Himalayan Journal vol.37
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.37

Publication year:
1981

Editor:
Harish Kapadia
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. YUGOSLAV EVEREST EXPEDITION
    (TONE SKARJA)
  3. AUSTRIAN LHOTSE EXPEDITION AULEX, 1979
    (ERICH VANIS)
  4. POLISH LHOTSE EXPEDITION, 1979
    (ADAM BILCZEWSKI)
  5. THE BRITISH-NEPALESE GAURI SHANKAR EXPEDITION, 1979
    (PETER BOARDMAN)
  6. AUSTRALIAN GAURI SHANKAR (TSERINGMA) EXPEDITION
    (P. A. CULLINAN and G. BRAMMER)
  7. MAKALU WEST PILLAR
    (JOHN ROSKELLEY)
  8. TUKUCHE WEST PEAK (6780 m) EXPEDITION
    (RENE COLLET)
  9. ANNAPURNA III, SOUTH FACE
    (RON and LINDA RUTLAND)
  10. SWISS SISNE HIMAL EXPEDITION, 1980
    (RUEDI MEIER)
  11. DHAULAGIRI EAST FACE EXPEDITION
    (ALEX MACINTYRE)
  12. SIKKIM HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION, 1979
    (SAMARENDRA NATH DHAR)
  13. SINIOLCHU*
    (SONAM WANGYAL)
  14. ASCENT OF RATABAN AND CANOEING/ RAFTING THE MANDAKINI AND ALAKNANDA RIVERS
    (COL BALWANT S. SANDHU)
  15. SATOPANTH GLACIER EXPEDITION, 1980
    (SHASHANK KULKARNI and SOUMITRA WADALKAR)
  16. GUERILLAS IN THE GARHWAL
    (JOHN THACKRAY)
  17. CZECHOSLOVAKS OVER THE SOURCES OF THE GANGA
    (ZDENEK LUKES)
  18. VASUKI PARBAT
    (N. G. CLEAVER)
  19. RAKTVARN GLACIER AND ASCENT OF UNNAMED VIRGIN PEAKS
    (RANVIR SINGH)
  20. KINNAUR, 1980
    (SUDHIR SAHI)
  21. EXPEDITION TO THE DHARLANG VALLEY, PANGI AND ZANSKAR
    (N. A. PITTS-TUCKER)
  22. AIRMEN IN LAHUL
    (WING COMMANDER N. M. RIDLEY)
  23. A TREK IN LADAKH AND ZANSKAR
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  24. TERAM KANGRI II EXPEDITION
    (COL N. KUMAR)
  25. LADAKH, 1979
    (AAMIR ALI)
  26. THE FIRST ASCENT OF CHORICHO1
    (GEOFFREY CHILDS)
  27. THE 'OBVIOUS LINE': ULI BIAHO
    (JOHN ROSKELLEY)
  28. THE CHILEAN KARAKORAM EXPEDITION, 1979
    (GASTON OYARZUN)
  29. RISK *
    (MIKE THOMPSON)
  30. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  31. EXPEDITIONS 1978- 1980
  32. IN MEMORIAM
  33. BOOK REVIEWS
  34. CORRESPONDENCE
  35. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1980

DHAULAGIRI EAST FACE EXPEDITION

ALEX MACINTYRE

IN THE first weeks of November 1979 Voytek Kurtyka, a member of the Polish Expedition to the north side of Dhaulagiri struggled through the waist deep snow and inclement weather that was predominant on the mountain that year, to check on an idea which had been growing in his mind over the previous few months. On reaching the Northeast Col he began to descend into the basin which lies beneath the Northeast and Southeast ridges of the mountain. A temporary break in the weather confirmed his notion. The East Face of Dhaulagiri was indeed a very appealing, classically beautiful face, un- climbed, indeed unattempted. Voytek remained in Kathmandu after the 1979 trip to obtain permission for an attempt on the mountain the following spring. Permission was forthcoming about the beginning of December and a couple of weeks later a natty little postcard arrived on my office desk. Could I meet Voytek in Kathmandu, on 10 March with a partner and some gear for an attempt on the East Face of Dhaulagiri?

What are the origins of this curious nationality mix? In 1977 a joint Anglo-Polish expedition was mounted to the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan. This twelve man project arose from the friendly contacts between the Poles and the British in areas such as Chamonix being celebrated in an invitation by the Polski Zwiazek Alpinismu (Polish Mountaineering Federation) to the British Mountaineering Council asking them to send four climbers to the Tatra in the winter of 1975. From this meet the notion of a joint expedition arose. On the expedition there was a split in the team, with the bulk of the members going to the Mandras valley while four of us turned off the road at Zebak to attempt the unclimbed East Face of Kohe Bandaka. One of our four became ill but Voytek Kurtyka, Alex Mac- Intyre and John Porter successfully climbed this face in an ambitious alpine style push on this formidable objective. The friendships thus formed were the nucleus for the present expedition.

