The ultimate goal of mountaineers everywhere is the "eight-thousander," a peak above 8,000 meters, or 26,247 feet. The Himalayas have no less than 14 of them. One of the 14 is Dhaulagiri, shown here in a photograph made from the Kali Gandaki Valley. At 26,975 feet, Dhaulagiri is the sixth highest peak on earth. Known to mountaineers as "the peak of storms," it had been labeled by Lionel Terray, a member of Maurice Herzog's Annapurna team, a fiend, absolutely unclimbable." But last May it was conquered. Part I of the story of that hard-won victory is presented in pictures and text beginning on page 35
ORDEAL ON THE APPROACHES
When Mount Everest, the peak of our planet at 29,028 feet, was climbed by Sir John Hunt's team in 1953, it might have occurred to the world that the romance had gone out of mountain climbing. But mountain men knew differently. Even while Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were standing on the summit of Everest, there lay all about them other peaks which were as yet unclimbed and which had rebuffed the challenge of man even more harshly than had Everest.
One of these was Dhaulagiri, which means "white mountain" in Sanskrit. Over the past decade this giant has swept seven expeditions off its slopes and killed two men: Francisco Ibanez, an Argentine, died of frostbite and pneumonia in 1954 after his toes were amputated; Heinrich Roiss, an Austrian, disappeared down a crevasse in 1959 and froze to death before he could be extricated.
August 28, 1960
The south face of Dhaulagiri presents such a terrifying mien that the north wall, despite its black ledges, icefalls and rock ribs seems encouraging by comparison. The lower rock portion of the mountain is encircled by a belt of glaciers; the north wall is over seven miles long and, altogether, it is a pyramid of rock, ice, snow and hostility seemingly so impassable that as stouthearted a man as Maurice Herzog, who reconnoitered it in 1950, was moved to abandon his attempt and tackle Annapurna instead.
Nevertheless, last spring a team was organized for an assault on Dhaulagiri by Max Eiselin of Lucerne, Switzerland, with the cooperation of the government of Nepal. The Swiss members included Ernst Forrer, Jean-Jacques Roussi, Albin Schelbert, Michel Vaucher, Hugo Weber. From Austria came Kurt Diemberger, from Germany Peter Diener, from Poland Dr. Georg Hajdukiewicz and Adam Skoczylas. I, who am a native of Switzerland now residing in San Diego, was to be the expedition's photographer as well as a member of the climbing team. Here, pieced together from the entries in my journal, is the story of Dhaulagiri.
It is a mistake to say a man climbs such a mountain. Rather, a team lays siege to it. There are no Lindberghs in the sport-science of mountain climbing. A lone climber would be swatted off the face of Dhaulagiri like a fly off the doorstep of God.
The members of the team who reach the summit are conquerors no more and no less than their companions who, on the deadly icefalls and snow slopes below, struggle from camp to camp with supplies. Most of the party must climb above 21,000 feet to prepare the final dash to the summit. At this altitude a man becomes less than a man. His senses are dulled, his breathing is unrelieved pain. Only vestigial intelligence and cunning keep him alive. In this limbo of life he is sustained only by his obsession, a striving no lower animal could understand, to get to the top.
Dhaulagiri, the highest unsealed peak in the world, presented a challenge of the first priority which called for the utmost of careful preparation. Our attack on Dhaulagiri was to be distinguished by two major innovations: first, an airplane would be used to fly men and equipment to the higher slopes; second, no oxygen equipment would be used, even in the final assault.
The plane we used, by unique permission of the Nepalese government, was a Pilatus PC-6 Porter, built in Switzerland, with an American Lycoming engine. Specially constructed for high-altitude landing, it had a low stalling speed and a landing gear equipped with wheels for ground and skis for snow. The wheels could be lifted hydraulically onto the skis. It was to be piloted by Ernst Saxer and copiloted by Emil Wick, an aeromechanic, and our group quickly christened it the Yeti, the local name for the Abominable Snowman.
