NORMAN G. DYHRENFURTH
WHEN leaving Mount Everest in December of 1952 I hardly dared hope that some day I would be able to return to Solo Khumbu. My original plan was to visit that area in the Fall of 1954 for some "minor” ascents, but primarily to produce documentary films. When at last I did hear from Kathmandu toward the end of January 1955, I was given permission to attempt Lhotse. It soon became quite clear that the time was too short to finance, organize, and completely outfit a major expedition for a pre-monsoon attempt. I very reluctantly decided to postpone the main climbing effort until the Fall, knowing well from previous experience that the chances of success on one of the "big” Eight-Thousand- ers are considerably less at that time.
Within less than a month the financial backing was found, the team members selected, and the equipment and foodstuffs assembled, the latter entirely in Switzerland and Austria. In view of the time element involved in producing several documentary films, and in making the first truly professional map by photogrammetric means of the entire Everest region, it was decided to leave for Nepal in two groups: Dipl. Ing. Erwin Schneider, outstanding cartographer and well-known Austrian mountaineer, Ernst Senn, one of Austria’s leading "extreme” climbers, who had been to Broad Peak with Dr. Herrligkoffer in the Fall of 1954, and myself left Europe on March 30 by ship, taking with us the bulk of the expedition’s baggage, nearly seven tons. The second group, consisting of the three Americans, George I. Bell, Fred Beckey, and Richard McGowan, and the two Swiss, Dr. Bruno Spirig and Arthur Spöhel—the latter had been to Everest with me in 1952—were to leave Europe on July 30.
After being held up the usual number of days by the incredible red tape of Bombay Customs, we reached Jogbani via milk train on April 21, where we were met by our Sherpas. On the 24th we started our approach march from Dharan Bazar with 200 porters, 120 of them from Solo Khumbu, the rest recruited locally. After a very hot march in, Namche Bazar was reached on May 9, and Dingboche on the 11th. This was to be our base of operations for the next two months, at the foot of towering Ama Dablam, a few feet above the swift waters of the Imja Khola. Here we took over three stone huts where we three, our Nepalese liaison officer Gaya Nanda Vaidya, and the Sherpas made ourselves as comfortable as possible to live through part of the monsoon months.
While Erwin Schneider immediately began his cartographic work, Ernst Senn and I, accompanied by our Sherpas Pemba Sundar and Ang Dawa, made a two-day reconnaissance of the Imja Khola Basin to ascertain whether there might be a feasible route leading from the innermost comer of that basin (behind Island Peak, climbed by the British in 1953 and repeated by Schneider) through the heavily glaciated southern precipice of Lhotse’s east ridge. We had hoped to find a route to the summit of Lhotse II, the eastern peak of our mountain, having been led to believe from examining some British pictures that there might be a definite possibility. If this was the case, Senn and I would have launched a small-scale pre-monsoon attack on Lhotse II. Unfortunately one look at the southern defenses of the east ridge convinced both of us that any attempt to establish a series of camps and to lead heavily-laden Sherpas through there would be suicidal. While we were studying that huge wall of steep ice, several avalanches broke off from a high shelf, burying the only possible avenue of approach under masses of blue-green ice. Even if one could reach the ridge, the route would be extremely long and exposed to the winds. The uppermost part of the east ridge is very steep and undoubtedly heavily corniced, and the main summit of Lhotse could not possibly be reached that way. The defenses of our mountain were rather formidable at this point, reminding me vividly of the dangerous northwestern face of Kangchenjunga. Our first dream was thus shattered, but at least it did not take much time to realize it.
