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with Stefan Nestler

Was Mallory’s body discovered already in 1936?

Last image of Mallory and Irvine in 1924

Frank Smythe was obsessed with the highest mountain on earth . “Everest is becoming a life’s task”, he wrote in his diary. Smythe was a member of all three British expeditions to Mount Everest in the 1930s. Not only since his first ascent of 7756-meter-high Kamet in 1931 he was among the leading climbers of his time. On 1 June 1933 Frank equalled the altitude record on Everest with about 8570 meters, reaching probably the same point in the North Face as his compatriot Edward Felix Norton in 1924. “It (the summit) was only 1,000 feet above me, but an aeon of weariness separated me from it”, Smythe wrote. Climbing without bottled oxygen he began to hallucinate on his way back. Frank thought there was a companion and wanted to share his cake with him. He was also convinced to see two bulbous objects hovering above him. Smythe reported about these experiences in his book “Camp 6”. What Frank kept secret until his death in 1949 was a surprising discovery he patently made during his next expedition to Everest in 1936: Apparently if not likely Smythe spotted the body of George Mallory. The mystery of Mallory and Andrew Irvine, who started for a summit attempt in 1924 but did not return, has not been solved completely until today.

Seen something queer

Frank Smythe

Now Tony Smythe, doing research for a book about his father, found a copy of a letter which Frank had obviously written after his Everest expedition 1936 and sent to Edward Norton, the leader of the expedition 1924. “I was scanning the face from base camp through a high-powered telescope last year when I saw something queer in a gully below the scree shelf”, the copy of the letter read. “Of course it was a long way away and very small, but I’ve a six/six eyesight and do not believe it was a rock. This object was at precisely the point where Mallory and Irvine would have fallen had they rolled on over the scree slopes.”

No press please!

Smythe was apparently referring to the presumed place where both climbers could have fallen to death: Members of the expedition in 1933 had found Irvine’s ice axe on 8460 meters. About 300 meters lower, 100 meters in horizontal Mallory’s corpse was found in fact in 1999. Did Frank Smythe identify this position already in 1936? In any case he didn’t want to publish his discovery. “It’s not to be written about as the press would make an unpleasant sensation”, says Frank in the copy of the letter. Edward Norton seems to have kept the secret.

Irvine’s body still missing

Smythe was probably right in his assessment of the media as it turned out more than 60 years later. The discovery of Mallory’s body by US climber Conrad Anker on 1 May 1999 spread like wildfire and made headlines all over the world. German Mallory expert Jochen Hemmleb was largely responsible for the success because he had interpreted all available informations with detective precision and limited the search area. If Hemmleb had known the letter of Frank Smythe, it would have saved him a lot of work. The body of Andrew Irvine is still missing, his camera too. Therefore those voices will not fall silent which want to make us believe that in 1924 Mallory and Irvine were the first who climbed Mount Everest and died only afterwards during the descent .


27. November 2013 | 13:15