American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Mount Everest, West Ridge Attempt in Winter

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1982

Mount Everest, West Ridge Attempt in Winter. Over the winter of 1980-81 Adrian and Alan Burgess, Brian Hall, Paul Nunn, Alan Rouse, Joe Tasker, Dr. Peter Thexton and I attempted the west ridge via the Lho La. We were accompanied by a three-man film team: Alan Dew- hurst, Graham Robinson and Mike Shrimpton. Shrimpton spent nearly a week filming on the Lho La. Base Camp was established on the Khumbu Glacier on December 6, 1980. Three days later we had our first taste of winter when winds destroyed three tents. The weather before Christmas was generally favorable, however, but recurring giardiasis among many of the team slowed our progress. After following the general Yugoslav line up the difficult and shattered rock ridges, we established Camp I in two snow caves on the Lho La at 20,000 feet. The first thousand feet of the route to the west shoulder were fixed, including the difficult rock band, before the first major winter storm brought everyone down to Base Camp for Christmas festivities. From the last week in December, the weather went into a slow spiral of decline with ever-increasing winds and colder temperatures. Camp II at 22,500 feet was established on January 3, but in the next ten days repeated attempts to go higher were thwarted by bad weather. Ad Burgess and I had a nasty experience when our tent was blown away during the early hours of January 10 and we were forced to descend under poor conditions. Joe Tasker and Pete Thexton eventually reached the site of Camp III on January 12 and very fortuitously uncovered a crevasse just as they started to dig a snow cave. Camp II was abandoned and all carries thereafter were made direct to the crevasse at Camp III in one appallingly long haul of 3500 vertical feet. Keeping enough people high on the mountain during bad weather became increasingly difficult as the team began to deteriorate physically. All the members commented on the difficulty of acclimatizing in the cold. Camp III was at times empty, and the rare good day was often squandered jümaring to it. On January 17, on one of the few fine days, Ad Burgess and Joe Tasker climbed onto the west shoulder at 24,000 feet and halfway along the three-quarter-mile section of nearly level ridge before high winds forced them back. It was the high point reached by the expedition. The last two weeks of the expedition featured almost continuous bad weather, illness and failing morale. Only a few members ever returned to Camp III; no further progress along the ridge could be made safely. The attempt was abandoned during the first week of February. The expedition was run at a very low cost. Money spent was just over $30,000, although sponsors had provided much food and equipment at no cost. Sherpas and oxygen were not used. For future winter expeditions the message seems to be: acclimatize on trekking peaks in November and be ready to start the route on December 1 (the official opening of the winter season) to make the best use of the good weather before Christmas, assure that all members and cook staff are treated for giardiasis and other stomach problems prior to arrival at Base Camp, and arrange for the strictest hygiene there. This is not easily done due to the amount of human waste that now covers the surface of the glacier over many acres.

John Porter

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