100 years ago: Mallory and Irvine go missing on Everest

North side of Mount Everest
North side of Mount Everest

Noell Odell is collecting fossils on the Tibetan north flank of Mount Everest when the weather suddenly clears. “The entire summit ridge and the last ridge of Everest became visible,” the British mountaineer later wrote about this moment in the midday hours on 8 June 1924.

“My eyes became fixed on one tiny black spot silhouetted on a small snow-crest beneath a rock-step in the ridge; the black spot moved. Another black spot became apparent and moved up the snow to join the other on the crest. The first then approached the great rock-step and shortly emerged at the top; the second did likewise. Then the whole fascinating vision vanished, enveloped in cloud once more.” Odell is apparently the last person to see his expedition colleagues George Mallory and Andrew Irvine on their summit attempt. They never return. At the time, Mallory is 37 and Irvine 22 years old.

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60 years ago: First ascent of Shishapangma

North side of Shishapangma
North side of Shishapangma

“A few steps more and we emerged on the very highest point of the mountain, a triangular ice-and-snow-covered piece of ground, about five square metres, commanding a panoramic view to the farthest horizon. A head wind hit us with full force.” This is how Hsu Ching (other spelling Xu Jing) , the leader of the Chinese expedition, described the moment exactly 60 years ago today when people first set foot on the summit of Shishapangma. It was 10.20 a.m. Beijing time on 2 May 1964 when the first of a total of ten climbers arrived at the highest point at 8,027 meters, reported Hsu.

This was the last of the 14 eight-thousanders to be climbed – 14 years after the first ascent of the first eight-thousander, Annapurna I, by the Frenchmen Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal. Shishapangma – translated as “crest above the grassy plains” – is the lowest eight-thousander and the only one that lies entirely on Chinese-Tibetan soil.

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40 years ago: Berbeka and Gajewski achieve the first winter ascent of Manaslu

Maciej Berbeka on the "True Summit" of Manaslu on 12 January 1984 (Photo: Ryszard Gajewski)
Maciej Berbeka on the “True Summit” of Manaslu on 12 January 1984 (Photo: Ryszard Gajewski)

“Over there, the altitude, plus the temperature, plus the wind, plus the exhaustion make us fight for every step,” said Maciej Berbeka after his return from the eight-thousander Manaslu in western Nepal. “It’s simply a nightmare.” On 12 January 1984 – 40 years ago today – the Polish climber reached the summit of the eighth highest mountain on earth with his compatriot Ryszard Gajewski. It was the first winter ascent of Manaslu and the first ascent of an eight-thousander without bottled oxygen.

Incited by Messner

Expedition leader Lech Korniszewski, a 47-year-old doctor and mountaineer from Zakopane, the highest town in Poland, had gathered a young team around him. The average age of the climbers was 31; Berbeka and Gajewski were 29 years old. The two had been friends since childhood, their fathers worked together at the mountain rescue service in Zakopane. The team chose the so-called “Tyrolean route” through the South Face, which Reinhold Messner had opened in spring 1972. Messner had incited the Poles with his words that he did not believe that the route he had first climbed was possible in winter.

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