American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

USA-USSR Pamirs Expedition

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1975

USA-USSR Pamirs Expedition

John Roskelley, Peter Lev,

J.E. Williamson, Jocelyn C. Glidden

As a result of an invitation from the Soviet Sports Federation to the American Alpine Club, a nineteen-member expedition, led by Pete Schoening, participated in the 1974 USSR International Pamir Camp. The goals of the Americans were to attempt some pioneer routes and to further our cultural relations with the Russians. The following accounts summarize the experiences which led to the achievement of these goals, but which also saw the tragedy of fifteen lives of the international group taken by unique and unforseen circumstances.

John Roskelley describes the accident and the ascent of the north face of the Peak of the 19th Party Congress.

John Marts, Gary Ullin, Bob Craig and I were to attempt a new route on the Peak of the 19th Party Congress, which we called simply “Peak 19.” Our second objective was to climb Pik Lenin by the east side. We decided to ascend Peak 19 via the unclimbed north face, descend the east ridge to the Krylenko Pass area, and then to select a route on Pik Lenin’s east face. Consequently food supplies and equipment were grossly out of proportion for our prime objective.

For several days, all four of us packed loads to the base of the north face, which was more impressive than we had expected. An initial problem in approaching the route was to find a way to cross a large river. Bob Craig and I selected a route over the glacier at the head of the river.

Early on July 22 Gary, Bob and I climbed the lower ice slopes under excellent conditions for front pointing. John Marts remained below sick at Camp I. I cursed my heavy load as I led a last 70° pitch. Above, the slope became typical of the Pamir: deep, soft snow over hard ice and route-finding problems. We deposited our loads at an excellent spot for Camp II and headed down, fixing several of the pitches. The next day we all occupied Camp II, though Marts was still feeling sick. Gary and I reconnoitered higher through heavily crevassed terrain during the customary afternoon snowfall. On the 24th, hunched under murderous loads, we quickly gained height in yesterday’s tracks and established Camp III at 16,700 feet under the steep upper face. During the usual heavy afternoon snowfall, an earthquake cut loose large avalanches around us.

July 25 brought sunshine and avalanche-prone slopes. Gary and Bob started a snow cave, but after everyone had dug a few shovelfuls, lethargy set in and we drifted off to read or sleep. After all, Craig and Gary’s tent would hold all of us for meals and John’s and mine was only a few feet away. Before hitting the sack, I dug out the two tents, which were becoming buried under the heavy snow.

Around one A.M. I awoke, brushed snow off the tent and rolled over. John awoke a few minutes later to knock more off the roof. Then it happened! Quietly we were engulfed with snow. The poles broke as John tried in vain to hold the cloth up. I jerked my legs free and yanked open my side. John found his flashlight with his only free hand and handed it to me. Shining the light into the snowing darkness, I realized that there was no other tent. Muffled cries of help came from under the snow. I groped for boots, hat and down sweater. Quickly I uncovered John, but the other tent was under three feet of snow. Digging furiously, I found their tent door and opened it, giving Bob a needed blast of fresh air. After clearing the snow from Bob’s face, I began to dig Gary out. They had been sleeping head to toe. John helped, handicapped by a lack of gloves. We reached Gary in minutes but to no avail. Artificial respiration did no good; he was dead. As John and I turned to the task of digging Bob out, the sound of a terrible fury closed in—another avalanche. As the rushing snow tried to drag us away, John and I dove for the pit we had dug for Gary. When the avalanche slowed and passed, I stood up and waded toward Bob. Again he was buried, this time in more tightly packed snow. But he was alive! Without bothering to help John free himself, I flew at Bob. With a knife I slashed the tent around his face. John and I freed his body, not really believing he was still alive until he stood up. Without hesitation I turned and kicked steps uphill to a sérac wall a hundred feet above. The other two followed, Bob in stocking feet, clutching boots and sleeping bag. John and I dug a cave with our hands in the sérac wall, only half big enough for all three. We slipped some part of ourselves into the one sleeping bag and began the long wait for dawn.

