News 2013

Dawson Stelfox and Frank Nugent
Title: The first Irish ascent of Mount Everest - 20 years on
Date: 27/05/2013
System Date: 27/05/2013
20 years ago, on the 27th May, 1993 Dawson Stelfox became the first Irish person to stand on the summit of Mount Everest. 
The climbers, support team, families, trekkers and guests celebrated the 20th anniversary last weekend (24-26 May) at Gartan Outdoor Education Centre, Donegal. Mountaineering Ireland would like to congratulate and thank the entire team for their success and their continued contribution to mountaineering in Ireland.

The following is a summary of the expedition report, authored by Dawson Stelfox and published in the Himalayan Club Journal.

THE 1993 IRISH EVEREST EXPEDITION climbed the North Ridge (1960 Chinese route), with Dawson Stelfox reaching the summit on 27 May 1993.

The party consisted of eight climbers Dawson Stelfox, (leader); Frank Nugent (deputy leader); Dermot Somers; Robbie Fenlon; Mike Barry; Richard O’Neill Dean; Mick Murphy and Tony Burke.

This was the first Irish attempt on Everest and as Stelfox holds dual nationality, this was also the first British ascent of the North Ridge. No other 8000 m peaks have yet been climbed by Irish expeditions. Members were from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the trip was supported by Mountaineering Ireland, the Sports Councils in Dublin and Belfast and financed by leading Irish companies and fund raising events.

The team left Ireland for Kathmandu on 17 March and after an acclimatisation trek in Nepal crossed the border at Zhangmu into Tibet on 28 March. Snow blocked roads made for a slow approach and it was 2 April before base camp was established, tucked under the snout of the Rongbuk glacier at 5170 m. The area was scrupulously clean, the toilet block and rubbish pit recently emptied.

Already in residence at the lower base camp site was a large Chinese/Taiwanese group and a small Korean team, both aiming for the North Ridge. The Chinese/Taiwanese had already fixed ropes on the steeper slopes of the North Col which we were able to use in return for carrying some loads for them from advance base camp at 6500 m to Camp (C) 2 at 7800 m.

Our advance base camp (ABC) was established at 6450 m at the top of the East Rongbuk glacier on 7 April, all supplies being carried up by yak. There was, and still is, considerable amounts of rubbish at this level — some historical, some very recent. Our rubbish and surplus food was removed by yak from base camp at the end of the trip but this does not seem to be common practice — probably partly due to artificially high yak costs charged by the Tibet Mountaineering Association.

The first trip to Cl on the North Col was on 11 April. The snow was in good firm condition though the route was threatened by alarmingly overhanging seracs for part of the way. In any event there were no serac collapses but the snow conditions gradually deteriorated and during the final descent off the mountain at the end of May, only the fixed ropes prevented climbers being swept away by small fresh snow-avalanches.

Despite the arduous trek up the East Rongbuk glacier, climbers returned on two or three occasions to base camp, the lower altitude speeding up acclimatisation and found the advantage considerable over trying to rest and recover at ABC. Three trek groups from Ireland visited us through the course of the trip and many made a difficult journey up to ABC.

C2 was established at 7700 m on the rocky north ridge. Good campsites around here are rare and the other expedition was occupying the best area at about 7800 m. Other sites above this are possible, but we found the climb up from the North Col very taxing and settled for the lower site. This whole area is exposed to strong westerly winds which almost continuously swept across the North Face and we lost two tents and numerous poles at this camp. Winds and unsettled weather prevented progress beyond this point until 16 May when a strong attempt to establish C3 reached 8200 m, only 100 m below the intended site. Meanwhile on 11 May, 1 Chinese, 1 Taiwanese and 4 Tibetan ‘Sherpas’ reached the summit but made an epic descent, all but one suffering severe frostbite and some surviving only by our offer of oxygen and stoves at 7700 m.

The weather continued cold, windy and unsettled through most of May, and although we were able to fully stock Cl and C2, it was impractical to make a summit attempt until 23 May when a good forecast from the British Met Office in England indicated an improvement.

Frank Nugent and Dawson Stelfox left ABC on the 24th, supported by Mike Barry and Khunke Sherpa. The following day they climbed to C2 and Robbie Fenlon, Tony Burke, Mick Murphy and Dendi Sherpa left ABC to follow up on a second summit attempt. Strong winds forced** a halt on the 25th, but on the following day Nugent and Stelfox established C3 on a snow slope below the crest of the ridge at 8300 m amongst the wrecked tents of previous expeditions. Fenlon, Burke, Murphy and Dendi moved up to C2. Barry and Khunke descended, their support role completed. All climbers used oxygen above C2.

Nugent and Stelfox left C3 at 5.00 a.m. on the 27th, reaching the crest of the ridge at 7.30 a.m., slowed by deep snow and difficult route finding in the dark. The initially easy snow ridge led onto steep slabby rock, covered with a thin layer of powder snow and there were few traces of old ropes. The traverse around the first rock step was awkward and the climbing grew progressively more difficult. Nugent was having increasing problems with his oxygen system, struggling to get sufficient air for the demanding ground. At 8680 m, he decided to turn back and made a cautious descent to C3 alone. The ridge at this point is narrow and pinnacled, guarded on the east by large cornices — the best line a delicate traverse on steep slabs 20 m below the crest on the northern side. The Second Step was well equipped with old fixed ropes and the 1975 Chinese ladder up the final 8 m was still precariously in place.

Beyond the step the climbing eased, the route crossing a broad boulder-strewn ridge to reach the Third Step at the top of the Great Couloir. Now in thick cloud and light snow, Stelfox completed a rising traverse rightwards across a 50 degree snowfield and then up more slabs to the steep rock buttress guarding the summit. A ramp line led back left onto the summit ridge, about 200 m from the top. The weather cleared again, cloud descending into the valleys and Stelfox reached the summit about 5.00 p.m., 12 hours after starting out. There was little wind, views were extensive, no-one else on the summit and clear radio communication was established to base camp.

After barely 30 minutes on top he started to descend. Fresh snow at the top of the Second Step caused problems trying to locate the top of the ladder as tracks had been filled in. Oxygen ran out soon after and darkness overcame him at the point of leaving the ridge above C3. He reached C3 by torchlight at 11.00 p.m., the descent taking 6 hours.

Fenlon and Burke had reached C3 that day and made their summit attempt the following morning, reaching 8500 m before strengthening winds and increasing cloud forced them to return to C3. All four climbers then started the descent, dismantling camps en route. Within a few hours it was snowing hard but they all reached the North Col by 6.00 p.m. Burke remained there and descended the following morning but the others carried on down to advance base camp in white-out conditions, reaching there after dark. Yaks arrived the following day and we all left base camp on 2 June returning overland to Kathmandu in two days.

Summary: The ascent of Everest (8848 m) by an Irish team. Leader Dawson Stelfox reached the summit alone on 27 May 1993 by the North Ridge route.

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