Ian Wade Interview taken in 2016
Born in the UK but now living in the U.S.A Ian reached the summit of Mount Everest in May 1990, as a member of the Earth Day International Peace Climb.
What made you join the Earth Day International Peace Climb?
Everest had always been a dream of course but a more costly undertaking than the alpine style expeditions I’d organized to Fitzroy, Kongur, Payu, etc. At age 44 I was thinking my spending on climbing trips was over and educating my children would be the next phase of my financial life! At the time of the expedition I was Vice President of Outward Bound USA, so when Jim Whittaker extended an invitation to join a three country group (China, Soviet Union and USA) I was intrigued by the likely social and team work challenges as well as the chance to climb on the Tibet side of Everest.
On the Peace Climb there were mountaineers from the United States, Soviet Union and China. Were there ever any communication problems and did you all get on?
We had basic language communication problems; the Americans only spoke English. Two or three Russians spoke limited English, the “Chinese” climbers were all Tibetan and spoke no other language. We had interpreters but they were in base camp 13 miles down the Rongbuk from Advanced Base (21,000’) with poor radio connection. The leaders of the three country teams were also down there and each team periodically heard by radio from their leader, in their own language, what the plans were. Then we had to try and communicate amongst the climbers at Advanced Base what we would actually do. There was a lot of latitude for individuals to pursue their own agendas. The Soviet climbers were particularly keen to do an alpine style summit push with only their climbers as opposed to stocking camps and climbing as a multi-national team, as the leaders had agreed. Interestingly I found the Tibetan climbers much easier to communicate with, though we had no spoken language. They had a “good heart” and were trustworthy companions.
Did you have any life threatening experiences while on Mount Everest? This could be, illness, a fall etc.
One expedition member developed a pulmonary embolism that slowed her down but because of her strong motivation did not stop her. Eventually though she descended and did not feel better so went out to Kathmandu where her condition was diagnosed and treated. There were rumors of one of the strongest Tibetan climbers falling at the start of the second step and sliding some distance, but no climbers from other countries observed this.
This May it will 26 years since you stood on the highest summit in the world, do you still remember much about it?
The last days on the mountain are very vivid still. The first summit party had agreed to use oxygen to increase their chances of summiting. However the Soviets “forgot” their oxygen bottles so they could claim an oxygen-free ascent. They we very slow as a result and only descended to the base of the second step on their summit day while the Americans and Tibetans went back to the North Col. I was ascending the next day with two Tibetan climbers and we arrived at the second step camp around 11am just as the Soviets were getting ready to descend. They seemed to have aged several decades as a result of their two nights above 28,000’. The Tibetans and I considered going for the summit that day but stuck to our plan and sat in the tent for 21 hours before it was light enough to tackle the second step. We ran out of oxygen during the night and the Tibetan man, Da Qing, was sent outside when he lit up a cigarette! Our summit day went smoothly using a second oxygen bottle set at 1 liter/ minute. We had relatively light winds on the summit and spent over an hour without oxygen on top.
I read that some of the members reached the summit of Mount Everest without using bottled oxygen. Did you consider this?
I started using oxygen at camp 6 (27,000’). We had had trouble getting enough oxygen to the highest camps. I used two bottles (one to second step and one to summit) thinking to give myself the best chance of summiting. I did not relish the idea of coming back to complete unfinished business!
Which piece of mountaineering equipment or clothing do you think has changed for the better since your Everest climb?
I’m not sure. I’ve not kept up with recent equipment evolution
How did you find ascending and descending the Second Step?
The second step was exposed scrambling up to the ladder, with no fixed rope on our ascent. Care was needed on the snow covered rock and this was the most dangerous part of the whole ascent. The short ladder had a fixed rope so that was easy. I saved the last of my oxygen for the descent of the step and guided the Tibetan climbers down as they were not technically experience, though they were very fit and motivated.
Most expeditions on Mount Everest end up waiting for the perfect weather window for their summit climb. Did you have any really bad days due to the weather?
We arrived at the end of February so had winter conditions for a couple of months while we ferried loads on the lower part of the mountain as far as camp 5 (25,500’). We had yaks to take most of our gear to advanced base, but after that we did all our own load carrying. No Sherpas or porters. This involved 6 trips each up to the North Col and beyond. Many days the winds were too strong to complete a carry to the next camp and we’d leave loads and come back when things improved. The weather changed dramatically in early May, when the winds dropped from the 200 mph speeds we’d observed on the summit ridge, to quite light.
The Nepalese government is considering banning anyone deemed too young or too old or with a severe disability from climbing Mount Everest. What are your views on this?
It would be hard to set criteria based on age or physical ability. The ascent is above all a mental challenge to persevere in the face of adversity. If any restriction was to be placed it might make sense to require an experienced guide or Sherpa with authority to turn people around. Judgment is quite impaired by the altitude and a second opinion from an experienced person could save lives.
Looking at your mountaineering record you have climb some great mountains all over the world, do you have a favourite and why?
The Eiger North Face remains my favorite memory. The build-up Harrer gave in The White Spider made it seem the ultimate challenge for a mountaineer; steep rock, steep ice, bad weather and objective danger. Our late season ascent in 1979 almost perfectly replicated Harrer’s experience of being caught in a storm as we finished the Traverse of the Gods and ascended the White Spider. My climbing partner and I were in great shape and formed a very strong bond from sharing that adventure.
Have you any adventures planned in the future?
My adventures recently have involved ski descents of local peaks in the Wasatch mountains near Salt Lake City where I live. Also exploring the canyons of the Southwest. I’ve not been drawn to another high altitude peak; too much suffering for the small amount of climbing involved for my taste! I’ve led many adventure trips for Outward Bound International and others but been more focused on supporting my children completing their education. A not inexpensive pursuit in the USA.
Do you think that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine climbed the Second Step?
I hope so. Having come so far the relatively short corner/ crack that is the crux might have been with their capability.
If you would like to find out more about Ian please take a look at his website at www.ianwade.org/mountaineering-record