Himalayan Journal vol.04
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.04

Publication year:
1932

Editor:
Kenneth Mason
Index
  1. ON ANCIENT TRACKS PAST THE PAMIRS
    (SIR AUREL STEIN)
  2. THE FIRST ASCENT OF KAMET
    (CAPTAIN E. ST. J. BIRNIE)
  3. AN EXPLORATION OF THE ARWA VALLEY, BRITISH
    (CAPTAIN E. ST. J. BIRNIE)
  4. MY EXPEDITION IN THE EASTERN KARAKORAM, 1930
    (Professor GIOTTO DAINELLI)
  5. SKI-ING IN THE HIGH EASTERN HIMALAYA
    (ULRICH WIELAND ?)
  6. BY SHONTHAR GALI TO RAMA, ASTOR
    (CAPTAIN J. BARRON)
  7. THE SHYOK ICE-BARRIER IN 1931
    (CAPTAIN C. E. C. GREGORY)
  8. A FRONTIER TOUR
    (LIEUT-COLONEL J. R. C. GANNON)
  9. HIGH ALTITUDE AND OXYGEN
    (N. E. ODELL)
  10. SUB-HIMALAYAN DIETETICS
    (Dr. C. STRICKLAND)
  11. THE TSARAP VALLEY, EASTERN LAHUL
    (LIBUT.-COLONISI, C. H. STOCKLEY)
  12. PEAKS AND PASSES OF THE T'lEN SHAN
    (Lieut-Colonel R. C. F. SCHOMBERG)
  13. THE FIGHT FOR KANGCHENJUNGA, 1931
    (PAUL BAUER)
  14. Lhonak, 1930
    (G. B. GOURLAY)
  15. A Journey in Upper Kumaun and Garhwal
    (Lieutenant HUGH ROSE)
  16. Expeditions
  17. In memorium
  18. Notes
  19. Reviews
  20. Correspondence
  21. Club Proceedings

THE FIGHT FOR KANGCHENJUNGA, 1931

PAUL BAUER

WHEN in 1929 the Germans reached their highest point for that year on the North-east Spur of Kangchenjunga, they saw nothing between them and their goal but a series of vast, smooth slopes and the uppermost portion of the North Ridge. It was only natural that on their return they were inclined to ascribe their failure to reach the summit to the unfavourable weather that had forced them to retreat; and their belief that the route, which they had discovered and followed to a considerable height, was practicable remained unshaken. Many authorities agreed that the north-east side offered the most likely chance of success. When, therefore, in 1930, the International Himalayan Expedition made it almost certain that there was no reasonably safe way other than that by the North-east Spur by which the precipitous zone, from two to three thousand metres high, engirdling Kangchenjunga, could be overcome, it stood to reason that those who had taken part in the experiences of 1929 should pit themselves once more against the mountain(1).

Paul Bauer, the leader and organizer of the 1929 expedition, gathered a party of nine mountaineers who were ready to venture a fresh attempt on Kangchenjunga. Five of them had belonged to the team of 1929: Dr. Eugen Allwein, Peter Aufschnaiter, Julius Brenner, Wilhelm Fendt and Joachim Leupold. To these were added four young climbers: Hans Hartmann, Hans Pircher, Hermann Schaller and Dr. Karl Wien. All were members of the Academic Alpine Club of Munich, in whose hard mountaineering school they had been trained.

At the end of May 1931 the main party set out from Europe, two members following in the middle of June. Owing to the careful preparations and the minute organization on the part of our leader, and the thorough assistance given us by the Himalayan Club and the Indian authorities, it was possible to reduce the time required for final preparations in India to a minimum. Lieut.-Colonel Tobin had done so much preparatory work that Mr. E. 0. Shebbeare was able to start from Darjeeling only a few hours after Bauer's arrival, with 77 men to carry the porters' food up to the base-camp on the Zemu glacier. On the 28th June the last column of porters left Kalimpong and on the 6th July the stragglers, Allwein and Hartmann, joined the main body at Lachen, having covered the distance from Bombay to Lachen in six days.

In the base-camp, situated on the Green-Lake plain, 4370 metres above sea-level, a large depot of provisions was established. Of the two hundred porters employed up to that point, thirty were selected and equipped for the high camps, twenty were chosen for transport duties between Gangtok and the base-camp, and the rest were paid off. On the 13th July, among the moraine boulders of the Zemu glacier, at 5140 metres, Camp VI was established. This was the advanced base for the region of operations: the North-east Spur of Kangchenjunga.

On the 14th July the attack on the mountain began. A track was beaten over the ice-fall leading to the upper Zemu glacier. The attainment of Camp VII, to be placed in the rocky flank of the North- east Spur facing the Zemu glacier, presented many a difficulty, the walls-owing either to the early monsoon precipitation or the abnormal warmth prevailing this year till late August-being much subject to falling stones and avalanches. A post was formed to watch the wall by day and night; from the observations made it became evident that it would only be practicable to ascend to the Adlerhorst, or " Eyrie the site of Camp VII, between five and eight o'clock in the morning.

