Himalayan Journal vol.24
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.24

Publication year:
1963

Editor:
Dr K. Biswas
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. THE ASCENT OF JANNU
    (Pierre Leroux)
  3. ASCENT OF NUPCHU
    (SASUKE NAKAO)
  4. EVEREST; 1962
    (SUMA.N DUBEY)
  5. TRANSPORT AND SHERPAS ON MOUNT EVEREST, 1963
    (J. O. M. ROBERTS)
  6. PUMORI -THE DAUGHTER MOUNTAIN (23,442 FEET)
    (GERHARD LENSER)
  7. THE NETHERLANDS HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION TO CENTRAL WEST-NEPAL, 1962
    (P. VAN LOOKEREN CAMPAGNE)
  8. DHAULA HIMAL
    (JAMES ROBERTS)
  9. THE JAGDULA EXPEDITION, 19621
    (DENISE EVANS)
  10. MANA-NILGIRI EXPEDITION, 1962
    (Captain S. N. DUBEY)
  11. A CAMPING TRIP TO THE HIMALAYA, 1960
    (DR. W. HAMBERGER)
  12. ITALIAN EXPEDITION TO THE PUNJAB HIMALAYAS, 1961
    (PAOLO CONSIGLIO)
  13. THE ASCENTS OF INDRASAN AND DEO TIBBA
    (PROF. DR. K. ONODERA)
  14. KHINYANG CHHISH, 1962
    (DR. P. J. HORNIBLOW)
  15. SWAT AND INDUS KOHISTAN
    (TREVOR BRAHAM)
  16. BRITISH-SOVIET PAMIRS EXPEDITION, 1962
    (SIR JOHN HUNT)
  17. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  18. OBITUARY
  19. BOOK REVIEWS
  20. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
  21. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1962-63
  22. THE HIMALAYAN CLUB

THE ASCENT OF JANNU

Pierre Leroux

(Reproduced with the permission of M. Lionel Terray from the article which appeared originally in LA MONTAGNE, October, 1962)

(Translated by Hugh Merrick)

I. Beyond Camp VI

Camp VI had been established some days earlier, and the last party had slept there. It was slightly lower down the south ridge than in 1959, on a broad and comfortable site, much easier of access; from Camp V. This had been impossible in 1959 because of a lateral fault which cut through the ridge, its lower lip very deep and its upper consisting of an apparently insuperable overhang of sheer ice. It was still there, but in a reduced form which seemed manageable when seen from below. This was important, because at first glance the right-hand slopes seemed to offer an easier route than those to the left, by which we had reached the ridge in 1959.

My recollections of the previous route, which Jean Bouvier and X had opened up, were far from pleasant. After Jean had led up to some rocks, in which,he planted a piton, he had tackled a snow couloir of at least 60° increasing later to 70°. After about 100 feet of rope, I had been forced to abandon the comforting company of the piton, and there was our party in the couloir, totally unprotected except by a few of the snow-pegs we always take along. An intimately interested spectator, my mouth dry, I stood there while my friend treated me to a calm display of technical virtuosity and balance, as, without any protection whatever-for there was no crack to take a piton-he climbed what I am quite sure was the most difficult pitch on the whole ascent of Jannu.

That was why, this time, we had chosen a route further over to the right; and by it Rene Desmaison had already been able to establish a provisional Camp VI and prepare the passage of the breach.

Three climbing parties were to ‘leap-frog each other up above, just as we had done so far. It would thus be a matter of chance which party got to the top first. We intended to prepare the mountain to its very summit, so that our withdrawal would be assured whatever the conditions, and success should be ours even if the weather broke ; if it held, all three ropes should get there in successive waves. This system, now adopted by all French expeditions, creates an unequalled team-spirit.

So, on April 24, our two ropes, Bertrand with Pollet-Villard and the inevitable Bouvier-Leroux combination, set out from Camp V, where we had been held up by three days of heavy snowfall. Andre and Yves went ahead to break the trail, followed by a team of Sherpas carrying equipment. So Jean and I were able to conserve our strength for our task of preparing the route beyond Camp VI later on, by starting out a nice long time after the trail-breakers. We felt tremendously fit, and there is, after all, no sense in standing balanced on one's crampon-points for hours on end while the leader progresses at 100 feet an hour. Much better to organize the work rope by rope!

