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Check It Out

Courier Article by Sandy Schultheis
Sunday, August 6, 2000

Books, Videos Document Search for Missing Climbers

Tales of death and high adventure on big mountains or the open seas have claimed a lot of popular attention recently in both books and films. In the past year a rash of books have been published about last summer's discovery of the body of George Leigh-Mallory on an icy slope of Mt. Everest where it has been since his disappearance in 1924. One of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century -- what happened to Mallory, and his climbing partner, Sandy Irving-- was partially solved but many more questions were raised, not only about what happened but also about the ethics of photographing the body and bringing back some of Mallory's belongings. I found three of the Mallory books fascinating; each raises questions and gives a different point of view. Meanwhile, another expedition is being organized to try and find Irving's body and a possible solution to the puzzle. There are also two highly relevant videos available which add much to the story. Since I love the mountains, but suffer from altitude sickness above 8,000 feet, I am happy just to read about the climbing feats and ordeals of others. At your public library you will find all sorts of vicarious adventures in books, videos and magazines.

Last Climb: The Legendary Everest Expeditions of George Mallory by David Breashears and Audrey Salkeld (National Geographic, 1999).

A forward by Mallory's son John introduces this stunning history of the three Everest expeditions that Mallory joined in 1921, 1922, and 1924. Well-documented with photographs and movie stills (see videos below), this book is full of wonderful shots of the climbers and the mountains. Mallory was a young man who was handsome, interested in poetry and belonged to the literary set at as a student at Oxford. However he developed a passion for mountain climbing which held him enthralled even after he married and became a father. Apparently his wife had the financial means to allow him to give up his school teaching job to join the Everest expeditions. He was inept and forgetful when it came to the daily details, but all who knew him said he had extraordinary climbing ability. It is ironic that there is a brand of batteries and flashlights called "Mallory" because he left his flashlight in the tent on that fateful day.

Ghosts of Everest: The Search for Mallory and Irving by Jochen Hemmleb (Mountaineers, 1999).

A well-written, beautifully photographed and reverent account of last summer's expedition to find a body that was sighted years before by a Chinese climber who subsequently died. The body was presumed to be that of Sandy Irving, and it was hoped that its discovery would provide clues to solve the mystery of what happened to the two climbers. However the search team was astounded when the body they discovered was that of Mallory, not Irving. This book has been criticized for its inclusion of large color photos of the body, however I was not offended and thought the book would have been incomplete without them. The author who has exhaustively studied the Mallory saga offers possible scenarios of what happened during that fateful trip His opinions seem to be based on an optimistic hope that despite weather, darkness and inadequate gear it was still possible for the pair to succeed . Did they summit? Read the next book on this list before you form an opinion.

The Lost Explorer: Finding Mallory on Everest by Conrad Anker and David Roberts (Simon & Schuster, 1999).

Co-written by the man who discovered Mallory's body and then went on to attempt to climb Everest's Second Step without modern climbing gear gives a persuasive argument against the probability that Mallory and Irving reached the summit on the fateful day they died. David Roberts adds historical details about Mallory which add to the material covered in Breashears book. The last part of this book is very gripping. Anker's details of his attempt to climb the Second Step unaided by modern gear and climbing hardware is frightening to read. He and his partner made it to the summit, but the downward trip was even harder than the ascent. His conclusion is that Mallory and Irving could not have survived a night on the North Face and they both fell in the attempt to get back to their tent.

Everest: The Mystery of Mallory and Irvine (NOVA, 1999).

An updated version of an award-winning film made in 1986, which examined the Mallory/Irvine disappearance. It was directed by David Breashears (see above) and NOVA who was a co-sponsor of last year's expedition to find the bodies. I particularly enjoyed seeing the archival black and white movie footage taken on the 1922 and 1924 expeditions and interviews with some of the elderly members of those expeditions. This is history on video at its finest, an hour of education, drama and human interest. 60 minutes.

Lost on Everest (NOVA/BBC, 1999).

Directed by Liesl Clark, the member of last summer's expedition who sent news of the discovery of Mallory's body out to NOVA before the news was relayed to the major sponsor of the expedition who was supposed to broadcast the team's discovery first on the Internet. You can read all about the politics and infighting in the books, but it is interesting to see footage of the expeditions and the finding of Mallory's body. 60 minutes.

Sandy Schultheis is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.