Voices from the Past
Noel Odell | Sir Edmund Hillary
Geologist Noel Odell was a member of Mallory's expedition to Everest in 1924.
He was also the last person to see Mallory and Irvine alive. In the mid-80s he
gave an interview in which he recalled that expedition. Hear or read Odell's
Why Mallory took Irvine:
Hear Odell via RealAudio:
I think Mallory realized that, since they were going to try to get a beneficial
effect from an oxygen apparatus, Irvine had done a lot of the last stages of
work on the apparatus they were taking. I admitted to Mallory that he was the
better mechanic than myself. He had done all the work on this apparatus. And
when Mallory spoke to me about this, I said that I was perfectly satisfied, and
I told him, frankly, that my interest in the mountain was not only to climb it,
but also know some of the composition of it, I told him, about the geology.
Why Odell feels they might have gone for the summit:
I think that when they got to the foot of the final pyramid, it was late.
Mallory would say, "Well, we've got to hurry up here, because it's almost
approaching dusk, and along we go." I don't think Irvine in any way would have
hesitated to go—nor do I think he would have been unfit enough to say, "Oh,
no, I don't think we can manage it." I think he would have been perfectly
willing to go on. And they might well have got to the top.
What he saw:
I'm absolutely certain they were climbers. They were moving, actually moving
After they disappeared:
It was blowing very hard, and blowing snow and mist and stuff. Visibility was
bad, very bad. Anyhow, I got back to the bivouac tent after looking for them
above Camp VI—that's above 27,000 feet. I got up, I don't know how I got up,
17,000, 27,000 and 28,000 feet, and got back there. I signaled by very
primitive means as I'd arranged with J. de V. Hazard, by means of sleeping bags
placed in a certain position on the nearest patch of snow, which I did,
indicating to Hazard that, "Couldn't find them," and that we must clue that
they were lost.
The ice axe clue:
It hadn't slid down at all. It was lying flat there on these rocks. Well, that
was left there, obviously left there, must have been left there. Whether left
on the way up or on the way down is often the reason there's a question.
Sir Edmund Hillary
Sir Edmund Hillary
In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay claimed the honor of being the
first to reach the summit of Everest. In an interview conducted in the mid-80s,
Hillary reflected on Mallory's place in history. Hear or read Hillary's
Mallory's place in history:
Hear Hillary via RealAudio:
The place that Mallory and Irvine have in mountaineering history, certainly to
my generation, is a very dominant place, indeed. They were the ones who really
got the ball rolling, as far as Everest was concerned. And I think that Mallory
had an almost inspirational character, as far as his determination to succeed
on Everest was concerned. He was the one that stimulated not only his
companions, but he stimulated the whole world into an interest in the ascent of
Mount Everest. So, he was a master figure in the '20s, as far as Mount Everest
I imagine the motivation for climbers in those days wasn't too different from
what it is today—a desire to succeed, the meeting of challenges, the
overcoming of major problems and your own fears, and with the ultimate hope
that you get to the top. But, certainly, with Mallory and Everest, it was very
much a personal thing between them. Mallory, I think, did regard Everest
virtually as his mountain. And he was very anxious indeed to be one of the
people who actually first got to the top.
On reaching the summit:
When I reached the summit of Mount Everest and sort of looked around and about,
and particularly when I looked down towards the North Col, Mallory actually was
very much in my mind. And although I really had no hope of actually seeing any
sign of his passing, I certainly looked down towards the North Col, I looked
sort of over and down the very steep slopes leading from the summit. But I saw
nothing, no sign of Mallory's passing.
If Mallory was there first:
If it were discovered that Mallory had, in actual fact, set foot on the top of
Everest, obviously it would make some difference to Tenzing and myself. For 33
years, we have been regarded as the heroic figures who first reached the summit
of Everest. Well, now I guess we'd be just downgraded a little bit, to being
the first two men who reached the summit and actually got safely down again.
Which brings up a point, of course. If you climb a mountain for the first time
and die on the descent, is it really a complete first ascent of the mountain?
I'm rather inclined to think, personally, that maybe it's quite important, the
getting down. And the complete climb of a mountain is reaching the summit and
getting safely to the bottom again.
Back to The Mystery of Mallory & Irvine '24
Photos: (1,2) from Everest: Mystery of Mallory and Irvine, Arcturus Films.
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