On April 18, 1957, a party of four climbers, accompanied by a Pakistani liaison officer and 68 porters, left Skardu for the Baltoro glacier. This Karakoram Expedition of the Austrian Alpine Club was made up of Hermann Buhl, Markus Schmuck, Fritz Wintersteller and Kurt Diemberger. Their objective was Broad Peak, 26,414 ft., one of the last ‘Eight-Thousanders ' still to be climbed. Their approach route lay up the Baltoro glacier, 40 miles long and of the world's greatest rivers of ice, overlooking which rise countless magnificent peaks from 18,000 ft. to 23,000 ft. and four of the world's fourteen ' Eight-Thousanders '—K2, Hidden Peak, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum II.
Broad Peak stands at the Eastern rim of the Godwin Austen glacier, close to the so-called ‘Concordiaplatz’ facing K2's gigantic pyramid, 28,250 ft. The expedition established its Base Camp at the foot of Broad Peak's Western spur and then placed a series of assault-camps up the mountain's Western flank. In the end, all four climbers succeeded in reaching the main summit on Whit Sunday, June 9, and so achieved the first ascent of Broad Peak. Later, on June 19, Schmuck and Wintersteller, climbing together, reached the summit of Skil Brum about 24,150 ft.1 But an attempt by Hermann Buhl and Diemberger on Chogolisa, 25,110 ft., came to a tragic end on June 27, when the former fell to his death.
Hermann Buhl had always planned to attack an 8,000-metre peak with a small climbing party dependent on its own efforts. Our organization was therefore simple and to the point. Markus Schmuck was the leader of the expedition. Buhl was in charge of the actual climbing operations ; Wintersteller looked after the commissariat ; and besides looking after health and hygiene, I acted as interpreter. Hermann Buhl was the key to the success of our undertaking ; he knew the country and its mountains ; he had climbed Nanga Parbat, and he alone among us had Himalayan experience. The Pakistan Government had not forgotten that he had been the first to plant the Pakistani flag on an 8,000-metre summit, so our permit for an attempt on Broad Peak was readily granted. This put a seal on the preparations we had been making for so long. The Suez Canal was closed ; so Wintersteller and I accompanied our equipment round the Cape to Karachi, while Buhl and Schmuck followed by air. Later we all went to Rawalpindi and, after a long delay, by plane to Skardu on April 13. All the obstacles had at last been overcome, and the way to our mountain lay clear.
Broad Peak heaves up its three summits into the dark Karakoram sky like the scales on a dragon's back. The Main summit, 26,414 ft., to the south is a small snowy excrescence on an elongated summit ridge running horizontally at above 8,000 metres for its whole length. Next comes the Central summit, about 26,250 ft. high, lying to the north of the Main summit and separated from it by a col at about 25,600 ft. ; finally a further col gives access to the North summit, about 25,300 ft.
What were the chances of climbing Broad Peak ? Prof. G. O. Dyhrenfurth had been the first to go thoroughly into the possibilities. A well-known Himalayan explorer, he formed the opinion that the South-east ridge to the Main summit, difficult of approach, long and certainly technically severe, was a fairly poor proposition; in his view the only prospect of a successful ascent was offered by the West face. And here the Western spur seemed to him to be the obvious bet because, difficult as it might prove, it gave a direct line of approach, free from avalanche fire, to the great neve terrace half-way up the face. The only real problem after that would be how to reach the 25,600 ft. col already mentioned, for the slope leading to it from the terrace was exceedingly steep.
The only actual attempt on the mountain before we went out was made in the autumn of 1954 by Dr. Karl Herrligkoffer's Munich Expedition. He ignored the direct route preferred by Dyhrenfurth because its difficulties were too great for the local porters. The route he picked circumvented the cliffs at the foot of the mountain and led up the steep Broad Peak glacier lying masked behind them. In his view, this gave easier access to the great neve terrace at about 21,000 ft., often called ‘The Plateau'; on the other hand there was a very dangerous passage on the way-the ‘gun-barrelThis was an ice-gully down which everything which broke away from the mighty ice balconies on Broad Peak's upper face went hurtling to the glacier below. Herrligkoffer's attempt, undertaken too late in the year, failed. Two of his party pushed a reconnaissance up to 23,600 ft. ; then the advent of winter put an end to all further efforts.
The Western spur caused us no misgivings. It was the most direct line to the Main summit; it was a new route; and we knew we could manage it, because the key-point in Hermann Buhl's plan of attack was that we were to dispense with high-altitude porters altogether, thus avoiding the main objection to the route. Once we had reached the nevi5 terrace, we would be following the route to the summit which Dyhrenfurth had indicated ; and Herrligkoffer had actually traversed between 21,000 ft. and 23,600 ft., before he was brought to a halt. We therefore decided to set up our Base Camp at the foot of the Western spur. From it, our route to the summit was to be a three-runged ladder. Camp I was to be a transit-camp only, to enable us to establish a relatively well equipped advanced base on the Plateau (Camp II). This again was to serve as an approach point to a light assault-camp (Camp III), pushed as high up the mountain as possible. We realized that the differences in height between camps would be considerable, for the West face is fully 10,000 feet high.2
We did not intend the high camps to be equipped for any lengthy occupation. After they had been established, we intended to wait for a favourable moment down at Base Camp and then push through as quickly as possible to the summit, with an equally quick return to Base.
Knowing that we would have quite enough to carry up the mountain, we had decided from the outset to dispense with oxygen apparatus. We hoped that a process of natural acclimatization would spare us the discomfort of using such equipment. Indeed, we felt that the porterage we would ourselves have to undertake at great heights would enable us to do without the extended period of acclimatization normally spent by Himalayan expeditions at a level between 18,000 ft. and 21,000 ft. Buhl's plan was thus obviously a novelty in the history of 8,000-metre ascents. Daring as it was in conception, it was none the less worked out to the smallest detail of each phase in the attack, and the cogs in the machinery fitted and engaged with extreme precision. In so far as it lies with humans to command success, it seemed to be ensured.
The actual differentials were: -
|Base Camp to Camp||I 2,950 ft.|
|Camp I to Camp II||1,800 ft.|
|Camp II to Camp III||1,970 ft.|
|Camp III to Summit||3,600 ft.|
In the event, we had to start our work as porters far sooner than we had intended. Before we reached Concordia, heavy snow-falls and bitter cold drove most of our porters back down the glacier. Only a very small detachment carried their loads to the neighbourhood of our projected Base; there they turned tail and left us on our own. The only ones to stay with us were our liaison officer, Capt. Quader Saeed, and the two mail-runners. So we had to shuttle all the loads ourselves to the foot of the Western spur, where we established our Base Camp at 16,100 ft. It was May 13 before we set foot on the actual slopes of Broad Peak for the first time, pushing up to a height of 19.000 ft. by way of gullies and steep slopes. There on an airy step in the ridge we found a suitable place for Camp I.
The route we had to cover, humping our loads day after day, was steep and trying ; but the slopes and gullies of the spur allowed of unusual measures of technique on the descent. We were able to cover the 2,500 ft. down to the rim of the Godwin Austen glacier, with only a few pauses to recover our breath, in about half an hour, hurtling down the mountainside on the seat of our pants! This saved invaluable time and strength ; and Camp II at 20,800 ft. was established as early as May 19, snugly protected by the overhang of a gigantic ice-cornice on the ' Plateau '.
Bad weather kept us imprisoned at Base Camp till the 26th ; then we were able to tackle the spur again in glorious conditions. On the evening of the 28th we established our assault camp, Camp III 22,800 ft., on a small pulpit projecting from the West face of Broad Peak. Buhl and I had prepared the 1,600-ft. ice slope above the Plateau in advance, and were to some extent able to use the old fixed ropes of Herrligkoffer's expedition, which we found frozen into the ice. Seeing that the weather was perfect, we decided to try our luck on the summit-bid the very next day, May 29. No one could know how long the good conditions would last, and our cookers went hissing far into the night while thousands of stars glittered down upon us.
Broad peak, 26,414 ft., showing route and camps: view from S.E. ridge of Chogolisa. Left K2, 28,250 ft. right Gasherbrum IV, 26,000 ft.
Evening at camp iii, 22,8oo ft., on the west face of broad peak, looking towards masherbrum, 25,660 ft,
We were on the move before dawn. Everything went well to start with, but after a few hundred feet heavy accumulations of powder snow made it pretty hard going. The air was thin and the cold soon robbed our feet of all sensation. We kept on stopping to swing our legs in an effort to restore the circulation. The sun reaches the West face very late in the day, but at last we were out in its warmth ; and at 9 o'clock we stopped at about 24,600 ft. to enjoy the first comfort of the new day. High overhead, above the ever-steepening slope, we could see the outline of the col hung between the two dark summit-masses. It was still 1,500 ft. above us, and how we longed to be up there!
It was not till 3 p.m., after gruelling uphill work under a grilling sun, that we stood up there, between the Main and Central summits. Our limbs were heavy as lead and our breath was coming in gasps ; it was also much too late. But the summit-ridge looked so short that we could not resist making the final effort.
The ridge proved harder than we had judged. There was one step after another, and one technically difficult pitch to be climbed. It seemed endless. At last at about 6 p.m., Wintersteller and I reached a point beyond which nothing seemed to go any higher, the ridge-pole of Broad Peak!
Buhl and Schmuck were about 200 ft. further down on the ridge. Just as we were going to tell them that we had done it, the drifting mist cleared from the other end of the crest, and there, quite a distance from us, lay higher ground. There, about an hour away* lay the Main summit a shimmering dome of snow probably not more than forty or fifty feet higher, but definitely higher! Impossible to reach today ; far too late for that now.
We were soon all of us heading down the mountain. All we had done was to reach the 26,350 ft. subsidiary summit at the near end of the mighty summit ridge of our peak. We would have to come all the way up again, and push all the way along that lofty roof- tree to the true summit. We were utterly exhausted by the time we reached the tents of Camp III in the darkness, and we slept a deep and dreamless sleep. But we did not get over our strenuous exertions of that first lightning assault on the summit till we had enjoyed a good rest at Base Camp.
We wrote letters and restored our energies by gentle activities about the camp, while relating the experience we had gained to the plans for our second attempt. We had obviously started too late ; had we only started sooner, we would have been able to deal with that by no means difficult but very long ridge-pole. So next time it was only a question of starting still earlier, in spite of the shattering cold of the night. We knew now where the summit lay and just how far away it was. Our first attempt had not been in vain.
We waited for completely settled weather before starting on our second attempt. No need this time to establish any camps ; and so it all went like a clock, exactly according to plan. No halts were dictated by excessive load-carrying or the labour of building camps ; so, starting from Base Camp on the morning; of June 7, we pushed straight on up our ladder of camps. We reached Camp II below the high plateau early in the afternoon, and there we stayed. Next day we moved relatively quickly up the fixed ropes on the wall of sheer ice and were at Camp III, 22,800 ft., by one o'clock. This gave us plenty of time to make our leisurely preparations for the second day of this our second attempt on the summit.
We crawled into our tents quite early. But how can one just go quietly to sleep with such a decisive day about to dawn ? Wc lay awake a long time, in a long round of thought, staring at the walls of the tent shimmering in the pale moonlight.
