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.

Postcard from base-camp

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”.

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About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on July 16, 2011, in Personal history and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. How sad! But shows how we should always make the effort to catch up with people – we never know if it will be the last time.

  2. The Boardman -Tasker tragedy is ghosting for some times already. I think Broadman really got the high altitude disease, sat down and refused to leave. I have read about several similar case. But why Tasker did not return and tried to continue the climb? Was struck by mountain madness too?

    • So many questions remain unanswered. Thanks for those observations.

    • ..We will probably never know for sure , But from the photos/clues above,I`m wondering:

      Since there seems to be a bit of a distance (and technical terrain) from where Vladimir Suviga (the 92 japanese/Kazakh expedition) found,and photograped the body of Peter Boardman,according to them: close to the top,above the 2nd pinnacle..Now,from here to the area where parts of Joe Tasker`s equippment where found in 84,(much closer to the 3rd,than the 2nd. pinnacle) ,I wonder,Why was Peter`s body & Joe`s equipment found so far from each other?

      -It makes me wonders,If Joe Tasker fell first at the highest point,and Peter tried to return,but because of hase/hape (altitude sickness) was to exhausted to go on,stopped frosen to rest before the technical climb/descend at the 2nd. pinnacle,and never woke up again,He was reported found leaning against a snowbank,like in a “resting position”,No signs of a fall-accident !

      the other way: Boardman & Tasker where two world-class climbers at the time.I belive since they where only two of them up in that altitude that day,if something would have gone wrong to one of them,the other would have aborted any summit attempt and tried to return .It would have been really an suicide-attempt for Tasker to continue alone,if he left Boardman back, because of exhaustion/altitude sickness,Which I doubt! (unless he got altitude sickness/summit-fever himself?)

      cheers

  3. Btw,Here are some great and interesting photos I found of the three pinnacles,The climbing photos was taken by Nihon University Mountaineering Club,Expediton in 95, who also made an successful summit-climb,and returned at the same difficult route too:

    http://www.everest.co.jp/everest95/c5-c6-e.htm

    (for the whole story: 95 expedition journal:)
    http://www.everest.co.jp/everest95/nu-ev95-e.html

    Cheers

  4. The remains of the last camp was found close to Boardman, so he was first to sit down and Tasker continued.

  5. I’d always thought of their deaths as being a mystery that would never be solved, but if the comments posted here are accurate then I’d argue the stories not a complete mystery. Oyvind (above) makes some interesting points and I’d say his conclusion is close to the truth.

    Looking at the few facts that are known, it’s clear these guys got as high as just below the third pinnacle. Considering that “in May of 1984, American climber Donald Goodman, standing on the northeast shoulder of Everest, saw and photographed yellow and orange objects on a small domed snowfield high on the pinnacled section of the ridge, near the notch below the final Third Pinnacle”, proves that Boardman and Tasker reached at least this high. The gear simply couldn’t have belonged to anyone else as no one else had ever been this high on the NE Ridge before. I’d be interested to know more about what those “yellow and orange” objects were. For some reason they’re associated with Joe Tasker and point to his demise at this location. If they’re vital pieces of his equipment that would never be left behind like gloves, ice axe, helmet etc it would be reasonable to presume they parted company with their owner under catastrophic circumstances. However without knowing more they simply provide a reference point as to how high the two reached.

    For it can be taken with certainty that when either of them reached this height the other was no more than a rope length away. Any speculation that Tasker would have gone on alone with Boardman heading back, is fanciful. These were two of the best climbers of their generation tackling probably the most technically difficult climb in the world at that time. They climbed as an effective team for a number of reasons, not the least of which was recognition of their own deficiencies and reliance on one another.

    Working from the problem in the other direction, it’s worth examining this fact from the 1992 Japanese-Kazach expedition. “…. at 7200 meters, they came upon signs of the 1982 expedition: two sleeping bags, two rucksacks, a notebook and other small items. Apparently hurricane winds had etched the snow away, revealing what had been in a snow cave.” This shows that prior to reaching their high point near the third pinnacle, the two had previously stashed vital gear. This could have been because they were fixing ropes before a planned retreat back to this camp, or that they were in fact going for the top in typical lightweight Alpine style. In either event, it’s likely that this is where Boardman was headed before he lost the capacity to move.

