We acknowledge our thanks to the Deutsche Himalaja Stiftung for permitting us to use this article. The translation is by Hugh Merrick.-—Editor.
THE Annapurna Himal cuts across the heart of Nepal from west to east, being bounded on the west by the river Kali and on the eastern end by the Marsyandi. Four important summits rise from its backbone ridge. These, from west to east, are Annapurna I (26,492 ft.), the first 8,000-metre peak to be climbed when, in 1950, a French expedition reached its summit;1 Gangapurna or Annapurna III (24,858 ft.), a savage peak so far undisturbed, Annapurna IV (24,688 ft.) and Annapurna II (26,041 ft.), whose black, rocky ridge soars high above the surrounding hanging- glaciers. This group of great mountains, with its outliers as far as the Tibetan border away to the north, was the objective of our operations.
The expedition was mounted, equipped and put into execution by the Deutsche Himalaja Stiftung (German Himalaya Foundation) in co-operation with the Deutsches Alpenverein (German Alpine Club). It consisted of four members: Heinz Steinmetz, 29, a Munich businessman (leader), Fritz Lobbichler, 29, of Straubing, an inspector of schools, Harald Biller, 24, of Nurnberg, a technician in machine construction, and Jiirgen Wellenkamp, 24, a mathematics student from Bad Reichenhall.
We left Munich on March 28th, 1955, after more than three years of preparation, conditioned by the long delay in obtaining a permit from the Nepalese Government. We reached Raxaul on the frontier of Nepal, by way of Genoa and Bombay, without any untoward incidents. The expedition's baggage, amounting to rather more than three tons, was flown in from there to Katmandu, the capital of Nepal.
After attending to the various formalities in the capital, we were able to start off on the approach march from Katmandu to the Annapurna Himal on April 26th with a train of 126 coolies. Two Sherpas had meanwhile left Darjeeling to join us on the way.
We were delighted and relieved when it became clear, during the very first days of the westerly march through the foothills, that we would be able to get along with the porters from Katmandu. This was an extremely important point for us, because of the large number of porters in relation to the European composition of the expedition; and also because the Sherpas had not yet joined us. Experience has shown that the familiar manifestations of porter-trouble, with demands for pay increase, strikes and the like, are to be feared especially on the approach march.
The stages of our approach march went according to plan. This does not mean that they were arbitrarily laid down beforehand; on the contrary, they were selected in the light of the proved experience and advice of local inhabitants. We had, however, worked out an overall calculation of twenty days' marching to cover the distance from Katmandu to Manangbhot; in fact, we arrived there at the end of the eighteenth day. The passage of the Marsyandi Gorge, which cuts through the main Himalayan backbone from south to north, provided a considerable test of the reliability and zeal of our coolies. Parts of the road through the gorge were in extremely poor condition, whole sectors having been swept away by landslides, while in other places the track consisted of galleries of wooden beams and bamboo ramps projecting from precipitous rock-faces. Obvious signs of doubt and fear on the part of the coolies were swept aside by the resolute assistance of the sahibs and Sherpas, who had meanwhile joined the column; as a result even this most critical point on the whole route caused us no delay.
The successful passage of the gorge to the northern side brought us to our scene of operations and on May 13th we were able to establish our Base Camp in the Sabzi Chu, a small lateral valley running from the upper course of the Marsyandi to the foot of Annapurna IV.
We were able to push forward a reconnaissance party on the very same day as far as the moraines at the head of the re-entrant, and so obtained a first survey of the route up the mountain and the general conditions we were likely to meet on it. The weather was so good and the glaciers in such excellent condition that we decided on an immediate attempt. Back at Base Camp we prepared loads for an assault which might last as long as three weeks. Then we engaged natives from the neighbouring villages to carry the loads up over the moraines; and as early as May 15th the four mrrubers of the expedition, with the two Sherpas and the coolies, se: out to climb the mountain. Unfortunately the local porters, mostly women and young boys, proved so much less reliable that we had to dispense with their services above the treeline. It took the sahibs, the two Sherpas and two coolies, whom we kept permanently with the expedition, two days to get the loads up to the edge of the ice, where we established an Assault Camp for our attack on Annapuma IV.
