May 11 – Irvine’s body and the summit day route

Summit day route

Attached below is a zoomed up photo of the north east ridge of Everest – taken by myself from here at basecamp. I have zoomed in significantly on the high portion of the ridge and the route from high camp 3 at 8300m to the summit. Of particular interest are the three rock steps, clearly visible even from basecamp here around 20km horizontal away and 3000m lower.

It will take our team around 5 – 6 days to reach high camp 3 at 8300m. From Camp 3 we launch for the summit in one push. Camp 3 is the highest campsite in the world. I aim to reach camp 3 around mid afternoon. Camp 3 is more of a rest stop for a few hours than a camp. It is so high it is in the deathzone. The deathzone is that area above 8000m where the human body cannot survive. You count your time in the deathzone in terms of hours. The longer you stay the weaker you become. Until you die. Hence getting up and down from the deathzone as quickly as possible is crucial. The slopes at Camp 3 are very steep and the tents are cut into platforms on the side of the mountain. Its not a place to slip as you will have a very long 3000m fall down to the Rongbuk glacier.

After arriving at Camp 3 mid afternoon I will have a few hours rest until around 10PM when I will start preparing to leave the tent for the summit. Melt snow, drink something, dress, put on harness and climbing gear, head torches, spare’s of everything and the many other tasks required to leave the tent safely into the freezing night. I will leave around 12pm (midnight) to begin the climb to the summit. I will have two bottles of oxygen. Each bottle will last for 8 hours (at a flow rate of 2l per minute). That’s 16 hours in total. Hence I need to get to the summit and back to camp 3 within this time. Running out of oxygen is not an option. Climbers who are too slow and do run out of oxygen generally remain forever within a few feet of where the oxygen runs out.

I will climb directly straight up the exit cracks, onto the north east ridge proper. The climbing will be in the pitch dark, by light of my head torch. It will be very cold, maybe around minus 20 or minus 30 degrees. I will have a full down suit, goggles, oxygen mask, triple insulated boots and crampons on, making my movement over the steep terrain cumbersome and awkward. I will have 3 layers of gloves on my hands, the outer layer being a huge thick mitten which makes clipping and unclipping from the ropes very awkward. Frostbite is a huge concern. Any exposed flesh will freeze within minutes. Taking my hands out of my gloves to work the ropes, even for a short time can result in the loss of my fingers forever. Contact lens freeze in people’s eyes. Even breathing bottled oxygen, my mind will be working very slowly and my thought process will be fuzzy and unfocussed. I will have the problem solving skills of a 7 – 10 year child. I know, I was there last year.

From here I will follow the highest ridge traverse in the world. For almost one horizontal mile and 500m of vertical height gain to the summit of the world. The route is littered with corpses of climbers who have died, mainly on the descent.

The ridge traverse is extremely exposed. I will be placing one foot in front of the other, often with a 10,000 foot drop directly below my feet. As Phil our team leader keeps reminding us, If you fall on the north ridge and you are not clipped in to the ropes you will die. It’s so steep.

Of the three rock steps, the most infamous is the 2nd step. This is around a 30m high vertical rock cliff. The 2nd step is involved with endless speculation regarding the first ascent of Everest. Could the British climbers Andrew Irvine and George Mallory have scaled the 2nd step in 1924 on their way to the summit? Or was it to much of a vertical obstacle at 8500m above sea-level in freezing conditions for them to climb? Thankfully these days there is a short section of ladder which allows the hardest part of the step to be more easily overcome.

Hopefully I will arrive at the summit in the early morning as the sun is rising. It will be a very short time on the summit. 10 or 15 minutes maximum. Take some photo’s, try and enjoy the time there, but ever mindful I am only halfway, and my oxygen and strength levels are becoming less and less, minute by minute.

