100 years after disappearing on Everest, climber's letters home tell poignant, personal story

Digitalized letters from Mount Everest mountaineer George Mallory revealed a conversation with his wife Ruth as he tried to become the first to climb one of the tallest mountains in the world in 1924.

Mallory, an English mountaineer, was on his third attempt to climb Mount Everest in 1924 when his odds of reaching the peak became slim.

Archived online by Magdalene College, the 842 handwritten letters take the readers on a journey with Mallory and shows the challenges the climber faced as he was battered by high winds and cold weather during his ascent.

In a final letter to his wife dated May 27,1924, Mallory gets candid about his time on the mountain:

"Dear girl, this has been a bad time altogether," Mallory wrote. "I look back at the tremendous effort and exhaustion and dismal looking out of a tent, door onto a world of snow and vanishing hopes — and get, and get, and get there have been a good many things to set on the other side."

Mallory's Everest attempts began in 1921

In September 1921, Mallory took his first trip to Mount Everest. With his friend from school, Guy Bullock, Mallory set out to climb the mountain, but high winds stopped their journey at a valley called North Col, Britannica said. In the 1924 letter, Mallory expressed excitement after passing through the same area that gave him trouble in the past.

"The first visit to the North Col was a triumph for the old gang," Mallory wrote. "I enjoyed the conquest of the ice wall and crack the crux of the route, and making the steps too in the steep final 200 ft. Odell did very useful work leading the way from the camp to the Col."

After writing five pages on his climb, Mallory suddenly stopped writing.

"The candle is burning out and I must stop," Mallory wrote to his wife.

Mallory ended the letter detailing his third attempt at Everest with an effort to ease his wife's worries and to bolster her hopes that he would make it to the summit.

"Darling I wish you the best I can — that your anxiety will be at an end before you get this — with the best news which will also be the quickest," Mallory wrote. "It is 50 to 1 against us."

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Who is George Mallory?

Born on June 18, 1886, George Mallory exhibited an interest in mountain climbing from a young age. While completing his studies at Winchester College, Mallory was recruited by one of his teachers to climb the Alps, the highest and most extensive mountain range in Europe. Other climbers said that Mallory's ability to tackle difficult routes and use his "catlike" climbing skills were unmatched, Britannica said.

Putting his mountain adventures on the back burner, Mallory was deployed to France to serve in World War I. After the war, Mallory turned to teaching, but climbing never left his mind. Mallory joined the Alpine Club and became one of the lead climbers as the group prepared for their first trip to Mount Everest in 1921, the encyclopedia said.

The date when Mallory began his third and final attempt to scale Everest is unclear, but he signed a "Mount Everest Expedition Agreement" on Feb. 13, 1924.

The final letter to his wife was dated a little more than three months later, on May 27, 1924.

It would be another 75 years before Mallory's body was discovered on Mount Everest, on May 4, 1999, the BBC News reported.

Mallory's body was identified by his name tag that was still on him. Mallory's climbing partner and friend, Andrew Irvine, has not been found, the report said.

Magdalene College shares George Mallory's letters in a public archive

Magdalene College archivist said the letters paint a picture of the Mallory's journey on Mount Everest.

"It has been a real pleasure to work with these letters," Magdalene College archivist Katy Green said in a statement about the letters. "Whether it’s George’s wife Ruth writing about how she was posting him plum cakes and a grapefruit to the trenches (he said the grapefruit wasn’t ripe enough) or whether it’s his poignant last letter where he says the chances of scaling Everest are '50 to1 against us' they offer a fascinating insight into the life of this famous Magdalene alumnus."

Ahjané Forbes is a reporter on the National Trending Team at USA TODAY. Ahjané covers breaking news, car recalls, crime, health, lottery and public policy stories. Email her at aforbes@gannett.com. Follow her on InstagramThreads and X (Twitter) @forbesfineest.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: George Mallory's letters from Mount Everest tell lost climber's story