Audrey Salkeld, pioneering historian of Everest, dies at 87

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Sunday, February 25, 2024

Audrey Salkeld, pioneering historian of Everest, dies at 87
A photo provided by the Audrey Salkeld Archives of Salkeld in 1996, on a trip to Mount Everest. Salkeld, a pioneering historian who mined archives that had been neglected for decades to write about mountains like Kilimanjaro and Everest, which she also ascended, died on Oct. 11, 2023 in Bristol, England. She was 87. (Audrey Salkeld Archives via The New York Times)

by Adam Nossiter

NEW YORK, NY.- Audrey Salkeld, a pioneering historian who mined archives that had been neglected for decades to write about mountains like Kilimanjaro and Everest, which she also ascended, died Oct. 11 in Bristol, England. She was 87.

Her sons Ed and Adam Salkeld said the cause of death, at an assisted living facility, was dementia.

In a tribute, Climbing magazine called Salkeld “the world’s pre-eminent expert in Everest history.”

Her books include “First on Everest: The Mystery of Mallory & Irvine” (1986, with Tom Holzel), about an ill-fated Everest expedition by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine in June 1924. When Mallory’s frozen remains were discovered on Everest’s slopes in 1999, Salkeld was the expert everyone wanted to speak with. She had even climbed the mountain looking for his body.

That mysterious and deadly peak in the Himalayas, the highest point on Earth, dominated her life and career, her sons remembered in telephone interviews from London. She was fascinated by the men who had dared to take it on and wanted to understand why they had done so.

“It was the eccentric kind of characters that were able to do this,” Ed Salkeld said. “That was what interested her.”

Audrey Salkeld carved out a singular place in the field in Britain, where mountains and mountaineering have had a particular pull, bound up with the country’s imperial history and its 19th-century fascination with the Alps.

Researching Mount Everest, she trawled 56 boxes of forgotten archives at the Royal Geographical Society in London, reconstructing the early expeditions and bringing to life mysterious figures like Mallory. For decades mountaineers had been haunted by the question of whether he had reached the summit, which would have made him the first, ahead of Edmund Hillary in his 1953 ascent with sherpa Tenzing Norgay (sometimes spelled Norkay). Salkeld was unable to solve the mystery, though she remained a deeply informed skeptic.

“Mallory had always been portrayed as a sort of heroic figure,” she told a BBC interviewer, “and a lost hero always has a little bit more attraction, I suppose.”

David Breashears, a climber with whom Salkeld collaborated on films about Everest and Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, recalled that her modesty had led people to underestimate her considerable talents. At times she provided material for other writers, who didn’t always acknowledge her contributions.

“Audrey had a gift,” Breashears said in a phone interview. “She had a profound understanding of human nature.”

He added that she was haunted by the questions “Why do they go to mountains? Why do they climb?”

Being a climber herself allowed her to mingle easily with fellow mountaineers. She spent hours with Noel Odell, who survived the 1924 Everest expedition and was the last person to see Mallory and Irvine alive.

“We were always visited by these incredible figures from the mountaineering world,” Ed Salkeld recalled.

Adam Salkeld said that “people were surprised that this young and pretty woman was working in the dusty archives.”

“She used to talk about the grumpy old men who dominated the establishment,” he added. But “the relations she made with the old Everesters, they lasted for years and years.”

Audrey Salkeld also wrote a biography of Adolf Hitler’s favorite filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, who had starred in daring 1920s films set in the Alps. Gitta Sereny, a notable historian of Nazism, called the book “wonderful.”

There was a human mystery at the heart of the Riefenstahl saga: How close had she herself been to Hitler and Nazism? For Salkeld, that question recalled the mystery of the Mallory-Irvine saga and drew her in, Adam Salkeld said.

Audrey Mary West was born on March 11, 1936, in South London to Alice (Court) West and Cecil West, a building contractor. She attended Nonsuch High School for Girls in Cheam, a suburb of London, went to secretarial college and worked as a secretary for the Iraq Petroleum Co.

Keenly engaged by the outdoors, she began writing a column for Mountain magazine, which opened her up to the world of mountaineering exploits.

Two trips to Everest instilled in her a deep respect for it; she made it to within 8,000 feet of the summit.

“You can’t control the savage weather of Everest,” Adam Salkeld recalled his mother saying.

She married Peter Salkeld, an architect who liked to hike, in 1963. He died in 2011. In addition to Ed and Adam, she is survived by another son, Tom.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

November 26, 2023

700 paintings, 45 galleries: A guide to the Met's new European Wing

Meet the African artists driving a cultural renaissance

For Jews in East Germany, a life of contradictions

Amanda Wall has third solo exhibition at Almine Rech London, 'Femcel'

For Russia's pop star exiles, a moral stand and a creative climb

Fionna Flaherty appointed as Partner of Lehmann Maupin

One year until the opening of MSN Warsaw on plac Defilad

Hepworth Wakefield opens solo exhibition by Andrew Cranston

Diamonds and designer jewels sparkle all the way in Heritage's Holiday Jewelry Auction

Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery opens STIM CINEMA

Heather Gaudio Fine Art showing 'Martin Kline: In Monochrome' featuring works on panel and Belgian linen

Nathaniel Silver returns to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum as Associate Director and Chief Curator

Death Metal Summer: Deanna Templeton and Ed Templeton exhibit at the Art Gallery of Western Australia

'His Supporting Hand - Curating the Curator: Davor Maticevic' opened at Museum of Contemporary Art

Third edition of Sutr Santati, curated by Lavina Baldota, now open at National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai

December Fine Autographs and Artifacts sale at

Tales of the 'Nutcracker' kids

Audrey Salkeld, pioneering historian of Everest, dies at 87

The pension: That rare retirement benefit gets a fresh look

Exhibition at David Zwirner focuses on the years 1961-1964 of Robert Ryman's career

Galerie Eva Presenhuber opens its third exhibition with French artist Jean-Marie Appriou

valerie_troost gallery presents the oeuvre of both Charl van Ark and Sine Van Menxel at valerie_traan gallery

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful