Asked in 1922 by a reporter, "What is the use of climbing Mt. Everest?" George Mallory's reply was considerably more philosophical than the oft-quoted and rather lame, "Because it is there."
George spoke from his heart, "And my answer must at once be: It is no use. There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly some medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself, upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for."
38 year old George died on Mt. Everest a couple of years later, June 8, 1924--- he's on the left, his partner Andrew Irvine on the right.... 75 years later, his frozen body was found at 26,760 feet on the north side of Mt. Everest. It was big media news, mostly portraying the death as a ghoulish tragedy. For my part, however, I'm not sad, I'm assuming that George Mallory perished on that icy, forlorn peak not as a victim, but as one of those rare persons at peace with his beliefs. In keeping with the spirit, his remains were left at peace where he fell, at the foot of the NE ridge route. He overlooks the vastness of mystical Tibet.
Mallory left behind a wife and three children, and their involvement with climbing in the years after Mallory's death is an interesting testament to the pull of the mountains on the human spirit. Click for a picture of Mallory's grandson on Mt. McKinley in 1963.
For historical context, I offer a bit of history for 1924: this was the year when the first Winter Olympics was held, that being in Chamonix, France, with Norway in #1. . Ford motor company announced the manufacture of its 10,000,000th car, while the price for such a car dropped to only $290 dollars. Radio, as a common household item, reached a new high of over 2,500,000 home radios, up from only 5,000 in 1920.
*** In January 2004, I attended a talk by Dr. Tom Hornbein, famous Everest climber, pioneer of the West Ridge in 1963. Forty years later, his thoughts were inspiring to me and I have included them at another spot in this website. Click for Tom Hornbein inspired thoughts.
The first man to conqueor Mt. Everest did so some thirty years after George Mallory's ill-fated expedition. Sir Edmund Hillary reached Everest's summit on June 2, 1953.....On January 10, 2008, "The Humble Beekeeper from New Zealand" passed away in New Zealand. His summit companion Sherpa Tenzing Norgay passed away many years previously. Click here for the NY Times obituary about Hillary, the man, and his life-long commitment to the Sherpas of Nepal.
Lastly, a note about a lesser-known climber who ought to be better-known: Kurt Diemberger is an Austrian mountaineer (bergsteiger) and author of several books. He is the only still-living person who has made the first ascents on two mountains over 8,000 metres: of Broad Peak in 1957 and of Dhaulagiri in 1960 [current as of late 2013]. He also is one of the two climbers who survived a horrific storm in 1986 that took the lives of five teammates out of seven, on the way down from a successful climb of the World's second-highest peak, K2 (July 4, 1986). This was in many ways an antecedent disaster to that which struck in May of 1996 on Mt. Everest (see Jon Krakauer's book "Into Thin Air.")
Note: September 2015: the newly-released film "EVEREST" is about the 1996 Everest disaster described by Jon Krakauer and others. The film is SUPERB. Its IMAX 3-D format is simply stunning and gives you a sense of actually being on the mountain like nothing else I have ever seen! Don't pinch pennies on this one! Directed by Baltasar Kormakur.