American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Four Against the Kangshung

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1989

Four Against the Kangshung

Ed Webster

FOR TEN MINUTES, no one spoke. We stared instead at the mountain flank before us, transfixed, unsure, agonizing. So this is what we had traveled halfway around the world to climb? The east face of Everest glistened back at us, six or eight or ten thousand feet of shimmering snow and ice. The scale was beyond human grasp. Intervening ridges hid the bottom of the face, clouds shrouded the upper ridges and summit, but there finally was the South Col. You could almost feel the roar of a thousand avalanches cascading down the face. We just looked and looked and looked. Then someone spoke.

“It’s big!”

“Do you think we can climb it?”

“My God, it’s huge!”

“Does anyone see a safe route up the lower buttress?”

“I don’t think we can even see the lower buttress.”

In 1921, George Mallory and G.H. Bullock were the first Westerners to inspect the face, looking for a viable approach to the North Col. They did not find the views of the Kangshung Face particularly appealing. “Other men, less wise, might attempt this way if they would, but emphatically, it was not for us,” wrote Mallory.

Marooned for three frustrating weeks by late winter blizzards and Tibetan porter problems, we were nonetheless itching to reach the mountain’s base. Just this goal, however, had at times seemed doubtful. In early March, we had journeyed in a Chinese army truck to Kharta, the end of the road and then trekked to the Langma La, an 18,000-foot pass. Here at “Pre-Base Camp,” our 80-odd yaks had turned tail for home. “Too much snow,” claimed the yak drivers. It was still very much winter in the Himalaya. Further delays caused by the laziness of the Tibetan villagers and of our Chinese liaison officer and interpreter and several late winter storms frustrated us to the breaking point.

When the weather cleared on March 24, we cajolled 130 ill-clad Tibetans over the Langma La through knee-deep snow. Women and children carried the heaviest loads, the strongest men carried the lightest, and the women and kids just smiled and did their jobs. After one more snowstorm, when the Tibetans extorted (and eventually received) twice as much pay, Base Camp was established on March 29 on a barren, wind-swept bench of the Kangshung Glacier, a full month after heading to Tibet from Kathmandu and Beijing.

Unlike some of the recent “climbing spectaculars” on Mount Everest, the goal of our four-man climbing team was simple in theory, difficult in practice: to climb a new route up the forbidding Kangshung Face, perhaps the most dangerous and feared side of Everest, without benefit of Sherpas or bottled oxygen. But did a team of four climbers really stand a chance of climbing a new route up Everest? Was this really a sane, practical idea? What about attrition within the team—or rescue? There were obvious limitations and pitfalls.

When Robert Anderson applied to the Chinese Mountaineering Association in Beijing, the only flank of the mountain for which they hadn’t heavily given permits was the east face. In fact, it wasn’t booked at all! Realistically, what were our prospects? The face’s reputation was daunting. The 1981 American expedition had failed at 23,000 feet after overcoming enormous technical difficulties. The winches, rocket launchers, large team and oxygen used on the successful 1983 American first ascent of the Kangshung Face involved the logistics of a big-style expedition. Could the Kangshung be done more simply?

In Colorado, George Lowe showed us pictures of his ascent. Suddenly, I noticed a smaller buttress on the far left side of the face. Above the buttress, gentler snow slopes led directly to the South Col—the flip side of the Lhotse Face above the Western Cwm. Problems with the climb, however, were many. There was the likelihood of windslab created by snow blown into the upper basin; sérac bands several miles wide threatened both the left and right sides of the lower buttress; and avalanche danger down the gully separating our buttress from the Lowe Buttress looked substantial. To top it off, looming over the crown of our buttress were more séracs as big as houses. But the route did appear well designed for a small team, with hard, technical climbing down low, easier slopes to the South Col. On the southeast ridge above the col, a number of oxygenless ascents had been made.

After several personnel shifts, Americans Robert Anderson and I and Canadian Paul Teare were on board. As we were the 35th Anniversary Expedition, Lord John Hunt, leader of the illustrious 1953 Everest first ascent, became our Honorary Expedition Leader. However, we couldn’t very well live up to the proper level of British patriotism, observed Lord Hunt, without at least one English climber. He recommended Stephen Venables, one of Britain’s young Himalayan shining stars. Tenzing Norgay’s eldest son, Norbu Tenzing, organized logistics. Mimi Zieman and Joe Mark Blackburn, both Americans, came as expedition doctor and photographer. Finally, Pasang Norbu from Namche Bazaar, was sirdar, cook and Tibetan interpreter, and Kasang Tsering from Kharta came as cookboy. Still, in the hectic weeks before departure, I began to wonder. I had climbed a lot with Robert, once with Paul, and none of us had even met Venables.

