(The Polish Himalayan Expedition, of which an account is given below, was organized by the Klub Wysokogorski Polskiego Towarzystwa Tatrzanskiego (K.W.P.T.T.), the Polish Mountaineering Club. This Club had already carried out several successful expeditions to various parts of the world: to the Ramada Cordillera and Aconcagua in 1934 to the High Atlas in the same year, to Spitsbergen in 1934 and 1936, to the Caucasus in 193J, to the Andes again in 1935, to Ruwenzori in 1939, besides collaborating in other Polish scientific expeditions to Greenland in 1937 and to Spitsbergen in 1938.
The account was written first by Mr. S. B. Blake from his observations on the expedition, but just before going to press contact was made with Dr. Jakub Bujak, who has very kindly amplified and described first-hand certain parts of Mr. Blake’s account. It has, in the time available, been impossible to submit
the final draft to either author.—Ed.)
1. The Journey to Nanda Devi East Base Camp. (By S. B. Blake.)
The ice-avalanche which resulted in the death of the leader and one member of the Polish Himalayan Expedition of 1939, the brutal and tragic fate of Warsaw, the home of all the four Polish members of the expedition, and the probability that the two surviving members were unable to reach their homes before the frontiers were closed, have led me to place on record the story of their successful ascent of Nanda Devi East (24,391 feet) and their attempt on Tirsuli (23,210 feet) at the head of the Milam glacier.
The Polish Himalayan Expedition consisted of M. Adam Kar- pinski, leader, Dr. Jakub Bujak, M. Stefan Bernadzikiewicz, M. Janusz Klarner, and Major J. R. Foy, who joined the expedition in India as medical and liaison officer. I accompanied my friend Major Foy, who had very kindly obtained the necessary permission from the leader on his arrival in Bombay; it was, of course, understood that I was to be a free-lance, pay my own expenses, and provide my own equipment; and this I did.
The expedition had as its objectives:
- The ascent of Nanda Devi East, 24,391 feet.
- The reconnaissance of the Panch Chhuli peaks, the highest of which is 22,650 feet.
- The reconnaissance, and perhaps the ascent, if time permitted, of one or more of the three high peaks, over 23,000 feet, at the head of the Milam glacier.
The party assembled at Almora by the nth May 1939 and expected to leave Bombay on the return journey on the 23rd August. The original plan of the K.W.P.T.T. had been formulated many years previously, and had included an attack on the main peak of Nanda Devi, 25,645 feet, but owing to many difficulties and to their inability to obtain the necessary permission from the Government of India earlier than March 1939, that is, after the successful ascent of the peak by Tilman and Odell in 1936, their plans had been altered as above stated. The expedition was aware of the fact that their late start would entail climbing during the monsoon but, rather than lose the opportunity now afforded, they decided to take their chance.
I met the leader, Adam Karpinski, at the Almora dak-bungalow on the 3rd May 1939. The other three members were to arrive later. Major Foy joined the day after my arrival.
Karpinski and Bujak spoke English, French, and German well. Of the other two members, Klarner spoke just a little English, and both spoke French and German. I have a mere smattering of French, but it came in useful as a means of conversing with Klarner and Bernadzikiewicz, much to the amusement of the others, and, I must admit, of ourselves as well.
Karpinski, one of Pilsudski’s legionaries, was a man of 42, a keen mountaineer, who had climbed in the Tatra mountains, the Alps, and the Andes, where he had made, among other climbs, the first ascent of Mercedario, 22,300 feet. I learnt from the others that he was specially good on ice and snow, though also at home on rock; he was the meteorologist. Bujak, the treasurer, aged 33, had previous experience in the Tatra, the Alps, and the Caucasus. He had climbed Shkhara and was a very good rock climber, as well as being experienced on ice and snow. Bernadzikiewicz, the photographer, aged about 32, had much previous experience in the Tatra, the Caucasus, Spitsbergen, and Greenland, where he had been with a scientific expedition. He had climbed Shkhara with Bujak, and was one of the best Polish rock-climbers. Klarner, the youngest member of the expedition, had no experience other than on the Tatra mountains, the highest of which is under 9,000 feet, but he had been able to show there his fitness and a steady head. His job was to look after kit and transport. Foy, who is a member of the Himalayan Club, and a man of wide experience both as a traveller and as a doctor, had been asked by the Club to accompany the expedition, in spite of his 64 years. As for myself, at 43, I am more than grateful for the many opportunities I have had of spending most enjoyable holidays in the Himalaya, both in the foothills and among the snows.
