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EverestHistory.com: 1950-1975


1951: Without official permission from Nepal, and only a few months after the 1950 Anglo-American Nepal Reconnaissance, the Dane Klavs Becker-Larsen attempts to climb the Northern pre-war Everest route but via a southern approach. With a party of Sherpa porters and guides, he attempts to enter Tibet via the Lho La, and actually climbs about halfway up before being turned back by rockfall and his lack of experience (it was the first time he had ever used an ice ax!). Undeterred, Larsen crosses the Nampa La instead and reaches the Rongbuk Monastery. Several days later Larsen and two Sherpas attempt to climb the North Col but turn back after yet more rockfall. Larsen wisely gives up the attempt and returns to Nepal.

1951: British Reconnaissance supported by the Alpine Club and the Royal Geographic Society. A post-monsoon exploration led by Eric Shipton with M.P. Ward, T. Bourdillon, W.H. Murray, and New Zealanders Edmund Hillary and H. Riddiford, the expedition was forced to contend with swollen streams, washed-out bridges, leeches, and reluctant porters. On the 22nd of September they reached Namche Bazaar, and three days later left with the objective of scaling the Khumbu Icefall and enter the Western Cwm. From a vantagepoint on the lower slopes of Pumori, they could see that the route up to the South Col looked feasible. Eventually the expedition pushed the route almost completely through to the top of the Icefall before retreating.

1952: Swiss Expeditions sponsored by the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research

Spring Attempt: led by Dr. E. Wyss-Dunant with climbers G. Chevalley, R. Lambert, R. Dittert, L. Flory, R. Aubert, A. Roch, J. Asper, E. Hofstetter, and Tenzing Norgay as Sirdar. The party ascends the Geneva Spur and places Camp VI on the South Col. Camp VII is placed at approximately 27,500 feet (8382 meters) on the SE Ridge. After a miserable night without sleeping bags or a stove, Tenzing Norgay and Raymond Lambert make an attempt using oxygen but fail below the South Summit at an altitude of 28,210 feet (8595 meters), beating Norton's height record by only 84 feet (25 meters)!

Post-Monsoon Attempt: led by G. Chevalley with climbers R. Lambert, E. Reiss, J. Buzio, A. Spohel, G. Gross, N.G. Dyhrenfurth. The indomitable Tenzing returns again as expedition Sirdar. Instead of climbing the Geneva Spur, the route is pushed up the Lhotse Face instead, now the standard route. Unfortunately the expedition is fraught with bad luck and the Sherpa Mingma Dorje is killed on the Lhotse Face by falling ice, the first Everest fatality in twenty years since Maurice Wilson. Climbing along with the same party, incredibly a second rope slips on the ice and falls 600 feet (180 meters) to the bottom of the slope. Miraculously no one else is injured. A camp is established on the South Col, but the arrival of winter's bitter cold and fierce gales puts an end to the attempt. The expedition lays the groundwork for 1953.

1952: Rumors of a post-monsoon Russian attempt from the North led by Dr. Pawel Datschnolian, possibly with the hope of beating the Swiss to the top and scoring major propaganda points in an age of Sputnik. There are reports that this expedition left Moscow on October 16th and eventually placed Camp VII at 26,800 feet (8170 meters) before six climbers (including Datschnolian) simply disappeared. The Russians deny the expedition ever took place and the Chinese have never made any mention of it. Interestingly enough, in an interview with the Tibetan Gonbu (also known as Gonpa), a member of the successful 1960 Chinese first ascent of the North Ridge, a "mystery camp" was encountered at 27,900 feet (8500 meters). Located above the Yellow Band, this camp could not have been placed there by any of the British pre-war expeditions. Was the camp placed there by this "mystery" Soviet expedition?

1953: British Expedition and FIRST SUMMIT. Led by Colonel John Hunt and consisting of climbers Dr. R.C. Evans, G. Band, T. Bourdillon, A. Gregory, Edmund Hillary, W.G. Lowe, C. Noyce, M.P. Ward, M. Westmacott, and C.G. Wylie. Returning as Sirdar from the Swiss attempts is yet again Tenzing Norgay. The route through the Icefall is completed by April 22, Camp VI is established at the foot of the Lhotse face at 23,000 feet (7000 meters), and after a lengthy delay, the South Col is reached via the Lhotse Face route pioneered by the Swiss the year before.

May 26: First Assault by Evans and Bourdillon from the South Col using closed-circuit oxygen sets. The same day Hunt leads a party of Sherpas from the South Col with the intent to establish Camp IX on the SE Ridge for the second assault party consisting of Hillary and Tenzing. Evans and Bourdillon reach the South Summit at 1 PM at an elevation of 28,750 feet (8770 meters), but are forced to descend due to the lateness of the hour, strong winds, and lack of oxygen.

