HEMMLEB SPEAKS FROM his
home in Frankfurt, Germany. Before taping, Hemmleb mentions his
recent travels in connection with the Mallory expedition: an
appearance in Banff, a lecture in London, a busy winter ahead.
He hopes that by March he can relax.
I know you have a lot of experience as a climber, and of course
you're a great historian of climbing. I just wondered which of
those is more important to you, or how do you prioritize your
climbing ambitions and your research?
That's difficult to answer, actually. First of all, my climbing
experience is moderate. I'm not an extreme climber, I'm not a
high-altitude climber. I've done a lot of climbing at moderate
levels in the European Alps. I climbed in East Africa and New
Zealand and the Andes of Argentina. But I still value climbing
very high among my part-time occupations. I must say I owe climbing
a lot. Climbing helps me define myself, finding a purpose in
life, and I still like best about climbing the level of awareness
you are subjected to. Your senses are all alert when you go climbing,
you have a fixity of purpose being on a climb, and along with
this comes a deep sense of vitality, a feeling of being alive.
I don't know of any other occupation where the feeling of being
alive, of appreciating the value of being alive is as great as
it is in climbing. And research and being a mountaineering historian,
also a hobby of mine, not a profession, is something more. I
like the mind game of this, the mental challenge of digging into
a mystery, of getting onto the trace of some old mystery of exploration
and mountaineering, and getting to know the psychology of the
participants and the games. I like to get to know the characters
of climbers, compare motivations and thinking of the early climbers
compared with modern-day climbers, even compared with myself,
whether I can find any similarities to my own attitude toward
climbing. It's all part of one greater aspect of my life, and
I wouldn't give anything a priority. I value each aspect equally,
and really love to do them.
Each one complements the other, adds to the other?
Yes. Perhaps the advantage of being a historian as well as a
climber is, as a climber you can at least understand part of
the motivation of the extreme climbers. As a historian you can
also step back and judge and value the attitudes of climbers,
perhaps even criticize the attitudes. You get a very healthy
distance from it all, some sort of observer position, and this
is sometimes very, very important, I think. You're not entirely
enclosed in this, just, climber's perspective. You're more open
to other views.
Have you found that that perspective, ability to judge, has helped
you in actual climbing? You can step back and think more clearly?
It surely helps my attitude, and supports my attitude toward
climbing. In the same way I can appreciate climbing through this
observation and understand more my own reasons why I climb. It
also gives me a perspective to value other forms of lifestyle
and attitude, and no longer regarding climbing as the ultimate
experience, but also seeing that contributions to climbing or
attitude can come from the outside. This is really interesting.
On the Mallory expedition you made it as high as Advanced Base
Even above this--I made it to the North Col.
The North Col. You said that you had decided from the start that
that was probably your limit, and that was your goal, so that
you were satisfied with that. I just wondered if that expedition,
in thinking about it later, changed any of your ambitions. Would
you like to go higher, do you now wish you had gone higher?
No, absolutely not. As far as the North Col was within my capability,
and I did it. It was a beautiful experience. Others have thought
I could have gone higher. I never really felt the urge to do
so, and I certainly do not regret not having done so. Mainly
because I was not on that expedition to go climbing, to reach
my own personal limits or to explore my personal limits. I was
there as a historian to do a job as a historian, and I simply
made some sort of compromise. I had a moderate climbing ambition
on that trip, and I had a job to fulfill, and I think I succeeded
in both. This made it a very rewarding experience. I got the
best of both worlds, actually.
It sounds like you set your mind before the trip, your duty is
to be the historian, I can always climb later, another time.
I really did that.
It seems like you three, Johnson, Simonson and yourself, are
planning a trip in the next couple of years to return to Everest
to look for more evidence?
The idea is very much in our minds, and also in the minds of
the core of this year's expedition. I'd love to go there again
and do more research, perhaps even with a stronger scientific
component to it, maybe also going higher on the mountain the
next time and do some research up there. Yes, I'd really love
to do this.
