Mallory and Irvine items found on the upper slopes of Everest. Photo: astro-udec.cl

Springtime, a hundred years ago (1924 AD). George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine vanished into the Everest summit ridge’s swirling clouds. No trace was ever found.

Ever since, the mystery of whether the climbers summited Everest before perishing has fueled hypotheses, rumors, and even outlandish conspiracy theories.

The 1924 Everest team

The 1924 British Mount Everest expedition was the third attempt by a British team to climb Mount Everest. The expedition was led by Charles Bruce and included members of the 1924 expedition were George Mallory, Andrew Irvine, Geoffrey Bruce, Sandy Irvine, Howard Somervell, Noel Odell, John Noel, John de Vars Hazard, Edward Norton, and Richard Hingston.

The expedition made two summit attempts. The first attempt was made by Edward Norton and Howard Somervell, who reached a height of 8,573 meters (28,116 ft), a world altitude record at the time. The second attempt was made by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, who disappeared on the mountain on 8 June 1924. Their fate remains a mystery to this day.

1924 British Mount Everest expedition team
1924 British Mount Everest expedition team

Mallory’s body was discovered in 1999, but Andrew Irvine’s remains, which might hold a camera containing summit pictures, remain a holy grail for armchair mountaineers and beyond.

Searching for Irvine

A century after the ill-fated 1924 Everest expedition, the tragic story of Mallory and Irvine returns to the spotlight. Before his climb, Mallory famously declared he’d leave a portrait of his wife on the summit if successful. While no such portrait was found on his remains, a small piece of cardboard could be easily lost on the windy peak over time.

The key to the mystery lies with the Vest Pocket Kodak camera the climbers carried. Mallory’s body lacked the camera, suggesting it was with Irvine. But where are Irvine’s remains?

A Kodak camera like the one Mallory and Irvine brought up Everest. Frame from a video by Peter Holzel
A Kodak camera like the one Mallory and Irvine brought up Everest. Frame from a video by Peter Holzel

Fueled by the Everest mystery’s enduring grip, Thom Pollard, a high-altitude cameraman who participated in a previous search for Irvine in 2019, teamed up with author Mark Synnott to organize another expedition. Their confidence stemmed from research by Tom Holzel, who used historical documents and a high-resolution image of the area captured by Bradford Washburn. Pollard was convinced they knew the exact location of Irvine’s remains.

‘He’s not there’

After the expedition, Synnott documented their search in several articles, including one for National Geographic:

Ten feet to my right was a small alcove hemmed by a rock wall a bit taller and steeper than the one I had just climbed down. The middle of the wall was striped with a vein of dark brown rock with a narrow crack in the middle. The GPS said I’d arrived. That’s when it hit me: The dark rock was the “crevice” we had seen with the drone. Apparently it was an optical illusion. The crack in the center was only nine inches wide. Far too narrow for a person to crawl inside. And it was empty. He’s not here.

Synnott
Andrew “Sandy” Irvine. Photo: Wikipedia
Andrew “Sandy” Irvine. Photo: Wikipedia

Chinese connection

Despite Tom Holzel’s pre-expedition confidence – “It can’t be there,” he’d declared – Irvine’s body remained elusive. However, Mark Synnott, in a series of articles culminating in his book The Third Pole, presented alleged new evidence. This evidence supported a long-standing rumor: Chinese climbers had discovered and retrieved Irvine’s body in 1975.

The text effectively details the rumors surrounding Sandy Irvine’s body, here’s a breakdown with minor improvements for clarity:

Early Sightings

Rumors of Irvine’s body resurfaced in 2001 when members of the 1999 Mallory discovery expedition, Eric Simonson and Jochen Hemleb, met Xu Jing, leader of the first Chinese Everest north face expedition. Xu mentioned seeing a deceased climber near the First Step during his summit attempt.

Possible 1975 Discovery

Years earlier, a different rumor emerged. In 1979, a Japanese expedition leader spoke with Wang Hong-Bao, a member of the 1975 Chinese Everest team. Wang claimed to have seen a body in old European clothing at 8,100 meters but tragically died in an avalanche shortly after. This story never reached the Western climbing community.

Third- and Fourth-Hand Accounts

Mark Synnott presents additional, less verifiable accounts:

  • Retired Marine Wayne Wilcox: His wife relayed a story from a British diplomat who spoke with Pan Duo, the first Chinese woman to summit Everest. Pan Duo allegedly described finding a body with a camera at 8,200 meters, but the film yielded no pictures. She reportedly changed her story later, denying any knowledge of a camera.
  • Expedition Leader Jamie McGuinness: Over the years, McGuinness heard rumors from a Sherpa (who later refused confirmation) and a China Tibet Mountaineering Association (CMTA) official. The official admitted the body was moved “many years before,” but it’s unclear if it was removed from the mountain entirely. McGuinness also saw a display of artifacts, possibly from the 1920s, at a private museum near Lhasa.

Uncertainties Remain

These accounts lack concrete evidence and contain inconsistencies. McGuinness suggests some Tibetans might be willing to speak up anonymously, potentially adding more clarity in the future.

Video References:

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