After the interminable delays, we were overjoyed at the prospect of actually climbing—that rare activity of Himalayan expeditions. On March 30, Robert and I reconnoitered Advance Base near the foot of the face. We were not yet convinced that the left-hand buttress could be climbed. Afternoon mists turned to snow overnight, a recurrent pattern of the Kangshung micro-climate, but Paul and Stephen left early the next morning in a pea-soup fog with a village-worth of Tibetans to stock the camp. While not a difficult hike, maybe five miles, in poor visibility it was tough going. On April Fools’ Day, we celebrated with a Base Camp blessing ceremony, hung prayer flags, and of course got drunk. The climb could now begin.

Advance Base was situated two miles north of the immense Lhotse headwall and a mile from the base of our buttress. We soon scanned by telescope what we thought was a possible route and named several features. “Big Al” was the gully separating our buttress from the Lowe Buttress. The “Cauliflower Ridge,” with its sérac blocks, crested our buttress. We hoped to circle left around the bottom icefall, diagonal to the right across two lower snowfields, cruise up a short rock headwall, then jog up the “Scottish Gully,” a narrow, rock-walled couloir, into Big A1. Escaping from Big A1 onto the crest of the buttress looked very doubtful; not getting hit by an avalanche in Big Al or by a collapsing sérac off the Cauliflower Ridge would depend entirely on karma. Pasang promised to burn sacred juniper and pray for us every morning. We would need it.

At 6:30 A.M. on April 3, at Advance Base, we heard a huge crack, rumble and roar. “Here comes the big one, down the Lhotse Wall!” screamed Robert. We stood transfixed as a white wave of snow and ice avalanched down the 5000-foot vertical precipice before crashing onto the glacier, white foam exploding in a horizontal atomic blast. Fortunately, the clouds dissipated just before hitting our line of ascent.

“It didn’t clobber our route—good,” remarked Stephen, getting ready to go. What a way to begin the first day on the hill, I thought.

Robert and Stephen led, making rapid progress; Paul and I played pack horse. The lead pair fixed rope; we hauled additional 100-meter lengths. Stephen led a headwall, “Venables Wall,” 300 feet of 5.8 face climbing on sharp edges, apologizing because he knew I wanted to lead it. The beauty of a four-man team, however, was that we were each assured of plenty of leading.

Robert led the Scottish Gully the next day, then Paul embarked across the “Traverse” into no-man’s-land, crossing the left side of the Big A1 couloir. While an overhanging rock band above the Scottish Gully gave a vague sense of security, once on the Traverse, avalanche danger from the Cauliflowers topping our buttress and sérac bands a mile higher in Big A1 was a constant danger. Later, I likened this section to climbing up the side of a nuclear accelerator tube. The idea was to avoid being the smashed atom.

“Four against the Kangshung? You’re mad!” cried Stephen, echoing Charlie Houston’s words. They had met at the Himalayan Club’s 60th Anniversary celebration in Bombay just before the expedition. Houston later added that there was some small chance we might succeed. Everest was the only mountain for which we would work so hard and suffer so much to climb. We had no idea, fortunately, how much we would eventually suffer.

Stephen and I handled some steep mixed climbing to the “Terrace,” a narrow platform beneath sheltering overhangs. The next day, we switched roles, watching and photographing through a 600mm lens as Robert and Paul, two ants, climbed frighteningly steep ice at 21,000 feet. Paul’s 300-foot 75° lead “was the hardest ice pitch in my life; it even overhung for fifteen feet at the end,” he related. Yet, he was upset because he had to rest on an ice screw! “Paul’s Ice Pitch,” escaping onto the crest of the Cauliflower Ridge, was to be one of the climb’s cruxes.

After jümaring a dozen 100-meter lengths of fixed ropes, it was my lead. I shuddered. The two worst-looking Cauliflowers, including the notorious “Greyhound Bus,” loomed directly overhead. Separating them, luckily, was a small col. I front-pointed nearly vertical boiler-plate ice, then pigeon-holed left across steep sugar snow below the fractured right-hand Cauliflower, ran out of ice screws, ran out eighty feet of rope and collapsed on a small terrace on the crest of the ridge, the site of CampI.

