BALLAD OF BETHARTOLI

JOHN NANSON

Of those who choose to climb up high is asked the pointless question why?

Answer disdains such querulous confusion and denies the mystic spiritual fusion

Experienced where man's not interfered, where elements and self are fearfully neared.

Airborne through frontiers so very tired are met the climbers, minds all fired ,

With thoughts irreverent then somewhat holy, on wing, wheel and foot to Bethartoli.

Delhi, hot, hopeless with dirty noisy poor and yet the subtle intrigue of oriental allure;

Remains of failed empires standing all around, beggars and luxury hotels sharing the same parched ground;

Scattering the millions with a death-defying bus, protected by the powers of simply being us,

Following holy water in a Rishikesh direction, scorning ancient temples in ignorant malediction,

Flies buzz our bodies and villagers our rupees, hot spices, sticky mangoes, and burnt chapatis.

Dusty brown faces with eyes that glint and then drive on the vibrating hell-bus.

Clinging to the terraced hills in ecologic charm is Lata, where we leave the road and live by leg and arm.

Children bent by heavy loads with dowries round their throats, we find our thirty porters and three hundred shifty goats.

Unused to such invasion, the porters caused delay, but up to Belta camp we glycogen our way.

The smoke and the noise of camp-site, the ins and outs of gear, the sounds of fear and sputum, unsleepify the ear.

Up steep with startled muscles to camp to Lata Kharak, the mind aware of survival is on or may be back.

For we see the home of Hindu gods, comprehending slowly, armour-plated, deeply-gouged, the north of Bethartoli.

The snow' falls swift and with a smear obliterates the trail, on foot and hip we lurch about, the sun burns red from pale.

We climb above the first defence, it's called Dharansi pass. There is no way, just rock and slush, speckled with rusting grass.

The winds gust strong, a chill sets in and we begin to fear. A camp is forced upon us with a precipice right near.

Traversing was a graded climb that had to be a walk. For climbers, porters, and us all it took a lot of talk.

Loose stumps, fixed ropes and animal turd, exposed up half a mile.

The eight that fell were lowly goats, our supper in a while.

Down to warmth and safety to Curtain-col, relieved, each known more to himself, and outwardly perceived.

The porters brave without our aids arrive with cough and noise. Food, drink, rest and frisby, back to being boys.

Lute Jerstad is our leader, Everest-humbled by fame-shame. The man is strong and caring too, not hiding in a name.

Spanning several cultures and living rather wild, an adult who acknowledges his inner-stirring child.

Our sherpas, born in the world's largest shadow,' our caring protective hosts, cooking, carrying, ever-smiling at climbers and their ghosts.

They haven't learned our greedy ways ; they know they are our equal. Nor tortured by high expectations, may gods preserve their sequel.

Our tent is full in every sense with flesh, fart, kit and pluck, our word-length down to five and four like balls, shit and fuck.

Our meals are epotic around a roaring primus, washed down with chai and heard with song, while flattening the anus.

We climb an alpine ridge above a gaping space, to the ridge of Malathuni and we see an awesome place.

The pyramid tomb of Nanda Devi where life has no respect, a Sanctuary for the lifeless cold that makes a man reflect.

The porters do not understand our western goal-oriented ways and drive us fucking crazy with self-servicing delays.

Our bodies and our minds go down into the Rishi gorge, through forests, rain and hanging moss, our onward soggy forge.

Together with the mountain, we're eroding and growing old but up here living instinct, not gained by a green billfold.

Our social rules have altered with different wants to appease, so toilet paper's more precious than dollars or rupees.

Why leave our loves, our power base and risk our health and lives ? Why leave the urban dwelling that our greedy mind contrives ?

Why, to calibrate the values of what is natural and right : to focus on civilization's penultimate imploding plight.

This instant families customs may start with song and joke, but sharing risk and feelings soon bonds us motley folk.

But afternoon philosophy must lead to morning climb and ensure the mountain travel through rock, water, gravity and time.

From Dibrugheta's sodden banks with heavy-laden body, over spring-green shoots and bright young flowers to Rishi-side Deodi.

Where the icy torrent roars Ganges-ward from Himalaya to Calcutta and a second's dip chills painfully and makes the curses mutter.