We arranged to meet at Katmandu the capital of Nepal, on March 18, well ahead of the monsoons which, in early June, swirl up from the Indian Ocean and shroud the Himalayas in suffocating snow. Katmandu, cool after the heat and mosquitoes of India, is 4,270 feet high, a footstool to the towering Himalayas. It is a city seething with intrigue. Red Chinese, Russians, Americans and British mingle in the dining room of the Hotel Royal, weaving plots and counterplots. The first time I was in Katmandu, in 1952, there were only four Americans there. Now hundreds were visiting or stationed in this important gateway between India, Red China and Red Tibet. The Nepalese, once the shyest people in the world, are today trying as rapidly as possible to bridge the gap between their archaic, isolated kingdom and the 20th century. An American official holding a reception must, by new but rigid custom, invite a certain number of Nepalese, presumably to encourage cultural acclimatization.
On March 20 Max Eiselin, Albin Schelbert, Peter Diener and Hugo Weber flew into Katmandu on our expedition plane. The excitement was great. Newsmen, officials and some 20,000 people came out to the parade grounds to see the plane, and it took six jeeps to keep them in check.
The rest of the expedition came by boat from Europe to Bombay and by truck from there to Bhairwa near the India-Nepal border. Bhairwa was to be our staging area for the invasion of Dhaulagiri, but it proved to be ill-suited for that purpose. The heat and mosquitoes were terrible and the wind absolutely infamous. It damaged the landing gear of the Yeti on its first setdown and roughed up the plane even when it was tied to the ground. Finally, Eiselin decided the expedition would have to move to Pokhara, in the interior of Nepal, and use that town as our jumping-off spot.
Because we would use the plane for transport the expedition leaders felt they would not need many Sherpas, those indomitable porter-climbers of Tibetan origin whose services have always been so indispensable to the glittering conquests of the Himalayas' eight-thousanders. Our Dhaulagiri expedition employed only seven Sherpas for 11 climbers, a remarkably small number considering that in the 1953 Everest assault 36 Sherpas were used, and 50 participated in the Indian Everest climb this year.
The plan was to fly men and supplies directly to a level of 13,000 feet. From there, after an acclimatization period of about three weeks, we would mount the main attack. Once acclimatized (climbers must get accustomed to the thin air of high altitudes just as skin-divers must adjust to the great pressures of the depths), the men would make minor ascents up to 18,000 feet while the plane would seek out a landing place at a higher level where an advance base camp could be established for the main business of the climb.
On the 29th of March the first flight took off to penetrate into Dhaulagiri, with the two pilots and Eiselin, Diemberger and Forrer aboard. They were unable to find a place to land at 13,000 feet. After a search they finally found a snow field in a gentle pass 17,056 feet high, known as Dapa Col to the natives. Kurt Diemberger and Ernst Forrer were left there to acclimatize. Max came back down on the Yeti, which made another flight that same day with supplies. Every day thereafter two or three flights were made 'to Dapa Col.
Dr. Georg Hajdukiewicz and I, both with previous experience of high-altitude climbing in the Himalayas, were afraid that Dapa Col would prove to be too high for proper acclimatization, that the transition from the valley was too abrupt. So indeed it proved to be. Ernst and Kurt, who were certain they could take the altitude, found themselves unable to move, unpack, cook or even eat for the first few days. When the Yeti circled their camp on its subsequent supply flights they could not even come out of their tents to meet the plane. The pilots had to try and rouse them, sometimes without success. Nevertheless, the rest of the party were flown up and left there to acclimatize.
On April 2 I went up on the second flight of the day with Michel Vaucher. Peter Diener, who had gone two days before, was in such bad shape that he had to be brought down again. Adam Skoczylas was unconscious and had to be carried to the plane for the trip back. As for myself, for a few hours I felt fine. I took pictures. The weather and the sunset were exquisite, and I began to think I had been wrong. Then the headaches started. Dr. Hajdukiewicz, the physician in our party, gave us pills of various kinds. They did not help. Next came the terrific thirst. All of us, even the Sherpas, were too sick to make tea. Dehydration is a threat in the high mountains, where one must have from three to four quarts of liquid a day.
Over the next days most of us lost everything we tried to eat or drink. We spent a good part of the day in sleeping bags. Headaches were awful. It was quite apparent that our acclimatization camp was too high. Two of the Sherpas, Nima Tenzing and Urkien, caught pneumonia. Some of us had to be flown down to Pokhara. The expedition appeared a shambles.
Nevertheless, Kurt and Ernst did become acclimatized, and on April 4 the first flight was undertaken to establish an advance base camp higher up the mountain. A promising site at 18,700 feet on a broad snow valley below the northeast ridge of Dhaulagiri had been located. Here, on the pass called Northeast Col, the Yeti established not only a camp but a world record for high-altitude landings.
