Photo of the 2nd Step Prow: Photo courtesy of Franck Pitula (click to enlarge).
ExWeb series: Mallory and Irvine - Comments on the 'real Second Step' route, part 2

Posted: Nov 18, 2005 04:17 pm EST
( In a 5 part ExWeb series last year, researchers Pete Poston and Jochen Hemmleb (author of several books on the subject) offered some interesting insight into the quest for the true fate of Mallory and Irvine.
The pair introduced the mystery, presented their own opinions and criticism of the EverestNews Theory - a theory that lacks documentation and photographs, involves some serious climbing stunts, and relies on unidentified climbers in unrevealed locations.

ExWeb has not followed on the exact details of this "search" and provides just a forum for Mallory/Irvine researchers to voice their concerns. However, given the years of consistent lack of evidence, and the amount of unlikely and unsubstantiated claims surrounding EverestNews's theory on the Mallory/Irvine route, we have to point out that it's unclear how much of the "EverestNews search" actually has taken place.

Anyway, here goes - for all you Mallory/Irvine fans out there, Pete Poston's final part in the latest critisism of E-News theory: Options and conclusions.

Criticism of the Proposed Mallory Route up the Second Step, part 2 - Frontal Assault on the Prow?
By Pete Poston for

Mallory' rock routes have been repeated by two parties (5,6,7), and they gave most of Mallorys climbs a rating of VS, which translates to 5.7/5.8. One of them Eastern Gutter on Llechog merited a HVS 5a, which translates to 5.8/5.9, perhaps even touching 5.10a. It's also known that he used artificial aids such as a jammed ice ax or a shoulder stand. The theory specifically mentions combined tactics as a possibility for the pair: "with a boost from his buddy, George is over the Second Step and heading towards the summit" (1). But after examining Figure 3 (an enlargement of the photo shown in Figure 2), would a boost or shoulder stand up the Prow be enough?

A height of approximately six feet has been added to Figure 3 for a sense of scale (estimated from the size of the climber in the original photo), so obviously there wouldn't be enough height obtained to reach the top with a single shoulder stand. A combined assault where they both ascend together on the obviously vertical, rotten rock directly up the middle of the Prow without any possibility of a belay seems suicidal as well as contradicting their assertion that Irvine was left behind.

A Route up the Kangshung Side?

Where is the "shoulder" that climbers report is on the Kangshung side? It doesn't show up anywhere in the photographs, although an indistinct, curved snow feature does show up in several photographs in the slideshow from 2005 (see reference 8 for details). Maybe the website thinks this snowy feature connects up with the near-vertical ice cliffs on the Kangshung side of the step (the vertical snow/ice groove on the left side of the Step interspersed with rock in Figure 3), but this is ignoring several important considerations.

The first consideration is Mallory and Irvine's equipment. How good would hobnailed boots and long-handled ice axes be on near-vertical ice and snow, especially with at best a boot-ax belay using a hemp rope? And ignoring the curved snow feature mentioned previously, to approach this groove from the ridge it can be seen that a traverse across the near-vertical ice cliffs would be necessary. This brings up the second consideration. These ice cliffs probably aren't even solid ice and snow, but "fragile ice flutings" as Chris Bonington has described in his book "Everest: The Unclimbed Ridge" (9).

Other Implications

One has to wonder if is so adamant that Mallory would have stayed on the ridgecrest and attempted the Prow because that's where their secret sources have placed Irvine. They deny this, yet their interview with Xu Jing where he places the body he saw in 1960 between the steps figures prominently on their website. This location of Xu Jing's is questionable however, since it has been documented that he misplaced locations when interviewed by Jochen Hemmleb and Eric Simonson in 2001. For more details, see Jochen Hemmleb's comments in the links section below "Mallory and Irvine - a few more words". Besides, why insist on this unknown and untested route when it's known that the normal route goes?

Final Thoughts

If is going to claim that there is a viable route that bypasses the ladder up the 2nd Step, then they owe it to the climbing community to be more forthcoming in describing it. In the meantime, any climbers who possibly are interested in attempting this route are obviously advised to steer clear of it for safety reasons, as well as questions concerning its viability, or even its very existence.

In 1924 British climber Noel Odell, while searching for his lost comrades George Mallory and Andrew Sandy Irvine, would have hardly described the upper slopes of Mount Everest as a place where the wind sings hymns of praise, or that life was like a flag unfurled. In one of the most poignant passages in mountaineering literature (1) Odell wrote:

This upper part of Everest must be indeed the remotest and least hospitable spot on earth, but at no time more emphatically and impressively so than when a darkened atmosphere hides its features and a gale races over its cruel face. And how and when more cruel could it ever seem than when balking ones every step to find ones friends?

Odell of course failed in his search, repelled by the difficult weather conditions and the immensity of the North Face.

The two Mallory and Irvine Research Expeditions that went to the mountain in 1999 and 2001 (2)(3) to search for traces of the pair were much more successful in finding evidence of these brave pioneers. Despite the steep terrain, loose rock outcrops, jet stream winds, and the lack of oxygen, these expeditions unearthed an enormous amount of new information regarding Mallory and Irvines historic climb.


Special thanks to Mr. Franck Pitula for granting permission to use his photographs, and to Jochen Hemmleb for making his research results accessible to all, as well as making many useful suggestions for this article. Thanks also to Phil Summers and Tom Holzel for discussion of the available photos.


"Detectives on Everest: The 2001 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition", by Jochen Hemmleb, Eric Simonson, Dave Hahn, Mountaineers Books, 2001

High, 205 (12/1999)
High, 243 (2/2003), and the next picture too. Located in the middle of the pictures to the right of the dark rock outcrop.

"Everest: The Unclimbed Ridge", by Chris Bonington and Charles Clarke, W.W. Norton & Company, 1984, p.104