Today I was a porter and will speak his point of view. I carried the arrogant sahib's toys while he pretends the old is new.

He flaunts his wealth and expects us to respond to every bribe. His weakling body needs our strength, for this land of our tribe.

Up steep Deocli to the meadow through rhododendron walls,, the branches lunge to trip you and impale you by the balls.

This untamed trail winds upward to the glacial moraine. Oh please may I not have to endure this day again.

A German group arrives up gorge. There's a tent by every tree. We plot and plan the strategies as if it's World War III.

We double-up a day's ascent at quite a goodly pace-18 days of travelling to reach our mountain base.

Cleanliness and fragrance are fancy urban obsessions. Above snowline there is no need for such neurotic repressions.

Dirt under nails is the same chemical as glacial moraine ; cans, slop and shit into a pit for here there is no drain.

Unwashed greasy hair hangs as a U.V. Screen, seat and sebum coalesce for lubricants between.

The type of turd, the colour of piss, who's the biggest farter are more vital than Dow Jones, inflation or President Carter.

We locum nomads now have a home, a 15 by 4 base camp, somewhere to lay self and gear, albeit rather damp.

This bizarre community, a multi-cultural, far-flung, a group of tents on a lateral moraine-named downtown Tridang.

From here we reconnoitre the mountain's best access, and feel apprehension at this rocky ice-domed mess.

We see the place too clearly where the Indian group was killed.1 We have a mixed reaction, chilled and feared, yet thrilled.

As we ascend to 18 thou the thin air makes us gasp. Pounding head with nausea, will-power loosens grasp.

Higher still one fears of death and higher still of not. The tired blue cells resent this stress and wounds begin to rot.

My body's adapting to this place in many a different way-less flab, more agile, browning skin, I wish these things would stay.

A lot of dreaming is done this high, involving the dark and black. No spare life-force for erections here, I assume they will come back.

Tonight, the 26th of May, our leader gently tells of how our strengths and weaknesses may guide us to heavens or hells.

The teams, the gear, the back-up, for now the die is cast, and each can not but wonder if this could be the last.

A morning start for Lute and Bob who leave to site Camp 1. We others rest and pack; and preen, fearing our strength undone.

We eat and doze and fantasize about the days ahead, we talk of mountain sagas, the living and the dead.

Are we passive as the rock and water; obeying mathematical laws, or are we unique and autonomous with our assets and our flaws ?

We may be a sum of scripted codes imposed on us by others. This primitive back-cloth may show in relief some insight that habit-life smothers.

What little things are missed the most that are not here, up high?

A lavatory seat, a salad, a bath, a breast, a thigh.

1. Ref. H.J., Vol. XXX, p. 195.

We talk in brash crude vulgar ways with homosexual trends, home's three weeks off, and then we will loose our gentleness and our ends.

Tridang base is slosh and shit by thinly covered river. A sleepless night with lonely fears made worse by breakfast liver.

But working up the mountainside, a long haul to Camp 1, invigorates, gives confidence, amongst the snow and sun.

Tonight I suffered the climber's peril-diarrhoea at an 18 thou camp. I spattered the evening and slept in fear with Lomotil and damp.

The morning was unconfident but we headed up the snow, up to 20 thou by the south peak, a site for Camp 2 to go.

Climb again the glacial oven with loads to 20 thous supporting our first party who'll reconnoitre how.

The temperature at noon is a radiant one hundred and thirty. We long for clouds to screen us, aiding skin that's greasy and dirty.

At night it chills to zero at an instant kind of pace; the mountain and our bodies have chunks drop off the face.

We now begin to pick at food and each develops a fad. It's hard to stay hydrated and keep your health from bad.

For me, the word, the smell, the bleat of Indian mountain goat, brings bile and other enzymes to the recess of my throat.

Now we're poised, we're ready, full at Camps 1 and 2. Our summit team traversing west to see if our route will do.

The remainder either carry or rest beneath the sun, while Nanda Devi looks down in scorn at what we haven't done.

We think of, and suppress much talk of family and home; as we approach the summit fulcrum the emotions ever roam.

Back to the loving gentleness of home, and child, and wife, Bethartoli reveals the balance of this against my life.

