Himalayan Journal vol.11
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.11

Publication year:
1939

Editor:
Kenneth Mason
Index
  1. MOUNT EVEREST, 1938
    (H. W. TILMAN)
  2. PIONEER EXPLORATION IN HUNZA AND CHITRAL
    (BRIGADIER-GENERAL SIR GEORGE COCKERILL)
  3. THE ATTEMPT ON MASHERBRUM, 1938
    (J. O. M. ROBERTS)
  4. THE DIET PROBLEM FOR MOUNTAINEERS IN THE HIMALAYA
    (DR. G. A. J. TEASDALE)
  5. BIRDS OF A KARAKORAM TREK
    (DR. ELIZABETH TEASDALE)
  6. KA KARPO RAZI BURMA'S HIGHEST PEAK
    (F. KINGDON WARD)
  7. NANGA PARBAT, 1938
    (PAUL BAUER1)
  8. PHOTOGRAMMETRIC STUDIES OF GLACIERS IN HIGH ASIA
    (R. FINSTERWALDER AND W. PILLEWIZER)
  9. A RECONNAISSANCE OF K2, 1938
    (CHARLES HOUSTON)
  10. GANGOTRI TRIANGULATION
    (MAJOR GORDON OSMASTON)
  11. THE GERMAN EXPEDITION TO THE GANGOTRI GLACIER, 1938
    (PROFESSOR RUDOLF SCHWARZGRUBER)
  12. LACHSI AND THE ZEMU GAP
    (H. W. TILMAN)
  13. RECONNAISSANCES OF RAKAPOSHI AND THE KUNYANG GLACIER
    (CAMPBELL SEGORD AND MICHAL VYVYAN)
  14. SIKKIM THIRTY YEARS AGO
    (J. G. FRENCH)
  15. SURVEYS AND VARIOUS EXPEDITIONS
  16. IN MEMORIAM
  17. CORRESPONDENCE
  18. NOTES
  19. REVIEWS
  20. CLUB PROCEEDINGS
  21. CLUB NOTICES

A RECONNAISSANCE OF K2, 1938

CHARLES HOUSTON

At the north-west end of the great Himalayan bulwark lies a u district of great peaks intriguing to explorer and to mountaineer alike. There in a little-known region tower some of the most spectacular mountains of the world. King of the Great Karakoram, and crown-prince of all the summits on the earth, is K2, 28,250 feet in height, second only to Everest, a thousand miles away.

Colonel Montgomerie of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India was the first to fix the height of K2. Godwin Austen of the same service was the first to examine the glaciated region about it. In 1861 he made a splendid pioneer trip to the Baltoro glacier and its surrounding peaks, and reached the southern base of K2. Sir Martin Conway was next to enter the country, making some brilliant climbs on the Golden Throne and Bride Peak a few miles to the south of K2. In 1902 an Austro-Swiss expedition composed of Wessely, Eckenstein, Pfannl, and Guillarmod made the first actual attempt on the peak. A brief examination led them to choose the north-east ridge, but illness in the party and failing weather forced them to retreat at about 20,000 feet.

In 1909 Luigi Amedeo of Savoy, Duke of the Abruzzi, one of the greatest mountaineer-explorers of all time, led a splendid expedition to K2. Over a two months' period he made three attacks on the three main ridges of the mountain, reaching over 22,000 feet on several occasions. His able party completed a careful and beautiful map of the Baltoro basin, and Vittorio Sella brought back hundreds of mountain photographs which have yet to be equalled. The Duke of the Abruzzi concluded that the west ridge of K2, rising to the summit in a direct rock rib from the Savoia pass, was the ridge of choice. Of his attempt on the south ridge he said, 'We saw no hope of bringing so long and arduous a climb to a successful conclusion.'

Not for twenty years was K2 again examined closely. Then in 1928 the Duke of Spoleto spent three months oil the Baltoro glacier, mapping and surveying, but did not attempt the climb. In 1937 Tilman and Shipton looked up at the precipitous face of K2 from the Shaksgam, but again made no attempt on it. Kenneth Mason in 1926, the Dyhrenfurth in 1934, and the French expedition to Gasherbrum in 1936 had all seen it from different aspects.

