On 8 June 1924, George Leigh-Mallory and Andrew ‘Sandy’ Irvine, both of Birkenhead, set out from the North Col of Mt Everest in a final bid to summit the world’s highest peak, the so-called third pole.
Both were last seen by Noel Odell ascending the final step (perhaps the Second Step) and they were going strong. They were never seen again, but there is much speculation that they reached the summit.
In 1933 another British Everest expedition found an ice axe on the NE ridge belonging to one of the lost climbers. It is believed to be Irvine’s because the handle is notched three times (his method of marking belongings), but because it was Mallory’s third Everest expedition it may be his.
Most agree, however, that it denotes the site of a fall. This was confirmed in 1999 when Conrad Anker (of the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition) located the corpse of Mallory on a snow slope far below where the ice axe was found. Despite the passage of time and the knowledge of where the climbers fell to their death Irvine’s body has not been located.
It is inconceivable that the Royal Geographic Society or another British institution will not commemorate the centenary of their last climb without making an effort to do one of two things – locate Irvine’s body or retrieve Mallory from Everest for burial in England. The latter course of action is actually essential. When the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition 1999 located his remains they literally tore the body apart trying to find evidence that he reached the top. So, there is no need to worry about desecrating a grave; that has already occurred.
I am reminded of events surrounding the search for ships belonging to Sir John Franklin. From 1984-86 Canadian researcher Owen Beatty, looking to prove that lead poisoning led to the demise of crewmen, was granted permission by the British government to exhume and dissect the remains of three British sailors buried on Beechey Island in the Canadian Arctic. He also wanted to prove that survivors of the expedition resorted to cannibalism. The point being that foreign researchers are not the best custodians of British adventurers and if organizations like the RGS don’t undertake the search others will. What happened to the remains of Mallory and the Beechey dead proves that the former is the least desired option.
Unless members of the British archaeological and cultural community take action now to organize one or both of the above, the centenary of that historic climb will pass without due notice or interest.
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