One of thegreatest mountaineering feats since the conquest of Everest was the assaultlast spring on Dhaulagiri, at 26,975 feet the "unclimbable fiend" ofthe Himalayan range. Last week Norman Dyhrenfurth, the expedition'sphotographer and a climbing member, assisted by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Editor JamesMurray, described the difficulties the climbers had to overcome to establishtheir acclimatization and supply camps at the base of Dhaulagiri. Theexpedition, which was made up of Swiss, Austrian, German and Polishmountaineers, had counted on the use of an airplane to ferry men and suppliesover ice towers and crevasses to the advance base camps. But the plane crashed,leaving the climbing parties and the bulk of their supplies stranded. The wholeplan of attack had to be hastily revised. Dyhrenfurth, the two Polish climbersand a small party of Sherpas undertook the transport of supplies on foot. Theyevacuated the original acclimatization camp and made their way acrossDhaulagiri's icefall to an advance base camp which became the staging area forthe long climb to the top. The dramatic story of this final effort begins onpage 47.
THE THRUST TO THESUMMIT
It is an oldmountaineer's boast to have carried 25 kilos, the equivalent of 55 pounds, on aclimb, and it is an old mountaineer's joke that the 25 kilos usually turn outto be nearer 10 or 15. Actually, several of us carried 25-kilo loads onDhaulagiri in the Himalayas last May. I am certain that I did, and so did Dr.Georg Hajdukiewicz and Adam Skoczylas, the two Polish members of our SwissHimalayan expedition. Ang Dawa, one of our small band of Sherpas, carried evenmore. We were laboriously transferring supplies from the camp we had set up acouple of weeks before on a snowy pass called Dapa Col, a camp now rendereduseless by the crash of our airplane. Unknown to us, while we were making ouruncertain way through the maze of ice towers and crevasses of the MayangdiGlacier, events of high drama were taking place on the assault route far up themountain.
On these steepand wind-torn slopes a reconnaissance party consisting of Ernst Forrer, AlbinSchelbert, Kurt Diemberger and two Sherpas had been working for three weeks toestablish a route for the final assault on Dhaulagiri. Ernst, Albin and Kurtwere first-rate mountaineers, the Sherpas Nima Dorje and Nawang Dorje wereyoung as Sherpas go, but tough and eager. The party was working on shortsupplies, but still they were willing to take a reckless gamble on a dash tothe summit if and when an opportunity presented itself. Later, Ernst Forrertold me how, on May 4, that chance came:
September 4, 1960
"Camp 4 (seemap on pages 48-49) had been established, but we wanted to carry one more tentto the vicinity of the summit. Despite heavy winds and blowing snow, our twoSherpas brought us additional equipment and supplies to Camp 4, the highestcamp so far set up. Then they disappeared again in heavy fog, climbing down thesteep ice wall to Camp 3.
"We stayed atCamp 4 for the night, and it was a bitter night of severe storm. The wind toreat the walls of the tent while we held on with all our might to the tent poles,in constant fear of being blown off our tiny platform perched on the edge ofthe world.
"After thefrightful night, the morning dawned clear, and we set out to establish Camp 5somewhere above.
"Ourrucksacks were heavy—much too heavy for Himalayan climbing. Camp 5, we hoped,would be set up at 24,400 feet, and it was planned to make this the last of thechain of camps. It was difficult at this altitude, this business of carryingloads, but we succeeded in bringing up one tent and other gear."
We struggled up arock wall, then along a lofty snow ridge and reached our campsite at last.There we came upon the debris of the Austrian expedition of 1959: torn tents,an ice ax and one oxygen cylinder were evidence of their bitter battle with themountain.
"We choppedour clearing for a campsite between two rocks. In this protected location wefelt secure. Here we planned to rest a day to renew our strength. Albin and Iwere in excellent condition, but Kurt seemed to be suffering somewhat from snowblindness.
"Some 2,500feet above us loomed the summit of Dhaulagiri, the White Mountain, the goal ofseven previous expeditions. We looked at it in the clear light of evening—abeautiful, lonely, immensely alluring sight. Would we be the chosen ones? Atfirst idly, then with growing audacity, we began to speculate on a daringstrike, a final dash over the last 2,500 feet. In high excitement we made ourdecision: we would catch the mountain unawares.
