Mallory and Irvine on Everest: Did extreme weather cause their disappearance?

Via Eurekalert and the “climate doesn’t kill people, weather does” department

Research considers role of weather in historic Everest tragedy

The north side of Mount Everest is the area believed to be consumed by extreme storms during the Mallory & Irvine expedition. Credit: Dr John Semple

Their legend has inspired generations of mountaineers since their ill-fated attempt to climb Everest over 80 years ago, and now a team of scientists believe they have discovered another important part of the puzzle as to why George Mallory and Andrew Irvine never returned from their pioneering expedition. The research, published in Weather, explores the unsolved mystery and uses newly uncovered historical data collected during their expedition to suggest that extreme weather may have contributed to their disappearance.

George Mallory and Andrew ‘Sandy’ Irvine disappeared during their historic 1924 attempt to reach the summit of Everest. The pair were last seen on June 8th on Everest’s Northeast Ridge, before vanishing into the clouds and into the history books. For decades a vigorous debate has raged regarding their climb, their disappearance and if they were successful in reaching the summit.

“The disappearance of Mallory and Irvine is one of the most enduring mysteries of the 20th century, yet throughout the debates surrounding their disappearance the issue of the weather has never really been addressed,” said lead author Professor G.W.K Moore of the Physics Department at the University of Toronto. “Until we completed our study the only information available was an observation by mountaineer Noel Odell, who was climbing behind Mallory and Irvine, who claimed that a blizzard occurred on the afternoon that they disappeared.”

Many writers have since ignored the storm as Odell believed it had only lasted a short time. However the size and extreme height of Everest mean that Odell’s observations have always been difficult to place into context, making the blizzard potentially more significant than first realised.

This latest research focuses on meteorological measurements from the 1924 expedition which the authors uncovered at the Royal Geographical Society library in London. Although the data was published as a table in a 1926 report on the expedition, it was never analysed for information on the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine until this study.

“We analysed the barometric pressure measurements and found out that during the Mallory and Irvine summit attempt, there was a drop in barometric pressure at base camp of approximately 18mbar. This is quite a large drop, in comparison the deadly 1996 ‘Into Thin Air’ storm had a pressure drop at the summit of approximately 8 mbar,” said Moore. “We concluded that Mallory and Irvine most likely encountered a very intense storm as they made their way towards the summit.”

“Mount Everest is so high that there is barely enough oxygen near its summit to sustain life and a drop of pressure of 4 mbar at the summit is sufficient to drive individuals into a hypoxic state,” said Dr. John Semple an experienced mountaineer and the Chief of Surgery at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.

The authors conclude that with the additional stresses they were under with extreme cold, high winds and the uncertainly of their route, the pressure drop and the ensuring hypoxia contributed to the Mallory and Irving’s death.

This research not only contributes a new, and perhaps final, chapter to the Mallory legend, but is also of importance to modern mountain climbers as the same types of storms and hypoxic stresses continue to confront those who take on the world’s great mountains.

The Mallory and Irvine storm serves as both an example and a warning of the magnitude of the pressure drops that can occur and the severe physiological impact they can have.

“Over the 8 decades since Mallory and Irvine died we have learned a lot about Mount Everest and the risks that climbers attempting to climb it face”, concluded Moore. “The weather is perhaps the greatest unknown and we hope that this line of research will help educate modern climbers as to the risks that they face.”

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64 thoughts on “Mallory and Irvine on Everest: Did extreme weather cause their disappearance?

  1. I’ve been to Everest twice (trekking to the bottom only, not climbing to the top) and this seems ludicrous. People are always dying in the upper Khumbu Valley and on Everest for a variety of reasons. Some are vaguely weather related, and some are not.
    In 1995 two trekkers died separately on Cho La pass from heart failure, one in his 50’s, the other in his 20’s. A couple weeks later, an intense blizzard inundated the upper Khumbu and over 100 trekkers, guides, and porters found themselves stranded without supplies in Lobuche, and had to make an organized effort to break out through the chest-deep snow. Over the hill in the Gokyo Valley, more than 30 Japanese trekkers and Nepali guides were killed in an avalanche caused by the same storm. Of course there are many other stories.
    Did “the weather” cause any of this? In a vague way, yes. But that doesn’t explain why some succumb (to bad planning, bad health, bad luck) and others do not.
    To connect the deaths of Mallory and Irvine to “the weather” is just silly.

