ALREADY IN 1963 when I explored the Rupal Flank, which is with a height of 4500 m the highest steep wall on earth, with Toni Kinshofer for the first time, I was able to determine that the wall had throughout some 'weak spots'. We examined the wall from three different positions: from the south, east and west and came to the conclusion that there exists still another possible way than the ascent over the southwest ridge (Kinshofer Route). I was fascinated by the idea of a direct ascent from the plateau top across the southeast pillar, and as an especially difficult route seemed to me the east pillar, its foot and beginning at 3800 m is at the upper Bazhin glacier. On the Kinshofer Route succeeded for the first time in 1976 the Austrian expedition led by Hannes Schell1—the southeast pillar was conquered on the 27 and 28 June 1970, during my eighth Nanga Parbat expedition, by the Messner brothers, Felix Kuen and Peter Scholz.2
There were different reasons that induced me to lead another expedition in 1982 to the east pillar of Nanga Parbat. On 8 July we arrived at the base camp underneath the left moraine of the Bazhin glacier. I was physician, cameraman and leader of the expedition. The members of the expedition who came from Germany were: Schorsch Ritter, the only member who had already stood on an eight-thousander before (during expeditions to Everest 1978 and to Kangchen junga main summit 1980); Valentin Demmel, who was at Nanga Parbat for the second time; Hartmut Munchenbach; Doris Kustermann (base camp administrator); Dr Joachim Zeitz, Furthermore, the expedition was joined by the Poles Andrzej Napoleon Bielun and Tadeusz Piotrowski, called 'Teddy', as well as by the Swiss Ueli Buhler and the Pakistani Captain Nadir from Gilgit.
We chose the route for the ascent over the right side of the pillar, that is the side which faces the Bazhin gorge. Already in 1975 we had explored the left side up to a height of 5800 m, but had considered it as highly exposed to avalanches and therefore had abandoned the idea. The Frenchman Seigneur, who was just before us at the pillar, had chosen a route that led up in the middle of the east pillar. He had reached a height of almost 7000 m.
The east pillar begins at the Bazhin glacier and leads from there in an audacious line over a rocky ice-slope up to the south summit and is the shortest ascent route to the Nanga Parbat main summit. From the foot of the pillar at a height of 3800 m on the upper Bazhin glacier
35. General view of west side of Falchan Kangri. Photo: Ardita Desio Article 18
36. Rhododendron dalhousiae var
rhabdotum. Creamish flowers with purple stripes. A plant beautiful and rare. Altitude 2500 m. Photo: K. C. Sahni Article 20
37. Palm fibre rain cover. Rain drops trickle down quickly from the leaves with pointed ends called 'dip trips'. Photo: K. C. Sahni Article 20
first a - rock - head with different degrees of difficulty (IX-IV) had to be climbed., "this rock head, which we have called the 'dragon' because of the shape- of its snow hoods protected our ascent to Camp X against the violent avalanches which plunged down in rather periodical intervals from the northeast wall of the Bazhin gorge. The tents of Camp 1 were first established on snow but later on rocks in the lower open part of the 2000 m long ice-groove, the 'Great Couloir5.
We climbed the left side of the Couloir to the upper end. Half way up, at a height of 5100 m, we erected the two tents of Camp 2 on a dry.'socket which was constructed by Ueli Buhler with the help' of S'chorsch- Bitter and Hartmut Munchenbach. Camp'2 was, of course, located too 'deep—but we had no other choice in the: 'Great Couloir' and - the possibility to set the tents up at a higher level was even worse —therefore we left Camp 2 on the left rock plateau at the end of a small zigzag-shaped lateral snowfield. Leaving Camp 2 we came to an almost vertical exit that led to the icefield in the middle of the pillar. This, icefield could be called the 'Central Icefield'. The 70 degree steep exit of the Couloir was very exposed to falling stones and much too dangerous for our Hunza altitude porters so that they were only able to make the ascent once with loads to Camp 3.
On the central icefield we crossed the route of Seigneur; there the Frenchman- had established his Camp 2 on an ice-hump which now, two months later, turned out to be a dangerous dilapidated serac, During our expedition piece for piece of this ice-balcony fell down on-to the Bazhin glacier and with it remains of the French camp such as- helmets, tents and other equipment.
