Himalayan Journal vol.37
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Harish Kapadia
    (N. G. CLEAVER)
  20. KINNAUR, 1980
    (COL N. KUMAR)
  25. LADAKH, 1979
  29. RISK *
  31. EXPEDITIONS 1978- 1980



(Translated by Marek Matlengiewicz)

THE EXPEDITION wai organized by the Mountaineering Club of Gliwice with the help of the Mountaineering Clubs in Katowice and Opole.

Base camp

Stones thrown randomly, sometimes ordered like big beds or stacks, form an overcoat of Khumbu glacier which is more than eight kilo- metres long. This was our camp site.

On 3 September this remote but well-known place became crowded again. Our party came to the foot of the icefall to pitch the base camp, fetching the loads with the help of porters and yaks.

Sardar Anu Sherpa quickly paid off the porters and at 1 p.m. the huge activity of our caravan ebbed to nearly nothing and we were left alone with stacks of boxes and bags. After looking for flat place and removing some stones our coloured tents were pitched and we started them with stone walls. The altitude of 5400 m did not help. Quickly picked stone caused dizzy spells. Everybody kept on asking himself what would be happening later? It was only the foot of the mountain. On the next day we were not so tired, and wheezing less, and we were able to look around.

East ward, the icefall all like a reared horse led to the Western Cwm filled with ice blocks and crevasses. The west ridge of Everest dropped to the left from the icefall and was finished by pass which has false name Lho- LA. The correct name should be Khumbu-La, but the name is a habit and everyone knows it. Further on beautiful, pyramidally shaped Lingtren (6697 m) and Pumori (7145 m). The right side closing of Western Cwm was Nuptse (7879 m) with its ridges fine- is!.' lied of hard ice. On the far south horizon stood Tsolatse (6440 m) and Ttboehe (6542 m).

All around, above us, vertical ice columns pointed towards the sky, ice blocks filling every concavity of slopes and beyond them the ridges connecting those giants.

On 6 September the first party entered this icy, windy and dangerous world to pitch the first camp at the altitude of 6oso m. It would be the first in the chain. I went out with 16 kg rucksack, one day after pitching Camp 1, with nine member party. At 4 a.m. the mountain world stood in moonlight; silent and unrealistic. We were heading for the icefall. We went in three-member parties so in the darkness I could not see the other six. We moved like shadows in a fairy tale, but when Pankow's foot dropped into a small hole filled with water but covered with thin ice, we came back to realistic world. We went carefully following the signposts left by foregoers. At the base of the icetall we rejoined them and after fixing crampons and roping together we entered the icefall. Following the footsteps we walked among ice- towers, trying to clear crevasses. Sometimes an aluminium ladder over ice-precipice was the only way to solve the problems. I look backward. The icefall and base camp were still in darkness but Pumori caught the first shafts of the rising sun. It grew lighter: the sky imperceptibly paled, the mountains took on a harder outline, and beyond the nearest snow-summits others began to come into light. It would have been dangerous if the sun had reached us in the icefall.

The air was getting thinner and thinner. Wide open mouths caught as much oxygen as possible but deficit was greater with every step. We went more slowly and our rucksacks became heavier and heavier. I thought mine had about 30 kg then, and it even grew heavier. The sunlight caught us in the icefall after we had covered three-quarters, and changed surroundings into beautiful fairy-tale country of fantastic ice-blocks. We knew it was very dangerous to stay there in the sun but we were not quite aware of it. We rested for a while marvelling at everything around.

After next hour we came to the end of icefall where Western Cwm began and we found two tents of Camp 1. The end of tortures. Rucksack off and sitting on it I remained motionless for about 10 minutes, being happy I should not go on. Somebody was preparing tea, another pitched the storage tent. I was ashamed of doing nothing and I started to help them. Surprisingly, without rucksack, the altitude of 6050 m was not so tiresome. We pitched the third tent. Our light (5 kg) igloo-shaped tents, having 3x3m floor surface were rather small for three but they were warm and wind-resistant. We stayed there for a night, following the rules of adaptation, and went back the next day. It was quite different to walk down the icefall with empty rucksack and by 10 a.m. we reached base camp. How excellent the tea was!

We started to ferry loads. Day after day, early in the morning we went out to cross the icefall with fully loaded rucksacks and Camp is began to swell. On 9 September a party of six left the base camp. They were to establish Camp 2 at the end of the Western Cwm at the bottom of Lhotse wall. Before 10 a.m. we got the news: they had reached Camp 1. Quite quickly. In the meantime the whole army was preparing for the next day - twelve people including me. It was a pity that our party had to say goodbye to Kurek, who again as ten years before, got nephritis and had to go down to hospital. He went: back to Namche Bazar with liaison officer.

