Mallorys Notes

Mallory and Irvine – New Interpretations and Implications of Mallory’s last notes 
By Philip Summers

Authors Note:

In light of the historical context of this paper, the contemporaneous term “porter” is utilised, as it was employed in the 1920’s. This context in no form impinges nor seeks to disrespect the character and dignity of the able and internationally respected sherpa’s, who for generations have performed invaluable, stirling work and added greatly to high altitude exploration in the Himalaya including Mt Everest.


‘It is characteristic of all discussions and decisions, that every member has a vivid recollection of them. However every member’s recollection of them differs violently from every other member’s recollection, consequently the convention is accepted that the official perception is that and only that which has been officially recorded in the minutes by the official, from which it emerges with elegant inevitability that any conclusion that has been officially reached would have been officially recorded in the minutes by the official and any conclusion which is not recorded in the minutes by the official has not been officially reached, even if one or more members believe they can recollect it, so in this particular case, if the conclusion would have been officially reached, it would have been recorded in the minutes by the official and it isn’t so it wasn’t!’.  – Sir Humphrey Appleby

Mystery still surrounds many aspects of the Mallory and Irvine saga, despite the plethora of new findings and theorising in recent years as a result of the 1999 discovery of Mallory’s body on Everest’s north face. Debate on the pair’s exact route(s), scheduling and physical movements during their summit bid have traditionally integrated as part of the equation, the inherent clues transposed within Mallory’s last two written notes, scribed to this comrades from Camp VI on the 7th of June 1924. These resultants have focussed on rather narrow inherent literal interpretations of Mallory’s meaning and state of mind at the time from Camp VI on the 7th of June 1924.

Recently however, new research on these final notes have suggested new interpretations of Mallory’s meaning, state of mind and scheduling regarding he and Irvine’s summit bid on the 8th of June which may illuminate a more coherent and realistic assessment of their climb and their expectations for the morrow.

Specifically, examination of the note to Odell by Mallory, when illuminated in its proper cultural contextual millieu, suggests that ensconced at Camp VI, Mallory was in a light hearted mood with their position in good stead, despite a few exiguous woes such as lost and forgotten kit.

However the oxygen was working well and Mallory indeed planned two cylinders per man (as far as he could see at the time of writing) as examination of his verbiage suggests a ‘man of letter’s’, prone to understatement and primitive sensibilities in his self expression. He also was thinking ahead of the descent on the morrow and conscious of the dynamics of personage per campsite, lest congestion impede safety. To Noel, the message suggests an early start and in a new complexion to the mystery, proper analysis of Mallory’s words in their correct cultural context suggests an inflexion in their ‘traditional’ meaning, where the key emphasis of the term; ” it won’t be too early to start looking…..”, is emplaced on Noel and not Mallory and Irvine, which has for decades served as a substitute to its proper contextual meaning.

With the whole 8.00 a.m…..skyline/crossing under the rockband premise revised and indeed negated as a result, with the concomitant five hour lateness (based on Odell’s 12.50 p.m likely sighting of the pair on the ‘Second step’), the implications suggest that Mallory and Irvine, albeit still a few hours late, according to Mallory’s schedule, were in a better position to continue on toward the summit and thus with the premise of the five hour delay now quite dubious, it suggests that Mallory had indeed a more realistic and accurate assessment of the summit bid and together, he and Irvine freed of the externalities of excessive lateness ascribed to them by others may indeed have simply continued on regardless toward the summit, as the inculcations emplaced on them from external observers simply were not an issue for them, in light of what is now revealed in this disquisition…..


On the 7th of June 1924, intrepid English climbers; George Leigh-Mallory, Andrew Irvine and their four remaining porters arrived at the pre-established Camp VI situated on the north ridge at approximately 8140 metres.

Affixed days earlier by their colleagues E.F Norton and T.H Somervell, before their own daring but sadly unsuccessful summit bid, this high camp was the site of the 1924 expeditions final hope for attaining the summit of the world’s highest mountain.

Earlier, Mallory and Irvine together with their eight porters had manfully climbed since the 6th of June from the North Col to Camp V where the Englishmen and four of their porters had stayed overnight (the other four porters had since returned to the col in the afternoon), before this sextet of men finally reached Camp VI with their loads in preparation for the summit bid the next day by the Englishmen. Before however these last four porters descended to the North col camp, Mallory scribed two notes for the porters to relay to his colleagues John Noel the expedition photographer and Noel Odell the support climber, following behind by a day.

These two notes constitute the last written evidence of Mallory’s thinking and planning at the time ‘in situ’ and quite naturally have been studied intently since that day in 1924 for any occluded clues that may assist in helping to explain the movements and disappearance of the pair on their summit bid. Frightfully well spoken in proper Received Pronunciation English’

These notes first to Odell read; (1)

“Dear Odell,

We’re awfully sorry to have left things in such a mess-our Unna cooker rolled down the slope at the last moment. Be sure of getting back to IV tomorrow in time to evacuate before dark as I hope to. In the tent I must have left a compass- for the Lords sake rescue it, we are without. To here on 90 atmospheres for the two days- so we’ll probably go 2 cylinders- but its a bloody load for climbing.

Perfect weather for the job

Yours ever,

G Mallory

The second note was to expedition photographer, John Noel who was ensconced down at his colourfully described ‘Eagles nest’ above Camp III on the day of the Mallory and Irvine summit bid.

It read;(2)

“Dear Noel,

We’ll probably start early to-morrow (8th) in order to have clear weather. It won’t be too early to start looking out for us either crossing the rockband under the pyramid or going up skyline at 8.0pm (sic).

Yours ever,

G Mallory.

(note: A slip of the mind and pencil ‘in extremis’ probably explains the p.m instead of the a.m in the note as to the departure time)

Superficially these notes depict a litany of petty annoyances, observations, events and plans for the morrow.

Yes and No, Minister, its a balanced answer!
-Sir Humphrey Appleby

It is instructive however to consider the contextual subtext beyond these literal considerations, as a too literal interpretation of these notes can preclude more accurate meanings in Mallory’s words whilst being cognisant of not over-analysing the latent meaning. Specifically, it is useful to remember that Mallory was an English ‘man of letters’ as well as an amateur gentleman climber from a time and culture in many instances far removed from more ‘courser’ contemporaneous times and societies. In this regard, parsing of the notes from the knowledgeable recognition of the cultural perspective of Mallory’s sensibilities, yields hidden insights within these notes which may not be superficially apparent.

Exordially, the note to Odell firstly states that Mallory and Irvine are regretful on losing a cooker from Camp V that morning (7th June), with implications for Odell’s meal preparation.

‘Sounding like Dr Dick Stuart-Clark’

Specifically the use of the expression “We’re awfully…”, is an exaggerated form of English self deprecation in the apology common in the British Commonwealth then and now.

Mallory is in essence, seeking to appease Odell through exaggerated self deprecation in the apology.

Mallory then in his next point emphasises to Odell that he plans to return to Camp IV well before dark as Mallory hopes he and Irvine will also descend there after their summit bid and then the party evacuates the North Col before dark and descend to Camp III at the head of the East Rongbuk glacier.