Next on our program was a reconnaissance of the Khumbu Icefall, then a look at the Nepalese side of Lho La and perhaps the spur of Pumori, where I had taken my Everest Panorama in 1952. Senn and I left Dingboche with five Sherpas, spent one night at Lobuje, the next at Lake Camp, and arrived at the site of the Swiss Camp I on the third day, May 21. We were in no hurry to get there; the weather had been rather poor, and there was plenty of snow on the ground. A few hundred yards before reaching the old Swiss campsite we passed through the remains of the British Camp I, and found bits of tin, radio batteries, yellowish paper, and a few sticks of wood. The Swiss site hadn’t changed much in these three years, and we pitched our tents near where our kitchen used to be. By now the clouds lifted, and the surrounding peaks glistened in snowy whiteness. There was our old enemy, the famous icefall, and we decided to have a look at it from a good vantage point. Ernst and I threaded our way through the ice labyrinth directly above camp and emerged one hour later at the foot of the huge avalanche cone below Lho La. The avalanche debris did not look very fresh, and after a good look at the steep glacier hanging above us we decided to chance it and climbed up the steep slope. Ernst was in much better condition than I and arrived at the yellowish rock face above the avalanche cone long before me. When I reached him, I decided to call it a day and took some pictures of the icefall, while Ernst scrambled up the moderately difficult rocks to have a look at the route above. Soon he returned with the good news that there definitely was a route, though not without objective danger. The next day Ernst and Pemba Sundar (I did not consider my stage of acclimatization sufficient at the time to have a try at Lho La) were successful in making the first ascent, which had previously been tried by Eric Shipton and his men. There was one rope length of 5th grade rock climbing, and some fairly steep ice work above, not without a certain amount of avalanche danger. A route which is definitely not to be recommended as a safe one. The next day we took a good look at Pumori, but considered the objective dangers of the obvious route as too great. In one long day’s march we returned to our headquarters at Dingboche, where Erwin greeted us with the good news that he had completed the photogrammetric reproduction of the entire Imja Khola Basin, during which time he made a second ascent of Island Peak, and first ascents of three other mountains over 19,000 feet.
Our next project was a trip to Nangpa La on the border of Nepal and Tibet. But before that we received truly "high” visitors: Lionel Terray and Guido Magnone, two of the world’s great mountaineers. They had crossed three high cols from the Barun Valley to have a look at Solo Khumbu, and to return home via Kathmandu. According to them the ascent of Makalu had been disappointingly easy, and thanks to the abundance of oxygen equipment they still were in excellent shape. It was good to meet such wonderful people, and to be able to talk French again. Lionel and Guido spent the next five days with us as our honored guests, during which time we went to the lamasery at Thami, northwest of Namche Bazar, where we spent an entire day recording sound, and filming the famous Lama dances. It was fun working together, particularly so when I played back some of my tapes, and we became thoroughly carried away by the sombre Tibetan music, only to hear suddenly Lionel’s high, excited voice yelling something in fast and uncomplimentary French whenever Guido, who was recording sound, failed to get out of Lionel’s camera range. All too soon they had to leave us, traversing the high pass of Tesi Lapcha on their way to Kathmandu, while we went back to our "summer residence” in Dingboche. We couldn’t help feeling just a little envious, considering that they already had climbed their mountain and were on their way home, whereas we hadn’t even begun our struggle, and the dreary monsoon months yet to come!
On June 8 we left Dingboche with eight Sherpas and eight coolies. That same day, as we camped at Khumjung, it began to rain, thus announcing the beginning of the monsoon. I might mention that our Sherpas always managed to persuade us to make a "short-cut” via Khumjung. Only much later did we find out that this is the origin of Solo Khumbu’s prettiest Sherpanis! During the next few days, while we went up the valley of the Bhote Kosi, it rained every afternoon. We passed through Chule and Lunak over the old and much traveled caravan route toward Nangpa La (19,050 feet), the pass which the Sherpas once crossed when they migrated from Tibet to the region of Solo Khumbu. About 1,000 feet below the pass we put on our short summer skis, and at 10 A.M. on June 12 we crossed Nangpa La into Tibet, probably the first skiers across. Down the gentle slopes of the Kyetrak Glacier we had to push through the slushy snow every inch of the way. Soon we arrived at the site of Lambert’s 1954 Base Camp and decided to camp at the identical spot. While I was busy working away at my Sherpa film, making good use of the passing caravans which carried salt and yak wool from Tibet to Nepal, Schneider worked with his photo-theodolite all around the northern and western approaches to Cho Oyu, while Senn climbed three peaks between 21,000 and 22,000 feet, two of them with his Sherpa Pemba Sundar. Toward the end of our stay north of the border Schneider and Senn climbed a 23,000-foot peak north of Cho Oyu, the greater