Sighting by Odell

The Mallory and Irvine Mystery: The ‘Context’ Theory. A New Theory Explaining Mallory and Irvine’s ‘Second Step’ Sighting by Odell and its Implications by Philip  Summers

Dedication:  This paper is dedicated  to  the  memory  of  Everest  climber, mountaineer  and  scientist, Noel  Ewart  Odell.

A gentleman of integrity and clarity but who experienced the sting of expectant pressure from those who seek to usurp and never understand…..

Mount Everest Final Pyramid

The billowing snow stream flowing off the summit of Everest with the sharp ‘prow’ of the ‘Second step’ prominent at upper left.

It’s this key section of the summit attempt by Mallory and Irvine that has stymied understanding since 1924 of why the Englishmen were so late and how they seemingly climbed the rock step with such “alacrity”.

Photograph (2005) copyright and kindly provided by Guiseppi Pompili for which the Author expresses sincere thanks.


“…………It was Mallory and his companion moving, as I could see even at that great distance, with considerable alacrity…The place on the ridge referred to is the prominent rock-step at a very short distance from the base of the final pyramid”. (1)

“…………I could see that they were moving expeditiously as if endeavouring to make up for lost time”. (2)

“…………It is quite 100 feet high; vertical for the most part and even overhangs in its upper portion. It is probably unclimbable and certainly desperately difficult”. (3)

“………..The Second step was a sheer cliff some eighty feet high and appeared impregnable to direct assault”. (4)

“…………I can only compare it to the sharp bow of a battlecruiser”. (5)

In considering these quite contrasting accounts articulated above by contemporary luminaries of the 1920’s and 1930’s, the salient question that begs to be answered is;

Just how did they do it?

Specifically, just how did Mallory and Irvine in the early afternoon of the 8th  of June, 1924 manage to scale such a seemingly formidable structure as the ‘Second step’ so quickly, such that subsequent perceptions by others and indeed actual attempts have consistently struggled to grasp the exact dynamics of Mallory and Irvine’s observed ascent?

Indeed, could Mallory and Irvine have found a unique or imaginative mechanism to negotiate the ‘Second step’ that subsequently other ‘lesser’ mortals have failed to conceptualise let alone attempt subsequently?

These many frustrated refrains have been prominent ever since the 1920’s whenever researchers, climbers and the interested public have studied the nature of the terrain on Everest’s North East arête (and in particular the ‘Second Step’) and then compared the proclaimed formidable nature of the ‘Second step’ with Odell’s (many and contrasting) descriptions of what he claimed to observe of Mallory and Irvine’s movements on this eponymous rock step.

The essentials of the apparition are well known, summarised thusly;

Odell climbing toward the 1924 Camp VI, paused at approximately 12.50pm and observed the clouds enveloping the North East arête dissipate to a degree, such that over a period of several minutes in clear weather and viewing the unobstructed upper mountain, he observed the movement of two black dots silhouetted on the snows of a prominent rock step.

They then proceeded upwards, sufficient that one of the moving dots scaled the step in short order and was followed by the other, before the clouds again gathered and enveloped the vista and ultimately resulted in Mallory and Irvine never being seen alive again………….

As stated, scepticism has oscillated over the years, with the many variables involved in the story pondered at length and encompassing issues such as; the size of the snow patch, the short time span involved, the seemingly lack of any deviation of route, delay or belay by the pair during the ascent of the rock step and of course the perceived ‘difficulty’ of the terrain morphology for any climbers encountering it for the first time.

This dissonance over time has lead some to openly question the accuracy of Odell’s story, indeed some actually doubting whether the incident actually occurred at all with various accounts nowadays obviating the Odell sighting from various so-called ‘theories’ and taking Mallory and Irvine off onto different routes and claimed circumstances far from the accepted understanding of their known and projected summit attempt route via the “skyline” of the North East arête most likely.

However despite this ‘modern’ revisionism’ and still unconsidered in these elaborations, there is still the salient question;

“What if there was something that everyone since 1924 had overlooked that indeed permitted Mallory and Irvine to climb the ‘Second step’ with alacrity and accord with Odell’s sighting”?

Crucially what if (as hypothesised above in this discourse), Mallory and Irvine had actually solved the secret of the ‘Second step’ via a means unconsidered by others subsequently and to the present day?

An inspired means which allowed Mallory and Irvine to not only successfully scale the ‘Second step’ together but also, without any appreciable delays, route finding and with greater speed than presumed at the time and more so in later years to the present day, all whilst being consistent with Odell’s early afternoon sighting of this poignant apparition!

The Author now suggests by way of explanation, a salient and unasked question:

We still don’t actually know what Mallory and Irvine were doing before they were eventually seen by Odell at 12.50pm climbing a rock step (most likely the ‘Second Step)?

This conjecture invariably leads to the crucial question of whether Odell may have mistaken the context of the 12.50pm sighting of the pair?

Not in terms of  their ‘initial’ arrival and ascent of the ‘Second step’ as he and others subsequently believed, but instead, its now proposed that their seeming rapid and unwavering ascent  up the ‘Second step’ was the  ‘culmination’ of careful preparation undertaken while Mallory and Irvine were still obscured over some time beforehand?

This may have involved a solo “free climb” to the top of the step starting late in the morning by Mallory and then vitally affixing a rope once on the top to aid further  descent and ascent by he and Irvine, such that eventually much later at 12.50pm, they were finally seen by Odell who misunderstood the nature of what he was observing, specifically Mallory and Irvine’s culmination climb up the ‘Second step which was aided by the Mallory installed fixed rope which simplified and accelerated their ascent and as Odell observed ultimate success in gaining the top of the ‘Second step’!

By expansion, based on a likely early start  near dawn, Mallory and Irvine would  have likely reached the North East arête by mid morning and by projection would later arrive at the bottom of the ‘Second step’ by late morning as is widely inferred.

Once above the ‘First Step’ and while utterly obscured by the clouds, on approach to the ‘Second step’ the implicit difficulty of climbing the step would be apparent and clearer as it was neared by the pair, despite the lower sections offering promise via a natural rock ramp.

However mindful of the Irvine devised rope ladder used to gain a difficult section up to the North Col and while still obscured by clouds, its now proposed that upon reaching the bottom of the ‘Second step, Mallory as the leader and superior climber undertook a light reconnaissance alone via the open gully on its northerly side (now used by all climbers) without the bulky oxygen, but with a rope to determine if the upper sections would ‘go’ and if so then climb and affix the step for later use with their rope or a section thereof.

Irvine meanwhile would rest and tend the now deactivated oxygen sets at the bottom of the ‘Second step’, while he awaited Mallory’s return from his solo sojourn higher up the ‘Second step’.

In his own time Mallory and in a similar manner by later attempts, (by implication, due to the observed speed and lack of delay or deviation in Odell’s 12.50pm sighting of their ascent of the ‘Second step), did  succeed  in “free climbing” the headwall crux of the step.

Then from this position on top of the ‘Second step’ and observing the unobstructed route along the ‘plateau’ to the  final pyramid and ultimately the summit ahead, Mallory then affixed a rope on one of a number of identified and viable anchor boulders situated above the step crux and by way of testing its viability and the necessity to fetch Irvine and the two oxygen sets awaiting at the bottom of the step, then descended the fixed rope and ultimately to the bottom of the ‘Second step’ to join the awaiting and rested Irvine.

After adequate  rest eventually, together, they again donned their oxygen sets before finally mounting the culmination climb up the ‘Second step’ ascent but now aided by the affixed rope which due to its  presence alone, acted to explain why no deviations, delays and also the observed ‘alacrity’ transpired when the Englishmen were eventually seen by Odell at this juncture when the clouds parted for a short time at 12.50pm, climbing up the snow patch and in short order at least for Mallory then quickly re-climbed the ‘Second step’ headwall crux via the fixed rope and likely with aid from useful surfaces such as the “off width crack” at extreme left of the headwall which provided helpful hand and footholds.

Once  he was again on the top of the ‘Second step’, as observed by Odell, Irvine then followed in Mallory’s wake, with his seeming success, alacrity and lack of deviation proposed now to have been aided by the fixed rope and like Mallory’s success, any useful hand and footholds  as he ascended and doubtlessly helped by Mallory’s ‘gentleman’s belay’ from above.

It proposed by induction, any other explanation to explain Odell’s 12.50 pm sighting of Mallory and Irvine climbing the upper reaches of the ‘Second step’, with seeming alacrity and without appreciable delay or deviation seemingly can’t be satisfactorily explained unless a mechanism like this proposed pre-roping theory were employed, such is the inherent dissonance between the variables of time, technical difficulty and route, versus actual explicit observation!

Finally, the implications of this pre-roping and aided ascent mechanism for the ‘Second step’, result in the oxygen sets remaining largely unused for the duration of this ‘preparation time’ waiting at the bottom of the ‘Second step’ with Irvine between the late morning and shortly after 12.30pm when the culminative attempt up the ‘Second step’ began in earnest and aided by the Mallory installed fixed rope, which would result in approximately 60-90+ minutes of ‘extra’ oxygen being available for Mallory and  Irvine’s ascent once above the top of the ‘Second step’ by the simple virtue of forward displaced usage while largely inactive during the timeframe in question!

Likely this advantage and more sanguine situation would result in the Englishmen, continuing to ascend toward the summit, leaving in place their fixed rope to aid their usable descent of the ‘Second step’ and so obviating any need for alternative or time wasting descent routes other than the now proven and roped ‘Second step’.

Ultimately, this extra shunted ‘time displaced’ oxygen in their second cylinders would be enough based on reasonable climbing rates to gain at least the ‘Third step’ at minimum and likely the upper pyramid near or (at best) just above the apex and above onto the beginnings of the final 125 metres summit ridge proper, short of the summit itself but well above the current ‘orthodoxy’ that asserts Mallory and Irvine could have potentially gained!

Indeed, tantalisingly, if (as proposed by some) the ‘Stella five’ noted cylinders scribed by Mallory and found on his person in 1999 were all taken as redundancy in case of failure with their main supply, then perhaps at this point above the ‘Second step’ a potential ‘redundant’ fifth cylinder could have augmenting their ‘time displaced’ oxygen supplies if shared by the pair akin to the later tactic employed by the 1960 Chinese summiteers via the same route.

This methodology would then result in a likely first ascent of Everest by Mallory and Irvine some time  in the latter half of the afternoon of the 8th of June, 1924!


Ever since that mysterious yet poignant sighting at approximately 12.50pm of Mallory and Irvine by Noel Odell on a much debated rock step, such has been the dissonance over time between the  seeming ease in which Englishmen negotiated the ‘Second step’ and the (gradually) realised fine details  involved in negotiating the rock step (which lead many to conclude the step is rather more difficult in nature to climb), that over time and to the present day, debate has largely come to an impasse due to the dissonant variables inherent to the issue..

By definition, the disparity between the Odell sighting reporting the two Englishmen climbing the step with “alacrity” and the many objections encompassing exposure, lack of delays, speed etc,  has resulted in seemingly irreconcilable differences between Odell and his story and later researchers etc. that have effectively halted any advance in the debate.

The history of the Odell sighting is in itself revealing of an evolving documentation of the events on the 8th of June, 1924.

Indeed, due to the prolonged and detailed history of the issue, interested readers may care to consult the salient arguments and extensive documentation articulated in the learned writings of prominent Everest researcher Jochen Hemmleb. (See Notes 1)

The history of the Odell sighting begins with a brief mention of the sighting in written form via his personal diary, after he descended from the 1924 Camp VI in the days afterwards.

Odell recalls; (6)

“At 12.50 saw M&I on ridge nearing base of final pyramide”.

Many have observed that no reference is made to any rock step in this notation and it seems to be more of an ‘aide memoire’ for Odell himself designed for later expansion for posterity.

A more detailed account appeared in print by Odell himself which may have been the most accurate account of the incident derived from his diary ‘aide memoire’ which appeared in the ‘Alpine Journal’ dated the 14th of June, 1924.

Odell recalls; (7)

“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. There was but one explanation. It was Mallory and his companion moving, as I could see even at that great distance, with considerable alacrity … The place on the ridge referred to is the prominent rock-step at a very short distance from the base of the final pyramid”.

As can be observed, Odell in this account, describes the sequence of events in their most undiluted form, comprising firstly of a short period of time that revealed the upper reaches of the mountain to be free of clouds, then the observed oddity comprising of a recognised pattern where a black spot was silhouetted by snow that then moved.

With the human capacity for pattern recognition well known, it’s perhaps unsurprising that this scene was detected by Odell, on a prominent rock step.

More so, as this black spot firstly moved and another joined it on the snowy section which confirmed the veracity of the apparition to then be followed by the first spot which then attempted to climb to the top of the step proper followed then by the second, all done with some speed which Odell describes succinctly by means of the descriptive word ‘alacrity’.

What is also of interest in this sequence is that Odell clearly describes the ‘first’ black spot then advancing upwards to then surmount the step, followed by the other.

This raises the question of whether, the two spots merged (from Odell’s perspective) together due to proximity on the snow or whether Odell was able to detect a small gap between each black spot on the snow, such he was able to discern that the first black spot (presumably above the second spot on the step), then advanced to surmount the step proper, else just how could he tell if the “first black spot” he observed performing this action was the same as the subsequent “black spot” that then proceeded forwards to scale the top of the step?.

