Australian mountaineer fails to solve great Everest mystery

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An Australian adventurer on Wednesday said massive snowfall on the summit of Mount Everest stopped him from solving one of the giant peak's greatest mysteries -- whether it was first conquered in 1924.

Mountaineer Duncan Chessell on Tuesday became the first Australian to reach the summit of the world's highest peak three times, but said the conditions were by far the worst he had ever encountered.

Chessell had hoped to search for the body of missing climber Andrew "Sandy" Irvine and perhaps photographic evidence that he reached Everest with fellow Briton George Mallory in 1924, after high winds stripped away decades-old snow.

But Chessell said there was a fresh dump of snow and "winds were howling" when he hit the summit, once again shrouding the unforgiving rockface.

"They were the worst conditions I have ever encountered by a factor of at least 10 on the summit," Chessell told Australian Associated Press.

"Unfortunately, the huge dump of snow, which was not forecast and came completely out of nowhere, put a metre and a half of snow on top of everything," he said.

Mallory and Irvine perished near the summit during their expedition, leaving many wondering whether they had successfully scaled Everest, some 29 years before New Zealand's Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay succeeded in 1953.

Mallory's body was recovered in 1999 but not the camera equipment he was believed to be carrying, and their unexplained story has continued to fascinate the mountaineering world.

Chessell has long believed Irvine survived a fall but died while descending along a little-used route. He was philosophical about Tuesday's events.

"I know it sounds strange, but at the time I couldn't help thinking that the mountain was acting to keep its mystery to itself," Chessell said.

© 2010 AFP

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