    Something happened at that high point to thwart them and most likely cost Joe Tasker his life. Again, knowing what those “yellow and orange” objects were and in what position they were lying when photographed from some distance away, could be telling. But if they do in fact correctly identify this as the place of Joe Taskers demise then it’s fairly straight forward that Peter Boardman died from exhaustion trying to make his way back over the second pinnacle to their snow cave and stashed gear. There’s many recorded instances of Himalayan mountain deaths, or near deaths, where individuals simply drift out of consciousness even in the middle of doing some trivial task. If someones around to pound some sense back into them, they might recover and find the resolve to keep moving. Or if really lucky they may spontaneously regain consciousness themselves. The rest become frozen mummies, their last act of life recorded for perpetuity. In Peter Boardmans case this was the taking of a nap leaning up against a rock.

    Out of sheer exhaustion he’d felt compelled to rest in an incredibly dangerous situation. He lapsed from consciousness and with no one around to rouse him, that was the end. That he was certainly alone at this point is attested by the fact we don’t see a frozen Joe Tasker leaning over him trying to raise him to his feet. Whatever had become of Joe meant Pete was alone. Cold and no doubt absolutely exhausted he would also have been devastated not only to have lost his inseparable climbing companion and long time friend, but also to find himself now hopelessly alone in such a remote pitiless place. He would have been fighting hard to make it back to the relative safety of their camp, but alone and exhausted that was simply beyond him.

  6. I’d always thought of their deaths as being a mystery that would never be solved, but if the comments posted here are accurate then I’d argue the stories not a complete mystery. Oyvind (above) makes some interesting points and I’d say his conclusion is close to the truth.

    Looking at the few facts that are known, it’s clear these guys got as high as just below the third pinnacle. Considering that “in May of 1984, American climber Donald Goodman, standing on the northeast shoulder of Everest, saw and photographed yellow and orange objects on a small domed snowfield high on the pinnacled section of the ridge, near the notch below the final Third Pinnacle”, proves that Boardman and Tasker reached at least this high. The gear simply couldn’t have belonged to anyone else as no one else had ever been this high on the NE Ridge before. I’d be interested to know more about what those “yellow and orange” objects were. For some reason they’re associated with Joe Tasker and point to his demise at this location. If they’re vital pieces of his equipment that would never be left behind like gloves, ice aze, helmet etc it would be reasonable to presume they parted company with their owner under catastrophic circumstances. However without knowing more they simply provide a reference point as to how high the two reached.

    For it can be taken with certainty that when either of them reached this height the other was no more than a rope length away. Any speculation that Tasker would have gone on alone with Boardman heading back, is fanciful. These were two of the best climbers of their generation tackling probably the most technically difficult climb in the world at that time. They climbed as an effective team for a number of reasons, not the least of which was recognition of their own deficiencies and reliance on one another.

    Working from the problem in the other direction, it’s worth examining this fact from the 1992 Japanese-Kazach expedition. “…. at 7200 meters, they came upon signs of the 1982 expedition: two sleeping bags, two rucksacks, a notebook and other small items. Apparently hurricane winds had etched the snow away, revealing what had been in a snow cave.” This shows that prior to reaching their high point near the third pinnacle, the two had previously stashed vital gear. This could have been because they were fixing ropes before a planned retreat back to this camp, or that they were in fact going for the top in typical lightweight Alpine style. In either event, it’s likely that this is where Boardman was headed before he lost the capacity to move.

    Something happened at that high point to thwart them and most likely cost Joe Tasker his life. Again, knowing what those “yellow and orange” objects were and in what position they were lying when photographed from some distance away, could be telling. But if they do in fact correctly identify this as the place of Joe Taskers demise then it’s fairly straight forward that Peter Boardman died from exhaustion trying to make his way back over the second pinnacle to their snow cave and stashed gear. There’s many recorded instances of Himalayan mountain deaths, or near deaths, where individuals simply drift out of consciousness even in the middle of doing some trivial task. If someones around to pound some sense back into them, they might recover and find the resolve to keep moving. Or if really lucky they may spontaneously regain consciousness themselves. The rest become frozen mummies, their last act of life recorded for perpetuity. In Peter Boardmans case this was the taking of a nap leaning up against a rock.

