China Accused of Covering Up Photo Evidence of the First Everest Ascent

A book has suggested that a lost Vest Pocket Camera which may contain photos of climbers atop Mount Everest, 30 years before the first official ascent, may have been discovered by Chinese authorities and hidden away.

On June 8, 1924, British mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine embarked on an expedition to become the first to summit Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. They were never heard from again, and a 1999 expedition discovered Mallory’s body just 2,000 feet from the summit.

George Mallory and Andrew Irvine
George Mallory and Andrew Irvine

However, Irvine’s body and the Vest Pocket Kodak (VPK) they were carrying were never discovered. The record of the first people to officially summit Everest in 1953 belongs to Sir Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, 29 years after Mallory and Irvine’s attempt.

If Mallory and Irvine had reached the summit before they died on the mountain, not only would they be the first to summit, but they would also have done so via the deadly North Face, nearly 40 years before Chinese climbers did it. accomplish. in 1960.

A book makes a shocking claim

According to a report by Salon. Synnott solo climbed to the GPS coordinates but found nothing there despite using advanced drones to aid in his search.

Synnott’s new book, The Third Pole: Mystery, Obsession, and Death on Mount Everest, describes the rumors he started hearing after trying to retrieve the missing VPK.

“I heard rumors that explained why I hadn’t found Irvine: the Chinese had found his body and the camera a long time ago – then buried the story,” he wrote.

“An official from the Chinese Tibet Mountaineering Association told a friend of mine in Nepal in the fall of 2019 that the rumors were true. The camera was kept locked up, along with other Mallory and Irvine artifacts, in a museum in China.

Kodak vest pocket
Kodak vest pocket, model B | Collecting Camaras, Creative Commons

Synnott alleges that the Chinese wanted to keep the success of Mallory and Irvine’s ascent a secret so that the Chinese team could take credit for the successful first ascent.

“We now have multiple sources all saying essentially the same thing: the Chinese found Irvine, removed the body, and jealously guard this information from the rest of the world – all to protect the claim that the 1960 Chinese team has was the first to reach the top,” he wrote.

Malloy and Irvine were last seen by climbing teammate Noel Odel just 800ft from the summit of Everest. This was the last sighting of them and what happened next remains unclear.

The book arouses new interest

Synnott’s book was published in April 2021 and a month later the New Hampshire-based writer received an intriguing email from a man named Wayne Wilcox, a former US Navy officer married to a British diplomat.

Wilcox told Synnott that a senior British Embassy official had been informed that “the Chinese found the remains of a foreign mountaineer at 8,200 meters during their 1975 expedition to the north face of Mount Everest” and also picked up the Kodak VPK and brought it back with them to Beijing.

“They messed up the development of the movie and ruined it,” Wilcox says. “Rather than admitting they made a mistake, they erased all evidence that they found the camera or the body.”

After months of perseverance, Synnott was finally able to speak to the British diplomat on condition of anonymity. The anonymous diplomat says Tibetan mountaineer Pan Duo, who was the first woman to summit Mount Everest via her North Face route, told her in 1984 that the 1975 Chinese expedition had found Irvine’s body and VPK. The Chinese team took the corpse home and attempted to develop the film but could not recover any footage.

Duo of saucepans
Duo of saucepans

Pan Duo was interviewed by The Economist in 2008 where she was much more evasive when asked about the camera in particular. What exactly happened to the camera remains a mystery, whether it contains images of Irvine and Mallory with their hands raised on top of the world remains mountaineering’s most tantalizing enigma.

Kodak argues that Mount Everest’s thin air and low temperatures may have helped preserve the film.


Picture credits: Image of Mount Everest in header photo licensed via Depositphotos.

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