This is the adventure story of the year -- how Conrad Anker found the body of George Mallory on Mount Everest, casting an entirely new light on the mystery of the explorer who may have conquered Everest seventy-five years ago.
On June 8, 1924, George Leigh Mallory and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine were last seen climbing toward the summit of Mount Everest. Clouds soon closed around them, and they vanished into history. Ever since, mountaineers have wondered whether they reached the summit twenty-nine years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.
On May 1, 1999, Conrad Anker, one of the world's strongest mountaineers, discovered Mallory's body lying facedown, frozen into the scree and naturally mummified at 27,000 feet on Everest's north face. The condition of the body, as well as the artifacts found with Mallory, including goggles, an altimeter, and a carefully wrapped bundle of personal letters, are important clues in determining his fate. Seventeen days later, Anker free-climbed the Second Step, a 90-foot sheer cliff that is the single hardest obstacle on the north ridge. The first expedition known to have conquered the Second Step, a Chinese team in 1975, had tied a ladder to the cliff, leaving unanswered the question of whether Mallory could have climbed it in 1924. Anker's climb was the first test since Mallory's of the cliff's true difficulty. In treacherous conditions, Anker led teammate Dave Hahn from the Second Step to the summit.
Reflecting on the climb, Anker explains why he thinks Mallory and Irvine failed to make the summit, but at the same time, he expresses his awe at Mallory's achievement with the primitive equipment of the time. Stunningly handsome and charismatic, Mallory charmed everyone who met him during his lifetime and continues to fascinate mountaineers today. He was an able writer, a favorite of the Bloomsbury circle, and a climber of legendary gracefulness. The Lost Explorer is the remarkable story of this extraordinarily talented man and of the equally talented modern climber who spearheaded a discovery that may ultimately help solve the mystery of Mallory's disappearance.
More than a few readers will think of John Krakauer's Into Thin Air as they delve into this bracing work. The connection isn't surprising, since Roberts has served as a mentor to Krakauer. Throughout his life, Roberts has been an avid climber as well as a vocal advocate for the sport, writing over 15 books, many of them on mountaineering. This volume finds him looking back at the entirety of his climbing experience. It opens with his recounting the horrific 1961 fall of his high school friend and climbing partner, Gabe Lee. In spite of this tragedy, Roberts continues to climb and slowly becomes what other climbers call a "hard man," an unsentimental mountaineer who can block out tragedy and focus on getting to the top. In appropriately rugged prose, Roberts details his increasingly dangerous ascents as he begins to pioneer new routes on various Alaskan peaks. In one of the best chapters, he tells the story of his team's 1965 climb of Mount Huntington, a "slender triangular pyramid" nine miles southeast of Mount McKinley in Alaska, and their "giddy celebration" upon reaching the top. The feeling doesn't last, though. As they descend, one of the team falls off a narrow precipice with just a "scraping sound, and a spark in the night." This balance of joy and terror is what makes Roberts's book such an exhilarating read and an intense appraisal of a life spent on the edge.