At a very early hour on the 19th July we moved into Camp VII At 5560 metres. Three days later Allwein and Pircher set foot on the level portion of the North-east Spur at about 6000 metres[1]. The continual danger of falling stones prevented us from scaling the upper part of the wall, between the Eyrie and the ridge at a later hour than 10 a.m., and we had to establish on one of the precipitous rock towers set upon the ridge a temporary camp, which would form a base for the rest of the way over it. Heavy sleet and even rain were softening the bosses and ribs of neve which covered the ridge ; again and again a hard day's labour was brought to nought. In the continual wet weather both sahibs and porters caught cold. Allwein fell ill with ischias, the porters with quinsy. It became imperative to retreat to Camp VII for a three days' rest.

Then work commenced again. On the 1st August Bauer and Hartmann ascended to the ridge camp ; they were followed two days later by Schaller and Wien. On the 8th we had progressed so far with the work that the route to Camp VIII was practicable for porters. The following day we moved forward.

Hartmann and Wien had already attained the terrace of Camp VIII when a hundred metres lower Pasang the porter fell. He swept down the steep ice-couloir, dragging our Schaller behind him over the precipice. The advance was suspended and after a bivouac on the ridge at 6200 metres we hurried down as fast as possible. Our first sad duty concerned our fallen comrades. On a rock island in the midst of the upper basin of the Zemu glacier, an island surrounded by ice, we laid Hermann Schaller and the porter Pasang to their last rest. The mountain to whom they have sacrificed their lives keeps guard above their heads.

It was not till the 24th August-fifteen days after this accident- that Bauer, Hartmann, Pircher and Wien with three porters again definitely attained Camp VIII. In the meantime the route had for the most part decayed. The bosses, cornices and other ice-formations, that had been fairly safe in late July, were now, owing to the exceptionally warm weather, changed to treacherous masses of rotten snow that could only be made accessible with extreme patience and caution. The porters, some disabled by illness, some strongly dispirited by the accident, had almost without exception become unfit for the perilous ground of the North-east Spur. After much persuasion and stimulated by the quiet reasoning of our cook Tenchadar, three of them, Kami, Kitar and Pemba, declared themselves ready to follow us to the higher regions. In spite of our endeavours to gain new forces, no others could be persuaded, and these three alone remained to follow us during the rest of the ascent.

Thus progress became very slow. The succeeding portion of the ridge with its towers of ice took us eight days of hard labour. In early September it snowed for five consecutive days almost uninterruptedly, though we were not prevented from carrying on our daily work. On the 4th we climbed over the ice-towers to Camp IX ; on the 10th we managed to pitch Camp X at 7200 metres. Bauer, who, accompanied by his bearer Kami, had descended to Camp VI to check supplies and bring up reinforcements, re-joined us at Camp X on the 12th September. Allwein and Aufschnaiter arrived with him. Allwein's health had improved in Camp VI and Aufschnaiter was no longer indispensable at the Eyrie ; he had been in charge of this section of the lines of communication and had had for weeks the difficult task of leading parties of laden porters almost daily to the ridge camp. During this period Allwein and Brenner had from Camp VI made an excursion to the "Sugarloaf" (6500 metres) and obtained valuable photographic results.

Six climbers, Allwein, Aufschnaiter, Bauer, Hartmann, Pircher and Wien, together with the three porters, Kami, Kitar and Pemba, were now gathered at Camp X. Although only these three porters had been willing to go above 6000 metres, we now stood ready in Camp X, at a height of 7200 metres, complete with equipment and supplies for a good fortnight. Though our rucksacks had sometimes seemed all too heavy and the porters had occasionally sighed under their gigantic loads, both we and they had a right to be proud that the precipitous zone of Kangchenjunga, with all its difficulties, lay behind us and that everything was ready for a final and decisive dash for the summit.

On the 15th September we pressed on to Camp XI, after the last bulwark, a steep ice-step, had been made accessible by Allwein and Pircher. The following day Hartmann and Wein ascended with their equipment. A small ice-cave was excavated at 7650 metres and formed our habitation; from Camp IX onwards we had used such ice-caves, for with increasing height and diminishing temperature they proved more and more useful. At Camp XI, where the temperature fell to -30° centigrade at night, such a cave was almost indispensable.

On the 17th we started from Camp XI and in four hours proceeded over vast slopes of deep powder-snow and over the highest crest that for many hundreds of metres runs horizontally to the steep neve summit of the North-east Spur, which is nearly 8000 metres above sea-level(2). The North-east Spur ends in a slope that descends from the North Ridge. At the point of their junction there is a depression, the lowest point of which is some sixty metres below the summit of the North-east Spur. From the summit we had a good view of the final rock pyramid, and seen from so near a point its structure does not seem to offer any serious obstacles.

