Oscar Cadiachs Everest 1985: About true goals, false accusations and short memories

Posted: Jun 26, 2007 04:40 pm EDT

(MountEverest.net) "The Chinese ladder (on Everests Second Step) and fixed ropes were certainly used by Cadiach and his teammates in 1985 I've just spoken with one of them, Shambu Tamang, and he confirms this, Elizabeth Hawley told ExplorersWeb. She never checked with Cadiach though.

Conrad Anker says he was there last week when Liz called Shambu, the Nepalese who climbed with Cadiach on his Everest 1985 ascent. Unlike Miss Hawley, Anker had actually also met Oscar some years ago.

A fools game

ExlorersWeb sent questions out to Anker and his team mates already last Sunday. One week later, this past weekend, Anker replied at last: Not to discount their achievements, but until I see photos of climbers busting free moves at 28,300, I'm a bit suspect - the ladder and ropes are a bit close and in the way, as I found out in 99, Conrad writes.

Anker finished his email to ExplorersWeb ensuring hes having great fun looking into all this. Oscar Cadiach though is having an increasingly hard time to see the joke. This is becoming a fools game, he told ExWeb after reading Miss Hawleys statements.

As I said, after I summited Everest I rushed home hoping to see the birth of my first child. I ran all the way back ahead of my mates: From BC to Lhasa, over Chengdu, Beijing, Paris and finally Barcelona. I never had a chance to report to Miss Hawley or the AAJ. Actually, it wasnt even one of our priorities. Ours was a Catalan expedition whose single goal was to summit Everest."

The goal was the summit not how we climbed the Step

Whether we free-climbed the Second Step or not was no big deal as long as we topped-out. Nobody asked me for details on the ascent until years later, when the climbing community suddenly became interested in high-altitude free-climbs. All reports AAJ and Hawley have are not mine: I never talked to them about the section, they never asked.

In 1985, Everest north side was a different story. The Catalan expedition's summit was only the fourth ascent of the NE Ridge. The route lay frozen and deserted; as no one had summited Everest through this ridge since Yasuo Kato, 5 years earlier. And before Yasuo, only two Chinese/Tibetan teams had climbed Mallorys route back in the seventies.

Moreover, all the previous summiteers had climbed the route in the dry spring season. The Catalans climbed in full monsoon and through loads of snow. By then, there had been only one previous monsoon ascent on Everests north side: Reinhold Messners, who climbed solo in 1980 but via the north face.

"There is no way Shambu said I used the ladder"

Other, very strong expeditions had failed where the Catalan team succeeded. They made it against all odds; in a small team, in difficult conditions, and using no supplementary oxygen on the climb. They reported that they shared a bottle of O2 at low flow one night in C4, and their climb is therefore listed as O2-supported in statistics.

The upper slopes of Everests NE ridge were unknown territory for the 1985 climbers, Oscar said. There was no information, no clues on what they were going to find. What he, climbing with Shambu Tamang well ahead of the rest of the team, did find was a ladder buried in snow.

There is no way Shambu said I used the ladder to ascend, because it would have been absurd that ladder didn't go anywhere! Only two footsteps were unburied, and they were too far to the right from the safest spot I saw and headed for an off-width crack on rock.

"We have been in touch since the climb and Shambu never discussed these details with me"

What I did, and maybe thats where Shambu's mistake lies, was to pass a ribbon and a carabiner on one of the tracks, in order to set a safety point for my rope. After I climbed the Second Step, I set up two snow-sticks and fixed my rope to a snow-cornice at 8,700m, so the rest of the team (Shambu included) could clip in their jumars and progress up the Step. Obviously, when Shambu climbed up the fixed rope, he would have passed very close to the ladder and saw the safety device."

"In addition, as I climbed the Step Shambu was belaying me from the cave right below, and he could not see me well unless he stepped back and peered up. Anyway, we have been in touch since then and he has never discussed such details with me and I cant believe he has such short memory.

After Oscar rushed home, disagreement erupted between the expedition leader and the Sherpas, who apparently didnt get tipped as generously as they had expected. Oscar said he knew of this only years after the expedition.

In any case, Shambu Tamang, Ang Karma, and Narayan Shrestha were greeted as heroes back in Nepal as the first Nepalese citizens to summit Everest from China. Shambu was also the first non-Sherpa Nepalese to summit the peak from both sides, after ascending the peak from the south side in 1973, back then becoming the youngest Everest summiteer at age 17.

Welcome back to Spain and politics

Also the Catalan summiteers received a warm welcome back home in Barcelona, with the expedition leader Conrad Blanch sharing a piece of the glory in spite of not being part of the summit team.

The problem was the expeditions political implications. Spains democracy was still very young and strong independence claims were raised in Catalonia and the Basque Country. The Everest team had been supported by Catalan authorities and the climbers brought the Catalan flag to the summit instead of the Spanish. Thus, the achievement was a Catalan success with a big fuss made in the region, while the expedition barely received a mention in other Spanish media.

Oscar wanted to stay out of it. A recent father, he avoided interviews and tributes even cutting down his time in the mountains.

He didn't care how he'd climbed the Second Step he had led the way and gone up what he considered the most logical route up a tricky section. He never thought of it as a free climb, until some years ago, when it suddenly became a question of style. And now, when another team simply refuses to believe him.

Guilty until proven innocent?

In his nearly 30 years of Himalayan expeditions, and 7, 8000ers summited (including Everest twice and new routes on Cho Oyu and Broad Peak central) no doubt has ever been put on Oscar's achievements. He honestly reported on sipping O2 in 1985. He reported that he turned back only 40 meters from the summit on Kangchenjunga; in spite of the Nepal government providing him with a summit certificate.