Bujak and his companions joined us on the nth May, bringing with them their equipment; the provisions were still on their way from Bombay. The equipment, neatly packed in plywood cases, was full and complete, including special high-altitude tents, sleeping- bags designed by Karpinski himself, and a cinematograph camera. There were plenty of ice and rock pitons, crampons, and a good deal of rope. I shall not burden this account with other details of equipment—suffice it to say that there was no question that the expedition had been very fully and efficiently furnished with all that was necessary; in fact, the error, if any, was on the side of excess. All equipment, except the boots for the six porters, had been brought from Europe; the porters’ boots were not waterproof.
The porters arrived from Darjeeling on the nth May. They were Palding, Kipa, Nima, Booktay (all Sherpas), and Dawa Tsering and Injung (Bhotias). Palding, Dawa Tsering, and Injung had previous experience with other expeditions. Dawa Tsering had been on the North Col on Mount Everest, and to Camp 7 (24,600 feet) on Masherbrum in 1938.1 The others were new to high climbing. The ample provisions finally arrived on the 13th, neatly packed and labelled.
The arrangements for coolies had already been made and the expedition left Almora on the 14th May with about seventy coolies and the six Darjeeling porters. I took with me five coolies, a Garh- wali porter, Bhawan Singh, and his brother, Bagh Singh, a good ill-round man who had proved very useful in camp on my previous (rips in the foothills.
The march as far as Tejam was uneventful. There was the heat and, of course, there were the flies. After crossing the Ramganga river at Tejam, our hottest camp, we moved up to Girgaon. The next morning, the 20th May, we had our first view of the snows, the Panch Chhuli peaks,2 from the Girgaon pass. Karpinski sketched the outline of these peaks and then we dropped down to Mansiari. Here we met Bujak, who had made a double march from Tejam to arrange for supplies of atta, rice, dal, &c., for the coolies, as the villages farther up the Goriganga valley had not yet been fully occupied and would not be able to meet our requirements. Everything had been satisfactorily arranged with the help of an introductory letter which I had obtained from Mr. Bhatt at Almora. We left about four weeks’ provisions at Mansiari, to be picked up on our return, as we would have to pass through this village on our way to the Panch Chhuli peaks via Mathkot.
In rum I now wound its way down to the Goriganga river. On the 22nd we camped at Bugdiar at the junction of the Poting stream with the Goriganga. On the 23rd I left the party. I took two of my men with me, intending to cross over from the Poting to the Shallang valley; T. G. Longstaff with two Swiss guides had crossed in the reverse direction in 1905.1 Meanwhile the main body moved up through Martoli and up the Lawan valley to Naspanpatti, and then to an alp at Bhitalgwar, about 2 miles from the foot of the Nanda Devi East peak.2
My trip up the Poting glacier was very interesting. I reached the divide on the 24th, but, with only two totally inexperienced men, I did not care to risk the steep snow slopes which disappeared about 1,000 feet below round a spur leading perhaps to a difficult ice-fall, and I therefore returned after taking some photographs and promising myself a trip up the Shallang glacier later. I rejoined the party at their base camp at Bhitalgwar on the 29th.
The leader was delighted with the task before him, though worried about Bujak, who had been down with high fever and dysentery; there was fear that he might have to be evacuated if his condition did not improve shortly. Karpinski had arrived at the Base on the 25th May and had already begun to lay a dump at Camp 1, 16,200 feet, which he had sited at the foot of a rock and scree rib by the side of a snow gully which led directly up to the Nanda Devi pass (LongstafF’s Col), at 19,390 feet. He had also been up with Klarner to the col and had examined the possibilities of turning or climbing over the rock towers which lay on the arete leading to the summit. Camp 2 was to be placed just east of the col, where there was room for three tents.
On the 31 st May Karpinski, Klarner, and Bernadzikiewicz, with six porters, moved up to Camp 1 from the Base. Bujak was better and showed every sign of rapid recovery, thanks to efficient treatment by Foy. On the 2nd I climbed to about 17,000 feet to the south of our Base and had a very fine view of the whole area from Nanda Devi East to Nanda Kot, and of the prominent ridge leading away from Nanda Devi to the east. Karpinski and I later climbed the highest peak of this ridge, 18,970 feet, and named it Nanda Lapak, ‘the Leap of Nanda’. On the 3rd I again left the party and did not rejoin them until the 29th June. I filled in this period with trips up the Shallang glacier and the Milam valley, and also went back as far as Mansiari and Mathkot, and on to a ridge above Sheltang, a village overlooking the valley of the Pyunsani Gadhera which leads to the Panch Chhuli peaks.
1 Geographical Journal, vol. xxix, 1907, p. 202.
2 Spellings have been taken from the new survey. The old spelling of Lawan was Lwanl, of Naspanpatti it was Narspan Patti.—Ed.
