Were These the First Boots to Summit Everest?

A painstaking reproduction of the boots George Mallory wore in 1924

Jan 22, 2016
Outside Magazine
  • Photo: Viberg

  • Photo: Viberg

  • Photo: Viberg

  • Photo: Viberg

  • Photo: Viberg

  • Photo: Viberg


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At 12:50 p.m., on June 8, 1924, a geologist named Noel Odell observed two “black dots” approaching the 29,029-foot summit of Mt. Everest, from a vantage point 3,000 feet below. By 2 p.m., the mountain was immersed in an intense snow storm and those black dots—George Mallory and Andrew Irvine—weren’t seen again for 75 years. Everest was not successfully summited until 1953. 

Since then, the question of whether or not Mallory and Irvine reached the summit has been the subject of intense speculation. The discovery of Mallory’s body in 1999 gave modern researchers the ability to analyze his odds based on what was known of weather conditions during his attempt and what he was wearing. Mountaineer Graham Hoyland—the great nephew of the Mallory expedition’s doctor—even went so far as to climb to 21,000 feet in a replica of Mallory’s gear. 

“The 1924 Everesters were lightweight specialists who understood their clothing better than most modern climbers,” Hoyland reported. “Their layers of wool, silk, and cotton was lighter than modern clothing and extremely comfortable to wear…Mallory’s boot was the lightest ever used on Everest.”

Canadian bootmaker Viberg didn’t make those original boots (it’s not known who did), but as a research project into the forgotten techniques and classic materials of mountaineering, they recreated Mallory's boots by studying photos and construction methods of the era.

Viberg explains:

Our version of the Mallory Boot is a naildown boot built on our vintage mountaineering last. We choose Brown Waxed Flesh leather for the handcut upper and matched the stitching of the pattern as closely as possible. We sourced special materials to recreate unique details from the original boot such as the melton wool tongue, felt midsole, and heavy-duty hobnails. We even hand stitched leather patches on the vamp where Mallory's own boots had worn through.

“These men were stronger, fitter, and faster than we are and they were also rather better equipped than popular myth suggests,” says Hoyland. “I personally believe they did [summit].”

Viberg's Mallory boots are a one-off pair, not intended for production.

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