May 29: Second Assault by Hillary and Tenzing using open-circuit oxygen sets. They leave Camp IX at approximately 27,900 feet (8500 meters) by 6:30 AM, and reach the S. Summit by 9 AM. After negotiating the 40 foot (12 meter) Hillary Step, they are the first to reach the summit of Everest, reaching the top at 11:30 AM. After descending to the South Col, they are met by George Lowe where Hillary states: "Well, George, we knocked the bastard off!"

1955: The height of Everest is adjusted by 26 feet to 29,028 feet (8848 meters).

1956: Swiss Everest/Lhotse Expedition led by A. Eggler with W. Diehl, H. Grimm, Dr E. Leuchtold, F. Luchsinger, J. Marmet, F. Muller, E. Reiss, A. Reist, E. Schmied, H. Von Gunten and Sirdar Pasang Dawa Lama. The South Col was reached by the middle of May, and a successful summit bid was done on Lhotse via the very difficult North ridge on May 18 by Reiss and Von Gunten. On May 23 from a high camp at 27,500 feet (8400 meters) on the SE Ridge, Schmied and Marmet reach the summit. The following day Reist and Von Gunten also reach the summit.

1958: Joint Chinese/Russian reconnaissance from the North that reaches 21,000 feet (6,400 meters) below the North Col. The plan was for the two countries to return later for a joint assault, but this expedition never materialized after relations between the two states deteriorate.

1960: Chinese and Tibetan team of 214 men and women, led by Shih Chan- chun, makes the first summit of Everest via the North Col and Northeast Ridge. Long doubted by Western mountaineers because of the lack of a summit photo and the claim of summiting at night, the photos and film the Chinese did release reveal that they at least climbed the Second Step, the key to the route (although Reinhold Messner claims he possesses documentation proving they didn't climb it, so far this evidence has not been produced). The final assault party of Wang Fu-chou, Liu Lien-man, Chu Yin-hua, and the Tibetan Gonbu (also known as Gonpa) assaulted the final 15 foot (5 meter) Second Step headwall using pitons and team tactics. After Liu Lien- man repeatedly falls off attempting to lead the pitch, Chu Yin-hua takes off his boots and socks, and using a shoulder stand climbs the
last vertical pitch in bare feet! Exhausted by his effort, Liu Lien- man is forced to halt at 28,600 feet (8,700 meters), but the remaining three climbers make it to the summit where they purportedly leave a plaster bust of Chairman Mao by a rock outcrop.

1960: First Indian Expedition led by Brigadier G. Singh. Climbers Capt. N. Kumar, Sonam Gyatso, and Sherpa Nawang Gombu reach 28,300 feet (8625 meters) just below the South Summit before retreating in a violent storm and driving snow.

1962: Illegal four-man expedition led by the American Woodrow Wilson Sayre following the pre-war British route up the North Col and NE Ridge. Possessing a permit to climb Gyanchung Kang from the Nepalese side, the party ascends the Ngozumpa Icefall with Sherpa support, but then surreptitiously crosses the Nup La into Tibet. Without porters and relying on a grueling schedule of load-shuttling that covers the same ground three times daily, the group reaches the base of the North Col in nineteen days. They climb the North Col, but a fall lands Sayre and partner Roger Hart in a crevasse where they survive the night by wrapping themselves up in a tent. Undeterred, Sayre and Norman Hansen set off the very next day up the North Ridge, but can only climb 1,200 feet (400 meters) in the next two days. Realizing that they are beaten, they turn back but Sayre slips and falls 600 feet (200 meters) down the North Ridge snowfield before stopping. Incredibly, the now emaciated and half-starved expedition is able to return back over the Nup La into Nepal without encountering Chinese patrols.

1962: Second Indian Expedition with Major John Dias as leader. Returning to the SE Ridge route, climbers Sonam Gyatso, Hari Dang, and Mohan Kohli are forced to retreat from a high point of 28,600 feet (8720 meters) because of bad weather.

1963: American Expedition with Norman Dyhrenfurth as leader and including A. Auten, Barry Bishop, Jake Breitenbach, J. Corbet, D. Dingman, D. Doody, R. Emerson, Tom Hornbein, Lute Jerstad, J. Lester, Willi Unsoeld, and Jim Whittaker. A huge expedition, costing almost $400,000 and supported by the National Geographic Society, over 900 porters carry 29 tons of food and equipment to the base of the mountain. Base Camp is established at the foot of the Khumbu Icefall on Mar 21 and the route through the icefall prepared soon after. Jake Breitenbach is killed by collapsing seracs in the Icefall but the expedition continues. The expedition splits into two parties - the West Ridgers and the South Collers.

