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ExWeb series: The Mystery of Mallory and Irvine's Fate Part 3
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Oct 29, 2004 17: 31 EST
Halloween just around the corner is the perfect time for an ExplorersWeb Mystery week. In the Polar section, we've just run a 3-part series on British explorer Tom Avery's North Pole bid to solve the so-called ‘greatest polar mystery of all time' - a Peary/Cook riddle that has been stirring the Arctic community for almost 100 years.

Now, time has come for the riddle of Mount Everest - The Mystery of Mallory and Irvine’s Fate. In this 5 part ExWeb series, Pete Poston and Jochen Hemmleb offer an interesting insight in the battle to find the true fate of the two climbers.

Today part 3, in the 5-part series: Criticism of the EverestNews.com Theory - continued. Yesterday we discussed how the theory rests on an unidentified climber in an unrevealed location, is based on general statements and lacks clear data.

The Mystery of Mallory and Irvine’s Fate
By Pete Poston and Jochen Hemmleb, for MountEverest.net
PART 3

2. Mallory and Irvine’s ascent to the Second Step, and the descent from the summit via the Great Couloir

We agree with EverestNews' assumption that "M&I ran out of one cylinder and probably two (i.e. one each) far lower than Mallory expected." Mallory had clearly underestimated the distance and time the climb would take, hence his idea of going "probably on 2 cylinders". If he stuck to this idea, it might have been fatal.

Not a single piece of “hard” evidence, take two

Yet there is still neither a single piece of “hard” evidence that put Mallory and Irvine above the location of their oxygen bottle, let alone at the summit. Nor is there any evidence that indicates the route they took at the Second Step – if they attempted it at all.

There is no evidence whatsoever that they attempted the prow of the Second Step. We can't see it in Odell's testimony, the single clue about Mallory and Irvine’s further progress that day. Also, to what advantage would this have been? There is no indication that the prow provides an easier route, and the decision made by the Chinese in 1960 to abandon it and attempt the "open book" instead speaks volumes.

A shoulder stand on the prow?

Conrad Anker arrived at the same conclusion in 1999 when he scrutinized the Second Step from the Mushroom Rock. Imagine also doing a shoulder stand on the prow. This would require the lower climber keeping his balance and supporting his partner’s weight on a foot-wide snow ridge, which is banked up against a vertical cliff and probably unstable, with the sheer drop of the Kangshung Face immediately to the climber's right (when facing outwards)!

Some Oxygen math

A further consideration: No matter which route they took, by the time Mallory and Irvine reached the Second Step (if they did) they would have been at least halfway through their second cylinder. The Chinese in 1960 took 4 hours to reach the upper part of the Second Step from their high camp, which was close to where Mallory and Irvine had dumped their first cylinder. Even if Mallory and Irvine had been faster, taking, say, 3 hours, they would have had only 1 hour of oxygen left if using the higher flow rate, 3 hours if using the lower rate.

Irvine, oxygenless, solo back the face?

If Mallory did indeed continue from the Second Step and had only his second cylinder remaining, he would have had between 1-3 hours of oxygen left for a summit bid. If he took Irvine's second cylinder and remaining oxygen, it would double the duration to 2-6 hours - which might have lasted to the top, but not for long after. Also, it would have left Irvine, oxygenless, to solo back down either the face of the Second Step or, even more lethal, the narrow ridge to the "Mushroom Rock".

Completely unknown route by Mallory?

To return from the summit to the accident site via the Great Couloir would have been a very long shot, to say the least. On the Northeast Ridge, Mallory would have had at least his ascent tracks to follow, while otherwise he would have to find a way down the summit pyramid to the top of the Subsidiary Couloir, then either traverse out of this at the correct height to link up with Norton's route or pick a completely unknown route across the North Face to the Snow Terrace (following a line similar to Messner’s solo in 1980) – all of this presumably in the dark or after somehow surviving a high bivouac…

Sunday: PART 4 – An Alternative Theory of the Fate of Mallory and Irvine.

Image of Everest summit tormented by the Jet wind, ExplorersWeb files.
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