THE AMERICAN EXPEDITION TO K2, 1939
A party comprising Fritz Wiessner, Dudley Wolfe, Eaton Cromwell, George Sheldon, Chappel Cranmer, and Jack Durrance was formed early in 1939 to attempt to climb K2. Lieut. G. S. C. Trench, R.A., accompanied the party as transport officer. Nine Sherpa porters were enlisted at Darjeeling. The following facts are compiled from various sources.
The party left Srinagar on the 2nd May and established its Base Camp early in June at the foot of K2. By the 14th June Camp 1, at 18,500 feet, and Camp 2, at 19,300 feet, were set up.1 For the first six weeks, however, the party was dogged by bad weather, though in spite of it further camps were established, Camp 4, at 21,500 feet; Camp 5, at 22,000 feet, on the 6th July; Camp 6, at 23,400 feet, on the nth. By this time most of the climbers were physically tired out; one member had fallen sick on arrival at the base, and was already out of the hunt from the start. It appears that the only climbers now available were Wiessner, Wolfe, Cromwell, and Durrance, together with Trench and eight of the Sherpa porters, whose names were Pasang Kikuli (No. 8), Pasang Dawa Lama Sherpa (No. 139), Phinsoo Sherpa (No. 141), Pasang Kitar, Tend- rup, Dawa, Tsering, and Sonam Sherpa. Of this weakened party it was decided that Cromwell was not well enough to go above Camp 4; Trench's duties were connected with the Base Camp and porters; and Sonam Sherpa fell and received concussion, and had to be removed to the base. For the climb, therefore, out of six climbers and nine Sherpas there were available three climbers and seven Sherpas.
The bare record may be divided into three parts: (a) the establishment of the upper camps and the attack on the summit, (b) the failure of the lines of communication, and (c) the attempts at relief. The facts are best set down in diary form. Comments are reserved to a later section of this Journal.2
(a) The establishment of the upper camps and the attack.
11th July. Wolfe at Camp 5. Wiessner, Cromwell, Durrance, Trench, and the Sherpas at Camp 4. Sheldon returned to the Base Camp.
1 The route appears to have been the same as that of the 1938 reconnaissance, though the heights of the camps are different; perhaps the sites are not the same.
2 See pp. 138-40 below.
12th July. Wiessner, Wolfe, Durrance, and seven Sherpas went to Camp 6. Cromwell returned to the Base Camp.
13th July. Wiessner and Wolfe went to Camp 7 with seven Sherpas. Durrance started but had to turn back owing to mountain sickness. Wiessner, Wolfe, Pasang Lama, Pasang Kitar, and Tend- rup remained at Camp 7; the remaining porters (Pasang Kikuli, Phinsoo, Dawa, and Tsering) returned to Camp 6, with instructions to bring up more supplies next day.
14th July. Wiessner, Wolfe, and their three Sherpas went on to Camp 8, Pasang Lama remaining with the two climbers there, while Pasang Kitar and Tendrup returned to Camp 7. Durrance, ill at Camp 6, descended with difficulty with the aid of Pasang Kikuli and Dawa to Camp 2.
15th, 16th July. Storm prevented any movement, all being confined to their tents.
17th July. Wiessner and Pasang Lama reached the shoulder on the south-east ridge, about 25,354 feet, and pitched a tent. Wolfe turned back at a bergschrund three ropes' length above Camp 8 to that camp.
18th July. There is no record of movement on this day at the highest camps. Wolfe was exhausted at Camp 8, the others fit at Camp 9.
19th July. Wiessner and Pasang Lama made an attempt on the summit. It is claimed that a point 27,450 feet was reached, that is, a point only 800 feet below the summit. It was then 6 p.m. Camp on the shoulder was reached at 2.30 a.m. on the 20th.
20th July. After the exertions of the previous day Wiessner and Pasang Lama rested throughout the 20th.
21st July. Another attempt was made on the summit. A variation of the previous route was attempted, but the height reached is not recorded, and the party again returned to the camp on the shoulder. There were insufficient supplies at this camp for a third attempt.
22nd July. Wiessner and Pasang Lama went down to Camp 8 for more supplies. There they found Wolfe, who explained that no one had arrived from below since the 17th. His supplies were running short, and all three continued the descent to Camp 7. Here they found the two tents in disorder; one was torn, some food was left, but there were no sleeping-bags or mattresses. Owing to the late hour, however, the night had to be spent here.
