THE ASCENT OF GASHERBRUM I
Lord Conway's ‘Hidden Peak’ or Gasherbrum I, was first seen and explored by Conway in 1892. The Duke of Abruzzi's expedition in 1909 mapped and photographed the whole Baltoro region on a large scale, providing important details not only about K2 but about all the major mountain groups including the Gasherbrums.
The first attempt to climb Gasherbrum I was made in 1934 by an International Expedition led by Prof. G. O. Dyhrenfurth. After various reconnaissances, two climbers, Roch and Ertl, attempted the South-east ridge reaching a height of about 20,670 ft., but were prevented by bad weather and other difficulties from carrying out a serious attempt. (HJ., VII, p. 143.)
A second attempt was made in 1936 by a French expedition led by De Segogne. Their route followed the South ridge, which was climbed to a height of c. 23,000 ft. below the great Southern Shoulder. After sustained snowstorms lasting ten days, the attempt was abandoned. (HJ., IX, p. 100.)
It was hot and dusty as the Chenab Express carried me across the vast sands of the Sind desert toward Rawalpindi and a reunion with the other members of our 1958 American Karakoram Expedition. Sweltering in the heat I found it hard to believe that I was really on my way to Gasherbrum I. It was only in January l958 down at Bob Swift's two-room seashore cottage at Moss Beach, California, that 1 had received an invitation to join the party.
In November l957, thanks to the assistance of the American Embassy in Karachi and Major-General M. Hayaud Din, Pakistan's Military and Naval Attache in Washington, Nick Clinch, the 'director' of the expedition, had received permission from the Pakistan government to attempt Hidden Peak, the last unclimbed 8,000-metre peak in the Karakoram. He, Bob Swift, Dick Irvin and Gil Roberts were frantically trying to organize a party and get it over to Pakistan. With the shipping dates only two months away, they were still looking for money and personnel.
By the middle of February we had a full team. In addition to the American members, we invited two Pakistani mountaineers to join us as partners in the climbing team. The final party consisted of Pete Schoening, a veteran of the 1953 American expedition to K2, who was unanimously chosen leader, Nick Clinch, Capt. Mohd. Akram and Capt. S. T. H. Rizvi of the Pakistan Army, Andy Kauffman, Bob Swift, Dr. Tom Nevison, who would also serve as medical officer, Gil Roberts, Dick Irvin, and myself. Unfortunately Roberts and Irvin could not leave with the rest of us and would have to come in later.
The months of February and March consisted of organized chaos. The American Alpine Club, to which we belonged, sponsored us and loans and donations from the club and its members furnished over half of our budget. The members of the party put in everything they owned and our trip was financed. Now there was a flood of bulletins. We received organizational bulletins from Clinch, medical bulletins from Nevison, travel bulletins from Schoening, and shipping instructions from Lawrence Coveney, Secretary of the American Alpine Club, who was supervising the shipment out of New York. The only thing that seemed to be missing was a bulletin indexing the bulletins.
We made it, but only after a vast international effort. Mr. Len Frank of the Alpine Club managed to get air-mattresses, windproof suits, and the expedition's entire food supply on the last freighter leaving England. Raymond Leininger of the French Alpine Club and Andy Kauffman got our butagas stoves, oxygen bottles and other equipment shipped out of France ; and in Switzerland, Dr. Jurg Marmet and the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research did a magnificent job supervising the procurement of our oxygen equipment and getting ice-axes, crampons, gaiters, and custom-made high- altitude boots with little advance notice. Since we were the first American party to use oxygen no one was familiar with the apparatus, and as Hidden Peak would be a poor place to learn, Nick Clinch left early and he and Andy Kauffman went to Basel where Dr. Jurg Marmet showed them how the equipment worked.
On April 29, Nick arrived in Karachi ahead of the main party to facilitate customs clearance. By the time the rest of us arrived in Karachi he was in Rawalpindi, and together with Rizvi and Akram was waiting for us. The day after Schoening, Nevison, Kauffman and Swift left for Rawalpindi, I got on the Chenab Express with our wayward case of climbing boots. Somehow at Genoa this crate had been put on a slow freighter instead of an express boat, but when thi Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research learned about this mishap they worked another miracle and got the boots unloaded at Port Said and llown to Karachi.
