Daily Dispatches [CLICK FOR INDEX] Climber Dave Hahn The Search at 27,000'
Tue, May 4, 1999 — Base Camp, Rongbuk Glacier

It was something of a relief to have the cat out of the bag on May 3rd. We'd sent out our dispatch the night before telling the world of finding George Mallory and, that morning in ABC, the guy camped 40 feet from our mess tent ventured up to tell us he'd just heard of our accomplishments on the BBC World News on his short wave radio.

Mount Everest
Mount Everest Mount Everest Mount Everest Mount Everest Mount Everest "Beneath that label was a neatly stitched one that said "G. Mallory." We stopped all work and looked in one another's faces... but our first utterances were along the lines of 'Why would Andrew Irvine be wearing George Mallory's shirt?'..."
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We hadn't said a word to him or any of the hundred other climbers we met during our descent and night at ABC. It was a little tough to feign real interest in the topic all others seemed to be focusing on when we entered the ABC area, which was the usual squabble over fixed rope (We and a couple other well prepared teams fix it, some of the others are grateful and helpful to the extent they can be, a fair number of others are abusive at the suggestion that they help support the effort, but are commonly seen to like hanging on the ropes just fine). Such trivial concerns seemed to pale next to the adventure still stirring our brains from two days before.

When our own "news" came back around the globe at us, we were preparing to leave ABC for a Base Camp rest. We paraded down valley proud, certainly, but a little preoccupied with the task at hand as is often the case here. Rope on Upper MountainWe had just climbed to about 8200 meters, which is not something to sneeze at (only partly because there isn't enough air for that sort of thing up so high). It may be worth remembering that the world's sixth highest mountain, nearby Cho Oyu, is about that high. Scale gets distorted where Everest is involved. We needed to remember we'd been so high because there had to be some explanation for that first rest-break a half hour below ABC.

Nobody seemed capable of talking, we sat on our packs coughing and retching the way you do when your throat has funneled in too many days of cold, dry, worthless air. My guess is that we spent our 15 minutes of fame right there on the rocks of the East Rongbuk, gasping for air and chugging water. The mountain was not at all through with us, nor us with it, despite the fact that the outside world was, on that particular day, excited by our discovery and ready for us to be done with it all and available for comment.

George Mallory Fifteen minutes of fame is probably a good thing and worth a few cups of free coffee back home, but of course it is nothing compared to the 75 years of fame George Mallory has generated. Perhaps that is one of the things that made our encounter with him so special. It reached back to a time when men were apparently different and society could unabashedly elevate them to the status of "hero forever." It was not a chance encounter. We'd gone to extraordinary lengths to brush with history. Even so, we had been fully prepared to go looking without finding. That would have been the most likely result of a search in such a wildly angled place, of course, and one that our friends and colleagues had told us to expect. "A needle in a haystack" was the popular expression used, with a wink and a nod to let us know they all thought it was a sneaky and smart way to get a trip to Everest's summit.

But at 3am on May 1st, when Andy started kicking my ribs to wake me at 25,400 feet, it didn't seem anything
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Mount Everest Mount Everest Mount Everest Mount Everest Mount Everest "I marveled that Conrad had found this needle in the haystack, but... He'd kept his eye on the big picture, trying to understand how snow and gravity and people work..."
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like a smart undertaking. So I didn't waste much over-challenged brain power pondering the task. We were committed. We meant to treat the search as a summit attempt. When things get serious in that way, an Alpine start is called for. There just aren't enough hours in normal days for the things we wanted to get done.

The first rib kick got me moving, and that made the little puddle of super cool condensation in my oxygen mask roll out into the opening of my down suit and find my exposed neck. That was enough to get me sitting up quick. I thanked Andy for the kick and lit the hanging stove. I'd kept my radio in a chest pocket to keep it functional against the cold, and now I fired it up as well. Conrad answered my call immediately. He and Jake and Tap were in our alternative Camp V and that tent was about 100 linear feet away on its own precariously perched ledge. It might as well have been in another country since there was no way I was going out to knock on their door without my climbing gear on.

High Wind Seeing as how it would take fully two hours to eat, drink and get that gear on, the radio would have to work in the interim. It did, they were up and brewing in Conrad's tent. No mention was made of the wind steadily hammering at our nylon homes. We'd been through all this the night before, reminding each other that wind at Camp V does not always mean wind at Camp VI and the slightly concave North Face we wanted to search. It made for a noisy and stress producing distraction though as we crammed down hot drinks and people fuel. More fuel, more fuel, although the first bite of raw Pop Tart had completely satisfied any appetite I might have come up with at such an odd time and place. A big day was looming, my partners were going to be strong, ready for business and intolerant of my weaknesses. Eat more fuel. That done and a little more snow melted and boiled for the water bottles and Andy and I got our boots on and crawled out onto the predawn North Ridge.

Incredible beauty greeted us in every direction, but a finger freezing wind accompanied it, meaning we had to forget the beauty and keep up with the chores. I could see Conrad, Tap and Jake on their ledge attending to business as well. Climbing harnesses got put on tight and checked by someone other than the wearer (who couldn't very well see that part of his own body with all the clothing and equipment in the way). Crampons got laced tightly to big double boots. Oxygen cylinders were carefully nested in our packs, cranked on and checked for leaks.