  2. The story of finding Mallory’s body several years ago was quite interesting. It seemed to show that they simply fell to their death. Mallory one way and Irvine, apparently the other. His grip on the rocks and the position of his legs showed he survived the fall. Birds had picked at exposed parts, but his body was, of course, remarkably preserved. Those who found him surmised he survived the storm but fell in the darkness on their way down after not being able to scale the second step. And they had used primitive supplemental oxygen on the climb, although I think they discarded it for the summit assault.

  3. I climb I cave I horseback ride.
    I lost my fiance to a fall in the Rockies, my best friend to a fall in a New York state park, another friend to a fall in a pit cave, another friend to being crushed by a falling rock in a cave, a couple of other friends to drowning while cave diving. I have had friends break their backs when thrown from a horse.
    You do extreme sports you can die – end of story.

  4. Extreme weather cause their deaths? Impossible! This was 80 years ago, and we all know that there never were extreme weather events before mankind perturbed the stable climate/weather of the world with CO2 pollution.
    Interesting, though, 18 mbar is a large drop. But I suspect it’s as simple as the fall scenario, whether that was caused by the weather or not. Certainly there’s no shortage of reasons, from weather to accidents to poor planning, to explain deadly disasters at the edge of the human survival envelope. I remember watching the film of Nanook of the North, and reading that the photographer/documentarian who filmed it went back the next year and found that Nanook and his whole family had been wiped out when the ice broke up underneath them.

  5. Mallory and Irvine on Everest: Did extreme weather cause their disappearance?
    Has anyone considered extreme climate?

  6. The weather could well have played a part in their tragic demise. As the article said, a drop in air pressure at that altitude can have bad effects on an already marginal situation in the ‘death zone’.

  7. Gary does not appreciate how severe an 18 mbar drop, when “a drop of pressure of 4 mbar at the summit is sufficient to drive individuals into a hypoxic state”. While he apparently made it to base camp at 18,192 ft, even hiking rapidly to 8,000 ft can cause altitude sickness to those who have not acclimatized.
    Small changes at life critical boundaries can cause death. However, humans tolerate living conditions from -50C to +50 C. Statistically cold temperatures cause much higher sickness and death rates than warming. A +1 C change in the mean temperature is likely to reduce deaths, not increase them. See Ch 9 Human Health Effects in Climate Change Reconsidered
    PS typo: change to “ensuing hypoxia”

  8. dfbaskwill says:
    August 2, 2010 at 8:17 am
    The story of finding Mallory’s body several years ago was quite interesting. It seemed to show that they simply fell to their death.
    ============================================================
    Hypoxia will certainly make you fall.

  9. I agree with Garry, and “more significant than first realised.” now where have we heard those words before.
    Also this blog always tries to emphasize empirical evidence, i.e. real stuff on the ground, not ivory towers navel gazing.
    This is real evidence: “… the only information available was an observation by mountaineer Noel Odell, who was climbing behind Mallory and Irvine, who claimed that a blizzard occurred on the afternoon that they disappeared.”
    I’d take the word of the guy who was climbing there on the same day in the same place over the ideas of latter day “researchers”.
    Come on folks, it’s time you got out a bit.

  10. I think this justifies a massive international campaign to INCREASE C02 in the atmosphere in order to warm up Everest! Do your part to ensure that Mallory and Irvine shall not have died in vain!!!

  11. It wasn’t the weather. It wasn’t climate. It wasn’t the fall. It was the sudden stop wot dunnit. Dead, I tell ya’.
    The researchers must not have anything better to do nowadays.

  12. This brings up a hot-button issue of mine. Extreme sporters should pay for their own rescue should they need it. They should be required to be bonded, just like engineers and construction bosses, and/or carry high priced rescue insurance. If they don’t and they are in distress or they disappear, sorry, but whatever caused it just doesn’t matter, they should be left to rescue themselves.

  13. Only a scientist as talented as Dr. Mann could look at the evidence and decide that it was hypoxia that caused Mallory to fall as opposed to the darkness, wind, slippery rocks or something else. My Biology degree from PSU has been rendered useless by him. I can only add that a banana peel can also cause one to fall, and is very much funnier.