With this aim inculcating on Mallory, he relays this plan to Odell so he may follow suite. However its unclear whether Mallory had in mind for all three climbers to descend together or to rendezvous at Camp IV sequentially. As Odell departed Camp VI for the col at 4.30 p.m cognisant of this plan, it raises the question as to what provision was made for a late return and if so, then what was the support climber Odell to do in such a circumstance.

At any measure, Odell used his discretion and departed at 4.30 p.m, but bearing in mind the late hour and still no sign of the descending climbers, one wonders why in that circumstance a simple descent to Camp V wouldn’t be better for Odell so as to aid a return to Camp VI for the morrow if Mallory and Irvine still hadn’t materialised and a search was necessary, which actually transpired over the course of the next few days.

A bivouac at Camp V for Odell would have returned him to Camp VI earlier and perhaps more extensive searching too a day earlier than transpired.

As Odell relates (3), perhaps the answer lies in the unsavoury prospect of another night at Camp V with no cooker to melt snow and thus provide needed liquid.

Understandably so, Odell cognisant of this immutable fact, opted for the North Col in alignment with Mallory’s plan. ‘What Audrey fforbes-Hamilton would say exasperatedly to Brigadier Leminton and vice versa!’

Next Mallory in his note asks Odell to fetch a forgotten compass left behind in the tent at Camp V as ensconced at Camp VI, Mallory has no compass which doubtless caused some exasperation as Mallory hints in the use of the expression;

“For the Lords sake rescue it…”

Clearly, like all high camp errata, something was forgotten as well as lost (the Unna cooker)- such is life!.  This expression too is typical of a certain modality of speech exemplified by the country upper/middle educated classes of England then and now (albeit to a lesser extent). Displaying a certain theatrical sensibility, it typifies the ‘unique’ speech patterns in this millieu. What some may call ‘proper old English!.

Crucially, Mallory then describes to Odell that he (and presumably Irvine) have used 90 atmospheres of oxygen to reach Camp VI apparently consumed over the two days to that point.

He then relates that;

“so we’ll probably go on two cylinders” for the summit bid on the 8th June.

Mallory then has a light hearted whinge when he relates;

“but its a bloody load for climbing”.

This latter expression can be seen in the context of the expectation for the morrow, perhaps based on the haulage of two cylinders he and Irvine carried up to Camp VI and naturally the tiring weariness as one progresses ever higher with such a load on one’s back.

Additionally, its another example of the pattern of speech used by gentlemen of Mallory’s class in England and by extension across various Commonwealth countries, but also for an aesthete like Mallory, versed in classic climbing practices, this oxygen carriage may have been less than ideal from an aesthetic perspective (as Mallory and others of similar sensibilities had argued previously (2)), but sufficient was Mallory’s flexibility and open-mindedness of the conditions ‘in situ’ and the state of this final effort to reach the summit by the expedition as a whole, that he, as always ‘played for the team’ so as to not ‘let the side down’ for all concerned, hence he selflessly opted for oxygen usage so as to best maximise the chances for a successful summit for himself and the expedition, while still in good spirits to have a light hearted whinge to Odell as an aside.

The former statement on the oxygen carriage vis a vis the ’90 atmospheres, two cylinders’ passage however is more factual in stating the oxygen usage to Camp VI since the morning of the 6th June and the concomitant planning as a result to opt for two cylinders for the summit effort on the 8th June.

Respected and observant researcher J.Hemmleb has highlighted well some options pertaining to the number of cylinder options available to Mallory and Irvine at Camp VI, signified in Mallory’s use of the word “probably”(3) but other options and interpretations also existed in this meaning as well which are equally or
supererogatorially salient (4).

‘Sir Humphrey-isms’

Antithetically to Hemmleb’s cogent “variable option” argument applied to the emphasis to the word “probably”, there is an alternative to this suggestion which proffers a different interpretation based on the English predilection of ‘padding out’ a sentence with extraneous or prolixive words so as to confer a more amenable form of self expression as opposed to those who utilise a more direct and clinical application of verbiage.

Mallory is a typical exponent of this cultural methodology and in his notes one can observe as discussed in this discourse, the usage of the word “Awfully” before “Sorry” to emphasise a sense of supplicatory gaining favour with Odell over a lost Unna cooker.

Another example is extant in the use of the word “Probably”, where twice the word is used by Mallory in his final notes, not to denote uncertainly or probability as its root derivation implies, but paradoxically to suggest certainty!.

Such ‘flexible manoeuvrability’ in English is quite common as words devolve from their precise meaning when utilised in certain circles.

Mallory writes to Noel;

“We’ll probably start early to-morrow (8th) in order to have clear weather”.

Mallory is unlikely to be seriously thinking of a later start on the important summit bid or to linger about before they set off, although many occasions in the 1920’s the British climbers and their porters did make later starts in preparation for climbing to higher camps for important events like summit bids, they were cognisant of good early starts.

Thus although Mallory uses the word ‘probably’ in the note to Noel, his true meaning is more succinct in aiming indeed for an early start, but its tempered by the cultural inculcation of communication in a more circumspect manner through the expedient of prolixive words to ‘pad out’ the sentence and make it more amenable.

Equally to Odell, the use of the word “probably” vis a vis the oxygen cylinders;

” To here on 90 atmospheres- so we’ll probably go on 2 cylinders….”,

Denotes not only the suggestion of choice in the cylinder quantity as Hemmleb tacitly and reasonably suggests, but also by contrast, the conclusive decision to indeed climb on the summit bid using only two cylinders per man!

Feriens tego

Thus in an antithetical sense, Mallory is actually saying that he and Irvine will indeed climb on two cylinders, but Mallory is merely using the word ‘Probably’ in an ancillary sense and is merely another illustration of his prolixive form of self expression.

Certainly in Great Britain then and now, as well as Commonwealth countries, there is a tendency in the common culture to suffuse self expression with extraneous verbiage and avoid unseemly directness in one’s communication with others.

“Apparently the now known, need to know wasn’t known at the time” -Bernard Woolley

This aspect manifests itself in Mallory’s style as he too has a propensity toward extraneous expression by adding ‘neutralised’ words like ‘Probably’ into his missives which act to soften any uncouth directness by making one appear to be more reasonable to others as well as to oneself through this expedient of ‘neutralised’ exiguous verbiage.

Thus in this particular case, contrary to what the note appears to state in terms of the use of the word ‘Probably’ denoting some undefined likelihood of actuality, Mallory is merely suffusing the note with a ‘neutralised’ word that actually means nothing at all to its recognised meaning and therefore is extraneous to the note’s real meaning.

As a result, Mallory is in effect really saying ‘ To here on 90 atmosphere’s for the two days- so well go on 2 cylinders……”.

The word “probably” is irrelevant and mere ‘padding’ causing some distraction over the decades, however researcher J.Hemmleb is correct in one sense in that there are cylinder carriage options implicit, but there is also another interpretation outlined above based on the nature of self expression peculiar to the English and those familiar and versed in that culture, so Mallory’s note has an unintended bifurcated meaning which sheds light on the final configurational arrangement of cylinders taken on the final summit bid by the pair.

