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Mallory's Last Climb

Sir Edmund Hillary is commonly believed to be the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.

But maybe that is a misconception. Filmmaker David Breashears understands what George Mallory meant about Everest being "there." He has climbed the mountain four times himself.

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And in his book, Last Climb, he tries to unravel the mystery of Mallory's disappearance. CBS News This Morning reports.
Mount Everest was just a name on the map to most people before young adventurer Mallory made his first trip to the mountain in 1921. This is the account according to Sir Edmund Hillary, the man credited with the first ascent.

"He was really the pioneer who almost created Everest," says Hillary of Mallory. "I mean, people knew very little about it. Not until he climbed it and wrote about it. So, for me, he was certainly a heroic figure."

Mallory made three attempts at climbing to the top of the mountain also referred to in that part of the world as "Goddess Mother of the Land."

When asked why he was so determined to make it to the top, he answered, "because it is there." It was on his third attempt in 1924 that Mallory and his climbing companion, Andrew Irvine, disappeared.

"They were over 28,000 feet, when we think they were last seen. They were clothed in wool and cotton, and it's just hard for us to imagine people climbing to those elevations to the edges of our planet so long ago," notes Breashears.

Filmmaker David Breashears explains some of the difficult conditions Mallory may have faced on his final climb.

The question of what became of Mallory and whether or not he made it to the summit has become one of the great mysteries of the 20th century.

Last May, a team of climbers found Mallory's body. But those who hoped the discovery of Mallory's body would solve the mystery were disappointed.

The camera known to be in Mallory's possession that could provide the answers has yet to be found.

To Hillary, though, it really doesn't matter: "He was a great man, whether he made it to the top or not," he says.

Climbing Mount Everest now has become almost a science; high-tech gear is avilable for climbers. But back then conditions were quite different.

"It's just hard for me to imagine, having stood on top myself four times, clothed in down and Gore-tex and layers of fleece and plastic double boots, how they did it," Breashears explains.

"They really had a great spirit with them," Breashears adds.

The location where Mallory's remains were discovered - and the route he was on to the summit – indicates he was far away from the intended route.

"It just shows that he fell down from the route. And it's a long traversing route. And it wouldn't be unusual on a route where you traverse so much horizontally that when you fall off of it, you fall down below it," notes Breashears.

"What we don't know and maybe never will know is whether the accident was two climbers were returning in defeat or returning from triumph," he adds.

There were also some other factors that may have kept him from reaching the top. Besides the difficulty of the route, there was a brief snowstorm that day, Breashears says.

Last Climb: The Legendary Everest Expeditions of George Mallory

And "he picked an inexperienced companion,...who wasn't much of a rock climber and had never been above 24,000 feet. And I think that's the greatest thing he had going against him," he says.

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