  14. Geoffrey Archer wrote a book about their exploits on Everest. Until I saw this post, I assumed it was fiction and that Mallory was a stand-in for Hillary.

  15. Simply amazing !
    I wonder what the possibilities are that maybe the loss of the Scott Antarctic Explorers could have been related to extreme weather.
    Nah ! that would be too much of a coincidence; wouldn’t it ?

  16. Severian says:
    August 2, 2010 at 8:43 am
    It seems that you are somewhat disingenuously “cooking the books” re Nanook. I do not know where you acquired your story about the actors in the film, but you are not right.
    “In 1923, one year after Nanook was released, Allakariallak starved while hunting on the tundra, built a snow house, and crawled inside to die.”
    “look again at Nanook’s sweet sleeping family, at the radiant wife Nyla, played by a young Ungava Inuk named Maggie Nujuarluktuk. She was five months pregnant when Robert Flaherty left Inukjuak with his footage, and on Christmas Day, 1921, she gave birth to his son, Josephie Flaherty, a residual of Flaherty’s triumphant Arctic sojourn never acknowledged in his lifetime.”
    http://www.walrusmagazine.com/articles/2007.11-books-walrus-reads-Marian-Botsford-Fraser/
    Western influences were not good to the Inuit.
    “By the early 1950s, Robert Flaherty’s son Josephie and the community of Inukjuak in which he lived were utterly dependent upon the qalunaat, the white man. Instead of hunting for food, the Inuit mostly hunted for white fox and were paid in Hudson’s Bay store credits. Their settlements were no longer nomadic and farflung, but close to white communities, which by this time consisted of fur traders and factories, an rcmp constable, a nurse, a teacher, and staff for the joint US/Canada meteorological and radiosonde stations; Josephie was the chore boy for the radiosonde station. Missionaries and priests and senior bureaucrats came through regularly on the supply ship C. D. Howe. This proximity brought changes in living habits and diet, greater exposure to diseases like polio and tuberculosis, and a reliance on welfare in years when the price for furs was low or food sources were threatened. The Inuit had fallen under the purview of the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources. They were known individually only by numbers until 1960 (Josephie was simply e9701) and were referred to collectively as the Eskimo Problem.”
    But hey, why spoil a good story with the facts? Bit like AGW, doncha think?

  17. Ref – Garry says:
    August 2, 2010 at 8:16 am
    …”To connect the deaths of Mallory and Irvine to “the weather” is just silly.”
    __________________________
    I dunno, I kind of liked what he said and the image he painted. I’d like to suggest that we keep looking and reassessing the facts every 80 years or so and, until someone proves otherwise, this story is a winner in my book.
    Let’s hope Bollywood buys this one, Hollywood would probably rewrite the whole thing and sign Angelina Jolly to play the lead.

  18. David Hagen said at 9:14 am:
    “Gary does not appreciate how severe an 18 mbar drop, when ‘a drop of pressure of 4 mbar at the summit is sufficient to drive individuals into a hypoxic state’. ”
    Yeah, I get it, but I don’t think anyone can confidently assert that there was any kind of deadly “drop in pressure” effect on Mallory & Irvine. There are so many deadly hazards in the high-altitude Himalaya that almost anything will kill you. And AMS usually evolves over the course of hours, not minutes. I’ve seen it happen.

  19. Well I have the book on the complete story of the discovery of Mallory’s body; as well as the history of all the British Everest Expeditions of the 1920s campaign.
    Mallory’s body was found with a broken rope; and waist injuries to his body likely caused in a fall while roped together.
    It is also known that Irvine was not a particularly experienced climber (as to climbing skills). The location of Mallory’s body clearly rules out a fall on the way up from the vicinity of the second step. He was well below that on the ridge; so the fall must have been while coming down; not going up.
    Mallory was nobody’s idiot; and as close as he got; it is most unlikely that he would ever have left Irvine and tried to summit by himself in the face of the weather that is already well documented. I don’t think there is much dispute that they fell while coming down. The big question is were they coming down after a successful climb or as a result of the weather. It’s highly unlikely they made it; as much as the Romantics would like to think they did (I’m one).
    So did Irvine slip and drag Mallory down too ? Not worth speculating on; they apparently fell while roped together; doesn’t matter who slipped.
    A Chinese Expedition claimed to have passed “an English dead” supposedly just sitting up. That body has not been seen since, and Irvine has not been found. Mallory’s body is nowhere near where Irvine’s ice axe was found.
    George Lee Mallory was of course the brother of the WW-II RAF Lee Mallory; who favored large assemblages of fighters to pursue the Battle of Britain; a Strategy that likely would have resulted in a different outcome of that Battle.
    Air Marshall Dowding took it in the shorts over his conduct of the BOB and his differences with Lee Mallory; much like Churchill did; when it was all over.
    Sir Edmund Hillary was apparently not a believer that Mallory and Irvine made it to the top; and is reported to have said that the idea was to make it to the top and return alive. That sounds to me to be not an accurate portrayal of Hillary.