Whatever the specifics, the account was of sufficient detail to provide sufficient veracity to his account in the minds of many.

However an annotated version of Odell’s story then strangely appeared in the same edition that detailed some variation in the account,

Odell recalls, (8)

“I saw the whole summit ridge and final peak of Everest unveiled. I noticed far away on a snow slope leading up to the last step but one from the base of the final pyramid a tiny object moving and approaching the rock step. The second object followed, and then the first climbed to the top of the step. As I stood intently watching this dramatic appearance, the scene became enveloped in cloud, and I could not actually be certain that I saw the second figure join the first……….

The point at which they were last seen – namely, an altitude which Hazard later determined by theodolite to be about 28,230 ft”.

Odell signifies the location of the sighting (the ‘Second step’), but strangely alters his account by casting doubt that the second object followed the first and successfully scaled the step proper.

These descriptions were concluded by the account written by Odell in England which appeared in print through the book of the expedition published in 1925.

Odell recalls; (9)

“……I saw the whole summit ridge and final peak of Everest unveiled. I noticed far away on a snow slope leading up to what seemed to me to be the last step but one from the base of the final pyramid, a tiny object moving and approaching the rock step. A second object followed, and then the first climbed to the top of the step.

As I stood intently watching this dramatic appearance, the scene became enveloped in cloud once more, and I could not actually be certain that I saw the second figure join the first.

(he continues)…………..I could see that they were moving expeditiously as if endeavouring to make up for lost time. True, they were moving one at a time over what was apparently but moderately difficult ground, but one cannot definitely conclude from this that they were roped together………”

This latter account by Odell is similar to his previous statements, in that he affirms the variance in the second object actually scaling the top of the rock step from his first descriptions in ‘The Alpine Journal’.

In defence of Odell, it has been noted by many that this observation took place over a time period of some minutes, by which time its argued that he must have realised the veracity of the scene he was witnessing (or not), but it must also be said that wholly unacknowledged since 1924 is another means of countering the suggestion Odell may have been mistaken and imagined the scene on the ‘Second step’.

Specifically, for all of Odell’s fixation on the rock step and the moving dots during this cloud free period, after a time suggestions of  ‘self hypnosis’ are countered by the fact that the human eye is actually more sensitive to light on the periphery due to our biology (perhaps as an early warning system to detect ambush predators for early man?), resulting in human averted vision naturally better able to detect faint or moving objects at the edge of one’s vision (and still a useful aid for amateur Astronomers observing faint globular clusters or comets etc. at night).

Thus for Odell, despite his fixation on the moving dots on the rock step, it would be certain that near the end of this experience, as the clouds gathered to obscure the view, Odell would be naturally aware of the encroaching clouds via his peripheral vision which the mind then registers that the end of the vision is nearing which results in one often making a final ‘clarification’ of the scene to confirm its veracity (and sometimes briefly looking at something else to contrast the vision to provide a ‘control’) by looking extra hard at the scene to confirm its reality and also using the encroaching clouds just before the targets are obscured to provide one final split second contrast as the moving cloud begins to cover the targets partially or totally which can act as a final confirmation of reality.

Thus Odell would be subject to these same optical behaviours as anyone else, so although he made no mention of it, due to the fact that he observed the scene on the rock step via the naked eye he would by definition have been aware of the encroaching clouds via his peripheral vision just before the observation ended and thus like most people provided with a natural  ‘confirmation contrast’ to the fixated vision which would confirm or deny the veracity of the sighting.

Therefore, it would be reasonable to aver that Odell was likely correct and he did indeed see the described scene on the ‘Second step’ and the until now unconsidered factor of human visual characteristics would just before the end of the scene aid the clarification in his mind by the superimposed encroaching clouds which would add helpful final contrast and obviate any suggestion of ‘self hypnosis’, hence Odell was likely right and his basic story was true!

Granted although Odell here and over time did prevaricate over the exact location of the sighting, it’s become widely accepted that it was the actual ‘Second step’ where Mallory and Irvine were seen climbing at 12.50pm.

This resulted in questions being asked then and also in later years as the actual specifics of the ‘Second step’ morphology gradually became known.

That said, even in 1924, expeditioners like Odell (and likely Mallory and Irvine) already knew that the ‘Second step’ although described in quite stark terms by others in later years (see Smythe and Ruttledge, 3,4,5),  Odell by contrast describes the step in terms of  “moderately difficult ground” and elsewhere he describes the ‘Second step’ in realistic terms, noting the open gully on its northerly aspect that exhibited an obvious line of weakness that could potentially be negotiated (which it certainly can as demonstrated by modern climbers starting in 1960).

Odell recalls; (10)

“The first was the “second step”, already referred to more than once. This seemed steep, though negotiable at any rate on its north side. And if it were this step, as I thought at the time it was, that I saw the first figure (presumably Mallory) actually surmount within the five minutes of my last glimpse of them……”

This latter description although a rationalisation of the fate of the missing climbers, does confirm that Odell (and presumably Mallory and Irvine) had noted a viable means of ascent up the ‘Second step’ and that Mallory, presumed to be the logical leader of the summit attempt, had scaled the step proper via this open gully to the north aspect within some five minutes of the clouds returning to obscure the vista (and by his latter accounts, inferred Irvine’s attempt following Mallory’s lead).

However following these seemingly conclusive descriptions, as described above, subsequent expeditions although aware of the line of weakness in the ‘Second step’ (which later became known and utilised as the modern or standard route up the step proper), expressed doubts as to the veracity of this solitary account by Odell.

Coupled with concerns as to whether the perceived difficulties of scaling the step would permit actual success and more so in the quite short time compared to later attempts which struggled to access the top of the step in a “free climb” without the aid of the “Chinese ladder” installed in 1975!

Indeed doubts about the ‘Second step’ became apparent during the next expedition in 1933 where the ‘Second step’ was carefully studied from afar via telescopes etc. and even via cine’ camera footage while ascending the north arête at Camp V thanks to the  able and illustrative camera work by (later Sir) Percy Wyn-Harris (11).

More closer analysis revealed the extant scepticism toward the viability of the ‘Second step’ after Wager and Wyn-Harris as well as Smythe and Shipton in late May, 1933 tried to either access the step from below or bypassed it entirely en route toward the Great Couloir.

Ruttledge  recalls; (12)

“More serious is the time question. The four men of this year’s expedition who have been near the “second rock step” are very doubtful if it can be climbed at all; they are quite sure that no man, however skilful, could climb it in five minutes”.

More specifically, stated descriptions articulated in this paper (see heading quotes 3,4,5) describe the ‘Second step’ in rather grim terms, quite antithetical for any viability attempting to climb it.

From these initial definitions in the 1920’s and 1930’s, attitudes towards the ‘Second step’ subsequently hardened such that later attempts many decades later obviated any attempt to ‘free climb’ the step (although the 1960 Chinese expedition did succeed over many hours and via rather extreme means) (see Notes 2) and instead utilised the  fixed ladder eventually affixed at the critical crux of the step (installed in 1975 by the Chinese expedition of that year and updated in later expeditions), that allowed the final few metres of the headwall to be climbed (albeit slowly) (13) without recourse to any ‘free climbing’ as Odell assumed Mallory and Irvine had performed. (see Notes. 3)

Indeed, it has only been in recent times that a number of dedicated attempts have been undertaken (and succeeded) by modern climbers starting in 1985 by Oscar Cadiach, followed in 1999 by Conrad Anker, then Theo Fritsche in 2001 , Nickolay Totmjanin in 2003 and again by Conrad Anker with Leo Houlding in 2007. (14)

However  practically all these ‘free climb’ attempts to varying degrees experienced various delays and ‘false starts’ in attempting to replicate Mallory and Irvine’s contrasting and seemingly smoother, straightforward sequential scaling of the ‘Second step’.

Difficulties such as; lengthy pauses, initial failures (Anker in 2007 actually tried and fell backwards off the crux headwall before finally trying and succeeding almost directly up the centre of the headwall itself) (see Notes. 4), deviations or alternative routes other than the most widely attempted methodology to climb the step via the headwall crux with its ‘off width crack’ to the left of the headwall.

By contrast, some have tried by way of a deviation in the route as cited above, a crumbling variegated crack system to the right of the headwall that offers greater exposure and unstable rock, prominent in alternative thinking on the attempt.

These inhibiting factors mitigating against Mallory and Irvine’s seemingly straightforward ascent of the step are well described by leading Everest researcher Jochen Hemmleb who cogently observed the salient factors against such a simple, straightforward sequential ascent of the step;

Hemmleb recalls; (15),(16)

“……Odell described no belay or the climbers assisting each other, as one would expect on a pitch of such difficulty.

Also, the snow patch beneath the crux is comparatively small and, due to its northern exposure, in shadows for most of the day-not an obvious place to spot two ascending climbers”

“….the patch at half height of the Second Step is comparatively small and in shadows for most of the day – not an obvious place to spot two climbers. Moreover, Odell’s accounts don’t indicate the climbers belaying or supporting each other, as one would expect on a pitch of such apparent difficulty as the Second Step”.

That said, it could also be argued that at 12.50pm on the 8th  of June, regarding the sun angle at that time of the day, relevant to that particular time of the year, close to the zenith and only a few weeks from the northern summer solstice, may well have resulted in fewer actual shadows impinging on the ‘Second step’ and its small snow patch, such that it may have been exposed to direct near overhead sunlight and thus increasing its overall albedo where any impinging objects or climbers moving onto the snow patch may well be highly silhouetted and thus more prominent to the naked eye for an observer like Odell.

Nonetheless, despite these modern attempts and successes in ‘free climbing’ the ‘Second step’ in a manner redolent of Mallory and Irvine’s assumed methodology, the objections to Odell’s sighting (and by extension) to Mallory and Irvine’s apparent success continues, such that the ‘Second step’ and its perceived difficulty is now an issue in itself!.

This has resulted in its ‘perceived’ impediments to rapid ascension leading some naysayers to openly question Odell’s veracity and ‘ipso facto’, Mallory and Irvine’s capability to overcome this obstacle where critical issues revolving around delays, belays, alternative routes, exposure, inexperience and what some call ‘unrealistic’ speed, result in the issue effectively stalling any advance in the debate and concomitant research on this issue.

Thus the ‘Second step’ in more ways than one, becomes a large blockage to the greater understanding of Mallory and Irvine’s movements then and to the present day!

Mount Everest Second Step

The ‘Second step’ in detail as seen upon approach.

Note that the nature of the step itself is characterised by a sloping rock ramp at the bottom,

Followed by a number of readily negotiable rock platforms above which leads to an open snow filled gully at mid height topped by the five metre high headwall crux (occupied since 1975 by one or more ladders), which has so stymied observers (and most climbers) since 1924 starting with Noel Odell.

Notice the split boulder situated immediately above the headwall crux (circled in green).

Is this the boulder utilised by the Chinese Qu Yinhua in 1960 used to affix a rope in order to aid his three comrades in climbing the headwall?

It’s proposed in this paper that this or similar boulders above the crux were employed by Mallory to affix a rope to aid he and Irvine after a successful  solo ‘free climb’ of the rock step.

Photograph (2005) copyright and courtesy of Veli-Pekka Molsa of the Airborne Ranger Club of Finland for which the Author expresses great thanks.

“How hard can it be?”                          Jeremy Clarkson – “Top Gear”

From this summary of the historical background pertaining to Odell’s iconic sighting of Mallory and Irvine in relation to the ‘Second step’ and the subsequent criticisms regarding the prospects involving the step, one is still left with the perplexing mystery of explaining the salient questions, (if one accepts the veracity of Odell’s observation) to wit:

‘By what unknown mechanism did Mallory and Irvine employ to seemingly successfully scale the ‘Second step’ with such alacrity, consistent with Odell’s 12.50pm sighting via some unknown means that has defied all attempts of external explanation since 1924’?.

Further, does this unknown mechanism by implication accord with Odell’s sighting, where by definition, mean that the actual sighting of Mallory and Irvine’s movements be in variance of later and somewhat ‘wobbly’ attempts to gain the step, tacitly indicate in itself that Mallory and Irvine were employing a different and more successful technique that should have been realised earlier, once the implicitly difficult nature of the ‘Second step’ became apparent?.

For a possible answer to these vexed questions, it’s again instructive to consider the sequence of events of the Odell sighting with special consideration toward one consistently overlooked component in the observed sequence……….

In essence, Odell describes himself pausing during his climb to Camp VI, looking up and seeing the upper mountain revealed (wholly or significantly at least), where over a period of some minutes, he observed, on (presumably) the ‘Second step’, first one, then two moving black dots silhouetted on the step’s snow patch and at least one actually gaining the top of the pitch, before the clouds enveloped the scene again……

That said, it’s strange that since that time the important question of the scene’s actual context has never been considered!. Specifically, since Odell onwards, the assumption has always been that the unfolding scene on the ‘Second step’ was in effect the ‘ab initio’ attempt by Mallory and Irvine to climb the ‘Second step’, such that Odell at an opportune time of great luck, just happened to witness as the clouds parted, Mallory and Irvine arriving (he assumed) for the first time on the ‘Second step’ and where presumably before he observed the pair, they had reached the bottom of the step a short time beforehand by implication.