At about 2.30 a.m. Buhl woke up and set in motion the ritual of getting up. At last Schmuck and Wintersteller, who had the breakfast thermos first and were therefore ready sooner, were up and away. We followed soon afterwards. We caught the others up at about 24,000 ft., where Buhl took over the lead. While Schmuck and Wintersteller followed our old silted-up tracks to the left, Buhl took a direct line up the slope to the right, and this was to have serious results for him. For while it was shorter, his chosen line remained in the shade longer than our old route out on the left. So we had to halt much more frequently to swing our legs and to change over the lead. It was a numbing battle against the might of the mountain. The cold, at about -30°C., was ghastly; there seemed to be no end to the slopes of powdery snow, interspersed with crusty slabs, which broke as soon as any weight was put upon them. It was not till 8 o'clock that the sun reached us. By then Buhl had lost all sensation in his right foot, the one in which on Nanga Parbat he had lost two toes. The only thing was to take off his boots and rub his feet. Meanwhile, Schmuck and Wintersteller had moved up from the left to join us and there we were, all four of us, sitting in the warm morning sun, resting, eating and busying ourselves about our toes.
Buhl's foot wouldn't come to life again, so I stayed with him while the other two moved off up the mountain. We caught them up again at the col but there we had to halt for quite a long time, while Schmuck and Wintersteller climbed on up the ridge towards the summit crest. Hermann was in trouble. His right foot was hurt- in j- him so badly that he doubted whether he would get up to the summit at all today. What a tragic development that the planner, initiator, the permanent drive behind the whole undertaking and all our activities, should have to think of giving in here on the very threshold of success, on the doorstep of the summit! Only a mountaineer can realize the boundless bitterness which Buhl must have been suffering at that moment. I suggested that we should wait an hour before moving on, which would still leave time.
At 2.30 p.m., after roughly an hour, we moved on again. Everything went well enough at first, but presently we were again making very slow headway. It took us two hours to reach a snow shoulder below the subsidiary summit—only about a third of the way from the col to the Main summit, far, far away up there at the other end of the long summit divide. There seemed no point in going any further, if we didn't want to be benighted.
At that moment Hermann gave me leave to make an attempt on the summit by myself, while he waited for me on the shoulder. He thought that in my present form I ought to be able to do it. I stayed long enough to promise not to forget to photograph anything of importance, and to get back as quickly as possible. It was a quarter to five when I left him.
I certainly got a move on, shoving hard with my knees, heaving my body upwards with my ski-sticks, my mouth wide open for breath. In a quarter of an hour I was on the subsidiary summit, with everything going round and round. Presently, I identified two tiny dots moving slowly up the final snow slope. I must get on with it ! I tore along the level crest, gasping as I pushed off with my sticks, left foot, right foot, left, right; in another half-hour I was standing completely breathless on the summit snow slope whose upper rim was crowned by a considerable cornice. My team-mates hadn’t stayed there very long. They had gathered their belongings together .ind were now starting off for the descent. So I was alone.
Exausted by my all-out assault on the summit, I sat down in the snow close to the top-most footprints for a short rest with the summit cornice bulging out behind my back. Before my eyes in a semi circle lay thousands of white summits ; in the depths below, the mighty Baltoro (lowed away down its broad trough; in the remote distance I could see Nanga Parbat. My thoughts returned to Hermann Buhl, who could not come up to the summit nor have any joy in it. I got up, took my gloves off and took numerous shots, in black and white and in colour, of the whole encircling view. I changed a film and took more photographs.
Then I saw the white, untrodden cornice at my feet—so high that I couldn't look out over it. But I wanted to know how it feels to stand clear on the very top of everything, with nothing but bottomless, boundless space around one, high above the world—on the utmost summit of an 4 Eight-Thousander'. I chanced it and the cornice held. There I was, standing on the extreme snow-frontier of Broad Peak. All around me was nothing but air and silence and utter solitude. But I didn't feel happy. The loneliness of it was too infinite and oppressive. I took a picture, the only one from the very highest point, then another one out along the descending crest of cornices towards the giant peaks of the Gasherbrum Group. Then I turned to go down.
