In autumn 1969 the Regional Mountaineering Club of Liberec organized an expedition to the Nepal-Himalaya, which was crowned by the climbing of Annapurna IV. The Czechoslovac mountaineers had already made successful expeditions to Wakhan (1965) and to Tirich Mir (1967) in the Hindu Kush. In 1969 they tried to climb Nanga Parbat (a Slovac group) but failed. Our expedition wanted to try, if possible, to climb high mountains in the Central Himalaya.
The preparations for this expedition began in autumn 1968 and were mainly concentrated in getting money, food and equipment. The choice of the team was beyond discussion—they were seven comrades which already had passed the zenith of their mountaineering career (the average age was above 40 years). They were all to the same degree capable of taking part in the organization of the preparations. Later on they were joined by three younger participants—a doctor and two mountaineers.
In spring 1969 the material was all ready and the financial means consisted of 40,000 Indian rupees and 1,500 U.S. dollars. For several different reasons it was necessary to carry out the expedition in 1969 and the negotiations with the Government of Nepal which were made through the Czechoslovac Embassy in Delhi could not be concluded in such a short time. So we decided to take the risk and commenced the journey on 29 July without any climbing permits. In regard to the character of our expedition it was not decided as to which mountain would be named as our goal. All of them were unknown and all were of interest to us. We only had one demand: the mountain should be about 7,000 m. high and the distance from Kathmandu should riot surpass our time and financial budgets. We were lucky and our wishes were completely met.
In 20 days we travelled through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in a lorry which was equipped for a comfortable drive and was loaded with 6 tons of material and food as well as with nine mountaineers which relieved each other at the wheel, and arrived in the Indian capital Delhi. Every evening we pitched our tents around the lorry and early in the morning we took them down again. From Delhi I flew with a representative of our embassy to Kathmandu. My friends drove another four days along the river Ganges and over the serpentines at Bir- ghanje over the Himalayan foothills. In the meantime I got the permit from the Nepalese Foreign Ministry for the climbing of Annapurna IV, which was for us one of the best alternatives. Almost all of the next week passed by in discussions with the Himalayan Society who was surprised that we only wanted one Sherpa. The lorry remained in Kathmandu and we loaded an old Dakota with 53 cases of 30 kg. each, almost 1,600 kg. This represented the whole equipment of the expedition.
Due to the uncertainty regarding the expedition's goal we had not been able to study properly the necessary map and the material available on the Central Himalaya. In spite of this we had studied all the literature on the Annapurna group—our conception about the access to Annapurna IV was very dim and the maps which were to be had in Kathmandu very incomplete. We are thankful to Japanese climbers who were at the same time in Kathmandu preparing for an Everest Expedition. They let us have some useful information and completed our map material.
After landing in Pokhara we straightway started our trek into the mountains. With the porters we had agreed upon a daily salary of 12 Nepalese rupees and a premium of 10 rupees if we reached Base Camp before a specified date. The problem was the late monsoon conditions. For the days on which the rain would make it impossible to continue, every porter would get 6 rupees as a salary. But it was difficult to decide upon the scale of the bad weather. We appealed to the porters' pride ; if the sahibs can continue their march then the porters should also be able to do it. This was enough to move the porters to continue and this praiseworthy decency enabled us to march on.
Our way lead us first in the eastern direction. We traversed the rivers Midam Khola and Madi Khola and turned then towards the north along the river Marsyangdi. The last rice paddies remained behind us and after traversing the jungle between the villages Chame and Pisang we got into the beautiful mountain valley of the Manang region. The local inhabitants here do not receive foreigners in a friendly way. After initial difficulties, we made friends with the shepherds of the Khamba tribe who have emigrated from Tibet during the Chinese annexation and we were able to reconnoitre the valley below the northern slopes of the ridge between Annapurna II and Ganga- purna, along which the expeditions of Tilman, the Japanese and Steinmetz had passed. Even though we were not convinced of the expediency, we decided to pitch the Base Camp on the upper part of a birch wood, on a meadow, sheltered by a high moraine, in the vicinity of a river and a lake with clear water, at an altitude of about 4,000 m. On this spot the porters put down their loads on the tenth day of our march from Pokhara and started on their way back.
