The winds of the mountains buzzed around me with dynamic intensity. The weather was formidable and the noise, deafening. Nature’s wrath was unmistakably felt as I lay in quietude in an unreachable corner awaiting the end of my journey. Memories of my life came flashing like the snowstorm that had forced me to succumb to the womb of the Himalayas.
Here I was, the first man on Earth to have successfully conquered the Everest along with my companion, Andrew Sandy Irvine. I was soaring with a deep sense of fulfilment on hoisting that little flag at the summit with Irvine by my side. We quickly shot a few pictures at the peak as dusk was almost upon us. The weather suddenly seemed to be getting aggressively frosty and outlandish.
We had to start our descent without further delay. Irvine and I were bound to each other by a connector harness that would keep us together and protected.
We quickly gathered our paraphernalia and began the downhill trek. We had barely begun when a sudden avalanche engulfed the crest and hacked us off to the clough below. There was no time to even congregate myself before I experienced the piercing frostiness that numbed my senses.
Sooner than I could gather my thoughts, I lost sight of Irvine; the metal harness was clearly snapped into two and we were sundered miles away from each other. I lay motionless, embedded in the heavy snow that enveloped the mountains.
I mumbled a little prayer wanting my friend to be safe and alive to recount the victory over the pinnacle to the world.
My body was progressively transitioning into numbness. My vitals were redundant.
As I lay still awaiting my final exit, amidst the frosting wilderness in the lap of the Himalayas, I recounted the sweet yester years of my life.
Born in Mobberley, Cheshire, England, as George Herbert Leigh Mallory on the 18th June 1886, I was a natural Alpinist.
As the son of a wealthy clergyman, I led a rather carefree, undisciplined life with my siblings in our village. As children, I register spending much of our time on the outdoors with my brother and two sisters.
After winning a scholarship into the Winchester college at the age of fourteen, I was driven towards mountaineering by the headmaster there, Graham Irving. Sir Irving was an
experienced but controversial climber who advocated climbing without local guides and often climbed alone; both of which were irresponsible acts.
Curiosity had consistently inundated my Soul ever since I was young. I recalled that day when as a little boy of eight, I had wondered what it would feel like to be stranded on an island.
I had chanced upon the opportunity while visiting the seashore with family and climbed up on a big rock when the water was at low tide; waiting for the tide to rise and surround me.
Who would have thought that the water would rise high and the rock on which I stood would be submerged deep down? I was almost dead but was eventually rescued by life guards who fortunately found me. The family was deeply upset by this incident, but I remained quite unperturbed.
I was thoroughly amused by random stunts that gave me the desired adrenaline rush. I remembered having a keen desire to lie down on the railway tracks to let a train run over me.
That one time when I was scolded by mother, I recollected scaling the poles and mounting the rooftop. I had the knack of making things exciting, adventurous, intrepid, bold and often dangerous.
I let out a dry smile as I gradually felt the onset of Hypothermia. It was like slow poison pinning my body to the ground. I was all geared to embrace death with open arms. Nevertheless, I wished to leave my earthly body with a sense of contentment over my achievements.
As I gently opened my eyes, I could sense the bustling sound of the winds and the sun hidden behind grey clouds painting the skies in tangerine hues against a backdrop of dusky blues.
The numbing effect had started to take a deeper effect and my body was stiffening. However, there was good news; the avalanche was receding and the storm was gradually abating.
But the Inuit Parka or the Eskimo jacket that I was wearing was not helping me much due to sudden impact that had thrown me off-guard.
I slipped into a deep and pleasant reverie.
I was eighteen, young, energetic and enthusiastic when I attempted my debut climb to Bourg St-Pierre, a mountain in the Alps under twelve thousand feet. Despite its modest height, the mountain had proved more than a handful. I turned mountain sick just six hundred feet short of the summit, forcing me to retreat to the base.
I later succeeded in two summit climbs with my mentor and guide Graham Irving. At a point, I was so addicted that all my summers were spent in the Alps.
I enrolled for graduation at the Magdalene College, Cambridge. Here, I made some lifelong friends including Charles Darwin’s grandson (also named Charles), poet Rupert Brooke, zoologist A. E. Shipley, and economist Maynard Keynes. They drove my instincts towards acquiring the desired knowledge.
Because I spent my vacations climbing in the Lake District of England, I often failed to hand over work on time, and cared little when I fared poorly in exams. My academic performance improved during my third and fourth years.
The year 1909 was significant, for I met Geoffrey Winthrop Young, an experienced climber who became a lifelong friend. Young introduced me to other great climbers, including Percy Farrar, who later invited me to be a part of the first Everest expedition attempt in 1921.