We put up our Camp 3 on the central icefield, however, a little higher -than the Frenchmen at a height of 5900 m at the edge of an ice-crevasse. Our two Hauser-Bumerang tents were standing on a good place. Later the camp was elevated by about 30 m. Stone-fall and avalanches were not to be suspected at Camp 3 like at the other two camps. At Camp 1 the tents were swept away by avalanches several times and the canvasses of the tents in the two lower camps were full of holes made by falling stones. We were very lucky that there was never anybody in the tents during these dangerous periods but' these two camps have cost us many tents. The day when we ceased our - operation, Camp 1 had been blown from the rock head by an enormous avalanche- during the night. Once I found a mattress about 500 m above the Bazhin glacier on the west slope of the Bazhin ridge, that one of these avalanche storms had flung several kilometres through the air to that point.
After we had surmounted a 500 m high and 65° steep ice-wall which was climbed and secured by Buhler and Bitter on 31 July for the first time, we were able to establish our Camp 4 between seracs at a height of 6500 m. This camp consisted at first only of one Bumerang tent and was extended later by Napoleon Bielun with a second tent. Camp 4 was situated on a safe spot and was the point pi departure for the summit -.assault.
On 14 August, Schorsch Hitter led the route from here up over the first icefield which got smaller towards the rocks and after a crossing over the right side of this icefield near the rocks Camp 5 was established on the second icefield. Schorsch Hitter was supported by the Pole Teddy Piotrowski. After a long day, both finally arrived at an appropriate camping place at 7300 m at about 7 p.m. We were able to watch these activities from below. Camp 5 of the expedition was kept austere and simple—one bivouac tent with the necessary minimum of equipment and food for several days.
The next day we saw Schorsch Ritter climbing the second icefield at B a.m. At a distance he was followed by Teddy Piotrowski one hour later. Around noon Ritter crossed a small rock band again and arrived at the third icefield that leads up to the south ridge. We saw him going towards the steep snow-ridge where he, as soon as he arrived there, started climbing. We watched all his movements on the third icefield from the Bazhin ridge until, at noon, clouds covered our sight to the summit, but we were hoping that Schorsch would return to Camp 5 successfully. However, when Schorsch answered the teleport in Camp 5 at 6 p.m., it was clear to us that the summit could not have been reached in this short period of time.
Ritter and Piotrowski succeeded in covering a long distance on the third icefield, but had to recognize that with the boundless powdery snow they had to deal with—Schorsch often stood deep to his chest in the snow on the steep flank—it was advisable to fix ropes partially over the icefields which were in the summiters* way, in any case for the descent. Thus, it was a lucky chance that Hartmut Munchenbach and Ueli Buhler came up to Camp 5 the same day and carried beside their personal equipment some food and best of all a rope in their rucksack which could be used on the third icefield the next day. Ueli Buhlers presence in Camp 5 gave hope that the head group would start earlier than the day before since the night with 4 persons in a small tent would give no recovery.
On 16 August, 1982 at 5 a.m. in the morning there were some movements in Camp 5, four members climbed one after another at short distances along the east side of the seracs over the second icefield— Schorsch Ritter, then Hartmut Munchenbach followed by Teddy Piotrowski and finally Ueli Buhler, who had not quite recovered from a bad diarrhoea he had a few days ago in the main camp and was not fit at all. The route of the previous day facilitated the proceeding and soon Schorsch stood at the flat snow-ridge dividing the snowfield about in the middle.
Schorsch Ritter, who was climbing solo ahead—as from Camp 4 he had climbed everything all by himself—arrived at the lateral ice-wall where he fastened a rope and continued climbing up; he needed almost one hour for 50 m—so difficult was the ice which was covered with one and a half metres of snow. The radiant heat on the glacier made it especially troublesome. Schorsch was now in the midst of the ice- cold powdery snow on the bare ice and, in addition, the sub-tropical sun was shining mercilessly down on the summiters at a height of 8000 m. At a radiation heat of 70° the snow was melting on the clothes and in the course of the day Schorsch especially was so soaked that he decided to turn back at 5.30 p.m. since a bivouac near the south ridge with a cold of — 35 °C which was to be expected, would have terrible results. Thus, all members descended one after the other to Camp 5, in order to get dry and to repeat the assault again in a few days.
Hitter, Munchenbach and Piotrowski noticed that Ueli Buhler, on their descent the last one of the group, was not following them. He was ascending slowly in the tracks which Schorsch Hitter had made on the slope a few hours ago.
