Did George Mallory stand on top of Everest three decades before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay? That has been a question that mountaineers have debated for years. Some think that there is no way that Mallory reached the summit back in 1924, when he and climbing partner Sandy Irvine disappeared on the mountain. Others think it’s quite possible that he did indeed reach the top, but died on the way down. We will likely never know for sure.
However, Graham Hoyland thinks he knows the answer in this article from today’s Telegraph. He believes that Mallory and Irvine did summit Everest thirty years earlier than Hillary and Norgay, and will go on record saying so before the Royal Geographic Society in the U.K. today. Hoyland, who has climbed Everest himself, has spent a number of years researching the Mallory climb, and is proclaiming his theory as to how Mallory and Irvine summitted the mountain.
Hoyland believes that the famed climbers didn’t go along the route that most people have assumed they had taken up until this point. It has generally been accepted that the pair climbed along what is now the “normal” route on the North Side, reaching the Second Step and proceeding up from there. In fact, an eyewitness account from Noel Odell, the last person to see Mallory and Irvine alive, claims to have seen them above the Second Step and just 800 feet beneath the summit. It is Hoyland’s assertion that although Odell believed that he saw them above the Second Step, that they had actually taken a different route along the Third Step, which would have been an easier route and also would have likely resulted in one or both of them reaching the top.
The reasons why Hoyland believes this are twofold. First, upon reaching the Second Step, Mallory, who was a skilled and accomplished climbers, would have recognized that Irvine, who was not so skilled, would have great difficulty with the rock face that lay before them. Mallory would not have risked his friends life, or the success of the expedition on such a risky climb. At that point, no one had tried the Second Step, and Hoyland believes that Mallory wouldn’t have either.
His other reason for believing that the pair took a different route, is that Odell remarked that they scrambled up the Second Step in about five minutes, something that would seem impossible given the challenges of climbing that rock face. Hoyland believes that Odell simply mistook the Third Step for the Second Step, and since the Third Step is a much less challenging climb, most historians believe that had Mallory and Irvine gone that way, they would have topped out.
Definitely an interesting theory, and again, one that will be difficulty to prove to be sure. I’m sure we’ll get more details on this as Hoyland’s presentation leaks out to the press. His thoughts run counter to Conrad Anker’s comments, which were that Mallory gave it quite a go, but likely fell short of the summit. Of course, Anker, who recently tried to re-create Mallory’s climb with vintage gear, is operating under the impression that the route ran up the Second Step.
So, what do you think? More fuel for the fire? Anything to this theory? Personally, I subscribe to the adage that getting to the top is only half-way there, so to me Hillary and Norgay are still the first to successfully summit. Just my two cents.