THE WINTER EXPENDITION TO API
The Journey and the Beginning of Action
API (7132 m) LIES at the western most part of the Nepal Himalaya, at the junction of India, China and Nepal. The access to this area through Nepal is complicated and time-consuming, there is also quite a lot of trouble with the hire of porters there. In order to avoid these inconveniences, we applied in Delhi to the Ministry of Home Affairs of India with the request to obtain a permission for crossing the frontier of Nepal in Dharchula which lies in an area closed for foreigners. The ride by bus from Delhi to Dharchula is cheap and takes some two days. Only by a happy coincidence we succeeded and the much desired document had been issued to us on 1 December and on that day the expedition left for Pithoragadh to cross the Nepal frontier on 3 December.
In spite of bad experience of the autumn 1981,1
the organization of the caravan ran efficiently. After a five-day march we reached the mouth of the Api Khola valley. The expedition base has been established on 10 December-at the upper forest limit at the height of 3200 m. There was sunny weather there, snow lay higher then 4000 m.
The conditions encouraged an immediate beginning of the mountain activity. The first tents of the advanced base (4200 m) had been pitched on 12 December on a wide glade at the foot of the north-west ridge of Api. Two days later in the pot-hole under the Summit of 6070 m, Camp 1 (5000 m) has been established by Jedlinski and Piotrowski. Up to here the ground presented, no difficulties. We went further on the way of the first ascent, the way we knew by the unsuccessful attempt in autumn 1981.
1. In autumn 1981, Stanisaw Rudzinski led an eight-man expedition which undertook on advanced attempt to climb Api by the route of first ascent. The problems connected with the journey delayed the caravan till mid October. As there was little time, Wojciech Jedlinski, Tadeusz Piotrowski and Zbigniew Terlikowski decided on a non stop attack. ; After eight bivouacs (a few days of waiting for snow-storms), they Healed the col under the summit dome of Api, and then the point about 200 m higher. The frost and a strong wind forced them to retreat from there. They walked down from the col. through a nameless valley to the right of the northwest ridge, over-coming a dangerous glacier and difficult rocky passages. A good reconnaissance of Ihe area played a decisive part in the success of the winter expedition.
On 18 December, Jedlinski, Bielun and Piotrowski secured with lines the ice-slope above which a snow-plateau leading to an ice-wall ran which sloped from the northwest ridge, next to the (right) peak of 6070 m. We deposited loads at the base of the wall and went back to Camp 1 which was supplied with provisions from below by Gocyla, Kowalewski, Skurowski and Terli-kowski. Since during midday an icy wind was blowing, clouds approached and it began to snow. The day after the weather con-diti&ns were worse than before, it still snowed and a violent wind was blowing. Kowalewski complained of sore throat, Skurowski suffered from the contused leg, Gocyla had headache and Jedlinski was tired by the incessant action. In that situation all the four people decided to go back to the base and in the Camp 1 remained Bielun, Piotrowski and Terlikowski.
To the Peak
On 20 December the weather changed for the better. We had sunshine and the wind was no more so gusty. It has been decided to establish the Camp 2. The camp has been established at the height of 5600 m at the place of the dump. On a dug out platform, two tents of 'omnipotent’ type have been pitched. The next day Bielun and Terlikowski secured with lines the exit to the ridge and Piotrowski enlarged the platform and reorganised the tents.
On 22 December we have decided to begin an alpine style push. The weather was favourable, it was a sunny day, the wind did not pinch us too much. After having reached the col, the three of us started on the ridge. The climbing required prudence and a watchful protection though we have been acquainted with the ridge as far back as in 1981. We stopped to bivouac at 4 p.m. coming down from the ridge to the edge of a next plateau which led to a deep cut col between the northwest ridge and the top dome of Api. The second bivouac had to be established on the lee side of the col. It was only 1 p.m., but the wind was blowing that day with a force of a hurricane, and we did not see higher up any sheltered place to some extent to establish a bivouac. The height of the last bivouac has been estimated by us at 6400 m and the distance from the summit of Api at about five hours.