We stopped briefly at Camp VI, where we collected the oxygen and all the tribulations it involves, such as-a main disadvantage- the inability to communicate verbally any longer. However, this restriction to gestures underlined the enormous benefit Jean and I derived from our continual association on the rope.

We picked up our assortment of pitons of every type, hammers, snap-links, line, and a drum of fixed rope. Everything was in good order, and off we went, accompanied by Tashi, a 28-year-old veteran of Makalu. Jean plodded across the level bit as far as the breach, which he was able to cross, thanks to the rope Rene had already fixed there, and so reached the site of the 1959 Camp VI. One downward glance was enough to confirm that, with the far heavier precipitation of snow this year, the old direct ascent would have been a highly doubtful proposition.

This snowy crest, consisting of a series of ‘steps’, is more or less horizontal. Its eastern (right) side overhangs, its western slope goes down at 70° or more. These horizontal sectors of ridges are extremely difficult to prepare, for the only way to obtain an anchorage is to sling huge rings of line around the higher parts and fasten the fixed rope to them; you then have to retrace your steps festoon- fashion according to the curve of the rope, if it is to be a proper job. In due course we reaphed the base of the great black gendarme barring the ridge.

In 1959 it had taken Guido Magnone and Robert Paragot a whole morning to turn this obstacle. From Camp IV I had watched their every movement and realized, as the time ran out, that I was witnessing the dissipation of all our hopes; for then we had insufficient equipment to cope with such difficulties.

Now, Jean, astride the ridge, with his back against the rock, belayed me. Protected by a good piton, I went down the west slope to the limit of the intimately-welded ice and rock. Jean could no longer see me after about 12 feet. Then I started traversing to the left. The cracks didn't want to hold the pitons, three of which went swinging on the rope with their snap-links. My oxygen mask continually scraped the rock. I went on down the ice, finding it extremely difficult to cut steps because of its toughness and the angle of the slope. I had to give little gentle taps, for fear of disintegrating the lot; my chippings went out into empty space, to land after two or three bounces in the snow above Camp V.

A partial rupture enabled me to force in a screw-piton, which enabled me to reach a slanting ledge in the rock. A good wooden wedge in a wide crack then helped me to attack a diagonal chimney in the vertical wall of the gendarme. It was completely choked with powder-snow, in which I had to plunge the length of my arms before finding, at the bottom, tiny fissures inviting me at last to clench my fists on them; these were the only solid holds on which I could make any progress.

During this delicate crawling process I managed to jam my head in the snow, blocking the valves of my mask and so choking myself. With intense gratitude, I found a piton left there by our friends during the 1959 attempt. My pack interfered with every movement. The oxygen bottle kept on catching in the rocks ; the control on top was damaged and twice cut off the flow of precious gas altogether. The ropes refused to run any more. I was forced to let go of my holds and remove my mask to ask for more rope. Then I obtained a lodging, with some difficulty, on a transverse ledge, at the end of which-and oh, the relief!-there was a good niche in which to plant a piton solidly.

I gave myself a minute on oxygen at full flow and then got in touch with Jean, who informed me that it was four and a half hours since I left him, and that he had only run out about 140 feet of rope. And I had been cursing the slow progress of my friends in 1959!

Ahead, to my left, there was a very steep spine of snow running up to rejoin the ridge beyond the gendarme. The route was open for our companions tomorrow morning-a nice delicate piece of work, but quite safe now. I secured the fixed rope and went back to join Jean. In spite of heavy fog, we moved back along the fixed ropes to Camp VI in perfect safety.

There, in the tent, our friends were delighted to hear of the day's good work and of their future assignment. Happily we swallowed litres of soup they had prepared for us. How we needed it, and what a joy it was to realize that our team-spirit was solid down to the minutest details! A break in the mist showed us Terray, Ravier and Wangdi arriving at Camp V. Further down the ridge, below the Dentelle, the sight of figures around Camp IV confirmed that the Desmaison-Keller-Paragot rope was also in position.

In spite of the discomforts and tension of high-altitude camps, we were all very happy that evening. Finally, after the invariably careful attempts not to bump one's neighbour, nor to elbow the pile of utensils off the cooker, we went through the usual potholers' motions to get settled in our sleeping-bags for the night.

