George Leigh Mallory – June 18, 1886
It was 122 years ago today that George Herbert Leigh Mallory was born.
His story is too long to recount here – especially since I’ve got to run out the door and pick up my daughter! But, I have a longer post dealing with Mallory & Irvine’s final climb and eventual disappearance, which I will post tomorrow.
For today, though, a remembrance of Mallory through his own words – eloquent, determined, nuanced, and timeless:
I suppose we go to Mount Everest, granted the opportunity, because—in a word—we can’t help it. Or, to state the matter rather differently, because we are mountaineers…. To refuse the adventure is to run the risk of drying up like a pea in its shell.
How to get the best of it all? One must conquer, achieve, get to the top; one must know the end to be convinced that one can win the end — to know there’s no dream that musn’t be dared…Is this the summit, crowning the day? How cool and quiet! We’re not exultant; but delighted, joyful, soberly astonished. Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves. Have we gained success? That 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.
And in this series of partial glimpses we had seen a whole; we were able to piece together the fragments, to interpret the dream…
For the stone from the top for geologists, the knowledge of the limits of endurance for the doctors, but above all for the spirit of adventure to keep alive the soul of man.
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.
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.
And, finally, “Lines to an Indian Air” – Mallory’s favorite poem – by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
I arise from dreams of thee
In the first sweet sleep of night,
When the winds are breathing low,
And the stars are shining bright:
I arise from dreams of thee,
And a spirit in my feet
Has led me – who knows how?
To thy chamber window, Sweet!
The wandering airs they faint
On the dark, the silent stream –
The Champak odours fail
Like sweet thoughts in a dream;
The nightingale’s complaint,
It dies upon her heart; –
As I must on thine,
O belovèd as thou art!
Oh lift me from the grass!
I die! I faint! I fail!
Let thy love in kisses rain
On my lips and eyelids pale.
My cheek is cold and white, alas!
My heart beats loud and fast; –
Oh! press it to thine own again,
Where it will break at last.
– Jake Norton is an Everest climber, guide, photographer, writer, and motivational speaker from Colorado.