In such a case, it seems unfair to judge a climber guilty from one testimonial made in the heat of a controversy; specifically in a situation where his guilt would benefit someone else. Not to mention the other climbers who, on different occasions, also say to have done the exact same thing: All with remarkable climbs in their resume and previously undisputed reputations - suddenly accused to lie about the exact same, insignificant spot on one peak.

As for "photos of climbers busting free moves at 28,300," the Catalan Everest 1985 team has summit pictures but Oscar says he has no complete documentation of his own ascent he was too busy climbing, and Shambu was too busy belaying him. With a large number of Sherpas and a big film crew around, shots like that must have been far easier to obtain for Conrad Anker.

Conrad Anker did know of Oscars climb

Last, but not least, another small detail could end up being of some importance. Before the climb, Ankers Altitude Everest expedition claimed theirs would be the first free-climb ascent of the Second Step. While it still doesn't explain why they sidetrack the Chinese; Anker could plead ignorance of the previous climbs made by Oscar Cadiach, Theo Fritsche, and Nickolay Totmjanin.

After all, his team was the first to make a big fuss of free-climbing the section. The others, climbing without O2, just wanted to reach the top as fast and safe as possible. However, Conrad had heard of at least one of the free-climbs before - from Cadiach himself:

I was introduced to Conrad Anker in the North Face booth at the ISPO Munich fair, 6 or 7 years ago, Oscar told ExplorersWeb. We struck up a chat about Everest, and the Second Step. I confirmed I had been the first Westerner to overcome the section (not including Mallory and Irvine). I told him that I didnt use the ladder and instead climbed by the off-width crack to the left of it. I dont know how closely he listened, or whether he still remembers our encounter.

Were Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding "the first people to free climb the famous North East Ridge of Everest?" No, according to ExWeb interviews with experts over the last few days.

Even before Anker and Co. topped out, a number of reports also pointed toward climbers who had free-climbed Everests Second Step before - Oscar Cadiach, in 1985, and Theo Fritsche, in 2001. Only last Friday, Russian Climb reported that Nickolay Totmjanin also free-climbed the 2nd Step - in 2003 - in order to avoid the crowds waiting at the ropes. Nickolay too climbed without O2.

Spanish Oscar Cadiach has taken part in 5 expeditions to Everest, reaching the summit twice (once from each side). Oscar has summited Nanga Parbat (84), Everest north side (85), Everest south side no O2 (92), Shisha via the south face (93), Cho Oyu via the new 'Free Tibet' route (96), Cho Oyu again (97), Makalu (98), GII (99), and Lhotse (2001). Total: 7 main 8000ers (two of them twice). Cadiach opened the route 'Free Tibet' on Cho Oyu and did a new route on Broad Peak central.

Cadiach was also the leader of the K2 "Tarragona Magic Line Expedition 2004." The Catalans were the most exciting expedition that summer. The team accomplished the first repetition of K2s Magic Line, but they were also the only ones to try a rescue party when two climbers went missing on the Abruzzi Spur route while their own climbing mates hurried home. Jordi Corominas reached the top of K2 at midnight on August 17, while Oscar Cadiach and Manel de la Matta turned back at 8100 m on the morning of August 16. Manel fell ill in C1 at 6400, and died in Oscar's arms. The climb was awarded the Best Expedition of 2004 by ExplorersWeb.

Last year, Cadiach opened a new route on Baltoro's Cathedral Towers and led a team on an attempt on GI. In spring this year Oscar attempted Kangchenjunga bad weather conditions forced him and climbing buddy Inigo de Pineda back shortly before the summit. Sadly, Inigo fell to his death on the descent.

5 time snow Leopard Russian Nickolay Totmjanin has a number of technical and winter climbs under his belt. He summited Everest north side without oxygen in 2003, and was awarded Piolet D'Or as a part of Jannu's North Face climb in 2004. He was part of the Soviet team who achieved the first ascent of Lhotses main summit via the highly technical south face (summiteers were Bershov and Karatajev). He also attempted Melungtse North Face before the current challenge - K2's unclimbed West face.

Swiss Theo Fritche's high altitude climbs are Dhaulagiri, Cho Oyu, Makalu, and Everest all without supplementary oxygen.

American Conrad Anker's previous high altitude (8000+) summit was Everest north ridge (on oxygen) in 1999, where Conrad was part of a large Mallory search party led by climber and Everest historian Jochen Hemmleb and climber Eric Simonson. Other climbers and key persons included Dave Hahn, Graham Hoyland, Larry Johnson, Lee Meyers, Andy Politz, Thom Pollard, Jake Norton, and Tap Richards.

The recent 2007 Everest summit was British rock-climber Leo Houlding's first 8000+ summit.


In his nearly 30 years of Himalayan expeditions, and 7, 8000ers summited (including Everest twice and new routes on Cho Oyu and Broad Peak central) no doubt has ever been put on Oscar's achievements. Image of Oscar on K2 Copyright K2 Magic Line 2004 Expedition.
There is no way Shambu said I used the ladder to ascend, because it would have been absurd that ladder didn't go anywhere! Only two steps were unburied, and they were too far to the right from the safest spot I saw and headed for an off-width crack on rock. Image of Oscar back in 1985, the year he free-climbed Everest's Second Step, courtesy of Oscar Cadiach (click to enlarge).
Unlike Miss Hawley, Conrad Anker actually met Oscar and spoke to him about Everest. Conrad Anker after summiting Everest in 1999. Photo, courtesy of Jochen Hemmleb.

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