American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Lhotse Intermediate, Attempt and Tragedy

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1998

Lhotse Intermediate, Attempt and Tragedy. Vladimir Bashkirov, a Russian climber who summited Everest with his Indonesian employers this season had, amongst his many accomplishments, led the successful first attempt to climb the very steep south ridge of a peak known as Annapurna South (7219m) in 1994. While he was engaged with guiding an Indonesian team via the north ridge on Everest, some of his Russian teammates had been fixing rope and pitching camps up Lhotse’s West Face route while others had attempted to prepare a possible descent route for him and several colleagues, who would traverse from Lhotse to make the first ascent of the middle summit of the massif. This exit route was to be on the south ridge of a peak named Shanti Shikhar (or Shartse II) next to the massif’s eastern summit, Lhotse Shar. Although his friends had not reached the top of Shanti Shikar, Bashkirov said in Kathmandu after his descent from Everest and before going to Lhotse, that he still believed it could provide a good descent route from the east from Lhotse Shar.

No one had ever tried to reach this middle peak, known as Lhotse Intermediate (8410m), which is the world’s highest unclimbed peak and is guarded on each side by a very difficult ridge at great altitude connecting it with Lhotse’s main summit and with Lhotse Shar. On May 4 Bashkirov came down to Kathmandu, then flew back to the mountains with Anatoli Boukreev on about the 10th, and arrived at base camp in apparent good health a week after that, ready to make the first traverse across the great Lhotse massif.

Bashkirov, who already had six other 8000-meter summits to his credit, got to the top of Lhotse on May 26. He was among the last of his summit party of eight Russians to arrive there; he told a teammate that he had a slight fever, and he explained to a member of another team climbing the mountain at the same time that he was waiting for the last of his party to come up. When the last of them, including Bashkirov, got to the top, it was late in the day, nearly 4 p.m. The weather was very cold, visibility was poor, and Bashkirov was not well.

Neither he nor any of the others tried to make the traverse to Lhotse Intermediate. Instead, they all turned down toward the shelter of their camp at 7700 meters. But Bashkirov never got there. He managed to descend to 8000 meters unaided, then collapsed and was pulled down the snow slope to 7900 meters, where he was found to have no pulse or any other signs of life. He had died of exhaustion and perhaps the same infection that Boukreev had gotten. His teammates buried his body on the mountain in snow inside a sleeping bag.

Is the traverse from Lhotse to the middle summit to Lhotse Shar possible? His deputy leader, Vladimir Savkov, who did not climb above base camp, answered “it is very, very, very difficult” along the sharp, steep ridge. Said one of the men who did summit that fatal day, Gleb Sokolov, “maybe” it is possible, but he would like to try traversing from Lhotse Shar to the middle peak only; the section of the ridge from that eastern end, he thought, is not so sharp nor so steep as the climb between Lhotse Intermediate and the main summit, and the descent would not be so difficult.

Elizabeth Hawley

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