It was generally agreed that the team was a viable unit, that in this case the international aspect was an advantage, and that we should repeat the experience. The following year the same team, together with Polish climber Christopher Zurick, made an alpine style ascent of the South Buttress of Changabang in Garhwal. For 1980 John Porter was unable to come, so Voytek and I agreed to find one friend each to make up a four man team. As the expedition had only three months from its inception to the rendezvous in Kathmandu, it was obviously not simple to find an uncommitted partner of sufficient experience able to provide for his share of the costs. I went to Chamonix that Christmas and following a 'wee' adventure on the North Wall of the Grandes Jorasses, I invited my friend and companion, Rene Ghilini, to come along. Rene is a young French guide of Italian ex- traction and he readily agreed to the project on the strength of the postcard from Voytek. Voytek persuaded the Polish climber Ludwick Wilczyczynski, who had been involved in the Polish North Face attempt in 1979, to join us. Thus the first time the team assembled as a unit was in Kathmandu.

Shortly before my departure for Delhi, the expedition was honoured to be informed that it was to be the first recipient of the Nick Estcourt Memorial Award. Nick, one of this country's most out- -standing mountaineers, was killed on K2 in 1978 and a fund was founded to commemorate his memory. Each year an expedition which is felt to comprise of up and coming climbers going to a particularly challenging objective will receive such an award. It is a great privilege to have been the first recipients of this award and we dedicate our dimb to his memory.

Communication prior to arrival in Kathmandu was somewhat frugal. On top of the postcard I can count only a few letters and phone calls, nothing more. Each individual assumed responsibility for getting himself and whatever aspect of the expedition he had agreed to cater for, to Kathmandu on the prescribed date. As a general rule of thumb, the Polish climbers were providing most of the food, base camp equipment and clothing for the porters and other employees. The West Bloc provided high-altitude food, gortex covered sleeping bags and other modern clothing which is very hard for the Poles to come by, plastic boots and a majority of the dollars actually spent in the host country. The complete team actually assembled on 14 March 1980 in Kathmandu.

Dhaulagiri stands in the Dolpo region of Central Nepal, on the west side of the Kali Gandaki river, through which valley passed the trade route to the ancient kingdom of Mustang. It is also, as far as Muktinath, a pilgrim's way. Dhaulagiri is the most easterly and highest point of the impressive Dhaulagiri Himal which contains five other peaks all classified under the name Dhaulagiri. Dhaulagiri I stands aloof from these peaks, separated by the deeply cut gorge of du Mayangdi Khola, now one of the two main approaches to the mountain's traditional base camp. It is reputed to be one of the deepest gorges in the world. The East Face is formed by the Northeast and Southeast ridges of Dhaulagiri. The name Dhaulagiri actually translates into 'White mountain', a very apt description. Though estimates vary, the commonly accepted height is 8167 m (26,795 ft). It is the sixth highest mountain in the world.

We chose to approach our face via the traditional base camp on the Mayangdi Glacier (c. 4700 m) and an advanced base camp on the Northeast Col, above the icefalls and serac surrounded valley which typifies the upper reaches of this glacier. The col stands between the peak of Tukuche and the Northeast ridge of Dhaulagiri which is the classic route and line of the first ascent. From the col we would descend slightly into the basin which lies below the East Face and above the trembling icefall of the Southeast glacier. The French reconnaissance party of 1950, consisting of a crack team of Herzog, Lachenal and Rebuffat, with three Sherpas, had tried to find a way up this glacier. After an 'eerie' bivouac and two long days searching for snow bridges and threading between gigantic, threatening seracs, they came to a halt some 300 m below the plateau, brought up short by a giant crevasse which completely cut the glacier.

'All six of us were in the middle of gigantic seracs, we were overwhelmed by the unexpected difficulties with which the mountain was confronting us. Sinister cracking noises shook the great blocks of ice on which we moved. The glacier was pallid, the light grew dim.

'Suddenly we heard a loud prolonged crack. We tucked our heads in, but it was not our turn yet!'

Not surprisingly the French abandoned this approach. However, in 1969 an American team opted to try and force this icefall to gain access to the Southeast ridge. Seven men died on that glacier. Eight men stood in an afternoon fog, attempting to build a bridge over a great crevasse which again cut across the glacier. Out of sight a hanging serac collapsed and when the avalanche had passed, only one man remained. A small stone stands in the valley of the Kali Gandaki where the run off from the Southeast glacier meets that river, a bitter reminder of the price such a mountain can extract.