Specifically, do you want to look for Irvine's body, do you want
to look for the camera, possible other artifacts?
I would say that would be the research expedition's objective--find
more clues, not only restricted to Irvine and the camera . There's
also interesting stuff to be found of other expeditions, down
at Camp 5 for example, which is of historical interest not related
to the mystery of Mallory and Irvine. I still think that by the
time of the next expedition, perhaps in 2001, I probably still
won't have the experience to take part in the high-altitude search,
but maybe going higher than the North Col to Camp 5 and do some
research there would be a goal next time for me. But mainly I'd
like to support the next venture in the same way I did this year,
by providing the historical information, interpretation of findings,
and helping to document them after the expedition do all the
work that has to be done with the artifacts, the documentation,
Are you saying that there's a rough schedule for a trip in 2001?
Is it tentative now?
I would say it's tentative.
Is Simonson interested in going with you, and you with him?
Yes, definitely. Eric did such a great job this trip and I like
him personally. I mean, there's the saying, never change a winning
team, and it would be great if some of the members of this year's
expedition would go again.
Do you stay in touch a lot with Hahn and Richards and Norton?
Yes, I do.
Do they seem quite interested in going up again?
Some of them are, yes. We have some really good explorer-type
climbers. I was really moved and touched by their enthusiasm.
Jake Norton, Dave Hahn, Tap Richards, Andy Pollitz--they really
were into it, and it was really nice to see how well-appreciated
this historic task was when it came to it.
That really came out in the book, I thought, the great sensitivity
and respect that the other climbers had. It was actually quite
touching when they found the body, I thought they treated the
body very respectfully, so that attitude was contagious, I suppose,
on your trip. Everyone was thinking and feeling that way.
I think everyone was deeply moved by the experience. I mean the
members of the search team in particular, the five members of
the search team, but also anyone, for example Thom Pollard who
took part in the second search together with Andy Pollitz. And
also the others, me who witnessed by telescope from Base Camp,
and the other expedition members who later came to see the artifacts
brought down from the mountain. I think it was a really, really
deeply moving experience, and I think the true effect it has
on all of us will show in years to come. In a sense, we are all
now connected from that.
Were there other expeditions who then met you at Base Camp and
were curious, who you showed the artifacts to and talked about
No, we did that entirely within our own expedition.
Were there a lot of other expeditions at the same time as yours?
Seven other expeditions were on that side of the mountain at
the same time.
Has any new evidence come to light since the publication of the
book that would be important?
The only thing that has come to light is the result of the DNA
analysis. It has shown that all samples, both taken from the
body tissue as well as from the blood stains on the clothing,
yielded the same results. They are internally consistent. We
had a moment where we thought that the blood on Mallory's vest
could have been Irvine's. It didn't look particularly typical
for being soaked with blood from Mallory's body. We thought perhaps
he had nursed Irvine who had suffered an injury. We couldn't
rule this out. But all the samples are internally consistent,
so we can say it's definitely everything Mallory. We can't say
that there has been another accident or something like that.
Other that than you've just been cataloguing and examining artifacts
carefully? I know you were in Seattle doing that.
The results of the investigation are in the book. That's everything
we know so far.
So for example, in the appendix on unsolved mysteries there's
the Chinese present at the conference. Nothing new on that?
No, nothing new on that.
One thing I want to ask you about is actually writing the book.
You had three people telling the story to one writer. How well
did that work?
I think it worked pretty well. We were in touch with every member
of the expedition apart from those who have decided to go their
own way. I was of course in the position that I actually lived
with the writer. I had direct access to his writing and we could
immediately do changes, corrections, and exchange information,
so it was fairly close-knit at least for me, and it went pretty
Are you saying when you were in Seattle, you stayed with William
Northdurft at his house?
And then of course Simonson lives in Seattle, right, so he .
