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Irvine's body spotted? "Now all we need is some boots on the ground"

Posted: Feb 03, 2010 11:00 am EST

Has Andrew Irvine's body been found? Everest researcher Tom Holzel, who back in the 1970's predicted that Irvine's body should be found on the 8200m Snow Terrace (It turned out to be Mallory at 8165m), now believes he has finally also spotted Mallory's climbing partner, Andrew "Sandy" Irvine.

As part of his life-time research, Holzel formed a group of M&I; aficionados into The Andrew Irvine Search Committee.

Together they acquired 9 X 9-inch color transparencies of an aerial survey made of Mt. Everest in 1984 by Brad Washburn and the National Geographic Society, and a special "trinocular" microscope with which to search the film.

A six-feet convex blob... got to be him!

By photographing sequential images in the Yellow Band where Irvine has twice been spotted, the group was able to assemble an 8-foot long color enlargement of this area of the mountain, and carefully scrutinize it for clues. After scores of hours, an unusual slot in the rocks was discovered on one piece of film, right along a possible descent route of Chinese climber Xu Jing, who in 1960 first reported seeing the body of an Englishman.

The film was enhanced to reveal a darker, six-foot long object inside the 20-foot long crack. But was it a body--or just a deeper part of the crevice? A second film showed a different view of the same spot--a convex blob, six-feet long.

"That's it," Holzel mused. "That's got to be Andrew Irvine. Now all we need is some boots on the ground to prove it one way or the other. And bring back Irvine's folding Kodak camera."

Tom and the Andrew Irvine Search Committee need people and funds to put together a new search expedition on Everest north side. Chances are Irvine has the camera on him, and with it the final closure to Everest's greatest mystery: did the Everest pioneers summit or not?

If you'd like to get involved contact Tom at Velocity associates (link below images). Meanwhile, here a detailed article about the latest image results:

An Aerial Photographic Search for Andrew Irvine on Mt. Everest. The Andrew Irvine Search Committee
By Tom Holzel, 07 Jan 2010 Rev 16 Jan 10

"Recognition": An awareness that something perceived is a known thing.

The question was, could we spot the body of Andrew Irvine lost on Mt. Everest in 1924 by scrutinizing aerial photographs made of Mt. Everest in 1984?

His body has been twice sighted at an indefinite location within the Yellow Band. The Andrew Irvine Search Committee was formed, comprised of a small body of Mallory & Irvine aficionados. One member of this committee funded the purchase of two aerial contact print transparencies and one 5µ scan of Everests "Yellow Band"the North Face strata from the NE Ridge down to 8300m. Large-scale prints of the black & white scan (six to ten feet long) seemed to show that the photographic detail is just enough that a recumbent body might be spotted by detailed viewing of the actual film. But where to look?

Examination of the large-scale 5µ-scan printout was extremely useful. It allowed one to cruise the terrain, looking for the obvious descent routes that Xu Jing might have taken in 1960 when he declared that he had taken an unknown "more direct route" down from the first Step, during which he spotted the body of a foreign mountaineer. The large scale printout was most helpful in plotting possible descent scenarios that made sense and eliminating those that didnt. (Editors note: check Tom's previous series in the links section.)

A powerful advance was to better determine the presumed location of the 1933 ice axe marking the point of an accidental slip by the 1924 climbers. By taking a perspectively-slanted historical photo marked with the point of the find, and morphing it to a modern aerial photograph, we determined that the presumed location of the Ice Axe Site was incorrect by some 60 yards. Searchers who had climbed through the old presumed location have come back empty-handed.

Like the "monkey face" on Mars

Searching the new Ice Ax Site fall line of the 5µ printout immediately revealed a highly provocative objectan anomalous blob, different in kind to anything around it, about six feet long and with the narrow end (feet?) facing uphill. Xu said the feet faced the summit or right, which these do not, (a quibble?). Good Lord, what a discovery!!

But objects from a single sourcethe 5µ printout--have the "monkey face on Mars" problem. A certain object looks like a body from a particular angle. What would another view show?

Only a look at the same spot using a second or third photograph might clear up the question (as it did on Mars). For that we had the two 9 X 9-inch aerial photographsbut how to examine them? On the film, the entire Yellow Band1000 yards wide--is only about two inches long.

Two Committee members and I chipped-in to purchase a boom-mounted 7-90X trinocular microscope and a CCD camera, and an x-y gliding stage.

