SI Vault
Ron Fimrite
November 29, 1999
THE LOST EXPLORERBy Conrad Anker and David Roberts Simon & Schuster, $22
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November 29, 1999


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By Conrad Anker and David Roberts
Simon & Schuster, $22

George Leigh Mallory is the legendary British mountaineer who, when asked why he insisted upon trying to climb Mount Everest, replied immortally, "Because it is there." Sadly enough, Mallory has been "there" for 75 years, the mystery of whether he made it to the top forever unresolved. No one, in fact, knew exactly where he was until this past May 1, when veteran climber Conrad Anker, a member of an expedition searching for Mallory, came upon his remarkably preserved corpse at 27,000 feet on Everest's North Face.

The discovery attracted worldwide attention because, as Anker's co-author, David Roberts, writes, "With the sole exception of Amelia Earhart, no lost explorer in the twentieth century has provoked a more intense outpouring of romantic speculation than George Mallory." This book details the discovery and recounts Mallory's career. Mallory, we learn, was a charming British gentleman who, despite his courage and athleticism, was distressingly absentminded (he forgot his flashlight on his final ascent) and so inept mechanically that he never quite got the hang of switching on his oxygen tank. Oh, yes, Anker doesn't think Mallory made it to the summit.

By Jochen Hemmleb, Larry A. Johnson and Eric R. Simonson
The Mountaineers Books, $29.95

Here we have three narrators from the Mallory expedition, Jochen Hemmleb, Larry A. Johnson and Eric R. Simonson, recounting the discovery to Seattle author William E. Northdurft. Along with vivid, even startling photographs of that adventure-including grim pictures, in more or less living color, of Mallory's alabaster corpse—there is a rather touching foreword by Mallory's octogenarian daughter, Clare Millikan. There is a history of previous attempts on the great mountain, as well as speculation on what caused the deaths of Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew (Sandy) Irvine, whose body has yet to be found.

This is a more expansive book than The Lost Explorer, but it lacks the sense of immediacy reflected in Anker's discovery and the depth of Roberts's portrayal of Mallory. Ghosts is also somewhat more ambivalent about whether Mallory made it all the way to the top of the world.

By David Breashears and Audrey Salkeld
National Geographic Books, $35

This even more ambitious book, by mountaineer-filmmaker Breashears and Everest historian Salkeld, is the definitive account of all three British attempts on Everest involving Mallory in the 1920s. Its pages, enhanced by maps, charts and vintage photographs, some taken by Mallory himself, convey the ordeals endured by Mallory, Irvine and their cohorts in tackling a part of the planet so unexplored at the time that it might as well have been (and is, in fact, closest to) the surface of the moon. These authors conclude, after an imaginative re-creation of the fatal events of June 8, 1924, that Mallory and Irvine were turned back near the summit and fell to their deaths while descending.

By Jim Whittaker
The Mountaineers Books, $26.95

Among seemingly scores of books on Everest, we have this one by the first American to reach the summit. Whittaker made it to the top on May 1, 1963, 10 years after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Actually, Whittaker spends little more than a chapter on that mountain in this engaging memoir. Everest may have made him famous, but he'd rather write about other climbs he's made, most of them in his native Pacific Northwest. He's refreshingly modest: He wanted his Sherpa to precede him to the top of Everest. Remarking on his birth as a twin, he jokes that he was "a unique individual for only the first ten minutes of my life."

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