2. The Ascent of Nanda Devi East. (By Jakub Bujak and S. B. Blake.)
During their first ascent of the col on the 28th and 29th May, Karpinski and Klarner followed the rocky rib above Camp 1. They found the way, however, rather too difficult for laden porters, and when going to the col for the second time, on the 1st June, with Bernadzikiewicz and the porters, they climbed the big couloir leading directly up to the col. Progress was very slow, and it took eight hours to climb the 3,100 feet from Camp 1 to the col, where Camp 2 was established.
The couloir is moderately steep, reaching an angle of about 40° in its upper part. The snow at the beginning of June was in a perfectly safe condition. It was old snow with a peculiar surface formation, reminding one of the Andean penitentes, snow cones, formed probably by sun-radiation. The cones here were smaller than the Andean ones and did not exceed 2 feet in height. On such a surface there was no likelihood of a slip. Later, during the monsoon, the penitentes disappeared under a thick cover of fresh snow. With an intense sunshine, the couloir was often swept by avalanches. By keeping well to the south side of the couloir, however, in its lower part, and by choosing a route along secondary ribs in the upper, widening, and steeper part of the couloir, the route between Camps 1 and 2 was covered several times without any trouble.
Having reached the col, Karpinski and Klarner stayed there, while Bernadzikiewicz returned with the porters to Camp 1. During the next few days the carrying of supplies to Camp 2 was repeated, but it was found that the distance was too great to make it a daily event. A half-way stage at a rock platform in the couloir was therefore made where loads were dumped and carried higher every second or third day. Bernadzikiewicz took charge of this work while Karpinski and Klarner were dealing with that part of the ridge immediately above the col.
The beginning of the ridge looks rather discouraging. It is a mighty tower, of rotten rock. After the first gendarme, 300 feet high, had been climbed, it seemed that it would be impossible to carry loads over such country, and that a descent during the monsoon might be dangerous. After it had been climbed for the second time, however, and ropes had been fixed, it appeared less difficult, and eventually all the loads were successfully carried over. Each member of the climbing party negotiated this part of the climb several times; Klarner held the record by doing it seven times each way. Sometimes, under new snow, it took the party 2 ½ hours to climb 300 feet, in spite of the fixed ropes.
The ascent of the first gendarme avoided the actual ridge, following a shallow and steep gully cut in its south-east face; the angle of slope exceeded 50° at the upper end. Beyond the first gendarme there was a second, with a shallow col between them. The descent of the second towards the third was over a short but very exposed ice slope, falling steeply towards the east, and cut by a vertical, and in some places overhanging, rock-face towards the west. The route was made safe for laden men by fixing ropes, altogether 800 feet of 8-mm. rope being used. The third gendarme, of comparatively easy but crumbling rock, was followed by a horizontal snow ridge, which ended under a rock step, about 100 feet high, barring further progress. It was called ‘the Step to the Snow Point’, for beyond it a snow ridge led to the ‘Snow Point’, c. 20,200 feet, which was followed by a slight depression of the ridge.
During the first few days at Camp 2, the climbers suffered from headaches and sleeplessness, and had to take a rest every second or third day. Thus, when Karpinski was resting, Bernadzikiewicz and Klarner were making the gendarmes safe with ropes. The next day they stayed in camp, while Karpinski and Dawa Tsering reconnoitred ahead. On the night of the 5th they camped at 20,500 feet and continued the following day, intending to get as high as the neve below the summit pyramid. The snowstorm, however, which started during the day, compelled them to retreat after reaching a height of nearly 21,000 feet. This was the beginning of the monsoon, which put an end to the perfect weather which there had been till now. Heavy snow continued to fall all night. The following day all were forced to beat a retreat to the Base Camp, any further progress being impossible for some days.
The chance of a rest was welcome, for the first week on the mountain had been very strenuous, chiefly on account of lack of acclimatization. By this time Bujak had already recovered sufficiently to go to Camp 1 on the 6th, intending to join the others at Camp 2, but he returned with the others to the Base. For the next three days the party stayed here. The weather was exasperating. Every night it snowed heavily and each morning there was a foot or more of wet snow which disappeared during the day, but was renewed the following night. Once, under an exceptionally heavy fall, the mess tent collapsed. Undoubtedly the monsoon had broken early.
At last, on the 11 th June, the weather turned fine, and the huge pyramid of Nanda Devi East was revealed in the sunshine under a splendid cover of new snow. On the same day the party started from the Base, determined not to turn back before reaching the summit. The party was composed of Klarner, Bernadzikiewicz, and Bujak, with six porters. Karpinski followed a day later, accompanied by Dr. Foy as far as Camp 1.
