Himalayan Journal vol.07
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Kenneth Mason
    (H.W. Tilman)
    (I. GENERAL r. finsterwalder)
  5. A VISIT TO NUN KUN, 1934
    (F. S. SMYTHE)
    (J. B. AUDEN)
    (A.P.F. Hamilton)
    (Captain F. KINGDON WARD)
    (P. C. DUNCAN)
    (Lieut.- Colonel Kenneth Mason)
  16. NOTES



May 1. The whole expedition collected in Srinagar ready to start.

May 2. First party, under Merkl and Frier, with 400 coolies, started for Tragbal.

May Second party-Wieland, Schneider, and Sangster, with 200 coolies-followed.

May 10. Both parties reached Astor, after crossing both Tragbal and Burzil passes in deep snow.

May 14. Spent night at Rakiot bridge.

May 18. Reached temporary Base Camp after stiff climb up Rakiot nullah. Held up here by deep, late snow. Weather bad.

May 22. Started carrying stores up to Base Camp. Began digging out camp on site of base camp of 1932 expedition. Early conditions at Base Camp very unpleasant as site consisted of only a hole in deep snow (12 feet), which had to be enlarged daily, to allow tents to be pitched.

May 26. First party (Wieland, Bechtold, Miillritter) went up to the camp on the upper part of great moraine just below northern wall. Main purpose of party to take some photos of the great ice avalanches which fall day and night from the top to the bottom of this i2,ooo-foot wall.

May 27. Wieland returned with excellent reports of snow conditions in and near Camp 1. He urged the immediate start of the attack.

May 28. Schneider, Aschenbrenner, and six Darjeeling porters followed on.

May 2g. Welzenbach and Drexel started off for Camp 4. The weather was still very uncertain-mostly bad; snow still very often falling.

June 2. Advanced party left Camp 1 and made a dash for Camp 2; they were forced to spend one night in a temporary camp, owing to deep snow impeding their progress.

June 4. Camp 2 established in about the same spot as it was in 1932. This camp had later to be moved altogether owing to great fissures opening out and ice towers falling, under and round the tents, causing great danger. Camp 2, situated in the midst of the wildest ice-fields, on the 'crest' of the huge Rakiot glacier, was always an unpleasant and dangerous place to stay in. At one time it was hoped to cut it out, as a camp in which to stop, and to use it merely as a resting and provisioning camp; but it was found that the climb from Camp 1 to Camp 3 was not possible for laden porters, and so Camp 2 continued to be used.

June 6. Camp 3 established-again after great difficulty. The advance party had to spend the night of 5th in a temporary camp. It was very difficult to find a good way through the ice-fields, and from here the 1932 track was no longer followed, owing to the movement of the glacier having altered conditions. All this time the weather was extremely uncertain and a good deal of snow fell.

June 7. At Camp 3 Drexel, who was suffering from a severe cold, was with great difficulty persuaded to return for treatment: he reached Camp 2 in an extremely exhausted condition. Miillritter, who was in this camp, at once started off to fetch the doctor.

June 8. Dr. Bernard arrived on afternoon of 8th in Camp 2, but Drexel died of congestion of the lungs caused by pneumonia at 9 p.m. that evening.

June 9. Wieland, after a wonderful night climb from Camp 1 to Camp 2, arrived in the early morning of 9th with oxygen, but too late to save his comrade. All climbers and porters now left the mountain.

June 11. Drexel was buried near Base Camp, in a wonderful position, facing the great northern wall of Nanga Parbat.

June 14. Wieland and Sangster climbed Buldar peak (18,000 feet),1 and obtained some useful photographs of the summit of Nanga Parbat, which is not visible from Base Camp.

June 16. A long wait now ensued, as some hitch had occurred in the arrival of the tsampa, the essential ration for the Darjeeling porters in high camps. This delay was a very great pity, for on all these days the weather was excellent and very valuable time was being wasted. A certain amount of useful work was done, and stores were sent up daily to stock Camp 4, which we intended to use as an advanced base camp for the final assault.

June 22. At last, the tsampa having arrived, the first party, consisting of Merkl, Welzenbach, Bechtold, Miillritter, Schneider, and Aschenbrenner, started for Camp 4 which they reached on 25th June.