From this camp we started, with the help of the two Sherpas, to follow Tilman Js route up the mountain, over an ice-rib to the so-called Dome, a snow summit on the main comb of the Anna-purna massif. During his 1950 attempt Tilman had chosen this as the safest of several possible routes for an assault on Annapurna IV and II, and had established that it was practicable to a point close under the summit of Annapurna IV.1 We climbed by way of steep gullies, exposed to threats from avalanches of snow and ice, and on May 19th succeeded in placing Camp I on the first step in the ridge at 17,850 ft.
The way forward was now blocked by an ice-bulge, which had held up Tilman and the two Japanese parties, which had since attempted the climb, to a serious degree. This year, however, the bulge proved less intractable, for an ice-chimney made a traverse to the left possible and we were thus able to turn the overhanging upper section with its armour of icicles. It took us two hours of hard work in the ice to make this pitch passable; but even then there was no way of safeguarding the Sherpas, and a very short discussion of the problem led us to a decision to do without their assistance. We then sent the two porters back to Base Camp, with instructions to come up again to Camp I on a given date.
Before moving on from Camp I to establish Camp II at 20,000 ft., we made a depot of the loads above the ice-bulge. At nightfall on the 24th we occupied Camp II, after an exhausting day's work in an unpleasant snowstorm. Our next preoccupation was to master the Dome and so get a footing on the main ridge as soon as possible; an ice-corridor offered us a good line of approach and after a little trouble with the cornice, the way ahead, across the big snow plateau between the Dome and the final surge of the summit ridge, lay open to us. It was on the 25th that we anchored the first tent of Camp III at 21,200 ft. at the foot of the summit ridge, intending to make that our final camp for the assault on the summit and to occupy it on the following day. This intention was frustrated by a local storm which broke into the fine weather period, and prevented our leaving our tents for two days and nights. The four of us lay in our sleeping-bags, alternately hoping and despairing. Naturally it was impossible to rest, so that we were not in the best shape when we pushed on up to Camp III as soon as it cleared up again. One member of the party, Fritz Lobbichler, had to give in on the ice-wall below the Dome because he was in such poor condition, but decided to await the return of the three others, Wellenkamp, Biller and Steinmetz, who went on and occupied Camp III on May 29th.
ANNAPURNA II AND IV, SEEN FROM BETWEEN CAMPS I AND II.
CAMP I, C. 17,850 FT., LOOKING TOWARD ANNAPURNA II.
ON THE SUMMIT OF ANNAPURNA IV WITH ANNAPURNA II IN THE BACKGROUND.
We had no misconceptions about the enormous difference in height between Camp III and the summit, involving an ascent of about 3,500 ft. and back again in a single day. But we wanted at all costs to avoid establishing yet another camp, in order not to overtax our strength by more load-carrying—for the whole weight of the transport had been on the shoulders of the sahibs ever since the ice-bulge.
The three of us set off at first-light on the 30th, complete with bivouac-equipment and food for three days. The summit ridge proved to be technically much more difficult than we had expected, but the splendid condition of the ice and snow made good any time lost through belaying, and route-making. We caught our first glimpse of the rocky summit-pyramid at about noon, and gave ourselves an hour's rest there at about 23,300 ft.; then, leaving all our bivouac-equipment behind, we started off for the summit. It took us the whole afternoon to climb the sector of the ridge and the ice-slopes beneath it, though they had looked so ridiculously short from below. We had made up our minds long ago that we could still reach the summit, but that to get back to Camp III during the same day was out of the question. At about 5-30 p.m. we hoisted the pennants of Nepal and Germany on an ice-axe in the summit snow and we also left a small statue of the Madonna up there.
Night was falling as we began our return journey. The party arrived at the place where we had left the bivouac-equipment in pitch darkness, and there we dug ourselves into the wall of a crevasse. That bivouac at 23,300 ft. in the bitter cold of the night, coming on top of an exhausting day, was as trying as any of the hardships on the way to the summit of Annapurna IV, but the knowledge that we had attained the main objective of the expedition helped us to bear the ordeal with greater equanimity. It took us three days to evacuate the camps and get off the mountain.
A few rest-days at Base Camp ensued before Wellenkamp started out again and made a solitary ascent of Pisang Peak, 20,057 ft., on June 10th.
