A New Twist in Everest's Mallory Mystery

A British climber believes Mallory’s body was found decades before 1999.

Everest's North Face. Mallory's body was discovered below the long ridge, left of the summit. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A new book about British mountaineer Frank Smythe, written by his son, Tony, claims George Mallory’s body was discovered decades before Conrad Anker came upon the lost climber in 1999, reports the Guardian. Smythe, a noted mountaineer during the 1930s and '40s, and a member of 1936 British Everest expedition, was well known in his day, putting up climbs around the Alps, as well as making attempts on Himalayan giants. During the 1936 Everest trip, Smythe believes he spotted Mallory’s body through a telescope, in the same location where he was found more than 50 years later.

"I was scanning the face from base camp through a high-powered telescope last year, when I saw something queer in a gully below the scree shelf," Smythe wrote in a letter to Edward Norton, the leader of the 1924 expedition, when Mallory and Irvine went missing. "Of course it was a long way away and very small, but I've a six/six eyesight and do not believe it was a rock. This object was at precisely the point where Mallory and Irvine would have fallen had they rolled on over the scree slopes."

Though the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine have become one of mountaineering’s most enduring mysteries, the historic news was buried at the time—apparently for fear that the media might make a meal of it: “It's not to be written about,” Smythe told Norton, “as the press would make an unpleasant sensation.”

Smythe wouldn’t quite make it to Everest’s summit himself, but he tried and came tantalizingly close, reaching 28,200 feet, a pre-war altitude record, in 1936. An irascible character and prolific author, he taught mountaineering skills during World War II to the British Army unit, the Lovat Scouts, in the Canadian Rockies. Smythe died in Dehli in 1949, after suffering from malaria. Mount Smythe (10,560 ft), in Jasper National Park, Alberta, was named after the late climber.

More Adventure