It was via the Kali Gandaki that we chose to approach our base camp. There are two approaches, the alternative being via the Mayangdi valley, which is longer but more certain. Our approach, via the village of Tukuche, the Dhampush Pass, the Hidden Valley and French Col is shorter in time and has the 'advantage' of crossing two passes over 5000 m. For trips hoping to operate in alpine style this sort of acclimatization in your approach is very useful. However, this approach is also much more exposed to the elements and probably not to be recommended pre-monsoon.

Our intention was to climb our face in alpine style. This means that the team climbs the face in a single, self sustained unit, in a continuous push, unsupported by fixed ropes, camps, Sherpas or other climbers. It is an increasingly fashionable method of operating in the high mountains, having several advantages. Probably pre-eminent amongst these, though it is not so commonly voiced, is the knowledge that all the work you are doing is aimed at getting yourself to the top. The prospect of hiking sixty pound loads up fixed ropes for another person's 'glory', for the 'greater good of the team', does not arise. In large mountains this is a satisfying, exhilarating and exciting method of climbing.

We left Kathmandu on 17 March, complete with baggage, half a dozen porters, our liaison officer, a Captain in the Kathmandu Police Force, who was by mutual agreement christened KT due to severe pronunciation problems, Angkami our Sirdar and Kusang our cook, all loaded on to the Sherpa Co-operative Mercedes bus for the ride to Pokhara, the kick off point for the walk in to Tukuche. This is a well travelled route, being an ancient Trade Route, a pilgrims' way, and a popular trek. The way is well served by lodges which by dint of an early morning start and all out rush could be reached by the unburdened members of the expedition in good time for an early lunch and afternoon's sunbathing while the loads follow on behind. Despite it’s popularity, the walk is beautiful, through forest, over hills and along ridges with tantalising views of beautiful mountains, Machapuchare 'The Fish's Tail', the awe inspiring first view of Dhaulagiri from Ghorepani Pass, the Nilgiri and Annapurna ranges, all washed down with increasingly expensive beer and increasingly attractive chang, until the last few hours when the landscape changes dramatically to that of high desert and one looks along the wide flood plain of the Kali Gandaki, past Tukuche, toward Mustang and a vision of Tibet. This vision of Tibet had once made Tukche a thriving town, an ancient city, standing for generations in its arid windy corner, a major commercial centre on the Trade Route between Nepal, Tibet and China. Politics have had their say, Tibet is closed, the town retains a musty air of grandeur but its past has gone and with it its wealth.

We waited a day in Tukuche repacking loads and hoping the weather in the hills would improve. It did, so we set off up the hillside outside the village. By the end of the first day we had already run into difficulties with the snow. The following day we only made half an hours progress before running into a total impass with the snow. We therefore abandoned the path and set off up the hillside to the ridges above which were blown clear of snow. This place is known as Windy Corner and anyone who has camped there will understand why. That afternoon the weather deteriorated alarmingly. We set up a camp and dismissed our porters, many of whom probably would not have gone much further anyway. It was just as well, it snowed heavily.

Base camp (4700 m)

We eventually reached base camp with 18 porters on 9 April. We had been stuck on Windy Corner for a week in driving snow and thunderstorms, interspersed with good days on which we would go skiing over toward the Dhampus Pass. In one night it snowed over one metre. Avalanche danger was a serious consideration and the conditions were obviously beyond the average porter. On the other hand, with hardy porters and good weather we were only three days from base camp and the alternative of pulling out and going back round the mountain via the Mayangdi would have taken at least two weeks. We therefore, arranged to hire a small group of strong porters who had strength and equipment to cope with the conditions and to shift ourselves, our base camp materials and sufficient supplies to operate for a couple of weeks, to the base camp and then leave it to the Sirdar to ferry the rest of our supplies over the passes in the following weeks with as many porters as he could retain. Needless to say we paid dearly for these services.

In order to facilitate a reasonable chance of climbing the East Face in alpine style we obviously needed to acclimatize as well as possible. For this purpose we had received permission from the Nepalese authorities to approach our neighbourhood Swiss Expedition, which had come to attempt the classic Northeast Ridge, and ask them whether we could use 'their' Northeast ridge for acclimatizing. Understandably a little reluctant at first, they subsequently agreed .to our request and for this we owe them a large debt of gratitude.

