Exact replicas of the clothing worn by Mallory and Irvine on Everest in 1924 show that it would have been both wam enough and mobile enough to work well on the world's highest mountain.
Last week we told you about the project
to produce exact replicas of the clothing worn by Mallory and Irvine
on the 1924 Everest expedition and test its effectiveness - was it as
poor as many people think and would the multiple layers - seven of
them - have allowed enough mobility for technical climbing?
Well, the results were unveiled at last week's Clothing For
Extremes conference at Rheged and OM contributor and industry insider
Charles Ross was there to report back. He takes up the story...
project started a couple of years ago after the 1999 and 2001
Mallory/Irvine Expeditions on the big mountain set out to try and
locate the bodies of the two climbers and see whether any evidence
could be found of summit success. It was known that they were
carrying a camera and the frozen conditions might have preserved the
George Mallory's body was famously located in 1999 and his
possesions returned to his relatives. They wanted to pass on the
mountaineering items to a heritage association, but nothing existed;
Mary Rose picked up on the void and became involved. Fortunately the
BMC had plans to open a museum and the items have now become the
centre piece of the National Mountaineering Museum's displays.
Mary Rose was fascinated by the whole business and set about
finding funding for an investigative project. The first stage was to
document the items of clothing found on Mallory's body and to cross
check with the Expedition Report to ascertain whether an answer could
be found to the 75 year-old clothing debate - were the climbers were
warm enough to be able to survive a summit attempt? Did their
clothing offer enough flexibility to allow them to climb the
obstacles on the route.
There were some fragments of clothing left on the body and these
were tested through Southampton University's Textile Conservation
Centre at Winchester and the normal mountaineering test labs at the
University of Leeds. These gave crucial insights into the seven
layers of thin natural fibre clothing worn. It had been calculated
that the garments worn had a tog value of 3.5 togs.
Over the last year similar fabric and construction methods were
researched so that a set of garments could be made up almost
identical to the original items - not an easy job as patterns have
changed, materials developed and construction methods improved.
Side By Side
As a reference point, Mary's Rose's husband - who is the same size
as Mallory - and Alan Hinkes donned ancient and modern high altitude
clothing side by side. Hinkes noticed how close fitting the 1924
replica garments were compared to his bulky modern suit plus the
absence of zips - only just been invented in the 1920s - which must
have made toilet breaks significantly more fiddly.
Alan's modern clothing weighed 4.825 kg compared to just 4.160 kg
for the Mallory replicas, and the 1920s garments also offered better movement as the layers slid easily over each
The making of the Replicas
The team was headed up by Vanessa Anderson (a student on Derby
Uni's MA) and Joyce Meader who took us through the up to seven layers
worn: essentially silk, wool, silk, wool and finishing with an outer
layer of Burberry cotton gabardine, with the hassles of sourcing the
It was interesting to note that elastic was not around then so
there was no way to use underwear as it is used nowadays. Also many
of the woollen items would havehad to be had knitted by the families
of the expedition members. It became obvious why Bernard Shaw's take
on the outfits used was like 'a Connemara picnic surprised by a
The boots have still not been investigated properly (any
prospective PhD's wanting a subject?), but had novel hob-nails
(attached through the 3mm leather sole, but insulated from the feet
by a 10mm felt) and were calculated to weigh 0.8kg - compared to the
1953 footwear at 1.2kg, Al Hinkes's at 1.4 kg and Chris Bonington's
layers of socks worked with three layers of long-johns and
military-style puttees. Compare this to the original lightweight boot
revolution headed up by the KSB, which weighed in at just over 0.5 kg
and it can be surmised how the 1924 initiated the current trend for
lightweight outdoor items.
Documents from the 1910 era recorded how Hope and Kirkpatrick
alpine summited with 2.8kg packs (that weighed just 0.8kg when
empty!). No glove information has been developed and a call to
anyone who might be able to shed light on the subject was put out.
Another interesting item revealed was a woollen Buff type object
(made from the best Merino), that had a multitude of uses ranging
from head gear to kidney warmers.
Conclusions - It Was Possible...
The conclusion was drawn that Mallory and Irvine had the correct
clothing to enable them to survive at that altitude, plus the ability
to climb easily while wearing it all.
They were also working in conjunction with the clothing and with
the levels of fitness that allowed them to reach that altitude, would
theoretically have been able to successfully summit the world's
Off To Everest For Real
The next installment in the story is that Sommerville's
great-nephew is probably off to Everest next year with the BBC and
will most probably try out the clothing suit at altitude. Sommerville
was a 1924 Expedition member and his great nephew is an experienced
mountaineer who has already summited Everest. Should be