The Ascent of Ama Dablam
By. M. B. GILL
' Ama Dablam is of white granite and rises like a fang to canopy the Unja Valley ... It is so sheer and smooth that even ice cannot stick to it.. !
" Ama Dablam is a difficult mountain
Whatever other memories may have vanished, the traveller who has walked the paths of the Solu Khumbu must surely carry back with him the picture of Thyangboche Monastery, perched on its tiny spur high above the gorge of the Dudh Kosi, and behind it, soaring serenely upwards, the colossal rock and ice monolith of ‘Ama Dablam '. ‘Ama ' is ‘mother ' in the Sherpa language, ‘dab- lang' a locket worn around the neck; whenever one goes in the Solu Khumbu she may be seen, the delicate rock ridges that are her arms extended as if to embrace the diminutive villages and pastures lying at her feet, and on her bosom a gleaming ' dablang' of ice.
Surely this mountain is impossible is one's reaction at first sight; but by the end of an autumn and a winter living beside it, we had seen a way through to the summit. Others had looked before us: the Sherpas told of a small reconnaissance party in 1955 which had started on the rocks of the south (Mingbo) ridge; and in 1958, Cunningham, a member of Alf Gregory's English party, had put in two camps on the same ridge and reached 19,500 feet before turning back at an overhang. In 1959 a determined attempt ended in tragedy; Harris and Frazer, two of Britain's finest climbers, were last seen at a height of 21,000 feet on the north ridge before being swallowed in the clouds, never to return.
*Part I of this Expedition was published in Vol. XXII on p. 141.
Our winter camps were on the south side of the mountain with the Mingbo ridge dropping down into the high pastures and moraines between Mingbo Scientific Base, 15,300 feet, and Silver Hut, 19,000 feet. Since this was the ridge on which we saw our route, a brief technical description might be relevant. Below 19,000 feet it is merely a few easy slabs showing through a broad sweep of scree, but above this height there is a dramatic change: the jagged blade of the ridge proper is abruptly upthrust from the surrounding slopes to rise in a series of steepening steps to the great ice-bulge at the foot of the final snow-face. The two most notable of these rises were referred to as the first and second steps and constituted the most obvious difficulty on the route. At the foot of the second step was 6 the Gapa relatively level section which probably would provide a camp-site; below this the general angle of the ridge lessened, but the crest looked to be of so tenuous a nature that its length might be an insuperable barrier to the carrying of loads.
By mid-February, with the scientific programme well in hand and the arrival date of the Makalu party drawing near, we decided to look more closely at our route. Wally Romanes and Pemba Tensing set out on the reconnaissance on February 18th, carrying a light camp, supplies for two days and a radio which was to provide contact with Silver Hut throughout the following month. The only necessity they lacked was permission to be on the mountain—but that is part of the Makalu story. Through the big telescope at Silver Hut the others of us watched their progress with interest; Camp I became visible as a bright yellow speck on the boulder-strewn slopes at 19,000 feet; the following day two tiny figures climbed slowly upwards silhouetted against the vast luminous background of sky and mountain beyond them. From the ease of their movements we judged that the lower rocks anyway were not excessively difficult. We heard their story on the radio that night: at 19,500 feet they had been brought to an abrupt halt by an 80-foot wall guarded by an overhang, with no possibility of sliding past it—probably the highest point reached by Cunningham three years earlier. The best news was that at the foot of this pitch was the perfect site for Camp II. Altogether it was an encouraging start.
Enthusiasm was gathering momentum at the Silver Hut and that night the snow cave was emptied of its stores of climbing equipment: pitons were sorted, rope-ladders checked over and coils of manilla disentangled. To Mike Ward and Barry Bishop fell the task of establishing camp II and starting the assault on the overhangs above. Several more Sherpas were brought in to carry up Camp II though as yet none was to sleep there. A well-laden party set off next day under a brilliant and cloudless sky, a blessing that we were to enjoy every day in the month to follow. Camp II is worth describing in some detail for it was superbly sited. After an hour or so of strenuous hauling up the cracks, chimneys and slabs of the lower ridge a broad ledge led out on the Silver Hut side. Here, fortuitously, clinging to the side of the ridge like a giant limpet, was a bulge of ice presenting a roomy ledge which held all our tents, nestling into a warm shallow cirque in the rock behind. And looming over our heads was the wall that formed the next part of the route. Rappelling down this later became routine, but the sight never became less than spectacular—-to see a figure appear on the rock shoulder high above, in the late afternoon sun, wind the rope round thigh and shoulder and glide swiftly down to the lower ledges and the camp. The ascent of this section was a considerable feat on the part of Ward and Bishop. For a day and a half, with the help of some 20 pitons, they fought their way up the slender cracks and smooth slabs. Artificial climbing is an exhausting procedure at this altitude where a powerful muscular effort cannot be sustained for long before one is brought to a panting halt by acute respiratory distress. When they stepped on to the easy upper section and fixed our long ladder, the first major obstacle of the climb had been overcome and we were free to tackle the next problem.
