Asia, Nepal, Khumbu Himal, Pumori, Ascent, Attempt, Tragedy

Publication Year: 2002.

Pumori, ascent, attempt, and tragedy. There were two events during the autumn on 7161m Pumori that were noteworthy for entirely different reasons. The good news was the successful ascent by the first Iranian women mountaineers to come on any expedition to the Nepalese Himalaya. The team was led by Zerefeh Rahimzaddeh and comprised 11 members, eight of whom were women. The three men were: an experienced Himalayan climber, Jalal Chesmeh Ghsabani, whom they wanted for his expertise; the team’s doctor, whom they needed as they knew of no woman doctor who climbed; and a civil servant who never moved above base camp and got extremely bored, but whom they had to take as their chaperon.

Three of the women successfully reached the summit on October 20 via the Normal Route up the southeast face to the east ridge. The summiteers were Leila Bahrami, Mitra Nazari, and Farhondeh, together with Chesmah Ghsabani and three Sherpas. The Sherpas stopped trying to open the route at two quasi-vertical sections above the col on the east ridge because they thought the women would not be able to manage such difficulty. However, the women insisted, ropes were fixed, and the party of seven went to the top in a 10-hour summit day.

The Iranians had no accidents, but a team of 10 Basque mountaineers was not so lucky. These climbers were also on the Normal Route, but never summited. On October 19 five young alpinists, Iñaki Aiertza (27), Javier Arkauz (22), Benat Arrue (22), Aritz Artieda (23), and César Nieto (23), perished when seracs above them collapsed and the resulting avalanche carried them 600-800 meters down the face. This side of the mountain has a long history of avalanches that have resulted in fatal consequences and for this reason the Iranians never occupied a camp at the top of the southeast face, as the Basques and many other climbers before them had done. The avalanche hit the Basques when they were just 50 meters above their camp, which they had pitched at ca 6200m.

Elizabeth Hawley