Yeah, nearby. He came by a couple of times, the others came by
a couple of times, so we had everyone there. That was really
Even though the co-authors are you, Simonson, and Johnson, like
you say there are many comments from Dave Hahn, actually from
Andy Pollitz, Jake Norton, Tap Richards--they all contributed
in one way or another.
Did they actually go to Seattle, or did they talk on the phone?
They all came to Seattle and stayed with us and we interviewed
them. That was really a nice private atmosphere there.
You could really relive what happened, I'm sure you had some
How much time did you spend in Seattle with the book?
Pretty much working almost every day?
Almost every day. I just had one free weekend, that was all.
Would people show up separately to talk to the writer, or did
he get you in a group and you would have a discussion?
Mostly just one showing up, and then I and Bill Northdurft sat
together and faced them and we discussed everything, did interviews,
and exchange of information.
And the draft was finished, you went back over it.
Everyone got the draft and made his own corrections and rejections.
There was complete input there.
Are you writing another book in German?
We have done the translation into German. The German edition
is out for about two weeks.
So it's a translation of Ghosts of Everest?
Do you have plans to write a different kind of book about the
Sometimes I wondered whether there would be a place for personal
experiences, more than are captured in the book Ghosts of Everest.
I don't think that it will make another book, that's for sure.
What I'd like to do, and I wonder whether this will find readers,
and whether there's someone to publish this, I'd like to edit
my research papers and give a more complete and more detailed
look into my research and give it as a reference to other readers
who are interested in the more detailed aspects of exploring
the mystery of Mallory and Irvine. And I still think there still
would be room for a complete history of Everest. It's always
a question whether such a book will find the reader. But there
are so many intriguing details. You're probably aware of this
massive Everest book, called Everest by Walt Unsworth, and writing
such a book about the North Face of Everest with all the details
about the mystery of Mallory and Irvine, all the imaginative
scenarios, and so on and so on, also the Chinese expeditions
of 1960 and 1975. That would be a nice task to do one day.
You would put those research papers into a book form?
I'd love to if there is the opportunity to do so.
You wrote those in English?
I wrote those in English.
I know you put them on a website that generated a lot of interest.
We are on Everestnews.com, and there are many more in my private
files. Only a fraction are published.
I'm also very interested, the Mallory mystery seems to have been
a driving force, correct me if I'm overstating that, I know you
have a lot of interests in Everest. But you got a book for Christmas
in 1987 from your family, and even before then in an interview
you said that you'd been interested since you were six or seven.
That was the time when my father first told me about Mallory
and Irvine, so the names Mallory and Irvine, and what they meant
to mountaineering history, that was something I knew since I
was about six or seven.
The catalyst was more the book that you got?
At that time you were 16 years old?
And did you immediately proceed to start your research?
Yes, immediately after reading the book for the first time, I
wrote my first letter to Tom Holzel, and in return received two
papers he had written, two articles he had published, and so
that was really the catalyst. I started looking for old books
and other materials, articles, newspaper clippings, films, etc.
It was infrequent, I mean, some years there was very little input
to the archives, but I must say in the last two years it virtually
exploded. I got so many new books. It's really fascinating.
Do you feel that this childhood dream, actually through your
young adulthood, has been realized, or do you feel it's halfway
Taking part in this Mallory research expedition and writing a
book about it, I have the feeling that if that's all I contribute
to Everest history it's really just what I always wanted to do.
It has freed me from an enormous ambition and I feel now very,
very free and unencumbered. I'd love to pursue this research
further, of course, and if there's an opportunity to go once
more and take part in another research expedition that would
be great of course, but I don't place that much emphasis on it
any longer. It's nice to be connected with it, but it's less
obsessive than it had been before. I can still have my determination
if I need to. It will always interest me, what's going on, and
when new clues are found, but I don't put so much emphasis on
it as I did before.
I suppose that's because the expedition went so well. I mean,
everything turned out really wonderfully, you had good luck in
a lot of cases, the lack of snow helped, your strong team, and
finding the body so quickly.
It was really a remarkable success at all levels.