part of it on skis. This also gave me the opportunity to get some good skiing movies, with the huge mass of Cho Oyu as an impressive background. For the Sherpas the whole aspect of skiing is utterly fascinating. Of course it looks very easy to them, but after we allowed them to try it themselves on the easy slopes of Nangpa La, they knew differently. Although they fell all over themselves every few feet, they had the time of their lives and nearly died laughing. On the way back to Dingboche it rained almost constantly; the monsoon had started in earnest. June 21 saw us back in our drafty and leaky stone hut, well satisfied with the results of our northern trip. I might add that we never did meet any Communist border guards, contrary to newspaper reports which claimed that the Chinese Communists had protested to the Government of Nepal about our alleged illegal entry. The fact of the matter is, that according to the Sherpas, the Tibetan border is actually one day’s march north of where it is shown on the map, which would place our camp still within the border of Nepal. Only several months later did I discover a partial explanation as to why there had been so many unfounded rumors and accusations spread about the 1955 I. H. E. in the press. The interested reader will find some amazing opinions expressed in Othmar Gurtner’s foreword in the 1955 edition of Mountain World, devoted in a most thoughtful manner to our expedition.
We received another distinguished and welcome visitor in the shape of the New Zealander Norman Hardie, who together with Tony Streather had reached the summit of Kangchenjunga, as members of Dr. Charles Evans’ Expedition. We tried to persuade Hardie to join us in our attempt on Lhotse, but his wife and one other New Zealand mountaineer were going to join him toward the end of the monsoon for some exploratory work south and east of the Kangtega group.
By July 23 we had moved to Lobuje. (There is a local superstition in Dingboche which does not allow strangers to stay more than two months, otherwise nothing would grow any longer.) The monsoon continued in all its dreary dampness, but at least once in a while the sun broke through, and the mountains lifted their snowy heads over the monsoon clouds. At Dingboche we had been just below them; at Lobuje we were "surrounded.” The next few weeks were about as depressing and demoralizing as any I have ever lived through. Even Schneider was feeling mighty low, since there wasn’t a thing he could do in the way of photogrammetry. I could at least do occasional work on some of my films, but we were all eager to get started in the Western Cwm. After a short stretch of fairly good weather around the middle of August, which gave us false hopes for an early end of the monsoon, the rains settled upon us again. Nevertheless, we kept moving equipment and provisions in relays to our future Base Camp, and on August 30 we moved up ourselves.
The next few days the weather was quite unpleasant; it snowed every night and part of the day, and the roar of avalanches filled the air. They came off the walls of Pumori, Lingtren, Lho La, and Nuptse, averaging one every three minutes. Sometimes one could count three or four at once.
On September 4 we made a first attempt to penetrate the icefall, but the snow was slushy and bottomless, forcing us to return to camp. The following morning I called my friends at 5 A.M. Pumori glistened in eerie moonlight. We followed the route which we had discovered previously, avoiding the maze of ice towers which lies between camp and the beginning of the icefall route close to the lower slopes of Lho La. Although it was quite cold, and the sun would not reach us for some time, the snow was already bottomless. At 10:15 we reached the first step of the icefall, close to where the Swiss had their Camp II in 1952. The heat was unbearable by then. I belayed Senn across a broad chasm, filled in part by huge blocks of ice. On the far side he had to wrestle with a short vertical ice wall, which he prepared with a piece of sling rope. After we ascertained that there were no insurmountable difficulties beyond, we started the descent. September 6 was a day of rest, and the following day we started again at 5 A.M.; this time we took 12 Sherpas with us who carried wooden bridges and aluminum ladders. At 7:30 we reached the site of former Camp II, and from then on the going was extremely tiring, but Senn did most of the hard work, breaking trail in fresh snow up to his armpits. Whenever we came to a crevasse which could not be traversed any other way, wooden bridges or ladders were laid across. As soon as the sun reached us, it became incredibly hot, sapping our strength. We continued our advance across countless giant chasms, between menacing séracs, over steep slopes covered with bottomless, slushy snow, getting ever closer to the famous "Valley of Silence,” as the Swiss had called the Western Cwm. Just before we could enter it, a 100-foot wall of ice barred our way, but Schneider managed to discover a somewhat precarious traverse to the left through steep, unstable powder snow, followed by a final pitch up a narrow ice tower. The approximate site of the British Camp III was immediately beyond, and the bridge-laying Sherpa team arrived there shortly after us. Two tents were set up and some equipment placed inside; Camp I was thus established after only 14 hours of actual work in the icefall. There can be no doubt that the glacier was in much better condition than in 1953, when it took 11 days to cover the same distance.
