The Fourteen 8000ers
All fourteen of the world's mountains that rise above the mystical 8000 metre altitude are located in Asia. Ten lie along the Himalayan range, from Kanchenjunga in eastern India, stretching west through Nepal and Tibet and finally to Nanga Parbat in Pakistan. The remaining four are found approximately 100kms north of Nanga Parbat in the Karakorum range on the border of Pakistan and China.
Known as the 'death zone', the 8000 metre altitude places extraordinary demands on the human body. With an atmospheric pressure approximately one third of that at sea level, the body is literally starved of oxygen. Given the multi month nature of high altitude expeditions, this lack of oxygen has serious physical and cognitive impacts. Hearts race at up to 200 beats per minute for hours on end, the air is extremely dry and very cold, causing throat infections and perpetual coughing, the brain is starved of oxygen and must operate in a virtual fog with constant headaches. And all of this whilst climbing mountains that reach to heights at which jet aircraft cruise.
With basecamps located around the 4000 to 5000 metre mark, ascents of up to, or more than, four vertical kilometres are required. Climbers must acclimatise for weeks on end, just so that they may ascend briefly into these altitudes to steal a few precious minutes on a lofty summit.
Climbing an 8000er is a major undertaking, putting one's life at serious risk and requiring exceptional motivation, fitness, teamwork, skill, perseverance and patience. Generally an expedition to an 8000 metre peak will take a minimum of two months duration. Andrew Lock is attempting to become the first Australian to climb all fourteen of the world's 8000ers. To quantify the scale of the project to climb all fourteen '8000ers', 12 men have stood on the moon and, until recently, just 12 men had climbed all the 8000ers. A good friend of Andrew's became the 13th in July 2007 and Andrew plans to be the 14th. So far, no women have yet completed the project, although several have died trying.
An overview of Andrew’s climbs on the 8000 metre peaks follows. Read on to experience life at the world’s highest altitudes.
Mt Everest, 8850 metres - World's highest mountain
Andrew made his first expedition to Mt Everest in the post-monsoon season of 1991 with a small Australian team attempting the mountain without auxiliary oxygen or Sherpa support. During the climb Andrew watched as one of his team mates was avalanched 1000 metres down the Lhotse face but despite this setback and the withdrawal of another team member, Andrew continued the climb. Several weeks later, setting out into the freezing blackness from their high camp at 8000 metres, Andrew and his climbing partner made their final push for the summit, but at 2am his friend became ill and needed to descend quickly. Andrew was forced to decide between assisting him or going on for summit glory. He sacrificed his summit and helped his friend.
Andrew returned to the mountain in the pre monsoon season of 1993 as co-leader of a joint Australian Macedonian expedition. The expedition progressed to the summit attempt where Andrew again found himself having to decide between the summit and helping a friend after one of his team went missing on descent from the summit. Andrew and another team mate spent an incredible three days at 8000 metres without oxygen in a howling blizzard on the south col, waiting for a chance to search for their friend. By the time they found his body, they barely had the strength to walk, and literally crawled down the mountain to safety, having first retrieved their friend’s personal effects for his family.
Andrew’s return to the mountain this time was as expedition leader for a commercial expedition. With the infamous 1996 season having already occurred and with his own share of tragedy over the years, Andrew was determined to put safety ahead of all other factors on this climb. The expedition progressed well until the summit push, when once again the mountain played hard ball on the summit attempt. Leading his team to within 100 metres of the summit, Andrew felt that the conditions on the final traverse were too dangerous for his inexperienced clients and made the agonising decision to turn them around, sacrificing his own summit yet again. Over the next several days they descended to basecamp, however whilst the other expeditions that had also turned around on the summit push went home immediately, Andrew convinced his team to make one more exhausting ascent. The physical and mental demands of such an ordeal are almost indescribable, but inspired by Andrew’s outstanding motivation and leadership, his team followed him all the way back up the mountain. Despite a howling blizzard on the final summit ridge, they reached the summit and finally, realised their dreams.
On the summit of Everest in 2000
Andrew returned to the mountain in the pre monsoon of 2004 as a member of a Discovery Channel documentary making expedition, which planned to film the expedition on High Definition video, every step of the climb. Although a small team of just 4 climbers, they achieved their goal, filming their own and several other expeditions, and on May 16, Andrew reached the summit for the second time. On descent, Andrew personally rescued 4 other climbers, giving up his own oxygen along the way. The video footage was produced into the Discovery documentary ‘Ultimate Survival – Everest’ and has been shown several times across North America.
