Eric Simonson, The Sleuth of Everest
||Ashford, Washington |
|Number of Himalayan
“The last thing we care about is finding
another dead body up
In 1999 renowned guide Eric Simonson led an expedition
to Mount Everest in search of the answer to climbing’s greatest mystery:
Did long-missing British climbers George Leigh Mallory and his young
companion, Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, summit the world’s highest peak on June
8, 1924—29 years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay?
With few tangible clues to guide them, Simonson’s team
astonishingly found the porcelain-like body of George Leigh Mallory frozen
in scree, but no evidence of Irvine or that the two had reached the
This spring Simonson has returned to Everest, this time
in search of the Mallory-Irvine expedition’s camera or cameras—and, they
hope, film rolls that will unravel the enigma once and for all. The
expedition is spending close to eight weeks high on the mountain, in
brutal and unpredictable weather, scouring the region where they found
Even if Simonson succeeds, he will face a firestorm
back home: Four groups are claiming ownership of any film found.
are you funding the 2001 expedition?|
Mountain Guides is our primary sponsor. [Simonson is a founder
and part owner of the company.] We were originally going to work
with MountainZone.com, but their
current owner, Quokka Sports, is on the ropes—they’re becoming part
of the dot-com carnage.
Every day the landscape is changing, but I think it’s going to
work out. It’s all coming together here, this last week or so. To be
perfectly honest, doing it ourselves means we can have the content
that we want to have.
When MountainZone.com hosted our
expeditions, they had their editorial staff working everything over.
The dispatches ended up having twists that weren’t in them when we
sent them from the mountain.
1999 you didn’t intend to find Mallory, right?|
Right. We really thought that if we were going to find anyone, it
was going to be Irvine, because his ice ax had been found.
I always thought that Mallory had headed for the summit and
fallen off the ridge somewhere up high or into a crevasse and would
never be found.
you hoping to find Irvine’s body?|
The spin that we’re trying to impart on this is that we’re not
really looking for the body, we’re looking for the camera, or
cameras. To be honest, with all the controversy over the 1999 photos
of Mallory’s corpse, the last thing we care about is finding another
dead body up there.
such a wide search area, how do you know where to look?|
We have high-resolution photos taken by [photographer-explorer]
Bradford Washburn in the 1980s. We’ve had these digitized to the
extent that one pixel on the film is equal to 25 centimeters [10
inches] on the ground. We also have some much more sophisticated
search equipment—metal detectors and stuff like that.
This time we’re going to try to be more systematic and do a very
systematic search of the target areas. We have some ideas where we
want to look, but we don’t have any burning
long will you be on Everest?|
We hope to be able to be high on the mountain by mid-April, so
potentially we could be there for a month. Now, is the weather going
to be good every day for a month for searching? No, but will we have
some good weather? Yeah.
This’ll be the trick: Get in position and have our supplies
ready. Then if we get a favorable forecast, we’ll be able to get our
people up there for a few days at a
you find Irvine’s film, who is the rightful owner?|
You’ve probably heard about the controversy: Everybody is
claiming the camera. We’ve got four different parties asserting
ownership, so this will be a field day for all the lawyers when we
get back—they’ll all be licking their chops.
the response to finding Mallory, in 1999, surprise you?|
We knew climbers would be interested, but what really blew us
away was how the general public was captivated by the story. This
was the first time that they had ever heard about these guys.
It was sort of the same thing as the interest, in the last couple
of years, with Ernest Shackleton—people for the first time learning
about the story and going, Wow, that’s pretty
about the controversy that erupted over releasing photos of
That’s been the frustrating thing. Had we not published the
photos, I think everybody would’ve been complaining about that as
well. But then you publish the photos, and some people are disturbed
by dead-body pictures.
High on Mount Everest, that’s the reality. There are quite a few
dead bodies. It’s big and high and hard and people
the public be able to see the photos if you find the
Well, I hope so. Whether they made the summit or not, I would
think they'd have taken a picture of their high point. With any
luck, it would at least let us know how far they got.
The film they had, I think it only had eight shots on a roll, so
we're not talking about a huge number of pictures. But maybe there’s
a handful from up high that are decent.
you think Mallory and Irvine made it to the top?|
I think they could have. I don’t think it’s
you think people really want to know? Or do we prefer the
I’ve had a lot of people tell me, Gee, Eric, I really like the
story the way that it is, and if you never solve it, that's OK. It’s
a cool mystery.
But on the other hand, I’ve had a lot of people say to me, Well,
heck, if there's a camera sitting up there that’s going to answer
the question, then you have an obligation to history to try to seek
I keep thinking that Mallory and Irvine would want the world to
know what happened to them. The bottom line for me is that I think
Mallory and Irvine would want the world to know what happened on
June 8, 1924.