"Lost on Everest"

PBS Airdate: January 18, 2000
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NARRATOR: It was the third expedition the British had launched on the world's highest mountain, and one climber, who was on all three expeditions, knew this would be his last attempt. George Leigh Mallory was one of the best climbers of his day, Britain's hope for a claim on the summit. The year was 1924. Conquering Mount Everest had become a matter of national pride. Mallory's teammates had already made an unsuccessful attempt, and now four months of effort were about to culminate in a single day. June 8th: George Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew "Sandy" Irvine, were spotted shortly after midday, less than 1,000 feet from the summit. 38-year-old Mallory knew the route would be difficult, a rock cliff known as the "Second Step" posed the greatest technical challenge. Irvine, only 22 at the time, was strong but less experienced. Minutes passed, then clouds swirled in, and the tantalizing vision of Mallory and Irvine ascending towards the summit vanished forever in the mists. The expedition had to accept their companions were lost. Today, a team ascends into the thin air to search for evidence of a body that may be Mallory or Irvine.

JAKE NORTON: It was really an eerie feeling, there were lots of corpses around.

DAVE HAHN: I want to find this body, I want to find it and I want to know what it can tell us.

NARRATOR: 75 years after their disappearance, the search reveals new truths.

CONRAD ANKER: And all of a sudden I saw a patch of white that wasn't rock and it wasn't snow. And I knew right away, this is what we were looking for.

NARRATOR: Were Mallory and Irvine the first to reach the highest point on Earth?

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NARRATOR: For Tibetans, a deity dwells here. Her name is Chomolungma and her spirit soars on the highest point on Earth, one foot in Nepal, the other in Tibet. Mountaineers first came to Everest by permission from the Dalai Lama. They journeyed several months, crossing the dry passes of Tibet, approaching the mountain on foot. They had walked off the map and were now searching for a way up Everest.

DAVID BREASHEARS: All they knew about Everest was that it was the highest point on our planet. Sure, some pictures had been taken from Darjeeling over 100 miles away, but they were going mostly to a point on a map, and the maps weren't that good.

NARRATOR: This year a team has come to determine if Everest was first conquered in 1924 by the British, its earliest explorers. George Mallory and his teammates willingly stepped into the unknown, ill equipped for the harsh conditions of extreme altitude.

GRAHAM HOYLAND: Everest was regarded as the Third Pole. The South Pole and the North Pole had been done, and this was the last big challenge. And no one really knew what it was like. In fact, when they came out for the first time they thought it might have been just a long snow slope which they could just plod up. In fact, it's a very difficult mountain to climb, as we know now. Particularly if you're wearing tweeds and leather boots.

NARRATOR: Graham Hoyland has climbed Everest once before.

GRAHAM HOYLAND: I have to admit, I'm quite scared coming back to Mount Everest. I'm not a very strong climber, like these other super professional climbers we have here on the team. I found it very difficult climbing it in '93. My oxygen seized up. I really feel I nearly died on the descent. So I'm quite anxious about going high on Everest again. But I do really believe this is something I have to do. I really want to find out what happened back in 1924.

NARRATOR: Graham's great uncle, Howard Somervell, was with Mallory on Everest in 1922 and 1924. A talented artist, Somervell was also a surgeon by training.

DAVID BREASHEARS: The British climbers who went to Everest in the 1920s are often referred to as gentlemen climbers, they certainly weren't professional mountaineers. They were generally well educated. Mallory went to Cambridge, Irvine went to Oxford. These were men of privilege.

JAKE NORTON: It's so humbling to think of these guys back in 1924 climbing up to 28,000 plus feet, maybe on to the summit, in hobnail boots. I've only been above 8,000 meters once, so it's still a relatively new game for me.

NARRATOR: The early climbers struggled up the same route we climb today, carrying loads up a 1,000 foot wall of ice toward the North Col, on the lower flanks of the mountain. To get here, the expedition has trekked 12 miles along the East Rongbuk Glacier to Advanced Base Camp. Ropes are then fixed on the head wall of the glacier to reach Camp IV on the North Col. Now imagine ascending Everest without today's climbing hardware or thousands of feet of fixed rope. Andy Politz uses a vintage ice axe to demonstrate climbing techniques from the '20s.

