(Professor at the School of Skiing and Mountain Climbing)
(Translated by Sister Mechttilde of St. Joseph's Convent, Chandernagore)
chamonix is the cradle of the world's most celebrated company of mountain guides and a National School, unique of its kind, for skiing and mountain climbing.
The chief aim of this National School is the formation of ski monitors and mountain guides, and it has been established under the impetus of Mr. Jean Franco, former director, leader of the Makalu Expedition of 1955 and the Jannu Expedition of 1959, and of his successor Mr. Cetour, to permit foreign mountain climbers to meet together every two years to exchange ideas, techniques and to get to know each other better. It is an occasion for the French alpinists, particularly the professors of the school, to practise mountain climbing with their foreign colleagues thus enriching both their knowledge and friendship. We have had the pleasure of receiving Indian mountain climbers in the persons of Lt.-Col. Kumar, Mr. Nawang Gombu and Cdr. M. S. Kohli.
If we are happy to receive foreign mountain climbers at Chamonix, we also earnestly desire to know the mountains of the world and especially the Himalaya 4 seat of the 3rd pole' as G. O. Dyhrenfurth so aptly named it in referring to Mount Everest.
It was a unanimous decision to organize the first Chamonix expedition to the Himalaya. We were four: G. Devouassoux and Y. Masino who had taken part in an expedition to the Caucasus in 1965, G. Payot who had climbed the North Face of I luascaran in Peru in 1966 and myself who with Lionel Terray had climbed Mt. Huntington in Alaska in 1964. We organized a light expedition and we hoped to make up for the small number by greater activity and by our experience. The success which crowned our efforts on 27 October 1970 confirmed these hopes.
Our chief problem was that of all expeditions—finance. Thanks to the ' Groupe de Haute Montagneto the ‘Federation Fran- caise de la Montagne’ and to the ‘ Secretariat d'Etat aux Sports' we managed to collect a part of the sum which was unfortunately insufficient. The kindness of the 6 Commune de Chamonix' and of the ‘Compagnie des Guides’ partly made up for the financial deficit and finally, the Society 'Camping Gaz International', well known to the alpinists because it furnishes fuel for all expeditions, permitted us to complete the budget.
We contacted Col. J. O. M. Roberts, who knows Nepal very well; he sent us a very fine photo of the south face of Annapurna South Peak, the alternate name of which is Modi Peak, and we were immediately fascinated by the scale of the slope, 3,000 m. high directly overlooking the valley of the Modi Khola and the villages of Kyumnu and Chomro. Very steep in appearance and made up of gigantic cascades of semes, row upon row, it appears to defy all visitors from the valley of Pokhara which it dominates.
We thought, however, we could discern on this photo, a possible route on the middle spur which divides the southern slope into two and which seemed sheltered to some extent. Later on we were able to gauge the difference between the choice of our route in the photo and one imposed by real topographical conditions.
On 20 September we left Pokhara accompanied by six Sherpas. Sirdar Pemba Rinzing, Da Wanchu, Ang Rita, Ang Ketar, Kale, the Liaison Officer Pandey Man Bahadur and 63 porters carrying 2 tonnes of material.
We reached the Base Camp only on 2 October after having searched for three days for an opening to the foot of the slope from the village of Chomro. We were unable to meet Col. Roberts who was in London and no one was able to give us precise information about this subject. Finally we found the route situated mid-way between the villages of Kyumnu and Chomro, permitting access into Kyumnu Khola above the point where the latter falls into a high impassable cascade.
Our Base Camp was installed at the foot of the glacier of Kyumnu which forbids an approach further than 1,000 m. on the southern slope. We were pressed in between the deep backbone formed by the SSW. ridge and the middle southern spur. The place was most austere, very cold and above all the weather was almost always bad. While progressing up the slope, we were bathed in sunshine during the whole expedition with the exception of 21 October when the weather on the whole mountain was very bad.
We sought in vain for a means of approaching the middle spur from which we had planned, in France, to trace our route— very high crystalline cliffs and a jagged ridge forbade all possibility of transport and we were obliged to choose the only route which seemed accessible right in the middle of the SSW. face. Unfortunately, we found it very exposed beneath a series of gigantic seracs, but we had no choice.
After having fixed more than 600 m. of rope we set up Camp I at 5,200 m. slightly to the left of the face so as to be well sheltered. Climbing the glacier proved very difficult, real walls of ice at an angle of 75° ; the Sherpas had much trouble going across, despite the fixed rope—all the more so, as stones kept falling continuously.
