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  Inside Out - North West: Monday June 2, 2003

MOUNTAINEERING'S BIGGEST MYSTERY - CHAT ONLINE

Graham Hoyland climbing a mountain
Graham Hoyland believes Everest was ascended in 1924

Everest chat Mountaineer Graham Hoyland answers YOUR questions about who really was the first to conquer Mount Everest - and his own Everest expeditions.

How come you found the body in 1999? If people are climbing Everest all the time, why wasn’t it found before then?
Dave, Leeds

We were looking for it. Most expeditions tread the same path and they are intent on either getting to the summit or returning safely from it, and most climbers wouldn't deviate from the route for more than 50 yards.

Mallory was off the route by 400 yards or more. We had a report from a Chinese climber that he had seen the body of an English climber in the 70s, but he himself was killed on the North Col the day after he had told his story, so we were going looking on very thin evidence. I now think the body he saw was that of Sandy Irvine, not Mallory.

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Did you know your uncle well, or has the fascination with climbing been passed down through your family?
Susan, Derbyshire

My father's family were all interested in climbing, but unfortunately my father's half brother John was killed on Mount Blanc at the age of 19. This made him reluctant to support my interest in Himalayan climbing.

It was the meeting with my great-uncle Somervell when I was 12 that really sparked my interest. Beware what you talk to children about when they're at an impressionable age!

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Peter Stevenson and Graham Hoyland in the Lake District
Graham practises in the Lake District

Mallory and Irvine didn’t make it back down - so even if you found the camera and photographic evidence that they did reach the top, would they really be the first to ‘climb Everest’? Don’t you have to make it down too?
Phillip, Cheshire

It's a good point. Some people say it only counts if you get down alive. But I always say they might have been the first to reach the summit.

If the Apollo 11 astronauts had been stuck on the surface of the moon I bet people would say they had achieved their aim even though they failed to return alive.

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Have Hillary and Tensing ever commented on Mallory and Irvine?
Mr Collinworth, Blackpool

Yes, it was always in their minds.

When he reached the summit Hillary looked for traces of Mallory- but the summit constantly changes as it is made of snow. And when he got down to the South Col he said, "Wouldn't Mallory have been pleased?"

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Will Mallory’s body be left to rest where it is? Would Irvine’s if his body is found too?
Mrs Graham, Lancashire

I desperately hope Mallory's body is left in peace- it was interfered with enough.

Personally I'm only interested in the camera so if Irvine is found I hope he is buried in rocks with a service read over him just as Mallory was.

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Did Somervell make it back down safely and did he think that they made it?
L. Wilson, Yorkshire

Antique camera
Somervell's camera like this could solve the mystery

Somervell did get down safely and had a great life as a medical missionary in Southern India.

I think all of the members of the 1924 expedition thought that Mallory and Irvine could have made it to the top because of their spirit and motivation.

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How does it feel when you get to the top of Mount Everest?
James, Cumbria

The night before, in the highest camp, it’s so windy you think you’ve woken up inside a spin drier.

Just pulling on your boots will have you gasping for breath because of the lack of oxygen, and breakfast is a muesli bar which you don’t really want.

You leave the tent at midnight if you want a good chance of getting back from the summit.

Climbing up the dark mountain in the solitary pool of light from your head-torch will make you very glad of the dawn, but it will be the best dawn you will ever see.

If you stand on the summit later in the day your brain will be addled from the lack of oxygen and you will be fraught with anxiety about getting back to the tent before nightfall. But you will have the best view in the world, and you will remember it for the rest of your life.

My oxygen set wasn't working properly and I remember that I had almost no emotions at all, only fear of not getting down alive- I think feelings are the first thing to go with the lack of oxygen.

I remember a very strong gale of wind and an incredible view- I could see the curvature of the earth's surface, and could see over a hundred miles away.

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How much and what type of training do you have to do before you climb Mount Everest?
Mr Compton, Leigh

You won't believe this but I never used to train at all, as a) I'm extremely lazy and b) I seemed to be naturally fit.

In later years I thought I ought to do training so I tried carrying a barrel of water up hills near my house. When I got to the top I would let the water out so that I didn't strain my knees on the way down. I got so many odd looks from other walkers that I only did it a couple of times.

There's some evidence that you can over-train. If you do too much running and get very thin you have no fat reserves for when you're not eating properly at high altitudes.

So my training used to involve eating double puddings and drinking Guinness.

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How many people go on one of your climbs? Do all the people in the team make it to the top?
J Henry, Newcastle

Mallory's watch
Mallory's watch was one of the items recovered from his body in 1999

Sometimes there's only four of you on an expedition, more usually it's about 10.

About two out of 10 seems a rough average of those attempting it succeeding.

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Is it easier to climb Everest now and do most people who attempt it succeed?
Jane, Leicester

It's really odd, this. In the twenties and thirties the best climbers in the world with huge resources failed again and again to climb the mountain.

But now relatively inexperienced climbers can reach the top on the same (North) route. Why? Maybe it's the psychological certainty that it's possible. But probably it's because of the pioneers' endless experience of proper hydration, proper food, the help from the Sherpas and working oxygen sets. "If we see further than others it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants."

But every generation seems to set a higher standard, which is why ‘real’ climbers aren't climbing Everest these days, they're doing really hard stuff on lower mountains.

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How long does it take to climb Everest?
Stephen, Liverpool


I've been on five working (filming usually) trips on Everest and they take an average of 10 weeks overall.

What you do is to build up to it by carrying food and gas up to each of four camps, each time going further and further up the mountain.

When you are acclimatised to the altitude, after about seven weeks, it's time to make a summit attempt.

You go from base camp up to the last camp (in about three days), then you leave your tent at midnight, try to get to the summit and return to the tents before nightfall- that's another day.

Then you have to get down again - maybe another four days as you are clearing up the tents behind you. So you could say the actual climb takes about eight days.

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How much does it cost to climb Everest?
D. Robinson, Manchester

If you go with a commercial expedition it can cost up to £30,000, plus air fares. And there's no guarantee that you'll climb it the first time.

I've known people who have tried and failed up to 8 times- that's a lot of money.

But if you just want to visit base camp it’s best to go before or after the monsoon, in April-May or October-November. You could try Exodus or Himalayan Kingdoms.

It could take as little as 14 days, and it would cost between £1,210 and £1,695 to visit the Nepali side.

In my opinion Nepali is more lush and beautiful and the people are delightful, but you can hardly see the mountain Tibet is harsh but the views of Everest unforgettable.

It’s £3,495 if you want to visit both the Nepali and Tibetan Base Camps, and that would take 16 days.

If you want to see the very rarely visited East face of Everest, there is a trip going out to Tibet on September 3 for 11 days for £3,195, but I have to declare an interest- I’m leading the trek!

Read Graham's full story

See also ...

Inside Out: North West
Read the full story

On bbc.co.uk
BBC: Everest online
BBC holiday: Nepal

On the rest of the web
National Geographical
The Mountain Institute

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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