Known to the Nepalese people for centuries as Sagarmāthā, commonly translated as ‘Goddess of the Sky,’ Peak XV or Mount Everest as it was renamed in 1865, after Colonel Sir George Everest, the Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843, has come to symbolise the earth’s stubborn refusal to submit to the will of mankind.
Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, scientific and technological advancements shook the notion that scaling Everest was an insurmountable task. Furthermore, as Captain John Noel, who took part in the 1924 British expedition remembered, the bloody four-year conflict that left Britain and much of the globe scarred during the opening years of the latter ‘killed many of the youth of our country,’ and was ‘a terrible loss to our country. The young men under Kitchener’s army had been massacred.’ For a number of Englishmen who had seen active service and survived, conquering Mount Everest became a means by which to restore national pride and reassert the indomitability of the human spirit.
One such Englishman was George Mallory, who, as John Noel believed ‘was absolutely obsessed with the idea of climbing Mount Everest. He set his heart on it. He talked about nothing else at all.’ Following two unsuccessful attempts, in 1921 and 1922, Mallory decided to try one last time, telling his wife Ruth, ‘It is almost unthinkable…that I shan’t get to the top; I can’t see myself coming down defeated.’ Aboard the SS California in February 1924, as he made his way to the Himalayas, Mallory, a 37 year-old teacher from Cheshire, who had mingled with the Bloomsbury Group during his time at Cambridge, became acquainted with Andrew Irvine, known as Sandy, a fellow member of the British expedition. Continue reading