The expeditions to Kangchenjunga and Nanga Parbat prior to 1938 have already been described in the Himalayan Journal,2 so that its readers are well acquainted with them. The motives behind these enterprises, however, are less known; and it is possible that some misconceptions about them exist. As I have been intimately connected with the motives and ideas underlying these enterprises from the outset, and as most of those who were with me at the start rest for ever in the Himalaya, it is time to write something on the subject.

Our first Himalayan journey seems now like a fairy tale. Eight intimate mountaineer friends joined forces; each contributed from his resources all that he could; each bound himself for life or death under a leader, without ever speaking of the matter.. There was no publicity, no big organization; the public took no notice. They departed secretly to an unknown goal, like the knight Sir Perceval to the far-off castle of the Grail. Only as they climbed the northeastern spur of Kangchenjunga in 1929 did they realize what was their goal. On their return to Germany they quietly resumed their professions; but the lure of Himalaya had been kindled within them, and they burned to go forth again. The stark reality in their own country, so unfavourable to the carrying out of their plans, appalled them; yet they succeeded in overcoming all obstacles. And so the old team, reinforced in 1931 but imbued with the same spirit, was able once more to start for Kangchenjunga.

In that year we had our first loss. We left Hermann Schaller and his porter on the mountain. Our friend's death only welded us more firmly together. Those of us who climbed in the Himalaya in 1929 and 1931 are an inseparable company and we shall remain so for all time. In the Akademischer Alpenverein in Munich, whence we all came, we have many kindred spirits; but we stand aloof from big organizations—maybe as dreamers, maybe because each has individuality enough to uphold the idea alone. Of that band I write only the names of two who are no longer with us; Hartmann and Wien. Whoever came in touch with either will bear out what I say.

  1. Translated by W. Rickmer Rickmers.
  2. Kangchenjunga, vol. ii, 1930, pp. 13-20; vol. iv, 1932, pp. 116-22. Nanga Parbat, vol. v, 1933, pp. 65-74; vol- J935> PP- 27~37; vol. x, 1938, pp. 145-58. A magnificent map of the Nanga Parbat group was published in 1936, under the auspices of the Deutscher und Osterreichischer Alpenverein on a scale of 1 : 50,000 (H.J., vol. ix, 1937, p. 185). A small preliminary section of this appeared in H.J., vol. vii, 1935, p. 50.—Ed.


Kangchenjunga hovered before us then as a great objective—one that had in our eyes a lofty symbolic meaning that wholly filled our lives.

Events, however, were destined to take another course. In 1932 Merkl attacked Nanga Parbat with German and American mountaineers. Two years later he renewed the assault, and here, for the first and only time, a widespread organization was behind his expedition—the Sports Association of the German Railways—Merkl being an official of the railway. One of the greatest catastrophes in the history of mountaineering overtook Merkl's expedition. All will remember how from the 7th to the 14th July 1934 the six best porters and three mountaineers perished in a blizzard below the Silver Saddle, while those below were powerless to rescue them.

It was a catastrophe that destroyed everything; and we had to begin again.

I now joined Bechtold who had brought back the survivors of this Nanga Parbat expedition. Under the patronage of the Sportsfuhrer of the Reich we founded the German Himalaya Fund. All the German members of the Kangchenjunga teams of 1929 and 1931, and some of those who had been in 1932 and 1934 on Nanga Parbat, contributed to it their fees from lectures, articles, books, pictures, and films. With heavy hearts we put Kangchenjunga in the background for the time being and concentrated all our energies on Nanga Parbat. Our idea had undergone a change. It was painful to me that something quite different had grown out of our splendid light-hearted march on Kangchenjunga. But could we abandon the men who lay on the Silver Saddle and give up Nanga Parbat to attack Kangchenjunga again?

My plan now was to hand on the leadership to others, in the first place to Wien. Before doing so, I went in 1936 once more with Wien, Hepp, and Gottner to the neighbourhood of Kangchenjunga to tell them of my experiences on the spot and to weld them into the nucleus of a new Nanga Parbat team. But in the hearts of all of us—Wien, Gottner, Hepp—it was clear that after Nanga Parbat Kangchenjunga would be the next goal.

All three of them and Hartmann, Fankhauser, Pfeffer, and Miillritter, as well as the nine faithful Sherpa porters who had been our comrades on many an expedition to Nanga Parbat and Kangchenjunga, were buried in 1937 under the merciless avalanche at Camp IV on Nanga Parbat. Once more it seemed that this was the end, but the Himalaya Fund enabled us at once—Bechtold, Kraus, and myself-—to fly out to the Himalaya and salve what could still be salved. The avalanche had buried the men who were the best fitted to climb Nanga Parbat and Kangchenjunga. They had been our best friends and it was for our common task that they had died. Now we, who had given the banner into their hands, had again to take the lead. And so it was that, in 1938, Bechtold and I went once more to Nanga Parbat, and with us Luft, the sole survivor of 1937.

Enlisting the porters for the high camps caused me some anxiety, for there was much talk in Darjeeling about evil spirits and devils on Nanga Parbat, and none of the surviving Sherpa porters were willing to go again. With the aid of the Himalayan Club, however, and of my old friend Nursang, who had been my head porter on Kangchenjunga in 1929, we succeeded in getting ten young Sherpas and Bhutias for the expedition. Although only a few of them had taken part in former expeditions they all stood the test and at least did their very best. Moreover, they accomplished more than I had dared to hope, in view of their fears. To be quite frank, however, it is fair to add that only one, Pinzok, approached in achievement a Pasang 'Picture', a Tsiten, or other splendid porters of the 'Old Guard'.

