American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Observations on the Chinese Everest Expedition 1960

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1962

Observations on the Chinese Everest Expedition 1960. The most important account of the Chinese Everest undertaking is Shih Chan-Chun’s article, which the news service of New China has circulated and was published in many languages in 1961. In it we are presented with a number of puzzling points, which become all the more confusing since in the “route description” there are almost no topographical details and since the photographs do not seem to have been taken higher than 25,000 feet (7620 meters). The only exception is Chu Yinhua’s photograph, which for example is published on page 9 of La Montagne of February 1961.

In this picture the following may be definitely identified: Kharta Phu (23,640 feet = 7221 meters), Kharta Changri (23,070 feet = 7032 meters), “Dent Blanche” (22,150 feet = 6751 meters) and P. 22,670 feet = 6910 meters. A careful comparison on the one hand with Plate 34 in Ruttledge’s Everest 1933, taken at c. 7835 meters and on the other with the Swiss summit panorama, northeast sector, 1956, taken at 8848 meters, clearly shows that the Chinese photograph was made between these at an altitude of about 8700 meters. It is difficult to decide whether the photograph was taken on the northeast ridge or whether it is an aerial photograph taken near the northeast ridge, for the Chinese photograph has no foreground at all; it is either a portion of a larger picture (movie-film?) or a telephoto with an angle of c. 21°.

The Chinese photograph is certainly not (as they state) one taken at dawn, but rather in the morning when the sun already stood at 31° above the horizon as can be measured by the angle of the shadows. On May 25, 1960 at 28° 0' N. latitude and 86° 56' E. longitude (the position of Mount Everest) the sun reached 31° only 2 hours 26 minutes 31 seconds after sunrise, i.e., at 7 o’clock 39 minutes 39 seconds true local time.

The Chinese did not however use true local time, but rather Peking time, which is about 2 hours and forty minutes different. The Chinese climbers must have taken their disputed photograph therefore at 10:20 according to their time. Since according to their own accounts they could not photograph on the summit of Everest in the dark of night, it becomes obvious that the remarkable photograph from c. 8700 meters was not taken at the time stated and that there is no picture from the “first step” or from the very photogenic “second step.”

Moreover one should remember further that the summit team of the Indian Everest Expedition 1960 (Gombu, Gyatso, Kumar) was on the morning of May 25 at about 28,300 feet (8626 meters), barely 140 meters (459 feet) below the south summit driven to retreat by a strong snowstorm. At the same time the Chinese claim to have taken their fine-weather photograph.

To settle the disputed Chinese ascent of Mount Everest in 1960 there would apparently be only one real piece of evidence: to find the bust of Mao Tse-tung on the summit. But even then doubts might arise. In the monthly bulletin Die Alpen of 1961 on page 143 M. Oechslin indicates that anything could happen: "… one might think even of throwing a ‘piece of evidence’ out of an airplane so that the Americans—or whoever it might be—would find ‘signs of the Chinese.’ ” One must never forget that nowadays, unfortunately, the summit of Mount Everest lies on the front of the Cold War.

G. O. Dyhrenfurth, Swiss Alpine Club

(The great Himalayan authority, Dr. Dyhrenfurth, has very kindly sent the A.A.J. this note. The reader of this Journal may also have seen a series of articles in Die Alpen which discuss in detail the picture mentioned above. At first it was felt that photogrammetry proved that the questioned photograph had been taken at 9000 meters some 7 kms, west of Everest, but more careful identification of the peaks in the picture show that it was taken on or near the northeast ridge. The interested reader may also refer to the Alpine Journal of May, 1961, pages 28 to 41, where Shih Chan-Chun’s article and other photographs are reproduced along with cogent editorial comments.—Editor.)

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