Monday, December 21, 2009

Frozen History

I heard Eric Simonson on the radio today.  He the Mallory and Irving Expedition sponsored by Nova and the BBC, which found George Mallory back in 1999.  George Mallory had set out to reach the summit of Mt. Everest back in June of 1924.  He never returned, and it was never known if he was part of the first team to ever reach the summit, before Sir. Edmund Hillary did in May of 1953.

Simonson described how when they set out on the expedition, reaching their goal was like finding a needle in a haystack.  But the snows were down on Mt. Everest in 1999, so when they approached the area where it was thought that Mallory was lost, Simonson found George Mallory within two hours of starting the search for his body.  Mallory just about perfectly preserved, having been frozen under tens of feet of snow most years.

There are three interesting notes about George Mallory’s ascent of the mountain. 

One is that he had told his wife that he was bringing a picture of her with him, which he would place, at the top of the summit.  When his body was found, he didn’t have the picture on his person.   It’s possible that the picture may have gotten lost or separated from Mallory’s’ body.  But it is one indication that he may have reached the summit.

Secondly, Mallory had a camera with him on the climb.  When his body was found, the camera was not with him.  Presumably, he was separated from it during his fall.  It’s thought that he slipped and fell about 700 feet after his rope was severed on some rock where he landed onto the ridge that they found his body on. 

Experts also think that the fall was not severe enough to have killed him; he broke his ankle severely and then succumbed to hypothermia in about twenty minutes.  But if the camera is ever found, Kodak says that with some very special handling, there is a chance they could still develop the prints.  These pictures could prove that Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine reached the summit back in 1924; the first two climbers to have done so in human history.

And thirdly, Mallory had his snow goggles in his pocket, which suggests that he was still up on the mountain at nightfall since he would have been subject to snow blindness in the daytime had he not been wearing them

I think it is such a neat thing that his body was found after all of this time.  I remember back in 1999 when I heard the news, I thought to myself how amazing to have found the body of Mallory preserved so well.  It was like looking back into history. 

And hearing Eric Simonson talk both out the discovery and also about what the discovery meant was insightful into the climbing community’s respect for those who have laid down the path before them.  Simonson said that he felt a sense of awe looking at Mallory there in the snow because Mallory was truly a part of Simonson’s and his peers’ history.

Mallory’s famous quote after he had been asked, “Why do you want to climb Mt. Everest?  His reply, “Because it’s there.”