Archive for January, 2009

Because It's There

WHY did you want to climb Mount Everest?” This question was asked of George Leigh Mallory, who was with both expeditions toward the summit of the world’s highest mountain, “Because it’s there” – said George Mallory.

If a returned explorer is properly polite and becomingly modest, his manner will give you the impression that he has done nothing that any earnest and industrious young man might not get up and do. For instance. Mr. Mallory will tell you that his real job is teaching English literature and history at the Charter House School for boys. He was in the habit of spending every August in the Alps, and when he was asked to go with the Everest expedition, he thought he’d do it “for a change”. His chief interest is in writing, and he had a book on Boswell published a few years ago. He could tell you a lot about Boswell if you weren’t so obviously interested in mountains.

Be not beguiled, O armchair explorer! Stick to the comparative security of your subway strap. For this quiet young man’s casual comment raises the ghost of such a tremendous adventure as the fireside mind can scarce conceive: of crawling along knife edges in the teeth of a bitter wind; of chopping footholds up the face of a wall of ice; of moving on where each step may very reasonably be expected to be the last, and yet taking that step, and the next, and the next after that; of pushing up and up in spite of frozen fingers and toes, in spite of laboring heart and bursting lungs, until death is certain just ahead, and then turning back just as steadily, to wait for the next opportunity”
(“New York Times” 18.03.1923)

George Leigh Mallory was the only climber to take part in all three of the British pioneering expeditions to Mount Everest in 1921 and 1922. Born in 1886, he died a few days short of his 38th birthday, while making a summit attempt with his young companion, Andrew Irvine. Mallory decided on one last attempt before the expedition left for home, but he set off up the slopes of the North Col too soon after fresh snow and a massive avalanche swept away nine men, killing seven of them, all Sherpa. The loss of “these brave men” left him crushed with guilt for they were, he felt, “ignorant of mountain dangers, like children in our care.” He knew that no one would criticize him if he refused to go, but he felt it a compulsion.