Do you know why the Mallory-Irvine mystery particularly grabbed
you, I mean, it grabs a lot of people, it is one of the great
mysteries, but was there something special about it?
My climbing background played a great role in this. It made access
to this kind of mystery easier, that's for sure. Otherwise I
feel I have a knack for mysteries of all kinds, especially those
real mysteries of exploration and mountaineering. But in the
case of the Mallory and Irvine mystery, there were several other
components., several other factors. Mainly it was the fascinating
question in the first place--was there the possibility that Everest's
first ascent was something else than history books tell us. And
then the remote possibility that further evidence and clues for
solving the mystery could still be found. That attracted me.
And the fact that probably I could do something about it, whatever
this might be, on my own--that was also very attractive. It was
not a mystery that was inaccessible. There was a lot of thinking,
scientific thinking, you could get your own way into it, and
create your own place in all this.
So it wasn't just an armchair discussion, but you felt you actually
had some power to solve it?
Probably not so much feeling that I had the power to solve it,
but I was just believing the possibility. That it came true is
of course marvelous. It gives me a real deep feeling, deep sense
of contentment that we actually took part and played some role
in the successful outcome of this venture. It was some sort of
belief, and belief against all odds that kept me going.
Did you have expectations going in that you would find certain
things, or were you just totally open to whatever happened?
I had very little expectation, actually. I thought we had a strong
search team, and when we arrived on the mountain we saw that
we had good weather, we had good conditions on the mountain,
so I thought, well, we have a good chance of finding something.
But the least I wanted to come back with from the expedition
was the feeling we had given it a good shot. No one before our
expedition had actually searched on the mountain. There was a
search expedition in 1986, but they never got so high on the
mountain as to reach the research area. And what I wanted to
see was the team actually doing some search up there, and even
if we hadn't found anything up there, we still would have come
back from the mountain able to say we gave it a good try. That
was the minimum outcome I wanted to see from this expedition.
In the end it came out to be so much more than expected.
I know you put a lot of work into analyzing photographs from
previous expeditions. Was that preparation really key, do you
think, to the work on the mountain?
Well, I can just quote another expedition member who wrote me
in September, thanks for the contribution, you saved us a lot
of time and walking up there, and that was probably very fitting.
I guided them to the probable search area, to the most likely
search area--and that was it. So it was surely instrumental,
and it was my part.
And you were able to quickly identify some artifacts they found,
That was also a contribution that I was able to identify the
remnants of the camp we found lower down on the mountain belonging
to the Chinese expedition of 1960.
To me, one of the dramatic parts of the story is, the climbers
are up high searching, you are down at Base Camp, you have your
telescope, you're looking up, there's very little radio contact
because you don't want to give away anything, and you were not
sure what was happening sometimes. What was your feeling during
those hours when you were waiting for results and you felt something
might be happening?
It was incredibly tense. I mean, I was winding tighter and tighter
sitting behind the telescope waiting for news. I really didn't
have a clue, I just saw them getting together in one spot, and
I couldn't see what they were doing, and it was really hard to
tell. It was such a relief of pressure when eventually a message
came down, "Jochen, you will be a happy man." Those
are immortal words. I will never forget them.
How did you interpret that, "Jochen, you will be a happy
I was immediately sure that this meant a major find. We had suggested
that certainly they must have found something big.
Was that moment the climax?
There were three great moments: going to Everest for the first
time, being a witness to the finding of the body, and holding
the oxygen bottle and later the other artifacts.
What about the Mallory family? I know the daughter wrote the
foreward to the book. Did you talk to her on the telephone, did
you meet her?
No, I didn't. Eric Simonson, our expedition leader, met her,
and Bill Northdurft, our writer, talked to her son on the telephone.
In the end, it was her own initiative to write the foreward.
We received it without talking to her. We discussed it, we discussed
the possibility, but the foreward arrived without any one of
us talking to her about the contents.
That's very interesting.
Yes, very moving. And we received those multiple pages of fax
paper and just said, that's the foreward.
