TD EV 0814

What Really Happened to Mallory & Irvine, Part III

Now we’re in descent mode.

I already covered in Part I and Part II what I think happened on the uphill portion of Mallory & Irvine’s journey in 1924. And, now the hard part, the most dangerous part, the part when, statistically, most people die in the mountains: the descent.

As noted in Part II of the story, I believe George Mallory and Andrew Irvine reached the summit late in the day – dangerously, foolishly late in the day – on June 8, 1924. It was most likely sunset, or close to sunset. The temperature dropped as the sky became crimson. Monsoon storm clouds washed up and down the North Face of Everest, spitting snow and gusting wind from time to time.

And, Mallory & Irvine were exhausted. They had had a long, long day high on Everest, some thirteen or fourteen hours already above their high camp, which now sat 2,000 feet below them.

image from The first hour and a half of descent – coming off the summit pyramid and down to the Third Step – would have been smooth. The snow face below the final ridge is steep, and requires some careful climbing, but with the rope for safety Mallory & Irvine could have fairly easily followed their steps from the ascent down to the easier terrain at the Third Step.

The next 45 minutes would take them along easy ground again to the top of the Second Step. And, now, it really gets interesting.

Today, the descent from the top of the Second Step is pretty straightforward. A bit daunting, for sure, but straightforward. We have generally solid fixed lines attached to pitons and anchors in the rock, and a short, exposed rappel takes us down to the snow platform above the Corkscrew Chimney. The only major hurdle – which sadly has been the end for some modern climbers – is having the presence of mind to choose the right fixed line to clip in to; some of them are old, tattered, no longer fixed to anchors, or don’t actually reach the snow platform. But, aside from that issue, we’ve got it easy today.6a00d83452942669e20133ee0f838a970b

For Mallory & Irvine, though, it was of course a different situation. No fixed lines. No pitons, stoppers, pickets, cams, or any anchor devices to fix the rope or set a rappel. And, unfortunately, there are really no rocks or boulders on top of the Second Step to sling the rope for a rappel. The only option would be to lower and downclimb. (As an aside, I have never had much trouble seeing Mallory & Irvine climb up the Second Step, but have always struggled with how on earth they could get down it again.)

In August 1999, I was in Seattle with our historian, Jochen Hemmleb, going over the artifacts and helping with the creation of our expedition book, Ghosts of Everest. I hadn’t seen the artifacts we collected on the expedition since we left Basecamp, and thus had forgotten about the blood on Mallory’s lapels. I noticed it when Tap Richards and I took clothing samples from Mallory’s remains, but, in the excitement of everything, made only a mental note of it. Seeing the clothing again raised a question: The blood, to my untrained eye, seemed deliberately placed, almost blotted, rather than splattered. Perhaps, I wondered, it indicated a previous injury, something that happened earlier in the day…something that precipitated the final, deadly fall?
Blood stains on Mallory's jacket. Photo by Jim Fagiolo.

The next day, Jochen and I took the clothing to the King County Coroner. After examining the blood stains, his professional opinion backed up the amateur assumptions of Jochen and I: The bloodd stains were indeed blotted, not splattered, and thus most likely indicate Mallory having tended to an injury before the final fall; perhaps an injury to himself, perhaps to Irvine. This post-expedition discovery made me realize the descent of the Second Step in 1924 might not have gone smoothly:

In fading, evening light, with temperatures dropping rapidly, it’s time to move. Mallory, being the more skilled and experienced rock climber, uses the rope they carried to lower Irvine down the Second Step headwall to the mid-point snow platform. Once there, Irvine flips the rope around his waist to give Mallory a hip belay. As they did on the ascent, Irvine stands close to the rock, ready to be a human step-ladder for Mallory, reversing the courte-achelle they did on the ascent hours before.
The features of the Second Step on Mount Everest's Northeast Ridge, photographed at sunset in 2004.
Doing a reverse mantel, Mallory scuffs on his belly over the edge of the Second Step. His feet dangle in the air, his eyes nervously scanning the North Face which drops some 9,000 feet directly below him. He finds scant handholds, and relies mainly on the friction of his body on the rock to keep from falling. His feet flail, moving about in the air above Irvine’s head, hoping to make contact with that human ladder. There’s not much Irvine can do to help aside from giving verbal instructions, for if he uses his hands to guide Mallory’s feet, then Irvine would have to let go of the belay. So, he holds tight, gives directions, and hopes for the best.

