The Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research, which sent out two expeditions to Everest in 1952, was determined to continue its research programme, in spite of the fact that Everest had been climbed by Hillary and Tenzing in May 1953. It therefore obtained the permission of the Nepal Government to send out a fresh expedition, and got into immediate contact with climbers whom it knew were keenly interested in Himalayan problems. Before very long a plan was formulated and after intensive preparation the expedition was able to set out.
The members of the expedition who had travelled out by a variety of routes and the 22 Sherpas from Darjeeling, with their Sirdar, Pasang Dawa Lama, all met in the Indian frontier town of Jaynagar at the beginning of March. Here the long march-in began, and the 10 tons of baggage were transported on 22 ox-drawn carts through the Ganges valley and the terai to Chisapani, where the Kamla river forces an exit from the mountains into the plains. At this town, we were met on March 7th by the 350 porters from Sola Khumbu, whom we had been able to engage thanks to the friendly co-operation of the Himalayan Club. Before long the loads were fairly distributed and our imposing caravan set off. The Sun Kosi river was crossed by means of two dug-out canoes and then for several days we struck due north along a mountain ridge, eventually reaching Okhaldunga, the principal town of the district, where we made camp.
At the monastery of Taksindhu we crossed over into the valley of the Dudh Kosi; the route provided plenty of variety and was very enjoyable. The vegetation was entirely new to us, tropical forests alternating with barren hillsides. Sometimes we passed through woods full of red rhododendron blossom and then traversed the rice, maize, barley and potato fields built by the natives in terraces across the mountain slopes. The further we penetrated into the mountains the more friendly contact we had with the native population, who almost invariably greeted us with gifts of chang, the local beer. Our liaison officer, Prachand Man Singh Pmclhan, a young student from Katmandu, acted as interpreter and thanks to him we were soon on excellent terms with the local authorities. As time went on we managed to learn a few words of Tibetan and Nepalese, which enabled us on occasion to dispense with the interpreter when dealing with the natives and the Sherpas; and nearly everywhere we came across people who could speak a few words of English.
After crossing innumerable rivers and intervening ridges, we attained a height of 10,000—12,000 ft., and felt that we were really getting to the mountains at last. We spent two days in the well- known village of Namche Bazar which is inhabited by about 500 Sherpas. While we were here, there was a fall of about eight inches of snow on March 21st, which was soon melted by the intense heat of the sun. We went on to the monastery of Thyangboche, where we were warmly received by the hospitable monks dressed in their red and yellow robes. We now had a real stroke of bad luck, as Fritz Luchsinger went down with an acute attack of appendicitis. It was a worrying time and he had to have constant attention. In spite of this we managed to find time to climb some of the 18,000-ft. peaks in the vicinity for acclimatization purposes.
As soon as Luchsinger was better, we left him at the monastery for about a fortnight in charge of our excellent doctor, Edi Leut- hold, while we went on to set up Base Camp at 17,700 ft. at the north bend of the Khumbu Glacier. Here on April 7th, we paid off most of the porters and retained 35 of the best Sherpas, whom we fitted out with boots, clothing, sleeping-bags and tents, exactly like ourselves. We had been 33 days on the approach march, including the enforced stay at Thyangboche monastery. Before long Base Camp began to look like a small village. We levelled out a site on the wide moraine, which involved considerable labour, and set up the tents and the kitchens for the Sherpas and ourselves. When the doctor arrived some time later, he lost no time in setting up his dispensary, and our glaciologist, Fritz Miiller, established a meteorological station and laboratory.
Although we gradually began to feel at home here and later on frequently used Base Camp as a rest centre, life at first was very trying until we got used to the height, the slightest exertion making us out of breath. When Thundu, the cook, called us to breakfast as soon as the sun had raised the temperature somewhat, we crawled quickly out of our sleeping-bags with the intention of putting in a rapid appearance at table, as we did at home. But after the first few steps we were exhausted, and the same thing happened if we hurried into our tents in the evening when the sun went down. In course of time, we noticed that these symptoms disappeared if one took things slowly, and profiting by this discovery we began to feel better. This knowledge stood us in good stead at the higher camps. Nevertheless, we still took half an hour to put on one boot, and three or four hours' preparation was necessary before we were ready to set off in the morning.
