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

TRANSPORT AND SHERPAS ON MOUNT EVEREST, 1963

J. O. M. ROBERTS

It is probably a little early, as I write this less than two months since we returned to Kathmandu, to relate in full the somewhat complicated events of the American Mount Everest Expedition. Certainly the fog in my own mind has only just begun to disperse. Meanwhile some notes on the logistical and transport problems involved may be of interest and provide a background to the climbing story when this is later told.

Naturally an American attempt on Everest attracted publicity on both sides of the Atlantic and the press in Europe and in India ran stories on this ‘mammoth' expedition,’ ‘luxuriously' and 6 lavishly equipped with 'everything including the kitchen sink'. Reading between the lines one sensed that some of our well-wishers would really like us to fail, if only to prove that the summit of Everest could not be bought for dollars. For us this point was purely academic. We had not got the dollars.

With some 20 members supported by 37 high-altitude porters and a baggage train of over 900 loads, the A.M.E.E., 1963, was indeed a large expedition, but not all that much larger than some recent Everest expeditions. Inevitably a certain amount of unnecessary food and equipment was carried to Base, but the strength of the expedition was in the event hardly able to cope with the ambitious climbing and scientific programme. Apart from a few curious omissions the expedition was extremely well equipped but if there were any particularly novel ' luxuries’ I did not notice them. Of food, that controversial subject, I shall not speak.

The first task was to deliver our 900-plus loads to Base Camp and the problems were the recruitment of this large number of porters and the availability of food, track space and night accommodation for them on the trail to Everest. The first two of these problems were largely solved by the importation of 500 porters from Khombu, Sherpas and Khampas. This left only 400 Tamangs to collect locally and I gave orders that the Khombu men should each carry a load of food from their homes to be dumped at set places along the route to Kathmandu, for later consumption. Despite much advice to the contrary I was determined we should march as one army and not in two or more parties on successive days. In the event everyone seemed to be able to tuck themselves away for the night even in drizzling rain in the most unpromising staging sites, and the congestion along the trail, although considerable, caused no serious delay.

For control we divided the porter corps of 900 into nine legions of 100, each under a Naiki (headman), Sherpa or Tamang, assisted by one of our own Sherpas. The Naikis brought up the rear, while a Sherpa went ahead and checked the loads as they arrived in camp. In camp each porter party had its own separate dump and thus the stacking of loads in the evenings and distribution in the mornings was simplified. Each porter had a tag, numbered from 1 to 900, and the tag number was noted against the load number in a much thumbed book.

All this sounds quite simple and friends who came to see us off at Banepa on February 20 were kind enough to describe the departure as 6 organized chaos Along the way complications inevitably arose. Sahibs and Sherpas consumed at least four loads of food a day and every few days we discharged about 15 Tamangs. Others returned sick or tired and there was a constant change-over of loads. The book was soon a bit of a mess and I just hoped that nothing important was missing. Fear of theft and pilfering was, of course, a constant anxiety in such a large party but ironically it was only when we entered ‘The Land of the Sherpas' that bits and pieces began to disappear. Only one load was actually lost on the way to Base, the youth carrying it having succumbed to a surfeit of chang below Namche. Inevitably it had to contain a valuable scientific instrument, the only one of its kind with the expedition. However, Maynard Miller and Barry Bishop never agreed as to the ownership of this instrument and we seemed to get along all right without it.

Anxiety among the porters about these very shortages of food and accommodation at the end of the day caused a general speeding up on the march. Never have I known such early starts. At about 3 a.m. the sounds of the army bedding done would merge into the morning chorus-flickering fires, coughing and spitting, talk, the weeping of children, wood smoke and the clash of cooking pots. After an hour or so of this racket the sahibs could be heard grumbling in their tents, awaiting the first dread flashing of the butane lanterns and the note of Danu's shrill whistle, the summons to Weet-a-bix and fruit juice consumed standing up and shivering in the cold dawn light. On most mornings camp would be clear by 7 a.m., the first loads having left at least an hour earlier. Those of us that could do so would get ahead of the mob. Conditions along the way were often unpleasant with dust, coughing and spitting and stop-and-start progress. If caught in the crush it was usually best to sit and quietly wait for an hour or so and bring up the tail.

