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  Mallory and Irvine The Final Chapter: Our Theory: EverestNews.com's theory of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine's last days on Everest  (10/2004)


A theory is defined by Webster as: The analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another.

Our theory is based on the assumption that Sandy Irvine died very high up on Everest on or near the Northeast ridge and very far from where George Mallory's body was found. That the "old dead" reported to us and/or the climber the Chinese saw in 1960 was in fact Sandy Irvine.

If so, Sandy died on or near the northeast ridge, above 8400 meters quite far from where George Mallory's body was found. George Mallory's body is not on the fall line from this location. What's more important, the condition of George's body in comparison to the other dead bodies on Everest convinces us there is no chance he fell from the ridge. We believe he could not have fallen more than a few meters.

Does this means George and Sandy separated and then they took very different routes? This is the key question. How did George Mallory end up 1000 feet lower than Sandy Irvine, on a completely different line from the summit? Here is our theory of how their last day played out.

George and Sandy left Camp VI on the morning of June 8, 1924. They were probably well rested, having learned from George Finch that it is wise to spend the night on oxygen.

Mallory and Irvine made good progress that morning. A 1924 oxygen cylinder was found just below the ridge in 1999 at around 27,760 feet; It was  one of M&I's cylinders. There are some questions about exactly where the cylinder was found, but it definitely puts Mallory and Irvine high on the Northeast ridge, above the Yellow Band. And here they faced a dilemma.

The location of the oxygen cylinder indicates M&I ran out of one cylinder and probably two (i.e. one each) far lower than Mallory expected. Some have suggested M&I could have taken three  cylinders each. No one knows. But Mallory wrote in his note to John Noel the night before, even two cylinders per person was a "bloody load for climbing."


So they probably each have one cylinder remaining, unless they stored (an) other cylinder(s) for use, like the expeditions do today. Sandy and George realize there is not enough oxygen for both of them to reach the top. They decide to conserve what they do have, and at some point give what is left to one of them for the push to the summit. They reach the Second Step on the ridge, not what is referred to today, as the Second Step, which is an open-book on the North Face. The Second Step (for either of them) is too difficult to overcome, both of the men cannot go up (or up and around, as is more likely). Neither man can surmount the Second Step alone. Sandy Irvine, being the good soldier, volunteers to stay behind, and helps George up! George, with the Summit seeming to be "right there", jumps at the chance, and with a boost (there are few options for a possible route there) from his buddy; George is over the Second Step and heading towards the Summit. (Helping some one up by using a "shoulder stand" was a known technique of Mallory’s and also used by the Chinese.) The summit appears so close, Sandy and George both believe that Mallory will return in a relatively short period of time. So Sandy waits. George, carries the rope, as he might need it later.

 Above the Second Step headed for the Summit ©EverestNews.com

We believe that George and Sandy are now forever separated. George goes for the summit. Sandy is left behind. Let's deal with what might have happened to each of them.

Mallory is now above the 2nd Step. He has the remaining oxygen cylinder or cylinders. If we put stock in Odell's account, it is now well past 12:50 p.m. Conditions up to now have been good: they are still excellent. Mallory has put the last major obstacle – the 2nd Step – behind him. What could stop him from reaching the summit?

Could it possibly have been the snow squall? However, the squall did not hit until 2 pm. No one knows if it reached as high as the 2nd Step or higher. And in any case, it ended at 4 pm. Snow squall or not, Mallory had time to summit before dark. And with everything written about him, we believe he could not have resisted going for the summit.

In 2004, we have video of May 19th when several climbers summited from the North side. Conditions appeared so bad from Camp 6, Summiting Everest looked impossible, but it was not only possible, many climbers summited (see the picture below).

May 19th 2004©EverestNews.com

Our theory puts Mallory on the summit, somewhere in the late afternoon or early evening. But it took him far longer than either he or Irvine expected: The distance was much farther than "just right there" as it appeared. Like nearly everyone at extreme altitude, he is not thinking clearly. He had ran out of oxygen which greatly slowed him down. Overjoyed at his success and considering his options for a safe descent, he assumed that after all of these hours, Sandy would have headed back to camp VI. Mallory must now get down as quickly as possible.

Mallory knows that without Sandy to help him, down-climbing the 2nd Step will be hard or impossible. So he takes his other option: the route down through the couloir. Since Norton had previously described such a route to Mallory, he knows in a general way what to expect. But instead of going down and then traversing high on the North Face as Norton did, Mallory goes down into the couloir,  farther down, and across the snow terrace.

It is now night. There is little light – the moon did not rise until nearly midnight. Mallory descends alone through the couloir. He makes it to within an hour of camp VI. But he is now exhausted; he had run out of oxygen hours before. In the dark, exhausted, confused, fighting sub-zero temperatures, he falls. Or as has been recently suggested to us, a rock might have come down and hitting Mallory in the head, causing him to fall/die.

The condition of his body proves that he could not have fallen far. Every body we saw that fell a long distance was terribly mangled, twisted and broken. We believe George fell no more than a few meters. He was a short distance away from the safety of his high camp. He made it to the top, and nearly made it back down. George Mallory died within a few minutes; either by falling or being hit in the head by a rock and then falling.

Now let us go back and look at what Sandy Irvine might have done. Sandy was left alone at the foot of the 2nd Step. We see two likely possibilities. He either waited for George or headed back towards camp VI. We believe he at least initially waited there for Mallory to return. The summit seemed so close he thought George would be "right back". Both of them thought the Summit was so close, that Mallory would be right back. As it turned out Mallory never did return.

Yet Sandy waited. He would not leave his friend. He was the good soldier; Of course, he did not know that his body and mind were losing their ability to function by the hour. He did not want to leave his friend with so much unknown. So he waited. At some point, which is impossible at this point to say when, he realized George was not coming back. He got up and started to try to walk, dropped his ice axe and soon sat down again. He did not get back up. We believe Andrew "Sandy" Irvine died high on Everest, never knowing whether or not his friend and climbing partner, George Mallory, fulfilled their dream and made it to the Summit.

We should add, this is our theory, it is not proven that George Mallory summited, however, it surely is not proven that he did not summit.

What is logical and what is illogical?

In this section we will go over key questions and facts about our theory. Also we will look at some other theories as to what happened to George and Sandy on their last day on Everest.

1.) Supporting evidence: The Ice Axe:

Wyn Harris, during the 1933 Everest Expedition, found an ice ax at about 27,700 feet. The location is fairly certain: Harris took the ax he found, and left his own ax in its place. The spot is about 20 meters below the ridge, on a fairly flat, wide, open area nearly 300 meters above Mallory's body. No one besides M&I was up that high before 1933. So it is fairly certain the ax was either Mallory's or Irvine's. Three notches found on the ax suggest the ax was Irvine's.

a.) To us it is not logical that Sandy dropped or left his ice axe going up. His axe was too important to him. If he did drop it while climbing up, he would retrieved it. The ice axe spot is relatively flat and wide. Sandy would not have had a problem getting his ice ax back from there. It seems most logical that Sandy would have dropped his ice axe coming down after being worn out for some reason.

b.) It is not logical that Sandy would have lost his ice axe if they simply went to the second step and turned around. It is much more likely that Sandy would have lost his ice axe if he went to the second step or higher, and was coming down after waiting at the second step for George.

c.) Virtually every climber who has been to the ice axe spot says the same thing: This is NOT a place where climbers would fall. So it is logical to conclude something other than a fall happened at the ice axe location that caused Sandy to lose his ice axe.

d.) Suppose Mallory did fall at the ice axe location. He would not end up at his known location. It is several meters off the fall line. Second, the injuries to his body are far too mild to support a fall from the ice axe location.

We believe the location of the ice axe is consistent with the climber who waited at the second step and then retreated back at some point after passing the point of "no return".

2.) Could Mallory and Irvine have turned back at the 2nd Step?

It is not logical that George and Sandy simply went to the second step, turned around and then died coming back. In all the years of climbing, including all the large number of "rookies" who swarm the North side of Everest today, very very few have died when turning back at the Second Step.

Let's suppose, that George and Sandy did turn back at the second step. How does George Mallory's body get to where it was found? It is very unlikely that he climbed there from the ridge. It is too far off route. George would have down-climbed the same route he took up, along the ridge. One answer could be that George Mallory fell high on Everest. Then over time his body moved down and across the mountain. This does not seem plausible and would require a number of highly unlikely scenarios in our opinion.

One, if George fell from the ridge, what would have stopped him from falling more than a few meters. (His lack of serious/catastrophic injuries are inconsistent with a longer fall.)

Next, his body would later have had to have dropped 300 meters in altitude and moved a large horizontal distance as well. It would have had to have traveled all that distance, over rocks, scree and boulders, yet stay perfectly preserved. His body would also somehow have to get in the position it was found in.

We call this the magic bullet theory.

Lastly, how could Wang have found Mallory if the magic bullet theory is true? This means George's  body would have had to come down the mountain and then sit itself up or have been face up on the ground. If face up on the ground, then Wang would have had to roll a frozen George Mallory's body over. We see the evidence to be strongly against this.

3.) Was Mallory capable of climbing 2nd step?

Many have questioned whether George Mallory was a good enough climber to climb the second step. But we believe he could have climbed the Second Step (on the ridge) in several ways. One, he may have tackled the Second Step on the ridge. Mallory was known as a ridge climber. If George stands on Sandy's shoulders - a technique he used in the past - he would only need to climb or pull himself up several more feet. Of course, he could have gone around it and then up. Our climbers see a few possible routes. This might explain George taking the rope, as he would need to rappel down on the descent.

