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finding of George Mallorys body on the North face
of Mount Everest by our expedition has been the
astonishing end to a quest which has preoccupied me
since I was boy thirty years ago.
first climb on the mountain was in 1990 while making a
film with Everest veteran David Breashears. After that
expedition I started writing a novel about my dream of
finding the camera that would prove that Mallory and
Irvine climbed the mountain first, nearly thirty years
before Hillary and Tenzing.
was given a Vest-Pocket Kodak camera by my great-uncle
Howard Somervell, who had returned to the North Col
after his own very nearly successful attempt on the
summit a few days previously. Mallory would be
expected to take a picture of the highest point
reached. Kodak say that a printable image could in
theory be obtained, should the camera ever be
retrieved. This photograph could solve the mystery of
who climbed Everest first.
continued writing this novel after my successful climb
of Everest in 1993, when I became the fifteenth Briton
to stand on the summit. I also had finished some
family business, as the mountain has haunted my family
for seventy-five years. In this novel I have brought
back to life another climbing uncle, John Doncaster
Hoyland, who was killed on Mont Blanc while training
for Everest in the 1930s.
finished the novel early this year, just before
I left to go on the expedition that found Mallorys
body on May 1st 1999. I wanted it finished because
with such a high death-rate on Everest there was a
chance I wouldnt be able to come back to it. As a
result none of the people I met on that trip are
represented in the novel, and none of the events.
this novel attempts to do is explain why people like
me are drawn back to the fatal magnet of Mount Everest
year after year. You can read it either as a simple
adventure story with a surprising outcome, or as a
book about practical existentialism. I believe that
when you confront death face to face you experience
life more intensely. This book is my credo.
right of Graham Hoyland to be identified as the author
of this work has been asserted in accordance with
sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright Designs and
Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved.
characters and events portrayed in this work are
North Col of Mount Everest is a cruel and beautiful
place. It is in the shape of a saddle, swooping down
from the North Peak, narrowing to a couple of feet,
and then accelerating up into the sky to blend with
the vast black pyramid of Everest itself.
men climb up here and take their first close look at
the mountain that is going to kill them soon.
wind is swirling up from the Rongbuk glacier today,
eddies of snow rise up and fall again on a small
orange tent crouched on the brink of a thousand-foot
are distant voices and the thud of metal on ice. There
is a flash, and an ice axe buries itself in the
corniced edge of the snow. With a lot of grunting and
panting a human figure heaves itself up over the brink
and kneels there for a moment, breathing heavily. Then
with a convulsive grunt he digs around in the snow and
unearths a loop of rope. He clips in, and calls down
to his companion. A few distant words float up from
How's it look?"
fine. Everything's still here. And the summit's
second figure clambers up. He wipes the loose snow
from his goggles, and lifts his head.
look at that plume. Hell of a wind up there."
other man gazes up with him in silence for a moment.
Then he speaks "Well, we go up tomorrow,
wind or no wind."
was pushing his old Porsche much too hard through the
Gloucestershire bends, but he wanted to get there as
soon as possible. Jack had seemed shocked by the news
that he'd given him on the phone half an hour earlier,
much more shocked than he'd expected. It was, after
all, exactly sixty years ago. A sixty year old corpse,
far away on the highest mountain on earth.
tires slid on the exit of one of the rain-soaked
corners and his heart raced. It would be better to
arrive in one piece, especially today. He slowed
slightly and wrestled with the heater controls, which
failed to dispel the mist on the screen.
car bumped up the drive and eased through the stone
archway. It entered the grounds of Langtang, Uncle
Jack's house. Even in the gentle English drizzle the
old Cotswold stone glowed honey-gold. This is where it
all began for me, Andy thought.
he pulled up on the gravel he saw his Aunt Celia at
the window. She waved, and then pointed towards the
fields across the valley were glistening with rain,
but the evening sun was beginning to prevail when he
saw him standing down in the garden. An old man now,
thickset in his blue sailing smock and boots. A
mud-caked fork was rammed into the flower bed beside
him. He turned at the sound of Andy's approach.