The next few days were spent improving the route, laying additional bridges where needed, and carrying loads to Camp I. The weather was bad; it snowed every day, and the trail had to be remade again and again. On September 16 our second group arrived, having been delayed an entire week in Bombay. It was a great day for all of us, as we had looked forward to the arrival of our friends, and they were full of news from home. For the first time our team was complete. Our five new members seemed in good physical shape, although time for acclimatization was needed.
September 18 Spöhel and I went beyond Camp I, traversed along the lower edge of a huge crevasse to the left almost where the glacier meets the hanging ice from Everest’s western shoulder, and discovered a narrow place where we could easily get across. The way to the Western Cwm lay open.
On September 22 Schneider and Spirig even managed to ski down the icefall, taking their skis off only twice for short stretches. Considering that Ang Tharkey once had told Tenzing that nobody would ever succeed in carrying loads through that terrible mass of twisted ice, we were justly proud of our two skiers.
Our Camp II (ca. 21,500 feet) stood where the Swiss and British placed their Camp IV, and it again served as Advance Base. Even during the first week of October it snowed day and night, particularly at Camp I, where I held out for one week to supervise the "high-level ferry” from there to Advance Base. To keep the route above and below open took a lot out of everybody, and each morning our tracks were covered by one to two feet of fresh snow. That week George Bell came down with a case of laryngitis at Camp II, and Dr. Spirig urged me to send him down to Base Camp. Also Dick McGowan, who together with Dr. Spirig did a remarkable job of keeping the route between Base Camp and Camp I open, had some difficulty in getting used to the altitude. Schneider was eagerly awaiting the end of the monsoon to get started on his cartographic work, leaving only Senn, Spöhel, Beckey, and myself for the work above.
Camp III was established on the first terrace of the Lhotse Glacier, at almost 23,000 feet, between two huge crevasses, protected from any possible avalanche danger. A few days before, an avalanche had come down to the right of there, scattering our cache of tents and oxygen bottles without causing any damage. On the afternoon of October 7, Senn, Spöhel, and Pemba left camp to reconnoiter the route above, but half an hour later they were back. As they rounded the ice wall where the Lhotse Glacier borders the broad couloir (where our Sherpa Mingma Dorje was killed in 1952) a snow slab broke off a few feet above Senn, but he was able to jump onto safe ground. Spöhel managed to stay clear, and only Pemba was caught in the avalanche, but fortunately he was held by his two sahibs.
The following day Senn, Spöhel, and several Sherpas left Camp III. They were to try to establish Camp IV on the uppermost terrace of the Lhotse Glacier. At 4 P.M. the first Sherpas returned, obviously tired, but very happy with the route and ability of their sahibs. Ang Dawa brought me a message from Senn: "We reached Camp IV at 3 P.M.—without an ounce of oxygen. The route is good, particularly in the morning, when everything is frozen. I broke trail all the way, although Spöhel offered repeatedly to take his turn. The snow is partly powder and partly breakable crust, always up to the knees.”
The next day I joined the others at Camp IV, which to my disappointment was not on the highest terrace of the Lhotse Glacier, but slightly above and to the left of the British Camp VII, at about 24,200 feet. It was very cold and windy that day and I used oxygen for the first time, which enabled me to kick and cut steps at a good rate of speed, followed by the Sherpas carrying 35 pounds each. During my first night at over 24,000 feet I was agreeably surprised that I felt fine and did not have to use any sleeping oxygen. That evening was fairly calm; a clear star-filled sky stood over Everest, Lhotse, and their vassals.