Though our Himalayan expeditions were due to the initiative of individual mountaineers, they have nevertheless aroused wide interest and support. On this occasion the Aero Club of Germany placed at our disposal a Junkers aeroplane, of the type Ju 52, provided with special engines for great heights and a trap-door for throwing out loads. The piloting of the machine was undertaken by Alexander Thoenes, a member of the Himalaya team of 1929. He had been with us then on Kangchenjunga and had proved himself an excellent mountaineer. His task was to supply the expedition in the higher camps by throwing down loads in the glacier hollow near Camp IV (1c. 6,200 m.) and on the plateau by Camp VIII (c. 7,600 m.) It was doubtful whether this would be possible for various reasons. I therefore took double supplies of the equipment, foodstuffs, and fuel which would be required from Camp IV and Camp VIII onwards. One part was sent to the aeroplane base at Srinagar and a second supply went with the mountaineers to the Fairy Glade (Marchenwiese) whence it could be taken to the high camps by the porters, if the aeroplane failed us. For the success of the plan it was essential that the machine should throw the loads down at the right moment and at the right place. We were therefore obliged to take with us a reliable radio equipment, capable of connecting the Base Camp with the aerodrome in Srinagar, and the climbing party with the Base Camp and the aeroplane.

In addition to Bechtold, Luft, and myself, our climbing team consisted of five men: Chlingensperg, Rebitsch, Ruths, Schmaderer, and Zuck. Though far from forming such a close-knit unit as the members of the Himalayan expeditions of 1929, 1931, and 1937, each played his part as mountaineer satisfactorily and promised to become a useful member of the party. In addition, Ebermann not only proved an expert technician in attending to the radio apparatus, he was also a mountaineer and gave promise of being able to go to the high camps. For his physiological investigations at great heights, Luft also required the help of Dr. Balke who as a ski-runner had experience of high mountains. Then there were our English friends Major Hadow and Flight-Lieutenant McKenna.

In this way our party became larger than I had originally intended. I did not regret this, however. It is true that for the ascent of Siniolchu or the Tent Peak or of similar mountains I regard three to four climbers with four to six porters as the ideal. But for a mountain like Nanga Parbat or Kangchenjunga or Mount Everest this number is certainly too small. We were twelve men in all, but we were all good mountaineers, all capable at least of reaching the high camps. In actual fact the whole party reached Camp IV several times, while eleven reached. Camp V, and seven not only reached Camp VI, but went beyond it.

While the mountaineering section of the expedition with the luggage arrived in India by sea, Thoenes flew with the 'Ju' to India. Unfortunately on Friday, the 13 th of May, the machine encountered, between Karachi and Lahore, a terrific sandstorm, which, contrary to the weather forecast, raged even more furiously in the Punjab than in Sind. Unable to find the Lahore aerodrome and with fuel getting low, Thoenes had to make a forced landing at Tadaja, north-east of Pindi Battian. The plane was unable to get into touch with the outer world by radio, but Thoenes succeeded, by various vehicular means, in reaching Lahore just as the Royal Air Force were on the point of starting to seek him in the desert. With the help of the Royal Air Force the damage to the plane was quickly and thoroughly repaired, and Thoenes flew on to Srinagar where His Highness the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir placed his private aerodrome at our disposal as a base of operations.

The rest of us were unable to travel through Kashmir, as the Government permits only one expedition a year to take the Gilgit road. But by the special courtesy of the Indian authorities we were allowed to march through the picturesque Kagan valley to Nanga Parbat. The thoughtful Major Russell, the Deputy Commissioner of Hazara, sent about a couple of hundred workmen and soldiers in advance of our column to repair the roads and make them safe.

On the 25th May we approached the Babusar pass, and our photographers were burning to catch the first glimpse of Nanga Parbat, which is said to be particularly beautiful from a mountain north-east of the pass. Bechtold had already gone ahead with some companions the day before, to be there by sunrise, in order to utilize the early morning hours which had up till now generally been clear. Alas! it was in vain.

1. The 15,000-foot southern face of Nanga Parbat from the air. 16th June 1938

1. The 15,000-foot southern face of Nanga Parbat from the air. 16th June 1938

The main column started at daybreak from its bivouac at Besal. On the evening before, I had climbed a hill above Besal to survey the way to the pass. The country was open and easy to ride over, while easy passes lead over to Kashmir on the north-east and to the independent tribes in the south-west. The slopes leading to the pass were free from snow, but on the broad floor of the valley and on the shady slopes the continuous snow covering began an hour or so above Besal.

As we skirted the eastern bank of the Lulu Sar lake south-west of the pass—it reminded me of the lake on the Grimsel pass—two soldiers approached us with the ibex horns of the Gilgit Scouts on their caps. Saluting me smartly, they handed me a letter for Luft from Captain Mackenzie who had come from Chilas over the Babusar pass to Gittidas to meet us. His message to Luft was that he was awaiting us at Gittidas, and he advised us strongly to cross the pass to Babusar this very day.

Luft at this time was bringing up the rear of our column, so I wrote to him to bring the stragglers as fast as possible to Gittidas, so that we should cross the pass at once.

The castle-like refuge of Gittidas, its walls pierced by bullet holes, still lay deep in snow. In the vaults of the house Captain Mackenzie lay with his Scouts round the fire, for they had been obliged to wade through the ice-cold river. Our Kagan porters camped on the snow in front of the house until two bridge planks were laid over the river. Then they pressed forward impatiently to the pass, and down to Babusar where their work would end, and where their loads would be taken over by porters from Chilas.

