Part I


The above heading is the correct title for the venture more commonly known as ‘Sir Edmund Hillary's Himalayan Expedition' or just 'The Hillary Expedition'.

In spite of an immense amount of publicity which may have suggested it was a 'Yeti Expedition', the main objective of this party was physiological research. Its basis was a nine months' study of the human body at altitude, involving a team of doctors with vast amounts of physiological equipment, keeping to a programme of tests designed to answer many long-standing questions on human reactions. Related to these tests was a meteorological study. The quest for the elusive yeti was introduced partly'by the request of the sponsors, 'World Book Encyclopaedia', and partly to provide a programme for the non-building group while they were acclimatizing, waiting for the construction of the huts, which are the bases for the experimental work. To give the mountaineers a suitable incentive for their labour as guinea-pigs a mountaineering programme was introduced, culminating in an attempt on Makalu. Such a climb would give further material to the physiologists, in the form of comparisons between those climbers with two and those with eight months of acclimatization.

This paper includes the construction of the huts and a brief account of the yeti search, leaving the medical and climbing to a later contribution.

The first party to leave Kathmandu headed for the Rolwaling on September 13, 1960, under the leadership of Hillary. The others in this party were: Marlin Perkins, zoologist; Larry Swan, biologist; John Deinhart, sponsor's representative; George Lowe, photographer; Tom Nevison, physiologist; Mike Gill, physiologist; Peter Mulgrew, wireless operator; Pat Barcham, mountaineer; Desmond Doig, reporter; and Doig's assistant, Bhanu Bannerjee.

In normal monsoon weather they followed the Charikot route and set up a preliminary base at Beding. There a severe storm was weathered and a series of excursions began in the adjacent high country, examining all types of animal life, from the biologist's frogs and butterflies to wolves and bears, and, of course, the yeti,

Meanwhile, the second party, under my leadership, left .Kathmandu one day behind the yeti searchers. The others with me, apart from four Sherpas and three hundred coolies, were: Jim Milledge, English doctor; Wally Romanes, New Zealand builder; and Barry Bishop, American cameraman. Each of these had additional accomplishments besides those listed, and each was a capable mountaineer.

The previously mentioned storm caught my party on the worst possible day. As is quite normal in the monsoon, the Jubing bridge had been washed away and the alternative high route above Ringmo had to be followed, over passes approaching 15,000 ft. When this bulky caravan was at the treeline before the first pass the weather broke. Cold rain blew in from the south-west and on the pass snow fell. The ill-clad coolies were well aware of the fatalities on the same pass with the Swiss Everest porters in 1952.

With a minimum of shelter we had to wait two days amid wet loads and constant complaints from the Kathmandu men, all of whom wanted to be paid off. We had no tents for so large a party and this camp was a long way from local food supplies. We searched the neighbourhood for willing replacements and received promises from 180 Bhotias, allowing us to pay off that number of Kathmandu men. The weather looked better on the third day. Our camp soon emptied of men as the push over the snow-covered pass began. However, the camp was not empty of loads. The 180 local replacements arrived in twos and threes and it was not until 2 p.m. that we were all finally moving.

We had a very slow and dragging tail. Forty people did not cross the pass that night, and forty more failed to reach the camp on the other side. Every overhanging rock for miles was occupied. Fortunately the 'all-nighters' were well-clad Bhotias.

In the next lap we wanted to cross the gorge of the Lumding Khola and reach Ghat. The caravan was pushed forwards early in the morning before the stragglers arrived. On the following day we were still spread out, camping miles apart, and without any check on the loads. Dawa Tensing and I spent two hours which were stimulating to the coolies. At the first village where new labour was available we replaced the last eight of our stragglers and promised the same measures would be taken at the next village.

Soon we were in Namche Bazaar, then through it to the more friendly atmosphere of Khumjung. From now on we were in radio contact with our leader, operating in the Rolwaling.

In the final torrent of the monsoon we had an ear-splitting pay-off in the Thyangboche gompa courtyard. With a sigh of relief the more controlled remainder settled down to the jobs of recruiting Sherpas, finding a house to rent, buying stocks of food, and preparing timber for hut construction.

The huts were to be sited in the Mingbo Khola. To locate the best approach route and fix the sites, Bishop and 1 went up that valley early in October, to get beaten back by great depths of snow which could not be coped with in our unacclimatized state. Ten days later Bishop and Romanes did travel the full length of the Mingbo and climbed the two cols of almost 20,000 ft. which give access to the Hongu further east. Their report began the first misgivings regarding Hillary's intentions. He had suggested investigating these cols for his top-hut site, but to us both looked unsafe. Hillary had previously crossed one of them but had not carried out a detailed examination for construction purposes.

