May is traditionally the home stretch of the spring climbing season on Mount Everest. By now climbers have adjusted to the altitude, and Sherpas have set most of the ropes needed to reach the summit around the end of the month.
After the Nepali government cancelled the climbing season last year, this was supposed to be a record-setting year—with more permits issued than ever before. But as the country struggles with a surge of COVID-19 and reports of several cases in base camp, May 2021 could end in disaster.
Climber and writer Mark Synnott knows what a blow that this would be to Nepal, which relies heavily on the revenue generated by the annual pilgrimage to the world’s tallest mountain. “Everest season is crucial to Nepalis, especially in the Khumbu region where the Sherpa comes from,” he said.
Synnott was there in 2019—the last full Everest season— as part of an expedition to look for a climber lost nearly a century ago, on one of the first Everest expeditions. The British mountaineers George Mallory and Sandy Irvine famously disappeared during their quest to summit Mount Everest in 1924. Mallory’s body was discovered in 1999, but Irvine and the pocket Kodak camera he was believed to have carried were never found. Whether the pair had made it to the summit—29 years before Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay accomplished the feat in 1953—has remained the mountaineering world’s most tantalizing mystery ever since.
Synnott’s story about his search, with photographs by his climbing partner Renan Ozturk, appeared in the July 2020 issue of National Geographic, and their documentary aired on the National Geographic Channel. Now comes a fuller telling of that experience and a deep look at the history of Everest with Synnott’s engrossing new book, The Third Pole: Mystery, Obsession, and Death on Mount Everest.
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