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  Mallory and Irvine The Final Chapter: The Ice Ax

The Ice Ax: Tom Holzel 1/8/2004

Clues to the fate of Mallory & Irvine were scarce. Up until 1980, the only ones were Noel Odell’s sighting of the two surmounting one of the remaining major obstacles (The First or Second Step) “going strong for the top,” and—in 1933—the discovery of an ice ax on their route.  Climbers never abandon their ice axes which are major survival tools; so it had to mark the point of an accident. What seemed odd was that the ax was found on level ground.  This suggested that the lead climber slipped while his second stood on safe terrain providing a “gentleman’s belay,” i.e., an unprotected metering out of the rope.

But who’s ice ax was it?  Three nicks on the shaft are similar to those Sandy Irvine put on other belongings of his—so it must have been Irvine belaying Mallory. When Mallory, leading, slipped, Irvine presumably tossed his ice ax aside and grabbed the rope with both hands.  But the jerk of the falling leader was too great, and both men tumbled to their deaths still roped together.

Critics of this simple scenario seize on the fact that back-tracing the fall-line of Mallory’s body puts the fall about 100 yards farther east of where the ax was supposedly found—“250 yards east of the First Step.”  This creates an opening for complex multiple fall scenarios, all designed to somehow show that Mallory could indeed have summited.  But the simplest answer is that the original estimates of the ice axe’s location was probably underestimated, which is so typical of guessing distances in the mountains in the absence of know-size landmarks.

Mystery of Mallory and Irvine

By Tom Holzel, Audrey Salkeld

An exploration of mountaineering's greatest mystery. On June 8, 1924, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine set off from Camp-VI at 26,700 feet, bound for the summit of Mount Everest. In a brief moment when the clouds parted, they were spotted by Noel Odell on the summit ridge “going strong for the top.” They disappeared into the clouds, never to be seen alive again.  Offering a detailed  history of the 1924 expedition, the authors also describe the 1986 Everest expedition which they launched to search for clues. The fate of the two pioneer climbers is finally revealed with the discovery of Mallory a few meters from where Holzel predicted he might be found.

The Mystery of Mallory and Irvine is a thorough exploration of mountaineering's greatest mystery. Offering a complete history of the all three of Mallory’s Everest expeditions, Holzel and Salkeld delve into Mallory’s family life, his Bloomsbury connection, his WW-I duty and the fairy-tale marriage to his beautiful wife. Buy here now.
Tom Holzel, author and motivational speaker. To book Tom



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