Read Everest climber George Mallory's final letters, digital for the first time

Sign up for CNN's Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news of fascinating discoveries, scientific advances and more.


George Mallory is famous for being one of the first British mountaineers to attempt the dizzying heights of Mount Everest during the 1920s – until the mountain claimed his life.

Nearly a century later, new digital messages shed light on Mallory's hopes and fears about ascending Mount Everest, right down to the final days before he disappeared while en route to its summit.

On June 8, 1924, Mallory and fellow climber Andrew Irvine left the expedition team in an attempt to reach the summit. They were never seen alive again.

However, Mallory's words are now available to read in their entirety online for the first time. Magdalene College, Cambridge, Where Mallory taught as an undergraduate from 1905 to 1908, he recently digitized hundreds of pages of correspondence and other documents he wrote and received.

Over the past 18 months, archives staff have been examining documents in preparation for the centennial of Mallory's disappearance. The college will display a selection of Mallory’s letters and possessions in the exhibition.”George Mallory: Magdalene to the Mountain“, opening June 20.


Mallory and Irvine appear at a base camp in Tibet in the last photo of the men before they disappeared a century ago.

The Everest letters detail Mallory's meticulous preparations, equipment tests, and his optimism about its prospects. But the letters also show the dark side of mountaineering: bad weather, health issues, setbacks and doubts.

Days before his disappearance, Mallory wrote that the odds were “50 to 1 against us” in the last letter he sent to his wife Ruth, dated May 27, 1924.

“This was a completely bad time,” Mallory wrote. “I look back, at the enormous effort, exhaustion, and gloom with which I peered out the tent door into a world of snow and vanished hopes.”

He went on to describe a harrowing experience with death during the final climb, when the ground collapsed beneath his feet, leaving him hanging “half-blind and breathless,” his weight supported only by his ice ax wedged across the crevasse as he dangled above a “very disturbing black hole.”

Other letters that Mallory exchanged with Ruth were written at the time of their engagement, while he was serving in a British artillery regiment during World War I. Throughout his travels, correspondence from Ruth provided him with much-needed stability during more challenging times, the project said. Driving Katie GreenCollege Archivist at Magdalene College.

“She was the ‘rock’ in the house, as he himself says in his letters,” Green said. The archivist recounted one remark in which Mallory said to Ruth: “I'm so glad you never wavered, because I would have wavered without you.”

However, while Mallory was clearly devoted to his wife, he repeatedly returned to the Himalayas despite her growing fears for his safety.

“There was something inside him that pushed him,” Green said. “Maybe it was his wartime experience, or maybe it was just the kind of person he was.”

In all, the collection includes about 840 letters spanning the years 1914 to 1924; Ruth wrote about 440 of them to Mallory, providing an unprecedented and highly detailed view of the daily lives of women in the early 20th century, Ruth told CNN.

Together, he said, the letters offer readers a rare glimpse into the man behind the legend Jochen Himlebauthor and alpine climber who was part of the Everest expedition that found Mallory's body In 1999.

“They are really personal. They are documents of his personality. They provide unique insights into his life, especially on the 1924 flight — his state of mind, his meticulous planning, his ambitions,” said Hemlip, who was not involved in the survey project. These books are now digital and available for everyone to read.”

Magdalene College/AP

During his travels, his wife Mallory's letters provided him with much-needed stability during more challenging times, according to the college archivist at Magdalen College, Cambridge.

Three digital letters – written to Mallory by his brother, sister and family friend – were recovered from Mallory's body by the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition, which ascended Mount Everest in search of Mallory and Irvine's remains.

On May 1, 1999, expedition member and mountaineer Conrad denied He found a frozen body at about 26,700 feet (8,138 m) and identified it as Mallory from a name tag sewn into his clothing.

See also  Blinken opens the second and final day of talks in Beijing on a mission to ease escalating tensions between the United States and China

Anker, who was not involved in the letter digitization project, said Mallory's body was buried where it was at the family's request.

He told CNN: “It is very difficult to carry out body recovery operations in other places, and it is very dangerous at this altitude.” “We have collected some of his personal belongings that have returned to the Royal Geographical Society,” including the three letters that were later scanned at Magdalene College.

Magdalene College/AP

The collection at Magdalene College includes around 840 letters spanning the years 1914 to 1924.

Mount Everest, the highest peak in the Himalayan range, is also the tallest mountain on Earth, standing 29,035 feet (8,850 m) above sea level on the border of Nepal and Tibet, an autonomous region of China. Her Tibetan name is Chomolungma, meaning “Mother Goddess of the World”, and her Nepalese name is Sagarmatha, meaning “Heaven Goddess”.

However, these names were unknown to the 19th-century British surveyors who mapped the region, and in 1865 the Royal Geographical Society named the summit of Mount Everest after British surveyor Sir George Everest, a former Surveyor-General of India.

Mallory participated in all of Britain's first three forays onto the slopes of Everest: in 1921, 1922 and 1924. When he disappeared in 1924, he was less than two weeks shy of his 38th birthday.

Many have speculated about whether Mallory and Irvine would have managed to reach the summit of Everest. The climbers were last seen in the early afternoon of June 8 by expedition member and geologist Noel O'Dell, who had been following them and spotted them from a distance. O'Dell later found some of their equipment at the campsite, but there was no sign of Mallory and Irvin.

“(Mallory) risked a lot even though he had family back home and three young children,” Hemlip said. “We don't know if making that last attempt was really irresponsible, because we don't really know what happened. Maybe he just had bad luck in the end.”

Decades after Mallory's death, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary became the first to summit Everest, reaching the summit on May 29, 1953. In the years that followed, thousands attempted to climb Everest, and nearly 4,000 people reached the summit. Its top. More than 330 climbers have died attempting the climb since modern records were kept, according to the Himalayan Database, which collects records of all Himalayan expeditions; Some of those bodies are still on the mountain, frozen where they fell, and can be seen by climbers passing by.

See also  Putin's rival says 'miracles' helps him beat Russian leader - POLITICO

“If you're in this environment, you're coming to terms with your own death and the death of others,” Anker said. “You are above 8,000 metres, and when there are weather changes or your systems stop working due to lack of oxygen, it becomes dangerous very quickly.”

When mountaineers are close to the top of a mountain, they sometimes progress even under dangerous conditions due to so-called summit fever, a compulsion to reach the summit even at the expense of their safety. It is not known whether Mallory was in the grip of summit fever when he died, but he may have believed his reputation depended on summarization.

“It will be the defining moment of his life,” Anker said.

By comparison, Edward Norton, a member of Mallory's team, had attempted to reach the summit four days earlier but returned at roughly the same altitude where Mallory and Irvine were last seen.

“I had a conversation with one of Edward Norton's sons a couple of years ago,” Hemlip said. “When I asked him, 'Do you think your father's survival and Mallory's death was sheer luck?' He said, 'No, I think there was one difference: my father, Edward Norton, was not Need the mountain.'”

As a climber, Hemlip took this message to heart.

“This is something I personally learned from Mallory,” he said. “You have to be very careful not to make yourself dependent on the success of that summit.”

Hemlip said: It has been a century since Mallory's death, but digitizing these letters ensures that his story will continue to be told.

“This will continue after my lifetime, I'm sure of that,” he added. “In a sense, it's the never-ending expedition.”

Mindy Weisberger is a science writer and media producer whose work has appeared in Live Science, Scientific American, and How It Works.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the nationality of Sir Edmund Hillary and, in a caption, the location of the base camp where Mallory and Irvine were last photographed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *