Mallory’s response to a questioner who asked him why he wanted to climb Mount Everest: “Because it is there”, epitomizes the spirit of challenge and adventure. On his final attempt in 1924 he may, or may not, have succeeded in being the first to reach the top of the world’s tallest mountain. Without question he died trying: His frozen and almost perfectly preserved body was discovered by another expedition in 1999, 2000 feet below the 29,000 high summit. When they examined the body they found letters from his family, but the camera he had with him has not yet been found. Even now, the pictures could still probably be developed: If Mallory and his partner had made it to the top they would certainly have taken pictures to record the feat. The great question is whether he and his climbing partner, 22 year-old engineering student Andrew Irvine, were on their way down, after summiting, or on the way up, when they met tragedy. If they made it to the top they would have reached the summit 29 years before the expedition of New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.
Mallory was educated at Cambridge and served in World War One. A schoolteacher by profession, he had considerable climbing experience, including expeditions to Everest in 1921 and 1922. He was also a fringe member of the Bloomsbury Salon, and knew many of the day’s leading literary and artistic figures. He was generally considered to be a charming, handsome man who had close relationships with his family, especially his very supportive wife, Ruth. When he attempted Everest in 1924 he was 38 years old and in apparently excellent physical condition. While not considered the best technical climber of his time, he has always been admired for his bravery and ability, especially given the primitive climbing tools of his time. Among mountain climbers, he was renowned for his intelligence, resolution, and leadership. His grandson George reached the summit in 1995.