Above was an 80-foot overhanging sérac wall. Stephen was feeling the altitude and so I continued. After two previous Everest expeditions, finally I was getting to lead a couple of pitches! The snow was perfect hard névé. I free-climbed the 95° wall except for a few points of aid on snow pickets to surmount the sugary edge. “The best piece of ice climbing I’ve ever seen!” Stephen encouraged.

Venables, that glutton-for-punishment, returned with Robert and Paul to do battle with the buttress the next day, sacking his cherished vertical ice runnel above the “Webster Wall.” Topping out of another runnel, he encountered a rude surprise. “I reached up and grabbed the sharp edge of a huge 50-foot-wide crevasse completely hidden from below,” he related. Easy snow slopes lay just beyond. A tyrolean traverse across the chasm appeared to be our sole option. The only problem; none of us had ever done one.

After four days of rest at Base Camp, bad weather, bad stomachs and lethargy, we returned to Advance Base for the next 2:30 A.M. start. Stephen arose to light the stove, make tea and instant oatmeal. I never met a climber with such zeal for alpine starts. After a four-man carry to Camp I at 22,000 feet, we erected two Bibler tents and Robert and I moved in for a three-day effort to cross the Crevasse. At a platform just below its lip, a bizzare window into the chasm had been created by the fracturing of several giant blades of ice. I rappelled alone into this nether world. Robert was feeling ill.

The Crevasse was sheer-sided, fifty feet across and a hundred feet down. Horizontal dust layers striated the eerie blue walls. The base of the secret passage was smothered in powder snow. Back-roped, I traversed the base of the crawlway wallowing through drifts, expecting to step into a hidden void. Breath came in short, rapid gulps. I felt like a trapped victim exploring a haunted house by dark, my only light the glow of a single candle. Squeezing through a body-width passage, I entered a new chamber fitted with another grim prospect: a 40-foot-in-diameter ice block wedged thirty feet up between the crevasse walls like a giant cork. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see if an easy escape was feasible beyond the chockstone—that is, if you dared walk beneath it.

The next day, April 16, again we descended into the Crevasse. “This is the freakiest place I have ever been in,” gasped Robert. We re inside Mount Everest.” The giant chockstone looked as foreboding as ever; yet, it was large enough possibly to appear stable. I advocated aid-climbing out of the Crevasse, but Robert felt we should explore beyond the cork first. He put me on belay. Why I eventually agreed I don’t remember.

Twenty feet from the chockstone, I stopped to place an ice piton. The ice was rubbery. I pounded it with all my might. A moment or two later, I would have clipped into the piton and continued—directly under the chockstone. Suddenly the chockstone exploded and collapsed. I thought for a moment that an atomic blast had been detonated outside of my right ear. I knew what was happening and ran—at 23,000 feet—back to Robert. Ice crystals shimmered in the sun, blasting us in a continuous wave; the sky was falling on our heads.

“Ed! Are you OK!” yelled Robert, frantically.

“I’m right here!” I shouted, crouched beside him.

“How’d you get here—fly?” he wondered out loud.

The vibrations from hitting the ice piton had caused the chockstone to disintegrate. I had been seconds from being buried beneath tons of ice. When at last the air settled, Robert looked at me with a wry grin. “Well, it’s safe now,” he quipped. Like a trophy hunter, I balanced atop the blocks, thankful they weren t my tomb. Further left was literally a dead end—overhanging, rotten ice walls. So that afternoon I aid-climbed out of the far side of the Crevasse on ice pitons and snow stakes. Next we rigged several ropes to form a tyrolean traverse. The route to the South Col was open.

On May 1, we made a seven-hour carry through knee-deep snow to Camp II beneath the “Flying Wing,” a large bergschrund at 24,500 feet. The snow was perfect for glissading and, escaping from a white-out, we descended to Camp I in an hour. After six weeks of acclimatizing, a dozen trips up and down the bottom buttress and one trip to Camp II, we were ready for the big push. Miraculously, none of us had been seriously ill for even a single day.

A snowstorm on May 3 brought an abrupt halt to our first summit attempt. Marooned at Camp I, frustrated and chomping at the bit, we retreated in deep snow to Advance Base. The Kangchung micro-climate was considerably more fickle than either the Rongbuk or Khumbu weather patterns. Almost on a daily basis, stealthy, wet clouds crept up the Arun River drainage east of Makalu. Early monsoon snow was hammering the east face. The next morning, a monstrous avalanche swept Big A1 completely clean. We shuddered.