3. The Ascent of Nanda Devi East (cont.). (By Jakub Bujak.)
After a night spent in Camp 1 we all proceeded to Camp 2, carrying amongst us a heavy load. The way up the couloir was wearisome in the new snow and we took 10 hours to reach the col. In the upper part of the couloir there were several avalanches in the secondary gullies, but we avoided them by keeping to the ribs. Camp 2 was covered with a layer of snow, 3 feet deep, and we had to dig the tents out.
The next day the three of us with three porters set out over the first rocky part of the ridge, carrying loads which were to be dumped it the base of the ‘Step to the Snow Point’, where Klarner had previously carried some loads. On our return to Camp 2 Karpinski had arrived, and we decided to form two groups. The ‘Advance Party’, Bernadzikiewicz and Klarner with two porters, were to move forward, establish Camp 3, and carry up the loads from the dump to this camp. The ‘Transport Party’, composed of four porters, Karpinski, and me, were to bring the remaining necessary loads from Camp 1 to Camp 2, and on to Camp 3.
On the 14th June the Advance Party moved on, establishing a provisional camp on the Snow Point, where they spent the night. The Transport Party took a day off, which I needed rather badly after two days’ activity at an altitude higher than I had ever been before, and after my recent illness. One of the porters, also needing rest, stayed with us; the other three went down to Camp 1, but only one returned in the evening to Camp 2. One of the other porters, Kipa, had felt ill, and after dumping their loads half-way up, he and his brother, Palding, had gone down to the Base Camp. No work was done next day below Camp 2, though Injung and Nima, with Karpinski and me, went on to the Snow Point with loads. On our return to Camp 2, the two porters descended to Camp 1, while on the next day Karpinski and I went to the rock in the couloir and fetched the loads left there by Kipa and Palding. The latter, with Nima and Injung, reached Camp 2 in the evening, thus completing the transport work below the col.
Palding was unwell the next day, the 17th June, and had to be sent down. Neither he nor Kipa went higher than Camp 2, and we had now only four out of the six porters fit for high-altitude work. The diminished Transport Party now moved on to Camp 3, finding the dump under the ‘step to the Snow Point’ had been cleared by the Advance Party. On meeting the latter, we heard from them that Klarner had on the previous day an experience more exciting than pleasant. The cornice had broken under his weight, but Dawa Tsering, who was second on the rope, had checked his fall.
Camp 3 was at 20,500 feet, on a small platform on the ‘rock-and- snow’ part of the ridge, beyond the ‘Snow Point’. This part was about 500 yards long and was composed of several small gendarmes, steps, and terraces, covered heavily with snow and offering an ‘interesting’ rock and snow climb. Now we changed roles, the former Advance Party descending to Camp 2 for more food, while Karpinski and I moved higher in order to reconnoitre ahead, our two porters being given a day off. Having passed the ‘rock and snow’ part, we reached the ‘Snow-corniced Ridge’, as we called the next part of the route. The cornices on the Snow Point were tiny compared with the huge snow balconies at this part of the climb. Even at some 20 feet from the edge one was 110I always sale, especially in misty weather, a fact which was brought home to me later in the day. I was plodding along as leader on the rope, hardly seeing the edge of the cornice in the dense fog. Suddenly I heard a dull crash, and a huge piece of cornice, some 30 feet long, broke away. As the line of break was along my tracks, I managed to stay on the ridge, sitting astride it as on horseback. I heard only the thunder of the avalanche, which, started by the falling cornice, crashed down the precipitous face. This face was about 6,000 feet high, and it was one or two minutes before the avalanche came to rest on the glacier far below.
The face below us, furrowed by deep avalanche grooves, was a fine example of Himalayan snow faces. Bernadzikiewicz, who had studied glaciology as a hobby, supposed that they are built up from hoar-frost, not from snow, a theory which to me is convincing. Our ridge was not only a watershed, but during the monsoon a weather- shed, dividing the warm and damp masses of air coming from the south-east from the dry and cold masses of continental air on the west. When the west wind was blowing, clouds were very often formed on the very edge of our arete, where the cold currents mixed with the warmer damper monsoon air to the east of the ridge. With the constant presence of mist against the east face of the mountain, considerable quantities of hoar-frost would be formed on the face, thus explaining its steepness, which far exceeds 50°, the approximate limiting angle of recline of firm snow.
On this reconnaissance we reached an altitude about 300 feet higher than Karpinski had previously attained with Dawa Tsering. We made sure that further progress towards the proposed site of Camp 4 was easy before returning to Camp 3 early in the afternoon. That evening Bernadzikiewicz and Klarner with their two porters arrived from below, bringing the last necessary loads.
