Essay: Refuting the Accusations Andy Politz - Basecamp Tue, April 17, 2001 11:25PM
There has been an accusation that in 1999 we had somehow ‘broken’ the body of George Mallory. I have no idea how this has come about. I was there on that second visit and the team feels it important that it is refuted.
The mission of our second visit to George Mallory's final resting place was to search an area of frozen gravel with a metal detector, a device we did not have with us before. We would do nothing different that day than 16 days before. We buried him with what rocks and gravel we could harvest and quarry from the surrounding area. We were told that the Bishop of Bristol had suggested Psalm 103...I was honored to be a conduit for his blessings to George Leigh Mallory.
By coming back to GLM with a metal detector, we were trying to rule out a camera being buried in a pile of frozen gravel uphill of his remains. If possible, we felt it important to rule out the sunglasses we found in his pocket being a spare set. This would require seeing if he were wearing any, seeing his face.
As soon as the metal detector was turned on and calibrated, we swung it over Mallory...It sang. There turned out to be 3 metal items. Not the camera we were hoping for, but a watch, a coat buckle, and a rivet in his hat. Nothing remained in the gravel uphill from him.
Accessing the metal objects required excavating around his remains. We had little option but to do this, and we did it carefully. Having had 2 weeks to consider what we had stumbled upon on May 1, what this meant to the larger world, and the spectacular tenacity and focus of the man - George Leigh Mallory - made this a remarkably emotional two hours.
George Leigh Mallory and Andrew Comyn Irvine: the day the headlines broke in England and around the world, they became a national tragedy and classical old world heroes. Mallory, especially, must have carried with him the weight of a nation's hopes and dreams. A nation that had been decimated in the recent Great War. A generation had been lost, mangled, and pushed to insanity. I cannot fathom anyone in Britain not knowing at least some who were killed. The accompanying national pain was unlike any previously felt. With such unrelenting grief inevitably comes apathy: What was it all for? The burden Mallory carried with him on that summit ridge was heavier than any 35 lb. oxygen set. He carried the vision of what the world's highest summit would mean to his nation, to his people. A sense of pride to continue the initial rebuilding of the country, beyond the physical and to the nation's soul. He and several others sensed a change needed in the English education system, to steer her youth to a common purpose. Mallory's friend and mentor, Geoffrey Winthrop Young, along with Kurt Hahn, started the Outward Bound movement. Certainly, Mallory would have been among them.
When we returned to Base camp after the first search on May 3, more than 100 requests for the story appeared from around the world. The media represented the public fascination with Mallory and Irvine. Within all our fascinations are lessons we are striving to learn: What is the lesson we are trying to grasp from these heroes, from this legend, from this myth?
The final impact that I could not get out of my mind on May 17th was the unbelievable focus, skill, and strength it had taken to stop Mallory's fall; the disbelief resulting from his safety net - the rope - breaking; the terror of a 500 foot unending slide into darkness. All the while there are indications of his nobility, his ability to refocus with each setback never knowing when he would sail off a cliff. He deftly maintained the strong attitude that would eventually stop him. With, inevitably, so much fear, panic, and the cold breath of death on the back of his neck, where could he possibly find the focus to allow him to maintain control?
We will never know what was going through Mallory's mind in those last moments. But, I spent nearly ten hours with the man's remains and his posture. In my gut, I know what kept Mallory at his task and away from distraction: three small children and a beloved wife. He did everything in his power. He stopped his fall. It was the unexplainable Grace of God that took him after he'd done all he could to get back to the children he knew needed him.
There has been an accusation that we broke the remains of George Leigh Mallory. I can assure you that no one treated him any more harshly than I did. I treated George Leigh Mallory with the memory of my father who died when I was 14, and with the honor of my mother who passed on when I was 24. I treated him especially with the thought of his three small children and with the blessings I have in my own 2 children. The handling of George Mallory was with great respect and he lies today intact, not broken in any way, but just as we found him, except but covered by the rocks that have accompanied his remains these last 75 years.