Monthly Archive for: ‘May, 2016’


In the 92 years since their disappearance…

In the 92 years since their disappearance near the summit of #Everest, the ability of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine to climb the Second Step – certainly the crux of the climbing route on the Northeast Ridge – has been hotly debated. A roughly 40 meter sawtooth jag of rock sticking out of the Ridge like a ship’s prow, the Second Step is a formidable obstacle indeed…so formidable, that 4 days before Mallory & Irvine’s disappearance, teammates Norton and Somervell opted to skirt the Second Step by traversing below it and into the Great Couloir, seeing the Step as unclimbable. In the years since, the Step has been free climbed by a few people (most climb it using a ladder installed by the Chinese in 1975, and replaced by Russel Brice’s team in 2003): Oscar Cadiach (1985), Theo Fritsche (2001), and Conrad Anker (nearly in 1999, and fully in 2007 with Leo Houlding). The general consensus is that the technical difficulty of the Step is somewhere in the 5.7-5.9 range – definitely within the sea level climbing ability of George Mallory, but likely a huge reach for him on June 8, 1924, at 28,250 feet wearing a tweed coat and woolen knickers. But, is Mallory & Irvine free climbing the Second Step a red herring? I believe so. My view is that the reality is Mallory & Irvine could have – and likely would have – climbed the Second Step the way the Chinese and Tibetan climbers did in 1960, using a technique called the “courte-echelle”, whereby a lead climber would stand on the shoulders and even head of their partner to overcome a difficult section of rock. The Chinese expedition of 1960 did this successfully on the Second Step, and while it is considered “cheating” today, the courte-echelle was a common and legit technique in Mallory’s era. (There’s a great shot of Albert Ellingwood and Carl Blaurock doing a courte-echelle in Colorado in the 1920’s – see the link in my profile.) Did Mallory & Irvine reach the top in 1924? We may never know…but I think they could have. | In this photo, Phurba Tashi Sherpa climbs the Second Step on May 30, 2003.

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