That level crest, above eight thousand metres for its full length, seemed endlessly long to me. There were always more hummocks and wavelets in front of me—close behind them rose the last gigantic 2,000 ft. of K2's mighty summit, towering above.3
I suppose I was about half-way along the ridge when I suddenly stopped still in my tracks. There was a yellow dot, an anorak, coming along it . . . Hermann Buhl. There he was in fact coming along, step by step, without a halt, looking straight in front of him. 1 knew he meant to get to the top. But at such an hour ? Right into the middle of the night ? All right then, we would go there together.
In a few minutes he had joined me. We didn't waste a moment, but moved on together along the crest towards the summit. We didn't even hurry, for we knew that night must engulf us above the eight-thousand-metre level, whatever we might do. It was half-past six already, and the shadows thrown by the giant peaks across the glacier levels far down at their feet were growing to prodigious size. Gradually they blended into a blue ocean of darkness from which the peaks arose like dazzling islands of light. There was a deathly hush upon the world.
The sun was far down on the horizon. Out in front of me went Hermann Buhl. We were quite near the summit now. But it was an entirely different summit, a summit that shone with a magic light, beyond anything dreamed of in dreams. Everything was alive ; the shadows of the glittering snow-mushrooms took on the shape of faces. Everything was bathed in an ethereal light, whose beams seemed to transfix us and fill our hearts with joy beyond measure.
View North from the summit of broad peak, Looking towards Tibet: late evening on June 9, 1957.
Turn, and run from night's menace ? The thought could only conjure a smile. What is this thing called life ? This was the hour of our fulfilment.
We reached the summit. Buhl got his club-pennant out, fixed it to his axe and stuck it in the snow. We stood there looking at it. Then we looked about us, at the highest peaks, glowing now in unnatural colours. The sky was still blue, but the rocks burned reddish-brown and flamed with orange light. The snow at our feet was lit with a magical, unearthly light. Speechless, we gazed out eastwards, where the dark shadow of Broad Peak lay like a monstrous pyramid hundreds of miles out into Tibet, growing and growing into infinity.
Only the last few feet of the snow on our summit were still bathed in light. We looked at one another and clasped hands. An instant later, we were standing in the blue after-light of dusk.
Night was upon us. Before us lay her grey reality. We must get down as quickly as possible. It would be a terrible night. But we were two friends together.
Then the moon came to our rescue. We knew then that we would get back safely. We went on down the steps in the ridge, safeguarding each other on the rope; but it was difficult, exhausting and dark, till suddenly the soft light of the pale moon was with us again. So soft, yet often so deceitful. With extreme care we made our way, step by cautious step, past the faintly gleaming cornices down to the col. At last we reached it. We would have loved to sit down there and go to sleep—it would have been heavenly. But we did not dare ; we had to keep on going. Below us lay another 2,500 ft. down the livid, vaguely-gleaming precipice at our feet. It was nerve-racking and seemingly endless.
How much longer ? We didn't know. All we knew was that when, from time to time, we allowed ourselves to sit for a few moments, we must not fall asleep.
At some vague moment in time, the dark silhouettes of the tents stood outlined before us. There was the entrance. We crawled in, and knew nothing more.
After our success, we enjoyed days of rest, days of relaxation. We sent postcards and letters with the news of our triumph to the distant world back in Europe. Our mail-runners were kept busy. Then we had to buckle down to the daily round of work again. The high camps had to be evacuated.
Wintersteller and Schmuck, assisted by Capt. Saeed, dismantled Camp I Buhl and I went up to complete the evacuation of Camps II and III Meanwhile, Schmuck and Wintersteller, using short ski, pushed on up the Savoia glacier and climbed the main summit in the Savoia Group, a fine 24,000 ft. peak facing Broad Peak, on which we had had our eye from the very outset as a secondary objective. Soon after Buhl and I returned to Base Camp, our team-mates returned with the surprise news of their success.
Buhl and I, too, had a further objective in view. It goes without saying that we would not be satisfied with our single success on Broad Peak. Hermann, indeed, in his letters home, was foreshadowing a colourful midsummer climbing programme, with various summits in view. One mountain, more than any other, had ensnared our imagination during the days of our Broad Peak climb. Far away, on the southern rim of the Baltoro, Chogolisa lifted her glittering roof. That 25,110 ft. summit was the next on our list.
