Leaving my load at Camp I, I headed back down and met Heidi and Eva on their way up.
Avalanches triggered by earthquakes hit Americans attempting the Peak of the Twenty-Ninth Congress and Estonians climbing the east face of Peak Lenin. The entire camp was plunged into mourning.
After some debate, Heidi, Eva, and I continued our climb of Peak Lenin. On the way to our high camp, we reached the 20,180-foot top of Razdelny on the warm sunny afternoon of August 3.
The glorious morning of August 5, I awoke with anticipation tinged with anxiety. Today Heidi, Eva and I would at last attempt the 23,406-foot summit of Peak Lenin. But a storm was forecast.
"We can leave our things in Sepp's tent up high today and then try again another day." Heidi said. "Or maybe we will stay up there tonight."
I didn't want to risk a high bivy, so I decided to climb solo and turn back early. This seemed a reasonable course of action on this sunny morning; a Swiss and an American were also climbing alone.
I felt calm and determined as I moved steadily upward, pausing from time to time to sip hot lemonade, nibble a candy bar, and enjoy the spectacular views.
The mauves and browns of the steppes of Central Asia funneled out beneath me, punctuated by the icy white peaks of the other high ranges.
Almost there and it was still morning. The top was now so close that I thought I might make it by noon.
A blast of wind interrupted my reverie. When I looked up from my feet, the steppes and the surrounding peaks had vanished. The wind grew stronger. I could barely stand against the gusts. The only sensible direction was down.
Back down at High Camp after my descent in the storm, my hands were icy claws and I couldn't unstrap the frozen crampons from my boots.
All that long night, I'd hear the wind and startle awake, sick with fear. Heidi, Eva and five other climbers were up above, exposed to the full fury of the raging blizzard.
I couldn't believe Eva was gone. Tears running down my cheeks, I remembered Eva's joy, her grace.
After three terrible days of storm, the wind eased a little. Hans and I decided to head down to Camp II in spite of the avalanche danger.
Suddenly a large crevasse appeared below us, blocking our path. Then we heard a life-saving yell in the distance. The Russians from Camp II were coming up to show us the way.
The next day, a steady stream of climbers filed by on their way down to Base Camp. Heidi came by with the Bavarians, her frost-bitten hands wrapped in bandages. We exchanged sad words about our devastating loss.
The three Americans told me their horrific story of finding the entire team of Russian women, all dead in the snow.
Bruce and I sat piling rocks into a high tower, unable to do anything more complicated than see if we could add one more rock without making the tower collapse.
Molly Higgins, Marty Hoey and I talked together at basecamp after the storm. Both young women had made the summit of Peak Lenin in good style. Indeed, Molly was the first American to reach the top.
Wanda Rutkiewicz came from nearby Peak Communism by helicopter after the tragedies. She comforted the surviving member of the Russian women's team who had been ill and stayed at Base Camp during the ascent.
Nearly 200 climbers attempted to reach the summit of Peak Lenin during the summer of 1974. Half succeeded. Fifteen died. If only this sunny weather could have come several days earlier.