American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Ngojumba Kang and Cho Oyu

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1986

Ngojumba Kang and Cho Oyu. An expedition of twelve Poles and two Americans was led by Waclaw Otreba. The Americans were Mark Richey and Rick Wilcox. They hoped to climb the south face of Ngojumba Kang to the col just west of the summit of that peak and then follow the three-mile-long east ridge to the top of Cho Oyu. This route had defeated a British group the year before. The present expedition had been on the mountain for six weeks, had established three high camps and fixed much rope. They feared the onset of the monsoon. They decided to send the two strongest pairs to make an alpine-style attempt. Leader Otreba, another Pole and the two Americans set out and two days later were at Camp III at 7000 meters. The morning of May 15 the four moved up a low-angle glacier to establish Camp IV at the base of the south face of Ngojumba Kang. That night they got the radio message, saying that despite the distance from the east face, the wind from a huge avalanche had swept over Camp I at 5800 meters. Karol Sopicki and Dr. Marek Roslan were seriously injured. Sirdar Pema ran what was considered to be a three-day trip to Namche in eight hours for a rescue helicopter. Others, under the still conscious doctor’s instructions, made heroic efforts to keep the doctor’s smashed chest clear and give him supplementary oxygen. The rescue was admirably carried out and both men have recovered. However, the Polish pair up high felt they must descend but strongly urged Richey and Wilcox to try for the peak. After a rest day, these two climbed 400 meters of 50° ice to camp at 7320 meters. A storm pinned them there for a day, but on the next they climbed in twelve hours 60° ice to the col at 7746 meters. Rick Wilcox describes the summit effort: “Another storm day kept us in the snow cave all day, but the morning of May 22 dawned beautiful with little wind. By seven A.M. we had left the cave and began the three-mile traverse to the summit of Cho Oyu. By ten o’clock we had traversed two miles of this lovely ridge. We knew from the experience of the previous English expedition that two large gendarmes blocked the route to the summit. Because going over the tops was impossible, we decided to drop down on the Tibetan side of the ridge and look for a traverse ledge system that crossed below the gendarmes. Unfortunately we were stopped by a 150-meter section which had no ledges that could be traversed. The barrier was a sheer wall of rotten rock that dropped 3000 meters to Tibet below. We were halted by only 150 meters from the easy ground leading to the summit. Sadly we retraced our steps back to our Camp VI. Since we had lost 200 meters by the gendarmes, we climbed slowly back to camp. It was still afternoon when we got to the snow cave. Because of the early hour, we decided to climb to the top of Ngojumba Kang (7946 meters, 25,972 feet). This summit was only a short distance from our camp. At three o’clock Mark and I stood on top. Later we learned that ours was the second ascent, the first going to a Korean team in 1964.” Some of the Poles had set off up the standard route of Cho Oyu. On May 28 Miroslaw Gardzielewski and Jacek Jezierski reached the summit after five bivouacs.

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