by Liesl Clark
May 5, 1999
We stood silently, gazing at the crumpled clothing laid out on the table before
us. "My dearest George," read the handwritten letters from his sister and brother.
Who was this man who has so captured our imaginations? And, is it possible that he
could have been the first to stand at the top of the world? Sifting through the
pieces of evidence brought down by the climbers, there is still little, if anything,
that points to a successful summit bid. And yet, for the members of this expedition,
it is now hard to deny him this honor.
A month ago, we interviewed each of the climbers on their theories of whether
Irvine could have reached
the summit of Everest. All but Graham
Andy Politz, and Jochen
Hemmleb were skeptical of
their potential for success. (Read
their interviews) Today, they have changed their minds: "I know they could've made
it and I think they did," said climber and search team member Jake Norton, in an
interview we conducted with him today for the upcoming NOVA program on
the mystery of Mallory and Irvine.
"Just seeing his strength and his obvious tenacity: He was determined, tough,
and strong. I think he and Irvine both made it and met their demise on their way down."
What has brought about this renewed admiration for a man we have only come to know
through reading accounts of the expeditions to Everest in the 1920s? Norton
explains: "We uncovered one of his arms, and we could see his forearm and just
the power in that forearm after 75 years of lying up there. Even with the desiccation,
it's still a powerful arm, and you could see the muscles in his back. He was a powerful,
tough climber who fought till the end."
What follows is the transcript of the interview we filmed today with Jake Norton
at Base Camp. Norton was the first climber summoned by Conrad Anker, who spotted
the body of George Mallory at 27,220 feet:
"I got down to the site and Conrad Anker had a stunned look on his face. I hadn't
seen the body yet and I looked over and there was enough poking through the snow
and gravel so that I could see a white-yellowish, porcelain-like body still trying
to self-arrest. I couldn't believe it. Conrad and I sat there in stunned silence
for a few minutes as Tap, Dave, and Andy came down to us.
"At first we thought it was Irvine and I went as far as scratching an old
tombstone labeled '1902-1924' for him. We started investigating the body and
the clothes were in tatters. Clothes were ripped off his back except for his collars,
and I looked at one and found his name: 'G.L. Mallory.' Our first reaction was that
Irvine had borrowed Mallory's shirt. There was blond hair sticking out, and Mallory
had brown hair. But then we found one more name tag on the neck and one more on
his side so it was pretty conclusive.
"The whole investigation of the body was really tricky. We all felt uneasy about
the process and didn't want to disturb the body. We didn't want to cut the body.
We first started palpating and checking pockets and within the clothes eventually
we scraped away enough of the rock. He was literally frozen into the mountain, ice
encrusting his entire body, and he was rock-solid. We were eventually able to get
underneath his shoulder. I reached under his right arm and found a stuff sack under
his neck and used my knife to cut open the bottom of it. It was really nerve-wracking,
because I could feel bits of metal and hard objects. I thought for sure it was the
camera that he had had around his neck. And so we worked for about an hour and we got
the stuff sack open, and we found an altimeter.
"Immediately we all hoped the altimeter would for some miraculous reason have stopped
at 29,028 feet but it was all broken apart. We found a little pair of scissors and
probably the most exciting find for me was when I reached up and felt paper. My
immediate reaction was that this was a journal, maybe he wrote: "June 8, 8:00 p.m.,
we summited," but the letter was from, we believe, his wife Ruth.
(See Mallory's letters to his wife.)
"As a climber, to know what Mallory did and what Irvine presumably did was
phenomenal. They were dressed in eight layers of clothing—the equivalent of
two fleeces—they were as high as 28,000 feet, and in hobnail boots.
(Explore the Mountaineering Gear of the 1920s.)
The rope wrapped around his waist was an indication that they fell. You could see black and
blues on him, he probably had internal bleeding and yet he fought to the very end.
You could tell this. Where he lies now is where he died. He slid down the North
Face, his gloves probably tore off, he was digging into the snow or gravel. It was
a dry year, so there was probably just ice and rock. He was scraping down, came to a
sliding stop and crossed his leg in pain and died a few moments later. It's cheesy, but
to me even in death he was still fighting, still there gripping the rock, fighting to the end."
Mallory with his wife, Ruth
Check back in the coming days as the team prepares their next search attempt.
A Note on Reporting:
The instant connection an expedition can have with the outside world through
satellite communications can be dangerous up here where life and death
intermingle so closely. Our three-day silence following the early reports
from the search site that something of importance had been found was
difficult, but we want to report responsibly on this story, making sure that
all facts have been checked. When, in 1996, eight people died in a single
day on Everest, the story broke out on the Web and by satellite phone
through expeditions that were able to tune in to the frequencies of climbers
trapped high on the mountain and in trouble. Erroneous news got out quickly
and was picked up by the press. As we did in 1996 on Everest, and again in
1997 when we conducted physiological tests on climbers, we will report our
story responsibly and as the facts are confirmed.
Unanswered Questions (May 25, 1999)
Forty-Eight Yaks (May 21, 1999)
On Top of the World (May 17, 1999)
Summit Team Moves Higher (May 16, 1999)
Still at Camp V (May 15, 1999)
Snow Bound (May 14, 1999)
Outsmarting the Weather (May 13, 1999)
Last Trip Up (May 12, 1999)
Up to ABC/The Rescue (May 11, 1999)
The Image of Mallory (May 8, 1999)
In Extremis (May 7, 1999)
Pieces of the Puzzle (May 6, 1999)
Dearest George (May 5, 1999)
Mallory's Discoverers Return (May 4, 1999)
Mallory Reported Found (May 3, 1999)
Waiting in Silence (May 1, 1999)
Up to the Search Site (April 30, 1999)
To the North Col (April 29, 1999)
Waiting out the Wind (April 28, 1999)
Search About to Begin (April 25, 1999)
Pitching a 1933 Tent (April 23, 1999)
Early Camp Found at 21,750 Feet on Everest (April 20, 1999)
Up to Base Camp (April 23, 1999)
Photos: (1,3) Salkeld Collection; (2) Liesl Clark.
Members of the press: click here for NOVA/PBS ONLINE "Lost on Everest" media relations contacts.
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