After thirteen days of easy marching from Bala Kot in the Kagan valley, the main body arrived at the Fairy Glade. It was the 31st May. Hadow and I had hastened on ahead to Talichi to collect the thirty porters from Baltistan and the equipment that we had left behind us last year in Gilgit, as well as the provisions we had ordered from a merchant in Gilgit. Bechtold and Ruths had gone ahead to examine snow conditions at the Base Camp. They found it quite free from snow, and on the next day, the 1st June, we reached it early, owing to the lack of snow on the slopes, with the whole column and all the loads. By midday we had dispatched to their homes over 200 porters from Gor, Tatu, Mutat, and other places in the neighbourhood.

I had purposely travelled a fortnight later than had the earlier Nanga Parbat expeditions because our predecessors had always been hindered in May by deep snow and had invariably been held up in the second half of May by heavy snow that fell as low as the neighbourhood of the Fairy Glade.

Much to our delight Major Galbraith, the Political Agent in Gilgit, and Major and Mrs. Atkinson visited us in the Base Camp, and Major Copper, the officer commanding the Gilgit Scouts, placed two well-trained Scout helio-signallers at our disposal. He also established four extra signal-stations in the Indus and Gilgit valleys, so that we were in continuous touch by light signals with Gilgit on cloudless days and nights. Our radio was set up, and, in spite of many difficulties, Ebermann got into touch with the aeroplane at Srinagar on the day agreed upon. For over a week at first the weather was wonderful, each day beginning with a cloudless sky and cumulus clouds only forming in the afternoon heat. The mornings at the Base Camp were usually bitterly cold, the frozen stream only beginning to murmur at midday. We had still thirty Baltis and our ten Darjeeling porters.

Meanwhile loads were taken up to Camp I which lies on solid ground. From there the route lay over glacier-ice, and the special difficulties of Nanga Parbat at once begin. Through binoculars we had often studied the steep glacier below Camp II, but it was not yet clear to us how we could reach it. I was inclined to go as far as possible to the right, as on the 1937 relief expedition, for snow and ice had already vanished from 'the Gentleman Opposite’; big avalanches from that side were therefore no longer to be feared. Everywhere else there was danger of an ice-tower collapsing above or below us. Feeling our way carefully, we were all soon convinced that the right-hand side was the safest way.

In the first days after our arrival at the Base Camp our health was far from good, several of the party suffering from digestive troubles. Gradually, however, all adjusted themselves to the changed conditions, and little by little we became accustomed to the height.

On the 9th June Camp II was occupied by four mountaineers whose next task was to find a route to Camp III. Here we were faced by the same question. If we could climb by the shortest way, then we could reach Camp IV from Camp II in a day; but it never had been possible to take the shortest way. Bechtold, who best knew the local topography, was now with three others in Camp II, to make another attempt.

On the 10th June, before sunrise, our 'Ju’ appeared for the first time. The roar of her engines sounded suddenly like the thunder of an avalanche as she swept over the two Ghongra peaks. But the machine soon vanished into the clouds that shrouded the higher regions. For an hour Ebermann had been on his way to the highest point of the moraine, where the radio had been set up, and we saw him running for dear life to get into communication with the plane. In feverish haste we in the Base Camp lit a fire of green willow bushes to show the plane our camp, but it was a long time before the plane found the Rakhiot valley and then threw one load after another into the Base Camp. All fell close together, in some cases the parachute ripping so that they came down rather hard. One package of tinned meat was damaged, but could be used; a basket with splendid fresh fruit was reduced to pulp; other necessaries, such as petrol, arrived unharmed. This first attempt showed that we could rely on the plane; for since the loads had reached the hard ground of the Base Camp in fair condition, we expected them to land better in the soft snow at Camps IV and VIII. We were greatly relieved to know that Thoenes had been able to risk the flight in spite of the bad weather, and that, even in bad visibility, he had been able to locate the Base Camp.

2. The ice-falls of the Upper Rakhiot glacier and the Rakhiot Peak, showing the route from Camp II on the right to Camp VI on the ridge. 13th July 1938

2. The ice-falls of the Upper Rakhiot glacier and the Rakhiot Peak, showing the route from Camp II on the right to Camp VI on the ridge. 13th July 1938

3. At the great Ice Barrier, which treaverses the Upper Rakhiot glacier between Camps III and IV. 26th June 1938

3. At the great Ice Barrier, which treaverses the Upper Rakhiot glacier between Camps III and IV. 26th June 1938

In the afternoon of this day I climbed up to Camp I in bad weather. We arrived as it was getting dark. It was cold and uncomfortable, and we crawled hastily under cover in order to start early next day for Camp II. A big avalanche came down in the night. Just as the ear of an old soldier in war, even when half asleep, hears the report of a cannon aimed at him, so, in my sleep I heard the avalanche coming and felt that it was directed at our camp. It was a curious sensation. As a rule, no avalanche can harm Camp I. Yet who can tell what treachery lurks in this mountain? Despite all forethought and apparently against the laws of nature, who knows that the unexpected will not happen? The avalanche stormed with fury over the glacier, and already it seemed to be surging over the camp. The tent wall flapped noisily: the tent poles bent under the strain. Powder snow swept in: porters' tents were torn: a terrified murmur of voices arose from them: then there came quiet. The body of the avalanche had indeed remained on the glacier as had been foreseen, and only the clouds of snow and ice-powder had swept over our camp.

