Everest, north side, Second Step free climb. On June 14 at 6:15 a.m. Leo Houlding and I free- climbed the Second Step on the North East Ridge of Chomolungma. Prior to the ascent a team of four high-altitude Sherpas led by Phurba Tashi Sherpa of Khumjung, Nepal, removed the ladder placed by the 1975 Chinese expedition. I led the pitch traditional style (ground up and setting my own gear), for protection placing a four-inch cam with a wood block stack to accommodate the wide crack. After an offwidth move, the climbing followed face holds. Besides the large cam, I placed two other cams and clipped two in-situ pitons. Given the altitude, exposure, and climactic consideration, the Second Step is approximately 5.10 in difficulty. We reached the summit at 9:55 on the same morning.
This is likely the highest technical free climb in the world. Not having the ladder in place makes the climb more demanding and replicates the situation that Mallory and Irvine would have encountered in 1924.
Previous climbers (Oscar Cadich, 1985, and Theo Fritsche, May 22,2001) have free- climbed the Second Step with the ladder in place. This was my second go to free climb this formidable barrier. In 1999 I matched feet on the next to last rung, having climbed the crack. Our climb in 2007 was filmed by Altitude Productions for a documentary titled The Wildest Dream. After our free ascent of the Second Step, Phurba Tashi Sherpa and team replaced the ladder at the request of the Chinese Mountaineering Association.
Conrad Anker, AAC