American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, The Norwegian Expedition to Trich Mir

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1951

The Norwegian Expedition to Tirich Mir. In 1949 two Norwegian climbers, Arne Randers Heen and I, made a reconnaissance of Tirich Mir. It was long since there had been a Norwegian expedition to the highest mountains in Asia. In October 1907 Rubenson and Monrad Aas made an attempt to climb Kabru, but had to turn back a few hundred feet from the summit. Since then Norwegian mountaineers have mainly been developing their own fields. There are now a great number of long and difficult climbs in southern and northern Norway which never have been enjoyed by foreigners.

The central chain of Hindukush increases in height from E. to W. and culminates with Tirich. Mir, a twin peak, of which the western and main summit reaches 25,263 ft. and the eastern 25,237 ft.

It is a rather isolated peak which can be seen from the valleys of Chitral as a glittering fairy castle 20,000 ft. above the valley floor. Tirich Mir mythology is exceptionally rich and makes it very difficult for Chitral porters to feel at home on its formidable glaciers. They feel haunted by spirits. Also, since they are mostly unaccustomed to snow and ice, pioneers have predicted that, if Tirich Mir were ever climbed, it would be without Chitral porters. Previous attempts on the mountain had not succeeded, partly because of this problem.

In 1949 the reconnaissance party worked without porters from 14,000 ft. and upwards, but succeeded in trying two possibilities. The S.E. Ridge was tried—a formidable rocky ridge which leads to the western summit. From there one has to descend 300-600 ft. to get to the western and main summit. The S. Ridge was also tried: that is, a steep glacier (the “S-glacier,” we called it, because of its steepness) was used to get to a point at about 21,000 ft. from which the S. Ridge can be inspected.

Both routes seemed to be feasible — the S-glacier only in very stable weather, however, and even then only at great risk.

A third possibility was not tried out: to climb a protruding rib on the S. walls of the Tirich summit pyramid and get to the upper part of the S. Ridge above the rib. This possibility was left untried mainly because of obvious and grave dangers in case of snowy weather. Avalanches would in that case sweep all the slopes we would have to traverse.

During the winter of 1949-1950 the Norwegian Alpine Club and the Norwegian Geographical Society prepared a major expedition.

Pakistan authorities were very helpful. Five members of the Alpine Club were picked out as climbers; one of them was also to function as physician. A geologist and a botanist joined our party, and also two photographers. Two residents of Pakistan joined us as liaison officers, the one a Pakistan mountaineer, the other an English captain of the Chitral Scouts.

On June 11th we arrived at the S. Barum Glacier, a 15-km. glacier leading to the S. and S.E. walls of the Tirich Mir summit pyramid.

On June 29th the S.E. Ridge was inspected at about 20,000 ft.

The steps on the very steep rocky edge were covered by deep snow which would take weeks to melt. This ridge was therefore given up, at least provisionally; and we tried out the second possibility, the S-glacier. During the inspection from Camp 5 at about 19,000 ft., extraordinarily heavy ice avalanches swept the upper part of the S-glacier. So far our camps had only been struck by storms created by ice avalanches from the walls of the Tirich pyramid. Along the steep, concave S-glacier, with its ice towers and great number of icefalls, we were very likely to be hit by the ice avalanches themselves, and we therefore also gave up our second possibility.

On July 6th we began to attack the summit pyramid along the protruding rib mentioned above. We called this the “third route.” Weather was perfectly stable, and the sun had made the snow very secure—but exceedingly deep and loose. As long as these conditions lasted, the third route would be practicable and safe; but it was quite clear that in case of change of weather complete disaster would threaten. We accepted this risk.

From Camp 6 at about 20,500 ft., a first attack on the summit was made; but a porter got a fit of insanity, and threatened to jump into the abyss, carrying others with him. The next day was used to arrange transport for the victim. The two climbers did not give up, but tried to reach the summit without porters. They did not reach higher than 22,700 ft. and returned rather exhausted, having carried much too big loads.

On July 20th a second attack started from Camp 5. Three porters were able to go with us as high as 23,000 ft., but unhappily they felt so badly in the mornings that they refused to start before the sun was warm. At that time snow crusts melted, and this made transport exceedingly heavy. We reached the S. Ridge in two parties, and the main party constructed a last snow cave, Camp 9, at 23,300 ft. One climber who reached the S. ridge in front of the main party got time to reach the summit next day, July 22nd. The next day the three other climbers reached the summit—one of them, the English captain of Chitral Scouts.

The S. Ridge from 23,300 to 25,263 ft. took us 10-11 hours and it was as late as 6.00 P.M. when we arrived at the summit, the main party with film camera.

The scenery from this lonely giant mountain is tremendous. One can look into Afghanistan, U.S.S.R. and China. Nanga Par- bat, the Karakoram and the Pamirs are all within sight.

Weather continued stable, but in the mornings we were not far from being frostbitten. One climber developed pneumonia at Camp 6 (20,500 ft.), but recovered rapidly by help of penicillin.

A few days later we were all in good condition down at the snout of the S. Barum Glacier. Some were not quite able to walk because of slight injuries by frost, but after some weeks all traces of mishap were gone. Even the porter who had the fit of insanity was perfectly restored to health.

The men on the great French expedition to Annapurna experienced worse things. Luck plays a great rôle. We had fine stable weather to the end; the French did not. It should also be remembered that the risks of bad weather are greater in Nepal than in Chitral. Our “third route” would probably have been deadly dangerous in the monsoon climate of Nepal.

Arne Naess

[We are indeed grateful to Professor Naess for sending this account of the expedition which he headed.—Ed.]

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