DHAULAGIRI, THE 'WHITE MOUNTAIN': A CHRONICLE OF THE 1960 EXPEDITION
Photos by E. Vanis, Austrian Himalayan Society,
and Kurt Diemberger, Austrian Alpine Association
The name Dhaulagiri means 'White Mountain'. This is appropriate, for the rock and ice flanks of this mountain, notorious for its bad weather, mostly glitter with the white of freshly-fallen snow. From a distance the peak resembles an enormous, shining pyramid.
The latest assessment of the peak's altitude is 8,222 m. or 26,975 ft. The bad weather, bringing gales of up to 100 m.p.h. which rage around this isolated peak, explains why it was 'not climbed for ten years (1950-60) in spite of strenuous attempts. Dhaulagiri is a perfect example of the debt due by the expedition which finally succeeded on a great peak to its predecessors, for their reconnaissance work and experience gained during their attempts; so that, in the end, the success is shared by all those who toiled, or even gave their lives, on the mountain. The international character of that success is marked by the fact that it was a combination of climbers from several countries which first reached the summit on May 13th, 1960.
Historical Notes (see sketch map 1):
- Prof. Arnold Heim's Dhaulagiri flight, resulting in valuable photographs.
- The French Himalaya expedition which went on to climb the first eight-thousander, Annapurna I, made a valuable reconnaissance. They explored the eastern approach and then, working from the north, reached the ' French col', from which they were able to examine the huge North face and its containing ridges for the first time. This resulted in considerable modifications of the existing map.
1953. A Swiss expedition of the A.A.C., Zurich, was the first to penetrate the length of the Mayangdi Khola valley to the foot of the North face. They chose the western part of the face for their ascent, hoping to reach the summit by gaining a footing on the West ridge at the very top. They reached a height of 24,600 ft. on the face, but any idea of an attempt on the summit was stultified by the absence of any possible camp sites.The Swiss route was named the 'Pear' route on account of a prominent rock feature in the upper part of the face. They also reconnoitred the North-east col, with important results for the future, for they established that the huge snow-saddle was suitable for 'drops' from the air and even for landings by an aircraft.
- A large Argentinian expedition led by Francisco Ibanez attempted the mountain by the Mayangdi valley and the ' Pear' route. They solved the problem of camps by the original method of blasting an artificial platform for their high assault camp, detonating 27 charges. Later they established a still higher camp at 24,900 ft. They then found the sector of the ridge above it unclimbable (the so-called 6 Cathedral Towers') and a reconnaissance party consisting of Watzl, Magnani and the Sherpas Pasang Dawa Lama and his brother went out to find out whether the obstacle could be turned. They succeeded and pressed on towards the summit, bivouacking at about 26,000 ft. but being forced down again by bad weather. The monsoon prevented a further attempt. The mountain claimed its first victim when Ibanez, the leader of the expedition, died of frost-bite on his return to Kathmandu. The expedition reached the highest point on the ' Pear' route.
- Attempt by a German-Swiss expedition by the same route.
- A second Argentinian expedition, using the same route, reached the ridge and sited their highest camp at 24,930 ft. The early advent of the monsoon prevented any attempt on the summit.
- A second Swiss expedition reached the same height on the ' Pear' route, siting their last camp there, only to be driven down by bad weather.
- An Austrian expedition led by F. Moravec, who had already been the leader of the successful Gasherbrum II party, tried a new route, up the North-east spur.
They quickly pushed a line of camps up from Base Camp at the foot of the North face to the North-east col and beyond it up the spur. Here a disaster befell them: Heini Roiss, a well-known Austrian climber with Himalayan experience, falling into a crevasse from which he was brought out dead. His team-mates buried him on the partly earthy lower slopes of ‘Pt. 6,000 ', between Dhaula Himal and the French col.