Now time for the descent. The most dangerous part of the climb. When I am most tired. And down climbing is harder than up climbing. 80% of the accidents and deaths happen on the descent. Slowly I will retrace my steps, being careful to stay clipped into the rope, but even this wont stop a fatal fall. After a few hours I should reach camp 3 completely exhausted. A temporary safe haven for an hour or two. But its still camp 3 at 8300m, its still in the deathzone and its so high that my body is dying. Staying here is not an option. I will need to drag myself up and somehow find the energy to descend further down the mountain, as far as possible, into the thicker air and also lower down where there is more shelter from the threat of bad weather. Being stuck at camp 3 with the return of the jetstream winds between 100 – 300km/hr is also a death sentence.

Hopefully I will make the North Col that day and rest there that night. The next day making my way down to ABC for more rest before the long plod back to basecamp. I will be completely exhausted for days after the summit climb.

Andrew Irvine’s body – Axe’s theory

One of the greatest mountaineering mystery’s of all time is whether or not George Mallory and Andrew Irvine made it to the top of Mt Everest in an early British expedition in 1924. They were climbing exactly the same route as I am climbing the North Col, North Ridge route. They were last seen in 8th June 1924 disappearing into cloud high up on the ridge, either above or below the second rock step. Exactly where they were is not clear and this is the source of huge debate. If they were above the second rock step then the ground becomes easier and there is a very high chance they could have made the summit and been the first people to climb Mt Everest (instead of the Sir Ed Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing in 1953 from the south side almost 30 years later).

George Mallory’s body was found in 1999 as marked on my photo here. He had a broken leg and appeared to have taken a long fall probably from high off the summit ridge on descent. See the below YOUTUBE video of the actual discovery of Mallory’s body in 1999.

But did he make the summit? The pair were allegedly carrying basic Kodak camera’s, but no camera was found on Mallory. He had mentioned he would leave a photo of his wife on the summit and no photo was found on his body. The hunt continues therefore for Andrew Irvine’s body and the camera. There is a chance after all these years that the film in the camera could be developed and maybe show proof that they did or did not stand on the summit? There are many theories floating around about where Irvine’s body maybe. I have added my theory about his body’s position to the photo below.

I believe Irvine and Mallory were descending together in bad weather (I do not know if they made the summit or not). They were following the ridge line and were roped together, Mallory took a fall, Irvine tried to arrest him with his ice axe. The rope pendulum’ed and snapped, Mallory fell a long way, broke his leg and died in the position marked on the map. Irvine continued downclimbing the ridge, but died of exposure/fall a short time later in the approximate position I marked on the map. Thats my theory anyway!

Well that’s all from basecamp here. A huge hello to the class from St Patrick’s School in Inglewood, New Zealand. Thank you for your nice messages and thoughts. Also a special hello to Sonia Rova and her father Gerard. Thanks also for your kind messages and I hope to meet you one day in Inglewood!

Zoomed in view from basecamp of Everest North Ridge Climbing Route with position of camp 3, rock steps and possible position of Andrew Irvine’s body. Photo: Grant Rawlinson

The next two weeks are the culmination of years of training and preparation. Its going to be a very exciting, exhausting and nerve wracking time. I can’t wait. Stay tuned!

Photo of Everest North Ridge and face from Everest basecamp.

Posted on May 11, 2012, in Everest 2012. Bookmark the permalink. 63 Comments.

  1. Great post as usual, nevertheless a pretty scary description Grant, But I’m sure you guys will do it! Stay healthy and safe.
    I think i’d prefer Long Bar session 🙂 see you there one day. By the way you haven’t mantioned the End of WWII party with the victors?! no photos?


  2. flor agalliu

    all climbs end with a descent. kinda funny when you think about it.


  3. so dramatic, Grant, Obviously, you are agreeing with the high altitude conditions at basecamp. hey send me some photos of you on the mountain wearing those Sworke glasses


    • Daisy, dramatic but 100% truthful as all my blogs aim to be 🙂 Will send you some photo’s soon. I cant read cvomments easily but I just saw one from you saying you sent me an email about acclimatisation? I never got the email dude.


  4. Barclay Morison

    axe-man, sounds very very tough. Just what you’ve trained for and you’ve got your valuable experience from last year to help you. Take care dude.


  5. Greg and Yoke

    You’re in a different place to where you were last year. Go for it, you’re ready!!! Will see you a long bar anytime!!


