American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Tibet, Everest Attempt via the Great Couloir

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1988

Everest Attempt via the Great Couloir. Our expedition was composed of Jack Allsup, leader, Ann Smith, Bob East, Bob Allison, George Dunn, Greg Wilson, Craig Van Hoy, Ed Viesturs, Bonnie Nobori, Dr. John Baumeister, Travis Cannon and me as climbing leader. Four went via Beijing and Lhasa. The rest traveled via Kathmandu, where we were joined by five Nepalese Sherpas and a cook. We met at Xigare, Tibet, and reached the Rongbuk Base Camp at 16,800 feet on March 17. Very good weather prevailed for the next few weeks. Advance Base was established on the Central Rongbuk Glacier at 18,300 feet on March 23. Yaks carried 90 loads there in nine days. At this point Allison and Dr. Baumeister became ill and returned to the United States. The remaining Americans and the Sherpas made rapid progress, establishing Camp I at 20,400 feet at the base of the north face on March 26 and Camp II at 22,000 feet at the foot of the technical climbing on March 31. Instead of a direct approach up the face, we continued eastward between the flanks of Changtse and the north face to 23,000 feet. On April 17 Camp III was placed at 25,000 feet at the bottom of the Great Couloir. Storms, high winds and illness prevented Camp IV from being established at 26,800 feet until May 14. Between Camps II and IV we fixed 9500 feet of rope because of icy spring conditions. Camp IV was stocked for four summit attempts. On May 17 Dunn and Wilson made the first try, using oxygen, but were slowed by difficult rock in the Yellow Band, where they fixed 500 feet of rope. While descending from their high point of 27,500 feet, Wilson fell 40 feet when his rappel piton pulled out but was held by Dunn. On May 21 Viesturs and I ascended rapidly through the Yellow Band on the previous team’s rope and then fixed 500 more feet in the Grey Band above on 50° to 60° ice and mixed ground. We climbed straight out of the top of the Great Couloir rather than traversing right above the Yellow Band, the route followed by the Australians and Ershler in the post-monsoon period of 1984, when there was more snow. Upon reaching the final summit snowfield, we traversed to the west ridge. Using oxygen, I reached 28,700 feet stopping below a steep rock step. Without a rope and unsure of getting down without a rappel, I turned back. Viesturs, who was climbing without oxygen, descended with me from 28,600 feet. That same day, a Swede, who had traversed across from the northeast ridge, turned back below the Grey Band, and Roger Marshall fell to his death from the Japanese Couloir during his solo attempt. The third summit attempt was to take place on May 27, but after spending the night at Camp IV, they did not leave because Dunn was not feeling well. A fourth attempt on May 29 by Allsup, Smith and Sherpas Nuru and Pasang Tsering failed to get higher than 25,500 feet.

Eric Simonson

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