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Pumori: The bitter-sweet daughter of Everest, part 2
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Oct 15, 2004 11: 56 EST
Peak Freaks expedition, currently on Ama Dablam, will soon head to Pumori (7121m), sitting by the lonely South Everest Base Camp.

Considered "one of the easiest peaks to climb," in this second part of our Pumori Features, we present the dangers of "Everest's Daughter".

The dark side of the bride in white

The beautiful, snowy peak in upper Khumbu valley, right on the frontier between Nepal and Tibet has become a popular peak for its superb views from the summit. And as a perfect training peak before her taller brothers. Or is she.

Pumori’s name has too often been related to mountain tragedies. Her avalanche-prone slopes make the mountain a very exposed climbing target. It lacks in technical difficulty some say, but summit logs disagree.

More technical than some were ready for

Levi, from USA, writes: “I climbed this stunning peak in the vicinity of Mt. Everest & Co. as a member of the International Pumori Expedition 2003 led by Dan Mazur from Himalayan Expeditions. We were the first and only expedition on the mountain at that time of the year. The route was more difficult than expected. All in all we placed approx. 1.600 m of fixed lines up to camp 2. The summit section was climbed in roped teams.”

Uli, from Germany, adds: “It was certainly more technical than some were ready for, and 7000M is nothing to be trifled with. If you're going to Pumori, be ready!!!"

And to finish off, here goes Australian Steve’s comments: "In late September 2001 an International mixed team attempted the so called standard S/E route. We made a decision to retreat around 6400m after severe avalanche dangers were encountered.

"Very unstable wet snow conditions were present. Unfortunately other teams pushed on, one team summited but another wasn’t so fortunate and 5 members were killed in a large ice avalanche. This so called "easy route and easy 7000er" was far from this. The mountain decides when she is ready to be climbed not the so called 'experts’."

The 2001 tragedy

The event Steve refers to was indeed a tragedy. Five Spanish climbers from the 'Sakana-Pumori' team died: The Navarrese Aritz Artieda, Javier Arcauz and César Nieto, and the Basque Beñat Arrue and Iñaki Ayerza. The climbers reached Pumori BC on September 27, 2001, slightly late in the season. They had earlier climbed Island peak for acclimatization, and set one high Camp on Pumori, at 6200m.

All in their early twenties (the ‘veteran’ in the group was Iñaki, 27 years old), for most of them Pumori was to be their first Himalayan big mountain experience. Expedition leader Benantzio Irureta distrusted Pumori from the beginning; back in 1991 he had seen an avalanche on the mountain kill a French climber and a Sherpa. And to Spanish climbers, Pumori was a cursed peak. In 1989, four Spanish climbers died while traversing Pumori’s exposed slopes at 4 am.

But despite her history, Pumori was the chosen peak by the 2001 climbers. The mountain offered a nice trekking approach and as a 7000+ peak, it provided a step up for the young climbers, already experienced from the Alps and Andes.

Only silence was the answer

They left C1 (6200m) early morning. Soon after, a huge avalanche swept the slope between 6300-6500 altitudes. Fearing the worst, one of the team mates called for a helicopter from BC. Frantically, they tried to establish contact with the climbers on the radio, hour after hour. But only silence was the answer from the upper slopes of Pumori.

The first aerial surveillance confirmed the reach of the avalanche. Then two sleeping bags were spotted among the ice rubble. The expedition leader had left a sick member in Pheriche earlier. Now he hurried back to the mountain and his team.

Edurne Pasaban's bitter moments

A rescue team immediately departed from Spain. Edurne Pasaban, who was in Nepal, now experienced one of her most bitter moments of her mountaineering career: Only one week after her climbing mate Pepe Garces fell to his death while descending from the summit of Dhaula, Edurne had to cancel her plane tickets home.

Instead she rushed to the Khumbu glacier, in search for the missing climbers. But all efforts were to no gain; bodies couldn’t be recovered due to the extreme avalanche danger, in fact one avalanche hit two of the rescuers. The five young climbers were finally left to rest forever in the arms of the Unmarried Daughter of Everest.

Pumori, which means "Unmarried Daughter" in the Sherpa dialect, was named by George Mallory, due to its location in the shade of Big E - eight Km West, to be accurate - Since then, climbers sometimes refer to Pumori as "Everest's Daughter". It was first climbed in 1962 by Gerhard Lenser, member of a German-Swiss expedition.

The ‘normal’ route on Pumori (7121m) starts with a climb over an ice fall to the Southeast buttress, next traversing across open slopes to the East Ridge which can be followed to the summit.

Base camp is usually set up at 5300m. A 4 hour climb through the glaciers takes you to Camp 1 at 5700m. Next up are 500 meters on the face with 40-60 degrees slope. Finally you pass a snow wall and reach camp 2 at 6200m on a narrow ridge. Another 500 meters through ice with 30-60 degrees slopes passing through ice walls and crevasses are critical. Big seracs hanging on the shoulder above pose an avalanche risk. Camp 3 at 6500m is set on the ridge. On the summit push, expect crevasses up to the Pumori cliff just before the summit.

Image of Pumori, copyright Helsinki University of Technology.

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