Dawn was cold and for the first time, cloudy. Communication by radio with Base was spotty but somehow by eight A.M. our predicament got across by means of a Mayday call. We would have to wait for better conditions and an airdrop. Around noon, the sun came out and thawed our frozen bodies. Marts descended to the camp to dig for gear. I quickly followed in down booties and cold feet. We salvaged sleeping bags, food, water and a few essentials, but not all our climbing gear. Though darkness fell and with it the security of daylight, we spent a more comfortable night. Morning brought sunshine and a Russian helicopter, which dropped ice axes, rope, a snow shovel and food. I waded thigh-deep to pick up three large packages. Because Marts was now snow blind and Bob had a bad chest, I had the task of digging out both tents and the snow cave which contained our gear. We then all shouldered heavy packs and began the long traverse off the face to the northwest shoulder. With Bob and John injured, I broke trail until we met a French and American rescue team far down on the shoulder. Several hours later we were in the Russian rescue camp and after a bite to eat were on our way back to Base.

All climbers were called back to Base for a memorial held for Gary, as well as three Estonians who had been avalanched on the east side of Pik Lenin. A group meeting determined the Americans’ objectives from then on. Jeff Lowe and John Marts volunteered to accompany me back to Peak 19, but we had to wait for Jeff’s cold and the weather to improve. Vitale Abalakov, the Godfather of Russian climbing, was determined not to see moreyoung, foolish Americans perish on ridiculous pioneer climbs. Considering the heavy new-snow conditions on Peak 19 from Base Camp, he declared, “It is too dangerous!” After a give-and-take discussion between Bob Craig and Abalakov, the next morning John Marts, Jeff Lowe and I left for Peak 19.

Traveling light, we intended to make the climb in four days. We would ascend the retreat route to Camp III. John’s old nagging illness returned and he descended to Base the next morning. Jeff and I were at old Camp III by early afternoon of the second day after a traverse in poor snow. The old snow cave soon became a palace with standing room, kitchen shelves and separate sleeping platforms. As we had promised, we formally and permanently buried Gary’s body at the campsite, marking it with an American flag.

We spent an eerie night in which I felt the presence of a third person. After a pre-dawn start, we found deep snow as we crossed the bergschrund and went out onto the main face. The 40° to 45° slope did not present great difficulty for 2000 feet. We changed lead every three rope-lengths. As we approached the upper rock bands, the snow was unconsolidated and deep. Jeff fought without protection for every inch up iced rock. My lead was the same but ended on solid snow. Jeff led up to the last rock band. Tied into a hope and a prayer, he brought me up to a tiny stance. On my last touchy lead, I moved on small icy holds, wondering why there is never protection on the top leads of good climbs.

We reached the summit along with the clouds, snow and lightning. The descent into the beclouded unknown terrain of the northeast ridge was an adventure. We would wait for the moment when the clouds lifted, dash for a hundred yards, then sit and wait for the next break. Even so, we reached the rescue camp at the base of the north face that afternoon. For the last time we radioed our position as the rain began. Befitting its loss, Peak 19 wept all night.

Peter Lev Tells About the Krylenko Glacier Avalanche.

It is one P.M., July 23, 1974, in the Pamir Mountains, U.S.S.R. I am distressed. A rapidly deteriorating avalanche condition has been developing on the steep slope above our 17,350-foot Crevasse Camp.

Crevasse Camp is located high in the accumulation area of the Krylenko Glacier. The camp is two-thirds of the way up a glacial slope which is north-facing, 6000 feet high, and of nearly uniform steepness. No respite from this steepness is to be found, save for one large auspicious crevasse. A six-man contingent of the American Pamir Expedition is camped in that crevasse. Above is the Krylenko Pass, 20,206 feet, a gap high on the long northeast shoulder of Pik Lenin. We must climb to Krylenko Pass and cross it, for we have aspirations of first ascents beyond the pass.

On the morning of July 22, our group had ascended the steep slope above Crevasse Camp and reached the pass. It was heavy going through knee-deep snow. How unusual, I thought, for my feet were becoming so cold, so early in the game. It was not that the air temperature was so cold, it was that the snow was unusually cold. Inspecting this snow closely, I found the grain size to be small and the grains or crystals to be very loose. These loose grains or crystals gave the upper two feet of the snowpack a very low density, the immediate practical result being that it was difficult to set a good step. As to avalanche potential, I didn’t take these conditions to be a sign of instability.

We spent the day south of the pass, on the Greater Saukdara Glacier, observing the East Face of Pik Lenin. It was a warm day with strong incoming radiation energy; the snow surface became wet and we suffered in the hot, stifling air on the glacier. At about six P.M. we began our descent from the pass, heading back home to Crevasse Camp. Fred Stanley and I immediately realized that the condition of the slope above Crevasse Camp had changed radically since morning. A slab had developed. We were no longer wading through deep snow as we had during the morning ascent. We were now on a fairly stiff surface, sinking in only about six inches. The surface had a slight ice glaze and was damp two inches down. I was alarmed, so I dug a quick snow pit in order to see what had happened to the cold loose snow I remembered so well from the morning.

