American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Gaurishankar, South Summit

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

Gaurishankar, South Summit. Gaurishankar is a twin-peaked mountain. Its northern summit is 23,440 feet high and its southern one 23,000 feet. Before 1964 six expeditions tried unsuccessfully to climb the mountain. The Buddhist Sherpas living south of the peak can only see the southern summit and call it Jomo Tseringma. It is considered the most holy mountain of the Sherpas. Our team finally consisted of John Barry, Tim Leach, Swiss Guy Neithardt, Sherpa Pemba Lama and me as leader. We mounted a light-weight expedition taking a minimum of equipment. Though we had permission for either the south or the west ridge to the south summit, we chose the west ridge because it is slightly shorter. The approach march took ten days and went via Barabhise, Charikot and Lamobagar. We hired 48 porters who carried by October 8 to the same Base Camp used by the American expedition in the spring. It was at 16,000 feet. Leach suffered from the altitude and could not rejoin us until October 28. Between October 10 and 18 we four carried loads to Advance Camp at 17,400 feet at the foot of the west ridge. We stocked it with 20 days’ food for four people. Without redescent for further provisions, we fixed our 17 ropes between camps, pulling up the ropes as we moved up and stringing them out again. The climb took 23 days. The initial obstacle was a 1000-foot-deep gap in the ridge below two steep rock and ice towers. On the top of the second tower we established Camp I at 18,000 feet on October 24. The first stage of the west ridge rises to a pointed summit at 19,807 feet. After complicated route finding and Grade III and IV rock and mixed climbing, we perched Camp II apprehensively on its top on October 29. From Camp II the west ridge runs almost horizontally for a kilometer before rising again. The climbing was frequently nerve wracking, threading between large double cornices. We climbed four to six pitches a day. On November 3 we established Camp III at 20,000 feet behind a distinctive 65-foot rock tower where the ridge begins to steepen again. It was a relief to climb on stable rock and ice and to gain height again. Strong winds increased their force every day. On November 5 Barry was clipping into his belay anchor after leading a steep pitch when a strong gust knocked him off the ridge. He had untied from the main climbing rope but was still clipped into the 8mm fixed line. He fell 200 feet down two rock barriers on the north side before the rope arrested his fall; luckily the line snagged on the arête before the fall came fully onto me, who was belaying. He broke his left wrist, damaged his left knee and had a mild concussion. We helped him down to Camp II, where he waited out the climb, stoically refusing to eat our dwindling food supplies. The ridge rose steeply to 21,325 feet where another horizontal, snow-mushroomed, snow-pinnacled ridge began. A large cornice collapsed moments after Leach had stepped off it. We pulled up all the ropes used below Camp II and by November 7 had refixed them for the fourth and last time. On the morning of November 8 we four set out for the summit, carrying no bivouac equipment but a stove. We were over-optimistic. The south summit rises out of a large snow plateau at 22,300 feet but to reach the plateau we had to cross a 100-foot-deep gash in the ridge and then climb a steep headwall of rock and water ice. That day we climbed nine pitches, three of them in darkness. On November 9 we set off for the summit after a few sips of warm water. Although numbed by an unpleasant night, it was exhilarating after 20 days on the narrow ridge to walk up the gentle wide slopes of the south summit plateau. We reached the summit at nine A.M. We stood a meter below the topmost point out of respect to Gauri and Tseringma. We ruled out the traverse along the ridge to the northern summit since it looked as if it would take three or four days more. The descent of the route took three days and we had no food for the last two. Barry managed the long traverse and rappels without problems but with some pain.

Peter Boardman, Alpine Climbing Group

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