At 5am, we were ready for walking and so I called Base Camp and ABC to clue them in. Looking about at my partners, I realized that we'd become as separate from one another as deep-sea divers. We began,
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Mount Everest Mount Everest Mount Everest Mount Everest Mount Everest "After a few minutes of pictures and stunned silence, we brought ourselves around to our work. Packs and oxygen got set aside as we began to search for some identifying features and relics..."
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without two words to one another, to start working up the rocky and windy ridge. The O's seem to make soloists of us all since the sound of one's breathing gets greatly amplified in the rubber mask. I noticed with a slight shock, though, that Conrad was not using oxygen. At my questioning look he gestured to his pack to show me he was carrying a bottle anyway. I felt foolish for a moment as I was thus reminded that all the rigging on my face and the tube leading back to my pack was superfluous and unfashionable. But it was the plan for the day, 'Get to the search area as strongly as possible.' That foolish feeling did go away quickly as I took a deep hit of two-liter-per-minute oxygen (it may well have been 3l/min... it is acceptable to lie about such flowrates).

Eric Simonson Within five minutes, I realized I was worrying without reason about Conrad getting to the search breathless since he was pulling away ahead of me as usual, oxygen or no oxygen. As I picked my way up the steep incline of loose rock, I remembered that these were new heights for Conrad and that, as usual, he was testing himself to the fullest extent possible. There was now a little time, if I could take my attention from the circuitous path above and its potential to rain down loose rock, to gaze out at the rest of the planet and the upper atmosphere marvels of sunrise. The sun wouldn't hit us for hours, but it would throw some incredible shadows around among the giant mountains of the range.

I found the going difficult enough, however, that I couldn't devote my eyes to much earthly beauty. This would be my fourth time in the past eight years to journey from Camp V to VI, so familiarity would suggest that it would be getting easier. I found it more difficult and tedious, however. The same condition that would make our search productive was making the climb in that direction difficult. No snow. I kept my crampons on, as did a few of the other guys, just for the odd patch of black ice, but I wasn't enjoying dragging my spikes over all the rock. It demanded more attention than snow walking, even after I eliminated the great drop-offs we were traversing from my consciousness.

Andy headed off to the left as the rest of us began angling onto the North Face. Apparently deciding on the spur of the moment to investigate personally the viewpoint Noel Odell commanded when he last
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Mount Everest Mount Everest Mount Everest Mount Everest Mount Everest "When Jake turned up the goggles in a chest pocket, we were nearly at our oxygen starved thinking limits. That implied that the light was getting scarce... If they were coming down in the dark..."
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saw Mallory and Irvine. The search had begun. I concentrated on keeping a polite distance behind Jake and Conrad (fall too far behind and they would have to wait and get cold... impolite behavior) while making sure that Tap did not run me over with his spikes in search of soft matter. We finished the exhilarating traverse from the ridge to the face and began the serious uphill push to Camp VI. Now we did come upon old snow in the gullies and runnels, but this fun was offset by the knowledge that we'd now progressed beyond the good fixed rope. There was still rope to grab on, but there was no way of knowing what it was tied to above and how badly it was frayed in between.

In fact, I had the unpleasant sensation a number of times, to remember certain knot arrangements and tangles from past years. Rope doesn't like UV light, it doesn't age well, and it doesn't get stronger as the wind moves it endlessly over sharp rock edges. Rope fixed high on Everest for several years is scary. I kept resisting the temptation to pull hard on the fixed lines as things got steeper and the steps got larger. On the bright side of things, the sun had finally chosen to shine on our efforts. Life got better as we were now able to stop and sneak a little food and water from time to time. We got a little protection from the jetstream by being within the dish of the North Face. Life seemed pretty good as we pulled onto one of the Camp VI ledges and sat down together at 10am.

The five of us were pretty well excited by what would come next. Jochen had told us several times how a search had never been pursued in this area. We called Base Camp then to make sure he had his telescope out and pointed at us. We smiled at one another when we heard the excitement in his voice. To his questions, though, I had to admit a couple of blunders already. Jochen had, over the years, put together a search plan based largely on finding Andrew Irvine's body. It has been accepted by many that Irvine was seen by a Chinese climber in 1975. The story is that the climber found an "old English dead" within just 20 minutes stroll from the 1975 Camp VI.

Jochen Hemmleb This always intrigued me since strolling would not be normal time-passing activity at 27,000' where simply putting on two boots is a good day's labor. Jochen said the man had reason to leave his tent, however, since a fellow climber had fallen from the First Step and disappeared only days before. In any case, if the story is true (the Chinese climber died in 1978, on Everest, shortly after relating his old discovery to a Japanese climber) then the key to repeating the find would be locating the 1975 high camp. Jochen had devised a few strategies for helping us find the place, but as I said, we screwed up on some of those. No, I hadn't properly loaded his GPS coordinates... No, I didn't have the key photo of the red flag in place amongst the rock landmarks, but I felt I remembered the landmarks well enough, and so did the rest of the team. We'd been studying for this test for months now and all it really took to get things going was a little talk about keeping radios on and being methodical... [Continued In The Next Dispatch]

Dave Hahn, Climber

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