Wednesday, July 4, 2012

How We Climbed Everest, by Doskov & Petrov

My 300th Everest book! I try to bring you rare and interesting books for my centennial books. For my 100th, I shared S. M. Goswami's Everest: Is It Conquered?, a conspiracy theory written about the "purported" first ascent of Everest in 1953. Book 200 was Shin Seung Mo's Orient Express to Crystal Summit, about the 1987 Korean winter ascent of the mountain, with Ang Rita making the summit without supplementary oxygen. For book 300, I bring you a small volume on the exciting, but relatively unknown 1984 Bulgarian ascent of the West Ridge Direct. 

Kiril Doskov and Nikolai Petrov write about their participation in the 1984 Bulgarian Everest expedition in How We Climbed Everest. The Bulgarians, under Avram Avramov, follow the Yugoslavian line up the complete West Ridge during the pre-monsoon season. They approach the mountain in two teams (for a total of 24), with one team arriving very early to ascend the Lho La, set up a winch system and begin the ferrying of supplies. The other group arrives fresh and immediately starts stocking higher camps and plugging away at carrying loads. Due to their organization, dedication, and some especially good weather, their first climber, Hristo Prodanov makes it to the summit (Sirdar Chhowang returns from 8400 meters after being struck by a falling oxygen cylinder.) without the use of supplementary oxygen at the amazingly early date of April 20th. He bivouacs very high on the mountain, and team member Yankov and Chhowang are unable to reach him before he expires during the descent. A terrible storm follows, clearing everyone off the mountain.

The team members decide that they are not yet finished with the mountain, as many climbers should have a chance at the summit, and the season has really barely begun. They discover that their high camps have been destroyed by wind and avalanches. After reestablishing them with what equipment they can pull together, they send up more summit climbers. Metodi Savov and Ivan Valtchev were next, taking a long time to make it to the summit due to deep snow. Like Hornbein and Unsoeld (see Hornbein's Everest: The West Ridge), after a very late arrival at the summit, they decided the best course of action is to descend the Southeast Ridge and end up bivouacing near the South Summit. The authors' (Doskov and Petrov) climb ends up doubling as a summit climb and a rescue. They take into consideration the long climbs of Prodonov, Savov, and Valtchev, and decide on a 9 p.m. departure from the high camp and unwittingly arrive at the summit before sunrise after a seven, rather than twelve, hour climb. They head over the top, and in the dark begin to descend the Northeast Ridge before noticing their error as the sun rises. After reascending to the summit, the authors find the right direction and head down the Southeast Ridge. They come across Savov below the South Summit, as Valtchev had descended to the South Col to try to get help from the Indian team climbing the Southeast Ridge route (see Khullar's The Call of Everest). The authors resuscitate Savov with oxygen and warm liquids and help him down the mountain, staying with the Indian team on the South Col before descending via the Western Cwm to their teammates.

I'm amazed that I have not encountered a tale of this expedition in any of my previous reading, as it has all the drama, athleticism, and gutsy decisions that make for a great climbing story. This book is a slim volume of 38 pages, though it includes some journalistic photographs as well. The authors are careful in their wording in places, I imaging for state censors. I wonder what sort of things I've missed! There is one more, slightly longer book in English about this expedition, Metodi Savov's Everest: The Bulgarian Way, that I would love to read, but I have yet to track down a copy. There are a couple of books on this expedition in Bulgarian, by Avramov and Zakharinov, as well as a biography of Prodonov by Georgiev.

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