While I deeply cherished the recall of these musings, I felt my throat suddenly parched in intense thirst; but my torpid body couldn’t reach out to the water carrier hanging loose by my side. I pushed my mental state to send signals to my active brain and get those limbs to move; but failed miserably.
While my throat lacked the much desired moisture, my eyes leaked a few warm tears in fierce pain of frost bites.
The storm had receded further and weather was calm and peaceful now but the air was still frigid and frosty. Nature had its own course to play with its unique stories to unfold.
I tried to look farther into the endless spaces covered with snow for any sign of life. Perhaps, some kind soul would anticipate this fate and would have started on a rescue mission. That is when I realised that I was probably hallucinating. The place where my body lay lifeless was practically beyond human reach.
I gathered my senses and feted to the fate that my life in this form had to end. A brighter purpose was scripted beyond the realms of this planet.
I felt an uncanny sense of peace sinking deep within as some more visions replayed within my conscience.
Life with Ruth Turner, my charming wife was indeed memorable. She was an integral part of my life and was a loving mother to our three children, two daughters and a son.
Being enlisted as a second lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery, British Army for World War I, brought me face to face with harsh realities. It made me reassess my life. Midway through the war, I had to return back home due to the recurrence of an old ankle fracture.
My experiences at the war front made me ponder what was truly important? It questioned the real purpose of my life. Although I was rather happy with my family, I still felt extremely restless and dissatisfied.
This was in all likelihood, the prime reason to reach out to the mountains again and start planning for the greatest lunge ever dared by mankind.
I felt a sharp tingling sensation that jolted me back to the present. With pronounced difficulty, I tried to open my eyes. The frozen snow around me didn’t let me open them wide and bright.
A tiny crease and gap in the opening of my eyes let me peep into the endless spaces. I was instantly mesmerised by the twinkling stars against the dark expanse of the canvas.
The bright silvery gleam of the waxing moon shone prominently in the night sky. I tried to look up at the blanket of stars that stretched to infinity offering a rich charm to the enchanted night.
My eyes sealed themselves shut due to the tiny icicles that had begun to form over my eyelids.
I soaked in the bliss of the tranquil surroundings and once again slid down into nostalgia.
After the war ended, I had returned to the Charterhouse. In 1921, I was overjoyed to receive an invitation from Percy Farrar to be part of the first Everest expedition. I resigned at work to participate in the 1921 British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition. Though this expedition wasn’t successful, our team got a great exposure into the challenges of the great odyssey.
During the second expedition in 1922, our team make the first ascent of the world’s highest mountain, and achieved a record altitude of 26,980 ft (8,225 m).
The Everest expedition of 1922 too, did not succeed. Our team spent weeks reconnoitring the mountain and debating possible routes to the summit. I eventually mapped a route to the summit from the northeast.
All climbers attempted to reach the summit, but had not travelled far before horrendous weather forced us to retreat. Overall, our expedition was unprepared for these events, and poorly equipped for the possibilities.
The major drawback was lack of supplemental oxygen.
I recalled that interview with a reporter who asked why I wanted to climb Everest, and I had famously responded, “Because it’s there!”
I often proclaimed with pride, “I doubt if any big mountain venture has ever been made with a smaller margin of strength.”
It was a powerful message that I wanted the world to know.
Three more attempts to scale Everest in the next year were made by our team. We failed miserably because of multiple reasons that included exhaustion, illness, equipment failure, and avalanche.
Our first few failures, however had only left the explorers undaunted. We were determined to conquer the seemingly unconquerable crest. I always felt that I was born to reign over the peaks.
Then came the most defining attempt ever made by mankind. On the morning of the 6th day in June, 1924, Andrew Sandy Irvine and I emerged from our tent at Camp IV on the 13,280-foot-high North Col of Everest, ready to make another attempt on the summit.
We had spent two months walking from Darjeeling, India, to reach this spot.
Other members of our expedition were camped nearby: Colonel Edward Felix Norton lay in his tent, suffering from snow blindness, and Noel Ewart Odell and John de Vere Hazard had just made fresh breakfast of fried sardines, biscuits, tea and hot chocolate. We had already tried twice to attempt the summit, but had failed. Now we were running out of supplies.
Irvine and I enjoyed a share of the freshly prepared breakfast prudently conserving our energy for the formidable task ahead.
Many of our porters had become sick, and now time too, was running out. Any day now—or any hour—the snow season would begin, burying the mountain in fierce storms. I was determined to make one last summit attempt.
Because of the high altitude, the air on Everest was too thin to provide enough oxygen.
We put on our heavy, cumbersome oxygen apparatus. Accompanied by Odell and eight Tibetan porters carrying provisions, blankets and extra oxygen cylinders, we set out toward the higher Camp V. Hazard and Norton stayed back at Camp IV.
