A mountaineering expert will today claim that Sir Edmund Hillary was not the first man to scale Everest – and that it was in fact conquered three decades before by the British climber George Mallory.
Graham Hoyland has spent years researching a story he was told as a boy: Mallory, who took part in the first three British expeditions and who is widely accepted as having just failed to reach the summit, did in fact succeed and was on his way down when he died.
Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine, both went missing somewhere high on the north-east ridge during the final stage of their attempt to make the first ascent of the world’s highest mountain in June 1924.
The pair’s last known sighting was only 800ft from the summit and Mallory’s body lay undiscovered for 75 years. It has never been proved whether they were on their way up, or had completed the climb and were on their way down.
As a 12-year-old, Mr Hoyland was told about the climber’s disappearance by his cousin, Howard Somervell, a retired missionary doctor and mountaineer, who had been one of the last men to see Mallory alive.
After eight expeditions to Everest and decades of research, Mr Hoyland believes he knows what happened and is ready to expose the accepted theory – that Sir Edmund Hillary was the first to conquer Everest, in 1953 – as untrue. He will present his findings to the Royal Geographical Society in a lecture today.
Mr Hoyland, who has climbed Everest, said most experts and historians presume that Mallory died after attempting to climb a 28,280ft vertical cliff on the mountain’s north ridge, known as the Second Step. They believe it was there that the mountaineer Noel Odell, widely accepted as the last person to see Mallory and Irvine alive, saw them climbing towards the summit.
But he said no one else had previously tried that route, and so it was unlikely Mallory had.
“Mallory had Irvine with him, who isn’t really a climber, and he looks up and sees this enormous prow of a Second Step. I don’t think he would have contemplated it when he got up close.”
Mr Hoyland’s theory is that they took a lower route to the top called the Third Step and that is where Odell saw them, not on the Second Step as he maintained in his account. Mr Hoyland said they could not have climbed the steep cliff as quickly as Odell described, adding: “No one can surmount the Second Step in five minutes.”
If Mallory and Irvine were on the Third Step, a much smaller challenge closer to the summit, then most historians agree that they would have made it to the summit.
“If they were there, there is no question in my mind that one or both of them would have reached the summit,” Mr Hoyland said. By Nick Britten