The first signs of the monsoon were already in evidence, so we knew we would have to reckon with rain and higher temperatures in planning any further attempts on neighbouring peaks. However, one of our main tasks was to explore the weather conditions on the north side of the range during the rainy season and to establish whether climbing is possible at that period. This duty and the attractions of Kang Guru, a 22,997-ft. peak above Naurgaon, (Tilman's Naurgaon Peak) settled our next objective for us, and we decided to make an attempt on it in spite of the fact that the monsoon had obviously broken. We crossed over from the Marsyandi Valley to the Naur Valley between June 16th and 18th and established a Base Camp at Naurgaon. Our intention to climb the peak at once was negatived by continuous bad weather, so we decided on two lesser objectives while waiting. These were the highest crests between the Phu and Naur valleys, a summit of 18,374 ft., ascended by Biller on June 22nd; and the highest point between the Naur and Chow valleys, a sheer rock-needle of 17,887 ft., which we christened the Naurhorn, climbed by Wellenkamp, Lobbichler and Steinmetz.
The knowledge of weather conditions gained during these undertakings helped us to decide on attempting Kang Guru, come what may. Biller went sick and had to go down to the Sabzi Chu; the three remaining members of the expedition established all Assault Camp at the foot of the mountain, at a point where a great ravine, rich in foliage, strikes up into its flanks. In the existing conditions our tactics on this peak had of necessity to be quite different from those adopted on Annapurna; this had to be a lightning assault of the shortest possible duration.
We sited our first camp at 16,400 ft., just under the great rock barrier which seals off the upper end of the ravine, and began our assault on June 29th. On the 30th, after a difficult passage through the rock-curtain in exceedingly bad weather, we established Camp II at 19,030 ft., on a prominent rock-rib between the hanging- glaciers. Next day we pushed a camp forward to 20,350 ft. at the base of a secondary rib, which gives access to the summit ridge. This camp consisted of a small tent in which the three of us spent the night cramped together in uncomfortable proximity !
The route up to the main ridge lay over fearfully steep ice slopes. We only discovered when we got up there that, contrary to everyone's expectations, the main ridge leading to the summit was an excessively sharp snow crest with immense precipices sweeping down to the north-east and providing four long hours of nerve-racking ascent. We reached the summit at about 1 p.m., but were compelled to start down again immediately by the onset of bad weather. We got back to Camp III the same day; on the next we evacuated all the camps and reached Base Camp, in drenching monsoon rain, after an absence of five days. We then returned to the Sabzi Chu by way of the Naur Gorge and the Marsyandi Valley.
KANG GURU PEAK, 22,997 FT., CLIMBED ON JULY 2ND, 1955.
YULO KANG PEAK, 20,998 FT., IN THE DAMODAR HIMAL. CLIMBED ON AUGUST 29TH, 1955. ROUTE FOLLOWS SKYLINE (SOUTH-WES ) RIDGE.
On July 14th Biller, who had meanwhile recovered, took the Sherpa Da Tondu with him and climbed an unnamed peak of 20,078 ft. in the eastern Chulu Group, a range running westwards to the north of the upper course of the Marsyandi.
On the 23rd, all four of us climbed East Chulu Peak, 20,337 ft.; West Chulu had already been climbed by the Japanese in 1952. On the way down we all had a hairsbreadth escape from a terrific avalanche.
After these activities around Manangbhot, we transferred our area of operations to Mustangbhot, by way of the 18,000-ft. Thorum Lake Pass. Besides extensive photographic work in the area, the most important item to be recorded is the first ascent of three peaks in the Damodar Himal. We camped a day's march below the Mustang La (crossed by Tilman in 1950), and from our base there Wellenkamp climbed the western peak of Dam Kang, 20,009 ft., on August 25th. On the 29th, all four of us reached the top of Yulo Kang, 20,998 ft. Two days later, Lobbichler made the ascent of Kang Juri, 19,030 ft.
We had set ourselves a post-monsoon task of reconnoitring an approach route to Annapurna II from the south. Prolonged monsoon weather and negotiations with the authorities in Katmandu, which had by then become essential, delayed our putting this plan into effect so that when the reconnaissance at last got under way we had hardly any time left. On October 6th we moved off towards the Namun Pass from Pokhara, which we had reached by way of the Kali Gorge. On the way up we had to concede that the southern approaches to Annapurna II are so unpromising that the northern route over Annapurna IV is probably the only one worth considering.
We next cast our eye on the principal peak of the Lamjung Himal, 22,921 ft.; but weather conditions remained so bad that we had to abandon the idea. On October 17th, Steinmetz and Wellenkamp made a final ascent of the 20,300-ft. ice-cap of the western Lamjung Peak, and on November 11th, the expedition left Nepal on its return journey.