K2, 8615 metres - 2nd highest
Andrew first saw this mountain whilst leading a trek up the Baltoro glacier of the Karakorum ranges in Pakistan in 1990. He was so inspired that he determined to return and climb it. And in 1993 he did just that.
Joining a small private international team which included the legendary Anatoli Bukreev, the team arrived at the mountain in early July. Climbing hard and pushing themselves to the limit in constantly bad weather, they quickly overtook all other expeditions on the mountain. Although one of the party was struck by a rock and needed to be evacuated to basecamp, the team persevered and launched their summit attempt in fantastic weather but very dangerous snow conditions. Andrew and 3 of his team mates summitted but on descent the mountain exacted its toll as the dangerous snows took the lives of two of his team mates. Despite the tragedy and his own exhaustion, Andrew had to turn his attention to rescuing a Swedish climber from another team who’d collapsed from cerebral oedema. There followed a harrowing, exhausting but ultimately successful retreat from this savage mountain.
This, the first of Andrew’s successful 8000 metre ascents, is one of the most riveting, inspiring stories of Australian mountaineering.
Kanchenjunga, 8586 metres - 3rd highest
In the pre monsoon of 2003, Andrew joined forces with Christine Boskoff to make a lightweight attempt on this, the world’s third highest mountain. Climbing without Sherpas or auxiliary oxygen, they found the mountain to be a significant challenge and Christine decided to head home. Andrew continued the climb but on the summit push, on the final stages of the ascent, he made the tough decision to turn around when he assessed the conditions to be too unsafe.
Climbing Kanchenjunga’s north face
He returned to the mountain in 2006 with a very strong and experienced team; indeed they shared over fifty 8000 metres summits between them. Making solid progress, they established their camps and waited for fine weather, but a mistake in the forecast left them pushing for the summit in deteriorating weather. Compounding this, Andrew fell victim to a bad stomach ailment and was unable to eat for several days before the final summit climb. Nonetheless he pushed on, and with his team mates reached the summit a little before dusk in ever worsening conditions. There followed one of the most harrowing descents in alpine history, in a raging blizzard, at night and unable to use headlamps. Andrew describes the climb as probably his toughest to date and his portrayal of the descent sends chills through even the most hardened expeditioner.
Lhotse, 8516 metres - 4th highest
Immediately following his stunning first Australian ascent of Manaslu, (see Manaslu) Andrew travelled quickly to Lhotse, arriving less than a week after his earlier summit. Making a solo attempt on this mountain, he rested in basecamp for just 2 days before venturing up its slopes. After an acclimatisation push where he tested his fitness and assessed the mountain, he waited for the right weather conditions before striking out for the summit of this, the world’s fourth highest peak. Andrew climbed straight through to camp 2, and the following day established camp 4 high on the Lhotse face, immediately adjacent to Mt Everest. Setting out at midnight he found the conditions to be ideal and made good time through the ever narrowing couloir on the upper west face of the mountain. Arriving at the summit in the early morning, he enjoyed spectacular views of Everest before descending into the gauntlet of the mountain’s falling rocks in the thaw of the morning sun.
With his arrival in basecamp the following day, Andrew set yet another Australian mountaineering record and achieved two 8000 metre summits in the same expedition for his second time, a feat as yet unrepeated even once by any other Australian.
Makalu, 8485 metres - 5th highest
Makalu became the 13th summit in Andrew’s quest to climb all fourteen big ones, when he reached its summit alone on 21st May, 2008. After a long period of acclimatisation, Andrew joined two former climbing partners, Hector Ponce de Leon from Mexico, with whom he climbed Everest in 2004 and Neil Ward from his unsuccessful 2007 Shishapangma expedition, for this attempt on the world’s fifth highest peak. Their ascent almost ended prematurely when the helicopter they’d chartered to fly to basecamp crashed on landing on the flight before theirs. The team needed to wait another week before the last operating helicopter in Nepal was available to get them in.