The rest of the route being a zigzag, we were obliged to climb directly up certain portions of very steep seracs at angles of 70° to 80° ; others, fortunately, could be avoided by slopes at 50°. We installed three camps on the face ; Camp II at 6,100 m. and Camp III at 6,550 m. The portion of the climb situated below Camp II and between Camps II and III was very difficult. From Camp III, thanks to a high slope at an angle of 70°, we could reach the south middle spur which we had not been able to approach from the Base. We established Camp IV at 6,850 m. under the last slope which led to the summit ridge.
Twenty-four days had passed from the time of our arrival at the Base Camp. We were now nearing the end but the hazards demanded that Devouassoux and I leave for the summit. We had never been down to the Base Camp since the day we had slept in Camp I for the first time, We had unfortunately to forego the services of Yvon Masino from 3 October. This was a great handicap. He fell victim to bronchial pneumonia and could not rejoin us till 27 October; and I, for my part, saw him again only when I came down from the summit. He gave proof of superhuman courage, climbing from the village of Chomro at 1,900 m. to 7,000 m. practically without being acclimatized. He lost 14 kg. by the end of the expedition.
11 was our Sirdar Pemba Rinzing, the best of our Sherpas, who accompanied us all during the time we occupied the camps on the heights, the other Sherpas going and coming in order to supply the camps with food. None of them, except Pemba Rin- ing and Da Wanchu, were able to go beyond Camp III, the (rchnical difficulties being too great for them.
On 25 October Payot and Pemba Rinzing, who were responsible for the last lot of loads, were obliged to go down to Camp III to sleep for want of place in Camp IV. We, Devouassoux and I, knew that the next day, 26 October, would be the great day. We were very anxious for we had no more rope, the last bit having been fixed on the slope beneath Camp IV.
At 5 p.m. on 26 October we came up with a desperate effort against the full fury of the north wind on the summit ridge. It was the most terrible encounter I had ever experienced on any mountain. The last high slope of 100 m. and inclined at 75°, then at 80° and 90° on the last fifteen metres, buried m disagreeably melting snow, found us at the limit of our balance without any other safeguard than a nylon strap 8 m. long. I settled myself on the ridge after having rested my feet in space for a few minutes trying to get back my breath which the violence of the wind did not facilitate in any way. I then witnessed the most wonderful spectacle I had ever seen. In the full brightness of the setting sun, the immense southern slope of Annapurna I blinded me by its extraordinary multi-colouring, the yellow and the ochre dominating the rock became the colour of brick, the swirls of powdery snow swept down in descending spirals under the effect of the battering north wind ; it was the sign of the approaching Himalayan winter. Dragging myself away from this fascination of form and colour, I was finally standing on the gentle northern slope. I saw that nothing would hinder us from getting to the summit; we were within an hour of it—I had but to take one step and I would be there. Devouassoux joined me and we scanned the Himalaya. We judged it would not be possible to go to the summit and return to Camp IV that same day, for we could not dream of making the descent without ropes-the slope where we had almost met with disaster. We were obliged to await the arrival of our companions, Payot and Masino, to whom we were able to make known our situation by radio. We asked them to collect a rope below Camp IV and we informed them that we were going to bivouac.
We bivouacked at 7,100 m. within half an hour of the summit. It consisted of a simple hole in the snow, sheltered from the wind which was becoming more and more violent. Our equipment was good, only that we were very cold and the night seemed very long.
On 27 October at 6 a.m. we trod the summit of Annapurna South bathed in light, At 5,000 m. hovered a sea of cloud. We had the impression of being in the famous paradise so often seen in dreams. All the summits were visible, Machhapuehhare, the Annapurnas I, II, III, IV, the Dhaulagiris. Before leaving the summit, where we stayed for an hour, we took 36 photos and part of a film. All this was difficult enough as it was very cold and we were obliged to take off our gloves. Finally, we decided to go back, daylight being necessary to return to Camp IV. Thanks to the devotedness of Payot and Masino, we arrived there safe and sound ; without rope we would never have been able to do so.
On 25 October, the others in their turn wished to go to the summit but the wind was so strong that they were deprived of this joy. It was impossible that day to remain standing and it was on all fours that we went back to the lower heights.
At last on 29 October we all met at the Base Camp. In spite of our success we were rather disappointed ; we would so much have liked to have the whole team of climbers and our Sirdar Pemba Renzing reach the summit. But we were proud of having overcome the formidable south face of Annapurna South without any mishap. It was a great team victory in which each one of the Sherpas and the members had given of his best.
On the return journey we met Messrs Henty, Snowdon and Pargal who acquainted us of the existence of the Himalayan Journal and it was with pleasure that we promised them to write an article about our adventure.4
This expedition was directed by the four members collectively.