On June 20, Buhl and I went into all the details most thoroughly, especially the shock-equipment for our lightning assault on the peak. I went off the same evening in the direction of Concordia carrying a rucksack of over 70 lbs. Buhl, who wanted to fetch a few more things from the foot of Broad Peak, followed me early next morning. He left a note for our team-mates, enjoining them to carry on with the reconnaissance of the remaining peaks of the Savoia Group.
We were ready for the assault on Chogolisa.
‘Chogolisa is a marvellous mountain. The classical repose and beauty of its outlines and the huge fluted ice-walls supporting them make it the ideal ice peak.' In these words. Prof. Dyhrenfurth has captured the unique loveliness of this mountain. Apart from a more recent reconnaissance of the North-east ridge by P. Ghiglione, the only attempt on it had been that made by the Duke of Abruzzi in 1909. He found a suitable route up the South-east ridge and reached a height of about 24,600 ft. There, although he was supported by a chain of camps, cloud and snow twice defeated his attempts on the summit.
Our plan was also based on the Duke's route. We intended to use a rib of rock and snow rising between the icefalls from the Baltoro glacier to reach the gentle snow slopes of the Kaberi Saddle; then to follow the South-east ridge to the summit tower, perched on that mighty feature. For something like three miles that incomparably lovely corniced crest, not unlike the Biancograt and the Lyskamm's ridge, surges up till at 22,000 ft. it reaches a slightly protruding shoulder. Then, in another 1,300 ft. of steep upsurge, it sweeps to the ‘Ridge Peak ‘at 23,458 ft., after which a drop of about 450 ft. leads down to a col at about 23,000 ft. Beyond this, the ridge soars up again it an ever-increasing angle to the summit tower, a rise of over 2,000 ft Its special features are the enormous cornices jutting out over the North face to the right and, on its left, a precipice on whieh one cannot venture too low down because of the danger of avalanches, especially when bad weather causes fresh snow to lie on the slopes without cohering to the underlying layer. The Duke had already discovered these drawbacks and it was up to us to take them carefully into account.
This route has, however, one great advantage—the sun is on the South-east ridge from early morning onwards. This is a tremendous improvement on Broad Peak's West face, with its terrific cold at night and in the morning. It was not so easy to get frozen feet here.
Our tactical plan was an original one. We had no means of erecting a ladder of camps with several rungs to it; nor could we, of course, take a vertical distance of some 8,000 ft. in one stride, so camps there must be. Having only one tent, we decided to use it successively as Base Camp, Camp I, Camp II and so on ; or figuratively speaking, our ladder had only one rung and this we proposed to push progressively upwards as we went. Herbert Tichy had already tried the idea out on Gurla Mandhata ; it was a method which appealed particularly to the aggressive character of a man like Buhl. Naturally, we would have to take with us, over and above our plentiful provisions, a big bundle of red marker-flags to assure our retreat in the event of bad weather. Chogolisa stands somewhat isolated on its southern side and the capricious onset of bad weather had already put paid to the Duke of Abruzzi's efforts. This unpre- dietable factor 4 x' was to operate again in our case ; with its aid, th' mountain repulsed our attack and claimed Hermann Buhl's life.
Hermann had no difficulty in joining me on the afternoon of June 21; all he had to do was to follow the marker-pennants I had left along the moraine. We went on together along the humps of the Baltoro’s huge medial moraine. At dusk, we pitched our tent on the lateral moraine near the Chogolisa icefalls, at 16,400 ft.; this was our Base camp. Next morning we were off on a reconnaissance, for it would have been impossible to trust to luck to find a way through the chaos of ice with our excessively heavy loads. The solution to our route-finding problem lay in the great rib of snow, already mentioned, which cleaves the vast surge of icy combers like the keel of a ship in the direction of the Kaberi Saddle. Hermann found a way to the foot of the rib through a veritable labyrinth of icy towers and blocks ; at about 18,000 ft. we made a depot and found our way back to our Base.