Andrew. So the Chinese found Mallory's body."
they've finally admitted it. I got the letter this
morning. I felt I ought to drive over."
had to come out into the garden. It's been quite a
paused for a moment, and looked up at his nephew.
was dreadfully cut up by Mallory's death, Andrew. I
had always thought of him as my friend......... He was
the only one of the people on that trip I could really
talk to. We read Hamlet together, did you know that?
Hamlet on Mount Everest."
very keen on Shakespeare. Perhaps we'll read Hamlet on
Everest when we get there."
what I wanted to talk to you about. You're still
come on, Jack! This just confirms it! I've already
bought the permit, but now I know exactly where to
look for him. Our expedition will follow just the same
route as you took in 1924."
studied him for a moment.
we haven't ever discussed this properly, have we? What
exactly are you hoping to find up there?"
looked at him oddly.
I thought we had discussed it about a hundred times. I
want to find Mallory's body to try to find out whether
he made it to the summit first. Thirty years before
anyone else. Everyone agrees that this is the biggest
mystery in mountaineering, Jack. And he deserved it,
it was his mountain. He reconnoitred it, and he went
out there three times to try to climb it."
what do you think you will find up there that might
prove it one way or another?"
been through all this. We know he wasn't carrying a
camera, but he might have a stone from the summit in
his pocket, or there might be some clue in the oxygen
equipment he was carrying...."
he was," Jack interrupted. "I can tell you
now, he was carrying a camera."
Andy stared at the old man. "But you always
I always said that he'd forgotten his camera. But I
never mentioned that he'd borrowed mine. And I never
told you because I knew exactly what effect it would
have on you. You'd want to go hunting for it up that
bloody mountain. But as you seem determined to go
anyway I decided this afternoon to tell you after
me what?" Andy was becoming agitated. "What
camera did you give him?"
it was my own V.P.K......Norton, Somervell and I had
come down to the North Col camp after our attempt on
the summit.... I was in a pretty bad way. Mallory and
Irvine were there getting ready for their attempt
using oxygen apparatus. He was terribly forgetful, you
know. He'd forget his boots if you let him ......
that's why he asked me for the loan of my camera. He'd
forgotten his own ...... I saw him packing it away in
his knapsack.....and then he was off up the slopes of
Everest. And I never saw him again."
kept this from me for years, haven't you?" Andy
said furiously, "Why didn't you tell me? I've
been planning this trip for ages, and you've withheld
a vital piece of evidence. Why? You know what this all
means to me!"
old man swung around. "It means too much to you!
Do your own thing! Don't chase these ghosts,
Andrew." He glared at him. "What does it
faced him stubbornly. "It matters to me. Mallory
deserves the credit for that mountain. You've got to
set things straight. Haven't you?
sighed, then ran a hand through his white hair.
"I suppose so. I suppose he'd be pleased at what
you're trying to do."
laughed and put his arm around the old man's
on, tell me everything. I want you to tell me
the window Celia watched them strolling down the
paddock, Andy's tall figure seeming to bend over
Jack's shorter, stockier frame. They paused and opened
the gate. It closed and they disappeared from
in the car Andy remembered her look when they had
returned to the house. But he was too full of Everest
to give it any thought.
room was hot, and the press conference was going well.
The story had attracted a large number of the
newspapers and there was even a film crew from one of
the BBC newsrooms. Andy was sitting next to his old
friend and climbing partner Kurt, who was coming with
him on the trip. Kurt was on good form, his eloquent
New England tones resounding through the P.A. system.
so we are confident that this camera can be found. Our
metal detectors are tuned to an identical Vest Pocket
Kodak camera loaned to us by the Kodak museum and
we'll be able to pick it up under six feet of snow. As
long as we're somewhere near the body."
the back a dark-haired girl stood up, a girl Andy had
noticed arriving late and pushing in with whispered
Holland. Daily Post. So how do you know where the body
is? Mount Everest's enormous."
leaned slightly towards the microphone and looked at
Andy. "Okay, here we come to the story I
promised. And there's no embargo on this. Back to our
swallowed some foul mineral water and pulled the
microphone towards him.