The Tamangs, who normally carry as far as Thyangboche, returned from Namche and it was as well, as we now ran into heavy snow-falls and winter conditions. Under these circumstances the army soon dwindled in numbers and we had to resort to relaying loads the remaining stages to Base Camp.

The services rendered by our Sherpa porters on the mountain were quite outstanding and deserve fuller treatment than the short, largely statistical notes that space permits here. Norman Dyhren- furth and I had corresponded on the subject of the composition of the Sherpa team for nearly two years before the expedition and the result was a highly competent bunch of toughs. There were, inevitably, some weak links. Our Sirdar hailed from Namche Bazar and was really a political choice as that metropolis can give large expeditions a rough passage if it wishes. He was a good shouter until he lost his voice and he soon went sick on the mountain. We had no trouble from Namche, but I grudged him his large pay packet. The virtual Sirdar on the approach march was Angch erring (Khum- jung), although it was difficult to convince some of the Americans that Gombu, with his knowledge of basic English, was not the power behind the transport scenes.

Despite pressure from prospective employees and Norman, who was always finding long-lost Sherpa buddies of his at the airport or in his hotel room, I closed the roll when it numbered 32 Sherpa names and kept five vacancies for younger men to be recruited in Khombu. Young Sherpas often put up outstanding performances on their first expeditions, and although the two-day selection programme I planned had to be compressed into a wet half hour at Thyangboche this young entry produced two out of the five Sherpas who did the great carry to 5 W to over 27,000 feet on May 21.

Work had begun on the ice-fall on March 22 and was only briefly halted by the accident in which Jake Breitenbach was killed and Ang Pema seriously injured the following day. Jerstad and Pow- nall reached the South Col with Chotare and Nima Tensing (Thame) on April 16. There was then some delay until the first Sherpa carry of six loads got up to the Col on April 22 under Chotare, followed by Phudorje with ten loads on the 24th. Meanwhile work was continuing on the West Shoulder and by now the immediate climbing priorities had been settled. These were, to attempt Everest from the South Col with one or more parties and possibly, as a by-product, Lhotse, followed by a switch of operations to the West Ridge. About 30 loads in all were required on the Col and this necessitated the concentration for a time of our best men on that route.

I hoped, however, to pull across a few of our known Tigers, Nawang Dorje, ‘long-haired' Angcherring and others, after only one trip to the Col to help Unsoeld and Hornbein maintain momentum on their West Ridge. But on April 26 a vital carry of seven loads got no further than the Yellow Band (in fact a great effort under very bad weather conditions) and consequently nearly all our remaining porters' strength had to be thrown into the assault on the Col route which left Advanced Base (Camp 2 at 21,500 feet) on April 27. During the subsequent days 19 Sherpas reached the Col, many for the second time and of them ten went on to Camp 6 at 27,600 feet. On May 1 Gombu reached the summit with Jim Whittaker.

The summit of Everest was not reached again until three weeks later. Meanwhile work on the mountain continued on the lower part of the West Ridge route and in the ice-fall. For carries from Base at about 17,500 feet to Camp 1 at the top of the ice-fall (20,000 feet) and on up to Camp 2 (Advanced Base at 21,500 feet) we employed 12 porters locally, mostly fairly experienced men, who provided their own somewhat old and threadbare clothing and equipment for a fee additional to their pay. These did great work carrying up the ice-fall, which was in a particularly broken, difficult and dangerous condition this year, day after day in all weathers and unescorted. Indeed I do not think that our Sherpas were ever specifically escorted at any time during the expedition, although they often, of course, climbed in the company of sahibs when a route was being opened for the first time, or later, as partners during the summit and support operations.