Indeed, if this event did occur in the manner described, it would be decidedly odd for Odell not to observe any appreciable delays etc. by the pair as they tried to negotiate this unfamiliar terrain as cogently argued by leading researchers such as Jochen Hemmleb. (15,16)

However, consider what if Odell actually observed wasn’t in fact the initial effort to climb the ‘Second step’  but instead, the culmination of Mallory and Irvine’s efforts over some time before the 12.50pm Odell sighting of climbing the last obstacle that hindered their way to the summit?.

To wit, from Odell to the present day, was a cardinal mistake in the interpretation of the actual scene made, such that now the question is asked, what if Mallory and Irvine actually arrived much earlier at the bottom of the ‘Second step’ than Odell and others have previously thought while still obscured by the clouds engulfing the step.

So while still obscured, in the time well before the 12.50pm Odell sighting, one or perhaps both Englishmen may well have succeeded in firstly reconnoitring the upper sections of the ‘Second step’ and even scaling the top of the ‘Second step’ headwall crux proper before finally fixing a rope above to aid their ascent and later descent on this difficult pitch!

Thus by the time of the 12.50pm Odell sighting, it’s possible that the ‘Second step’ was already ‘prepared’  with a fixed rope (by Mallory most likely) during the time the upper mountain was still obscured and the subsequent ( later) ascent by Mallory and Irvine witnessed and described with “alacrity” by Odell, explained by the imposition of a newly installed fixed rope leading from the top of the step crux and extending down to perhaps the mid level snow patch (and even beyond if they carried a standard 100 ft rope).

Such that when Mallory and Irvine were finally seen, their apparent speed and inherent ‘simplicity’, in ascending (with no delays, deviations or appreciable delays) and finally climbing this notorious structure, was due to the simple fact that the route had already been trodden ‘ipso facto’ by Mallory and successfully scaled in a solo effort in his own time beforehand, resulting in a fixed rope that was now aiding his and Irvine’s subsequent efforts to together climb the step  but now with their oxygen apparatus on their backs!

Indeed further to this argument, once the step was scaled it would make sense for Mallory and Irvine to retain the fixed rope ‘in situ’ and press onward to the summit itself, mindful of the psychological advantage that the ‘Second step’ as an obstacle was now largely negated and could be readily down climbed via their fixed rope (in this scenario already tested by Mallory).

This scenario would also confer an added time advantage that could be dedicated to the summit by obviating any (invented later by a clutch of assorted ‘speculators’) extra proposed time needed to down climb the step (without the aid of their rope) during their descent or locating some other alternative descent route (if any existed) as an alternative to negotiating this structure during the descent later in the day- without (as stated above) the benefit of the now proposed fixed rope concept suggested here.

Both for time and psychological advantages, retaining the fixed rope at the ‘Second step’ would increase the probability of gaining the summit as an invariable outcome to this theory described in this discourse.

Scenario – How Mallory and Irvine may actually have climbed the ‘Second step’?

So how would this scenario transpire?

One obvious scenario may unfold thusly;

Well before 12.50pm, Mallory and Irvine reached the base of the ‘Second step’, where since Odell in 1924 and later, many have wondered why Mallory and Irvine were so late in reaching the ‘Second step’?

Granted Mallory and Irvine were to an extent somewhat later than what they had hoped for, but it may well be that they weren’t quite as late as most observers now think, certainly not the five hours as Odell and others believed, if indeed the ‘Second step’ was the suggested ‘skyline’ route waypoint hinted in Mallory’s Camp VI note to expedition photographer John Noel.  (See Notes. 5)

In this reconstruction, a reasonable assumption for Mallory and Irvine to arrive at the bottom of the ‘Second step’ may be approximately 11.00-11.30pm, based on the likely early morning departure scenario commonly assumed (cogently argued by noted Everest researcher Jochen Hemmleb) to be akin to that of their 1924 colleagues Norton and Somervell’s, 4th  of June start planned for 5.30am (17), which by implication lead to their first oxygen cylinder being exhausted on the North East arête below the ‘First step’ some 3.7- 4.00 hours later  some time in the mid-morning.

From this reasonable standpoint, arrival at the bottom of the ‘Second step’ several hours later in the late morning would be considered acceptable in light of known climb rates and route negotiation issues for the Englishmen to account for.

Indeed, its  long been difficult to explain why Mallory and Irvine were seemingly so late when observed at 12.50pm by Odell on the ‘Second step’, its rather odd that despite the realisation that the 12.50pm Odell sighting of the pair clearly signified in itself some delay in the schedule.

The connection between the identified delay and any suggestion that Mallory and Irvine may have been occupied with some other activity such as “preparing” the rock step while still obscured as proposed in this discourse, seems to have escaped all observers and students of the mystery (apart from some unconvincing claims over the years suggesting very slow progress, bizarre recreational forays climbing back up the ‘First step’ and strange deviations along alternative routes). See Fig. 3 below.

Mount Everest First Step

The lower ‘First step’ situated at approximately 8500 metres altitude on the North East arête of  Everest.

Notice the prominent snow patch situated at the base of the step which some interpret as the start of where Odell spied Mallory and Irvine.

Also regard the climber in the process of climbing the standard route up this feature.

Mitigating against this step as to where Odell observed the pair, is the fact that the actual apex of the step is situated at the upper left of the modern right flank of the step and is unnecessary to climb along this ascent vector.

Also the time to scale even to the top of the right flank of the step (as the climber in view is demonstrating) is typically 20 minutes or so (as was performed by the 2005 Finland Airborne Ranger club expedition), which is far longer than the Odell 12.50pm sighting of approximately 5 minutes, which all conspire to make the ‘First step’ wholly inconsistent with Odell’s sighting.

Photograph (2005) copyright and courtesy of the Airborne Ranger Club of Finland for which the Author expresses sincere thanks.

But if one were to consider the dynamics of the earlier ‘Second step’  ‘preparation’  espoused in this discourse, then the time difference between Odell’s sighting at 12.50pm and the proposed late morning arrival at the bottom of the step when Mallory and Irvine were logically expected to appear (based on reasonable climb rates and oxygen usage models) become more consistent with lesser disparity in the correlation due to the proposal articulated in this paper that describes a different context to the Odell sighting involving elapsed time in the summit attempt being ‘paused’ while still obscured by cloud so that Mallory (and ‘in extremis’ Irvine)  installed a fixed rope above the step headwall crux!.

From this basis, on their approach to the ‘Second step’ along the crest of the North East arête , it’s apparent Mallory and Irvine would clearly see the details of the step resolve into steadily sharper clarity as they advanced. See Fig. 4 below

Mount Everest North East Arete

The view along the North East arête as seen from a point above the ‘First step’ and on the modern route to the higher ‘Second step’ (seen looming above in mid picture).

Clearly (and even when in low visibility whilst surrounded by clouds), the nature of the ‘Second Step’ is apparent, characterised by the unclimbable frontal ‘prow’ to the extreme left and the snow filled open gully to the right (or northern face) an obvious line of weakness for ascent and the standard route employed today.

Any scepticism toward “route finding” ascribed to Mallory and Irvine along this traverse is clearly arrant nonsense as can be plainly seen via the evidence of one’s own eyes.

Photograph (2005) copyright and courtesy of the Airborne Ranger Club of Finland for which the Author expresses sincere thanks.

What would be obvious to their eyes would be the ‘open gully’ noted by Odell and subsequent expeditions (and is now the standard route up the structure proper) and at the base of the step, an angled smooth rock ramp exterior to the ‘corkscrew chimney’ that is employed by all climbers to begin the climb of the step proper.

From the position of Mallory and Irvine’s approach, as the fine details of the ‘Second step’ became steadily clear, the location of the angled ramp at the bottom of the step (as one example) would likely have delighted the Englishmen to discover in a stroke of luck rarely seen in nature, a simple angled ramp awaiting them which lead to the higher line of weakness in the form of the open snow filled gully aligned along the northerly aspect of the step.

Indeed, the ‘Second step’ itself is actually best characterised by a series of ‘stairwell’-like accessible ramps, rocky platforms, a snowy incline and a final headwall crux that is the only really difficult pitch (only 5 metres high at worst) rather than a unitary 30 metre (100 ft) dangerous rock step that some pretend .

Sadly, some self indulgent puppeteering ‘theorists’ treat Mallory and Irvine as hapless simpletons, fearful of difficulty and ready to abandon and retreat from the summit attempt for any concocted excuse that can invent that serves the own personal/political agendas of these ‘theorists’……………..(they know who they are!)

Yet the fact is that even from a distance, once one ascends the lower ‘First step’ and the higher ‘Second step’  hoves into view from a perspective of several hundred metres, its readily noticeable that the bottom of the ‘Second step’ does have a fixed and obvious ramp that leads to the upper levels of the step and is nowadays employed by all and sundry for many decades now. (See Fig 4. above)

Why should men in 1924 be any different in not identifying the nature of the ‘Second step’ and it’s accessible morphology as Mallory and Irvine vectored toward the ‘Second step’ is the obvious question?.  (See also Fig 5. below)

Mount Everest Second Step

A detailed view of the ‘Second step’  at close range showing a procession of climbers proceeding to varying degrees up the rock step.

Notice the variegated nature of the step as one ascends (akin to a ‘staircase’), firstly up an angled rock ramp to a series of rocky platforms, then a mid level snow patch and followed ultimately by the head wall crux with its modern ladder offset to the right still permitting the adventurous, to try and replicate Mallory and Irvine’s “derring-do” via the left of the ladder and perhaps the “off width crack” feature.

Also of interest is the split boulder immediately above the headwall crux (circled in black), where it’s hypothesised a rope could be readily affixed to aid the ascent.

This feature is one favoured affixing points for a rope to aid Mallory and Irvine in their ascent and descent as articulated in this discourse.

Photograph (2010) supplied with kind permission by Australian mountaineer and adventurer, Katie Sarah for which the Author expresses great thanks.

Mount Everest Bottom of Second Step

The view from the bottom of the ‘Second step’ showing with great clarity the salient features of the ‘Second step’ including the important upper section comprising the headwall crux with its ladders that lead up to a rock platform and (partially out of view) a split boulder which is one distinct possibility to affix a rope (as done in 1960 by the Chinese perhaps?) and as  proposed in this discourse, Mallory may have done similarly on the 8th of June, 1924, well before the 12.50 pm eventual sighting of the pair!.

Photograph copyright and generously supplied by respected British mountaineer and adventurer, Stuart Holmes for which the Author expresses much appreciation.

Thus, upon arrival in the late morning at the bottom of the ‘Second step, after a rest and a discussion by the Englishmen, the ‘Second step’ may by implication have posed such unique difficulty,( more so for Irvine) that in this scenario, it’s proposed Mallory as the leader and by far the most capable climber decided to leave Irvine waiting at the bottom of the step for a short time with all the oxygen, while Mallory himself reconnoitred the upper terrain of the step whilst carrying a length of rope to if possible gain the top of the rock step and affix a rope which would aid the attempt later with he and Irvine together the oxygen sets upon Mallory’s return- if practicable.

Unencumbered by Irvine, Mallory would proceed up the step until once below the headwall crux and perhaps aided by the various cracks (such as the so called “off width crack at extreme left of the headwall) and various incut holds on the crux, its proposed invariably and in his own time, managed to climb to the actual top of the step crux itself in a ‘free climb’, akin to later successful attempts.

Invariably, once on the top of the ‘Second step’ while resting, Mallory could also see the angled but obstacle free and easy ‘plateau’ leading to the ‘Third step’, superimposed by the final summit pyramid looming above. (See Fig 7 and Fig 8. below)

Also of note is the fact that as far as can be gathered, all of the previous attempts to ‘free climb the ‘Second step’ headwall crux  have been conducted without any oxygen sets  weighing on the backs of these climbers, not interfering in the free movement of their ascents.

The added difficulty of any ‘free climb’ of this section with the encumbrance of oxygen sets mitigated against the carriage of this equipment while attempting to ‘free climb’ the crux and this may be of significance to Mallory surmised ‘free climb’ on this section as well.

Again by definition, in light of the dissonance between the rapid and straightforward movements by Mallory and Irvine via Odell’s sighting  at 12.50pm,  and the later encountered delays and difficulties in climbing this vital crux, one assumes Mallory and Irvine must have employed a different mechanism compared to later ‘free climb’ attempts on this section, consistent with Odell’s description.

Of the possibilities either a pre roped unobserved mechanism was employed as described above in this discussion or in defiance of all later ‘free climb’ attempts, Mallory and Irvine somehow managed to ascend the headwall crux with oxygen sets donned!

Mount Everest Second Step Ladders

A perspective of the final headwall crux of the ‘Second step’ showing the modern ladders and to the left, the “off width crack” widely seen as the best mechanism to ascend the crux.

Of interest is the discordant nature of the headwall morphology characterised by its rotten rock in many places, yet also by protruding horizontal bands with the bottom of the “off width crack” feature actually having a useful “launch pad” in the form of the cubical rock and some viable edges and surfaces used to aid ascend on the “off width crack” itself.

Photograph copyright and generously provided by respected British mountaineer and adventurer, Stuart Holmes for which the Author expresses sincere thanks

Mount Everest Third Step and Final Pyramid

The vista immediately above the ‘Second step’, perhaps as seen by Mallory and later Irvine.