  20. When Mallory was found he had his ice ax with him, it is thought that he accidentally hit himself with it during his fall as he had a possibly fatal head wound consistent with that. He also had a broken rope and signs of a serious rope jerk injury around his waist which indicated that the rope had been pulled on very hard. He was laying face down 300 meters downslope from where Irvine’s ice ax was found.
    Interestingly on the ascent Mallory was reputed, by his daughter, to be carrying a photograph of his wife which he said he was going to leave at the summit. It was not present when his clothes were searched.

  21. A fascinating article on Mt. Everest is in National Geographic mag. August 1933 pp. 127-162, “Aerial Conquest of Everest”; many photos of Everest and surrounding mountains from the first flight over the area. They were doing an aerial survey which they successfully completed, so the Royal Geographic Society(one of the sponsers) should still have this very valuable record I would hope.
    Anyway the NatGeo article details the severe weather conditions around Everest during the flight even though they had chosen what they thought was the best time of the year for photography. The expedition depended on weather reports collected daily from weather balloons to determine wind speeds (sometimes up to 110 mph) and directions. All this is tangential to the Mallory story as it was several years later, but if anyone has access to the NatGeo DVD set and would like to see of great pics of Everest in 1933, that is where to find them.

  22. “Robert of Ottawa says:
    August 2, 2010 at 10:24 am
    Gail Combs August 2, 2010 at 8:40 am
    Gail, I feel the urge to ask you for a date.”
    I suggest, Robert, that you lie down and wait for the urge to pass.

  23. evanmjones says:
    August 2, 2010 at 9:30 am
    Good Lord, Gail, I am sorry to hear that.
    _______________________________________
    that is life and it was over several decades for all but my best friend who died two years ago. Beats dying by inches in a hospital bed from cancer though.

  24. Its hard to see why people are so mocking and unpleasant about the theory. There are plenty of reasons why Mallory and Irvine were at risk, if they found themselves in difficult circumstances. Mallory was experienced and able, but Irvine was young and inexperienced as an Alpinist. His lack of technical mountaineering skills would have put him at risk if things became difficult. Mallory had suffered from altitude sickness before, and was perhaps, at 38, somewhat over his peak of physical fitness. The question has always been whether Mallory would have pushed on recklessly, and whether the younger man would have taken excessive risks either from deference, or not understanding their magnitude. Mallory had already turned back from one summit earlier in his career, it seems unlikely that he would have risked his own and the life of someone for whom he was responsible. All in all, the extreme weather account makes sense. It makes sense that Mallory would not have forseen it, it would have been unforseeable. It makes sense that when it happened, even if the event had been survivable for a more evenly skilled and aged team, it would have proved unsurvivable for them.
    We have to remember the equipment and the conditions. This was not fleece and foam lined boots. This was tweed, woolen underwear, Grenfell cloth over. This was not today’s oxygen, it was oxygen which failed often and was a tremendous burden to carry.
    I find the account very plausible. In the end, those two could have made it, and come back safely, in reasonable conditions. Another team could have got back in the conditions in which they found themselves. But they, in those circumstances, an accident to one or both was very likely. One day we may find Irvine’s body. If they were roped, maybe a fall by him was the most likely precipitating factor. Or maybe he had fallen and Mallory would certainly have take almost any risk to try to save him.
    Read Graves’ account of Mallory in Goodby to All That, and don’t mock. They had courage, they were among the best of their generation. All they lacked was equipment, in Irvine’s case experience, and above all, luck.