ANDY POLITZ: This is an excellent tool for chopping steps. I'm going to make a little hand hold here. I can step up, chop another step.

NARRATOR: Chopping hand and foot holds was the painstaking method for placing a route up the vertical ice to the North Col.

ANDY POLITZ: It would take a couple of days to climb the North Col, chopping steps, where it would take a couple of hours to climb the North Col with modern technique.

NARRATOR: From the perspective of technique and technology, the odds seem to be against Mallory and Irvine being first up Everest. Conrad Anker, a top technical climber, is here to assess whether Mallory had the skills to surmount the most difficult part of the route: a 15 foot rock cliff known as the Second Step. This barrier has stopped many climbers 750 feet below the summit. Today, they use a ladder. Could Mallory and Irvine have ascended the Second Step using only a rope and their hands and feet? Conrad practices on a boulder above Base Camp.

CONRAD ANKER: These little small outcrops are really similar to what Mallory trained on in England before embarking on his Everest journeys.

DAVID BREASHEARS: Mallory was an immensely talented rock climber. All of his peers speak very highly of his abilities, and not only his ability, but his style. He impressed everyone who ever watched him climb, and he would have been a leading climber of his generation of British climbers.

NARRATOR: The next generation of climbers to follow the British were the Chinese, who were the first to successfully climb Everest from the north. In 1975, a Chinese climber made a stunning discovery high on the mountain. Wang Hangbao reportedly walked from his tent at Camp VI for 20 minutes and came upon a body which he referred to as an "old English dead." It could only be Mallory or Irvine. Four years later, Wang Hangbao died in an avalanche the day after describing the body to a Japanese climber.

RYOTEN HASEGAWA [voice over translation]: It was lying on a rock like this, and the clothing was very old. When you picked it up, it just blew away in the wind. And even the cheek had a hole that you could put your fingers through. It was a very old body, he told me, and an Englishman.

DAVID BREASHEARS: One of the most compelling pieces of evidence to understanding the fate of Mallory and Irvine was found in 1933. Andrew Irvine's ice axe was found at around 27,700 feet. For years, everyone assumed it had to mark the site of an accident. No climber for any reason that I can think of leaves their ice axe behind.

NARRATOR: The ice axe was lying several hundred feet above the area where the body was discovered near Camp VI. Experts assumed the body was Irvine, who had fallen to his death. To find him, the team will search from the point where Wang Hangbao pitched his tent.

JOCHEN HEMMLEB: The problem was we didn't know where this tent was. But last year it occurred to me that its position might be determined from the single existing photograph of this camp published in a Chinese book.

NARRATOR: Simple cartography enabled Jochen Hemmleb to work from the photograph to pinpoint the camp on a map.

ERIC SIMONSON: The suspected search area is some 70 to 90 meters, so 230 to 300 feet below, and some 600 to 900 feet west of Camp VI.

JOCHEN HEMMLEB: Locating the camp is purely to find a reference point from where to start the search for the body. The search for the body is the main objective.

NARRATOR: From the North Col, the team will climb up the north ridge to Camp V and spend a brief night, before beginning their climb up toward the old Chinese Camp VI and the search area.

DAVE HAHN: We've got the climbing team up in place. And in place is a weird place, 25,500 feet. Get up at three in the morning, get walking by five, first light, treat it like a summit attempt. Get all of us up there and bring all our power to bear on that search area. We could have a heck of a day.

NARRATOR: The wind-scoured slopes of the upper mountain are free of snow and more likely to reveal anything left frozen on the surface.

ERIC SIMONSON: If a body is found by our efforts we have several obligations. First is to thoroughly document the site with photos. Obviously we want to do an examination to see if there is a camera in a pocket or a rucksack.

