Lost on Everest, Peter Firstbrook

Most of this book (full title: Lost on Everest: The Search for Mallory & Irvine) is a biography of George Mallory, followed by a short account of the expeditions after his death in 1924 which throw significant light on his and Irvine’s fate. Only the last few chapters relate the events of the 1999 expedition which found his body.

There is more detail in the book than could be covered in the television programme, and this brings more evidence to the debate on whether or not Mallory and Irvine made the first ascent of Everest.

Before I read the book, I liked to think they probably did make it. For what it’s worth, now I’ve read the book, I think they probably didn’t. A string of factors – the non-functioning stove, Mallory’s notorious late starts, the forgotten torches, the location of the oxygen bottles, the difficulty of the third step – all point towards time running out for two exhausted men. The only contrary evidence is Odell’s sighting of the two figures at the third step “going strong for the top” at 12.50pm. Odell was always confident in the accuracy of his sighting, but it is uncorroborated, and it is possible he was misled by the effects of perspective from his viewpoint.

Whatever the answer – and we shall probably only know for sure if Irvine’s body and their camera is ever found – the book is worth reading for the picture it paints of a remarkable mountaineer and the story of the expedition that finally gave him a grave on the mountain.

Overall verdict: A biography with an adventure thrown in.
BBC, 1999

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