National Geographic : 1963 Oct
Irvine, the others who struggled so valiantly on these slopes. In puttees, Norfolk jackets, and jaunty felt hats, trudging doggedly into the thin, high, freezing air. For 45 minutes we stay on the summit seated in deference to the powerful wind that threatens to blast us back down the mountain. We stare long and hard down the grim West Ridge, hoping for some sign of Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein, our comrades who planned to assault the peak via that un trodden route. Our straining eyes see nothing. The ridge is empty. Lute brought pictures of his family to leave, but he forgets to dig them out of his pocket. He also brought a New Testament given him by his parents that he had planned to place at the summit. But now he decides it is too good to leave on this desolate peak. About 4:15, short of oxygen, we begin the descent. Life-giving gas hisses once more into our masks, but we allow ourselves a barely perceptible one liter a minute. The wind, blowing strongly still, stretches the rope be tween us into a taut crescent that arcs over emptiness beyond the crest. 488 Lute goes first as we traverse a section of the corniced ridge. He disappears around a bend in the undulating snow. The rope, stif fened by the wind, catches the edge of the cornice, cuts itself a groove, hooks the edge. Danger! I shout into the 70-mile gusts, but Lute hears nothing. The fouled rope draws me inexorably toward the edge. I dive onto the snow and wriggle out on the cornice, attempt ing to free the rope. My face is just above the snow. But my weight is too much; a section of the cornice at my chest gives way. I have a sudden, hair-raising view of Tibet's Kang shung Glacier 10,000 feet below. Scrambling back, I notice that Lute's con tinued forward movement causes the rope to cut ever deeper into the snow. I undo the knot that secures it to my waist. It whips up and away across the whiteness. Unroped, I paral lel its route. I wait until the end of the rope, like a frozen snake, slithers free of the cor nice. Then I re-tie it to my waist. Elapsed time: less than a minute. Not until I tell him back in Katmandu does Lute know of this tight moment.