‘A Bad Time Altogether’: George Mallory’s Final Letters Before Dying On Mount Everest Have Just Been Published

Published April 30, 2024
Updated May 2, 2024

George Mallory was last seen on June 8, 1924 as he attempted to summit Mount Everest with his climbing partner Andrew Irvine.

George Mallory In 1921

Public DomainGeorge Mallory — standing on the far right — with other members of the 1921 Everest expedition.

A century ago, British explorer George Mallory perished while attempting to summit Mount Everest. Now, letters that he wrote to his wife during his doomed attempt have been published by Cambridge University alongside hundreds of others that he wrote between 1914 and 1924.

The collection of letters — which also include missives Mallory wrote while courting his wife and during his service in World War I — paint a fascinating picture of Mallory’s life, personality, and his final days on the mountain.

George Mallory’s Letters From The Mountain

Last Photo Of George Mallory

Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock PhotoThe last photo of George Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine, before they perished on Mount Everest.

George Mallory purportedly once stated that he wanted to climb Mount Everest “because it’s there.” And in 1921, 1922, and 1924, he joined the first British missions to summit the highest mountain on Earth.

During his final weeks alive in 1924, Mallory wrote a number of letters to his wife Ruth, which were just published by Magdalene College at Cambridge University, his alma mater. Three of these letters were found in his jacket pocket after his body was discovered in 1999. They shed light on the challenges Mallory faced during the climb, which ultimately claimed his life.

“This has been a bad time altogether,” Mallory wrote in his final letter to Ruth on May 27, 1924, 12 days before the explorer was last seen alive. “I look back on tremendous efforts & exhaustion & dismal looking out of a tent door and onto a world of snow & vanishing hopes — & yet, & yet, & yet there have been a good many things to set on the other side.”

Mallory went on to describe his bad cough and how he’d nearly died falling into a crevasse, “a very unpleasant black hole.” He ended the letter by remarking on the expedition’s thin odds of success, writing: “50 to 1 against us but we’ll have a whack yet & do ourselves proud.”

George Mallory Letters

Magdalene CollegeGeorge Mallory wrote his last letter to his wife in May 1924, 12 days before he was last seen alive.

Sadly, the letter was prophetic. Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine were last seen alive on June 8, 1924, when they were 900 feet from the summit. Mallory’s body was discovered 75 years later; Irvine’s was never found. It’s unknown whether they made it to the summit or not.

George Mallory’s Other Letters

George Mallory’s letters from his final days alive on Mount Everest make up just a small part of the larger Cambridge University collection. In all, the collection includes 840 letters from between 1914 and 1924. More than 400 are from George’s wife Ruth, and are “a major source of women’s social history, covering a wide variety of topics about her life as a woman living through the First World War,” according to Cambridge University.

Ruth Mallory

Public DomainHundreds of letters in the Cambridge University collection are from George Mallory’s wife, Ruth.

“As its Ruth’s letters from the war that survive (about 440) I loved the very personal and relatable information about a couple going through the war,” Magdalene College Archivist Katy Green told All That’s Interesting in an email. “I didn’t realise how many supplies women were sending out to the soldiers at the front including vests, vermin pants, curtains for the dugouts, and lots of food! I think these letters deserve more attention.”

Mallory’s other letters capture moments from his life between 1914 and his death in 1924. He writes of his wartime service, including his experience in the Battle of the Somme; his first two expeditions to Mount Everest and the tragic deaths of eight Sherpas in an avalanche; and how Mallory visited the United States during Prohibition and explored speakeasies.

“Our inspirational alumnus, Mallory, could not provide a better topic for our first digital archive project,” Pepys Librarian Jane Hughes remarked. “A student, a soldier, a husband and a mountaineer, his short life represented his generation of young men a hundred years ago in a remarkable and moving way.”

After reading about the publication of George Mallory’s letters from Mount Everest, discover the stories of the men credited with being the first to summit the mountain: Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Or, learn the sad story behind Mount Everest’s most infamous body, “Green Boots.”

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "‘A Bad Time Altogether’: George Mallory’s Final Letters Before Dying On Mount Everest Have Just Been Published." AllThatsInteresting.com, April 30, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/george-mallory-letters. Accessed May 23, 2024.