  25. Now, I’m no climber, other than on to the bar stool to order my next whisky, but I call – 20°C and low oxygen extreme. Add some wind and snow and I’d call it b–è'(-y dangerous. Did they die because of climate change/global warming/weather? We will never know. What a stupid, silly piece of waste of money research.

  26. Pamela Gray says:
    August 2, 2010 at 9:59 am
    This brings up a hot-button issue of mine. Extreme sporters should pay for their own rescue should they need it. They should be required to be bonded, just like engineers and construction bosses, and/or carry high priced rescue insurance. If they don’t and they are in distress or they disappear, sorry, but whatever caused it just doesn’t matter, they should be left to rescue themselves.
    __________________________________________________
    You do have a point especially about the untrained idiots who watch too much TV and then do something foolish.
    Many in the extreme sports are part of trained rescue teams and do their own rescues if the Authorities will let them. Often, if the teams have not done a lot of ground work to lay a good relationship foundation with the Authorities people die because the Authorities refuse help from the trained rescue team and screw up.
    And yes I was part of a rescue team and yes I spent my money and my vacation taking training courses and yes I did some rescues when I was young and foolish.

  27. I know after reading the Mount Everest Reconnaissance in 1921 that
    http://www.archive.org/stream/mounteverestreco00howa#page/n0/mode/2up
    Page 262
    Weather and condition of snow
    “Inhabitants of Darjeeling, who have observed the hills in the changing seasons for many years, told me that is was almost unheard of that so much snow should fall in September and lie so low. The general tenor of such remarks may probably be applied to an area including not only Mount Everest itelf and the great peaks in its neighbourhood. but also a considerable tract of country to the North.”

  28. I empathize with Gail, having lost colleagues myself on K-2, Annapurna, Yosemite, The Palisades, Mt. Hood, and elsewhere. But I disagree with her “end of story” comment, though I understand it from the emotional state of a mountaineer.
    As a long-time SAR responder and a member of a Mountain Rescue group, I find the key point — a 4 mbar drop causing a hypoxic state in a low O2 environment — an important factor. The realization of an 18 mbar drop associated with a failed climb (4 1/2 times more than is necessary to cause a hypoxic state) can’t be ignored as a factor. In cluster failures, several elements contribute to the event, and this one can’t be diminished in importance, as hypoxia affects not only the physical state but especially the mental state.
    Posters here who have not experienced altitude sickness or rescued someone from a high mountain should not discount the challenges of something as innocuous as “air” to the success or failure to a extreme climb. Sudden changes to the nature and the quality of the air (including pressure) can have an immediate and deleterious effect.

  29. Noel Odell was an accomplished climber in his own right. He not only climbed alone to the point where he last saw Mallory and Irvine, he climbed back to the same point alone on the following day. This feat (among others, he was essentially a rock climber) was still highly regarded among climbers when I was a lad. He was also a highly regarded geologist who served in both world wars, was a consultant to the oil industry and a regular geology lecturer at U.S. universities. He was hardly the sort of person to mistake the sort of weather associated with an 18 mbar drop in pressure for the squall that he described. His view was circumscribed but we could hardly have asked for a better witness.

  30. michel says August 2, 2010 at 11:42 am:
    “Its hard to see why people are so mocking and unpleasant about the theory.”
    I’m not “mocking” it and hopefully not being unpleasant, and yes it is a mildly interesting theory.
    But people can die from many things up there. Sudden heart failure and high altitude cerebral edema are not unusual, and I saw it and heard about it happening even among young and fit trekkers in the Khumbu valley, at less than 20,000 feet altitude.
    The effects of being above 16,000 feet for days and weeks on end are significant and non-trivial. I would not be at all surprised if Irvine had a sudden heart attack and pulled Mallory off the mountain.

  31. Gail Combs says August 2, 2010 at 11:50 am:
    “Many in the extreme sports are part of trained rescue teams and do their own rescues if the Authorities will let them. ”
    In the Himalaya I was adamant, insistent, and obnoxious that the Brit guy take his girlfriend down at least 500 meters because she was clearly suffering from onset AMS and possible cerebral edema. He reported the next day that she got better (instead of dying).
    Even those people who know better don’t think it will ever happen to them.