First Assault: May 1 From Camp 6 at 27,450 feet (8370 meters) on the SE Ridge, Jim Whittaker and Nawang Gombu Sherpa reach the summit in strong winds at 1 PM. Whittaker becomes the first American to summit Everest.

Second Assault: After a tent at Camp 4W - including occupants - is nearly blown off the West Shoulder by hurricane force winds, Camp 5W is placed in the Hornbien Couloir at the foot of the Yellow Band at 27,250 feet (8300 meters). Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld squeeze their way through the couloir and ascend a 60 foot (20 meter) headwall before emerging onto the upper summit pyramid at 27,900 feet (8500 meters). The pair then traverse across to the West Ridge proper, reaching the summit at 6:15 PM. They are forced to descend the SE Ridge where they meet Jerstad and Bishop who had summited at 3:30 PM. The four men descend to around 28,000 feet (8500 meters) before having to bivouac for the night on the ridge proper. They survive a long, cold night out in the open and descend safely to the South Col the next day. Unsoeld later loses most of his toes to frostbite. The first new route and the first traverse of Everest.

1965: Third Indian Expedition, with Commander M.S Kohli as leader. On May 20, 1965 they succeed when A.S. Cheema and Sherpa Nawang Gombu ascend the SE Ridge. Gombu becomes the first person to summit Everest twice (the 11th and 17th summit). Out of the first seventeen summits of Everest, Nawang had two of them! Additional summits were achieved by Sonam Gyatso, Sonam Wangyal, C.P. Vohra, Ang Kami Sherpa, H.P.S. Ahluwalia, H.C.S. Rawat, and Phu Dorje Sherpa.

1966-1969: Nepal is closed to mountaineering during this politically tense period involving antagonists India and China.

1969: Japanese SW Face Reconnaissance Expeditions. In the Spring, a party including Naomi Uemura enters the Western Cwm and probes the lower slopes. The Japanese return in the autumn with Uemura and Masatsugu Konishi, and the route is pushed up the Central Gully to the base of the Rock Band before the expedition returns home, convinced that a full-scale expedition could succeed.

1970: Japanese SW Face Expedition led by the seventy-year old veteran Saburo Matsukata. A massive expedition with 39 climbers, seventy-seven Sherpas and a woman, Setsuko Watanabe. Unable to improve on the previous year's reconnaissance efforts due to poor snow conditions and rockfall, the expedition switches to the standard South Col route. Teruo Matsuura and Naomi Uemura reach the summit on May 11, followed by K. Hirabayashi and Chottare Sherpa on the next day. Watanabe sets an altitude record for women by climbing to the South Col.

1970: Japanese Ski Expedition. Climbing along with the SW Face expedition, Yuichiro Miura skis from the South Col to the bottom of the Lhotse Face on May 6. Reaching speeds of 100 mph (160 kph), Miura slows himself with a parachute but loses control after hitting some rocks. He slides unconscious about 600 feet (200 meters) down the icy slopes, and fortunately stops just short of a huge crevasse.

1971: International Expedition. Norman Dyhrenfurth leads an expedition with thirty climbers from thirteen different countries including Don Whillans, Dougal Haston, Naomi Uemura, Pierre Mazeaud, and H. Bahuguna. This optimistic expedition hopes to simultaneously climb the SW Face and the West Ridge Direct, but is fraught with one- upsmanship, personality conflicts, and organizational problems. Bahuguna is caught out in a storm at Camp 3W. A rescue party climbs up to help him and he is found clipped onto the fixed ropes, missing a glove, his bare midriff exposed to the storm, and his face coated in ice. When it proves impossible to move him horizontally, they try to lower him vertically into the shelter of a crevasse, but the rope runs out before they can reach it a la Tony Kurtz on the Eiger Nordwald. Whillans utters his famous remark, "Sorry Harsh old son, you've had it." The expedition falters after his death, but Whillans and Haston push the SW Face route to 27,400 feet (8,350 meters) before lack of equipment forces an end to the expedition.

1971: Argentine Post-Monsoon Expedition. A post-monsoon expedition where J. Peterek and U. Vitale reach 26,600 feet (8,100 meters) before being defeated by high winds and an unfavorable weather forecast.

1972: European Expedition to the SW Face led by Dr. Karl Herrligkoffer and including climbers Don Whillans, Doug Scott, Hamish MacInnes, Felix Kuen, Adolf Huber, Werner Haim, and Leo Breitenberger. The expedition is plagued by personality conflicts and the withdrawal of many of the climbers, but the route is pushed as high as 27,200 feet (8,300 meters) before the attempt is abandoned.