You had been in touch before to get permission?
Yes, permission, and raising the idea whether she might be able
to write the foreward to the book--and she did.
Who decided on the kind of commital service?
That was arranged by the members of the BBC team, Peter Firstbrook
and Graham Hoyland, who got the Psalm 103 from the Bishop of
Bristol. It was done in arrangement with the family. They basically
carried these on to the climbers on the search team. The search
team fulfilled the task.
Are the artifacts now in Seattle?
There's an exhibition in connection with the National Geographic
Society in Washington D.C. The exhibition is now changing its
location to Tacoma in the state of Washington. It will be there
until January and after that the artifacts will be returned to
the Royal Geographical Society in England and to the Mallory
Some to each? Some artifacts will go to the Society and others
will go to the family ?
I suppose so. I do not know about the details, specific details
of this. This is more something Eric Simonson handled.
Quickly, I'd just like to ask a number of questions about Mallory
and Irvine. I know there are different opinions on this. First,
the famous sighting by Odell. Do you think they were above the
Third Step? I know you know it's not the First Step, but do you
think they were above the Third Step when they were seen?
For me this is intriguing. If I would vote for Odell's sighting
only, I would bet they were at the Third Step. The Third Step
is the only place that really matches the topography in Odell's
account. However, the timing makes it more likely they were at
the Second Step and Odell himself always said it was the Second
Step. He even gives the altitude and then offers his account,
and that leaves no doubt that he meant the Second Step.
Nevertheless, you would bet the Third based on . . .
Based on topography I would say it's the Third Step. But I still
like to put it in the way we put it in the book. They were clearly
not at the First Step from Odell's account, either at the Second
Step or very possibly higher. I would say it's more likely that
they were at the Second Step because of a combination of various
factors. But it's also possible they were at the Third Step indeed.
There's discussion of whether they had the ability to climb the
This is the greatest problem, and that is the problem for which
I will be always criticized, I'm under no illusions. You know,
I see it from the historian's perspective. If you say they could
not have climbed the Second Step, then you have to explain, what
did Odell see? And you have to proclaim that Odell was mistaken,
and you have to provide evidence that Odell was mistaken. As
long as this evidence is not there, the eyewitness account then
cannot be explained away easily and we have to assume that in
some way, somehow, they made it past the Second Step.
One thing that puzzled me. The 1960 China team had incredible
difficulty climbing the Second Step--one of them fell repeatedly,
it took all afternoon and evening. And yet Conrad Anker, granted
he is one of the best climbers, but he went up the last part
in a matter of a minute or so. Was that just the different conditions
between 1960 and . . .
I would simply say it was Conrad Anker's experience and skill.
The Chinese in 1960 were very inexperienced. If the Chinese climbers
of 1960 showed anything, it is that the Second Step can be climbed
by even less-experienced climbers with great, great difficulty
and time and effort. You could probably assume Mallory could
have done it as opposed to saying he did it. He could have done
it. He would probably be somewhere in between the two extremes.
He would have been faster and taken lesser time and lesser effort
than the Chinese in 1960, but clearly it was far more difficult
and at the limit of his ability, and clearly a lot greater effort
than Conrad Anker. Conrad Anker now says he thinks it was impossible
that they could have climbed the Second Step headwall. That is
the key problem in the whole case now. You have this statement
based on experience that he says it's impossible that they've
done it. On the other hand there is this eyewitness account that
cannot be explained away. In the common way of thinking is, they
could not have done it so Odell must have been wrong. What I
basically do is turning this train of thought around and say,
well, what if Odell was right? Then we have some things to explain.
There are a lot of small details that could come in this debate.