We did not possess any description of the former ascents on Annapurna IV and Annapurna II and were therefore not robbed of the romantic feeling of exploring the route of ascent. Already on the first day, on 5 September, we were certain that the only secure way to the two summits would lead over the Dome. On a rock cliff at an altitude of 5,000 m. we discovered a suitable place for Camp I, and straightway started to transport material up there (9 Czechs and 1 Sherpa). Here the friendship with the Khambas, who had been our constant guests at Base Camp, proved to be useful. When they saw with what effort we dragged the heavy sacks, they loaded 500 kg, of cargo on the backs of nine yaks and lead them in a fantastic march in which the animals had to make their own path up the steep moraine to 4,800 m., where the complete glaciation put an end to their further ascent.
In the following days we climbed the rock pillar over Camp I and secured more difficult passages with fixed ropes. Suddenly the weather got bad and for one week there were snowstorms. At the same time B. Svatos got pneumonia and the expedition's doctor had to fight several days for the life of the patient. Only in the second half of September could we proceed with our activities.
We again went up to Camp I, established Camp II at 5,800 m. below a steep rise which we named the ‘Trojan Horse’. Weather conditions deteriorated again; every day there was snow and the new layers of snow piled up. We had again to wait in Camps I and II. Only on 1 October, we could establish Camp III at an altitude of 6,500 m. in the neighbourhood of the Dome-summit. On 2 October, four climbers—Masek, Kopal, Simon and Dr. Chladek—started from there. The estimation of distances had unfortunately been wrong. Towards midday they had scarcely reached an altitude of 7,100 m. when they realized that they would not be able to reach the summit the same day and returned to Camp III. They still had enough strength left and the great desire to continue and make a bivouac, but the wind had stiffened and accumulated snow-drifts. Their common sense advised them to return. For Masek this meant the most difficult decision in his life; two years ago he had in a similar way lost the possibility of reaching the summit of Tirich Mir. All descended to Camp I, convinced that they would be able to repeat their trial in a few days time.
In the meantime Vesely, Albrecht and Sherpa Ang Babu climbed up from Camp II. On 4 October they reached Camp III and waited for good weather. On 6 October they went up and pitched one tent as Camp IV, on the ridge in a sheltered basin. They decided this as wise from the experiences of their comrades. The tent lies at the altitude of 7,100 m.
On 7 October early in the morning they are ready for the ascent to the summit. Ladislav Vesely discovers after the first few steps, that he suffers from nervous co-ordination disturbances and has to return to the tent. The summit is only reached by the couple Milos Albrecht and Sherpa Ang Babu around midday. They returned to Camp IV at about 4 p.m. and only the next day did they descend to Camp III in fresh snow. Vesely is still suffering from mountain sickness and just manages to return to the camp. There Kopal and Simon are already waiting to start for the summit on the following day.
The illness of the comrade however has changed everything. In Camp III there is only one tent—the second one is used for Camp IV—and in this Vesely remains with two comrades— Albrecht and Simon. The others descend over the cracks and the 6 Trojan Horse' to the lower camps. On the next day they fail to transport Vesely from Camp III and only achieve it with the assistance of Masek and the doctor. On 10 October Vesely gets to Camp I and is safe.
The strength and time of the expedition is exhausted and the only thing for us to do is to return. On the ridge remains an abandoned tent at Camp IV...
The saving of a human life is more important than the reputation of a victory. We were glad that the abandoned tent could later on be used by the Yugoslav expedition who in the meantime had reached our valley to carry out an ascent of Annapurna II.
Members of the expedition: Milos Albrecht (35)
Karel German (43)
Med. Dr. Leos Chladek (34)
Oldrich Kopal (40)
Jiri Masek (45)
Bohumil Svatos (40)
Jiri Simon (42)
Vladimir Prochazka (51) (Leader)
Civ. Eng. Ladislav Vesely (35)
Sherpa Ang Babu (33)
Jagja Nath Ghimire (23) (Liaison Officer)