Suddenly, Mallory slips. The weight of his body moving over the edge of the rock outstrips the force of friction, and his meager handholds do little to stop him. Mallory clatters over the edge, hitting Irvine while he frantically takes in rope on the belay. With a thud, Mallory slams into the snow platform. Fortunately, the snow here is just soft enough in the evening – having been softened by the warm rays of the setting sun – to absorb some of the impact and slow the fall. That, combined with Irvine’s hip belay, avert death for the two for now.

But Mallory is hurt; how could he not be after a fall like that? He and Irvine collect themselves, and tend to their injuries. However, there is not much time…the evening light is nearly gone, and there’s still a lot of mountain to descend before reaching the safety of Camp VI.

Moving more slowly now – thanks to Mallory’s injuries and perhaps Irvine’s, too – the pair descend carefully through the Corkscrew Chimney and across the easy, but horribly exposed, ledges below the Second Step and on toward Mushroom Rock. Mushroom Rock provides a spot for a brief respite. The urge to stop, to stay here and wait until dawn to complete the descent must have been strong. But, Mallory & Irvine must have known there was no way to survive the night without food and shelter. They had to keep climbing down the mountain.
Phuru Sherpa at Mushroom Rock (28,300 feet) on Everest's Northeast Ridge at sunrise on May 30, 2003.

From Mushroom Rock, thirty minutes of exposed traversing led them to the top of the First Step. As with all steep terrain, what is easy on the ascent is often a bit trickier on the descent. Following their earlier path on the ridge proper, Mallory & Irvine descend the First Step – slowly and carefully. It’s now dark, the nearly half moon providing just enough light to make out the terrain ahead. Perhaps an hour later, they’ve carefully picked their way down the First Step, and are welcomed by the “easy” terrain of the lower Northeast Ridge. The limestone ledges are wide here, the exposure lessened, and camp – still some 1,000 feet below – seems finally within reach.

In the failing light as the moon dips to the horizon, Mallory & Irvine here make the mistake many have repeated since: they choose the wrong gullies to descend. Ascending through the Yellow Band, coming from the bottom, both the Longland Traverse and the modern climber’s gullies are obvious lines to the ridge crest. However, from the top, there are many gully systems leading down into the Yellow Band, all looking roughly the same. Today, with decades of hindsight, we know to mark the exit of the gullies well so we can find the right ones on the descent. But, Mallory & Irvine were the first up here; there’s no way they would have known about this trap on the ridge.

So, I think they chose the wrong set of gullies. The ones I believe they chose begin just below the ridge crest, roughly 200 meters down from the base of the First Step. Like all these gullies, they lead tantalizingly into the Yellow Band. Curious, I investigated this particular set during my search with Dave Hahn on May 7 and May 19, 2004. Climbing alone, I first set out into the gullies from the 1933 high camp, which I found in 1999. My thinking was predicated on the bits of information provided by Xu Jing, saying he had found a body while climbing from Camp VI to Camp VII in 1960. Since there was not really an established “route” through the Yellow Band at that time, I tried to just follow the most logical path, which led me up this particular set of gullies. Roughly 2/3 of the way from the 1938 Camp VI to the ridge crest, the gullies hit a short but steep cliffband. With no rope and miserable, slab snow conditions, I retreated back the way I had come. On the 19th, I explored the same gullies, entering them from the ridge crest below the First Step. From here, they are very enticing, welcoming even, and seem from this perspective to lead without issue all the way down through the Yellow Band. But, of course, they don’t terminating in the same short cliffband I encountered two weeks prior.

