Everest's Mallory-Irvine mystery remains unsolved

An expedition retracing the 1924 Mount Everest expedition by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine has ended without drawing any conclusions about whether the men made it to the summit before dying.

An expedition retracing the 1924 Mount Everest expedition by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine returned from the mountain Wednesday unable to say whether the men were the first to scale the world's highest peak.

Climbers from the Altitude Everest Expedition 2007 returned to the Nepalese capital Katmandu after reaching the 8,848-metre summit from the Chinese side of the mountain in the north and filming a documentary.

The expedition wanted to get closer to answering Everest's long-held secret — whether the two Britons who died on the mountain had reached the summit 29 years before New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay successfully scaled the mountain on May 29, 1953.

"I still believe the possibility is there they made it to the top, but it is very unlikely," said Conrad Anker of Bozeman, Mont., who reached the summit June 14.

The team filmed a documentary on Mallory and Irvine's last journey as they tried to reconstruct their final, fateful hours.

Mallory and Irvine were last seen just 274 metres from the summit in 1924.

There has been speculation for years that Mallory and Irvine may have reached the summit but died en route down. So far there has been no proof, and the climb by Hillary and Norgay is officially recognized as the first to reach the world's highest peak.

"There is no question that the first ascent of Mount Everest occurred in 1953. You have to get to the top and then return safe and sound," Anker said. "The possibility is there and they had the skills they could have done it. But if they had made it the summit, they did not return so it's not a valid ascent."

Climbers tested replicas of 1924 clothing

During some parts of their climb, team members also wore similar clothing and equipment used by the Mallory and Irvine in an attempt to mimic the 1924 climb.

The 1924 climbers used wool, silk and leather equipment, considered by some to be insufficient compared to the high-tech synthetic gear used by modern climbers.

Anker discovered Mallory's frozen body in 1999 during a similar expedition.

That expedition also recovered handwritten letters addressed to Mallory, goggles, an altimeter, a pocketknife and a piece of rope, but did not find a camera the climbers were believed to be carrying.

Unable to remove Mallory's body, the team buried it under rocks. Irvine's body has never been found.