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Asia, Tibet, Pungpa Ri Second Ascent and Shisha Pangma Attempt

Pungpa Ri Second Ascent and Shisha Pangma Attempt. Our expedition was a joint civilian and military operation with a 17-member climbing team led by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Day and a 12-member scientific team led by Colonel John Blashford-Snell. The climbing objective was to make the first ascent of Shisha Pangma from the east, by the unexplored Phola Glacier. Base Camp was established at 4950 meters near the snout of the glacier on October 21, but due to illness and yak transport difficulties it was another two weeks before all the climbers and supplies were installed. From a close look at the mountain, we decided that the main east face was too dangerous and opted for a circuitous route via the southeast face of Pungpa Ri. Advance Base was at 5100 meters on the Phola Glacier. A complex icefall, where we fixed short sections of rope, led to Camp 1 at 5850 meters. An easier section of glacier brought us to Camp II at the head of the cwm between Nyanang Ri and Pungpa Ri. The 60-meter-high 50° ice-and-mixed face was fixed with rope and on October 16 Camp III, a four-man snow hole, was dug into the col between the two peaks. So far, the weather had been fine. On October 17, the Everest region was hit by a big 2½-day storm. Most of the tents were destroyed and a large equipment cache at Camp II was lost in an avalanche. After the storm resources were limited but the weather was perfect. Luke Hughes and I set off on October 21 with food and gear for a summit attempt. John Vlasto and Kate Phillips accompanied us to Camp II. Snowshoes were essential to break trail from Camp I to II. The fixed ropes on the headwall were intact but often buried. On October 25, we two continued from Camp III up the south ridge of Pungpa Ri, joining the final part of the Scott-McIntyre-Baxter-Jones route of 1982. We reached the summit (7486 meters, 24,561 feet) at two P.M. We camped just below the summit and on the 26th continued toward the three-kilometer connecting ridge to Shisha Pangma, carrying just a shovel, food and a gas stove for an emergency bivouac. We traversed across the south face of Pungpa Ri to the Pungpa Ri-Shisha Pangma col. A fairly firm wind crust provided good conditions, but knife-edged bumps were time-consuming and by four P.M. we had reached only 7650 meters. With a big cloud build-up we decided to dig a snow hole and to try for the summit in the morning. After a cold night without sleeping bags, we left at dawn on the 27th but after 50 meters had to descend because of strong winds. At the tent on Pungpa Ri, Hughes discovered that several fingers were frostbitten. On October 28, we descended to Camp II. Nigel Williams and John Vlasto had come up to investigate and, finding we needed no help, they were able to repeat the ascent of Pungpa Ri. The whole climbing team reassembled at Base Camp on October 29. There were hopes of another summit attempt, but a radio message from the Tibetan Mountaineering Association and the local government forbade this and ordered us down to Nyalam. That same day, 18 Tibetans arrived at Base Camp, announcing that they were not porters but a “rescue party” sent to escort us down. It seems likely that the liaison officer and the interpreter, anxious to get home, played a part in having us removed from the mountain. It seems that although the CMA and TMA are charging ever more exorbitant rates, they no longer provide the efficient service of a few years ago.

Stephen Venables, Alpine Climbing Group