The 1924 Everest expedition was the third British attempt to be the first to conquer the world's highest mountain. After failing to be the first to the North or South Poles, the British were eager to make their mark instead on the "Third Pole." With national pride at stake, George Mallory, the best English mountaineer of that era, agreed to join their ranks. This would be his third Everest expedition.
On the morning of June 6, 1924, Mallory and his younger, less experienced partner, Andrew "Sandy" Irvine, left the North Col to mount what would be the final summit attempt of the 1924 expedition. Two previous summit bids had been unsuccessful and now, with supplies dwindling and the deadly monsoon season looming just ahead, this would be the expedition's last chance to reach the top. Odell photographed the two readying to climb toward the high camp from which they would make the final summit bid. Mallory, having seen the benefits of supplemental oxygen at altitude, had decided in favor of its use on this last ditch effort.
Two days later, at around 1:00 pm, Odell spotted the pair briefly, high on the Northeast Ridge "going strong for the top." Clouds then closed in on Odell, obscuring his view, and Mallory and Irvine were never seen again. In later interviews, Odell's description of the point at which he last glimpsed the team changed several times, leaving the world with no definitive answer about the elevation they were certain to have reached.
An unsuccessful 1933 British Everest expedition recovered Irvine's ice axe from a rock high on the ridge. This same 1933 expedition also discovered the remains of the 1924 high camp and found Mallory and Irvine's lanterns and torches in their tent. Other than these traces, Mallory and Irvine had vanished, leaving unanswered a question raised by many: Could they in fact have reached the summit that day? Did they perish in their descent after doing so? If they perished before reaching the summit, how high were they actually able to climb before surrendering to the mountain?