|Occupation Teacher, Mountaineer|
Allegiance United Kingdom
Name George Mallory
|Service/branch British Army|
Years of service 1915-1918
|Full Name George Herbert Leigh Mallory|
Born 18 June 1886 (age 37) (1886-06-18) Mobberley, Cheshire, England
Alma mater Magdalene College, Cambridge
Spouse Ruth Mallory (m. 1914–1924)
Children Frances Clare Mallory, John Mallory, Beridge Ruth Mallory
Parents Annie Beridge, Herbert Leigh Mallory
Books Climbing Everest: The Com, Mount Everest: The Reco, Climbing Everest, Boswell the Biographer ‑ Scholar, Everest Reconnaissance: The First
Similar People Andrew Irvine, Edmund Hillary, Conrad Anker, Tenzing Norgay, Reinhold Messner
Died 8–9 June 1924 (aged 37) North Face, Mount Everest, Tibet
George Herbert Leigh Mallory (18 June 1886 – 8 or 9 June 1924) was an English mountaineer who took part in the first three British expeditions to Mount Everest, in the early 1920s.
- Early life education and teaching career
- In Europe
- In Asia
- June 1924 expedition to Everest
- Lost on Everest for 75 years
- Reaching the summit
- Mallorys body
- Oxygen supply
- The difficult Second Step
- Possible sightings of Irvine
- Ang Tserings assessment
- Climbing partners
- First real ascent or just to the summit
- Edmund Hillarys assessment
- Chris Boningtons assessment
- Conrad Ankers assessment
- Robert Graves tale of Mallorys Pipe
During the 1924 British Mount Everest expedition, Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew "Sandy" Irvine, disappeared on the North-East ridge during their attempt to make the first ascent of the world's highest mountain. The pair were last seen when they were about 800 vertical feet (245 m) from the summit.
Mallory's ultimate fate was unknown for 75 years, until his body was discovered on 1 May 1999 by an expedition that had set out to search for the climbers' remains. Whether Mallory and Irvine had reached the summit before they died remains a subject of speculation and continuing research.
Early life, education, and teaching career
Mallory was born in Mobberley, Cheshire, the son of Herbert Leigh Mallory (1856–1943), a clergyman who changed his surname from Mallory to Leigh-Mallory in 1914. His mother was Annie Beridge (née Jebb) (1863–1946), the daughter of a clergyman in Walton, Derbyshire. George had two sisters and a younger brother, Trafford Leigh-Mallory, the World War II Royal Air Force commander. He was raised in 10-bedroom house on Hobcroft Lane in Mobberley.
In 1896, Mallory attended Glengorse, a preparatory boarding school in Eastbourne on the south coast of England, having transferred from another prep school in West Kirby. At the age of 13, he won a mathematics scholarship to Winchester College. In his final year at Winchester, he was introduced to rock climbing and mountaineering by a master, R.L.G. Irving, who took a small number of people climbing in the Alps each year. In October 1905, Mallory entered Magdalene College, Cambridge, to study history. There he became good friends with future members of the Bloomsbury Group, including Rupert Brooke, John Maynard Keynes, James Strachey, Lytton Strachey and Duncan Grant, who took some portraits of Mallory. Mallory was a keen oarsman, who rowed for his college while at Cambridge.
In 1909, Lytton Strachey wrote of Mallory:"Mon dieu!—George Mallory! … He's six foot high, with the body of an athlete by Praxiteles, and a face—oh incredible—the mystery of Botticelli, the refinement and delicacy of a Chinese print, the youth and piquancy of an unimaginable English boy."
After gaining his degree, Mallory stayed in Cambridge for a year writing an essay he later published as Boswell the Biographer (1912). He lived briefly in France afterwards. In 1910, he began teaching at Charterhouse School, Godalming, Surrey, where he met the poet Robert Graves, then a pupil. In his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, Graves remembered Mallory fondly, both for his encouragement of Graves' interest in literature and poetry, and his instruction in climbing. Graves recalled: "He (Mallory) was wasted (as a teacher) at Charterhouse. He tried to treat his class in a friendly way, which puzzled and offended them."