GRAHAM HOYLAND: When I was a boy of 12, I met my great uncle Howard Somervell, who was a great friend of George Mallory's. Now, George Mallory was notoriously forgetful, and he said to my uncle: "Can I borrow your camera? I've forgotten my own." And it was a camera just like this. You pull out the bellows like this, and what you've got is a variable aperture with four different holes over the lens. The viewfinder is here, so you look down, and you take a picture by pressing this shutter release. So, I've come here to try and retrieve my uncle's camera. Can you imagine if we found that camera, and we saw the image developing in the lab? If we saw a single figure standing on that summit ridge, that would prove beyond question that Mallory climbed Everest back in 1924.

DAVE HAHN: OK, Base Camp. We are good to go, we're putting our crampons on, over.

JOCHEN HEMMLEB: Dave, we are glad to hear this. How is everyone doing up there? Did you have a good night's sleep? Over.

DAVE HAHN: Negative. We didn't come here to sleep. We came here to climb and search.

NARRATOR: After five hours of climbing, they cross dangerously sloping slabs, tilting like a low angled slate roof.

DAVE HAHN: It's all real steep, it's all real loose. We had completely left the area of fixed ropes and tracks, and now we're getting out on this stuff where you're not necessarily supposed to be able to walk here. It hasn't been done before. [On radio]: Breaker, breaker, this is Dave.

JOCHEN HEMMLEB: OK, can you give me a bit of a clue where you are at the moment? Are you in that gully leading up to the old Camp VI site?

DAVE HAHN: We're just getting into the gully. You should be able to start seeing us soon. Over. What you got, Jake?

JAKE NORTON: I'm not quite sure. It looks like an old bottle, and we know from Jochen that the Chinese '75 bottles were bright blue. This kind of caught my eye because it's got some bright blue paint on it.

JOCHEN HEMMLEB: Camp VI, this is Jochen.

JAKE NORTON: The '75 bottles were bright blue, is that correct? Over.

JOCHEN HEMMLEB: That's correct, over. Apparently they've found an old Chinese '75 oxygen bottle up there. So that truly shows us that they are on the right way and are now in the vicinity of the Chinese '75 Camp VI.

NARRATOR: They fan out to search for the body, presumably Irvine's, below the spot where his ice axe was found years ago. But as they begin searching they come across the bodies of other climbers who had fallen to their deaths.

JAKE NORTON: It was really an eerie feeling to be walking out on this North Face. There were lots of corpses around.

NARRATOR: The fact that several bodies have collected in one area offers Conrad Anker a critical insight.

CONRAD ANKER: This was a real interesting clue for me, because much as you have in a river where there's eddies and there's currents and things flow around, I think it's the same thing in mountains, there's certain collection zones, where material funnels to a certain point.

NARRATOR: Conrad hikes out beyond the designated search area.

CONRAD ANKER: I just sort of thought, well there's one way, we can be very systematic about it. And the other way is to just be intuitive, and start going where we might and seeing what we will. And I was sitting there taking a break and I thought, something is going to happen. And I looked over to my right and all of a sudden I saw a patch of white that wasn't rock and it wasn't snow. And as I started traversing closer to this, I saw what appeared to be the lower part of a leg. I saw hobnail boots, old clothing that was all natural fibers, wool and cotton. And I knew right away, this is what we were looking for. [On radio]: Group meeting! Mandatory group meeting! Over!

JAKE NORTON: Quickly unzipped it and said, what? I could see Conrad waving like this, and I knew immediately that he had found something and I went racing down.

DAVE HAHN: Looking at him - I mean, I'm still struck by it. Like a Pompeii victim. We were all just stunned into silence. We all thought we were looking at Sandy Irvine.

JAKE NORTON: I went as far as scratching out a little tombstone for Irvine saying, "1902-1924." And I noticed that right around his - pretty much the clothing on his back was ripped off, aside from his collars, and I noticed some tags there.


JAKE NORTON: Wait, this is George Mallory!

DAVE HAHN: Really?!

JAKE NORTON: This is George Mallory!

DAVE HAHN: Oh my God! Oh my God!

CONRAD ANKER: It said, "G. L. Mallory."

JAKE NORTON: See that? George Mallory!