We two enjoyed a long lie-in next morning, April 25. Andre and Yves were away and out of sight before Jean and I got going at about 6-30. As always at such altitudes, our preparations, though made with the utmost possible speed, took a full hour and a half.

We carried maximum loads ; two bottles of oxygen each, 100 metres of fixed rope, anchorage line, equipment of every kind, provisions and spare clothes. Our packs weighed well over 50 lbs. Starting with that kind of a load at 24,000 feet is pretty hard work, but we soon established a rhythm. Once again we were struck by the immense difference between climbing a very difficult sector of this kind before and after it has been properly prepared. This time it took us only an hour to join our companions at the niche we had only managed to reach yesterday by evening. Overhead, Andre was working up a steep little couloir of unstable snow, to reach the spine up on the left. Once there, the snow was better and he could make more rapid progress, even though it required from seven to twelve breaths for every movement. The leading ropes relieved one another as they worked up to the main ridge beyond the gendarme. This gave Jean and me plenty of time to improve the lie of the fixed rope, by anchoring it at shorter intervals. For in this sector of mainly very difficult traverses, it behoved us to remember that some of us might be late and very tired when we came down this way again.

Our friends reached the crest of the ridge. After a difficult movement to the left which demanded an etrier, they were resting on a little rocky ledge, where we joined them. We were now separated by four snow towers, of roughly the same height, from the long, narrow snow-couloir ahead, in which the route was obvious, and even easy, perhaps ?

I got rid of a roll of rope and took the lead again. Two ice-axes planted horizontally enabled me to get a footing on the very steep slope at the first tooth. Then I went up diagonally to the left, so as to get straight on to the summit of the second. The slope continued to be extreme and I had to scrape away eight inches of unstable snow before I could find anything firm enough to cut decent steps in. It was long, painful work. I could have done very well with a rake as well as an axe (equipment manufacturers, please note). However, the results were satisfactory and presently we were all together again on the top of the second tower; there we scooped out a ledge on which to lodge our packs. What a relief to be rid of them at last ! It was already 1 o'clock. Great clouds had piled up below us and a storm was grumbling among them. At moments we were able to communicate, over the edge of the ridge, down its overhanging side, with Lionel, who had just got up to Camp VI; yet all this hard work had brought us, at most, another 500 feet above that point.

Soon Jean was off again, to cross the two towers still separating us from the couloir. Each of us had emptied one oxygen bottle, so that we had at our disposal four bottles for anchoring the fixed rope, either by sinking them in the crest of the ridge itself or by using them as counterweights on its overhanging side. The four full bottles we would leave here, as reserves in case of any possible emergency.

Yves and Andre, having emptied their packs, and moving now without oxygen, started off down, with a reminder from me to go carefully, remembering the effects of fatigue at heights like these, and the resulting dangers.

Jean did one of his balancing acts on the ridge, cut some steps, broke the cornice, planted two of the empty bottles, anchored the rope and, 200 feet on, reached the rocks at the bottom of the couloir. We had achieved our furthest point for the day; but not the end of our day's work, because on the way down we intended to alter some of the anchorage points, so that the fixed rope should offer the greatest support possible in the days to come. Without our oxygen, we moved gently, but we were glad to find how fit and active we were even without it, and took advantage of our good condition to put in some extra pitons and improve some steps.

It was after 5 p.m. when we met Lionel at Camp VI, putting him briefly in the picture and sharing our high hopes with him, before taking to the ropes which would bring us in safety down to Camp V.

Just before 7 p.m. we were shaking hands there with Paul, Rene and Robert, who had got bowls full of tea and soup ready for us ; in return we were glad to quench their thirst for information. Amongst other things we told them that in the normal course it would be their party which got to the summit first. It seemed to us that the cards were now down; and the weather was improving in spite of the drizzle which was falling at the moment.

We were destined to have to stay there 36 hours in idleness before starting up the mountain again. But this time, we hoped, it would be for the final climb to the summit.

Such enforced inactivity, at such a vital time, gave us little pleasure, especially in the uncomfortable conditions which rule at high-altitude camps. But this was all part and parcel of our teamwork and a condition of that victory which was so desperately desired by us all, especially by Jean and myself, who had by now devoted almost a whole year of our lives to its achievement.