Two days later, we jealously watched three climbers from the $7,000,000, 300-member Japanese-Chinese-Nepalese Friendship Expedition reach the summit of Everest in perfect, cloudless weather. Their first-ever Nepal-Tibet traverse of the mountain and the live TV broadcast from the summit was later hailed as “the most historic feat in the history of mountaineering.” We had fully intended to crash their party; unfortunately, the storm disrupted our plans.

We finally left Advance Base for the top on May 8. After a routine ascent to Camp I, we continued to Camp II the next day. Again in bad weather, the 12-hour haul through waist-deep, fresh powder snow tired us considerably.

Early the next morning, a beautiful halfmoon hung over the west faces of Chomo Lonzo and Makalu. It was a picture-perfect day, clear, calm and sunny. Today we were treading hallowed, new ground to the South Col. There was even a little névé. We skirted the Flying Wings’s right end, the dramatically overhanging bergschrund, then diagonaled left into the large basin directly below the col. The morning ecstacy faded as we waded laboriously up deep snow, gaining safer ground beside two rock outcrops. A capricious wind now ripped over the col, threatening to dislodge us. Quickly we donned our expedition suits. We alternated the chore of trail breaking; it was my never-to-be-forgotten luck to lead the final 100 meters to the South Col. The snow steepened to 60° for the final 30 feet. Plunging my ice axe in, I hauled myself over the edge.

The scene was the most desolate imaginable—a sub-zero wasteland of snow, ice, rock—and more than anything—wind. Terrific plumes of snow streamed from the summits of Everest and Lhotse. The wind sounded like a jet engine at full throttle. Gusts of 100 miles per hour tore at our clothing and faces until we set up two small tents. In case the winds increased, we stacked rocks inside each tent corner and anchored the tents to boulders with 7mm rope. We gasped for precious breath, struggling against the debilitating effects of altitude. The incessant wind flapped the tent walls and we feared they might rip. We did force down some soup and tea. Sleep was nigh impossible.

Early the following morning, Robert announced to Stephen and me in our tent that Paul was sick. He had thrown up and might be having the onset of cerebral edema. He had to descend immediately. Before we could decide who would descend with him, Paul crouched at our tent door. “I don’t want any of you to come down with me. We’ve all worked hard for this climb, he said, and his voice cracked with emotion. “I can get down on my own. Just make me proud. OK? Get to the top!” We had worked hard to finish our new route to the South Col and 8000 meters. Unable to hide his disappointment, Paul disappeared down the 9000-foot face to camp on the Kangshung Glacier, where Joe and Mimi were waiting.

Luckily the wind diminished, and at eleven P.M. on May 11, Robert, Stephen and I left for the summit. To save weight, we climbed unroped and without packs. About one A.M. we mistakenly turned off-route and finding ourselves too far left, soloed together up rocky, broken slabs. One slip would have translated into an unbroken fall of many thousands of feet into the Western Cwm. Fortunately, we navigated this unnerving section successfully and by sunrise had reached 27,500 feet.

Here we found a Japanese tent left by the expedition a week earlier. Stopping for a rest, I glanced over my shoulder. The rising sun had turned the upper wall of Lhotse into a sea of pinkish-orange alpenglow. It was like a sunrise in heaven, a scene I’d never see again, as long as I lived. In the shade at five A.M., the temperature was iron cold, maybe —30° or —40°. My mind, dulled from the lack of oxygen, wondered if I could get frostbite. I had been photographing at sunrise for the entire trip. If my fingers got cold, surely once I started moving again, they would warm up. The beautiful colors were fading…

Removing my bulky outer mittens, wearing liner gloves underneath, I pulled out my camera. The moment I touched the camera metal, it felt like dry ice burning my fingertips. Grimacing, I cradled the camera and took about ten pictures. No permanent damage, I hoped. But my fingertips were hauntingly numb. There was no pain, just a cold, dull ache. I saw no reason to descend. Today, we were going to triumph !

We climbed on automatic pilot. We did not speak. Two hundred feet below the South Summit, someone was shaking my dream world. The last shreds of reality slipped away. Snow swirled off the ridge, creeping around me. I glanced up. Colorful fabric was fluttering in the wind. Then I noticed several people had gathered. They were Buddhist monks. Nothing was particularly unusual or out of place. I was hallucinating but didn’t realize it. The rock outcrops along the ridge were carved and brightly painted like a mani wall. Prayer flags hung between the crags and the purple-robed monks paced back and forth, chanting. To the right, Stephen sat resting in the snow.

