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Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition Book Ghosts of Everest
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Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition Book Detectives on Everest
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Jochen Hemmleb: The Last Witness: Noel Odell


Noel Ewart Odell (1890-1987)
© John Noel Photographic Collection, from "Ghosts of Everest"

An estimation of Mallory and Irvine's chances to have reached the summit largely dependes on which of the rocksteps of the Northeast Ridge they were last seen: on the Second Step, a 100 feet-high, partly vertical rise at 28,250 ft. - the crux of the route - or the lower, easier First Step at 28,110 ft. After his last sighting of Mallory and Irvine on June 8, Odell first recorded his observation in a brief diary entry (sometime between June 8 and 14, 1924):

"At 12.50 saw M & I on ridge nearing base of final pyramide."

A first report by Odell appeared on June 14 in the "Everest Dispatches" by expedition leader, Edward Norton ("Mr. Odell's Story", Alpine Journal, vol. 36, 229, November 1924, p. 221-225):

"The entire summit ridge and final peak of Everest were unveiled. My eyes became fixed on one tiny black spot silhouetted on a small snow-crest beneath a rock-step in the ridge; the black spot moved. Another black spot became apparent and moved up the snow to join the other on the crest. The first then approached the great rock-step and shortly emerged at the top; the second did likewise. [...] The place on the ridge referred to is the prominent rock-step at a very short distance from the base of the final pyramid." (emphasis added)

Later in the same issue of the Alpine Journal appeared a reworked version of Odell's account (Odell, N.E. "The Last Climb", S. 265-272):

"I saw the whole summit ridge and final peak of Everest unveiled. I noticed far away on a snow slope leading up to the last step but one from the base of the final pyramid a tiny object moving and approaching the rock step. A second object followed, and then the first climbed to the top of the step. As I stood intently watching this dramatic appearance, the scene became enveloped in cloud, and I could not actually be certain that I saw the second figure join the first. [...] [T]he point at which they were last seen - namely, an altitude which Hazard later determined by theodolite to be about 28,230 ft. [8604 m]." (emphasis added)

The altitude Odell cites was, at the time, the accepted figure for the top of the Second Step.

The final and official version of Odell's account eventually appeared in the expedition book, The Fight for Everest: 1924 (p. 130), published in June 1925:

"I saw the whole summit ridge and final peak of Everest unveiled. I noticed far away on a snow slope leading up to what seemed to me to be the last step but one from the base of the final pyramid, a tiny object moving and approaching the rock step. A second object followed, and then the first climbed to the top of the step. As I stood intently watching this dramatic appearance, the scene became enveloped in cloud once more, and I could not actually be certain that I saw the second figure join the first." (emphasis added)

It is only at this point Odell brings up the First Step as possible spot for his last sighting of Mallory and Irvine:

"Owing to the small portion of the summit ridge uncovered I could not be precisely certain at which of these two ‚steps' they were, as in profile and from below they are very similar, but at the time I took it for the upper ‚second step'. However I am a little doubtful now whether the latter would not be hidden by the projecting nearer ground from my position below on the face."

  
The First, Second, and Third Step as seen from Odell's perspective
© Archive J. Hemmleb, Idstein/Germany



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