American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, China, Everest Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987

Everest Attempt. During the post-monsoon season, a large climbing and filming party attempted the north ridge of Qomolongma (Everest) via the traditional Rongbuk-East Rongbuk-North Col route. Our objectives were to climb and film the route. We were also to search for traces of Mallory and Irvine. The party reached the Rongbuk Base Camp in two groups; half the team travelled across China and Tibet via Chengdu and Lhasa, while the other half, with the bulk of the supplies, reached Rongbuk via Kathmandu and the Friendship Highway. Climbing above Base Camp began in the last week of August. The East Rongbuk approach has traditionally been accomplished in three stages above Base Camp. Recent expeditions, however, have reduced this part of the route to two stages, with a single camp between Base and the established Advance Base site at 21,500 feet below the North Col. Advance Base was established on September 21, and the Col (23,200 feet) was reached a day later. At this point the good weather of late summer began to deteriorate, and the next two months gave us a cycle of increasingly unstable weather. September was marked by intermittent storms with significant snowfall, and in October the storms increased, temperatures dropped, and by the third week the high winds characteristic of winter had set in. Climbing was possible during periods of good weather which became shorter and less frequent as the season wore on. The unstable weather increased the instability of the snow on the slopes below the Col, making much greater the avalanche danger which is always present on that section of the route, and further reducing the number of climbing days available to us. Camp V at 25,500 feet was established on September 28 during a break in the weather, and this remained our high point a month later when, on October 23, I made the decision to abandon the attempt. The team left Base Camp on October 29. On October 17, Dawa Nuru Sherpa, of Thame, was struck by a small slab avalanche at about 22,000 feet while descending from the North Col to Advance Base. He was swept a short distance and died of injuries sustained in the fall. Rescuers reached the body approximately 40 minutes after the accident occurred, and carried his body down to Ronguk for cremation, which was done three days later in the ruins of the nunnery under the direction of lamas from the monastery. While we were prevented by the weather from reaching the summit, we substantially accomplished our filming objectives, producing footage for a U.S. film featuring the efforts of the women members of the team (Mutual of Omaha’s Spirit of Adventure, shown as an ABC sports special on February 15, 1987) and footage for an historical film on the early attempts on Everest (Arcturus Motion Pictures; co-produced by BBC — to be shown in the autumn of 1987). Exploration of the early routes on the mountain was hampered by the heavy snow cover and, ultimately, our inability to reach the upper portion of the north face. The expedition team included: David Breashears (deputy leader), Ken Bailey, George Bell, Mary Kay Brewster, Catherine Cullinane, Donna de Varona, Sue Giller, Eric Green, Tom Holzel, Al Read, Steve Shea, David Swanson, Mike Weis, Jed Williamson, Mike Yager (Americans); Dave Cheesmond, Roger Vernon (Canadians); Alistair MacDonald, Audrey Salkeld (Britons); Sirdar Nawang Yongden and fifteen Sherpas (Nepalese); and me as leader. During our time on the mountain we benefited from close cooperation with the British Northeast Ridge team (Brummie Stokes, leader) with whom we shared the Base, East Rongbuk and Advance Base Camp areas. In Kathmandu, Lhasa, Beijing and on Everest, members of the team represented UNICEF, His Majesty’s Government of Nepal and the governments of the Tibetan Autonomous Region and the People’s Republic of China, through participation in the “First Earth Run”; a worldwide UNICEF project for children celebrating the International Year of Peace.

Andrew C. Harvard

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