While at Charterhouse, Mallory met his wife, Ruth Turner (6 October 1892 – 6 January 1942), who lived in Godalming, and they were married in 1914, six days before Britain and Germany went to war. George and Ruth had two daughters and a son: Frances Clare (19 September 1915 – 2001), Beridge Ruth, known as "Berry" (16 September 1917 – 1953), and John (born 21 August 1920).
In December 1915, Mallory was commissioned in the Royal Garrison Artillery as a second lieutenant and promoted to lieutenant in 1917. He served in France during the First World War and fought at the Battle of the Somme.
After the war, Mallory returned to Charterhouse but resigned in 1921 in order to join the first Everest expedition. Between expeditions, he attempted to make a living from writing and lecturing, with only partial success. In 1923, he took a job as lecturer with the Cambridge University Extramural Studies Department. He was given temporary leave so that he could join the 1924 Everest attempt.
In 1910, in a party led by Irving, Mallory and a friend attempted to climb Mont Vélan in the Alps, but turned back shortly before the summit due to Mallory's altitude sickness. In 1911, Mallory climbed Mont Blanc, as well as making the third ascent of the Frontier ridge of Mont Maudit in a party again led by Irving. According to Helmut Dumler, Mallory was "apparently prompted by a friend on the Western Front in 1916 [to write] a highly emotional article of his ascent of this great climb"; this article was published as "Mont Blanc from the Col du Géant by the Eastern Buttress of Mont Maudit" in the Alpine Journal and contained his question, "Have we vanquished an enemy?" [i.e., the mountain] to which he responded, "None but ourselves."
By 1913, he had ascended Pillar Rock in the English Lake District, with no assistance, by what is now known as "Mallory's Route"—currently graded Hard Very Severe 5a (American grading 5.9). It is likely to have been the hardest route in Britain for many years.
One of Mallory's closest friends and climbing companions was a young woman named Cottie Sanders, who became a novelist with the pseudonym of Ann Bridge. The nature of their relationship is elusive. She was a "climbing friend" or a "casual sweetheart". After Mallory died, Cottie wrote a memoir of him, which was never published, but nonetheless provided much of the material used by later biographers such as David Pye and David Robertson and a novel Everest Dream.
Mallory participated in the initial 1921 British Reconnaissance Expedition, organised and financed by the Mount Everest Committee, that explored routes up to the North Col of Mount Everest. The expedition produced the first accurate maps of the region around the mountain, as Mallory, his climbing partner Guy Bullock and E. O. Wheeler of the Survey of India explored in depth several approaches to its peak. Under Mallory's leadership, and with the assistance of around a dozen Sherpas, the group climbed several lower peaks near Everest. His party were almost certainly the first Westerners to view the Western Cwm at the foot of the Lhotse face, as well as charting the course of the Rongbuk Glacier up to the base of the North Face. After circling the mountain from the south side, his party finally discovered the East Rongbuk Glacier—the highway to the summit now used by nearly all climbers on the Tibetan side of the mountain. By climbing up to the saddle of the North Ridge (the 23,030 ft (7,020 m) North Col), they spied a route to the summit via the North-East Ridge over the obstacle of the Second Step.
In 1922 Mallory returned to the Himalayas as part of the party led by Brigadier-General Charles Bruce and climbing leader Edward Strutt, with a view to making a serious attempt on the summit. Eschewing their bottled oxygen, which was at the time seen as going against the spirit of mountaineering, Mallory, along with Howard Somervell and Edward Norton almost reached the crest of the North-East Ridge. Despite being hampered and slowed by the thin air, they achieved a record altitude of 26,980 ft (8,225 m) before weather conditions and the late hour forced them to retreat. A second party led by George Finch reached an elevation of approximately 27,300 ft (8,321 m) using bottled oxygen both for climbing and—a first—for sleeping. The party climbed at record speeds, a fact that Mallory seized upon during the next expedition.
Mallory organised a third unsuccessful attempt on the summit, departing as the monsoon season arrived. While Mallory was leading a group of porters down the lower slopes of the North Col of Everest in fresh, waist-deep snow, an avalanche swept over the group, killing seven Sherpas. The attempt was immediately abandoned, and Mallory was subsequently accused of poor judgement, including by expedition participants such as Dr. Longstaff.