The boom arrangement was felt necessary because of the large (9 X 9-inch) film size, which would never fit under a microscope with an integrated stand. But it turned out that the x-y gliding stage required to make our own scan is built such that it was necessary to cut out the relevant piece of film for proper sequencing.

Photoshoping Everest patch-work

The scheme was to take sequential microphotographs of the Yellow Band at the highest magnification the film would support and seam them together using a panoramic photo stitching program.

After much fussing around learning the ins & outs of the procedure, four rows of twelve 60X images were made. These were seamed using PhotoStitch 3.1.

But it was a trial, as the PhotoStitch program resisted mightily to completely assemble such a large file. Eventually, three-quarters of the stitching was achieved by it, to be finished off with a PhotoShop merging program to fit the large sub-assemblies together. Whew!

Committee member John Wood is assembling the same micrograph images using a superior seaming program, PTgui, with its resulting panorama to follow.
The new color printouts serve an important function--to enable cruising the potential pathways looking for suspect objects. Doing this by peering through a microscope is just not practical because one gets lost quickly while moving the image around. (Much like the difference between using a Google map snippet and a large paper map.) With the large printouts, one can easily identify suspect objects and then zero in on them by direct observation of the film.

Separating "real suspects" from optical illusions

But how to spot a body? This is where the cognitive recognition factor comes into play, and where the microscope is so important. After studying an optical illusion for a while, many of us suddenly "get it." We suddenly see the illusion element thateven as nothing in the image has changed--completely changes our understanding of what we see. So, likewise, does studying the Everest terrain reveal, eventually, whether an object is a natural terrain feature or a possible body. So the large printouts direct us to suspect objects, while studying them on the film image under a microscope allow us to glean whether the object is indeed a possible suspect.

But what would a six-foot body look like? The resolution of the film is not high enough to show a recognizable human lying jammed in a slot in the rock. Especially as he was wearing dark clothing and had his face blackened by frostbite. Instead, the best we can hope for is a tiny convex oblong blob in a likely place. Due to subtle shading caught by the film (shading is much less resolution dependant), one thing that shows up remarkably well is the contour of the ground. There are many, many six-foot long blobs, but most turn outafter repeated studyto be concave, i.e., shallow gullies which are not likely to be Irvine.

There are a few, at the edge of resolution limits, that appear convex. One of those that lie on Xus likely descent path might indeed be Irvine.

But the major discovery made using this photo-analysis is "the Red Slash." (Check Figs. 9 and 10.)

Google Earth puts the Red Slash location at:
I estimate the altitude at 8425m = 27,800 ft.

Under the eyeball microscope

The great advantage of the eyeball microscope view of the film image, which is poorly represented by the camera, the computer screen and the printed image, is that of offering many subtle shades which help to tell the concavity of the terrain. Printers and digital cameras have great trouble duplicating the subtle gradation of shades compared to film.


Can we claim we have found Irvines body as we had hoped? Our microscopic examination has unseated our primary suspect, the "Lobster Claw" object. Detailed microscopic examination of the aerial photographs revealed the very distinct "Red Slash" anomaly on Film A, and more weakly so on Film B.

There are no other features exhibiting this unusual color, or its slot-like architecture. The Red Slash is about 3 X 20-ft long. It is unusually angled toward the summit of the mountain, as Xu said Irvine's body was oriented. It is close enough--20-30 feet--to one of the two natural descent lines that Xu might have taken. The object lies so that it is on Xu's right as he passes it by, as he described. (This latter condition was a major weakness of the Lobster Claw location.)

Enhancement in the color film of the dark area of the slash results in the appearance of an oblong shape roughly six-feet long near the top of the slot. The b&w; SwissPhoto 5µ scan shows a very distinct (lightly snow-covered) six-footish convex blob lying at the top of the slot. So the signs are very good. However, as with all speculation, it will take crampons in the snow to get the final answer to this long quest.

In 1986, Everest expert and co-author of the book "First on Everest - The mystery of Mallory and Irvine," Tom Holzel set out to find Mallory's camera. In addition, Tom was the one to track down Zhang Junyan and corroborated the late Chinese mountaineer Wang's story about the discovery of an "English body" on the mountain.

In his popular Tracking truth-in-evidence on Mount Everest, published at ExWeb in 2008 (check the links section), the American historian explained how he had arrived to the conclusion that Mallory and Irvine did not summit Mount Everest back in 1924. To confirm Tom's theory that the climbers fell while descending after an aborted summit push; finding Irvine and the camera is crucial.