For example, there has been the question of whether there was
more snow cover on the Second Step in 1924 that could have facilitated
the ascent for Mallory and Irvine, like it facilitated the attempt
for the Spanish, for the Catalans, in 1985 who basically walked
up the snow pitch. 1924 was a dry year, so it's unlikely there
was more snow. And then another one was saying recently, do you
think global warming could have affected the permanent snow cover
on that pitch. It's an interesting thought--we don't know. So
we have very little to say that's for sure, and I like the way
Eric Simonson put this in his lectures. He says, well, it definitely
was very, very, very hard--very, very hard for Mallory and Irvine
to climb the Second Step. But at the same time he refuses to
say that it was impossible. He says that they could have done
it perhaps, which is not to say that they did, that is also not
to say that they definitely did not.
And downclimbing would have been even more difficult, and I think
Conrad Anker looked for some sort of rope or anchor up at the
top of the Second Step from 1924. Does the fact that they did
not find anything mean anything?
That is not something that I'm aware of, that he looked. Definitely
there's nothing reported by other expeditions yet, that there's
some equipment above the Second Step. But on the other hand,
the Chinese of 1960, they apparently found a way to anchor their
rope and make the ground, and so, who knows?
There's still no evidence to say either way, if they had made
a fixed line for going down.
Yes. The only thing that strikes me is that the various pieces
of rope we found on Mallory's body, they sometimes give the appearance
that the rope was cut or maybe shortened so that could have been
an indication. The total amount of rope we found on the body
certainly does not make up the whole length of the standard rope
at that time. And also, there are a few pieces that seem to be
the breaking point, where the rope broke between Mallory and
Irvine, but there is no clear end of the rope, something like
tied off, or wrapped with tape or something like that. So maybe
they left behind at some stage in the ascent part of their rope.
Mallory had a pocket knife to cut the rope, but we don't know,
we don't know. The only thing we can say, and that makes the
detective side of the story so interesting, is there is now an
apparent contradiction. Conrad Anker's account saying they could
not have done it and the eyewitness account that basically declares
they did it. I don't see enough evidence to contradict the eyewitness
account. And so the possibility that they could have done it
is still there, which is a vast difference to saying that they
I imagine your next expedition would search more carefully for
some sign of fixed rope at the top of the Second Step?
Yes, there are other options. Any piece of the rope could have
been blown away a long, long time ago and some other artifacts
are still missing like the oxygen apparatus and so on, and if
that would be found somewhere on the mountain it could give us
more answers. I think to find the complete evidence, the irrefutable
evidence, that they did it or that they definitely did not do
it, that's very hard to prove. We are still left with suggestions.
I guess the camera would be crucial.
Yeah, but then there's still the question of the film intact.
Anything could have happened.
Is the lack of his wife's photograph in his pocket significant?
We know from Mallory's daughter that he intended to leave a picture
of his wife on the summit. It is really interesting that although
we found this perfectly preserved pack of letters in his pocket
which was wrapped carefully in the handkerchief, there was just
this letter from his brother Trafford, his sister Mary, and a
friend of the family named Stella, but no letter from his wife,
and also no picture. I wouldn't bet too much on this. I would
not regard it as evidence, but it's an interesting thought indeed.
Also others have recently pointed out that there was also no
Union Jack found, and there is a reference in one of the old
books that they carried one with them, but of course it could
still be with Irvine, and I'd say finding a Union Jack with Irvine
would be very, very strong evidence that they did not do it.
Do they actually know for sure that they carried a Union Jack?
It's mentioned in one book, so we probably have to take this
into account. But I would say of all the evidence and speculation
it's an interesting thought--the photograph and the letter, the
absence of this. Perhaps to close all this debate and speculation,
how to rate the eyewitness account and Conrad Anker's opinion,
and so on and so on, I found one remark by someone in the audience
at Banff very, very touching. He said, you know, I thank you
and Eric and Larry, that you still allow for the possibility
that they could have done it. You did not kill the mystery and
you did not kill this romantic image of them reaching the top.
This clearly was not the wish behind this thinking they could
have done it or allowing for the possibility, but if it is received
in this way, then we are pleased with that.
The four scenarios, in connection with what you just said, in
the last chapter, of the possible routes and how far they got,
is there one that you yourself support the most?