23rd July. Wolfe, tired but well, decided to remain at Camp 7, to await the return of Wiessner and Pasang Lama, who were to descend to Camp 6 for further supplies. On their descent, Wiessner and Pasang Lama found Camps 6, 5, 4, and 2 all evacuated of sleeping- bags, mattresses, and of almost all food. They were forced by the late hour to spend the night at Camp 2.
24th July. Wiessner and Pasang Lama reached the Base Camp, meeting a search party headed by Cromwell, which had been examining the glacier below the route for signs of an accident.
(b) The failure of the lines of communication.
14th July. Durrance, who was ill, descended from Camp 6 to Camp 2 with Pasang Kikuli and Dawa. Phinsoo and Tsering remained at Camp 6. Pasang Kitar and Tendrup were at Camp 7.
15th, 16th July. Storm confined all to their tents. Two porters were at Camp 2, two at Camp 6, and two at Camp 7. Thus the instructions to carry supplies from Camp 7 to Camp 8 could not be carried out. Wolfe was lying at Camp 8 and Durrance at Camp 2. There was no one in charge to revise the orders.
17th July. Pasang Kitar and Tendrup descended from Camp 7 to Camp 6, where they found Phinsoo and Tsering, and then continued down to Camp 4 for orders. Durrance appears to have returned to the base with Dawa from Camp 2.
18th July. Pasang Kikuli moved up from Camp 2 to Camp 4, presumably on his own initiative, found Pasang Kitar and Tendrup there, and immediately instructed these two to go up and take supplies to Camp 8, with the assistance of Phinsoo and Tsering, who were still at Camp 6.
19th July. Pasang Kitar and Tendrup went to Camp 6 and joined up with Phinsoo and Tsering. These two had now been here for five days, 14th to 19th, without any news from the higher camps or from below, except for Pasang Kitar and Tendrup passing down on the 17th.
20th July. Pasang Kitar, Tendrup, and Phinsoo went to Camp 7, found no one there, and then went on half-way to Camp 8. They shouted to the upper camp but received no response. Feeling certain that there was no one above them and that the two sahibs and Pasang Lama had met with an accident they returned to Camp 7. In fact, on the 20th, Wolfe was lying at Camp 8, while Wiessner and Pasang Lama were resting in their camp on the shoulder after their exertions of the previous day.
21st-23rd July. Pasang Kitar, Tendrup, and Phinsoo evacuated Camp 7 to Camp 6, picked up Tsering, evacuated Camps 6, 5, and 4, and reached the base on the 23rd, where they reported that an accident had occurred.
24th July. Cromwell and a search party started out to examine the glacier below the route for signs of an accident and were met by Wiessner and Pasang Lama returning.
(e) The attempts at relief and the final disaster.
23th July. Durrance, who was far from well, started from the base with Phinsoo Sherpa, Pasang Kitar, and Dawa for Camp 7, where Wolfe had arrived with Wiessner and Pasang Lama on the 22nd. They reached Camp 2. The gravity of the situation does not appear to have been realized, for it was tentatively proposed that Wiessner, Pasang Lama, and another Sherpa should follow two days later in order to make another attempt on the summit.
26th July. Durrance and his party went on to Camp 4. On arrival Durrance again went down with mountain sickness and Dawa fell sick. During the night the weather changed for the worse; high wind and light storm prevailed.
27th July. Owing to Dawa's condition Durrance decided to return immediately and call assistance. Meanwhile Pasang Kitar and Phinsoo continued upwards and reached Camp 6. Durrance and Dawa reached the base the same evening, where a hurried consultation was held. At this Pasang Kikuli, who had recovered from frostbite, insisted that he and Tsering could reach Camp 6 in one day from the base, and that with the help of Pasang Kitar and Phinsoo they could bring Wolfe down to safety on the 29th. The proposal was accepted. Wiessner and Durrance began to feel anxious.
28th July. Pasang Kikuli and Tsering accomplished the amazing feat of reaching Camp 6 in a single day from the base.
29th July. Pasang Kikuli,. Pasang Kitar, and Phinsoo were observed through powerful glasses at the base climbing between Camps 6 and 7. Late in the afternoon three figures were seen returning from Camp 7 to Camp 6. It was learnt afterwards from Tsering that these figures were the three porters who had reached Camp 7, where they had found Wolfe in a sad condition. He had eaten nothing for several days, had no matches with which to light a stove, and could cook nothing. He staggered to his feet but insisted on being left for another day as he was too weak to descend. The porters repitched his tent, brewed him some tea, but having carried no equipment up with them for the night returned to Camp 6.
30th July. A storm raged over the mountain and movement was impossible. The porters were forced to remain in Camp 6.