Ernst Reiss and Ernst Schmied made an early reconnaissance of the Khumbu icefall from Base Camp on April 7th. At its exit from the Western Cwm at a height of 20,500 ft., this glacier is compressed between Nuptse and the west shoulder of Everest, and at the same time drops very steeply 2,500 ft., causing the normally placidly flowing mass of ice to break up into innumerable seracs and ridges separated by very deep and wide crevasses. There is continual movement, and the thunderous roar of falling ice-towers rarely ceases.
In spite of the difficulties encountered and the almost unbearable heat, Reiss and Schmied succeeded in threading a way through the maze up to a height of 19,000 ft., and reached the trough where Camp I was established a few days later. On April 8th they returned to Base Camp for a rest, while Adolf Reist and I scaled the icefall in our turn and made a safe route for the porters. We fixed a number of marker-flags and hacked large steps up every ice-wall, any .places of particular difficulty being equipped with fixed ropes secured by ice-pitons or wooden pickets. Schmied continued this good work next day, accompanied by some of the Sherpas, whilst the rest of the party remained at Base Camp.
Everything was now ready for the ferrying of loads. Every day the Sherpas trudged up carrying tents, sleeping-bags, air-mattresses, cooking stoves, fuel containers and food. By April 11th there were enough loads dumped at the site for Schmied to erect two tents and spend the night there, thereby finally establishing Camp I, which was permanently occupied from that date. It was not long before Camps II and III were also in situ.
There was always plenty of work to do on the glacier. The track, which was worked out with great care, avoided all large crevasses; but the constant movement in the icefall, and the grumblings and mutterings which reached us from the depths, were an ever-present reminder that mighty forces were at work. Crevasses, which at first we were able to step over with ease, widened visibly day by day, forcing us to make tiresome detours and construct metal and wooden bridges. We had brought out six duralumin ladders from Switzerland, each 8 ft. long, and on our way up to Base Camp we collected a number of light wooden poles 6 to 10 feet long from the .highest villages. This material was all bolted together and soon the widest crevasses were crossed by twelve firm bridges. The intense radiation caused rapid melting of the snow and ice, although Everest lies a thousand miles south of the Alps! This necessitated constant replacing of the pitons securing the fixed ropes. Tents had frequently to be re-sited and were fastened down nearly every day, otherwise they were liable to be blown away by the storms which usually occurred in the afternoons. Particularly dangerous seracs in the icefall were got rid of by blasting. There seemed no end to our labours. One rope would stamp out a track upwards, followed by another to consolidate it, while the rest of the party were fully occupied in the camps or engaged in supervising the ferrying of loads. Great care was taken to provide relief, and nobody was allowed to lead for too long and so use up valuable strength.
While all this was going on, von Gunten and Diehl made an attempt on Island Peak and the party was joined by Grimm and Marmet, who had brought up the oxygen apparatus, also by Luchsinger, now fully recovered from his illness. Unfortunately Diehl developed pneumonia, from which he did not recover for some weeks.
Our fine Sherpas continued to carry their 50-lb. loads ever upwards; their work was adjusted according to their capacity to undertake any particular section of the route, and they all had regular rest-days. At this moment our Sirdar, Pasang Dawa Lama, became ill with an abscess on the liver. I appointed Dawa Tenzing from Khumjung in his place, and we were very well pleased with his services. He had joined us as an ordinary porter and was 54 years old, but nevertheless he was extremely active and stood the height well. Apart from his physical qualities, he had the knack of organization and was well suited to be the head man of a large number of porters.
Camp III at 21,000 ft., half-way up the Western Cwm, and somewhat higher than the corresponding camp of the British Expedition, was built up into an Advanced Base. As soon as we had got enough stores there, we advanced once more, and at the beginning of May established Camp IV at about 23,000 ft., on the first terrace at the foot of the Lhotse glacier. We now had to tackle the steep face, and many days of hard work ensued before we pitched Camp V at 24,500 ft. A very large number of steps had to be cut in the hard ice and over 1,000 ft. of fixed ropes placed in position before the route was finally made safe. From this point, the yellow limestone band was reached and crossed by means of a narrow ledge of snow, after careful reconnaissance. Fixed ropes were also placed in position at this point. The route now led up the top part of the steep Lhotse flank and parties were able without much difficulty to reach the rocks of the Lhotse north arete through snow, close to the Geneva Spur.