It is known that Ueli Buhler is a marvellous mountain climber and a solo climber—a few months ago he had made the Eiger North Wall within 8½ hours—and this too alone! So we believed that he is now starting a summit assault on his own. This night should be, according to weather reports, the beginning of autumn in the Nanga Parbat area and the temperature at 8000 m did fall from —19 degrees to —35 degrees in the night from 16 to 17 August. These suddenly changed atmospheric conditions justified our great anxiety for Ueli. It was clear to us that he will either make the south summit, which is the end of the pillar, and come back with considerable frostbite or he will never come back and would therefore be the 41st victim of Nanga Parbat. But we also knew Ueli's attitude towards the mountain. He had studied this mountain for a long time, the avalanches that were rushing down the pillar and the Bazhin gorge, and he had calculated the stone-fall which is especially active during the solar radiation—that is why we conducted all activities between Camps 2 and 3 only at night. Ueli Buhler is in spite of his youth—he is 21 years old—a very considerate mountaineer who would never make any kamikaze-operations. This alone reassured us. But there was still the fact that he went without proper bivouac equipment, food and beverages and the possibility of cooking. For 24 hours we worried for our youngest—but still hoping that he would succeed on his first great Himalayan venture.
Ritter and Piotrowski stayed in Camp 5 and waited two days for Ueli. Munchenbach descended to Camp 4. We others in the base camp climbed up Bazhin ridge in order to get a sight of the entire ascent to the summit and to see if there were any movements above Camp 5. The most fascinating thing about the east pillar is that it is possible to survey the whole ascent from the summit of the Bazhin ridge at a height of 5000 m. This is outstanding for an eight-thousander.
Since 9 August weather conditions were changing—already at 7 a.m. in the morning cloud banks crept into the east flank of Nanga Parbat at 7000 m and blocked our sight, as well as on the day of 17 August. If the mountain would not have been covered that day, we would have seen Ueli Buhler descending from the south summit to Camp 5, But we could not see beyond Camp 3 as the rest of the mountain vanished Into clouds. But suddenly, at 5 p.m. Sch@r§c}i Ritter §poke on his half-defective teleport; a cable of his set had a loose contact.. The conversation was in snatches. Schorsch Ritter informed us that Ueli Buhler had appeared on the second icefield and was trying to call somebody's attention to him. Schorsch was going to call us again at 6 p.m. During) the hour of waiting, Schorsch tried to direct Ueli to Camp 5 by shouting at him, since Ueli first went too far to the right and then too far to the left and it took some time until he saw Schorsch and recognized the tent and staggered toward Camp 5. Ueli was suffering from high-altitude nausea and his mind was disturbed by hallucinations. Physically, with considerable frost-bites on fingers and toes, he was at the end of his tether in spite of his sturdy constitution. An icy bivouac not far underneath the south ridge had weakened him considerably, although his willpower to attain his aim—the south summit— was not broken.
In this connection I remember my first Himalayan expedition in 1953. Also at this time Hermann Buhl had high-altitude nausea, hallucinations and obsessions, and he also had bivouacked even if standing right up but under more favourable temperatures in the north shoulder. . He also had his aim, to reach the summit, programmed into his brain and his body was only his brain's tool—logical thinking and. reasoning' were almost cut off completely due to the lack of oxygen at great heights. Also Hermann Buhl attained his aim and made his descent to Camp 5 by his own forces.
On 17 August 1982 around noon, Ueli Buhler had reached the 8042 m high south summit of the Nanga Parbat in a courageous solo climb after an icecold bivouac night in a snow-hole. With this he had added another summit success after a two-day fight for the steep ice-wall, which Schorsch Ritter had climbed ahead until 70 m underneath the south ridge (8020 m). The problem of climbing the extremely steep, dangerous and difficult east pillar had been solved for the first time by four members of my expedition (Ritter, Munchenbach, Piotrowski and Buhler). Ueli Buhler finally succeeded in setting his foot on the upper end of the east pillar—the south summit.
Thus, my Nanga Parbat Anniversary Expedition in memory of the first German Nanga Parbat Expedition of my brother Willy Merkl in 1932 had been a success. With this expedition I will finish my research work of 29 years in the Himalaya and Karakoram area. I have been ten times at Nanga Parbat with a large expedition, twice at Rakaposhi, twice at Everest and once each at Broad Peak and Kangchenjunga.
East Pillar of Nanga Parbat. The route of ascent, 1982. (Photo: H. Herrligkoffer)