You Are There: Season 2, Episode 19

Mallory's Tragedy on Mount Everest (3 Jan. 1954)

TV Episode  -   -  Drama | History
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3 January 1954 (USA)  »

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Because it was there!
25 November 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

In 1953 one of the biggest events of that year was the announcement that Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norkay of Tibet had reached the summit of Mount Everest and returned with proof of their achievement. The tallest mountain of the world had never been scaled until then - officially anyway. Hillary and Tenzing were widely lauded for the achievement. They never released which of the two reached the top first - as in agreement that the two deserved the kudos together (Sir Edmund has kept the silence since Tenzing died).

But there is a mystery concerning the conquest of "the third pole" (after the North and South Pole were conquered, Everest was the next geographic point of discovery left). In 1920 - 1923 England's most promising mountain climber was George Mallory. Mallory went to the Himalayas in 1923 with an expedition to Everest, but they did not reach the summit. Mallory went on an international speaking tour, and lectured on Tibet and the Himalayas. During the this trip, when discussing the need to return and conquer Everest, Mallory was asked what the was the reason to climb the mountain. He gave the immortal answer, "Because it is there!" In 1924 he returned to Everest with a new expedition, determined to reach the summit. He and his partner Andrew Irvine climbed far beyond the rest of the party, and were last seen nearly 1000 feet from that summit on an increasingly cloudy day. They were never seen by the expedition again.

Now, when this episode of YOU ARE THERE was produced in 1924 the fate of Mallory and Irvine was, so to speak, in the air. We did not know how they died (presumably from a fall or from the cold - a blizzard hit them suddenly on the way down? - but they had to be dead even if their remains were not found. But the big mystery was: did the determined Mallory reach the summit or not? After nearly thirty years in 1953 nobody could say. When Hillary was asked, he said it didn't matter (Sir Edmund was right - the point unfortunately is to return alive from such journeys).

So this episode of the series was about the death of the intrepid climbers on the way up to the top of Everest and their deaths there.

Like the episode about the Hunley on THE GREAT ADVENTURE, this episode would need an extension today. In the years after their disappearance there had to be sightings of an ax from the expedition, and once a local guide thought he saw the body of an Englishman (but the guide was killed in an avalanche shortly afterward). There was no real solution to their fates and to the chief conundrum, which was did they reach the top or not? Then in 2001 it finally happened. Mallory's body was found on top of Everest about three hundred feet from the top. He had fallen and broken his neck, and snow covered the body. But there was no sign of Irvine. Mallory's son (who last saw his father as a child) was still alive, and was able to be aware that the hero was buried with honors at Everest. But the issue of whether he and Irvine reached the top is still a mystery. Reportedly Irvine had a camera, and would have shot a photo of Mallory at the top. If such camera was ever found, then the photos probably still would be capable of development (when the missing bodies of the polar explorers Andree, Strindberg, and Frankel were found in 1930 after being missing over thirty years, the photos from that expedition were still developed - and proved very informative of the fate of those explorers). Hopefully the camera will turn up (with Irvine's remains) to settle the issue - although it will not affect Tensing and Hillary's position of reaching the top and being the first to return alive to the bottom.


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