In 1960, the Chinese climbed what is known today as the Second Step. They used the same method Mallory used in other climbs: standing on another climber's shoulders. The Chinese were said to be much less experienced climbers than Mallory. Conrad Anker initially rated what is known today as the Second Step as a 5.8, well within Mallory's abilities, even without help from Sandy. Frankly, we believe Mallory attempted to climb the Second Step via the ridge on Everest.


4.) Oxygen Bottle found in 1999

In 1999, Eric Simonson's team found an oxygen bottle high on the Northeast Ridge. The bottle has been identified as a 1924 bottle. Its exact location is not 100% sure, however, the bottle definitely puts George and Sandy high on the ridge, above the yellow band.

This is key evidence together with the Odell's Sighting. It shows that Mallory and Irvine took the ridge route. And as we discussed earlier, there is almost no way George Mallory could have fallen from the ridge, and ended up where his body was found. This strongly suggests the theory that George Mallory climbed to within a short distance of where he was found.

5.) Location of "old dead" climber

The "old dead" seen by our source and/or even the old dead seen by the Chinese, point to Sandy dying high on Everest, in a location that does not connect him to George's location; far away from where George was found, and on a totally different line from the summit. In both cases these locations indicate a separation of the climbers at some time during the climb.

This is really the key to our theory, the crux of our theory if you will.  How did George and Sandy get so far apart, and then what does this mean?

The fact that the bodies are so far apart suggests what must have happened—and falling together is not part of this scenario...

6.) Did our source really see Sandy Irvine?

Let's look at each case: Based on testimony from the climber who discovered “an old dead”, it was hard not to conclude that he discovered Sandy Irvine's body. We interviewed this climber several times before we went to Everest. Some of his words were that he came across a “very old dead.” It was in a very exposed area, “unsafe to go further this way.”

In another interview he said the body was “leaning like this” as he leaned to his left and put his hands up to the left side of his head and pulled his knees towards his chest. He also said that he was on “lot of snow” (i.e., a snow slab, not on rock). This would make sense if the “old” person were on a steep area, trying to protect himself from the wind and cold, leaning into the mountain trying to use the snow to shield him. He said the body was dressed in “army-colored clothes”.

He also said that if something fell from this area there is nothing to stop its fall. Whatever fell would wind up at 6000 meters or below. “It is very steep here”, he said, and very exposed. The fall line is uninterrupted, no obstructions at all. The climber marked the location on a map for us. He stated he did not see the climber's face.

There are 3 possibilities to this story: One, he made it up (lied); Two in the thin air of Everest he thought he saw something that he did not (which seems very unlikely at that location); and Three, he found Sandy Irvine. If he found a body, only Sandy's body was up that high on Mt Everest at that point. How do we know that? Because only 3 climbers died up high before that point, and we know with certainly where the other two (George Mallory and Wu) are. If it is true that he saw a body, we must conclude he saw Sandy Irvine. There are no other options, if his statement IS TO BE TAKEN AS TRUTH.

The Chinese story corroborates his story somewhat. A Chinese climber from the 1960 Everest expedition said he found an old body high on Everest. We did not interview the Chinese climber; therefore it is difficult for us to judge his story. But the fact is a Chinese climber places an old dead climber up high on Everest. This is a second source that places an old dead climber high on Everest, far from where George Mallory's body was found. The same possibilities would apply to his story. Did these two climbers both see the same body, and in the intervening years, mix-up where they thought they saw them?  Other details of the 1960 climbers were also mixed-up in their locations. If it is true that he saw a body, we must conclude he saw Sandy Irvine. Again there are no other options, if his statement IS TO BE TAKEN AS TRUTH.

Taken together, it would seem highly likely that one or both of these men saw the body of Sandy Irvine high on Everest years after his death. This is extremely important because this places Sandy's body far away from George's body. The locations appear to have no apparent connection. This indicates to us that the climbers separated at the Second Step.

If you believe Sandy Irvine did not die high on Everest, you have to believe BOTH of these climbers did not see a body and "got it wrong".

Possible additional evidence that might corroborate the location of this "old dead" is developing, it would probably require a second trip to Mt Everest to confirm.

7.) Odell's Sighting

Wherever Odell saw Mallory and Irvine, he saw them on the ridge at some point. This, along with the oxygen bottle found in 1999, establishes the base of the route up the mountain.

How much faith can you put into Odell's sighting? He changed his mind back and forth about where he saw M&I. Our theory does not depend much on Odell. But his version, no matter how you interpret it, helps somewhat, by putting M&I somewhere high on Everest going up the ridge at 12:50 pm. It makes it very hard to explain how George fell at a point so much lower than Sandy, not even close to his fall line.

