American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Tibet, Everest from Tibet in the Pre-Monsoon

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1995

Everest from Tibet in the Pre-Monsoon. The Nepalese government’s limited number of permits to climb Everest from the south is clearly having its effect. In the spring of 1993, fifteen expeditions on the Nepalese side put a total of 81 men and women on the summit, 40 in a single day. This year just four teams climbed from Nepal, while on the Tibetan side, the number of expeditions rose from four in 1993 to nine in the spring of 1994. Six climbers reached the summit from Tibet and there were four deaths. Not a single climber of any commercial expedition on the north side was amongst the summiters—indeed, probably no commercial team’s client has ever summited from the north. While the total number of all climbers who have reached the highest point on earth now stands at 548, just 108 have done so via any route in Tibet. While 37 climbers were summiting from the south, men and women on the northern slopes were frequently pinned down in their camps by winds that were fiercely strong and cold—winds from which the great solid mass of Everest tended to protect southern climbers. Another factor that defeats more climbers from Tibet is the altitude of the final camps. The normal routes above the high camp on both sides are about the same in length—perhaps slightly shorter on the north—but the camp on the standard North Col route is at about 8300 meters and on the standard southern route is now invariably on the South Col only at 7900 meters. Thus, summiting Everest from the north means that most climbers spend two nights and an entire day at or above 8300 meters, while on the south they are at this altitude for only eight or ten hours. Furthermore, on the north there are serious technical difficulties above the high camp: the Yellow Band of unstable rock, the First and Second Steps and a last section of difficult rock just below the summit’s snowcap. On the southeast ridge, there is the famous Hillary Step, but it forms a relatively small section of the final day’s climb. The descent down the southeast ridge is clearly defined, which is not true on the north. Four deaths occurred. A member of an expedition of 12 Taiwanese led by Chang Jui-Kong, Shih Fang-Fang, stated that he would get to the summit or die in the attempt. He summited alone on May 8 and then tried unsuccessfully to find his way back down. He was seen the next day crawling about on a snow terrace about 300 meters below the top before he sat down and died. The leader of a 16-member Italian expedition on the north face’s Great Couloir route fell to his death on May 15, thus ending the attempt. Five climbers of Eric Simonson’s American-New Zealander-Australian expedition (described below) reached the summit, but Australian Michael Rheinberger died on the descent. A Nepalese cook, Prem Thapa, died from a stroke. He was accompanying an expedition of 4 Austrians, 1 Dane, 1 Briton, 2 Americans and 2 Canadians led by German Peter Kowalzik. Dr. Dagmar Wabnig was unable to save the Nepali, but she did successfully treat an American who had cerebral edema and three other climbers suffering from pulmonary edema. On May 14, Heinz Rückenbauer of that group reached 8300 meters on the north face’s Great Couloir route. There was a close call for a member of a group of 6 Canadians led by Jamie Clarke and Alan Hobson. John McIsaac and Denis Brown set out with American Steve Swenson from Camp VI on May 25 but had to turn back, suffering from the altitude. Mclsaac was especially seriously ill. In the final stage of getting this dying man down to the foot of the mountain in the very early hours of the morning, a line of dots of light from the headlamps of perhaps 20 climbers from various expeditions could be seen moving upward to help carry him down in relays. He survived, thanks to the cooperation of so many people. But this cooperation came at a price for those who helped. An expedition of 3 New Zealanders, 2 Americans, 2 French, 1 Canadian, 1 Guatemalan and 1 Romanian led by New Zealander Russell Brice had first unsuccessfully attempted a couloir on the east side of the north ridge, getting to 8000 meters on May 9. They then turned to the North Col route. Two were moving up for their summit bid when Brice had to ask three of the team’s four Sherpas to go up very quickly with a supply of oxygen for the stricken Canadians. The Sherpas made a forced march from 7000 to 8300 meters in four hours and 20 minutes. The two Canadians were rescued, but the international expedition no longer had the manpower and oxygen for a summit push. The team went home unsuccessful. Two other unsuccessful expeditions on the North Col Route were 3 Americans led by Steven Matous, who got to 7600 meters on April 27, and 6 Italians led by Giuliano De Marchi, who got to 8650 meters on May 19. For the report on the American-Canadian team on the Kangshung Face, see below.

Elizabeth Hawley

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