These are the gullies I think Mallory & Irvine may have mistakenly taken. In the dark, exhausted, it would be an easy mistake to make. After descending several hundred feet in the gullies, they would have hit my little cliffband. Again, it’s short, but steep, and the exposure is the entire North Face. Just as on the Second Step, Mallory & Irvine would have used the rope they carried, with Mallory lowering Irvine down the cliffband. Once safely down, Irvine would have belayed Mallory – the more skilled rock climber – with a hip belay, hoping the small horns of rock he slung the rope over would stop any fall.

And then he fell. Perhaps it was precipitated by the injury I think he sustained earlier. Perhaps it was simply exhaustion coupled with darkness and cold. Or maybe it was just carelessness. But, regardless, Mallory fell, and fell hard enough to sustain serious injury from the rope tied to his waist with a bowline-on-a-coil. (In 1999 we saw and documented severe bruising and rip damage from the rope pull on Mallory’s waist, telling visually the story of a big fall.) The rope came taught, catching on a horn or fin of rock. The impact through the old, static, hand woven line is hard, wrenching Irvine upward and slamming him into the small cliffband. He fights and holds onto the rope, straining to stop the fall, to stop his friend and companion from falling into oblivion.

And then, nothing. The strain disappears as suddenly as it began. The rope has broken, severed by the rock and the forces involved. Mallory is gone, cartwheeling down into darkness.

Irvine, though, is still alive. Probably injured, but alive. Terrified, but alive. He listens for any sound of Mallory; there is none. Only the eery silence of the high Himalaya on a cold, now moonless, night.

Irvine knows he needs to move, he needs to get down, get help, send a signal to Odell. Maybe Mallory is still alive, down in the darkness. But what to do? Irvine struggles for a while in the gully, his lack of climbing background amplified by the current situation. Maybe there’s another cliffband below? he wonders. If I’m not careful, I’ll end up just like George. He decides the best thing to do is to wait, wait for daylight, wait for Odell. He can last through the night, he thinks, if he can just find some protection from the unending winds. Above him is a small dihedral, facing the lee side, just big enough to provide some shelter. Irvine scampers up to it and wiggles himself in tight, his clothing buttoned up tight to offer all protection possible.

The cold sets in. Primitive, debilitating cold. It sets deep, icy tentacles penetrating to the bone. And soon, long before dawn, Irvine is gone, too, to be seen 36 years later by Xu Jing.

Jake Norton's search routes in May, 2004, high on Mt. Everest. Possible location of Andrew Irvine is marked as well in red.

Is that what happened? Well, who knows. Certainly not me. As I’ve said many times before, it’s nothing more than my opinion, based on a lot of passion, thought, and time spent in that high terrain.

And, it is based on my solid belief that the Northeast Ridge – including the Second Step – was within their ability in 1924. At the upper limit, certainly, but still within bounds.

Additionally, my theory is based upon something we did not find with Mallory on May 1, 1999…Mallory’s daughter, Claire Mallory Milliken, told our expedition in 1999 that her mother, Ruth, said George made one promise to her in 1924: he would take a letter from her and a picture of her and bury it in the summit snows. We never found the letter or picture on Mallory in 1999. Noel Odell never reported those items having been left behind in 1924 at Camp VI. And, personally, I can’t imagine George would have left them anywhere but where he promised his wife he would.

And, a final note: In 2000, I was speaking to the Boulder, Colorado, chapter of the Explorer’s Club, telling the story of Mallory & Irvine and our 1999 expedition. At the end, my friend Glenn Porzak told an amazing story. In the mid-1980’s, he was at an Alpine Club meeting, and had the opportunity to share lunch with a dapper octogenarian named Noel Odell. After chatting about climbing and life for some time, Glenn said he finally couldn’t resist, and asked the question of all questions: Did Odell see Mallory & Irvine atop the First, or Second, Step at 12:50 PM on June 8, 1924?

