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Asia, Nepal, Pumori, Southwest Ridge

Pumori, Southwest Ridge. Our expedition was composed of Philippe and Marie Odile Bernardin, Alain Boissy, Jean Clemenson, Philippe de Nuncques, Alain Robert, Gérard Siguèle, my wife Claudine and me as leader. The southwest ridge route, which compares to the Innominata route on Mont Blanc on its rock and mixed parts and to the north face of Les Courtes on its ice, was opened by the Japanese in 1974. We left Lukla on March 27 and set up Base Camp on April 3 at 17,550 feet on the moraine below Pumori. On the 6th, after climbing the moraine, we fixed ropes up an S-shaped snow couloir of 45° which led to vast snow slopes, and looked for a site for Camp I. After several days of ferrying, we established Camp I on April 11 under an overhang at 19,700 feet on the right side of a very steep couloir, 650 feet below the ridge crest. Complicated by bad weather, twelve days were needed before installing Camp II on April 23 at 21,325 feet. The first part of this section followed an almost horizontal snow-ridge traverse for 1300 feet before we gained the rock steps which constituted the continuation of the route; we then climbed a 650-foot rock wall above which a snow slope led to a tiny platform at its top, where we could pitch a single tent as Camp II. It took five days of route-preparation to establish Camp III on April 28 in a crevasse at 22,150 feet. In this section we climbed a snow wall and a rock step to gain the steep snow of the north face in order to get onto the ridge. On April 28 Claudine, de Nuncques, sirdar Mingma Tsering and I left Base Camp for the final assault. On April 30 Claudine and I left Camp II at two A.M. while de Nuncques and the sirdar left Camp III at four. Above Camp III we all climbed two difficult rock steps to gain a lacy ridge of bad snow which ended in a 1000-foot, 60° to 65° triangle of hard snow which led to the crest of the snow ridge of the south face. Finally gentler slopes led to the summit, which we reached at 1:30 P.M. While descending on May 1 between Camps II and I we met Philippe Bernardin and the Sherpa Ang Kami on the way to Camp II; they hoped to climb to the summit the next day. On May 2 we last saw the pair when at 1:30 about 500 feet from the top they were hidden by clouds. On the 3rd we searched in vain for them with strong field glasses. At four P.M. Clemenson and de Nuncques set out for Namche Bazar to request a helicopter search and made the three-day trip in 13 hours. It was bad weather on the 4th. On the 5th a thorough reconnaissance by helicopter revealed no trace of the missing climbers. Meanwhile two Sherpas had climbed on both May 3 and 4 to Camp III and told us they found no signs of our friends. Doubtless they had gone astray in the bad weather and fallen 4000 feet down the face. Further search on foot and by helicopter revealed nothing.

Jean Lescure, Groupe de Haute Montagne