Mallory is famously quoted as having replied to the question "Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?" with the retort "Because it's there", which has been called "the most famous three words in mountaineering". There have been questions over the authenticity of the quote, and whether Mallory actually said it. Some have suggested that it was a paraphrase by a newspaper reporter, but scrutiny of the original report in The New York Times leaves this unresolved. The phrase was certainly consistent with the direct quotes cited in The New York Times report, so it appears not to misrepresent Mallory's attitude.
June 1924 expedition to Everest
Mallory joined the 1924 Everest expedition, led, as in 1922, by General Geoffrey Bruce. Mallory, who was 37 at the time of the ascent, believed his age would make this his last opportunity to climb the mountain and, when touring the US, he proclaimed that the expedition would successfully reach the summit.
Mallory and Bruce had made the first attempt, which was inexplicably aborted by Mallory at Camp 5.
Norton and Somervell set off from Camp 6, and in perfect weather, Norton managed, without oxygen, to reach 28,120 ft (8,570 m), a new record height.
On 4 June 1924, Mallory and Andrew Irvine set off from Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 21,330 ft (6,500 m) and already began using oxygen from the base of the North Col, which they climbed in 2 1⁄2 hours. Mallory had been converted from his original scepticism about oxygen usage by his failure on his initial assault and recalling the very rapid ascent of Finch in 1922.
At 08:40 on 6 June, they set off, climbing to Camp 5. On 7 June, they reached Camp 6. Mallory wrote he had used only 3⁄4 of one bottle of oxygen for the two days, which suggests a climb rate of some 856 vertical feet per hour.
On 8 June, expedition member Noel Odell was moving up behind the pair in a "support role". At around 26,000 ft (7,925 m) he spotted the two climbing a prominent rock-step, either the First or Second Step, about 13:00 although Odell might, conceivably, have been viewing the higher, then-unknown, "Third Step". Odell later reported:
At 12.50, just after I had emerged from a state of jubilation at finding the first definite fossils on Everest, there was a sudden clearing of the atmosphere, and the entire summit ridge and final peak of Everest were unveiled. My eyes became fixed on one tiny black spot silhouetted on a small snow-crest beneath a rock-step in the ridge; the black spot moved. Another black spot became apparent and moved up the snow to join the other on the crest. The first then approached the great rock-step and shortly emerged at the top; the second did likewise. Then the whole fascinating vision vanished, enveloped in cloud once more.
At the time, Odell observed that one of the men surmounted the Second Step of the northeast ridge. Apart from his testimony, though, no evidence has been found that Mallory and Irvine climbed higher than the First Step; one of their spent oxygen cylinders was found shortly below the First Step, and Irvine's ice axe was found nearby in 1933. They never returned to their camp.
Presumably, Mallory and Irvine died either late the same evening or on 9 June. The news of Mallory and Irvine's disappearance was widely mourned in Britain and the two were hailed as national heroes. A memorial service was held in London at St Paul's Cathedral on 17 October and was attended by a great assembly of family, friends, and dignitaries including King George V and members of the royal family, Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and his entire Cabinet.
Lost on Everest for 75 years
After their disappearance, several expeditions tried to find their remains and, perhaps, determine if they had reached the summit. Frank Smythe, when on the 1936 expedition, believed he spotted a body below the place where Irvine's ice axe was found three years earlier, "I was scanning the face from base camp through a high-powered telescope...when I saw something queer in a gully below the scree shelf. Of course it was a long way away and very small, but I've a six/six eyesight and do not believe it was a rock. This object was at precisely the point where Mallory and Irvine would have fallen had they rolled on over the scree slopes," Smythe wrote in a letter to Edward Felix Norton. He kept the discovery quiet as he feared press sensationalism, and it was not revealed until 2013, after the letter was found by his son when preparing his biography.