The answer, Glenn said, came immediately, with a twinkle in Odell’s eye: There was never truly a doubt in my mind…they were on top of the Second Step

By my count, there are at least three different groups searching for Irvine as we speak: Jochen Hemmleb, keeping it quiet; Duncan Chessell, making his search known; and one more I’ve caught wind of but have been asked not to mention.

With all that activity, I can only hope that soon we may know more. Irvine may be located, the old Kodak VPK around his neck. Images may be pulled from the film, showing triumph…or not.

Or, perhaps Irvine will remain hidden, the keeper of the answers to the greatest mystery of mountaineering.

Ultimately, the question of whether they reached the top or not doesn’t really matter. For me, it is the simple fact that they tried, that Mallory, Irvine…and Norton, Somervell, Odell, Hazard, Finch, Shipton, Smythe, Wager, Wyn-Harris, and all the others bothered to push their limits, to try what many said was impossible. To me, this is the nugget of importance in the whole story.

Mallory himself said it best, so to end I’ll share some of his most famous and favorite passages:

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….
– George Leigh Mallory 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.
– George Leigh Mallory, 1923, New York City

[NOTE: I’m sure this post will raise many questions, comments, and criticisms. Some may wonder why I don’t make much mention of the ice ax found by Percy Wyn-Harris in 1933. There will be other questions, and I welcome them all. Please write your thoughts and criticisms in the comments area, and I’ll do my best to respond to them quickly!]

  1. Eugene Constant
    Eugene ConstantMay 20,10


    Your ideas are great. Your pictures too and make me sad because I cannot climb Everest North Side with Himex in 2008 as Chinese closed Tibet borders.
    I would like to see this area with my eyes and try to understand what could be happened this 6th june. (Sorry if I make some errors, I am french).
    Thank you for your high res pictures.

    I also have an opinion. I agree with you until they reach the summit. But I am trouble by the place you found George. He is too west. I think they try to climb down by norton couloir and avoid the second step. They know there is a route there as Norton said to them and Messner climbeb it later. Perhaps Irvine is here !

    It was a pleasure to read you and I regret not seeing last year on south side. (I was with Himex).

    Best regards.


  2. Pete Poston
    Pete PostonMay 20,10

    Great job Jake! Especially the part about an accident before the fatal fall. I believe it was at the ax site, however, to explain leaving it behind, but I’m sure you have some ideas about it! -Pete

  3. Ajay Dandekar
    Ajay DandekarMay 20,10

    Hi Jake
    i have religiously followed your research and your blog. In the eariler ones you had refrained from expressing your opinion but here you do finally. Great work, and especially coming from someone as experienced as you,it is of immense value. Finally we have Odells final opinion too, sighting them at the second step. That was always on cards given the timing and the location of the oxygen bottle and the climing rates ensuing thence, as well as the timing of the sighting by Odell. There has been credible research done by Phil Summers to suggest that they did take a sleeping bag with them and dumped that near the first step. Ice axe as a marker. Gave them the extra window of time and an extended turn around. Would you say that researchers need to look for the 1924 oxygen sets and bottle above the third step? Did irvine carry another oxygen bottle?
    Once again, great work and hope you go back and discover the resting place for Andrew Irvine. with warm regards

  4. Roman
    RomanMay 21,10

    hi, thanks for sharing your perspective. question: was the oxygen container you found in 99 completely empty? A non-empty bottle could have been left behind to lighten the “bloody” load and to provide a cache of o2 to the pair on descent.

  5. Roman
    RomanMay 22,10

    speaking of the axe, what are the chances a climber going uphill with the view of snowy terrain ahead will consciously leave his pick behind. with no fixed ropes and no crampons, the pick might be your only lifeline up there, no? Do you see any chance it could have been left deliberately? Couldn’t something else be left to dump weight or as a marker (a cairn, a sleeping bag, if they indeed took one along, an empty o2 bottle, which they apparently left pretty close to the axe – do you remember how close, btw?)

  6. nursing gowns
    nursing gownsMay 27,10

    interesting post! I hadn’t seen the artifacts we collected on the expedition since we left Basecamp, and thus had forgotten about the blood on Mallory’s lapels.