The contrast between this inclined but unobstructed ‘plateau’ and the rigours of the ‘Second step’ is apparent once the step is gained where the summit itself would beckon and doubtless inspire the Englishmen to press on to the summit.

With oxygen levels now revised to be below 50 %, but rather more than has hitherto been calculated via the implications of  the ‘context’ theory and the paused/then time shunted oxygen levels and mindful that they had defeated all the difficulties of the terrain and via their fixed rope, together with a workable means of descent now in place via the proposed fixed rope theorised in this discourse, it would be reasonable to assume Mallory and Irvine would have proceeded toward the summit from this point.

Photograph (2004) copyright and kindly provided by respected Italian mountaineer Guiseppi Pompili for which the Author expressed sincere thanks.

This exciting vista would doubtless confer added impetus for Mallory, as the key to the summit was now in sight. (See Fig 8. above)

Logically, Mallory would then seek to utilise his rope, affixing it to any number of useful rock outcrops (and employed to equal effect in 1960 by the Chinese expedition- see Notes. 2) before ensuring its load bearing capacity on top of the actual headwall of the ’Second step’ and then experimentally down climbing the crux to proceed to the snow patch and ultimately descending the rocky inclined ramp (aided perhaps by Irvine and any remaining length of rope in the latter section if a standard (30 metre) 100 ft rope was taken for the summit attempt) and rejoining his rested companion at the bottom of the step.

This episode may well have taken somewhere up to 45-60 minutes if necessary, where after resting and describing his observations and progress, its proposed Mallory would then lead Irvine (but now with their loaded oxygen apparatus on their backs) back up the ‘Second step’, only this time, aided by Mallory’s newly installed fixed rope as well as any benefit conferred from their oxygen cylinders in the sections leading up to the bottom of the head wall crux.

Further, its curious that previous attempts of reconstructing Mallory and Irvine’s movements of  their ascent in relation to the ‘Second step’, whilst assuming constant usage of their oxygen supplies, the pair would be by 12.50pm even if they did manage to successfully scale the top of the ‘Second step’ such result in very low levels of oxygen reserves by this juncture, such that they could only have continued for a short distance beyond along the uncluttered ‘plateau’ toward the final pyramid (see Fig.8).

If so, this raises a fundamental question as to why Mallory and Irvine would even be trying at this point, mindful that their oxygen reserves were so low and  indeed near exhaustion whilst still a significant distance from the summit?

Certainly, Mallory and Irvine would be cognisant of their oxygen levels on the approach to the ‘Second step’ if the time was nearing 12.50pm and certainly later on the structure itself. So under those circumstances, why would they still be bothering to continue in such a dire position and still with the summit far away and with the recognition that oxygen from their sets were vital to succeed in gaining the summit?

The possible explanation is now raised that perhaps the answer in truth may have been that from Mallory and Irvine’s position, their oxygen situation wasn’t as grim as later estimates would have us believe and rather more sanguine.

Implicit is the assumption of a late time on the ‘Second step’ and by implication low levels of oxygen remaining as a result of constant usage since their first cylinder(s) were expended circumjacent to the 8475 metre level below the ‘First step’.

However, these assumptions would be negated entirely if the pair weren’t as late as near 12.50pm in reaching the ‘Second step’, whilst assuming constant usage of their oxygen, but if the specifics of the ‘context’ theory as described in this discourse transpired, the oxygen would be ‘paused’ for a time until ready for use again by the pair once the fixed rope was installed, so the oxygen sets would again be employed and so the oxygen reserved ‘time displaced’ or shunted forward to resume a short time after 12.30 pm, consistent with Odell’s eventual sighting.

Under these alternative circumstances, with more time displaced ‘shunted’ oxygen, Mallory and Irvine may indeed see no hindrance nor pointlessness in continuing toward the summit due to an extra 60-90 minutes of oxygen  now calculated to exist via this described scenario.

Mount Everest Second Step Ladders

A near vertical view looking directly up the headwall crux of the ‘Second step’.

Imagine if the ladders and ropes weren’t there and see this scene as Mallory and Irvine  would  have  viewed it during their attempt…….

Photograph copyright and generously provided by respected British mountaineer and adventurer Stuart Holmes for which the Author expresses sincere thanks.

Crucially this final sequence of Mallory and Irvine climbing the step would transpire by 12.50pm, when the upper mountain clouds parted briefly for Odell to finally observe the pair, Mallory and Irvine (in this proposed scenario) were by now well into the culmination of the exercise to scale the ‘Second step’, but aided by not only by oxygen cylinders, but in this specific argument, also by a fixed rope aiding their combined ascent plus the knowledge and experience that Mallory had already succeeded in climbing the crux sans oxygen and solo too!

Therefore, by implication to the above theory, form Odell’s perspective, the reason there was no delay in the scene as the two black dots climbed the step crux, was that there was simply by definition, no real need for such complex or alternative dynamics, as it was simply a question of each man taking his own time to climb up ‘Second step via the fixed  rope whilst making use of any cracks or footholds such as the cited “off width crack” (situated at the extreme left of the headwall), to the top of the step crux (much as the Chinese 1960 climbers   after much hard work  and ingenuity succeeded  in eventually scaled the crux).

Certainly this undertaking would have taken much effort, but in far less time compared to the three hours of the 1960 Chinese effort for example, where in that case once their fixed rope was installed by their comrade Qu Yinhua, they managed to climb the headwall crux, albeit with great difficulty and by contrast where ‘modern’ climbers today labour up the ladder now affixed to the crux.

Irvine of course would have waited for a short time for his turn to follow in the steps of his companion Mallory which crucially does correspond and perhaps explains the short delay Odell described between one man and then the other quickly climbing the crux!

This latter aspect may explain the hesitancy Odell describes in affirming whether Irvine also completely joined Mallory at the top of the step, before the clouds obscured the completion of the action too. (9)

That said, if Mallory succeed in gaining the top of the ‘Second step’, then it would be reasonable to conclude that aided with a rope and a helpful hand from the waiting Mallory, Irvine would (like the 1960 Chinese expedition) also invariably have joined his companion on top of the ‘Second step’, as the simplicity in the route via a fixed rope and the various protuberances and corners (specifically, the “off width crack” to the extreme left of the on the crux headwall itself, which is the intuitive ascent route proffering the greatest prospect for ascent) would proffer ample foot and of course hand holds to aid the ascent. (See Fig 10. below)

Mount Everest Second Step

A rare view of the ‘Second step’ headwall crux showing immediately above (orange oval) a potentially useful split boulder where a rope could be readily looped about to aid ascent and descent.

Leading Everest researcher Jochen Hemmleb has observantly recounted a number of cogent aids on the headwall that would facilitate an accessible ascent of the ‘Second step’ crux section for a solo climb in Mallory’s case and also later for the less capable Irvine, via useful incut holds and protuberances on the headwall crux (and by implication, the proposed fixed rope combined with the available footholds on the crux that exist, specifically the so called “off width crack” at the extreme left).

Note the climbers ascending via the ladder directly up the headwall crux of the step.

Photograph (2010) copyright and generously provided by respected Australian mountaineer and adventurer, Katie Sarah, for which the Author expresses sincere thanks.

Indeed by way of support of this premise, perceptive Everest researcher Jochen Hemmleb  has  made  a number of discrete observations directly related to Anker’s attempt to climb the ‘Second step’ headwall crux (and by implication Mallory and Irvine’s effort) when independently viewing the footage of the film “The Wildest Dream” (2010) after the said expedition in 2007 (of which he had no participation nor interest).

Hemmleb observes; (18)

“…… The headwall pitch is just four or five moves long…….[ ]……., has positive incut holds and might even be slightly less than vertical….”

From this aforementioned standpoint, it’s now suggested that once the ‘Second step’ was successfully attained by Mallory and Irvine, with the easier route to the final pyramid then in sight, mindful of their viable means to descend the ‘Second step’ by use of the fixed rope, Mallory and Irvine may well have have increased incentive to press ‘onward and upward’ to the summit, aided by the extra calculated oxygen reserves remaining (60-90+ minutes) as a logical implication of the pause in the ascent and lack of use of the oxygen sets as part of the ‘context’ theory described above.

In addition, climbers today still do rest for a time along the route for period and also attempt difficult sections without their oxygen activated due to sighting or other factors that inhibit movement ‘in situ’, so the scenario described in this ‘context’ theory is consistent with standard practice to the present day.

Suffice to say this continuation onward once above the ‘Second step’ would likely proceed too without the perceived ‘weight’ on their minds proposed by later observers, who suggest that extra time would be needed to find a way down the ‘Second step’ (or an alternative found) during their descent later in the day, which would erode their time needed to attain the summit, leading to the elimination of any disincentive to continue toward the summit from this standpoint.

2005 Finnish expedition at the bottom of the Second step

Irvine waiting for Mallory at the bottom of the ‘Second step’?

Sadly, no photographs are ever likely to be seen of the climb of Mallory and Irvine, even if one or more cameras were ever obtained if Irvine’s body is ever found, due to the many environmental factors and the passage of time impacting on the delicate film within.

This photograph instead depicts a resting member of the 2005 Finnish expedition at the bottom of the ‘Second step’ perhaps by coincidence in a way similar to Irvine as proposed.

However, as described in this discourse as the best means to correlate Odell’s sighting with the difficulty of the ‘Second step’, such a scene may well have transpired as the Englishmen may have felt the need to survey the rock step, then affix a rope to aid ascent, before trying in earnest by both climbers but now carrying their oxygen sets.

Note the prominent rock ‘ramp’ at the bottom of the rock step which serves as the access point to gain the higher reaches of the step!

Imagine Mallory and Irvine’s surprise and joy to discover such an accessible feature ready for them to climb!. Sometimes nature can be kind and people can have luck!

Photograph (2005) copyright and generously provided by the Airborne Ranger Club of Finland for which the Author expresses much gratitude.

Mount Everest looking down the North East Arete

Another unique perspective this time looking down the North East arête from a location on the ‘plateau’ above the ‘Second Step’.

Of  particular interest in this fascinating photograph is the protruding boulder (circled in green) that lies affixed approximately 7 metres (25 ft) above the edge of the ‘Second Step’ itself (confusingly concealed from above).

This useful boulder is approximately the size of a ‘coffee table’ ( together with its secondary boulders to the right) are viable candidates where a rope could also be affixed without recourse to pitons or other ‘ironmongery’ that were not considered to be carried by Mallory and Irvine on their summit attempt.

Photograph copyright and very kindly provided by learned British mountaineer and adventurer Mark Horrell for which the Author expresses sincere thanks.

This scenario is a reasonable reconstruction of what may have happened on the ‘Second step’, consistent with the anomalies inherent in Odell’s 12.50pm sighting, such as ‘alacrity’ of the ascent, the lack of appreciable delays, deviations or belays as Mallory and Irvine climbed the rock step.

However its conceded that there may possibly be other scenario subsets which may exist in this theory where Irvine (for example) follows Mallory to assist his successful ascent up the rock step headwall crux such that he aids Mallory’s ascent of the crux via a shoulder stand (for example) to then both retreat after the rope is affixed, fetch their waiting oxygen cylinders at the bottom of the ‘Second step’, rest together and then proceed back up the step but this time aided by the fixed rope as by assumption, the bulk and mass of the oxygen sets may be a disincentive in the initial exploration of the ‘Second step’, leading to a lighter (albeit slower) investigation of the viability of the upper sections of the rock step.

Arrival time and the calculated time in preparation affixing the rope on the ‘Second step’ may also vary in specifics (let the reader decide their own time scenarios), as the model expressed in this exposition is merely representative of the wider articulation and implications of the ‘Second step’ Odell sighting “context” argument.

But as articulated above, this theory may also to an extent explain the widely discussed delays in the schedule for the summit attempt by Mallory and Irvine based on known discovered artefacts and projections from the location, likely climb rates and timing thereof.

Suffice to say, the premise explored in this discussion comprising of interpreting the actual context of the Odell 12.50 pm sighting does inherently obviate to a degree, the long raised concerns of the lateness of the hour when Odell finally saw the pair at 12.50pm and more importantly how the pair were able to climb the step at all and so quickly, which is now proposed was all due to the utilisation of the time while concealed  to affix a rope by Mallory and then retreat to fetch Irvine and the oxygen sets before finally proceeding together until they were finally seen by Odell who may have subsequently misinterpreted the scene as the ‘initial’ effort instead of the now proposed ‘cumulative’ effort articulated here.

In light of the aforementioned dynamics, the prospects for the Englishmen pressing onto the summit would be certainly significantly increased once the ‘Second step’ was overcome and a means of descent retained and tested (by Mallory presumably) via a now affixed rope on the crucial headwall crux section of the upper ‘Second step’ together  with (by implication) the extra oxygen availability inherent to their minimal usage whilst waiting at the bottom of the ‘Second step’  with Irvine as Mallory (in this theory) spent time climbing to the top and affixing the rope to the top of the ‘Second step’ itself  in this  ‘context’ scenario.

Criticisms and Considerations

If one accepts the ‘context’ scenario described above comprising of Mallory and Irvine reaching the bottom of the ‘Second step’ by late morning, followed by Mallory alone climbing the step, affixing  a rope, before descending to join his comrade and finally, eventually together  and with oxygen sets, climbing to the top of the ‘Second step’ simply and quickly, to then be eventually seen by Odell, the logical implications are profound in terms of their prospects for the summit and subsequent other factors relating to their descent and fate.