  6. Grant,

    You’re as ready as you can be. Go for it.

    Don’t forget your camera!



  7. Kate (Isadora) Smith

    Another brilliant blog which makes the journey sound more scary than ever, so many things to do as you climb. You certainly sound mentally ready for it and in good spirits which I think is important. A great theory about Irvine and Mallory. I don’t know whether I want Irvine’s body to be found or not, I quite like the mystery. Cheers Kate


  8. shahin Kabir

    Hi Grant!

    Just finish it off!! Everything is possible she you want it badly! And you know you are there to do it.

    All the best!! And See you soon in SIngapore!



  9. Nicola, Shorty


    Wow another amazing blog. All the best and take care. We will be thinking of you every day.

    Maybe see you for a more chilled trip in NYC sometime.

    Nicola & Shorty xxxx


  10. Carol Spragg

    Room 5 St Joseph’s School Stratford are excited that the ascent to the summit is about to happen. They loved the blog about the identical water bottles. it really appealed to the sense of humour of the 7-9yr old boys!!!!!!! The girls were more pragmatic “Why didn’t he buy two different coloured water bottles?”. Hope to hear some exciting news of your success in the next few days.


  11. Good luck mate! Hope all goes well. Wishing you lots of luck.


  12. Andy Wheatley


    Mate, all I can say is that this blog and your expedition are awesome. I will be keeping a keen eye on your updates and wish you all the best. Good luck fella.



  13. All the best for a successful summit Grant. We’ve just celebrated Tui’s 92nd birthday. Love from the Hamlins and Blounts.


  14. Greetings from Indiana, USA. What an amazing and very moving post. Praying for you and your team.


  15. Axe, San Francisco is cheering you on. Our prayers are with you buddy.


  16. A very helpful blog. This is the first time I have properly understood the summit layout. Time to do the deed dude & I promise to sell another 5 MS 1000’s if you make it.


  17. Joshua Bates

    I have a theory about Mallory and Irvine……the butler did it!
    Loved the comment from the room five teacher.
    Best of luck for the weather and good skills! Looking forward to hearing of your successful ascent (i nearly spelt accent there, that would have been embarassing. I would have just blamed it on the high altitude, im writing this from the second floor of our house)


  18. I don’t reckon you’ve been more ready pal, when you get back you and Steph can come for promised Barbie at our new apartment. You will do it , cheers uncle Rick …..


  19. Sonia Candy-Rova

    ok grant firstly i want you to know that there are lots of children at my school who are going to be absolutely buzzing when they read this!!!!

    our school has a bit of ‘axe on everest’ fever and the children are constantly watching or reading about you… i got a run down of your training dairy and then had to get online and watch it myself, and can say just how admirable your efforts really are! like carols class the children loved reading about the water bottle thing, also when your pants caught on fire and also one of your videos goes into the tent where your ‘underpants’ are drying….. kids ah!!!!!

    we will continue to follow your page and wish you every success in the final stage of your climb. we will continue to have you in our thoughts and know you are such an inspiration to many (especially us stratford people….)


    p.s my dad was bill candy, lol, so not sure who gerard actually is (possibly you meant graham?? my uncle…or glen my brother??) but will chalk that up to the altitude


    • Sonia Candy-Rova

      OK – apologies i have just read a message left on your previous blog by one of my students… YIP her dad is Gerard (so have made the connection,lol) and yes we will eagerly await your arrival in NZ so you can visit us in inglewood xxxx


      • Hi Sonia, I got it now and remember exactly who you are, from Stratford! I was a weeny bit confused with Candy’s from Makahu sorry. Thanks for the great interest, I am glad the kids enjoy the progress and I hope I can make the summit and come back and tell them a story sometime. I remember your bro also. Its a long time ago though now! Cheers Sonia.


  20. Hey Axe, Loving the’s all so exciting but hellishly scary too. Sitting here in sunny, warm singapore (having a wine!) seems so ridiculous when you are doing all that. We wish you well and will be thinking of you, and praying for calm weather in your neck of the woods! GO FOR IT 🙂


  21. Hey Grant, we’ve been following your blog closely over the last weeks – finally can’t resist commenting. ALL THE BEST, keep up the spirit!

