Ed Viesturs Climbs
8000m Peaks

Everest '99
Karakoram '99
Heidi Howkins Interview

Ginette Harrison's Kangchenjunga Summit

Editor's Note: Tragically, Ginette Harrison was reportedly killed in an avalanche on Nepal's 26,795-foot Dhaulagiri on Sunday, October 24, 1999. Harrison submitted this story of her ascent of Kangchenjunga earlier this year.

The Route (42K)
May 14th we set out again feeling optimistic of our chances of success. The weather was fine and the Japanese team had already set out for their summit bid two days earlier. But on arrival at Camp I our spirits plummeted — one of our tents was missing! After much searching we found it, still upright, down a crevasse about 400m from camp. It appeared that it had been blown down the glacier by the wind blast created by a large avalanche in the Ice Building. It was still serviceable and our summit bid was still on. The following day we climbed the Ice Building again. The fixed lines were broken and had to be cobbled together. That night at Camp II the wind was howling and spindrift avalanches poured down the Rock Band blocking the entrance to our cave. We had to get up and dig out three times in the night to avoid being snowed in and suffocating. We heard on our evening radio call that the Japanese team had summited that day. We were happy for them and optimistic that conditions must have improved.

" As we traversed below the Croissant we realized that what had looked like a rock in the snow the day before was in fact a body..."

Above the Rock Band we made good progress pitching camps alpine style at 7400m and finally a high camp at 7800m next to a large boulder approximately 50m below the "Croissant" (named for its crescent shape). Last year's tents were still visible, although badly torn and buried in snow. Snow conditions were much improved after high winds had scoured the upper mountain. We were ready for summit day. We could see the Japanese tent above us pitched immediately below the Croissant but strangely there was no sign of the Japanese. We expected to see their second summit team descending today. We'd left our radios at the snow cave to save weight so had no idea of the drama that had been unfolding above us.

Snow Cave
That night I slept badly and lay awake wondering when I could give up pretending to sleep and fire up the stove. We brewed up around 3am. I forced down some oatmeal and promptly vomited. The joys of high altitude climbing! It was frigidly cold and seemed to take an eternity to struggle into boots and crampons and deal with the call of nature. Once outside the tent I began to appreciate my surroundings. It was 5am and the sun was just rising with stunning views of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu glowing pink-orange in the morning light. I longed to take a photo but couldn't risk removing my outer mitts and getting frostbite. Chris and Jonathan had already set off with Tim a little way behind. Gary and I followed.

As we traversed below the Croissant we realized that what had looked like a rock in the snow the day before was in fact a body - a pair of boots with crampons was clearly visible poking out of the snow. I tried to convince myself that it was a climber from years ago, but as we climbed the gully to the right of the Croissant it became apparent that it was one of the Japanese climbers when we stumbled across a second body sitting in the snow and still clipped into the rope, his hat pulled over his face. As we climbed higher we heard the sound of a helicopter below us. My emotions and thoughts were whirling - how many more dead bodies would we find? Were there injured climbers higher up? What on earth had gone wrong? Was there anything we could do to help? But I knew there was nothing that we could do. This was our summit day; the weather was perfect; we pressed on.

"I tried not to think about the thousands of meters of South face below, and concentrated on planting my feet and axe firmly..."
At the top of the Croissant gully we traversed right into the sunshine. It was 10am and my feet had been numb for 5hours. We stopped for a drink and a rest in the sun. Chris and Jon were already most of the way across the traverse heading for the col to the left of the Pinnacles. It took us another 2 hours to make this traverse and as I looked down the exposed icy slopes I thought of the dead Japanese and wondered if I could stop myself if I slipped. We were soloing having left harnesses and helmets at the top of the Rock Band to save weight. Gary was moving more and more slowly having to stop for breath every two steps. At 12:15pm having reached a height of 8450m he was exhausted and concerned that he would be unable to get down before nightfall if he continued. He turned around. I still felt strong and decided to continue, although I had no idea how much farther it was to the summit. I worried about Gary descending alone although as we were soloing I knew that I could be no more than a psychological help to him. He was equally worried about me continuing up alone.

Just under an hour later I met Jonathan below the col - he'd summitted at 12 noon and thought that I still had time to summit and be down before dark. I passed Chris and Tim a little higher — they'd reached the summit at 12.15 and 12.45pm respectively. I continued on up the summit ridge feeling small and vulnerable. The route stays to the south side of the ridge. The Japanese had fixed rope along the ridge and my left hand gripped it firmly whilst my mind knew full well that without a harness it was nothing more than a psychological boost. About three quarters of the way along the ridge there is a steep ice-filled chimney that one has to descend followed by a gap to step across. I tried not to think about the thousands of meters of South face below, and concentrated on planting my feet and axe firmly.

I was heading for a peculiar jutting-out rock on the ridge and as I stepped left around the rock I realized I'd made it - there were the summit prayer flags. But it took a full minute for my hypoxic brain to register that there were still footsteps upwards and it was another 20 feet or so to the summit. I followed the steps to the top and stood there with mixed emotions of relief and elation having finally made it, but disappointed not to be sharing this summit with Gary.

Safely back at Base Camp the reality of our success sunk in. Four of the team had reached the summit. Chris and Tim had climbed their first 8000er. Jonathan had now climbed the world's five highest mountains and I'd made the first ever female ascent of Kangchenjunga — the last 8000m peak to be climbed by a woman.

Ginette Harrison, Correspondent
Ginette Harrison reached the summit of Kangchenjunga on May 18th, 1998. Since then, she had summited her fourth 8000m peak, Makalu. In addition to Kangchenjunga, her successes include Everest and Cho Oyu. She had also reached the Central summit on Shishapangma (8008m).

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