American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Tibet, Cho Oyu Ascent and Tragedy

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

Cho Oyu Ascent and Tragedy. Our expedition consisted of Swiss Stefan Wörner and Germans Hans Engl, Heinz Zembsch and me. We crossed into Tibet from Nepal via Kodari/Zhangmu, went to Tingri for a few days of acclimatization and continued by truck to Kyetrak. Although we set out with yaks on April 16, because of the drivers’ strikes we got to Base Camp at 5400 meters only on the 20th. We climbed the standard route on the west face and northwest ridge. We set up Camps I, II and III at 6300, 6700 and 7350 meters on April 25, May 2 and 9. On May 10 at eight A.M., Engl and I started for the summit, Zembsch a half hour later and Wörner a half hour after him. Soon Zembsch turned back with frozen fingers. Wörner went on to the Yellow Band at 7500 meters but also turned back as he was not feeling well. At two o’clock, Engl and I got to the summit and at six P.M. were back in Camp III. It stormed in the night. Nevertheless, Wörner wanted to try it again. Zembsch declined to accompany him but agreed to wait in Camp III for him. Engl and I started the descent around noon and got to Base Camp the next day, May 12. The following night at eleven P.M., Zembsch joined us in Base Camp with the following report. Wörner had reached the summit on May 11 at six P.M. and got back to Camp III at 10:30. The next morning he was in no condition to descend and Zembsch could not persuade him to try. Apparently Wörner was suffering from cerebral edema, from which he doubtless subsequently died. In the afternoon Zembsch decided to descend because he too was not in good shape, having spent three nights at 7350 meters. That night he bivouacked at 6700 meters and arrived on the following night at Base Camp. Futile efforts were made on May 14 and 17 to get up to Wörner’s tent but heavy snowfall and avalanche danger prevented this. An American, Keith Brown, tried to ascend at the same time, but he had to give up in an attempt to rescue Wörner.

Gerhard Schmatz, Deutscher Alpenverein

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