Whether Mallory is speaking for himself or Irvine as well is open to debate though. The surfeit of cylinders at Camp VI on the 7/8th of June does leave open the possibility that more could be carried, such as the possibility that one could be taken as a spare for emergencies (carried by Irvine) which the five cylinders detailed on the ‘Stella’ list found on “Look at those cavemen go……I wonder if he’ll ever know, he’s in the best selling show, is there life on Mars! -David Bowie

Relatedly and in spite of Mallory’s descriptions of consuming 90 atmospheres of oxygen over the two days, there is still some confusion in some minds on what should be a contiguously established set of facts and implications. A case study of this confusion lies in the erroneous calculations and writings of modern Everest panjandrum T.M Holzel, who inexplicably computes and advocates the 90 atmospheres of oxygen usage described by Mallory over the two days, with a wrongful climb rate of 840 vertical feet/hour (6).

Syllogically, 90 atmospheres represents 75% of a full cylinder (535 litres in the 1924 case). This 401 litres was consumed by Mallory (and presumably Irvine) over the two days as Mallory explicitly states in his note.

Knowing the flow rate of oxygen setting of 1.5 litres/minute which Irvine set the kit to function at from Camp III to the North Col, it logically follows with elegant inevitability, that 401 litres consumed at 1.5 litres/minute results in 267 minutes or approximately 4.5 hours of oxygen usage to reach Camp VI from Camp IV on the col over the two days.

“The naked man fears no pickpockets!” -Mrs Poulivska

Ipso facto, this eluctable datum is really all that can be said of Mallory and Irvine’s oxygen usage, as ‘in situ’ dynamics of consummation simply can’t be evinced. However, Holzel presbyopically proceeds beyond these sound grounds to impenetratably divide the difference in altitude between Camps IV and VI (3800 feet) by the oxygen consumption of 4.5 hours, to arrive at a ‘non sequitor’ climb rate for the pair of approximately 840 vertical feet/hour!

Whence from this invention he then draws a number of wrongful implications on the climbers ascent rate on the 8th of June leading to a perceived shortfall in ascent progress, a time limited failure and a tendentious excuse for failure in a terrain blockage at the ‘Second step’.

Kokleda partha mennin clatch, aroon aroon aroon – as Doctor Who says to Aggador!.

Ensnared in the self hypnotic thrall of his own invention, Holzel then confabulates a scenario comprising of a descent by Mallory and Irvine followed inexplicably by a new ascent to the apex of the ‘First step’ for some recreational foray and observing, before finally descending toward Camp VI until overtaken by a fall at the ice axe site situated at 8450 metres.

The error the apotheotic Holzel consistently fails to understand after some considerable time, is that the 90 atmospheres consumed by Mallory (and Irvine perhaps) was partaken over two days from the morning of the 6th of June until approximately the early afternoon of the 7th of June where the Englishmen likely arrived at Camp VI.

Even assuming intermittent usage over that timescale, its clear that more than 4.5 hours of consumption was taken to cover that 3800 feet to Camp VI, thus Holzel’s erroneous suppositions simply can’t be sustained, as he conflates assumptions, based on assumptions and then calling them facts.

By contrast all that can be said with some certainly, is that the climbers consumed 401 litres of oxygen intermittently over two days in unknown distribution!

The final passage in Mallory’s note to Odell concerns the expression;

“Perfect weather for the job

Yours ever

G Mallory”

The obvious salutation at the end is clear, but the last sentence “perfect weather for the job”, refers to more than just the promising weather conditions at the time of writing and in the lead-up to their arrival at Camp VI. The phrase is also an intriguing insight into Mallory’s state of mind at Camp VI and his overall ‘espirit’.

Signifying a sense of well-being, the expression is an exhortation extolling in one sense a lugubrious ‘gallows humour’ where things may be unpleasant but one is still trying to maintain one’s spirits in the face of adversity or one is displaying an insouciant light hearted aspect for the morrow as representative that things are going well.

Fortier in re

Thus in this case at Camp VI, in light of the known good weather at the time and Mallory’s previous priorities in his note to Odell where he lists various sundry issues and exiguous woes, one can rightfully say that Mallory is in a good mood and the expression;

“Perfect weather for the job”,

Displays a man who is at ease at Camp VI and is light heartedly almost joking with Odell, and if so, then it tacitly suggests contrary to some argument vis a vis the oxygen or other factors that may have caused problems, that Mallory at time of writing on the afternoon of the 7th of June was in a good mood and light heartedly bantering with Odell, as conditions were promising both weather-wise as well as other factors. Taken in toto, the Odell note signifies a man in Mallory, scribing after a series of contretemps, an exaggerated apology, a plan for the morrow and the status of the oxygen usage which must have been pleasing to him as he’s indicating is thinking for the summit bid on the morrow.

He finally signs off in a light heated manner which tacitly indicates things are well and Mallory is relaxed. Tellingly, after citing the oxygen, he makes no mention of any faults after he mentions a litany of minor woes such as a lost cooker and forgotten compass, thus it can be argued that having cited such exiguous woes he refrains from mentioning any possible oxygen faults and signs off in a light hearted manner which tacitly suggests that the oxygen was working well, as having mentioned woes and the oxygen, he says nothing of any fault pertaining to the oxygen, which suggests it was working well and explains Mallory’s insouciant mood in his final salutation .

In all, a most revealing paper showing the underlying context of the situation at the time and the writer, Mallory ‘in situ’ which with proper interpretative reading sheds light on aspects of the mystery.

“St Noel of the Camera’s”

Mallory’s second note is much shorter but also revealing as closer analysis indicates details that are occluded by the superficially literal interpretation.

Only one subject is canvassed by Mallory, pertaining specifically to Mallory’s plans for the summit bid on the morrow and his specific instructions to Noel on his observing activities from his lofty perch situated above Camp III at his self designated “Eagle’s nest”.

As described above, Mallory writes that; “We’ll probably start early to-morrow (8th) in order to have clear weather”.

Mallory is cognisant of the weather which recently had been fair in the morning but risked deteriorating as the day wore on.

“Which seems to signify the significance of significant -Sir Humphrey Appleby

However again the use of the word “probably” is again in this context a meaningless ancillary to his overall meaning as its doubtful on such an important day, to explore the contrast, he was seriously considering a later start on the final summit bid.

Thus the word “probably” is again neutralised and is yet another example of Mallory’s (and many English speakers included) ’roundabout’ methodology of self expression, where circumspection and politeness is unconsciously inculcated upon one as the proper way of self expression.

Indeed Mallory’s real meaning is simply ‘We’ll start early to-morrow in order to have clear weather’. No doubts or alternatives were intended or planned as the empty word “Probably” suggests.

‘The Doctor and Sarah-Jane would spot this too…………’

Finally an important new interpretation can be gleaned in the next paragraph comprising of;

“It won’t be too early to start looking out for us either crossing the rockband under the pyramid or going up skyline at 8.0 p.m”. (exeat: real meaning 8.00 a.m)

The use of the word “skyline” by Mallory represents yet another example of his iconoclastic form of self expression where in a poetic sense, Mallory opts for more florid language in his self expressional verbiage as has been outlined in this discourse.

” Well its up to God, Oh well at least he’s English” – Audrey fforbes-Hamilton Another example of this floridity in Mallory’s verbiage exists in his description of their summit bid as ‘Ascension day’. Depicting a tacit pun and play on words in equating the Everest summit bid by the pair with a certain other ‘Ascension day’ by an even more well known individual…… His meaning in essence though suggests an ascent via the North East Arete’, between the Arete’ above Camp VI to the final pyramid.