October 10 was to be our first try for the summit: "… It is cold and windy, but clear. After having breakfast in my small tent, Senn, Spöhel and their Sherpas Pemba and Chowang (the latter carry three bottles of oxygen each, to be exchanged at the entrance to the Lhotse couloir) leave camp. They move slowly due to the poor snow conditions, and I take movies of them as well as I can in this cold and strong wind which numbs my fingers. At 9:30 A.M. I talk with Camp II over the walkie-talkie, where Beckey and Spirig are able to watch our summit team’s progress through the binoculars. It soon becomes clear that progress is too slow to reach the summit today. At 2 P.M. they are back at Camp IV. Also the Sherpas moved very slowly; the maximum height reached was 25,500 feet. The main problems were the steep slopes of knee-deep powder-snow and breakable crust. There also was considerable danger from snow-slab avalanches. Unfortunately conditions are extremely wintry. Both climbers are in excellent condition. We’ll have to place a fifth camp on top of the Lhotse Glacier. The distance from Camp IV to the summit and back is, under the present snow conditions, simply too much for one day …"
During the next four days we were imprisoned in our tents while a violent snowstorm raged day and night, threatening to disrupt our supply lines. On October 14 there was a slight improvement in the weather. Senn, Spöhel, and four Sherpas left to establish Camp V at about 25,200 feet. At 4:30 P.M. Senn told me over the radio that everything had gone according to plan. He was hoping for a calm day to try for the summit.
October 15: "… The night is moderately calm. At 9 A.M. I talk with Fred Beckey at Camp II, who again is observing the summit team’s progress: 'Senn is ahead, 60 feet behind him, Spöhel, then the two Sherpas. Everything seems to be o.k.’" 10 A.M.: "They have halted just above the yellow band, as if they were looking for something.” 11 A.M.: "Only one of them continues climbing, the other three are still at the same spot.” 12 Noon: "Senn is still climbing, but slowly. The others are coming down.”
"Toward 2 P.M. two men are approaching Camp IV from above. They are Spöhel and Chowang. I have prepared hot lemonade for both. Soon I hear the sad story: At first progress was good, although the night before the two sahibs had been unable to enjoy any sleep in their narrow summit tent. Despite the intense cold they got started at 7:30 A.M.; the Sherpas climbed very well. Beyond the yellow band they looked for the eight oxygen bottles which had been deposited there on their first attempt on October 10, but due to the violent storms of the past four days not a trace of them could be found. But Senn could not bear the thought of having to give up again, and he decided to make a try for it alone! Spöhel gave him his remaining unused oxygen bottle, raising Senn’s total to three. But the snow conditions were terribly bad, and his own physical condition had suffered from the hardships of the past several days. Just before reaching the great couloir, at an approximate height of 26,600 feet, his oxygen set failed completely, giving him the feeling of suffocation. He had to pull off his mask in order to get enough air, but by then he was thoroughly exhausted and had to give up. (All this I found out later via radio.) Senn wants to remain at Camp V, ready for a third summit try. Also Spöhel declares himself ready and able, but as the one with the responsibility I must ask myself whether those two still possess the necessary reserves after all this time? Should I pull the first team out and move up the second?
I too am beginning to feel the physical deterioration, and several of our Sherpas are sick and must be sent down to recuperate at Advance Base at least. Before we can even think of a third attempt, fresh supplies of oxygen, food and fuel must be brought up …”
The following days were terrible. During the night of October 16 the storm rose to new heights. It was a miracle that the tents were still standing. By then the Sherpa tent at Camp IV was half torn. The contact with Camp V was interrupted, and Senn was running out of supplies. Also Spöhel and I had little left. What had happened to the weeks of good weather which usually follow the monsoon? One stormy night followed another, and the days were no better. On the 18th I succeeded in persuading our four Sherpas to carry oxygen and supplies to Camp V, but while they were getting ready to leave, the storm rose to such violent strength that I had to tell them to get back in their tent. Another day passed, and another night straight out of Dante’s Inferno. We were seriously short of supplies. In the early morning hours I made up my mind to go down to Camp II, before losing my sanity in this constant rattling of the tent, and the wild howling of the storm. Also Senn and Spöhel would have to go down. We had reached the limits of human endurance.
