Until two years ago, Everest had never been on his to-do list. Despite climbing mountains since he was 15, Synnott, 51, had been put off Everest by stories of overcrowding and the ethics of outsourcing key risks to support teams of local Sherpas.
“As a young person, I read every book I could get my hands on about exploration,” he says from his studies in New Hampshire, USA. “But I carefully avoided the classic Everest books.” As an adult, he was stubbornly uninterested.
That all changed on an October evening in 2017 when he attended a lecture given by his friend Thom Pollard, an Everest expert who lived near him in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Pollard had been a cameraman on an official expedition in 1999 focused on finding the Vest Pocket Kodak camera that Mallory, 37, and Irvine, 22, were wearing when they disappeared.
To date, it is not known whether Mallory and Irvine reached the 29,035 foot summit. If they did, these intrepid young British men would have been the first to do so, beating New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa climber Tenzing Norgay, who scaled it in 1953, by 29 years.
If the camera was found and the film developed showing Mallory or Irvine on the summit, it would rewrite the history of the world’s tallest mountain.
What really happened to Mallory and Irvine?
When the two men were last seen by their teammate Noel Odell, they struck confidently 800 feet below the summit. Irvine, the couple’s better photographer, is said to have carried the camera. Then swirling clouds enveloped them. When it became clear, they were gone without a trace.
Mallory’s body, alabaster white and still partially clothed, was found by Pollard’s team in 1999. She was almost directly in a fall line from which an Irvine ice ax had been found at 27,760 feet on a slab of rock in 1933. Over the years, exhaustive attempts to find Irvine’s body – and the camera – had failed.