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  “1922 Everest Memorial Sale” Guest Column by Dave Mycroft


Two years before Mallory and Irvine famously walked into history, disappearing high on Everest, an avalanche above the North Col took the lives of seven Sherpas. These first recorded climbing deaths were commemorated with a stone plaque, engraved with the names of those who perished, set in a cairn at the North Col.

Nearly 70 years on the Canadian Everest Expedition found a single fragment of this plaque. In the words of the expedition leader, Peter Austen, The cairn had been dismantled and scattered by persons unknown. All the rest has been taken by other people over the years to who knows where.”  The remaining piece, engraved with the name “Pema” found its way back to Canada after the expedition and remained there in obscurity for the next 14 years.

Earlier this month the nine inch by four inch fragment reappeared on the global auction site eBay described as “the showpiece for anycollector/mountaineer interested in the Mallory saga.  In mint condition… the object is basically priceless but bids of 50000 US $ and up are expected”. A week later the auction closed without a single bid, but it certainly hadn’t gone unnoticed.

Back in Britain reaction was anything but favourable to what was seen by some as “graverobbing”. By coincidence the auction coincided with a debate on the ethics of memorials on mountains. The John Muir Trust in Scotland had recently announced its intention to remove all memorials from the summit of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, and relocate them in a new memorial garden at the base of the mountain. The UK climbing and outdoor community were “horrified” by the idea of auctioning such an item, and the result was a series of emails to the seller deploring his actions. At this point it emerged, in response to the emails, that the seller was hoping some rich climber would buy this and donate it to a mountaineering museum. We could then use the $ for schools and health in the khumbu. This is better than having it sitting under a rock /pa”.

The question still remains of whether memorials have any place on mountains, or whether they should be relocated to a more suitable location where memory of the deceased doesn’t infringe on the natural beauty that attracted them there in the first place. In some ways it is fitting that this first memorial from the slopes of Everest, which has been subsequently followed by countless others, should highlight the question.

 

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