George Leigh Mallory – June 18, 1886

The 1924 Everest Expedition team
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.

  1. scienceguy288
    scienceguy288June 20,08

    Mallory’s story is a terrific and tragic one. I just was referenced to your blog and I am grateful for that.

  2. brad
    bradJanuary 25,09

    can you please lead me to a good biography of mallory? I am an artist trying to prove the world exists. An artist is someone who try’s to show the world what it is and show people that they have meaning.
    Rock climbing It’s not a race, nor a creed. Its objective.
    When asked why he climbed Mt Everest, Greg Mallory said simply, Because it is there.
    This wasn’t just some brag. He climbed it, proving its existence. The rock is there, I can prove it.
    No one can deny it to me now, I was there, I climbed it, I reached where it wasn’t there anymore and I stopped. It is the body that proved it, not the mind and subjective language. My hands. My body and the rock shared space for a moment. I ascended and extended and expended. The rock forms my body, and I give it form in return.
    In return for your help, I will recomend a book to you. “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint Exupéry
    you may have read it as a kid, but read it as an adult.

  3. Janet Whyatt
    Janet WhyattMarch 21,09

    I just read Jeffrey Archers latest book… ‘Paths of Glory’.. a wonderful read.. and gave me an understanding of what goes onto climb a mountain

  4. arian
    arianMay 3,09

    i’m looking for a reference of the following quote from lallory:
    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.
    which book did you use, page?
    thank you

  5. gaz63
    gaz63June 9,09


    I was looking all over for some words about Mallory yesterday, because 8th of June was the date he was last seen on Everest.

    I couldn’t find much. I thought on this anniversary there would alway be a few stories and theories about whether they summited or not before they perished.

    I know Mallory’s not forgotten though – there’s a film coming soon and a (questionable) Jeffrey Archer book!

  6. Clarence W. Reece
    Clarence W. ReeceJanuary 2,11

    A beautiful website. A truly heart-warming remembrance for a very wonderful man, one of my favorites that I have studied and learned about in my sixty-two years of life. Thank you so much.

  7. true religion outlet
    true religion outletJune 8,11

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