On 10 September, according to our plans, eleven of us went through the icefall. My breathing was quite easy then, but I had really never got used to 20 kg load on my back. Camp 1 was empty. First party members went out through Western Cwm to pitch Camp 2. Good news at n a.m. - Camp 2 at 6500 m had been established.

Western Cwm forced between the walls of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse is overwhelmed by its greatness. Despite its slight slope this several kilometre wide and seven kilometres long basin provides a great problem to pass because of the number of crevasses cut across and frequent avalanches from Nuptse wall, sometimes sweeping the whole basin till Everest base. We left Camp i rather late and made the first part of the path still in shade but two hours later, in the sun, we felt as if we were in white hell. Quite dried up we reached orange tents of Camp 2.

On 15 September early in the morning we entered the icefall and walking at first in darkness we could again marvel at the familiar Pumori summit in the sun and the awaked Himalayan giants. This time we went to camp at once, with a slightly different party.

In the morning frost without difficulties we crossed the crevasse under the LhotseWall.We started to fix ropes for the next parties. The monotonous hard ice slope was not difficult but it had no easy parts either. In the middle of the wall Baranek had to give up because of his stomach troubles. Up to 7000 m I felt quite well but then I started to breathe heavily and had to stop very often. At 3 p.m. I nearly crawled into camp 3 at 7200 m. At 5 p.m following adaptation rules we went back to Camp 2,

After three days rest in base camp we went out again to establish Camp 4 above 7800 m.

After a short traverse we found ourselves in a giant crater to the right from Geneva Spur, the rocks which go diagonally from the icewall of Lhotse to south Col. The conditions changed very frequently from clean ice to deep snow. When we reached the camp site, the tent had already been pitched on a platform cut in the ice near green rocks. We could see a never to be forgotten view from our 7850 m. Cho Oyu weighed heavy upon the others. The Lhotse ridge connecting Lhotse and Nuptse was below us. South Col and the ridge of Everest were almost in reach. Poor Baranek could see nothing at all because he had got suowblind. His light spectacles turned out to be insufficient. At unrise we went down to Camp 3. There was wind blowing all the night and we could hear it rattling our tent. In the morning we went down in the snow storm. Thanks to fixed ropes nothing untoward had happened though the wind overturned us many times. At 6 p.m. we all returned to base camp .

Attack on the Lhotse Summit
On 26 September deep in the night the silence had been broken by a gong for breakfast. Our cook must have lost his mind preparing a meal at night. I looked at my watch: it was 8 a.m. but still dark. I went out of the tent and looked around. Behind Nuptse the sun was shining as usual but base camp had disappeared. The tents were totally covered with snow and everybody was sleeping. The sound of the gong awaked everybody and base camp stirred and came to life. After a while some spots of colour arrived from under the snow. Half-asleep figures went automatically to the mess. In base camp there were some dogs which followed us: big Everest, old Lhotse and young, black beauty - Lady Balu - the property of Heinrich. Everest and Lhotse came with the first expedition at the beginning of the year and would go back with the last. Lady Balu was fetched from the village Pheriche by Heinrich, personally on his back. The three were sitting in front of the mess waiting for their meal.

On 1 October the assault party went out of base camp, carrying rather light rucksacks. We took the doctor to Camp i to have him nearer us. We rested in Camp i waiting till the sun had ceased so I reached Camp 2 together with doctor in total darkness. Poor doctor at once had a lot of work because some of us had blisters, red eyes or gut troubles. Meanwhile, the first news was not cheerful because Krawczyk and Popowicz reached only Camp 3. On the next day the 'professor team' plus Chalecki, Nesheim and Niklas were to go out to Camp 4, while our party to Camp 3. Like our railways we also had delays.

Having good acclimatization we easily reached Camp 3. From Camp 4 came Baranek and Nesheim. Unfortunately the Norwegian had not enough strength and had to abandon from 7600 m, so Baranek returned with him as a safeguard. They left an oxygen bottle fixed to a piton. The other four reached Camp 4 but there was too little oxygen to attack the summit in six-member party.

On the next day I ferried my load to Camp 4 and I could see un- fatigued Czok cutting the second platform for tent. I helped him and at 4 p.m. we pitched the second tent. Both tents nearly hung over precipice. Together with Baranek I returned down.