The next morning was cloudless and cold. I believe the change from the warmer weather of the 10th June, with its driving snow, to the cold weather of the nth, which occurred in the night, set free the avalanche, a change often experienced on Nanga Parbat. It was a similar change which caused Camp IV to be overwhelmed on that fatal night of the I4th/i5th June 1937, when after several days of bad weather, the night turned cold and clear.

On the 11th June Bechtold and Schmaderer tried to climb in a direct line from Camp II to Camp III. They came into a terrific labyrinth of seracs, utterly impassable for porters. Finally, even they were held up; this way was impossible. The 12th June was hazy. The sun brooded over the fog that enveloped Camp II and produced a paralysing sultriness. On the previous days we had already decided that Camp II should not be left here, as it was too near the hanging glacier of 'the Gentleman Opposite'. Bechtold and Schmaderer now crossed over to the left, to seek another passage up to Camp III. The situation in the sultry atmosphere struck me as unnatural. Driven by instinct, I was prompted to move Camp II 150 metres in the direction of the Chongra peak. Suddenly, still farther to the left, just where Bechtold and Schmaderer were climbing, a broad serac broke away, and the ice fragments were hurled with crushing force over the planned ascent. I was in torment for their safety, but, thank God, they returned an hour later, unharmed. The uncanny feeling in the atmosphere had warned them instinctively to give up their project, and to rest at a considerable distance from the spot over which the tower had fallen. There is no doubt that nearly the whole section of the route between Camps I and III can be most dangerous. It may be possible to discover the safest route and the best time to traverse it, but even so, one must have good luck to come through.

We had based our plan of assault on the weather observations made by the Nanga Parbat expeditions of 1932, 1934, and 1937. All of these had had to wade through deep snow when on the march to the Base Camp. During the second half of May they had scarcely one fine day; on the contrary, fresh snowfalls lasting for several days had condemned them to complete inactivity. About the 1st June the way to the Base Camp had always been free of snow, and the weather at the Base Camp from that date onwards almost like summer. In 1938, therefore, we only settled in the Base Camp on the 1st June. In each of the three former attempts on Nanga Parbat a period of fine weather had set from the middle of June and had been followed by a good three weeks, only once or twice interrupted by short disturbances. We wished therefore to reach Camp IV by the middle of June in order to utilize from there the expected period of fine weather for the assault on the summit.

The weather, however, which up till now had been fine on the whole, played us its first trick. Throughout the night of the 12th it snowed relentlessly. Several times we had to get up for fresh air. Snow continued to fall throughout the 13th. No one could come up from below, and we were busy all day digging our tents and provisions again and again out of the snow. On the 14th June, the anniversary of the accident that robbed me of my best friend, it continued to snow. Our thoughts that day were with those who, a year ago in Camp IV, had fought against similar masses of snow. Our expedition was visibly under the spell of their tragic end. At night, when an avalanche broke, a sleeper's breath would stop, his heart-beats seemed to cease, and only when the avalanche had swept onward, a deep sigh eased the tension.

4. Camp V, Nanga Parbat, 22nd July 1938

4. Camp V, Nanga Parbat, 22nd July 1938

5. The traverse of Rakhiot peak, between Camps V and VI, 22nd July 1938

5. The traverse of Rakhiot peak, between Camps V and VI, 22nd July 1938

After a two days' snowfall the evening of the 14th is perfectly clear. We emerge and stand spellbound in the bitter cold. It is as if everything has been newly given us after these days and nights in the snow—as if the mountains have but now been born, and are rising from the dark depths of the valley towards the light. First one, then another mountain chain, stretching farther than the eye can reach—Tirich Mir, the Hindu Kush, the Pamirs, the mountains of the Baltoro Muztagh, the Karakoram—all gleaming in the warm, golden light of the evening sun. Above our heads shines the cold and mysterious Silver Saddle, and the long ice-cold ridge to the Rakhiot peak, overwhelming and merciless. Our gaze rests on the glacier hollow where lay Camp IV. It is but a year since our friends have experienced just such a marvellous evening. We speak to them as if they were with us. Bechtold and I, the older members of the team, only came here once more to be close to them, and to hold fast to the common task for which they died.

The 15th June was bitterly cold, as the evening before had promised. At 5 a.m., taking advantage of the fine weather, Bechtold left Camp II with Schmaderer in order to press on finally to Camp III. They reached its site, several times having to massage each other's hands and feet to prevent frostbite. I started down in the direction of Camp I to meet Luft and Balke who were plodding up laboriously. Thus we remade an easier track in the deep snow between Camps I and II.

Next day there was activity everywhere. All were glad to be going at last to the mountain. Before sunrise, the aeroplane thundered over the Chongra peaks and threw down the last loads for the Base Camp. By then eighteen porters and four sahibs had already started from Camp I. On the 17th we left Camp II at 4 a.m. to establish ourselves in Camp III. It was clear and cold but suspicious-looking cloud-veils hung over the summit of Nanga Parbat. Just as the column was nearing the great serac belt a huge ice- tower far to the left collapsed with a sharp report and fell with a thunderous annihilating crash over the steep precipice. The slopes trembled, and the whole serac belt shook as if it were about to plunge to the depths. A second ice-block broke away with enormous violence. It seemed as though the ice-wall above us were bending and would break over us. I looked in vain for a way of escape. There was nothing for it but to face fate calmly and trust to luck. And, by the grace of God, the ice-wall held.

We reached Camp III in safety. An icy wind came from above, and it was snowing slightly. Balke returned immediately with three porters, while Bechtold, Ruths, Schmaderer, and I with two others pitched the tents and set up the cooking-range. The whole day was stormy so that we could not reconnoitre beyond as we had planned.