Ama Dablam From Thyangboche
Meanwhile, at Green Hut, Romanes had recovered his strength and he now returned, as the third occupant of Camp II, ready for the attempt on the first step next day. Half a dozen rope-lengths beyond the ladder was the Gap and past this a steep ice-slope leading to the foot of the first step, now revealed as a smooth vertical wall for its first 100 feet. Vertical walls are frequently described but seldom encountered of such verticality that a rope hung down from above dangles free—but this one stood the test. Fortunately its smoothness was broken by a wide central crack ; for some this might have been an airy piece of free-climbing, but for us it was another long bout of hammering. This was fine climbing on the part of Bishop, Romanes and Ward involving much use of etriers, pitons, paired ropes, and all the rest of the paraphernalia. After two days' hard work the second ladder was in position and the 300 feet of rock beyond this had been climbed—still alarmingly steep, but far enough from the perpendicular to be considerably easier. This was the only part of the climb exposed to the withering blast of the wind sweeping up from the lower Mingbo Valley, but even here the brilliance of the sun was always there to temper the chill.
When the successful party returned to Camp II that evening, I had arrived there, tremendously impressed by what I could see of the upper part of the mountain and by the awe-inspiring pitches already overcome by the others. Between us and the great ice ' dab- lang' where we were expecting to place our final camp there remained only ' the second step'. Romanes still seemed as fit as ever and was keen to carry on with me the next day. Beyond the highest point of the previous day we encountered some curiously hollow and rotten ice, up which we carved a precarious collection of steps. We halted to consider the alternatives: there was a fine steep buttress immediately above, fashioned of rock, which at home might have delighted any climber but which here, at 20,000 feet, was obviously a two-day job ; the second possibility lay to the left, up and across a rotten gully nostalgically reminiscent of the Southern Alps. Dangerous though it was we had little option but to take the gully. Gingerly we stepped across from one tottering boulder to the next, watching with interest the looser rocks bounding over the precipice where the gully terminated. Time ran out soon after reaching a snow rib on the other side, but we could see our way clear to the ridge above and the second step was no longer a problem.
Ward, Bishop and Romanes felt that by now they were due to be retired to Green Hut for a rest. I was loath to join them myself, having taken a liking to Camp II and a considerable dislike to the lengthy reaches of rubble below. So far we had managed at Camp II without Sherpas, but it seemed that we could well use them now— the thought of carrying Camp III entirely on our own shoulders being apt to cause despondency even amongst the most independent of us. Pemba Tensing and Gumi Dorji eventually came up, a cheerful pair ; Pemba Tensing in particular, being much given to singing. They lost much of their good cheer when they looked more closely at the ladder hanging ominously over the camp and realized that they too were expected to climb this. Both shook their heads and agreed emphatically that it was a very bad route. Gumi fortunately proved to be fairly adaptable and went up with some speed ; and finally the pale, sweating, but grimly determined face of Pemba Tensing also appeared at the top of the ladder ; we could be sure of their assistance as far as the Gap at least.
The others returned after four days, well rested and ready to launch the final assault. Fundamentally the plan must be to establish a well-stocked camp on the 6 dablang', but the details gave rise to lengthy discussions: tents or snow cave, two climbers or four for the summit, Sherpas or no Sherpas, how many days from high camp to the summit, and so on. Eventually we postponed major decisions and decided to establish Camp III in the Gap ; this admittedly left us only two hundred feet higher but in time this had been costing us two hours each day. Camp III was another camp that easily encouraged indolence: three rock platforms gathering all the warmth of the sun ; we could look down on Silver Hut, now well below us, and see the occasional black dot moving on the glacier, the figure of a Sherpa going up from Green Hut or the slower movement of a sahib ; and often the swift, usually graceful, descent of a skier.