Cho Oyu, 8201 metres - 6th highest
After his successful second ascent of Mt Everest in the pre-monsoon of 2004, Andrew planned to follow up his success with ascents of both Cho Oyu and Shishapangma. Despite sharing a permit and basecamp with another Australian team, Andrew climbed solo on the mountain to make as speedy an ascent as possible, so that he’d have time to continue on to Shishapangma. He quickly established camps 1 and 2 but unlike other expeditions which normally make a third camp, Andrew decided to launch his summit attempt all the way from camp 2 at 6500 metres. Setting off at midnight, he ascended the long slopes towards camp 3 and soon caught the climbers who had commenced their own summit attempts from this higher camp. Climbing around the slower teams he made good speed and soon had the upper slopes to himself, continuing the long slog across the summit plateau until he was on the summit, where he savoured the spectacular views of Mt Everest, Shishapangma and a myriad of lower peaks. Returning to basecamp the following day he was injured in an accident and was unable to move on to Shishapangma, thus ending this expedition.
Andrew enjoying a well earned cup of tea in Cho Oyu’s basecamp
Andrew returned to the mountain in 2005 as a commercial expedition leader. His second successful summit came after a few short weeks so he took the opportunity to finish the project started in 2004 and moved directly to Shishapangma. See Shishapangma 2005 for details of that expedition.
Dhaulagiri, 8167 metres - 7th highest
1997 saw Andrew join an Australian Army Alpine Association (AAA) expedition to attempt the first Australian ascent of Dhaulagiri. Whilst it was the second attempt for the AAA, it was Andrew’s first time to the peak. Joining a team diverse in alpine experience and motivation, this was the expedition on which Andrew is famous (infamous?) for his comment that he “was there to climb the mountain and he’d stay until the last gas canister if that was what it would take”.
Indeed, after repeated blizzards and several summit attempts, the majority of the 20 strong team departed for home. Andrew and just three others launched a summit attempt in atrocious conditions which saw Andrew himself buried in an avalanche at camp 3. Determined to succeed however, he went on to reach the summit at night and in the pitch black of a howling gale. Stopping on top just long enough to take one miserable photograph, the descent became a battle for survival, searching for the route, buried camps and the strength to carry on. Only Andrew survived the descent without frostbite injury despite having to climb alone and without a head torch.
And, after days of battling overwhelming conditions just to get off the mountain, Andrew and his team were forced to immediately pack up their basecamp and commence the trek out to Kathmandu, having to climb 2 high passes en route in their absolute exhaustion. The story of this trek is almost as harrowing as the climb itself as the small group bivouacked in a blizzard without tents or cooking equipment.
Andrew’s first Australian ascent of this giant saw him lose over 15kg in body weight and is yet another stirring example of his motivation, tenacity, skill and overwhelming drive to both succeed and survive.
Manaslu, 8163 metres - 8th highest
2002 saw Andrew and his old Everest climbing friend Trajce Aleksov join forces to make a last minute, lightweight, oxygenless attempt on this less frequented member of the 8000 metre club. With a stunning twin summit buttress and a glorious trek to basecamp, its relatively benign looking slopes belie the dangers of this challenging peak. First climbed by a Japanese expedition, it has become renowned for big avalanches and a summit plateau that is frequently swamped in thick cloud.
Andrew decided on an early season attempt to allow him to continue to Lhotse afterwards and, arriving at the beginning of April, he, Alex and their basecamp staff of just one, found themselves alone on the mountain. Despite the minimal team size, the two forged the route up the mountain until Alex succumbed to illness.
Andrew climbing towards camp 3 on Manaslu
Saddened by his friend’s withdrawal from the climb but determined to continue, Andrew climbed on, reaching the summit on a bitterly cold morning early in the season, not only making the first ascent of an 8000 metre peak for the entire Himalaya that season but achieving the first ever Australian ascent of the peak in the process.
But that was not all. See the chapter on Lhotse, to understand the rest of Andrew’s amazing high altitude achievements in 2002.