  7. Rustywriter
    RustywriterJune 25,10

    Ironic that after Sir Edmund Hillary has died, and has been treated as one of New Zealands great heroes, that it may turn out his achievment was an illusion.

  8. Chris Sampson
    Chris SampsonJuly 27,10

    Great articles, good to hear some fresh views from someone who’s been there.

    A couple of thoughts:

    1) Oxygen. Assuming 2 cylinders apiece, it would have run out somwhere above the 2nd step. How tough would it have been to carry on up the summit pyramid with no O2?

    2) Odell. Odell was watching the upper slopes pretty intently through the afternoon after the snow squall cleared, but saw nothing. If his eyes were good enough to spot them in shadow beneath the second step, surely he’d have seen them ascending or descending the pyramid?

  9. Joe Hoy
    Joe HoyDecember 18,10


    Sorry for posting so long after the last comment – I’ve only just found these wonderful posts – so thanks Jake!

    I’d love to think that Jake is right – though it’s possible we’ll never know, even if Sandy Irvine is finally located.

    But in answer to Chris’s first question, my theory (despite only having followed this story in pieces through the last few years) is this : We know from the pieces of paper that George Mallory was carrying (see Ghosts Of Everest) that they had brought at least 6, if not 7 canisters of oxygen with them, which meant they had at least 3 available to each of them. We know that the received wisdom of the time was that oxygen was considered of no use on the descent. Odell mentions that he saw pieces of oxygen equipment scattered around the tent, which concerned him. We also know that Irvine was something of a mechanical genius and had already reconfigured the apparatus once – to make it lighter and more efficient. I think one possible reason for pieces of apparatus in the tent is that Irvine made a second attempt to reconfigure the kit and make it possible for them to take three canisters each – for at least part of the way. This could easily have got them closer to the summit, if not all the way there.

    However far they got though, they would have had to abandon the kit at some point and we know they were in the “Death Zone” far a longer period of time and far later in the day than would be considered wise in this day and age. Combine that with Mallory’s first injuries and you have the stage set for tragedy – though having said that, the discovery of Mallory’s body heartbreakingly close to Camp VI is a testament to how determined and capable these men were.

  10. Rahul
    RahulDecember 22,10

    “Irvine knows he needs to move, he needs to get down, get help, send a signal to Odell. Maybe Mallory is still alive, down in the darkness. But what to do? Irvine struggles for a while in the gully, his lack of climbing background amplified by the current situation. Maybe there’s another….”

    Seems like its here either that Irvine lost his Ice Axe or droped it as marker…???
    Maybe ooo any way I am terrible at making logical conclusions but love the post

  11. robler
    roblerMarch 6,11

    Jake, really well written and thought out. It seems to me the whole thing turns on whether Odell saw them above the 2nd Step. If he did, your theory sounds real likely, and they probably made the top. If he saw them lower than the 2nd Step, I doubt they summited.

    It’s hard for me to see how “a short distance from the final pyramid” can mean the 1st Step. I’ve seen photos from where Odell was watching. The 1st Step is a long way from there. Of course, it’s not certain that Odell was anything.

    Btw, Mallory had used the “shoulder boost” technique before. Even without it, though, George should have been able to climb 5.8.

  12. David A.
    David A.April 3,11

    robler, that’s right the photos taken from where Odell was watching clearly show they had to have been beyond the second step and IMO, beyond the third step. That photo should be more widespread. I also agree with the view they did not descend via the Second Step but look for a better route down. However, if they did, maybe Irvine fell at that point and his body went all the way down and the body others have seen was Mallory’s. Could the “hole in the cheek” refer not to the face cheek, but to the hole in Mallory’s arse cheek (sorry if it sounds less than tactful) and the meaning got lost in translation?

    Very interesting about the blood spotting. More research into that might be revealing. The frustrating thing about reading about the route possibilities and location of the tanks, ice pick, glove, and Mallory is that the maps shown are also very small and frankly, lousy. Better maps and clear pics of the terrain/routes at critical points would make a wonderful new book. I want to be able to read and see the choices clearly, not thru a fog which is where all readers are unless they have been there.