I would say I don't favor one scenario in particular. I'm too
much of a scientist in that respect, but I would say there is
the possibility that we have two 50-50 scenarios. One 50-50 scenario
is that they were either at the Second or the Third Step. That's
50-50 to be decided. The other thing is, it's 50-50 whether they
carried two or three cylinders of oxygen. When you combine those
in the end you have four scenarios. One makes the summit impossible,
being at the top of the Second Step with only two bottles of
oxygen. Then being on the Third Step with two bottles of oxygen
makes the summit improbable but not impossible--it makes it unlikely
but not impossible. And if they had been at the Second Step with
three bottles of oxygen, it makes the summit again unlikely but
not impossible. And if they had been on the Third Step with three
cylinders of oxygen that would make the summit a definite possibility.
That's how I see it, and I think.
So each of those four really is about equally possible?
Unless further evidence is found we can't say which is valid
A minor question, why did they not carry their lights? They must
have thought there was a good chance they would have to downclimb
in the dark.
It was probably a miscalculation. They thought, well, we can
return within daylight. It's fairly interesting, we also say
in the book that they forgot most, if not all, their lighting
equipment, yet British historian Audrey Salkeld said to me, well,
we don't know that for sure. We know that some of their equipment
was found in the camp, but it still allows for the possibility
that they carried one source of light. So this is still something
which probably in the end was completely different than it appears
today. Such a number of open questions are still not decided
Would they have been likely to mark their descent through the
Yellow Band? When Anker and Hahn went up, they knew they would
come back late, and they marked the proper place to go down.
This is something we can't know. We cannot know whether they
would have done it, whether they would have had some sort of
forethinking that they must descend through the Yellow Band.
I sometimes wonder, but this is just thinking of mine and not
something I would state definitely, whether the oxygen bottle
and the ice ax have some relation to that. The ice ax was found
lying free on the flat as if placed there and, well, you can't
say what this really means. It surely was close to the place
where you turn left and descend into the Yellow Band, and there
might be a meaning there, but we can't say for sure.
My last small point about the climb, Anker said the fact that
Mallory did not have gloves on was important, it meant maybe
he took them off to downclimb a rock face on the Yellow Band.
Do you think that's likely?
It could be, but it could also be that the gloves were ripped
off in the fall eventually. There was one image that we found
later that Mallory was still holding a piece of fabric between
his fingers. It could have been a remnant of one of the gloves.
His fingertips were as far as we could see undamaged. It probably
points against the theory that the gloves were ripped off in
the slide down the slope, but who knows?
If you examine his hands, his skin, could you find tiny pieces
of glove fabric?
It was just recognized later in one photograph, a little piece
of fabric between the index and middle finger of the right hand.
There was some controversy over the sale of photos after the
discovery. I think they were handled by an agency called Gamma
Liason. What's your side of that? Is it much of a controversy?
I know people like Chris Bonington were somewhat upset.
I would say we can admit having made a mistake in the way in
the photos got out. They got out to the highest bidder basically,
and it was a tabloid newspaper, and that was not the way . .
. I mean, had we anticipated the reaction it would cause, we
would have chosen a different way, that's for sure. But my personal
view is that I do not condemn the publication of the photographs
in general. First, it's a matter of proof for our discovery,
and there's this nice contradiction. There was this article in
Rock and Ice by Joe Simpson condemning even the fact that we
took any photographs at all. He said, well, if you find someone
with clothing labels and hobnailed boots, and old clothing, who
the hell do you think you found? And three weeks later I found
in another English climbing magazine a letter saying, I do not
believe that the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition found
George Mallory because they provided insufficient evidence. Whatever
you do, you do it wrong. The photos are a matter of proof and
they are also a part of the story. It's a fact that we found
him, it's part of this new chapter we added to the history of
Mallory and Irvine and so it has its value, definitely. Also,
I think that the photographs chosen to be published are not particularly
distasteful or gruesome. Some people even say they have a certain
esthetic quality to them. It's an eerie feeling, it's an eerie
fascination associated with those photographs.