On April 5 after my third night of headaches, vomiting and insatiable thirst, my camera stopped working. The Bolex movie camera froze up completely, and I decided to return to Pokhara and then to Katmandu for repairs. I flew down with Max Eiselin, the expedition leader, who complained of chills and aches. Once down, I had a bath (in four inches of water) and a Scotch (the first thing I was able to keep down) and after a few hours began to feel human again.
I sent my cameras by courier to Calcutta with instructions for their delivery to the American consulate for repair. Nearly a week passed without news of them, so on April 11 I flew to Calcutta myself, rescued them from the consulate where they had been "tabled," and rushed them to a photo repair shop.
On April 13 I returned to Pokhara. My good friend the Sherpa Ang Dawa, who had been with me on my three previous Himalayan expeditions, greeted me. "Did you hear the bad news?" he asked. "Our airplane is finished." It turned out that shortly after dawn that day, an explosion occurred soon after the take-off of the Yeti and a cylinder head blew off. Oil spattered all over the windshield, and Ernst Saxer, Emil and Adam were barely able to land.
This seemed a near-fatal blow to the expedition. A new engine would have to be flown in from Switzerland, a delivery that might require a month. There simply wasn't time: the monsoon season was creeping ever closer. We had no choice but to forget the plane and revise our assault plan drastically and instantly. This meant setting up an entirely different route of approach, a supply line on foot instead of by air. It meant establishing a base camp at the foot of the perilous and difficult icefall which we had bypassed with the airplane and pushing through the icefall to Northeast Col. Our camp on Dapa Col would have to be evacuated because, having been picked for its virtues as a landing field, it now proved impractical as a base camp for an assault on foot. The equipment would have to be brought down to the new base camp and then up the other side. In effect, we had to start all over in the old, slow way.
We spent the night hiring coolies, and on the morning of April 14 Ernst Saxer, our pilot, four coolies, the Sherpa Ang Dawa and I set out for the acclimatization camp on Dapa Col. Adam and a Nepalese liaison officer set out on another route with 15 coolies. We were to join up at our base camp.
The others, of course, were still on the mountain, ignorant of the disaster to the plane. We had no communication with them, but before we left we requested All-India Radio to broadcast periodic messages telling of the plight of our plane and encouraging the men at the Dapa Col acclimatization camp—who now included Max Eiselin, Peter Diener, Hugo Weber, Michel Vaucher, Jean-Jacques Roussi and Georg Hajdukiewicz, good climbers all—to begin to remove the supplies from there. Meanwhile, the seven men at the advance base camp on Northeast Col—Ernst Forrer, Kurt Diemberger, Albin Schelbert and four Sherpas—were to be urged to press the assault on the mountain. When we reached them, we could then support their climb to the summit and, if acclimatized ourselves, still have time to make our try.
We began our race against time and the mountain tense but not dispirited. In the beginning it was just a walk up a fairly easy and broad valley, but the heat was considerable, and I began to get blisters on my heels for the first time I can remember. We were packing very sizable loads, and the boots I had to use were too heavy for the long approach marches.
The people we met were marvelous, as they always are. The Nepalese are known among climbers as "the smiling people," and they greet you with hands folded in steeple fashion, like acolytes in a European cathedral. At night they gathered silently around our camps. They are used to expeditions passing through and cheerfully provided lodging and tea.
We climbed steadily, past the little half-Hindu, half-Buddhist villages with prayer flags flying and prayer wheels whirling. Once we paused at a glacier river where I took a swim. We passed files of Tibetan refugees. Often, Ang Dawa would disappear into a house and come out winking at me and asking, "Chang?" Chang is Sherpa beer, very good sometimes, not so good at other times.
We would go uphill as high as 9,000 feet and then down as low as 4,000 feet. The days crept by. I began to dream all day long of beer—a foaming beaker of dark, cool L√∂wenbr√§u. In the evening light we could make out the outline of Dhaulagiri and Tukuche Peak. On our right was the huge tower of Annapurna, with the ever-present cumulus cloud that boils and swirls around it. Once we bought a chicken for seven rupees and roasted it. I lost it soon after eating it.