DAVE HAHN: Oh my God! There's rope around his waist.

JAKE NORTON: Yeah, right here you can see a fold in the skin from pressure by the rope, also a black and blue that's still in the skin. It kind of indicates that he was either tied to something or someone.

CONRAD ANKER: They might have been traveling together and one of them slipped and then accelerated, and that rope then pulled the other person off.

JAKE NORTON: He slid down the North Face, gloves probably tore off, he was digging into the snow or gravel.

CONRAD ANKER: His head was uphill, his feet were downhill. He had broken his right tib fib down by, above his boot. He had broken his right arm. He had a huge laceration on his right scapula.

JAKE NORTON: The right leg is broken and the left leg is crossed over it, and to me that's just an indication he came to a sliding stop and just crossed his left leg over his right going, "ahhhh" with the pain, and probably died a few minutes later.

ANDY POLITZ: The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great goodness. As a father is tender towards his children, so is the Lord tender to those that fear. For he knows of what we are made.

DAVE HAHN: We didn't find the camera. We looked fairly hard.

CONRAD ANKER: I hadn't really been fascinated by the Mallory and Irvine mystery as much as I am now. Now I am a part of it. George is someone I've met.

DAVE HAHN: You could see the vitality in this figure and you could sense something of his determination, I could.

JAKE NORTON: I know they could have made it, and I think they did. And I'll continue to believe that until there is conclusive proof otherwise.

DAVE HAHN: Let's face it, he was ready to die trying to do this. And so, yeah, my mind has changed, he might have done it, and that's why right now my curiosity is stronger than ever, I need to go back up there and find what I can.

GRAHAM HOYLAND: When George Mallory disappeared near the summit of Everest, it was his third time here. He had been here for the reconnaissance in '21, back in '22, and then finally in '24. And I think he felt this was his last chance to make something of his life. And I think he went up there looking for death or glory, and in the end he got both.

JOHN MALLORY: I think the one thing that I'd always imagined was that he'd just sort of lain down and died of exposure, having not got back in the dark. And now clearly, if he's got a broken leg, there was an accident and a fall. So I suppose after that he'd have died pretty quickly anyway.

ANDY POLITZ: I think you spend enough time in the mountains, you've got to make peace with death. It's a reminder to make sure every step counts.

GRAHAM HOYLAND: The spirit of the age was one of self-sacrifice. They had just had a lot of deaths in the First World War, and I feel that Mallory felt this was something worth dying for.

ERIC SIMONSON: Hey! Jochen, all right. Good deal, man.

DAVE HAHN: Pemba, my man!

NARRATOR: The climbers have returned to Base Camp to examine the artifacts they recovered from Mallory's body. Then, they'll head back up Everest to search for more answers, closer to the summit.


NARRATOR: But higher on the mountain, while trying to adjust to the altitude, Graham Hoyland encounters some difficulties.

GRAHAM HOYLAND: I'd better take them off, I think.

DAVE HAHN: I think I'd wear them.


ERIC SIMONSON: Graham complained yesterday evening of intermittent numbness on his left side, and today it came back worse, his arm, his leg, the left side of his face.

GRAHAM HOYLAND: I was climbing up to Advanced Base Camp, 21,500 feet. As I approached the tents, the left side of my mouth went numb and then I lost all feeling in my left leg. And I thought, oh no, I'm having a stroke. As I walked away from Camp II, I felt a mixture of extreme depression and a small amount of relief that I wasn't going to end up half brain dead. I feel a great mixture of feelings at the moment. I'm really disappointed.

LEE MEYERS: Sounds like he's having some ischemia in part of his brain, which caused some numbness on his left side. So, we're going to get him down from altitude. He's on oxygen until he gets down there. It's just to prevent the symptoms. I'm having trouble breathing because my throat's a little swollen, and I have laryngitis from the altitude and the dry cold air.

NARRATOR: "My one personal trouble has been a cough," Mallory wrote to his wife, Ruth. "In the high camp it has been the devil.... I couldn't sleep, but was distressed with bursts of coughing fit to tear one's guts, and a headache and misery altogether."

