Still More On The Second Step

ExWeb has published their third interview, from an expert, regarding the recent controversy over who has, and hasn’t free climbed the Second Step of Everest. This time they spoke with climber and historian Jochen Hemmleb, essentially asking him the same questions they asked John Harlin and Miss Hawley.

Hemmleb’s comments are fairly straightforward and to the point. He does give credit to both Oscar Cadiach and Theo Fritsche for successfully free climbing the Second Step, and says that both of the climbs are documented. In Cadiach’s case, it’s even been written up in a few books. Fritsche’s climb is documented on the web, but Hemmleb notes that Theo is very understated when it comes to his accomplishments and doesn’t go out of his way to promote himself.

The article also gets into semantics on what is considered a “free climb” with ExWeb wanting to rule out any type of assistance, including Sherpas and oxygen, but Hemmleb and Harlin both agreed that the use of Sherpas and O2 didn’t rule out a free climb of any pitch.

As for that Chinese team that was credited by Miss Hawley with a free climb of the Second Step, Hemmleb says they didn’t free climb it at all. The team used pitons and a shoulder stand on their way to the top, both of which would rule out a true “free climb”

So, where does that leave us on the subject? At this point we have varying reports on who has actually free climbed the Step. Miss Hawley credits the Chinese team and now Conrad Anker’s Altitude Everest Team. Hemmleb rules out the Chinese, and I tend to believe him on this one, as even John Harlin said he’d be shocked if the Chinese did a true free climb of the Second Step, as they weren’t free climbing in China at the time. Hemmleb gives credit to Cadiach and Fritsche for their climbs, saying that their is evidence to suggest they both accomplished the feat, despite Shambu telling Miss Hawley that Cadiach’s team used the ladder. Harlin has pretty much stayed above the fray of speculation, commenting only on what the AAJ’s records show.

One thing is for certain, it seems that the Altitude Everest team was not the first to complete the free climb. We’re likely to see some clarification on this when the team returns to Kathmandu next week. Knowing what I do about Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding, I’m guessing they don’t care one way or another, they’re just happy to have achieved their goal. This press release that came out touting their accomplishment was likely the work of a marketing hack anyway. But it sure has been fun to read, speculate, and think about the various aspects of these climbs over the past week.

I’m still looking forward to the documentary the team made on the way up, and hearing about the climb directly from Conrad and Leo themselves.

Kraig Becker

3 thoughts on “Still More On The Second Step”

  1. Considering that it was 1960, this would meet the definition of “free climbing” for the time. Today we’d call it “French free” but it certainly wasn’t an aid climb.

    From the Chinese book on their ascent:

    “May 24.

    Good weather. Vice leader Xu collapsed at the camp. Wang, Liu, Qu, and Kongbu started the last 380 meters, carrying O2, the flag, Mao’s statue, paper, pencil, and the movie camera.

    Two hours later they reached the Second Step exhausted. Tried to circumvent. Didn’t work. Zigzagged to the middle of it, where they found a crack. Decided to climb it.

    Liu reached to about 3 meters from the top. The face became verticle and smooth. He hand-jammed, with boot tips smearing on the face. Fell four times.

    Liu, who used to be fire fighter from the city of Harbin, proposed Qu to stand on his shoulder so that he can push Qu up. Qu took off his boots to get up, and nailed in a piton in the crack. He lost his toes and heel to frostbite during the feat. (The same piton was used 15 years later to hang a rope ladder.) Then Liu pushed Kongbu up and went up himselfs with wang on rope.

    It had taken them 3 hours to do the last 3 meters of the Second Step. Not much O2 was left.”

    But they made it!

  2. Wow!

    Awesome info! My eyes got huge when I read that part about the climber removing his boot at the Second Step.

    Free climb or not, that’s one amazing feat and the Chinese Team deserve all the credit they can get fro that climb.

    Thanks for the contribution. Amazing stuff!

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