In all, then, attempts to climb K2 had been made by only two previous expeditions whose choice of routes had been quite differrent. Other climbers had planned and dreamed of routes on photographs, but there was no real evidence to favour one side or another.

For several years the American Alpine Club had hoped to send an expedition to the Himalaya, to the Karakoram in particular, but not until the fall of 1937 was permission granted. Mr. Edmund Groth, American Consul in Calcutta, Mr. Joel E. Fisher, then president of the American Alpine Club, and Mr. Fritz Wiessner were responsible for obtaining the permission on which the expedition was then formed.

At the very outset we were faced with great difficulties in deciding on the best season for the attack. Previous parties had been remarkable in their differences of opinion. From our reading and our consultants we accumulated evidence favouring each month from May to October as optimum. To relieve the situation we decided on the only months which we all had free-June and July.

Our winter was a hectic one. Slowly the party crystallized in a small group: Robert H. Bates of Philadelphia, veteran of many Alaskan campaigns; Richard Burdsall, one of the two who reached the summit of Minya Konka; William P. House, one of the team which conquered redoubtable Mount Waddington; Paul Petzoldt, with many climbs in the western United States to his credit; and myself. The Government of India was kind enough to lend us the help of Captain N. R. Streatfeild of the Royal Artillery. He had been in the Karakoram many times and his advice, help, and friendship were of inestimable value. Mr. H. W. Tilman was kind enough to spare Pasang Kikuli from the Sherpas he wanted for Everest, and Pasang and five others chosen by him made up the group of Darjeel- ing porters which was to prove so helpful on our entire trip.

All of us belong to the body of opinion which holds that the mobility of a light party is of more importance than the comforts of a more lavishly equipped group. Our food and equipment lists were therefore very modest and took only a few months to prepare. All the fascinating details of food, fuel, clothing, and bedding were examined minutely; when at last we left New York on the 14th April we were sure that our outfit, from New York, Boston, California, England, France, and Denmark, was the best we could obtain.

Captain Streatfeild met us in Rawalpindi with the six eager Sherpas. All our food and equipment had come with us by boat and train and had been rushed through with a minimum of formality in Bombay through the courtesy of the Government of India. Late in the afternoon of the 10th May the complete expedition arrived at Nedou's Hotel in Srinagar, tired, dusty, but full of excitement for the three months to come.

The Approach.

Leaving Srinagar on the 13th May we took the ordinary road by the Sind valley and the Zoji La, which we crossed on the night of the 15th, reaching Dras two days later.

Baltistan is as different from the fertile valleys of Kashmir as night from day. Here the country is barren, dry, and dusty; water is scarce and the cultivated spots few and far between. In contrast to the rich fertility of the water-soaked vale of Kashmir, Baltistan has little water to spare. Wherever a few trickles of mountain streams reach the plains, the people have carefully irrigated and terraced their meagre fields to produce a bare minimum of rice and barley. We were entranced with this desolate country until the barren drought made more of an impression upon us.

Near Dras we had a tremendous thrill when we found the initials, H.H.G.-A. and the dates 1861-2-3 carved on a rock along the road. A little farther on we came to an ancient Buddhist stone carving which was photographed from all angles.

From Dras we continued along the main route towards Skardu, reaching Tolti, one of the loveliest villages we had yet seen, on the 22nd May, where we were greeted by villagers carrying bouquets of wild roses for us. Three days later we reached Skardu. Our welcome to Skardu was a gusty one, for as we were crossing the sand plain which surrounds it, the hot wind turned into a gale and we were enveloped in fine blown sand which brought near to disaster two of the party who rode with closed eyes underneath low branches. The afternoon was a busy one, for mail was awaiting us in the post office, the last letters we were to expect for many weeks. Flour and sugar were obtained here and we received visits from the youthful Raja of Shigar, who was brought to see us by his kind old protector, and from the Wazir of Baltistan, a vivacious Hindu who spoke excellent English.

