THE monsoon got closer, alarmingly closer. Probably because of this the blitz-attack was brought on, by a red rocket instead of a blue one. We were still on our ascent to Camp V, Gerhard, Giinther and I as we saw a red rocket shoot up into the sky. This meant, that I alone on the next day should climb into the Merkl-crack and eventually go up to the summit. We agreed that Gerhard and Giinther would secure the lower part of the Merkl-crack to make the descent easier for me. This was on 26 June at 8 p.m. At two o'clock in the morning I got up, the ringing of the alarm clock at midnight I had not heard. I was already dressed and only needed to put on the windproof trousers, shoes and anorak, into which I had stuffed the most important things for the assault the previous evening. The other two slumbered on when I left the tent. It was in the shadow. In the deepest nook of the Merkl-crack there was moonlight.
Slowly the beam of my head-lamp groped upwards and into the crack. Straddling, I felt sure, hardly felt the altitude. Deep calmness had come over me. In the meantime the moon had moved on and my shadow climbed upwards with me on a snowy slope. I rested a bit. Suddenly I stood under an overhang. Chimney-like, glaciated, the ascent full of powdery snow. Involuntarily I thought of some passages during the ascent of the Philipp-Flamm-route on the Civetta. There also I had been alone. But here—this I realized straightaway—such difficulties would be impossible. I climbed back and traversed over a steep snow- band the right wall of the Merkl-crack. I hoped to be able to climb to the southern shoulder over the snow-fields to the right of the edge. I reached the ridge but realized that from there no possibility existed to attain the snow-fields. Perhaps higher up. Nothing else but to go back. Mixed terrain, spongy, powdery snow.
I now decided to descend. While descending I discovered a hidden ramp which led to the left into the Merkl-crack. Over this I bypassed the impossible step at the bottom of the crack and trudged on. After the last passage, a smooth snowed-over cliff, I reached the ramp, which led into the ice-fields right below the southern shoulder. I looked back into the steep crack and was startled as I saw someone below me climbing up. It was Giinther. I waited. Soon he was beside me. We did not talk much. There was no doubt that we now should continue together.
So in the early morning hours we began the great traverse which leads to the right hand side below the southern shoulder to the ridge. Again and again we had to look out for the best way; we climbed slowly, one behind the other. The sun came through, the cloud was now below us. Only now and again we could look down into the Rupal valley. The snow had in the meantime got soft and the sun beat down upon us. More and more frequently had we to pause. Bent over our ice-axes, fighting against sleepiness, now and again an encouraging word. We understood each other so well.
Shortly below the ridge I had been resting longer than usual. Giinther observed it and straightaway offered to lead and climbed past me, up the steep slope. On the ridge he remained standing. When I reached him he was just taking some pictures of the summit. This first impression of the ridge, at the escape from the southern wall, was for me the most impressive moment on the mountain. Opposite us the Silver saddle, the Silver plateau —everything near enough to touch. Rakhiot Peak, in the steep southern flank the clouds were playing. We talked about Buhl, followed his route with our eyes ; we thought of Merkl and Welzenbach.
The summit was in front of us—near by: a snow pyramid. Whenever a cloud was trailing by, the distance got larger. To the left was the Southern shoulder, a snowed-over rock. Slowly we continued. Powdery snow, then again hard, snowed- over rocks. In the mist my feet very often stepped into the void, very unsure they groped for the snowy surface on which I could not discern all the hollows. Giinther had remained seated to be able to photograph my ascent.
The mist had disappeared again. I stood at the altitude of the Southern summit, to the right a saddle, and only the ridge of the summit was left to climb. Only some minutes, I thought, so near everything seemed to me. I went quicker, past a pointed rock to the left of the ridge, another hollow, a last rise— I had surely gone for half an hour since the saddle—and now stood on top of a snow mound—on the summit of Nanga Parbat. I waited. Giinther who had photographed every phase of the ascent over the summit-ridge, followed. Step by step. And then he was here, took all his gloves off and stretched his hand out towards me. His eyes I still see today as then. I do not know why he also took off his spectacles.