Dhaulagiri became more and more distinct. We saw the icefall of the east glacier, very steep, very heavily crevassed, very dangerous-looking. What seemed so white and pure and serene from a distance became menacing as we approached the mountain. That was the route, a dangerous, almost suicidal one, tried by the French in 1950.
On the seventh night we camped at 13,500 feet. At 11 a.m. the following day our coolies could go no farther: there was too much snow. Because our equipment was on Dapa Col we had no shoes or warm clothing to give them. Also, a man becomes snow-blind in 10 minutes without sunglasses, sometimes even at night.
We paid them off, deposited what equipment we could not carry, and the four of us—Ang Dawa, Sun Bahadur, Ernst Saxer and I—toiled up toward Dapa Col. Every five minutes Sun Bahadur dropped in the snow and started to fall asleep. He would not wake up unless I yanked him to his feet and prodded him. The altitude began to fatigue all of us.
At 6 o'clock on April 21 we finally reached Dapa Col. All our friends-Max, Michel, Peter, Jean-Jacques, Hugo, Georg, the Sherpas—were there. I fell into my tent and sat for half an hour just staring in front of me. We had made it in eight days from Pokhara.
Max and the others had not received the radio messages. They had guessed that the plane was out of action but expected that Emil Wick would be able to make repairs. Now they, too, realized that we would have to work our way up the mountain.
Six men—Michel, Peter, Jean-Jacques, Hugo and two Sherpas—set out with loads to prepare the new base camp at the foot of the icefall. On the 23rd of April Saxer volunteered to return to Pokhara just in case the plane had been repaired. We agreed it was a good idea, although we all had written off the plane. Ernst started down with Sun Bahadur, and two Sherpas were sent down to bring up the loads we had had to abandon earlier. Max Eiselin, who wanted to expedite the plane repair, also left, expressing the conviction that we had enough ability and experience to run the show without him.
On the morning of April 24, shortly before 7 a.m., Hugo, Jean-Jacques, Peter and Michel left to go down to the Mayangdi Glacier. They were to prepare the route from the new base camp up the icefall to the advance base camp at Northeast Col. An icefall is the steepest part of the glacier, a frozen waterfall of towers, fissures and traps. The icefall guarding Dhaulagiri is a bad one, as bad or worse than the Khumbu icefall which guards the approaches to Everest.
The next few days were occupied with the tiresome but necessary business of shuttling supplies from Dapa Col to the new base camp at 15,400 feet. The weather was unspeakable. Clouds, fog and the snow swirled around us even in the mornings, which is unusual for this time of the year. Although the failure of the plane had made the ascent more arduous for some of us, at least we had Kurt, Albin and Ernst Forrer on Northeast Col preparing a route toward the summit up the steep northeast ridge.
On the 25th Adam and a Gurkha porter met us down at base camp, and that night we slept 11 people in four small tents. The next morning Peter and Hugo began to pick their way up the icefall to Northeast Col. The expedition was once again properly deployed. We were no longer scattered from Northeast Col to Dapa Col to Pokhara to Calcutta. We had a line of supplies coming up from Dapa Col to the base camp, and the beginning of a line up to Northeast Col. It still remained for some of us to go down to the Mayangdi Valley, below the timberline at 12,100 feet, to bring up loads left there by the coolies from Pokhara—a backbreaking business.
The scenery, for the few moments we could pause to enjoy it, was fantastic. The plume of snow from Dhaulagiri extended miles into the dark blue sky. Standing on Dhaulagiri's glacier, the landscape around us seemed more threatening and dramatic than the Everest region. We looked for the grave of Roiss, the Austrian who stepped out of his tent near Northeast Col and fell down a hidden crevasse. At the timberline depot area at 12,100 feet we found, cut in the birch trees, the seal of the 1954 Argentinian expedition whose leader, Iba√±ez, died in Katmandu.
Now we finally established communications with the men at the advance base camp on Northeast Col. Two of them, with Sherpas, came to help us with supplies, and we were able to clarify the position of the expedition and orient ourselves. This was our situation: we had a supply depot at the timberline, Camp 1 halfway up the glacier and Camp 2, the advance base camp, on Northeast Col. With luck we would need only three or, at most, four more camps to reach the summit: Camp 3 at 21,650 feet, Camp 4 at 23,100 feet, Camp 5 at 24,400 and Camp 6 at 25,600. Our information at this point was that Camp 5 had been established on top of the ice ridge. Camp 6 would have to be 1,200 feet or so below the summit, close enough to climb and return in a day. On May 1, then, we were almost as far as the Austrian expedition was the previous year on May 28.