Firstly, consider the issue of affixing ropes on Everest at the time;

By contrast with the present day and the ‘de rigueur’ premise of all who attempt the mountain nowadays, in 1924  by contrast it was far less common with only a few rather difficult sections affixed with rope to aid the ascent.

One good example was on an awkward section leading up to the top of the North Col, where a troublesome ice chimney was ameliorated to large extent, by the invention of an ingenious rope ladder installed in the critical section. (19)

Intriguingly, it was Irvine who devised and largely built the apparatus to aid the ascent and descent, which makes this device (and indeed principle), worthy of consideration when the problem was later faced comprising a rocky chimney inherent in the ‘Second step’.

As suggested in this discourse, once this problem was realised, its possible a similar idea to install a fixed rope on the ‘Second step’ may have occurred to Irvine or Mallory, such was its demonstrated utility in relation to the North Col!

Further to the issue of the  utilisation of the rope as described  in this discourse, there is tantalising evidence that the rope carried by Mallory and Irvine was actually cut at least once, from which results with elegant inevitability the question of just what else the rope was possibly utilised for during the summit attempt?

Specifically, in 1999, upon the discovery of Mallory on the north face of Everest at 8155 metres it was revealed that about Mallory’s person was approximately 7.5 metres (25 feet) of 9 mm cotton rope.

Strangely and seldom discussed, there were actually two broken rope ends visible in the photographic imagery taken immediately after Mallory was found which were situated on either side of Mallory’s body!. The specifics of this discovery are well documented by prominent Everest researcher Jochen Hemmleb who described the matter thusly;

Hemmleb recalls, (20)

“The 1924 expedition was supplied with 2 “Flax, Alpine, ord. size, 200 ft lengths”,

5 “Flax, Alpine 15/16, 200ft. lengths and

3 “Flax, Alpine, ord  size 100ft lengths” from Frost Bros.

“My artefact list from 1999 includes “7 pieces of 9mm three strand cotton climbing rope (approx. 7.5 m long)”- which amounts to 25 ft. of rope found on Mallory.

From the photographs it appears that the rope was tied around the waist (twice?), and then wrapped itself around the body during the fall – once over the left shoulder, and twice around the upper thighs.

The rope pushed up the skin around the waist and caused visible bruising.

There are TWO broken ends visible in the photo’s  of the body taken immediately after discovery, one on the left and another on the right side of the body.

On both ends the strands are somewhat unravelled, its not a clear cut.

Could this indicate that the rope was cut in a rough fashion (with a pocket knife) during the climb?

Perhaps they climbed with a shorter rope in order to save weight or used part of the rope for tying slings”.

The actual rope that was retrieved from Mallory’s body is depicted below in a total of seven sections which by way of expedience was the only way in which the rope could be extricated from Mallory’s body in 1999, due to its entangled nature about Mallory’s remains. (See Fig. 13)

Rope retrieved from Mallory’s body in 1999

A photograph of the  rope retrieved from Mallory’s person in 1999.

Note the scale bar at bottom representing a length of 25 centimetres or approximately 1 ft by comparison.

Two rope ends were unravelled on the  rope which were found to be either side of Mallory’s body.

However efforts to actually identify these ends are still difficult to quantify, with the unravelled ends with three strands the best candidates for the 1924 two broken sections that snapped in the fatal fall.

Other ‘cleaner’ rope ends were perhaps cut by Mallory and Irvine earlier in the day (perhaps as suggested in this discussion to affix the ‘Second step’)?

The more precise cuts on each rope end, date from 1999 most likely in order for the contemporary climbers to extract the rope’s entire length and then descend to lower camps for analysis- pity they didn’t document the two rope ends found ‘in situ’ though!

Clearly one  rope end must have resulted from the fatal fall between Mallory and Irvine suggesting they were roped together on their descent, indicative of Mallory falling first and having greater kinetic energy and thus more rope compared to Irvine.

Was the other broken end on the other side of Mallory’s body a tacit artefact of an earlier rope cut perhaps used to affix a rope to gain the ‘Second step’ or as suggested by Hemmleb, perhaps to  install rope slings to aid progress up and down the rock step?

The candidate two rope ends are circled in green (see above) by the Author based on helpful discussions with researcher Jochen Hemmleb.

Photograph by noted researcher, writer and mountaineer Jochen Hemmleb, supplied August 2013 for which the Author expresses sincere thanks for his generous contribution.

As Hemmleb cogently suggests, it’s intriguing that two broken ends of the rope were found about Mallory in 1999.

One unravelled end logically must have resulted from the fatal fall with Irvine just before Mallory’s long fall from a locale (according to the Author’s own analysis) projected to reside low in the ‘Yellow Band’ (a region of limestone terraces that horizontally extend across the north face of Everest), however as mentioned above attempts to identify the actual two rope ends remain elusive due to the fact that the Mallory rope was cut in 1999 into some seven pieces (see Fig.13), sadly resulting in the lack of proper documentation of the two “free” rope ends beside Mallory and still unknown to the present day.

It’s also possible that one of the two found broken rope ends may have resulted from an earlier minor fall between Mallory and Irvine higher on the mountain and before the final fatal fall for Mallory.

However, this argument tacitly assumes that for any putative fall earlier in the day, Mallory and Irvine would still be able to recover, rendezvous (perhaps below the terraces where the ice axe was found in 1933 by (later Sir Percy) Wyn-Harris and Wager), and then continue downwards to sadly fall again much later.

Yet likely after any minor accident followed by recovery and rendezvous they would have re-tied their broken rope together and continued down with a new knot linking the two rope ends.

No knot exists on the rope found with Mallory but it’s possible Irvine’s section of rope may have a knotted end from any putative earlier mishap, which would mean by induction that they survived a minor fall, roped up and continued down only to fall later with a ‘clean’ knot free broken rope with Mallory and by contrast, Irvine having a broken rope again but now with a knotted section from the earlier mishap!

However, the long length of rope found about Mallory (some 7.5 metres/25 feet), tacitly suggests  that  Mallory fatally fell with considerable speed or kinetic energy which is directly proportional to the rope length ‘expended’ before breaking due to opposing force applied by Irvine’s mass and any resisting force he was able to apply.

Under this circumstance though, by definition, for any assumed ‘minor’ recoverable fall earlier in the descent that resulted in less fall distance and by implication less kinetic energy and thus rope length,  a significant anomaly is revealed in that if any knot in the rope was extant after a shorter less energetic fall, by rights for the later more forceful fatal fall that expended more rope before breaking, Mallory’s length of rope found in 1999 should have the original knot that (if it ever existed) was emplaced earlier in the descent during the proposed ‘recoverable fall’ as Mallory and Irvine ‘re-roped’ and continued their descent.

Granted, its  possible  the rope broke in the same place where the knot resided which may be weaker in resisting the forces imposed upon it during the fatal fall, but this would imply by implication that the fall forces in both putative falls were comparable and thus similar in terms of distance, with only subtle differences in terrain or human reaction the deciding factor in survival and death respectively.

But this  scenario still doesn’t explain the second broken rope end found with Mallory and more so if they became possibly separated during an earlier and more serious fall higher near the iceaxe area as any dangling rope end would be dangerous and likely to be efficiently retied to their person, separated or not.

Thus, the evidence suggests that its  inconsistent that there was an earlier mishap resulting in a broken rope which if Mallory and Irvine stayed together, they’d simply re-rope and continue down only to fall again or if they became separated after a fall, in both cases only one broken rope end would be with Mallory!

Some suggest, it may be possible to examine via microscope or other scientific analysis, the cut rope ends to determine whether Mallory or Irvine cut the rope via a pocket knife in relation to the supportive arguments revolving around the “context” theory for the ‘Second step’  as articulated in this discussion.

However, this may not be possible, as any cut rope in 1999 or 1924 may well have unravelled in a similar manner, making identification most difficult!

The Author welcomes any insights on the exact identification of the two 1924 rope ends shown above in Fig.13.

Thus by implication, as Mallory had some 7.5 metres (25 feet) of rope about him and undoubtedly fell to his death,  he therefore conferred higher kinetic energy in the fall sufficient to break the rope, yet his length of rope found in 1999 tellingly had no knot along its length which casts doubt on any less energetic fall earlier during the descent as the later fatal fall with more kinetic energy would surely expose any knot, unless the knot itself was the weak point that ultimately was where the rope broke that killed Mallory.

By extension this circumstance would result in Irvine being left with less rope in light of his opposing mass and force resisting Mallory’s fall (kinetic) force.

As an aside, the forces involved must have been considerable in one sense, yet paradoxically, minimum force may have been necessary.

To explain, perceptive Everest researcher Ajay Dandekar (21) has observed that on the 21st of May, 1922, during their descent to Camp IV  late  in the afternoon, Mallory lead the descent of Norton, Somervell and Morsehead.

Despite a slip and three men tumbling past him, Mallory was able to rapidly arrest the combined mass and fall of his three comrades down the slope, via an iceaxe and roped belay, suggesting that ropes of that era did have inherent load bearing capabilities.

Reciprocally, in the well regarded 2010 documentary “Erster auf dem Everest” (22), by Gerald Salmina, Jochen Hemmleb,, laboratory testing of the 1924 rope shows little tensile strength when subject to force in a very cold environment akin to Everest conditions in 1924!

Likely Irvine is still concealed above Mallory’s site with a length of rope freely dangling about his person plus any loops still about his torso (unless Irvine survived for a time after Mallory’s fatal fall and to aid his free movement, discarded or carried the rope more efficiently as he tried to descend alone or find a sheltered place to rest and recover).

By projection, it’s likely if Irvine is ever found, he may have on or near his person,  a length of  rope approximately the same or a little less than Mallory’s, commensurate on how much he carried looped about his body as a function of any ‘free’ rope length connected to Mallory’s rope length and perhaps most revealingly, if any knot exists along the length of Irvine’s length of ‘free’ rope close to the break point, this detail will more definitively tell us if there was ever any ‘minor’ accident before the final fatal fall that befell them during their night descent.

In conclusion, if there is no knot on the rope, then the ‘minor’ recoverable accident earlier in the day never occurred as even if they became separated, any dangling rope length about Mallory’s person would be tied up during his multi hour descend down the ‘Yellow band’ before he fatally fell and the anomalous broken rope ends about Mallory in 1999 would be difficult to explain.

While unlikely to be an equal distribution of rope between them (as for example Irvine may have carried the bulk of the rope looped about his body), it suggests that up to 15 metres (50 ft) or rope was at least carried by the pair on their descent late in the day/evening of the 8th of June.

The question remains however just how much rope did the Englishmen actually carried on their summit attempt?

As cited above, a ‘standard’ rope of some 30 metres (100 ft) has traditionally been seen as being entertained for the summit attempt by Mallory and Irvine.

However on the 4th of June, 1924, barely days before Mallory and Irvine’s summit attempt, E.F Norton and T.H Somervell also make a summit attempt after establishing the Camp VI the day before.

Climbing without oxygen sets and little else either, they nonetheless carried what Somervell characterised as “a short rope” in addition to their other belongings.

Somervell recalls (23)

“…….taking with us a few cardigans, a thermos flask of coffee and a vest-pocket Kodak: nothing else save ice-axes and a short rope”.

Unfortunately, Somervell declines to articulate just what actual length a “short rope” is!

Logically, it may vary in length to a standard 30 metre (100 ft) rope as cited above or perhaps a shorter cut down length to save weight?

Either  option  is possible for the Norton and Somervell attempt and the same may also apply for Mallory and Irvine too.

By implication though, if one were to assume the outlined arguments of the ‘context’ theory as articulated here comprising of a sole Mallory climb of the ‘Second step’ headwall crux followed by an affixing of a rope, the next obvious question pertains to the descent phase for the climbers whenever that occurred and what happened to the rope during and after they descended the rock step.

Thus the second question is how this mechanism was realised and what if any clues result from the Mallory rope?

Specifically, does a cut end of rope indicate overtly that a length of rope was affixed above the ‘Second step’ and once the Englishmen descended, this fixed rope was discarded and the remaining (now shorter) rope retained by Mallory and Irvine?

On this issue, it could be argued that if a standard 30 metre (100 ft) rope was carried by Mallory up the ‘Second step’ and affixed, this would by definition be a very bulky arrangement and quite unconducive for free climbing a difficult pitch.

However it may be possible a shorter section was cut beforehand, and carried up by Mallory and affixed once on the top of the step proper.

Certainly, on the approach to the ‘Second step’ it’s apparent that the headwall crux is visible and identifiable as a possible locale where rope may be needed.

Indeed as described above, during the approach to the ‘Second step’ it may have become steadily apparent that the upper crux may need to be roped and the hypothetical plan formulated then by Mallory and Irvine, based on the experience of the rope ladder devised for the North Col ice chimney (see Fig.2, Fig .4, Fig .5, Fig.6 and Fig 10).

Hence by the time the bottom of the ‘Second step’ was reached by the pair late in the morning (in this scenario), the decision may have been taken to cut a short rope section from whence Mallory would attempt a solo ascent and if possible affix the rope to aid Irvine and Mallory with their oxygen later and by extension their eventual descent post summit!

This putative scenario may explain the second cut rope section found in 1999 on Mallory’s person, however a vital question remains?

