Joe Tasker 1948-82 (continued)
Then one day, early in 1982, I was cycling along the Hope Valley and remembered Joe had a climbing shop called Magic Mountain. We hadn’t seen each other for 14 years, but I thought I would drop by on the off-chance that he was there. Not only was he there, but I had literally caught him just before he set off for (what, sadly, turned out to be) his final attempt at Everest climbing up the notoriously difficult North East Ridge. All his equipment was laid out ready for packing, and maps were spread everywhere, studying the final details of the route before heading off.
We were delighted to see each other, caught up on each other’s news, swapped addresses and vowed we would keep in touch. And on this latter point, Joe kept his word. The four key members of the team were: Joe Tasker, Pete Boardman, Dick Renshaw and Chris Bonington. The route up Everest was so notoriously difficult that one section was known as the Death Zone. Dick Renshaw, in fact, had to be brought down from the ridge having suffered multiple strokes. Despite that, Tasker and Boardman decided they were going to make a bid for the summit, with Bonington as their base camp support. Their style of climbing was to make an Alpine dash, carrying all of their equipment rather than relying on back-up climbers and porters, and to make the summit in 5 days. Boningtontracked their progress until he lost contact with them, both visually and via their radio.
That was on May 18th 1982. And that was the last time they were seen alive. News reports came via the media that both Tasker and Boardman were missing, but it was several days before they were finally presumed dead.
It was during this lengthy period of uncertainty, when the climbing world was beginning to mourn the loss of two much loved and experienced climbers, that I received a postcard from Joe, sent from base-camp and dated April 24th. You can imagine the jolt it gave me. I had come to accept that Joe and Pete had not survived and yet, 7 days after the first report of their disappearance, I was reading a postcard sent by Joe before setting off on the final assault. The final lines read: “Things here going steadily- even if hard and cold again!! Tibet is fascinating”.