Meanwhile, storms had partly wrecked the high camps. When they had been re-established, the party set to, by dint of wearisome and exhausting efforts, to provide an unbroken chain of fixed ropes up the great ice-slope of the spur (the 'Ice-wall'; see sketch map 2) and the somewhat shorter rock-step above it; thus reducing the main difficulties of the spur and making an attempt on the summit feasible. Karl Prein and Pasang Dawa Lama set out from the last assault camp at about 24,100 ft. on the decisive effort; but the advance monsoon had already broken and a terrible storm forced them to turn back at about 25,600 ft. They made two further attempts on the next two days, only to be forced to admit defeat; the monsoon had won the race. They had, however, established that the rest of the route was possible and not even particularly difficult, and reckoned it would require about five hours. The expedition did not have the luck to complete the climb, but it brought back the news that success next year was almost a certainty.
1960. An internationally-constituted Swiss expedition, supported by a glacier aircraft, the Yeti, attempted the peak by the North-east spur. The leader was Max Eiselin, who had been a member of the 1958 expedition. The novelty in Himalayan climbing annals was the elimination of the normal approach march by lifting men and materials alike on to the mountain by air; it having been established in 1953 (see above) that the wide North-east col at the foot of the spur offered an ideal landing ground. An 'Acclimatization Camp' was set up on the Dapa col at 17,060 ft. and members were flown up to it from Bhairawa and later Pokhara. The sudden lift from the Plains to such a height was soon found to be too much for some of them, and several invalids had to be flown down again for a recovery period. As soon as the greater part of the material and a small party of climbers were safely placed on the North-east col, the aircraft went out of service for a longish time owing to engine trouble. As a result, the expedition was split into isolated groups which, however, went pn with the good work on their own and according to their separate situations, of siting high camps on the spur, or bringing the rest of the supplies up the lower slopes.
On May 13th, shortly after all the groups on the mountain had restored contact, the summit of Dhaulagiri was reached at the second attempt, a first effort on May 4th, by the party at work on the spur having nearly succeeded but having been forced to turn back at about 25,600 ft. by bad weather. Ten days later, on May 23rd, two further members of the expedition reached the summit. All in all, a triumph beyond any expectation. The aircraft having meanwhile crashed irretrievably, the expedition withdrew on foot by the usual route (see sketch maps 1 and 2).
Before providing a day-to-day reconstruction of the events in 1960, I should like to make the following general comment:-
The Swiss expedition of 1960 was a private expedition of international constitution. The organization was successfully decentralized and the expedition received support from several countries. The membership shows that boundaries do not exist in the realm of mountaineering. Those who took part were :-
Swiss: Max Eiselin (leader), Albin Schelbert, Ernst Forrer, Michel Vaucher, Hugo Weber, Jean-Jacques Roussi, Ernst Saxer (pilot), Emil Wick (mechanic and co-pilot).
Polish: Dr. Georg Hajdukiewicz (doctor), Adam Skoczylas.
American: Norman Dyhrenfurth (cameraman for the film).
Austrian: Kurt Diemberger.
German: Peter Diener.
Seven Sherpas from Nepal made up the party, whose equipment and provisions weighed 5 tons in all.
Feb. 29th. 1960. Vaucher, Forrer, Hajdukiewicz, Skoczylas and Diemberger left Genoa in S.S. Asia, arriving at Bombay on March 14th.
March 12th. The aircraft Yeti left Zurich. Besides Saxer and Wick, Eiselin and Diener were on board. The aircraft arrived at Kathmandu on March 20th with 6 passengers, for Weber and Schelbert, who had flown out by India Airlines, were now on board. Roussi, who lives in Kathmandu, was already on the spot. Dyhrenfurth had flown in from the U.S.A.
March 20th-25th. The expedition's baggage being transported in two lorries from Bombay to Bhairawa, from whose air-strip the first lifts to the mountain were scheduled. (Later transferred to Pokhara.)
March 28th. First landing by Yeti on the 17,060 ft. Dapa col. The second flight on that day left Forrer and Diemberger at the col to establish the 'Acclimatization Camp', which was supplied and extended with the arrival of all members of the expedition during the following days. Everyone suffered severe discomfort for the first two to three days of acclimatization; some members had to go down again on account of serious mountain-sickness or chills.
