Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
George Mallory sought to conquer the summit of Mount Everest for one reason, he said: "Because it is there." Three years after Mallory's 1921 exploratory expedition, reported below, he disappeared on Everest. Although his body was discovered this year, it is still unknown whether he ever made it to the top -- 29 years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. An excerpt from The Post of Oct. 21, 1921:
By Col. Howard Bury
Leader of Mount Everest Expedition (Copyrighted and Supplied by the Mount Everest Committee)
Kharta, Tibet, Oct. 2, via Simla, India, Oct. 20 --
On September 22, leaving Harold Raeburn at the 20,000-feet camp, we started off at 4 a.m. ascending Lhakpala (Windy Pass). The 26 coolies with us were divided into four parties. With them we quickly descended on to the Everest glacier with its snowy ridges looking superb in the bright moonlight.
From there Mount Everest looks best as it stands up alone as a great peak not dominated by the lofty spurs jutting northwest and southwestward. The snow on the glacier was in excellent condition as it was freezing hard. We made good progress. Dawn overtook us on the broad flat part of the glacier. The first sunbeams were falling on the summit of Mount Everest (which rose straight up in front of us) changing the color of the snow gradually from pink to orange, with a deep purple sky behind us.
Every detail showed up sharp and clear in the frosty air. We gradually ascended a part of the conical snow peak which Mallory climbed a month ago from Kama valley ...
After climbing through an ice fall offering few difficulties we followed a long and occasionally steep ascent, with the snow rather soft to the top of the pass. Even at these heights there were curious tracks in the snow. We distinguished hare and fox tracks but one mark, like that of a human foot, was most puzzling. Coolies assured us it was the track of a wild hairy man and that these men are occasionally to be found in the wildest and most inaccessible mountains.
... Immediately opposite was a col of about 34,600 feet, joining Mount Everest with the north peak of the mountains. To reach this col was the object of the climbers as from the col there appeared to be a practicable, though steep, slope leading to the summit of the mountain. ...
We found a small, sheltered hollow in the snow a few feet below the crest of the pass and at a height of 22,300 feet. There camp was pitched. This wind howled above us, but the sun shone brightly and helped us to keep warm. The wind, however, was too strong to allow cooking until sunset, when we managed to warm a little tea and soup and then retire into small tents, as if inside valises, the only possible place to keep warm. ...
The morning was most beautiful and the views from the camp superb, but the northwesterly gale still continued above. Mallory, Bulock and Wheeler, with half the coolies, descended to the glacier below, and, camping about 1,000 feet lower down at the foot of the north col, were intending to discover whether this route to Mount Everest was practicable. ...
On reaching the col about 33,000 feet, they met whirlwinds of suffocating snow and the iciest of northwesterly gales. Above them the whole side of Mount Everest was smoking with snow that was being blown off. In such a bitter wind and also at such a great height it was impossible to survive for many hours and though the slopes of Mount Everest above appeared quite passable, the climbers reluctantly were compelled to return, intending to make another attempt the following day.
But on the next day the northwest gale continued with unabated force and, as there was no earthly use in ascending under those conditions, they returned to the 20,000 feet camp, only managing to cross the windy pass with the greatest difficulty.
This series is available at www.washingtonpost.com