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with Stefan Nestler

Burke fails again on Burke Khang

Bill Burke in front of Burke Khang (the lower summit on the right)

Something seems to be wrong with “his” mountain. The third year in a row, the 6942-meter-high Burke Khang was not first climbed by the man, after whom the mountain in the Everest area is named. Bill Burke called off the expedition, this time even without having set foot on the almost seven-thousander. A two-day snow storm had caused a lot of fresh snow in the Gokyo Valley. In addition, the weather forecast for the remaining time of the expedition predicted storm with gusts up to hurricane force. “Plowing through waist-high snow in extremely vertical 75 plus degree terrain at high altitude is one thing,” Burke writes in his blog. “Doing so facing winds exceeding 75 mph in subzero wind-chill temperatures would be an act of suicide.”

Bill entering the Gokyo Valley

Funereal atmosphere at Base Camp

The 75-year-old American had wanted to give it a try once again. “Burke-Khang kicked my butt twice, with 2016 being a particularly ruthless and humiliating thrashing,” Bill had written before the start of the expedition. “But, I am beginning to understand its terrain and feel its personality.” Before Burke arrived at the foot of the mountain, his Sherpa team, headed by Naga Dorjee Sherpa, had already explored the route to the summit by helicopter. When Bill finally reached Base Camp after two days snowstorm, which he himself had waited out in Gokyo, there was a “funereal atmosphere”, said Bill. The storm had also undermined the morale.

Big-league mountain

Puja (prayer ceremony) at Base Camp

Nevertheless, the Sherpas fought up the mountain during the next two days. “It took five veteran Sherpas 25 hours over two days to put the lines in place and establish Camp 1 on the snowfield,” says Bill. “Naga said, the conditions on the mountain were deplorable because of deep, waist-high, snow, ice, rocks, rockfall and strong winds.” When he received the depressing weather report, Burke canceled the expedition. Before he headed back to Kathmandu, however, he was flown over the summit of Burke Khang by helicopter. “The mountain is fearsome, awesome, magnificent and very dangerous,” Bill describes his impressions. “I saw massive crevasses, icefalls, cornices and towering seracs. The rounded summit is flush with these features and appeared almost impossible to scale. This is definitely a big-league mountain suitable only for extreme mountaineers with the right experience and equipment.”

Fourth attempt?

Bill Burke became a climber in the senior age after a successful career as a lawyer. Aged 67, he scaled Mount Everest from the Nepalese south side, aged 72, from the Tibetan north side. Four days before his second Everest coup, the government in Kathmandu announced that the still unclimbed almost seven-thousander near Mount Everest was now called Burke Khang. Bill was never given a reason for this action. Burke left it open whether he will return to the mountain once more after his third failed attempt: “Now, I need to think about what’s next.”


23. March 2017 | 17:26