In late 1986, Tom Holzel launched a search expedition based on reports from Chinese climber Zhang Junyan that his tent-mate, Wang Hungbao, had stumbled across "an English dead" at 26,570 ft (8,100 m) in 1975. On the last day of the expedition, Holzel met with Zhang Junyan, who reiterated that, despite official denials from the Chinese Mountaineering Association, Wang had come back from a short excursion and described finding "a foreign mountaineer" at "8,100 m." Wang was killed in an avalanche the day after delivering his verbal report and so the location was never more precisely fixed.
In 1999 the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition, sponsored in part by the TV show Nova and the BBC, and organised and led by Eric Simonson, arrived at Everest to search for the lost pair. Guided by the research of Jochen Hemmleb, within hours of beginning the search on 1 May, Conrad Anker found a frozen body at 26,760 ft (8,157 m) on the north face of the mountain. As the body was found at 27,000 ft (8,229.6 m), below where Irvine's axe had been found in 1933 at 27,760 ft (8,461.25 m), the team expected the body to be Irvine's, and were hoping to recover the camera that he had reportedly carried with him. They were surprised to find that name tags on the body's clothing bore the name of "G. Leigh Mallory." The body was well preserved, due to the mountain's climate. A brass altimeter, stag-handled lambsfoot pocket knife with leather slip-case and an unbroken pair of snow-goggles were also recovered from Mallory's corpse. The team could not, however, locate the camera that the two climbers took to document their final summit attempt. Experts from Kodak have said that if a camera is ever found, there is some chance that its film could be developed to produce printable images, if extraordinary measures are taken, and have provided guidance as to handling of such a camera and the film inside, in the event that such were found in the investigation. Before leaving the site of Mallory's death, the expedition conducted an Anglican service for the climber and covered his remains with a cairn on the mountain.
The 1999 research team returned to the mountain in 2001 to conduct further research. They discovered Mallory and Irvine's last camp, but failed to find either Irvine or a camera. Another initiative in 2004 also proved fruitless.
In 2007, the Altitude Everest Expedition, led by Conrad Anker, who had found Mallory's body, tried to retrace Mallory's last steps.
Reaching the summit
Whether Mallory and Irvine reached Everest's summit is unknown. The question remains open to speculation and is the topic of much debate and research.
From the discovery of a serious rope-jerk injury around Mallory's waist, which was encircled by the remnants of a climbing rope, it appears that he and Irvine were roped together when one of them slipped. Mallory's body lay 300 m below and about 100 m horizontal to the location of an ice axe found in 1933, which is generally accepted from three characteristic marks on the shaft as belonging to Irvine. The fact that the body was relatively unbroken, apart from fractures to the right leg (the tibia and fibula were broken just above the boot), in comparison to other bodies found in the same location that were known to have fallen from the North-East Ridge, strongly suggests that Mallory could not have fallen from the ice axe site, but must have fallen from much lower down. Wang reportedly found Mallory's ice axe near his body (and took it with him). If this is true, then Mallory not only survived the initial fall with Irvine, but was in possession of his axe until the last seconds before striking a rock that stopped his final fall. When found, his body was sun-bleached, frozen and mummified.
The other significant find made on Mallory's body was a severe, golf-ball size puncture wound in his forehead, which was the likely cause of his death. The unusual puncture wound is consistent with one which might be inflicted by an ice axe, leading some to conclude that, while Mallory was descending in a self-arrest "glissade", sliding down a slope while dragging his ice axe in the snow to control the speed of his descent, his ice axe may have struck a rock and bounced off, striking him fatally.
Two items of circumstantial evidence from the body suggest that he may have attempted, or reached, the summit:
From the location of their final camp (discovered in 2001), a summit climb may be estimated to have taken them around eleven hours. Assuming they took two cylinders each, they only had about eight hours of oxygen available, so – although this depends on the flow rate, which could be controlled and was not necessarily full flow – the oxygen would almost certainly have run out before they reached the summit. The two flow rates available on those oxygen sets were 1.5 and 2.2 litres/min. Both are low rates for active climbing, and it is unlikely the two would have used the lower flow rate. One of their oxygen bottles was found some 200 yards (180 m) short of the First Step, which enables their speed of climbing to be calculated (~275 vert-ft/hr; Hillary and Norgay climbed at 350 vf/h at this altitude). It can be estimated that at best they might have reached the base of the Second Step with one-and-a-half hours of oxygen remaining each. Given the vertical distance remaining (~800 vft), the climb to the summit after the Second Step at the same climbing rate would be three hours. But climbing speed drops quickly with altitude (Hillary and Norgay managed only 150 vf/h above 28,000 ft). Thus, even if Mallory had taken Irvine's oxygen, he would not have had enough oxygen to reach the summit.
