American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

The Fatality on Kanchenjunga

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  • Publication Year: 1930

The Fatality On Kanchenjunga

W. S. Ladd

“ONE day towards the end of winter, there walked into my office a tall, clear-eyed, square-jawed, young man. He was from Virginia. He had lived in New York City for years, working in one of those great down-town beehives, but rarely able to escape from Manhattan Island to enjoy the beauties of our environs. Five years ago he had conceived the desire to climb Kanchenjunga. He kept this desire and read and studied and planned the trip. Few details escaped his attention—food, clothing, footwear, mountaineering equipment had all been carefully purchased. He sailed from New York alone and expects to reach the summit of Kangchenjunga and be back by August (1929). He has never been on snow or ice other than that of our streets. Nor has he ever been up a hill of more than three thousand feet. What nicer experiment in the problem: can book-knowledge suffice where actual experience is usually held to be so necessary? Will he get there? I shall not forget the eye nor the jaw nor the simple faith in himself. He has my wish for success.”

At about the time of the publication of the foregoing note,1 word was received from India that Mr. Farmer had not returned. Of course we could not regard this outcome as a complete answer to the hypothetical question raised in our first paragraph. It is but one more bit of evidence to add to that which accumulates year by year in every line of endeavor—that “experience is the best teacher”.

When he arrived in India, Mr. Farmer proceeded to Darjeeling and there met Mr. G. H. Johnson, a climber of experience in the Himalayas. He and others helped Farmer to secure excellent porters—several of them being well known men of experience and veterans of Mt. Everest expeditions.

The story of what befell Mr. Farmer is best told by the testimony of the porters before the Indian Police, which follows—

“Statement of Lobsang, son of Dawa Tibetan of Patual-Sho, Lhasa; age 33, of Bhuti Bosti. Mr. Wood-Johnson, Assistant Manager of Geille T. E. went to Giuchela last year in October and I went with him as his headman. There were 20 coolies. I was with General Bruce of the Mount Everest Expedition on two occasions, and it was for this reason Mr, Wood-Johnson took me with him. He had a successful trip. In April on a Wednesday I went to Geille T. E. on the call of Mr. Wood-Johnson who told me that Mr. Farmer was going to Jongri for one month and six days, i. e.: 9 days each way to Jongri and back and he would halt 18 days at Jongri and take photos. He would be going up to Kang-La. On my question, I was told that Mr. Farmer was not going to do mountain climbing and, being such a light job, he arranged to give Rs. 1-4-0 per day for me, and to Sonam Topgay and Nima Tenduk and seven other coolies, anna 12 per day. He also promised that rations would be provided from Yok-Sun onwards.

“On 6th May, 1929, we started from Jongri at 7 A. M. taking with us five days rations for six of us, leaving our reserve ration at Jongri with a yak-herd. We halted at Aluk-thang. On 7th May, 1929, we arrived at Chematang at 4 P. M. Mr. Farmer alone climbed Guichela. He told us to stay at Camp. At nightfall I sent Nima Tenduk with a lantern and Mr. Farmer returned at about 7:30 P. M. There was a little snow on the way to Guichela. Mr. Farmer told us that he was returning after an hour and therefore we did not go.

“On 8th May, 1929, at 6 A. M., Nima Tenduk, Sonam Top- gay and myself accompanied Mr. Farmer. We went about half way to Guichela when he said he had been on the top of Guichela the previous evening, and turned towards Kanchen Junga. We walked in that direction up to 11 A. M. When we reached the Lap-tse (cairn) heavy cloud intervened and we could not see the Kanchen Junga. We halted there for one hour but it did not clear so we returned to Chematang and halted the night there. On 9th May, 1929, at 6 A. M., we got ready to start, when he suddenly said that he must go towards Kanchen Junga, the same direction where we went the previous afternoon, and would return in half an hour. We waited there and he returned at 10 A. M.—that is four hours after. He left Chematong at 10 A. M., and came to Jongri at 5:30 P. M.

“On 10th May, 1929, on my suggestion, Mr. Farmer sent Nima Tenduk and Dam-du to purchase flour, vegetables, eggs, etc., at Yok-Sum and Pemingchi. Mr. Farmer, myself, Sonam Topgay and Sonam Chompe halted at Jongri. On 11th May, 1929, Mr. Farmer told me to take 5 days rations and four of us left for Kang La where he said he wanted to see the road. We halted that night at Tre Kyaplak cave near Chu-rang Chu. On 12th May, 1929, we went further towards Kang La and halted at Cho-kar-Pang. On 13th May, 1929, at 6 A. M., Mr. Farmer, myself and Sonam Topgay went towards Kang La. We crossed Kang La and went about one-fourth mile. There was heavy snow on the Pass. Q. I did not know that Kang La was the boundary line of Nepal. We returned that night at Tre-Kyap-Lak.

“On 14th May, 1929, we came to Jongri, where we halted on 15th May 1929. That day Mr. Farmer went alone towards Ke-pur mountains. I objected to his going alone but he refused to take any one of us. That night Nima Tenduk and Dam-du returned from Pemiongchi with one mound flour, potatoes, eggs, beans, onions and a seer of butter. On 16th May, 1929, morning Mr. Farmer instructed me to take 14 days rations and we started for Kang-La at 10 A. M. We halted that night at Tre-Kyamla. On 17th May, 1929, at Chu-Kar-pany. On 18th May, 1929, we halted near Tse-ram on a grassy place. It was a bad and cloudy day. On 20th May, 1929, we came to a village. I thought we were in Nepal and asked Mr. Farmer whether he got a pass to enter Nepal. He replied “I know”, “I know”. We then returned back about one-fourth mile and turned towards Kanchen Junga and halted on a hill.