Was there a photograph of his buttocks into which the gorak fed
on his organs that was taken and not released? Does such a photo
You chose not to . . .
The whole site was documented, extensively photographed, so we
have that, and we chose not to publish it. We won't do it, that's
The last question on that, did you kind of lose control of the
process of the bidding once you gave it to the agency?
That was clearly beyond my control and observation. I mean, we
were all removed from the action because we were still at Everest
Base Camp. So I can't give you the whole story behind it.
So you were not really sure what was going on--you were not engaged
in receiving bids yourselves or anything like that?
The last bit of controversy I'd like to ask you about was the
tension with the BBC over money and personality conflicts. I
just wondered if you had any comments on that. Did that detract
from the expedition or was just it a minor irritation?
I would say it was some sort of irritation, and personal conflicts
are unavoidable in such a venture. I just can say that you always
have to decide between personal conflicts or personal views of
persons in particular, and business relationships are always
very different. You can disagree with a person on a business
level and still be friends with the person on a personal level--it
comes in all shapes and sizes. In retrospect, I must say even
if there has been personal conflict, the film crew did a terrific
job. They have to be respected and congratulated for the work
they have done, and that how I see it.
Do you plan to become a geologist? I know you're a graduate student.
I'm becoming a geologist as soon as I finish my degree. This
will happen sometime during next year, and then yes, I will be
a geologist. Whether I work at a geologist is a different question.
You will receive the degree in the year 2000?
Is that a doctorate degree?
We don't have the same system as in the U.S. It's about equivalent
to a master's degree.
Do you know if you will pursue geology? Do you have a particular
interest, for example mountain geology?
I'd rather combine my scientific interests, and especially my
interest in geology, with the journalistic side I have pursued
now with the book. Because I'd like to help to promote science
and to make science understandable and help actually improving
the communication between science and the general public, whether
by writing books about scientific topics, writing books that
are written in a way that makes them more fascinating and more
curiosity ???, or lectures at museums. I'd simply like to communicate
more about it, so rather than staying within the academic community,
I'd like to build some sort of bridge between the academic community
and the general public. And maybe this book is the first step
Would you write in German, English, both?
Whatever the options are. I'm prepared to do both, and I'd love
to do both.
If you had to guess what you'll be doing in 5 years and 10 years,
do you have any predictions?
I really don't have any, because the last two years have shown
me that you really can't tell. You have to be open for surprises.
I hope I'm still with my girlfriend by then, and I can still
pursue the sort of adventure travels I'm doing now, and just
be the person I am, and continue doing some sort of work in this
field--mountaineering, geology, whatever that work might be.
I want to make sure I have your age right. You're now 27?
I'm now 28.
So since the summer you turned 28.
My birthday is in August. I was 26 when I got involved with Johnson,
then 27 immediately afterwards, was 27 on the expedition, and
Is there a next trip or a next mystery after Mallory that you
are planning, interested in?
I'm getting interested right at the moment very much in other
parts of the Himalaya. I'm very much interested in the history
of exploration and mountaineering in the Karakoram Range. Especially
the north side, the ???.
Not on tape: during the past week, Hemmleb went to London
with his girlfriend for three days. Next summer he plans to go
to Bolivia with two friends.
Is there anything you can think of that you would like to mention
that I did not ask you?
I think we've covered all topics. The only thing I may like to
say here is that I wish to thank every member of the expedition
for having such a good time on the mountain. It was a real privilege
to take part in this expedition and share times with every one
Climbing seems to breed a real humility. I listened to an interview
with Conrad Anker on a talk show--he's quite a serious Buddhist
and seems very at peace with himself. Is that one of the great
attractions of climbing for you, that you find some kind of inner
peace and humility?
Climbing provides a very, very good approach to this. Naturally
one attraction, but you can gain this not only by climbing, that's
Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.
It was really nice.