alive again and were presumed lost on
Everest’s North Face.
A Chinese climber
reportedly found a body that was presumed to be
Irvine’s in 1975. He described it as a an "English
dead" whose clothes were so fragile from age that they blew away in the
wind when touched. As the body was found 750 directly below where Irvine’s ice
axe was found it was believed to be he.
Yet in 1999 a body found
at 26,800-ft turned out to be George Mallory.
Since no camera was found with George, it is now
Mallory, who was known to
be forgetful, would have been handed off the
more dependable Irvine before the two men
died. And though Mallory died from a fall, Irvine’s remains
and possibly the camera and the exact reason for his death have never been
found. If in the coming years an expedition discovers the spot on Everest’s
vast North Face where Irvine still lays it may finally put the mystery of
Mallory & Irvine’s fate to rest.
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