Mallorys remains were found at 8,200 meters on Everest in 1999. Severe rope-jerk injuries around the bodys waist suggested that he could have fallen to his death while roped-up with climbing mate Andrew Irvine. No trace of Irvine was to be found though; or the camera the two carried on their last climb. Those who have searched the barren slopes of Everest North face since all returned empty-handed.

In a three-part series on The Search for Andrew Irvine published at ExplorersWeb in April, 2009 Tom Holzel thoroughly analyzed all clues, testimonies and high-resolution orthophotographic prints, to come up with a probable location of Irvines body.


By morphing (stretching) Wynn Harris marked photo of the location of the ice ax find over the SwissPhoto aerial photograph, we discovered that the Ice Axe Site has been incorrectly sited (blue circle) by some 60 yards.
courtesy © BSF Swissphoto AG, Zurich
Tom Holzel's 4 rows of 12 Swissphoto AG (Zurich) images from the Yellow Band. After studying aerial pictures taken at 8200m, Tom believed he had spotted Mallory's climbing partner.
The blue line points to the object that started all the excitementa sleeping bag-like figure within the "Lobster Claw" terrain feature (green "C") below the Ice Ax Site. But see below what the color imagery shows! Swissphoto AG.
courtesy © BSF Swissphoto AG, Zurich.
AmScope trinocular boom microscope and x-y stage. The CCD camera points straight down ahead of the viewing eyepieces. Its image shows on the laptop screen.
courtesy Tom Holzel, SOURCE
Comparison of a color micrograph with the black & white SwissPhoto 5µ scan image of "the Needles" on the NE Ridge. Realize that the surface graininess in both images is film grain, not terrain detail. But such high-frequency "detail" (grain) gives the false impression of terrain sharpness that is not there. The 5µ-scan shows sharper edges (a possible enhancement effect) while the color image shows ground surface swelling and shaded color differences missing in the black & white.
courtesy © BSF Swissphoto AG, Zurich.
The "Lobster Claw" terrain feature of Figure 2 within which a body seemed to lie based on the 5µ-scan image. The left image is the Analog Devices 5MP camera; the picture on the right our 3MP camera image. Again, the graininess is NOT terrain features but rather film grain and sharpening artifacts. Would higher resolution of the camera provide more information? Probably not. Most of the photomicrograph images for the panorama have a resolution of only 100 kb to a maximum of 300 kb. Both t..
courtesy © BSF Swissphoto AG, Zurich
Is there a body lying in the pincer of the Lobster Claw? It does not look so. If not, where can the illusion of a body of figure 2 have come from? next picture shows one possibility:
courtesy © BSF Swissphoto AG, Zurich.
The two top objects are a convex body shape with its shadow growing stronger away from the top to the left, and a concave slot with an edge that cuts off the view of its deepening shadow. Once blurred (second row) both objects look the samelike a convex blurry body in a sleeping bag. All this blurriness is the lens through which small detail of the aerial photographs present themselves.
courtesy Tom Holzel, SOURCE
The green circle shows an anomalous object--the "Red Slash" (because it appears quite red in the microscope view)--on Film A that is alongside our presumed descent route for Xu. It also points uphill, this time pointing toward the summit and, as Xu described, his location is such that he would have passed the body on his right. It is too long to be a six-foot body, but an enhancement of the shadow area (right) in which we darkened only the pixels of the exact same color, results in a faint bod..
courtesy © BSF Swissphoto AG, Zurich.
Well, Lo and Behold, the SwissPhoto 5µ scan comes through in the clutch! Here at the top of the Red Slash is a distinct oblong bump beautifully contoured by a light layer of snow. The location is just a few meters above the lower of Xus two presumed descent routes (orange lines). The locationif it is Irvinesuggests he and Mallory continued downprobably separated by the ice ax fall. Irvine followed the upper orange route only to fall again.
courtesy © BSF Swissphoto AG, Zurich.
Location of the "Red Slash" object (red dot), directly on Xus presumed descent route (orange line). If this is indeed young Irvine, it means the two both survived the ice ax fall (blue dot), and each struggled--probably separately--onward toward Camp Six. Irvine must have taken the green line. Above the red dot, Irvine fell again. Mallory did not find his comrade in the white-out of the snow squall and continued on eventually exiting the Yellow Band onto the "8200m Snow Terrace."
courtesy © BSF Swissphoto AG, Zurich.
Searching the routes of our 94-inch long color printout of the Yellow Band with a loupe. The scale of this photo map is 1:270. One centimeter on the map equals 2.7 meters on the ground.
courtesy Tom Holzel, SOURCE