Because it's there!

Because it's there!

A Story by alanwgraham
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Did George Mallory and Sandy Irvine reach the summit of Everest first? I share the secret here!

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Because it’s there!

 

Many of us pass through life living from day to day, from hand to mouth, merely existing.  A few, more fortunate, seek meaning. That meaning can take many forms.


In the North of India that purpose is found by many in the city of Varanasi, where millions come to the stone steps of the Ghats to perform ritual cleansing in the sacred water of the Ganges.


Many days walk beyond Varanasi, a Sadhu, a Hindu ascetic, walks slowly north towards the mountains. He is barefoot, and clad in a simple, dusty saffron robe. Having renounced all worldly possessions he lives in the moment, through meditation, on his journey of spiritual renewal. He is making a pilgrimage of many months to visit a holy cave high in the mountains. With each step he chants his mantra.


As the summer passes, the Sadhu leaves the dusty, baked plains of Uttar Pradesh and enters the dense forests along the border with Nepal. Revered by the peasants along the way he lives meagerly from donations of alms and food. The lush forests are dangerous, home to tiger, leopard and elephant but the Sadhu reaches the northern limits of the forest safely.


Now the path becomes more tiring as he follows narrow rocky tracks over the steep, lightly wooded foothills. The local tribesmen scratch a precarious living from the harsh slopes by growing crops in their small fields of thin soil and tending their scrawny goats. In spite of this the Sadhu is never without a handful of food, a mouthful of water and a place to lay his head.


After many days of progress he reaches the summit of the highest foothill where the thinning air snatches his breath. What he sees takes the last vestiges of that breath away. Before him, from horizon to horizon, an unbroken wall of dazzling snow and rock climbs into the sky. Above them all one mountain towers, the mountain called by the locals Sagarmatha. By most of the world the mountain is called Mount Everest, the highest mountain on earth.  The Sadhu stands mesmerised and chants long through the day until the setting sun turns the snows red.


Although the mountain is made from the same rock as below his feet and the snow comes from the same clouds as above his head the Sadhu has been transported ecstatically from his spiritual realm into the seductive world of his senses. For timeless moments he experiences the same sense of wonder as does a man standing on the far side of the great mountain.


That man is George Leigh Mallory and he is looking at Everest from the 1924 expedition base camp on the Tibetan side of Everest. Before leaving England, earlier in the year, he had been asked why he wanted to climb Everest and after pausing for thought he answered famously, ‘because it's there!’ We can only guess at the deeper meaning behind this response, but coming from a line of clergymen and having served in World War 1, we can only assume from his life experiences that it was not a trite answer.


On the eighth of June 1924 Mallory and his climbing companion Andrew Irvine set off from their high camp at 26,800 feet. Noel Odell bade the pair good luck and later in that day was the last man to see them alive, high on the North ridge of the mountain. They never returned! Since that day there has been unceasing speculation as to whether either, or both of them, reached the summit. Everest was finally climbed by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary in the 1953 British expedition.


The mystery of what happened that fateful day has never been fully solved. In the 1930’s Irvine’s ice axe was found. In 1975 a Chinese climber discovered the body of what he described as an Englishman. Finally, in 1999, an expedition set out to solve the mystery and found Mallory’s well preserved body at 26,670 feet. It appeared that he’d sustained a bad fall but crucially his camera was not found. There has been abundant speculation as to what may have passed that day but unfortunately the firm evidence was lacking.


Into the new century, in 2007, it was now my turn to gaze in awe and wonder at the great mountain. I was standing with my pal Tom on the small hill of Kala Patthar, a short, if breathless, hike above Everest base camp. The full grandeur of Everest towered above and left words inadequate. I’m not embarrassed to say that it engendered an almost religious feeling in me. It helped me understand how the first astronauts to look down at our earth, in the immensity of space, came back as men changed forever. Their experience, and mine, had given our outlook on this fragile world a fundamental transformation.


Just over a week later, footsore, fitter and suffused with the glow of achievement Tom and I were back in Kathmandu looking forward to a few days of recuperation. We found a comfortable hotel and headed out for a few beers and some good food.