It was now March 8th, nearly three weeks after Romanes' reconnaissance. The route to IV had still to be completed, and this we did in the following two days. Another day was spent carrying up 60 pounds of food and equipment, using sahibs only for the porterage, to the Sherpas' great relief. On the 11th the summit assault began. It was a day I would forget if I could, a day of unremitting struggle against what Tilman calls ' mountaineer's foot': reluctance to put one in front of the other. Beyond the second step the ridge was of easy rock and strangely wind-sculptured snow leading via a ten-foot ice-wall to a broad open snow ledge that was to be our camp. We had not carried tents, partly because the snow had looked suitable for caving and partly because we couldn't have carried the extra 40 pounds anyway. Our first project, an igloo, gave us little joy ; even the optimist could hardly see in these poor tottering walls the graceful dome we had imagined ; a snow cave it must be. The compensation for the exhausting one-man bouts of digging that continued through the few remaining hours of daylight and far into the night, was that one could sit back resting with a clear conscience and contemplate the scene in peace, as fine a mountain camp-site as I have known. We were looking from a new angle at the long familiar skyline of peaks: the awful precipices of Kangtega, the spires of Menlungtse where the Yetis live, the massive Dongiragutao rising north of the Tesi Lapcha, Karyolung and Numbur, whose ridges we used to see from Silver Hut, catch the last rays of the setting sun. We saw the darkness gather round us without dismay for the sky was clear and the wind not troubling us ; if there be gods on Ama Dablam they were for us it seemed. We prepared a substantial meal and finally, after midnight, fell into the deep sleep of exhaustion.
The following day found us with little inclination to stir early. The summit attempt could wait a day leaving us time to prepare the lower part of the route, improve the cave, and, most important, rest and recover our strength. The final pyramid rose directly before us ; the Mingbo ridge now ceased to be distinct and became merely the corner between two faces, the one a sheer rock-wall facing Silver Hut, the other, of gentler aspect, the snow-face one sees in the view from Khumjung or Thyangboche. Half-way up a line of ice-cliffs stretched across menacing the whole lower face except the extreme right-hand edge. Above this only lack of time could keep us from the summit we thought. On this first day at Camp IV Romanes and Ward, the fittest pair, put in some splendid work on the lower section, cutting steps, fixing a rope and so putting us in a strong position for the summit.
We were away before 8 a.m. on the 13th, our summit day. Progress was steady over moderately difficult ground ; a few patches of ice, a few awkward moves on the rock, all of it steep. At the point where the ice-cliffs seemingly blocked our way, an alarmingly exposed strip of rock allowed us to slip past and through to the open snow-face beyond. This was about the half-way mark, the point reached yesterday. The face above was scalloped out in huge flutings and it was up the most prominent of these that we proposed to climb. At first we struck ice but this soon gave way to crisp snow as we drew up to a rock outcrop standing prominently on our fluting. Here we rested ; it was 12.30 p.m., two-thirds of the day's climb was below us, and we were separated from the summit only by an easy snow rib. With mounting elation we climbed on as rapidly as the thin air would allow us, scraping and kicking, rope-length after rope-length. At 2.30 p.m. we stepped on to the summit, not the blade of ice we had imagined but a broad plateau split by a narrow crevasse. Directly ahead loomed the colossus of Everest, no longer squatting behind the Lhotse-Nuptse wall but for the first time massively dominating the whole fantastic landscape. To its right stood Makalu, gracefully proportioned despite its bulk ; and in between a vista of rolling brown hills stretched to the horizon where a shaft of light through the clouds played on the snows of a range far inside Tibet.
Before dropping off back down the Mingbo face we peered down the north ridge on which Harris and Frazer had made their last climb. We were appalled at the steepness of the final ice-ridge and the ferocious severity of the knife-edge rock falling away below it. Why had they chosen this route, we wondered . ..
The descent may be passed over quickly; we moved singly, the tedium relieved only by anxiety and relief as the more difficult pitches were approached and passed. It was a relief, too, to rejoin the Sherpas at III: they beamed happily at us, as pleased as we were, and plied us with mugs of hot, syrupy tea: 4 Shabash! Very good summit, sahibs.' Between III and II Romanes engineered an overhead ropeway which took our loads down in quick time, and at II we were met by two Sherpas from Green Hut. The sahibs shouldered 40 pounds while the Sherpas took 60-80 pounds each rather than make a return trip the following day. The last of our difficulties was behind us, the pressure was off, and that evening we would be relaxing at Mingbo.