Meanwhile, the build-up of hut materials, food, fuel and scientific equipment was pushing into the Hongu. Romanes was the senior builder of the lower hut, at 17,300 ft. on good sand and .gravel, and constructed of a local timber frame, two layers of sisalation, netting and heavy canvas. The two protective layers four inches apart provided a very effective insulating cushion of air. The purpose of this hut was to provide a safe retreat in the event of altitude or weather affecting the occupants of the higher hut.

At this stage Doctor Griff Pugh and forty coolies arrived at Base. The acclimatized members of my party began a serious attempt at establishing themselves on the northerly of the two Hongu cols. A winch was erected there, at the top of 400 ft. of fluted ice. One hundred loads were carried up to the foot of the winch line. In a fearful wind the climbers began to drag the hut sections up the flutings, but the winch frame collapsed before real progress was made. A retreat was made for timber to repair the damage and at that stage we were joined by Hillary and his party.

We learned that Nevison and Barcham had crossed from the Rolwaling at the end of October and had climbed a 21,000-ft. peak on the east side of the Ngojumbo glacier and were soon to join us after coming down the Khumbu.

An intense search had been made for yeti clues in the Rolwaling. There were several false alarms from the Sherpas who were enthusiastic but not expert trackers, and they called out the experts for many old and unlikely depressions in the snow. However, several groups of very useful tracks were followed and photographed. The most revealing was from an animal of fox proportions which showed four distinct pad marks when travelling downhill, but when it went up again it had a leaping action, when all feet landed together. In certain conditions of wind and sun the prints from the four feet almost matched those seen by Shipton in 1951, and they were certainly identical with many other ‘yeti' prints.

Several skins of blue bear were purchased from Tibetans along with those of many other creatures. The blue bear is a rare animal and has not been reported in Nepal. Many of the tales of Sherpa sightings of yeti would fit descriptions of this animal.

With Hillary's arrival from the Rolwaling via the Teshi Lapcha the first stage was completed. The party had settled down, was well acclimatized, some minor climbs had been done, and the biological and zoological work had been most rewarding.

All the climbers moved to the Mingbo for the building of the upper hut. It was called many names, but 'silver hut' became permanent. The lower hut, called'green hut' from its green canvas outer wall, was the base for this large construction party. Meanwhile, the zoological group was poring through the animal relics of the Khumbu villages.

The north Mingbo col was reoccupied in appalling conditions. The winch was working again, at about half an hour a load, but the slope of the col was frightening when considering a possible winter retreat down the flutings, and there was no sheltered hut site on the col. We retreated. The few loads which had come up were lowered and a good safe site was selected at 19,150 ft., an altitude which was satisfactory to the physiologists, and it had an easy route through to the green hut.

The silver hut was a cylinder of 11 ft. diameter and 22 ft. in length made from two layers of painted plywood having a 4-inch layer of polystyrene between them. These had been made in sections in England. Each weighed about 16 lb. and three together made a light but very bulky coolie load. The assembled sections were mounted on wooden foundations and beams, tightened and anchored with wire cables tied to kitbags of snow buried in 6-ft. pits. Jacks between the foundations and bearers were permanently installed to compensate for any snow movements during the winter. Joints were sealed, tables, bunks, generator and stove installed and preparations were made for the wintering party.

While the finishing touches were being done to the huts several attempts were made to climb the fine peak immediately east of Ama Dablam. It was a long mixed climb of ice, snow and rock, accomplished eventually by Jim Milledge and Ang Tsering in the second week of November.

At this stage Romanes, Gill and I with nine Sherpas were away for ten days in the Imja. We worked for three days on the long formidable spur which rises to Lhotse Shar, in an attempt to examine the ground for a future possible climb. This peak has been of particular interest to me for some years. We pushed upwards for nearly 4,000 ft., only to be stopped short of 22,000 ft. by a complicated mass of seracs on a steep face which was strewn with avalanche debris. In my opinion it is no place for the line of camps necessary for an attempt on a mountain of 27,550 ft. Gill and Annallu made the first ascent of the more remote of the Island peaks. Romanes and I with Urkien and Ang Temba climbed to the Imja-Barun col for a further examination of the Lhotse Shar approaches. To me the easiest route is a long one—from the Barun to this col and then along the very long frontier ridge.

The summer parties withdrew. Hillary began a rapid world tour with the Khumjung' yeti scalpand the wintering party moved up to their quarters.

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