Starting to feel revived, the following day we disappeared into the maze of stalls and small shops in the tourist fleapit of Thamil. Here you could buy everything you might need from trekking gear to souvenirs. I was looking for a special thing to take home and down a dark alley we came on a small emporium selling local bric-a-brac. I spent some time trying to identify the wheat from the chaff with the owner hovering behind me.

‘Very nice Sir - yak horn drinking cup,’ and then, ‘ah Sir, very fine item, genuine Yeti scalp, very low price for you Sir.’


Declining these exotic items, we were just about to leave when I spotted something intriguing on a high shelf. I lifted it down - inside a waterproofed case was a dusty old pre-war camera in surprisingly good condition. I could see the makers name Kodak on the small portable camera which was fitted with flexible leather bellows. It looked well worth a punt.


‘I will give you 1000 rupees for this. I think it has been mouldering up there since 1930!

‘Oh, no, no, Sir - my father bought it from a Tibetan trader many years ago. It is very excellent camera. For you sir, special price, only 1500 rupees.’

‘Far too much!’ I shook my head and feigning disinterest we turned and walked out. As expected he followed us out down the alley and we settled on 900 rupees. As is always the case I knew I had still been fleeced.


Two days later Tom and I returned to Scotland via Dubai with the camera snuggling deep in my case in the hold. Back at home the camera ended up on top of the wardrobe and was forgotten about for the next six months. When spring arrived it was time for the annual dusting and the odds and ends from the wardrobe were lifted down for a few minutes of freedom. It took me a few seconds to remember what the damn thing in the waxed cotton case was.


I’d never really examined the camera properly so I slipped it out of the case. It obviously went back to well before the last world war but fortunately the case had saved it from damage and any serious corrosion. I had intended it to be merely a souvenir displayed on my sideboard but I suddenly had one of these moments of inspiration. Photography had been my passion for many years, particularly capturing the changing moods of my other passion, the mountains. ‘Is it possible,’ I thought, ‘after all this time could this old thing still take photographs?’ I felt very excited at the prospect and started to examine it carefully.


It was when I turned the camera upside down to examine the base that I saw something that made me gasp out loud. With my heart racing I had to sit down on the bed. The stupendous repercussions of what I had found propelled me into such an agitated state that my head spun and I was incapable of coherent thought. To help you understand my state of mind, imagine meeting your unknown and identical twin for the first time in the street.


When the seeming impossible presents itself our natural response is to preserve our sanity with other, more mundane alternatives but in this case my head was empty!  I had found the distinct but unmistakable initials GLM scratched neatly on the camera.


I wanted to believe, of course I did! However unlikely, the details were stacking up; the initials GLM, George Leigh Mallory; the provenance, brought by a Tibetan trader; finally, it was the very model of Kodak that G.L.M had taken on that fateful day. I sat down to think about this. But how did it get from Everest to Thamil? The only answer I came up with was that a local high altitude porter had found it on one of the early Chinese expeditions and had surreptitiously brought it down with the aim of supplementing his meager earnings.


Steady Alan, no running down the street screaming - Mallory made it first! Nothing hasty! First I would bide my time - no mad dash to the ‘Daily Drivel’. Then it finally struck me with all the finesse of a falling Yeti - the photo might still be in that little box sitting beside me. Yes, THAT photo - Mallory and Irvine standing on the summit of Everest. Almost akin to discovering footage of Gagarin standing on the lunar surface in 1967 - ‘one small step for Marxism.’


There was nothing else for it - the conclusive evidence lay within. My fully equipped darkroom was still there, although unused for some time. I felt confident in my skills and decided there was no reason to delay. I started by cleaning and dusting the small darkroom thoroughly before checking my equipment and materials. I then decided to test my skills on an old undeveloped film that I found in a corner. No problems. Time for the real thing now - I felt confident but that didn’t stop my hands starting to shake after switching on the red safety light and starting to open the camera.


All went well and soon I was gazing expectantly at the paper in the tray of developer. This moment of revelation is the photographer’s ‘fix’. Yes, here is it coming. The act of creation - out of the void comes the …?


I used the tongs to lift out the paper and put it into the tray of fixer. I had to sit down on the chair as my legs shook. I gazed at the clear image. There was no mistaking that I was seeing George Mallory posing on the summit holding his small Union Jack. It was obvious that the photo had been taken by Sandy Irvine.