But it was not to be. Two rope-lengths down the ridge we found the Sherpas supporting Gumi Dorji, in pain and terribly afraid. ' Broken sahib—I will die . . .' We looked and saw one leg hanging uselessly from a transverse fracture half-way up the shin ; he had stood on a loose rock which gave way beneath the weight of his too-heavy pack and in a fall of ten feet his leg had snapped. God! . . . Why did this have to happen now when in an hour we would have been oif the mountain ? . . . How on earth would we get him down the chaotic tangle of cracks, chimneys and gullies that barred our way below ? Before they had been easy but with an injured man on our hands they suddenly looked impossibly difficult. No use brooding on the change of our luck, anyway ; we must act somehow, devise some sort of plan. Ward splinted the leg with an ice- axe and pieces of a cardboard food box and gave a morphine injection. Reluctantly we admitted that a Sherpa would not be able to negotiate the rock below on which they had had difficulty even with an ordinary load. This would have to be a sahib job.
Photo: N. D. Hardie
AMA DABLAM REARS ABOVE THE SITE OF SILVER HUT (HERE UNDER CONSTRUCTION). THE ROUTE OF ASCENT IS ON, THEN BEHIND, THE LEFT SKYLINE (SEE LINE SKETCH IN TEXT FOR COMPLETE ROUTE).
Photo: N. D. Hardie
The two peaks of makalu from the summit of pethangtse. the route from above camp iv is visible (cf. ltne sketch).
We devised a system whereby Ward and I alternated, carrying and assisting, while Romanes manoeuvred himself into position above so that the belay was always as near to giving vertical support as was possible. Meanwhile Bishop supervised the Sherpas carrying down essential loads. Progress was pitifully slow ; we needed the strength of a Sherpa with the ability of an experienced rock-climber, a combination not found amongst our porters. After four hours' determined effort we were still only half-way down and an ominous sky had closed in bringing snow. Anxiously we looked around for the suggestion of a spot level enough for a tent, and eventually spied a debris-covered ledge 1Q0 feet down which would yield one platform; further below we could probably construct another in a small gully half-choked with rubble. In the fading light with snow silently covering the rocks we built a makeshift camp and settled down for a weary night, short of food and with no fuel.
Although the morning dawned clear we could not move early because of the snow, which had not melted sufficiently until near midday. We started badly with a difficult move pendulum fashion across the steep smooth slabs, but once the ridge had been regained we moved more rapidly. At last the worst was behind us and a Sherpa could take over. In the meantime Silver Hut had been informed by radio of our troubles and food, fuel and more porters had been dispatched. But again the clouds descended on us, snow fell making carrying difficult over the boulder-strewn slopes and we were obliged to scratch out another bleak temporary camp.
The next day was our last on Ama Dablam. Again the sun rose in a cloudless sky, the snow soon thawed and we knew we would reach Mingbo camp that day. It was March 18th, exactly a month from the first day of the reconnaissance.
By J. Harrison
On May 18th, 1954, Sir Edmund Hillary became seriously ill at 22,000 feet on Mount Makalu, and his evacuation caused the New Zealand Alpine Club's reconnaissance of the mountain to be called off. Previous to this, whilst on the other side of the mountain an American expedition was repulsed, Hillary's party had found a feasible route up the slopes of the north-western cirque which promised to give access to Makalu Col. The following autumn an oxygen-assisted French expedition, which has been described as one of the strongest ever assembled in the Himalaya, completed the route to the 24,300-foot col and, from a camp there, made ascents of 25,120-foot Makalu II and 25,580-foot Chomo Lonzo, both of which presented them with little difficulty. In the spring of 1955 they returned, and, in perfect conditions, the entire party reached the summit of Makalu itself. Continuous use of oxygen was made above 23,000 feet. This tremendous feat is described in Jean Franco's well-written book.
It was on March 24th seven years later that I reached Namche Bazaar, on my way in with the last baggage train of the 1960-61 Himalayan Scientific and Mountaineering Expedition. Imagine my reaction when I was politely informed by the Indian check-post captain that, owing to the unscheduled ascent of Ama Dablam, permission to attempt Makalu had been cancelled and the expedition recalled to Kathmandu. At first I laughed and said it was time we had a crisis ; then gradually the seriousness of the situation sank in as the good captain informed me that I would have to be 6 detained'.