For the descent phase, what was the fate of the fixed rope then and later with the salient question resulting by extension, if abandoned, why was it not seen in later expeditions such as the next visit in 1960 by the Chinese who may well have employed similar rope affixing techniques to what is hypothecated for Mallory and Irvine in this discussion?

Two immediate answers are likely;

1. If the rope was left behind after Mallory and Irvine descended the crux headwall of the ‘Second step’, the abandoned rope may have simply over the decades rotted away due to the hostile environmental conditions in such an exposed location (strong ultraviolet light, intense cold, severe winds etc.) and eventually been blown away. Certainly the ‘Second step’ snow patch does vary in extent, which would bury any dangling rope draping down the headwall crux over time, however would these conditions have the same effect on any rope loop wrapped around any anchoring boulder?

However in 1960, the Chinese climbers ‘in situ’ reported no sighting of any extant rope, so perhaps by 1960 after several decades, the rope was long gone in such a hostile locale?

Moreover, it is unseemly, disingenuous and decidedly insulting to suggest (as some uncharitable minds have done) that the Chinese mountaineers would remove any evidence of Mallory and Irvine’s presence on the route, such as rope traces still wrapped about any anchoring boulder situated  above ‘Second step’ headwall crux, or indeed any other  artefact or evidence at other locations!

2. It’s possible due to the nature of the protruding boulders (see Fig.2, Fig.5,Fig.10, Fig.12) above the ‘Second step’ crux headwall, it may simply have been a simple matter of looping one or more lengths of rope over the protruding boulder and pulling down to ensure the rope never was forced up and over the boulder apex and so becoming released.

At least two useful boulders (see Fig. 2, Fig. 5, Fig.10, Fig.12) can be clearly observed above the ‘Second step’ crux and indeed it may have made some sense to have a looping rope with two lengths to aid grip for the gloved Englishmen, where once the descent was performed, the rope ends could be simply pulled down and the rope re-used!

Either options are possible and would explain the missing rope to varying degrees of acceptability.

More so if Mallory and Irvine only carried (like Norton and Somervell) a shorter rope, perhaps as little as 15 metres (50 ft) as has been inferred above.

That said, if Mallory and Irvine opted for a longer rope near 30 metres (100 ft), leaving aside the difficulties of climbing the ‘Second step’ headwall crux (by Mallory initially) while carrying such inherent bulk, would there be any need to cut the rope at all due to the helpful nature of the protruding boulders above the ‘Second step’ crux, if a simple pull through would result in the rope bought down intact?However, it’s acknowledged, that in this scenario, for any solo climb by Mallory to affix the top of the ‘Second step’, a prerequisite would be to identify and utilise any useful anchor boulders ‘in situ’ (if any could be located or exploited).

Certainly the identified split boulder just above the headwall crux (as seen in Fig.5 and Fig.10) can be clearly seen from below the ‘Second step’ on its approach, however in light of the importance of the intention, it may have made sense for Mallory to carry a longer section of rope with him to affix the step, so to ensure if any anchor boulders close to the headwall crux were deemed unsuitable, further ones could be utilised which by definition may have required a longer length of rope!

As stated, the large protruding  boulder  identified and seen in Fig. 12, some 7 metres (22 ft) beyond the headwall crux of the ‘Second step’ is another obvious anchor, but quite obscured below on the approach to the ‘Second step’.

Thus, there may have been some sense for Mallory in this scenario to carry a longer rope, just to ensure if any close anchors are unsuitable, a longer rope would entrain anchor boulders farther  afield above the ‘Second step’.

In conclusion, much depends on the vagaries of preference for the length of rope carried by Mallory and Irvine on the day and how important they considered it to aid their ascent and descent.

What can be said is that there was a short length (7.5 metres or 25 feet) of cut rope on Mallory’s person in 1999, leading by implication to the conclusion, that clearly Mallory and Irvine were of the view that a rope was useful during their descent as well as ascent for safety and personal security.

Also by extension, Irvine may have a similar length of rope on his person still, leading to perhaps 15 metres (50 ft) one could surmise (at a minimum) that was utilised by the pair on the summit day, however its conceded that another 15 metres (50 ft) may be missing, which could be either with Irvine, discarded on the ‘Second step’ headwall crux or some other undiscovered location higher or lower on the mountain!

In mitigation however, the fact the rope was actually cut at some stage (as discovered by the two rope ends with Mallory’s body in 1999), suggests the rope was shortened for some reason (as articulated in this discourse), leading to the real possibility that the pair may indeed have had a longer length of rope where a section was employed to affix the ‘Second step’ headwall crux, but once completed and during their later descent,  they possibly saw a need after the descent of the ‘Second step’ for this cut section of rope installed above the headwall crux to further aid them and so it was retrieved via a simple ‘pull through’ after its usefulness in this location was over (as one possible disengaging mechanism) and the rope ends were rejoined via a knot.

As stated, with no knots found on Mallory’s section, it may be that Irvine has the knotted rope length, which if ever found will provide extra evidence in support of this theory as the two knotless rope ends found with Mallory are hard to explain if resulting from the fatal fall tied to Irvine in light of any possible earlier fall where they  would  likely ‘re-rope’ after surviving.

One other criticism pertains to the actual practicality of the ‘context’ theory as outlined in this discourse.

Specifically, could Mallory alone (or perhaps in another identified subset of this scenario, aided by Irvine via a shoulder stand or some other assist), “free climb” the ‘Second step’ headwall crux and then once having affixed the rope in place (in a similar manner to the 1960 Chinese experience), then surrender that height gain and effort to then descend to join Irvine?

Granted, the latter may be unpleasant, yet be quite necessary as the proposed plan implicitly intended to effect a quick and lightweight attempt by Mallory without any bulky and heavy oxygen set (of which no modern climber who has attempted the ‘Second step headwall crux in a “free climb” has ever attempted with an oxygen set on their back), due to the assumption that all the oxygen kit would be stored at the bottom of the step with a resting Irvine.

This solo effort required Mallory by necessity to descend  (and in doing so test the security of the newly affixed rope) and rejoin Irvine as part of the plan, where after a rest, they would then together attempt the ascent of the ‘Second step’ as the culmination of Mallory’s earlier efforts well before 12.50pm.
By definition, for both oxygen sets  stored at the bottom of the ‘Second step’, would automatically require Mallory to rejoin Irvine as the latter simply couldn’t carry both oxygen sets on his person alone up the lower sections of the ‘Second step’ to join any awaiting Mallory.

By way of implicit confirmation, Odell noted that the two black spots appeared on the snow patch in sequence and then climbed up the headwall crux in short order.

If  by contrast, Mallory and Irvine  had of climbed with their oxygen sets to the bottom of the headwall crux before 12.50pm (as t here would be no need to pause on the mid level snow patch if climbing with their oxygen sets), all Odell would see when they were finally unobscured  at 12.50pm (if they could be observed if silhouetted against the rock of the headwall crux and without being noticed first on the mid level snow patch), would be a sequential climb by Mallory and Irvine without first appearing on the snow patch.

Crucially, Odell reported observing first one black spot appear ‘ab initio’ to be on the snow patch followed by another who moved upward to join his companion, which tacitly suggests that Mallory was already silhouetted on the snow patch when seen by Odell and Irvine was advancing upwards from below the snow patch to then be seen!

Under this circumstance by contrast, if Mallory and Irvine had of climbed together earlier (while still obscured by cloud) with their oxygen sets higher on the ‘Second step’, then temporarily deposited their oxygen sets below the headwall crux, while all above the mid level snow patch and  followed by an oxygen-less “free climb” by Mallory and eventually Irvine, there would simply be no need for Mallory to descend and fetch his oxygen set as it could be readily done via a rope pull for each  and followed by Irvine’s attempt eventually.

Such a technique was, for example, graphically illustrated as part of a theoretical reconstruction of Mallory and Irvine’s ascent of the ‘Second step’ in the 2010 documentary ‘Erster Auf Dem Everest’.(22)

By implication, this technique would necessitate sufficient delays by Irvine such as descending a little onto the snow patch, affixing the rope to the oxygen set and then one after the other have Mallory pulling each oxygen set in sequence up the headwall crux to the top and finally followed by Irvine eventually with some assistance above from the awaiting Mallory with a belay.

Clearly, the dissonance in terms of time delay and actual individual dynamics for this alternative “Erster Auf  Dem  Everest” headwall crux ascent scenario with individual oxygen set lifting by Mallory and followed eventually by Irvine, contrasts sharply with Odell’s actual sighting of a rapid sequential ascent and with no delays or separate oxygen set lifts as proposed in the “Erster Auf  Dem Everest” scenario.

Indeed, the lack of correlation between the “separate oxygen set pull followed by Irvine” scenario and Odell’s different actual sighting as described in this discourse suggests the former scenario is invalid due to the inconsistencies in terms of time and the observed dynamics which results in the conclusion that somehow Mallory and Irvine were able to climb with alacrity up the headwall crux with their oxygen sets on.

Given these circumstances, the best fit of the data suggests the ‘context’  theory espoused in this discourse is more aligned with Odell’s sighting of comprising a sequential climb with no delays or deviations by Mallory and Irvine appearing on the snow patch of the ‘Second step’ followed by a rapid ascent of the headwall crux, which is now proposed was effected by a pre-fixed rope installed while still obscured by the cloud and before Odell eventually saw the pair  undertaking the culmination of their ascent up the ‘Second step’!

In conclusion, criticisms of the dynamics of this ‘context’ theory are negated via analysis of the actual specifics of the Odell sighting and the ‘logistics’ necessary involving Mallory while still obscured by the clouds well before 12.50pm, nimbly climbs the headwall crux followed by the necessity of descending to gain the needed oxygen sets and Irvine to then effect the culmination back up the step in order ultimately to together gain the summit as their ultimate goal.

Mallory may not have liked having to spend time and effort in this manner  nor losing any altitude as well as the repeated effort, but being expedient, it also best fits the specifics in all the details of Odell’s 12.50 pm sighting.

A further consideration that arises from the technicalities of this ‘context’ theory directly addresses the entire issue of the Odell sighting itself and the implications for Mallory and Irvine’s progress.

Specifically, once it became apparent via close observation if not in 1924, but perhaps by 1933 and later that the ‘Second step’ didn’t lend  itself to  rapid access via the described terms of “alacrity” and “expeditiously”, the fact that Odell indeed did see Mallory and Irvine climb the rock step headwall crux so rapidly in itself, well before now should have sent past researchers re-examining other mechanisms in which Mallory and Irvine could have climbed the headwall crux such as the simple means articulated here in this paper!

Instead, unable to reconcile the discordant factors of unexpected “alacrity” on a feature that doesn’t immediately lend itself to ease in such a short timeframe, debate has atrophied, indeed stymied to such an extent, that a new ‘industry’ has risen that seeks to undermine the veracity of Odell and his sighting before then via invention, manipulate Mallory and Irvine off into concocted alternative routes and actions entirely discordant with their character and intent.

Indeed, by definition;

The fact that Mallory and Irvine were seen to scale the ‘Second step’ so readily and without any of the delays, deviations etc. of later years, tacitly indicates in itself that by induction they had already devised a means of negotiating the headwall crux and were in the final stage implementation by the time Odell happened to see them ‘in situ’.

All done in defiance of the paucity of imagination of later years and to the present day.

In conclusion, it really should have been quite obvious that Mallory and Irvine had devised a workable means to gain the step so quickly once its difficulty became known in light of the dissonance between known terrain difficulty and observed ascent of the ‘Second step’ with alacrity as by implication, the fact that Mallory and Irvine were observed to be still climbing in this manner, suggests in and of itself that they had already solved the secret of the ‘Second step’!.

One final criticism that may be raised in objection to this ‘context’ theory pertains to the suggestion that such thinking and action was too ‘advanced’ in for the era!

Granted, previous climbers on Everest hadn’t considered such actions previously, however it can be shown that rather than the stolid characterisations Mallory has gained, both then and in later years, Mallory in June 1924 was already thinking in terms far more grandiose and indeed insightful than his comrades.

Specifically, the fact that he alone amongst the leading climbers on the expedition was prepared to use the oxygen sets (of which contemporary and later climbers were equivocal about) and to take the younger and less experienced Irvine on the final summit attempt (despite scepticism from the leader, E.F Norton), indicates by contrast that Mallory was prepared to think for himself and against current orthodoxy.

Moreover, the recovered notes from Mallory in 1999, provide  a wealth of detail for his plans to gain the summit, that indicates in itself an intricate attention to fine detail that would be a prerequisite to staying alive and successfully climbing to the summit with Irvine.

All suggestive of a mind thinking ahead and with advanced planning on the problems inherent in the task and the solutions to which. The question is asked, if Mallory perhaps having been stymied or  even overruled by earlier decisions from his comrades during the advanced planning of the summit attempts to obviate the use of the oxygen sets, once these efforts invariably failed, then averred to make one final attempt  but this time doing it “his way” as he had always planned by employing oxygen sets and taking Irvine to ensure their operation, where if successful demonstrate to “lesser mortals” just how the  job should have been done in the first place in an act of self affirmation?. (see Notes .6)

Further, the contrast in styles between Norton and Somervell on the 4th of June to Mallory and Irvine on the 8th of June were quite pronounced, such that the former used no oxygen, comprised of older experienced men and only the basics for a fair weather attempt encapsulating no more than a rope, a thermos, a camera and ice axes!