On the next day, the 19th June, all eight of us moved higher, two starting an hour ahead of the others to renew and to finish the track of the day before.
The snow arete, falling very steeply towards the east, slopes at an angle of 450 on the west; but at an altitude of 21,200 feet this western lope eases off considerably and passes into a huge neve, forming the upper eastern border of the ice-field enclosed between the two peaks of Nanda Devi. The neve extends to 21,800 feet, changing higher up into a steeper slope, where belts of rock protrude through it in places. This slope is nearly 1,000 feet high and we called it the ‘First Step’. Above it the ridge, running till now due north, turns sharply towards the north-west, and rises gradually to the summit. It is a snow ridge, but is interrupted in two places by steep rock: the ‘Second Step’, some 300 feet high, and the ‘Third Step’, 100 feet high, close to the summit. The Second Step, a very steep rocky edge, seemed to be the worst obstacle. We intended to pitch Camp 5, or a bivouac, somewhere between the First and Second Steps.
We erected Camp 4 on the neve below the First Step, at a height of 21,500 feet. The inclination of the snow-slope did not exceed 250. A platform was cut in the slope, tents pitched, loads dumped, and two of us, Bernadzikiewicz and I, stayed there for the night. The rest descended to Camp 3, in order to bring up the rest of the baggage.
We planned to bring sufficient food to Camp 4 to last six men for ten days. That period might seem excessive, for the summit was only 3,000 feet above, and under favourable conditions two days might suffice. In the event of failure on the first attempt from any cause, it would, however, be difficult to begin the transport again, and Camp 4 therefore became a kind of advanced base.
Fair weather was experienced from the 11th June. For the first few days it was fine, but later we had mists and falls of snow almost every day, though only of a few inches. The mornings and evenings were fine and it was possible to do something every day.
The morning after Camp 4 was established I moved up with Bernadzikiewicz to explore the route up the First Step. The snow was hard, necessitating some step-cutting which meant loss of time. The rocks, however, were easy except in one place, over a steep band of rock, where we had to fix about 50 feet of rope to assist the porters later.
After five or six hours we reached the top of the First Step and gained the ridge above it. The first of the two rocky gendarmes here proved to be difficult, and we avoided it by traversing a snow-slope below it on the south-west. The route ahead was clear, sleet began to fall, and as I was not feeling well we returned. I had had a week less than the others to acclimatize, but the symptoms only lasted one day.
On the next day, the 21st, the first attempt on the summit was made by Bernadzikiewicz and Klarner, who went off with Dawa Tsering and Injung, heavily laden, with the intention of establishing Camp 5. The two other porters, Booktay and Nima, were sent down to the Base Camp. Now that the main carrying had been done, we could dispense with them. Karpinski and I stayed in Camp 4 and watched the slow progress of our friends. A thick layer of fresh snow, which had fallen in the night, made their task very hard. They worked their way upwards at a slow but steady rate.
During the afternoon they were lost in mist, but about 4 o’clock we heard shouts announcing their retreat. All were coming down. When they reached us they told us that they had had a narrow escape. Having reached a height of 22,800 feet, they had decided to camp. The two climbers stayed there and began to prepare a platform for the tent, while the porters began to descend. These had hardly taken more than a few steps when an immense cornice broke away under Injung. Their tracks lay about 30 feet from the edge of the cornice, which must have overhung at least 40 feet. Dawa Tsering, who was second, checked the fall of his companion, although he also was standing on a piece of the cornice which was split but not broken off. Once again, for the second time, Dawa proved his steadiness in preventing an accident, the first occasion being Klarner’s fall.
After half an hour’s work, Bernadzikiewicz, Klarner, and Dawa brought Injung to safety. He was not injured, but the general shock and the pressure of the rope, on which he was hanging for half an hour, made him almost incapable of movement. All had to return with him to Camp 4 and the next day we drew lots for who was to take him down to the base. It fell to Bernadzikiewicz and Klarner. They took him down to Camp 2 in one day, whence Dawa escorted him to the Base Camp. The two other porters now joined Bernadzikiewicz and Klarner at Camp 2, bringing fresh supplies of petrol.
In the meanwhile Karpinski and I started from Camp 4 in an attempt on the summit. With no porters, we had to carry loads of about 30 lb. ourselves. Fresh snow, which was falling now almost every night, covered the tracks of the previous climb, and we sometimes sank to our knees. Having reached almost the same spot as our friends, we were forced to turn back on account of a strong gale. We returned to Camp 4, spent a day there, and then descended to Camp 2, as it was obvious that the bad weather would last at least for a few more days. On our way down we met Bernadzikiewicz and Klarner on the Snow Point with the porters; they intended to await the improvement of the weather in Camp 3 or 4.