It was still snowing heavily at dawn on the 18th. When the storm tore a hole in the clouds we could see the billowing, heaped-up clouds in the Rakhiot valley, over the Indus valley, and still farther in the north. Without doubt it was the Monsoon. If so, we should be cut off again for several days from below and would have to consume the supplies we had reserved for above. In one day new snow might make it impossible to descend. It was wiser to return at once to the Base Camp. We therefore safeguarded the camp, left it to look after itself, and by noon started to plough our way downwards once more, through the deep snow to Camp II, and thence to Camp I. Visibility was bad. We were several times dusted over with snow from the avalanches that came hurtling down from Nanga Parbat's northern flank, but by the evening we were all safe and sound once more in the Base Camp.

On the 19th and 20th June it snowed uninterruptedly, even in the Base Camp. Ebermann tapped the weather forecast: 'Low pressure area coming from the east and disturbance over Kashmir means uncertain weather for some days. Thunderstorms and heavy rainfall in the neighbourhood of Srinagar and the northern Punjab, less violent storms in the region of Nanga Parbat.’ Thus in Camp III, on the 18th, two days before our receiving the forecast, we had happily diagnosed this state of the weather.

The morning of the 21st June was brilliantly fine. Avalanches soon thundered from the walls of Nanga Parbat. In the evening we lit an enormous midsummer bonfire at Drexel's grave, and next day we were off again to the heights. Rebitsch, Ruths, and Schmaderer had now the task of finding a porter's route between Camps III and IV. Bechtold was to follow the next day with the second column, and occupy Camp IV. The rapid ascent, however, filled every one with enthusiasm. Ruths and Schmaderer were for climbing the Rakhiot peak at once and for reconnoitring, on the way back, the hollow through which Bechtold and Merkl had climbed to the ridge in 1932, a possible line of ascent which we were also keeping in view. But the glacier between Camps III and IV had changed greatly since then. A continuous ice barrier, from 30 to 60 metres high, had formed and stretched from the slopes of the Chongra Peaks into the hollow itself. By keeping to the right, the two 11 lanaged to avoid the barrier and reach the hollow. There they were surprised by an avalanche, and escaped by the skin of their teeth. I liey then pitched a small tent near Camp IV and sent the porters back to Camp III.

6. Nanga Parbat and Ganalo Peak from buldar Peak. 13th July 1938

6. Nanga Parbat and Ganalo Peak from buldar Peak. 13th July 1938

From the 23rd June Ebermann was on the way to Camp IV with the radio and out of communication with the aeroplane. Thoenes had been told that we should probably be in Camp IV by the 25th. Very early, therefore, on this day he appeared over Camp IV, saw the tent of Ruths and Schmaderer, and began to drop his loads. The second column, starting from Camp II, and seeing the loads falling in Camp IV, where there were too few people to retrieve them, hurried on as fast as possible in order to reach Camp IV the same day. The weather was again showing signs of changing, and there was danger that new snow in the night might cover the loads and make them impossible to find. Hearing from the porters about the avalanches in the hollow, they tried another route to Camp IV, but failed to get through. The laden porters had now to be sent back, while Luft and Bechtold took the dangerous route through the hollow in order to investigate. Next morning, in a slight snowfall, Bechtold, Luft, and Ebermann, with a few porters, managed to reach Camp IV.

It was, however, too late to retrieve all the loads, and two lots were lost. These were our only losses during the whole expedition, a small percentage of the seventy loads thrown down. Meanwhile, the weather grew daily worse. In the night of the 27th June it snowed so much that any communication between Camps III and IV was impossible. I had meanwhile moved up to Camp III.

On the 28th June we decided with heavy hearts once more to retreat to the Base Camp. Unfortunately, it was not so simple this time, for the men in Camp IV were completely cut off, since fresh snowfalls had made the hollow impassable for some time to come. I therefore remained with Chlingensperg, McKenna, Ruths, and two porters in Camp III, to prevent the men in Camp IV from being isolated and alone among those enormous masses of new snow. Snow on the 29th and 30th added to our anxiety. We shovelled unceasingly to keep ourselves free of it, while Satara lay ill in the tent groaning with pain, without our being able to find out what ailed him.

The morning of the 1st July was fine. Anxious about our comrades in Camp IV, I tracked towards the great ice-barrier and found a place where it was only 20 metres high. In the afternoon it began to snow again slightly. Nevertheless, we tracked once more in the evening to the low place in the ice-barrier.

Next morning we were awakened by the drone of the engines. I rushed out and saw the plane preparing for its first loop over Camp IV in order to throw down loads. We set off hastily, and after hours of strenuous toil with ice pitons and rope, at last conquered the ice- barrier. From there we had a long spell of tracking in deep snow before reaching Camp IV as darkness fell. The others had made themselves as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. They had grouped the tents round a cooking-trench and, by continuous shovelling, had kept this spot free from snow, so that the camp was surrounded by a snow wall that topped the tents. In spite of the cold, every one was in good spirits, for they had been well provisioned by the plane, while Uli Luft had managed to provide a hot dinner every day.

It seemed, however, for the time being impossible to climb the steep slopes which begin just above Camp IV. I reconnoitred these next morning and was convinced that it would in fact be foolhardy to attack them at once. Over the Indus valley as far as the Karakoram there hung again that long, narrow strip of cloud—the 'fish'—the typical sign of bad weather on Nanga Parbat. Once more we must return to the Base Camp. Only a small garrison, the wireless operator among them, remained in Camp IV. Their task was to transfer the loads from Camp III to Camp IV, to investigate daily the snow conditions above Camp IV, and to send a radio-message to the Base Camp the moment the snow should permit an ascent to Camp V.