ANDY POLITZ: Why on earth would you ever come back, leave your family behind, take on a dangerous endeavor?

NARRATOR: George and Ruth had a young family, three children under the age of eight.

JOHN MALLORY: He left when I was three and a half, the last time. And during those three and a half years, he had been twice to Everest. And those days you didn't fly, you went the slow, slow way, and it took a long time. You walked all the way from Darjeeling to Everest, all the way back. So he was probably away five to six months each time. I don't think I ever saw much of my father.

GRAHAM HOYLAND: It's a dangerous mountain. Everest is a very dangerous place. George Mallory came here three times and died, and oddly enough this is my third time on Everest. Part of me was really scared about coming this time, and I'd rather go home.

DAVE HAHN: This is the main stash of clothing that we cut away and artifacts that we found.

CONRAD ANKER: Beef lozenges. It's the only food that we discovered up there.

DAVE HAHN: Look at this, you guys.

JAKE NORTON: Yeah, that's the first one we found.

DAVE HAHN: "W.F. Paine, 72 High Street. G. Mallory."

JAKE NORTON: Did you see all the blood?

DAVE HAHN: I sure didn't when we were on the mountain.

JAKE NORTON: Yeah, I noticed a little bit in here, but that's a lot more than I'd seen.

DAVE HAHN: This is the upper from his boot. George Mallory's knots. This was his sock, not very thick. I can remember reading about him taking an altimeter. And it does go to 30,000 feet, which in 1924 must have been somewhat unique, probably, since people didn't go that high, I doubt the instruments did. The glass was broken out when we found it, and no hands. I think we all thought we were going to look at it and solve the riddle right there, you know. M.E.E. number two.

ERIC SIMONSON: Mount Everest expedition number two. They probably made a couple special just for the 1924 trip.

NARRATOR: "We've got to get up this time," Mallory wrote to his sister Mary. "And if we wait for it and make full preparations, instead of dashing up at the first moment, some of us will reach the summit, I believe.... I wish Irvine had had a season in the Alps."

DAVE HAHN: Now what would that be?

TAP RICHARDS: Zinc oxide, I'll bet. Sunscreen.

DAVE HAHN: Here's Mallory's knife.

NARRATOR: "I wonder if the monsoon will give us a chance.... It is no use sending men up the mountain unfit," Mallory lamented to his wife Ruth. "The physique of the whole party has gone down sadly.... I'm quite doubtful if I shall be fit enough."

DAVE HAHN: When Jake pulled these out of his pocket, that meant that they were climbing down after the sun had gotten down, so we're assuming from this that they were coming down when they fell.

CONRAD ANKER: Unless that was a spare.

DAVE HAHN: You're right. And if it was a spare, that theory's no good. But he's traveling so light here that it's hard to imagine him carrying a second pair of glasses. Even these goggles have sustained some trauma. I mean, he landed on these.

JAKE NORTON: It's amazing the lenses aren't broken.


NARRATOR: June 5th: Mallory is on the North Col. The next day, he'll leave with Irvine for Camp V and their summit attempt. The only remaining clues are the notes found in Mallory's pockets, lists and personal letters, written simply with pencil and paper.

JAKE NORTON: So here's his pencil.

TAP RICHARDS: Wow, that's great.

ANDY POLITZ: Let's hope he made notes with it, huh?

DAVE HAHN: Yeah, I mean, that's what we're counting on here. I'd love to see some little notation, "5:15 on the summit." That'd be incredible. And he had these notes folded up in this fine bandana. Lots of note taking. "George Leigh Mallory, Esquire." "Matches, mixed fruit, macaroni." "Dear George," written April 2nd, 1924. "Good luck to you. Your affectionate brother, Trafford."

JOCHEN HEMMLEB: So that's what we have of Mallory's clothing recovered from the body. A set of cotton underwear, front of the chest and the sleeve, followed by a silk shirt with the collar still buttoned up. And as a next layer, a warmer layer, a flannel shirt, also the sleeve with the button remaining. Then, these pieces of woolen clothing, and then his outer windproof cotton jacket. That is what he had, and he went to well over 8,000 meters on Everest. You can imagine what the human effort was on that final climb of Mallory.