The slab was two feet thick and consisted of fine-grain, old snow of medium density or hardness. I was able to reach to the underside of the slab and move my palms back and forth as though feeling the underside of a table! A slight icy crust firmed up the underside of the slab. The snow underneath this crust had undergone temperature gradient metamorphism and was the beginning stage of depth hoar (unstable, sugar-like snow) with moderate cohesion. The depth hoar was six inches deep and rested on an icy layer. To verify these findings, we dug five snow pits. Each pit revealed the same situation.

There was no doubt that a potential avalanche condition had developed. And, by all known standards, it developed impossibly fast. We had, however, descended on the slab, indicating clearly that the slab had not yet reached a critical state. It appeared to me that the ameliorating factor was the absence of any increased weight in the form of new precipitation. The weather had been good; we hoped that it would continue to be so. We thought we were still ahead of the problem. I wanted to observe the situation by digging more snow pits on the following day. Fred wanted to go down. The others were divided. Descent and evacuation from Crevasse Camp was considered with reluctance. Probably without being fully aware of it, some of us may have thought: How can we turn back, after coming all of this way—to Russia, especially with the English climbers already over the Pass, at the base of the East Face of Lenin.

That evening, the altimeter began to rise, that is the atmospheric pressure began to fall. We shouldn’t have been surprised because we all saw the mares’ tails streaming up from the southwest when we were on the south side of the pass earlier in the day. At about two A.M., Bruce Carson woke me up and said it was snowing. I stuck my hand out the tent door and swiggled my finger around. One inch of new snow, very light density, “Six inches of new snow would send us down to a lower and safer camp,” I said. Bruce said, “Are you sure?” Back to sleep …

zzzzzz.

Early morning, July 23. Two inches of new snow, very light density. It was clear, but the barometer was still low. Blowing snow from a good 25 m.p.h. northeast wind. Could the wind be transporting enough new snow to bring the slab to a critical state? Then the wind abated and it became warm as in previous days. Are we being lulled into ignoring what is really happening around us?

By mid-morning, another American contingent arrived at Crevasse Camp. This was the five-person crew headed for the mountain Pik 6852, another hoped for first ascent beyond Krylenko. We told them of the avalanche situation. They solemnly accepted this unwelcome news and set to moving camp, nevertheless. A Japanese party arrived with the intention of climbing to the Pass. We advised them to turn back because of the avalanche danger and they wisely did so. Finally, a minor crisis prompted action out of the East Face Pik Lenin crew. One of our stoves broke. Bruce Carson, Allen Steck, Fred Stanley, and John Evans headed down to Base Camp to get the stove fixed, and to bring up more supplies. Jeff Lowe and I would stay, work with Jock Glidden’s Pik 6852 group, and continue to assess the avalanche danger.

Now clouds are floating around and it’s uncomfortably warm. Our boys left about half an hour ago on the stove-repairing mission. Vague worry. I am watching my altimeter-barometer and the pressure is dropping rapidly. More clouds. I pace around. Mike Yokell, Jock Glidden, and Jeff Lowe are debating whether to move one of the tents so as to place it in a safer position should an avalanche occur. Mike wants to move it into the partly filled-in crevasse rather than leave it on the crevasse lip where the other tent is located. That would entail some considerable digging and leveling. We have to consider that kind of action carefully. A tent for Jeff and myself was already erected on the lip on the crevasse. It seemed it was going to stay right there.

Jock’s crew tent is halfway erected. Mike is still protesting. By now, all of us are standing on the lip of the crevasse: Jeff, Jock Glidden, Mike Yokell, Jed Williamson, Molly Higgins, Chris Wren, and I. The clouds suddenly envelop us, and it gets noticeably warmer, then begins to snow. I’m standing and staring at my altimeter; it rises 50 feet indicating a sudden drop in air pressure. More intense worry. The boys down below…? Jeff is saying in response to Mike, “Well, I’m a fatalist… Suddenly the crevasse shifts; shifts a whole lot! In fact, the whole mountain side seemed to vibrate! We silently look at each other. Impending … what? It is almost 1:30 P.M.

