Himalayan Journal vol.02
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Kenneth Mason
    (PAUL BAUER.*)
    (DR. A. M. HERON.)
    (L. R. FAWCUS)
  5. THE SHYOK FLOOD, 1929
    (J. P. GUNN)
    (LIEUT. J. B. P. ANGWIN.)
    (DR. E. F. NEVE.)
    (LIEUT. D. M. BURN.)
    (W. E. BUCHANAN)
    (H. M. GLOVER.)
    (Captain J. BARRON.)
    (Captain A. A. RUSSELL.)
  16. NOTES



FOR several years every Saturday we set out from Munich for the mountains ; for many years we devoted all our vacations and holidays to mountaineering in order to prepare ourselves for greater endeavours. We did not know then of this great undertaking, but we believed in it. Our experiences in 1928 on the Pamirs, in South America and in the Caucasus, showed us that we were now ready for our greatest attempt. In January 1929 I resolved to visit the Himalaya. With friends, whom I approached to take part in the expedition, and with Sections, who were willingly prepared for sacrifices, my plan was received enthusiastically. Four months of very hard work were necessary to prepare everything to the minutest detail. The end of June found us sailing with all our equipment through the Mediterranean on our way to India.

There were nine of us : Dr. Eugen Allwein (Pamirs, 1928), Peter Aufschnaiter, Paul Bauer (Caucasus, 1928), Dr. Ernst Beigel (Caucasus, 1928), Julius Brenner, Wilhelm Fendt, Karl von Kraus, Joachim Leupold and Alexander Thoenes, all members of the Ahademischen Alpenverein Munich and of the German and Austrian Alpine Club, principally of the Hochland and Oberland Sections. Three-eighths of the necessary expenses were contributed by the members, the remainder by the Committees of the above-mentioned clubs. Our objective was not yet definitely settled. If difficulties should be placed on a journey through Sikkim, we were prepared to choose the Central Himalaya as our goal. Whether we should attempt an 8000-metre mountain, such as Kangchenjunga, or train ourselves on mountains 7000 metres high, only experience on the spot would show.

At the end of July we arrived at Darjeeling. Sikkim was open to us, Nepal for the present was closed. We therefore fixed on the Zemu glacier as our first objective. Whether we would then tackle Kangchenjunga itself we did not know, though our scruples against an immedate attack of this tremendous mountain were lessened by the Indian Press calling us from the very beginning the “Kangchenjunga Expedition." Profiting from our own experiences and from those of the Mt. Everest expeditions, we had prepared in Germany all our loads to be suitable for porters. Owing to the perfect arrangements and to the strong support of the officials in Darjeeling and of the Himalayan Club we were able to leave that place three days after our arrival. We had supplemented our provisions and hired ninety native porters, (of whom fifteen had already been on expeditions to Mt. Everest), two sirdars, two cooks, one interpreter and some under-sirdars. In the first week of August we set out in two columns, northwards through Sikkim, with an interval of two days between each. I personally travelled with the second column with Lt.-Col. H. W. Tobin, the local secretary of the Himalayan Club, who to our great satisfaction accompanied us. In Gangtok I bought provisions for the porters and the following day rode to Tsuntang in order to catch up the first column.

On the 9th August, an hour's march north of Lachen, an exploring party left the mule-track to Tibet and penetrated into the thick jungle of the Zemu valley. It made good progress and was followed during the next few days by the other columns. Leaving Camp I (near Yaktang, 3360 m.) and Camp II (at the commencement of the glacier, 3840 m.) we reached-all the time remaining on the north side of the valley-Camp III (3| hours east of Freshfield's Green Lake, 4370 m.). Here we established the Base Camp and on the 18th commenced our exploration. It now had to be seen whether we could tackle Kangchenjunga from this side and whether we could do so immediately. Brenner and I started at once with one porter, Tobin accompanying us for one day. Aufschnaiter, Kraus and Leupold marched towards Simvu in order to obtain from there a view into the structure of Kangchenjunga.