“On 21st May, 1929, we went down into a valley and here we made our Base Camp. There were small or dwarf rhododendron trees available for fire wood. On 22nd May, 1929, Mr. Farmer, myself, Sonam Topgay and Nima Tenduk went up for about one mile and on account of snowfall we returned to Base Camp. On 23rd May, 1929, Mr. Farmer ordered me to take 4 days rations and about 10 A. M. we started i. e. Mr. Farmer, myself, Nima Tenduk and Sonam Topgay. We halted at the glacier till 2 P. M. then we crossed the stream on the left and halted there for the night. We were on the lowest portion of the glacier. Mr. Farmer called this No. 1 camp.

“On 24th May, 1929, we were actually on glacier. We saw avalanche falling near our camp. We left at about 7 A. M. and came to our camp at 5 P. M. and halted there. Mr. Farmer called this as No. 2 camp. On 25th May, 1929, he started at about 7 A. M. and reached at the foot of Kanchen Junga mountain at about 4:30 P. M. We made our camp on glacier. It was a difficult place and we made the camping place. We halted there. It was a cold night. In a few minutes our hot tea got frozen. We walked very slowly from Camp No. 1 to this camp which Mr. Farmer called Camp No. 3. That night he told us to prepare to leave the camp at 6 A. M. the next morning.

“On 26th May, 1929, at 6 A. M. we all started. Mr. Farmer took coffee, some dry biscuits and ham. He kept no food of any kind in his pockets. He took a small camera, a pair of field glasses, ice axe and 2 films. He wore 3 shirts, 2 coats, 3 pairs of drawers, 3 pairs of socks. The nails of his boots having worn out he used a pair of crampons. He took no rope. We walked up together on the mountains but very slowly as we were getting difficulty in breathing. It was 9 A. M. then. I suggested to Mr. Farmer that as the sun was up and the snow melting, we may get trouble if we go further and suggested him to return to our camp. Mr. Farmer insisted that we must climb the mountain up to 12 noon. We went on. Then we came to a difficult place on snow and ice, sometime down and sometime up. It was like an ice corridor. Then came to a rock and when climbing I slipped and fell down about 6 or 7 feet and injured my back. Mr. Farmer told us to wait here for him. He would return at 12 noon after taking some photographs. He gave his Cine Camera to Sonam Topgay to let the spring go when he climbs up. As he started climbing up the mountain Sonam Topgay tried to operate it. We saw him going up to 5 P. M. As he walked he looked at us several times; and we all called him back but he paid no heed. At 5 P. M. he set down on the snow. Just then heavy cloud set in and intervened. We waited on the spot till 6 P. M. We thought that he would be returning and we returned to camp No. 3 and cooked food and waited for him. He did not return. We used his torch light just to show him the camp. On 27th May, 1929, at about 7 A. M. we got on the top of an ice hillock and we saw all the way that Mr. Farmer went up. We saw Mr. Farmer climbing up on the steep snow. This time he was long way up. It was small figure. He was climbing up. The peak of Kanchen Junga was on his left hand side.* He got on the top of a mountain when the sun struck the ridge. He crossed that mountain and we never saw him again. Heavy cloud intervened. There were other mountains behind the ridge that he crossed. We waited for the Sahib at No. 3 camp. He did not return. We had no food—all exhausted. There were some dry biscuits of the Sahib which we eat. About 300 feet from our camp we found an old camp for 2 tents. (Probably the camp of Raebum and Crawford who are known to have gone up to Yalung in September, 1920). We thought some Sahibs came here before. There were two empty tins of kerosine oil and also a broken clay pot. There were two heaps of stones (Cairns) which we thought were graves.

“On 29th May, 1929, we waited for the Sahib. As he did not return we left the camp at about 9 A. M. and came to No. 2 camp where we left some food on the up journey. We reached there at about 5 P. M. For want of food we nearly lost our lives. I thought as the Sahib did not return for 3 days, he must have met his death.

“On 29th May, 1929, we came to the Base Camp where we met Sonam Chompe and Dam-du and halted there. That night our food was exhausted as we took food for only 14 days.

“On 30th May, 1929, Sonam Chompe went to a “Gote” cowherd and there he exchanged his “Chupa” Tibetan coat for one pathi ‘Indian corn’. With this food we came to the hill near Tse-ram and halted there.

“On 31st May, 1929, we camped near Kang La. 1st June we came to Chu-Kar-pang and I sent Sonam Topgay to Jongri and told him to proceed at once to Mr. Wood-Johnson and hand over the Cine Camera so that he may be able to develop the films to show the places visited by us and give information about the Sahib.

“When we reached camp No. 3 Mr. Farmer had for his food three bundles of Pea soup and half a paper box of biscuits, about 2 spoonful of sugar. We took them as we had no food to eat.

Sd.—S. W. Ladan La 12.6.29.”

1 Mountain Magazine, Vol. VII, No. 4, July, 1829.

*The description given shows that he went up towards the Talung Saddle (22,130 ft.). The party had been working on the Yalung Glacier.—Ed. A. A. J.

Note. Lobsang who gave the above statement has been mentioned in the current despatches from the Internationa] Kanchenjunga Expedition now in the field.—Ed. A. A. J.

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