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Restless Climbers Wait Out a Storm on the Mountain

Fifth in a series. The expedition searching for the bodies of lost British climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine had established five camps up the North Face of Everest and was working to set up a sixth when the mountain unleashed its fury. As expedition leader Andrew Harvard and journalist George Bell report, a mild autumn in the Himalaya came to an abrupt end in early October.

October 26, 1986|SUE GILLER | Giller, 39, has four other major Himalayan expeditions to her credit, including Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and two previous trips to Everest. This marks her third visit to Everest, a record unmatched by any other woman climber

While Breashears and the Sherpas battled to stock Camp Five, the rest of the expedition waited out the storm. For Sue Giller, one of three women on the expedition hoping to become the first American woman to reach the summit, the long days confined to camp were in many ways more difficult than the arduous climbing that had occupied the first eight weeks on Everest.

I cautiously stick my head out of the sleeping bag at 8 a.m., hoping to see sunlight on the tent. But all I see is dull gray, and all I hear is the monotonous rattle of snow on the tent fly. It will be another stormy day at Advance Base Camp--our sixth in a row.

I know exactly what the day will be like, an exercise in whiling away the hours until it is once again time to sleep. Even getting out of the sleeping bag for breakfast has become a chore. The four of us in this camp at 21,000 feet have grown tired of each other. We know what will be said over breakfast; we have been making the same small talk each morning for five days now.

After our meal, listlessly eaten, we return to our tents to deal with the day. Some read, or daydream, or just stare at the tent walls and listen to the never-ending whine of the wind. Few dare sleep, because sleeping during the day means staying awake during the dead of night.

I'm tired of reading. I've read four books in the past six days. The day passes slowly in a gray haze.

A British mountaineer and explorer during the early 1900s, Eric Shipton, said: "The greatest hazard of Himalayan climbing is bed sores." Long periods of isolation inside snow-covered tents are common for those who climb the world's highest peaks. As climbing is a test of physical conditioning and skill, waiting out storms is a test of mental stamina and patience.

The greatest danger is in losing mental alertness through days of lethargy. When the storms clear, we will once again have to continue our expedition. The dangers of Everest--hidden crevasses, avalanches, exposure--require all the mental quickness a climber can muster.

(c) 1986, Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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