At 8 o'clock on the 27th May we crossed the Indus river, here a considerable width, in an ancient barge reported to date from the time of Alexander. Two trips were necessary to convey the 15 members of the party and our 25 ponies and pony-men. On the other bank we marched up the Shigar river 18 miles to the last large village we were to see until our return. Shigar itself is a poor village noted mostly for its apricots and for the large size of the goitres which appear on almost every man and, less frequently, on the women.

After a 17-mile march next day we reached Yuno, the end of the road, where we were to leave our ponies and where we met the coolies who would take us the last stage of the march to K2. Here we had our first difficulty with the transport, for the natives, feeling far removed from the arm of the law, demanded wages far greater than we were prepared to pay, and, in a surprisingly modern spirit, sat down and refused to march until we guaranteed the pay they asked. Streatfeild was firm, and the result was that he and Bates decided to return to Skardu and place the matter before the Wazir. During their absence the rest of the party climbed up to the sides of the valley, and spent two evenings teaching our Sherpas the rudiments of rock work with a rope. They took to this game with great glee, and rapidly became as solid in their place as we could wish, and it was all that we could do to prevent them from staying on the rocks far into the night.

On the evening of the 30th Streatfeild and Bates returned, weary from their forced marches, but bringing with them a servant of the Wazir carrying an impressive paper, and an even more impressive club. We had little further difficulty with the coolies.

Our next three days were very interesting and very strenuous. The coolie train, now grown to 75, made slow progress along the steep and slippery slopes high above the Braldu river, and our marches were only 8 or 10 miles long. The country began to be more broken and far more steep, with sharp granite needles rising 6,000 feet above the narrow river-bed. At intervals along the valley floor were tiny green oases marking small rivers coming down from the snow-capped peaks behind. We were reminded of Tilman's description of the Rishi gorge-ea horizontal oasis in the midst of a vertical desert'. To our intense relief the coolies were very surefooted, and we lost not a single load, although the route at times seemed very precarious. One of our most delightful evenings was spent on the high grassy terraces of Foljo, where we held an impromptu clinic for the grateful villagers.

On the 3rd June we crossed our first rope-bridge, a precarious form of torture peculiar to this part of the Himalaya. Three main cables provide the support of this remarkable piece of work; one thick one for the feet and two for hand-rails, woven from twigs and roots by the villagers of each bank. The span of 60 yards gave considerable play to the fragile bridge, and it was with genuine relief that we found ourselves on the other side within a few miles of Askole. This village of some fifty houses is the last habitation before the Baltoro glacier, and here we met our first serious setback. Petzoldt went down with a high fever and severe pains in his bones. After one day's rest he was not improved and we decided that the bulk of the party should push on toward the Base Camp, leaving Petzoldt in my care until he should recover. We parted with deep misgivings on the morning of the fifth.

For three days the main party marched over rough sheep trails, survived the problem of a second coolie strike, and reached a little clump of willow bushes at the snout of the Baltoro glacier on the evening of the 7th June. Here the coolies made up great masses of unleavened bread, for beyond this point they would have no wood with which to cook until their return to the Base Camp. The first two days' march along the Baltoro glacier were most unpleasant, but very exciting. The surface was worse than that of most glaciers, cut by heavy ridges and mounds of loose rock and gravel which made travel rather trying. To compensate for the rough footing, we gazed on the towering pillars of granite which make up the famous Baltoro needles, some of them rising 8,000 feet in unbroken precipices on each side of the valley.



Colies on the baltoro glacier

Colies on the baltoro glacier



Crossing an ice-chasm of  the Upper Baltoro glacier

Crossing an ice-chasm of the Upper Baltoro glacier



K2 from below ‘Windy Gap’

K2 from below ‘Windy Gap’



The south face of K2 from near the Base Camp (in the foreground)

The south face of K2 from near the Base Camp (in the foreground)



In the meanwhile, Petzoldt was making a speedy recovery, so that he and I were able to start on the third day, and by making long, slow marches were able to catch the main party at an obsolete sheep pasture called Urdokass, two marches up from the end of the Baltoro glacier. Our reunion was a happy one, for both parties had felt the strain of the separation. In retrospect, it would seem that Petzoldt had had an attack of dengue fever, but at the time none of us had any idea of what could be wrong.

