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Asia, Nepal, Everest, Polish Ascent and Tragedy

Everest, Polish Ascent and Tragedy. An expedition led by Eugeniusz Chrobak climbed Mount Everest up the western side from Nepal. The 19- member team included 10 Poles, 4 Americans, 3 Mexicans, a Canadian and a Briton. They established five camps along the west ridge and Hombein Couloir. Rather than to climb directly to the Lho La, they went over the south summit of Khumbutse (6408 meters), west of the pass, and dropped down to Camp I at 6000 meters at the head of the West Rongbuk Glacier. On May 22, nearly two months after reaching Base Camp, Miroslaw Dasal and Miroslaw Gardzielewski reached the top of the Hornbein Couloir in an unsuccessful try for the summit. They retired to Camp IV to support the next summit team and help evacuate the camps. On May 24, Chrobak and Andrzej Marciniak left Camp IV at the foot of the Hombein Couloir at one A.M. and reached the summit of Everest late in the afternoon. In deteriorating weather during the descent the next day, they were supported by the two other Poles. On the Lho La (6026 meters), a third pair, Zygmunt Andrzej Heinrich and Waclaw Otreba, arrived from Base Camp. The weather worsened with heavy snowfall. After the night of May 26 at 6000-meter Camp I, they decided to continue the descent despite the avalanche danger. The descent route from the Lho La used the Lwow-Karolczak variation, described above, which goes via the south summit of Khumbutse. The rocky face of this peak was fixed with rope and seemed safe enough. On May 27, all six climbed via the steep slope using the fixed ropes. Fresh snow up to a meter deep made progress slow and arduous and they often changed the lead. At about one P.M. an avalanche hit them and dragged them downward. The fixed ropes broke and they fell 200 to 300 meters back to the Lho La. Only Marciniak escaped relatively unhurt. Dasal, Gardzielewski and Otreba were dead. Heinrich died soon after. Chrobak was alive but not fully conscious; he expired during the night. Marciniak remained alone, fortunately with radio communication with Janusz Majer in Base Camp on the Khumbu Glacier. He decided to go back the kilometer and a half to Camp I. In the fall with the avalanche, he had lost his sun glasses and became snow-blind. On the way to the camp, he fell into a crevasse and injured himself. Thanks to radio communication between Base Camp and Kathmandu, a rescue operation could be organized by Artur Hajzer, who was on the way home from the Lhotse south-face expedition. Simultaneously from Warsaw, diplomatic contacts with China and other countries were arranged. A rescue operation from the Khumbu side was not possible because of snowfall and acute avalanche danger. An international team composed of Pole Hajzer, Sherpas Zangbu and Shiwa and New Zealanders Rob Hall and Gary Ball was brought to the north foot of Everest. Via the Rongbuk Glacier, they managed to reach Marciniak at Camp I on June 1. Marciniak related about the moment of rescue: “When I first heard shouts, I thought it was music. I was sure I was dreaming or hallucinating when I heard the voices, but soon I saw figures approaching through the mist and realized they were people.” “It was a moving moment,” Ball added. The effective rescue operation was possible because of perfect radio contact, helpful collaboration of the authorities of Nepal, China and other countries as well as by the international mountaineering fraternity. The Polish Alpine Association warmly thanks all who helped to save the life of the only survivor of the tragedy. All five victims were experienced Himalayan climbers. Chrobak and Heinrich had had 30 years of mountaineering experience and had made such first ascents as Kunyang Chhish, the southeast buttress of Nanga Parbat and Kangchenjunga South and Middle. This was the greatest catastrophe in the 50-year-long history of Polish Himalayan climbing.

Józef Nyka, Editor, Taternik, Poland