  32. Hey, Gail Combs!
    While sitting at one of those late night, campfire discussions after all day caving, I heard a physician friend muse on the reasons why people go caving. “Some say it is a death wish. Others say it is a desire to return to the womb. Personally, I think they are both right!”
    Best sport in the world. 🙂 Even better than rock climbing, because you get to do it in the dark, in the wet, and in places that make regular mortals turn into claustrophobes.

  33. Gail Combs: August 2, 2010 at 11:50 am
    And yes I was part of a rescue team and yes I spent my money and my vacation taking training courses and yes I did some rescues when I was young and foolish.
    I prefer doing rescues snugly strapped into the cockpit of a helicopter.
    Ropes break — shoulder harnesses and lap belts don’t…

  34. pablo ex pat says: “Interestingly on the ascent Mallory was reputed, by his daughter, to be carrying a photograph of his wife which he said he was going to leave at the summit. It was not present when his clothes were searched.”
    Yeah, pablo. Maybe extra-terrestials stole it?
    Sorry Anthony, but this must be the silliest thread EVER on WUWT. Just because it’s something tangential to do with the Himalayas does not excuse its silliness. Well, maybe it’s my fault and I didn’t realise until now that the UP in Watts UP With That related to mountain-climbing.
    Get a grip and stop gifting this website to those – and God knows, there are many of them – who assign WUTW to the far shores of anti-science, anti-history and anti-common sense they inhabit themselves.
    [REPLY – Lighten up, dude. This thread isn’t anti-anything. And it discusses variable conditions at high altitudes. ~ Evan]

  35. About 55 years ago I was a meteorologist at Eglin AFB when what I will all a “pressure front” came through. The wind increased from about 5 mph to 45 mph and back down in a space of about a minute. I had to do a lot of “explaining” how this could happen on a cloudless day with no warning on the synoptic charts.

  36. I note a recent sad story of a woman killed by lightning at the top of the mountain that she and her boyfriend had selected as the ideal site for his romantic proposal of marriage.

  37. historic Everest tragedy
    They chose to climb the mountain. If they were playing Russian roulette and lost would we consider that a tragedy?
    [REPLY – Why wouldn’t we? ~ Evan]

  38. I gave up caving when I got tired of getting cold, wet and dirty. I have taken part in underground rescues and have a tip, when abseiling tie a knot a ways above the end of the rope.
    I was involved in a rescue caused because a young person abseiled right to the end of the rope. Unfortunately, or possibly luckily, the end was 15 feet above the floor of the cave. The result ? A badly sprained ankle plus bumps and cuts and suddenly a lot of people have their day messed up.

  39. As long as human beings remain oxygen-breathing animals, climbing Mount Everest without oxygen-respirators will remain only marginally more healthy than trying to dive the Marianna Trench without a submarine.
    Get over it, folks: From his origins, man is a tropical biped ape, only suited by nature to live in semi-arid climates above 20 degrees centigrade on average, and in altitudes not exceeding 10,000 feet.

  40. H.R. says: “It wasn’t the weather. It wasn’t climate. It wasn’t the fall. It was the sudden stop wot dunnit….”
    Oh, well, sure, if you’re going to get all technical on us.

  41. Gail
    I’ll second that. When someone calls for a rescue (nowadays on their cell phone) they should provide a credit card number rather than make the public pay for the maintenance of all the rescue squads.

  42. As I recall from reading the book on the discovery of Mallory’s body, his goggles were found neatly folded in his pocket. That seems unlikely if he fell in a blizzard. It is more consistent with a fall in the dark.
    I also seem to recall they found a Mallory/Irvine O2 bottle at the second step, but not the breathing apparatus. That would suggest they had another bottle when they made their assault on the summit.
    Whenever I think about extreme sports like mountain climbing, I think of the Texas surgeon who lost his nose and most of his fingers in the “Into Thin Air” storm. As he stated, you really have to be self-centered to attempt such exploits. The incredible death rate for those who attempt Everest clearly demonstrates this: if you cared about those you left behind, you would not go in the first place. If you do go, insure yourself heavily and say goodbye like you will never see your spouse and children again.