October 19: "… Over the radio Spirig tells me that three Sherpas are on their way to relieve our acute food and fuel problem. Although the storm continues unabated, Spöhel and seven Sherpas get ready to carry oxygen, a two-man tent and other equipment to Camp V. Nobody is particularly eager to go, but it’ll have to be done. Around 1 P.M. I hear the crunching of crampons outside my tent. It is Ernst, who after five lonely, storm-swept nights at Camp V has at last come down. I immediately open my tent and pull him inside. He is utterly spent, both physically and mentally. Not many could have stood it that long up there! Now my tent, though shaken by the storm and hardly a place of comfort, means security to him, another human being, a friend, with whom he can talk. Suddenly even he, the man of iron, has tears in his eyes, tears of emotion and sudden relaxation. Quickly I prepare hot lemonade for him, and gradually he recovers and starts talking: After four lonely nights at Camp V he tried to fight his way down to us, but the hurricane-like storm made it impossible for him to even leave his tent. This morning the storm tore open one side of it, leaving him no choice. In this terrible situation he had to gather his things together, fasten his crampons and battle his way through the raging elements. Once a sudden gust of wind swept him off his feet and deposited him about 50 feet further down the slope, shaken but unharmed! Later that afternoon Spöhel and the Sherpas return, having taken their loads to Camp V. We three huddle together in my small tent in the gathering darkness; the storm is increasing; the snow is beating against the thin walls of our home in this white hell. Tomorrow we will make an attempt at retreat. …”
October 20: "… The night was frightful. Toward noon we are ready to leave. It takes a long time to gather everything together in that small space, which the heavy snowdrifts have left inside the tents. The crampons are fastened, we rope up, one last look at our deserted tents, and the retreat begins. Vision is nil, and the route is hard to find. The storm threatens to throw us off. Every few yards we wait for the Sherpas, getting chilled to the bone. Suddenly Chotari, who is in the middle of the Sherpa rope, falls headfirst and shoots down the steep slope. Chowang who goes last is pulled out of his steps and hurtles after Chotari. Fortunately Phu Dorje immediately jams his ice-axe in the snow and quickly wraps the rope around it. The pull of the two bodies hits him, but he can take it. A good man! Spöhel and I rush across to Chotari who lies face down and moans softly, completely buried under his huge load. Together we manage to set him on his feet again. It takes him a while to get over the shock. Also Chowang is unharmed. We discuss our situation: The security of Camp II would be heaven indeed, but the danger from avalanches, were we to continue our descent, is far too great. Up we go, despite storm, heavy rucksacks and the sullen resistance of the Sherpas. Back at Camp IV I am barely able to take off my crampons. Our situation is very serious, but in our tents we feel comparatively safe. …”
The following day we did succeed in reaching the safety of Advance Base, groggy from fatigue, but grateful to be alive. At Camp III we had met Beckey and Spirig, who were scheduled to move up to IV that day, but had decided to wait another 24 hours. Not one of the Sherpas there was willing to accompany them, but when I asked for volunteers, heroic Chowang, who had just come down with us, and brave Pemba Sundar, whom we had to send down with a severe case of laryngitis a few days ago, both agreed to move up to Camp V and to carry oxygen to the Lhotse couloir. They don’t come any better!
On October 22 Beckey, Spirig, and five Sherpas went up to Camp V, on one of the few almost windless days. What a day for the summit! Three Sherpas went back to Camp III that same afternoon. The following day I looked up early at the Lhotse Face, but nothing moved at all; only huge billows of snow blowing across the face. Beckey told me that the night had been very bad, and that there could be no thought of trying the summit that day. They were willing to spend another night there, hoping for the wind to die down. In the meantime George Bell, who had recovered from his laryngitis, and Dick McGowan went up to Camp IV with Lakpa Sona and Kancha to act as support for the others and to take over as third summit team if necessary.
