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Jochen observing climbers Jochen Hemmleb observes the climbers making their way from Camp V.
Waiting in Silence
by Liesl Clark
May 1, 1999

The first call came in at 5:00 a.m. "We're ready to go," said Dave Hahn in the early morning light from Camp V. "We're putting on our crampons."

"Did you sleep well?" inquired Jochen Hemmleb from Base Camp. "Negative." Hahn's voice came in crystal clear. "We didn't come here to sleep. We came to climb and search." It was a "go" for Hahn, Andy Politz, Tap Richards, Conrad Anker, Jake Norton, and Thom Pollard to climb up out of Camp V and aim for the location of a body found in 1975 by a Chinese climber. No one has expressly climbed to this location, since then, to search for the remains.

We knew we would have to wait in silence until 7:00 a.m. for their next call. The previous night had been unsettling, as our tents trembled quietly in the wind, light gusts sending ripples through the rip-stop fabric. Today, the gusts have turned more vigilant with the rising sun, blasts of cold penetrating through even the thickest of down jackets. We wonder how cold it must be up at 27,000 feet where the climbers are headed.

7:00 a.m brings the first news about the team's progress. "Thom made it about 15 minutes out of camp and then I think he turned around."

At 9:20, Hemmleb is able to see the climbers through his telescope. "They are climbing in the gully at the same elevation as the snow terrace where the body is. They now have to traverse over to the right about 825 feet to reach it."

First, Norton called to report that he had found a long oxygen bottle with remnants of blue paint, like the 1975 Chinese bottles—a clear indication that the climbers were on the right route. It was only 10:45 a.m.

Then Anker called over to his search mates: "Can you see what I'm pointing at on the ledge?" Moments passed as we could only guess at what Anker was referring to. Then Richards came on the radio: "I've found two bodies at the base of the fall line."

"Can you determine how old the bodies are?" asked Hemmleb. "I see red, white and blue nylon on one and a jumar on the other," responded Richards, "so I think they're at least 20 years old."

Hemmleb thought for a moment and then responded: "It sounds like you've found the Chinese climber who died in 1975 who fell from the First Step. My guess is that the other body is that of a Russian climber who also fell."

Climb North closeup
With his eye glued to the 200-power telescope, Hemmleb was able to follow the climbers as they broke into three straight lines. Anker was on the bottom of the snow terrace, Politz at the base of the Yellow Band, and Hahn, Richards, and Norton in between.

In less than an hour, Anker called in again. We caught only pieces of his transmissions: "Why don't you come down for Snickers and tea?" he seemed to be asking the other climbers. When no one responded favorably he came in a little more clearly: "Mandatory group meeting." This was the last we heard from the climbers for the day.

It became clear that what seemed like a normal series of radio calls was actually a signal that something was up. From his telescope, Hemmleb could see the five climbers coming together on the bottom edge of the snow terrace where Anker stood. Was "Snickers and tea" a code for something found? We are very aware of other expeditions listening in on our frequency, and had previously agreed that if the body were found we would keep the radio transmissions to a minimum. This "mandatory meeting" which sent Politz some 330 feet down from his search position could only mean that Ankers had found something. But what?

We now know that we will have to wait two days to hear the news from Anker and the climbers when they come back to Base Camp. The wind continued to blow outside as Hahn came on the radio for the last time tonight, leaving Jochen Hemmleb, finally, with what he's been waiting for all day:

"Jochen, you are going to be a happy man."


*Members of the press: click here for NOVA/PBS ONLINE "Lost on Everest" media relations contacts.

Unanswered Questions (May 25, 1999)
Forty-Eight Yaks (May 21, 1999)
On Top of the World (May 17, 1999)
Summit Team Moves Higher (May 16, 1999)
Still at Camp V (May 15, 1999)
Snow Bound (May 14, 1999)
Outsmarting the Weather (May 13, 1999)
Last Trip Up (May 12, 1999)
Up to ABC/The Rescue (May 11, 1999)
The Image of Mallory (May 8, 1999)
In Extremis (May 7, 1999)
Pieces of the Puzzle (May 6, 1999)
Dearest George (May 5, 1999)
Mallory's Discoverers Return (May 4, 1999)
Mallory Reported Found (May 3, 1999)
Waiting in Silence (May 1, 1999)
Up to the Search Site (April 30, 1999)
To the North Col (April 29, 1999)
Waiting out the Wind (April 28, 1999)
Search About to Begin (April 25, 1999)
Pitching a 1933 Tent (April 23, 1999)
Early Camp Found at 21,750 Feet on Everest (April 20, 1999)
Up to Base Camp (April 23, 1999)

Photo: Liesl Clark.



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