Were Mallory and Irvine the first to climb Everest 100 years ago?

Originally posted to Pen & Sword blog. Guest post by Charles Hewitt.

With June 8th being the 100th anniversary of Mallory and Irvine’s Everest summit attempt, the question remains still: Were they the first to climb Everest a century ago?

Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about history is when research is produced that changes people’s views of what happened in the past.

In the history of mountain climbing, there are always gaps in what we know. It is the ultimate struggle against the elements and stories of heroics and heroes are lost and remain on many mountains. As we approach the 100th anniversary of Mallory and Irvine’s fateful attempt to climb Everest, I’m drawn to what surely is one of the greatest mountaineering mysteries…. Were Mallory and Irvine the first people to make it to the top of Everest?

A lot has been written about this subject. Noel Odell, the last person to see the pair, saw them ‘on the last step but one’ and spent the last 60 years of his life answering questions about where exactly he had seen Mallory and Irvine on the mountain. As our knowledge of the mountain improved, increasingly doubt was cast as to how far up Odell had seen them. This is crucial, because if it was on the 3rd step, Mallory and Irvine would have faced 180 metres of relatively easily climbing (for a professional) to reach the top and I think it’s fair to say, they would have stood a good chance of making it to the top by about 4 or 5pm in the afternoon.

The position on the slope where Odell saw them is critical, there are three ‘steps’ along the ridge towards the top, the second of which is rated as one of the hardest climbs of any mountain, so much so, that the Chinese installed a ladder, to help modern climbers get up it. Many felt it unlikely that Mallory and especially Irvine would have been able to climb the second step.

In 1999 a team searching for Mallory and Irvine found Mallory’s body on a slope below the first step, which again seemed to suggest that the climbing pair had not been as high up the mountain as had been originally suggested.

Some have even suggested that Odell saw a couple of birds flying around rather than a pair of climbers and others that the weather worsened to an extent that made climbing and survival impossible.

I’ve always thought it unlikely that Mallory and Irvine made it to the top, until I read Robert Edwards’ book.

Robert’s research and detail is impressive. He’s gone back over all the evidence collected over the last 100 years and pieced together an impressive retelling of the story from start to finish. He’s looked at all the first-hand accounts and testimonies and interviewed some climbers who have found evidence of the climbers from 100 years ago. He’s used Google Earth and modern photography to study the terrain and applied some maths techniques to provide better clarity to Odell’s observations and argued that Mallory and Irvine probably climbed a different route to what many have since assumed.

There’s a particular point in this book which truly shocked me when Robert revealed his findings and I sat back and thought to myself. ‘Wow, there’s a good chance in my view that Mallory and Irvine made it to the top.’

This book will surely be controversial, but it changed my mind – I now think it’s likely that Mallory and Irvine were probably the first people to climb Everest and there is now an opportunity for someone to climb up there and clarify that some of the evidence in Robert’s analysis stacks up.

Robert Edward’s book, Mallory, Irvine and Everest, has been peer reviewed by two climbers from the 1999 expedition that found Mallory body:

“Unique and unconventional, Robert H. Edwards’ book provides a new perspective on mountaineering’s greatest riddle. With fresh information, some controversial opinions, and plenty food for thought, it is bound to pour more fuel into the eternal flame that is the mystery of Mallory and Irvine. For this alone I highly recommend reading it!” – Jochen Hemmleb, Mountaineering writer and filmmaker, coinstigator and member of the 1999 expedition that found Mallory’s body, and three more search expeditions to Mount Everest

“For a quarter of a century I’ve been held captive by the ghosts of Mallory & Irvine and their mysterious disappearance on Mount Everest in 1924. Finally, Bob Edwards has meticulously assembled all of the facts, the clues, and the countless possibilities surrounding their fate in a single, fascinating book.” – Thom Dharma Pollard

Available now through Casemate IPM

Mallory, Irvine and Everest

Robert H Edwards

In this book, which marks the 100th anniversary of the fateful climb, Dr Robert Edwards brings the fresh and original perspective of a mathematician to the story of Mallory and Irvine."Unique and unconventional,...




248 Pages

Pen and Sword