National Geographic : 1963 Oct
Reconnoitering the west shoulder, climb ers scan the Northeast Ridge's windswept profile. Before 1949, when Nepal eased its ban on foreigners, expeditions had to ap proach Everest from the north, through Tibet. While trying to scale the Northeast Ridge, Britain's George Leigh-Mallory, famed for his explanation of why men climb a mountain ("Because it is there"), and Andrew Irvine disappeared in 1924. laying up an angle of about 45 degrees. The slope was unrelenting. There was no place to rest. Finally, after about 400 to 500 feet of as cent-which took maybe four hours-we reached an area of rotten, downsloping yel low slab rock within the Yellow Band (pages 486-7). It was apparent we were going to have to indulge in some very messy climbing on steep, rotten rock. The covering of snow was no better. Of a floury consistency, it would slide off under your weight, cascading down on the man below. I took the lead, trying one alternative and then another. Finally I drove in a large piton which carved its way into the rottenness of the rock. Then, being physically unable to negotiate a small outsloping bit of vertical rock, I came down again, discouraged. Climbers Lost, and Base Can't Help But this was the obvious route. We could see gray rock up above, not too far away. Un like the crumbly yellow rock we were on, it should be sounder and easier to climb. So we had at the vertical wall once again. Willi headed back up, using the piton that I had placed. He had to take his mittens off and climb barehanded, worming his way up. It was well past noon, and all this time we had been conserving oxygen during the pe riods of belaying by turning the regulators almost all the way down. When we finally finished the Yellow Band and were able to sit down, we established radio communication with Jim Whittaker at Base Camp. We told him we were puzzled as to where we were; we could see lots of gray rock above, but we had no idea where the summit of the mountain was. Of course Jim couldn't tell us. We realized that the climbing had been going very slowly. The poor, unconsolidated snow was becoming unstable in the warmth of the day, and the prospects of having to go back down the snow gully were most revolt ing. It appeared as if we had committed our 510 selves to an onward and upward effort. To descend would be exceedingly dangerous, if not impossible. So we continued upward, finding the gray rock much easier climbing, and suddenly we got our bearings. The immense Yellow Band dropped away in all its sheerness. Below we could see snow slopes where we had once thought of putting a camp. And for the first time we could look over into the East Rong buk Glacier. Ahead was a great patch of snow that led us to the final summit pyramid on the north face. There we had to make our next decision: how we were going to tackle the last 600 feet.