THE idea of this expedition was conceived on the return from an expedition to Peru which had been an unqualified success and in which Jean and Claudine Lescure as well as Phillippe and Marie Odile Bernardin had taken part. It was planned in August 1973 at Chamonix where several members of the future expedition had gathered.
In January 1974 the plans were actually progressed—the summit was chosen, the route decided, authorisation granted by the Nepalese authorities, and approval obtained from the 'Federation Frangaise de la Montagne’. The equipment was chosen and con¬tact was made with the suppliers above all the final choice of the members of the expedition was made and financial support for the whole expedition was arranged.
The original purpose of this expedition was to climb a Himalayan mountain of more than 7,000 m. by a challenging route, but with less than the usual amount of money spent on an expedition of this size.
The advance party consisted Of six members, including Claudine Lescure and 4 Sherpas a small number to climb a mountain of more than 7,000 m. by a difficult route.
The expedition was 90% financed by the members themselves, the rest by various donations. The assistance given to us by the F.F.M. and the G.H.M. enabled us to obtain exemption from the V.A.T. on the equipment which we had to take and leave there, as well as a generous concession in the fare by Air France for the transportation of the team and its equipment.
Two members of the team (Marie Odile Bernardin and Phillippe de Nunque), left for Kathmandu on 8 March in order to complete the final preparations on the spot, to get acquainted with the Sherpas, to recruit the porters, to make various pur¬chases, to arrange the transport of the team and equipment to Lukla and various administrative formalities.
On 22 March the seven other members of the team left Paris to be in Kathmandu by the 24th whence they left for Lukla on the 26th. It was there we had our first mishap—Marie Odile Bernardin broke her ankle stumbling on a rock. But this did not prevent her from making it up to the Base Camp on a yak to everyone's great amusement.
On the 27th we left Lukla (2,800 m.) for Pheding (2,600 m.) with 100 porters. When we left Paris we had 800 kg. of equip¬ment as well as our personal effects, plus the purchases we made locally for reasons of economy and transport and for certain equipment and food. The total weight carried was 3 tonnes— each porter carrying a load of between 28 and 30 kg.
We travelled to the Base Camp seven days from Lukla through Fheding — Namche Bazar — Thyangboche — Pheriche — Lobuche— Gorak—shep—B.C. which we established on the Pumori glacier on 3 April at a height of 5,350 m. Because of its position on the crest of the moraine the camp was very windy, but this was compensated by the magnificent view which we had Of Everest, and also the panoramic views to the south and west where we could clearly see all the Himalayan giants.
The south face of Pumori is more than 2,000 m. high and the western arete which we had chosen was clearly visible. This meant that during the few days we stayed in the camp getting settled and acclimatised, we could study our routes and try and anticipate the different places where we would pitch our future camps ; likewise we knew that we could follow the different phases of the ascent.
The approach march was managed without any trouble but from the moment we left Namche Bazar it snowed nearly every day in the evening. The porters were really admirable, their enthusiasm, courage and resistance to fatigue and cold earned the admiration of us all. During these 7 days we became closely acquainted with our Sherpas who were to be our companions for the duration of the whole expedition. We soon began to appreciate their efficiency and kindness, their courage and their unselfish spirit which were proved, as we shall see, in parti¬cularly tragic circumstances.
On the 6th a two-man team began to fix the ropes on the moun¬tain and find a site for Comp 1. They climbed to a height of about 5,800 m. After traversing the moraine their task was to fix the snowy couloir which was fairly steep, about 45° and S-shaped, leading on to open snow slopes, which in turn ended in a plat¬form where our equipment was deposited.
The 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th were spent by members of the expedition and Sherpas lifting equipment and food to Camp 1 which was set up under a rock overhang at a height of 6,000 m. on the right side of a very steep snow couloir—200 m. below the arete.
It took us 12 days from the 12th to the 23rd, to set up Camp 2. We went through a patch of very bad weather when it was hard to make progress.
We intended to fix the first part of the snow arete, which was almost horizontal by a traverse of about 400 m., before re¬joining the rock bands which were on our way ; the latter proved ° be tough obstacles which were overcome as we traversed up¬wards on an area of rock and ice with a very steep gradient, we had to climb a rock wall about 200 m. high to reach a snow and ice slope at the top of which we found a small platform to set up Camp 2 on the 23rd, at 6,500 m. This site was so small that only one high altitude tent (for 2) could be erected.
It took us 5 days (24th to 28th) to set up Camp 3. After Camp 2 we had to climb a snow wall and a rock band to get on to the north face so that we could then climb the arete again by this face which ended in a steep snow slope where we found a poor site in a crevice where Camp 3 was erected at 6,750 m. on 28 April.
On the 28th Claudine and Jean Lescure, Phillippe de Nunque and the Sirdar Mingma Tsering left the Base Camp for the final assault. Jean Claudine spent the night in Camp 1, Phillippe and the Sirdar in Camp 2.
On the 29th Claudine and Jean rejoined their friends in Camp 2 from which Jean and the Sirdar left for Camp 3.
