In 2019, Mark Synott was part of a team that climbed Everest with the hope of recovering a Kodak Vest Pocket Camera carried by George Leigh Mallory and Andrew Sandy Irvine during their 1924 attempt to summit the world’s tallest peak.
Synott’s team did not recover the camera. Mallory’s body was recovered twenty years earlier though Irvine’s final resting place, and that of the camera, remained a mystery. Synott’s team hoped to find Irvine and the camera and invested huge amounts of time and energy, with Synott risking his live in a sketchy off-rope search of a strange shape mind rocks well above the death zone.
When he returned from the 2019 climb, Synott began writing The Third Pole: Mystery, Obsession, and Death on Mount Everest, his book about the attempt to discover whether or not Mallory and Irvine may have been successful in their climb. The camera, or, more precise, the Kodak film it contained, would almost certainly show the two men on the roof of the world had they made it, the motivation for finding the VPK.
During the writing, Synott began hearing whispers and rumors that the camera had in fact been recovered decades earlier, when Chinese climbers discovered Irvine’s body. The rumors suggested the camera was held by Chinese authorities and immediately covered up for one reason or another.
In a recent article on Salon, part of Synott’s book is excerpted, and it’s a fascinating bit of journalistic sleuthery.
Here’s a tiny piece:
“After the expedition, as I worked on my book I kept hearing rumors that explained why I didn’t find Sandy: The Chinese had found his body and the camera long ago — and then buried the story. An official with the Chinese Tibet Mountaineering Association told a Nepali friend of mine in the fall of 2019 that the rumors were true. The camera was kept under lock and key, with other Mallory and Irvine artefacts, in a museum in China. Unable to let go of this story, I made arrangements to fly to Lhasa to interview a high-ranking official in the CTMA. I had plane tickets and hotel reservations when the novel coronavirus began spreading in Wuhan, China. My trip was cancelled, and it was unclear when or if I would ever have a chance to conduct these interviews.”
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