Some hundred metres below we met people descending from the South Col. They were the members of German expedition led by I Dr Schmatz. We asked them whether they had reached the top of Everest. They said they had, so we congratulated them; it was a great success, unfortunately some of them were left there. I could see neithei the massive silhouette of Ray Genet nor Hannelore - Dr Schmatz': wife. One of the Sherpas closely fixed to another one, wore an oxygen mask. Another dragged his rucksack on snow. I could not continui questioning. Ray was my friend since we had met for the first timi during Polish Alaska Expedition in 1974. In Talkeetna he was a guide. Being a Swiss he was fascinated with the North and he wanted to pi a finishing touch on his mountaineering career.[1]
On the next day we were sitting in Camp 3 listening nervously to the radio. After some hours of sleeping with oxygen from bottles, our assault party awoke at 2.30 a.m. and went out at 6.30 a.m. After that the hours were very long for us but at noon we heard Heinrich’s voice. He was standing with Skorek on the top of Lhotse. After a while Czok and Kukuczka, without oxygen, reached the top too. Victory! On the radio we could hear Polish anthem from base camp and a cry from both the top and Camp 2. I could not resist either. Descending was the most important thing at that moment. At 4 p.m. they returned to Camp 4 and started to prepare tea. They asked me if they should take down the tents. No, there should be another attack . After an hour they came to us and I could not prevent myself from crying again.

On 5 October we were together in Camp 2. I was listening to the heavy wind. If it had not dropped we would not have gone out the next day. I tried to prepare the second attack but it was not easy. Because of success I started dreaming from time to time about those warm valleys where my beard would not freeze together with zip. Should it be better to leave Camp 4 for wind and avalanches? It, would not be a loss but why waste such a hard labour. It could welcome the second party as well.

On 7 October the wind gradually dropped to nothing and we went to Camp 3. Walking another time on the same path I learned heart all the fixed ropes and even their pitons. I recognized places where black rock protruded through ice, traverses and ice-walls. And the camp was all the time very far.

On 8 October we went out at 7 a.m. in good weather, before the sun lighted Geneva Spur was terribly cold and my pocket thermometer read -25 °C. I took two bottles and went out with 20 kg rucksack. I tried to walk slowly but rhythmically. Upto 7600 m I was good but when the slope became steeper, it was hard labour. I had to rest every 30 steps, then 20 and at last after 10. Orange tents above us did not want to be bigger, nearer, but the rucksack was heavier and heavier. Very often I had to cut a platform in the ice and sit on it. Following me Baranek also used my platforms. Suddenly I was hit by a piece of ice. Avalanche? No, it was Niklas removing snow from the half-hidden tents. After a quarter of an hour I could drop my rucksack at the tent and help Niklas with the work. After an hour the tent was prepared but it projected about 30 cm over precipice so we were most dreadfully cramped inside. Cholewa and Czarnecki slept in the second tent. The sky became clear and full of stars and' the wind dropped to nothing. I hoped we could go up next day. We all three, connected to one oxygen bottle, lay motionless having set the smallest oxygen flow* and after a while we fell asleep. The oxygen was finished at 2 a.m. and we awoke. Shouting, I awoke those in the cellar as we called the lower tent. We went out like our predecessors at 6.30 a.m. The sun was behind ridges and thermometer pointed to the end of its range - 30°C. I carried two bottles again but they were not so heavy because I could breathe oxygen. After half an hour I started to suffocate but the mask was scarcely filled with oxygen. I increased the flow but it changed nothing. At last I found that the tube supplying oxygen to the mask was choked with ice. I cleaned its oudet applying some strokes of ice-axe and felt oxygen flow again. I reached the outlet of the gully which led from the northwest side to a small pass under the summit. A dark gulf led straight up. Again I had to clear the oxygen hose. Below I could see the coloured figures of my friends. Some metres below Baranek, then Niklas, Cholewa and Czarnecki. We were not roped. In the case of fall of any of us we could not keep him and would fall together. Alternatively, fixing ropes would take too much time. My damned hose choked very often then I found my mask was punctured and I had not adhesive plaster to repair it. A lot of oxygen leaked through but I could not mend it. The bottom of the gully was filled with snow so it was rather easy to pass this rocky pass using the front crampon spikes. Then again we went on snow and ice and only sometimes rocks projected through it. I had to stop very often because of small amount of oxygen. The triangle of the sky over the gully become wider and wider. It should be near. Baranek took over leading and I could not keep up with him. Suddenly open space - I reached the end of the gully and found myself at the pass under the very top.

[1] See Note in the present issue-Ed.