After three days Brenner and I stood at the foot of the mountain and looked up to the North-east Spur, which according to a telephoto in Freshfield's book, seemed to offer a possibility of ascent. The sight was terrible. We turned silently back in order to penetrate the glacier valley between Kangchenjunga and the Twins. If, there at the back, we could gain the col between Kangchenjunga and the Twins, the key was found. In the afternoon, however, we decided that this was quite impossible. A thousand metres of the steepest ice-wall with overhanging cliffs is no ground over which to lead up laden porters. From here, however, the ascent of the North-east Spur seemed more feasible. On the 22nd we arrived at the same time as the Simvu party back at the Base Camp. I was convinced that the Spur was worth a trial, that it was attainable, and that we should attack it at once. The Simvu party had experienced bad weather most of the time ; thrice they had attempted the Simvu saddle, but danger from avalanches had prevented further progress. They had had sufficient view to establish the fact that the Simvu massif is in reality quite different from what it appears on maps and that one cannot reach the main peak directly from the saddle.

In the Base Camp detailed arrangements were made during the next few days as the result of our reconnaissance, and the porters were suitably equipped. Tobin returned via the Yumtso La to Tulung-Gangtok-Darjeeling. Fendt and Brenner started on an exploration of the north cleft. They intended also to explore the Upper Tumrach valley, and reached the top which presumably dominates the end of the valley, but mist prevented any further view.

On the 26th, we started the advance towards Kangchenjunga. Two days later the first party (Kraus, Leupold and myself with six porters) established Camp VI at the foot of the mountain at the height of 5200 m. By the time the second party arrived we had already discovered a way through the bergschrund above the camp, and established a new camp at the foot of the steep pitch which led up to the North-east Spur. The next few days were occupied in attempts to reach the arete. On the 2nd September Kraus and I were within a hundred metres of its crest, but the next day a party comprising Allwein, Aufschnaiter, Thoenes and myself, with three porters laden with provisions and equipment, got into difficulties a few metres above the place we had turned back from the day before. Aufschnaiter and I at once returned with the coolies as the position was too dangerous. Allwein and Thoenes however, attempted to reach the ridge, unencumbered ; they also were forced to return scarcely two rope-lengths away from the crest. It was now doubtful whether we should reach the arete, so the following day I sent a message to Camp YI, telling the men there to explore the ascent from the Zemu Gap. We made one more attempt to reach the arete the next .day and Allwein and Thoenes succeeded by a very dangerous couloir. To go further however seemed quite impossible.

Then from the Zemu Gap we received bad reports from Kraus and Leopold-much snow and great danger of avalanches. I still believed in the ascent of the Spur and did not wish to yield without one more supreme effort. On the 6th, we made our last decisive attempt and for the third time we stood on the same spot. On this day we found the key ; it lay in an absolutely new ice-technique by which ice-formations never seen before were made passable even for porters. The Spur therefore was conquered. Then a violent blizzard forced us to return ; we even had to retire right down to Camp VI the next day. The 8th September was the only day throughout the whole expedition on which all members were together. On the 9th, Camp VII was reoccupied under special weather conditions, but heavy snow fell again and avalanches came down near the camp, so that we had to vacate it hurriedly. Both parties from Camp YII and Camp VI had to work strenuously a whole day in snow a metre and a half deep before space could be found for all of us in Camp VI, while a further day was spent re-establishing communications with Camp III.

We were now ready to start the real assault. This we intended to make from the North-east Spur and from the Zemu Gap simultaneously. Camp VII was shifted to a place safe from avalanches at a height of 5700 m. On the 16th Beigel, Kraus and I reached the much-fought-for ridge after several days of hard step-cutting. For two more days we worked on the ice-pinnacles of the arete, and on the 19th, stood directly before the place where the final ascent starts. After a day's rest we intended to move the camp higher to the first broad place on the incline and Aufschnaiter, Beigel, Kraus and myself with three porters made good progress on the 20th, but we only managed about 150 metres, Beigel and I camping at a very exposed spot ; the place for the little tent we carried had to be hacked out of the rock. The next day Beigel and I cut a very precarious path across the other pinnacles. We hacked our way under and through the snow mounds, enlarging holes and cutting paths in the sides of the steep ice-walls. The many and varied ice-formations helped us a great deal. We reached and prepared the projected camp-site, A11 we in, Kraus and Thoenes with two porters moving into it the same day (Camp VIII, 6300 m.). The Zemu party who, owing to the dangers of avalanches, had been unable to go beyond the Zemu Gap, had been broken up. Here at the Spur the difficulties were so great as to tax our whole strength.