Unfortunately the map we used during our expedition had a bad mistake. The peak marked on our ridge had the spot height of 6300 m on that map - and we determined the height of our camps and bivouacs according to that spot height. Our expedition had no altimeter. Only after having come back to Kathmandu we had the good fortune to receive a map of Nepal by Kazuyuki on which this summit had the spot height of 6070 m what surely in a higher degree corresponded with the truth. Nevertheless that map also had a grievous mistake : the ridges which started from the summit of Api to the northwest direction, have been wrongly drawn on it, and one narrow valley between the valleys Api Khola and Nampa Khola had not been marked on that map at all.
On 24 December, the Christmas Eve, three of us: Bielun, Piot-rowski and Terlikowski left for the final climb. Since the morning a very strong wind was blowing, the sky was cloudless. In spite of the poor weather conditions, it has been unanimously decided to attempt. As it appeared from the previous observations, in winter in the upper massif area winds were blowing incessantly, only their force changed. The expectation for a windless day could last very long.
After having overcome the section of ice-walls and slits (we have found a convenient and easy way through them), we have decided to continue our climbing without any rope. In the direction of the peak led a terraced easy sloping hill-side.
The Dramatic Christmas-eve Night
Andrzej took the lead and he clearly quickened his pace. I set forth after him. Zbyszek fell behind. I have stopped in order to wait for him. The wind was blowing vehemently, it rolled with roar through the neighbouring ridges, it cut the face with ice-needles, it grew stronger. Andrzej walked straight with his eyes fixed on the nearby summit. Zbyszek approached. He was tired and he complained of cold. The down short overcoat did not protect him enough against the piercing wind. Both of us, Andrzej and me had a better situation, the Gore-tex complete sets gave a perfect protection, even the most impetuous breezes did not penetrate through that tight material. Two hours later Zbyszek gave in. He knew that he was delaying the ascent, he was afraid of frost-bite. The raving gale reached the force of a hurricane. It was bringing us low, literally. One should give orders for a retreat but it was impossible. Andrzej pushed his way untiringly. He was just near the summit. He did not look back, he obstinately tended towards the aim - towards his destiny.
Zbyszek turned back. The aim for him was a quiet tent now. I had to go higher though I had no willingness to do it. Andrzej was up above. I have seen him for the last time close below the summit, in the light of the sunset. Meanwhile the night set in. I walked almost gropingly, sometimes on my hands and knees. The demoniacal wailing of the wind bored into the brain, it deprived me of the ability to think logically. My mind was a blank and my head was in a state of turmoil. Only somewhere in the recesses beat the thoughts that I have to meet Andrzej.
So I walked up against myself, against the reason and against all the infernal powers which conspired the Christmas Night against us.
The summit! But where is Andrzej? I am looking round, I am calling. The wind forces back the words shouted out into the mouth, it mixes them with the ice-cereals and presses like an ice-gag. A desolation with wailing of the wind ... nonsense of efforts....
After all Andrzej was here two hours before me and he could not wait on the summit, we must have missed each other in the darkness, . . Reeling I began to run down. The mental deterioration was increasing and the consciousness of my individuality was declining. I walked down duped by the unbridled element, lost in the whirling gale, blinded by the darkness and ice-covered goggles. I walked guessing following only my instinct.
Suddenly I trod on mid-air. The foot hanging in the air did not find any support. I fell down a vertical serac. For a while I was lying with out-stretched arms defending myself against slipping off the ice-slope. I knew that I had lost my way. And so, where was I? I looked intently, helplessly at the whirling clouds of snow. The -visibility was limited to a few metres. To walk down ? No, it was a madness!
I began to scoop out a hole in the wall of the serac. The hard snow made the work difficult. At last I was able to slip into the recess. I wrapped myself up in the NRC-sheet and huddled myself up. The wind did not reach this hiding-place. I fell asleep. I woke up being frozen stiff. I was thrilled like one possessed. Warming up. Warming up, I protected myself against a repeated sleep. At last the dawn.