II. The Move Upwards

By Lionel Terray

When, on April 25, Ravier, Wangdi and I reached Camp VI, we were somewhat surprised not to see Bertrand, Leroux, and Pollet-Villard battling their way up the narrow couloir which penetrates the final wall of Jannu and represents the only weakness in that huge shield of granite.

We heard no shouts ; the mountain was as silent as on Creation Day. Where had they got to ? It didn't seem possible to me that, after a whole day's efforts, men as tough and fit as they were hadn't managed to get over the few small gendarmes separating us from the wall itself. But where were they ?

For a moment my anxiety nearly choked me. Then, on second thoughts, I felt it was impossible for four such experienced climbers to have come to grief on one and the same day. This reassured me a little;, all the same, my harassed mind kept on elaborating every kind of theory. No doubt there had been unforeseen difficulties, or perhaps a mishap or two had slowed their advance, and now unfavourable wind-currents were preventing their voices from reaching us . . .

To ease the tension, I took some pictures and tidied up the camp. At last I saw shapes on the furthest ice-gendarme. Very much later, Bertrand and Pollet-Villard came into view from behind the first tooth in the ridge, and came very slowly down towards us. Even allowing for the deep snow, they were staggering abnormally and showed signs of extreme fatigue.

A few minutes later, the veterans, Bertrand and Leroux, showed up, by contrast exhibiting astonishing signs of freshness. I hurried to hear what had been happening. I was glad to learn that it was only the difficulty of the climb which had delayed them and that, in spite of all the difficulties, they had reached the foot of the wall at about 24,400 feet.

Even at this height, less than 300 feet of height gained in a whole day's hard work is a very small reward for first-class climbers. If the barrier of slabs defending the summit was to prove equally tough, how many assaults would we have to launch before achieving success ?

Privately, I kept on congratulating myself that the expedition had come out as soon as winter was over and had, since, even managed to nibble a few spare days out of our scheduled time. We still had almost a month before the onset of the monsoon. It really would be the very devil if we failed now . . .

On April 26 Ravier, Wangdi and I took our turn in the assault. In order to economize our supplies of oxygen we regulated our intake on a rather weak flow of three litres a minute. Even so, we made rapid headway up the lace-like ice and soon reached the rocks.

Here things became more complicated, because we had to make strenuous efforts in spite of the fixed ropes, and our masks had a suffocating effect when our struggles resulted in rapid breathing. Into the bargain, the two spare five-kilo bottles we had on our backs were by now digging our total load of more than 30 lb. right into our shoulders. That is a very heavy weight to carry on a difficult climb, and would be thought so even in the Alps.

Ravier, using oxygen for the first time, kept on hooking up his distributor in the rocks and eventually pulled the connecting tube away from the mask, so that he began to suffocate.

Presently, the same thing happened to me. A little further on while I was effecting a repair, I banged my distributor sharply against a rocky overhang in the wall. A fearful whistle resulted. It took quite a time before I could find a stance wide enough to enable me to get my pack off and turn the safety screw. By then my oxygen bottle was half empty!

Worse still, the distributor seemed to have suffered serious damage and was only letting through a very weak flow. I went on as best I could, trying to keep my mask on, but kept on having to pull if off in order to gulp some form of air-supply.

In spite of 'all these bothers, it took us barely two hours to reach the point achieved by the two ropes the day before; which goes to show how incredibly a climb is altered in character by the presence of fixed ropes and by the use of the ' Jumardthat marvellously efficient metal grip which, once it is in position on the rope, slides upwards effortlessly, but locks itself perfectly as soon as you exert a downward pull on it.

From here, we were on new ground. Above our heads a narrow snow-couloir curved up the granite slabs. The wall seemed less steep than it had appeared to us from a distance. When, in 1959, Magnone and Paragot were the only ones to see it close at hand, was their judgement perhaps impaired by exhaustion ? Were they defeated just when they had overcome the greatest difficulties ? Had the toughest of all the great summits thrown up by the earth's convulsions towards the sky put on a mask to hide its real weakness ?

The first 50 metres proved easy and the snow mostly favourable; but, without oxygen, I could only move up by desperate efforts. Every three or four steps I had to stop and pant, enough to bring my lungs up.

At last I reached a rocky groove cutting the couloir for some 20 feet. It didn't look a very formidable obstacle; still, I rammed in a piton for safety's sake before launching out on the pitch. Ten feet above me, I could see some excellent holds on which I could stop quite comfortably, so I moved furiously to the attack. It took only a few quick movements to reach my chosen vantage-point, but as soon as I got there evetything began to black out. There was a kind of dark veil before my eyes and it took me five minutes to recover. This was an agonizing revelation of the uncertainty of things in my present situation, so I tried to get another piton in.

Was there no crack within reach ? Yes, there to the left ... but it was damnably high up! Coiling myself like a snake, I at last managed to drive in a strong pin which, after several hammer- strokes, gave out a clear ringing sound ; but it was holding! I took a careful stock of my holds, so as to make the move at top speed; I had at last learned the lesson that at this altitude one cannot do genuine climbing for more than forty seconds on end.

I went on. After another five feet I could not find a reasonable foot-hold. I struggled furiously till, feeling a return of the choking sensation, I grabbed at the piton to stop me falling and slid all the way back to where I started from.

After more panting exercises, I started off again, and this time my movements co-ordinated properly. In a moment I found myself safely lodged on a good snow-slope, while I made the echoes ring with my engine-like panting.

At that point I realized that, at such an altitude, I could not climb with a 30 lb. pack unless my breathing apparatus was working. Something simply had to be done.

A few metres higher up I got on to a little ridge in which I hacked out two platforms, on the higher of which I dumped my pack while 1 called Wangdi up to join me. He, too, was climbing without oxygen but with positively disheartening ease ; and yet, he was carrying hardly less than I was. Obviously, either Sherpas are supermen, or we are a race of degenerates . . .

Ravier came up, in his turn, to join us. c Young JeanI said, 4 pass your distributor up. I can't climb any further without gas. You, coming third on the rope, and with a trail broken for you, should be able to manage. How do you feel about it ? '

The man is a saint. He just smiled and passed it up to me.

I regulated the flow at five litres a minute and started off again. The first few feet taught me what an indispensable gadget a breathing apparatus in proper working order is when it comes to the conquest of high summits.

Without hurrying in the least, I was now able to move on at least four times my previous speed. After two rope's lengths I came to a bottle-neck in the couloir, where the slope steepened and the very deep snow didn't look any too safe. I managed to fix a piton, which gave me the necessary courage for an attempt. In I went, to my middle ; but the snow never budged an inch. Truly the snows of the Himalaya are avalanche-proof!

Digging a veritable trench I reached a resting-place, where Wangdi joined me, moving up incredibly quickly ; but Ravier, deprived of his oxygen, was now only coming up by deploying his very last reserves.

To add to our troubles, it began to snow heavily.

It was quite clear to me by now that we could not reach the summit today, but the success of the party which would take the job on tomorrow could well depend on our efforts. The higher we got and the further up we could establish fixed ropes, the greater would be their chance of success. And it would be a success belonging not only to them, but shared by the whole team.

No matter how heavily it might snow or how fiercely the wind might blow, no matter how weary we might be, we must push on while there was enough energy left in our systems to wring a few more feet out of the mountain. That was what high mountaineering meant. Leaving aside puerile considerations of nationalism and vanity, surely the whole object of these conquests of rock and snow is to defeat our own weakness and fear; to push things to the uttermost limit of our capabilities in order to achieve an ideal objective ; and for the joy of feeling that we really are men ?

So I decided it was too early to halt; we had to go on. Another hundred feet of very exhausting work brought us to a widening in the couloir. Here at 24,600 feet Ravier had shot his bolt. He was in such a state of collapse that I had to leave him fixed to a piton, while Wangdi and I pushed on for another rope's length through the swirling snow-flurries.

That was it, for today. We could perhaps have managed a couple more rope's lengths, but it was getting late and, more than anything else, Jean's condition was worrying me. If he did not recover on the descent, we should have great difficulty in getting down to the camp and it would be altogether too exciting to be overtaken by the dark.

Only 650 feet from the summit, we turned back, leaving all the equipment we had lugged up with so much effort dumped on the face; two full oxygen bottles, 200 metres of rope, 20 or so pitons and snap-links. On the way down we were to furnish the virgin rock-wall we had just succeeded in climbing with yet another 150 metres of fixed rope. Ravier, showing fearful signs of collapse, staggered like a drunken man. Now that the third bottle was finished, we were all three without oxygen.