Hillary flew out to Kathmandu and threw himself, with characteristic vigour, into several days of diplomatic wrangling out of which he finally emerged victorious, and thus we were eventually united in the Mingbo Valley.
It was with the greatest respect for our victorious predecessors that we first gazed at Makalu's summit from Ama Dablam Col. Ahead of us was an ambitious programme. To reach the base of our objective we first had to transport our 200 odd loads (which had already been carried 100 miles from Kathmandu) over three difficult passes at 19,500 feet, 20,350 feet and 20,000 feet respectively. Each required much preparation and fixed ropes had to be installed. To attack this mammoth carrying task we had equipped 50 Sherpas, many of whom were on their first expedition.
Late in March these cheerful toilers began to carry by relaying all the loads from Mingbo to Green Hut, and from there to Silver Hut. Above here, extremely steep flutings 400 feet high led to Ama Dablam Col, and up this section we carved an airy stairway and fixed a continuous rope. On April 3rd, Romanes, Ortenberger, Urkien, Annallu and Da Tensing crossed the col and descended the long slopes to the floor of the Hongu Valley. The following day they found an ideal camp-site for the next stage. Meanwhile the main body of Sherpas was relaying loads to Ama Dablam Col. On April 7th, I accompanied 33 of them to the Hongu camp which in no time boasted two stone shelters and an array of small tents. At first we thought the relay from Ama Dablam Col down to Hongu camp was a long one, but the next two were to prove longer.
On April 6th, Romanes and Annallu had reconnoitred a route to West Col and on the 8th Ortenberger and I, with Pemba Tensing and Pasang Tensing, consolidated the route clearing snow, cutting steps and fixing 500 feet of rope on the steep rib of mixed rock and ice below the col. The lift was now in full swing, and Sherpas toiled on the relays between Ama Dablam Col, Hongu camp and West Col; Hillary, Mulgrew and Nevison arrived at Hongu camp, and Romanes, Ortenberger, Nevison and I, with Pemba and Pasang Tensing, took up residence on West Col. From there we reconnoitred and prepared the last stage of the route to the Barun. This consisted of an hour's trudge across a glaciated plateau to the 20,000-foot East Col, from which we had a magnificent and humbling view of the whole towering bulk of Makalu. Ortenberger later commented, ' There was a bloody big mountain in front of us.'
Below the col a rock rib, on which we fixed ropes, led to a glacier, some rough boulders and a spur ; then finally Camp I at 17,000 feet, on a moraine terrace above the Barun Glacier. On April 17th, Hillary and Mulgrew escorted the first Sherpa lift over the last section, and by the 22nd all ten sahibs and all 1 lie Sherpas were installed in the Barun. On the 24th the last of the loads arrived to complete perhaps the longest high lift ever undertaken to reach a mountain. We were now a very fit team.
Camp II at 19,500 feet and Camp III at 21,250 feet were rapidly established, and on the last day of April, Nevison and I, with Mingma and Ang Temba, made our way across the terraced ice- clifTs under Makalu Col. Above us reared an ice-bulge on top of which it was hoped to establish Camp IV. Up steepening slopes leading to a couloir we cut a 500-foot line of steps. Our work was made safe by the many pitons we placed for the fixed rope which we unravelled on our descent. We regained camp just before dark, tired and happy with our day's progress.
The following day, Mulgrew, Ortenberger and Annallu took over the attack, and they were succeeded by Hillary and Romanes. Our line of steps and fixed ropes was now complete, and Ward, Gill, Urkien and Nima Dorji were able to take up residence on the 23,000-foot aerial platform of Camp IV. Two days later, Romanes, Pemba Tensing, Mingma and I relieved them. They had won their way through to the 24,300-foot col and installed 500 feet of fixed rope immediately above the camp. As they descended out of the mist we greeted the tiredest looking men I had ever seen. I wondered what condition we should be in after two days up here where our French predecessors had used oxygen.
Drawn by J. Harrison
Mt. Makalu, 27,790 ft, showing route camps and highest point reached.
