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"Because it's there"

The above is a famous answer from George Mallory, answering the never-ending why?-questions, regarding his mountaineering aspirations.

Born 1886, died 1924. Mallory was a pioneer in Mount Everest exploration, leading three British expeditions on the mountain. He was one of the greatest climbers at the time. For political reasons the expeditions used the West Ridge, and it was high up on this route - 8200 meters - that Mallory died from a fall. It is not known whether he and climbing partner Andrew Irvine actually sumitted, but probably not. His body was found in 1999 and was very well preserved on the cold mountain.

There is a memorial window to him in Mobberley in Cheshire. It says:
In his life he sought after whatsoever things are pure, high and eternal. At last in the flower of his perfect manhood he was lost to human sight between Earth and Heaven on the topmost peak of Mount Everest.

When his body was found, at long last, one point that was noted was that the Union Jack could not be found. We don't know whether he made it to the top, but we know why he had taken a Union Jack with him.

George Mallory died in 1924, when trying to culminate the highest peak in the world. Years later, two Sherpa men from Gosaindan carried some personal objects of his to the valley, and they were buried at the foot of Mount Everest. He had kept his dream.

Perhaps Mallory was right, after all, to hold to his belief that the inhabitants of the valley had reached some strange state of immortality which gave them power when the hour of need arrived, so that, like the prophets of old, they vanished into heavens. The ancient Greeks believed this of their gods, the Jews believed it of Elijah, the Christians of their founder. Throughout the long history of religious superstition and credulity runs this ever-recurrent conviction that some persons attain such holiness and power that death can be overcome. This faith is strong in eastern countries, and in Africa; it is only to our sophisticated western eyes that disappearance of things tangible, of persons of flesh and blood, seems impossible.

Religious teachers disagree when they try to show the difference between good and evil: what is a miracle to one becomes black magic to another. The good prophets have been stoned, but so have the witch-doctors. Blasphemy in one age becomes holy utterance in the next, and this day's heresy is tomorrow's credo.

In the mountains we come closest to whatever being it is that rules our destiny. The great utterances of old were given from the mountain tops: it was always to the hills that the prophets climbed. The saints, the messiahs, were gathered to their fathers in the clouds. It is credible that the hand of magic reached down that night to Mount Everest and plucked those souls to safety.

Mallory saw the full moon shining upon that mountain. He also, at midday, saw the sun. What he saw and heard and felt was not of this world. He thought of the rock-face, with the moon upon it; he heard the chanting from the forbidden walls; he saw the crevasse, cupped like a chalice between the peaks of the mountain; he heard the laughter; he saw the bare bronzed arms outstretched to the sun...Perhaps. Perhaps we have felt this. If so, we are capable of believing in immortality.

When the magic of the mountains loses its grip over old memories, as it does over old limbs, we can imagine that the eyes he looked into the last day on Mount Everest were the eyes of a living, breathing person, and the hands he touched were flesh.

Even the spoken words belonged to a human being. "Please do not concern yourself with us. We know what we must do." And then that final, tragic word, "Let him keep his dream."

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