The Mr Price Himalayan Challenge Everest Expedition was the second South African team to attempt the North Ridge of Everest. Another South African team had reached 7400 metres in autumn 1996. This attempt was made in spring of 1998.
The team was led by Ian Woodall, with Cathy O’Dowd, Pemba Sherpa, Jangbu Sherpa and Lhakpa Sherpa making up the rest of the summit team. Ian, Cathy, Jangbu and Pemba had all reached the summit Everest from the south side on 25 May 1996. Pemba and Jangbu had one other summit to their credit, and Lhakpa had four.
Climbing in support were Trevor Johnston, Andre le Roux and Jan Horn, all from South Africa, and Phuri Sherpa from Nepal. Phuri also acted as ABC cook. South African Martin Brasg was technician while Padam Maygar and Mangal Tamil ran base camp.
The team arrived in Kathmandu on March 29. Once all the permissions and logistics had been sorted, the team drove to Tibet on April 11. Five days were spent on the drive, and base camp (5200m) was reached on the 15th. Once the puja had been held on the 17th, loads could be moved by yak up the Rongbuk glaciers to advanced base camp – ABC (6500m).
The first night spent at ABC was the 26th and on the 27th the Sherpas established camp 1 (7000m). They set up camp 2 (7600m) on the 29th and camp 3 (8300m) on the 30th. Then they began the task of stocking the camps.
Meanwhile the members followed a slower acclimatization programme. On the 29th Cathy and Andre did a day trip to camp 1, with Andre then returning to base camp. Trevor reached 6900m the next day and then went down to base.
Cathy and Jan spent the next week filming around ABC for a television documentary. Jan reached a high point of 6600 metres. On May 7 Cathy and Ian did a day trip to camp 1. Andre spent the night of the 9th at camp 1 in very poor conditions.
Due to ongoing bad weather the entire team decided to return to base camp, arriving on the 12th. Tired and demoralised by poor conditions Martin and Andre left for home on the 17th. While Jan manned the base camp radio, the rest of the team moved up to ABC on the 18th.
On the 20th Ian, Cathy and Trevor moved up to camp 1. The next day Ian and Cathy climbed to camp 2, while Trevor turned round at 7200 metres, his high point, and headed for base camp. On the 22nd Ian and Cathy were trapped at camp 2 due to very high winds. These subsided and the following day they were joined by Pemba, Lhakpa and Jangbu in moving to camp 3.
At 2.30 a.m. on the 24th the five climbers left camp 3 to make an attempt on the summit. They had been joined by a Tibetan climber, Ci Luo. In addition three Uzbekistan climbers were also trying for the top. Everyone was using oxygen. Although conditions were clear, once the climbers reached the summit ridge and were exposed to the wind, temperatures became very cold.
At 5.00 a.m. Cathy found American climber Francys Arsentiev lying at the foot of the first step (8600m). Her climbing partner, Sergeui, had disappeared. The South Africans had no idea that the two of them were on the summit ridge, nor did they know that Francys had been lying there for two days. She was barely conscious and totally immobile. The team spent an hour with her before finally deciding there was nothing they could do to save her life.
At that point Cathy, Ian and Pemba chose to descend. The rest of the climbers continued and at 10 a.m. on 24 May 1998 Jangbu, Lhakpa and Ci Luo reached the summit. The whole team was safely back at camp 1 by that night.
An image from the Mr Price advertising campaign built around the expedition.