    After showing some of the pics to our boys this morning, the reactions were as follows:
    the oldest: academic interest and loads of questions
    the youngest: did build a Mount Everest, climbed it and found out that the descent is the dangerous part hands on.
    the middle one: “why would anyone want to do that? – can we have breakfast now?”

    Anyway, they send good luck too.



  22. Go for it bro. Your time has come.



  23. Grant all the best Toko Fire Bragade is watching Trevor Dent


  24. Maureen and John Simmons

    Good luck with the final push from all members of the Stratford Tramping Club. John and I heard you talk at your parents place earlier this year . We have been following your blog ever since and thoroughly enjoy reading it and looking at the photos. Good luck from Maureen and John Simmons, Hawera.


  25. This is what I sent to Allan, he may reply, I hope,

    All best for next week, we’ll celebrate I hope at Courtyard in Kathmandu or in the Cricket
    Club in Sing soon.

    “tad says:

    May 13, 2012 at 12:00 am
    Hi Allan,

    Great blog, more like an essay every time, how do you find the time everyday to keep us followers happy? In addition to Alt Junkies and AXE blogs your site gives a great description what is happening at Big E, and it helps me to understand, and keep my nerves in check when I’m following Margaret’s climb, even it’s 3rd time on everest my emotions in following her are the same, big pride and scare at the same time. Keep writing and be healthy and happy. Thanks again.
    PS where did the somewhat critical long comment re Himex departure disapeared? Did you have to take it off?


    • Hi Tad, Margaret is a strong lady as you well know and is also has Chedda Sherpa there which combined with her experience make a strong team. Thanks for the message and checking out what happened on south side, Axe


  26. Hi Grant

    Great to be following your blog again this year. You are in our thoughts every day. Stay safe and stay strong.

    Rob Denise and the boys.


  27. Ross Goodwin

    Hi from sunny Mount Maunganui, 232 m above sea level. Great blog, it’s like being there without leaving the couch.

    Sounds like you’re well prepared, focused and ready for the next few days. Enjoy yourself, as much as possible at that height!!



  28. I was just watching a great game between the Chiefs and the Reds and thought of you. Sorry to report that the Reds ended Waikato’s winning streak….But kind of weird that I am sitting on the sofa and you are heading for the top of Everest. Go for it Axe, thinking about you.


  29. Ps Grant, my friend Bill Burke (age 70, oldest American to summit Everest in 2009) has flipped over to the North Side (because ropes have not been fixed on south side, eg because the Brice expedition plus Sherpas have left). He plans to be in Chinese Base Camp on 14th, IBC on 15th and ABC on 16th. Keep an eye out for him and say hello for me! I can’t seem to leave a reply in his blog on Cheers brother.


  30. Kerryn Carter

    Cheering you on from Calgary, Canada. Come and stay one day and do some warm down climbing in the Rockies! Kerryn Gordon Georgia Amelia and Caroline hugs


  31. Man, so vividly described. We are all plugging for you buddy. Go Axe!!


  32. Your story is so inspiring – through Sonia’s class we now have most of the school watching your progress. All the best for the final climb. – Principal of St Patrick’s School Inglewood.


  33. Sonia Candy-Rova

    dear grant we read with much excitment how you are going to start for the summit….. wahooooooooooooooo we know that you will do it because you are in our thoughts and prayers constantly. we have started a big display wall in our class called ‘axe on everest’ and we will have lots of questions to ask on your return. we made a mountain and a little mini ‘axe’ and we move you up and down with your movements and blogs. go axe go!!! from room 1, sps, inglewd


  34. Hi Grant, hope you guys are getting ready without a hitch and the weather and spirits will be with you. Just talked to Margaret and learned the NEWS!! whaw!! Will keep fingers X-ed for all of you. Allan replied to my querry if you have time you may look at
    also has a good blog today at
    looking forward to great photos and comments from the TOP! love you all


  35. I’m getting so excited for the big moments of summit. I cannot wait to follow along with the rest of your journey. Good luck!!!!


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