THOM POLLARD: I've got a lighter, do you need one?

TAP RICHARDS: It's not going to happen, there's too much snow in the container right now.

THOM POLLARD: Put it on the floor, then?

ANDY POLITZ: It's been blowing so hard we've had to take the pot of water out of the stove, 'cause it's bouncing so much, water's shooting everywhere.

TAP RICHARDS: Oh yeah, this is what it's about. Come to Mount Everest. Doesn't this look like fun? Oh yeah, 'cause it is. Back to the good life. I don't know about you, but I'm going to plug into some O2. That always helps. Keeps you warm.

ANDY POLITZ: This will keep me sleeping comfortable. Of course I'll be taking this off to eat all night long and talk and all that, but on the whole, I'm living here.

DAVE HAHN: Andy's connected.

JOCHEN HEMMLEB: Mallory was very sure when going on this last attempt that oxygen was the solution, that he had only a chance reaching the summit by using oxygen.

NARRATOR: Two of Mallory's teammates had made a summit attempt of their own - without oxygen - but they returned, defeated. Mallory was aware that bottled oxygen was new and unfamiliar when he chose Irvine, an inexperienced climber, as his summit partner.

JOCHEN HEMMLEB: Irvine has been the oxygen expert on the expedition, so having a partner along who is very experienced with the oxygen apparatus would make up for the inexperience of Andrew Irvine.

NARRATOR: But the oxygen systems were unreliable, heavy, and untested at altitude. This was the last photograph ever taken of Mallory and Irvine, leaving Camp IV, with oxygen, for their summit bid.

TAP RICHARDS: All right, making our way to Camp VI today on a beautiful day. Everyone's feeling good. Sherpas are right behind us. They've come all the way from Camp IV, climbing without Os, and they're catching up to us. Just incredible. Ang Pasang and Dawa.

DAVE HAHN: Namaste!

DAWA NURU SHERPA: Namaste! Hache Tambu!

DAVE HAHN: Hache Tambu, Tiger of the snow!



TAP RICHARDS: Stopped here, picked up this poly pro rope so we can fix some of the more technical sections on our ridge climb to the summit tomorrow. Phew! Great day, nice to be out of the tent. We've spent the last three days sitting in the tent, getting our butts kicked. Camp VI, here to spend the night. We'll be waking up mighty early, I imagine, midnight, something like that. Try and walk, maybe 1:30. Get up there and get it done. Alpine start.

CONRAD ANKER: Everything's going over your mind. You're thinking, wow, here I am, 3,000 feet below Everest, I'm going to climb Everest. And your mind is racing, and you're trying to - your body is relaxed, but you don't ever sort of drift into the deep sleep that you'd really like to have prior to a long climb like that.

NARRATOR: Above Camp VI, they enter the area known as the Yellow Band.

DAVID BREASHEARS: The Yellow Band is a series of terraces. Everything slopes down and it's a very awkward angle for climbing. But it's also a very dangerous angle. Because it's what we would call steep scrambling.

ERIC SIMONSON: Conrad, this is Eric. Do you copy?

CONRAD ANKER: Got you loud and clear. How me? Over.

ERIC SIMONSON: How you guys doing?

CONRAD ANKER: It's pretty nice up here, other than the cold. Over.

ERIC SIMONSON: Copy that. It's still early, Conrad. Six o'clock in the morning. Another couple of hours it should be warming up on you guys, I hope.

CONRAD ANKER: Roger, Roger. So I imagine for the climbers in 1924, this is a really big challenge, the Yellow Band. It's at this section that I believe that Mallory and Irvine fell. That's why Mallory's final resting place is where it is. It was a straight line from there.

NARRATOR: At the bottom of the First Step, Conrad fixes new rope to the route.

CONRAD ANKER: There's a lot of fixed rope on the mountain, and a lot of it's suspect and it's old, and I clambered up this one section and fixed new rope there so the six of us that were in our climbing party could then climb up this safely.

