Asia, Nepal, Machapuchare

Publication Year: 1958.

Machapuchare. Machapuchare is a southern outlier of Annapurna III, connected with the main Annapurna chain to the north by a very long and jagged ridge. Its name means "the fish’s tail,” since it has two summits of almost equal height which give it that appearance. From the north it is snow and ice ; from the south it seems like a gigantic Matterhorn: a rock peak. In 1956 Major J. O. M. Roberts reconnoitered the Modi Khola gorge, just west of Machapuchare, and saw a possible line up or over the north ridge, which, though very sharp, connects a North Col (19,500 feet) with the summit (22,958 feet) a mile and a half away. He explored the Annapurna sanctuary of which the mountain forms one edge.

Our 1957 party consisted of Roberts, Charles Wylie, David Cox, Roger Chorley, and myself. We had four Sherpas. We made the seven-day march from Pokhara with 50 coolies. At the village of Ghandrung the villagers tried to hold us up because of the possible anger of the gods who live on Machapuchare. By April 24 we were at our Base Camp (13,000 feet) and on the 29th set up Camp I at 16,000 feet. Here we had a serious set-back. Roger Chorley had to go down with what later turned out to be poliomyelitis and be carried down the valley on the backs of coolies, escorted by Roberts.

Cox and I, on the reconnaissance, made for the North Col but found the other side to consist of overhanging rock and the ridge towards the summit far too steep and sharp. The next day we tried it a little farther along, up a bump christened the "Snow Hump” (20,000 feet), but since it looked no better from there, we went down.

When Chorley’s party set out for Pokhara, Cox, Wylie, and I ascended again with the rather forlorn plan of trying to get to or over the ridge just left of the big rock buttress about half way along. This involved climbing steep snow-ice fluting and fixing 900 feet of rope to get a Camp (20,000 feet) on a line of ice bulges about two thirds of the way up. This operation took time; we were not helped by the weather, which produced snowfall almost every afternoon. Our first Camp II (18,000 feet) was obliterated by hail and had to be moved. From Camp III we continued up snow-ice, fixing 300 more feet of rope, and got to the ridge at 20,700 feet. It was still too steep to follow, but we managed to lower ourselves from a birch stake down 200 feet of rope onto the other side. From here we made a long and sticky traverse horizontally to a little snowfield nestling under the other side of the rock buttress: Camp IV at 20,400 feet. It was difficult getting our three Sherpas and loads over the "Nick” to Camp IV. On May 19, however, we started hopefully for Camp V, thinking that we could now easily reach by a little ice ridge a smooth upper glacier which we could see beyond our immediate foreground. We advanced only 200 yards that day. The other side of the ice ridge, we found, dropped in a frightening sweep straight to the Seti gorge. We should have to lower ourselves again and trust we would hit the tip of the upper glacier visible to the right. We returned to Base to get more rope and make a rope ladder.

On May 30 we were back at Camp IV. We fixed a rope down the "cut-off” and on June 1 Cox and I lowered ourselves down 300 feet of hemp. We had to cut off and attach 20 feet from our climbing rope to hit the glacier tip, working right. We hit the very end before the glacier plunges in chaos to the Seti. Wylie and the Sherpa Tashi stayed at Camp to safeguard our return. We pushed on up the glacier and pitched Camp V at about 21,000 feet. It snowed again.

On June 2 we started at 4:15 A.M. The snow on the glacier was sometimes knee-deep. At 7 we reached a shelf under the final steepness: a fluted face of pure ice 900 feet high, but with some streaks of snow in the runnels which could be used. We cut steps to get to the snow; then more ice. At about 9 the weather had changed and it started to snow. At 11, rounding a rib, we found ourselves 100 to 150 feet below the summit; but these feet were of hard polished ice, and the snow was thickening. We decided that the gods must have drawn their line here, so we descended in heavy snow and mist to Camp V. On our return the next day we found that Wylie and Tashi had tunneled through the ice ridge, shortening our ascent of it by 25 feet.

We made one more ascent: Fluted Peak (21,800 feet), which stands in the middle of the Sanctuary. Cox and I with three Sherpas got a Camp II at 18,000 feet. Having no time to reconnoiter, the whole climb was an affair of guesswork. We started at 3:15 A.M. on June 13, by moonlight, and managed to connect snow gullies which took us up among the intricacies of the northeast face. A feature of this mountain was the summit, which consisted of a 100-foot ice sérac, its top snow-covered. This was the hardest climbing of the whole expedition.

Machapuchare was the most difficult as well as the most beautiful mountain I have ever been on. Our climb may have been comparable to climbs of the Mustagh Tower; in matters of technique and equipment it owes much to them. But in conception it owes nothing. We went there simply because we had fallen in love with the "Fish’s Tail.”