On May 16, we were all reunited at Rawalpindi and feeling very pleased
with ourselves. For once things were under control. Then we discovered that we had forgotten the cooking pots. Fortunately local dekchis worked very well. We had one pressure cooker but we only used it as a hiding-place for our paper money.
After a flight past Nanga Parbat which lived up to its reputation as the ‘most thrilling commercial flight in the world ' we arrived in Skardu. We immediately set up an assembly-line for packing and marking our 60-lb. porter loads. Our food was already packaged into high-altitude, Base Camp, and march-in rations, but everything else had to be taken out of the shipping crates and repacked. In 2 ½ days we obtained additional supplies from the local Army depot, packed, marked and inventoried our 3 1/2 tons of equipment, engaged six Baltis as high-altitude porters or HAPs as we called them, and hired 112 men to carry everything. Brig. Habib-ur-Rehman Khan, Political Agent for Baltistan, who did everything possible to assist us in procuring men and supplies, gave us a splendid farewell dinner which included ibex meat and ice-cream.
We ferried our supplies across the Indus river on the now legendary ‘Alexander's Barge ', and on May 21 we set out for Hidden Peak 150 miles away. However, all was not going too smoothly. Just before Bob Swift had left home he had gently smote his desk in an effort to restore decorum in his classroom and had broken his hand ; it was now in a cast. In Skardu, Capt. Akram came down with bronchitis and would have to come in later with the Italian expedition which was going to attempt Gasherbrum IV.
On May 27, six days after leaving Skardu, we arrived in Askole. Because of the early season and the overcast sky the water in (lie Braldu river was low, and we were able to ford it just below the village of Dusso which saved us several days. At Askole, we released one of our HAPs and hired a local man. Our six porters were now Qazim. Rahim Khan, Abdul Rahim. Ilaji Makhmal. Hussain, and Ghulam Rasul (Sirdar). The overall quality of these Haiti HAPs was excellent.
At Askole, the last village, every expedition must purchase additional food supplies for its porters ; this additional food requires additional porters to carry it, and these men in turn require more food. Also, there were such variable factors as the early discharge of some porters, and the food needed for the porters returning to Askole. After many scientific attempts to compute the precise fraction of men needed, we finally decided that one man carrying atta for every two men carrying equipment would be about right. To our pleasant surprise it was.
We had been afraid that we would not have enough change to pay the porters, so we had obtained 3,000 rupees worth of coins. To our horror, this change came to three porter-loads and as freight rates are high in Baltistan we decided to get rid of this unnecessary weight by paying off the porters with it. Four of us worked desperately inside the base camp tent rapidly stacking anna bits into one-rupee piles on tin dinner plates and then passing them outside to Schoen- ing and Clinch who were paying off the men. We were decidedly unpopular, especially after we unloaded the remaining coins on to the village headman in payment for our atta. The bags were so heavy that he had to get help to haul them away.
Camp I, 18,500 ft., on Abruzzi glacier, looking down towards base camp. Gasherbrum VI, 23,589 ft., on right. Bottom of the French Buttress on left.
Gasherbrum I, 26,470 ft., from upper baltoro glacier. ‘roch arete’ is the skyline ridge, right background. 1936 french route went via rock bittress leading diagonally up to snow shoulder c. 23,194 ft. (centre).
We left Askole on May 28, and continued for three days under an overcast sky until we came to Paiju, a clump of trees with a stream running through it underneath the great guardian of the entrance to the Baltoro glacier, from which it gets its name. Since we were the first expedition to arrive there that season it was a beautiful spot; on the way out we went through it as rapidly as possible. That night, what we dreaded most occurred ; it snowed, and we woke up to find 2" of snow over the ground and our equipment. But the weather began to clear as we started up the glacier, a talus and scree covered path of ice through the jagged granite spires of the Baltoro. Two days later we were at Urdokas, the last patch of grass beside the glacier. The inevitable porter trouble began, but after Capt. Rizvi's announcement that he was a descendant of the Prophet nothing serious materialized.