Kurt. Well, this is it, really. For years there's been
rumours that a Chinese climber had found the body of
an English climber at twenty-seven thousand feet on
the North side of Mount Everest. It could only be
Mallory or Irvine, the two English climbers who were
last seen going for the top back in 1924. I knew of
this story through my Uncle Jack Doncaster who was
selected as a young climber to partner Somervell just
as Irvine partnered Mallory. People forget that it was
the British who discovered that Mount Everest was the
highest mountain in the world, explored the approaches
to it and then made several attempts to climb it back
in the 1920's, before they knew anything about the
problems of surviving at high altitudes. Eventually a
British expedition put Hillary and Tenzing on the
summit in 1953 from the Nepali side, a country that
was forbidden to foreigners in the twenties. Mallory
and Irvine had disappeared into clouds and were never
seen again. But it was Mallory's third year of trying
and a lot of people think that he might have done it.
He certainly deserved it."
interjected. "Mallory became obsessive about
climbing the mountain. He must have realised that this
was his last chance to really make something of his
continued, the enthusiasm of the two climbers
beginning to grip their audience. "This was all
happening in Tibet, but of course Tibet was invaded by
the Chinese in 1949, and it's been the Chinese who
kept this story quiet for years. But since the recent
change of attitude there's been a release of
information from the Chinese Mountaineering Authority
Archives. And I have it here."
flapped a piece of paper at the cameras and then read
can confirm that our citizen Wang Hong Bao did
discover the body of an Englishman at 8100 meters on
the mountain Chomolungma in 1975. He covered it with
snow and spoke prayers. He took nothing from the body.
Another successful ascent of the world's highest peak
was made shortly afterwards by nine citizens of the
People's Republic of China.'"
tucked the slip of paper away and gazed at his
that we have this proof we want to locate the body,
retrieve my uncle's camera and develop the frozen film
inside it. Kodak tell us that it should still be all
right, just as frozen plates discovered in Captain
Scott's hut were successfully developed years after
they were exposed. I'm sure Mallory would have taken a
photograph if he reached the summit, and our theory is
that he and Irvine died of cold and exhaustion on
their return to the last camp on the North ridge, or
possibly slipped and fell to their deaths. Whatever
happened, I'm convinced that Mallory made it to the
summit of Everest, and I think that he deserves the
credit for it."
dark-haired girl spoke again, addressing him directly
across the crowded room.
about Sir Edmund Hillary? How's he going to feel about
you proving that he was pipped to the post by thirty
provoked murmurs of agreement from the audience. Kurt
leaned into the microphone. "Yeah, but he was the
first guy to get up and get down alive. That's got to
count for something!"
swept the room, but the girl was still standing firm,
and persevered. "And what if there's no image on
the film, or if there's just a blur?"
considered. "Well, as far as I can see, the
absence of a picture can't prove that he didn't get to
the summit; he might have been too exhausted, or it
might even have been too dark to take a picture. But
if there is a photograph in that camera it will
probably prove what I believe; that George Leigh
Mallory reached the summit of Mount Everest and died
shortly after reaching his goal."
then she came right back with the question he suddenly
knew she'd been waiting for.
if you do find a body, what will you do with it?"
scratched his chin. "I guess we'll see if there's
anything else on it..."
broke in over him swiftly, "We will of course
respect the dead. We'll recover the camera, and then
re-bury the body and leave it in peace. For
flung down the paper Kurt had just brought in and
yelled down the phone.
UP EVEREST!" You call that sympathetic reporting!
voice was distant and defensive. He noticed she had a
slight accent under pressure.
that was the sub-editor! I don't write the headlines!
Have you read the piece?
don't want to read your piece. We've had enough of
this crap from the climbing clubs. You're just
stirring it up again, and you know it. You hacks are
all the same, you just love stirring up the shit,
voice became clearer and vituperative.
Mister high and bloody mighty, I'm not just a hack,
I'm a climbing hack. That's why I covered your crap
little press conference. No-one's interested in your
pathetic little expedition, not when Everest's been
climbed hundreds of times."
why did you write the piece?"
I thought you needed coverage and sponsorship! Look,
just read what I wrote, then you can ring back and
phone went down, decisively.
stood there, breathed deeply and replaced the handset.
casually picked up the paper and glanced at the
she say?" He started to read.
slowly lowered himself into his chair.
a sub-editor wrote the headline."
felt defiled. He hadn't meant it to be like this. He
gazed around his study. Ever since Caroline had moved
out everything in the house seemed shabby and
dislocated. Faded photographs of his old expeditions
gazed back at him from the walls. Some of the faces
were now dead. He felt sick of them all.
was still reading. Andy studied him. His was a face
that appeared in several of the expedition photos.