ERIC SIMONSON: You say that the traverse is still fixed?

CONRAD ANKER: Well, if you put a shoelace on there, I guess you'd call that fixing it. But it's not really that quality rope, over.

ERIC SIMONSON: Copy that. Is there much snow on the traverse?

CONRAD ANKER: Negative, it looks pretty dry, over. The section between the top of the First Step and the base of the Second Step, it's horizontal. You're not gaining a lot of elevation. But the rock is very down sloping and it drops off into the immense North Face of Everest, and it goes 10,000 feet down.

DAVID BREASHEARS: Mallory was an immensely talented and experienced alpinist. Irvine was woefully inexperienced as a climber, I don't think he had been much higher than 14,000 feet. And high on Everest, where the higher you go on the northeast ridge the climbing becomes more difficult, the less Irvine would have been prepared for those really serious rock climbing challenges above 27,000 feet.

CONRAD ANKER: It's very difficult up there. It's not an easy, moderate snow slope the whole way. Above the Yellow Band, the rock quality really diminishes. You're working with friable, small fractured rock that is very difficult to protect.

DAVE HAHN: Good climbing, Jake.

JAKE NORTON: I had a little feeling of dis-ease, something weird in my gut, maybe it was just intimidation by the route, never having been there, fear of the unknown. I think you guys should go.

CONRAD ANKER: I'm pretty psyched. I feel good about this weather.

JAKE NORTON: Yeah. Tap actually said it first, he said he just wasn't feeling sure that he wanted to go on, and I seconded him on that.

TAP RICHARDS: I personally am feeling pretty tired, and it looks like there's a lot of work ahead, and don't feel I could give my full attention on the descent under those circumstances, over.

JAKE NORTON: I see some parallels with Tap and my decision with regard to Irvine more than Mallory. I think Mallory, he was very focused and would have kept going, almost at all costs. Irvine, on the other hand, it was his first time, he's 22 years old, he hasn't climbed all that much before. And I think he probably would have felt a lot like Tap and I did.

DAVID BREASHEARS: They were becoming tired at that elevation. It's tremendous effort to climb at 28,000 feet. Mallory was probably realizing that Irvine, despite his youthful enthusiasm, was not the best choice for that final day because of the rock climbing experience he needed in a companion. And being the careful mountaineer that he was, he probably said, let's turn back.

TAP RICHARDS: That's affirmative. Dave and Conrad are together, approaching the base of the Second Step right now, over.

ERIC SIMONSON: OK, copy that.

CONRAD ANKER: At this point, we'd gone from a climbing team of six of us, all of a sudden there was just Dave and I.

DAVID BREASHEARS: Mallory standing at the base of the Second Step, at 28,200 and something feet, would have felt incredibly daunted.

CONRAD ANKER: Hard to say what they did up here.

DAVID BREASHEARS: To be looking at a 15 foot high wall of nearly vertical rock, with no way to attach himself to that rock and safeguard a fall, it's beyond me to imagine him launching up that.

ERIC SIMONSON: Conrad, could you tell us, how's that Second Step looking? Do you have a view of it?

CONRAD ANKER: Yeah, we're looking out onto it and that ladder, just to the left of it is the crack. And it's going to be shady, but you can't get this far and not give it a go, over.

ERIC SIMONSON: Right on, right on.

CONRAD ANKER: It was overhanging, it was loose, it was awkward. Gotta give it a try.

NARRATOR: The camera is turned off so Dave Hahn can rope up and protect Conrad if he falls.

ERIC SIMONSON: Conrad, this is ABC, go ahead.

CONRAD ANKER: Hey Eric and friends at ABC, just topped out of the Second Step, I opted for the off width that's just to the left of the ladder.

ERIC SIMONSON: Conrad had been able to free climb the fat crack to the left of the ladder. He described this as being an off width, which is quite an awkward sized crack. It means it's too big for feet and hands, and as it turned out he ended up using his knee, he crammed his knee in it and was able to shimmy his way up. [On radio]: Copy that, Conrad. Nice job, way to go. Where's Dave?