The day out of Urdokas was magnificent. Behind us was Paiju with its long series of towers, on our left were the Trango Towers, to our right we passed Masherbrum, and ahead of us above Concordia loomed the incredible Gasherbrum IV. The second day out of Urdokas, we began to pay the price of our efforts to get into the mountains early. A hot sun softened the late winter snow which covered the Baltoro glacier and in places we began to break through the crust up to our hips. Then the sky became overcast again and it started to snow lightly. At 4 p.m., we stopped in the middle of nowhere and pitched camp. Our porters were wretched and we brought out all the tarpaulins and tents that we had for shelter. The next morning it was cold, and we were able to make rapid progress over the frozen snow ; by late afternoon we were within several miles of the junction of the Abruzzi glacier and the Upper Baltoro glacier. Here we discharged the porters, after retaining twenty of the best men to relay supplies. Schoening and Kauffman located a suitable site for Base Camp at 16,800 ft. on the Abruzzi glacier. While Schoening, Kauffman and Swift conducted a reconnaissance up the South Gasherbrum glacier, the rest of us together with the porters ferried the equipment to Base Camp. By June 10, we were firmly established below Gasherbrum I. We discharged the remaining porters, cut the cast off Swift's right arm, checked our equipment and practised using the oxygen.
Now we were faced with the problem of how we were going to climb the mountain which loomed up ahead of us. Everyone had a different idea about what we should do. The most direct route was by the steep glacier which went up the West face to the gentle southern slopes of the summit pyramid. While this looked easy, no one liked the appearance of the ice-cliffs which overhung the route. Another possibility was the South ridge that led up to the Great Southern Shoulder and which had been attempted in 1936 by the French expedition. This looked very difficult and was promptly rejected. The ‘Glacier du Milieu behind the French ridge, was constantly raked by avalanches so it was disfavoured. This left the North ridge which rose from the South Gasherbrum glacier, and the South-east ridge which joined the southern snow plateau about five miles from the summit and which had been attempted by Andre Roch and Hans Ertl in 1934. Opinion was divided between the North ridge and the ' Roch arete
On June 11, Swift, Nevison, Rizvi and I with the six HAPs carried ten loads up to the tent which had been pitched on the South Gasherbrum glacier by Sehoening's party. This would save time if we decided to try the North ridge. The entire area was honeycombed with crevasses, and on the way back to Base Camp we kept plunging into holes sometimes even up to our shoulders. Meanwhile Schoening, Kauffman and Clinch went over to the base of the ‘Roch arete ' some five miles away. The following morning we could see them through binoculars advancing steadily up the arete. They had gained about 2,000 ft., when suddenly they turned around and rapidly descended. When they returned that afternoon to Base Camp we discovered the reason ; the slope they were on was slowly creeping. However, what they had climbed was easy and (hey felt sure that the rest of the route would go. They were confident that fixed ropes attached to rappel pickets would serve as adequate protection against surface slides.
We were faced with a difficult choice. The North ridge would require 2,500 ft. of rock climbing of an unknown standard below the summit, although it looked easy. On the other hand the plateau route would require miles of snow slogging across the high plateau which meant a great risk of being caught by a sustained storm. After much debate, we selected the South-east ridge by a four to three vote.
On June 13, everyone carried loads over to the base of the arete where we established Camp I at 18,500 ft. The next day, Schoening and Nevison managed to attach over 2,000 ft. of fixed rope on the snow slope leading to a rock buttress behind which we hoped to establish Camp II. The following morning Kauffman, Clinch and I with Qazim and Abdul Rahim started up at 5 a.m. to establish Camp II. It was a long hard day. The snow beside the rock buttress was rotten and we were forced to climb up the rocks. There was only a knife-edged snow ridge behind the buttress and I tried to hack out a tent platform while Kauffman, belayed by Clinch, carried up the loads one by one over the difficult rock. By 6 p.m. the three of us were able to crowd into our single tent at 21,000 ft.
South-East ridge (‘Roch Arete’) seen from upper Abruzzi glacier. Camp I, Extreme right bottom; camp III, 22,000 ft., on snow dome. Conway saddle, c.20,000 ft., in mist on right.
Camp IV, 22,500 ft., looking back towards top of ‘Roch Arete’.
