American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Pumori, Northwest Ridge Attempt and Near Tragedy

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1991

Pumori, Northwest Ridge Attempt and Near Tragedy. Gil McCormick, Jim Nowak and I made the first ever attempt on the northwest ridge of Pumori, which forms the border between Nepal and Tibet and rises sharply from the Changri Shar Glacier. From Jiri, we reached Base Camp at 5250 meters on September 22. From there, we descended to the Changri Shar Glacier and the northwest ridge. We discovered a snow ramp on the far side of the icefall which led to Camp I, placed on September 26 at 5600 meters on the Changri Shar Glacier. We continued to the head of the glacier and the base of a 60°-to-80°, 300-meter-high ice couloir. After two days of climbing and fixing rope, we reached the Pumori-Chumo col at 6445 meters. On October 4, we moved up to Camp II on the Tibetan side of the col and began reconnaissance of the lower part of the northwest ridge. The lower third consisted of huge overhanging cornices and snow-covered rock. The upper two-thirds had two prominent rockbands, all of which precluded any thoughts of a quick ascent. On the 5th and 6th, we fixed our remaining 250 meters of rope and explored several routes through the first rock band. After a rest day, at four A.M. on October 8 we left the col with headlamps and quickly reached the top of the fixed lines. We climbed for 12 hours over difficult mixed terrain, including 5.8 rock, until we reached a small rock platform at 6850 meters where we spent the night in a snow cave. The next morning, we departed at six A.M. One hour later at 6900 meters on the second rock band, McCormick was struck in the eye by a single falling rock. In addition to severe eye damage, he sustained a severe concussion and fell into deep shock. Nowak and I spent the rest of the day lowering him down each rappel until we reached the tent on the col at five P.M. The next morning, we rappelled down the couloir and continued down the glacier. Everyone was safely in Base Camp that night. We abandoned Base Camp the next morning. Four days later, Gil was flying back to Denver. He has undergone two operations but at present, he still has no vision in his left eye.

Steven Van Meter

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