American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Tibet, Everest Attempt, Northeast Ridge

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1990

Everest Attempt, Northeast Ridge. Though a large British team in 1988 succeeded in climbing through the Pinnacles, the major crux on the ridge, they did not continue on to the summit. Although the ridge between the Pinnacles and the summit has been done, ascending from the North Col, the climb of the entire northeast ridge has not been completed. Our group was made up of Americans Markus Hutnak, Tim Gage, Dr. Dick Walker, Kurt Fickeisen and me as leader and Britons Roger Mear and Paul Rose. We arrived in Kathmandu in late July and at Base Camp on August 12. Everest was whiter than I had ever seen it before. The snows had been heavy. Fickeisen, Hutnak and I, along with two of our four climbing Sherpas, established Advance Base below the northeast ridge on August 18. Two days later, we began fixing rope on “Bill’s Buttress,” the initial steep 3000-foot arête that leads to less steep climbing higher up. This was an exhausting slog up unconsolidated deep snow. We were able, however, to fix most rope on rock sections that occasionally showed up through the snow. When at last we three reached the top of the buttress, the site of Camp I, our presence set off enormous avalanches on either side of the buttress, emphasizing the terribly unstable conditions that monsoon snows bring to the mountain. Camp I was supplied by early September, but several attempts by almost all team members to climb higher up the otherwise easy ground on the ridge was constantly frustrated by deep snow, windslabs, avalanches and exhausting climbing. In late September, we decided that we had absolutely no chance on the northeast ridge. A guided American expedition on the North Col route agreed to share the route with us. In early October, we were well established on the North Col. The monsoon snows were replaced by a new nemesis: high winds and bitter cold. On October 12, Hutnak and Gage made a summit bid, only to watch their tent rip to shreds at 26,000 feet. We left Base Camp on October 15.

Gary Speer

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