American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Everest, Southwest Face Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1993

Everest, Southwest Face Attempt. The huge, steep southwest face of Everest has been successfully scaled by only three expeditions. This autumn, a team led by Ukrainian Mikhail Turkevich, who had already climbed the face in 1982, was composed of ten Ukrainians, three Russians and two Frenchmen, including Christophe Profit. They employed no Sherpas and had no climbing oxygen. They wanted to make a new direct route straight to the summit, but they were somewhat late in getting started and, after two weeks of climbing, reluctantly concluded they could not open a new line in the time and with the resources they had. They decided instead to attempt to repeat the 1975 British route. After two more weeks of team effort, three Ukrainians reached 8500 meters before two of them became frostbitten and had to descend. The remaining man, Igor Svergun, stayed high on the face alone and the day after his teammates had gone down, he made a solo bid for the summit. Just how high he reached he doesn’t know. It was a dark night on October 19 and his headlamp batteries were dead when he stopped ascending. Without artificial oxygen, he became confused. He surely got to the south summit. By his description of the area where he had to stop because he was confronted by a steep wall with a lot of fixed ropes, he may well have reached the Hillary Step, not far below the summit. Wherever he was, he waited for the moon to rise to give him light, too confused to remember that it was the time of the new moon. After three or four hours’ wait, a very strong wind blew up and he decided to go back down. By the time he had gotten down to the highest camp at 8300 meters, he could scarcely breathe, possibly having developed pulmonary edema. Luckily, slightly above the camp, he had found a bottle of some other expedition’s oxygen. Without an oxygen mask, he simply opened the valve and breathed in pure oxygen in gulps. He continued the descent with the bottle on a rope, from time to time taking more gulps from it. In a period of 24 hours through the day and night, he climbed down from the highest camp to the camp at the foot of the face at 6400 meters. Even then, he didn’t stop for many hours. He and his bottle, “like a woman with her dog on a leash,” went on downward with the bottle sliding before him through the Khumbu Icefall, helping him to avoid crevasses as well as supplying him with occasional bursts of oxygen. By the time he got to Base Camp, he was in remarkably good condition considering all he had gone through during three trying days.

Elizabeth Hawley

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