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Asia, Nepal, Slovak Lhotse and Everest Ascents and Tragedy

Slovak Lhotse and Everest Ascents and Tragedy. Slovak and New Zealand climbers climbed under the same permission, but it seems that both groups acted quite independently of each other. The New Zealand group’s activities are covered separately below. They had permission for Lhotse and the then still unrepeated British route on the southwest face of Everest. The Slovak team was composed of leader Ivan Fiala, Dušan Becík, Peter Božík, Jaroslav Jaško, Jozef Just, Jaroslav Oršula and Dr. Milan Skladaný. They used the route prepared by the South Koreans and French through the Khumbu Icefall and then established Camp III at 7250 meters. After a period of bad weather, the Slovaks left Base Camp on September 21. On September 27, Becík and Just set out from Camp III and after seven hours reached 8050 meters where they bivouacked for four hours. During the night and very early on September 28, they climbed by moonlight and reached the summit of Lhotse at daybreak. The ascent was completed without supplementary oxygen. They then turned to the southwest face of Everest, which they hoped to climb alpine-style in two or three days and descend via the South Col. The first attempt started on October 7 but failed at Camp II at 6400 meters in bad weather. On October 12, Becík, Božík, Just and Jaško left Base Camp and again reached Camp II. Strong winds prevented departure the next day, but on October 14, they started on the British route at three A.M., reaching 8100 meters that afternoon. On October 15, they had a nasty surprise. It took them the whole day to climb the chimney in the rock band, which was much more difficult than expected. They spent that night above the rock band at 8400 meters. On October 16, they completed the long, rising snow traverse to the right. Becík had lost his strength and progress was slow. The last bivouac was at 8600 meters below the South Summit. The team was so exhausted that on October 17 only Just went on to the summit, which he reached at 1:40 P.M. They began the descent towards the South Col. At four o’clock, Just reported by radio that he had joined Becík and Jaško and that the latter was lethargic and did not want to descend. At 5:30, he reported that they were all together but still at 8300 meters. They were showing signs of altitude sickness and were having trouble with their eyesight. This was the last radio contact. Americans on the col an hour later could see the entire route, but they saw no one. Visibility was good. The wind became stronger and stronger. By eleven P.M., it was blowing between 120 and 150 kilometers per hour. The Slovaks were never seen again. This dramatic tragedy shows that oxygenless assaults on the world’s highest mountains have their limits.

Józef Nyka, Editor, Taternik, Poland