On May 6th and 7th, in stern weather, we consolidated the exposed route above, and installed a further 1,500 feet of rope. This, in conjunction with some of the old French ropes^ now gave us a continuous handrail from just above Camp IV right to the col. Everything was now ready for the big lift to the col, and as we descended to Camp III we had good reason to be pleased with our progress. We had more than regained the time lost over the diplomatic upset, and were now two days ahead of the French time-table. At Camp IV, Mulgrew, Ortenberger and 23 Sherpas were settling in for the night. Tomorrow, bound for the col, they would be carrying everything from a bicycle to a bundle of marker-flags. The scientific programme was in full swing, and with the aid of some complex electronic equipment and the said bicycle, the physiological programme which had been instituted during the winter was carried still higher.
But we were due for a shock! At noon next day, as I watched the long file of black specks slowly making their way up the steep rocks to the col, my elation was rudely shattered by the news on the radio that at Camp II Hillary had suffered a mild stroke and would have to be evacuated immediately. In the next few days he moved down to 15,000 feet, under the care of Milledge who generously offered to forsake the mountain to take care of our protesting leader.
Ward now took over the responsibility of leadership, and on the 10th, Ward, Romanes, Gill and Ortenberger left Camp II for Makalu Col, accompanied by a large group of Sherpas. One day behind them was Nevison, and two days behind were Mulgrew and I. By the time we reached Camp V on the col, Romanes, Gill and Ortenberger had established Camp VI at 25,800 feet on the Tibetan face, and we were struggling with the route to Camp VII from which it was hoped they would be able to attempt the summit next day. In the wildly flapping Blanchard tent at Camp V we found Ward, West and Nevison busy with their scientific apparatus. Above this camp rose the last few thousand feet of our mountain, presenting nothing more difficult than that which we had already overcome. The wind roared in our ears, and we wondered how the first assault trio was faring up above. Tomorrow, Ward, Mulgrew, Nevison and I would be following them as the second assault.
On the radio link next morning, Romanes announced from Camp VI that yesterday, in deteriorating weather, they had battled their way up from Camp VI till, with their faces thickly sheathed in ice, and with little visibility, they were forced to retreat. They told us they would be coming down, and four hours later they arrived. Gill's nose was black with frost-bite and they were all utterly exhausted. They had performed well, and made a more direct route than that used by the French, but they attributed their downfall to an under-estimation of the effect of the severe buffeting of the wind yesterday on their physical condition. It was their opinion that the summit party should do as little work as possible below Camp VII.
Accordingly another plan was made, whereby Mulgrew, Nevison and Annallu would complete the route to Camp VII and if possible attempt the summit, followed two days later by an all-out summit bid by Ward, Urkien and myself.
Next day, as arranged, the former trio set off for Camp VI with five Sherpas, while Gill and West went down to Camp III. Meanwhile at Camp V, Romanes's and Ward's physical condition deteriorated and they were forced to use oxygen. On the 17th, Romanes was no better, and in the care of three Sherpas he reluctantly descended to Camp III.
On May 18th we had hoped that the first party would stand on the summit. On the col the wind continued to flog the tents unmercifully while we waited anxiously for the return of the Sherpas who had carried to Camp VII, before setting out ourselves. At 11 a.m. two of them arrived with the news that yesterday the Sherpas had been involved in a fall and Ang Temba was now at Camp VI with an ankle out of action and in need of attention. Though he realized that he was now incapable of reaching the summit himself, Ward, in order to give Ortenberger (who had by now recovered) and me a chance, summoned his last reserves, and, using oxygen, set off for Camp VI. From there he radioed back the sad news that Ang Temba would have to be carried down by our assault Sherpas.
The following day Ortenberger and I took all the Sherpas we could muster to Camp VI, and while Ortenberger, Pemba Tensing, Pasang Tensing and I dug in for the night, a very tottery Ward escorted the rescue team down to the col. Snow whirled about us as, on the tiny shelf of Camp VI, our faces frosted up, we laboriously dug the tents out to make them habitable. We were a little anxious for the safety of the three men above us ; and with Hillary, Milledge, Gill, Romanes and Ward all out of action, we were now down to four sahibs—a very weak party.
Then, at 3 p.m., Annallu suddenly appeared with the news that Mulgrew and Nevison were half-way down from Camp VII where Mulgrew had completely collapsed. They needed a tent and oxygen. Fortunately Ward had left his oxygen set which still contained a quarter of a bottle, so this was dispatched, together with one of our tents, with our two Sherpas. Annallu, who was nursing a cracked rib, continued on down to Camp V bearing a note for Ward to send up more oxygen urgently. As darkness fell the two Tensings returned from above and the four of us squeezed into the remaining tent at VI for the night.