Mirable ditu

This final paragraph has been the source of more misunderstanding over the decades of Mallory’s planning than any other but can now be interpreted in a new context based on the proper cultural millieu.

The key dissonance concerns the expression;

“It won’t be too early to start..”

Since Odell and his comrades first read this note in 1924, the meaning has been taken at face value in suggesting that Mallory planned to be at 8.00 a.m, climbing on the terraces under the North-East Arete’ and final pyramid or climbing up the arete itself encompassing the two main rock steps and the pyramid. However, this narrow view occludes the precise sub textual context Mallory’s meaning in that its important to consider that Mallory was writing to Noel giving final instructions on his observing for the morrow.

Mallory isn’t referring to he and Irvine being at 8.00 a.m higher on the mountain, instead he’s referring to Noel to be active and observing by that time.

Indeed the precise meaning is crouched in the peculiar form of expression still found in England and other Commonwealth countries today.

To wit; “It won’t be too early to…..”;

Is still used in a slightly ironic sense to ones interlocutor as a recommendation for action based on a reasonable margin of error. It is in effect a calculated baseline in which one instructs someone to perform an action within an acceptable timeframe to ensure success.

By way of example from this authors’ own experience;

‘Noblesse Oblige, its an English expression’ – Audrey fforbes-Hamilton

When one was a lad living in the country here in Australia, one went to school in the mornings via a school bus. To reach the bus, one rode one’s bicycle to the main road (usually in the ruddy cold). As you do, I’d ask my Mum, what time I should head off in order to catch the bus.

My Mum would reply;

“Well it won’t be too early to start by 8 o’clock”.

By this, she meant that the bus wouldn’t be there by 8.00 a.m, but I should be off by that time in order to catch the bus in good time, subject to the vagaries of country life. In effect, she was giving me a reasonable baseline in which to begin from with sufficient margin to allow for error.

This expression is still current in many aspects of contemporary Australia, England and other Commonwealth nations. Its oft spoken in a slightly ironic sense, but the intent is clear for those familiar with it.

Thus Mallory is communicating to Noel to be up and looking by 8.00 a.m, which Mallory considers to be a sufficient margin in which to start from and in which to observe later the climbers hoving into view, such was his knowledge and experience in the difficulty of high altitude living and preparedness.

The key aspect concerns the implications of the meaning with the expectation being that the observer is active by 8.00 a.m in order to see the climbers hove into view some time after that hour. It is not however, a specific time/locale estimate by Mallory for Noel to see them, and which has been wrongfully ascribed to this note’s meaning since 1924 by all and sundry.

Per ardua surgo

Instead it is a generalised notice to Noel to be observing in order for Noel to be ready to spot the climbers eventually, later as they hove into view after 8.00 a.m.

Its perhaps surprising that since 1924 everyone from Mallory’s comrades to the present day have misunderstood the meaning in Mallory’s expression, perhaps due to Mallory’s more aloof and prolixive form of self expression (he was lightly teased by his companions as a ‘high brow’), as a ‘man of letters’ of his upper-middle class upbringing would be prone to express himself. Thus as a cause to consequence or agency to eventuality, the passage in question can now be seen in a rather different light so that Mallory’s note and real meaning have a rather different complexion to what has traditionally been ‘understood’.

Mallory didn’t plan to be “going up skyline” or “crossing the rockband under the pyramid” at 8.00 a.m, as has been widely interpreted, instead the precise context of the directive to Noel has become diffused ‘ab initio’ and repeated ‘ad nauseum’ such that this resultantly ‘sine qua non’ has formed the basis of most analysis to the present.

Antithetically, ‘nous avons change’ tout cela’, Mallory merely meant for Noel to be active and observing at 8.00 a.m as a reasonable ‘safe’ starting time in order to be adequately ready to see the climbers as they did eventually hove into view some time after 8.00 a.m. One can be more forgiving of Mallory’s comrades ‘in situ’ as they would be weary after months of expeditioning as well as not in ‘top form’ due to high altitude so that a simple misinterpretation in reading Noel’s note could easily be overlooked.

The second component in this ‘in medias res’ is the actual location where Mallory expected Noel to observe for he and Irvine sometime after 8.00 a.m when he hoped Noel would locate and film them and in which Mallory had some lively or reasonable expectation could be achieved. The range of locales expressed by previous observers in this regard is actually quite diverse but all beliefs are still contingent on the 8.00 a.m Mallory to Noel note location parameter, in which this discourse exposes significant dissonance.

Quicquid agas age

For example, sagacious Everest researchers J.Hemmleb adopt a ‘literal’ interpretation of the Mallory/Noel 8.00 a.m location and suggest a straightforward, climb up to the North-East Arete’ from Camp VI (situated at 8140 metres) emphasising the utilisation of the word “skyline” by Mallory and based on the experience of Norton and Somervell days earlier combined with their own climb up to Camp VI over the past two days. Hemmleb posit a scenario where the pair depart camp in the near dawn light and reach the North East Arete’ between 8.45-9.15 a.m (based on a 2.2 litre/minute flow rate of a 110 atmosphere cylinder conferring 3 hours and 40 minutes of usable oxygen) found on the North-East Arete’ in 1999 at 8475 metres.(8)

While this ‘literal’ interpretation by Hemmleb has some merit and the expedient of persuasive simplicity, it is still nonetheless confined to the inherent limitation of the 8.00 a.m/locale criterion which this discourse questions and thus is more of a rationalisation of the extant data related to this issue.

‘Ground control to major Tom…..’ Space Oddity – David Bowie

A more maudlin exposition emanates from the burlesque bailiwick of Everest panjandrum T.M Holzel, who completely fails to comprehend the context of Mallory’s communication to Noel, with the result that Holzel creates a sisyphean ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ based on the fixation of the 8.00 a.m/locale ‘datum’ and then incorporates the Odell sighting of the pair on a rock step at 12.50 p.m to create a dubious scenario whereby the Englishmen are supposed to be on the ‘Second step’ at 8.00 a.m are seen nearly five hours late by Odell. Incorporating the palpably wrong ‘840 vertical feet/hour’ climb rate into his recondite equation, Holzel nonetheless manages to produce a likely estimate that the Englishmen could reach the ‘First step’ between 10.00-11.00 a.m after their initial oxygen was expended based on a lower 275 metres/hour climb rate, which differs drastically from Holzel’s inappropriately incorporated ‘840 vertical feet/hour’ rate, but still manages to correspond with a perfunctory ascent rate.

‘Ayup, nowt nay chip butty uup thar for thee lad!’

Holzel describes Mallory and Irvine then reaching the ‘Second step’, abandoning the ascent for one reason or another (often cited ‘terrain difficulties’) and then retreating down to the ‘First step’ again in the intervening two-three hours where paradoxically the pair then decide to climb back up onto the apex of the ‘First step’ in order to seek out some alternative route or to reconnoitre and photograph the upward route beyond as well as some recreational foray of dubious merit, which oddly was just that which they had already seen on their assumed ‘ab initio’ ascent toward the ‘Second step’, and ‘ignotum per Ignotius’ then seeking some hitherto alternative route eliminating the ‘Second step’ and the crenulated arete’ on its approach!. (see photo 4 in text beginning)

‘Holzels very own “Konisberg bridge problem” for Everest’

This sisyphean invention by Holzel can be seen however as a canard, in order to provide Odell with a 12.50 p.m sighting of the climbers on a ‘step’ and which Holzel needs in order to correlate a time and ‘appearance’ of climbers proceeding up a rock step to satisfy the components of the total known equation of the time of the Odell sighting and an ‘appearance’ of the pair ascending up a rock step.