April 3rd. First landing by Yeti on the North-east col (18,860 ft.), a world record for a glacier-landing by an aircraft. On the second flight that day Forrer and Diemberger were put down at the col, and Base Camp (later Advanced Base) established.
(During the following days Yeti kept up a running supply of material to the col. Of the two Sherpas brought up, one had to be flown down to Pokhara with pneumonia and was replaced by another.)
April 11th. First reconnaissance of the spur, over the ice- slope, to 20,180 ft.
April 12th. Schelbert and two Sherpas arrived at the col.
April 13 th. Yeti force-landed at Pokhara owing to engine trouble and remained unserviceable till May 4th waiting for a new engine which had to be flown out from Europe and then installed.
April 15th. First high-altitude camp established on the spur (Ridge Camp 1, 21,620 ft.). (The Forrer-Diem- berger-Schelbert group, with four Sherpas, now had sufficient equipment and supplies, but was completely isolated and not even in radio touch with the others. It was decided to push on with a small-party assault of the type with which Diemberger was already familiar from Broad Peak, dispensing with oxygen, except for two emergency bottles; relying on small high camps, the first of which must be pushed as high as possible and heavy load-carrying by every individual, to ensure the quickest acclimatization, fitness and mobility of the group.) Skoczylas and the Liaison Officer started out from Pokhara with 12 porters to bring up the remaining material to the mountain by the route through the Mayangdi valley.
April 21st. Saxer and Dyhrenfurth having brought the news of YetVs mishap from Pokhara to the Acclimatization Camp on the Dapa col, Saxer, accompanied by Eiselin, left two days later to look after the aircraft down at Pokhara. Under the leadership of Hajdukiewicz, the Dapa col group began the ferrying of the material accumulated there, by way of the French col and the Mayangdi glacier to the North-east col, a most laborious shuttle operation.
April 24th. Vaucher, Weber, Roussi and Diener, of the Dapa col group, established a Mayangdi Base Camp at 15,400 ft.
(Next day Hajdukiewicz and Dyhrenfurth also arrived there and met Skoczylas, who had come in from Pokhara that morning, his porters having dumped their loads at Tsaurabon, at the foot of the glacier.)
April 27th. Weber and Diener established a Transit Camp C.l at 16,730 ft. between the Mayangdi Base Camp and the North-east col and pushed on up to the col, followed next day by Yaucher and Roussi.
Hajdukiewicz, Dyhrenfurth and Skoczylas went down to Tsaurabon, at the foot of the glacier, to start bringing up the loads.
April 29th. After days of struggle against continual bad weather and high winds the Forrer group established Ridge Camp 2 at 23,130 ft. above the ice- wall on the spur, a few feet below the Austrian Camp Y of 1959. (There were no other traces, except fixed ropes dug out of the ice, lower down.)
This camp was in a very airy position and seriously exposed to the wind, but there was no other possible site.
May 1st. Diemberger climbed the 350 ft. rock-pitch above Ridge Camp 2, re-established the old fixed ropes, left in position the year before, and dumped the tent for the next high camp at the top of the rocks.
May 2nd. The Forrer group established Ridge Camp 3 at about 24,300 ft. This took nearly the whole day, as the three men had to shuttle the four essential and very heavy loads in turn. On the ascent, at the top of the rock-pitch, they established the first contact by voice with the Dapa col group and learned what had happened to Yeti. (Weber and Diener had climbed from C. 3 to C. 4 and back again, thus restoring the contact by voice.)
Note.-Owing to the establishment of the support camps Mayangdi Base and C. 1 below the North-east col, the original Base Camp on the col was now re-named Advanced Base Camp C. 2, and Ridge Camps 2 and 3 became C. 3, C. 4 and C. 5.
May 4th. After a rest-day at C. 5, Forrer, Schelbert and Diemberger started out early on their first assault on the summit. Any attempt to move up the snowfields to the right proved abortive owing to the condition of the snow, so they climbed a rock-pitch into a snow-couloir between rock-ribs and making headway, now up its containing ribs and now in the couloir itself, reached a point at about 25,600 ft. Here, at midday, bad weather forced them to abandon the attempt.
