Explorer, author and professional climber Mark Synnott is standing in steep, loose rock about to step off the roped route on the top of Mount Everest. He’s about to leave the well-worn path above a 7,000-foot cliff more than 28,000 feet above sea level.
“No. No. No, no!”
Those are the voices from behind mountaineer Renan Ozturk’s camera lens. The team is not onboard with the plan anymore. They are descending from the summit of the world’s highest peak, on a mission to find the lost body of Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, the 22-year-old British explorer last seen on the rooftop of the world on June 8, 1924, with renowned explorer George Mallory.
A climbing team not unlike this one found Mallory’s body in 1999. Mallory was not carrying the camera he and Irvine shared on their ill-fated expedition. The team led by Synnott and guide Jamie McGuinness was driven to find Irvine’s body and see if he had that camera. If a picture on the camera showed the two adventurers on top of Everest, history would be rewritten.
The search beyond the path was, as Synnott says in National Geographic’s “Lost on Everest” documentary airing June 30, “a moment of truth.”
“That moment was multi-layered in its stress even more than what’s on the screen,” Ozturk said in an interview from his home in Ridgway.
Though Ozturk’s resume is heavy with the world’s most daring ascents, the Colorado College grad and renowned climber, moviemaker and artist, had avoided Everest until last year.
When Synnott and climber Thom Pollard approached him with a quest to solve one of the greatest mysteries in climbing, he joined the mission as director of the main documentary “Lost on Everest” and its side-story “Expedition Everest.”
“I never really had the desire to climb it and this was a way to go and tell a deeper story without having to focus on all the other stuff. It was a breath of fresh air. We were less climbers and more detectives, so to speak,” said Ozturk, 40.
The team had closely studied the route followed by Irvine and Mallory, who were last seen a few hundred feet below the summit in 1924, a full 29 years before Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to reach the summit of Everest. Pollard was on the team that found Mallory in May 1999.
The crew consulted with Everest historian Tom Holzel, whose theory on the precise location of Irvine’s body was based on reports from climbers in 1960 and 1995 who said they saw a body below the heavily trafficked route to the summit. Holzel had GPS coordinates and satellite imagery of the exact spot where he thought Irvine had ended up.
“He can’t not be there,” Holzel tells Pollard, Synnott and Ozturk in the film.