On the 23rd, I descended to Camp VI to meet Mr. Shebbeare who had arrived from Darjeeling. Daily convoys organized by Brenner and Fendt came and went between Camps III and VII. At Camp

III was Leupold, who organized with the greatest care and thoroughness the convoys from Gangtok to Camp VI. Shebbeare returned on the 24th to Darjeeling.

When we-Brenner, Fendt and I, with three porters-returned on the 26th to Camp VIII, the last 60-metre gendarme, which up to now had still stood in menacing uncertainty, had been conquered. Allwein, Beigel, Kraus and Thoenes had alternatively worked at it. It had taken them two days alone to cut a vertical 8-metre tunnel through an insignificant but almost unsurmountable ice-pinnacle. Beyond this great fissure we established Camp IX (6600 m.). The most difficult work had been accomplished. The ridge offered no further insuperable obstacles ; the subsequent peaks would not stop us for long. Provisions were now replenished, and on the 2nd October the first advance party consisting of Allwein, Aufschnaiter, Kraus and Thoenes with two porters moved into Camp X, (7100 m.), on the broad exposed ridge. Beigel and I followed the next day with two more porters. It was on that day that Allwein and Kraus, without knowing it, reached the highest point. Whilst Thoenes dug an ice-cave-we had at Camp VIII, IX, and X roomy caves to hold six or eight men with a small entrance cut out of the ice, warm and affording protection from the wind-the rest explored the way upwards in order to leave at the same time a trail for the next day. At 11 o'clock, at a height of 7400 m. they turned back, as the first peak about 8000 m. high could not be reached on that day if they were to return to camp by 5 o'clock.[1]
On the evening of the 3rd six of us and four porters with full equipment and provisions stood ready in Camp X (7100 m.) to start the ascent of the 8000 in. regions. Things however turned out differently. During the night there was a heavy snow-storm which lasted through the 4th. As it was evident that an attack would be delayed, the upper camp had to be reduced, if provisions were to last ; more supplies had also to be brought up for the advance. Kraus and Thoenes went down with the porters, Lewa and Sitten,[2] to help the parties of Brenner and Fendt. On the 5th it continued to snow heavily and uninterruptedly. Kangchenjunga became practically impossible. Beigel and Aufschnaiter broke camp on the 6th, and, as the weather had improved, Allwein and I decided with the porters Keddar and Pasang to move the camp higher up. It was a hopeless task. In two hours we only gained 80 metres. We stood with the snow half up to our thighs. The crust was extremely thin and breakable. Leaving our rucksacks behind we persevered for another hour and a half. The view was overwhelming. Even our porters stared in amazement with shining eyes. Then at last we turned back. We had to wait till crust got a little harder. In the evening it snowed again, and by 7 o'clock the snowfall was very heavy. Within 24 hours we had had at least two metres of fresh snow. This was the grave of all our plans. Whilst yesterday we still thought of advancing, to-day it required good nerves to consider even the possibility of returning.

At a rope's length of 40 metres between each man, Allwein tracked ahead with heavy snow-topped boots, the porters in the centre, and I at the end. This is how we began on the 8th October to cut our way back through blizzards and high winds. We marched through a lane of snow the height of a man-. The porters with their heavy loads- they parried 80 lbs. and we only 30-40 lbs.-continually stuck helplessly and had to be pulled out. A very slight incline fifty metres long caused two hours of hard work. At the first avalanche-track, the avalanche descended as expected when Allwein climbed on to it at the next spot, the avalanches had already fallen. Further on at another place an avalanche did not break until the first three had got on to it. The long rope brought salvation. The ice-cave of Camp VII was deeply buried under snow. The next day we had to return, as it was impossible to cross the fissures with the heavy loads. Already on the previous day several mishaps had made the porters nervous. We returned to our ice cave and tried to make the largest fissure passable, unencumbered. On the 10th, we cast half our loads, packed in two great bags, over the cliff down to the glacier 1500 m. below us. Being so much lighter we could now risk the descent. For two full days we worked down to Camp VII anxious and uncertain of the fate of the others.

