With The Third Pole, Mark Synnott explores the intriguing secret of Andrew Irvine’s Everest expedition art and culture news Firstpost
The book is good read for newcomers to the world of Everest and a refresher for those familiar with its past and present.
As part of research for his book The Third Pole: Mystery, Obsession and Death on Mount Everest, Mark Synnott attended Merton College in Oxford, England. When he left the library at dusk, his last stop was an obelisk in a corner of the campus. It was dedicated to Andrew Comyn Irvine, a promising rower during his student days. Today he is better known as Sandy Irvine, an enterprising climber and cult figure in the mountaineering world who rests somewhere on the slopes of Everest. And his final days were astonishing for Synnott, much like some others before him.
Since the first successful ascent in 1953, thousands of climbers have reached the summit on Everest. Some of these were unlikely climbs done on treacherous routes and in dire weather conditions, which the world took notice and set many records along the way. Most of the others were commercial climbs with seasoned height guides taking their paying clients to the top. But after all these years, the mountain’s most enduring legacy remains the attempt by Irvine and his climbing partner, George Mallory.
The duo were part of the third British expedition to Everest in 1924. The world was watching their progress carefully and expectations were high at home. Then, on June 8th, they disappeared forever on the mountain. The big question was: were Mallory and Irvine the first to come to the top nearly three decades before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953?
It’s been a fascinating topic of discussion among armchair enthusiasts for decades, and mountaineers have drawn enough investigators to make their way to the north side of Everest. It was no different with Synnott. During his climbing career, he’d stayed away from the popular mountains, which drew crowds every season, including sometimes unskilled climbers making news for the wrong reasons. The opportunity to examine and add to this everlasting legend of Everest was an enticing prospect. In 2019 he set out to find Irvine, the central narrative of his latest work, on the way to the mountain.
Over time, climbers on Everest have discovered a number of items related to the 1924 expedition. Some others set out specifically to find answers for this ascension. One such team discovered Mallory’s remains at around 8,100 meters in 1999. This led to media hype and bidding wars around the world, particularly for the pictures taken on the mountain. The next step was to locate Irvine. But he had evaded most of the search parties, along with a Vest Pocket Kodak camera they had brought to the summit. There were probably a few answers about her incredible rise.
A conversation with climber Thom Pollard gave Synnott reason enough to lift his inhibitions and set off for Everest. Pollard had been part of the team that Mallory had found. He was now telling Synnott that he might have the exact location of Irvine’s body. At that moment, although far away in the United States, the search was underway.
The GPS coordinates, a landmark that came to be known as the Holzel Point, came from an Everest explorer, Tom Holzel, who had studied the Ascent of 1924 for years. As part of his own research, Synnott visited the Royal Geographic Society, the Alpine Club, and Irvine’s alma mater to find possible clues before beginning his search. In addition, he put together a team of experienced climbers – leader Jamie McGuiness, Pollard and a crack team of Sherpas who would support them in the ascent. The camera team would be led by climber filmmaker Renan Ozturk, whose role was key in operating a crafted drone that could be flown at high altitude. The idea was to get it close enough to the search area and study the images it was returned with before starting operations on Everest’s sprawling terrain.
The team arrived at the base camp on the north side via Tibet in spring 2019 and set up camp together with hundreds of other summit aspirants. It was no different on the Nepalese side of the mountain. Somewhere in the back of their minds, the crew was battling conflicting thoughts, choosing between finding Irvine and climbing up like the others. Although most of them raised their hands when it came to reaching the summit, the decision in the early days was complex, given all the resources devoted to the expedition.
Through his interactions with fellow climbers at base camp, Synnott understood their aspirations and exactly what the lure of Everest was about. He learned what high altitude can mean for addicts and addicts, how new money has enabled average climbers to dream of being world class and the changing status of the high mountain Sherpa community.
They faced all the difficulties typical of an Everest climb, especially due to a number of newcomers to the team. Their first shock was when they were hit by strong winds on the mountain due to a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal. Much time was spent getting used to the altitude and testing the drone to finally capture the area around Holzel Point. They even faced a Sherpa mutiny when they mentioned the search for Irvine, which was only spread after they announced that the summit would be a priority.
After arriving at North Col a third time in late May, the team ignored an adverse weather forecast to get up the mountain and eventually to the summit of Everest.
While most climbers focus on a safe descent, it was time for Synnott to make a decision. He had to think about the prospect of straying to check out the Holzel place now. The idea didn’t go down well with a few others given the dangers involved. The tiredness of the strenuous ascent took its toll, the altitude made every effort exhausting. Even in the event of a slip, there was no protection. But the search had drawn Synnott to Everest in the first place, and there was no stopping him. He detached himself from the solid rope she had attached to the mountain and descended on the spot with his GPS device. Only when he had his answers did he make his way back to reunite with the team and continue the descent to base camp.
At the end of the season, Everest again had many victims to mourn on both sides of the mountain. Synnott relives the experience of some climbers to shed light on the dangers of mountaineering, which continues to grow high every year.
In addition to narrating his own account of on and off the mountain, Synnott draws on much earlier material written about Everest, the 1924 expedition, Irvine’s life and relationship with his teammates, and other searches like his has been . The book is good read for newcomers to the world of Everest and a refresher for those familiar with its past and present. And it adds another important chapter on the never-ending quest for Irvine.