“Because It’s There”: The Unending Allure Of High Mountains

A century after George Mallory’s disappearance on Everest, why do his words, “Because it’s there,” remain an indelible explanation for the human obsession with high places?

Henry Wismayer at Noema: This month marks 100 years since Mallory’s last dance with the sublime. Debate persists over whether a 1920s climber in hobnail boots, even a phenom like Mallory, could have made it past the Second Step, a technical and challenging 100-foot promontory, to reach the summit.

“It’s the ultimate exploration detective story,” said Mick Conefrey, whose new book “Fallen” (2024), is the latest to dissect the 1924 expedition and its aftermath. “Mallory was the most romantic figure in the early history of mountaineering. The fact that he climbed ‘unplugged,’ without any down clothing, satellite phone or Kevlar oxygen bottle, means that people really want to believe he could have done it.” Definitive proof may never arrive. Irvine may have been carrying a Kodak Vest Pocket camera, the film inside which, were it ever recovered, might solve the question. But his body remains missing, imprisoned somewhere in the Himalayan deep freeze.

Behind the mystery of the first ascent of Earth’s tallest peak lurks another conundrum, one to which Mallory’s own answer still echoes through the decades. Beyond vainglory, what was drawing these men toward the roof of the world? A year or so before his disappearance, while Mallory was on a fundraising lecture tour in America, a persistent New York Times pressman asked him a question he’d been subjected to many times before: Why climb Everest at all? An antic Mallory answered: “Because it’s there.”

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