Suddenly a wave of sleep and exhaustion washed over me. I could not stay awake a second longer. I passed out. My head slumped forward and my mind went blank. Time passed. When I awoke with a start, the monks were gone. I’m on Everest, I thought to myself. I’ve got to get in control!

“Will you help me break trail?” Stephen yelled, frustrated at having to break trail all day long by himself. I just couldn’t catch up to him. “I keep falling asleep,” I shouted. With that, Stephen stomped his way to the South Summit, a snowy knoll directly above. A second later, he disappeared from view.

I still thought I could reach Everest’s summit. Thirty feet short of the South Summit, where the angle steepened to nearly 60°, climbing unroped, I began to feel very vulnerable. What if I passed out again and slipped? The 12,000-foot fall would be decidedly fatal.

It was 3:30 P.M. If I continued I was risking an open bivouac very close to the summit. If I descended, I could still probably reach our tents on the South Col before dark. Continuing would have been to court death. I had other goals in life besides climbing Everest. My bid, for today, was over. Climbing without oxygen or Sherpa support, I was happy by “fair means” to have reached the South Summit, 28,700 feet, a point higher than any other mountain on earth.

I met Robert 200 feet lower. He wanted to continue. I said I’d wait for him above the Japanese tent. An hour and a half later, Robert finally stumbled down out of the clouds. He too had reached the South Summit, but defeated by worsening weather, had nearly lost his way descending. He had seen no sign of Stephen. We reached the empty tent at 27,500 feet at dusk. At least we had shelter from the wind. Without sleeping bags, we huddled together, clad in our high-altitude climbing suits. Was Stephen dead or alive?

Crawling from the tent at five A.M., we saw a haggard figure staggering toward us, his face frosted with ice crystals. It was Stephen. He had survived the night! His voice as very, very weak.

“I made it,” he said. “I got to the top.” Stephen became the first British climber to scale Everest without oxygen. We were thrilled but utterly exhausted. Back at the South Col, we slept the rest of the day, our third full day above 8000 meters without supplementary oxygen.

The next morning, May 14, we could barely move. It slowly dawned on us that descending to safety was now the fight of our lives. We had run out of food. Examining my cold, numb fingertips, I realized they looked and felt wooden. Descending, we would leave our tents at the col, bivouac in sleeping bags at Camp II, then continue to Camp I tomorrow, where we had cached two other tents and food. I glanced over at Robert, listless in his tent. Every so often he would sit up, fiddle with his crampons and then collapse. Stephen lay corpse-like on the ground in front of our tent. I pulled out my automatic camera to click a picture, and he waved half-heartedly to prove he was still alive.

At 12:30 RM. I left for Camp II. Stepping off the east side of the South Col, I plunged into waist-deep, fresh snow. Good for skiing, but not easy to walk through! Afternoon storms during the last two days had done the damage. More snow had been blown over the col onto the leeward side by powerful winds. The conditions were about as bad as they could be. Avalanche danger was extreme. A cloud bank smothered the view. Stumbling through the white-out, I waded down the slope, keeping to the rocks on the left, my ears straining for the slightest sound of the snow settling or cracking.

I could see Robert silhouetted on the rim of the col, 500 feet higher. I shouted at him not to glissade. Seconds later, he was nearly level with me, standing in the center of a huge avalanche-prone snowfield. He had fallen the entire distance.

“What are you doing?” I shouted, incredulous.

“I glissaded. It looked fine,” he mumbled. “I guess I got going kind of fast … I dropped both my ice axes too,” he added. “Can I borrow your extra ski pole?” I left it for him. Later, I learned that Stephen had seen Robert’s track. He had also glissaded and lost his ice axe too! I now held our only ice axe.

Adrenaline carried us down the next thousand feet. The snow remained deep, but we reached Camp II at dusk. Here we found additional fuel cartridges. We brewed hot water to drink and then passed out. Unfortunately, we had not stored any extra food here.

The next day, we could not move from our sleeping bags for several hours. I found myself getting increasingly angry. I began to think we might die. The climb had been so enjoyable, so thrilling, so tremendous, and Stephen had reached the top. To die now didn’t seem fair. Except for my frostbitten fingers, Stephen and Robert now looked worse off than I. They barely stirred. We remembered those who had died on K2 in 1986. “Stephen,” I chided, “you’re not going to be famous unless we get down alive.” All day long we tried to get going. We planned to leave by eleven o’clock, then twelve, one, two, three. After stuffing my sleeping bag for two hours, at 3:45 RM., I left. The other two were still working on their crampons. It would be dark at six. The fight was on.

