After our second day of searching, 25th April, we came back with the feeling that the 1924 Camp 6 is becoming a true needle in the haystack. We had wanted to rediscover this camp, Mallory and Irvine's last camp, for various reasons. Firstly, there might be a chance that it still yields some notes, notebooks or other kind of messages Odell had possibly overlooked during his two visits in 1924. Secondly, we should still be able to find the oxygen cylinders and parts of the apparatus Odell had reported seeing around the site. From this, we might determine the kind of repair work or adjustments Irvine supposedly had undertaken, and also how many cylinders he and Mallory had taken on the summit bid. No photograph of this camp and its location exists from 1924 or after.
We thought we had reconstructed the position of the 1924 Camp 6 with reasonable accuracy, based on Frank Smythe's account of its rediscovery in 1933 and high-resolution airphotos provided by Swissphoto AG, Zurich. It was this location Andy Politz investigated on 24th April, and where he found an old glove and mitten. Yet although the site had yielded much promise at first, being the most suitable spot in the vicinity, closer inspection by the search team on the morning of 25th April didn't uncover further clues. In fact, the gully in question was choked with 5-6 feet of rubble and snow, rendering further excavations impossible.
When it became apparent that the search team wasn't able to definitively find the camp's true location, Eric and myself down at Base Camp went into a brainstorming session, going back to the contemporary literature in the hope of finding further clues regarding the camp's position - but what we found were some intriguing contradictions:
In the 1924 expedition account, "The Fight for Everest", E.F. Norton described how Camp 6 was established at 26,800 ft. (8170 m), "[in] a narrow cleft in the rocks facing north, affording the suggestion - it was little more - of some shelter from the north-west wind. Here I set the two leading porters to scrape and pile the loose stones forming the floor of the cleft into the usual platform for a tent."
When Noel Odell reached the camp five days later, he noted the following about its position, "Camp VI was in rather a concealed position on a ledge and backed by a small crag, and in the prevailing conditions it seems likely [Mallory and Irvine] would experience considerable difficulty in finding it."
To this, Norton felt bound to disagree, "for [Camp 6] was on the very backbone of the North ArÍte, just below the point where the steepest part of the upper ArÍte alters its character and becomes a gently rounded hump."
To make matters even more complicated, there is the rumor of one of Mallory and Irvine's Sherpas reporting that the pair had shifted Camp 6 from 26,000 ft. to 27,000 ft. (8230 m), which could account for the discrepancy between Norton's and Odell's account.
However, the above comment by Norton is very similar to Frank Smythe's description of 1933, "We were climbing along the ridge at about 26,500 feet [c. 8080 m] [...]. A little higher the ridge flattened out. A few yards to the west was a shallow hollow, really the head of an ill-defined gully, with a sloping floor of screes and boulders. Here lay a little tangle of green canvas and tent poles - the highest camp of 1924", and it is also consistent with the position where plate 19 in the 1933 expedition account places the 1924 Camp 6.
On the other hand, a diagram in the 1924 expedition account places Camp 6 higher, near the head of the couloir running up from the East Rongbuk Glacier, which would place it at c. 27,000 ft. (8230 m). Yet at the same time the explanation of the diagram gives the camp's altitude as only 26,700 ft. (8140 m).
If Norton's account and the 1933 account are right, then the 1924 Camp 6 was placed just below the point where the crest of the North Ridge flattens out. The point is marked by a prominent pyramid-shaped rock tower, below which a somewhat steeper cliff band strikes out perpendicular to the ridge crest onto the North Face. The base of the rock tower and cliff band meets the North Ridge at little over 8160 m - or at 26,800 ft., the altitude Norton gives for Camp 6. A position below or near the recline is also suggested by the visibility of the camp from the North Col.
Odell's description of the nearer surroundings of Camp 6 seem to confirm the general nature of this terrain, as he describes "precipitous rocks behind [the camp]" and "a steep snow patch plastered on a bluff of rocks above."
On the morning of 25th April, the search team descended part-way down the crest of the North Ridge below the pyramid-shaped rock tower. They found the terrain difficult and didn't find any traces pointing to the 1924 Camp 6. They were, however, surprised to come across fairly new fixed ropes, anchors and carabiners - which created another mystery, as there are no recorded ascents of the complete North Ridge from recent times. Possibilities include the Japanese expedition of 1980, who had climbed to well above 8000 m (26,250 ft.) on the ridge before traversing onto the North Face; other North Ridge expeditions in the early '80s, like the 1984 American "Ultima Thule" expedition; the 1992 Kazakh-Japanese team, who descended the North Ridge after crossing the Pinnacles of the North-east Ridge; and the 1997 Russian party, who exited onto the North Ridge after making the first ascent of the North Couloir from the East Rongbuk Glacier.
In the afternoon of the same day, Dave Hahn solitarily made another excursion part-way down the North Ridge, again finding nothing. It was a supreme effort on his part, and an unforgettable image for the watchers at Base Camp: the low afternoon sun illuminating the ridge, and among the broken waste of golden and brown slabs a tiny figure, clad in red pants and purple jacket, slowly and steadily climbing upwards over what was obviously some fairly technical and steep ground - and finally, in the fading light, taking the last few steps to his tent at Camp 6.
With the absence of any photographs of the 1924 Camp 6, conflicting testimonies about its position, and the lack of definitive clues, its true location and whereabouts remain speculative. Personally, I am now inclined to believe that both Norton and Smythe had been accurate, the position of the 1924 Camp 6 therefore having been around 26,800 ft. (8170 m), close to the crest of the North Ridge, around the area where Andy found the old sock and mitten. So why wasn't it unquestionably found by our search team? The site could either have been avalanched off or buried under snow and gravel in one of the recesses visible in the area. Another possibility is more difficult to explain, and is based on subtle inconsistencies in the pre-war accounts: For example, there is considerable uncertainty about the altitude the first party of 1922 had reached. Their altimeter had been reading 8170 m/26.800 m, but later theodolite measurements corrected this figure to 8225 m/26.985 ft. However, in 1924 Norton mentioned passing the highpoint reached by him, Mallory and Somervell in 1922 en route to Camp VI, its altitude in turn given as 8170 m/26.800 m. Recent photogrammetric surveys even suggest the highest picture by the 1922 party to be taken from as low as c. 8100-8120 m (26.600-26.650 ft.).
So what if Norton had been wrong each time about the altitude he reached, both in 1922 and 1924? If his estimation was too high in 1922, can this mean that the 1924 Camp 6 was actually lower than 26,800 ft.? Perhaps Frank Smythe had been right when he claimed to have been at about 26,500 ft. (8080 m) before discovering the 1924 Camp 6 "a little higher". There is another precipitous cliff band intersecting with the North Ridge at c. 8100 m (26,600 ft.), with some recesses below. Further confusion is generated by the comment of Norton, who said it took him and Somervell one hour to reach the bottom edge of the Yellow Band. We don't know if he meant by this the steep part of the Yellow Band, which starts at c. 8300 m (27,250 ft.), or the first appearance of yellow rocks some 250 ft. lower (and which he would have reached sooner).