A stone from the top

The following is from the New York Times, March 18, 1923:

Why did you want to climb Mount Everest? This question was asked of George Leigh Mallory, who as with both expeditions toward the summit of the world’s highest mountain, in 1921 and 1922, and who is now in New York. He plans to go again in 1924, and he gave as the reason for persisting in these repeated attempts to reach the top, “Because it’s there.” “But hadn’t the expedition valuable scientific results?”

“Yes. The first expedition made a geological survey that was very valuable, and both expeditions made observations and collected specimens, both geological and botanical. The geologists want a stone from the top of Everest. That will decide whether it is the top or bottom of a fold…”

Had Mallory made it to the summit, he would have collected rock samples. These rock samples were not searched for when Mallory was discovered in 1999. Hillary collected rock samples in 1953. The Chinese collected rock samples in 1960.

I took up my ice-axe, glanced at Tenzing to see if he were ready, and then looked at my watch — it was 11:45, and we’d only been on top fifteen minutes. I had one job left to do. Walking easily down the steps I’d made in the ridge I descended forty feet from the summit to the first visible rocks, and taking a handful of small stones thrust them into my pocket.

High Adventure: The True Story of the First Ascent of Everest. Edmund Hillary. p. 230

Gonpa tore the sheet of paper from the diary, put it in a white woolen glove and secured it by placing a heap of small stones on it. Then the trio picked nine rock specimens to take to Peking for presentation to their beloved leader Chairman Mai.

Mountaineering in China

Regardless of whether the 1999 team knew that the altitude of the rocks could be determined, a detailed search for the rocks should have been conducted because the lack of any rocks in the pockets would mean they did not make the summit. It is not realistic that Mallory made it to the summit and did not collect rocks.

Andrew Irvine had zippered pockets — a new invention back in 1924. Had he made it to the summit, the most likely evidence would be summit rocks in his pocket. Even if he was carrying a camera, if the weather was not clear (which it was not prior to 4PM), there is no guarantee he would have taken a picture. It is even less likely that the camera survived the fall and has film that can be developed.

My search for Irvine is primarily focused on recovering rocks to establish how high he made it. It is very unlikely that any film from a camera could be recovered and successfully developed.

There is no contemporaneous evidence Mallory intended to leave a picture of his wife on the summit. This piece of the story was provided years later. It is unfortunate that in their rush to find a camera and a photo, the 1999 search team destroyed the evidence that would have shown whether Mallory and Irvine made it to the summit.

Information about the composition of Everest:

Various layers of Everest.

Summit Limestone.

3 thoughts on “A stone from the top

  1. The Undiscovered series with Jake Norton was a much better attempt than the one on Nat Geo. Looking more and more like Irvine may have slid down the mountain but there is always hope.


    1. Yes, they did a much better job. But curiously will not share any of their photos. I am reluctant to accept the word of someone who says “Nothing to see here, don’t bother looking. But we need to keep all our photos in case you could actually find something in them.” There is something that mountain does to people.


      1. Agreed. Although I’m sure there’s a mountain of paperwork stating Discovery owns it because they clearly funded it. Anyway, if Irvine is in a rock slot head down feet towards summit it’s pretty unlikely he has been blown down the North Face. Which means there is hope. If the UK wanted to solve this there is much more that could be done. But altering stated history is something they may not be eager to touch. Btw, I love this font. What is it?


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