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SCIENCE
MAY 17, 1999 VOL. 153 NO. 19


Aided by a spring with unusually light snow, the team located him just above the ridge crest where an ice ax--presumed to be Irvine's--was recovered in 1933 and on a shelf where a Chinese climber reporting seeing the remains of an "old English dead" in 1975. When the climbers reached under the body, they found letters from Mallory's family, poignantly close to his heart, as well as a broken altimeter, a pocket knife, monogrammed handkerchiefs and other personal items. Intriguingly, a pair of sun goggles found in a pocket suggest that he was trying to descend in fading light. There was, however, no sign of Irvine. With the Mallory family's permission, the team took a snippet of tissue from the forearm in order to compare any surviving DNA with samples from his descendants, including perhaps his grandson George, who reached the summit in 1995. Then they covered the body with rocks and read the Anglican service of committal before descending 3,000 m for a few days' rest at their base camp.

The expedition, which is being filmed by a joint Nova/BBC crew and is posting communiqués on two websites (mountainzone.com, pbs.org/wgbh/nova), will continue searching in the few remaining weeks of Everest's busy climbing season. Besides Irvine's remains, the expedition is eager to find a Kodak vest-pocket folding camera given to Mallory just before the ascent. If he and his young partner made it to the summit, they would undoubtedly have photographed themselves at the top of the world--and those images would probably still be retrievable from film kept in so deep a freeze even after three-quarters of a century.

Meanwhile the arguments continue to rage over whether Mallory and Irvine made it all the way, beating New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay by 29 years. "It's an interesting, romantic thought, but until someone shows a clear image of them at the summit, I'm happy to stick with Hillary and Tenzing," says veteran climber David Breashears. As for the 79-year-old Sir Edmund, he isn't losing any sleep over the matter. "Getting to the bottom is an important part too," he told Television New Zealand.

The climbers, although initially skeptical, have changed their mind about Mallory. "Just seeing his strength and his obvious tenacity," says Norton, convinces him that Mallory and Irvine "both made it and met their demise on their way down." Still, just as the discovery of the Titanic's fragmented hull stripped that timeless tragedy of some of its fascination, so the sight of Mallory's mortal remains somehow makes this larger-than-life figure more human--and more vulnerable.

PAGE 1  |  2



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