Above Camp II, there was a 200-ft. rock buttress which led to a narrow ridge 100 yds. long which in turn connected to the base of an ice dome. We wanted to put Camp III on the top of this dome, and the next day Clinch and Kauffman started up while I remained at Camp II with a slight fever. That afternoon they returned after placing a fixed line down the snow slope next to the rock buttress, but they had made only one rope's length along the narrow ridge, which had double cornices in places. Meanwhile Swift, Rizvi, and two HAPs made the first relay from Camp I to Camp II.
The next day, June 17, it snowed and we remained in camp. My fever and cough became worse and I began taking achromycin ; the next morning the three of us had to descend to Camp I, although it was still snowing. There we met Bob Swift and Rizvi, also Tom Nevison who had just made a carry from Base Camp with a 70-lb. load. He reported that the Abruzzi glacier between Base Camp and Camp I was rapidly deteriorating, and in places he had been forced to crawl on his hands and knees. Dr. Nevison diagnosed my trouble as incipient pneumonia and told me to remain low for a while.
Meanwhile, Capt. Akram had just arrived with the Italian expedition and he reported that the monsoon had reached Bombay which spurred our efforts. The next day, June 19, Swift, Kauffman, and Nevison went up to Camp II despite continuing bad weather. They made another 100 ft. along the narrow ridge above Camp II, and Swift rapidly descended to Camp I for reinforcements while Schoening went up.
On June 21, in bad weather, Schoening, Kauffman, and Nevison made another rope's length along the ridge by hacking away the cornices. Clinch and four HAPs ferried supplies up to Camp II, while Capt. Akram and I made a carry from Base to Camp I with oxygen. The next day, KaulTman and Schoening managed to break through to the top of the dome, and on the following three days Schoening, Swift, Rizvi, and Clinch with Qazim, Rahim Khan, Abdul Rahim, and Hussain ferried loads to the site for Camp III at 22,000 ft. On June 26, Rizvi, Clinch, Abdul Rahim, and Qazim occupied Camp III and got ready to push on towards the plateau. Meanwhile Nevison and Kauffman returned to Base Camp to check Haji, who had developed stomach trouble, and Ghulam Rasul, who had sprained his knee badly by falling into a crevasse.
Because we had arrived early in the season when the glacier was covered with snow, we had pitched our Base Camp by the side of the Abruzzi glacier instead of on its medial moraine. Now the section of glacier between Base and the moraine was rapidly deteriorating and rising glacial streams threatened to cut us off entirely from Camp I. Fortunately the last group of the Italian expedition had just arrived, and we were able to hire twenty of their porters to shift our Base Camp over to a site on the medial moraine within several hundred yards of the Italian camp.
On June 28, all the sahibs, except Capt. Akram who was still recovering from the effects of his bronchitis, were in Camp III and that evening we held our final council. We had to choose between a slow methodical build-up or a rapid advance. We had safeguarded our retreat from Camp III by putting in over 5,000 ft. of fixed line which stretched from Camp III to below Camp II. Since a rapid advance, utilizing oxygen, would minimize our chances of being trapped by a storm on the plateau, all of us favoured that method. It was decided that all of us would carry loads over to the point where the ridge joined the plateau and establish a Camp IV. Five men would stay at Camp IV and carry Camp V as far up the plateau as possible. Three men would return to Camp IV to become the support party, and the remaining two men would be the first assault team. A secret written ballot was held to determine the various teams. Schoening and Kaull'man did not vole for themselves but everyone else did, so they were elected to make the first attempt. Swift, Rizvi, and Nevison were chosen to back them up.
The next day, we pushed along the ridge toward the plateau. There were large cornices on the right and occasionally we were forced to go out on them to avoid the steep avalanche slopes on the left-hand side. In order to get off the ridge we had to attach a climbing rope to a snow bollard and lower it through the right-hand cornice for about 60 ft. At this point the HAPs refused to go down the rope, and Rizvi and I were feeling ill and were forced to return. Schoening, Kauffman, Nevison, Swift, and Clinch established Camp IV at the edge of the plateau at c. 22,500 ft.