Beyond Urdokass we had expected to catch our first views of the Muztagh Tower and Masherbrum, but low-lying clouds hid them from us. Here the moraine of the Baltoro became more gentle, and soon we crossed a ridge where we could look down into the Valley of 10,000 ships' so beautifully described by the Duke of the Abruzzi. From the flat, gravel-covered glacier rise towers of pure white ice ranging from 6 to 200 feet in height, and grouped together for all the world like a fleet of ships.

Our poor coolies did not appreciate the Baltoro glacier as much as we did, for they were sleeping in the open without tents, blankets, or fires. We did our best to protect them with our few tarpaulins, but their lot was an unhappy one. On the 12th June we were granted unforgettable views of the Gasherbrum peaks, rising above the Baltoro glacier to a height of over 26,000 feet, but when we reached Concordia, where the Godwin Austen glacier meets the Baltoro, the long-expected view of K2 was denied us by heavy clouds. Late in the afternoon of the same day we established our Base Camp with a light snow falling. Our coolies were paid off rapidly, and many farewells were said before they started back on their five-day march to Askole. They had given us many trials and tribulations, and we had never considered them completely reliable, but they were cheerful and friendly, and we were sorry to part with our last link with civilization. When they left, we gave them forty-five stones, telling them to throw away one stone every day, and return for us when all the stones were gone. About 5 o'clock camp was empty, and we felt very much alone.

The Reconnaissance.

We were now faced with the problem of investigating the three main ridges of K2. From our Base Camp to 16,600 feet the Savoia glacier runs in a great curve from south to west. At its head is the pass shown on Abruzzi's map as the Savoia pass, 21,870 feet, whence starts the steep, rocky north-west ridge of the mountain. This was to be our first objective, for the Duke of the Abruzzi in his account of this ridge made us feel that it was probably the best route to the summit. Our second attack was to be by the north-east ridge on the opposite side of the mountain rising from the upper Godwin Austen glacier in a long, gentle snow and rock ridge to the great shoulder of K2, 2,900 feet below the true summit. The main problem presented by the north-east ridge was a knife arete running from a point 22,300 feet high to the 25,ooo-foot shoulder, three-quarters of a mile in length, and broken in many places with steep towers of ice, and it was this section of the route which has remained an unanswered question.

Finally, should the north-west and north-east ridges prove too difficult, we planned to attempt the ridge running down almost to the Base Camp from the 25,ooo-foot shoulder. This south ridge the Duke had also attempted, reaching a point approximately 21,000 feet above sea-level, where he decided to retreat.

For two days it snowed heavily, and we entrenched ourselves in the Base Camp, sorting and organizing our stores. Finally, the weather cleared, and the entire party started out with light loads toward the Savoia pass. The new snow had covered all the crevasses, and our progress was slow and tortuous. By noon we had made only 2 miles, and Bates and Streatfeild returned with the supplies to the Base Camp before the snow should become too soft. The remaining four carried camp on for a short distance, and tried to puzzle a way through the maze of cracks toward the Savoia pass which we had not yet seen. On the 15th June, by making two trips, we relayed our camp up the glacier to approximately the location of Camp Five of the Duke of the Abruzzi, and decided on the morrow to move one tent up to the foot of the Savoia pass. The morning was very cold and clear, and the snow frozen into rock-hard crust. Soon we were abreast of the 'Negrotto pass', a deep notch at 21,322 feet between the ice-capped south peak, 22,490 feet, and the great rocky side of K2. Next we passed the end of the broken south-west ridge of K2 and gazed in awe up at the precipices of the west face, far too steep for snow to lie. To our west the valley was walled by mountains covered with hanging ice, the debris from whose avalanches came a good way out on the glacier. Due north of us now was our objective, the Savoia pass. Early in the afternoon we pitched a high camp at 20,300 feet, and Burdsall and Petzoldt returned to the lower camp.

