George Leigh Mallory was born in Mobberley, Cheshire England on the 18th June 1886. His father, Herbert Leigh Mallory was a clergyman to the local parish church, who married George’s mother, Annie in 1882. George had two sisters, Mary and Annie Victoria (known as Avie), also a younger brother Trafford. George had a happy childhood and was given considerable freedom which led to many adventurous escapades.
In 1896, George attended Glengorse, a boarding school on the south coast of England, From there he won a scholarship to Winchester College. It was here that George was introduced to rock climbing and mountaineering by R Irving, a master at the college, who every year took some of his pupils climbing in the Alps. In 1905, George went to the Magdalene College in Cambridge.
Once George took his degree in history he decided to stay in Cambridge and wrote an essay that was later published as Boswell the Biographer. George had now decided to become a teacher. In 1910 he began teaching at Chartherhouse School in Surrey.
While at Charterhouse George met Ruth, and they were married in 1914. George and Ruth had two daughters, Clare and Beridge and a son, John. As 1915 came to a close George signed up to the Royal Garrison Artillery and in 1916 he went to war and took part in the shelling of the Somme.
After the war George returned to Charterhouse as a teacher where he resigned in 1921 to join the first Everest expedition. In 1923 he took a job as lecturer at the Cambridge University. Again, George was given temporary leave so that he could join the 1924 Everest attempt.
In 1904, in a party led by Irving, George attempted to climb Mont Velan in the Alps, but he turned back not far from the summit due to altitude sickness. In 1911, George, again with a party led by Irving, reached the summit of Mont Blanc as well as Mont Maudit.
By 1913 George was at the peak of his rock-climbing powers and ascended Pillar Rock in the Lake District, England. He climbed it with no aid or assistance which has been graded as ’Hard Very Severe’. It is now known as ’Mallory’s Route’.
In 1921 George took part in the British Reconnaissance Expedition, organised and financed by the Mount Everest Committee. The expedition produced the first accurate maps of the region around the mountain. George was accompanied by several members of the British Alpine Club and surveyors based in India.
George and his climbing partners, G Bullock and E Wheeler, with the aid of some Sherpas, climbed several smaller peaks in the Everest region, including the North Col, to take a closer look at Everest and to view any potential route to the summit. After circling the mountain from the south side, his party finally discovered the East Rongbuk Glacier. By climbing up to the saddle of the North Ridge, Mallory not only became the first to set foot on Everest, but also saw a route to the summit via the North-East Ridge.
In 1922 George returned to Mount Everest as a member of the party led by General Charles Bruce, with the hope of making a serious attempt for the summit. George led his climbing team of Howard Somervell and Edward Norton almost to the crest of the North-East ridge, before weather conditions and the late hour forced them to retreat. A second party led by George Finch reached a height of approx. 27,300 feet (8,321 m) using bottled oxygen. Determined for one more try George organised a third attempt on the summit, which would end in disaster. As George was leading a group of porters on the lower slopes of the North Col in fresh, waist-high snow, an avalanche swept over the group, killing seven Sherpas. The attempt was immediately abandoned.
George went to Mount Everest again in 1924, his third time. The expedition was led by General Charles Bruce as in 1922. The first attempt for the summit was George and Geoffrey Bruce, and then another by Edward Norton and Howard Somervell, all which ended in failure to reach the summit. In an third attempt George chose Andrew Irvine as his partner and this time decided to use oxygen. On the 8th June George and Andrew left the safety of Camp V1 for their attempt to reach the summit. Noel Odell who was climbing up behind them in support reported the following:
“At 12.50, just after I had emerged from a state of jubilation at finding the first definite fossils on Everest, there was a sudden clearing of the atmosphere, and the entire summit ridge and final peak of Everest were unveiled. My eyes became fixed on one tiny black spot silhouetted on a small snow-crest beneath a rock-step in the ridge; the black spot moved. Another black spot became apparent and moved up the snow to join the other on the crest. The first then approached the great rock-step and shortly emerged at the top; the second did likewise. Then the whole fascinating vision vanished, enveloped in cloud once more.”
George Leigh Mallory and Andrew Irvine were never seen alive again.
Back in Britain the news of Mallory and Irvine’s disappearance came as a shock and was widely mourned to the extent that the two were hailed as national heroes.
In 1999 the body of George Leigh Mallory was found high on the North Face of Everest by Conrad Anker, a member of the 1999 Mallory and Research Expedition.
(C) Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (C) Jake Norton/Mountain World Photoghy