"The weatherwas clear when Albin woke me at 3 a.m. In cramped and careful haste we preparedourselves. Three men in a two-man tent, putting on reindeer boots and crampons,trying to cook breakfast on a butane cooker, are anything but comfortable.Furthermore, a thick layer of frost had formed overnight on the inside of thetent, and as we shifted about, we constantly scraped our noses against it.Again and again, the icy stuff broke off in sheets and dropped on us.
"As we stoodoutside in the first rays of the sun, we decided to attempt the summit in adirect line across a steep snow slope. We started out, but very shortly we werebreaking in up to our hips. It was a mistake; there was no chance to advancehere. We had lost valuable time which we sought to make up by regaining theridge in a tricky traverse. The weather began to deteriorate rapidly;Dhaulagiri was rallying against our surprise attack.
"A quickglance at the altimeter showed us we were a few feet below 25,000 feet. Theclimbing became difficult: we were on steep rock, affording almost no purchase,covered with a layer of fresh snow. At this altitude, the effort wasfiendish.
"At last thedifficult rock wall lay behind us. To safeguard our retreat, we hammered in apiton and placed a fixed rope. We continued climbing, and things began toimprove. We made excellent progress up a snow ridge.
"Then thedreaded summit weather gathered and burst on us. We found ourselves envelopedin turbulent clouds and air currents. In the dim, diffused light we could makeout what looked like a secondary summit. We went for it. A violent stormawaited us there. Wind-lashed ice crystals stung our faces like needles. In amatter of seconds our eyes, beards and noses were sheathed in a thin layer ofice.
"We realizedthere was only one thing to do: go down. But the climb was not in vain—welearned an important lesson. Camp 5 was not high enough for a successfulassault on the summit. The weather on Dhaulagiri never remained favorable formore than four to six hours. We realized, as we clawed our way down, thatanother tent must be established at about 25,600 feet."
This was thestory Ernst Forrer told Adam, Georg and me when we reached the advance basecamp on the Northeast Col with our supplies. A daring try had been repulsed,but Ernst, Albin Schelbert and Kurt Diemberger were chafing for another attemptafter their near miss. And since the weather was good, they set out once againfor Camp 4, where four other members of our team—Jean-Jacques Roussi, PeterDiener, Michel Vaucher and Hugo Weber—awaited them. We, meanwhile, remained atCamp 2 to lend aid and support if another assault on the summit should belaunched.
On the lateafternoon of May 10, still tired from our efforts in bringing up supplies, wewere about to take a nap when suddenly we heard footsteps in the snow. As Icalled out "Who is it?" Ang Dawa stuck his head in the tent. He waspale and shaken. He said that Urkien had come racing up the glacier shoutingthat the other Sherpa, Nima Tenzing, had slipped and fallen down acrevasse.
The accident hadoccurred while they were shuttling supplies. As is usual with Sherpas, they hadnot been walking correctly with a rope. Instead of keeping a safe distanceapart, with the rope stretched between them, Urkien and Nima Tenzing had walkedwith several loops of rope in their hands. So when Nima slipped, instead offalling only a few feet into the crevasse, he hurtled 50 or 60 feet down beforebecoming wedged. He had almost pulled Urkien in with him, dragging him to thevery edge of the crevasse. Urkien had jammed in his ice ax just in time,attached the rope to it and then raced uphill to get us.
Georg, Adam and Idressed quickly. We took a small tent, hot tea and Georg's medical kit andplunged down the mountain on two ropes. In 40 minutes we reached thecrevasse.
It was a narrowgash in the snow-covered ice, no more than three feet wide at the top. Welooked down, but couldn't see Nima. We called. He was still conscious andmumbled an unintelligible answer. At least he was alive, though terribly coldand obviously in shock.
The first thingwe did was to anchor one rope and let it down with a loop for Nima to put hisfoot in. But apparently he was in no condition to understand what we wanted himto do.
Georg volunteeredto rappel down—he had crampons on his boots. We prepared a rappel rope andbelayed him down. It was a hair-raising descent. The crevasse was so narrowthat he risked getting stuck at any time. At 25 feet he very nearly did and hadto stop.
Cautiously Imoved to the edge of the crevasse and, lying on my stomach, securely held byAng Dawa, I talked to Georg. He said he could faintly make out the shape ofNima below. He added that Nima seemed to be lying face up, held in position byhis breast-sling.
There was nothingto do but get Georg up again. We had to haul him out by main force. We finallygot him to the edge of the crevasse, and I was able to give him my hand to pullhim out.