Later on I bound the flag of the HG Bozen on to my ice-axe. We photographed each other, looked about a lot, remained an hour. When we wanted to leave, I tried to put on again the large Norwegian gloves. They were so hard that I could not pull them over the other two pairs any more. Having had one pair in reserve I put down these two lumps on the first cliff to the west of the summit and piled some stones on top of them.
A cairn. That evening I did not yet know that these gloves would be the only proof of our ascent. I only knew, that big people always need proof and that is why we had taken so many photographs. We descended to the Southern shoulder, and conferred with each other. Giinther said the way back to the Merkl- crack was too difficult for him. I did not grasp this straightaway. Then I looked towards the west and realized that the way to the gap at the end of the Merkl-crack would be easy. My pictures of the Rupal flank—I had on purpose taken it along —promised a possibility, from there to traverse back into the crack or to call for help from there. We climbed over a rock ramp into a ice hollow under the gap. In the gap itself he had discovered a niche under a jagged rock, there we wanted to bivouac. We removed our shoes, wrapped astronaut-foil around the toes and pushed them back into the inner-and-middle-shoes. We sat down on the outer-shoes and waited. Again and again we encouraged each other, to move the toes. Towards morning Giinther implored me again and again, to take up the cover for him which should be lying there and very often I saw him grasping after something on the ground. But there was nothing lying around. We had wrapped ourselves in our astronaut-foils the evening before. That was all. I was worried about Giinther's condition. For this reason I began to shout for help from the gap, at about six o'clock in the morning. The traverse from there on to our route of ascent without rope was too risky especially with Giinther in this condition. In the Merkl-crack I saw far below some figures and shouted for a rope. During the next three hours I went again and again from our bivouac to a spot to the left of the crack, from where I had a good view into the crack and shouted for a rope.
Towards ten o'clock I saw two figures climb up through the crack and over our track from the day before, leaving the Merkl- crack over the top ramp. It was Felix and Peter. They had a rope, I saw it, even though we were about one hundred metres away from each other. I was sure, that the two had climbed up because of us and I was full of hope. I started to call to Felix. He did not understand me and I did not understand all his words. When I realized that the two wanted to go to the summit, I proposed that they climb up to us and then continue on our former descent route on to the summit. This would have been much quicker. When Felix asked me if everything was in order, I said yes. Felix then began to go up towards the right over our previous route, which could be seen clearly from here. Later on the two disappeared behind an edge. I hinted that we would be forced to descend and went back to Giinther.
Despairing, shaking, I ran over the snow slope, stumbled and tumbled over several times. On this occasion I tore a hole in my hand with a crampon. Distracted, I ran past Giinther and out into the sun, which touched the left hand slope. A violent inner excitement had got hold of me. For one moment I had lost my mind. Wild thoughts ran through me. I leaned over my ice-axe and screamed. I still can hear it, but do not know, why. Giinther came up to me and said: 'Now it is you, who is crazy'. And his intonation tells me today, that he himself knew, that he had lost his mind before.
And with this I woke up from the terrible dream. It was necessary to act. This was the only time that I had ever lost my senses. Now it was necessary to do something. Giinther pressed for a speedy descent. A second bivouac he could not stand. Perhaps I would not have made it either, Help from Felix and Peter would be expected the next morning at the earliest. The descent over the Merkl-crack was out of the question. On my own I perhaps would have made it, but for Giinther it would have meant another bivouac. He refused and I could not leave him alone now. We only had one way out— the Diamir side.
In winter we had precisely studied Nanga Parbat and this was now an advantage. I could recognize the Bazhin gap straightaway. I had a picture of the Mummery route in my head. The attempt had been made in 1895. We should also be able to succeed without technical aid. I was sure, that Giinther would recover further down and at the bottom we hoped to find shepherds.
