The rocks of the Mallory-Irvine Mount Everest Expedition, 1924

Group photograph of the members of the 1924 Everest Expedition

Group photograph of the members of the 1924 Everest Expedition. From L to R: Irvine, Mallory, Norton, Odell, Macdonald. Front row: Shebbeare, Bruce, Somervell, Beetham. ©John Noel Photograph collection.

The Natural History Museum was presented with these rocks in 1926 through Noel E. Odell, a geologist on the 1924 Everest Expedition - a venture made infamous by the deaths of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine. Although employed to maintain the notoriously unreliable oxygen breathing apparatus, and not for his geological expertise, Odell still found time to investigate the poorly known crystalline core of the Himalayan region and the samples he obtained on this quest constitute the 74 rocks of this collection [BM.1926,262(1-74)].

Specimens 12-60 are from the area immediately north of Everest, 65 was collected 'just in Nepal' high up the Rongshar valley, and 73 came from Sikkim State, India.

As the expedition approached Everest through southern Tibet it crossed over Cretaceous and strongly folded Jurassic sediments that had been mapped and studied on a previous expedition by Dr A. M. Heron in 1921. On ascending the Rongbuk Glacier towards the Base Camp the rocks take on a crystalline nature and Odell deduced the following succession for the rocks of the Everest region: Lower Calcareous Series, Gneissose Biotite Series, Upper Calcareous Series.

Fine biotite gneiss with intruded granite Bar

Fine biotite gneiss with intruded granite Bar = 10mm, BM1926,262(29).

The Gneissose Biotite Series is composed of dark, horizontally banded, non-porphyritic biotite gneiss alternating with lighter granitic looking leucocratic bands.

Calc quartz-schist

Calc quartz-schist. Bar = 10 mm. BM1926,262(45).

The overlying and darkly contrasting Upper Calcareous Series is composed predominantly of dark calc gneisses, light limestones and sandstones

These meta-sediments dip about 30° northwards and the coincidence with the roughly 30° dip slope of the north face of Everest makes the ascent via this route particularly trying. A specimen of dark calc-schist containing quartz and biotite (on display in the Museum's 'From the Beginning' ), was collected at 8,530 m (the summit is 8850 m) and constitutes the 'top mass of Everest'.

Garnetiferous aplite

Garnetiferous aplite, BM1926,262(9).

Finally, the entire succession was intruded by granite with corresponding garnetiferous aplites and pegmatites.

Garnetiferous aplite

Garnetiferous aplite, BM1926,262(9)

Also on this expedition Odell found a similar succession about 80 km to the east of the Everest region in the upper reaches of the Rongshar Valley

On the morning of 8 June 1924 Mallory and Irvine left their high camp for their bid for the summit. At 12.50 Odell reported seeing two figures high in the distance; this was the last time they were seen alive. The body of George Mallory was found on 1 May 1999 at 8170 m.

On the question of whether or not Everest was climbed on the 1924 expedition Odell states: 'It must be left unanswered, for there is no direct evidence. But ….considering their position when last seen, I think myself there is a strong possibility that Mallory and Irvine succeeded.'

For further information contact: David Smith

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