By Jessi Loerch Herald Writer
Schelleen Scott-Rathkopf left base camp on Mount Everest in the middle of the night. She had a backpack full of film and a climbing canister full of artifacts from one of the earliest explorers on the mountain.
Days earlier, the expedition team she was with had discovered the body of a renowned British climber who had vanished on Everest in 1924.
When she reached the bridge that would bring her into Nepal, she crossed with her heart beating fast, terrified of being searched and having the work a climbing team had risked their lives for confiscated.
She showed her passport, though, and wasn’t questioned further. She passed into Nepal, carrying clues to a decades-old mystery.
In 1999, Scott-Rathkopf of Ballard was part of the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition to Mount Everest. The expedition hoped to find clues to what had happened to George Mallory and Andrew Irvine when they disappeared while attempting to be the first to climb Everest.
The pair were last seen nearing the final approach to the summit, and some wonder whether they might have actually reached the peak.
Scott-Rathkopf will speak about her experiences on the team at the Everett Mountaineers banquet on Saturday, Nov. 2. Scott-Rathkopf learned to climb as part of the Seattle Mountaineers basic climbing course in 1992-93. She has summited several peaks in the Cascades, including Mount Rainier twice.
In 1997 she was looking for a new adventure. In the process of choosing a Himalayan trek, she came across Eric Simonson of Expedition 8000 and International Mountain Guides, a world leader in Himalayan expeditions.
He was putting together a team for the 75th anniversary of the Mallory and Irvine disappearance. She joined his team in 1998 as sponsorship coordinator. The expedition was joined by film crews who ultimately made two documentaries about the trip.
She organized support for the expedition, and when they went to Everest in March 1999, she was with them. She worked at the base camp, elevation 17,600 feet, supporting the team and documentary crews throughout the expedition.
When the climbing crew, using detailed research, began searching for a body that was believed to be Mallory or Irvine, she followed along from base camp along with everyone else. When the body was discovered, climber Conrad Anker said the phrase they had all been waiting to hear: “Last time I climbed a boulder wearing hobnail boots, I fell off.”
That was the code to communicate the body had been found. The team knew Chinese monitors were listening in and didn’t want to give away what they’d found. After that, as agreed earlier, they stayed off of the radios.
So for two long days, the team at base camp waited impatiently for the climbers to return and learn what they had discovered.
Scott-Rathkopf and the others spent a fascinating night as the climbers showed the artifacts that had been removed from the body of George Mallory, which was who they had discovered. They had buried Mallory’s remains before they returned to base camp.
Two days later, Scott-Rathkopf was on her way to America with the film and the artifacts. She left the artifacts in Nepal with a trusted person. The film came with her back to America.
Two documentaries, and a book were produced about the expedition. The artifacts from Mallory’s remains were part of a National Geographic expedition, before being returned to the British.
At the Mountaineers banquet, Scott-Rathkopf will talk about her experiences with the expedition and share her personal photos.
“Whether a person is an avid mountaineer or not, the story of the search for Mallory or Irvine is so rich with history and adventure; it’s a fascinating mystery,” Scott-Rathkopf said. “I think it will appeal to the true mountaineer as well as the armchair adventurer.”
If you go
The Everett Mountaineers banquet is Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Medallion Hotel in Marysville. A no-host social hour begins at 5 p.m. and dinner is at 6 p.m. Tickets are $34 and are available online until 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31, at http://everettmountaineers.org. There will be no sales at the door. Check the website or call 360-420-2114 to learn more.