Here at last we received- reassuring news. Kraus, Thoenes and the two porters had arrived safely. Aufschnaiter and Beigel had been on their way since the 7th from Camp X to Camp VII under very severe weather. At the fall of darkness they had reached the horizontal stretch of the arete at 6000 metres, beyond which point they could advance no further. Avalanches had carried away their rucksacks, and they had to pass the night here without provisions or protection of any sort. The next day they cut their way down to Camp VII, Beigel with his toes frost-bitten. All communication between the different camps was broken. In Camps VIII, VI and III there were our men, surrounded by snow walls nearly two metres high, anxiously waiting for news about the fate of the men higher up. Porters, attempting to reach Camp VI from Camp III, had not covered a third of the distance after three days and were forced to turn back. From Camp VII we reached Camp VI in one day because from the lower camp half the way had already been re-cut. With the few porters remaining at our disposal we cleared the whole camp. The men behaved wonderfully although they had been through very severe experiences. With the porters carrying 60 kilos and ourselves 60 lbs., we left Camp VI. Half-way down we met relief caravans sent up to meet us. In beautiful weather we made our way through the glistening snow to Camp III, and relieved Leupold of his anxiety about our fate and his loneliness. He immediately left for Lachen to bring up more porters and to arrange a stretcher for Beigel.

At the mouth of the glacier we again had bad weather. For three days it snowed and rained uninterruptedly.[3] The snow-covered bamboos and rhododendrons made the passage most difficult. Here Beigel could not be carried and had to walk. Avalanches crashed through the jungle and thundered over precipices. Knee-deep snowwater pools covered the ground in the jungle for hours. Mountains were rent by landslips. On the 20th October at about 2 o'clock the last two of the expedition arrived in Lachen, whilst the landslips falling from high up on Lamgebo, in front of them and behind, crashed over the trembling precipices into the ravines. A week later we arrived in Darjeeling and Beigel immediately left for Calcutta.

Kangchenjunga, which for many decades has on every clear day been admired by thousands who believe in the impossibility of climbing it, had become more than ever the centre of interest.

[1] At 5-30 p.m. the ridge is already in darkness and half an hour later the thermometer already shows 12-16° below zero. It would have been useless to cut a track in advance for the next day owing to the high wind. The heights mentioned were measured with aneroids which were continually compared with the hypsometers erected in Camps III and VI. The figure for the highest point reached is believed to be rather too low than too high, as the aneroids are slow in rising.

[2] It is only fair to the Tibetan porter to remark that on this expedition he had little chance of showing his fine qualities. Two of the best of the Bhutias, Lobsang and Scnam Tobgay, had only returned two months earlier from Farmer's ill-fated expedition, on which they had suffered severely, and these two crocked up at the end of the first month. Another, Namgyal, who had been severely frost-bitten on Everest, also fell out early. It was no doubt largely on account of these failures that Sherpas were entirely selected for the high work, while to the Bhutia was allotted the arduous but less spectacular task of humping ;,he stores up the glacier, where there was little room for initiative. The experience of other expeditions employing a mixed force of Sherpas and Bhutias has been that there is little to choose between these two splendid races, either in courage or endurance.-H. W. T.

Herr Bauer explained to me that they learned the tracks and habits of the avalanches which occurred with the utmost regularity. At certain spots they could exactly foretell when an avalanche would occur.-Ed.

[3] These three days in the middle of October saw the fiercest storms in Sikkim for the whole year. Lower down the roads and railways were destroyed in a number of places, and many parties were held up. Great anxiety was felt for the members of the German Expedition.-Ed.