* * * * *

I really don’t remember if it was the sound of the avalanche that warned us, but it must have been, because the upper overhanging lip of the big crevasse some forty feet overhead blocked our vision of the awful slope directly above. Most of us had never heard an avalanche so close before, and I certainly hadn’t heard one from this position. But we all sensed instantly that the avalanche was coming. We had maybe 15 seconds from the time of the crevasse shift; we reacted in the last few seconds. I was eight feet from the crevasse; I ran and jumped in. Jeff was near me, doing the same. The drop into the crevasse was about fifteen feet into the soft snow, and as I landed, I looked up to the high upper lip and saw, distinctly, a solid wall of snow shooting out, going incredibly fast, blocking out the sky in darkness and roar.

Cold snow came in on me, burying me in the hole as I tried desperately to claw my way back out with bare hands, utterly without success. It went seemingly on and on. Perhaps a full minute, then stopped.

* * * * *

Spindrift from the avalanche is settling now, and it is snowing as well. I am buried to my knees. Jeff’s calling from a few feet away asking if I’m still there. Yes. Jeff is buried up to his waist; I dig frantically. Jeff and I don’t know yet … we may be the only ones left alive. What despair.

They are all there! Jock and Mike and Jed and Molly and Chris. Jock didn’t get buried; he’s dusting himself off with a characteristic air of “what is this nonsense here?” Jed was eating a dried apricot at the time; claims to have chewed it thoroughly while the avalanche passed by. Chris is shaken; so am I. He asks, “Is this bad?” “Yes,” I say, and think … our friends down below? The avalanche was so huge, at least 200 yards wide where we are, as far as we can make out. … Just doesn’t seem feasible that they could have been far enough down and out of the way. We yell into the driving snow. No answer.

There was no sign of Jeff’s and my tent. Jock’s crew’s tent had been completely flattened, damaged but recoverable. Guess that settled that argument. Jeff and I lose our packs and all of our gear, sleeping bags, parkas, most everything. The others lose equipment too, but not so much.

Driving snow and cold now. Avalanches roar in the mist. Shall we stay? For what? We are afraid to descend, that’s what. Our friends below? Maybe…? We must know. Besides, there is no good reason to stay here; it is becoming only more dangerous by the moment. Without crampons, some without axes and others using shovels as a substitute, each in turn fades with weariness and misery as we make our way down. For a long time our survival is in question.

Oh, the debris, acres and acres of debris: large heavy, damp-looking boulder-shaped heaps of snow. They could never have survived this. There is no way.

We reach the base of the face where we had left a cache on the ascent. Jed, on the lookout, insists that the cache is gone, but his words fall on deaf ears. Jed says that they, John, Allen, Fred, and Bruce, must have picked it up on their way down. No reaction.

Krylenko moraine camp. THERE THEY ARE!!! Relief upon relief. Yes, the avalanche hit them. But they were almost to the bottom of the big slope, in a low angle area, on the edge of the final run-out of the avalanche.

How could the boys have descended 3000 feet so quickly? The snow had been so deep and soft. They slid. They put on their nylon wind suits and slid. Fortunately so. Then the roar and wall of snow came out of the mist, but when it reached them, its force was dissipated. The avalanche scooped up the climbers and carried them 200 feet. Allen was buried up to his neck, the crushing weight of the snow bruising some of his ribs. The others all came to rest on top of the debris.

It was so close, so very close. Just within inches, nearly eleven of us came that close to being killed. I flashed back to the scene at Crevasse Camp just seconds after dust had settled, when I was thinking real hard, just like a little kid, “Oh please, if we are all safe, I promise to do this, and this, and this…”

* * * * *

The next day, bedraggled and very glad to be alive, we arrived back at Base Camp. We were told that at approximately 1:30 P.M., on the previous day, a tremendous earthquake occurred. The epicenter of this earthquake was about 100 miles south of Pik Lenin and Krylenko Pass. Some expedition members familiar with earthquake strength along the west coast of North America said the strength of this earthquake was five to five and a half on the Richter Scale. The violent shift of the glacier that we felt was the earthquake, although we didn’t realize that at the time.

The Krylenko avalanche appeared to be the release of a damp slab on a temperature gradient layer, set in motion by an exceptionally heavy trigger.

Jed Williamson Tells of Pik Lenina Ascents.

