Did China Steal Bodies, Camera of Doomed Everest Climbers?

Mystery continues to swirl over fate of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine during their 1924 ascent
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 3, 2024 8:45 AM CDT
Did China Whisk Away Bodies of Doomed Everest Climbers?
Stock photo of Mount Everest.   (Getty Images/Karin Dohmen)

A century ago this week, George Mallory and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine began their attempt to reach the top of Mount Everest, an ill-fated expedition that would lead to the disappearance of both men. Whether they ever reached the summit is one of the greatest mysteries in world exploration—confirmation of such would give them the honor of being the first to climb the massive mountain, stealing the title back from Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. But as the Observer notes, there's also long been another mystery tied to the climb: "What has happened to their bodies?"

  • The bodies: The remains of British mountaineer Mallory were actually found in 1999 by US climber Conrad Anker, who left the remains where they were. Irvine's body was never officially found, though bodies stumbled upon by other climbers in 1960 and 1975 were thought to perhaps have been Irvine's.
  • So what happened? Mountaineer Jamie McGuinness notes that, after a comprehensive search in 2019 of the area where the men disappeared, he believes the bodies of both men were taken off the mountain by someone sometime in the 2000s. "I feel if Mallory's body was still there, we would have seen it," says climber Mark Synnott, who was part of the 2019 excursion. "It doesn't make any sense. Why remove the body?"

  • Who's the someone? "All those with detailed knowledge of the story agree that if anyone removed the bodies of Mallory and Irvine, it was China's mountaineering authorities," notes the Observer. In his 2021 book The Third Pole: Mystery, Obsession, and Death on Mount Everest, Synnott wrote, per the Daily Mail: "We now have multiple sources all essentially saying the same thing: The Chinese found Irvine, removed the body, and are jealously guarding this information from the rest of the world—all to protect the claim that the 1960 Chinese team was the first to reach the summit" from the mountain's North Ridge, the same path taken by Mallory and Irvine.
  • Longtime head-scratcher: Synnott also wrote about this mystery for Salon in 2022, noting, "I can't shake the possibility that someone, perhaps a high-ranking official in the CTMA [Chinese Mountaineering Association], might know the answer to mountaineering's greatest mystery." He believes the Chinese also may have a camera belonging to Mallory and Irvine, as a CTMA official told a friend of his in 2019 that "the camera was kept under lock and key, with other Mallory and Irvine artifacts, in a museum in China." ExplorersWeb also plumbed the topic earlier this year. Much more here.
(More Mount Everest stories.)

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