The 1924 British Mount Everest expedition was the second of its kind focused on the goal of achieving the first ascent of the world’s highest mountain. After two summit attempts in which Edward Norton set a world altitude record of 28,126 feet, Mallory and Irvine vanished into the clouds on the third attempt. Their disappearance has given rise to the long-standing unanswered question of whether or not the pair climbed to the summit, or died during the ascent as Mallory’s body was discovered at 26,760 feet, but resulting clues dd not provide conclusive evidence.
However, Nova’s “Lost in Everest” series claimed the pair had both agreed to use oxygen bottles for their third attempt.
The narrator said in 1999: “In the first attempt Mallory and Jeffrey Bruce failed to establish a hiking camp because their porters insisted on turning back two days later with the camp now in place.
“Colonel Norton, the expedition leader, with Howard Somerville travels across the North Face towards the summit.
“They were climbing without the help of bottled oxygen and Somerville was forced to give up because of a severe high-altitude cough.
“Norton went on alone to set a new high-altitude record of 28,200 feet, climbing to this altitude had proved an alarming experience.
“Somerville had almost died of suffocation in a coughing fit and Norton had to be carried down in great pain suffering from snow blindness because he had taken off his goggles.”
The series went on to explain the theory behind the decision to take oxygen bottles.
The narrator added: “A day or two later Somerville wrote to The Times: ‘We have no excuse, we have been beaten in a fair fight.
“‘Beaten by the height of a mountain and by our own shortness of breath.’
“But Mallory was not persuaded, he was determined to make just one more final attempt.
“This time he would do it with oxygen, in fact, he reckoned the two previous attempts had been a waste of effort without it.”
However, the series went on to reveal how a letter sent from Irvine to his friends suggests the pair were not happy with their equipment.
The narrator continued: “The [oxygen] sets used in the Twenties were primitive, they were notoriously unreliable and each weighed 33 pounds, this is an enormous load at high altitude.
“But Irvine was an engineer and carried out extensive modifications, he reduced the weight by 5lbs and coaxed the best out of the equipment.
“Nevertheless, he was appalled and wrote home ‘the oxygen tank has already been boggled, they haven’t taken my design, what they have sent is hopeless, breaks if you touch it.’
‘It leaks and is ridiculously clumsy and heavy, out of the 19 cylinders, 15 were empty and 4 leaked badly by the time they got to Calcutta.’”
An oxygen tank used in 1924 (Image: GETTY)
The revelation suggests Mallory and Irvine may have died due to lack of oxygen during their ascent up the mountain.
It was not until nearly two decades later that Everest was finally conquered.
Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary made the first official ascent of Everest in 1953, using the southeast ridge route.
Norgay had reached 28,199ft the previous year as a member of the 1952 Swiss expedition.
The Chinese mountaineering team of Wang Fuzhou, Gonpo, and Qu Yinhua made the first reported ascent of the peak from the north ridge on May 25, 1960.