This convinced them that it would be best to establish yet another (one tent) bivouac camp at this altitude. From it they could then reach the summit, only about 1,350 ft. above, before the usual midday break in the weather. On the next day they went down to the Northeast col for a few days' recuperation before putting this plan into execution.
The same day (May 4th), Yeti arrived at the North-east col, with Max Eiselin on board, after its three weeks' absence unserviceable.
May 5th. At 10-15 Yeti, when .taking off from the Dapa col, crashed owing to a broken rudder-bar. The pilot and co-pilot were unhurt and stayed at the col for two days before setting out for Pokhara on foot.
May 9th. Forrer, Diemberger and Schelbert with Nima
Dorje and Nawang Dorje left the North-east col on their second summit assault and moved up all the way to C. 4 at 23,130 ft. during the day. This stage of 4,300 ft. in a day was admittedly considerable, but absolutely justifiable in view of the fine weather chance and the splendid condition of the party. In 1957 on Broad Peak, on both summit attempts, the differential on the first day had been as much as 4,900 ft. On those occasions, as on this, there was no need for a rest-day next day. At C. 4 they found only Peter Diener; Yaucher, Weber and Roussi having in fact gone up that morning from C. 4 to C. 5 (24,300 ft.), taking only two days' supplies and no spare tent. (They had moved from C. 3 to C. 4 on 8th May.)
May 10th. The five men of the Forrer group with Diener (who asked to be taken along in spite of not being fully acclimatized), taking provisions and two two-man tents from C. 4, climbed to C. 5, where Vaucher, Weber and Roussi were occupying the single two-man tent left there on the first attempt.
The nine men spent the night in the three two- man tents now on the spot.
May 11th. There was now no tent available for the Bivouac Camp (C. 6) it was proposed to pitch up above. To take a tent from C. 5 was altogether too risky, in case the attempt on the summit failed and in view of the subsequent overcrowding of C. 5 by nine men, some of them exhausted, trying to sleep in two two-man tents. A solution could be found to the problem if Yaucher Weber and Roussi, whose provisions had in any case run out, would go down to C. 4 to bring up supplies and at the same time brought up another tent to C. 5 with them. Accordingly, they started down at 11 o'clock. The others spent the whole day at C. 5. On the descent to C. 4, Vaucher was suddenly overcome with violent sickness, and it was decided to go down to the North-east col. They spent the night at C. 3.
May 12th. Vaucher, Weber and Roussi went on down from C. 3 to the col. The six-man Forrer group left C. 5 and established the proposed Bivouac Camp (C. 6) at about 25,600 ft. just below the junction of the North-east spur and the Southeast ridge, where they spent a sleepless night in the single two-man tent.
May 13th. The party started for the summit at 8 a.m. At first visibility was clear, but the cloud cover gradually thickened; there was hardly any wind at all-a perfect day by Dhaulagiri standards. The climb lay first over a sharp snow-arete, then over a bouldery ridge -with a number of steps in it. Just below the highest point they came to a small summit with a narrow snow-crest. After 4J hours' climbing, without oxygen, the following six men reached the summit:-Albin Schelbert, followed by Diemberger and Nawang Dorje, Ernst Forrer and Nima Dorje and, a little later, Peter Diener.
Although the party stayed for some time on the summit, clouds continued to obscure what must be a stupendous panorama, which had already been fantastic from C. 6, but they were none the less overjoyed to be there. They hoisted pennants-Swiss, Austrian and various Club emblems-and thought of all the other nations and clubs whose pioneering work had played so great a part in this success of May 13th, 1960.
As a thunderstorm was approaching from the south, they started down and reached the Bivouac Camp (C. 6) at about 5 o'clock. Forrer and Schelbert went on down to C. 5.
May 14th. The successful summit party climbed down to the North-east col. On the same day, Eiselin, Weber, Roussi, Dyhrenfurth, Hajdukiewicz and three Sherpas had climbed from the col to C. 3 (21,620 ft.). Roussi, Weber and two Sherpas remained there, the others returning to the col.
