American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Himalayas, Nanga Parbat

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1935

Nanga Parbat. The German expedition of this last year, composed of W. Merkl, leader; Peter Aschenbrenner; F. Bechtold ; A. Drexel ; P. Müllritter; W. Welzenbach; U. Wieland; W. Bernard, doctor ; H. Hieronimus ; and E. Schneider as climbers made a gallant attempt to reach the summit but succumbed to one of the great disasters of Himalayan climbing. The party followed the same route as the previous expedition in 1932, and arrived at the base camp on May 15th. In establishing the advanced camps, Drexel was taken with a chill and descended to Camp II, where an immediate call for the doctor was made. The doctor came up from the base camp but before oxygen could be obtained, Drexel died of pneumonia.

The route of ascent was slightly varied from two years ago, a way being made over Rakhiot Peak to the upper slopes of the mountain. This made a long distance to travel at a high average altitude, 23,000 ft., which it was planned to negotiate by a quick attempt. Camp VI was placed at 22,600 ft. beyond Rakhiot Peak at the same point as Camp VII of the 1932 expedition. Camp VII was placed at 23,300 ft. just below the Silver Saddle and finally Camp VIII, the highest camp, established at 25,000 ft. on July 6th, although Schneider and Aschenbrenner had pushed on that afternoon to a point about 25,600 ft., just below the first summit, a distance of slightly over half a mile and 1000 ft. in altitude only separating them from the highest summit. The following morning when it had been confidently expected that they would push on to the summit, a heavy snowstorm burst upon them. The blizzard was so violent that it was almost impossible to breath outside. The previous night a pole of one of the larger tents had broken under the wind pressure and the next night a second one went. One of the tents was porous so that the snow came through and it was impossible to melt snow for cooking so that a half cup of tea apiece was all the nourishment they had in spite of adequate food and fuel available. After a day and two nights of this, it was decided to abandon the camp and go down. Schneider and Aschenbrenner led off with three porters. On the Silver Saddle a rubber mattress and heavy sleeping bag were blown off the back of one of the porters. As these belonged to the two Europeans it was imperative that they reach Camp IV at least, so they pushed on arriving there that same day, July 8th, finding that the support party had been unable to ascend to Camps V and VI to stock them. As the three porters were played out from their exertions and had sleeping bags with them, they left them at Camp VI to continue on the next day. The other three Europeans, Merkl, Wieland, and Welzenbach and eight porters left in Camp VIII started some time later. Soon after the start, one of the porters, Nima Nurbu died. Probably on account of this delay, the party did not succeed in reaching Camp VII and had to bivouac. They had left the tents and all food and fuel at Camp VIII planning on reaching at least Camp V. During the night, Merkl froze a hand and Wieland both hands. The next morning, the porters Angtsering, Gay-Lay, and Dakshi being unable to continue remained at the bivouac. The three Europeans with four porters continued down. About 100 ft. above Camp VII, Wieland fell exhausted in the snow and died. Merkl and Welzenbach reached the camp and entered the tent. The porters were sent on and spent a night in a snow cave near Camp VI. The next day, July 10th, they continued on and met the three porters left behind by Schneider and Aschenbrenner in Camp VI. These three men whom they met on the slopes of Rakhiot Peak had spent a day and two nights in Camp VI. Of these seven only four arrived alive in Camp IV, the other three dying en route.

Of the three porters left in the first bivouac, Dakshi having died, the other two descended on July 11th to Camp VII and stayed there with MerkI and Welzenbach. Welzenbach died here during the night of the 12th-13th July and the following day Merkl descended with the two porters to the saddle just above Rakhiot Peak where they dug a snow cave for the night. The next day, July 14th, Merkl and Gay-Lay were so weak that they fell before they had gone ten feet, but the porter, Angtsering ascended the slope of Rakhiot Peak and descended to Camp IV although suffering from severe frostbite. Merkl and Gay-Lay undoubtedly perished at the snow cave either that day or the next.

In spite of strenuous efforts by the support party to ascend to the help of their comrades., it was uttely impossible to get higher than Camp V on account of the deep snow. In fact it took the three Europeans and three porters six hours to cover this stretch which usually took 2.5 hours, and they were so exhausted that they had to return below.

A tragedy such as this defies comment. The loss of ten men on a single expedition is a stunning blow which it is difficult to account for adequately. Perhaps it might not be amiss to mention one fact which recurs in the narrative of this assault and that is the reluctance to eat substantial food and the reliance upon soup. This is in exact contradiction to the experience of the last Mt. Everest Expedition and may account for the devastating way in which the storm annihilated one man after another, when an extreme call was made upon human energy, endurance, and resistance.

The opponents of rush tactics might take advantage of this disaster to point a moral and condemn the practice of not having a line of adequately equipped camps for retreat (Camps VI and VII having no food, fuel, or bedding), but although such a line of camps might have made the difference between saving some of the men and the almost complete annihilation which occurred, it would seem that the poor condition of some of the men due to lack of proper nourishment was the basic factor, when we look at the ability of Schneider and Aschenbrenner to descend from Camp VIII to Camp IV in a single day, against extremely adverse conditions.

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