June 25. Second party (Wieland, Bernard, and Sangster) left Base Camp and reached Camp 4 on 28th June. Merkl, Frier, Bechtold, Miillritter, and Schneider climbed the West Chongra peak (21,500 feet approx.?).2
June 30. Wieland and Sangster climbed West Chongra peak. The weather was inclined to be changeable, and was not so good as it had been during our wait in Base Camp. Long conference was held in Camp 4, regarding the plan of attack on the summit. Wieland and Sangster had made out the original plan in which two groups of four climbers each were to start from Camp 4 with a two-days' interval. This plan had to be altered at short notice owing to a variety of reasons: sickness among the porters and scarcity of fuel being the most urgent. It was decided that one party of seven climbers with all available porters would make the attempt together from Camp 4 onwards.

1 18,393 feet (stereo-photogram. survey).-Ed.

2 Probably that shown on photogram. survey as 6,448 m. (21,171 feet).-Ed.

July 1. First party (Merkl, Welzenbach, Schneider, Aschenbrenner) started for Camp 5.

July 2. Second party (Wieland, Bechtold, and Mullritter) left for Camp 5. They hoped to be able to join up with the first party and go over the Rakiot peak together. Camp 5 was located on the ridge below the last steep slope to the Rakiot peak. This peak proved a great deal more difficult to cross than was anticipated and involved two days' hard work. Steps had to be cut into a very steep slope and permanent ropes put in for over 400 feet.

July 4. The party (6 climbers and 18 porters) established Camp 6, about 300 feet beyond and below Rakiot peak, on practically the same spot as Camp" 7, the highest camp of the 1932 expedition. In Camp 4 bad weather had now set in-snow in the day and very heavy wind at night; but at Camp 6, above 23,000 feet, the weather was not so bad-only 'strong but not disagreeable winds' being reported.

July 5. Mullritter returned to Camp 4 with a sick porter, to return later with stores for Camps 5 and 6, which might be needed later. The climbing party made their way along the ridge, passing a fantastic rock-tower which was named the 'Moor's Head', and reached the lowest saddle of the ridge. From here the party started to climb again and pitched Camp 7 under the steep rise to the Silver Saddle. This was not a very difficult day's climbing, but was made very strenuous by the deep snow. A severe snow-storm broke as the party was pitching camp, making the work extremely difficult.

July 6. Bechtold left the party, taking some sick porters back to Camp 4; he was to assist Mullritter in equipping Camps 6 and 7, in case of emergency. The climbing party now consisted of five climbers and eleven porters.

The climb to Camp 8 was started early in the morning. Schneider and Aschenbrenner in the lead, cutting steps in the very steep slope up to the Silver Saddle. These two climbers were in fine form, and quickly reached the Saddle and beheld before them the last plateau -'a comparatively long but not very difficult distance to travel up to the main peak'. Schneider definitely states that he and Aschenbrenner could have reached the summit that day and even returned to camp. However, they decided, in fairness to their comrades, to stick to the arranged programme; and so they chose a site for Camp 8 on the plateau, not far from the Silver Saddle. Actually they themselves went right across the plateau to the 'Fore Peak', and this, at 26,000 feet,[1] was the highest point reached on Nanga Parbat. The porters, who had had an extremely stiff climb up to the Silver Saddle, were unable to carry on far across the plateau; and for this reason Camp 8, at 25,000 feet,[2] was near the Silver Saddle.

July 7. A terrible storm blew that night and next morning, just as the party was getting ready to make a start for the summit. The storm increased in ferocity and became so strong that it was impossible to breathe in the open. Powder snow was being carried along the ground horizontally and in great sheets. Conditions became appalling. To add to troubles, tent poles were broken, and one tent, in which were Schneider and Aschenbrenner, started to let in the snow. However, the party decided to hang on that day, believing that a storm of such velocity and fury could not last more than a day.

They took no food that day and had only a cup of tea each, produced with the utmost difficulty. That night conditions were even worse. Another tent pole broke; the force of the storm was terrific.

July 8. Next day conditions being as bad as ever, they were forced to the decision to go back to Camp 4 and make another attempt on the summit when the weather cleared. All were weakening considerably by that time owing to the cold, the height, and lack of nourishment. It was impossible to hang on any longer. It was decided that Schneider and Aschenbrenner, with three porters, should go ahead and remake the track over the Silver Saddle and downwards, and that the remainder of the party should follow at once. No climber or porter appeared to be in bad condition then, and in the hope of an early return and to lighten porters' loads, a tent and certain equipment were left in Camp 8.