The plan now was to attempt to climb Everest by the West Ridge and at the same time, if possible on the same day, for Jerstad and Bishop to repeat the ascent from the Col. Dave Dingman and I would move up behind in support. Unsoeld and Hornbein left Base on May 6 to rejoin Emerson, Corbet and Auten and the few Sherpas left on the West Ridge. Bishop and Jerstad left on May 12, Dave on the 14th and I on the 15th, with Nima Dorje. During this time I had had the task of redeploying the Sherpa strength and in particular in persuading the men who had carried once to Camp 6 from the Col that it would now be a good thing to start climbing the mountain a second time after a week's rest, this time by a new route. They responded nobly but had already given of their best and it was left to younger men to carry the top camp on the West Ridge.

A howling gale on the night of May 16 and 17 practically destroyed Camp 4 at over 25,000 feet and nearly put paid to the West Ridge attempt. During the 17th, ten Sherpas dribbled down into Camp 2 from out of the clouds. Most had had enough, but two, Ila Tsering and Tensing Gyalsto, were persuaded to return up the ridge after a day's rest: Ang Dorje, Passang Tendi and Tensing Nindra had remained at 3 W and it was these five, three of them on their first expedition, that carried to 27,200 feet on May 21 and set Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein on the way to their great traverse of Everest.

At this stage our supporting resources were of the shoestring variety. Lute and Barry had three Sherpas with them, of whom two went up to Camp 6, and Dave only one, Girmi Dorje. I was now going badly and Dave very strongly, so I made over my Nima Dorje to him to give him a chance of a summit attempt with Girmi. They would without doubt have succeeded on May 23 had not they had to help the summit pairs of May 22, who had spent a night out at over 28,000 feet, down to Camp 6, and then to the Col.

We had ordered porters to take us back to Namche to arrive at Base on May 25 and the last ten loads came down the ice-fall that morning. What with this rush and celebrations among the Sherpas the next few days were rather chaotic. Apart from my temper, we were I think lucky to lose only two items of equipment. A camera base belonging to Maynard Miller valued at several thousand dollars, unique of its kind, and a kit-bag belonging to Pownall. The camera base, which looked exactly like a dirty old Sherpa cooking- stand, we later recovered from a hut in Pheriche. Dick's kit-bag containing all his high-altitude clothing was, alas, never found. This theft was partly his own fault as he spent all his time in Namche bargaining with our cook for Tibetan rugs and failed to check up on his own belongings. As a result, too, we got nothing to eat.

Some of the Sherpa performances:

(a) Individual

Chotare (Namche), South Col three times. Camp 6.

Phudorje (Khumjung), South Col twice. Camp 6.

Kanchha (Namche), South Col twice. Camp 6.

Kalden (Darjeeling), South Col three times.

Nima Tensing (Pangboche), South Col three times. Camp 6.

Nima Tensing (Thame), South Col twice.

Nima Dorje (Khumjung), South Col twice. Camp 6.

Pemba Tensing (Khumjung), South Col twice. Camp 6.

Dawa Tensing (Namche), South Col twice. Camp 6.

Girmi Dorje (Thame), South Col three times. Camp 6.

Lhakpa Sonan (Khumjung), South Col twice. Camp 6.

Nawang Dorje (Khumjung), South Col twice. Camp 6. 4 W.

Ang Nyima (Namche), South Col twice. Camp 6. 4 W.

Angcherring II (Khumjung), South Col twice. Camp 6. 4 W.

Tensing Nindra[1] (Khumjung), South Col twice. 5 W.

Ila Tsering (Namche), South Col. 5 W.

Passang Tendi* (Khumjung), South Col. 5 W.

Tensing Gyalsto* (Phorche), South Col. 5 W.

Ang Dorje (Namche), 5 W.

(Tashi, Passang Temba (Darjeeling) and Urkien (Namche) also carried to the Col, and Gombu and Ang Dawa reached the Col and Camp 6 during the summit ascent of May 1).

(b) Collective

19 Sherpas carried to over 27,000 feet.

4 reached the South Col three times.

11 reached the South Col twice.

8 reached the South Col once.

(23 reached the South Col in all).


[1] His first expedition.