ON THE occasion of its silver jubilee, the Austrian organisation for I hm.il.iya Expeditions, the OHG (Osterreichische Himalaya Gesell-schaft sponsored an expedition to the LHOTSE, 8511 m, the fourth highest mountain in the world. The team comprised the following climbers Wolfgang, Axt, Iwan Exnar, Rainer Goschl, Bruno Klaus brucker (deputy leader), Hans Ladreiter, Hanns Schell, Peter Schier, Ruth Steinmann and Erich Vanis (leader); in addition Dr Wolfgang Schindler as the doctor for the expedition and Karl Olmuller, the cameraman. The AULEX 1979 was accompanied by 16 Sherpas under Sardar Dawa Tenzing (Dati) from Namche Bazar.
The Lhotse was first conquered in 1956 by Ernst Reiss and Fritz Luchsinger from Switzerland.1 Despite repeated attempts over the following years, Lhotse could be ascended a second time only in 1977 by a strong German expedition, and in 1979, we got the opportunity to be the third team; third, if one were to count the successful attempts alone. There are still another two ways according to which one can classify, viz. depending on the roped parties and thr number of days taken to reach the peak. In that case the German expedition would take 2nd , 3rd and 4th places and we the next two. However I tend to classify to the first criterion, at least as long as there is no International standard that has been set, because otherwise the competitive spirit is ignited within the teams itself, and I always prefer to have the team spirit in the most important light when it comes to any mountaineering expedition.
Only the route of the west wall was granted to us for climbing by the Royal Nepalese Government, the same one successfully attempted by the earlier two expeditions. On 8 March the team flew from Vienna to Nepal. The four tonnes of load, earlier to be dispatched by road, had to be air freighted at quite an expense due to the crisis in Iran. By the time we landed in Kathmandu, Klausbruckner, who had gone ahead two weeks earlier, had already completed all the customs formalities and had already sent ahead most of the luggage with a crew of porters to the site around the mountain. In the organizing of all this, our liaison officer, Captain of the Royal Guard, Swarna S. Gurung helped us to clear the final papers very quickly. What followed there- after was the approach to the base camp at Khumbu glacier and the setting up of the traditional chain of camps on the Everest-Lhotse route to almost the eight thousand metre mark. Although this has become very much a routine, at least in the Alpine literature, for each individual the. experience remains to be equally a great one.
For the chronologcr I reproduce the following dates:
|15 March||Flight Kathmandu-Lukla|
|16- 29 March||Approach to the base camp|
|27- 30 March||setting up of the base camp at 5400 m|
|31 March-4 April||checking of the Khumbu icefall|
|5 April||setting up of Camp 1 at 6050 m|
|8 April||reached site of Camp 2 in western cwm at 6560 m|
|20 April||set up Camp 3 on the Lhotse flank at 7350 m|
|30 April||set up Camp 4at 785omona narrow width of ice at the lower section of the 'Schildkrote' (Turtle), the name we had given to this island of rock in the middle of the Lhotse— west wall.|
I would have preferred to set this last camp a hundred metre higher at the upper end of the 'Schildkrote', or even at the entrance of the Lhotse crevice, in order to be closer to the peak. However the Sherpas, nowadays often very overbearing, came up with the dreaded ruse: 'the power is gone' and did as they pleased, i.e. they carried the loads only upto 7850 m and no further. They threatened to break up the expedition, since 'the monsoons were to come soon' — a blatant lie, since this bad weather is to be expected in the Everest area at the earliest at the beginning of June. With sorrow I thought of Pasang Dawa Lama 1959 at Dhaulagiri, a true grand old man of Alpinism. For such ex- emplaries however, all that remains now is a sympathetic smile. We had the feeling that the lordly Sherpas would often gladly abandon the expedition once the costly equipment was given and then undertake the more comfortable and less dangerous trekking parties. During the past year, a large number of expeditions have gone still a step further and not engaged any porters at all; rather they have carried everything themselves. In Pamir, Hindu Kush or in Alaska we have already done the same. I wonder if the Sherpas are aware of all this?
Thus at the beginning of May we had our chain of camps all ready. The weather was still quite rough but the pressure of 'the power is gone* made us work very quickly. We therefore started off in two groups in the direction of the peak, but the weather forced us to break up into three groups later.
The first attack group comprised Axt, Exnar, Klausbruckner, Lad- reiter and Schier. On 3 May they ascended from Camp 3 to Camp 4. However during the night of 4 May, the weather up there became so bad that three men descended to Camp 2. Only Axt and Ladreiter spent the night of 5 May at Camp 4 at 7850 m.
