Earthquakes & Avalanches
(Note: From a letter to family written July 18, 1974 from Base Camp.)
My group of six did move out the following day (July the 18th), spent that night and the next two ferrying loads to the base of the slope, and the night of the 21st on a nice flat ledge about a thousand feet below Krylenko pass.
The next day we made a carry over the pass to establish a gear cache in preparation for our climb on Pik Lenin’s East Face, then came back over the pass to our flat ledge to camp. Here we joined Jock’s team of five, which had come up a day behind us. (We used the designation “Crevasse Camp” for this site, as there was a convenient crevasse immediately between the ledge and the serac.)
The following morning we noted that the weather and snow conditions were changing rapidly, and although our ledge had some protection from a high, beetling serac, we were unsure as to whether it really would be safe enough if the slope above were to cut loose. Among the eleven of us was a considerable wealth of avalanche expertise, and yet we were undecided as to the likelihood of an avalanche, the adequacy of our protecting serac, and whether the best course of action was to move up, down, sideways, or just stay put.
Since there was no overriding reason for all eleven of us to stay together, in the end we split up, and instead of insisting that each team stay intact, everyone was encouraged to choose what he or she considered the safest option. I decided to bail, along with Al Steck, Fred Stanley, and Bruce Carson. Part of our motivation—besides safety—was that a return to Base would allow us to bring down a malfunctioning stove for repair.
We put on our slipperiest shell gear to allow us a fast butt- slide, and parked ourselves close together on the slope. It was now just past noon on July 23, visibility was sub-marginal, and—although we had no way of knowing this—a major earthquake was about to hit. (Only later did we learn from the U.S. Geological Survey that two large earthquakes (magnitudes 5.00 and 4.70) were registered within 25 minutes of each other for that time and location. One or both of these was almost certainly a trigger for the Krylenko avalanche.)