Success on Kangchenjunga
THE ascent of Kangchenjunga last year by the party led by Charles Evans deserves a good deal more acclaim than seems to have been accorded it. In several respects it was a greater mountaineering achievement than the ascent of Everest. Although not quite the highest mountain in the world it is so close to it as to be definitely in the same pre-eminent class. But in sheer magnitude, in the vastness of its quadruple system of glaciers, in its enormous cliffs, and in its interminable ridges, it is unequalled on the earth’s surface. Moreover, until Evans undertook to solve its problems last year it seemed as if it might be the one great mountain in the world that could not be climbed. Evans’ success in finding a route must stand as one of the most brilliant performances of major mountaineering. But equally worthy of note was the organization of the party and its conduct during the operation. For these reasons the Kangchenjunga expedition of 1955 should be studied again and again as a model of great mountaineering.
In reading the brief account in this Journal one may not be aware at first of the full significance of Charles Evans’ restrained and modest phrases. But the story is all there and by a little study one can expand it and gain a more comprehensive view of what took place. First, it is apparent that the experiences of the past and the topographical information produced by earlier expeditions and surveys were studied with microscopic care. The brevity and clarity of the exposition of the features of the mountain and the earlier attempts upon it reflect the assurance of the skilled surgeon. Next, the concise account of the movements of the party indicates a combination of deliberate planning and prompt adjustment to changing circumstances that bears the stamp of the experienced leader. In regard to the personnel, Evans almost casually mentions the basis of selection; but actually this should rank as one of the most important points in the achievement, for it was Evans’ conception of a sound party that resulted in harmonious teamwork and success for all. And in this point one finds the answer to the question that many have asked: Why, if all was going so well in the high camps, didn’t Evans himself go to the summit? To anyone who knows Evans the answer is simple; but it may also be read in the following words from his account, "While the two summit pairs made these highest climbs Dawa Tenzing and I would stay at Camp 5: there we could support the climbers above and be a link between them and those below.” That was the place for the leader, and I doubt if Charles Evans ever considered leaving it for the mere personal satisfaction of going to the summit—certainly not for the fame.
There are many other aspects of this expedition that may be studied as models: the modest approach—Charles wrote from Calcutta that he was on his way for a little reconnaissance of Kangchenjunga; the joyous meeting with the Sherpas—old friends who were to be companions on another jolly party; an emphasis on enjoyment of climbing for its own sake; a welcome silence surrounding the hardships, the weariness, the frustrations, and the dangers—they occurred, to be sure, but they were endured or overcome; no mention of a flag-raising on the top—it might have been appropriate for someone to have carried up a Welsh flag, if they could have found one, in honor of Charles Evans—the nearest approach to a national salute was the honoring of the promise to the Sikkimese that no foot would tread upon the sacred summit. In these remarks it is not intended to deride, or even to smile, at events on other expeditions, but rather to point out how delightful it is to have something different, especially when it occurs on one of the greatest climbs of all time.—F. P. F.