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Mallory’s Insights on the Mountains

Gexev1072_1 George Mallory has always been known not only for his climbing prowess and mysterious disappearance on Everest with Irvine in 1924, but also for his deep, often philosophical, insights on mountains and mountaineering. I came across this quote by Mallory, one of my favorites, on The Saunterer blog this morning:

Sunrises and sunsets and clouds and thunder are not incidental to mountaineering, but a vital and inseparable part of it; they are not ornamental, but structural. (Quoted from The Life of the Creative Spirit, p. 339.)

Here are a few additional quotes from Mallory, Gallahad of the Hills:

A great mountain is always greater than we know; it has mysteries, surprises, hidden purposes; it holds always something in store for us.

        – 1919, writing after climbing the Mont Blanc

And in this series of partial glimpses we had seen a whole; we were able to piece together the fragments, to interpret the dream…
– 1921 upon first sighting of Everest’s massive Kangshung (East) Face

The highest of the world’s mountains, it seems, has to make but a single gesture of magnificence to be the lord of all, vast in unchallenged and isolated supremacy.
– 1924, journal entry


Is this the summit, crowning the day? How cool and astonished… Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves. Have we gained success? The word means nothing here. Have we won a kingdom? No… and yes… We have achieved an ultimate satisfaction…fulfilled a destiny…. To struggle and to understand-never this last without the other; such is the law….
– writing of "the Kuffner," the Frontier Ridge of Mount Maudit in France (1911)

The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, "What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?" and my answer must at once be, "It is no use." There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It’s no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.
– 1923, New York City

To read more about George Mallory and his disappearance on Everest with Andrew Irvine in 1924, please visit my Lost on Everest page on and visit my Squidoo lens on the mystery of Mallory & Irvine.

  1. Miki
    MikiJanuary 10,07

    Nice article, thank you.

  2. LarryT
    LarryTMay 16,08

    The whole problem for me has always been Odell’s sighting, was it at the first or second step? He describes it as the “great rock step”, could that description apply to the first step? I don’t think so, but also how could “arrived at the top shortly” apply to the second? No way. And the third is too close to the summit from that vantage point to really separate it, however it fits the other descriptions most accurately. It’s a bloody puzzle!

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