Ed Viesturs Climbs
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.
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.
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.
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, MountainZone.com Correspondent