On the morning of the 17th House and I climbed up steep snow slopes to cross the bergschrund below the slope of the pass. To our dismay we found that this slope of fifty degrees in steepness was of green ice covered with loose snow. We cut a few steps on it, but immediately decided that even if we ourselves could climb the last 800 feet to the summit of the pass, the route would never be safe for laden porters. We therefore gave up this route, and in a long march returned to the Base Camp. During the next week, while other reconnaissance parties were working on the north-east ridge, two different parties returned to the Savoia pass and tried other routes to reach the north-west ridge. No way was found which we considered would be safe for carrying loads to establish the higher camps. Our conclusion, then, was that the Savoia pass was out of the question for us that summer. We felt that in another year under different conditions the pass could be easily gained, for the Duke of the Abruzzi had done so, but we cannot say with any certainty how the north-west ridge can be climbed from the pass.

The South or Abruzzi ridge’ of K2, showing probable route of  Houston’s party from Abruzzi’s Camp IV of 1909

The South or Abruzzi ridge’ of K2, showing probable route of Houston’s party from Abruzzi’s Camp IV of 1909



The ‘Abruzzi‘ ridge of K2 in profile

The ‘Abruzzi‘ ridge of K2 in profile



During the reconnaissance of the Savoia pass, Bates and Streat- feild had moved loads up towards the north-east ridge, and on the day after our return to the Base Camp a second party moved up to camp near the foot of the north-east ridge. The upper Godwin Austen glacier proved to be quite different from the Savoia glacier, for the crevasses in the lower part were much less bothersome, and a strong wind, which seems always to be present there, kept the ice clear of snow. Farther on, however, the crevasses are very deep and very wide, and we had some difficulty in working our way through them. Then, too, the entire valley is menaced by falls of ice and snow, which come clear from the summits of K2 and Broad Peak and sweep the entire floor. It is not a completely safe or pleasant valley, but unfortunately there is no other way to approach the north-east ridge. From our camp and from our examinations of the mountain made below the Sella pass, we all were convinced that the three-quarter mile of knife arete would be a difficult and a dangerous route over which to approach the 25,ooo-foot shoulder. Accordingly, we returned to the Base Camp once more on the 23rd June. On our way back one party climbed for a thousand feet up the south ridge of the mountain which we have christened the 'Abruzzi ridge', while the second party examined the upper parts of this ridge from across the valley.

Assembled in the Base Camp that evening we had a gloomy tale to tell. The Savoia pass was definitely ruled out for that season; the north-east ridge would be long, difficult, and dangerous if indeed it could be climbed at all. Our brief exploration of the Abruzzi ridge, together with inspection from across the valley, made us feel that this, too, presented considerable difficulty, particularly in the last thousand feet below the 25,ooo-foot shoulder.

The Attack.

As a result of our council of war, we spent the next three days in sending more parties to examine the Abruzzi ridge and the northeast ridge. One party climbed to about 20,000 feet on the northeast ridge, hoping to gain at least the beginning of the three-quarter mile arete, but soft, dangerous snow turned them back, and we brought down our camp from the north-east. The party on the Abruzzi ridge fared slightly better, and after a long, hard day they reached a point about 1,500 feet above the glacier, and located a small but comfortable snow shoulder on which a camp could be placed. A second council of war decided us to place our last hope on the Abruzzi ridge, and we established Camp I at about 17,500 feet at the foot of the ridge. That afternoon we had a serious blow when we discovered that three gallons of fuel for our stoves had been lost when a large rock slid on the ice and crushed the tin. Streatfeild generously volunteered to make the long march to the foot of Gasherbrum where the French expedition had camped in 1936, in the faint hope of finding there a few gallons of fuel. The rest of the party in the meantime was to make a determined attempt on the Abruzzi ridge.

During the last stormy days of June we carried loads to Camp I, while a party of two was preparing the route to Camp II. By the 2nd July Petzoldt and House were established in Camp II, and began the difficult task of finding a way higher and to a site for Camp III. By the 5th July all of us were established in Camp II. The reconnaissance party did a superb job in puzzling out a safe route up the broken rock, fixing several hundred feet of rope as hand-rail for the party, and finding a small exposed shoulder at about 21,500 feet, where Camp III could be safely established.