I hung it up to dry and busied myself with small tasks as I allowed the photo to dry. It was time to think about what I should do next.  I took the photo to the bedroom where the camera still lay. I occurred to me that I hadn’t finished examining the camera although now it seemed a formality. To my consternation I discovered a small waxed pocket on the inside of the case. Opening it I was flabbergasted to find a small folded piece of notepaper.

I lay back on the bed with the photo lying at my side and the unfolded note in my hand. I read it through streaming tears,


‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’  (written on our return from the summit - Sandy is gone and I have a grand seat here, if somewhat chilly!’)


What did Mallory mean by this famous and profound biblical saying - perhaps his own father had impressed it on him. I thought long and hard about the message that Mallory had left and I kept coming back to the same conclusion.


With a heavy heart I knew there was only one possible step to take. I took the note and the photo and original film down to the kitchen, stuck a match and watched them fall as ashes to the plate.

I knew that the photo would have brought great fame and wealth to me also, but perhaps my soul would be in jeopardy too! It had been Mallory’s decision.

 

Many years before, the Sadhu that had been transfixed as he gazed at the great shining mountain felt the dust below his bare feet and knew that all earthly things face the same fate. Even the rocks of the greatest mountains crumble and are carried back to the plains by the great river Ganges. The Sadhu lowered his gaze and focused it back inside. Resuming his mantra he continued on his path.

 

 

© 2019 alanwgraham


Author's Note

alanwgraham
I am fully aware that here holes to be picked in the detail here but please accept it as a story and nothing more!

My Review

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Featured Review

You are very wrong to say that this is a story and nothing more. It strikes me as more than just a boy's own type of story. This has depth and nuance and in short is a wonderful, excellent story. I enjoyed it immensley. And I couldn't really find any of those holes you mentioned.

Posted 5 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

5 Months Ago

Thank so much Ken. This story has been in gestation for ages and then hard laboured over. A lot of t.. read more
Ken Simm.

5 Months Ago

I envy you those experiences Alan.



Reviews

A wonderful story, Alan. The details ring true as does the plot. We will most likely never know if Mallory was first and that is as it should be. The lustre of the climb has been turned into a cheap carnival ride, with the odd accident claiming the lives of people who should never be there, and I'm thinking that Mallory and Hillary would be disappointed that the tremendous effort put forth led to an industry that has left trash scattered from here to Hell and back, not to mention a few bodies as well.

There may be holes in your story some place, but I fail to see them.

All in all, just the kind of adventure story that this "old boy" loved as a kid...and the kid never left.

Bravo...a good write indeed.


Posted 2 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

1 Month Ago

Apologies for delay Ted. For some reason some of my regular messages are going to spam. Thanks for y.. read more
Ted Kniffen

1 Month Ago

All is well, Alan
shame it was a story rather hoped for an impossible reality. In this story you took us to new heights and plumbed our depths. Really nice write your love for outdoors found a place here. thanks for your version of Mt. Everest I just made myself curious as to the origin of the name Everest. Perhaps one of the first climbers said are we gonna Everest? Thank you Alan for a great story and I mean that

Posted 3 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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I think it's a wonderful story! I almost wondered if it was true!

Posted 4 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

2 Months Ago

Thanks Ana. I try hard to make it believable and perhaps i nearly did.
All the best.
A.. read more
This is one remarkable story in general, fact, fiction and storytelling intermingle into one epic tale. That really takes you on a ride that is interesting, exciting and entertaining in general. You could not ask for anything better.