    Out of sheer exhaustion he’d felt compelled to rest in an incredibly dangerous situation. He lapsed from consciousness and with no one around to rouse him, that was the end. That he was certainly alone at this point is attested by the fact we don’t see a frozen Joe Tasker leaning over him trying to raise him to his feet. Whatever had become of Joe meant Pete was alone. Cold and no doubt absolutely exhausted he would also have been devastated not only to have lost his inseparable climbing companion and long time friend, but also to find himself now hopelessly alone in such a remote pitiless place. He would have been fighting hard to make it back to the relative safety of their camp, but alone and exhausted that was simply beyond him.

  7. Can we all imagine just for one minute the admin.side to the 4 lads.expedition.The last thing on this earth wanted was a failed attempt.,with China finally giving the go~ahead for a team to approach from their side.One can only imagine the amount of persuading poor Bonnington and the British government had to go through to get go~ahead.Enormous pressure to get a successful summit.
    I am inclined to believe Boardman and Tasker gave everything and were simply out~thwarted by the weather faced.It was their time.,Bonnington had hit the nail with the timing for that expedition.,just right for (by now career ripened) Chris and Joe to hit their achievement peak with this route…
    Hauntingly sad that the two were unsuccessful in their summit push and just devastating for Bonnington to whether the failure.,just heartbreaking for the Chinese.,just heartbreaking for the British.
    Warren.

  8. The disappearance of Joe Tasker and Peter Boardman on the Pinnacle section of NE Ridge of Everest in 1982 is almost as compelling a story as that of Mallory and Irvine. In addition to the parallel aspect that one of the pair was later found while the other remains missing, there is the continual speculation as to what happened and when. I believe the outcome of the Tasker and Boardman climb is a bit more straightforward, though, and here’s why:

    As related by Chris Bonnington, on the day they disappeared (17 May), Tasker and Boardman were observed at the base of the Second Pinnacle fairly late in the evening (9 pm), after climbing for a good 14 hours. They both rounded the Second Pinnacle on the Kangshung side of the ridge, and were never seen again. On 18 May, Bonnington and his ABC manager, Adrian Gordon, kept the Pinnacle route (most of which is on the Rongbuk side) under observation while climbing the slopes of the North Col. They continued to do so from the North Col itself for the next couple of days, with no luck. It seems unlikely that the two climbers on the ridge could have proceeded towards the Third Pinnacle on the 18th of May without being seen by Bonnington and party on the North Col, and Bonnington himself has stated exactly that. The obvious conclusion, therefore, is that Tasker and Boardman met their fate sometime during the evening of 17 May on the Kangshung side of the Second Pinnacle. Given that his body hasn’t been found, it seems likely that Tasker came off the mountain (perhaps on a snow cornice), leaving Boardman to fend for himself. No doubt exhausted, devastated over the loss of his partner, and faced with the nearly impossible choices of either retreating back down the Pinnacles or continuing on up to reach the junction of the North Ridge, Boardman simply sat down in the snow near the top of the Rongbuk side of the Second Pinnacle and expired during the night.

    But what of those yellow and orange “items” photographed (supposedly) near the Third Pinnacle in 1984? Do they indicate the spot of an accident? Doubtful. A red herring. The items, to my knowledge, were not positively identified. It would also not be out of the question for the high winds on Everest to blow various pieces of expedition trash all over the mountain. Further complicating the matter, Bonnington has stated that he considers the location of the yellow and orange items and the location of Boardman’s body to be one and the same.

    • That is an astonishingly meticulous account of the evidence. Thanks for those insights. Have you shared your findings with the organisation behind the Tasker exhibition at Keswick museum?

  9. I haven’t, Frank. Since you’re close, and have that connection, perhaps you’d like to do it.

  10. These men were pioneers of mountain climbing. The elite. The best of the best.
    My condolences to them and their families.
    I think Tasker died first near third pinnacle and the Boardman went back to second until he could not go any further.

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