Crossing the Silver Saddle, a sleeping-bag was literally torn from a porter's back by the force of the gale and blown away. This bag belonged to the two climbers, Schneider and Aschenbrenner, which meant that they had to get down at least as far as Camp 5 (Camp 4, as it turned out) before they could hope to find any shelter. The way down the slopes from the Silver Saddle was very difficult and fresh steps had to be cut all over again. The way along the ridges was also very difficult and in the terrific gale the climbers could only see about six yards. Conditions were extremely dangerous. Near Camp 7 the three porters fell behind and the climbers lost sight of them. The climbers crossed the Rakiot peak, reached Camp 5, and, having had something to eat there, reached Camp 4 that evening. They had completed a tremendous climb in one day, and under appalling conditions, making the track in deep snow nearly all the way.

They expected their comrades and the porters to arrive that same evening; when these did not arrive, they presumed that they had stayed the night in Camp 5.

July g. The storm raged all day, and did not diminish until the evening of the third day.

July 10. Four terribly frost-bitten and completely exhausted porters arrived in the evening from the higher camps; they were sent down to Base Camp the next day.

July 11. Repeated efforts were made to take help up to the higher camps, by the party now in Camp 4. It was, however, found impossible-the storm had made the conditions terrible. Snow was now lying shoulder deep, and what had once been a 3-hour climb was now done by a party in 6J hours with great difficulty. Also all climbers and porters were rapidly becoming very weak; they had been at this elevation too long and the strain was too great.

July 14. At last one porter arrived from just beyond Camp 6, and was able to give the true story of the fate which had overtaken the remainder of the party.

It appears that the three climbers, Merkl, Welzenbach, and Wieland, with the porters, left Camp 8 on the 8th July shortly after Schneider and Aschenbrenner. That day they only got down to a spot just above Camp 7, and spent the night there without a tent, presumably in a snow cave. On the 9th July they went on down to Camp 7. Near Camp 7 Wieland sat down in the track and fell asleep, never to wake again. In Camp 7 there was still a tent standing which afforded cover for some of the party. Porters Kitar, Kikuli, Nima Tashi, and Da Thondu1 went on still farther down and spent the night in an ice cave near Camp 6. On the 10th July these men overtook the three porters who had started with Schneider and Aschenbrenner and who had spent one night in Camp 7 and the next in a snow cave near Camp 6. Together they crossed the Rakiot peak, and four of the seven porters reached Camp 4 the same day. These were Pasang, Kitar, Kikuli, and Da Thondu. The remaining three porters, Nima Dorje, Pintzo Norbu,2 and Nima Tashi, perished near Camp 5, dying on the track from sheer exhaustion. Merkl and Welzenbach with two porters (Gaylay and Ang- 1 Or Dawa Tendrup. 2 Or Pinju Norbu.

tsering) remained two days in Camp 7, presumably hoping that the storm would clear. The porters Nima Norbu and Dakshi had died on the nth.[3] On the night of the 12/13th Welzenbach died of exhaustion in Camp 7. On the 13th Merkl, with Gaylay and Angtsering, continued the descent, and reached a snow cave on the saddle near Camp 6. All were in a very bad condition; they had had nothing to eat for at least four days, were exhausted by the altitude and badly frostbitten. On the 14th Angtsering performed the magnificent feat of getting down to Camp 4 over the difficult Rakiot peak alone. Nor must the gallantry of Gaylay be forgotten. He stayed with his leader in the vain endeavour to look after him until help should arrive from below.

July 15. Another attempt was made from Camp 4 to get up to the stranded Merkl and Gaylay.

July 17. Another vain attempt was made. It was impossible. The snow was now worse than shoulder deep. All climbers and porters were exhausted. All hope had to be abandoned. Merkl and Gaylay must have perished on the 14th or 15th July. They were foodless and had not eaten for some days; they were exhausted and badly frostbitten.

[1] As will be seen from Bechtold's account, the party did not reach the top of this peak, which the survey shows to be 7,910 m., or 25,971 feet, but halted below it at about 7,700 m., or 25,280 feet.-Ed.

[2] By stereo-photogrammetry, 7,480 m. or 24,560 feet.-Ed.

[3] Both died in the secondary camp above Camp 7, Nima Norbu on the night of the 8th, Dakshi on the night of the 1 ith (Bechtold*s account, supra, pp. 35, 36).-Ed.