As every pub quiz captain knows, Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing became the first mountaineers to climb Everest, the highest peak in the world, in 1953.
But were they really the first? In 1924, pioneering British climbers George Mallory and Andrew ‘Sandy’ Irvine were glimpsed through the clouds just 800 feet from the summit and moving upwards. Sadly, they were never seen alive again and the mystery of whether they died before or after reaching the top still endures.
The renowned modern-day American mountaineer Conrad Anker has always been fascinated by their story, and in the documentary film The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest, he and British climbing prodigy Leo Houlding follow the experienced Mallory and young Irvine’s original North East Ridge route up the mountain to try to solve the mystery. By taking the same difficult route and experimenting with the same clothing and equipment, Anker and Houlding try to determine whether Mallory and Irvine succeeded.
Anker already has a connection with this tale. An early scene in the film shows his discovery of Mallory’s frozen body on Everest in 1999, 75 years after his death. Intriguingly, all of his belongings were with him except for a photograph of his wife Ruth, which he’d promised to leave on the summit.
For all lovers of the great outdoors, this is a beautifully-photographed film capturing the beauty and challenge of Everest. But it also tries, with some success, to be more than just a mountaineering film. Archive footage and excerpts from Mallory’s letters reveal his love for his wife and the difficulties he faced in reconciling his happy home life with his need to leave his family and explore.
Although The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest does provide some clues to Mallory and Irvine’s chances of success, it will take a sequel to resolve this mystery. Irvine’s body has never been found, yet the key to the puzzle lies with him. It’s believed he was carrying the camera that could provide the world with the necessary proof of their success – a picture taken on the summit.