October 24: "… Again I talk to Beckey at 9 A.M. The storm is of such violence that neither he nor Spirig could sleep at all. They are demoralized and exhausted, and Spirig does not believe it possible to change oxygen bottles in this cold. With the sets we were forced to use, one can only get one and one-half hours of oxygen per bottle, which means only four and one-half hours for each three-bottle set. The decision is hard to make, but I must tell them to give up the Lhotse Face and evacuate all camps.
"Shortly before 1 P.M. I notice eight men on their way down, four from Camp V, and another four from Camp IV, but all tents are still up! Suddenly one of the black dots below Camp V is missing. One of the remaining three is rapidly moving down the slope to catch up with the other two, obviously Pemba and Chowang. They deposit their loads below Camp IV and hurry back up, followed slowly by the sahib who appears to be very tired. Halfway between IV and V the missing fourth reappears and is brought down by the two Sherpas. At Camp IV the obviously wounded or exhausted man is placed inside my old tent. What on earth could have happened? What amazes and worries us most of all is the fact that the other sahib and the two Sherpas leave the sick man alone up there and move down to Camp III. We are greatly concerned, unable to find a likely explanation.
"Later that afternoon Bell and McGowan arrive here with their Sherpas. One bad night at Camp IV had taken its toll; they seem quite exhausted. Early that morning the Sherpa tent was ripped wide open, and poor Kancha and Lapka Sona were buried under a huge snow drift. George and Dick tried to persuade them to follow them up to Camp V to help with the evacuation, but they refused to go anywhere but down. At last I get Beckey over the radio at Camp III. He reports that Spirig had a complete collapse, combined with snow blindness, which convinced Beckey of the need for help from the two Sherpas. I reproach him for having left Spirig all alone up there, without sleeping-bags or air mattress! None of us can understand this. Now it is too late to attempt a rescue today. Senn and I decide to leave from here as early as possible tomorrow to get Spirig down, if he is still alive by then. We spend a worried and sleepless night. …
"The morning we take all available Sherpas with us. By 8:30 A.M. we are at Camp III. Senn and some Sherpas start up the Lhotse Face, I follow with Ang Dawa and Beckey. All oxygen sets are at Camp V; we have to do without them. The storm rages with unabated fury, but the sense of emergency gives us strength, and we reach Camp IV in one and one-half hours. Senn did it in one hour and 10 minutes! The camp presents a desolate picture, torn tents half buried under huge snow drifts, but what is most important: Through the howling of the wind I hear Bruno’s voice answering my call. Ernst is inside his tent. Bruno can hardly see; he has bandaged his eyes; he has lived through a terribly cold and lonely night, but thank God there seem to be no serious after-effects! As quickly as possible we prepare for the descent; everything that can be salvaged is distributed among the Sherpas. Beckey goes ahead, leading Spirig over the steep stretches. Senn follows immediately behind, holding back on very short rope, and I follow as anchor man. After a very slow descent with many stops to give Bruno a chance to rest, we reach the safety of Camp III. Here we fashion a toboggan out of a pair of skis, and with the help of the Sherpas we get the sick man to Camp II before darkness. It was a hard day, but everything turned out well. The Lhotse Face is evacuated, although much valuable equipment had to be abandoned at Camp V. But what do we care at this point? Everybody is safe and more or less sound at Advance Base!…"
By October 27 we were all back at Base Camp. The icefall had changed tremendously during the past weeks, but the evacuation of the Cwm could be effected without any difficulties. Of course we were terribly disappointed about our failure on Lhotse, but the relief of having escaped the onslaught of winter without any losses almost made us forget our sadness. Life was again good to us, and we were filled with gratitude.
On the 29th, Senn, Spöhel, two Sherpas, and I went up to 20,800 feet on Pumori’s southeast spur, somewhat higher than in 1952, to repeat the panorama which I had taken then. After four hours of intensive work with several cameras, exhilarated by the greatest mountain view in the world, we hurried back to camp, where our Sirdar Pasang Phutar had arrived with 50 porters from Namche.
