Noel Odell

Noel Ewart Odell (25 December 1890 – 21 February 1987) was an English geologist and mountaineer. Educated at Brighton College and the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College, in 1924 he was an oxygen officer on the Everest expedition in which George Mallory and Andrew Irvine famously perished during their summit attempt. Odell spent two weeks living above 23,000 feet (7,000m), and twice climbed to 26,800-ft and higher, all without supplemental oxygen. Indeed, his performance on Everest was so remarkable, it was taken as proof that the weight of oxygen equipment nullified any possible benefit.


Everest 1924

On 8 June 1924 George Mallory and Andrew Irvine attempted to climb to the top of Mount Everest via the Northeast Ridge route. Keen-sighted Odell reported seeing them at 12:50 p.m. ascending one of the major "steps" on the North-East ridge, "the last step but one from the base of the final pyramid" [1] and "going strongly for the top." But no evidence thus far has proved that they reached the summit, or that they were ever higher than the major Second Step obstacle. They never returned and died somewhere high on the mountain. Odell was the last person to see the pair alive.

In his first two accounts, written between June and November 1924, Odell was certain he had seen Mallory & Irvine climbing the Second Step. But in the expedition account published in 1925, and after mounting pessimism by a members of the climbing community as to whether it was the Second Step or the lower First Step, Odell conceded it might had been the First Step where he had seen the pair. After he had been rejected as too old for the next Everest expedition, that of 1933, he recanted his change of mind and returned to the belief that he had seen the two climbers surmount the Second Step. Had they done so, there would have been a fair chance that one of them at least, might have reached the summit.

Following their disappearance, Odell climbed from the North Col up to around 27,000-feet (8,200 m) searching in vain for the two climbers. ”…in the time available under the prevailing conditions, I found it impossible to extend my search.” [Fight for Everest, p 138.] Mallory & Irvine Research - A Final Word</ref>


In 1936 Noel Odell with Bill Tilman successfully reached the summit of Nanda Devi which at the time, and until 1950, was the highest mountain climbed. Odell returned to Everest with the expedition led by Tilman in 1938.

Noel Odell had a colourful career outside mountaineering as well, serving with the Royal Engineers in both World Wars, as a consultant in the petroleum and mining industries, and teaching geology at a number of universities around the world, including Harvard and Cambridge.

He was of course also an accomplished rock climber, famous for his solo first ascent in 1919 of Tennis Shoe on the Idwal Slabs, in Snowdonia. Odell Gully in the Huntington Ravine of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington is named after Odell, who was the first to demonstrate its ascent in winter.[2]


In the 2010 documentary film about Mallory's expedition, The Wildest Dream, Alan Rickman acts as the voice of Noel Odell.


  1. ^ Jochen Hemmleb: The Last Witness: Noel Odell
  2. ^ Recreational History of Huntington Ravine