American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, USSR, Pik Kommunizma

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

Pik Kommunizma. In 1978, a seven-member team of Americans consisting of Dana Isherwood, leader, Gil Harder, Maynard Cohick, Richard Soaper, Sallie Greenwood, Diana Dee and Errol Flagor joined the Russian International Climbing Camp in the Pamir to climb Pik Kommunizma (24,590 feet), the highest peak in the Soviet Union. We went on July 22 by helicopter to Base Camp near the Fortembek Glacier at 13,200 feet. On July 26, Camp I was occupied at 16,500 feet on a rocky ridge leading to the Firn Plateau. Camp II (19,300 feet; July 31) and Camp III (19,- 800 feet; August 2) were established on the Firn Plateau about seven miles apart. Two additional high camps at 21,500 feet on the ridge leading to the main summit block and at 22,900 feet on a saddle below the summit were reached on August 4 and 6 respectively. On August 7, Harder, Cohick and Soaper reached the summit. Three days were needed for the descent. The climb was blessed with what our Russian friends called normal weather, that is, perfect sunny days and mild temperatures. Isherwood, Dee and Flagor along with three other Americans (Bob Fujita, Bob Hammer and Fred Lange) and one Russian (Victoria Galkina) climbed a 21,000-foot consolation prize named “Peak of the Four” in the same general area. In 1979, a second group of Americans made a try for Pik Kommunizma via the Firn Plateau from the Russian Base Camp near the Fortembek Glacier. Our eight-member team consisted of Dana Isherwood, leader, Dee Crouch, Barbara Euser, Jini Griffith, A1 Gunter, Bill Isherwood, Steve Pomerance and Bill Seale. Our timetable and camp locations were almost identical to the 1978 climb. We arrived in Base Camp on July 22, occupied Camp I on July 16, and established Camps II, III and IV on July 30 and 31 and August 4. Up until the time we reached Camp IV, the weather was generally clear in the mornings with increasing cloudiness and a light snow in the late afternoons. On August 4, a major storm hit with high winds and heavy snow. The next day the storm abated slightly and the Isherwoods, Seale and Pomerance returned to Camp III. In the following days, Seale, diagnosed as having pulmonary edema, was pulled across the plateau on a sled and helped to Base Camp by Pomerance and several Russian climbers. The Isherwoods waited at Camp III while the rest of the group attempted to reach Camp V where they hoped to wait out the storm, but were eventually forced back by gale winds. They descended to Camp III with extreme difficulty. A second evacuation was now necessary to rescue Euser, a cerebral edema victim. Fortunately, the storm concentrated on the upper slopes above 20,000 feet. With the help of our Russian friends, we reached Base Camp on August 11. Three Europeans at Camp V were lost in the storm. They were either blown off the ridge or caught in an avalanche. Their bodies were not found. The Pamir has long enjoyed a reputation for good climbing weather during the months of July and August. Expecting easy climbing conditions, a number of European parties on the mountain were ill prepared and required our assistance during the storm. Considering the extreme weather encountered this year as well as in the tragic year of 1974, the Pamir’s reputation for mild summer weather is exaggerated.

Dana Isherwood

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