Next morning, despite repeated attempts to make radio contact with Ward at Camp V, we could get no reply. Urgent assistance from below was essential, and it was decided that while one of us went up with the two Sherpas and a radio, the other must descend and organize from Camp V. We tossed for jobs—a ' Hibitane ' pill taking the place of a coin. Ortenberger won and I descended.
With a hefty pack on my back I found that I could barely manage to struggle into the biting wind, and it was with great relief that I collapsed through the entrance of the wildly flapping Blanchard. There I was confronted with a prostrate and glassy-eyed Ward who asked in a shaking voice, ‘Who are you ? ' Realizing that he was delirious I arranged an oxygen set to help his feeble breathing, and then got busy with the radio to make contact with Ortenberger who had by then reached Mulgrew and Nevison. He informed me that more oxygen would be required before Mulgrew could be shifted. On the life-saving radio (designed by Mulgrew) I asked Romanes at Camp III to send up more oxygen and all available Sherpas as Camp V was practically deserted, all effective Sherpas having gone down with the injured Ang Temba.
That evening Nevison staggered in with Pemba and Pasang Tensing and from him I was able to piece together what had been happening up the mountain.
On the 18th they had set out from the 27,000-foot Camp VII in a bold bid for the summit. At 27,400 feet they were forced to turn back with Mulgrew vomiting blood, Nevison feeling unwell and Annallu complaining of pains in the chest. The night was spent at Camp VII, and on the 19th they packed up sleeping-bags and lilos and set out for Camp VI. Half-way down Mulgrew became too weak to continue, so while the two sahibs sheltered in the lee of a serac, Annallu was sent down for help.
That evening our Sherpas paid them a visit with the tent into which they were glad to move. Unfortunately the oxygen which we had sent was only sufficient for the night. Next morning Nevison was showing signs of pneumonia, so when Ortenberger and the Sherpas arrived it was decided that they should take Nevison dpwn to the col while Ortenberger and Mulgrew would remain where they were till more oxygen and manpower could be sent up.
Nevison now attended to Ward, and together they inhaled the precious, life-giving oxygen, while I busied myself with the ever unreliable butane cookers in an effort to combat our mounting dehydration.
Next day we sent up six Sherpas, and with the aid of more oxygen they were able to bring Mulgrew down to Camp VI where they spent the night crammed into the two small tents. The cramped quarters were really a blessing to the Sherpas who were without sleeping-bags.
Half-way through the next afternoon a strong team of Sherpas came up headed by John West. Using oxygen this Australian physiologist, who was on his first high mountain, came amongst us like a whirlwind—a wonderful breath of fresh air. Only then did I realize how badly we had all deteriorated. Ward's condition was now really alarming, and when he and Nevison had both been fitted with oxygen sets they were entrusted to a band of Sherpas and set off downwards.
The next day was my ninth above 24,000 feet, and I was feeling the effects. What little water we had been able to melt I had given to Ward and Nevison, and in consequence had a lump in my throat the size of a tennis ball. Since Camp VI my toes had been without any feeling, and now the soles of my feet became very painful to walk on. We decided it was time to make a concerted effort to repair the cookers, but the proper tools for doing this had long since disappeared. West came to the rescue with some ingeniously adapted surgical instruments, and after prolonged fiddling we got the wretched cookers to heat and were able to satisfy our raging thirsts and, what was more important still, lay in a liquid supply for those above.
During the morning the Sherpas appeared, but without Ortenberger or the now helpless Mulgrew. Urkien explained that they started down from Camp VI too heavily laden and too weak to be of much assistance. Accordingly they left the sahibs (who were quite sure they were being deserted) and came on down with their heavy loads. They assured us they would have the sahibs down by nightfall. After satisfying their thirst and hunger they bravely set off upwards again, carrying food and hot drinks.
I was filled with a terrific desire to attempt some heroics and longed for an oxygen set, but in my heart I knew that the Sherpas were doing all that was humanly possible, and that the best thing West and I could do was stand by the radio, get as much liquid ready as possible, and, most important of all, keep our sleeping- bags warmed for the expected arrivals. Meanwhile Sherpas arrived from below with another bottle of oxygen.