"… Our last evening at Base Camp, at the foot of the icefall. The sun has set some time ago; I am sitting on a rock above camp, lonely in the gathering darkness. The last light slowly fades from the surrounding peaks. I am torn between two emotions: happy to be returning home, and at the same time sad and nostalgic. Hard weeks and months lie behind us, and yet the parting from these great mountains weighs heavily …”
Early the next morning we left Base Camp. We enjoyed one last look toward the Cwm, where the snow was blowing from the high ridges, and the howling of the storm could be heard in the dark rocks of Everest’s summit pyramid. An unfriendly world at this time of the year. It was high time that we escaped. The walk to Phalong Karpo was pure joy. It was a pleasure to walk on soft moss again, and to see flowers! The trail led past the lovely yak pastures of Lobuje and Tukla, where we had spent so many dreary monsoon weeks. Old familiar friends like Cholatse, Taweche, Ama Dablam, Kangtega and other proud summits greeted us, bathed in the golden light of a Himalayan sunset. We wandered through this mountaineer’s paradise like children, infinitely happy, content to return to the warmth of life. My heart was full, the disappointment behind me. After one last look toward Khumba Glacier, we walked down to the Chola Khola. Soon we reached the stone huts of Phalong Karpo. A beautiful camp site, good supper, and dreamless sleep. Up there in the Lhotse Face I didn t think it possible that Life would ever again have so much to offer.
Early the next afternoon our caravan reached Thangboche, "the most beautiful place on earth,” as Sir John Hunt once called it. Here I spent the next 10 days completing my film about the life of the Lamas, while some of my friends accomplished some first ascents. Schneider and Senn went ahead to Those, where they worked on an important map for the Government of Nepal.
On November 14 we left Namche Bazar and arrived in Kathmandu on the 26th. While the others made good use of their time by visiting all the places of interest, I had to spend several days inside various offices, to prepare myself and our baggage for the coming battles with the Bombay Customs. To my great joy I found the utmost understanding and helpfulness among the Government officials of Nepal. We left this hospitable country on December 2, and by the 8th all the members of the I. H. E. had left India for their respective homes.
At the end of such an expedition one is bound to ask oneself: Was it worth it? Must it be called a failure, since we did not reach the summit of Lhotse? I don’t think so. The ascent of Lhotse was not our only goal: the mapping, photography, and documentary films were of no lesser importance—entirely apart from the considerable number of previously unsealed peaks that were climbed. A summary of our results follows:
1. Cartography: Photogrammetric map of entire Mount Everest region, extending as far as Cho Oyu in the northwest. Scale: 1:50,000. Also a map of the iron ore center around Those.
2. Photography: Close to 10,000 still pictures in color and black and white, ranging in sizes from 24×36mm to 13×18cm. This time not only the mountains were photographed, but extensively the populace of Solo Khumbu, its customs, and life in the lamaseries.
3. Documentary Films: 28,000 feet of Commercial Kodachrome was exposed, and sound recordings made on magnetic tape. This material covers the following subjects: "Life of a Sherpa”; "The Lamas of the Thangboche”; "The Sherpa Dance”; "Namche Bazar, Home of the Sherpas”; "Monsoon in Solo Khumbu”; "Lama Dances at Thami”; "The Battle for Lhotse.”
From a mountaineer’s point of view we all agree that the Fall is out of the question for the "biggest” Eight-Thousanders. The extremely strong French team of the 1954 Fall expedition had to give up at an altitude of 25,600 feet on Makalu, whereas the same team encountered little difficulty in the following Spring. Lhotse is undoubtedly one of the most difficult great peaks, but a strong team with previous Himalayan experience and first-class oxygen equipment should be successful.
Summary of Statistics
Attempted: Lhotse, 27,890 feet. Height reached: 26,600 feet.
Ascents: 31 summits between 19,000 and 23,000 feet; mostly first ascents.
Personnel: Leader, Norman G. Dyhrenfurth; Fred Beckey, George I Bell, Richard McGowan, Erwin Schneider, Ernst Senn, Bruno Spirig, and Arthur Spöhel.