May 15th. Vaucher and Skoczylas moved up from the col to C. 3, Roussi and Weber from C. 3 to C. 4.
May 19th. Eiselin and Diener left the col on their way down to Pokhara. Dyhrenfurth and Hajdukiewicz moved up to C. 3. Meanwhile Weber and Roussi had reached C. 5, where Vaucher joined them; together they climbed in a strong wind to Bivouac Camp (C. 6). There they waited on the weather for a chance to tackle the summit, but all in vain, having to withdraw to C. 5 on May 21st; during the descent there was an accident, disaster being avoided owing to Vaucher's presence of mind.
May 23rd. Making the most of a lull in the weather, Weber and Vaucher started out from C. 5 (24,300 ft.) and leap-frogging C. 6-by now they were fully acclimatized-reached the summit, a climb of nearly 2,700 ft. at 6-15 p.m. Coming down in the dark, they spent the night at C. 6-altogether a splendid performance. Roussi, who had lost his ice-axe, had had to remain miserably at C. 5.
May 24th. The three men returned to the col.
May 26th. They were the last to leave the col, one day after Hajdukiewicz and Dyhrenfurth, and descended to Mayangdi Base Camp (15,400 ft.). Diemberger, detached to meet the porters for the return march at the Dapa col and finding that they had not yet arrived, climbed the main summit of the 'Dapa peak' (aneroid: 19,620 ft., a mountain just north of the saddle, used by the expedition for training climbs) and returned to the saddle. During earlier attempts Schelbert and Diemberger had reached 18,700 ft. on March 31st; Vaucher and Weber 18,860 ft. on April 11th; and on April 14th Vaucher and Weber and Roussi had been turned back by darkness and cornices at a subsidiary summit only 200 ft. below the top.
May 30th. Start from the Mayangdi Base Camp over the French col for Pokhara, with 40 porters. June 1st. Arrived at Tukucha.
June 7th. Arrival at Pokhara.
June 8th. Arrival at Kathmandu.
G. O. Dyhrenfurth, Der Dritte Pol. Munich, 1960.
Max Eiselin, Erfolg am Dhaulagiri. Zurich, 1960.
Michel Vaucher, in Alpe, Neige, Roc. Lausanne, 1960.
Peter Diener, in Die Woche, No. 25. Switzerland, 1960.
K. Diemberger, in Oesterreichische Alpenzeitung (Austrian A.C.).
K. Diemberger, in Jahrbuch, 1960, des Oe. A.V. (Austrian Alpine Association).
ERNST FORRER IN DESCENT FROM SUMMIT, YET ABOVE 26,000 FT. SHORT STOP FOR BREAKING (Photo: K. Demberger)
MAY 13TH, 1960, ON SUMMIT OF DHAULAGIRI. IN THE PICTURE: KURT DIEMBERGER (WITH FLAGES) AND ALBIN SCHELBERT (SUMMIT WAS REACHED THAT DAY BY SIX EXPEDITION MEMBERS INCLUDING TWO SHERPAS) (Photo: k. Demberger- by aid of companion)
DHAULAGIRI (26,975 FT.), THE 'WHITE MOUNTAIN' OF THE HIMALAYAS, WITH CHARACTERISTIC WEATHER. NORTH- EAST SPUR RISES IN CENTRE OF THE MOUNTAIN (COMPARE WITH SKETCH MAP 2) (Photo: E. Vanis, Austrian Himalayan Society)
VIEW FROM THE WIDE SNOW- SADDLE OF NORTH-EAST COL UP TOWARDS THE RAPIDLY RISING NORTH-EAST SPUR (Photo: E. Vanis, Austrian Himalayan Society)
ENORMOUS VIEW FROM CAMP 6 (C. 25,600 FT.) TOWARDS TIBET. IN LEFT CORNER: DHAULA HIMAL II. ON THE HORIZON FROM CENTRE TO THE RIGHT: FAR RANGES OF TRANS-HIMALAYA (MOUNTAIN: SHERPA NIMA DORJE) (Photo: K. Diemberger, Austrian Alpine Views)