We had now been more than a month on the job and were all pretty well accustomed to the height. We were able to work for hours at a time and climb up or down without getting too exhausted. We all ate well and the cook, who was established at Advanced Base Camp, saw to it that there were always enough hot drinks. We drank about seven pints a day of tea, coffee, soup, fruit-juices and lemonade. Before long we preferred porridge made from roasted tsampa, the Sherpas' principal food, to any other food, as nobody wanted to eat anything hard and even our jam, honey and butter were usually frozen. Thus we gradually acquired a taste for native food and were able to maintain our strength with it.
In course of time we became accustomed to the great variations in temperature. During the day the thermometer rose to over 100°F. in the sun, and at night sank to —30°F. We had little protection against the heat; in fact the best way of dealing with it was to absorb as much liquid as possible. The intense cold was quite another matter, but we were very well equipped for it. Our warm underclothing, pullovers, down trousers and jackets and completely windproof outer garments kept us entirely insulated from the bitter air. Our feet were encased in reindeer boots. Our small nylon tents, with double silk linings, offered the fullest protection at night and in times of storm. The worst thing we had to deal with was the freezing-up of our boots during the night and the only way to get over this difficulty in the high camps was to go to bed in them.
We generally used oxygen above Camp IV (23,000 ft.), and for sleeping. When one is exhausted or very cold, a whiff of oxygen works wonders. In spite of the additional'weight of 13 lbs., we felt the advantage of its use when climbing at greater heights. When using oxygen on easy ground it is possible to ascend at about 800 ft. per hour and at about half this without.
On May 9th we set up Camp VI at nearly 26,000 ft., and hoped soon to be able to make our final assault. Pre-monsoon storms took place, however, bringing much fresh snow, and forced us temporarily to evacuate the upper three camps. Our mood of quiet confidence gave way to one of grave anxiety and we could not refrain from wondering whether all our exertions had been in vain and if we should be forced to abandon the quest like so many other expeditions in the past. However, the constant powder-snow avalanches gradually ceased and, after a rest at Camp III and even at Base Camp, we felt better about things in.general. According to the broadcasts from the Indian Meteorological Office, we were likely to have a spell of fine weather before the monsoon arrived in earnest.
As soon as the wind had dropped a little and the sun came out once more, we started off again and on May 17th Camp VI was re-occupied by Reiss and Luchsinger after some exhausting route- finding by von Gunten and Reist in deep wind-driven snow. Next day, the former pair traversed the face to the foot of the Lhotse rocks. Before long, Luchsinger's oxygen apparatus froze up and it required an hour of tricky work with stiff fingers before it was set right. As soon as it was working properly they climbed on in a bitter wind and reached the foot of the steep snow couloir which ascends directly to the summit of Lhotse.
Taking turns at leading, they gained height slowly. Half-way up, the couloir narrowed and steepened and there was only room for one foot in the bed of snow; this forced them into some difficult climbing up the rocks on the left-hand side. In order to overcome this pitch they had to hammer in some pitons. Above this step, the snow was slabby and extra caution was necessary. After scaling a steep ice and snow ridge of at least 50° they reached the top of the northern and highest tower of the double summit, 27,890 ft. The summit cone was so sharp that it was not possible to stand on it in the gusty wind, so they had to be content with driving their axes into it. Taking a stand some three feet lower down, they enjoyed the view and congratulated each other. It was unfortunate that mist prevented many photos being taken. Reiss and Luchsinger, both very experienced mountaineers, were obviously impressed by the difficulty of the climb and discussed the best method of descending the 1,500-ft. long couloir. However, they got down without any untoward incidents, but took almost exactly the same time as they did for the ascent. They were back in their tent by six in the evening, where we saw them from Camp V. They came down to us on May 19th, and after they had recuperated somewhat, they continued their descent to Camp III.
Schmied and some porters made a carry up to Camp YI on May 20th, where he set up the 2,000-ft. rope windlass and stayed overnight. Next day Marmet and I ascended the steep Lhotse face. The site of Camp VI was not suitable for our future movements so we shifted it to the South Col, where we slept that night. The Sherpas Annullu, Da Norbu, Pa Norbu and Pasang Phutar II stayed with us while Dawa Tenzing went down with the others.
FRITZ LUCHSINGER ON THE SUMMIT OF LHOTSE, 27,890 FT. IN THE BACK GROUND, THE RIDGE THAT LEADS TO NUPTSE, 25,700 FT.
FROM THE SUMMIT OF EVEREST, LOOKING SOUTH TO LHOTSE AND CHAMLANG.
Snow fell during the night and next morning the weather did not look very promising. However, this did not prevent Marmet and Schmied from getting ready to go on. Eventually, at about noon, they left the South Col with four Sherpas and made for the south-east arete of Everest. Toiling up the steep ice slope, they reached the right-hand east couloir and, ascending this, attained the ridge. This was followed to the site of the remnants of Lambert and Tenzing's tent and beyond, until they came across a small terrace on the arete at 27,500 ft., suitable for pitching a tent. The Sherpas returned to the Col, while Schmied and Marmet settled down for the night.
They left their tent, (Camp VII), at about 9 o'clock on the morning of May 23rd and were much troubled by a strong wind, which almost forced them back. However, neither seriously considered this possibility and they continued on their way. Before long they arrived at the remains of Hillary and Tenzing's tent and two hours later stood on the South Peak, with a clear view of the summit ahead. They took off their down clothing and each dumped an empty oxygen flask. Much lightened thereby, and full of confidence, they tackled the last section of the route. They were able to climb Hillary's chimney without undue difficulty and a few minutes later stood on the summit of Everest, 29,028 ft.1
The panorama was wonderful. To the east, Kangchenjunga was visible behind Makalu and Lhotse, and to the north the silver ribbon of the Brahmaputra could be seen meandering through the Tibetan plateau. Westwards the view extended to Gosainthan and the Dhaulagiri- Annapurna massif, while to the south a thick bank of mist showed where the valley of the Ganges lay. There was hardly a cloud in the sky and the wind had dropped a little, but before an hour had passed threatening monsoon clouds warned them it was time to leave. Schmied and Marmet got back to their camp on the ridge without difficulty and there met Reist and von Gunten with the Sherpa Da Norbu. Neither party wasted much time talking, and Schmied, Marmet and Da Norbu soon left for the South Col where Grimm, who had dislocated his shoulder, and I were awaiting them.
Reist and von Gunten tried to make themselves comfortable in the storm-tossed tent, but they did not have a good night. When their oxygen gave out at about 4 a.m. they got up, prepared for departure and left at about 7 a.m. They followed the tracks of their predecessors, which were still visible almost everywhere and were impressed by the steep angle of the ascent to the South Peak. They too left their empty oxygen flasks, but retained their down clothing. The summit was reached at about 11 o'clock. The view was not quite so clear as on the previous day, with mist and clouds everywhere, but a complete absence of wind. Reist and von Gunten were well pleased with their success and remained on the summit for about two hours. For about half the time they did not use oxygen and after having taken some photos they made a quick descent to the South Col arriving in two hours. Here they met Reiss, Luchsinger, Leuthold, Miiller and six Sherpas.
They had brought with them a most unfavourable weather report; the wind was rising again and the clouds were increasing. It was obvious that we had shot our bolt, and we beat a retreat.
Great care was necessary during the descent of the Lhotse face, and especially through the icefall. The latter had changed greatly ; many of our bridges had fallen into the crevasses which they had spanned and in some places were completely covered up by fallen seracs and ice-blocks. We cleared out the camps as much as possible and on May 29th the whole party, Sherpas and all, was back safe and sound in Base Camp. On that day we received, via the B.B.C., the congratulations of Sir John Hunt, Hillary and Tenzing, which cheered us enormously. It was a proud moment for us, for we had profited by the experience of these men who were first on Everest three years earlier.
We reached Katmandu in 20 days, passing through Thyangboche and Namche Bazar, where we were plied with large quantities of chang and arah by our many friends and acquaintances among the local population. The great reception accorded us by our fellow countrymen, Werner Schulthess, Paul Siegenthaler, Eng. Machler and Boris as well as the U.S.O.M. and the Nepal Mountaineering Club did much to blot out the memories of the leeches and the daily monsoon downpours. They were soon forgotten; but we shall always remember the beauty of the journeys, the crossings of the rivers, our stay at the monastery, the surmounting of the icefall and of the Lhotse face, and above all, the days when three of our ropes gained the victory for which we had striven so long.