Thus through the expedient of a known sighting of the Englishmen assumed by Odell ‘a priori’ to be five hours late, Holzel’s ‘reconstruction’ merely signifies a denounement due to inappropriate application of proposed climb rates from Camp IV to Camp VI by Mallory and Irvine and then nucleating that datum into a summit bid equation that demonstrates a mis-reading of the salient facts involved that accentuates the significance of the ‘five hour delay’ at 12.50 p.m, and which then self-identifies a dissonance with an assumed late morning arrival in the vicinity of the ‘First step’ with the assumed sighting of Mallory and Irvine on the ‘Second step’, results in a temporal incongruity and so eventuates with Holzels scenario of Mallory and Irvine’s fearful retreat and a recreational foray back up to the apex of the ‘First Step’ to see that what they has supposedly already seen as the terrain clearly reveals be it for the top of the said step or the lower ridge ‘modern route’ approximately 7 metres lower!. (see photo 4 near beginning of this disquisition)

“(Politicians) like activity, its their substitute for achievement” -Sir Humphrey Appleby

Holzel’s ‘sui generis’ and ineluctable scenario thus demonstrates a case study of making assumptions and by transposition, making these assumptions confer with known variables and then fitting the predecided end result to best fit the ‘ab initio’ assumptions through the expedient of the misapplication of the literal reading of Mallory’s note to Noel with specific reference to the expression;

“it won’t be too early to start looking out for us…..”.

By contrast, the key question of Mallory’s meaning to Noel in terms of the location/time criteria can now be addressed in a different light based on this alternative reading of Mallory contextual expression.

According to these expositions, the wrongful application of Mallory and Irvine supposedly being at 8.00 a.m, either crossing the rockband under the pyramid or climbing up skyline can now be dismissed as irrelevant and therefore freed of this limitation, it can now be shown that Mallory had indeed a more nuanced and realistic assessment of progress and the difficulties propagated by the terrain on the summit bid route, than has hitherto been seen, much less understood by

Ergo propter hoc

As a cause to consequence, Mallory didn’t expect to be at 8.00 a.m either ‘crossing the rockband under the pyramid’ or heading up ‘skyline’ but in actuality either of these locales were planned to be reached much later, well after 8.00 a.m.

Thus, now it can be shown that there are new and interesting confluences of locales and times which appear and illuminate the climbers anticipatory movements high on the mountain in a more coherent light than had previously been seen.

Specifically both Odell and E.F Norton in dispatches in June 1924, make mention of Mallory’s intent to reach the ‘Second step’ by late in the morning (10.00 a.m at latest- Odell and 11.00 a.m as understood by Norton).

Norton recalls;

“They were last seen by Odell from Camp VI.going strong for the top. I have not yet seen Odell, but estimate that this was about 11 in the morning of the 8th, and that the point reached at that time by the climbers was about 28,000 feet”. (sic) (9)

Tellingly, Norton admits he has not yet spoken to Odell in person, yet cognisant of Mallory’s planning beforehand, he makes an estimate of 11.00 a.m for the 28,000 feet level which corresponded generally for the then accepted height of the ‘Second step’.

Thus, its reasonable to posit that upon learning of Odell’s sighting on a key locale of the route, Norton automatically filled in the gap vis a vis time with this late morning estimate such was his awareness of Mallory’s planning beforehand, perhaps discussed at Camp IV before Mallory departed on the 6th of June.

Similarly Odell recalls with even more clarity;

“I was surprised above all to see them so late as this, namely 12.50, at a point that according to Mallory’s schedule should have been reached by 10 am. at latest”. (10)

This too confirms that Odell was aware of Mallory’s planning schedule and in his dispatched account of his sighting, appears to confer their location on the ‘second step’ with its concomitant time estimate added to his sighting of the pair.

Later Odell draws implications on this sighting in the same dispatch,

Odell recalls;

:…. in reaching a point at which they were last seen at an altitude Hazard later determined to be about 28,230 feet………………….They had about 800 feet to surmount to reach the top and if no particularly difficult obstacle presented itself on the final pyramid they should have got there about 3 to 3.30. This would be three or four hours late on Mallory’s schedule……” (11)

So by Odell and Norton’s understanding of Mallory’s plans, a schedule emerges of Mallory planning to be on the ‘Second step’ by late in the morning with a summit some three to four hours later, approximately in the early afternoon. Certainly Odell cites his estimate of a later summit possibility by mid afternoon still, which is known to fall close to Mallory’s upper limit of margin for a summit at 4.00 p.m in order to achieve a late evening return.

‘They weren’t in the pub in Devesham with the Doctor and Sarah-Jane…..’

The discrepancy though with these ‘ab initio’ explanations and the later official account where Odell becomes perhaps influenced by a misreading of Mallory’s note to Noel then comes to the fore where the ‘8.00 a.m’ instruction to Noel unbalances the understanding.Odell in the 1925 published book account ‘Fight for Everest’ recalls;

“…….I was surprised above all to see them so late as this, namely 12.50, at a point which if the “second rock step,” they should have reached according to Mallory’s
schedule by 8 a.m. at latest, and if the “first rock step” proportionally earlier.”…..(12)

Indeed, later in this account, Odell openly discusses the influence of the Noel note on his assessment and rationalisation of Mallory and Irvine’s predicament.

Odell recalls;

“…… and if no particularly difficult obstacle presented itself on the final pyramid they should have got to the top at about 3 to 3.30. Before, however, he left Camp VI Mallory had sent a note to Noel at Camp III saying he hoped to reach the foot of the final pyramid (about 28,300ft odd) by 8 a.m. So on this schedule they would be perhaps five or six hours late in reaching the top….” (13)

This entry provides firm evidence in the subtle but nucleating alteration of thought vis a vis Mallory’s scheduling over time from the ‘ab initio’ dispatches written ‘in situ’ and shortly after events transpired, to the later official rationalisations and perhaps influences by the Noel note on the thinking during reflection and construction of the official account as described here.

Antithetically, its possible that Odell and others ever since 1924, have been influenced by the misreading of the ‘8.00 a.m’ instruction to Noel as this exposition postulates, and therefore tainted the expectations Mallory had in his assessment of his summit bid schedule. Understandable in lieu of the conditions they were living under and the deleterious effects such constraints may have on their cognition.

The question is now raised in light of the alternative expositional discourse highlighted in this disquisition, just how much have Mallory’s words have been misinterpreted by perhaps unfamiliarity of others regarding the nuances of Mallory’s self expression and from which had tainted understanding of the equation of Mallory’s planning ever since.

