Daily Dispatches [CLICK FOR INDEX]
Second Step Without the Ladder
Tue, March 16, 1999 Ashford, Washington
The Second Step is the crux of the climbing route from the north and is at the heart of the controversy surrounding Mallory and Irvine. Was Noel Odell correct when he said he saw them above the Second Step on June 8, 1924?
We know that the Chinese in 1960 made the only documented ascent of the Second Step without the ladder (which was placed by the Chinese in 1975 and has been used by every North Ridge climber since then). This remarkable 1960 ascent was for years held in disbelief by Western climbers, but now is credited to have been a remarkable achievement.
The first Chinese team, led by expedition leader Shih Chan-chun and Wang Feng-tung, established a camp at 8,500 meters and pushed on to the base of the Second Step. It took them well into the night to establish the route across the "Traverse" and up to the base of the final vertical part of the Step, where they bivouacked. The next morning, they retreated to Base Camp.
After restocking the camps on the mountain, the second summit attempt started from the 8,500m camp on May 24. The summit team consisted of Wang Fu-chou, Chu Yin-hua, Gonpa, and Liu Lien-man. Like the first team, they were stopped by the final vertical section of the Second Step. Liu Lien-man attempted to climb it four times, but fell off each time. Chu Yin-hua then took off his boots and took over the lead, but also fell. Finally, Liu climbed partway up, then Chu climbed up and stood on his shoulders and was finally able to reach some holds, which enabled him to reach the top. Once on top, he offered a "top rope" to the others.
On the top of the Second Step the party realized that their climb had taken them over three hours, and that they were dangerously late and low on oxygen. It was decided that Liu would remain and wait, while the others continued. The climbers finally reached the summit well after dark, and bivouacked on the way down. All together, it was a remarkable ascent, and several of the climbers paid dearly with frostbite and lost fingers and toes. This climb may have been the only successful ascent of the Second Step.
We have set this as one of our goals on this expedition, to try to climb the Second Step without the ladder to experience just how hard it really is! Could Mallory or Irvine have climbed it in 1924? We'll try to answer that question.
Eric Simonson, Expedition Leader