Work on Everest isn’t done for Aspen native `Tap’ Richards
Aspen native Tapley “Tap” Richards and the rest of the Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition on the north side of Mt. Everest may have found the body of English climber George Mallory, but that doesn’t mean that their work on the mountain is close to being finished.On May 3, the expedition team found Mallory’s body, which had been missing for 75 years, at the 27,000-foot level on Everest’s north face. After conclusively identifying the body as that of the climber who disappeared on an expedition in 1924 by labels sewn into his clothes and letters from his family carried in his chest pockets, the team interred the remains and retreated to Base Camp on the Rongbuk Glacier on the side of Everest.Richards, who started climbing through the Aspen Outdoor Education Program, specializes in ice climbing and will help lead the team back to the search area in a few days. Ice climbing has become a very important aspect of the expedition, given the limited amount of snow this season on Everest.When they re-ascend the mountain, the team will be searching for the remains of Mallory’s climbing partner, Andrew Irvine, and cameras the two men may have been carrying.Irvine is believed to have disappeared in roughly the same vicinity as Mallory, according to the last known whereabouts of the two men and a 1975 report from a Chinese climber of a body described as “English dead.” In addition, an ice axe thought to have belonged to Irvine was recovered in the same area in 1933.It is hoped that discovering the cameras will help to shed light on a longstanding Everest mystery – whether the two men perished on their way up or after reaching the summit. If they reached the summit, they were the first ever to do so, predating the fabled 1953 expedition by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay by nearly 30 years.Expedition leader Eric Simonson believes the two may have reached the 29,028-foot summit due to the fact that Mallory was carrying his sunglasses in a chest pocket when he passed away, which could indicate that the light was fading when the accident occurred. The implication is that the two may have continued climbing throughout the day in a push for the summit and were descending as night fell.That theory, however, is tempered by the route chosen by Mallory and Irvine, which would have taken them up what is called the Second Step. It is an exceptionally difficult climb even for modern expeditions and may have been nearly impossible for Mallory and Irvine to accomplish, given the mountaineering equipment available in 1924.In an attempt to determine if the two men might have been able to complete the route with their limited gear, expedition member Conrad Anker, a world-renowned rock climber, will try to free-climb the Second Step.The Second Step has only been climbed without the benefit of a ladder once, by a Chinese expedition in 1960, and members of that expedition sacrificed hands and feet to frostbite to accomplish the feat.If Anker is successful in proving that Mallory and Irvine could have climbed the Second Step without modern equipment, it would lend weight to the argument that the two were the first to reach the top of the highest mountain on Earth. But without confirmation in the form of film from the elusive (and possibly nonexistent) cameras, solving mountaineering’s greatest mystery may be impossible.
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