American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Lhotse

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1980

Lhotse. The world’s fourth-highest peak, 27,923-foot Lhotse, was first climbed by Swiss in 1956 and then by Germans in 1977. Our Austrian expedition was the third to ascend this difficult 8000er. Led by Erich Vanis, we were Hans Ladreiter, Ivan Exnar, Rainer Göschl, Hanns Schell, Ruth Steinmann, Peter Schier, Bruno Klausbruckner, Dr. Wolfgang Schindler and I. The closing of the Iranian frontier forced us to send four tons of gear at great cost by air instead of by truck. We flew as far as Lukla but moved on slowly in order to acclimatize and did not get to Base Camp at 17,725 feet beside the Yugoslavian Everest expedition until March 27. We secured the Khumbu Icefall in a record five days. Camps I (19,850 feet) and II (21,825 feet) were soon in the Western Cwm. Then began a hard time for our 16 Sherpas moving supplies to Camp II. Meanwhile the sahibs fixed ropes up Lhotse’s west slope to Camp III at 23,950 feet. Camp IV was set up and stocked by the Sherpas alone at 25,750 feet. By the beginning of May we were ready for the summit try. Klaus- bruckner, Schier, Exnar, Ladreiter and I on May 3 headed up from Camp III, testing our oxygen outfits. A drifted-over two-man tent stood at Camp IV.It was hard work to free it and to make a second tent platform. That night it blew so hard under a clear sky that we feared for the tents. Toward morning the others’ tent ripped to shreds. Since a summit attempt in such an icy wind was unthinkable, Klausbruckner, Schier and Exnar descended to Camp II while Ladreiter and I endured a second and then a third night, the latter without oxygen in order to spare it. On the morning of May 5 the strong wind shifted from northwest to southwest. We prepared to descend but at nine o’clock the wind stopped. We decided on a summit attempt. We were off at 10:30, each with two oxygen cylinders. On wind crust we made good progress up the steep slope, feeling fit despite the three nights in Camp IV. At 26,250 feet we reached the steep couloir that cuts through the summit cliffs and lies at about a 50° angle. This was not ice but firm snow. Halfway up, just before the crux, we each left an oxygen cylinder. Then the couloir narrowed and steepened; it was smooth rock and for 150 feet we had tricky rock climbing on crampons. About 150 feet below the summit I suddenly felt terribly weak and had to drive myself to go on. On the top I was horrified to find that my oxygen was all gone, the cause of my sudden weakness. Ladreiter’s was also finished. It was five P.M. The weather was glorious except for clouds to the east. The descent was a struggle. The wind picked up and stung our faces like needles. Because of the steep angle and the lack of oxygen, we had to belay down the whole couloir. Night came on but we continued in the moonlight. Tears froze in our eyes. We estimated the temperature at —40°. Exhausted, we reached Camp IV at 1:30 A.M. In the tent we discovered we had frozen faces, hands and feet. The rest of the descent was a torture. After our arrival in Base Camp, the doctor decided on a helicopter evacuation. Ladreiter has lost several fingers on his right hand and six toes. I have lost all my toes. On May 10 a second pair, Klausbruckner and Exnar, reached the summit.

Wolfgang Axt, Österreichischer Alpenverein

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