Kurt was one of the top American climbers, and an
Everest summiteer as was Andy. They'd climbed the
mountain from the south, Nepali side together two
years ago and discovered that they shared a common
interest in the early attempts on the mountain. He was
wiry and dark, with piercingly blue eyes. A highly
successful man, with further ambitions. Andy found
more and more that it was the proving of Mallory's
claim that interested him, though. He just felt an
increasing dissatisfaction with ordinary life. The
only place he felt really at home now was at extreme
altitudes, where the sun was too bright to look at and
the sky was black. Just like it was on the pictures on
pretty good. Listen to this, 'This is a big gap in
mountaineering history... these are men determined
enough to do it.....but it will take great willpower
to search the upper slopes of the mountain when the
climbers greatest prize of all lies just two thousand
feet above them...'" He gestured theatrically.
"'The summit of Mount Everest.'"
snorted. "Poor research. We've done it
now here's a thing. 'This paper believes that these
men should be supported in their quest for the answer
to the question: "Was Mount Everest climbed in
looked up, his sardonic smile alight. "Now
there's no way she can write that without getting the
editor's consent. I think we should ring him direct
and try to get a deal for exclusive coverage."
you know how I feel about the press. You try that and
I'll carry on with the lists."
rose and went downstairs. Andy went back to the
computer. Every expedition to the big peaks was
getting hugely expensive. First there was the enormous
fee for the peak permit demanded by the country the
mountain lay in. That was payable well in advance, and
only bought you permission to attempt the mountain,
and the unwelcome presence of a liaison officer,
usually a bureaucrat whose ideas of a holiday most
certainly did not include living in a tent on a
glacier for ten weeks. Then there was the cost of
whatever porter help you might need to carry the
supplies to base camp. Andy hoped that he could get
the food supplies themselves free from a manufacturer
or a supermarket chain, but it wasn't looking good.
They would need about three Sherpas to help carry
their supplies up to the top camp. And then they would
need ropes, climbing hardware and some new tents. The
trouble was that the sums just didn't add up, and
Viktor, their Russian team-member wasn't likely to be
bringing anything but debts.
least all the logistics were plotted out on the
computer. The plan was to fly to Kathmandu, the
capital of Nepal, meet up with the Sherpas and load a
truck with all the gear. Then they would drive up to
the Tibetan border just before the great Himalayan
barrier. There they would have to change vehicles and
start paying through the nose to the Chinese for
abominably bad accommodation and unnecessary vehicles.
Once at base camp on the Tibetan side of Everest,
though, they could relax and concentrate on the
climbing. Their route would follow the old British
path up the mountain; up the East Rongbuk valley, onto
the North Col which joins Mount Everest to it's
northern satellite peak of Changtse and then up the
North Ridge to the site of the 1975 Chinese Camp Six,
where the climber Wang had made his grisly find. If
they could make it that far.
main problem was the weather. Most expeditions to
Mount Everest attempt the summit in a brief weather
window either before or after the summer monsoon, with
its heavy snowfall. Before the monsoon the winter
winds would have blasted the North face clear of snow,
but it was deadly cold. After the monsoon it was
warmer, but there was the danger of avalanches. They
were going after the monsoon.
of expeditions hadn't got any higher than the North
Col due to the appalling winds that blasted across the
vast North face. Newcomers, even experienced climbers,
couldn't believe the ferocity of a wind that could
pick a man up bodily and fling him a hundred feet up
the mountain. If they had that kind of weather the
trip would be finished. But if they could only stock
that last camp and occupy it for three days Andy
believed they had a chance of finding the body. Three
days at that altitude was pushing it- they certainly
couldn't afford more than a couple of bottles of
oxygen- but all three of them were good at altitude
and could probably survive. Above twenty-six thousand
feet you are well into what the high altitude climbers
call the Death Zone; the part of the atmosphere where
there is insufficient oxygen to maintain life and your
body is dying fast. Although you can breathe, every
step exhausts you, your lips are blue with cyanosis
and you shit half-digested food. Three days would be
hard, but they might do the job quicker if they got
gazed out at the Mendip hills. It was going to be a
lovely summer here again. Cattle grazed in the meadows
across the river, and the gorse was coming into flower
on the great roll of Wavering Down. Mallory in one of
his letters home had written about being tired of the
dust and wind of Tibet, and how he longed for a
west-country water-meadow. And here was Andy, longing
to be in Tibet. He shook his head in perplexity at it
had finished on the phone and called up to him.