Odell's first account, by the way, appears in his diary. There he simply writes that at 12:50 pm he "saw M&I on the ridge, nearing base of final pyramid." It speaks nothing about rock steps, or tantalizing visions.

This supports a late summit by Mallory, where he would descend in darkness and simply run out of gas at some point and fall in an area, where you would not expect him to fall (where his body was found). Therefore, one does not need a "moving body theory" to get Mallory's body to where it was found.

We agree the Odell sighting has many issues, but it confirms the route up.

8.) George's Mallory body's location

It's hard to believe that George would have down-climbed from Sandy's location, and ended up where he did. Suppose George did not go beyond the 2nd Step, and instead retreated. How could he have ended up so low, under even the Yellow Band, unless he had been following the couloir route back?

How would he get to couloir route in the first place? Unless he summited.

We have heard suggestions that Mallory might have found the 2nd Step too difficult. (We were in this camp until we studied the evidence!) But then if they turn around there, how does one explain the location of the bodies? Or the suggestion that Mallory might have found the 2nd Step too hard and left the ridge on the ascent and tried to drop back down through the Yellow Band to follow Norton's route up. We don't believe that. Mallory would know, both from what Norton told him and what he could see with own eyes, that there was not enough time. Two, you can't really go from the ridge from above the first step to this area, unless you backtrack. Climbers do not have a habit of backtracking and then going forward. They especially hate to give up altitude to find a new route.

The best explanation we see is that George got above the 2nd Step. From there the summit – his obsession -- would have called out its siren song to him. The biggest problems were behind him. To us, the best explanation is that George Mallory summited Everest, and then took the couloir down.

That would explain the location of the body. That Sandy gave George a boost over the second step and George summited Everest and descended via the couloir which would explain the location of George's body in the known location and in the condition found. It would also explain Sandy's body location as below the Second Step, but still high on Everest.

The other possibility, could be that Sandy somehow got injured or sick on the ridge and George left him and descended alone after turning around at the second step. George then would have had to get lost and turn away from his high camp and head into the snow terrace. Possible, but is seems FAR less likely.

9.) Reviewing/Rehashing Details:  (In case you are lost on the snow terrace by now!)

Back to the ice ax. Wyn Harris, during the 1933 Everest Expedition, found an ice ax at 27,700 feet. The location is fairly certain: Harris took the ax he found, and left his own ax in its place. The spot is 20 meters below the ridge, on a fairly flat, wide open area. Nearly 300 meters above, but not directly above, Mallory's body. No one besides M&I were up that high before 1933. So it is fairly certain the ax was either Mallory's or Irvine's. Three marks found on the ax suggest the ax was Irvine's. Many say Mallory must have fallen from the ice ax spot. Two major problems with this are: If he had, his body would have been way, way more broken up. Also, Mallory's body is not on the fall line from the ice ax. It is well off to the left of the perpendicular to the contour lines. So he not only had to fall. His body would have had to move some 100 meters horizontally as well. We do not believe the ice ax spot has anything to do with Mallory's fall. Harris, the man who found the ax, said no climber would ever intentionally leave his ax there. We don't believe Mallory or Irvine lost it due to a fall, because neither of them fell there. How did it get there?

We believe the location of the ice axe, believed to be Sandy's is consistent with the climber who waited at the Second Step and then retreated back at some point after passing the point of "no return".

The "very old dead" was seen above 8400 meters which is consistent with our theory and with a climber who waited on the ridge and dropped his ice axe on the return when he figured out his partner was not returning.

While the Chinese location is far from certain, a body in that area would also be very consistent with our theory here. So whichever source is correct, the theory is supported.

10.) The oxygen bottle our team found in 2004

Oh that oxygen bottle! While little is known about the bottle, what is known is that oxygen bottles do not roll up hill! This bottle from the 1920's or 1930's had to be carried there by someone!

Only the Chinese and George and Sandy went that high. These are the facts.

While some find it hard to believe a Chinese climber would pick up items and carry them. We know for a fact that that the Chinese climbers picked up evidence/artifacts from the early British expedition and took artifacts back home, as they took two 1938 oxygen sets and send them back home.

By the bottle being at the "old dead" climber's location, we tend to believe our climber's theory: that a Chinese climber left it while visiting Sandy's body. If it turns out to be Sandy's bottle, then it would be significant evidence as to of the location where Sandy Irvine died.

Again we should add, this is our theory, it is not proven that George Mallory summited, however, it surely is not proven that he did not summit.

Other theories to explain the locations of the bodies.

We would love to see and hear them! With hundreds of e-mails a day it is tough to keep up with the EverestNews.com e-mail. So submit your questions and or comments to  and we will try to answer them as a group to be more effective. We have received several excellent comments from our readers. We will try this week to publish some more photos including a possible route map.

We went to Mount Everest in search of an answer.


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