Karpinski had been feeling ill for several days, but had managed to suppress his illness by an effort of will. On the way down he became worse and was so exhausted that he had to give up the climb and descend to the Base Camp. This was a heavy blow and great disappointment to him, for he had dreamt of a Himalayan expedition for years. He was the most active in the preparations for the expedition as well as on the mountain itself; it was hard on him, wlien so close to success, to have to give up.
In Camp 2 we met Palding and Kipa, who had come up with Booktay and Nima with loads the previous day. Neither were good enough for the ridge climb, and Karpinski therefore took them down to the Base Camp. On arrival the doctor examined him at once. He was suffering from an enlarged heart and amoebic dysentery, and had almost completely lost his voice owing to a relaxed throat. It was obvious that he was out of the hunt for some time and he knew it. It was a great disappointment to so fine a leader.
I spent two lonely days in Camp 2, but the weather did not improve. On the evening of the second day I heard a shout from below. It was Dawa Tsering, climbing laboriously alone in the deep snow. He reached the col from the Base Camp, 5,000 feet up, in one day, a fine achievement in the difficult conditions, but one which was only permitted by Karpinski because I was alone at Camp 2. Unfortunately, he took off his goggles during the climb, as they were covered with falling snow, and he did not put them on again. The result was obvious on the next day when he could hardly open his eyes.
I was quite upset—it was already the third day of my stay in Camp 2. The weather on this day was much better and I imagined my friends moving upwards from Camp 4. I made up my mind to go on by myself if Dawa was not better soon, and at the same time I did my best by applying strong tea to his eyes. Fortunately by evening his eyes were better; the snow-blindness had been mild.
On the 29th June I started with him in fine weather and reached camp 4 in eight hours of rather stiff climbing. There I found the others who had been unable to go on owing to the high wind and driving snow. I was astonished to find so great a difference between the conditions at the two camps, as there was scarcely any evidence of wind at Camp 2, 2,000 feet lower down.
My friends had had an unpleasant experience the night before. The tents were pitched on platforms cut in the snow-slope. Drift snow filled the space behind the tent, having a natural tendency to re establish the previous surface of the snow. Bernadzikiewicz and Klarner were awakened at 3 o’clock by an unpleasant feeling of pressure. They found that the tent was half buried and partly collapsed, so that their legs were under a thick layer of snow. They had to dress and go out in a raging storm in order to dig the tent out of the snow and make a new platform.
The following day the wind lessened slightly and the three of us with the three porters started off. This was the third attempt to reach the summit. It had to be decisive, for there was only enough food in Camp 4 for four or five more days. Picking up the loads dumped earlier, we reached an altitude of 23,000 feet in the afternoon and pitched Camp 5. Two porters were then sent down, Dawa Tsering alone remaining with us, in order to allow two men to two ropes.
Camp 5 was on the top of a huge boulder which jutted out from the snow-slope. When we awoke the next morning there was dense cloud and a high wind blowing over the ridge. To go on was out of the question. We lay all day in our small tents, listening to the flapping of the canvas under the violent gusts of wind, and thinking of our steadily diminishing food-supply.
Another morning came. It was Sunday the 2nd July. The sky was clear, and although the wind was still high and the thermometer stood at zero Fahrenheit, we did not even think of waiting for better weather; it might not come at all.
We started at 7.30 a.m. on two ropes. I went ahead with Dawa; Bernadzikiewicz and Klarner followed thirty minutes later. The snow was hard, so that I had to cut steps for Dawa, who was the only one not wearing crampons, having left them behind in a lower camp, unwilling to carry anything for which he saw no use. I shall not repeat what I thought of Dawa while cutting those steps, but I admit that I was glad of the steps on the way down.
After three hours’ climbing we reached the foot of the Second Step. Bernadzikiewicz, who was not feeling well, decided to go back. He wanted to return by himself, but I could not agree, both for his own safety and for the necessity now for speed, and Dawa Tsering had to go with him. We were only two now: Klarner and I. The Second Step, the most difficult part of the upper ridge, was above us. We slowly climbed its lower half to the place where a band of steep slabs barred our way. Our first attempt to pass it failed and the prospect seemed serious. It was already midday; if we were now delayed we would not reach the summit that day. However, after a few minutes we found a practicable route; and by climbing on the very edge of the rocky step and turning two overhangs, we reached the less inclined upper part of the ridge.
