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Explore the Last Letters of Everest Mountaineer George Mallory

George Mallory letters

One hundred years after his ill-fated attempt to climb the world’s tallest mountain, the letters of legendary British mountaineer George Mallory can now be viewed online.

Mallory, who died trying to become the first climber to summit Mount Everest in 1924, is known for purportedly replying "because it's there" when asked by a reporter why he wanted to climb Everest. His letters, diary entries, and several poems have been digitized and included in an online archive created by Mallory’s alma mater, Magdalene College at Cambridge University in England.

The bulk of the collection is made up of letters written between Mallory and his wife Ruth from the time of their engagement in 1914 until his death in 1924, including the very last letter he wrote before his final Everest summit attempt and three letters that were retrieved from his body.

The letters cover some fascinating topics, including:

  • His first reconnaissance mission to Everest in 1921. There were no existing records or maps at the time, and this was the mission to see if it was even possible to get to the base of Everest.
  • His second mission to scope out Everest which ended in disaster when eight Sherpas were swept off the mountain and killed in an avalanche. Mallory blamed himself for this tragic accident in his letters.
  • His service in World War I, including his eyewitness accounts of being in the Artillery during the Battle of the Somme.
  • Letters from his 1923 travels to the USA in the middle of prohibition, where he visited speakeasies.

Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew “Sandy” Irvine disappeared on the northeast ridge of Everest on June 8, 1924. They were last seen alive approximately 800 vertical feet from the summit. There is still debate about whether Mallory and Irvine made it to the top of the mountain. Mallory's body was found in 1999 by the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition.

"[The Mallory letters] launches a new chapter in our archival provision, aiming over future years to assist readers around the world to have access to materials not only through travel to our award-winning archive center, but also through exploring from afar the digitized images and detailed catalogue,” Pepys librarian Jane Hughes said. "Our inspirational alumnus, Mallory, could not provide a better topic for our first digital archive project: 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.”

The letters are free to view on the Magdalene College Archive website.

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Photo: Magdalene College at Cambridge University.

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