By way of contrast, Mallory and Irvine, employed oxygen sets along with a surplus of cylinders (to ensure redundancy in case of failure as the “Stella five” notation suggests)(27), an inexperienced man (albeit a keen and fit man with  mastery of the oxygen sets and other mechanical equipment ‘in situ’), an altimeter, spare mouthpieces for the oxygen sets (as inferred by the missing equipment found by Odell stored above Camp IV) and were prepared to pursue a radical route along the crest of the North East arête to gain the summit!

Therefore  in mitigation, although such a radical idea to climb ahead and affix a rope to the top of the ‘Second step’ in a solo effort followed  then by a test descent, rejoin Irvine and  then finally with their oxygen sets together climb the rock step via the rope is certainly an “advanced idea”, when considered in conjunction with the rope ladder devised for the North Col  situation, the above examples in defence of Mallory do demonstrate that as opposed to the simplicity of the previous summit attempt by Norton and Somervell on the 4th of June, Mallory was already defining and employing a radical approach to the summit by pursuing his own ideas in contravention to the “established wisdom” of his contemporaries of the time.

Thus to address the question that the methodology proposed in this discourse where Mallory and Irvine may have “prepared” the ‘Second step’ beforehand until eventually they were finally seen in their culminative climb up the step was too advanced for the era, the above counter arguments suggest that Mallory and Irvine were already used to devising and employing (by the standards of the time) quite innovative solutions to problems (such as the rope ladder on the North Col) and were by demonstration, already known to be deviating from the orthodox wisdom at the time via examples such as supplementary oxygen, taking a less experienced man and thinking in terms of redundancy of  key equipment so that any failures didn’t prevent overall advance to gain the summit!

By extension, the salient question that invariably flows from this theory concerns the logical implications for their summit prospects which does it appears to actually improve once a workable means to gain the ‘Second step’  and descent was effected.

Specifically, with little oxygen used between the late morning and the 12.50pm timeframe espoused in this ‘context’ theory (apart from rest and recovery purposes as well as during the final minutes climbing the ‘Second step’ via the fixed rope), at a stroke means the pair even if  according to conventional wisdom, had only quite low levels of oxygen remaining by the time they reached the bottom of the ‘Second step’, would by implication if this new scenario were effected still have (even at the higher flow rate of 2.2 litres per minute) approximately 1.5-2 hours of oxygen remaining!

This oxygen level would  be largely static after Mallory and Irvine’s calculated usage resulted in having taken 2-2.5 hours to traverse the ground between their first discarded cylinder at approximately 8475 metres around mid morning and the bottom of the ‘Second step’ approximately calculated to arrive perhaps between 11.00-11.30 pm (see Notes 7).

So even for this simple reconstruction, once the ‘Second Step’ was gained and successfully negotiated, as described above in this paper, by implication perhaps another 1-1.5 hours of oxygen would still be available to proceed toward the summit (assuming the flow rate wasn’t reduced or the oxygen was used extra sparingly) via the uncluttered ‘plateau’ leading to the so called ‘Third Step’ situated at the bottom of the final pyramid, for which many modern climbers aim to reach in only 30 minutes in recent times!

That said, its noted that at approximately 2.00 pm a snow squall appeared which engulfed the upper mountain which may well have hindered progress, however on the day Odell who was climbing lower down on the mountain in support, did observe a number of minor squalls earlier in the day, which still didn’t prevent his apparent progress up to and above Camp VI  with no ill effects and nor for Mallory and Irvine it would appear, sufficient they were observed by Odell to be able to advance and gain the ‘Second step’ by 12.50pm at minimum!

Thus the squalls during the day can’t have been much of a hindrance it appears. Indeed for the more severe mid afternoon squall (which raged for two hours between 2.00 pm-4.00 pm), Odell was able to climb above Camp VI during the squall for more than an hour, actually seeking shelter behind a boulder in the open for near an hour before descending with no ill effects.

By extension, Mallory and Irvine, climbing with oxygen still (now assumed with more certainty in light of the implications of this “context” theory described above), would be warmer with the oxygen usage whilst clad in clothing similar to that Odell wore too!

Moreover, by 2.00pm, Mallory and Irvine based on standard climb rates would be expected (at minimum) to be on the final pyramid itself and sheltered in the lee of the westerly snow squall as Mallory had planned in that eventuality and articulated in his note to John Noel the expedition photographer.

Noel recalls; (24)

“Mallory told me himself, when he talked to me of his possible routes up the final pyramid and told me where to watch for him, that he expected to go up the North East Ridge of the final pyramid, but if he found the gully particularly difficult or if the west wind were particularly bad he would take the eastern ridge, missing the gully by passing across the head of it and gaining better protection from the west wind”.

So assuming Mallory and Irvine adhered to this planning, it’s likely by the time the mid afternoon snow squall began, the climbers would have been sheltered to some extent from the westerly elements beginning to impinge on the upper mountain, such that if on the North East ridge of the pyramid after 2.00 pm, with oxygen levels now low (where by the calculations implicit in this discourse implicit to the ‘context’ theory ) and perhaps only 30+ minutes of oxygen remaining at best, Mallory and Irvine may well have diverted across at an angle to the central or eastern section of the pyramid to ensure greater shelter from the prevailing elements.

In addition, apart from the implicit change in circumstances for Mallory and Irvine’s summit prospects inherent in this ‘context theory’ via the shunting oxygen usage forward during the ‘Second step’ preparation time to largely explain the perceived delay (with concomitant oxygen economy gained during this ‘pause’ followed by resumption once progress was rejoined above the rock step), conferring approximately 60-90 minutes extra oxygen levels in order to advance toward the summit, there also remains the open question of the proposed ‘fifth’ cylinder listed in the ‘Stella five’ envelope note found on Mallory’s person in 1999.

One such listed oxygen cylinder (#9) was found in the 1990’s on the North East arête of Everest at approximately 8475 metres and usually implied to be the first cylinder expended by Mallory and Irvine around mid morning on their summit attempt. (25)(26)(27)

The “Stella five”cylinders, raise the tantalising possibility that in a spirit of proper planning and mindfulness toward redundancy, it may have made some sense for Mallory and Irvine to take a spare oxygen cylinder, lest some malfunction or leak occur leading to a shortage of oxygen and thus preventing a summit.

Else, Irvine (it’s assumed) may have felt the need to use constant oxygen in order to maintain the pace with Mallory who was a renowned “goer” in his movements on Everest.

One option was to maintain their ascent technique on the summit attempt as they had done in the days to reach Camp VI, by means of economical use of oxygen and not forcing the pace until the full benefits of oxygen were needed.

Noteworthy is the fact that on the 4th of June, 1924, days before Mallory and Irvine, Norton and Somervell departed on their summit attempt sans oxygen, and indeed started well enough achieving some 300 vertical feet per hour in the first hour (28) which would be considered satisfactory if replicated without recourse to much oxygen by Mallory and Irvine.

But as noted, one of the climbers (suggested to be Irvine), may have felt the need for extra oxygen and thus partaken of oxygen from the outset, until once discarded, this solo cylinder was discarded short of the ‘First step’ and then both Englishmen, partook of their main supply of oxygen stored in the two cylinders per man on their backs.

Under this circumstance, if the ‘main’ oxygen usage was begun from the North East arête location, then both men gaining the summit would be practically guaranteed, especially in light of the new contextual circumstances comprising of  affixing the ‘Second step’ with rope as described in this discussion were employed, which (as described above) would confer an extra 60-90 minutes of oxygen on their “first” cylinders, before they were expended and their last cylinders utilised on the final section above the “Third step” until the summit was gained!

Another alternative, would simply be to assume both climbers, employed oxygen from the outset upon departure from Camp VI but still carrying all of the “Stella five” oxygen cylinders, until when their main four cylinders became exhausted somewhere now projected on the final pyramid (assuming the implications of the ‘Second step’ “context” theory described here), Mallory and Irvine then resorted to using the final “fifth” cylinder to gain the summit by sharing the oxygen mask akin to the 1960 Chinese approach of sharing their available oxygen between themselves!

Whether or not, all of the “Stella five” oxygen cylinders were taken on the summit attempt, it must be a factor in the overall equation in conjunction with the new revised ascent scenario described above in this discourse.

Suffice to say, the prospects for the summit are now significantly improved by implication for  the  time and oxygen advantages  inherent to the ‘Second step’ “context theory”  and its inherent displaced oxygen use shunted forward conferring an extra 60-90 minutes of usage as  described  above!


The respected and incisive Everest researcher, Jochen Hemmleb has suggested two main criteria that would have to be addressed before any prospect for a Mallory and Irvine summit could be entertained.

Hemmleb recalls; (29)

“I would still give them an outside chance of having reached the summit if one of the following criteria was met and proven:

Mallory & Irvine had been higher than the Second Step (i.e. at the Third Step) when last seen by Odell at 12:50 p.m.

Mallory & Irvine had taken more than two (2) oxygen bottles each on the summit bid”

Granted, Hemmleb’s well articulated reasoning carefully surveys the arguments for and against whilst still leaving an open mind to the possibility.

However what if there is an unconsidered possibility, such as described in this discourse that explores an alternative contextual explanation that may better explain the story and the discordant elements in the Mallory and Irvine “equation”?

Specifically, the intellectual ‘blockage’ that has been extant following the dissonance that has existed between the apparent climbing speed (“with alacrity”) implicit in the Odell sighting of Mallory and Irvine at 12.50pm in likely climbing the headwall crux of the ‘Second step’ and the later realised (and imagined to excess perhaps?) difficulty in any “free climb” of   the crux section of the ‘Second step’ feature.

So discordant have been the variables that many now abandon the pursuit of the truth and resort to invention steering Mallory and Irvine away from the ‘Second Step’ and heading off into the land of fiction.

By contrast however, leading researcher Jochen Hemmleb in particular best defines the Mallory and Irvine situation with clarity and accuracy as known at this time.

That said, the inherent dissonance between the Odell sighting dynamics of Mallory and Irvine on the ‘Second step’ and the perceived and demonstrated difficulty inherent in any ascent of the headwall crux implicitly suggests Mallory and Irvine may well have manufactured via some unimagined means, a better method to gain the top of the ‘Second step’ in short order and without any of the delays, deviations or belays that so beset later climbers attempting to replicate this iconic scene in 1924.

Unconsidered until now is the suggestion that Odell and others since, may have simply misinterpreted the scene in which he mistook for their ‘initial’ attempt up the rock step in what was then unknown terrain and moving perhaps too quickly in the circumstances. Whereas perhaps in reality, Odell saw Mallory and Irvine conduct their ascent as part of the ‘culmination’ of much time and effort all conducted beforehand while still unseen and obscured by clouds, but which did aid their observed speedy ascent via a prefixed rope.

In conclusion it’s now proposed by the author in what’s defined as the ‘context theory’ that:

By contrast with current calculations on Mallory and Irvine ascent progress in relation to the ‘Second step’, where by 12.50pm if still on the  rock step in their initial attempt to scale the structure and assuming constant oxygen usage, with their oxygen levels by this stage near exhaustion, the question is raised as to the entire pointlessness of the exercise whilst still so far from the summit.

However, this conventional scenario is negated if the application of a ‘pause’ in the combined ascent was affected and the rock step affixed with rope via a solo Mallory effort followed by a  later joint ascent with oxygen by he and Irvine which resulted in the inactive oxygen sets resources being shunted forward in time to a point when the step was affixed with Irvine meanwhile waiting inactive at the bottom of the ‘Second step’ awaiting Mallory’s return.

By induction, during the approach to the ‘Second step’ Mallory and Irvine in noting the implicit difficulty  of  the  step  morphology, it may have occurred to them for Mallory to make a solo investigation (with a short section of rope and/or perhaps with Irvine assisting part way up to an extent), of the upper section of the rock step, where if viable, attempt to “free climb” it in his own time and once gained, affix a rope to aid later ascent and descent.

Once completed, Mallory then descended to join Irvine below and after rest in their own time, finally proceeded up the step in their definitive, culminative effort, but now aided by Mallory’s installed fixed rope and which Odell finally saw at 12.50pm and perhaps misinterpreted  the proper context of what he was witnessing, having not considered that his colleagues had arrived more or less on schedule at the bottom of the ‘Second Step’ and while still un-noticed and concealed by the clouds and as described above, Mallory proceeded to survey the rock step during a ‘pause’ in the assault to better enhance their likelihood of gaining the ‘Second step’ and by extension the summit itself via a “free climb” up the crux, then affixing a rope and followed by a descent to rejoin Irvine and finally with their oxygen sets, scale the step with more ease via the Mallory installed fixed rope!

In conclusion, this theory, explains the seeming delay in reaching the ‘Second step’ from Odell’s perspective, as ‘ipso facto’, there wasn’t really one at all to speak of due to the misinterpretation of the proper context of the observation.

The ‘context’ theory also allows Mallory and Irvine in their own time to affix the step with rope and to eventually and simply climb the structure in short order with alacrity and safety via the fixed rope which would also affirm their safe descent (and by implication negate any time needed to seek any putative alternative descent route other than the ‘Second step’ from which that supposed timeframe could be devoted instead to gaining the summit) too.