  13. true religion outlet
    true religion outletApril 24,11

    Ultimately, the question of whether they reached the top or not doesn’t really matter. For me, it is the simple fact that they tried, that Mallory, Irvine…and Norton, Somervell, Odell, Hazard, Finch, Shipton, Smythe, Wager, Wyn-Harris, and all the others bothered to push their limits, to try what many said was impossible. To me, this is the nugget of importance in the whole story.

  14. ted
    tedMarch 9,12

    Hi Jake! Would Mallory’s altimeter if it was found intact could have solved the mystery once and for all?

  15. Stephen Burns
    Stephen BurnsMarch 20,12

    Hi Jake,

    Enjoyed this post. Here’s a question for you. As someone who’s climbed everest and spent time on the north col route, what do you think the timeline would be for these events, given Odell’s time of sighting? How long does it take to get from top of second step to summit and back down and what do you think those times would be?


  16. Robert
    RobertJune 13,12

    Very interesting. As an armchair historian, I have always been fascinated by Mallory and Irvine. Do you happen to have any photos of the gullies that you believe Mallory and Irvine mistakenly took? It would aid immensely in visualizing their possible route down.

    Also, if they did take that mistaken gully and fell from there, what connection, if any, is there to the location of Irvine’s ice axe? Percy Wyn-Harris said that he found the axe about 60 ft from the crest of the ridge, if I am recalling correctly (and please correct me if I am not). The axe’s lateral position along the axe along the ridgecrest may be debated, but he’s pretty clear in saying how far down the ridge it was found. That being the case, if the gully system is lower down the mountain than the axe’s location, is it possible that the axe, however unlikely, was left behind as a trail marker by Mallory and Irvine on their way up? If they were climbing up very late in the day, they would need a marker to help guide them back down, and an ice axe, though an unlikely piece of equipment for that purpose, would be large enough to be seen and recognized. This is all speculation, of course, but I’m curious what your thoughts would be on this amateur’s speculations.

    Many thanks!

  17. danielgormally
    danielgormallyNovember 19,12

    I wouldn’t have a clue what happened to mallory and irvine, although the story is very interesting. it seems to me that your explanation of what happened to them is just about credible, but at the same time runs along the boundary of optimism, in other words everything would have had to go right for them, for the story to have unfolded just as you said it (apart from the very end of course.)