Bad weather dictated a rest-day there. We were depressed, and spent the day idling in the tent. Finally we decided to go up after all, so as to be able to use the first fine day for our assault on the summit from a springboard higher up.
Monday, June 24. This was the first day of our assault, and we got up at about 3 a.m.
‘Left at 4.30 with tent, etc., light snow, weather not up to much. In good shape 7.30 depot at 18,000 ft. Picked up depot and on with 50 lb. rucksack up the rib in knee-deep snow. Broke trail all the way to the Kaberi Saddle. 5 p.m., pitched camp at 20,834 ft., marked everything with flags.'
What lay behind this ‘telegraphese ' entry of Buhl's ? He was in splendid form and led all the way to the Saddle in spite of the deep snow, refusing to change the lead. We climbed fully 4.600 ft. that first day, in spite of loads of from 50 to 60 lbs., and were in high spirits over our good progress in face of poor weather conditions. Attn tin laborious preparation of drinks over our hissing cooker, slept happily in our first high camp on Chogolisa.
Tuesday, June 25. The weather was bad and we stayed in our sleeping baps till 10 o'clock. We then cooked a meal, struck the tent and climbed as far as the 22,000 ft. Shoulder in the ridge in spite of knee deep powder-snow. There our tent became Camp II.
Wednesday, June 26. A furious blizzard kept us in the tent, except for a short spell. We lay in our sleeping bags forging fresh plans. In the forefront of Buhl's programme stood Mitre Peak, Paiju Peak and the Trango Tower; every moment left to us was to be used to the full. Then, in the autumn, we were to do a double traverse of Mont Blanc by all its major ridges. The following year he wanted to tackle Rakaposhi, that giant peak above the Hunza valley, so often attempted, so far without success. Towards evening the weather cleared quite definitely, and we packed everything enthusiastically for our attempt on the summit.
It was the morning of June 27. The weather was glorious and the sky clear. We were anxious to profit by the early sunshine on our way, so delayed our start till a quarter to five. We tramped upwards in the warm morning sun over glistening snow. Unencumbered now by loads, we gained height with astonishing speed and were soon on the white comb of Ridge Peak. Before us, Chogolisa raised her shining summit-mass.
Before we could get a footing on the final ridge, we had now to descend to the col behind Ridge Peak. This was a difficult and dangerous operation ; the narrow, heavily-corniced ridge dictated the greatest caution. We belayed carefully. By 9 a.m. we had, thanks to our steady progress, mastered the hardest part of the climb and were safely lodged in the col. Only 2,000 ft., apparently devoid of any serious difficulty, lay between us and the summit. We could easily be up there by noon!4
No hurry now. We made ourselves comfortable in a hollow resting, eating, drinking. Hermann said this was the loveliest day of the whole expedition. Very soon we would be standing on that exquisite summit.
Presently we moved off. We had unroped and went on up the slope climbing separately, as we had on the ascent of Broad Peak. We could see the rim of cornices on our right quite clearly and wanted to keep a respectful distance from it; but ominous cracks in the snow lying on the slope to our left forced us closer to it than we had originally thought probable.
All around us the ice-giants of the Karakoram soared skywards. Most impressive of all was the chain of peaks, from 23,000 ft. to 28,000 ft., from K2 all the way to Hidden Peak. As we gazed at them, we were conscious for the first time of clouds moving towards our mountain from the south. We quickened our pace, afraid of missing what must be an incomparable prospect from the summit.