A message down from Camp 2, Lute wants two climbers more. We solve the ego problems with a simple chance-based draw.

Tony and I get go cards and tomorrow will join the lead. This pyramid of effort makes the mind and body bleed.

Up to 20,000 for the third and tiring time, we) find some weakening bodies in this harsh and windy climb.

We pitch the tent with snow-blocks instead of regular ways; temperature zero, blowing sixty, feared is he who stays.

A buffeted cold and restless night awakened with a headache, on with technical climbing gear, numbness makes you mistake.

Up the steep and diamond ice on ropes fixed well by others, an ill-timed need for an instant shit, a feeling one narrowly smothers.

Up towards the south peak summit, a twenty-thousand-seven- hundred feet view. A feeling on arrival, but what else did we come to do?

The first ascent of the main north peak where man has never trod, dastardly defended by may be an angry god.

We descend down to the col between these two high places, and find a way to the saddle with burnt smiles upon our faces.

We're cheats and we're intruders and are made to be so aware,, by a savaging jet stream of chill Tibetan air.

Our route is now snow-buried and our flimsy tents are straining. We lay weak upon the ice, nervous with minds paining.

The mountain is repelling us and listen, Nanda spoke, her mood is not a generous one to us strange alien folk.

We recover our equipment and lie quiet and meek in wait, for a lull in Bethartoli's storm, some compassionate abate.

In the face of this oppression, Lute decides that we'll retreat; some may feel conquered, ego damaged, or otherwise beat.

But I revelled in just being there, in process more than goal,, which allows-, an inner triumph, a peaceful body-mind-whole.

We made the second ascent of the mountain's southern peak, by a new ice-face and steep snow of which we will often speak.

We found a route up north peak but weather and time just stopped us; another case of Himalayan 'peakus-interruptus'.

From twenty thou to fifteen, the extensors bear the brunt. The trail is steep with slushy snow and really is a cunt.

With all its recent visitors, base camps, an ugly mess, with refuse, turd, and litter, that readily depress.

Our drive is now home, home, home, home via Lata and New Delhi. By boot, bus, water, taxi, plane, or crawling on the belly!

We now foot down the steep hillside a walk to delight and please, except for the Obstacle forest which gives us headache-knees.

We wait for the others to join us by the gorge the Rishi reams. The roaring impatient waters become noiseless in our dreams.

A day of play and cleansing, a rope traverse that's rather risky, the mood relaxed, the food more fancy, with occasional swigs of whisky.

Fifty porters puff and shout while carrying down our town, smooth planning and execution of our homeward up and down.

Lute leads listening from behind, his Lieutenant Sudhir pulling deals, Peter grunts like a bear that's mating, Jerome computes but feels.

Carl still smarts of failure, and Bob joins in similar tones, Bruce, the Colonel and Tony creak their Californian bones.

Joe has all the facts straight, sensitive Willis you'll hardly hear. The Sherpas are all seeing, ever caring, and always right near.

What took eleven is undone in three, knees mushed and muscles fast, back to Lata by the road with feelings of squalor, at last.

Emotionally it's over but there are mechanics to1 undergo, memories to imprint that will maturate although.

Some mimed scenes will remain with me and at self hypnotic will, there'll be a place, person, on a Himalayan hill.

From each I learned a little of life, I thank you well and true, there's a bonding that occurs in the sharings we've come through.

Especially of Lute, our leader, guide and friend, psychiatrist, technician, unselfish to the end.

Tangential out of society's vortex where change is exponential, we've enjoyed a future-shock-respite by living-existential.

Now we return in gratitude for the spectrum of joy to fear, in physical and spiritual health, can I wait another year?

The 4th Ascent of Bethartoli South 20,730 ft by American Expedition, Summer, 1977. They attempted Bethortoli, 20,840 ft by descending to the joining saddle, where weather defeated them.

Members : Lute Jerstad (leader), Peter Albert, Robert Arnot, Jerome Corr, Willis Crouse, Karl Gerdes, Bruce McCubbrey, John Nanson, Jerry Tinling, Joe Wagner, Tony Watkin and Sudhir Sahi (liaison officer).-Ed.