Historians on the hunt for frozen, 86-year-old camera

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Did George Mallory and Andrew Irvine make it to the top of Mt. Everest three decades before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay? A group of historians hope to finally have proof—one way or the other—sometime next year, when they will set out to what investigate what they believe is Irvine's body.

Mallory and Irvine disappeared on Everest in 1924. They were known to be within a kilometer of the summit. Mallory's body was found in 1999, but experts say Irvine's corpse could be the real find.

Why? Because Irvine was carrying the camera.

Of course, a lot of questions remain. The anomaly thought to be Irvine was spotted in high-resolution aerial photographs from 1984. It may or may not actually be a body. If it is a body, it may or may not actually be Irvine. And, even if it is Irvine, the camera may or may not be there, or be there in a condition that makes developing the film possible.

Scientific American: Could a Frozen Camera Dethrone Hillary and Norgay as the the first to summit Everest?

Image courtesy Flickr user kevindooley, via CC


  1. Isn’t a climb only considered a climb if it’s a “successful” one? that is, you make it to the summit and then return alive?

    1. That’s pretty much my sentiment. Sir Edmund Hillary is a legend in the proper sense (not in a British slang sense), and I’m all for Irvine body being found and fingers crossed the camera yields some usable film, but I cringe at the thought of newspapers and bloggers undermining Hillary’s incredible achievement with some careless print.

    2. Not really. A climb is a climb, regardless of outcome. It’s only considered an ascent if you are successful in making it to the top. But even that doesn’t require a successful descent in order to “count”. Although, it’s considered poor form to make it to the top and then die on the way down.

      As the great Ed Viesturs once said, “Getting to the top is optional but getting down is mandatory.”

    3. I’m with you on this. It would have been a lot easier to send someone to the moon if he didn’t mind it being a one-way trip.

      1. If Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin had failed to return to earth, the video that was returned would still be mighty powerful. I’d still say that they landed and walked on the moon.

  2. Last week I found my old 35mm SLR camera at the bottom of a draw. It had 2 shots left on a roll of film. I had absolutely no idea when the last time I used it was. I took the film in this weekend to get it developed. I wondered before hand if i’d be able to pin down the date of the pictures. Turns out the entire roll was of the 2004 venus transit. I was able to pin down to a couple of mins when the pictures were taken. that was the last time I used film and the photos sat in the camera for 5 years until I had them developed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transit_of_Venus,_2004

  3. Don’t let anyone try to claim that there are “rules” in climbing. Nothing gets a flame war going full tilt on a climbing forum (rock climbing or mountaineering) like trying to say “the rule is x!!!”

    By the way I play the game, doing something so sketchy that you’re seriously injured or killed invalidates the ascent, but opinions differ. No one is going to want to buy a book (or a ticket to listen to me talk) about my climbing, in part because I don’t risk my life for climbing. (actually I do risk my life for climbing, but that’s a function of the danger inherent in driving long distances, not what I do on a rope…) Trying to make a living off of telling gripping near-death tales might skew your risk tolerance. (Or you could go the route of early climber/entertainers, and just totally make stuff up!)

  4. I think the idea is finding out whether Mallory and Irvine were the first to reach the top. Interesting question though: if the pictures are retrieved, will they be in public domain or will whoever develops them be able to claim a copyright?

    1. Mallory was English so UK copyright law would probably apply. He died more than 70 years ago, so the copyright in the pictures will have expired.

      (This was actually a slightly more complex question to answer, as UK copyright law has changed three times since the 1920s. But on checking it turns out that the most recent change imposed ‘death plus 70 years’ on photographs, published or unpublished. The rule at the time was 50 years from the photograph being made, but even then that counted as it being taken, rather than developed and printed).

  5. Considering the guy who spent hours and hours going over photographs with a magnifying glass seems perfectly willing to tell us exactly where he thinks the body is, I suspect copyright is not one of his objectives.

    Though he does say he needs $125,000 to do the climb. I suppose it’s possible that someone contributing that money could demand ownership of any discoveries made.

  6. Yuri Gagarin and the other Vostok cosmonauts all ejected from their capsules on their descents, but all claimed to have landed in their capsules – this was due to the FAI rule that to get an aviation record you had to take off and land in your vehicle. So the Russians were worried that their pioneering flights would not be accepted if they told the truth. Which strikes me as odd… one of those flights was five days long and it would have been perverse to say Bykovsky somehow hadn’t been in space because he ejected 7000 metres from the ground.

  7. I have little doubt that the film will yield usable images. It has been frozen continuously. And, it is old and slow…and much less susceptible to the background radiation. The only thorn could be the increased cosmic rays from the high altitude. Of course,the images should be contrasty by nature, and that will help interpret the results.

  8. Sir Edmund Hillary actually referred to his feats with an asterisk in the event that it could be proved that Mallory & Irvine were first. I’m sure, gentlemen that he was, he would have been pleased for them. Anyway, presumably they’re all climbing fresh peaks together in the after life.

  9. Hillary once responded to a question about Mallory and Irvine by saying something along the lines of, Mallory may have been the first one up there, but he and Tenzing were the first ones to come back down.

  10. It’s only considered an ascent if you are successful in making it to the top.

    It’s considered an Ascent if you’re a UK publisher and a Conquest if you’re a US publisher. Sort of like Philosopher and Sorcerer.

  11. None of these men were the first to the top of Everest, they were the first white westerners to the top.

    I’m a little disappointed BoingBoing doesn’t make note of this.

      1. And there’s really no evidence that anyone went to the peak before the attempts in the ’20s. Not every claim is a racist conspiracy, anyway.

  12. Tenzing Norgay was the first to the top he had to pull Hillary up. So the British got nothing but the cost of the expedition.

  13. This sounds like quite the fantastic adventure.
    Something of legend is in a most inaccessible spot, no one is ever sure if it exists or what it even will contain.

    Would make a great movie plot… but you have to roll credits just as the image is being developed.

    A delicious MacGuffin, Guy Ritchie should do this instead of another dreadful Sherlock Holmes.

  14. Tom Holzel has spent a lifetime on this. If anyone can be considered a hands-on expert on their disappearance it would be him. I hope he gets the funding to get up there.

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