Fortunately, at the first point on the descent where we met the ice, we found the full bottles dumped there by yesterday's team. I attached one to Ravier's mask, with instantaneously beneficial effects. Without that bottle we might have been in dire trouble, though.

We finally reached Camp VI after two hours of hard work. There, in the sun again, we were greeted with shouts of delight by Keller, Paragot, Desmaison and their two Sherpas.

We had succeeded in climbing two-thirds of the rock-wall whose grim aspect had caused us so much worry. Tomorrow, we hoped, with a little luck, our friends would be able to round off the combined efforts of the whole team successfully.

III. The Summit

By Paul Keller

For some days now we had all felt that the end was in sight and that we would doubtless soon be able to roost on that summit which, in spite of its apparent proximity, had been resisting us for more than five weeks. Sweating, some afternoons, and stifling; panting, oh, how frequently; shivering, too, but less often than one might imagine; we had nibbled away at those amazing ridges and the huge ice-walls, leaving on them the slightly derisory patterns of our tracks and of our precious fixed ropes. We had dealt with the most difficult bits, without haste and as if they were set pieces in a school exercise, so confident were we in our safe methods, in our equipment and in our companions. During the past few days the greater part of the route above Camp VI had been equipped with fixed ropes and, yesterday, Terray, Ravier and Wangdi had been most optimistic as they passed us on their way down, telling us: ‘If the rock barrier isn't too tough ... if the weather holds . . . anyway, good luck with it! ' And from down at Camp III, de Haynin, our medico, long since wearied of the pleasures of playing patience, was sending us, over the radio, the warmest wishes for an early success.

The Arete rising to the top of the ‘Butoir’ and on the left the ‘Dentelle’

The Arete rising to the top of the ‘Butoir’ and on the left the ‘Dentelle’



A Telephoto close-up of the arete

A Telephoto close-up of the arete



Now, on the threshold of the day we felt would bring a decision, we were going through the familiar motions in the ridiculously narrow space of our tent: lighting the stove, taking a quick look outside, wriggling out of our down bags, thawing and drying out oxygen masks, lacing up our boots, which we had kept on all night (a practice much admired by my boys!)-all of it almost in slow motion, with a scrupulous economy of movements and of breath.

By 5 o'clock we were all outside, facing one of the worst moments in the day of the average Himalayan climber: the effort of putting on our crampons. At minus 25°, and in a more or less keen wind, having to take off one's gloves in order to do up straps equipped with patent buckles, is a form of torture ranking high among the relatively few bad moments of this expedition. At long last, with our battery of oxygen bottles, we started off at a steady pace along the fixed ropes, carrying packs of from 30 to 45 lb. Rene Desmaison and Gyalzen Mitchu went together, while Robert Paragot and I renewed a rope companionship from our days on the Mustagh Tower.

It took us less than two hours to cover the route already known to us, which it had taken two and a half days to prepare and make safe, consisting of the airy ridge on which rock- and ice-towers alternate and of the subsequent series of couloirs whose snow was dangerously crusted. With our ice-axes in our left hands and the ' Jumard' in our right, we reached the shelf on which the equipment dumped yesterday lay piled. We had now to open a route up to the barrier above our heads, which we had already decided to turn at its right-hand end. We thought we could see a way and were naturally impatient to uncover this last part of the mountain which still lay hidden; but before starting up, we had still to induce some kind of order in the 400 to 500 metres of rope with which we intended to safeguard the route as high as possible, and to redistribute pitons and snow-stakes-that latest and most invaluable of inventions, which no future expedition can afford to disregard. It all took a long time, but fortunately the weather was perfect.

Robert went ahead cautiously, up a steep slope whose snow was mostly crumbling ; and so it went on-piton, stake, wedge; changes in the lead, rope-manoeuvres. After three lengths we came to a corner in the rock, which Robert at once tackled enthusiastically, gestures replacing his usual freedom of speech, stifled by the mask ; very soon he had tamed the pitch without too much difficulty. There followed a long traverse to the left and a short vertical wall; then we were on firm snow which persisted the rest of the way to the top. It was 11 o'clock.