Our phase II attempts to make ascents in the Pamirs began on July 30. We awoke that morning to the sounds of galloping horses being herded right by our tents. After a leisurely breakfast of sheep liver and potatoes, we loaded our packs into the Russian trucks which would take a few miles up the valley our gear and the Russian women, who were this day beginning their attempt of a Pik Lenina traverse. We left camp in our newly formed groups at different times. Pete Schoening, Frank Sarnquist, Chris Kopczynski and Molly Higgins were one team. Allen Steck, Jock Glidden and Chris Wren set off to attempt to retrieve buried equipment on Krylenko, then to climb the Lipkin route on Pik Lenina. John Evans, Pete Lev, Fred Stanley, Bruce Carson, and I formed the other team which would attempt a traverse of Pik Lenina via the “standard” route. That first day out, going over nine miles and up 2500 feet after six days of little activity, was felt by many of us. At Camp I with Schoening’s team, making ten of us together, it seemed we were going to climb this mountain Russian style now—walking one right behind the other.

Arriving in Camp II during late afternoon the next day meant having to take whatever space we could find among 22 tents from other countries. The weather looked as if it was finally going to be “as advertised”; we had enough food for eight days. Our team decided to spend another day in Camp II, and then put in a camp half way between II and III for acclimatization purposes. Schoening’s team proceeded directly to Camp III the next day, going the 2000 feet over Razdelny Peak and descending to the protected highest camp at 20,500 feet. Early the next day, our team prepared to leave in high winds and speculated as to whether our compatriots would make a summit bid. Radio contact that evening revealed that they had left Camp III before dawn, returned because of bad weather, then set out again when it cleared. Within seven hours, they had all reached the 23,406 foot summit. So after all that had taken place to date, this was at least a small triumph to have behind us. On August 3, we proceeded to Camp III, up Razdelny and down to the col separating it from the ridge to Lenin. Dropping fifteen feet down off the ridge and onto the camp platform was like stepping on to a sunny veranda. In the twenty yards walk to the American tent, we bid helloes to the Scots, Austrians, Japanese, Dutch, Swiss, Germans, and Russians. Tents, garbage, and yellow snow everywhere! After a lunch and cognac break, we shouldered our loads for what we hoped would be the final carry to a high camp. In less than an hour, it became obvious we would have to fight every step of the way to gain the platform a mile away, so we reluctantly returned to Camp III. Tomorrow would be the last chance to attempt the traverse.

Just as we had zipped up for the night, Georg and Viktor, the two Russian men stationed here to man the radios, etc, reported that Vitale Abalakov had just radioed a bad weather prediction and recommended that everyone descend the next day. We revised our traverse plans, the new scheme calling for an attempt on the summit, returning to Camp III, and descending with Schoening’s team. We started at four A.M. Breakfast had not set well with any of us. By seven o’clock, I decided to return, and so gave Evans my AAC flag to take to the summit, as I wanted Gary’s parents to have it. Evans returned it to me at supper, all having made the summit in a whiteout. It was too late to descend this day.

Next morning, contrary to the weather report, it was cloudless. Frank Sarnquist convinced me of the possibility of a summit trip. Peter Lev, a close friend of eleven years, said he would wait for me, so by seven A.M. I was on my way. Three Japanese—escargots they called themselves—had started at five, and I hoped to catch them. In addition, what appeared to be a team of two Swiss women, a German woman, an American woman (Arlene Blum, who was not with our teams), and a Swiss man had left a half hour before me. I went by them soon, and by noon I noticed a front building in the southwest. I still had two or three hours to the summit, but made a decision that I would turn around by 2:30 to insure a return before dark.

On the summit plateau, my return time came. I shouted to the Japanese 50 meters ahead. “We go to summit,” they said. A compass bearing got me back across a snowfield; then I saw the Swiss man. “Where are the women?” I asked. He shrugged his shoulders. I suggested descending, but he said, “Maybe I wait for Japanese.” I’m not much for discourse under these conditions, so I continued down, soon encountering Arlene. She accepted the offer to descend, “Especially,” she said, “since I have been looking for the way down for the last half hour.” Several minutes later, we met Heidi Ludi, who was looking for a tent to bivouac in. Eva and Annia were several meters below, sitting back to back on a rock. They seemed in good spirits, but I strongly suggested that they return soon if they did not find the tent. Continuing the descent, I had to focus on the route and the acute fatigue which had beset Arlene. To be protected from the 50-70 knot winds, I was walking in the lee of the ridge, waist deep in fresh snow. Twice I used my compass readings. It took two and a half hours to travel less than two miles down 1500 feet from the place we saw Eva and Annia. I first reported the events above to Georg and Viktor, who then wanted to ascend at once. They were greatly concerned, as they had learned via radio that the Russian women on the Lipkin Route were in the beginning stages of their ordeal. Peter Lev, François Valla, Michel Vachon, and I made rescue plans for the next day.

