Himalayan Journal vol.16
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.16

Publication year:
1951

Editor:
H. W. Tobin
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. ANNAPURNA
    (MAURICE HERZOG)
  3. SWISS HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION, 1949
    (RENE DITTERT)
  4. SCOTTISH KUMAON EXPEDITION
    (W. H. MURRAY)
  5. NORWEGIAN EXPEDITION TO TIRICH MIR, 1950
    (H. R. A. STREATHER)
  6. SIKKIM KHANGKYONG PLATEAU AND KANGCHENJAU
    (T. H. BRAHAM)
  7. SIR JOSEPH HOOKER, K.G.S.I., M.D., D.C.L., F.R.S,
    (F. F. FERGUSSON)
  8. EXPEDITIONS
  9. HIMALAYAN PORTERS
  10. NOTES
  11. REVIEWS
  12. IN MEMORIAM
  13. CLUB PROCEEDINGS

NOTES

NANGA PARBAT, DECEMBER 1950

The following account of the tragedy last December has been given by the sole survivor, R. M. W. Marsh.

J. W. Thornley, W. H. Crace, and I decided to attempt a winter reconnaissance of Nanga Parbat when, in October 1950, after we had been out in the field for three weeks, our plans for spending a year in the north Karakoram were unexpectedly shattered. It was our only alternative to returning home. We did not intend to go high; our object was to see what winter temperatures^ snow, and avalanche conditions would be like.

Base C lamp at 12,500 feet was fully established by 1 ith November, and on the 12th we occupied Camp I at 14,650 feet. Our four Sherpas were unwilling to sleep above Base Camp and we carried on alone, relaying food and equipment. On the 16th I returned to base willi frost-bitten toes. Crace and Thornley were going on for a short way, and we saw them on most days until 1st December, when they were moving up strongly, carrying loads at about 18,000 feet. We saw thrin slop and pitch a tent, but did not see them again. For the next three days the tent was visible: then there was a heavy storm, and that, too, had disappeared. Two of the Sherpas and I went up after them but we were unable to reach the place where they had last been seen. Later, planes searched the mountain-side without spotting anything. Their food-supplies were sufficient to last until 19th December, and on 26 th December we gave up hope and left the mountain.

Thornley and Crace were both extremely determined. Thornley, for instance, marched 165 miles to Nanga Parbat over the Babusarr pass, wearing a pair of gym shoes, in six days, and was in no way fatigued at the end. They were a fine pair of friends and it took an expedition of this sort, where we lived close, in difficult conditions, to bring out fully the great qualities of endurance, patience, and kindness which were so characteristic of them.

I am sure they wish for no better tribute than that when they were last seen they were still going up and still going strong.

R. M. W. Marsh

(In a fuller account of the expedition's doings, which will appear in vol. xvii, Captain Marsh refers with gratitude to the wholehearted efforts of a party of ground troops sent by the Pakistani Commander at Gilgit, and to persistent searches by aircraft sent from Pakistan.)

MEMORIES OF A HIMALAYAN PEAK

We watched them plodding steadily up the long, sharp crest of the ridge, while the wind, that terror from the north-west, tore away the snow in clouds, spreading a veil of sparkling vapour before the tremendous scene.

To me, watching these two tiny dots toiling upwards, it seemed an age since our two porters, Pasang Kikuli and Dawa Thondup, had left us here, to descend to our Camp III-the ice-cave beneath the cornice at the head of the great couloir in the south face, by which we had reached the ridge. Yet during the short space of thirty-six hours we had drunk our fill of unforgettable experience-two of us alone on a great mountain.

What do I remember now, as I think back across the gap of thirteen years to those moments of great living in a distant land?

I remember the stillness and the majesty of the scene, on the evening of our arrival at Camp IV -the little platform of wind- crusted snow beneath an ice-cliff, set in the south face of the mountain, a balcony looking out on a vast arena of Himalayan giants. Kangchenjunga, third highest mountain on the earth's crust, seemed scarcely higher than ourselves, the razor-sharpness of its north ridge blunted and foreshortened to give a deceptive appearance of ease; Simvu, the silver ‘rateau' of the Himalaya: Siniolchu, that ethereal ice-needle which has no counterpart in the world of mountains: Chomolhari, a solid Ogre, yellowed by distance in his brown fastness of Tibet. These, and a host of satellites.

Incredibly far below, the great ice-stream of the Zemu twisted towards the mist-filled glens of Sikkim.

I remember the wind, that mighty intangible force of the Himalayan winter, as it buffeted and roared against the ridge later that November night, furious in its impotence to burst through the bastion of rock and ice which protected our frail fabric shelter.

I remember it again next morning, as I balanced in ice-steps on the sheltered side of the ridge, and vainly tried my strength against it, in order to gain a footing on the crest.

I remember it later that day when, clinging for dear life with axe and crampons to the hard snow, I crouched upon the south-west summit of Nepal peak, and prayed that it would not tear me bodily away and deposit my remains on the Nepal Gap glacier, many thousands of feet below. As I remained thus I watched with wonder a bird, a lammergeier, supremely master of this same wind, as he, with steady wings, circled the summit below me, at over 23,000 feet.

I remember pausing on an immense white slope sweeping upwards to the summit ridge, gasping as the wind snatched away my laboured breath, to gaze first to the trinity of the Everest peaks in the west, then to the snow at my feet. Here some old, wind-raised footprints ceased, not far below a point where a great horizontal line of cleavage divided the slope-the breaking-point of a windslab avalanche. There it was, then, that a few weeks earlier a German party had stopped and turned back, defeated in their attempt on the summit by this impending avalanche. The snow was now safe, and as I gazed upwards towards the still distant summit ridge, blinding white against the deep blue of the sky, I realized with full conviction that it would be given to me to succeed where they had failed.

But I remember most, and shall ever evoke, that sense of peace, transcending human care and the violence of the wind, which reigns in those lonely places. A peace whose element is Beauty, raising the spirit of man above his baser self towards the Eternal.

John Hunt