31st July. With some improvement in the weather, Pasang Kikuli, Pasang Kitar, and Phinsoo started out again for Camp 7, informing Tsering that they intended to carry Wolfe down by persuasion, or force if necessary. If this was impossible, they would ask him to sign a note that they had done all they could to save him. They were not seen again. Tsering waited for them at Camp 6.
1st August. Tsering waited in vain all through the 1st August, but could not search for them alone.
2nd August. Tsering reasoned that it would have been impossible for the three porters to have survived for two nights without sleeping- bags and food, and as Pasang Kikuli had assured him that he would return without fail on the 31st, Tsering decided that the only course left to him was to return. He reached the base the same evening and reported.
During this period clouds were over the mountain most of the time; the camps above could rarely be observed, and no light signals were seen.
3rd August. Dawa and Tsering searched the glacier below Camp 7 for signs of an accident, while Durrance and Wiessner watched for signs of the four men above. Later in the day Wiessner joined the two Sherpas and they moved to Camp 1. The weather was perfect, but none of the prearranged signals from above were seen.
4th August. Wiessner, Dawa, and Tsering continued to Camp 2 in good weather. Owing to their poor condition they were unable to go farther. Camps 2 and 6 were within calling distance, but no answer came to Tsering's frequent shouts.
5th August. A snow-storm raged all day and movement was impossible. The storm continued throughout the night.
6th August. Storm continued at Camp 2 until the afternoon, when it cleared somewhat, though the weather remained bad higher on the mountain. The route above was constantly in cloud, more than a foot of new snow had fallen, and the temperature had dropped considerably.
7th August. At noon Wiessner's party started down from Camp 2, and reached the Base Camp that evening, having weathered a heavy snowstorm during the descent.
8th August. In cold and stormy weather Durrance and a party searched the glacier below the route. Supplies were now running short at the base, snow had fallen here for the last three days, and hope had to be abandoned of recovering the bodies of the missing men.
9th August. The party, owing to shortage of supplies, left the base, unable to await the arrival of the Askole coolies, who called for the rest of the equipment on the 11 th.
The table overleaf has been drawn up as accurately as the records permit to show the occupation of the various camps on the nights of the dates given. Non-effectives at the base are omitted, but men who were effective on the 11 th July to go above Camp 4 and who subsequently became sick or tired after that date are shown with an asterisk.
LIEUT. J. O. M. ROBERTS IN KULU AND SPITI
J. O. M. Roberts was reconnoitring and climbing in Kulu and Spiti in 1939 with three Gurkhas from his regiment, the 1st K.G.O. Gurkha Rifles. In the last half of May he explored possible routes up Deo Tibba, 19,687 feet (52H) from the head of the Beas tributaries, Duhangan, Malana, and Hamtah. The most likely line of approach for a successful climb is from the n6ve at the head of the Malana glacier.
Returning to Manali, Roberts crossed to the Parbati tributary and examined the Dibibokri nullah (53e, 52h) in early June. He states that the two unnamed peaks, 21,760 feet and 21,350 feet, are magnificent but unclimbable from the Parbati side, and he failed to find a practicable pass over to the Spiti side of the watershed from which to make an attempt from the Ratang basin.
While waiting for coolies to take him over the Pin-Parbati pass into Spiti, he reconnoitred peak 20,101 feet, south of the Parbati (52H), but was driven down by bad weather and lack of supplies when within measurable distance of the summit, which he believes to be climbable.
The Pin-Parbati pass (52E) is rarely used by Kulu men, and Roberts had some difficulty in locating its exact whereabouts from the existing map. He first reached a col overlooking the Shorang Gad, a tributary of the Sutlej, and then crossed a col to the north of the first and descended to the Yuchkiun. Evidently the map is not quite correct in the neighbourhood of the watershed, while the detailed topography on the Spiti side is largely conjectural. After replenishing supplies in the Bhabha nullah of Bashahr, he crossed the Tari Khango pass, and reached Kaze in the main Spiti valley (52L) on the 24th June.
Roberts then reconnoitred the Shilla nullah, intending to examine Shilla, 23,050 feet, climbed by a Survey of India khalasi in 1861. He climbed the peak marked 20,680 feet, which the locals called Shilla, but bad visibility prevented him from getting a view. The weather was bad and the mountains here rather uninspiring. He intended to ascend the Ratang nullah to examine the northern sides of peaks 21,760 and 21,350 feet, but there was too much water in the nullah at this time of year to force a passage. Spiti nullahs have precipitous sides and it is almost essential to use the stream-beds for long stretches; many of them are only penetrable when the rivers are low, after the monsoon. The return was made by Khoksar and the Rohtang pass.
