Photo: Portrait of George Mallory in profile

Mallory dreamed of being the first man to climb Mount Everest. Once World War I was over, the Royal Geographical Society in London planned the first-ever expedition to the mountain. They needed Mallory for his supreme climbing skills—and he needed their backing to realize his obsession.

Photograph courtesy The Alpine Club Photo Library, London

Nikki Lowry

National Geographic Cinema Ventures

Born in 1886 in Mobberley, England, George Leigh Mallory made his first “climb” at seven years old when he scaled the tower of the village church where his father was pastor. His reputation as an athlete grew at Winchester College, where he distinguished himself as a superb (and fearless) gymnast. At 18, he made his first Alpine climb, returning to the Alps again and again for the next six years to perfect his unique climbing style and gain valuable experience.

Mallory originally set out to teach school, but continued to climb on a regular basis until the outbreak of World War I. He had also met and fallen passionately in love with Ruth Turner, and they were married just a few days before the outbreak of the war. Perhaps luckily for him, an old ankle injury forced him to be invalided home between 1916-18, and by the time he returned to France, the war was almost over.

Between 1915 and 1920, the Mallorys added three children to their family, but Mallory found himself to be restless and dissatisfied with the life of a teacher in a small English hamlet. His restlessness mirrored the era of fervent exploration in which he lived, an era in which Mount Everest was indeed “the last frontier.” Because of his reputation for climbing, he was asked to participate in the first Everest reconnaissance expedition in 1921, an offer which gave him an excuse to resign from teaching and allowed him to make a living doing what he loved best.

That first Everest expedition reached 23,000 feet (7,010 meters); a subsequent one in 1922 reached 27, 235 feet (8,301 meters) but was marred by the tragic deaths of seven porters in an avalanche, an accident for which Mallory felt partially responsible. Demoralized, Mallory did not intend to return to Everest, but a trip to New York City to lecture about his Everest experiences renewed his enthusiasm. The New York trip was also where the often-asked question “Why climb Everest?” engendered Mallory’s now-legendary answer, “Because it’s there.”

In 1924, the third Everest expedition broke the previous ascent record, reaching 28,000 feet (8,534 meters); on June 4, 1924, Mallory and his young climbing partner, Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, set out to break that record and make a dash for the summit. Fellow-climber Noel Odell claims to have seen them at a point about 800 feet (240 meters) from the top, at about 12:50 p.m. The clouds rolled in, and Mallory and Irvine were never seen alive again.

Seventy-five years later, in 1999, Mallory’s body was found by Conrad Anker, almost by accident. Clues found on his body gave searchers some understanding of what might have happened, but the elusive mystery of “did he make it” endures. The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest attempts both to solve the mystery and to give those of us enthralled by it a better understanding of what might have happened, as well as a deeper appreciation of Mallory, the man.

Sources: The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest and the National Geographic book, Mystery on Everest


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A thrilling—in every

meaning of the word—assault on Mount Everest that replicates George Mallory's ill-fated 1924 climb...

—Kirk Honeycutt,
The Hollywood Reporter

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