Another possibility, prompted by Mallory's remark in his last note to John Noel that they would "probably go on two cylinders", is that the pair carried three, and not two cylinders each (Mallory's "probably" implying that the choice was between two or three, as a single cylinder would clearly be inadequate). Mallory's oxygen rig was not found with his body, and neither climber's backpack-style oxygen rig has ever been found.
Some believe George Mallory chose his climbing partner (Andrew "Sandy" Irvine) because he was excellent at repairing the oxygen tanks that had been controversial during that time.
The difficult "Second Step"
Experienced modern climbers have mixed views on whether Mallory was capable of climbing the "Second Step" on the North Ridge, now surmounted via a 15 ft (4.6 m) aluminium ladder first permanently fixed in place by Chinese climbers in 1975 to bridge this very difficult pitch. Austrian Theo Fritsche repeated the free climb solo in 2001 under conditions that resembled those encountered during the 1924 Everest expedition, and assessed the climb as having a grade of 5.6-5.7. Fritsche completed the climb without supplementary oxygen and believes that Mallory could, weather permitting, have reached the summit.
In June 2007, as part of the 2007 Altitude Everest expedition, Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding free-climbed the Second Step, having first removed the Chinese ladder (which was later replaced). Houlding rated the climb at 5.9, just within Mallory's estimated capabilities. The climb was part of an expedition which tried to re-create the 1924 climb. Eight years earlier Anker had climbed the Second Step as part of the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition but had used one point of aid by stepping on a rung of the ladder which blocked the only available foothold. At that time he had rated the climb at 5.10, which he considered to be beyond Mallory's capabilities but, after the June 2007 climb, he changed his view and said that he "could have climbed it".
Noel Odell believed that he had seen Mallory and Irvine ascend the Second Step, but eventually changed his story to say it was the First Step. Towards the end of his life, however, he reaffirmed his original view. Recent observations taken from Odell's vantage point by other climbers suggest that Odell would have probably seen the men at the Second Step as he had initially reported.
Possible sightings of Irvine
In 1979 a Chinese climber named Wang Hungbao reported to Japanese Expedition leader Ryoten Hasagawa that, in 1975, he had discovered the body of an "English dead" at 26,600 feet (8,100 m). Wang was killed in an avalanche the day after this verbal report and so the location was never more precisely fixed. The Chinese Mountaineering Association (CMA) officially denied the sighting claim. In 1986, Chinese climber Zhang Junyan (who had been sharing the tent with Wang in 1975) confirmed to Tom Holzel Wang's report of finding a foreign climber's body. Zhang stated that Wang had only been out for 20 minutes. If this report was accurate, at that altitude and date the body must have been that of Irvine.
Wang's sighting was the key to the discovery of Mallory's body 24 years later in the same general area, though Wang's reported description of the body he found, face up, with a "hole in cheek", is not consistent with the condition and posture of Mallory's body, which was face down, its head almost completely buried in scree, and with a golf-ball-sized puncture wound on his forehead. The 2001 research expedition discovered Wang's campsite location and made an extensive search of its surroundings. Mallory's remained the only ancient body in the vicinity. Some argue it must have been Mallory, not Irvine, that Wang had found in 1975, despite the variations in body posture. Zhang said that Wang had only been gone about 20 minutes but he had waited while dozing in his sleeping bag, so Wang's stroll could have been of longer duration. Conrad Anker now believes Wang did indeed find Irvine and not Mallory.
