Noel Odell, the last person to see Irvine and Mallory alive 100 years ago
Noel Odell

Highlighting Noel Odell, the last person to actually see Mallory and Irvine climb towards the summit of Everest on that fateful day that they disappeared. The 100th anniversary of a well-known mystery in mountaineering is being commemorated this year: did George Mallory and Andrew ‘Sandy’ Irvine reach the top of Everest on 8 June 1924? Geologist Noel Odell last spotted them high on the mountain, with Mallory appearing to still have the strength to continue towards the summit. However, they disappeared into the clouds and were never seen again. Mallory’s remains were discovered in 1999, but the mystery of whether they reached the summit remains unsolved due to the lack of conclusive evidence.

Even earlier on as Mallory and Irvine struggled to put on their heavy oxygen masks, expedition geologist Noel Odell took their picture. At 22, Irvine calmly watched while Mallory adjusted his mask. At 8:40 a.m., the pair left with eight Tibetan porters for Camp V. The next morning, with just four porters, they pushed on to Camp VI near the summit. They left notes for other expedition members at Camp IV before moving. Facing numerous challenges en route, the climbers were last seen moving quickly toward the summit ridge. Odell, well-acclimatized to the altitude, was out looking for them when he saw a small black spot on the snowmaking progress. He could tell even from a distance that it was Mallory and Irvine. Unfortunately, they did not return to Camp VI as anticipated and were never seen again. Their disappearance raised many questions and led to speculation for decades. In the mid-1990s, Jochen Hemmleb became obsessed with locating Mallory and Irvine’s remains. He sought to remove the layers of myth and speculation to solve the mystery. His findings and conclusions provided insight and brought about the start of a formal Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition. Other details emerged in the years following, providing new and valuable information about Mallory and Irvine’s fate. The presence of several oxygen cylinders helped provide possible explanations for the events of that day, shedding light on their climbing rate and potential use of oxygen. Odell’s account was analyzed further, leading to new interpretations about the climbers’ location at different times during their ascent. These insights have contributed greatly to the understanding of Mallory and Irvine’s fateful climb.

The last sighting of Irvine and Mallory

Noel Odell observed George Mallory and Andrew Irvine on the summit ridge of Everest for the last time on June 8, 1924. What exactly did he witness? What might he have witnessed? And what insights can we gain from this last glimpse before Mallory and Irvine vanished?

Many people are aware that the unresolved disappearance of Mallory & Irvine has occupied a significant place in my life and enthusiasm for many years. I have extensively discussed this topic on The MountainWorld Blog, created a detailed Squidoo Lens on the subject, and had the privilege of participating in the Mallory & Irvine Research Expeditions in 1999, 2001, and 2014.

Recently, I had a conversation with some acquaintances about Noel Odell’s well-known last sighting of Mallory & Irvine on June 8, 1924. Noel Odell, a skilled climber and Himalayan expert, was part of the 1924 Expedition. Despite not being considered “fit enough” to join Mallory on his ultimately tragic summit attempt, Odell did climb up to Camp VI on Mallory & Irvine’s summit day to offer his support.

Odell did not realize it at the time, but his sighting of the pair making their way to the top would be the last time he saw them alive. In his account of the sighting, he describes how, just after a moment of excitement from finding fossils on Everest, the summit ridge and final peak of Everest were suddenly revealed. He then saw two small black spots moving along the ridge, eventually reaching the top and disappearing into the clouds once more.

Speculation about the last sighting of Mallory & Irvine alive remains a topic of intense discussion. There is debate over whether Odell saw them at the top of the First Step or the Second Step. If it was the former at 12:50 PM, it is unlikely that they reached the summit due to the late hour. However, if they were at the Second Step at that time, it is almost certain that they did reach the summit. I will not share my full opinion, but I would like to provide some images for those who are interested. These photos were taken from roughly Noel Odell’s vantage point on the North Ridge in 2004. One is zoomed out to the level of the human eye and the second is zoomed in, clearly showing people on the ridgecrest. Feel free to take a close look at the images and enjoy.

Noel Odell's viewThe photo above of the Northeast Ridge of Everest was captured on May 18, 2004, at 11:31 AM. It was taken from the same location where the last sighting of Mallory & Irvine was made by Noel Odell on June 8, 1924. The image was captured using a 50mm focal length, which closely resembles what Noel Odell would have seen with his naked eye. It shows the First, Second, and Third Steps of Everest from the perspective of Noel Odell’s sighting on the fateful summit bid by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine on June 8, 1924.

Who was Noel Odell

Noel Ewart Odell, a renowned English geologist and mountaineer, was a key member of the 1924 Everest expedition. He spent an impressive two weeks living above 23,000 feet and made multiple climbs to 26,800 feet and higher without the use of supplemental oxygen. In 1936, Odell also achieved the climb of Nanda Devi, then the highest mountain to be climbed. Born in St Lawrence, Isle of Wight, Noel Odell was the son of Rev Robert William Odell and Mary Margaret Ewart. He was educated at Brighton College and the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College, and earned a PhD from Cambridge University. With his membership in the Alpine Club, Odell became known for his solo first ascent of Tennis Shoe on the Idwal Slabs in Snowdonia in 1919. Furthermore, Odell Gully in the Huntington Ravine of Mount Washington in New Hampshire is named after him as he was the first to ascend it in winter. In 1917, Noel Odell married Gwladys Jones, who passed away in 1977.


In 1936, Noel Odell, along with Bill Tilman, successfully reached the summit of Nanda Devi, the highest mountain climbed at the time until 1950. Odell joined another expedition led by Tilman to Mount Everest in 1938. Outside of his mountaineering accomplishments, Odell had a diverse career, serving with the Royal Engineers in both World Wars, working as a consultant in the petroleum and mining industries, and teaching geology at various universities including Harvard and Cambridge. He held the position of Professor of Geology at the University of Otago in New Zealand and Peshawar University in Pakistan. In 1944, Odell was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, with Sir James Wordie, George Tyrrell, Sir Arthur Trueman, and John Weir as his proposers.


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