American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Kusum Kangguru and Nuptse

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

Kusum Kangguru and. Nuptse. A plan emerged to climb several peaks that would not only offer interesting climbing but would also enable the members to acclimatize sufficiently to tackle Everest in alpine style. Georges Bettembourg (French), Michael Covington (American) and I (British) planned to climb Kusum Kangguru, whilst Alan Rouse and Brian Hall were busy on the British Kangtega Expedition. All five climbers arranged to meet up at Everest Base Camp around October 10 to 15 to try the west ridge of Mount Everest in alpine style. This plan did not quite work out—although some of it did. After a three-day walk from Lukla, Base Camp was established for Kusum Kangguru on grass at the snout of the Kyasha Glacier. Bettembourg, Covington and I then began to climb the north buttress of Kusum Kangguru. We reached the north summit on September 16 after three days of mixed climbing over the rock and snow of the 3000-foot buttress. We continued on but did not climb the final twenty feet owing to the delicate nature of the cornices laden with fresh monsoon snow. Although this was the first ascent of the mountain, several expeditions had launched themselves at this route. Wherever the snow cover was thin, Japanese fixed rope was in evidence, usually attached to drilled anchors. This rope detracted from the enjovment of a superb alpine climb. We descended the same route and moved around to Khumjung and eventually reached the Everest Base Camp towards the end of September. Our object was to climb the north face of Nuptse directly to the main summit without Sherpa support and in alpine style. This would be a new route and the second ascent of Nuptse. We had moved in this direction in 1977, but unfortunately, after the royalty had been paid, I broke both ankles and Paul Braithwaite smashed his thigh, both on The Ogre. With only one good leg between us, we withdrew. In 1978 Covington, Joe Tasker and I attempted the north face, but were beaten back by nine feet of snow in one storm and six in another. The German Everest and Polish Lhotse expeditions were well advanced in their respective climbs. We easily climbed the Khumbu Icefall with the help of ladders fixed by the Germans and went on to establish Camp II in the Western Cwm and to check snow conditions on Nuptse and also on the south buttress of Everest. Just as the reconnaissance was complete, two members of the German expedition died from exposure above the South Col. Covington, who was out of action from a severe intestinal infection, volunteered to accompany the American wife and child of Ray Genet down from Base Camp to the Syanboche airstrip. Bettembourg and I, meanwhile, went up to the Lho La in order to inspect the west ridge of Everest and to view the north buttress of Nuptse from the side. With the help of 300 feet of Yugoslav ladders already in place, the “pass” was reached in six hours from Base Camp. The west ridge was in reasonable condition considering it was just into the post-monsoon period. Interesting views of the north ridge and tantalizing glimpses down the Rongbuk Glacier made this a worthwhile visit, although rockfall made it a dangerous one. Brian Hall and Alan Rouse arrived from Kangtega on October 7 and the next day went up to Camp II in the Western Cwm to acclimatize. Covington saw the bereaved wife off to Kathmandu and then remained in Namche Bazar to marry Chumjee Sherpani. The Sherpa marriage ceremony was completed by mid-October, after several colourful days and after copious amounts of chang had been drunk. On October 14, Rouse, Hall, Bettembourg and I left Base Camp for Camp II. By this time the Germans and Poles had withdrawn. The top of the icefall was already breaking up and was, in fact, quite dangerous. Camp II was reached by late afternoon and the next day tents and supplies were reorganized to withstand the strong winds howling down the Cwm. Food boxes from the German expedition were a welcome reserve to the twelve days of food we had carried up. On October 15 Rouse, Bettembourg and I reconnoitred a route through the icefall at the foot of the north face. We left a total of 250 feet of rope hanging down five short cliffs which had been climbed with pegs. On October 16 all four set off through the icefall and on up to the base of the prominent snow-and-ice spur, an obvious feature of the north face. There we dug a snow cave into the bergschrund at 23,500 feet. The next day we climbed 1000 feet with the climbing gear and left two climbing ropes fixed for the night. On the 18th we left the comfortable snow cave and set off, carrying three days’ food. By late afternoon we had reached the top of the spur and after another 1000 feet of climbing, we found a terrace of snow suitable for another snow cave at 24,750 feet. On the 19th, after climbing steep snow arêtes, we reached the summit (25,850 feet) at 2:30 P.M. All the country to the west and south was now visible, with incredible views of Gaurishankar, Kangtega and many other fine peaks. The actual summit this year consisted of a huge “whipped cream roll” of a cornice. As it seemed in danger of collapsing, it was not ascended, but we could see Makalu behind. We descended in violent winds to the top snow cave, which had partly filled with wind-blown snow. Precipitation in the night gave concern for the descent. Luckily, there was not enough snow to avalanche and we reached Camp II safely at three P.M. Early on October 20 we descended the Cwm into the icefall. This was in complete chaos with giant chasms where none had been before. Leaning séracs had to be climbed with ice pegs and snow stakes, whilst we made several abseils down rickety flakes of ice. The central “eggshell” section was also broken about. It took from early morning until evening to negotiate. We finally staggered into Base Camp, which we found full of tourists. After a few days recovering from the Nuptse climb we turned our attention to Everest. The weather was now clear but very cold. We were reminded of the cold winds at the end of the Nuptse climb, when Brian had three fingers frost-bitten. The mist and snow blowing off the west shoulder of Everest indicated that westerly winter winds were now blowing from Tibet. We all felt it was too late for an alpine-style climb of the west ridge.

Douglas Scott, Alpine Climbing Group

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