We descended over snowy slopes, from left to right, always along the rocks of the summit. When descending in the falling line of the summit, a violent thunderstorm was raging below us. Once to the left, once to the right. It began to hail. Very often I ran ahead to be able to study the way ahead. We found the passage between the two large serac zones, came on to pure ice descended again, holding towards the cliff-rib, reached it and with moderate difficulties climbed further down. Now and again I had the impression that we were three of us, but knew that this was a delusion. Only at midnight we started the bivouac, in the middle of the topmost Mummery rib. At three o'clock the moon rose. Giinther had somewhat recovered We searched again, found a favourable way to the left of the cliff- rib and at dawn reached an easy snow slope to the left of the two lower ribs.
Between the two glaciers we wanted to descend to get on to the green. At the first spring in the green we should wait for each other. We ran down on a hard snow slope, one behind the other. I was quicker, and waited now and again. There were no difficulties anymore. Below, on the glacier bottom at the foot of the wall, I decided to turn to the left and make use of the long avalanche cone. I came into the sun. The glacier began to melt. I drank a lot, I was tired. Again and again I looked back as Giinther did not come. I thought that he had remained closer up near the foot of the wall to be able to get on to the green quicker and to a spring.
I saw people coming towards me, one with a horse stood at the edge of the avalanche cone. I waved my hand. Later on I realized that it had been an illusion. I sat down at the glacier river and drank. I heard voices—of friends, my mother, unknown voices. Suddenly I heard Giinther talk beside me But he was not there.
I continued to walk, my steps got clumsier and clumsier I reached the edge of the glacier, climbed up to the moraine and searched on the slope for a spring. At every glacier stream I lay down to drink. I found signs of the former Diamir Expeditions, found a spring, but Giinther was not there. I looked if he might be further away, but he was not there either. I should wait. He should be here any moment.
I undressed, washed myself, drank again and again. After one hour had gone, Giinther was still not here. I began to shout. Without success. I dressed again, partly anyhow, left everything superfluous back on a stone and went along the moraine towards the valley, again and again shouting. He was not either to be found at the many glacier rivers. I hurried back to mv standpoint and a bit further away. Back again. In the meantime it was afternoon. I took the ice-axe and went back on the way I had come. All fatigue was forgotten, the tiredness was gone. Shouting, searching, I climbed back over my trail. The glacier was soggy and I got wet up to my knees.
Slowly I struggled back over the avalanche cone back into the basin where I had seen Giinther for the last time. But a trail was not to be found here or anywhere. Nor mine. The snow had been hard when we ran down the slope. I climbed up further, looked for holes but did not find any. I called and did not get any answer. The sun had set a while ago, when I decided to descend over the route between the glaciers. This one Giinther must have taken. I was startled at the debris of an avalanche, climbed up a bit over the avalanche to call. In the night I groped my way back again, lost my way twice and found again the fresh icy debris, searched, distressed, again and again calling. Several times I must have fallen asleep. The bitter cold awoke me. Was it my call or the call of Giinther? I went on calling, the whole night through, searched between the icy blocks. In the morning I was still calling, even though I still today do not know why.
Once again I went up a bit and went—when the sun came between the glaciers back to the green. No trail. All calling had been fruitless. At the rest place I then slept some hours. To go on calling was useless. All the same I did not want to go away. I waited, called out into the evening, lay down under a rock and tried to sleep.