I crawled out. The wind sluiced to my face with an shower of ice. A horrible chill penetrated my body. Physical exercises. Gradually I regained the use of my stiff extremities.
I put my crampons and started up. I had to be in a hurry. From beyond the ridge, fog pushed forward to reduce visibility again. I have found a safe descent route. A new wave of hurricane started with a froar, rushed with a greater force than the night before. However:! am already on the right way. Neither the thick snow nor the fog could lead me into error. At 9 a.m. I reached the tent. It was covered up by the snow up to the roof. Inside was only Zbyszek. He knew nothing about Andrzej. He reached the tent a short while ago. He did not have time to reach here before the riigJit, he had to bivouac, he got his toes frozen.
I started to dig up the tent. The worry about Andrzej began to spring up. Just now, a while ago I have learned about his absence. I believed that only I had the misfortune and that only I did not succeed to spend the night in the camp. He could come any time, he surely bivouacked like all of us.
One should patiently wait. After a one-hour work I slipped into the tent, I took off my shoes: the toes were cold and hard though I cherished hopes all the time that I escaped unhurt from this hard test. The hours passed away and Andrzej did not come back. Our worry turned into fear. The wailing of the gale informed us that we have no chances to undertake any action. The picture of the misery has been completed by the thick fog and the incessantly falling snow. We could only wait, nothing more! We remained at our post two and a half days - as late as the hope lasted and died out.
On 27 December a bright weather came, however still a: strong wind was blowing. In the forenoon we fixed our eyes on the slopes of Api, wrapped in clouds of snow-storm, deluding ourselves that we would see our colleague walking down. In the evening we reached Camp 2 and the day after - the advanced base camp.
In the initial phase of the expedition, the radiotelephones we had suffered damage and therefore we had no radio communication. The news were transmitted by means of notes and that made it difficult and forced the groups to decide independently:
On 27 December: Gocyla, Jedlinski and Kowalewski. left Camp 1 with the intention to ascend the virgin summit of 6070 m, hoping to look out for the storming group. They gave up in the vicinity of the summit as they found that there will be short of time for the descent, the days in December are so short.
They repeated the attempt on 28 December. They went up through the left edge of the south wall and through the northwest, ridge there, but they noticed nothing from the summit.
The winter expedition to Api was over. These were the first winter ascents of two summits, one of them (6070 m). the first ascent. Our ascent on Api was the third one. after the Japanese in 1960 and the Italians (from the southeastern side) in 1978.1
One has to add that we did not begin our action before 1 December, and the summit ascent was done within the month-in contradiction to the most expeditions which avail themselves of the more favourable beginning of December.
Unfortunately, our attainment became shaded by the death of our colleague and friend Andrzej Bielun. We had to pay for the success dearly. Very dearly.
The expedition organized by- the Katowice Alpine Club- and led by Tadeusz Piotrowski. The expedition members were: Andrzej Bielun, Jacek Gocyla, Wojciech Jedlinski, Ryszard Kowalewski, Marek Rudnicki (doctor), Eugeniusz Skurowski and Zbigniew Terlikowski.
Unnamed Peak 6337 m, (east face) Api Himal. (Photo : T. Piotrowski)
View from ABC. In centre Unnamed Peak 6070 m. NW ridge of Api on extreme right. (Photos: T. Piotrowski)
Looking to Unnamed Peak 6070 m from NW ridge of Api.
View of Nampa (left) from unnamed valley. Foreground ridge leads to Api with Peak 6700 m behind. (Photos: T. Piotrowski)
Upper part of Api Khola from Camp 2. Unnamed Peak 6337 m on left.
Gurla Mandhata (7728 m) in Tibet as viewed from Api. (Photo.Piotrowaki)
The NW rige of Api with the Polish winter ascent route. (Photo : T . Piotrowski)
Panorama A. Panorama of Api lekh and Bhankya lekh looking NE. (TADEUSZ PIOTROWSKI)
Panorama B. Panorama of Bhankya Lekh and surmasarovar Lekh looking east.