In 2001, another Chinese climber, Xu Jing, claimed to have seen the body of Andrew Irvine in 1960 (reported in Hemmleb and Simonson's Detectives on Everest), although testimony is uncertain with regard to the location of his find. On two occasions, Xu placed it between Camps VI and VII (the Yellow Band, c. 8300 m), though later changed it to the NE Ridge between the First and Second Steps (c. 28,050 feet (8,550 m) and directly on the NE Ridge. In spite of several such rumoured and reported sightings, subsequent searches of these locations on the North Face have failed to find any trace of Irvine. Some climbers believe Xu spotted Mallory. However, again, this is speculation.
American researcher Tom Holzel reported that Xu had spotted the body as he descended "by a more direct route" due to exhaustion, while his teammates had continued their ascent. The body was lying on its back in a narrow slot, its feet pointing towards the summit, and its face blackened from frostbite. Holzel has claimed that a location in the Yellow Band, matching this description exactly, has been identified at 27,641 feet (8,425 m) by his analysis of high-resolution aerial photography.
In July 2005, the Alpine Club of St. Petersburg, Russia, published an article to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the North Face climb by the Chinese expedition in 1960. The article referred to the presentation by Wang Fuzhou (a member of the group which reached the summit of Everest on 25 May 1960) given by him in Leningrad before the USSR Geographical Society in 1965. It claims that Xu Jing had seen the body of a European climber at an altitude of some 28,200 feet (8,600 m), just below the notorious Second Step. That Russian article could be a first non-mainstream and non-English-language source of evidence in the Mallory-Irvine story. In particular, it mentions that Xu laconically reported that he had identified the body to be "European" by the braces (suspenders) that it wore.
A range of different outcomes has been proposed, and new theories continue to be put forward. Most views have the two carrying two cylinders of oxygen each, reaching and climbing either the First or Second Step, where they are seen by Odell. At this point there are two main alternatives: either Mallory takes Irvine's oxygen and goes on alone (and may or may not reach the summit); or both go on together until they turn back (having used up their oxygen, or realising that they will do so before the summit). In either case Mallory slips and falls to his death while descending, perhaps caught in the fierce snow squall that sent Odell to take shelter in their tent. Irvine either falls with him or, in the first scenario, dies alone of exhaustion and hypothermia high up on the ridge. The theory advanced by Tom Holzel in February 2008 is that Odell sighted Mallory and Irvine climbing the First Step for a final look around while they were descending from a failed summit bid.
Ang Tsering's assessment
Ang Tsering, a Sherpa member of the 1924 British Everest Expedition, was interviewed in 2000 by Jonathan Neale, who recounted:
Ang Tsering says that what he liked about George Mallory was that he was so friendly.
Harry Tyndale, one of Mallory's climbing partners, said of Mallory:
In watching George at work one was conscious not so much of physical strength as of suppleness and balance; so rhythmical and harmonious was his progress in any steep place ... that his movements appeared almost serpentine in their smoothness.
Geoffrey Winthrop Young, an accomplished mountain climber, held Mallory's ability in awe:
His movement in climbing was entirely his own. It contradicted all theory. He would set his foot high against any angle of smooth surface, fold his shoulder to his knee, and flow upward and upright again on an impetuous curve. Whatever may have happened unseen the while between him and the cliff ... the look, and indeed the result, were always the same – a continuous undulating movement so rapid and so powerful that one felt the rock must yield, or disintegrate.
First "real" ascent, or just to the summit?
If evidence were to be uncovered which showed that George Mallory or Andrew Irvine had reached the summit of Everest in 1924, advocates of Hillary and Norgay's first ascent maintain that the historical record should not be changed to state that Mallory and Irvine made the first ascent, displacing Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Former Mount Everest summiteer Major H. P. S. Ahluwalia claims that without photographic proof, there is no evidence that Mallory reached the summit and "it would be unfair to say that the first man to scale Mount Everest was George Mallory". George Mallory's own son, John Mallory, who was only three years old when his father died, said, "To me the only way you achieve a summit is to come back alive. The job is only half done if you don't get down again". Sir Edmund Hillary's daughter, Sarah, when questioned regarding her father's take on the debate, said, "His view was that he had got 50 good years out of being conqueror of Everest, and, whatever happened, he wasn't particularly worried. That's my feeling as well."
Edmund Hillary's assessment
Edmund Hillary echoed John Mallory's opinion, asking:
If you climb a mountain for the first time and die on the descent, is it really a complete first ascent of the mountain? I am rather inclined to think personally that maybe it is quite important, the getting down, and the complete climb of a mountain is reaching the summit and getting safely to the bottom again.
Chris Bonington's assessment
Chris Bonington, the British mountaineer, argued that:
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.
Conrad Anker's assessment
Conrad Anker, who found Mallory's body in 1999, free climbed the Second Step in 2007 and has worn replica 1924 climbing gear on Everest, said he believes that, "It's possible, but highly improbable, that they made it to the top", citing the difficulty of the Second Step and the position of Mallory's body. He stated that, in his opinion:
I don't believe they made it ... the climbing up there is so difficult and I think that Mallory was a very good climber and part of being a good climber is knowing when you're at too much of a risk and it's time to turn back. I think he saw that and he turned back and it was either he or Irvine as they were descending the Yellow Band slipped and pulled the other one off, the rope snapped and he came to his rest.
Robert Graves' tale of Mallory's Pipe
Robert Graves, who climbed with Mallory, in his autobiography recounts this story, at the time famous in climbing circles, about an ascent that Mallory made as a young man in 1908:
"My friend George Mallory .... once did an inexplicable climb on Snowdon. He had left his pipe on a ledge, half-way down one of the Liwedd precipices, and scrambled back by a short cut to retrieve it, then up again by the same route. No one saw what route he took, but when they came to examine it the next day for official record, they found an overhang nearly all the way. By a rule of the Climbers' Club climbs are never named in honour of their inventors, but only describe natural features. An exception was made here. The climb was recorded as follows: 'Mallory's Pipe, a variation on route 2; see adjoining map. This climb is totally impossible. It has been performed once, in failing light, by Mr G. H. L. Mallory.'".
The route is now called "Mallory's Slab", a hard V Diff in Y Lliwedd.
Mallory was honoured by having a court named after him at his alma mater, Magdalene College, Cambridge, with an inscribed stone commemorating his death set above the doorway to one of the buildings. Two high peaks in California's Sierra Nevada, Mount Mallory and Mount Irvine, located a few miles southeast of Mount Whitney, were named after them.
Mallory was captured on film by expedition cameraman John Noel, who released his film of the 1924 expedition The Epic of Everest. Some of his footage was also used in George Lowe's 1953 documentary The Conquest of Everest. A documentary on the 2001 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition, Found on Everest, was produced by Riley Morton. Mallory was played by Brian Blessed in the 1991 re-creation of his last climb, Galahad of Everest. In October 2013, Benedict Cumberbatch was tipped as the front runner to play the role of Mallory in a new Hollywood version of the attempt on Everest in 1924, to be directed by Doug Liman and adapted from Jeffrey Archer's 2009 novel Paths of Glory.
Tragedy in the mountains has proved a recurring theme in the Mallory line. Mallory’s younger brother, Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, met his death on a mountain range when the Avro York carrying him to his new appointment as Air Commander-in-Chief of South East Asia Command (SEAC) crashed in the French Alps in 1944, killing all on board. A memorial window to George Mallory along with a memorial plaque to Trafford can be found at St Wilfrid's Church, Mobberley where their father, Herbert, grandfather, also called George, and other family members had served as rector. Mallory's daughter, Frances Clare, married physiologist Glenn Allan Millikan, who was killed in a climbing accident in Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee.
Frances Mallory's son, Richard Millikan, became a respected climber in his own right during the 1960s and '70s. Mallory's grandson, also named George Mallory, reached the summit of Everest in 1995 via the North Ridge with six other climbers as part of the American Everest Expedition of 1995. He left a picture of his grandparents at the summit citing "unfinished business".
In Anthony Geffen's 2010 biographical documentary film about Mallory's life and final expedition, The Wildest Dream, Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding attempt to reconstruct the climb, dressed and equipped similarly to Mallory and Irvine.
Keith Thomas and Glyn Bailey are creating a musical about Mallory's life called Mountain of Dreams.