Posted 4 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

4 Months Ago

Thanks Dawn, for your very kind words and reading this longish story. Aboyt 40 years ago i went to h.. read more
Dawn

4 Months Ago

Alan you really are gifted in storytelling. You draw the reader in and hold their attention from st.. read more
alanwgraham

4 Months Ago

Thanks Dawn. After I finished this a stunning ending to the story just hit me. It would need some wo.. read more
But what a story Alan. As a short story fan, I have came across a few stories that mix fiction, biography and history, but this excels in taking the reader on so many journeys and points of view, that even if I knew of a part being historically inaccurate, I would let it slide just for being part of this adventure.
I always wanted to climb Everest, but knew from an early age that I would be the one in eight not to come back, so I settled on zmunro bagging with a very vivid imagination.
The adventure continues from one point of view to the next, through the bazaar, into the shop and all the way home again.
The ending was a treasure just like the camera, and I would like to think I would have kept its secret too, but maybe not.
Loved this tale so much I forgot for a moment we are in the grip of winter. No mean feat :)

Posted 5 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

5 Months Ago

Ta Lorry. I feel a bit overwhelmed at these reviews that are coming. I did have a good feeling about.. read more
Marvelously written fiction/non-fictional acccount of Mallory and Irvine’s trek. Alan you have such wonderful storytelling skill. You’ve woven rich, authentic detail, lore and legend with breathtaking imagery born of your personal experience of Everest. Your lines about the Sadhu are serene and mesmerizing. Mallory’s frozen body, the discovery of the camera and so poignant note left me agasp and wondering. The story’s eloquent language, scene-setting, cohesion, and interspersed bits of history make it a solid stand-alone work. However, if a book is on the horizon my friend, well- Kudos!

Posted 5 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

5 Months Ago

Thanks very much Annette. I can tell you that when I'm writing I'm right there with the Sadhu lookin.. read more
I have always been fascinated with those who climb the world's highest peaks. There are so many amazing stories I've read, I never would've thought to attempt something like this. But you, my friend, are talented partly becuz of your audacity. Reminds me of watching a clip of Eric Clapton introducing Steve Winwood playing "Georgia On My Mind" - a black anthem from the king of blues (Ray Charles), E.C says S.W. had audacity to perform that song back when R.C. was still alive. That's how this story strikes me. You are audacious enuf to do this & you pulled it off with flying colors. I swear the line between truth & fiction seems to be wavering this way & that way, I'm not sure where it resides. I think you were actually there, you did not climb to the peak, you saw a camera for sale that you did not actually buy, & the rest is your overactive amazing imagination. I'm jealous if you were there & I applaud you for turning this into a stunning story that makes us suspend disbelief becuz it's told with such a plethora of realistic details (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 5 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

5 Months Ago

Thanks for your great review Margie. I'm sure that many of us would struggle without such support. T.. read more
I was totally transfixed reading this story Alan because Mallory is a hero of mine. You combined fact with fiction in a seamless way. I loved the read. I have written a poem about Mallory. I always believed that he and Irvine made it to the summit and died on the decent. Great stuff.

Chris

Posted 5 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

5 Months Ago

Thanks for your kind words Chris and I did read your poem. I thought damn - pipped at the summit. W.. read more
Christine Anne Shaw

5 Months Ago

Au contraire. I think I was left on the lower peaks. Your write certainly reached the summit:)
this is far more than a story.. it is a beautiful mind and its imaginations creating something exhilarating, wondrous and credible.. a tale that undoubtedly consists of truth and historical fact, as well as.. as well as.. dare I suggest a few alanisms.. the magical ingredient that so many of us wish we could sprinkle over an otherwise incomplete or inadequate page and make it sparkle, as indeed this page sparkles... I just love your writing and style Alan, I truly do.... N

Posted 5 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

5 Months Ago

Thanks Neville. I'm not sure how others write but if I can get it running like a movie in my head it.. read more
Neville Pettitt

5 Months Ago

just between you and me... it is always a real pleasure to visit your pages.. I never know quite wha.. read more
You are very wrong to say that this is a story and nothing more. It strikes me as more than just a boy's own type of story. This has depth and nuance and in short is a wonderful, excellent story. I enjoyed it immensley. And I couldn't really find any of those holes you mentioned.

Posted 5 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

5 Months Ago

Thank so much Ken. This story has been in gestation for ages and then hard laboured over. A lot of t.. read more
Ken Simm.

5 Months Ago

I envy you those experiences Alan.

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Added on February 5, 2019
Last Updated on February 20, 2019

Author

alanwgraham
alanwgraham

Fife, Scotland, United Kingdom



About
Married with three grown up kids, I retired early from teaching physics but have always enjoyed a second life enjoying the outdoors, particularly the mountains. In my mid forties I experienced a manic.. more..

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