OGDEN, Utah – Weber State University English professor Mikel Vause may be part of history this spring. He is one of 20 men embarking on an expedition to Mount Everest this April, with the goal of solving a decades-long historical mystery:
Who was the first man to scale the world’s tallest peak?
Sir Edmund Hillary is credited with being the first man to successfully reach the summit of Everest in 1953. But 29 years earlier, the British tandem of George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine may have summited, only to perish on their descent.
A Kodak pocket camera, believed to be on Irvine’s person, might hold the answer. Eastman Kodak Company officials believe the pictures could be developed if the film is undisturbed.
“If the photographs survived then that would solve this great conundrum,” said Vause. “I mean it doesn’t cure cancer and it doesn’t end world hunger or bring world peace, but it has been a big question in the mountaineering community for a long time.”
The current expedition’s leader, Graham Hoyland, will focus on locating Irvine’s remains. Mallory’s body was found in 1999. The party will have an approximate location from which to start. In 1979, a Chinese climber uncovered a body that could be Irvine’s, but he died before he could lead others back to that location.
Along with the chance to finally settle a historical debate, Vause also hopes to find inspiration for a new collection of poems he’s writing, called Terrible and Deadly Seasons.
While Vause lacks the necessary certification to reach the highest points on Everest, the advanced base camp at 22,000 feet will far exceed his previous personal record of 18,000 feet above sea level while attempting Naya Kanga in the Langtang Himal range of the Himalayas.
“To even be there on the periphery will be a thrill. I won’t be able to go high enough for where they are doing the actual search, but if they find something and bring down the artifacts, I’ll be among the first people to see them,” said Vause, sitting in his campus office, surrounded by photos and souvenirs from his previous mountain climbing treks.
Vause’s love of climbing dates back to his childhood days exploring the Ogden foothills and an old stone “W” on the side of the mountain. “It was a big deal as a little kid to hike to the W. It was a pretty good distance, and every step of the way was uphill.” As a teenager he went to work at a little shop in Ogden called The Mountaineer, got his first pair of climbing shoes, and discovered his passion for mountain climbing.
Vause went on to write his dissertation on mountaineering literature. By the 1980s, he was leading groups of Weber State students to England, Scotland and Wales, retracing the steps of famous British poets like Wordsworth and Coleridge among the peaks of the United Kingdom. These expeditions were often led by premier British climbers who Vause has befriended through the years. The groups would stop and read the works of these famous poets, in the very locations that inspired the artists centuries ago.
The trip offers Vause his second brush with the world’s highest peak. In 2000, Vause took a detour from a humanitarian trip to Nepal, chartering a plane so he could glimpse the mountain. At the time, he never dreamed he’d have a chance to one day climb it.
Vause leaves on April 10 and returns to Ogden May 8.
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