Nanga Parbat, 8125 metres - 9th highest in the world
One of the toughest and most dangerous of the 8000ers, Nanga Parbat did not give up her summit easily to Andrew. His first attempt on the mountain was via what is probably the most difficult of all routes in the Himalaya, the Mazeno ridge, a 13 kilometre ridge of ice, steep rock buttresses, precipitous slopes and mighty cornices, which remains unclimbed to this day. For his 1995 attempt, Andrew teamed up with some equally might names in Himalayan mountaineering, including Doug Scott, Voytek Kurtyka, Sandy Allan and Rick Allen. In tough conditions that saw two of the team depart for home, Andrew persevered with his remaining team mates to establish a record for the furthest ever reached along the ridge. Although unsuccessful, Andrew describes the climb as one of his most enjoyable and rewarding expeditions, having climbed with such exalted expedition partners in such fine alpine style.
Success does not always come on the first attempt in the Himalaya and knowing when to retreat is a key to Andrew’s climbing philosophy. Undeterred by his unsuccessful first attempt, Andrew returned to the mountain in 1996 with an international attempt on the south face. Once again, tough conditions on the mountain saw the departure of the majority of the team for warmer climes but Andrew, ever focused to succeed, stayed until the last. In a fierce blizzard on the final summit push however, over a metre of snow dumped on him in less than half an hour, destroying his tent and weighting the slopes with dangerous avalanche hazard. Recognising the foolishness of trying to continue, he beat a careful retreat to basecamp, where to his dismay, he found that team members had stolen most of the expedition equipment and money, sparking a cross country chase that provides a story almost as fascinating as the climb itself!
Nanga Parbat’s foreboding Kinshoffer face
Never one to give up, Andrew returned again in 1998 for yet another attempt, joining with a well know British mountaineer who shared the ambition of climbing all 14 of the 8000ers. The expedition progressed well, despite massive avalanches sweeping the mountain faces and constant rockfall which took the life of a friend from another expedition. On a mountain that rarely sees multiple expeditions, this season saw several parties share the route. Anticipating a strong, consolidated team on the summit push, Andrew was devastated to find that the other climbers, including his own team mate, refused to share the work of breaking trail in the deep snow to the summit, preferring to save their energy to improve the chances of success. Despite an exhausting 14 hour climb from the high camp at 7500 metres, Andrew broke trail and led the way up the deep snow slopes, through rock buttresses and blizzards to finally reach the summit. There followed an epic night descent which saw Andrew forced to bivouac near 8000 metres for the second successive expedition, without tent, sleeping bag, food or stove. Andrew’s description of his bivouac on this mountain provides one of the most illuminating explanations of his thought processes and survival tactics on these hills. Days later he staggered from the mountain, the first Australian ever to have climbed it.
Once again, Andrew’s determination to succeed, together with his incredible capacity to cope with the world’s worst conditions and highest altitude, provide an epic, yet almost unknown story of human endeavour and achievement.
Annapurna, 8091 metres - 10th highest
Despite being the first of the 8000 metre peaks to be climbed (by the French in 1950), Annapurna has the lowest number of ascents and by far the worst reputation of any 8000 metre mountain. It is a technical challenge on even its easiest routes, and every route is severely threatened by avalanches. Andrew’s first attempt on this mountain ended in tragedy. Attempting its north face in the spring of 2005, he joined a number of climbers from around the world. However a short way above camp 2, the team was struck by a large avalanche. Whilst Andrew and several others were able to take cover, 4 of the team were swept down the mountain. Despite a valiant rescue attempt, in which the four injured climbers were evacuated to camp 2, one of them died shortly after in Andrew’s arms. The other three were successfully brought down the mountain and evacuated to Kathmandu but the remaining climbers had lost the drive to complete the climb and left it for another year.
Annapurna 1, north face. The German ridge is the convoluted pile of seracs
just left of centre that slopes upwards and to the right.
Regarded as the most dangerous of all the 8000ers with statistics of 1 in 2 summiteers being killed on the climb, Andrew did some serious soul searching about the justification to return to this fearsome mountain. However as one of the fourteen peaks in his Summit 14 project, Andrew had to face his demons or give up on the project. Needless to say, his love for the mountains was too strong and he was soon planning his return. He achieved this in 2007 when he joined with a highly experienced team that included Sergey Bogomorov (Russia) and Inaki Ochoa (Spain) both of whom had twelve 8000 metre summits under their belts. With Andrew's 11 prior successes the team was strong and motivated. They shared the mountain with an international team that included Edurne Pasaban (Spain), Fernando Gonzalez (Columbia) and Ivan Vallejo (Ecuador). Ivan also had twelve 8000 metre summits to his credit.