On May 5 I was just preparing to make another foray back to Dapa Col for food, film and cameras when suddenly I heard the low, familiar hum of the Yeti flying very high. It didn't see us because the base camp, with its yellow tents, was hard to pick out from the yellowish rocks of the terminal moraine. We watched it proceed toward Northeast Col, where it apparently landed. We saw it again flying back to Dapa Col, where we assumed the Yeti would pick up supplies and return to Northeast Col. I remember we cheered.
The next morning, as we were climbing up to the glacier camp, we kept looking and listening for the Yeti, but it never came. We didn't know it then (we guessed it as the days went by and jet search planes appeared), but the Yeti had crashed again, this time with finality.
Much later, Pilot Ernst Saxer told me what had happened: "With our plane repaired," he said, "we left Pokhira on May 5 with Emil Wick and Max Eiselin aboard. We made our 17th landing on Northeast Col. Weather conditions were favorable. There was no wind, the surface of the snow was firm, the sun shone gloriously.
"We deposited Eiselin and took off for Dapa Col to pick up additional supplies. We landed perfectly on Dapa Col. It seemed like child's play.
"We loaded up again. As soon as the last piece was stowed away, we strapped ourselves in, and I opened the throttle. On the hard surface the plane gathered speed faster than usual. After 500 feet, we left the ground. I pulled the stick back to climb, and suddenly there was nothing but an empty rubber sleeve in my hand. The stick had worked loose from the sleeve and snapped forward. Before I had a chance to grab it, there was a crashing, splintering noise. All vision was blotted out by a cloud of snow. We had crashed.
"Miraculously, we were unhurt. We leaped out. The Yeti had come to rest on its skis, but it was plastered against a low hill. The propeller was twisted and bent. The wing tips were broken and bent upwards. Part of the rudder was torn off. The ship was beyond repair, and at that altitude we could not have concentrated on the job anyway. It meant hiking out.
"We found some chocolate and dried fruit in the supplies. We had no sleeping bags. When the sun went down the wind came up, and the temperature dropped below freezing. We tried to wrap ourselves in duffel bags, but we were unable to sleep. The lack of oxygen paralyzed our brains so that whenever I felt the need to turn over on my side it would take at least half an hour to translate the decision to my muscles.
"We decided the only way we could get out was to scramble down to the valley. The next morning we wrote a report describing the accident in detail and attached it to the tent poles. After descending 1,400 feet, we heard search planes. We threw our rucksacks in the snow and waved our wind jackets. Fifteen minutes later a jet, an Indian Air Force Canberra, flew across our trail.
"The descent was especially tough on Emil, who back home abhorred all types of exercise. He climbed down the mountain ridges backwards. Our main concern was not to lose our way. Many of the steep Himalayan gorges afford only one tiny way out, and if one cannot find it one is apt to be a prisoner of this wilderness forever. When we reached the lower regions we were able to orient ourselves by the yak dung left there by the shepherds' animals.
"We wanted to get out before nightfall because there are bears and snow leopards in the area. After 12 hours of backbreaking descent, we reached the Kali Gandaki Valley and the village of Tukuche."
This, then, was the end of the Yeti. Our advance camps were being set up, but the advance party would be helpless before Dhaulagiri without adequate supplies. We were now in a foot race to prevent our carefully planned assault from turning into another victory for that howling white tyrant above us.
SISHA PANGMA (GOSAINTHAN)
CAMP II (NE.COL) 18,700 FEET
CAMP I 16,700 FEET
BASE CAMP 15,400 FEET
TO DAPA COL
Norman Dyhrenfurth, a Swiss-born citizen of San Diego, is one of the foremost experts on the Himalayas. Son of a pioneer explorer of those great peaks, he arrived in the U.S. in 1938, became a climbing and skiing instructor on both coasts as well as an authority on documentary photography. He instructed in this field at UCLA, then directed the team which filmed the development of the Atlas missile at Convair Astronautics. He has participated in four Himalayan expeditions.
The race against the monsoon...a daring strike fails in the face of Dhaulagiri's fury...terror in a crevasse...tension near the summit...a double triumph over the peak of storms