Only 50 m up. I had serious trouble with oxygen. What had happened? I checked the hose but it was clean. Of course - the pressure gauge read zero - empty bottle. I dropped it and connected the other. Baranek was in the half way traversing among rocks. I followed him carefully because it was a steep slope and friable snow. I heard crampon spikes scraping hidden rock and I could not drive my ice-axe into the ice. Baranek had stopped several metres in front of the summit and having my goggles covered with frost I could not understand him. Tt's here, old chap' - he said. 'There is an overhanging snowbank'. I dragged the goggles off and at that moment I noticed wind blowing very hard and clouds rushed along showing only from time to time fragments of ridges towards South Col -- to Everest or Lhotse Shar and Nuptse. I squatted and tried to attach the flags of Nepal and Poland to my ice-axe. I gave it to Baranek and took photographs. Then in short periods between consecutive clouds I took photos all around. After some minutes my bare hands blanched. Quickly I put on gloves and put my hands under my armpits. After a while a hooded figure joined us. In his frosted goggles he could hardly see the path but without them he would see nothing. I shook him and we took another photograph. Meanwhile the frost and wind slowly sucked out our warmth. We were only three on the top and where were the rest? One more figure drew nearer. It was Niklas without a mask but with rucksack and one oxygen cylinder protruding out of it. As he reached the top and we shook hands he explained that just after the start, his mask had frosted and he had to climb without oxygen. So, what were you carrying the oxygen bottle for? 'My God, I forgot about it!' Czarnecki did not arrive and Niklas said that he had seen him far down the gully as a small spot. After taking some photos we started to descend. I did not even try to turn on the radio because I was afraid of my frost-bitten hands. At the small pass below there was rather quiet and we could contact with base camp. I heard shouts of joy and then the Polish anthem. Our tears quickly froze but we felt warmth penetrating our hearts. So many years of preparations, devotion and fight for this very moment.

Downwards in the gully we had to walk very carefully because any mistake meant a fall and crevasses two thousand metres below would accept the body. Carefully, step by step traversing or using crampon front spikes, secured additionally by ice-axe, we went down the gully. Moisture from under the mask had completely choked my goggles so I took them off. The storm broke loose and they were useless. If I had luck I should not get blindness. Frequent dust avalanches fell mi us from above and returned upward by natural draught in the ully I had severely frostbitten fingers clamped on my ice-axe. Walking through steep ice I felt my left leg had slipped off. I quickly fixed my ice axe and looked down. My crampon had torn into two pieces and hung on the belt. I tightened its belts though they compressed my foot. It was risky but I preferred to lose fingers than to fall down. I caught up with Czarnecki but he could not walk quickly so we walked slowly together to the outlet of the gully. He was safe there and I could speed up. I closed the valve of half-emptied bottle, pulled off the mask and put on spectacles. It was easier and easier with every step. When I reached the tents Baranek, Niklas and Cholewa were inside. Only Czarnecki had to cover half of an ice-field, but he was well visible. Niklas after his climbing without oxygen seemed to be quite exhausted and so was Czarnecki. It was about 5 p.m. and I was aware we could not decamp and descend before evening. I summed up our oxygrn one bottle was filled by three-quarters and should serve for two; two other bottles were half empty and could be for three. I contacted Heinrich by the radio. After ascending South Col they returned to Camp 3 and were waiting for us. But they were to wait till the next day.

In the morning we were not all right. We had spent too much time at this altitude and strength was used up quickly. After one cup of something liquid we started to work. Our tent had frozen to the ice and we should have to cut thicee to release it. So we took only small but valuable things. We followed Czarnecki and reached Camp 3 together. Again congratulations and shaking hands. They decamp the tents and prepared hot drinks. They pressed luggage into large bags and decided to send them down by 'Trans-Lhotse Express' drop them down. The bags should jump over the bottom crevasse and land on a slope below. They informed Camp 2 to observe the Train, made a traverse and pushed the bag. The first one caught against seracs and dropped into a crevasse and when the same had happened to the second we took the third with us. We could find only one of the bags and the second became a property of the mountains. We lost the tent which we took from Camp 4. Never mind. All together we came to Camp. 2.

We stayed there for the night and the rest of the equipment including the tents of Camp 1, apart from our three tents, went down. Meanwhile we made good cheer and then we went to sleep. How easy to breath and sleep there. I did not feel the toes of my feet. I rubbed them but it did not help. The doctor cheered me up saying that my legs looked well. In the morning we decamped and went down at noon. We walked on the icefall at 3 p.m. but we reached the bottom of it, deep in the night. I became rather furious at those in base camp because we did not see the proper route through the moraine. At last I noticed a torchlight. Kukuczka and Kozubek took Koisar's ruck- sack and were lighting the route. After several minutes we found our- selves in base camp and were embraced. It was the end. Safe and sound we ascended and descended Lhotse!

I stood alone at the camp site and I did not want to go downward. So many good and bad days spent there. It was impossible to believe that everything was over. I looked at the mountains and could not believe that my dreams had come true. My friends understood me and everybody shook my hand. I looked once more at the icefall and went slowly downwards leaving this most beautiful place in the world with sorrow that our adventure was over.

Khumbu icefall.  	(Photo: J.  Kukuczka)

Khumbu icefall. (Photo: J. Kukuczka)

Route in Khumbu icefall. 												(Photo: A. Pankow)

Route in Khumbu icefall. (Photo: A. Pankow)