On the 4th July most of the party and almost all the porters returned to the Base Camp. The neighbourhood of Camp II is very hot at midday, as the hollow acts as a concave reflector for the sun's rays. On my return, as I was taking a short rest in the tent at midday, I had one of the most exciting avalanche experiences. Dozing under the overheated canvas of the tent, I suddenly heard Rebitsch shout: 'An avalanche, a huge one, it will swamp the camp!' I sprang in alarm from the tent without shoes or stockings, and saw an avalanche advancing over the ice-fall, absolutely black, so thick was it. From the wall of Nanga Parbat almost as far as the Chongra peaks it filled the hollow. It was so huge that I feared it would clear the whole ice-fall above us and overwhelm the camp. We raced up a small slope till out of breath, where the keen icy wind of the avalanche covered us with a snow crust. Fortunately for us the avalanche was shivered to atoms in the deep hollows and on the towers of the ice-fall, and flowed away to right and left.

When we got to the Base Camp we found summer had arrived, and thousand of flowers were in bloom. Nursang greeted us joy- fully'. Sheep, cows, and fowls had come up, a homely summer idyll when the sun was shining. Yet the weather did not improve. A pall of cloud lay in the Rakhiot valley. In the early morning Camp IV was still clear, but the clouds rose rapidly higher and the day passed with slight snow showers. In the evening it was usually clear up high. A night wind obliterated all tracks, so that it would be useless at present to cut a track beyond Camp IV; it would have been drifted up with snow the same day. We therefore ordered the the men in Camp IV to come down again. It was no good to wait up there consuming food unnecessarily. Camp IV was splendidly equipped, for the plane had again thrown down loads there on the 6th July, and all the loads from Camp II and III had been stocked up there. Thus everything was ready for an assault on the summit. All that we needed was fine weather. We still hoped for at least ten days spell of that, when we should take our chance.

7. On the ‘Firn’ ridge near the site of camps VI (1934). The ‘Moor’s Head is seen a little to the left and above the centre of the view. The ‘Silver Saddle’ is outlined against the sky. 22nd July 1938

7. On the ‘Firn’ ridge near the site of camps VI (1934). The ‘Moor’s Head is seen a little to the left and above the centre of the view. The ‘Silver Saddle’ is outlined against the sky. 22nd July 1938

8. Camp VI, 1938 Nanga Parbat, 23rd - 26th  July 1938

8. Camp VI, 1938 Nanga Parbat, 23rd - 26th July 1938

9. View northwards from Camp VI, Nanga Parbat. On the ridge to the right is seenCamp V; on the glacier terrace is Camp VI. The Chongra peaks are in the bachground. 23rd July 1938

9. View northwards from Camp VI, Nanga Parbat. On the ridge to the right is seenCamp V; on the glacier terrace is Camp VI. The Chongra peaks are in the bachground. 23rd July 1938

On the 10th July the whole team was assembled in the Base Camp. On the 12th the weather began slowly to improve. The 13th was brilliantly fine, and with fresh courage we climbed straight up to Camp II. On the 15th Camp IV was reached without a break from Camp II. The next day Bechtold and Luft tracked towards Camp V, but the going was very, very slow. On the 17th I climbed with Zuck and Chlingensperg to Camp V. I wanted to see things for myself, and to bring back the porters. As Chlingensperg was, however, in very poor form we exchanged roles, and I remained instead of him in Camp V. We had scarcely pitched the tents when evening fell, and with it a terrible storm broke from the north. The tents had wisely been pitched about 60 metres below the ridge, otherwise we should have been blown over the southern flank. Our abiding fear during the night was that the tents might be carried 1 way by the storm. The moment it was light we went out and worked feverishly at building a snow wall to protect the tents from the raging elements. Our listless and apathetic porter was not much help to us. During the forenoon we tried to climb the Rakhiot ice- wall, but the storm was so strong that we could not stand it. Late in the afternoon, to our greatest surprise, Bechtold and Luft arrived with five porters. It was a magnificent feat, for the track was mostly covered by drifting snow, and near Camp V the storm had attacked them with the same violence as we had experienced. I started at once to return with the porters to Camp IV in order, if circumstances permitted, to send up the rest of the climbers during the next few days. In spite of the storm, we had no thought of re treating. On the contrary, we hoped the aftermath of the storm would be fine weather.

During the following days the advance guard was checked by an unexpected circumstance. In the ice-wall of the Rakhiot peak Bechtold and Zuck came upon a dead porter. In the snowstorm during the retreat of 1934 the poor fellow in his last extremity had tied himself fast to the hand-rope, hoping perhaps that he would be saved by some one from Camp V. Since those unhappy days his mummified corpse had been hanging there unchanged in spite of the storms that had swept over it. The first task of the advance guard was to bring down the body before we could take the porters through the ice-wall and over the Rakhiot peak.

On the 20th July I worked my way up for the second time with Rebitsch and five porters to Camp V. Here I was obsessed by an idea that I had often turned over in my mind: it seemed to me possible from Camp V to avoid the Rakhiot peak, ascending gently in order to traverse round the not very prominent north-west buttress of the peak, and to climb up through the hollow to the ridge beyond. I started at once and climbed with Rebitsch into the flank. It was very steep, and once there was a cracking sound as if a snow-slab were starting. But the slopes were so varied in their formation that at the worst only a small fragment could slide off, whereupon the rope would doubtless have done its duty. We crossed the buttress and saw the hollow lying before us. This route was certainly better than that over the storm-exposed Rakhiot peak. The greater part of the traverse was quite safe, and needed only to be made passable for the porters by big steps and a firm rope. This was carried out next day. Meanwhile Bechtold, Luft, and Zuck had freed the body from the ice-wall of the Rakhiot peak and buried it in the snow without our porters being aware of it.

