This is an epic book on the attempts of George Mallory and a team of British explorers to conquer Mt. Everest. They made three attempts – in 1921, a year later in 1922, and two years later in 1924. As far as we know, none succeeded.
It is a thrilling tale, backed by ten years of research by a gifted writer, Wade Davis.
Davis sets this adventure tale against the backdrop of the devastation of World War I. Though Britain was on the winning side, no participating country actually won. The losses and suffering were catastrophic for all the countries, including Britain. Davis holds that this was an attempt by Britain to reclaim its national glory, that this was ultimately about national redemption. If Britain could be the first country to conquer Everest, then that would restore the glory of Great Britain and the British Empire. They spared no effort and the entire country followed the thrilling saga.
The teams were carefully selected. Money was raised. Plans were prepared, and the team was sent off. The team was comprised of a number of skilled climbers, most of whom had fought in World War I. The team of course included Britain’s finest climber, the graceful and agile graduate of Oxford, George Mallory.
The teams would sail and travel by train to northern India, to Darjeeling. Then they would begin the long trek north into Tibet, and then across southern Tibet to the foothills of Everest. On the first expedition they surveyed and explored so much of the territory around Everest and then they made their climb, with primitive clothing and equipment by today’s standards. The climbs themselves were full of fierce winds, bitter cold, altitude sickness, and at times, death. The Brits were indefatigable in their attempts to reach the summit.
One night they were high on the side of the mountain, with their little tent anchored down on a flat ledge and the wind was so fierce that it sounded like machine gun fire flapping against the tent. Sleep was impossible in those circumstances because of the noise and because of the concern that the entire team would be blown off the side of the mountain.
On the third expedition, George Mallory and the young Sandy Irvine, another Oxford graduate, left one morning from a camp high on the mountain, never to return. A case could be made that they reached the summit and died on their way down, but perhaps it is more likely that they died on the ascent not the descent. When Mallory died he was a national hero and he left behind a loving wife and three young children. He was only 37.
Wade Davis does a superb job with this book. Though not as riveting throughout as Jon Krakauer’s class tale “Into Thin Air,” Wade Davis’ book is more thoroughly researched and crafted. An amazing saga.