MT. EVEREST, 1972
DR. KARL HERRLIGKOFFER
ON 26 March 1972 the first European Mount Everest Expedition reached the Base Camp at the knee of the Khumbu glacier (5400 m.). The team consisted of 30 sherpas and 22 members :
K. M. Herrligkoffer (leader), Michael Anderl (deputy leader), Felix Kuen (climbing leader), Peter Bednar (German), Hans Berger (Swiss), Leo Breitenberger (Austrian), Adi Huber (Austrian) , Adi Weissenstener (Austrian), Prof. Edelwald Huettl (German), Sepp Maag (Austrian), Peter Perner (Austrian), Adi Sager (Austrian), Horst Schneider (Austrian) and the British Hamish Mclnnes, Doug Scott and Don Whillians.
The scientific research group comprised Alice von Hobe (Munich), Dr. J. Zeits, Dr. M. Fach and U. Mehler (all from Frankfurt). The cameraman was J. Gorter from Munich.
Except for the initial difficulties with the Sherpas, the expedition runs smoothly. On 11 May, Camp V is first reached by Kuen & Huber (7800 m.) -thus the camp-chain is almost complete. Camp V is protected and safe from stone falls.
At this camp the Austrians sleep for the first time with oxygen, so that their strength is not used up quickly. At that time, Kuen wrote: "This is the coldest camp that I have ever experienced". Hardly a day passes at this place where the SW wall is not whipped by strong winds.
On 12 May, Sager and Schneider carry oxygen bottles and personal items for Kuen and Huber to Camp V. In order to save food, they return to Camp IV.
Next day, Kuen and Huber busy themselves with the advance to Camp VI by securing fixed ropes upto 8200 m. A steep rock wall hinders us to continue along the summit fall line - the rock wall is 500 m. high. They follow a snow ribbon to the east and thus follow the route which was taken the previous year by Whillians and Haston. At the end of the ramp they see a crack mil there they find a tent, frozen and snowed over from the pievious year. They had required 5 hours for this 300 m. climb. It snows and storms. They climb with oxygen. The weather is li.nl, exhausted, they reach Camp V by darkness.
On the same day three Sherpas carry loads from Camp III direct to Camp V without oxygen. The three British have also arrived, rather unexpectedly. They have used up the oxygen meant for the final assault team and have made themselves comfortable inside the tent. Kuen on his return from the ramp is very agitated over this unplanned event, especially since the camp does not offer enough room, oxygen or food for so many people.
The night of 15 May is very cold. For the five in this tent, it is unbearable. Kuen, in spite of a severe snowstorm, decides to leave together with Huber. By 5 p.m. they reach Camp II. Perner, Sager and Schneider remain at Camp IV. Kuen complains that the three Britishers have used up a lot of oxygen and pro- visions, hanging on in the high camps and also used up oxygen at camp IV that was being carried by the Sherpas from Camp III to Camp V, thereby severely affecting the assault plans.1 But the greater enemy is the severe cold and the strong wind, which robs us of sleep and tatters our nerves.
On 16 May, Sherpas carry more provisions and oxygen to Camp V inspite of severe storms. During the day the British contingent decide to leave Camp II in the direction of the Base Camp without disclosing their reasons. Presumably due to the fact that Kuen and they have disagreed on the plans and composition of the Summit team.
Next day, ample provisions and oxygen reach Camp V through 18 sherpas who also bring 20 oxygen bottles. The Sherpas always climb without using oxygen themselves. Perner and Schneider are at present at Camp V and they make it more comfortable, and plan for additional space. They then descend to Camp IV (7,400 m.) in order to save provisions and oxygen.
On 18 May the last attempt is made on the summit. At 7 a.m. Kuen Huber and Berger ascend from Camp II to Camp IV. Sherpas help in the climb. The weather isn't too good; it is windy and cloudy. In spite of this, the next day Kuen, Sager, Schneider and Huber ascend to Camp V (7800 m.) . After two and a half hours they reach their aim over the rockwall. The weather has slightly cleared, although it is still rather cloudy. The whole team sleeps at Camp V without oxygen.
1Chris Konington (in his book "Everest S.W. Face") was assured by Doug Scott they used only four oxygen cylinders during the entire period! Ed.
On 20 May at noon, Kuen, Huber, Perner, Sager and Schneider leave Camp V with the Sherpa Brothers Zumba. Today we plan to transport the most important items to Camp VI. The five climbers plan to sleep at Camp VI and investigate possibilities for a summit attempt on that same day.
While Perner descends to Camp V, he improves the fixed ropes. The others have reached the height of 8200 m. with tent, warm clothes, bivouac socks, provisions, and 8 oxygen bottles. It is the same place, which in the previous years the International expedition had used for Camp VI. While Schneider and Sager erect the tent in a rock crack, Kuen and Huber investigate the possibilities of further ascent. Shortly before darkness descends, they find above the rock spur an almost horizontal ribbon, which leads to a snowfield along the S.E. ridge. From here they plan to continue climbing the next day. But now, due to the darkness they descend from their 8350 m. height to Camp VI, which they reach as night falls. Soon it begins to snow. It is a bad night with storm and winds. Everyone shivers with the cold and is grateful to emerge early morning from the tent which is covered with 40 cm of new snow. In such weather, all thought of an attempt has to be banished. All descend the next day to Camp V. By noon they reach Camp IV where Perner with the two Sherpas are awaiting. From here Kuen speaks to Anderl at the Base Camp. "We could not contact you because we reached Camp VI only in the evening, and we at once busied ourselves with establishing the Camp. Adi and I tried to investigate further possibilities. We found a way to cross to the ridge and have seen there a ribbon which would make a further attempt possible. Unfortunately, we then experienced a dreadful night of snowing and storm, and it was unbelievably cold. Now we are again in Camp V and it snows and is still very cold. We have hardly any chance now to reach the summit. The weather worries us greatly." Anderl questions: "Did you stay overnight at Camp VI?" Kuen: "Yes, the four of us were in the small tent at Camp VI which is in a rock crack. We had enough oxygen and could have made a summit bid today without any difficulty. But during the night so much snow had fallen that there exists great avalanche danger. Naturally, the Sherpas have not ascended today. The weather is too bad for that. I should like to say that Schneider, Sager and Perner are so exhausted that they have to descend immediately. In this condition one cannot depend on support in case of need, if we were to make the assault. Besides, an attempt is at the moment out of the question."
The misunderstandings amongst the team did not help, but they did not hinder the attempt on the summit. A later assault, after a few days, was out of the question, as the Austrians had burnt themselves out. The strain of the last few days and the frostbite did the rest. At this stage, the Britishers would have been most useful, but they had already left the mountain. The S. W. face remains unclimbed.