On the 30th Phillippe and Claudine left Camp 2 at 2 o'clock in the morning in very fine weather ; Jean and Sirdar leaving Camp 3 at 4.00. The two ropes had to deal with two very difficult rock bands before they could rejoin a very jagged ridge of treacherous snow at an angle of 60°-65°. This snow triangle led on to the blade of the snowy arete on the south face, which they climbed again and finally reached the easy slopes leading to the summit, where they finally arrived at 13-50 hours-a magnificent time, with a strong wind blowing and in very cold conditions.
The four alpinists stayed about half an hour at the top taking the usual photpgraphs with the French and Nepali flags. They left the summit at 2 o'clock and reached Camp 1 at 5 p.m.—a return journey of about 15 hours between the heights of 6,500 and 7,200 m.
Although they were perfectly equipped the Sirdar returned with a frost-bitten left foot, Jean Lescure lost the feeling in his feet for a few days, and Phillippe de Nunque had the first signs of frost-bite on his nose ; only Claudine Lescure managed to get back down unscathed. I shall leave it to others to appreciate the powers of resistance of this young lady and her extraordinary tenacity.
While returning from the summit between Camp 1 and 2 on the first of May the victorious team came across the rope of Philippe Bernardin and the Sherpa Ang Kami, who having left the Base Camp tfye day before, intended to sleep in Camp 2 before attempt¬ing the summit the next day.
The first two ropes were back at Base Camp by the beginning of the afternoon of 1st May. As soon as they arrived at the Base Camp treatment was given to our Sirdar who was, accord¬ing to his rope-mate—Jean Lescure, extremely competent and unbelievably courageous.
Early next morning the Sirdar left for Namche Bazar to recruit porters for the return journey he didn't even take the time to go to the hospital to get treatment, as we had advised him to do. On the morning of the 7th he was back at base with 600 porters and with his foot in very poor shape. Further treatment was subsequently lavished on him. We took him back on a yak as far as Thyangboche where a helicopter picked him up and dropped him in the hospital at Kathmandu an hour later. We were delighted that he was well enough to accompany Jean Lescure to the airport three weeks later.
At 6 o'clock on the morning of the 2nd we saw the rope of philippe Bernardin and Ang Kami on the snow-bound arete which led to the big triangular snow field which in turn ends in the final slopes. The rope progressed in the usual way. At 13.30 we noticed them about 150 m. from the summit where they were soon hidden from us by clouds the weather had deteriorated in the morning but was not desperately bad. It was in the after¬noon that it became much worse until about 18.00 hrs. the time when we could see the summit and a part of the west arete again.
Since we could not see our friends we assumed that they must have returned to Camp 3.
On the 3rd, in perfect weather, we spent all day looking for the rope with high-powered binoculars all along the way they should have come. At 16.00 hrs. we decided to send two members, Jean Clemenson and Phillippe de Nunque, to Namche Bazar to get on the radio to Kathmandu to request for a helicopter search. They covered the distance in 13 hour's forced march, a distance which usually takes at least 3 days' walking.
On the 4th the weather was very bad between Kathmandu and our Base Camp which was about 200 km. from the capital and so the helicopter was unable to come. It came on the morning of the 5th. Jean Lescure sat in the cockpit next to the pilot with only very light clothes on so that they could climb as high as possible. The search lasted for about 45 minutes. They looked closely at the south and north faces and at the western arete but without seeing any signs of them. The pilot did as well as he possibly could—climbing to a height of more than 22,000 ft. in a machine which is not meant to go higher than 20,000 ft.
As early as the 2nd we had sent two Sherpas Mingama Nuru and Kamerita to Camp 1. On the 3rd they reached Camp 3, coming down again to Camp 2 to sleep there, and going back to Camp 3 on the 4th to come down again at the end of the day. They told us that there was nothing to indicate that our friends had passed that way.
We thought that our two friends had got lost in the bad weather and had fallen 1,200 m. onto the south side, landing in the crevice-ridden glacier at the bottom of this face.
During the dismantling of Camp 1 several of us searched all the different parts of the glacier, but we were unable to return there because of the constant ice and rock falls. It was impos¬sible for us to get on to this glacier without putting our lives to serious risk.
Other searches were then mounted from one of the helicopters the flight of His Majesty the King of Nepal, piloted by Com- mander le Floch, as well as by other 'Pilatus planes, but unfortunately as with the first search no signs were found.
We left base on the morning of the 7th, returned to Lukla without any trouble where we arrived on the 11th. On the 12th an aeroplane took us back to Kathmandu, but without our baggage for which we had to wait for more than ten days because of bad weather.
During these ten days we enjoyed the hospitality of Madame Bernadette Vasseux, Secretary to the French Ambassador, who was a great help to us.
The Expedition Members : Jean Lescure (leader), Claudine Lescure, Philippe and Marie Odile Bernardin, Alain Boissy, Jean Clemencon, Phillippe de Nunque, Alain Robert and Gerard Sighele.