"Hey, good news, Andy! I get to meet the great
press baron himself tomorrow!"
of Jack Doncaster's famous croquet parties was in full
swing at Langtang. Celia sat under a vast sun-shade
applauding languidly from time to time with one of her
friends from the village. Andy and Jack had formed
their usual devastating team and were two hoops ahead.
Andy watched admiringly as the older man carefully
placed his foot on his ball and it with a mighty
blow from the mallet. The opposition's ball leaped
like a startled rabbit and bounded into the
undergrowth. For a man in his eighties it was
shot!" Andy cried, "Not bad for an old
fart!" There were distant cries of chagrin from
the players on the far side of the lawn. Celia looked
mildly disapproving. The friend tittered.
leaned on his mallet with a sigh of satisfaction.
"Well, that's the opposition in the rhododendrons
for a while. How's the expedition doing?"
I'm afraid, Jack. Money. Viktor won't be able to bring
as much as he thought he could because the rouble's
crashed. And the Chinese hit us for another five
thousand pounds just to take a video camera."
had money trouble in our day. Did you know that we
needed six mules just to carry the coinage to pay the
coolies? No paper money in Tibet then. Mind you, we
did rather well in the matter of rations- I remember a
few tins of quails in fois gras and quite a good
champagne.... it was Montebello 1915, I seem to
grimaced. "You poor things. How did you survive
under such appalling conditions? We'll be lucky if we
can afford Tibetan tea."
sorry to gloat...but we did live well. Do you think
you'll raise the money in time?"
sighed. "I really don't know. I've tried all the
obvious manufacturers for sponsorship, but none of
them see why they should pay for our camping
suppose climbing Everest is passι now. It's an
awfully long time ago, Andrew."
to me it's not. And anyway, Kurt's had more luck than
I have; he's got one of the tabloids interested in
what they like to call "The Photo of the
Century!" He thinks he can get twelve thousand
pounds out of them in exchange for all rights to any
photographs we find. But I think they might want to
send a journalist with us. A girl."
ho!" Jack chortled. "I hope she's nice. It's
about time you replaced Caroline." Andy did not
respond. His uncle went on thoughtfully. "That
could be a very good proposition for them. If I were
you I would restrict that to all newspaper rights.
Think of the book you could get out of any
what about the ethics of all this publicity? Do you
think Mallory would have minded about the Press
rounded on him in exasperation. "For heaven's
sake, Andrew! George toured America in twenty-three
drumming up funds for the last expedition! John Noel
imported the Dancing Lamas to promote his bloody
cinema film! You shouldn't idealise those chaps. They
were only human. You know, I never told anyone this,
but one night in the Planter's Club up at Darjeeling,
George and I actually stole General Bruce's jodhpurs
and bribed a Tibetan nun to fit them onto one of the
donkeys. Well, it shat itself in the night and you
cannot believe the fuss there was when...."
suddenly jumped away. "Watch out!"
was the heavy thwack of colliding croquet balls as the
other team struck back with a lucky shot from the
ground his teeth. "Blast!"
roared with laughter. "The General's
in the house Celia leaned back in her chair and
watched the two of them as they talked animatedly over
a map spread out over the table. Jack always enjoyed
these visits from his nephew, and he was nodding and
laughing at some point being made. She thought Andrew
looked a little strained these days, certainly since
the planning of this latest expedition. He had always
been an intense child, nervy and dark-haired. She
vaguely wondered if he'd find another girl friend, it
was obviously what he needed to settle him. His work
as a mountain-guide didn't help, as he never seemed to
be at home nowadays. What he needed was a girl.
of Chapter One...
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