(Translated by Hugh Merrick)
in 1963 the Royal Nepalese Government granted a permit for the 1 ascent of Dhaulagiri II and III to the Austrian Himalayan Association. It was with the greatest difficulty that we managed to overcome the no less difficult problem of raising the necessary funds for the journey. In the end, however, there were no serious obstacles left to prevent the Association’s fifth Himalayan Expedition getting on with the final preparations for the undertaking.
A team was picked from the pool of climbers belonging to the affiliated clubs. The climbers were Walter Gstrein, Franz Huber, Ernst Kulhavy and Adolf Weissensteiner. Hans Fischer and Dr. Gerhard Fuchs accompanied the expedition as cartographer and geologist respectively, while Dr. Klaus Kubenia acted in the dual roles of doctor to the expedition and my deputy. For it was I, aged 25, and the youngest of the party, who had been entrusted with the leadership of the expedition.
It will be easily understood with what misgivings I, who—like all the others—only knew the Himalaya from books and lectures, approached so responsible an appointment and wondered whether I was qualified to lead an expedition to the Dhaula Himal, where three other expeditions had already been forced to turn back with their missions unaccomplished.
By mid-January we were ready to forward our baggage, amounting to some four tons, packed in 66 lb. loads, on its way. Our own journey did not begin until February 7.
Our objective was, as stated, the Dhaula Himal in Central Nepal, whose four unclimbed peaks of more than 25,000 feet lie to the north-west of Dhaulagiri I—already climbed in 1960. Our brief was to reconnoitre the range from the climbing and scientific aspects, with particular emphasis on the possibilities of ascending Dhaulagiri II (25,429 feet) and III (25,275 feet). We knew from our predecessors that the only hope of success lay in an approach from the north. The difficulties which brought failure in 1955 to J. O. M. Roberts, to the Japanese Keio University Expedition in 1959, and in 1962 to another Japanese attempt by the Nihon University Expedition lay in finding a way over the Chorten Ridge, a barrier of intervening rock crests, to a hanging valley beyond, from which an actual assault could be launched on the great peaks themselves.
We reached Bombay after a restful fortnight on board ship. Thence, Dr. Fuchs and I flew on to Delhi to obtain the Nepalese visa for our party; then on to Katmandu where we had to deal with other necessary formalities. The rest of the party travelled by train with the baggage to the Indian railhead at Nautanwa, where Dr. Fuchs and I flew in from Katmandu to meet them.
Unfortunately an attack of fever capriciously relegated me to hospital, so that I could not proceed with the rest of the party but had to be flown back to Katmandu from the Nepalese frontier- post of Bairawa, to complete my convalescence there.
On March 10 the baggage was loaded on two lorries for the journey to Butwal, the end of the motor road, where porters have to take over; and on the 13th the expedition moved off with 167 porters on the ten days’ march, by way of Tanzing, Riribazar and Burtibang to Dhorpatan, which they reached on March 23. Here, the Butwal porters, who had done very well up to this point, had to be paid off, as they refused to go on into the snow, which began here at an unexpectedly low level. Dhorpatan is only a summer habitation and it was impossible to raise new porters there. It took some days before enough could be engaged in the neighbouring village of Bibang.
Our way now led through Taka (Takbachhigaon) and Majang Ranmagaon at the foot of the 13,000-foot Yangla.Banjyang Pass, on which heavy snow was lying. New porters had again to be recruited, because the clothing worn by the Bibang men was not nearly warm enough for the traverse of the pass in such circumstances. In spite of all our efforts, it only proved possible to find 57 men willing to cross the pass to Tarakot; so there was nothing left but to split the party up and bring the baggage over the pass in relays. Once at Tarakot, we marched on up the Barbung Khola and finally established a temporary Base Camp at the foot of the Chorten Ridge, close to the outflow of the Mukut Khola. After a few days of more precise reconnaissance, we decided to pitch our permanent Base Camp in the valley of the Mukut Khola, near the village of Mukut itself. On April 19 the members of the expedition and all its baggage were safely installed there.