1972: British SW Face Expedition led by Chris Bonington including climbers Mick Burke, Nick Estcourt, Dougal Haston, K. Kent, Hamish MacInnes, Tony Tighe, and Doug Scott. A post-monsoon expedition confronted with terrible weather, an elevation of 27,200 feet (8,300 meters) is reached below the Rock Band before retreating. Tragically, Tony Tighe is killed in the Icefall during the descent.

1973: Italian Expedition. Another huge expedition with sixty-four members led by Guido Monzino. Helicopters are used to shuttle equipment past the Khumbu Icefall and one hundred Sherpas are also employed. Eight climbers succeed via the South Col Route, including 16 year old Sambhu Tamang of Nepal. It is later revealed that Sambhu was actually 18. Italian Summiters were Rinaldo Carrel, Mirko Minuzzo, Fabrizio Innamorati, Virginio Epis, and Claudio Benedetti.

1973: Japanese Expedition. Led by Michio Yuasa, this large forty-eight man expedition attempted both the SW Face and South Col route. The SW Face party reaches 27,200 feet (8,300 meters) before giving up. Success is achieved on the South Col route when Hisahi Ishiguro and Yasuo Kato reach the summit, the first post-monsoon success on the mountain.

1974: Spanish Expedition attempts the South Col route. A high camp is placed on the SE Ridge, and twice teams were in position for a summit attempt, but both times are defeated by high winds. The second summit team manages to reach 27,900 feet (8,500 meters) before retreating. 

1974: French West Ridge Expedition. Led by Gerald Devouassoux, a post- monsoon attempt to climb the West Ridge Direct starting from the Lho La. Because of political considerations, they don't climb the slopes leading up to the Lho La directly, but start from the base of the Khumbu Icefall; the expedition eventually reaches the West Shoulder by September 9. A major lapse in monitoring weather reports prevents them from learning that an unexpected return of warm monsoon weather is about to occur. The tragic result is that Gerald Devouassoux and five Sherpas are swept away in a immense avalanche, after which the expedition is called off.

1975: Japanese Ladies Expedition led by Mrs Eiko Hisana. On May 16 Junko Tabei of Japan became the first woman to reach the summit via the South-East Ridge.

1975: Chinese Expedition led by Shih Chan-chun, leader of the 1960 Chinese ascent, and organized by a "Party Committee" that included Wang Fu-chou, one of the 1960 summiters. A military-style expedition that uses soldiers to carry supplies to the North Col and siege tactics to progressively reposition camps higher and higher up the mountain. A final assault camp is established between the First and Second Steps at 28,500 feet (8,680 meters) by the Mushroom Rock, and the Second Step is prepared with an aluminum ladder to overcome the final vertical headwall pitch. A team of nine climbers - eight
Tibetan and one Chinese - reaches the summit on May 27, including the Tibetan woman, Phantog. Phantog becomes the second woman to summit Everest, losing this honor to Junko Tabei by only a few days. She is the first woman to summit from the Tibetan side.

1975: British SW Face Expedition (post-monsoon). Leader Chris Bonington and including H. MacInnes, Peter Boardman, Martin Boysen, P. Braithwaite, Micke Burke, M. Cheney, C. Clarke, Nick Estcourt, Dougal Haston, and Doug Scott. Base Camp is reached on August 22 and Advance Base is established on September 2. The expedition is blessed with good weather and smooth logistics, resulting in the steady placement of camps up the Central Gully to Camp 5 at 25,500 feet (7800 meters). The Rock Band is ascended via a gully on the left side by Estcourt and Braithwaite, who have some sporty moments when their oxygen runs out on dicey pitches at 27,000 feet (8200 meters). The upper icefield is reached via an awkward outward-sloping ramp; Haston and Scott establish Camp 6 a few days later at an elevation of 27,300 feet (8300 meters). The next day they fix 1,500 feet of rope on the upper snowfield, extending the route towards a gully leading up to the South Summit. 

First Assault: Sept 24: Haston and Scott reach the South Summit at 3 PM after 11 hours of climbing. After preparing a snow cave and drinking a brew, they continue on to the summit which they reach at 6 PM. They descend to the South Summit and bivouac in the snowcave. After a freezing, oxygenless night complete with hypoxic conversations with feet, toes, and imaginary companions, the pair descend to Camp 6 safely, passing the second assault party on their way up.

Second Assault: Sept 26: Boardman and Sirdar Pertemba reach the summit and descend in a gathering storm, where they encounter Mick Burke just below the summit. They wait for him as long as possible before descending, but Burke is never seen alive again. He probably made the top but fell off of the heavily corniced summit ridge while descending in the deteriorating conditions.

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