The dead man was Pinju Norbu.1 Of personal property there was nothing on him but the amulet usually worn round the neck by the Sherpas. We saved that and brought it back for his kinsfolk, who were very pleased to have it, as Nursang afterwards told us.

Nine days after leaving the Base Camp for the third assault we traversed—four mountaineers and four laden porters—round the Rakhiot peak, and tracked through the hollow up to the ridge. Like a sinister black monster the ‘Moor's Head' stared at us during the climb, the one dark rock in the dazzling snowscape. On the ridge, where Camp VI of the 1934 Expedition had stood, we halted for a moment, delighted to reach this height, and overwhelmed to see the south-eastern buttress of Nanga Parbat soaring aloft for 4,000 metres from the depths of the Rupal valley below.

I now tracked ahead over the ridge towards the rocky tower of the Moor's Head to see how best to avoid or conquer it. Suddenly I caught sight of something strange to the region. Startled, I stood still. What I see must be the feet of dead men. The porter Putar is 30 metres behind me on the rope; immediately behind him is Zuck with a second porter. Shall I call the others to help me or shall I keep them from the sight? Only for a moment I hesitate: then I send Zuck back with the porters with orders to pitch the camp at the beginning of the ridge. None must come here, except Luft and Bechtold.

  1. See Himalayan Journal, vol. vii, 1935, p. 160.


10. The Diamir or western flank of Nanga Parbat from the air. 18th August 1938

10. The Diamir or western flank of Nanga Parbat from the air. 18th August 1938

11. A composite air view of the Diamir or western flank of Nanga Parbat, with the Mazeno ridge descending to the right. A strong north wind clears the north-west face, while on the south are Monsoon clouds. 18th August 1938

11. A composite air view of the Diamir or western flank of Nanga Parbat, with the Mazeno ridge descending to the right. A strong north wind clears the north-west face, while on the south are Monsoon clouds. 18th August 1938

Soon afterwards the three of us stood before the two bodies, and even before we had freed them from the snow we knew that Merkl, the friend of Bechtold's youth, lay before us. We had no time to pause and think. The two bodies were perfectly preserved—Willy Merkl and the porter Gaylay, the servant who had remained faithful to his master to the last, and even in death had not forsaken him.1 Of the wealth of equipment they had carried up to the Silver Saddle they had saved nothing but a blanket and a piece of sponge rubber. In Merkl's breast pocket we found that terribly moving letter written by him and Welzenbach in Camp VII on the 12 th July, in which they told of their plight and weakness, and asked for help. Welzenbach died in Camp VII the following night. With an iron will, Merkl had struggled on for days, and no one had so far known that he had nearly worked his way through to Camp VI. Every one believed that he had died already at the deepest part of the ridge, 300 or 400 metres beyond the Moor's Head. Clinging fast to the rocks, Merkl and Gaylay had evidently sought shelter on the north-east side of the Moor's Head from the storm which came from the south-west. Overcome by cold and weakness they had fallen asleep, never to wake again.

We buried them both as well as was possible, and returned to our porters. This unexpected meeting with the dead made a deep impression on us all, in spite of the austerity with which we had armed ourselves for the assault on Nanga Parbat. We looked anxiously at our porters, wondering if they would hold out. And though we had prevented them from seeing the dead, I knew that instinct is too powerful with these children of nature for them to pass unnoticed so strange a happening. In Darjeeling they had been scared by gruesome tales, and all our care could not prevent the consequences. In the days that followed, we had above Camp IV only one porter left who was capable of work.

Next day we transferred loads to Camp VI, and shifted the tents beyond the Moor's Head into the deepest part of the ridge below the Silver Saddle. Luft and Zuck climbed up towards the Silver Saddle. I was in Camp V, the radio in Camp IV. At Srinagar the crew of the aeroplane stood by ready to start every morning at 4 a.m. A piece of red parachute silk spread out at Camp VI was to be the signal that the summit team was about to start for the Silver Saddle. At this signal Ebermann was to call the plane, and the second detachment was then to move from Camp V to Camp VI.

  1. Himalayan Journal, vol. vii, 1935, p. 37. An 'In Memoriam' notice of the two appeared in the same volume, pp. 153-6, 159.


But we waited in vain for this signal. There was none on the 23rd, none on the 24th and 25th. The weather grew daily worse, monsoon clouds came up and surged against the southern wall of Nanga Parbat. A north wind held them in check, and seldom allowed them to rise above the ridge. Luft and Zuck had not reached the Silver Saddle on the 23rd, the condition of the snow making their progress too slow. Next day Ruths and Rebitsch made an attempt, but the track of the previous day had been obliterated, so that they also needed a great deal of time. During the day the storm increased in violence and compelled them to turn-back at a height of over 7,200 metres, roughly 200 metres below the Silver Saddle.

The advance guard now gave up the idea of reaching the Silver Saddle in one day from Camp VI, and decided to pitch a half-way camp below the Silver Saddle. Next day, the 25th, Schmaderer and Zuck went ahead to tread the track. Luft, Rebitsch, and Ruths shared loads with the only available porter, and followed in the track of the other two. The weather, which as usual had been fairly good at daybreak, had already grown worse by 10 o'clock when they started. Soon afterwards a storm broke, accompanied by thunder and lightning, and forced them to return to Camp VI.