Suddenly a small cloud was upon us, growing bigger. Dark mists swirled across the ridge and an uncanny darkness enveloped us. A minute or two later, we were in the grip of a raging blizzard. We alternated in the lead, fighting our way up through veritable clouds of blown snow-dust. We could hardly believe in so sudden a change in the weather; but visibility grew worse and worse, and soon it was almost impossible to move forward. At about 24,000 ft., Nermann shouted that we must turn back, because the gale would oblih rale our tracks and we might then get too near to the cornices nn our way down. We turned. Hermann had been in the lead at the time, so I led down. Owing to the danger of avalanches, we moved at a distance of 30 to 50 ft. apart. It was difficult to pick up our tracks. Bent double I went slowly down, following the rapidly disappearing holes made by our ice-axes on the ascent—they survived the silting in the gale longer than anything else. At about 23,600 ft., I suddenly felt an explosive disintegration of the surface snow and instantly hurled myself across onto the slope to my right, descending it some 30 to 40 ft. before stopping. I turned, but could see no one. The ridge rises to a small hump just here, so at first I thought nothing of it. But when there was no sign of Hermann, I hurried back up the slope, full of foreboding. There was nothing to be seen of Hermann. He had disappeared.
Presently I found his footsteps. They led to a newly-made breach in the rim of the cornice. Hermann must have gone plunging down the North face. Hermann . . . fallen . . . not Hermann, surely? My understanding was shattered, I could hardly walk. All I knew was that I must somehow get back to Ridge Peak, from which one could see the North face, hidden here by the jutting cornices ... if the weather lifted. It did lift. For a short time the gale parted the clouds. There—with fearsome clarity—I could see where the tracks led. At a small bend up there, Hermann, following 30 or 40 ft. behind me, had left my trail and gone straight ahead over the edge of the cornice. Then he must have fallen a thousand, two thousand feet . . . and there under the broad mass of a snow avalanche, he must be lying now. Not a trace, not a sign of him. No chance of climbing down to look lor him ; the cornices alone forbade it. Could one perhaps do something from below ? Perhaps I could get there with the other two down at Base Camp, climbing up through the iecfalls ? But could I get down to Base before tomorrow afternoon ? It was more than 15 miles from up here. It had just got to be done.
The clouds had engulfed the mountain again. I was terribly alone. The gale chased the mists across the ridge and the cornices. I tried to find my way down. Often I could see nothing and could only spot that I was too low on the slope because of the cracks in the snow. At last I reached the tent—the shatteringly empty tent. Collecting only the bare essentials, I pushed on down the mountain. On the Kaberi Saddle the freshly-fallen snow was knee-deep ; the marker-pennants were snowed under except for a tiny corner.
I went stumbling down the endless hollows, first through fog, then through the night. My torch gave out. Finally, at about 18,000 ft. I sat down to bivouac. At first light, I pressed on down the ice- falls. To increase my pace, I took my snow goggles off while I was among the moraines. At about 4 p.m. on the 28th, I reached the Broad Peak Base Camp and told my comrades. It was barely 27 hours since Hermann fell.
June 27, 1957 — Hermann Buhl ascending south east ridge of Chogolisa, view towards summit, accident occurred on cornice out of sight below right arm.
Schmuck started to organize a search operation. Next day we reached the moraine not far from the spot where we had made our Chogolisa Base. On the 30th, Schmuck and Wintersteller climbed to 18,500 ft., while I remained in the tent on the moraine. I had gone snowblind on the descent and the long way back. My friends brought back a depressing report: in spite of a most thorough search, they had failed to find any trace of Hermann Buhl. They had been unable to penetrate into the amphitheatre at the foot of the North face because of the avalanches thundering continuously down into it. No one could find Hermann now.
A few days later, the long column of porters was moving down the Baltoro towards Skardu, on our way home. At home they don't know the tidings we are bringing back with us. They are still rejoicing over the good news of our success on Broad Peak. His folk, too. The great icy peaks which watch over Hermann Buhl's glacier resting-place disappeared from view, but Broad Peak still soared gigantic in the distance. Hermann's last summit. We stood looking back in silence.
The Horizontal summit ridge of board peak: view towards K2 from the final snowslopes.Photo: Kurt Diemberger