Here the scientists took leave of the climbers and went off on their own affairs, taking one Sherpa and some porters with them.
It was soon apparent from our first reconnaissances that the approach our predecessors had intended to take towards the lower sector of the Chorten Ridge had little future in it. In the end we found an apparently accessible route across its higher sector, which obviously led to the upper reaches of the East Churen Khola and so directly to the foot of our peaks. Not till then did our real push forward towards Dhaulagiri II and III begin for the climbers and the Sherpas under their Sirdar, Sonam Girmi.
Two ravines cut into the precipices falling from the Chorten Ridge opposite Mukut. It was the upper part of the more northerly of these two which we used as our line of ascent. At that point there is a broad basin, across which a hanging glacier descends from a dip in the ridge. To the right, or north-west, of the lowest indentation of the dip, we found a little notch, which we were afterwards able to use as a crossing-point. We reached the bowl mentioned above by the slabby face between the two ravines.
The masses of snow on the slopes made the ascent much more difficult, for we had to wade knee-deep in it; whereas the inhabitants of Mukut told us that there was normally no snow at all on those slopes at this time of the year. On the other hand, the snow may have helped us to detect ledges and levels in the slabs, by way of which we could hope to make a passage safe for our high-altitude porters. It was only after heavy work, breaking a trail in the bottomless snow, that we reached the notch in the Chorten Ridge at 18,400 feet, from which we could see that the crossing into the great valley at the foot of the peaks was indeed possible. We had discovered the key to our mountains.
Unfortunately the clerk of the weather had it in for us, and continual snow-falls held up the party’s progress. It was not until April 27 that we were able to start safeguarding the route for the high-altitude porters, an operation which required 2,000 feet of fixed ropes.
Camp I was established in a big hollow just below the hanging glacier at 16,400 feet and Camp II on the far side of the Chorten Ridge at about 17,400 feet. We had all along expected to find a huge glacier basin over on the far side and were most surprised to see dry moraines and, lower down, huge alps with mountain goats grazing on them. In the very bottom of the valley at about 159000 feet lies a big ice-lake in which the East Churen Khola, through whose gorges the Japanese tried in vain to force a passage in 1959, has its source.
This site of our Camp II is where Base Camp should properly be sited to allow of an effective attack on the peak ; but we had too few Sherpas, and once again we were forced to divide the team in two, one of which carried material and provisions from Base to
Camp II while the other pushed on with the actual assault on the mountain. Unfortunately we were only able to get the bare essentials over the Chorten Ridge, and the climbing party was greatly handicapped by the bad weather which came up every afternoon. All the same, they established Camp III at 19,350 feet and IV at 20,300 feet a few days later. Then another period of bad weather kept them in camp while a blizzard howled around the tents. On May 18 Kulhavy with Sirdar Sonam Girmi and Dorje established Camp V at 21,300 feet, and on the following day reached a safe site for a further camp at about 22,500 feet. Our weather-service was out of action, so we had to regard the fierce south-westerly gale as a sign that the monsoon was approaching. So bad was the weather that the spearhead party got no higher than about 23,000 feet, from which point Dorje, who had contracted frost-bitten toes during the ascent in a storm, had to be got down with all speed to the doctor at Camp II.
The assault party and the supply group met at Camp IV, but the condition of all the porters was so bad that it was unanimously agreed to climb down to Camp II. On May 22 we agreed to abandon the attempt on the mountain. After what they had been through, the men would have needed a week’s recuperation and rest before they were fit again. After that enforced convalescence, we would have had to start all over again supplying the camps and mounting a fresh assault. There would not have been time for all this before the onset of the monsoon.
We turned our backs on this unique tract of mountains with the consolation that we had at least found a route over which Dhaulagiri II—V can be climbed in days to come.
Our yaks and porters crossed the Mu La, an 18,400-foot pass, to Sangdah and then on to Dangarjang, the first village in the valley of the Kali Gandakhi. Once on the main trade-route, we visited the town of Mustang, and then pressed on down the Kali on the way to Pokhara, where we arrived on June 25.