After a short rest we went on. The sun was already declining towards the west. It was to be a race against time, but our pace was that of the tortoise racing the hare. In fact, our average rate of climb for this day was no more than 180 feet an hour, rests and time lost in looking for the way included.
At 4 o’clock we reached the foot of the highest step. This was the last obstacle. It was not too difficult, and certainly easier than the one before. After another hour of scrambling over rock and steep snow a wide snow-field appeared before us. It was 50 yards wide, 100 yards long, and sloped slightly upwards. Its highest point was the summit. We were there at 5.20 p.m. After years of planning, after months of preparation, after weeks of strenuous effort, and after we had nearly given up hope, we succeeded.
There was a magnificent view. The sun was already well down towards the west, the sky was clear, and, some 5,000 feet below, there was a sea of cloud. Hundreds of summits emerged, like islands, from this sea. We could see summits 200 miles away. Gurla Mandhata stood out among the Tibetan heights only half-way to the horizon. Close by, some 2 or 3 miles away, stood the main peak of Nanda Devi, a mighty rock pyramid. The wind, which had blown all day, was forming a huge banner of cloud on the peak.
We stayed forty minutes on the summit and then started down. On the highest rocks we left a card with our names in a thermos flask stowed under a boulder, about 20 feet to the west of the point where the south-east ridge emerges into the summit snow-field. On the descent we saw a wonderful sight—the immense shadow, many miles long, of our mountain thrown on to the sea of cloud. And out of the billows the icy body of Nanda Kot stood glittering in the sun.
Late at night, by the light of the full moon, and in intense frost, we reached Camp 5. During the next three days all camps were brought down and we came back to the Base Camp. The ascent of Nanda Devi East was accomplished.
4. The Milam glacier. (From accounts by S. B. Blake and J. Bujak.)
Further plans were now discussed. Blake gave an account of weather conditions likely to be met in the Panch Chhuli area. This group of peaks receives the full force of the monsoon. It was decided that these peaks should be abandoned and an attempt made on the Tirsuli peaks instead. The party was to rest for three days and to move down to Martoli on the 9th July. Arrangements were made to bring up the remaining stores from Mansiari to the Milam Base Camp, and Palding was sent down to Almora to bring up more petrol as supplies were likely to run short.
Meanwhile Karpinski, who was now fit again, and Blake decided to climb the 18,970-foot peak north-north-east of the camp. This peak is the highest point on the ridge running east from Nanda Devi East. With one porter they pitched a light tent on the 7th July at about 16,000 feet, at the edge of a snow-field, and sent the porter down. The next morning they set off at 7 a.m., and crossing the snow-field began to ascend a steepish gully with a good deal of rock outcrop, changing direction from east to north-east. The route steepened before a long snow-slope; they kept to the west of this and after a stiff climb reached rocks. Here Karpinski took the lead again. These rocks took them an hour to climb. They emerged at the foot of a very steep ice-slope, covered with about a foot of snow, leading up for about 300 feet to a corniced ridge. After passing this the climbers saw the final slope ahead and crossing a crevasse at its foot they reached the summit at 1.30 p.m. They had considerable difficulty during the descent, mainly owing to bad weather and bad snow conditions; but they reached their tent at 7.15, brewed some tea, packed up, and arrived in the Base Camp by 9.20, just as the others were growing anxious.
On the 9th July the whole party left for the Milam glacier and pitched the Base Camp two days later on an alp named ‘Rugus’, at about 13,500 feet. This alp is just south of the Billanlari glacier.
The Milam glacier group of mountains had been surveyed in 1938, but had not been reconnoitred for climbing. The three highest summits have the collective name of Tirsuli and exceed 23,000 feet. All have a common base. A wide neve-field, in the form of a basin, is enclosed between the south peak, 23,460 feet, and the east peak, 23,210 feet. The third, the north-west peak, 23,080 feet, connected by a long ridge with the east peak, is inaccessible from the Milam glacier, except over the top of the east peak. The neve, the bottom of which is at about 20,000 feet, falls towards the south, for about 4,000 feet, to the main branch of the Milam glacier. Constant ice-avalanches break from the neve down this face and make its ascent impossible. Any immediate climb of the main peak to the west of the face seemed also to be impracticable. The east boundary of the face is formed by a mighty rock spur, supporting a snow ridge, which passes in three leaps into the upper south-east ridge of the east peak, bordering the neve from the east.
A careful examination of this spur and ridge through binoculars showed that the east peak might be climbed by this route, and that the neve might be reached. The upper ridge of the east peak looked easy; it was 1 ½ miles long and about 2,500 feet high. The lower part of the climb was much steeper and more difficult than the upper, and would probably require several camps; but before finally deciding on the route a reconnaissance of the north upper branch of the Milam glacier was necessary. This branch was hidden behind the south-east ridge of the east peak.
