Noted American killed in Tibet

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 28/10/2010
Gottlieb (left) and Puryear on Jobo Ribjang. Joe Puryear

One of America's best known alpinists, Joe Puryear, is reported to have been killed while attempting a summit in Tibet's Labuche Kang Range.

Details are currently unclear but it appears that Puryear was unroped, and ahead of his partner David Gottlieb, when he fell through a cornice. Gottlieb did not see the incident and arrived on the ridge to see tracks ending at a break.

He descended 500m and discovered Puryear's body. Retrieving their satellite phone, he was able to call the USA and relay the news.

Puryear and his regular expedition partner David Gottlieb had gained a 2010 Shipton-Tilman Award to attempt unclimbed Karjiang (7,221m) in Tibet, close to the border with Bhutan. However, when a permit did not materialize, they decided to head for the little known Labuche Kang Massif.

Also known as Choksiam, the Labuche Kang group lies north of the Himalayan chain, between Xixabangma and Menlungtse. The highest summit, Labuche Kang I (7,367m) was first climbed in October 1987 by a joint expedition from the Himalayan Association of Japan and the Tibet Mountaineering Association. Seven Japanese and eight Tibetans reached the top via the West Ridge.

Labuche Kang II (7,072m) was climbed in April 1995 by all 10 members of a Swiss expedition. However, no climbers appeared to have visited the valleys on the south side of the massif and this is where Gottlieb and Puryear established base camp, at 5,300m, some 45k from Tingri on the Friendship Highway (connecting Lhasa with Kathmandu).

By the end of the first week in October the pair had climbed two peaks of over 6,000m in order to acclimatize and established an advanced base at c5,500m. However, bad weather stopped further climbing until the recent tragic attempt.

In the last three years the pair had made four notable first ascents in Nepal's Rolwaling Himalaya: Bamongo (6,400m) and Kang Nachugo (6,737m) in 2008; Jobo Rinjiang (6,778m) in 2009 and Tarkargo (aka Dragkar-go, 6,771m) last winter.

All these trips were carried out in very lightweight style, with a strong 'leave no trace' ethic that went as far as the pair opting to thread their rappel rope directly through Abalakovs, so as to leave no rappel anchors in place.

In 2005 and 2007 Puryear had also made four notable first ascents in the Siguniang Massif, Sichuan.

A former Mount Rainer climbing ranger, Puryear had made over 30 ascents in Alaska and was author of a selected climbs guide, Alaska Climbing. His comprehensive history and photodiagrams of all the routes in the Ruth Gorge appeared in the 2006 American Alpine Journal. He has also climbed extensively in, and written on, the US desert.

Puryear is the third celebrated climber to have been killed recently in Nepal.

Chhewang Nima Sherpa, who had climbed Everest 19 times, only one short of the record currently held by Apa Sherpa, was swept away by an avalanche while fixing ropes near to the summit of Baruntse, a popular 7,129m peak close to Makalu. Subsequent helicopter searches found no trace of the body of this well-known 43-year-old Nepalese mountaineer.

And 39-year-old Italian Walter Nones died in a fall while attempting a new route on the South West Face of Cho Oyu. The Italian Nones was perhaps best known for his 2008 new route, climbed in alpine-style, on the Rakhiot Face of Nanga Parbat, a demanding line on which one of his regular climbing partners, Karl Unterkircher, with whom he made the first ascent of the North Ridge of Genyon in China, and also K2, died in a crevasse fall at 6,300m.
 


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