“Now assuming I’m right and I invariably am…” – Tom Baker as Doctor Who, 1974

By contrast, an alternative analysis of Mallory’s meaning and schedule as a function of the reassessed Noel note reveals Mallory planning an early start, advising Noel to be active in good time by 8.00 a.m in order to properly catch them hoving into view later. Mallory’s estimate of a late morning arrival on the ‘Second step’ was articulated to Norton and Odell with the summit planned to be reached several hours later in the early afternoon.

Mallory and Irvine were likely seen at 12.50 p.m by Odell somewhat late according to schedule but only three hours maximum if Odell’s understanding is advanced (only two hours if Norton’s understanding is accepted), this figure is significantly different to the long accepted lateness of approximately five hours (based on the misread 8.00 a.m Noel note) and from which various and increasingly esoteric conundrums of prestidigitation and logical ‘sleight of hand’ in scheduling and movements by the Englishmen, have been espoused since 1924, and especially since the early 1970’s in ‘folie et deux’s’ exercises of skewed ‘ignotum per ignotius’ and other arcana, and in so doing distorting the simpler and more reasonable understanding of Mallory’s scheduling and subsequent movements toward the summit by he and Irvine which suggest a more realistic planning and assessment by Mallory, where the ‘Second step’ was reached by late morning on the 8th of June and the summit gained by early afternoon, as Odell and Norton understood and articulated in their initial dispatches which is suggested by the author to be a more realistic and original articulation of the planning and later movements by Mallory and Irvine.

Quisque Tenax

Indeed this alternative discourse provides a more coherent alignment of times and positioning for the pair, than has been hitherto understood whereby the dissonance between an assumed early start by the Englishmen and the observation by Odell at 12.50 p.m consistently fails to correspond with Mallory’s planned and articulated scheduling at key waypoints on the route (the Second step). This intrinsic dissonance as a function of misreading and application of excessive literalism in Mallory’s contextual expression, has nucleated into increasingly arcane scenarios that seek to align the disparate componentry of the known variables in the climb equation by the pair.

C’est qu’ elle retourne ver sa source

The resulting otiose as an inevitable agency to eventuality then devolves into skewed and nonisometric scenarios which inadequately portray Mallory and Irvine’s summit bid in the proper and accurate context. These unbalanced scenario’s predilectionally result invariably in the Englishmen abandoning the climb due to time constraints or some other inelucible combination of time, oxygen limits and terrain difficulties such as that espoused ‘reductio ad absurdium’ by apotheotic Everest writer T.M Holzel.

However as this exposition espouses, an altogether different interpretation can be evinced through a proper cultural understanding of Mallory’s contextual subtext which reveals a more nuanced and perhaps surprisingly ‘modern’ (if that term has any value) appraisal of the route and time scheduling in its specificity where the Englishmen unencumbered by external inculcations imposed from some, simply saw their position as still workable and continued upward to the summit as Odell noted in his observations at the time where the pair were importantly still climbing up and not down!

Having established a proper contextual framework of Mallory’s meaning in his note to Noel as a function of his instructions and parametric time to begin observing in conjunction with Mallory’s estimates on the summit bid scheduling, the only component missing is the precise location Noel was focussed on and in which he expected to observe and photograph the pair at a time after 8.00 a.m.

Semper vigilate

With Mallory’s known scheduling to reach key waypoints on the summit bid (the ‘Second step’ by late morning as related by Odell and Norton ) and the estimate for reaching the summit by early afternoon (Odell’s testimony), combined with the now alternative and more accurate understanding of Mallory’s instructions to Noel vis a vis time sequencing, the modality of these parametric variables can be combined with Noel’s focus of attention for observing, to reveal a more coherent depiction of Mallory’s schedule and ultimate progress with Irvine on the 8th of June.

Noel is quite clear in his observational attention, focussed all day on the final pyramid that this locale was where Mallory planned for Noel to watch for he and Irvine as the centroid of his “going up skyline” description.

Noel recalls;

“When the time came for him to make that great climb from which he never returned he dis-cussed (sic) his route minutely with me, and told me where to look for him with my telephoto lens on the final pyramid”. (14)

Tellingly, it is in this same text that Noel introduces the concept of the ‘8.00 a.m time/locale disposition which has been repeated ‘ad nausuem’ ever since, but which this discourse addresses in an alternative sub textual contextual. (see notes)

Noel then relates his actions in observing on the morning of the 8th of June, which correlate with Noel’s understanding of Mallory’s location, if not the proper scheduling (based on his possible misinterpretation of Mallory’s written meaning in his note).

Noel recalls;

“Next morning at daybreak I set up my motion-picture camera with a long lens trained on the summit pyramid, 3 miles distant, to watch for Mallory and Irvine ……… had two keen-eyed men watching in turns , their eyes glued continuously to the telescope, but they saw nothing”.(15)

Patently clear is Noel’s understanding of the locale in which Mallory signified (the final pyramid) based on previous discussions and Mallory’s last reminder note to him. With this unambiguous locale under continuous observation, it is perhaps surprising that so many writers on the subject have extrinsically varied the meaning of Mallory’s usage of the term;

“going up skyline”

As his intent is non-pellucid and corroborated by Noel’s written understanding and subsequent actions on the summit day for the pair.

‘Bodie and Doyle could get this sorted………..’

From these varigated but merging components in this Mallory notes’ disquisition, a more complete picture emerges now that demonstrates a more considered and accurate understanding of the summit bid by Mallory in which he communicates in written form, but has been overlooked due to obeisant adherence to literalism in the reading of Mallory’s verbiage.

From Mallory’s note to Odell, one sees a man in Mallory at Camp VI on the afternoon of the 7th June issuing a profuse apology to Odell of a lost cooker along with a selection of sundry but petty annoyances with kit, a plan and advice to perhaps descend to Camp IV by night, and the oxygen kit seemingly working adequately as it mentioned to work in assisting their ascent and having had a ‘whinge’ regarding other kit, significantly, Mallory refrains from mentioning any problems with the kit subsequently. He then cites his intent indeed to utilise two cylinder per man on the summit bid through the expedient of somewhat excessive and more flowing language via the redundant word ‘probably’.

“Still in the Devesham pub having a pint of ginger pop with Sarah Jane….?”

Finally, in a momentary flash of insight into Mallory’s mood, he shares a light hearted ‘joke’ with Odell through the rumination on the weather which indicates a man relaxed enough to have make a light joke and air that in print. A tacit indicator of Mallory’s insouciant mood ‘in situ’!

The second note to Noel is similarly revealing in indicating indeed an early start for the morrow (via the expedient of the neutralised word ‘probably’) and the reversionary directive revelation that, ‘it won’t be too early to start looking…..’ to Noel signifying not a literal time to observe the pair at the proscribed location “under the pyramid” or “going up skyline” (the final pyramid) at 8.00 a.m, but merely a suggested early and adequate start to the observing by Noel with enough margin to be sure and ready to capture and record Mallory and Irvine’s eventual arrival on the pyramid after 8.00 a.m in line with Mallory’s estimated schedule for the ascent!


This alternative interpretation based on the proper cultural context of Mallory’s Camp VI notes, suggests Mallory had a more realistic appraisal of the route than has previously been appreciated, much less understood.

With a schedule encompassing a late morning arrival on the ‘Second Step’ and a summit planned for the early afternoon, nucleating from an early start in the morning, the resulting observation of Odell on a rock step at 12.50 p.m takes on increased significance in that and as Odell rationalises, the pair were running some hours late according to their schedule, but not as bad as has been wrongly assumed since 1924 where up to five hours has been commonly and wrongly assumed to the point of immutability.