On the 5 May, the skies did clear up, but the snow banners clearly showed what the weather was actually like at the peak. At this point even the last two wanted to come down. However they heard about the dispute with the Sherpas over the radio, and that they threatened to stop carrying the loads if we had made any attempt. Axt and Lad- reiter then decided in the morning to continue with the climb. It was already 11 o'clock by the time they could leave the Camp. In the heat of the dispute and the weariness of the steep (50°) climb of the narrow Lhotse crevice, they did not heed the storm and the cold and the biting frost and reached the peak at 17 hours. All of us in Camp 2 let out shouts of joy, both the mountaineers and the Sherpas and suddenly the depressing dispute was forgotten for days. This success spurred our crew of porters to work again. The price that had to be paid for this success was, however a high one.
It was already half past one in the night by the time Axt and Lad- reiter returned to Camp 4 and on 6 May back to us in Camp 2. Their noses, toes and in the case of Ladreiter, partly even the fingers, were frozen black. Even though Dr Schindler treated them immediately at 6560 m and they were flown back from the base camp to Kathmandu just two days later by very helpful military helicopter service, so that just days after they had conquered the peak, they were already in a hospital in Austria. Extensive amputations had to be undertaken. Wolfgang lost ten toes and the left balls of the toes; Hans Ladreiter lost six toes and the fore joints of three fingers and the tip of a fourth.
On 9 May, we formed the second line of attack: Rainer Goschl with Hanns Schell, Dawa Tenzing and myself and also Frau Ruth Steimann with Pasang Pemba. Initially we had the fortune of good weather and faultless conditions, the snow flattened by the wind, leaving everything smooth. It was a little difficult to breathe, but like all the others forming the expedition, we managed well with our oxygen apparatus. In the beginning Mrs Steinmann remained far behind the four of us, since Pasang Pemba was simply lethargic. We should have had a few trained Sherpas like Phu Tsering, Sundare or Norbu in our crew for the expedition, as they would have been better attuned, fit and more humane at least and would have deserved a chance to reach apeak. The presumptuous and cheeky Pasang Pemba however, is supposed to be Dati's brother-in-law and so he got the opportunityto show off in front of him; a marriage he was not aware of in the first place. It was only when Ruth Steinmann took over leading with the rope, that she could catch up with us around 13 hours at 8250 m. At this point we all changed our oxygen flasks and within the range of success, our tiredness could be held in check. I tied myself with Ruth Steinmann using a rope, since due to her 'catch-up' with us I knew for sure that the 'lady' would not slow me down for the last 250 m. We rested for a short half an hour, during which time the skies had clouded and snow flakes had begun to fall. However not one of us even thought of turning back.
Goschl even climbed up the key position; there the ice crevice narrowed down to a boulder over which an old rope hung. Suddenly snow and storm set in with such a vengeance that we didn't have to really discuss a turning-back for very long. Snow slides came down upon us from the surrounding boulders of the Lhotse and snow slabs began to form in the crevice; the storm froze our protective glasses and the oxygen equipment. There was nothing to do but turn back and that too immediately. Ruth and I also decided to leave behind our full oxygen containers here and to climb down without artificial respiratory aid. I felt much better without the mask which made it difficult to see. Dusk was beginning to set in as we reached the com- parative shelter of Camp 4, lying just below the clouds.
There we found the third team comprising Exnar, Klausbruckner and Schier, who wanted to try their luck the following morning. So it came to be that this Camp 4, which hung like a swallow's nest attached to the precipice, was rather overcrowded, Most of us slept equipped as usual, two to a tent; however, Ruth Steinmann, Schell and myself somehow managed, freezingly, with just two sleeping bags between us till the next day dawned.
It was 10 May and the weather was good. The sky cloudless, and the wind still, so that the temperatures were bearable also in the peak region. When, during the morning, we descended from Camp 4 back to Camp 3, where it was already oppressively hot, we saw that our three friends of the third group were not all that higher up than us. The deep snow, that had fallen earlier called for tiring work. With a heavy heart Peter Schier, normally so fit but not enjoying one of his best days, decided around noon to get on with the task. As he slowly descended on his own, Klausbruckner and Exnar could move ahead much more speedily as a team of two. However thanks to the unfavourable weather conditions, they arrived at the peak only at 19 hrs in the fading light of the day.
We began to worry, we who were at that time comfortably to sleep in Camp 2, and when the following morning, on n May at 8 a.m. we saw our comrades still hardly above Camp 4, we became even more concerned.
That meant that they had been on the move all through the night. In any case, even if the newly formed masses of snow were against them, at least the weather was in their favour. The cold was in bearable limits and so they came out of it without any or without very great accidents of freezing.
For those who had not climbed the peak, we would have required two weeks of respite to start another attempt, in order to then start off again from the base camp. However the Sherpas could not be bribed or won over with any promises of rewards.
To sum up - AULEX T979 was a great success of team work -- despite some misfortune. Four men reached the peak and all the other climbers were clear over the 8000 m mark, making that nine of the fourteen.