Our intention was to establish a couple of tents on the Northeast Col and operate from here, returning to our base on the Mayangdi Glacier as the weather and conditions dictated. It was our opinion that the altitude of the Col was too great to permit complete rest and relaxation and that it was worth the treks up and down the glacier to avoid deterioration. This journey from the glacier base to the Col is an interesting one, threading a devious route through two icefalls and up a valley surrounded by serac barriers and prone to avalanche. Towards the end of the season the journey was beginning to prove quite harrowing as the various snowbridges grew increasingly thinner and the crevasses increasingly exposed. In fresh snow the trip is a strenuous twelve hours, but on a well trodden path a fit unburdened person could manage it in three.

Over the period of 13/28 April various forays were made on to the Northeast ridge. The first venture was brought to a halt at about 6500 m in afternoon snow and cloud. Locating the tents on the wide, flat, featureless plateau which is the Col, proved an interesting experience. Needless to say no-one had brought a compass. The first week on the Col was also enlivened by the almost total absence of salt and sugar and a general abundance of porridge and spaghetti. By the 26 April we had a cache of food and fuel at about 7500 m on the ridge and deemed ourselves ready for the Face.

We began our attempt on the face in the early hours of the morning, by moonlight. The snow was hard and we took little more than an hour to approach the foot of the face. The morning dawned fine and saw us established on the bottom of the face, tackling a compact rock band which held us up for nearly three hours. We then moved out onto the face, seeking an easy line on snow and ice through the compact rock. The rock in this area is notorious for its 'roof tile' formation which gives little protection and few good holds. The veneer of snow and ice on the face was surprisingly thin, being typically powdery snow over thin ice over the compact rock.

We halted for a brew towards midday on the first reasonable stopping place we encountered, a small knoll of rock out of character with the smoother surrounds. The weather was deteriorating and by mid afternoon our progress had been brought to a halt by some fierce spindrift. We took belated shelter under a short rock wall and opted to try and bivouac there. It was obvious that the face was rather deficient of bivouac spots and we did not wish to get caught totally in the open with nightfall and spindrift. The bivouac was poor. The ledges we were able to cut ourselves were decidedly - on the narrow side and the protection offered by the rock against the spindrift was minimal. Cooking was awkward.

The following two days and bivouacs to the top of the face were much the same, tracing the line through compact snow over rock and avoiding areas of deep soft snow. The ice grew increasingly harder and more watery, of a nature that would have one cursing even in an alpine winter. We used the rope on only two pitches throughout the route, belays being difficult to impossible in general, and all members of the party being content to solo. The climb compared with the Swiss route on the Courtes North Face and presented the same order of difficulty. Everyone in the team was at home with snow and ice to a very high standard and our main safety lay in speed. Retreat from the face in the conditions we encountered would have been problematical.

The second bivouac on the face was an absolute horror. The weather had been poor all day, the thunder which had begun the previous evening persisted and the spindrift had become torrential. At one point Alex and Ludwick found themselves stranded on front points in an all engulfing stream of the stuff unable to move or even reseat their gear for fear of being pushed off the face. The bivouac spot was non existent.One minor ledge was excavated and three members got in the bivouac sac at that point. Voytek slumped in slings, half sat ona minute crumbling ledge of snow, unable to get in his sleeping bag and with the bivisac upside down over his head. Cooking for either party was well nigh impossible.

The Northeast ridge was reached by nightfall of the third day and a poor bivouac was made in the teeth of a bitter, howling wind, snow and thunder. Preparations for the climb to the summit began soon hi. i midnight after midnight in order that enough water could be melted to give the members a chance of success after the depleating experiences on the face below. However, the morning dawned to reveal continued bad weather andextream avalanche danger on the way to the summit. It was this latter factor which persuaded the team to descend the ridge and await better conditions.

The descent off the ridge was avalanche prone but fast to the Col and on 10 May we were back in base camp. The Swiss expedition had moved little in this period and assured us it was the worst weather they encountered on the mountain.

On 15 May the team returned to the Col. The conditions on the glacier between base camp and the Col were deteriorating and the passage through the icefall becoming increasingly awkward and dangerous.

The following morning we moved up to the site of our now non existent snow hole, excepting that Alex and Rene were waylaid by Mars bars at the site of a Swiss camp. By dint of excavating the snow surrounding the tents all sorts of goodies could be unearthed. The consequent indigestion forced the wayward couple to sleep in a collapsed tent which had been abandoned after a small snow slide had struck it. We reached the summit on 18 May at about midday after a further bivouac at about 7200 m and returned to the Col that evening, from which point it was all steam for Kathmandu and the last man back bought the beers.

East face of Daulagiri.   								(Photo: A. Macintyre)

East face of Daulagiri. (Photo: A. Macintyre)