Indeed if the pair were indeed on the ‘Second step’ at 12.50 p.m, then on Mallory’s schedule, they were perhaps only between 2-3 hours late (according to the separate dispatches of Norton and Odell written ‘in situ’ and not long after events occurred during the Mallory and Irvine effort).

A less than perfect situation certainly, but with a known limit of 4.00 p.m as the latest time in which Mallory estimated to summit and to still return to camp, being on the ‘Second step’ at about 12.50 p.m still left sufficient margin in which to still summit, by utilising the extra margin contained within the 4.00 p.m limit. Indeed tellingly, Odell does indeed perform an estimate on their observed position in relation to the summit and does suggest the pair were still with a reasonable chance of summiting by mid afternoon approximately 3.00-3.30 p.m. Such thinking may well have been in the minds of Mallory and Irvine at the time, where although somewhat late, they still may have been cognisant that they still had enough margin (4.00 p.m at latest communicated to E.F Norton by Mallory before departure from Camp IV) to summit successfully.

In this circumstance, Odell’s summit estimate becomes more cogent and better correlates with Mallory and Irvine’s movements still ascending, based on their known scheduling and (as articulated in this discourse), now better understood planning of the route and time/location variables in the total summit bid equation via the proper interpretation of the Noel note.

In futurum videre

Thus although Mallory and Irvine at 12.50 p.m, if on the ‘Second step’ were some hours late according to Mallory’s communicated schedule, their situation wasn’t as dire as has been previously portrayed by some in such mellifluously abject and portentous terms, with concomitant derivative scenarios then resulting, that attempt to explain putative actions from this point, usually leading to the Englishmen retreating due to some inculcated recognition that they were ‘five hours late according to the Noel note Mallory wrote’.

However as this discourse now canvasses, this premise can now be described with a degree of sufficient doubt so as to make the whole premise a nugatory exercise.

Indeed isometrically and countervalingly, perceptive and sagacious Everest observer Thomas Rost ably describes this Noel note issue as a proof by some, that Mallory and Irvine underestimated the difficulties of the mountain and the time needed to reach the top. (16)

Per ardua ad aethera tendo

Instead, a new equation now occurs where contrary to the over-enthusiastically literalist precepts of some, Mallory seems to have had a more reasonable estimate of the scheduling for the summit bid, indeed more attuned to contemporary thinking in efforts to summit and to safely return. Freed of the externalities of time limitations emplaced on the pair, it is interesting to then consider just what Mallory and Irvine would have done in this new circumstance, at 12.50 p.m on a rock step (likely the ‘Second step’), late certainly, but not as dire as had been traditionally assumed.

In that circumstance, although late by a few hours but knowing they still had enough margin to still reach the summit by sometime in the mid afternoon (as Odell estimated), and with only the ‘Second step ‘ to overcome, it may well have been a powerful psychological spur to keep climbing upward, knowing that they still had just enough margin to summit and they had an appointment to meet on the final pyramid where their comrade Noel was intending to film them on this snowy ‘canvas’ as they neared the summit.

The question is asked in light of these more sanguine circumstances they were likely in, would they give up so easily knowing they still could summit with sufficient margin by utilising the time margins integrated into Mallory’s more realistic planned scheduling?

One now wonders if indeed based on this new understanding, they perhaps did indeed press on toward the summit where if by 1.00 p.m overcoming the difficult ‘Second step’ (via the modern route to the right of the prow) and with an easy plateau and snow pyramid to scale, they may well have pressed on once this difficulty was breached…..

It is interesting though, that the Noel note and Mallory’s gentle chiding to Noel to be up and ready by 8.00 a.m has become so skewed and so quickly, such that the whole premise has become an ‘article of faith’ where antithetically, closer and more accurate analysis in a proper cultural context, leading to a better understanding of Mallory’s meaning and as a cause to consequence his later decision making on the summit bid itself, has been eschewed in favour of exiguiously literal repetition of the premise that ‘Mallory and Irvine were five hours late when seen by Odell’ with the result that entire scenarios that maunderly purport to demonstrate that ‘a priori’, due to the lateness of the hour, the Englishmen would retreat either on the ‘Second step’ at 12.50 p.m or they had just arrived at/or already retreated before the Odell sighting and were climbing the ‘First step’ instead. The final option centres on the revised ‘First step’ suggestion which Odell first introduces in the official text the following year, where he posits that the climbers were climbing up the ‘First step’ at 12.50 p.m. (17)

Odell recalls;

“Owing to the small portion of the summit ridge uncovered I could not be precisely certain at which of these two “steps” they were, as in profile and from bellw they are very similar, but at the time I took it for the upper “second step.” However, I am a little doubtful now whether the latter would not be hidden by the projecting nearer ground from my position below on the face”.

” I know, I know, know thy subject- Bodie to Doyle”

From this altered stance, the ‘First step’ enters the equation, however if Mallory and Irvine were indeed climbing up on the ‘First step’ at 12.50 p.m then this indeed would be terribly late by Mallory’s schedule to such an extant as to preclude the summit entirely as to continue onward would exceed the 4.00 p.m time limit to summit by a considerable margin.

Indeed with the spent oxygen cylinder #9 barely 20-30 minutes (8475 metres) from the base of the ‘First step’ and presumably discarded before the ‘First step’ was reached, then this would mean that Mallory and Irvine would have departed Camp VI between 3.75-5.5 hours earlier (8.45 a.m-7.00 a.m) using the flow rate of the cylinder (2.2-1.5 litres/min differential) as a climb metric.

The question is asked, if the pair were this late then why were they still continuing on the climb?

It’s possible they were delayed in their ascent for some reason, but these putative variables are outside the purview of this disquisition, suffice to say, that if Mallory and Irvine were still on the ‘First step’ at 12.50 p.m, then the likelihood of a summit would be very low indeed, and radically at odds with Mallory’s climb schedule expounded here in this discourse.

Respected and articulate Everest researcher Jochen Hemmleb explores these Odell sighting scenario’s more widely though, elsewhere. (18)


Mallory’s last two written notes scribed at Camp VI on the 7th of June 1924 have been subject to much misinterpretation over the decades.

Primarily the notion to ascribe within, a too literalist description to Mallory’s verbiage has tended to obscure subtle alternative meanings accordant with the conclusion that indeed Mallory had conceptually a more reasonable and accurate understanding of the summit bid in terms of time as a function of location ‘in situ’

Contrary to the otiose views of some, careful examination of Mallory’s wording reveals a well planned summit bid aligned with more ‘modern’ sensibilities of the route that has been sadly occluded by inaccurate reading of Mallory’s cultural millieu in the proper context.

‘….and it wasn’t
Charley Farley and Piggy Malone up there either!’

In his note to Odell, it can be seen that despite a litany of petty woes in reaching this campsite, Mallory is in a relaxed frame of mind enough to lightly joke with his interlocutor, advise on planning for the morrow (if all goes well), and properly describes progress with the oxygen kit to this campsite where tellingly after describing various other exiguous woes, says nothing of the oxygen kit where one would likely do so given the opportunity after one has aired woes in earlier sentences.