  18. Sylvia
    SylviaOctober 23,15

    Hi, Jake,

    I am an armchair mountaineer, but I am utterly obsessed with the Mallory/Irvine legacy. I have a few thoughts for you to ponder. Some may seem totally ridiculous, but her goes….
    1. It has always perplexed me as to why Mallory had no signs of frostbite whatsoever. The sighting by a member of a Chinese expedition of “an old English” found higher on the ridge reportedly had a blackened face. I conclude that Mallory either: a. perished prior to the individual found above OR b. spent LESS time exposed to the elements OR c. had better protection from the elements.
    2. Odell reported that the interior of the tent at Camp IV appeared the same the second time he inspected it as it had the first time. BUT, how do we know that Mallory hadn’t returned to the tent after having left for the ascent and before Odell saw it the first time?
    3. Mallory was found some 300 meters from Camp IV. Let’s assume Mallory made it back to the tent (perhaps by glissading as Norton and Sommerville had?) to retrieve oxygen, food, rope, water, (or whatever might help to sustain an injured Irvine higher on the ridge). Could a person cover 300 meters without getting frostbite?
    4. Mallory was found on his stomach with his head facedown but oriented uphill. Wouldn’t that suggest a fall while ascending? Furthermore, his head and hands are partially buried in the scree. To me, that means he was already facedown as the scree descended upon him. As his injuries are consistent with a shorter fall, wouldn’t that mean a limited amount of scree would be dislodged? A fall from higher up would mean more scree displacement, and therefore, more of it covering Mallory. His arms are bent at the elbows. Wouldn’t you self-arrest with your arms outstretched?
    5. The ice ax. We know SOMEONE placed it on the ridge, but why do we think it was Irvine who did so? Clearly, even an inexperienced climber would not leave such a vital piece of equipment behind on the ascent. The only reasons I can think of why anyone would place the ax where it was found are: a. you didn’t need it ( because you were neither attempting to ascend or descend);b. you were physically unable to use it; c. you wanted to mark a location. I believe Mallory put it there so he would be able to find Irvine where he had left him.
    6. The mitten found on the ridge is an intriguing bit of evidence . Was it for the left hand or the right hand? Were the fingers of the mitten pointed toward the summit or towards Camp IV? Was it embedded in the snow–suggesting someone trying to plant their hand? Was there any trace of fibers inside the mitten (suggesting a possible liner) or outside the mitten (possibly hemp from a rope? Was the mitten frozen into a cupped shape or was it relatively flat? If it was flat, that could mean it was one of a spare pair that fell out of a pocket while someone was trying to retrieve something from that pocket–maybe a penknife to sever the rope that connected Mallory and Irvine.
    7. The ONE oxygen BOTTLE (not bottles) found on the ridge. Unless they were sharing the oxygen, this puts ONE person on the ridge whose oxygen was depleted. Irvine was taller and stouter than Mallory. Would he use more oxygen than Mallory because of his size? If so, his supply of oxygen would have been gone first. I believe the discarded bottle was Irvine’s and that Mallory gave him whatever was remaining in his cylinder. The straps for Mallory’s tank were in his pocket. If his oxygen mask had been torn off or if he had been severely injured, I don’t think he would have had the presence of mind to put the straps into his pocket.
    8. The notes about the oxygen cylinders found written on the back of an envelope. We know Mallory sent a note to Noel at Camp IV. Was that note written on the back of an envelope? Presumably not. So, Mallory must have had some sort of paper other than that found on the back of an envelope. We know that Mallory kept a “package” of letters on his person when climbing. Why would he NOT put the envelope with the notations about the oxygen on it back into the package? Furthermore, why would he be jotting down that info in the first place? Irvine was in charge of the oxygen; that was one reason he had selected Irvine for the summit attempt. Wouldn’t Irvine be the one to concern himself with anything relating to oxygen use? I believe Mallory, in haste, on the mountain, pulled out a letter from his package of letters and scribbled down the information given to him by a still conscious Irvine.
    9. Odell said the tent in Camp VI was littered with oxygen apparatus strewn about. Irvine was an engineer. One thing I know to be a characteristic of engineers is that they are very orderly. Besides, as many times as he had assembled and reassembled the units, he would have had a somewhat precise idea as to the location of each. But someone, such as Mallory, who didn’t have a clue when it came to oxygen and was in a big hurry, might just have made a mess. Besides, their sleeping bags were neatly arranged. Why would you straighten your bed and leave a very critical part of your equipment in disarray? Wouldn’t that pose a risk to the climbers themselves by tripping over it, or of breakage to the equipment itself (tubing, masks, gauges, valves, etc.) due to a misplaced step by Mallory or Irvine?
    I believe they both summited late in the day. I believe an initial fall near the location of the ice ax or mitten seriously injured Irvine compromising his ability to descend. I think Mallory also was injured, but I think he suffered internal injuries. I believe Mallory assisted Irvine the best he could under the circumstances, and maneuvered him into a more sheltered area. I believe the blood on Mallory’s vest is Irvine’s. (Was it tested for DNA?) I believe Mallory removed his own oxygen and gave it to Irvine. I believe Mallory left his rucksack (possibly with some food and/or water in it) for Irvine. He would have stripped off the frame for his oxygen. After Mallory left to get help Irvine would have continued to breathe the oxygen until it was gone. Then he would have ripped the mask away because it irritated his sunburnt face. Mallory would have gone to the tent at Camp VI, rummaged around until he found a full canister of oxygen and then set out to get back to Irvine. Mallory made it as far as 300 meters before he died of shock (precipitated by his internal injuries). He then slid down about 10 meters breaking his leg and shoulder and came to his final resting place. Meanwhile, Irvine froze to death having passed out due to the pain.

