Mystery on Mt. Everest: Death at the Summit

Cento anni fa, George Mallory e Sandy Irvine tentarono di raggiungere la vetta dell'Everest. Sappiamo che morirono nel tentativo, ma riuscirono ad arrivare in cima?

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In 1953 New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first men to reach the summit of Mount Everest. At least that’s what most people think. A hundred years ago in June 1924, British climbers George Mallory and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine also made an attempt to reach the summit. Both men disappeared, but some believe they were on their way down from the top when they died. What exactly happened up there remains a mystery.

credentials

George Mallory was a skilled and experienced climber and had taken part in two earlier British expeditions in the 1920s. Even in 1924, Mallory’s team tried twice to reach the summit and failed. They were about to come home, but then Mallory decided to make one last push for the summit. His choice of partner was unusual. Although he was extremely fit and strong, twenty-two-year-old Sandy Irvine was the least experienced member of the expedition.

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TINY DOTS

On 7 June, Mallory and Irvine reached Camp VI, the highest camp established on Everest, and sent their porters back down to the rest of the team. At about 1pm on 8 June, Noel Odell, another expedition member, saw them “going strong for the top” on Everest’s Northeast Ridge. They were like tiny black dots just a few hundred metres from the summit. Then mist and clouds covered them and they were never seen alive again.

SIGHTINGS

Fifty-one years later, in 1975, Chinese climber Wang Hongbao spotted the body of a climber near Camp VI. He later described it as an “old English dead” because of the old-fashioned clothes he was wearing. The body was almost certainly that of Mallory or Irvine. Wang died in an avalanche the day after he mentioned his discovery and never said where exactly the frozen corpse was located.

RECOVERY

On 1 May 1999, seventy-five years after his disappearance, a search party found the body of George Mallory at an altitude of around 8,200m and only an hour or two from the safety of camp. Decades of wind and ice had torn away most of his clothes, but had preserved his body, which was white and petrified like stone. Mallory was almost certainly the victim of a fall. He was face down on Everest’s north face with his arms above his head, as if he had tried to stop himself from sliding downwards. He had one broken leg and a serious wound to the head, which probably killed him.

A PHOTOGRAPH

Mallory’s snow goggles were in his pocket — perhaps he was descending at night when he fell. He always carried a photograph of his beloved wife Ruth with him and planned to leave it at the summit. This photograph was missing from his personal effects. Unfortunately there was no camera. Until either Mallory’s or Irvine’s camera is found with photographic proof, the conclusion of their expedition remains mountaineering’s greatest mystery.  

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Questo articolo appartiene al numero June 2024 della rivista Speak Up.

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