We became more and more anxious as each hour passed, till, about 8 p.m., above the roar of the wind, the sound of voices heralded the arrival of the rescue party. First Ortenberger, then Mulgrew, were lowered out of the darkness through the tent doorway. Both were covered in ice, and it took us some time before we had removed crampons and boots and enough outer clothing to enable us to slide them into our warm bags. Mulgrew's colour was dreadful, his eyes were sunken and lifeless, and his breath came in uneven shudders. His hands and feet were a horrible blotchy purple and intermittently he coughed blood. Still, where a lesser man would have perished, he was alive and in our hands.
We pampered him with hot drinks and oxygen, and even a mouthful or two of food, and to our great joy the improvement was immediate. As I assured him that the worst was over I tried not to think of the steep rock and ice immediately below us.
Next day Ortenberger was able to continue his descent while we waited anxiously for more help and oxygen. On the 24th we heard with great relief that at 7 a.m. Romanes, using oxygen, had set out from Camp III with a large group of Sherpas, and that still more Sherpas were on their way from Camp IV. Accordingly we prepared Mulgrew for evacuation. By now the slightest movement was agony for him, so it was 10 o'clock before we had him on his feet, complete with crampons, oxygen and everything. Then, with West under one shoulder and me under the other, we staggered a few yards before collapsing in a heap, a manoeuvre that caused Mulgrew a great deal of suffering. We then removed the oxygen set and tried again, but with no better result. I knew full well that if we couldn't get him down the mountain that day, we never would, so in desperation I pleaded with him to allow me to piggy-back him. This offer he emphatically refused—which was just as well as I was not physically capable of carrying him more than a few yards.
By this time all but one of the tents had been struck and most of the Sherpas had arrived from below. Although we now had plenty of Sherpa power, none felt strong enough to carry him down the difficult section below. As the discussions went on the long-suffering Sherpas started to complain of the cold and generally things looked far from bright. At this stage West gave Mulgrew a shot of morphia and I decided to try something different. I collected mountain mule-pack frames from three protesting Sherpas and lashed them to 12 sections of Meade tent-poles to make a very rickety stretcher, which at first the Sherpas treated with the utmost contempt. Meanwhile West slid Mulgrew (now quite unconscious) back into his sleeping-bag, and together we lashed him securely on to the stretcher-cum-sledge.
At about this stage we were thankful to see Romanes appear with the last of our 18 Sherpas, and with his help we attached a tangle of slings and ropes to the stretcher, and with great relief we got under way about 1.30 p.m. Had Mulgrew been conscious the journey would have been a nightmare both for him and for us. During that afternoon the fixed ropes were worth their weight in gold, while the already grossly overworked Sherpas laboured magnificently under most trying conditions. After several hours of back- breaking work we reached Camp IV, and despite the lateness of the hour we unanimously decided to push on while Mulgrew was still unconscious. Fortunately we made fast time down the steep couloir and across the diagonal ice traverse with the stretcher attached with karabiners to the fixed rope. Just as darkness fell we crossed the schrund and reached ground where the going was easier. By now I was feeling the strain, but from here the way was straightforward. At 8 p.m. we finally hobbled into Camp III, a very, very weary group.
The actual crisis was over, and the 4 after battle' feeling was very potent in the camp. Over the next few days the evacuation was completed and Mulgrew, Ward and Ang Temba were flown by helicopter to Kathmandu for urgent hospital treatment. The remainder were now a very battered party, most of us having touches of frostbite, and all of us feeling weak and very weary. We returned to the Mingbo Valley over the high-level route, our irrepressible Sherpa team still working with a will to the end. Like so many others before me, I learned what a wonderful people the Sherpas are. I shall always treasure the memory of them as in Makalu's howling wind they cheerfully risked their lives to save that of my friend Peter Mulgrew.
We were met by Hillary and Mi Hedge who had come back via a long roundabout route to avoid excessive altitude. It was wonderful to see what a remarkable recovery the indomitable Hillary had made. We had all missed his infectious driving spirit on the mountain which had now twice repulsed him severely.
The acclimatization theories on which we had pinned our hopes had not worked out, but the scientists of the party felt that they had acquired the data they needed. In this way, as well as in the less tangible achievement of a fierce struggle on a great mountain, the attempt had proved well worth while.