Did he or didn’t he? That is the question that will always swirl around mountaineer George Mallory, who was last seen just 800 feet below Everest’s summit in 1924. But we’re talking 30 years before Hillary’s official summit, making Mallory’s accomplishment the single most significant milestone in Everest history. Today, Everest gets short shrift as the world’s biggest walk-up. But at the beginning of the 20th century, it had only just been designated as the world’s tallest peak, and for all intents and purposes, was not only impossible to climb, but impossible to get to. English mountaineer George Mallory, however, was as serious a climber as existed at the time, making bold ascents in the Alps and even a first ascent considered the hardest rock climb in Britain at the time. It was because Mallory was so strong in the mountains that he was chosen by Britain’s Mount Everest Committee to be a part of the very first reconnaissance mission to the region in 1921, to help map the mountain’s uncharted contours. During that trip, Mallory became one of the first westerners in history to stare up the guts of the famed Western Cwm. A year later, with only the one prior scouting trip to pull route data from, Mallory returned with the intention of actually having a go at the summit, reaching 27,000 feet before weather forced a retreat. Then, a year later, at 37 years old, Mallory went back a third time with climbing partner Andrew Irvine on that famous fateful trip. Mallory’s body was discovered in 1999, by Conrad Anker.
• In 1911, Mallory climbed Mont Blanc and the Frontier ridge of Mont Maudit.
• In 1921, he was chosen by Britain’s Mount Everest Committee to be a part of the first reconnaissance trip to the Everest region.
• In 1922, he had a record attempt on Everest — ascending 26,980 feet before turning around due to weather conditions.
• In 1924, Mallory died on Everest. In 1999 Conrad Anker discovered his body close to 27,000 feet.
The Last Word
George Mallory’s significance in mountaineering history is best summed up by the fact that many modern climbers of note see him, and not Hillary, as the original Everest pioneer. For many, what Mallory was able to accomplish 30 years before the 1953 expedition — after only two prior trips by anyone, and with scant route information — embodies what true exploration is all about.