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Asia, Tibet, Menlungtse Attempt

Menlungtse Attempt. Jim Wickwire, Jeff Duenwald, John Roskelley and I entered Tibet from Nepal, hoping to make the first ascent of the eastern and highest summit of Menlungtse (7181 meters, 23,560 feet). The lower western summit had been climbed by two members of the Bonington expedition in 1987. The two summits are separated by a two-kilometer-long saddle and so are really separate objectives. We traveled by road to New Tingri and the Chinese camps for Cho Oyu. From April 4 to 13, we hiked with yaks over the Fusi La to the rarely visited village of Chang Bo Jiang, passed the tragic ruins of a splendid monastery and reached Base Camp below the west peak of Menlungtse. Over the next few weeks, we established Advance Base beneath the southeast ridge, ferried supplies to a camp at 19,000 feet and fixed five ropes on steep ice above it. During one of the ferries along the moraine, Roskelley came to within a few feet of a snow leopard. At first, he thought he had encountered a yeti. Yetis were always on our minds because it was in this valley that Shipton had photographed an alleged yeti footprint. We saw no traces of the yeti and local villagers who work in the lush forests knew nothing about such a creature. Those who did have an opinion of the yeti said, “No one can see the yeti because he is a god.” The weather was bad in April. Thunderstorms rising out of Nepal would flow over the ridge of Gaurishankar and dump heavy snows. On one occasion Roskelley and I descended in a frightening electrical storm with everything metallic hummimg loudly. After several attempts to make progress on Menlungtse, Roskelley and I made an alpine-style bid beginning on May 9. We climbed 55° to 60° snow and ice and spent three nights on the ridge, two in tents and one in an unusual ice cave festooned with ice crystals. On May 12, we reached 21,200 feet. There the ridge leveled out into a heavily corniced knife-edge for some 2000 feet before the summit pyramid. The cornices were too fragile to support us. We retreated and Menlungtse East remains unclimbed.

Greg Child