The 80’s on Everest opened with Messners solo without oxygen and then Loretan and Troillet later made their astounding climb straight up the Super Couloir, going up and down the North Face without oxygen in 46 hours.
Sandwiched in between was the Australians climb, one it would be good to be writing up as current, but times have certainly changed. This first Australian ascent stands out as one of the great ones, with the team summiting 35 years ago on 5 October, 1984.
Everest North Face, the Great Couloir starts left and below the summit and sweeps all the way down the face. Only the upper half is visible.
No Australians had climbed the peak when they made their plans and their ascent style is excellently reflected in Simon Balderstone’s, (who accompanied the team to Base camp), article in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The climb has gone on to be recognized as one of the finest new routes, done in impeccable style, on Everest. As far as I know it has never been repeated in the same style.
Lincoln Hall went on to write a beautiful and inspiring book, White Limbo, which is a very worthwhile read, with some equally great photos in the original coffee table book edition – with still a few you will find in the book shops in Kathmandu to browse through.
Tim Macartney-Snape and Greg Mortimer summitted just before sunset after a along and technically difficult climb to the summit. Andy Henderson was stopped a mere 50 meters lower with a faulty crampon, that in fixing it got frostbite and lost parts of his fingers.
When I was organizing my own Everest expedition, I had lunch with Andy in Sydney, which helped me form our team, the approach and our plan for the Kangshung Face.
We spoke about team size and composition, something that is vitally important when climbing hard routes on big mountains. Fortunately, when it came to putting together the Kangshung Face team this input certainly proved invaluable. Five people is the ideal team size Andy told me, as worked out by their expedition leader Tim.
You will have people to climb as teams, someone who can always have a slower day and help out, and an uneven number so if the leader wants to be egalitarian and put it to a vote, there is an obvious winner. I could only find four climbers for the Kangshung – but obviously the right ones. I think one of our strengths was we all knew none of us could underperform or have an off day or call in sick. It was all on, all the time.
The Australians faced a host of challenges, with the one that would of stopped even climbers today being the loss of their climbing double boots in a cache at the base of the North Face, where avalanches can sweep down at any time.
Should your boots be buried in an avalanche, not-to-worry, just put on some double cross-country ski boots, old crampons, and climb unroped to the top.
Their audacious undertaking stands as one of the truly great and pure ascents of Everest.