On the 6th July a small party returned to the Base Camp, meeting Streatfeild upon his return from the old French base. He had had three very difficult days and returned empty-handed, for all the tins left had been smashed to bits by coolies from Askole who had returned to loot the cache after the French had left.

The next day the entire party was again established in Camp II with about three weeks' supply of food. The wind had been howling across the ridge for the last two or three days, but we hoped to be able to push two men ahead to Camp III in order to explore still higher. On the 10th Petzoldt and I climbed from Camp III a thousand feet higher, and found another exposed shoulder for Camp IV. The last part of this climb offered a difficult problem in the form of a 50-foot tower up which Petzoldt led brilliantly. In the meantime, the others had carried loads to Camp III and returned to Camp II through a barrage of rocks knocked down by the party climbing above them. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but as a result of this unpleasant experience, we decided that Burdsall and Streatfeild with three of the less expert porters should return to the Base Camp, there to continue the mapping and photographing of the surrounding region which Streatfeild had already begun. It was a real sacrifice for them, but we felt that a large party climbing on so steep and exposed a face would be in serious danger, and that a small party would be more mobile and safer.

The party of four sahibs and three Sherpas was established in Camp III at 20,700 feet with twenty days of food on the 12th. Above us was a climb of 2,000-odd feet to the base of the steep black rock, about 1,000 feet high, which is the crux of the climb.

On the way to Camp I after a fresh snowfall

On the way to Camp I after a fresh snowfall



House arriving at Camp II, K2

House arriving at Camp II, K2



The south-east face of K2 as seen from the ‘Sella Pass’, showing probable route of Houston’s party and point reached, about 26,000 feet

The south-east face of K2 as seen from the ‘Sella Pass’, showing probable route of Houston’s party and point reached, about 26,000 feet



The intermittent storms of late June and early July had given way to clear settled weather; the route was in excellent condition, as were all the members of the party. Our plan was to continue ahead as fast as the route could be reconnoitred and camps established, for there remained to us only two weeks of time, if we were to return to the Base Camp in time to meet our returning coolies.

Accordingly, Bates and House were established above Petzoldt's gendarme on a small scree slope at about 21,500 feet. While the others were carrying loads up to this Camp IV, these two climbed a steep rock buttress and established the route to Camp V. This 150-foot buttress, of a peculiar red rock which makes it easily recognizable from below, proved one of the most redoubtable obstacles of the climb. House led up a vertical chimney of loose rock backed with ice, necessitating many pitons and several hundred feet of fixed rope. Over two hours of severe work were needed before the two reached a site for Camp V, on the top of the buttress, but only 500 feet above Camp IV. Theirs was a fine effort, and due to their diligence in fixing ropes, Petzoldt and I were able to come through from Camp III to V in one day. Above this the two of us had slight difficulty at first, but soon discovered a comparatively easy route up extremely rotten rock, bearing to the west and crossing several of the ice gullies that separate the smaller ribs of Abruzzi ridge.

July 17th proved to be stormy. A brief reconnaissance was made, but half an hour's exposure to the wind and blowing cloud brought the party to the verge of frost-bite, and the rest of the day was spent feasting in our tents with the wind blowing wildly. Our thoughts were all directed on the weather: was this storm the beginning of the break which we had every reason to expect in mid-July, or was it merely a brief spell of bad weather? The route below was of such difficulty as to make it clear to us that it could be descended only in good weather. Should we attempt a retreat in storm the long delays over the difficult stretches, the halts for roping down, and the danger of loose rock, would mean certain and severe frost-bite. No, we realized that we would have to wait out a storm wherever we were, descending only when the weather cleared. Two weeks of food was a perfectly safe allowance for any storm we had yet seen, but one week's supplies would be too little. It was beginning to be questionable how safe it would be to establish ourselves still higher.