Down at Camp VI there was considerable activity. Several parties had arrived and we could see the Sherpas, making the most of the sunshine, cleaning camp and melting snow, while Lionel, whose voice we could hear clearly, was busy taking photographs.

We were still separated from the terminal arete by a spur. Rene got to work on it and cut steps endlessly. Our progress was frustratingly slow, its tempo dictated by the anchoring of the fixed ropes and the steepness of the slope. Gyalzen, impassive as ever, turned away briefly to vomit and with great dignity affirmed that all was- going splendidly: ' That's right, Sir!' For some hours we had been moving above the gulfs on the Yalung side, with Kangchenjunga in full view.

It was 3 o'clock before we emerged on the subsidiary summit, after a pretty ticklish bit of ridge-work. What we saw there left us speechless with surprise and perplexity for a few moments. While we were definitely on top, we could see that the true summit, not 50 feet above our level, was at the far end of a ridge at least 100 yards long. And what a ridge! None of us had ever seen anything so marvellously narrow; and a little cornice running all along its crest only served to heighten the effect. We had to weigh things up quickly: would there be time, before nightfall, to get to its far end and still make our way back and down to camp? Personally, with the memory of a bivouac at 23,000 feet strongly in mind, I was all against repeating that all too dangerous experience, but my friends' insistence carried the day. I had to agree that the fixed ropes would guide us back to Camp VI in safety, even in the dark. So we gave ourselves an hour more before turning back, and Robert immediately began to clear a passage with restrained vigour, using his ice- axe like a broom in a series of sweeping strokes. After a few strides of balancing like tight-rope walkers, we were forced to continue sitting astride the ridge itself, with our legs bent to allow the crampons to bite, our bottoms in the powder snow and our axes dug up to the haft into this incredible ridge, which seemed to shake at every stroke. It wasn't exactly graceful, but it was safe and effective. There was a last rise in the ridge a few metres short of the summit and then the summit itself-at last! We could hear shouts coming up from Camp VI, which appeared to be densely populated.

Wall of seracs on the rising to camp IV

Wall of seracs on the rising to camp IV



On the side of the Arete at the top of the ‘Butor’

On the side of the Arete at the top of the ‘Butor’



The view was magnificent. The sun was beginning to set on those thousand summits which make nonsense of the frontiers which run along their crests ; a vast cloud sea stretched away towards Makalu and Everest. Under our feet the slopes fell away so steeply-literally vertical on the northern side-that we seemed to be suspended between earth and sky. The wind raised snow-flurries about us. Cold as it must be, we were wonderfully protected by our clothing. In any case, we were not still for very long. Glad though we were to be here, our minds were not set on historic pronouncements or emotional conversations. We were thinking of the long and painful descent which lay before us.

We turned about with great difficulty, losing an ice-axe in the process. Shortly afterwards, Rene's mask, which had been bothering him earlier, got blocked with frost and went sailing 10,000 feet down the mountain. Robert, too, was to finish the day without oxygen. The only item in our almost perfect equipment which hadn't come up to scratch was definitely our breathing apparatus. Devised for airmen, who don't care about its weight or the external temperature, it needed adapting to the special requirements of mountaineering at very great heights.

All the same, the first part of the descent went very quickly, but soon darkness began to overtake us with great rapidity. We had to carry out our rope-manoeuvres by touch, and we began to feel pretty weary. During the final airy traverse we were literally dragging ourselves; along, and the light glimmering up from Camp V was only a slender encouragement. We could hardly see the track by the pale glare of our head-lamps, while Rene and Gyalzen, on in front, hadn't even a lamp ; I am still wondering-and so perhaps are they-how they got down without a mishap.

It had been a hard day for all of us and when, at 9 p.m., we at last got inside a tent, we were quite content to let Wangdi take our crampons off for us and dole out the washy contents of a cocoa-can, all he had left, to quench our thirst. Our companions spoke to us from the depths of their sleeping-bags and we were glad to hear their voices ; but we could only reply in monosyllables and grunts, though Lionel was hungry for news.

Tomorrow they, too, would be going up there to the top, to set the final seal on this document of high adventure.

The climb was repeated the following day by three rope-teams comprising Bouvier and Leroux, Bertrand and Pollet-Villard, and Terray, Ravier and Wangdi.