But immediately before us the steep snow slope descending from the North Ridge was in an extremely unfavourable state. A layer of powder-snow, some twenty inches deep, lay loosely upon the solidly- frozen nev6. At many spots this had already slipped, at others it threatened to avalanche at any moment. It was now too late and too cold for further investigation and we had to return. We had a last glimpse of the surrounding mountains and could see through a gap over the North Ridge the green pastures of Nepal; then we plugged back to Camp XI, where, in the meanwhile, Allwein, Aufschnaiter and Pircher had arrived, with the three porters. Bauer had, owing to a failure of his heart, been obliged to stay behind at Camp X.

On the 18th September Allwein, Pircher and Wien set out for a closer examination of the route and to excavate an ice-cave for Camp XII. They returned with the bad news that the slope which formed the only possible access to the summit ridge of Kangchenjunga was, for the time being, unassailable owing to its great danger of avalanche. It made our hearts heavy to think that the mountain should defeat us when we could see our goal so near at hand, after we had conquered so many and so great difficulties. No doubt the unfavourable state of the snow was temporary ; but unfortunately at such a time there was no prospect of it improving, for every day it snowed for several hours. There was also now the constant menace of a great snow-fall such as had two years before forced upon the expedition a most hazardous retreat demanding the utmost exertions. The issue of a second retreat over deeply-snowed-up slopes and ridges from those high altitudes could not be foreseen. Moreover, one cannot live at a height of 7500 metres for any length of time. Although our leading party had had six weeks to get fully acclimatized to the high altitude and our speed of ascent up to 8000 metres liad not sunk below half that customary in our native mountains, yet it must be remembered that we had carried our heavy rucksacks for forty days almost without a single day of rest and had carried out some very trying ice-work which had set a great strain on our reserves of strength. We might have ventured a final assault in which all was staked on a single card, but even so we must have waited; and a long wait at those heights, if it is possible at all, demands fresh forces. In consequence of these considerations, we felt that there was no option but to renounce final success. An immediate attack on the slope would have been senseless and inexcusable.

(2) Height by aneroid measurement on two different days : 17th September, 7940 m.; 18th September, 8000 m.

From a point six hundred metres below and at a horizontal distance of 1800 metres from the summit of Kangchenjunga we commenced the retreat. On the 19th September, Allwein, Aufschnaiter and Pircher arrived at Camp IX where they told Bauer the bitter nows of the failure to conquer the summit. A day later Hartmann and Wien also left their ice-cave at Camp XI, in which they had passed four nights. All members were now in retreat. On the 22nd the whole attacking party had re-assembled at the Eyrie and two days later met, in Camp VI, the occupants of the lower camps. For them, of whom some had been seriously ill with malaria and para-typhoid, a time of anxious waiting had ended.

On the 27th September we ascended once more to the rock island of the upper Zemu glacier to fasten to the grave of our fallen comrades the memorial plate that had been sent up to us by the kindness of Mr. Gourlay and Mr. Fawcus from Calcutta. Then we bade farewell to Kangchenjunga and to our friends who remained with him.

The expedition now resolved itself into several smaller parties which returned to Darjeeling by different routes. We all wanted to see as much as possible of that marvellous country of Sikkim which we had seen for so many weeks spreading out of the wilderness of ice and snow like some kind of paradise. Leupold and Aufschnaiter with three porters crossed the Podon La and marched back to Chung- thang (Tsuntang) along the Tibetan frontier and over the Lungnak La, Dongkya La and the Lachung valley. Allwein and Pircher with another three porters crossed the Simvu saddle on the 1st October for the first time and descended in a south-easterly direction down the Passanram valley, some 25 km. long, which had never before been trodden by any European. For seven days they struggled with the jungles, and in these seven days they covered no more than fifteen kilometres. In Mangen they rejoined the main body, which had wandered out through the autumnal Zemu valley.

Only Karl Wien, with his faithful porter Pemba, remained yet for sometime in the neighbourhood of Green-Lake Plain. From here he made journeys for his photogrammetrical survey of the Zemu glacier and the surrounding regions. The fine sunny weather facilitated his work and lasted until on the 19th October we were all reassembled at Darjeeling.


[1] The illustration of the North-east Spur accompanying this paper is reproduced from a photograph sent from the Eyrie on the 7th August to the Editor The panorama was taken on the 1929 expedition.-Ed.



The North-East Ridge of  Kangchenjunga. From the Adlerhorst. Photo. Bavarian Expedition.

The North-East Ridge of Kangchenjunga. From the Adlerhorst. Photo. Bavarian Expedition.



VIEW NORTH-EASTWARDS FROM CAMP VIII (20737 FT.) KANGCHENJUNGA. Photo. J.Brenner.

VIEW NORTH-EASTWARDS FROM CAMP VIII (20737 FT.) KANGCHENJUNGA. Photo. J.Brenner.