Kongur 1981

China reopens to climbers in 1979

The Mount Everest Foundation exists to support British mountaineering ventures and decided to promote the first expedition into China since the Communist takeover.

The mountain chosen from those on offer was Mount Kongur, a 7,719 metre unclimbed peak near the border of China with the then USSR (now Russia). There were two objectives: to make a first ascent of one of the world’s highest unclimbed peaks and to conduct a programme of medical research into the reaction of the expedition members to altitude. The climb was very newsworthy and sponsorship was forthcoming.

Joe was invited by Chris Bonington to be part of the expedition along with two other climbers, Pete Boardman and Alan Rouse. The rest of the expedition were mountain scientists and assistants, who descended whenever the climbers returned to Base Camp to take blood samples and assess their acclimatisation by putting them on treadmills. This work provided lots of data, and increased the knowledge of the effects on the human body of exertion at high altitude.

The team acclimatised by climbing a 5,490 metre unclimbed peak then made their attempt on Mount Kongur. At one point they were trapped in a storm for three days and four nights without adequate shelter. However, the storm passed and on a bright, cold day all four climbers summited together.

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