Ed Webster stands for one of the greatest adventures of all time on the highest mountain on earth. “Our new line up Everest was his idea,” writes British climber Stephen Venables following the death of his former teammate and friend. Webster died last weekend at the age of 66 after suffering a heart attack. The sudden death of the legendary American climber was “a huge shock,” Venables writes adding that Ed had been “a brilliant pioneer rock climber.”
In summer 1986, Webster opened a new route through the southeast flank of the 7,543-meter-high Changtse, located just north of Mount Everest – solo, without bottled oxygen. However, this was only the overture for the great coup two years later. In 1988 on Everest, Webster and Venables, together with Canadian Paul Teane and American Robert Anderson, achieved a milestone of mountaineering in the Himalayas. “The best ascent of Everest in terms and style of pure adventure,” Reinhold Messner later called Webster and Co.’s project.
It is not for nothing that the Tibetan East Face of Mount Everest is mostly deserted. It rises steeply over 3000 meters, heavily glaciated, riddled with deep crevasses, avalanches frequently thundering down. When the legendary British climber George Mallory inspected the Kangshung Face in 1921 in search of a route to the summit, he declared the face impossible to climb. In 1983, Americans Carlos Buhler, Kim Momb and Louis Reichardt proved him wrong when they first mastered the Kangshung Face. They used bottled oxygen to do so.
At the limit and beyond
Five years later, Webster, Anderson, Venables and Teare – without breathing masks – opened a new, extremely challenging route through the face. It ended on the normal route at the South Col. Teare subsequently refrained from attempting the summit because he showed symptoms of a high altitude cerebral edema. Webster turned back shortly before, Anderson at the South Summit at 8,690 meters. Only Venables reached the highest point at 8849 meters. On the descent, his strength also left him, and he hallucinated. “I was at my absolute physiological limit,” Stephen said in an interview. „All that day was a crossing barriers.” He survived a bivouac night in the open below the South Summit. But the odyssey didn’t end there. It took three and a half days for the trio to descend the Kangshung Face, in waist-deep snow, whiteout, without food.
“Adventure of a lifetime”
Webster, Anderson and Venables lost toes, Ed, who was taking pictures, also some fingertips. “We have been asked repeatedly, didn’t we pay a terribly high price for our climb? We did,” Ed Webster later wrote. “But our ascent of the Kangshung was, for the four of us, the adventure of a lifetime.” Ed’s life is over, his legacy from Mount Everest remains.