Item 15 - Letter from George to Ruth Mallory, 27 May 1924

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Letter from George to Ruth Mallory, 27 May 1924


  • 27 May 1924 (Creation)

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Letter from George to Ruth Mallory from Camp I, Everest

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My dearest Ruth,

This is going to be the scrappiest letter - a time limit for the mail has suddenly been put on and this morning when I might have been writing to you I was busy doing a communique at Norton’s request, I find it an impossible task to write that sort of thing up here. Anyway such as it is you will have read it, so that is some satisfaction.

Dear Girl, this has been a bad time altogether. I look back on tremendous efforts & exhaustion & dismal looking out of a tent door and onto a world of snow & vanishing hopes - & yet, & yet, & yet there have been a good many things to set on the other side. The party has played up wonderfully. The first visit to the North Col was a triumph for the old gang. Norton & I did the job & the cutting of course was all my part - so far as one can enjoy climbing above Camp II I enjoyed the conquest of the ice wall & crack the crux of the route, & making the steps too in the steep final 200 ft.

Odell did very useful work leading the way on from the camp to the Col; I was practically bust to the world & couldn’t have lead that half hour though I still had enough mind to direct him. We made a very bad business of the descent. It suddenly occurred to me that we ought to see what the old way down was like. Norton & I were ahead, unroped, & Odell behind in charge of a porter who had carried up a light load. We got onto ground where a practiced man can just get a long without crampons (which we hadn’t with us), chipping occasional steps in very hard snow or ice. I was all right ahead but Norton had a nasty slip & then the porter, whose knot didn’t hold so that he went down some way & was badly shaken. Meanwhile I, below, finding the best way down had walked into an obvious crevasse; by some miscalculation I had thought I had prodded the snow with which it was choked & where I hoped we could walk instead of cutting steps at the side of it - all the result of mere exhaustion no doubt - but the snow gave way & in I went with the snow tumbling all around me, down luckily only about 10 feet before I fetched up half-blind & breathless to find myself most precariously supported only by my ice axe somehow caught across the crevasse & still held in my right hand - & below was a very unpleasant black hole. I had some nasty moments before I got comfortably wedged & began to yell for help up through the round hole I had come through where the blue sky showed – this because I was afraid any operations to extricate myself would bring down a lot more snow & perhaps precipitate me into the bargain. However I soon grew tired of shouting – they hadn’t seen me from above - & bringing the snow down a little at a time I made a hole out towards the side (the crevasse ran down a slope) after some climbing, & so extricated myself - but was then on the wrong side of the crevasse, so that eventually I had to cut across a nasty slope of very hard ice & further down some mixed unpleasant snow before I was out of the wood. The others were down by a better line 10 minutes before me - that cutting against time at the end after such a day just about brought me to my limit.

So much for that day.

My one personal trouble has been a cough. It started a day or two before leaving the B.C. [Base Camp] but I thought nothing of it. In the high camp it has been the devil. Even after the day’s exercise I have described I couldn’t sleep but was distressed with bursts of coughing fit to tear one’s guts - & so headache & misery altogether; besides which of course it has a very bad effect on one’s going on the mountain. Somervell also has a cough which started a little later than mine & he has not been at his physical best.

The following day when the first loads were got to Camp IV in a snowstorm Somervell & Irvine must have made a very fine effort hauling load up the chimney. Hazard had bad luck to be left alone in charge of the porters at [Camp] IV only for one night according to our intentions, but the snow next day prevented Geoff [Bruce] & Odell from starting - & the following day he (i.e. H) elected to bring the party down quite rightly considering the weather; but can you imagine, he pointedly ordered one man, who had been appointed camp cook for the men, to stay up on the chance of his being useful to the party coming up - it is difficult to make out how exactly it happened, but evidently he didn’t shepherd his party property at all & in the end 4 stayed up one of these badly frostbitten. Had the snow been a bit worse that day we went up to bring them down things might have been very bad indeed. Poor old Norton was very hard hit altogether - hating the thought of such a bad muddle, & himself really not fit to start out next day - nor were any of us for that matter & it looked 10 to 1 against our getting up with all that snow about let alone get a party down. I led from the camp to a point some little distance above the flat glacier - the snow wasn’t so very bad as there had been no time for it to get sticky, still that part with some small delays took us 3 hours; then S. [Somervell] took us up to where Geoff [Bruce] & Odell had dumped their loads the day before & shortly afterwards Norton took on the lead; luckily we found the snow better as we proceeded, N [Norton] alone had crampons & was able to take us up to the big crevasse without step cutting.

Here we had half an hour’s halt and at 1.30 I went on again for the steep 200 ft or so to the point where the big crevasse joins the corridor. From here there were two doubtful stretches. N [Norton] led up the first while the two of us made good at the corner of the crevasse - he found the snow quite good. And S. [Somervell] led across the final slope (following Hazard’s just discernible tracks in the wrong place, but of some use now because the snow had bound better there). N. [Norton] & I had an anxious time belaying, & it began to be cold too as the sun had left us. S. [Somervell] made a very good show getting the men off - but I won’t repeat my report. Time was pretty short as it was 4.30 when they began to come back using S’s [Somervell’s] rope as a handrail. Naturally the chimney took some time. It was just dusk when we got back to camp.

N [Norton] has been quite right to bring us down for rest. It is no good sending men up the mountain unfit. The physique of the whole party has gone down sadly. The only chance now is to get fit & go for a simpler quicker plan. The only plum fit man is Geoffrey Bruce. N. [Norton] has made me responsible for choosing the parties of attack himself first choosing me into the first party if I like. But I’m quite doubtful if I shall be fit enough. Irvine will probably be one & 2 of N [Norton], S [Somervell], or self with Geoff the other 2 to make up 4 for the two parties of two each. But again I wonder whether the monsoon will give us a chance. I don’t want to get caught but our three day scheme from the Chang La will give the monsoon a good chance. We shall be going up again the day after tomorrow - Six days to the top from this camp!

Mails have come tumbling in these last days – three in rapid succession - yours dated from Westbrook with much about the car. I fear it has given you a lot of trouble; Clare’s poem with which I’m greatly delighted; a good letter from David [Pye] from P.Y.P. [Pen-y-Pass, Wales] - will you please thank him at once as I shall hardly manage to do so by this mail. Mother writes in great spirits from Aix. It’s a great joy to hear from you especially but also from anyone who will write a good letter.

The candle is burning out & I must stop.

Darling I wish you the best I can - that your anxiety will be at an end before you get this - with the best news. Which will also be the quickest. It is 50 to 1 against us but we’ll have a whack yet & do ourselves proud.

Great love to you. Ever your loving, George.

[written on margin of first page]
P.S. The parts where I boast of my part are put in to please you and not meant for other eyes. G.M.

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