  43. michel says:
    August 2, 2010 at 11:42 am
    […] Read Graves’ account of Mallory in Goodby to All That, and don’t mock. They had courage, they were among the best of their generation. All they lacked was equipment, in Irvine’s case experience, and above all, luck.
    I wouldn’t dream of mocking those explorers, but good grief! 80 years later and someone finally thinks to check the weather? Baaad researchers! No cookies for them.
    I find the story of the missing photo to be compelling evidence that they made it to the top and died coming down. I’m not sure we’ll ever know.

  44. From a (fictional) interview with Michael Mann:
    Reporter: “Why do you want to erase the Medieval Warm Period?”
    Mann: “Because it’s there.”

  45. “And then he fell. Perhaps it was precipitated by the injury I think he sustained earlier. Perhaps it was simply exhaustion coupled with darkness and cold. Or maybe it was just carelessness. But, regardless, Mallory fell, and fell hard enough to sustain serious injury from the rope tied to his waist with a bowline-on-a-coil. (In 1999 we saw and documented severe bruising and rip damage from the rope pull on Mallory’s waist, telling visually the story of a big fall.) The rope came taught, catching on a horn or fin of rock. The impact through the old, static, hand woven line is hard, wrenching Irvine upward and slamming him into the small cliffband. He fights and holds onto the rope, straining to stop the fall, to stop his friend and companion from falling into oblivion.
    And then, nothing. The strain disappears as suddenly as it began. The rope has broken, severed by the rock and the forces involved. Mallory is gone, cartwheeling down into darkness.” – informed speculation of Jake Norton who helped find Mallory and is still searching for Irvine. (read all three parts. No mention of severe weather though, only references to a passing squall.) http://blog.mountainworldproductions.com/2010/05/what-really-happened-to-george-mallory-andrew-irvine.html

  46. John says:
    August 2, 2010 at 1:32 pm
    pablo ex pat says: “Interestingly on the ascent Mallory……..”
    The interesting part appears to have passed you by, if his daughter was correct then he and Irvine obviously made it to the summit. Only the flip side of the coin no trace of either of them has ever been found up there.
    Another interesting point was that Mallory’s snow goggles were in his pocket when the body was found, possibly indicating that they were descending in the coming darkness. What took them so long if it wasn’t a trip to the top ? The other possibilty was that the ones in his pocket were a spare pair and that he was wearing a second pair which were lost during his fall.
    Obviously no one will ever know, not unless Irvine’s camera is found with reproduceable images on it. It’s just interesting to speculate, well it is to me anyway. I have catholic interests in many things – small c.
    I think that it helps to be multi faceted when you are looking at the big picture items, such as AGW. Many disciplines positively impact on a gaining a better understanding of what’s really happening today, an appreciation of history is one of them.

  47. “”” H.R. says:
    August 2, 2010 at 2:49 pm
    michel says:
    August 2, 2010 at 11:42 am
    […] Read Graves’ account of Mallory in Goodby to All That, and don’t mock. They had courage, they were among the best of their generation. All they lacked was equipment, in Irvine’s case experience, and above all, luck.
    I wouldn’t dream of mocking those explorers, but good grief! 80 years later and someone finally thinks to check the weather? Baaad researchers! No cookies for them.
    I find the story of the missing photo to be compelling evidence that they made it to the top and died coming down. I’m not sure we’ll ever know. “””
    Well also it is known that they had a Kodak Camera with them; and the recovery party searched for that hoping it might still have photos of a summit kind, saved for posterity. I believe the camera has not been found.
    As for Jake Norton’s “informed speculation”; informed or not it is still speculation; and I see no purpose in dressing it up like a Clive Cussler Thriller.
    Evidently they fell; nobody can ever know who slipped or why; it could have been a snow/ice fall that bowled them both off.
    I go along with the fall while tied together; but Mallory could easily have struck his head on a rock while he was slipping down that slope; I’m not convinced of an ice axe blow. I’m surprised he could even be alive after a fall, since I don’t think he simply slid to his final resting place.

  48. RE: Mike Hebb: (August 2, 2010 at 2:26 pm ) “When someone calls for a rescue (nowadays on their cell phone) they should provide a credit card number rather than make the public pay for the maintenance of all the rescue squads.”
    I believe they can claim that part of the taxes that *they* paid, or were liable to pay, were part of a government provided, citizen group-insurance policy that entitles them to be rescued or recovered.
    Perhaps it would be fair to charge people extra access fees for the right to enter or access unusually high-risk or high-cost rescue-recovery areas on their own. I would hope that the national park service is already doing this.