Much of the ground at the heads of the eastern tributaries of the Beas is from a climber's point of view still virgin country, and there was undoubtedly a number of fine climbs to be attempted between 19,000 and 22,000 feet.
AN EXPEDITION TO LAHUL, 1939
Six members of the National Union of Students (four British and two Austrians) formed an expedition for the examination of the central Lahul group of the Himalaya. The members were Ludwig Krenek (Vienna), Hilda Richmond (Leeds), Donald Comber (Windsor), Frank Hollick (Cambridge), Robey Johnson (London), Fritz Kolb (Vienna). The Lahul group was chosen owing to the short time available, eleven weeks from London and back; the time of year had to be the monsoon season, and funds were limited. Lahul is generally beyond the reach of the monsoon, and at this season the weather was found to be very favourable for mountaineering. Ease of approach made successful climbing possible although the outbreak of war shortened the available time by a fortnight.
The Lahul mountains are shown on map 52H. The region of high peaks near the Milang river was chosen. Apparently no climbers, other than Bruce and Minchinton, had previously climbed in Lahul and the Milang district was not covered by them.
Hollick and Kolb preceded the main party by about two weeks. They examined the country from Dartse (on map Darcha) in order to select the best route for the main party, and pitched a preliminary camp at the confluence of the two main branches of the Milang river. The place is shown on the map as the junction of two glaciers, but only the glacier of the northern branch approaches it, while that in the southern branch ends some three miles away.
The main party left Manali on the 21st August, and Dartse on the 27th. Besides the Europeans there were three Darjeeling porters, a cook, and twenty local coolies. The crossing of the southern Milang river presented great difficulty, but the Base Camp was reached on the 29th. Its site was on the northern bank of the Milang glacier at about 14,400 feet. This glacier, in the northern branch of the Milang valley, derives its mass of ice from three branches which may be called the northern, central, and southern Milang glaciers. The highest mountain of the group, Mulkila, lies at the point where the ridge between the northern and central Milang glaciers branches from the main ridge. Krenek reports that its location on the map is inaccurate, but it is a triangulated point, with an altitude of 21,380 feet, and it is more likely that its position is correct, but that the local topography is at fault. On the 7th September the peak was climbed from a camp set up at 18,880 feet on the central Milang glacier after nine hours' climbing on difficult rock and ice along the southern ridge.
The second highest peak, 20,800 feet, lies on the ridge south of the southern Milang glacier. This was climbed from the east on the 10th September from a camp at 19,100 feet on the southern Milang glacier, after two smaller summits had been passed. A steep ice slope led to the summit ridge. This climb took six hours.
Besides several other minor ascents, two peaks, 18,500 and 19,000 feet, immediately north of the northern Milang glacier were scaled, as well as Chellagoosi, 19,200 feet, the first mountain on the ridge which separates the two branches of the Milang valley.
Only on the 11th September did the news of the outbreak of war reach the Base Camp. The party was also destined to suffer a more personal tragedy. At the end of the expedition, on the day on which the coolies arrived to evacuate the Base Camp, Miss Richmond, while washing about 500 yards away from the Base Camp, was killed outright by a falling stone. There was no one with her at the time and it was only after a considerable search that her body was found. A low rectangular pile of stone slabs marks the spot where she was buried near the junction of the north and central Milang glaciers, within sight of Mulkila.
The party returned to Manali on the 21st September. Owing to the short season and its curtailment by the war, little geographical and botanical work was completed. The small botanical collection of Miss Richmond was brought home to Cambridge by Hollick, together with the results of his own zoological work.
MR. R. KAULBACK IN UPPER BURMA
Ronald Kaulback went into Upper Burma north of Myitkyina in June 1938, with the intention of spending about two years in that area preparatory to moving into Tibet to continue his search for the source of the Salween. In October and November 1938 he explored the course of the Burmese Taron and the eastern branch of the Adung river; and from the end of December of that year to October *939 he was in the Triangle. Most of his time in Upper Burma was occupied in collecting specimens for the British Museum (Natural History), principally mammals, birds, and reptiles. Of the mammals and birds he found several little-known varieties; and of the reptiles he was fortunate in discovering and being able to send back a large series of one new pit-viper, five new lizards, and three new frogs.
It is of interest that he found the Triangle to be exceedingly rich in Stone Age and Bronze Age implements, of which he was able to make a large collection.
His plans were interrupted by the outbreak of war and he returned to England in October 1939 to join the forces.