To our joy next morning was brilliantly clear and calm, and the new snow had been blown from the rocks. Our views of Concordia and the surrounding giant peaks were unforgettable. To the south- west we saw Nanga Parbat, 120 miles away, and in the eastern distance were dozens of unnamed mountains on which no one had yet set foot. In these glorious conditions Petzoldt and I climbed happily up to a possible site for Camp VI at 23,300 feet, and spent several hours unravelling the difficulties above, realizing that these formed the crucial part of the entire climb: the last 1,000 feet of Abruzzi ridge.

In our absence the others moved up a tent for us, returning to Camp V. Next day, Petzoldt and I climbed still higher, and after many hours of severe work on the steep rock, we shook hands at the top of the Abruzzi ridge. To our surprise the out-sloping strata had not hindered us greatly, and though the difficulties were continuous, requiring many pitons, we had not been stopped, due, I think, largely to Petzoldt's uncanny eye for finding the easiest route through the confusion of ribs.

We were then just below the 25,354-foot point fixed on the Duke of the Abruzzi's expedition, but to reach this we were forced to make a delicate traverse of 200 yards to the eastwards across a 45-degree slope of green ice. An hour was consumed in hacking out large steps across the dangerous stretch, which fell off sharply below us down to the steep smooth ice-slope running clear down to the Godwin Austen glacier. Ice pitons and fixed rope further secured the passage. Beyond it we worked through the tumbled seracs which are so prominent from below, turning them on the east, and climbed straight up and to the west, finally emerging on the 25,354-foot point. Above us we could see no difficulty as far as the base of the summit cone, but the day was drawing to an end and we were forced to hurry back to camp.

After supper we held a long council of war, for a difficult and serious decision had now to be reached. With us we had little more than ten days' supply of food, though several camps were well stocked below us. Should we be caught by a storm we could wait only for one week before being forced to descend, and a forced descent might well mean a serious accident. On the other hand the weather showed no signs of breaking, and we believed the way above to be clear to at least 26,000 feet. With our party in excellent health and spirits our inclinations were all for pushing ahead two more camps and making a bid for the summit. Yet we all feared the dangers of over-extension, so much so that we felt it unjustifiable to go much higher with so little food. Finally, with sore hearts we agreed to establish two men in Camp VII as near the 25,354-foot point as possible, with the understanding that they were to go as high as possible for the summit in one day, and return to Camp VI the next day, in order to begin the retreat to the Base Camp.

The summit cone of K2 seen from 26,000 feet (much foreshortened owing to the tilt of the camera). 21st July 1938

The summit cone of K2 seen from 26,000 feet (much foreshortened owing to the tilt of the camera). 21st July 1938



We packed up on the flawless morning of the 20th. Though we felt that the climb had now become too exacting for our Sherpas, we could not resist Pasang's pleading and gave him a load and a place on one of our ropes, leaving the other two porters in camp. All of them had done extremely well; we had relied on them completely, and they had not disappointed us in any way, but the difficulties of the route, the altitude, and the need for haste decided us to leave them behind. Not until mid-afternoon did the party of five reach the ice-traverse, and there Petzoldt and I sent the others back to reach Camp VI before dark. It was a real sacrifice for them to leave us and not continue higher, for they were as fit and able as we, but there was no chance for more than two men to make the last climb. Our loads were soon relayed across the ice traverse, and camp set up at about 24,700 feet. We spent a calm and restful night and started at eight next morning on a cold, clear day.

A few hours of exhausting work up the slope, here waist deep in powder snow, there hard-packed crust, saw us at the 25,354-foot point. We climbed slowly and steadily higher, our only difficulty being the steep heavy snow. Altitude was beginning to tell, for we had come up several thousand feet in the last few days without a very long period of acclimatization. Shortly after noon we reached a broad snow shoulder rising gently to the very base of the summit cone. The inner half of this snow shoulder was littered with fragments of ice fallen from the great ice-cliffs of the summit, avalanches which apparently sweep the inner end of the shoulder almost daily. There is no alternative but to cross this shoulder, which we did, hurrying as best we could over the 200 yards to the shelter of the rocks at the base of the summit cone. There we found a large and protected flat rock which would be an ideal site for Camp VIII.