Karpinski and Klarner started from the Base Camp on the 12 th July. The following day Bujak and Bernadzikiewicz with six porters carried loads to Camp 1, 15,500 feet, on the glacier at the base of the great rock spur. Here they were joined by the first two, who had passed the ice-fall above Camp 1 and gained the upper terrace which extended for 2 miles farther towards the north-west. Fromthe point reached, however, they had been unable to determine whether the route was practicable.
The next day Bujak and Bernadzikiewicz, with Booktay and Nima, took up the reconnaissance, pitched Camp 2 on the glacier at 18,700 feet, and, on the 15th, pushed on till further access was barred by crevasses. It was found, however, that there was no possibility of reaching the summit from the highest terrace of the glacier, which was enclosed by a very steep rock face, falling from the summit for about 2,000 feet. The north-east ridge of the east peak was also out of the question, owing to impracticable rocks.
After returning to Camp 2 for the night, the same pair made a further reconnaissance on the 16th July and found that it would be possible to climb the south-east ridge by its north-east face. Close to Camp 2 there was a rock and scree rib which ended in a hanging glacier about half-way up the face. The hanging glacier was not steep, but from below only its lower edge and its highest part could be seen. There were three places which were not very easy: at the base of the rib, at the top of it, and at the point where the ridge was gained. The hanging glacier was quite easy, with no crevasses, and would have made good ski-ing ground. The party reached the south-east ridge at 21,000 feet, and from here the way along the ridge did not seem difficult though about a mile in length; but it was late and clouds came down. The climbers therefore returned to Camp 2.
That evening the four climbers, with four porters, were assembled in this camp. Blake had been up during the day but had gone down again with three men.
The following day, the 18th July, Karpinski and Bernadzikiewicz and the porters started to relay loads up to the ridge, Klarner and Bujak staying at Camp 2. In his account Bujak writes:
We could see them climbing the rib. Once they stopped for a long time and we heard them shouting that one of the porters had been taken ill and would have to descend. As the rib was easy, and the only difficult place close above the bergschrund had been made safe by a fixed rope, they let the porter descend by himself. The delay, however, had lost more than an hour, and this was fatal.
In the evening the porters came back, bringing a note from Karpinski. He told us that they had pitched their tent lower than anticipated, on account of the delay caused by the illness of the porter. He asked us to make an early start the following morning, in order to allow sufficient time to shift Camp 3 higher up.
We started early on the 19th and reached the edge of the hanging glacier by noon. From here we expected to see the tent, but we only saw a huge avalanche covering the site. We left our loads and two of the porters at a safe distance and mounted the avalanche. After a short search we found one boot driven into the wall of a crevasse which had been formed under the blow of the falling avalanche. Another boot was found close under the surface of the snow. The last hope, that the avalanche might have occurred in the morning, after the climbers had started for the slopes above, vanished.1
For two days the search was continued in the attempt to recover the bodies, but the task was hopeless. The area covered by the avalanche was about 5 acres, and the depth of ice and snow about 30 feet. Besides the two odd boots were found a section of tent- pole, the leather cover torn from the solid cinema-camera case, and a bag of stores which had been flung to one side.
The avalanche had been caused by a serac breaking from the face above the glacier. It had been about 600 yards from the camp and 800 feet higher. Bujak and Bernadzikiewicz had discussed the possibility of danger to the route caused by this serac three days before, but had agreed that if it fell it would not move so far in the direction of the route, the ‘lie’ of the ground suggesting that the route and tent site would be safe. The tent was pitched at a point projecting from the slope.
The range of the avalanche had been considerably increased by a snow avalanche, of the wind-slab type, which had been caused on the gentle slope above the camp by the falling ice. The ice-blocks thus gained a fresh momentum and were flung much farther, while the area covered was much greater.
After two days the search was abandoned. So passed away two fine Polish mountaineers. There was now no question of continuing with the original plans and arrangements were made to leave. The camps were brought down; the journey back was uneventful. At Bareilly on the 16th August all went their different ways.
The two authors of this paper lay stress on the companionship spent among the mountains and their regret at parting. Bujak refers to the great help he received from the Himalayan Club, and to that of Foy and Blake; the latter pays a tribute to the courage and comradeship of the Poles. ‘Dawa Tsering’s cheerfulness and Nima’s willingness will long remain symbols of the good fellowship with porters which is such a welcome feature of these journeys to the Himalaya.’
1 The site of Camp 3, where the avalanche occurred, is slightly out of position on the sketch-map on page 64. It should be about ¾ mile south-east of the spot indicated.