The absence of such descriptions ‘ipso facto’ suggests indeed the oxygen kit was working well and simply wasn’t an issue. Mallory also through the expedient of ‘neutralised’ specific words, and in alignment with his cultural sensibilities, expresses intent via a more circumspectly prolixive manner where the use of the word “probably” is negated of meaning so that the resultant intent is to indeed use only two cylinders per man is signified.

To Noel, Mallory describes an early start planned for the summit bid (via the usage of the neutralised “probably” and in the most revealing but overlooked passage of his writings in the latter part of the expedition, gently, ironically, chidingly advises Noel to be ready to observe with adequate margin by 8.00 a.m on the final pyramid (skyline) in order to be filmed by the time Mallory and Irvine later hoved into view later on.

This single sentence when seen in its alternative, proper context alters greatly the whole equation of the Mallory and Irvine summit bid, by negating the whole notion of a five hour delay when integrated in the 12.50 p.m Odell sighting and rationalisation subsequently!

Therefore as a cause to consequence, it can now be shown that at 12.50 p.m, Odell saw the pair on a rock step not five hours late at all (misreading by all since 1924 of the 8.00 a.m criterion), but if likely on the ‘Second step’ perhaps only two or three hours late at most!.

Late, certainly by Mallory’s scheduling, but still within a reasonable likelihood of a mid afternoon summit as Odell parametrically estimated.

Such an equation, casts grave doubt, by definition, of the dubious notion of the pair still climbing on the lower ‘First step’ with all the concomitant time delays and oxygen issues that nucleate from this proposition.

It is surprising after many decades of study on this mystery that this key component of the equation has been overlooked in its proper contextual interpretive proportion.

‘With all the pluck of HMS Coventry off the Falklands!’

At a stroke, with proper interpretive analysis by agency to eventuality, negation of the whole premise of the 8.00 a.m time/locale with its subsequent implication of a five hour delay resulting in a plethora of increasingly dubious ascent/descent success/failure scenario’s, it can be shown that Mallory’s summit bid schedule before the epic ascent and the real implications that can now be drawn from this data (taken in conjunction with the accentuated implications of functional oxygen kit and an early start), show that Mallory and Irvine were in a better position on their summit bid then what has been previously been accepted.

“…..for we can be heroes, just for one day” – David Bowie

The key criteria of likely ascending the ‘Second step’ at 12.50 p.m and being perhaps only two or three hours late instead of the more dispiriting five hours,
suggests that Odell was quite likely correct in his deduction that the pair would still summit in the mid afternoon, while better correlating with the previously discordant time/location variables in this mystery, where despite being a few hours late, still importantly, had sufficient margin in which to continue toward the glittering summit, which they may well have actually achieved in light of this revision of the precise contextual scheduling Mallory communicated (but has been occluded over time) and the more sanguine circumstances of their ascent, knowing they were not five hours late, but perhaps only two or three and therefore without the psychological encumbrances of ‘modern’ interpretation and ‘ignotum per ignotius’ scenarios by some.

‘Pax Britainnica’

Thus, Mallory and Irvine may well have felt the freedom of movement and lack of psychological constraints to instead press on upward to meet Mallory’s arranged filming location by Noel on the final pyramid and higher towards the final goal of the glittering summit as this discourse now expounds in revealing the implications of the George Mallory’s last and most important two notes of the great British expedition of 1924, more properly understood with more clarity on their true situation, that indeed tacitly suggests that Mallory and Irvine may well have made it to the summit!


(i) It is within the pages of Noel’s 1927 book ‘Through Tibet to Everest’ that the issue of the Mallory note to Noel and its interpretation comes to the fore.

Noel interprets Mallory’s meaning literally and recalls in print; ” The night before he was killed he wrote me……. a little letter, reminding me where to look for him he next morning at eight o’clock…..”.

Clearly Noel takes a literal view of Mallory’s sentence meaning, and fails to consider the alternative possibility where the context is directed toward Noel as a notice to adequately prepare by 8.00 a.m as a suggested margin for capture the pair later on film and not an advance notice to signify location and time which Noel interprets it to be – a case of “crossed wires” in communication ?…….


(1) The problem of Mount Everest, Alpine Journal 230 (1925)
(2) Through Tibet to Everest, J.B.L Noel 1927, Hodder and Stoughton, reprinted 1989 edition, Kent, Great Britain photo plate reproduction
(3) The Fight for Everest 1924, Edward Arnold 1925, Great Britain PP.133
(4) Ghosts of Everest- The Search for Mallory and Irvine, Seattle, The Mountaineers Books 1999 , PP 168.
(5) P. Summers
(6) P. Summers
(7) T.M Holzel
(8) Ghosts of Everest-The Search for Mallory and Irvine, Seattle, The Mountaineers Books 1999, PP. 169-170.
(9) Royal Geographic Society Journal Volume 64 August 1924 Number 2 Dispatch #8. pp. 160
(10) Royal Geographic Society Journal Volume 64 December 1924 Number 6 pp.458
(11) Royal Geographic Society Journal Volume 64 December 1924 Number 6 pp.460
(12) The Fight for Everest 1924, Edward Arnold 1925, pp.130
(13) The Fight for Everest 1924, Edward Arnold 1925, pp.140
(14) Through Tibet to Everest, J.B.L Noel 1927 Hodder and Stoughton reprinted 1989 edition, Kent, Great Britain, pp. 213
(15) ibid pp. 261-262
(16) Personal communication with Author 2008
(17) The Fight for Everest 1924, Edward Arnold 1925, pp. 130
(18) Ghosts of Everest, The Search for Mallory and Irvine, Seattle, The Mountaineers Books , 199, Chapter 8


The Author wishes to openly and profusely thank the generous, helpful and intrepid mountaineers; Curt Hewitt, Giuseppi Pompili and Veli-pekka Molsa and the Airborne Ranger Club of Finland for their kind photographic contributions as well as support in aid of this paper’s development. Their great kindness is greatly appreciated by the Author.

Special thanks to the learned and invaluable Thomas Rost for his vital support and theoretical soundings in preparation of this paper along with; Gareth Thomas, Chris Peacock, Colin Wallace, Bill Lougheed and the redoubtable and nonpareil Everest researcher Jochen Hemmleb for his insightful support and important reminders of key aspects of the Mallory and Irvine story.

Important support and thanks to Katie Sarah, Duncan Chessell, Leigh Martin, John Edwards and Paul Kingsnorth whose support was appreciated as well as; Velli-Pekka Molsa, Eric Simonson, Jean Pavillard, Edgar Schuler, Maxine Willett and Jake Norton for ongoing exchanges and advice.

Vital cultural contextual soundings from, Mark Allison, Chris O’Loughlin, Trev Heagin, Jackie Fox, Adam McGechan, Sarajayne Lada and David Goodram.

The Author thanks the friendly staff of the Hobart Reference Library in the State Library of Tasmania for their ever helpful assistance, friendliness and efficiency.

This paper was greatly aided in its preparation by; Sandra Harris, Anne Mattay, Scott Ridley and Chrissie Shearer for their kind support and great efficiency.

The Author dedicates this paper to my sister Julia, for her kind helpfulness and unerring support.

Semper Fidelis

Philip Summers


Please Share!