By this time,Nima was too cold and too near death to do anything to help himself. We triedto free the rope by which he was hanging, the one Urkien had anchored with hisice ax. We attached a second rope securely to it and began to pull. But therope only cut deep into the ice and snow; it was obvious we couldn't pull poorNima out this way.
We sent therappel rope all the way down to Nima again. We shouted to him to get hold ofit, to hang onto it. This time he seemed to understand. We pulled on that rope,and he moved. Then, apparently, he lost his grip and dropped again in thecrevasse. Finally we tried the main rope. We were desperate; we heaved andheaved. And suddenly, it yielded. We almost fell on our faces. We dashed uphillwith the rope as fast as we could, then dashed toward the crevasse and pulledagain.
We got Nima tothe very lip of the crevasse, but it was so narrow that by harder pulling wewould risk crushing his ribs and suffocating him. Nima was almost like acorpse. He was blue in the face, and his hands were shriveled. We had to actquickly. Georg came across the crevasse unbelayed. There we were able to grabNima and pull him over the other lip of the crevasse. We were close toexhaustion and tears. But we had saved Nima's life. Another 10 minutes and hewould have died.
It was too lateto move up or down that night, so six of us crept into the small tent, Nima onone side and five of us on the other. Sherpas are amazingly tough people. I donot think any of us could have survived.
Back at Camp 2 onNortheast Col the next day, we faced the prospect of still more backbreakingjourneys with supplies. Above us, however, at Camp 5 the summit was withinreach of our advance parties.
Tension wasmounting there, at this next-to-last assault platform, where six men waitedtheir opportunity to break through to the summit. After the exhausting work ofweeks, tempers were taut. The high altitude and the resulting lack of oxygenmade for an occasional uncomfortable incident, such as when one of the menclaimed Dhaulagiri as "his" to the exclusion of his teammates.Fortunately, Ernst Forrer, a first-rate and levelheaded climber, was able tokeep the situation from becoming explosive.
Those of us onthe lower slopes kept busy getting the supplies from Dapa Col and thetimber-line camp to the higher assault areas. We could only hope, andoccasionally watch the vast whiteness of that distant stage on which the actorsin our drama, tiny specks to us, played out their roles. On May 12 the advanceforce established Camp 6 at 25,600 feet, only 1,375 from the summit, and weguessed the last push might have begun. At 9 in the morning we saw two figuresclimbing over the highest point visible to us. Seen through the binoculars,they seemed to be Sherpas. We expected the sahibs had gone in advance. Thismeant to us that the great event probably was at hand.
It was indeed.Ernst Forrer told us later of the tenacious and triumphant struggle that wasbeing waged far above us:
"The dawn ofMay 13 was "clear and beautiful. It came none too soon for us; the nighthad seemed endless. We were six men squeezed into a two-man tent, a tinyshelter wedged under the overhang of a rock at 25,600 feet. Tense with theburden of our decision, we could have no thought of sleep. But when the firstlight of morning came we were ready."
At 8 a.m. I ropedup with the Sherpa Nima Dorje, and westarted breaking trail. Kurt Diembergerand Nawang Dorje followed close behind, and after them came Peter Diener andAlbin Schelbert. Our route followed a narrow and exposed ridge, a saddlebetween the false summit and the true top of the mountain. Snow conditions weretreacherous, and we belayed with care. We had no time and little energy forconscious thought of where we were and what we were doing. All our efforts wereconcentrated on progressing upward, on surmounting whatever obstacles layimmediately ahead.
"There weresome steep rock passages which required strenuous pull-ups, and we gotextremely short of breath. To climb an eight-thousander [a peak 8,000 meters,or 26,247 feet, high] without oxygen is absolutely exhausting. Our lungs seemedconstantly at the bursting point. We had to halt after every step to breathelaboriously and painfully the thin air."
Thus gropingly,animal-like in their almost mindless effort, the six men struggled on—andsuddenly it was over. The last upward step had been taken; there was nowhereelse to go. They had reached the highest point of Dhaulagiri on the rooftop ofthe world. They raised their eyes and saw no more rock ridges, no more slopesof snow, but only the clear blue sky above, the cloud-shrouded earth below. Tothe south clouds stretched in an apparently endless sea; to the north, likeclouds themselves, were the countless snow peaks of Tibet. Quite near wasAnnapurna, the purgatory of Maurice Herzog, the first of the deadlyeight-thousanders ever climbed by man.
"It was anextraordinary moment," Forrer recalled. "After the long, long battle,here was peace. The sun was brilliant, the air calm. There was scarcely even abreeze up here—a miracle after Dhaulagiri's storms! It was hard to believe, butthere we stood: six men on the summit of Dhaulagiri. Never before had so manystood on top of an eight-thousander."
