American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Tibet, Mt. Everest, New Mallory and Irvine Discoveries, North Ridge Ascent, Rescues

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002

Mt. Everest, new Mallory and Irvine discoveries, north ridge ascent, rescues. On March 20 our 2001 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition arrived at Rongbuk Base Camp hoping we could find the camera we believed Andrew Irvine was carrying in 1924. As in 1999, we started early in the season, hopeful for less snow on the upper mountain. Our team of seven professional guides (Dave Hahn, Brent Okita, John Race, Tap Richards, Jake Norton, Andy Politz, and me as leader) was supported by 19 climbing Sherpas, team doctor Lee Meyers and historian Jochen Hemmleb. A group of climbers and trekkers joined us later, accompanied by guides Heidi Eichner, Craig John, Heather Macdonald, and Jason Tanguay. We were several weeks ahead of the many other expedition teams that season, and our climbers and Sherpas fixed the entire modern climbing route and established six camps before others caught up. This included fixing to camp 4/north col (23,200'/7070m), to Camp 5 on the north ridge (25,600'/7800m), to camp 6 (26,900'/8200m) on the North Face, through the Yellow Band, from the base of the first step to the top of the Second Step, the Third Step, and the summit pyramid.

During the last week of April our group conducted two major searches, with a total of seven days spent combing the area between 26,000 and 28,000 feet on the North Face, including a four-day stint at Camp 6 by Richards, Hahn, and Politz. Two days later Okita and Norton climbed the true North Ridge above Camp 5 pioneered by the British, probably for the first time since 1938, searching all the way to the First Step. New discoveries included the British 1922 ABC and Camp 6 sites from 1924 and 1933, as well as the 1960 and 1975 Chinese Camp 6 sites and 1960 Chinese Camp 7. Our first summit bid in early May ended with the successful carry-out rescue from below ABC of two desperately ill Chinese glacial research students unconscious with cerebral edema. A second summit attempt was thwarted by deep snow in the Yellow Band and a third attempt was turned back by bad weather from Camp 5. Finally, on May 19, our non-guided climbers Mike Otis and Terry LaFrance reached the top along with Sherpas Kami, Mingma Ongel, Lhapka Nuru, and Danuru. They climbed the modern north side route from Camp 6, and were the first to the summit in 2001 from either side of Everest.

Our final high altitude search and summit bid saw Hahn, Richards, Tanguay, and Politz give up their summit climb on a perfect day to rescue five climbers stranded overnight near the top and unable to descend: three from Mushroom Rock (28,120'/8570 m) and two from the Third Step (28,500'/8690m). The irony of this did not escape us, as our team had gone looking for evidence of climbers long dead and found instead climbers who were alive, albeit barely. This epic rescue, one of the highest in history, resulted in the AAC’s David Sowles award being presented to these four climbers, along with Lobsang and Phurba Sherpa, for their amazing efforts. Our final discovery came not on the slopes of Mt. Everest, but in Beijing, China. In late August 2001, Simonson and Hemmleb interviewed climbers from the 1960 and 1975 Chinese Everest expeditions and came away with previously unrecorded information regarding their climbs and discoveries they had made, including the 1960 sighting of a body in a location completely different from the Mallory site. This could only have been Andrew Irvine. We now conclude that Wang Hongbao sighted the remains of Mallory in 1975. There is still work to be done by future detectives on Everest!

Eric Simonson, AAC

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