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Asia, Tibet, Everest West Ridge Attempt

Everest West Ridge Attempt. The British Services Everest Expedition attempted to climb Mount Everest from Tibet via the west ridge in the premonsoon period. The members were 17 soldiers, ten sailors and Royal Marines, nine airmen and a TV crew. Fifty-two expedition members and 17 tons of stores arrived at Base Camp by March 13. To get to Advance Base, a mixture of yaks and human porters from expedition members was used. An intermediate camp was set up. Advance Base was finished at 19,600 feet by March 22. The next phase involved forcing the route up the 4000-foot spur that leads onto the west ridge. Merv Middleton’s group fixed 2800 feet of rope, the first 300 feet of which were up 70° ice. They got Camp III in by March 27. Then a group led by David Nicholls fixed more of the route up potential avalanche slopes and got in Camp IV at the top of the spur on April 7. On April 12, Henry Day, deputy leader, and a group involving Nigel Williams pressed the route to Camp V, a highly exposed traverse for 1½ kilometers along the west ridge over some difficult snow slopes. The camp was fixed on April 15 at 25,600 feet on the only available flat area which unfortunately acted as a wind tunnel. The first summit bid was set for April 29. Nicholls, Middleton, Maxwell, Garratt, Moore and McLeod failed in their bid because their support group were unable to establish the top assault camp high enough in the Hornbein Couloir. They reached 27,500 feet. Another assault was mounted for May 9. They reached Camp V on May 6. Much snow had fallen and when they got to the huge snowfield leading to the Hombein Couloir, they found dangerous, unstable conditions and had to withdraw. The last and final attempt was planned for May 17. Nicholls, McLeod, Day and Hughes and their support party reached Camp V on May 15 but a further day had to be spent stocking, delaying the summit bid for a crucial 24 hours. Day had to drop out. The other three spent an uncomfortable night on May 17 in the top camp. Unexpectedly, that night the weather turned bad and a huge storm developed. The next morning, things were worse, but Nicholls and McLeod set out in the storm and forced their way up and over the crux to arrive on the summit snowfield at 28,200 feet. In a fierce blizzard they had an anxious radio conversation with me. With much sadness and disappointment, they withdrew.

Douglas Keelan, Lieutenant Colonel, Royal Marines