The second step ladder Sunday afternoon: I was at the Black Horse Pub, Pimlico Road near Clitheroe in Lancashire, enjoying my Uncle Pete Monk's 60th birthday party (Pete's a caver/climber/scrambler and is off June to do the Pyrenees High Route with his mate, Stuart Ingham). Whilst listening to Pete and friends play some mighty fine Irish tunes my mobile buzzed.
"Hi Mick, Set to arrive at Everest basecamp tomorrow. Will be a radical reality shift that'll leave us dreaming of beaches and richer air."
It was a text from Kevin Thaw in Tibet, en route to Basecamp below the Rongbuk Glacier, on the north side of Everest (or Chomolungma to give its Tibetan name)
Kevin is part of the Altitude Everest Expedition 2007 led by Conrad Anker, who are there to reenact the 1924 attempt on Everest's North Ridge by George Leigh Mallory and Andrew Comyn Irvine. Both Mallory and Irvine perished high on the mountain. Noel Odell was the last to see them, surmounting a rocky step on the ridge and, as Odell recalled, "going strong for the top." Whether they reached the top has, for 80 years, been one of mountaineering's greatest mysteries.
On May 1st, 1999 US alpinist, Conrad Anker found the frozen body of Mallory at 8,155m on the north face of the mountain whilst on the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition (link). This fuelled further speculation as to whether Mallory and Irvine reached the summit.
The Altitude Everest Expedition 2007 summit team comprises of Leo Houlding, Conrad Anker, Gerry Moffat, Jimmy Chin, Ken Sauls and Kevin Thaw, plus essentail Sherpa support and the Altitude Films production crew. Leo "Irvine" Houlding and Conrad "Mallory" Anker will be reenacting Mallory and Irvine's 1924 ascent and plan to attempt the Second Step, without the insitu ladder, as it was in 1924. The ladder was placed by a Chinese expedition in 1975. The successful Chinese expedition of 1961, F Wang, Gonbu and Y Chu, made the first confirmed ascent of the North Ridge, Chu Yin-hua leading the steep rock of the Second Step.
The phone signal was strong between Kendal in the UK and Tibet, and this morning I managed to reach Kevin and spoke to him. The reason for the strong signal was that the Chinese military have set up a tall telecommunications tower at Basecamp. They are there doing a reconnaissance trip for a planned ascent with the Olympic torch relay for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Kevin told us that they had just rolled into Basecamp, situated just below the terminal morraine of the Rongbuk Glacier. Hundreds of tents were there; it is prime Everest season. They had had two nights at 15,000 feet and were feeling fine, although after their first nights sleep at Basecamp they expect to feel a bit ropey. Kevin and Leo have packed their rock shoes and shorts, and were looking forward to a spot of bouldering before they start their ascent up Everest.
Rainbow Media's VOOM HD Networks and British production company, Altitude Films are producing a film of the team's ascent and also have a fully interactive web portal at www.ueverest.com which is set to go live on the 9th of May.
Kevin said that he will be in contact with UKClimbing.com to give us his perspective.
When Conrad Anker found Mallory's remains Sir Chris Bonington said at the time:
"If we accept the fact that they were above the Second Step, they would have seemed to be incredibly close to the summit of Everest and I think at that stage something takes hold of most climbers... And I think therefore taking all those circumstances in view... I think it is quite conceivable that they did go for the summit... I certainly would love to think that they actually reached the summit of Everest. I think it is a lovely thought and I think it is something, you know, gut emotion, yes I would love them to have got there. Whether they did or not, I think that is something one just cannot know."
One Mallory ascent is not in dispute. George Mallory II, George Mallory's grandson reached the summit by the North Ridge in 1995.