Tom Holzel really wants a camera. The problem is, the only camera the he'll settle for was lost somewhere on Mount Everest 86 years ago.
The lost camera is a Vestpocket Kodak that belonged to George Mallory, the climber who died just 2,030 feet below Everest's summit in 1924.
If the camera is intact, there is a possibility its photographic film is still recoverable and could contain vital images that could settle one of the great unsolved exploration mysteries of the 20th century: Were Mallory and Andrew Irvine the first to summit Everest or did they die painfully close to the top?
When Mallory's body was recovered in 1999, his camera was not among the artifacts found on his remains. This has caused veteran Everest researcher Holzel and others to speculate that the camera was being carried by his climbing partner. Irvine's body has not been recovered, but Holzel is pretty certain he knows where it is.
"Two people have seen the body and it's near where they were," said Holzel, referring to a possible body he has spotted in survey photographs of the same part of the mountain. "I'm about 85 percent confident in this one."
If Holzel can get an expedition funded and on Everest next year, he's hoping to find the body. If it's actually Irvine (there are about 120 bodies lost on Everest) they'll need a bit more luck to find the camera.
Even then, their hard work will be only half over. The camera has to be recovered without ruining what images might exist on the film. Just how to do that has been studied exhaustively by Eastman Kodak experts, who have provided Holzel with a series detailed procedures to follow.
The good news is that Everest's frozen, dry conditions are the best for preserving film. The bad news is that depending on how the camera is protected, the images may have been degraded over the years by cosmic rays.
"At the end of the day there's going to have to be a lot of luck," said Everest climber and guide Eric Simonson, who was part of the 1999 expedition that recovered Mallory's remains. "The stars are going to have to line up."
Still, he hopes Holzel may succeed.
"I support all these efforts, said Simonson, who is also co-owner of Mountain Guides, which organizes Everest climbs. But he points out that in 1999 his team was extremely lucky. They benefited, among other things, from an exceptionally dry year caused by La Nina conditions, so Mallory's body was not buried under snow.
"We went back on '04 too," said Simonson. "There were two great climbers in the right place at the wrong time — there was two feet of snow."
Holzel has been trying to raise about $200,000 for an expedition during this year's narrow Himalayan climbing season to see if his photographic evidence is right, but the funds haven't arrived in time to get started, he said.
"What we essentially said is will give it a try, but may have to wait until next year," Holzel told Discovery News. The money would pay for a film crew and some of the best climbers in the world, he said.