  49. Former trained, tested, and certified Basic Mountaineering Instructor says. Hypoxia + hypothermia (windchill in an extreme storm with 1924 clothing technology) + exhaustion. In all three, the first thing you lose is your reasoning abilities. Add to that, extreme whiteout conditions. Speculatively, iced up eyes/goggles. People come to grief on flat ground in the Blue Northers of the Middle West. High on a steep unmapped mountain, in those conditions, death is inescapable. They gambled, they lost.

  50. The Scott Antarctic party was delayed and finally defeated by powerful storms. They were 11 miles from their nearest food cache when a storm put them in their tent for the last time. They gambled, they lost.

  51. Conjecture can take us in many directions. Will we ever know for certain? However, through the use of a panorama camera and the Internet we can all see what those who make it to the top of Everest see. At the Astronomy Picture of the Day site they have just such a photo: http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap080830.html
    You can scroll just like you’re standing up there and turning 360 degrees. I look at that and at least partly understand why people climb Mt. Everest.

  52. They were climbing on oxygen. The balance of the evidence (see “The Ghosts of Everest”) indicates that they fell while descending, but Odell last observed then ascending. The forensic evidence suggests that Mallory fell late in the day since he was not wearing his sunglasses. This would have been a long time after the storm observed by Odell. What I know about the 1924 tragedy, and I have been extremely interested in this episode of mountaineering history since I was a kid, makes me doubt the pressure drop theory. I have no doubt that bad weather contributed, it almost always does, but the specific mechanism seems fishy to me.
    As far as Scott goes, it most certainly was extreme weather. But this was combined with a number of bad decisions, specifically taking an extra man on the final push to the pole, which may have compounded the effect of the bad weather (see “The Worst Journey in the World”, which BTW is one of the greatest expedition books ever written).

  53. Ask Napoleon about climate change in 1812. 500,000 of his troops were lost during the disasterous retreat from Moscow.

  54. Don Mattox: August 2, 2010 at 1:42 pm
    About 55 years ago I was a meteorologist at Eglin AFB when what I will all a “pressure front” came through. The wind increased from about 5 mph to 45 mph and back down in a space of about a minute. I had to do a lot of “explaining” how this could happen on a cloudless day with no warning on the synoptic charts.
    Those same conditions over here cause a haboob — a wall of sand and dust up to 2,000 feet high slamming through the area with absolutely no warning except seeing it coming. If Eglin was surrounded by desert instead of scrub pines, you’d have seen this —
    http://limetap.com/images/jun06/Iraq_haboob.jpg
    The beasts aren’t associated with frontal movement, either.

  55. Extreme weather causing deaths on Mount Everest? Nooooo it couldn’t be!!!
    Note the sarcasm; the weather kills people all the time in the Himalayas

  56. It’s interesting conjecture, as is much about this great mystery, but of absolutely no consequence to AGW or climate change.
    While no-one seems to be overtly suggesting that it might be , its very appearance here does seem somewhat inferential, so while it’s an interesting distraction it does nothing to restore the sanity to questions of around climate change.
    When pushing the limits at the edge of existence it doesn’t take much, weather, exhaustion, distraction, mistake or just bad luck to make the difference. Storms happen regularly on high mountains and it wouldn’t need any more weather than is usual in such places.

  57. How Mallory died is unknowable, though some plausible theories can be spun now that his body is found.
    Mallory was a physical freak, with endurance and strength that is extremely rare. He was also an outstanding mountaineer of high intelligence and great determination. He had a capacity to endure suffering. At 38 he knew that he was on his last try to summit Everest.
    It is a wonderful thing that his body was recovered. It will help preserve the memory of him, which merits highest respect.

  58. “As far as Scott goes, it most certainly was extreme weather. But this was combined with a number of bad decisions, specifically taking an extra man on the final push to the pole.”
    Scott did face adverse weather, but so did Amundsen. It is a documented fact that the weather did not delay the Norwegians as much as Scott who lost several days waiting for an improvement. This said, the weather was a factor but not the most important one in deciding the fate of the Polar Party.
    Returning to the original topic – did Mallory reach the summit? The head says nobody will ever know for certain until hard evidence is found; the heart says of course he did.

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