In Search of George Mallory by Ben H. Swadley
In Search of George Mallory
by Ben H. Swadley
Sunday, May 2nd 1999.
Conrad Anker stood in somber awe looking at a frozen body some 27,000 feet above the rest of the world and only 800 feet away from Everest's summit. His search that morning had taken him past two other bodies claimed by the deadly mountain. There was nothing shocking to him about finding bodies on Everest. This body was different from any other. The clothing was wool; the rope around the body's waist was hemp. Nothing about the weathered corpse looked like it could be a recent victim of Everest. The body's exposed back, where the wind had sheared away the clothing, was bleached as white as alabaster. The upper torso was frozen into the rocky slope with the head buried in the gravel, showing only the back of a fur-lined motorcycle helmet. An exposed right leg still wore a nailed-sole leather boot and three pairs of wool socks. The left leg was naked. These were not the things a modern climber would wear.
It had to be Sandy Irvine. Irvine's ice axe had been found 66 years ago in the immediate area. Conrad waved at Jake Norton, who was 150 feet up hill, and called over the radio, "We need to have a mandatory team meeting." He couldn't risk saying about what he found with so many ears monitoring their radio frequency and so many climbers on other parts of the mountain listening in.
Jake Norton arrived on the rocky slope next. Conrad was standing over the remains of a body. Stunned, Jake stood back a few feet, analyzing the scene. "Look at his position, on his belly, palms down, arms above his head. He was trying to stop from sliding down any further."
Tap, Andy and Dave soon came to look at what Conrad found and see if this was the moment the team had been waiting for. The goal of the expedition was to find evidence of the "English dead" reported by Chinese climber Wang Hongbao in 1975. The body surely had to be Sandy Irvine. Finding any concrete clues of Mallory and Irvine's climb would make the mission a success.
Jake examined the clothing and looked at the dead man's shirt tag to see who made the shirt and record the name of the company. In shock, Jake blurted out, "This is George Mallory." No one could believe it. This should be Irvine's body.
In the way only altitude-clouded minds can work, they all came to the same incorrect conclusion that Irvine had been wearing Mallory's shirt. Then, Jake found a label on another shirt read, "G. Mallory." The realization of what the labels clearly told began to creep into their oxygen-starved brains and the true reality of their discovery only came when Jake found a bundle of letters in a shirt pocket, addressed to George Mallory, wrapped in a silk handkerchief embroidered with the initials GLM. The stared at the scene in disbelief, awe struck at the prospect of finding the legendary Mallory himself.
Jake and Tap began the three and a half hour process of excavating the body out of the concrete-hard ice and rock, collecting several artifacts as they looked over Mallory's body. Everyone wanted to find the Kodak camera that Howard Somervell had given Mallory on June 8th, 1924 to record the first momentous summiting of Mount Everest. Somervell was a little known member of Mallory's team that had attempted to summit without oxygen but had to turn back within sight of the apex. Somervell was the last person to see Mallory and Irvine alive.
If they could find the camera, it might finally reveal who was the first to summit Everest, Mallory and Irvine in 1924 or Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay in 1953. There was endless debate among Everest historians and climbers on this matter and the team had the chance to once and for all settle the matter, provided they could find the legendary climber's camera with a picture of Mallory on the summit - it was the Holy Grail of mountain climbing.
After the high altitude archeology was done, they gently covered Mallory's body with a layer of rocks, leaving him in peace and taking his personal possessions for the Mallory family. Andy Politz read Psalm 103, as instructed by the Bishop of Bristol and the Mallory family. It was 4:00 p.m. and the exhausted team began the descent to Camp V, leaving Mallory's body at peace, alone on the rocky slopes of Everest.
At a small curio shop in Katmandu, an antique Kodak camera rests, gathering dust on a shelf. An American woman asks the shop owner, "Where did you get this old camera?"
The shop owner said, "A Sherpa find it somewhere high up on Everest. Maybe belong to climber who throw it out to make light his load. We have many things here from mountain. You like?"
The woman replied, "Who do you think it belonged to? Does it still work?"
"I don't think so. I not able to open. Maybe still has pictures inside. You buy it and see. I make you good deal."