George Mallory made a couple of attempts on Everest (1921, 1922) before that fateful day in 1924 when he disappeared along with Sandy Irvine. On display at the National Mountaineering Exhibition in Rheged until 2004, the ice axe Mallory used during the 1922 expedition is now up for auction at Christie's. Expected to fetch a price of between $11,000-$13,000, this amazing piece of mountaineering history will go to the highest bidder on April 10th.
The 1922 Everest Exhibition was the first serious attempt by the British to climb the mountain. On May 21st, Mallory, Norton, and Somervell reached a height of 26,800ft (8,170m) without supplemental oxygen. Descending from this point to Camp V, the team picked up a badly frostbitten Morshead and set out for Camp IV at the North Col.
All tied into a single rope, Morshead slipped on the descent and pulled Norton and Somervell with him. In the lead and warned by the unusual sounds behind him, Mallory plunged the pick of his ice axe into the snow and wrapped the rope around it. Pressing firmly into the shaft with one hand and holding the rope with the other, he was able to arrest the fall of the rest of the team and save them from plunging 3,000ft down the side of Everest.
The ice axe is a classic example of those used in the day, with a long wood shaft (35 1/4 inches or 89.5cm) and iron pick stamped with the maker's name: "I HORESCHOWSKI/ WIEN". After Mallory's disappearance in 1924, it is believed that his wife Ruth donated a bunch of his equipment to the Pinnacle Climbing Club – the first women's climbing club.
Nancy Carpenter was an early member of the club and put up several new routes in the Alps and Scottish Highlands. She somehow came into possession of the ice axe. In her eighties, she befriended William Threlkeld, a young neighbor and aspiring mountaineer. When it came time for him to buy an ice axe, she gave him Mallory's instead. When William died in a car accident in 1985, the Threlkeld family donated Mallory's ice axe to the National Mountaineering Exhibition.
Since 2004, the axe has been on show at the Mountain Heritage Trust in Cumbria, but is for some reason now up for auction. British mountaineer Kenton Cool is making a plea for Mallory's ice axe to remain in the UK. I am curious to watch how high a price someone will pay for this important piece of climbing history- hopefully it goes to some museum for everyone to enjoy.