In the morning I could not decide for a very long time. Only when the sun shone again into the Diamir-flank, did I pack all my things into the anorak, fixed with two stones a red gaiter on the rock under which I had slept and started. The bundle I carried on my ice-axe over the shoulder. Slowly I dragged myself towards the valley. Again and again I washed my legs. The toes were blue. I passed some huts. They were partly destroyed by a stone avalanche. I called. Nobody answered. I continued, until an upright rock pillar barred my way. I descended to the glacier, a red glacier, moved from stone to stone, I had to pause often. After hours I arrived at the other side of the glacier and dragged myself with the help of grass tufts metre by metre up to the edge of the moraine. On top it looked as if there were human beings. My legs did not want to carry me anymore ; only when going downwards they obeyed me. I came up and laid down. When I woke up again it must have been already long into the afternoon. First it went quite well over a small clearing, then I had to push my way through a thicket and stood on an open meadow. Below, some ;cows were feeding. At the edge of the forest a man was standing. I called. He went away into the forest. I shouted louder. He did not come back. For a moment I thought I was having delusions again. But the cows were still there. There, where the man had stood before. I remained standing. Somewhere someone was hacking wood. I went there and met three men.
After an hour they understood that I was hungry. They gave me a piece of their bread, the first food after three days. Then we went together to their cottage, scarcely above Diamir. There I even got a mug with milk. I slept under a tree.
The next morning a young boy accompanied me to Diamir. I could hardly walk anymore. In the middle of the village 1 wanted to rest and sold my windproof trousers for five eggs and a hen. After resting in the prayer-house I wanted to beg some boys to carry me further on. I offered them everything I had left of my clothes and equipment. Much had been taken from me during the night: the stockings, a cap... even the watch one had tried to steal from me. When doing this I woke up. Now they asked for my last shirt. This made me so angry, that I packed everything together, the crampons I threw into the next meadow and pulled myself up. I could still stand on my feet.
In one hand I held the ice-axe, in the other a stick, and I staggered through the village. At the edge of the village, two men started to follow me. One carried a rifle. I was afraid. But the two of them were later on of great help to me. My two frozen feet had swollen up tremendously. When I was unable to stand, they carried me alternatively. Where it was difficult to climb (II) I somehow made it. Where it went up steeply, I crawled. Half-way up I sent one of them back to Diamir, to fetch people. After several hours he came back accompanied by eight men. These men carried me to Diamir. There I got chappatti and tea. I slept in the square in the middle of the village. Strong fever attacked me. To stand had become an impossibility.
In the morning I begged the farmers to make a stretcher. They did not understand. So I myself manufactured a stretcher with ropes and four pieces of wood on which they carried me to the Bunar bridge in the Indus valley. The sun continuously burned down on me. There was hardly any shade. Only when under the bridge I was able to think clearly again. There I lay for several hours. I wanted to continue to Gilgit. A jeep was driving in the other direction. A second one did not come. When the first one returned, it came to a standstill. One of the two military persons in the jeep spoke very good English. He was a Pakistani officer. First he brought me to the barracks. There I was allowed to wash myself. Then he gave me food. He was the first one to understand me. Only the thing about Nanga Parbat he did not want to believe.
His chauffeur would have brought me to Gilgit the very same evening. Twenty miles before Gilgit the road was blocked by a cliff avalanche. In a rest house near the road I waited until the debris was moved away. Accidentally our expedition came this way. They had in the meantime broken up the Base Camp and were on their way home. Dr. Karl Herrligkoffer came to me. Like this we met, here in the middle of the night, eight days after we had talked for the last time over the radio.
Photo: Krzysztof Cielecki
Khinyang chhish from the south showing route of ascent
Khinyang chhish Massif from ice cake showing route of ascent
Photo: Andrzej Kus
Telephoto: Andrzej Kus The Khinyang Chhish Massif from the south west
Camp II on the ‘Ice cake’ summit (6,500 m.)
Magnificant view towards the east Phari in the
foreground over the Pumarikish glacier and the Latok group in
the bachground the sim gang glacier
Photo : Krzysztof Cielecki
Photo : Krzysztof Cielecki
Base camp. Phishdandala on Pumarikish glacier under the 3,000 m. high south face of Khinyang Chhish
Photo : Krzysztof Cielecki
On the ‘Ice cake’ ridge