Noel Odell, 1924

Noel Odell’s final view of Mallory & Irvine, June 8th, 1924

Noel Odell, 1924

Noel Odell, 1924

As many of you know, the mystery of Mallory & Irvine has been a major part of my life and passion over the years. I’ve written about it extensively here on The MountainWorld Blog, put together a Squidoo Lens on the story, and been fortunate enough to take part in the 1999, 2001, and 2004 Mallory & Irvine Research Expeditions.

A few days ago I was chatting with some friends about Noel Odell’s famous final sighting of Mallory & Irvine on June 8, 1924. If you are not familiar with the story, Noel Odell was a strong climber and Himalayan veteran who was also a member of the 1924 Expedition. While he was not deemed “fit enough” to accompany Mallory on his final, fateful summit bid, Odell did climb up to Camp VI on Mallory & Irvine’s summit day to support them.

Unbeknownst to him at the time, Odell’s sighting of the duo going strong for the top would be the final sighting of them alive. Odell later wrote of the sighting:

At 12.50, just after I had emerged from a state of jubilation at finding the first definite fossils on Everest, there was a sudden clearing of the atmosphere, and the entire summit ridge and final peak of Everest were unveiled. My eyes became fixed on one tiny black spot silhouetted on a small snow-crest beneath a rock-step in the ridge; the black spot moved. Another black spot became apparent and moved up the snow to join the other on the crest. The first then approached the great rock-step and shortly emerged at the top; the second did likewise. Then the whole fascinating vision vanished, enveloped in cloud once more.
[From Gareth Thomas’ excellent website]

This final view, the last sighting of Mallory & Irvine alive, has forever been a source of great debate: Did Odell see them reach the top of the First or Second Step? If the former at 12:50 PM, it is doubtful at best that they reached the top. But, if they were atop the Second Step at that time, it is almost unthinkable that they did NOT reach the summit.

I won’t give my full opinion here and now, but rather would like to share a couple of images with those who are interested.

I took these shots from roughly Noel Odell’s vantage point on the North Ridge while Dave Hahn and I were climbing in 2004. They were taken 2 minutes apart, one zoomed out to roughly the level of the human eye, and the second image zoomed in showing people quite clearly on the ridgecrest.

Take a look, zoom in, pan around, and enjoy the images.

Image #1: The Northeast Ridge of Everest taken at 11:31 AM on May 18, 2004, from roughly Noel Odell’s vantage point when he last sighted Mallory & Irvine on June 8, 1924. Note that this image was taken with a 50mm focal length which is the rough equivalent of the human eye, thus replicating approximately what Noel Odell would have been able to see. © 2004 Jake Norton/MountainWorld Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Image #2: Zoomed in panorama of the same view taken 2 minutes later at 11:33 AM on May 18, 2004, again from roughly Noel Odell’s vantage point when he last sighted Mallory & Irvine on June 8, 1924. Note that now climbers are clearly visible at Mushroom Rock, on the Second Step, on the Third Step, and one can be made out on the summit pyramid. © 2004 Jake Norton/MountainWorld Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Do they spark any thoughts or theories? Please feel free to comment and share your views.

  1. The Adventurist
    The AdventuristAugust 18,07

    Hey Jake,

    You definately make a strong claim. You have taken my own suspicions up a notch. I think it will always come back to proof though–and it may be something that will just never be known

  2. phil summers
    phil summersAugust 19,07

    Dear Jake,
    I find these photo’s and the zoom function to be very revealing and useful indeed.
    Arguably the best imagery and of assistance to resolving the Odell dilemma since good images of the arete’ apppeared in the ’90’s. Good show
    The second photo especially, reveals much of the notch or gully beyond the 2nd step and attempted by Wyn and Wager in ’33.
    On Friday I spent some time studying this terrain and can now see why they were thwarted, so no back door there I don’t think.

    As for Odell, I prefer a scientific process of elimination.
    Vis a vis the 1st step, we must ask, what can be climbed in 10 mins (or so) consistant with the terrain.
    I’m of the view, M&I adhered to the ridge and thus frontally climbed onto the step’s ‘snout’ rather than the right flank modern route.
    There is a snow patch on the
    tip of the snout but its unlikely one can climb from there and directly up onto the apex of the 1st step in only a few minutes (10 at most).
    The right flank route has a bigger snow patch, but again it takes a while to climb up to the right flank of the step and one still isn’t on the top- merely mid way where one then continues on under ‘the wall’ of the ridge crest itself.
    Speaking to climbers who have been up there, this rigth flank route is at least 10-12metres high and times can takes as long as 20 mins up this section to the mid point of the step.
    Thus I doubt M&I were there when Odell saw them.

    The 2nd is more likely, as its possible the clouds parted as M&I were on that midway snowpatch and at 12.50pm the sun would be near the zenith and thus few impinging shadows.
    So once up the mid section snow there is only the 4m crux to climb and I’m of the view that Mallory would utilise that left crack feature to gain it, espcially if Irvine helped.
    I’ve often wondered about the edges of the crack and the utility of Mallory’s nailed boots, to ‘twist and lock’ to aid him up the crack and to the platform above.
    There is a ‘cubical’ rock at its base that would make a good launch pad and I’ve often thought thats how I’d try it.
    Thus I subscribe to the 2nd step.
    The 3rd can be bypassed and would see quite high climb rates if they were there at 12.50pm, seems unlikely, even though some say its a better fit of the time/terrain profile.

    Many thanks for airing these
    very good images and zoom function, I had a very pleasant hour on Friday, studying this terrain and the wealth of detail .
    Best imagery in many years and of this terrain now and the best show in town (well in Hobart at least) for me.

    Well done.

  3. flash games collection
    flash games collectionJuly 10,12

    Hey Jake,

    You definately make a strong claim. You have taken my own suspicions up a notch. I think it will always come back to proof though–and it may be something that will just never be known
    +1

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