Following is a conversation with professional climber, author and historian Mark Synnott, whose book THE THIRD POLE: MYSTERY OBSESSION AND DEATH ON MOUNT EVEREST has just been released in paperback edition.
The greatest mystery in all of mountaineering and possibly the most debated and discussed in current times just got thicker.
Mark Synnott's website and portal to purchase The Third Pole: Mystery, Obsession, and Death on Mount Everest:
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The following is a conversation with professional climber, author and historian Mark Synnott, whose book the third pole mystery, obsession and death on Mount Everest has just been released in paperback edition. This is the happiness quotient, as if the plot could actually thick in more. The greatest mystery in all of mountaineering, and possibly the most debated and discussed in current times just got thicker. The mystery centers around the fate of George Mallory and Sandy Ervin, who disappeared high upon Mount Everest on June 8 1924. They were last seen at over 28,000 feet, cresting the Great Northeast ridge going toward the top. For 75 years their fate remained completely unknown until in 1999. During the search of the vast North Face. Conrad Anker came across the body of George Mallory at 26,700 feet. I was high altitude cameraman on that expedition. On a second and successive search of the site where Mallory's body lay my climbing partner Andy pullets. And I brought a metal detector to more thoroughly searched the site, primarily to look for the Kodak vest pocket camera that we know Mallory or erven was carrying. We did not find the camera, nor did we solve the mystery of whether Mallory and Ervin made it to the summit. In fact, the discovery itself merely served to rich in the mystery. Since then, hundreds if not, 1000s of sleuths have poured themselves into trying to solve the mystery surrounding the fate of Mallory and Irvin Mark and I returned in 2019 to search for Sandy Ervin on a very hot tip by historian Tom holds Zell with a team of filmmakers and guide Jamie McGinnis, who has extensive knowledge about the Mallory and Irvin mystery, having searched in that area where they are thought to have disappeared many times and he has also spoken to individuals who have claimed to have come into contact with one or the other body. Our ultimate goal in 2019 was to find the camera of course, in hopes to develop the film that might or might not have photographic proof of their having or not having summited. Well the plot thickens, as it turns out, the body of Sandi Ervin and the camera were, in fact discovered by the Chinese as it turns out decades ago, and all but proof of that found its way to mark Senate after the publication of his book, and he is only just releasing that information now. Upon the publication of the paperback edition of his book, the third pole, mystery, obsession and death on Mount Everest. Mark's findings are in the paperback edition in an addendum and they also appear in an article in salon this month called the Mount Everest mystery deepens was there an international cover up of a dead climbers ascent? The link to that article and to mark Senate's webpage where you can buy the book will be in the liner notes of this episode. Before we speak with Mark, please subscribe, wherever you may be listening. Also, it is hugely helpful to the show itself. If you comment, like and share this episode with those you care about. Here's my conversation with Mark Synnott from his home in New Hampshire on 18. April 2022. You released an article in in salon online recently that was sort of revelation if you will that shed new light on the Mallory and Irvin mystery What the heck happened it sounds like this is information that everybody in the world who has ever given even half of a care about Mallory nerve and is right on top of this. This is like big stuff soMark Synnott:
I I thought it was but it it didn't like you know, go viral the way that I thought it would a lot of people are like, whatever. So what happened? Three, four years of my life, you know, invested in this story like yeah, kind of a big deal. sort of quick synopsis of the story. Well, we went to Everest you and I in 2019 to try to solve the mystery of who really was the first to stand on the summit of Mount Everest. And as far as everyone knows, that was Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary in 1953. But, you know, students of Everest history, I know that there's a chance that George Mallory and Sandy urban summited in 1924. Because they were last seen at 28,200 feet still going strong for the summit. And that's only 800 feet below the top and no one knows the story better than than you. I mean, I was talking about how I've got four years into it, you've got decades of your life. Yes. And white obsession? Yeah, kind of, on the one hand, it's silly, like, Oh, who cares? But we care, you know, and the reason why we care is because it's history. It's, it's about the spirit of adventure. It's it's about mountaineering, it's about chomo. Loma, it's, it's about a sacred mountain, and it just kind of gives us an excuse to have our lives revolve around this cool thing. And we, we all, like, it's pretty easy to be nihilistic in this in this world. And, and deep down I am, and I figured that out when I was really young. And I realized, okay, like, in order for me not to completely lose the plot, I need to create my own meaning in life, I need to, like, attach a point importance to things and care about them deeply. And that's what's gonna give me the orientation and, and direction and purpose that I need in life. Because if I just sit there and existentially try to figure it out, like there's nothing actually there, and this isn't working. And I tried to do that. So I, so for me, it's it's mountains and adventure. And so I mean, I'm kind of going off on a tangent here, but a good tangent, why? This is why people like you and I, we, we care about this, we care about this story so much. And so in 2019, we, we we use this question to launch this whole expedition, to go with this new research to try to find the remains of Sandy Ervin and the camera. And that involved me going out to these GPS coordinates in the yellow band. And I think I left the fix ropes at like 27,700 feet and did kind of like this adventurous little mission out to what we call the wholesale spot, which was all based on research by our our friend Everest historian, Tom Possehl. And it was you and I, in radon, we all decided that the the Intel was pretty solid enough so that we were willing to risk our lives to see if we could figure this out to see if Sandy was there. And I got to those GPS coordinates. And that's one of the most wild things I've ever done. And he wasn't there. And you know, we had heard a few rumors going into it that hey, Chinese already found Sandy. And they found the camera and it was just really like, at first we did hear that officially we heard that before the trip, but it was just very much rumor and innuendo. There was nothing backing it up. So we were like, okay, yeah, no, that's not really a thing. Then, you know, so we came home, and I spent a year or more writing this book. And it just and I was going in deep and doing so many interviews and background and research and reading. And it like it kept popping up. And I don't want to exaggerate. But I think I could say you know, just offhand maybe like six different separate sources, who weren't getting it from each other who are all saying the same thing. Oh, the Chinese already found the body. And so in in the book, I wrote it up. Hey, here's, here's what I'm hearing here. Here's what might have happened. The Chinese might have found found the body. So, but it was just pure rumor and I had no I had no proof. But after the expedition, someone who wants to remain anonymous, this is actually another anonymous person. There's a lot of people who don't want to get on the wrong side of the Chinese and the Chinese government But this person who had contacts with the Chinese Tibet Mountaineering Association, told our guide, Jamie McGinnis, and this is in my book. Yeah, it's not rumor. This actually really did happen. I heard about this after the expedition after I was working on the book. And so I said, Well, I'm going to go to the ctma. And I'm going to interview them. And I'm going to ask them point blank. And, and I communicated with the ctma. And I told them, hey, I want to ask you some stuff about Alan and Ervin. And I was communicating with the I think the director and through an intermediary, and they said, okay, yes, sure, you should come. And I had plane tickets. I had a whole plan. I had reservations to go and see pandas in Sichuan Province. That's how I was gonna go in I was gonna go through Chengdu and then take the train to Lhasa. And then I started hearing about this novel Coronavirus. I mean, this is in February of 2020. Yeah. And you know, what happened? China shut down. I haven't been able to make it incense. It's been closed ever since. So two years later, two plus years later, it's still closed Americans, no one is going to China.Thom Pollard:
And no one's on Everest other than nationals there.Mark Synnott:
So the book comes out. And this guy contacts me and he, and he says, Oh, hey, I have information about the camera. And I've been sitting on it all these years, because I wanted to write about it. I was gonna write my own book about it. But I never got around to it. And I'm not actually a writer. And I think you're the guy. And I think you should do it. And you should tell the story. And the story is that the Chinese did find the camera in 1975. On the second expedition to the North Face of China. And the reason we know this is because in a meeting at the China Mountaineering Association in Beijing, in 1984. There was a diplomat from the British Embassy at that meeting. And a woman named Pan Pan Tao, who was the first Chinese woman to climb Everest and the second woman to climb Everest summiting 11 days after Junko to buy Japan, in 1975. She told this guy point blank, we found a body at 8200 meters. And it had a camera. And we brought that camera home. And they tried to develop the film and it didn't turn out. Diplomat wrote a memo. He's a diplomat, so trained in the British Foreign Service. You write a memo, I do this now I write memos. And like, official, so like, somebody can look at it later and be like, Oh, okay, that actually really happened. That's the story. I wrote it up as a postscript from my book, and then I excerpted that in salon. Honestly, I thought that someone else, you know, there's sort of obvious other publications that could have ran with this story. And nobody wanted to do it. And then salon did and so I'm really thankful to them. And I, you know, put it out there when you and I think it's a big deal. I mean, I shouldn't be downplaying it, but people are breaking down my door. No one. No one's called me for an interview. You're the first one.Thom Pollard:
So, so this is this is essentially what that means. First of all, that's amazing. And we had heard rumors, we even tried to call somebody from the car Jamie got somebody on the phone about another body, not Mallory's body. And that gentleman hung up on us if you recall, we weren't recording. Of course, no memo was written either after that. But if they find a body in 1975 at 8200 meters, that's about our that's probably 1000 1200 feet higher than where Mallory's body was found in 1999. So that would leave us to speculate or know for certain that that was Sandy Urban's body. Right because Mallory's body the way it was in 1999 was so frozen in in the position that he obviously died in. I can't see them discarding the body and throwing it down and having it land. So seemingly Did you knowMark Synnott:
there were there were three people who had died on Everest, as of 75. Yeah, well, actually four because there was a member of the Chinese expedition who doesn't, who disappeared. I believe there's other people who know this better way better than me like Jose well, and mostly Jakob homelab. But there was Maurice Wilson was the British mystic. And he never made it to the North Pole. So he so we know that he wasn't up in, you know, the death zone.Thom Pollard:
We found one of his bones, by the way, in 1999, in advanced base camp, and somebody just threw it back into the glacier, it was death and found parts of his tent. That's basically kindMark Synnott:
of where he was. So couldn't be him. Yeah. And then, and then there was a Chinese climber who died during that expedition. But that's like a modern thing. And they knew about that he was one of their team members. In terms of old dead bodies, there's only two Maori in urban. We know where Mallory was found, eventually, right? We have GPS coordinates for that spot. That spot was not at at 200 meters, it was more like 8000 meters by 6000s, or no 26 750 6700. So whatever that number works out to. The main thing is that that location was way off the route. And the testimony from Penn Tao, they weren't out wandering around, like wine. Kong ball, who found Maori also, in 1975, right. That's, that's the groundwork for, like all of wholesales work and your Ken Ham lab for the discovery that you guys made in 1999. In in 1970, so wind hang Bo went way off. And there was a lot of analysis done in terms of where that was. That's not what Panda was talking about. They were on their summit climb, they were on the route, there's a set place where we know that is that her testimony, from 1975, matches up with shushing testimony from 1964, when he took the shortcut down, we're talking up in the yellow band here. So now, you know, today, after you guys made the discovery in 1999, we can say that the body that pan Tao is describing was not Maori. So it had to be urban. And they also said that they found a camera. And so people can, you know, sort of make their own assessment, you know, as to what we have here. Personally, I, I think I can say with a fair amount of certainty that we were on a complete wild goose chase. And that there was that we risked our lives for no reason. I do believe that the Chinese found the camera, part of the panned out testimony is that not only that they have it, but that they had it in a Chinese museum. And I did some homework on that. And, and one that, by the way, fit in with the rumor from other sources that I had heard. I did some research and I think I figured out what that museum might be. That's the next step. Whether it's me or someone else goes to that museum. I, I quite sure that it's not sitting out on display know the camera we're talking about. And if it's hidden away somewhere, I doubt they're gonna pull it out and be like, oh, yeah, actually. But I did kind of secretly have this hope. Where it could be something, you know, where like, you go to the director of the museum, and you say, hey, like, you know, here's the testimony. Here's what we've heard. Do you think maybe this might be hidden back somewhere in some storage locker at some vault and that you guys forgot about it? You know, let's take a look. And like, oh, wow, you know what, here it is? Here's the camera. And, you know, that would be pretty cool. People have been looking for it for 100 years. I'm sure you're well aware that we're coming up on the 100th anniversary, and famous Mallory nerve and disappearance and you know that the 1924 expedition, I'm Sure, there's going to be things going on with that. It would be really cool, you know, to go to that museum and to find out that that's like the last little bit, but the other part about, you know, going to the base of the north face with drones and like looking around for the body and provide us and stuff like that, like, I don't, I personally don't think that that, that any of that really makes sense anymore. This, you know, from my perspective, and I, I think at this point, you know, there's not a lot of people who have gone deeper into this than I have, there are, there are some, but you know, you're in MLM, for example, and yourself. But I did go to the spot, you know, to the wholesale spot. And I would not personally put any more time and effort into looking for the camera on the mountain. That deal is done. And so I feel like that's in the end in the final analysis. That's the contribution, you know, that you and I have made to this story, which I think is significant. And I feel like we did figure something out. And the coolest part about it, is that it sort of it, it just sort of makes permanent, the mystery. And it, I think it it just sort of solidifies the idea that the mystery will endure. And maybe we know what happened to the camera, and that it was actually discovered the film's gone. It didn't turn out really is what I think. And so we're never going to know, we're never going to know, and there's always going to be that slight chance that they did it. And I personally would never say that they didn't. Because it's sort of like saying, you know, that God doesn't exist? Like, who knows? I'm not saying he does, either. But it's that that might be a little bit of a stretch there that that could, you know, possibly be a step too far. But how can we say that they didn't do it? There's just no way to? To know for sure. And it's that little kernel? Of, of maybe that stirs the imagination, you know, like it like it has, you know, for both you and I and so I love the idea that that's that that's where it's ended. And, and we'll and we'll never know. And so the mystery is gonna go on and on and on. That is soThom Pollard:
awesome. So real quick question that that kind of puts an end to the the body of Ervin being at 8200 meters. So that body does it does the location of that? And are you aware of where it was at 81 8200 meters? Can you determine if he was using the ridge route to the top? Or if he was going along the face? Is there anything there? And then what did they do with the body? Did they discard it? Is it theoretical? That they did throw him down and he landed in wholesale spot? Or is is he not even worth looking for anymore? And is he over the cangshan face for instance?Mark Synnott:
Um, they said that they had Tao said that they buried the body under some rocks. And I guess one thing that I haven't done, this is more of like a wholesale type thing or somebody or you could do it is to look at the Chinese route, which I think is pretty close to the standard route and figure out what 8200 meters is. And I think what you'll see is it's terrain that has been crossed over every which way by a lot of people, you know, climbers, but also people who have been searching and you know, Jake Norton and all of his areas, expeditions and Adrian Ballenger. You know, yourself. And you know, Tom, Paulette, andThom Pollard:
Andy. Right, Andy and yeah,Mark Synnott:
in the various like, Sherpa expeditions that have done, you know, their their own searches. So, I think I think we all agree, I know Jake sees it this way that there's there's nowhere else to look at it. It was sort of at this point where if the body was there, somebody would have found it. And so, so I think at some point, the body was removed. And what I think that would look like, is basically just kind of tumbling it down the mountain into the abyss. I feel Like, that's kind of what the Chinese would do not not that they would do it in a disrespectful way, but that they're, you know, there's an effort underway, as you well know, to clean them out not and to not have so many dead bodies laying all over the place. It's, it's unseemly, and it's not really what anyone wants to see. And so both sides of the mountain, there's efforts that are being made to, to clean it up in that respect to it, and it's pretty much impossible to bring bodies down from up there. It's just not, it's not, it's not possible. So that's a lot of the bodies there. I think they found the body in 1975, I think they found the camera, I think they brought the camera home, I think they tried to develop the film, and it didn't turn out. And then for whatever reason, and then and then for a while there, it was just kind of a thing that wasn't being talked about, but but it was it was talked about that that body was up there by numerous members of the 1960 and the 1975 expedition. And there's no reason why they would just make that up. Now, so that so that's been my, my book, a real thing. And at some point, the body was either flushed off the mountain naturally by an avalanche or pushed out of the way or moved in, maybe move. But then once it wasn't, you know, kind of frozen in it was washed away by an avalanche or the wind. And so I think the body's gone, you know, the body without, without the camera, which potentially would have this evidence that could change history, like it should be left alone at this point. I mean, if if we can say that, that the camera's not there, then there's no reason anymore to look for it. And so I think that that deal is done.Thom Pollard:
That's that's pretty cool. That's decisive. And yeah, so a lot a lot of elements of the mystery will keep people looking and there's the seeds the kernels of, of pop opportunity for another sleuth who's out there interested in finding, getting to the bottom of it. Yeah, because if that film is destroyed, obviously, it'd be cool to see to have that camera and return it to the Summerville family. Right, because ostensibly, it was Howard Somerville, his camera, that would be pretty cool. So yeah, and you don't even have to climb for that you just have to get to China and go into that some dusty old back room and have them pull out all the amidst all their other artifacts and thingsMark Synnott:
that I hope I will be. I hope I'll be that guy. Cool. And, you know, one thing that's working in my favor apart the fact that I sort of pulled the lid back on a fair bit of stuff, but the third poll is being translated into Chinese. And so it will be read over there and I feel like in some way shape or form that has to be you know, giving the whole story a stamp of approval. Yeah, I know opens up I will endeavor to go and, and to see if the camera might actually be there. And that would be that would be a cool and maybe I don't know is there such a thing as like a postscript to a postscript?Thom Pollard:
Yeah, PPS, write that at the end of a letter or an email. If you'd like to learn more about Mark sinet, or purchase the hardcover or paperback copy of the third poll, Mark's website is that Mark synnott.com Wherever you're listening, please subscribe to this podcast or if you're watching us on YouTube do the same. If you share it, comment and like it that will help us immensely. join my mailing list Tom dot firstname.lastname@example.org this is the happiness quotient. Thank you for visiting. I will see you all real soon.