Heroic Failure

There are lots of anniversaries during this month. I keep meaning to mark that of Jutland but here I am going to mark the death of one of my personal heroes. My wife accuses me of being a Protestant St. Jude and being unhealthily interested in lost causes. The hero I want to highlight is, however, one of the greatest examples of that very British (maybe Irish as well) concept the heroic failure.
George Mallory was the second child and only son of a CoE minister from Cheshire. He had a fairly typical minor aristocracy upbringing going to a prep school, then Winchester school and then Magdalene College, Cambridge to read history. He had become involved in climbing whilst at Winchester. After university he taught at Charterhouse school and got married and was an artillery officer during the First World War. He was involved in the first Everest expedition in 1921 and went again in 1924 believing it would be his last chance. After an initial failed attempt he and Sandy Irvine tried again (Irvine, a much younger man was the expert with the oxygen cylinders).

Exactly what happened on the fateful climb on 8th June 1924 is unclear. They were seen just after noon climbing strongly and then nothing was ever heard of until Mallory’s body was found on Everest in 1999. There has been debate for many years about whether or not Mallory and / or Irvine reached the summit. Irvine’s body may well never be found and Mallory’s camera which might definitively answer the question of whether or not they made it to the top is most unlikely to ever turn up. The respected Everest News web site’s view is here.

Whatever happened there is a certain sad charm in the idea of this pair in their tweed jackets and hob nailed boots trying to climb that vast mountain. That they failed makes it all the more romantic: though of course not for their families. It is also worth noting that even today people frequently die trying to climb Everest and the even more difficult K2.

Apologies to all for wasting your time: it is just a story I like. Now by all means draw analogies between my fondness for the story of Mallory and my support for the TUV.

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.