Mount Everest, first free ascent of the Second Step, previously unreported. In AAJ 2000, pp. 378-9, Conrad Anker reported on his unsuccessful attempt to free climb the Second Step on Everest’s Northeast Ridge. He rated the pitch 5.10 AO, concluding, “My inability to make the moves rein-forces my belief that Mallory and Irvine were not able to surmount this formidable obstacle.” On May 22,2001, Austrian Theo Fritsche succeeded in free-climbing the pitch, but did not publicize his achievement. In recent conversations with me he supplied the following details: “From the beginning I was certain I wanted to climb Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen and without technical aids. … Below the cliff [the Second Step] I formed a clear impression of how to climb it without aid. I put my ice axe in my pack, cached one of my ski poles, pulled down the hood of my anorak to get a wider field of view and took off the cumbersome overmittens. … I saw to the left of the ladder a crack that offered the possibility of laybacking. At the end of the crack is a steep rise. I went directly over the steep rise, bridging out left. I then mantled to get my right foot on top of the block and to stand up, though it was very strenuous. … As for the rating, I would say IV+ to V- (5.6-5.7), the top part somewhat technical.”
Fritsche did the climb free-solo, i.e., without protection, and completed the whole ascent without supplementary oxygen (Fritsche's fourth 8,000m peak, all without supplementary oxygen). Fritsche said he doesn’t have a problem with Ankers rating of the pitch as 5.10 or VI+, as the chockstone/overhang at the top of the crack “might as well be in the V+/VI- (5.8) range.” However, because of the shortness of this section, only two moves or so, he would give the headwall a lower overall rating.
We leave it to the reader to decide if this has any bearing on the Mallory mystery.
Jochen Hemmleb, German Alpine Club (DAV)