American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Mount Everest

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1984

Mount Everest. The trip was led by German Gerhard Lenser with Phil Erch- ler as climbing leader. We started in the icefall on April 1. The winter had been very dry and the icefall was in bad shape. It took nine days of hard labor to establish a route through it to Camp I. Beyond Camp I, the pace of the expedition increased dramatically. We established Camp II quickly and work began on the Lhotse Face. This was very icy, but we were aided by old fixed ropes. Camp III was placed halfway up the face at 24,000 feet and the South Col was stocked. The Sherpas would leave Camp II early, go to Camp III empty, carry a load to the col and return to Camp II for the night. The first summit team consisted of Peter Jamieson, Larry Nielson, David Breashears, Sherpa Ang Rita and me. We left the South Col at five A.M. on May 7. Nielson and Ang Rita climbed without oxygen while we other three carried one bottle of oxygen each. We chose a direct line up the southeast face and made good progress until 27,300 feet, where soft snow was encountered. We three with oxygen took turns breaking trail but progress was very slow as there were stretches of thigh-deep snow. Finally we climbed a steep headwall and reached the southeast ridge at 28,000 feet at one P.M. The direct line was a mistake as the soft snow continued to just below the south summit, which we reached at three P.M. On firm snow at last, our pace increased and we got to the summit at four P.M. Nielson got there at 4:20, the first American to climb Everest without oxygen. On top, 20 pounds of batteries, video camera and transmitter were assembled and a signal was sent to the Everest View Hotel. The events on the summit, including Nielson’s arrival, were recorded on video tape and aired on the ABC show, American Sportsman, on May 15. With all now out of oxygen, the descent was a trying affair and we got to the South Col well after dark. On May 14 Gary Neptune, Jim States and Sherpa Lhakpa Dorje left the South Col at three A.M., carrying one bottle of oxygen each. They climbed the rocks east of the direct couloir and avoided some of the deep snow. They reached the summit at 1:30 P.M. and were back at the South Col before dark. A third attempt including Dick Bass was turned back from 27,500 feet. Several further attempts, which included both Bass and Frank Wells, were frustrated by high winds and did not go beyond the South Col. While Bass and Wells were not able to become the oldest Everest summiters, they must be credited with organizing a very successful trip. The expedition ran like clockwork thanks to the tremendous efforts of the Sherpas and the climbing leader, Phil Erchler.

Gerald A. Roach

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