The waist-deep snow was enveloping, somehow comforting. To sit down for a long rest would be so easy. Visibility diminished to thirty feet. Suddenly I tripped on a short, icy step. A split second later, I was hurtling down, headfirst on my back. Instinctively, I clutched at my ice axe, jabbing the pick in the snow. Kicking my boots and crampons in too, I stopped. One hundred feet lower, a gaping crevasse leered up at me, its fathomless blue void waiting with open arms. This was insanity; I had escaped death a second time. With darkness falling in an hour, it would be better to return to Camp II, brew hot water with remaining fuel, sleep, and descend early the next morning. The effort of climbing back up through the smothering snow nearly killed us. We had wasted the entire day. We had eaten nothing in two days. We collapsed. I knew that if I didn’t get to Advance Base tomorrow, I was probably going to die.

The sun rose gold over Tibet. I left at ten A.M. Robert followed. Stephen came last. Moments later, storm clouds and a light snow settled over us. Unroped, slowly, carefully, I used every route-finding skill I had learned in twenty years, breaking trail and navigating through a maze of crevasses in the blizzard. Each step I thought might be my last. Occasionally, I would glimpse an orange-flagged bamboo wand through the cloud. Sadly, with false economy we had placed far too few wands to mark the trail. Stephen caught up to me later. Robert lagged but yelled that he was OK. When Stephen and I reached the top of our fixed ropes, I thought maybe, just maybe, we were going to live.

At all costs, we had to reach Advance Base where our companions could care for us. Laboriously, we excavated the ropes, rappelling to Camp I by 5:30 RM. As darkness fell, we discovered that neither of our headlamps worked. Then my right crampon came unclipped. With frostbitten fingers I couldn’t fix it. Descending first, Stephen took my ice axe to chop our ropes free from the ice which had frozen over them in the past week. Rappelling down 2000 feet of fixed ropes in the pitch dark, with frozen fingers and only one crampon, was an endless nightmare.

At last we reached the glacier. At four A.M., we staggered into camp. After an emotional reunion, our friends cared for us around the clock. Robert spent one more solitary night on the mountain and descended to safety the next morning.

In my entire climbing career, I had never grown to hate a climb or a mountain, but now I felt that way about Everest. Through breaks in the clouds, I could no longer bring myself to look at the cruel majesty of the peak. At Base Camp two days later, Mimi changed our bandages. Until then I never imagined I would lose even part of a finger or toe. I looked blankly at my fingertips. The ends were black and hard to the touch. Eventually I learned the awful truth, that I would lose all the fingertips on my left hand, three fingertips on my right hand and parts of three toes on my left foot. My right foot was numb but somehow survived unscathed. Left-handed, would I ever be able to hold a pen or pencil again? Write to a friend? Sign my name? All these simple skills flashed through my mind in those seconds of disbelief. Tears flowed down my cheeks.

We had survived the climb by a near-miracle, by finding the common will to live. Now Paul and Mimi, Joe, Pasang and Kasang helped us home. Departing from Base Camp on May 23, Stephen and I were carried with frozen feet on stretchers for four days most of the way to Kharta. Three weeks after the climb ended, I was in a hospital in Boston. Stephen, Robert and I each lost parts of several toes. Because of my photography, I also lost fingertips. We were pushed to the brink of existence, fought for the gift of life at the edge of death, and won. We feel privileged to have successfully climbed a new route up the highest mountain on earth. The Neverest Buttress up the Kangshung Face was both a spectacular and dangerous climb. After six operations I am recovering, can write, type and have even done a few easy top-rope climbs. And my pictures of the sunrise turned out beautifully. We did pay a terribly high price for our climb. But our ascent of the Kangshung was, for all of us, the adventure of a lifetime. As Stephen Venables recently wrote, “Everyone is entitled to do something completely mad in life once.” The trick is getting away with it. We were lucky.

Summary of Statistics:

Area: Mahalangur Himal, Tibet.

New Route: Mount Everest, 8848 meters, 29,028 feet, Kangshung (East) Face to the South Col and Southeast Ridge. Summit reached on May 12, 1988 (Venables).

Personnel: Climbers: Americans Robert Anderson, leader, and Edward Webster, Canadian Paul Teare and Englishman Stephen Venables; Support Party: Dr. Mimi Zieman, Joe Mark Blackburn, Pasang Norbu Sherpa and Kasang Tsering Tibetan.

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