The two teams combined for the climb and found the mountain to be the most dangerous that any of them had attempted. Motivation was tested to the maximum as they fixed ropes up the steep German ridge, which they had chosen over the traditional French route, in the hope that it would be safer. It wasn't safer but it was certainly more technical and considerably longer.
By the time they had reached the technical crux of the route, a massive 80 metre high overhanging serac at 6500 metres, all but Andrew, Ivan and Fernando, had given up in the face of the constant extreme danger. The final three pushed on however, believing the conditions to be just within the limitations of acceptable risk. Once above the serac, they climbed over wind slab, deep snow and into ever deteriorating conditions but finally, on May 24th they reached the knife edge summit at 3.20pm. This was No 12 in Andrew's Summit 14 project and, as the first Australian ascent, Andrew's fifth first Australian ascent of an 8000 metre peak. So fearsome was this climb, that upon returning to basecamp after the climb, Andrew vowed never to set foot on the mountain again.
Gasherbrum 1 (Hidden Peak) 8080 metres - 11th highest
and Gasherbrum 2, 8034 metres - 13th highest
Lying to the south of Broad Peak in the Karakorum ranges, these two 8000 metre summits form part of the Gasherbrum massif that includes Gasherbrum 3, 4 and 5, although only Gasherbrums 1 and 2 tower into the rarefied 8000 metre ‘death zone’. For his climb on these peaks in 1999, Andrew joined an international team that included 1 Spanish, 2 Italians and a Brazilian. Despite some language barriers (although very satisfied with the culinary aspects of the expedition), Andrew climbed hard to attempt the first Australian ascent of Hidden Peak (Gasherbrum 1).
Teaming up with the Spanish team member over several weeks of climbing, Andrew established camp 3 and left a depot of high altitude equipment in preparation for the summit attempt. Constant multi day storms delayed the attempt but a brief 2 day fine weather spell provided an ambitious alternative. Changing goals, Andrew and his partner made a dash for the summit of the less technical Gasherbrum 2, climbing directly to camp 3 in a single day. After a brief rest to rehydrate, they pushed on for the summit at midnight. With his high altitude downsuit and mittens in the camp 3 depot on Gasherbrum 1, Andrew was forced to climb in bitterly cold conditions with only his basecamp jacket for warmth. Nonetheless he continued at a racing pace (perhaps to try and keep warm?) and reached the summit at 9.15am, one of the fastest ever ascents of the mountain. Not wanting to miss any opportunity to achieve his main goal, Hidden Peak, he descended the mountain the same day in a mighty push to the base.
A few days later, when another storm cleared, he was back on Hidden Peak. Despite exhaustion from the lightning ascent of Gasherbrum 2, Andrew retained his focus and climbed back to his previous high point at camp 3. With just he and his partner to forge the route, they set off in the darkness of night but found themselves in deep snow on the steep upper slopes. His partner soon fell behind, leaving Andrew the arduous task of breaking trail for the entire day, more than 1000 vertical metres to the summit. Exhausted beyond words but determined not to fail, he pushed onwards and upwards, finally reaching the summit the following evening after 19 hours of unrelenting effort and in the process achieved the first Australian ascent of this mountain, in exemplary style.
Andrew on the summit of Gasherbrum I
Andrew’s ascent of two 8000 metre peaks in the space of just a week set new records in the field of high altitude mountaineering, all the more so given that one of the summits was a first Australian ascent. The final stages of this climb provide some of the most technical climbing on the route and Andrew’s description of this and the harrowing night time, crevasse ridden descent, are captivating, as is his openness about his summit philosophy and the tragic death of his climbing partner.
Broad Peak, 8051 metres - 12th highest
After his successful rescue of a Swedish climber from high on K2 in 1993, Andrew was invited to join a Swedish expedition to Broad Peak in the northern summer of 1994. An attempt on a new route on the south ridge was aborted when one of the team had to make an emergency departure for home, so the expedition moved to the west face. Well acclimatised, they launched their summit bid from a high camp of 7100 metres and made good time to the summit ridge. Having traversed over the false summit, they continued on the long traverse to the final summit but when almost at the end of the ridge a powerful wind blew up and they were forced to turn around just metres from the top. The bad weather continued for many days and Andrew decided to return to the mountain another time.
