With the Everest 2010 season beginning to loom ever closer, we’re starting to get more details on expeditions and plans for the spring. But no matter how much things change on the mountain, it remains steeped in history, mystery and legend, holding an allure over the climbers and general public alike.
Of course, one of those enduring mysteries is whether or not George Mallory and climbing companion Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, ever reached the summit when on their fateful 1924 expedition. At the time, the pair were outfitted with the best equipment that was available, but despite their best efforts, the failed to return from the climb, perishing high up on rocky face.
It would be nearly another 30 years before Hillary and Norgay would reach the top of the highest mountain on Earth. But the question has always remained, were Mallory and Irvine first? Did they actually make it to the top? Was it even possible with the gear they had at the time? Experts have weighed in on the matter for decades, with some thinking it was not only possible, but probable, while others dismissed Mallory and Irvine out of hand. The debate was further compounded because the bodies of the two men were never found. Most argued that they would never know the answer for sure, unless we could find the pocket Kodak Camera that the two men carried with them. It could, in theory, offer photographic proof that they had topped out.
The debate went back into full swing back in 1999 when Mallory’s body was discovered at high altitude on Everest. It was a major discovery, and gave us some clues as to what had happened to the two men. But unfortunately, there was no camera on the body, and Irvine remains missing to this day.
Fast forward to 2010, and gadget site Gizmodo is reporting that a new expedition in search of Irvine and the camera will get underway this spring. Gizmodo cites Tom Holzel, an “Everest Historian” who claims to have used high resolution satellite photos to scour the mountain looking for signs of the missing climber. Holzel says that he has spotted an “oblong blob” that he believes is the body of Irvine, and he’s banking on the camera being on the body as well. The expedition will reportedly climb to the “blob” and determine what it is once and for all. And if it is indeed Mallory’s missing partner, Holzel has given them instructions on how to handle the nearly 90 year old camera in order to have the best chance of recovering photos.
As I’ve said before, the camera has become the Holy Grail of Mountaineering. People have been searching for it for years, and all have come up blank. Of course, Everest is a big mountain, with lots of ground to cover, which hasn’t helped in the process. But it’s also quite likely that the camera may not even be there any more. It could have been dropped along the way, or exposed to the elements, causing it to corrode and disappear. And even if it is found, it’ll take a miracle for the film to not have already been exposed. Still, we all love a good mystery, and it would be fun to know for sure, whether Mallory and Irvine ever stood on top. But again, as I’ve said before, does it really matter? They may have reached the summit, but that’s only half-way. You have to get back down again for the climb to be considered successful in my mind.
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