  19. Sylvia
    SylviaOctober 23,15

    I meant Camp VI in Point #2.

  20. Sylvia
    SylviaOctober 23,15

    I am pathetic! Same mistake in Point 3: Camp VI, not Camp IV.

  21. Sylvia
    SylviaOctober 23,15

    Point #8. Same mistake!

  22. K Firouz
    K FirouzDecember 11,16

    Could it be that Sandy Irvine didn’t go past the base of the second step? He then went back to the first step so that he could watch Mallory summit. Would he be able to see that Mallory was descending through or near the yellow band area? He then went down to where his axe was found to wait for Mallory. The wait was long and he began to freeze and wandered off away from his axe for temporary shelter and he never moved again.

    • Jake Norton
      Jake NortonFebruary 26,17

      Thanks, Katherine, for your comment. Almost anything is possible, so hard to know for sure. Definitely Irvine could have let Mallory go on alone. To me it’s doubtful, but certainly possible. If he was at the base of the First Step, he’d of had an OK view of Mallory climbing the upper reaches of the Northeast Ridge, but not every step of the way. As for descent, based on where Mallory’s body is, I’m certain the erroneous descent line and ultimate fall had to have happened below the First Step as they were descending, as Mallory could not have ended up where he is not by falling from anywhere above the First Step. And, to me, it’s unlikely to begin a descent into the Yellow Band above the First Step, as the terrain of the Band there is very unwelcoming and steep, whereas below the First Step it is quite inviting in many places.

      Hope this helps, and keep sharing your thoughts and ideas!

      Best regards,


  23. Mitch Wood
    Mitch WoodDecember 29,18

    Alright I’ll bite and I hope you see this and reply,

    It’s going to be 2019 soon- what’s the latest and in near future? Some russians were flying a drone over everest I saw on youtube. Can u get some drones up there???

    Two: What’s not mention is the weather they had to deal with, I read somewhere recently a terrible storm had blown in that late afternoon; can you address this?

    Three: You are the man and this is a fabulous mystery, I’ve read about this Sh** for 10 hours straight… ALL DAY TODAY.

    thanks man, best of luck to you and your family.

    Mitch Wood

  24. Roma
    RomaFebruary 18,19

    It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d most certainly donate to this outstanding blog!
    I guess for now i’ll settle for book-marking and adding
    your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to new updates and will share this site with my
    Facebook group. Chat soon!

  25. Kyle R Keller
    Kyle R KellerApril 23,20

    I have been fascinated with this story for a while. I am not a climber, but I love outdoors, hiking, and adventure. I have been trying to visualize the terrain you guys know so well up there, but you have been the best in describing the features of the mountain, combined with you videos and photos. I had such a hard time understanding the Second Step and why climbers have to go up the wall on the Face, rather than stay on the Ridgeline; not any more! Thanks for your story. Your opinion certainly makes sense and is believable. I hope they find Irvine and we finally understand the whole story.

    • Jake Norton
      Jake NortonApril 24,20

      Hi Kyle,

      Thanks for your comment, and glad you liked the article and that it made sense! It’s still a hugely captivating story and mystery to me, even after all these years. Hoping one day we’ll know more!

      Thanks again, stay healthy and happy, and keep in touch!

      Best regards,


  26. Graham Burnett
    Graham BurnettMay 17,20

    I think if you can sort out how many Oxygen bottles they had at camp. How many were left and how many were found that could maybe take the story closer to finding out what happened.

    There needs to be Oxygen bottles found above the second Step.

  27. Sean
    SeanMay 26,20

    If they didn’t reach the top why did they die? Nothing would have stopped them coming back before dark to safety.

  28. Sean
    SeanMay 26,20

    If they didn’t reach the top why did they die? Nothing would have stopped them coming back before dark to safety.

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