Eight hours later, we sent back four porters from Camp V who returned to Camp IV with a note from me stating that the weather was good and we were hopeful of some good news.
Our next goal, Camp VI, was only 2,000 feet below the summit.
Despite this seemingly short distance, the way was not easy. It included a steep climb up crumbly limestone, a nearly vertical hundred foot wall known as the First Step, a dangerously exposed walk along a ridge, another hundred foot wall, and finally a broad plateau leading up to the actual summit.
Even if we did successfully reach the summit, the climbers’ ordeal would not be over for us. Descending through this terrain would be even more dangerous, because by then we would be extremely exhausted from the ascent.
I didn’t want to think cynically. My ultimate motive was to conquer the highest peak and I knew that I could do it.
The perseverance was fiery. Irvine was the perfect companion and together, we sustained the impediments to finally reach the summit.
The euphoria was short lived. The snow slide was fortuitous and abrupt.
As I consciously experienced the final breaths at the critical life juncture, I despairingly tried to look around or feel my camera that had captured our historical moment at the peak.
Howbeit, the world would know nothing; fate had inscribed a contrary end for us. The camera seemed razed and lost in the episode.
My Soul was witness to the incredible honour that Irvine and I had accomplished a few hours ago.
My body slipped into a deep state of trance as I espoused quietus with a calm demeanour.
The blanket of snow unfurling upon the mountains provided me the perfect concealment.
I watched my body safely guarded by the cliffs, snow, limestone and rocks.
I looked for Irvine but he was nowhere to be seen. I did however, notice Odell frantically hunting for us in the vastness that spread out in front of us.
The angels were beckoning me to get back to where I belonged; above the realms of the peaks and beyond the boundaries of the planet. A place much better and higher than the highest peak of the world…
I bid my final adieu to my fruitful journey, thanked God for the wonders of my life and the rich essence of goodness as I had seen in the people around me and got back Home.
Noel Ewart Odell
Mallory and Irvine set out from Camp VI on the morning of 8th June, 1924. Though I had accompanied them, I decided to stay behind and explore the geology of the mountain nearby. I noticed a change in the weather: a midmorning mist was forming and beginning to cover the western face of the mountain.
At the time, I thought the mist was only on the lower half of Everest, and that Mallory and Irvine probably had clear weather where they were. Post noon, my forecast was confirmed. The whole mountain front appeared clear, and I actually saw Mallory and Irvine, tiny black specks at that distance, moving slowly up the summit ridge.
Then the whole fascinating vision vanished, enveloped in cloud once more.
I believed that they were only three hours from the summit. So, I hurried back to Camp VI to get it ready for their return after they reached the summit. Just as I reached the camp, a snow squall blew in.
I became concerned that Mallory and Irvine would have a hard time finding Camp VI in the snow. I managed to climb up the ridge shouting and whistling to guide them in.
Realising it was far too early to be expecting them, I returned to Camp VI. Now the weather suddenly cleared.
As Mallory had instructed me the day before, I had tidied Camp VI and supplied it with a compass and some extra food, and then descended to Camp IV.
I returned back to Camp IV and along with my team, we waited in vain, as Mallory and Irvine never returned. Hazard and I remained optimistic, thinking our friends had spent the night at one of the higher camps as we saw no fires or distress flares.
In the morning we scanned the mountain with binoculars but saw nothing.
At noon I went up again with two porters. I felt soon exhausted. Camp V was untouched, just as I had left it two days before.
The next morning, the porters refused to climb higher. So, I climbed alone to Camp VI, carrying some extra oxygen.
Camp VI, like Camp V, was unchanged. I then climbed upward for two hours, but found no trace of the men, so I returned to Camp VI, where I had laid out Mallory and Irvine’s sleeping bags on the snow, and sent a signal to Hazard that I had not found anyone. As I descended, I scanned the summit once again.
The majestic mountains seemed to look down upon me with a cold indifference, mocking me as a mere puny man. The wind howled derision at my petition to yield up its secrets— the mystery of my missing friends.
On June 21, 1924, the London Times published the story: “Mallory and Irvine Killed on Last Attempt.”
As an ardent ‘Orophile’, this mystery disappearance of George Mallory in history holds much value and worth to me than any other.
I have deliberated the first person POV because I wanted to empathise with the character and live the journey through his eyes.
I have tried my best to be as authentic as possible and gathered my information from relevant sources thereby trying to bring the best to the audience. I am hopeful of receiving a critical review on this humble deference to this brave warrior.
Though the fact if the summit was conquered or not remains a mystery, I would love to believe that the victory was established to view the story as an eternal optimist.
Cover Picture Credit: Daniel Prudek
Prompt: Base your story around any mysterious disappearance in History.
Prompt proposed by Team Punz N’ Prosez for Team Mystical Musings