During the night the storm howled round the tents, even in Camp IV which hitherto had been generally quiet. Over Camp V that lay like a fortress and over the Rakhiot peak the storm raged madly throughout the whole of the next day. In the midst of this weather Zuck came from above with a sick porter, and brought me a report from Camp VI asking me whether they should go on or not. They had agreed that we should spread a red parachute at Camp V if they were to return.

The decision to retreat was not easy to take, but everything pointed to the wisdom of breaking off this attack. In Camp VI there was now only one fit porter left; in Camp V there was none. In Camp IV there were three in reserve, but at the moment they could not reach even Camp V. Meanwhile, the condition of the summit team in Camp VI was by no means satisfactory. They had made very little progress and it was now a fortnight since they had left the Base Camp. The weather at the moment was as bad as it could be. On the 27th July, therefore, we spread the red parachute and the whole team with the porters retired to the Base Camp in order to gather new strength for what we hoped would be the final attack. For two more days the storm banners hung on Nanga Parbat.

12. Composite air view of the North-east ridge of Nanga Parbat from the east and south-east, from Rakhiot Peak, on the right, to the Summit. 16th June 1938

12. Composite air view of the North-east ridge of Nanga Parbat from the east and south-east, from Rakhiot Peak, on the right, to the Summit. 16th June 1938

13. An air view of the Silver Saddle, the Summit Plateau, and the Summit of Nanga Parbat, from the east north east. 6th July 1938

13. An air view of the Silver Saddle, the Summit Plateau, and the Summit of Nanga Parbat, from the east north east. 6th July 1938

The 29th was a magnificent day in the Base Camp and, tempted by the beautiful weather, we decided to begin the fourth assault, although, according to our original plan, one or two days' rest would have been necessary to make the team and porters thoroughly fit. On the 30th July we began the ascent, and two days later the advance guard were already in Camp IV. On the 3rd August Camp V, lying deep in snow, was re-occupied. The weather was unfortunately unpromising. There was an icy wind with frequent slight falls of snow which obliterated all tracks in a very short time. It was so cold that Chlingensperg, who, with two Sherpas, was to have taken reinforcements to Camp V on the 4th August, turned back without accomplishing his task owing to threatened frost-bite.

On the same day I had gone up to Camp II, intending to continue in the evening to Camp III, when Balke appeared from above to tell me that the men in Camp IV considered an assault impossible owing to the cold and the snow. Since the previous day I had been watching Camp V in the hope that the summit team would track over to the traverse on the Rakhiot peak; but I saw none leave Camp V. Again on the 4th August it was the same story, and I assumed that the summit team considered it impossible under these snow conditions to get round the Rakhiot peak. We had little time left, for we had to leave Karachi on the 26th of August. At most, therefore, we had only ten days, and owing to the deep snow we could not, even in perfect weather, reach the summit and return with the whole team to the Base Camp in that time. So for the last time we laid out the red parachute, and began the final retreat. I may add here that we had no reason afterwards to regret our decision, for a few days later, on the 10th August, when riding through the Indus valley, such a terrible storm broke over us that the road even in the valley was washed away in parts. This storm would have surprised us on the summit plateau of Nanga Parbat.

On the 5th August I climbed with every available man up to Camp IV, and returned the same day with four heavily laden porters on the rope to the Base Camp. On the same day most of the rest of the team returned there. The last arrived a day later after the high camps had been completely evacuated.

To conclude, we must ask the question: Why did we not reach the summit? Many of us have sat for weeks during the best season of the year, in Zermatt or Gourmayeur, without carrying out a single one of our plans in consequence of the weather. On Nanga Parbat, 3000 metres higher than Mont Blanc, the weather is a far more decisive factor. I will not, however, blame the weather alone. Perhaps we made the mistake of reckoning too surely on a fortnight's fine weather on Nanga Parbat. This assumption was wrong. We should have been ready to fight our way, from the base to the summit, through deep snow in bad weather. Our team was not prepared for that. Nor was it possible, after the disasters of 1934 and 1937, to approach the task with the same lightheartedness with which we made the dash on Kangchenjunga in 1929 and 1931. None, whether mountaineer or porter, nor the public outside, could have borne another catastrophe on Nanga Parbat.

In 1938 the great danger of the mountain through collapsing seracs, ice-avalanches, and new snow avalanches was apparent to every one on the way from Camp I to Camp IV. The route on the glacier is almost endless, 8 ½ kilometres to Camp VI, of which only a very short portion is safe from avalanches. From Camp VI to the summit there is another danger—change of weather with storms continually raging round the mountain's lofty brow. The distance is far—6 km.—that is, 12 km. from Camp VI to the summit and back; and here every 100 metres may cost an hour's work. It would not be right to accept this risk in bad weather.

On the way home Luft, Zuck, and two porters went over to the Diamir valley on the tracks of Collie and Mummery to examine the steep, rocky, but short flanks leading from there to the summit.

Ten days after we had evacuated the Base Camp the aeroplane bore us over Nanga Parbat. Our camps could still be seen quite clearly, especially Camps IV and V. The Silver Saddle and the summit plateau were only 200 or 300 metres below us as we passed over the rocky ridge of the northern summit. The mighty bird roared several times over the ridges of the Ganalo and Mazeno peaks, while we examined the rocky ribs and glacier gullies of the Diamir valley, straining our nerves to the utmost in order to survey everything in a few seconds.

When the rocks are free of snow a rapid and bold ascent to the summit might succeed. Which route will it be? A new route will bring new surprises, fresh experience, and greater knowledge.

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