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Everest mountaineer's letters digitized

April 22, 2024
University of Cambridge
Letters written by the famous mountaineer George Mallory have been made available to a global audience for the first time, in the centenary year of his fatal attempt to scale Everest.

Letters written by the famous mountaineer George Mallory have been made available to a global audience for the first time, in the centenary year of his fatal attempt to scale Everest.

An alumnus of Magdalene College, Cambridge, Mallory is known for purportedly replying "because it's there" when asked by a reporter why he wanted to climb Everest. There is still debate about whether he and his climbing partner Andrew 'Sandy' Irvine did in fact make it to the top of the mountain.

The bulk of the collection is made up of letters written between Mallory and his wife Ruth from the time of their engagement in 1914 until his death on Everest in 1924. Among them are the very last letter he wrote before his final Everest summit attempt and three letters that were retrieved from his body in 1999. These letters survived 75 years in his jacket pocket before his body was discovered.

The letters cover some fascinating topics including:

  • His first reconnaissance mission to Everest in 1921. There were no existing records or maps, it was uncharted and this was the mission to see if it was even possible to get to the base of Everest.
  • His second mission to scope out Everest. This mission ended in disaster when eight Sherpas were swept off the mountain and killed in an avalanche. Mallory blamed himself for this tragic accident in his letters.
  • His service in the First World War including his eyewitness accounts of being in the Artillery during the Battle of the Somme.
  • Letters from his 1923 visit to the USA in the middle of prohibition, visiting speakeasies, asking for milk and being served whiskey through a secret hatch.

The letters to Mallory from his wife Ruth 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.

The letters are free to view on the Magdalene College website.

College Archivist Katy Green said: "It has been a real pleasure to work with these letters. Whether it's George's wife Ruth writing about how she was posting him plum cakes and a grapefruit to the trenches (he said the grapefruit wasn't ripe enough), or whether it's his poignant last letter where he says the chances of scaling Everest are "50 to1 against us," they offer a fascinating insight into the life of this famous Magdalene alumnus."

Extracts from the letters include:

From Mallory's final letter to his wife Ruth before the attempt:

"Darling I wish you the best I can -- that your anxiety will be at an end before you get this -- with the best news. Which will also be the quickest. It is 50 to 1 against us but we'll have a whack yet & do ourselves proud. Great love to you. Ever your loving, George."

From the only surviving letter from the Everest period in the Archive that Ruth Mallory wrote to her husband.

"I am keeping quite cheerful and happy but I do miss you a lot. I think I want your companionship even more than I used to. I know I have rather often been cross and not nice and I am very sorry but the bottom reason has nearly always been because I was unhappy at getting so little of you. I know it is pretty stupid to spoil the times I do have you for those when I don't."

From a letter from Mallory's sister Mary Brooke, written from Colombo, Sri Lanka:

"I hope you have been getting the weather reports all right -- it will be very interesting to hear whether you can trace a connection with our weather & how long afterwards. Since sending you the observatory report yesterday we have had the most terrific storm… It was most violent for nearly three hours so if you get the same you had better be on the look out…"

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Cambridge. Original written by Hilary Fletcher. The original text of this story is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Cite This Page:

University of Cambridge. "Everest mountaineer's letters digitized." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 April 2024. <>.
University of Cambridge. (2024, April 22). Everest mountaineer's letters digitized. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2024 from
University of Cambridge. "Everest mountaineer's letters digitized." ScienceDaily. (accessed May 23, 2024).

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