American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Pumori Ascent and Tragedy

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1989

Pumori Ascent and Tragedy. On April 18, Chris Leibundgut and I reached the summit of Pumori after an eight-day alpine-style ascent via the south ridge. Our expedition consisted of us two plus Doug White and Randy Kopal. We established Base Camp on April 3 at 17,400 feet near a small frozen lake at the base of Pumori’s south face. We spent a week waiting for all of us to be simultaneously healthy. On April 11, we made our first camp at 18,700 feet on a rocky platform behind Kala Patar. The next day, we camped early at 19,700 feet, and after a difficult discussion, White and Kopal elected to return to Base Camp, doubtful that they could reach the summit and return with the six days of food and fuel we had started with. Leibundgut and I continued the next morning, crossing the long, rotten, horizontal ridge to the rocky south face of Pumori. We climbed easy but loose rock and occasional ice runnels to a ledge where we bivouacked. On the fourth day, we reached the snowy south ridge proper, which we followed to the summit. The climbing was straightforward except for some bottomless granular snow. Late on the afternoon of the eighth day, we reached the summit. Though we were out of food, fuel and water, we were not concerned since we felt we could descend the easier east ridge in a matter of hours. As soon as we began the descent, Leibundgut told me he wasn’t feeling well. His mental condition degenerated quickly. Confused and disoriented, he soon became incapable of helping himself. As the sun set, the wind picked up and soon a storm was raging. I decided to dig in where we were on a snow shelf a few hundred feet below the summit. I worked on the cave alone. A half hour after starting, I popped up for a breather only to find myself alone. With no sign of him anywhere, I assume that Leibundgut had walked off the mountain. The next day, I descended alone to Base Camp.

John Tuckey

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