They photographedeach other and the stunning view around them, planted a piton with a piece ofclimbing rope on the peak and then reluctantly turned away. A peak likeDhaulagiri will not tolerate the presence of men on its highest slopes forlong. They stayed for an hour and a half, and then began the no lesstreacherous and difficult climb back down the mountain.
Those of usbelow, meanwhile, could only guess at the moment of triumph; for us, May 13 wasanother working day. Georg, Adam, Ang Dawa and I carried supplies as far aspossible toward Camp 3 and then bivouacked for the night.
The next day, aswe made our way through a snowstorm toward the camp, we could make out directlyabove us snow-shrouded figures which painfully and slowly groped their way downfrom Camp 4. When we reached Camp 3 Ernst Forrer, Albin Schelbert and PeterDiener were there, grinning broadly. They had made it!
Even this momentof triumph, however, was shadowed with anxiety; we were not allowed to forgetwhere we were, what still had to be done. Peter was in bad shape. He hadreached the summit only with a superhuman effort. He was numb and half gonewith exhaustion, and what he said did not make too much sense. Ang Dawa and Iroped him between us and started slowly down to the relative safety and comfortof Camp 2. It was close to 6 o'clock when we reached the camp and helped him tohis tent.
Well after darkwe heard Kurt's voice outside. In he came with the two Sherpas, Nawang Dorjeand Nima Dorje. They, too, were grinning all over. These two were not famousSherpas, just young fellows. And now they had been to the summit ofDhaulagiri.
Six men had madethe summit so far. For the rest of us the challenge remained, and one by one wetook our turns.
Adam and Michelstarted up from Camp 2 on the 15th. But the altitude seemed to affect Adam morethan the others; he climbed so slowly that we sent two Sherpas to fetch himback. He refused to come. He bivouacked out in the open on the side of themountain, and the next day we watched as he resumed climbing ever more slowly.Michel, farther up, finally had to come back down to help him. Still higher wecould see clearly Hugo, Jean-Jacques and their Sherpas move up the slope fromCamp 3 to Camp 4.
On the morning ofthe 17th we saw one dot leave Camp 3 and recognized Michel. Evidently Adam wasnot well and could move neither up nor down. He was waiting for Georg and me togo up.
Through ourbinoculars we watched Michel toil up a 55° ice slope. His progress waspainfully slow. We saw a man at Camp 5 looking down the northeast face ofDhaulagiri at Michel's slow advance. Obviously, Hugo and Jean-Jacques and theirtwo Sherpas had not yet moved up to Camp 6, and we fervently hoped that Michel,with his tremendous will power, would catch up with them. His climb to join themen on Camp 5 was a marvelous piece of pluck.
So now we hadanother party within striking distance, but also possibly a sick man alone atCamp 3. Adam's condition had to be investigated. Georg and I had tried the daybefore to get up to him but had been turned back; burdened by heavy loads,wading through snow that was up to our knees, we had unwittingly made a depotwithin three inches of the edge of a crevasse—a close call! But the next day,May 19, we were able to try again. Inwardly we hoped that, with luck, Adamwould be all right and we would be able to make our own summit bid.
Dhaulagiri onthat day, however, was a mass of swirling snow and snow plumes that blew outfor miles into the sky. Never had we seen the mountain so completelyterrifying. The wind tore at us in maniacal rage as we fought our way upward.Our feet congealed until they felt like paralyzed lumps of ice, and I grewreally worried that we might end up with frozen toes that would have to beamputated. Incongruously, all I could think of was that this would mean no moretennis for me. The idea of tennis was idiotic in these circumstances, but thatis the kind of thing one thinks of at those heights.
It was a terribleordeal, that climb. Our sunglasses filled with snow every few minutes. Was itworth it? How far can a man drive himself before going under? We almost reacheda point of desperation when two Sherpas suddenly appeared to help us. They hadmade the tricky and exposed traverse to our side, and now they could relieve usof our loads. As soon as we reached Camp 3, Ang Dawa took off our reindeerboots and started to massage our feet. At first they seemed utterly lifelessand white, but the long and vigorous massage gradually restored theircirculation.
We tented downwith Adam that night. He seemed all right, though weak. He had been up here forfive days alone. Despite sleeping pills, we slept very little.