At first light and in high winds, those three and a German, Sepp, started up the ridge, encountering the fatigued Japanese and the Swiss man at once. They had bivouacked about a mile below the women, so knew nothing about them. Within two hours, Michel returned with Annia, who had been descending alone to get help. Michel, Georg, and I set out in hopes of helping Peter, François, and Sepp with Eva. In less than a half hour, we sighted them, François spoke first. “C’est fini.” Eva Eisenschmidt had died from exposure as they struggled to bring her down. There was nothing to do but stagger back to Camp III through the relentless gale.

Still ahead was the problem of helping 16 people—most of whom were not experienced in high-altitude or mountain-storm conditions—to descend. Late afternoon of August 7, we departed Camp III in the continuing storm. We spent two hours moving a quarter mile up the Razdelny ridge and two hours descending to Camp II, having the aid of two Russians who had wanded the route. After a night of high wind, which eventually brought us two more tent-mates whose tents had blown away, we awoke to clear skies. Our long, balmy shirtsleeve descent to Base Camp made more incredulous the loss of nine lives over the previous two days. And even again we were to be reminded of our place in the scheme of things by the two major earthquakes we experienced during the last days at Base Camp before our return to Moscow.

Jock Glidden describes the accident of Soviet Women's Climbing Team

Accompanying the 1974 International Climber’s Camp in the Pamirs, USSR, were eight Soviet women. They were there conducting certain maneuvers on the Pik Lenin according to pre-planned objectives. This was their first time together as an all-women’s team without male guidance on a major peak.

On August 4, a Scott, Alan North, saw them along the main summit ridge, later reporting they were fit and determined to do the first women’s traverse of Pik Lenin.

On August 6, we met a Siberian team descending the summit ridge at 21,700 feet, reporting that the women were going for the summit that day. That afternoon, we climbed to 22,000 feet in degenerating weather. On the lee side of the summit ridge we pitched our McKinley tent and we barely survived the extremely high winds and cold temperatures of the storm that night.

We lay in the tent all day on August 7 as the storm continued and during this time the women made at least four radio contacts to Base Camp:

0800: report of the first member’s death who had apparently been “seriously ill” on the summit the previous night.

1600: report second and third death and that a tent had been blown away during the night of the 6th.

1800: report they are descending further to dig a snow cave; three now dead, only two able to function.

2030: desperate communication: unable to move, report all are resigned to die.

At the time my party knew nothing of this unfolding tragedy because the radio the Soviets had lent me did not work. A Japanese party camped much nearer the scene, possessing a good Sony radio of their own, were advised of what was happening, conducted a short search in the storm, but soon gave up.

On August 8 the weather was clear and we went for the summit. At the base of the last 800 feet east snow slope our party merged with the Japanese and soon afterwards we discovered the first body lying alone on the snow. Allen Steck radioed our discovery and position to base with the operable Japanese radio. As we ascended the slope we discovered two more bodies lying on exposed levels each about 150 feet apart, then three more uncovered bodies huddled together in a hollow which was probably a tent platform. Finally, near the summit, a seventh was found leaning over the remains of a shredded Soviet tent and a rappel rope was anchored near-by. The eighth woman was later found by a Soviet search team among one of these exposed platform levels near the summit. Except for wanding the bodies and reporting our final discoveries, there was nothing more we could do.

Analysis:. We cannot adequately explain why the lowest three women were separated successively down the slope. Either some had been rappelling and had fallen off or the storm had been sufficiently violent to have blown them off the tent platforms after the tents themselves were destroyed. In any case, the ultimate cause of the accident must have been a tactical error. Evidently sometime during the evening of the 6th, Abalakov, the Camp Climbing Director, ordered them to retreat down the east face slope from the summit with the sick woman. His order was surely correct, but either the women were by then unable to execute the command or compromised by dropping just below the summit thinking they could weather out the storm there and perhaps continue their program the next day. Had they acted soon enough, I believe the remaining seven women could have been able to lower the sick women to a less exposed area, because the slope was not technically difficult. My view is that they (1) failed to take seriously enough the potential severity of the summit storm at 23,000 feet and the insufficiency of their single walled pup-tents and clothing and (2) perhaps were too determined to set back as little as possible a pre-arranged mountaineering itinerary.

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