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Read the last letters of George Mallory, who died climbing Mount Everest in 1924

British explorer George Mallory and fellow climber Edward Felix Norton scale the north-east ridge of Mount Everest in 1922, left, while Mallory is seen in an undated file photo, right.
Captain Noel/Hulton Archive/Getty Images; AFP/Getty Images
British explorer George Mallory and fellow climber Edward Felix Norton scale the north-east ridge of Mount Everest in 1922, left, while Mallory is seen in an undated file photo, right.

The letters of a legendary mountaineer from the 1920s who died trying to become the first climber to summit Mount Everest have now been digitized and posted online for public viewing.

British explorer George Mallory's letters, diary entries and even several poems have been scanned and included in an online archive created by Magdalene College at Cambridge University, where Mallory was educated.

"[O]ur inspirational alumnus, Mallory, could not provide a better topic for our first digital archive project," Jane Hughes, president of the college and librarian of its Pepys Library, said in a statement.

"[A] student, a soldier, a husband and a mountaineer, his short life represented his generation of young men a hundred years ago in a remarkable and moving way," Hughes added.

British mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine are seen at a base camp in Nepal as they prepare to climb to the peak of Mount Everest in June 1924. It is the last known image of the men before they disappeared.
/ AP
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AP
British mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine are seen at a base camp in Nepal as they prepare to climb to the peak of Mount Everest in June 1924. It is the last known image of the men before they disappeared.

Mallory was born in England in 1886, fought in the Royal Artillery during World War I and later joined several British expeditions to Mount Everest in Nepal. He died in 1924 on his third trip to the mountain.

It's said that Mallory once replied to an interviewer who asked why he was so interested in reaching the top of Mount Everest: "Because it's there."

The bulk of the correspondence included in the online archive consists of letters from Mallory to his wife, Ruth. In his final letter to Ruth, on May 27, 1924 — less than a month before he perished — Mallory estimates that the expedition's odds of success are "50 to 1 against us."

Located in the Himalayan mountain range between Nepal and Tibet, Mount Everest is considered the tallest point on earth, with an elevation of 29,029 feet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The letters also detail his experiences fighting in the Battle of the Somme, visiting the United States and traveling on his first two excursions to Everest in 1921 and 1922.

Archivists said letters Ruth wrote to George also serve as a "major source of women's social history," depicting her perspective as a woman living through World War I while her husband was away on the front lines.

In 1999, members of an expedition to Everest recovered Mallory's body as well as three letters that were found with him, which are included in the archive.

To this day there's debate over whether Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew "Sandy" Irvine, actually made it to the top of Mount Everest. Irvine also died on the trip.

Nearly 30 years would pass after Mallory's ill-fated attempt before two climbers — Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay — became the first to officially summit the mountain — in 1953.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez
[Copyright 2024 NPR]