CONRAD ANKER: Just tooling up the ladder right now as I speak, over.

ERIC SIMONSON: OK, sounds great. I take it you guys are still going to go and try to tag the summit?

CONRAD ANKER: You bet, we're this close. Weather's good, there's not a gust of wind. If it's two hours from here, it should be OK, over. We just got done getting up the Second Step, Dave and I. And we've got - the summit pyramid looks tantalizingly close, but I know it's a bunch of suffer points away. So that's where we've gotta go. Did George climb the Second Step? I'm a bit skeptical. It was really difficult to climb, and the consequences of falling there and cracking my ankle were very - it's very severe. I think they got somewhere between the First and Second Step and then turned around.

NARRATOR: After searching for clues from Mallory's belongings, Conrad and the others learn that there is no proof that Mallory or Irvine reached the summit. They discover the only concrete evidence in the mystery is their own experience on the summit day. The odd twist of circumstance in this discovery is that our climbers never actually found the body they were looking for.

DAVID BREASHEARS: Wang Hangbao described a person in a sitting position and with a hole in his cheek, and that's not the body that Conrad Anker found in 1999. That body, as we know, is face down and has been that way probably since the day of the accident.

NARRATOR: Is Irvine still up there, lost on Everest with the one piece of evidence that could solve the mystery?

DAVE HAHN: We didn't find the camera.

TAP RICHARDS: Yeah, there's still speculation whether they made it to the top and there will be without the camera.

ANDY POLITZ: Someone needs to go back up there and survey the area.

DAVE HAHN: I'm starting to think that Andrew Irvine took the fall also, but perhaps didn't take it as bad. Andrew Irvine's left there, possibly a little bit injured, but more mentally traumatized by having seen George Mallory go down, apparently to his death. Andrew Irvine, late in the day or in the evening, very little experience, tries to go a little bit farther back toward his high camp. Eventually he does not find camp VI. He sits down. It's cold up there at 27,000 feet.

ANDY POLITZ: It'll be the classic mystery.

DAVE HAHN: I'm not sorry if we've deepened the mystery.

ANDY POLITZ: Yeah, absolutely.

DAVE HAHN: So I'm still holding to the hope that we're going to find Andrew Irvine in a less traumatic setting, at rest.

ANDY POLITZ: God, just - they were tough.

TAP RICHARDS: They were tough.

DAVE HAHN: They were tough.

ERIC SIMONSON: This is ABC, how are you guys doing?

CONRAD ANKER: We're on top of the world! Aieee!!!

ERIC SIMONSON: Way to go, man. Good job. Good to see you.

JAKE NORTON: Welcome back down.

CONRAD ANKER: What a reality. 48 hours without food.

JAKE NORTON: Everything I've heard about Mallory especially is that, you know, this was his third time to Everest, he was going for the summit and he wanted the summit. He looks a lot different in this picture. Huh?

JOCHEN HEMMLEB: That looks really remarkable.

JAKE NORTON: And my hunch is that he would've pushed on and ignored feelings, trepidations, nervousness, everything and just pushed on for the summit. I still ideally think that they both did summit and met their fate on the way down.

CONRAD ANKER: As much as I wish I could just say, George and Sandy, you climbed Everest, Chomolungma, the highest peak in the world, you were the first ones to do it, I find that, given the severity and the technical requirements of this route, and the standard of climbing in 1924, I find it improbable. Hey! Oh, Kami, Dawa, Da Nuru, Lhakpa Rita, how are you? Good? Ahhhh....

SPONSOR: What did the climbers say to each other as they realized what they'd found? Hear the actual radio transmissions on NOVA's Website.

To order this program on video for $19.95 plus shipping and handling, or The Lost Explorer, Conrad Anker's book about the expedition, for $22 plus shipping and handling, call WGBH Boston Video at 1-800-255-9424.

CONRAD ANKER: OK, here we are, top of Everest. Mallory Irvine Research Expedition. Everything's gone well. On top of the world. We're looking good.

SPONSOR: NOVA is a production of WGBH Boston.

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