1997 was his opportunity so he teamed up with a friend from his 1995 Nanga Parbat expedition. Returning to the south ridge of the mountain, the two climbed to the highest point ever reached on that route before finally being beaten by the mountain in surprising circumstances. They descended to basecamp where Andrew’s team mate headed for home but, as usual, Andrew was determined not to give up and moved around to the west face of the peak to launch his attempt after first sitting out a lengthy 10 day snow storm.
Andrew set out from the base of the mountain and entered the incredible psychological and physical challenge of attempting an 8000 metre peak in genuinely solo conditions, as there wasn’t another climber on the mountain. Knowing that speed was his only chance, he climbed directly to camp 3 in a single day, bivouaced at 7100 meters for a few hours whilst he rehydrated and then continued for the summit. The earlier storm had left deep and difficult snow conditions on the mountain and Andrew didn’t reach the summit until after 6pm the following day. Exhausted beyond words and dehydrated from 18 hours of climbing since his last sip of water, he was unable to descend a tricky rock step below the false summit at 8000 metres. There he endured a terrible solo bivouac without equipment, shelter, water or food until the sun rose the next morning and he could warm his frozen fingers. Incredibly he mustered his remaining strength and completed a massive push all the way down the mountain to basecamp that same day, thus completing one of the most remarkable 8000 metre ascents in Himalayan history, and setting an Australian mountaineering record of climbing two 8000 metre peaks in the same year, (see Dhaulagiri 1997).
Shishapangma, 8027 metres - 14th highest
Andrew shared a permit with a number of friends for his climb on this mountain in the post monsoon of 2003. Although climbing independently of the others, who were supported by Sherpas and guides, Andrew quickly made his own way up the mountain. On his summit attempt he reached the Central Summit of 8013 metres in good time but the knife edge ridge to the true summit was out of condition and he was unable to complete the climb. Whilst most climbers claim to have ‘summitted’ Shishapangma with an ascent of the Central Summit, Andrew did not consider that he had climbed the mountain and vowed to return.
He did just that in 2005, again in the post monsoon season, immediately following his ascent of Cho Oyu. Accompanied by one client from that expedition, they made the short drive to Shishapangma basecamp and trekked into advance basecamp a day later. After a brief recce to camp 1, they rested for a few days before launching their summit bid ahead of predicted bad weather. They quickly gained camp 3 but were forced to wait a day there in high winds before setting out in cold conditions the following morning. Again Andrew was able to guide his client to the Central Summit but felt that the conditions were too risky to take his client across the tricky summit ridge to the true summit, so he determined not to make an attempt on the true summit and they descended to safety ahead of a major blizzard. Indeed theirs was the last climb of the central summit that season but Andrew was still left without the true summit, just 14 metres higher.
2007 pre monsoon
Andrew returned for his second real attempt on the true summit in the premonsoon season of 2007 as part of his Shishapangma/Annapurna double header expedition. Andrew had hoped to make a traverse across a crevasse field near camp 3, to attempt a different ridge than the normal one and thus avoid the dangerous conditions higher up but after opening the route most of the way up the mountain in deep snow conditions, his climbing partner was too exhausted to continue the ascent. With his partner out of action, Andrew lost his opportunity to go for the top, so he saved his energy and headed for Annapurna.
2007 post monsoon
Andrew came back for another look in the post monsoon but after a quick recce to camp 1 saw that conditions were too poor for any attempt on the mountain at that time and put it off for a safer year.
Shishapangma’s north face
2009 post monsoon
Andrew returned once again to the north face of this mountain in September 2009. He teamed up with Welshman Neil Ward and were joined by a third team member, Kinga Baranowska from Poland. After several weeks of preparing their camps and acclimatising on the mountain, they launched their summit attempt in a bid to beat encroaching bad weather. Kinga decided not to attempt the summit with them, so just Neil and Andrew climbed quickly up to their camp 3 at 7400 metres. On 2nd October, they started a traverse across the north face before heading directly up the face to the summit. Conditions were poor but they reached the true summit at 5.05 pm before racing back down to beat the deteriorating weather and darkness. Caught in a storm, they bivouaced in minus 30 degree temperatures but survived the night to get back down to basecamp 2 days later. In reaching this summit, Andrew completed a 17 year project to climb all the 8000ers.
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