Again the weather turned bad. For the next three days the group at Camp IV could make only sorties out on to the plateau; through deep unconsolidated snow. Meanwhile Rizvi, Abdul Rahim, Hussain, and I were forced to descend to Camp I because of illness. Fortunately Qazim and Rahim Khan, our two finest HAPs, were able to make two carries over to the ridge above Camp IV with food which enabled the high party to continue when the weather finally cleared.
Gasherbrum I, showing route and camps.Photo: James Belaieff, 1934
July the fourth dawned clear and cold and the Camp IV party started up the plateau. They reached a dump of oxygen bottles that they had carried up the day before and added them to their loads. Now they sank in constantly, sometimes even up to their knees. In order to ease the task of breaking trail the leading man used oxygen at a rate of three litres per minute and the other four men had little difficulty in keeping up with him. The lead was changed every thirty minutes. Then the regulator jammed and they continued without oxygen. Their progress was measured in yards and each lead was reduced to spells of fifteen minutes. Finally at 3 p.m. they stopped and put up the tent that was euphemistically called Camp V. They had climbed to more than 23,500 ft., but there was still about 3,000 ft. of climbing and several miles of soft snow to go. The support party stumbled back to Camp IV while Schoening and Kauffman were left alone in their tent to complete preparations for the morrow.
Schoening and Kauffman used oxygen for sleeping for the first time and got a good night's rest. After two hours of preparation they left for the summit at 5 a.m. They stamped the spikes of their crampons through small plywood food-box sides to act as snow- shoes, and this helped for a while. But then the slope steepened and they had to abandon them. At 9 a.m. they reached the windswept rocks of the col between the South summit and the main massif. After resting for a while, they continued across the upper snow bowl in a direct line for the summit. The snow gradually steepened and then changed to snow and ice covered rock. By now they had connected into their second and last bottle of oxygen. Just east of the summit they found a couloir that provided a route to the crest of the ridge. They reached the ridge and traversed up it to the left. Finally at 3 p.m., they reached the snow-covered summit.
Down below, Capt. Akram and I had climbed up to Camp III and we could see them on the final ridge through binoculars. Between them and the giant pyramid of K2 were the summits of Gasherbrums II, III, and IV, and the twin summits of Broad Peak* all of them over 26,000 ft. high. They could also see a point on the Baltoro glacier opposite Urdokas, which definitely proves that Hidden Peak can be seen from the Baltoro. They stayed on the summit for about an hour and then started down. The descent was long and arduous, and it was dark when they crawled into their tent at 9 p.m. after a sixteen-hour day.
The next day Nevison, Swift and Clinch moved up toward Camp V while Akram and I went to Camp IV. Between Camps IV and V the support party met Kauffman and Schoening descending. Clouds now covered the summit of Hidden Peak and it was decided to call off all further assaults to avoid the risk of anyone being trapped on the plateau by a storm. Nevison and Clinch continued up to Camp V and brought it down while Swift escorted Schoening and Kauffman down to Camp IV where we met them. They both showed the effects of their ordeal.
By nightfall, Pete and Andy were safely in Camp I while the rest of us gathered in Camp III. The next day, Camps II and III were evacuated. On the evening of July 7, the entire expedition was in Camp I when Dick Irvin and Gil Roberts, who had come in with the Japanese expedition to Chogolisa, arrived in camp on skis that they had borrowed from the Italians.
Andy Kauffman was suffering from minor frostbite, which eventually healed, so we decided to leave immediately. Fortunately we were able to hire some of the porters who had just come in with the Japanese expedition, which saved us at least ten days of waiting for a runner to go down to Askole for men. We left Base Camp on July 9.
We managed to survive the march out despite the traditional rope bridge, which frightened us more than the mountain, and a wild yak ride down the Shigar river. On July 21. exactly two months after we had left, we arrived back in Sknrdu and collapsed into the chairs and sofas of the rest-house.
While this may go down in mountaineering history as an 'American' 8,000-er, we did not climb Hidden Peak as Baltis, Pakistanis, or Americans but as mountaineers whose expedition had been made possible by other mountaineers, American, English, French, and Swiss. Without their unselfish support our trip would have never occurred, and in our brief moment of triumph we thought of them. Gasherbrum I was a success for all mountaineers everywhere, of which we were merely the lucky instruments.