Above us we saw a way which led on to the final slopes below the summit, apparently with no difficulties greater than those which lay below us. After a long examination and numerous photographs, we turned back at three o'clock. It was a very difficult decision to make, but we had reached over 26,000 feet, the way seemed to be clear to the summit above us, and there was no other safe course but to retreat. By continuing on, gambling on good weather, we could doubtless have gone higher, but in our opinion the risk would have been unjustifiable and very poor mountaineering. We hurried down to our camp in a lovely sunset.

Next day Petzoldt and I moved our tent down to Camp VI, where we lunched with the others before all moving down to Camp IV for the night. The descent was long and tiring, and even more difficult than expected, for the snow had melted from the rocks, and new steps had to be made. Below Camp III the route was especially difficult, and when we reached the Base Camp on the 25th July we realized that we had seriously under-estimated the difficulties of the descent and its dangers in a storm. The weather, as if by signal, began to thicken while we were still in Camp IV, and on our arrival at the base, clouds came in on the upper part of the mountain which did not lift until we left the Baltoro glacier a week later. Our coolies arrived on schedule on the 26th July, and packing up camp we turned our backs on K2, and headed for home.

Of our trip to Srinagar I shall say little. By double marches we reached Askole, which appeared a great and thriving metropolis to our lonely eyes, on the 30th. We then crossed over the 16,000- foot Skoro La in a snowstorm and came down near Shigar, one day by raft from Skardu. The pass was very interesting and saved us a day's march through the Braldu gorge. In Skardu we were royally received by the Tahsildar, in the absence of the Wazir, and after a most agreeable evening with him we climbed up the long valley to reach the Deosai plains, a plateau some 40 miles long and all of it above 12,000 feet high. This had been under snow and impassable earlier in the season, but provided in August a direct and pleasant route to Srinagar. We faced a mild head-wind for three days, and were not at all bothered by the famous mosquitoes of the plains. After crossing the Burzil and Tragbal passes we looked into the hot, steaming vale of Kashmir and with deep regret walked down the wooded slopes to Bandipur where lorries took us into Srinagar.

There are a few points about the expedition which may be worth comment. I believe that we benefited more than we lost by the small size of our party, especially on the peak itself, where a larger party would have been a constant menace owing to the danger of dislodging stones. True, we should have been able to carry more stores for the higher camps, but there is a vicious pyramid effect in taking a larger party to carry more food: they must also carry more food and outfit for themselves. Unless this summer was unusual, the weather on K2 is not greatly different from that of a normal summer season in the Alps. Perhaps a third of the days in June could be used for climbing, the remainder needed for consolidating the new snow, of which a considerable amount fell during the storms. In July, though, we had only two or three days with high wind, and four or five days with cloud and snow; only three days were spent in camp during July. We feel, therefore, that June and July may be the best months for climbing on K2, especially since last summer was a particularly severe one for the monsoon in southern India.

Our Sherpas had proved most satisfactory. It is hard to be moderate in the praise of these stalwart little climbers, both as mountaineers and as companions. I can only say that on the mountain, on difficult climbing, as well as on the easy, pleasant march to the base, they were always cheerful, helpful, self-sacrificing: true friends and fellow workers.

We were fortunate in having almost no illness in the party save for the bout of dengue fever contracted in Askole by Petzoldt. Our diet, proved adequate on previous trips to Alaska and to Nanda Devi, was satisfactory without the addition of vitamins, and only occasionally was the commissariat, so ably managed by Bates, accused of the starvation tactics attributed to Mr. Tilman.

Seen in retrospect the trip grows in richness for each of us. K2 is a great and splendid mountain with superb climbing. We had the rare privilege of blazing a trail up one of the mighty monarchs of the world, in a remote and seldom visited region, a privilege which will be more and more appreciated as the last of the great peaks are climbed. Ours was a united party in every sense; our shared experiences can never be forgotten. Our purpose, reconnaissance, was completely accomplished, and a way was found by which, with the smile of fortune, a second party may reach the summit.