The next day thestorm seemed to gather strength, and waves of flying snow threatened to crushthe flimsy shelter. We thought of those above us and prayed the storm would notsweep them down. At dawn the snowdrift, solid as ice, had reached the very topof our tent. I could not shake it off. Ang Dawa got out and started shoveling.In the heavy wind and snow it must have been hell for him.
Then, withoutwarning, we ran out of butane gas. That was it. There could be no question ofgoing higher without gas to prepare the hot liquids which are essential forsurvival at this height.
We started ourmelancholy trip down, leaving two emergency oxygen bottles at the camp forHugo, Jean-Jacques and Michel to use, if necessary, on their way down. Adambehaved strangely, like a sleepwalker. On the steep ice face, the snowstormdoubled the danger. We had to drive our axes in and hold on for life. Sometimesthe gusts of wind were so fierce that they almost tore us off the ridgealtogether. Poor Ang Dawa carried my big movie tripod, a heavy and awkwardload.
We reached Camp 2at last at 1 p.m. It was the end of our try for the summit. After weeks ofincessant effort, we knew now we would not get another chance.
Two days later,on the 22nd of May, two exhausted Sherpas stumbled into our camp shortly beforedark. Throughout all the storms of the past days and nights they had shared atent on Camp 5 with Hugo, Jean-Jacques and Michel. Now their food had almostrun out, and the Sherpas were sent back down to wait with us at the camp.Incredibly enough, the three sahibs still hoped to make a try for thesummit.
On the 24th, longafter dark, around 8:30 p.m., I was lying in my tent, ready to go to sleep,when I heard voices. I woke up Georg, and we looked out. Hugo, Michel andJean-Jacques were coming toward us. "How did it go?" we cried. Hugoanswered: "O.K., we made it." "Terrific!" we exclaimed."Who?"
Hugo hesitated."Michel et moi," he said.
Bit by bit theytold us their story. Jean-Jacques, poor fellow, had lost his ice ax. One of theSherpas had taken it down with him. It was too risky to climb without one, so,almost at the goal, he had to stay behind. But Hugo and Michel had made thesummit all the way from Camp 5 at 24,400 feet. And they had made it at 6:30 inthe evening! A climb of 2,575 vertical feet to the summit and back to Camp 6 inone day at an altitude of nearly 27,000 feet! It was a stupendous achievement,perhaps one of the most remarkable in mountaineering history.
Now ourexpedition at last was a success. The challenge of Dhaulagiri had been met in away that left no doubt that the "unclimbable fiend" could be climbed bymen stout of heart and strong of purpose. A first ascent by six men had beenmade on May 13, a second ascent by two men on May 23. Not one of us could haverealistically expected as much.
Now there wasonly the long way back: the walk across the glacier, the return to Katmandu andfinally the safe sea level of San Diego. The snows of Dhaulagiri have been leftfar behind, but they can never be forgotten. The giant séracs, the razor-sharpridges, the numbing cold and spilling ice-falls still loom up in dreams andturn them into nightmares. Yet for all of this, I also dream of going backagain. Despite their perils, the high mountains offer a beauty to the eye and atranquillity to the soul that cannot be matched in the world below. Themountain allows man to measure himself. I believe it was Mallory, the greatHimalayan pioneer, who wrote: "Have we vanquished an enemy? None butourselves!" And so it was on Dhaulagiri, the once unclimbable peak ofstorms.
AMERICANS ON MASHERBRUM
On July 6 Willi Unsoeld, a professor of comparativereligion from the University of Oregon, and George Bell, a physicist from LosAlamos, became the first climbers to scale Masherbrum, a 25,660-foot Himalayanpeak whose Sanskrit name, appropriately enough, means Day of Judgment. Themountaineers, spearhead of a joint U.S.-Pakistan expedition (organized byNicholas Clinch of Dallas), reached their goal after 38 days of strenuousclimbing, 24 of them through a continuous snowstorm. Along the way the partyhad a near-fatal brush with an avalanche that carried four of the climbers 300feet down the mountain. "No one can honestly say that he enjoys a Himalayanexpedition most of the time," Bell told a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED reporter,"but 10 people risking their lives together—exerting themselves to thelimit for a cause—is the moral equivalent of war."
CAMP VI 25,600 FEET
SUMMIT 26,975 FEET
CAMP V 24,400 FEET
CAMP IV 23,100 FEET
ALTERNATE ROUTE TAKEN BY SECOND TEAM
CAMP III 21,650 FEET
CAMP II (NE-COL) 18,700 FEET
TO DAPA COL