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Thread: And another little bit of Everest ephemera...

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    And another little bit of Everest ephemera...

    Disaster is usually a chain of events. As part of my ongoing Everest obsession, I've slowly been putting together a list of the stuff that was carried and wasn't carried to the top of Everest by Mallory and Irvine. One astonishing missing item was a compass. No compass was found on Mallory's body and, as it happens, there's a good reason for this. In Mallory's own words, in fact, his penultimate words:

    Dear Odell,---
    We're awfully sorry to have left things in such a mess – our Unna Cooker rolled down the slope at the last moment. Be sure of getting back to IV to-morrow in time to evacuate before dark, as I hope to. In the tent I must have left a compass – for the Lord's sake rescue it: we are without. To here on 90 atmospheres for two days – so we'll probably go on two cylinders – but it's a bloody load for climbing. Perfect weather for the job!
    Yours ever,
    G Mallory
    As Noel Odell, the last man to see Mallory alive, stated in his report on the expedition for The Geographical Journal of December 1924:

    I remembered also that Mallory had told me in his note that he had left his compass at Camp V and asked me to retrieve it.
    Later, he noted that he 'took to the hard snow near Camp V' and glissaded down to The North Col, the pre arranged meeting place after the attempt. That he took a route from camp VI to The North Col via Camp V suggests he collected the compass as requested. Had the attempt been successful they would have abandoned camps V and VI and lost the compass.

    As Mallory and Irvine had set off from camp VI, sending a note down with the porters who had supported them, in which Mallory asked Odell to rescue his compass, there's really only one conclusion: Mallory had forgotten his compass when leaving camp V.

    It almost goes without saying that a compass was, and still is, a mission critical tool, should the weather deteriorate. You would think that any sane person would decide to abort the attempt without a means of navigation at night or in poor conditions. However, there were three very good reasons not to do that.

    First, they knew that it was a race against the Monsoon they couldn't afford the extra day rescuing the compass.

    Second, such a round trip would have left them short of oxygen cylinders for the final climb.

    Third, until the research done in the '52 expedition, no one realised how much water was needed at altitude and so they were progressively dehydrating - much of what was considered altitude sickness at the time was dehydration and a loss of salts. Quite by accident, the '24 team were doing better than any other as their brew of choice wasn't the traditional sugary tea but salty Maggi dehydrated soup. As such, they were in better condition than previous expeditions, but still, when away from base camp and drinking to plan, they were drinking between a third and a half of what they turned out to need.

    Finally, as summed up by his last known words and the end of his last note, to John Noel who was filming from the North Col:

    Dear Noel,

    We'll probably start early to-morrow (8th) to have clear weather. It won't be too early to start looking out for us either crossing the rockband under the pyramid or going up skyline at 8.0 p.m.

    Yours ever
    G Mallory
    Mallory was expecting to be climbing in perfect conditions. As such, he made a fatal decision and pushed on without a compass. For a long time I assumed that either the weather or an accident had done for him, However, from youthful experience in North Wales I know that a climber on a mountain in poor conditions without a compass is in serious trouble. So now there are three possible causes of disaster, pick any one or two or three!

    As I explained previously, from around three hours after he was last seen, the air pressure dropped dramatically and the freezing, windy, blizzard conditions were so poor as to be disorientating to anyone without a compass. Mallory had made it quite clear that he intended to start his attempt on the summit before dawn. However, without a compass he'd have been unable to leave before first light, slowing him down. Clearly he was, in fact, forced to wait for first light, as he left his torch in camp VI. Mallory wouldn't have needed the compass again until the weather unexpectedly deteriorated. Sadly, by the time Mallory and Irvine really needed it, their compass was in Noel Odell's pocket.

    At this point, I knew a few facts about the missing compass. John Noel (as opposed to Noel Odell) was an expert on navigation and compasses and in charge of the two compasses bought for the expedition by the RGS. However I know that these were not used by Mallory who had his own, a Verners Pattern VII or possibly VIII bought from a military outfitters in Godalming, Surrey, before he left for WWI, thus in either 1914 or 1915 and used in at least one other of his previous expeditions. The other thing I know is that the RGS hold no record of the compass. They have Noel Odell's and Mallory's watch but that's about it.

    Until about a week ago, that was pretty well where things ended. However, I had discussed my research at length with one of the archivists at work months ago and last week they sent me a link to this:

    Which fits in with what I already know like a jigsaw. There's a few glaring inaccuracies, but only one that matters: they conclude that there is evidence that Odell left the compass in the tent at camp VI. The evidence for it appears strong as Odell states that:
    Closing up the tent and leaving it with the last few relics of our lost companions, I made my way down the North Ridge.
    However, the incredible fact is that this was his second visit to camp VI since Mallory's attempt began. After Odell had glissaded down to the North Col (as described above) the day before, he climbed up again with support from two porters and searched both camp V and well beyond camp VI (where he'd stayed the night) before returning to camp V and giving up. This was a Herculean effort and so it is unsurprising the writer of the Winchester magazine was caught out. In reality, he'd have rescued the compass the day before under direct instruction and very different circumstances. As such, while they are uncertain that they have the right compass, I'm far less so. It's the right compass in the right place and fits everything I know about the attempt and its aftermath.

    So obviously, the next job was to buy one and here it is

    Quite apart from the fact that its cheap, it's also a Mark VII and marked 1914, all of which makes it rather attractive. I'll add a bit more when it arrives.
    Last edited by Matt; Jun 27, 2019 at 08:08 PM.

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