In addition, due to the very limited use of oxygen expended while Mallory (sans his oxygen set) on this proposed solo effort of “free climbing” and affixed the rope above the headwall crux,  means by implication that more oxygen was available for use after Mallory and Irvine finally together gained the top of the headwall crux of the step and then proceeded onward toward the summit, via the pause in use of the oxygen, being shunted forward during the time being unused while Mallory was effecting his solo “free climb” to the top of the rock step!

Most modern calculations propose by 1.00 pm, assuming continual use, the oxygen would be close to exhaustion on or shortly above the ‘Second step’ (such as a short distance along the ‘plateau’ towards the ‘Third step’), by contrast, this new ‘’Second step’ discourse on the context of Odell’s sighting, confers greater amount of available oxygen due to limited or no usage in the time duration between late morning and the arrival at the bottom of the ‘Second step’ and the culmination of the success which Odell witnessed at 12.50pm.

Thus, this time period of no or limited use of the oxygen would then be added to the progression rate for Mallory and Irvine once above the ‘Second step’ conferring at minimum and extra 60-90 minutes of usage higher- sufficient in most calculations and modern ascent rates to reach the ‘Third Step’ certainly and likely high on the final pyramid and ‘in extremis’ above and over the apex of the final pyramid and onto the final summit ridge itself- albeit still some 125 metres short of the summit proper!

In conjunction with the possible redundancy  implicit of the “Stella five” oxygen cylinders, where potentially (say) Irvine took a spare ‘fifth’ cylinder to ensure a summit if any malfunction occurred en route with a cylinder, in conjunction to the “context” scenario, would ultimately result in a likely summit success by Mallory and Irvine where at a minimum an extra 60-90 minutes implicitly results from the ‘pause’ during the ‘Second step’ rope affixing stage being added their oxygen reserves which would augment their likely progress after Mallory and Irvine reached the top of the ‘Second step’, leading to advancement to at least the “Third step” as a minima and the top of the pyramid apex as a maxima.

Suffice to say Mallory and Irvine would in this theory have much greater oxygen reserves, indeed far higher than has hitherto been attributed to Mallory and Irvine in any previous scenario alone premised on their two oxygen cylinders per man as unconsidered are the logical implications that result from delayed oxygen usage to be used later and implicit to the ‘context theory’.

Perhaps allowing them to climb high enough and close enough to the summit proper for them to struggle on once their oxygen kit was expended high on the final pyramid to press on ala’ the 1960 Chinese summit success via this route!

However if combined with any shared oxygen from the putative ‘Stella five”, from any point above  the ‘Third step”, with this near full oxygen cylinder, it’s likely Mallory and Irvine would indeed attain the summit perhaps some time in the mid-late afternoon approximately in alignment with Odell’s suggestion at the time!

The lesson is;

Don’t be too quick to judge a situation based on too simplistic modelling which time and proper context better explains by consideration of the simple and unconsidered question of asking just what Mallory and Irvine were doing while they were still obscured and before they were finally seen by Noel Odell at 12.50pm!

Philip Summers


1. What happened to Mallory & Irvine – A Synopsis 

2. The 1960 Chinese Everest attempts and issues surrounding the veracity are well described   by learned Everest researcher Jochen Hemmleb in “Detectives on Everest”,

The Mountaineers books, 2002, pp. 152-159 as well as Hemmleb’s later updated tome in “Tatort Mount Everest: Der Fall Mallory”,2009, Terra Magica, Munich, Germany pp.156-170 where the actual Chinese attempts on the ‘Second Step’ began on the 3rd of May, 1960 comprising of  Shi Zhanchun and Wang Fengtong during a survey of the North East arête route, managed  to ascend to the mid level snow patch of the ‘Second Step’ and due to the late hour bivouaced overnight in a snow cave before safely descending the next morning.

The actual summit attempt including ascent of the ‘Second step’ occurred on the 24th of May, 1960, when Wang Fuzhou, Liu Lienman, Gonbu and Qu Yinhua succeeded in climbing the  headwall crux after three hours of attempts, emplaced ironmongery and  rope aids arrayed up the crux to assist the ascent, although whether these techniques and aids could be characterised  as a “free climb” of the crux is open to interpretation!

Intrigingly, Qu Yinhua the first to gain the crux, identified a rock bollard several feet from the edge of the crux upper platform from whence he affixed a rope which allowed his  companions to then ascend to join him, on top of the ‘Second step’ itself, albeit with much effort!

The parallels between this Chinese 1960 success employing this fixed rope to aid the ascent and the proposal within this paper for the Mallory and Irvine situation are indeed similar and instructive such that  the 1960 Chinese experience serves as an illustrative analogue as to how Mallory and Irvine may have gained the step with less effort  and “with alacrity”, as the three Chinese climbers demonstrated once the rope was affixed around the rock bollard directly above the step headwall, albeit with still much physical effort as the last climber to scale the crux, Wang Fuzhou could attest as he lacked any support from his companions below.

3. Respected and considered Everest climber and adventurer Theo Fritsche in 2001 also climbed the ‘Second step’ crux section in a “free climb”.

His story and perspectives are described in detail by noted Everest researcher and writer Jochen Hemmleb in the tome “Tatort Mount Everest- Der Fall Mallory, pp. 173-186 with emphasis on pp.179-180.

4. Conrad Anker made several attempts to “free climb” the ‘Second step’, in the film ‘The Wildest Dream’ by Giffen, Altitude Films (2010), such that he was filmed repeatedly falling off the crux headwall of the ‘Second step’ initially from the left side via the ‘off width crack’ and down onto the snow patch below after which he took time to recover.

After which, he then finally succeeded in climbing the mid section of the crux via protruding hand/foot holds until reaching the top of the step.

Anker’s eventual success which may or may not parallel Mallory’s hypothecated ‘free climb’ suggested in this paper, is seen in the above fore-mentioned film between the timeframes of 1 hour, 19 minutes and 13 seconds to 1 hour, 21 minutes and 21 seconds, encompassing just over two minutes.

Also, the chilling backwards fall off the step crux, appears for several seconds between 1 hour, 17 minutes and 40 seconds and 1 hour 17 minutes and 47 seconds.

5. Mallory’s notes to Noel from Camp VI scribed on the 7th of June, 1924 and relayed via porter. Described in the tome; “Through Tibet to Everest, J.B.L Noel, 1927, Hodder  and  Stoughton, reprinted 1989 edition, Kent, Great Britain, photo plate reproduction.

6. On the 15th of May at Camp I, situated on the East Rongbuk glacier, expedition leader E.F Norton lead a “discussion on the future planning of the expedition based on circumstances to date and future prospects.

It was at this time that the oxygen aided summit attempts were abandoned which resulted in a number of ineffectual oxygen-less summit attempts beginning in earnest in early June.

Mallory’s opinion is not recorded.

7. The 2005 Everest expedition by the Airborne Ranger Club of Finland took approximately 80-110 minutes to climb between the  bottom of the ‘First Step’ to the bottom of the ‘Second step’.

Theoretically, if Mallory and Irvine had of paralleled this progress, then once at the bottom of the ‘Second step’ even at a high oxygen flow rate of 2.2 litres/minute, they’d still have between (assuming for a full cylinder or near 4 hours of oxygen); 2 hours, 10 minutes or as much as  2 hours, 40 minutes of oxygen. Which once clear of the ‘Second Step’ would confer perhaps as much as 2 full hours or as little as 1h, 30 minutes.

All enough to at least gain the final pyramid and perhaps even up over the apex and onto the final 125 metre long summit ridge itself!


1. Noel Odell, ‘The Mount Everest Dispatches’, Alpine Journal, No.229

2. “The Fight for Everest 1924”, E.F Norton, Pilgrims Publishing reprint 2002, pp.130, Noel Odell

3. “Everest 1933” Hugh Ruttledge, Hodder and Stoughton, London, Great Britain, pp.151

4.”Camp Six” F.S Smythe, Hodder and Stoughton, London, Great Britain, 1937 reprinted “The Six Alpine/Himalayan Climbing books”, 2000, pp.615

5. Smythe opp. cit; pp.627

6. Noel Odell diary, June 1924

7. “Mr Odell’s Story”, The Mount Everest Dispatches, Alpine Journal, vol 36, No.229, November 1924, pp 221-225

8. “The Last Climb”, N.E Odell, The Mount Everest Dispatches, Alpine Journal, vol 36, No.229, November 1924, pp 265-272

9.  “The Fight for Everest: 1924”, E.F Norton, Pilgrims Publishing reprint 2002, pp.131-133

10.  ibid  pp. 141-142

11. “Climbing Mount Everest”, Sir Percy Wyn-Harris, private cine’ camera documentary footage  (complete version), 1933

12. “Everest 1933”, Hugh Ruttledge, Hodder and Stoughton, London, England, 4th edition, 1945, pp.161

13. “Detectives on Everest”, Jochen Hemmleb, The Mountaineers Books, 2002, pp.153-155

14.  Documented by researcher Jochen Hemmleb,, 4.3 ‘Climbing the Second Step-Is the mystery finally solved?’

15. “Detectives on Everest”, Jochen Hemmleb, The Mountaineers Books, 2002, pp. 122

16. 4.2  ‘Mallory & Irvine’s ascent beyond 8500 m/28,000 ft’.

17. ibid 4.1 ‘Mallory and Irvine’s ascent to 8500 m/28,000 ft’

18. Jochen Hemmleb, , 4.3 ‘Climbing the Second Step-Is the mystery finally solved?

19. “The Fight for Everest: 1924 “E.F Norton, Pilgrims Publishing reprint 2002, pp. 95

20. Private communication via email with Jochen Hemmleb, October 2009

21. Private communication via email with Author, 18th of September 2012

22. “Erster auf dem Everest”, 2010 documentary directed by Gerald Salmina, with technical assistance by Jochen Hemmleb, (German language), Taglicht media, Universum films, Pre-TV, 2010

23. “After Everest”, 2nd edition, 1938, T.H Somervell, Hodder and Stoughton, London, Great Britain, pp.128

24.”Through Tibet to Everest”, JBL Noel, 1927, Hodder and Stoughton, Reprint 1989 edition, Kent, Great Britain. pp.275

25. “Ghosts of Everest”, Jochen Hemmleb & Eric Simonson, The Mountaineers Books, 2000, p.162

26. Jochen Hemmleb, 3.3 Some notes on the oxygen question

27. Jochen Hemmleb,

28. “After Everest”,2nd edition, 1938, T.H Somervell, Hodder and Stoughton, London Great Britain, pp.128-129

29. Jochen Hemmleb,, 6. Conclusions


The Author wishes to express sincere thanks to the following Everest mountaineers, professionals and adventurers for their most kind photographic contributions which have so aided the presentation and articulation of this paper.

Guiseppi Pompili of Italy, for his illuminating and contrasting photographs that depict Everest and its environs so well.

Veli-Pekka Molsa of the Airborne Ranger Club of Finland for his inclusion of unique perspectives that capture Everest details in ways that greatly aid the researcher.

Respected Australian Everest mountaineer, Katie Sarah for permission to utilise key photo’s that highlight important sections of the ‘Mallory route’ that are so necessary to articulate the arguments expounded within this paper. Her contribution can’t be overstated.

A special thanks to Britons, Mark Horrell and Stuart Holmes for their great kindness, interest and support extended to the Author in the preparation of this paper.

Especially helpful were key photographs which assisted greatly toward the ideas expounded in this paper as well as important ‘in situ’ insights, guidance and advice on the terrain on Everest which so aided the Author in discussions during preparation.

Both of these learned and respected gentlemen; mountaineers, adventurers and scholars are sincerely thanked for their kindly contributions by the Author.

This paper wouldn’t be possible without one gentleman whom the Author extends  a profound and sincere thanks to.

The highly respected Everest researcher and scholar as well as friend and collaborator; Jochen Hemmleb for his generous insights, contributions, support and photographic assistance, that have made the Author’s efforts in this paper so much easier.

Reknowned for his implacable logic and imagination, this ‘gentleman of the mountains’ extends  friendship,  patient support and good humour, from which the Author is greatly appreciative of, where from which his pioneering work in this field, this premier researcher overtakes all others and serves as the foundation for subsequent researchers today.

The Author extends sincere thanks to this scholar and gentleman, Mr Jochen Hemmleb.

The Author also wishes to thank the vital and ongoing support, insights and helpful theoretical soundings from the following international colleagues who at the top of the field so assist the Author over time including;

Colin Wallace, Tomas Rost, Chris Peacock and Gareth Thomas.

The Author wished to express a special thanks to the learned and ever insightful researcher, friend and colleague, Ajay Dandekar who has generously extended much support, patience and most useful theoretical discussion on this paper’s contents and related topics on the subject

The Author expresses great thanks to the kind gentleman.

Finally the Author wishes to thank friends and supporters; Katrin Taube, Pam and Kirsty Hobbs, Joan Ryan, Jeremy Richardson and John Mathers for their kind support and interest in the Authors work in this area over time.

A sincere thank you to these kind and supportive people

Philip Summers, Hobart, Australia MMXIII

The Author is an Australian researcher and Everest historian with a particular interest in the early British Everest expeditions.

Away from research and Everest, he enjoys cricket, running, British comedies and dramas as well as caring for homeless cats in his free time.

Note: The Author welcomes questions, points and discussion on the issues raised in this paper and can be contacted via email at