THE 31ST OF OCTOBER, 1991 turned out to be a tragic day for our small expedition of four members on Dhaulagiri I. Dainius Makauskas, having reached the summit with Nuru Sherpa and myself, disappeared on the descent. It was a bitter ending to our trip in which all four members summitted by the northeast ridge.
I began the planning of this climb with hopes of ascending a new route on the east face, a 2500 m wall first climbed in 1980. The expedition set out from Kathmandu for Pohkara on 17 September by bus. Our approach took us ten days by way of Beni and then west; up the marvelous and wild Mayangdi Khola. Base camp was established on 27 September at 4600 m. We were situated at the normal,BC area, among six other teams that were already in operation on the mountain.
Three days later, during our first day's exploration of the icefall, Dainius stepped through soft snow into a six inch wide crevasse. Losing his balance and mobility, his pack caused him to fall to one side. The result was a severe tearing of the ligaments in his left knee. With the use of a Thermarest inflatable mattress as an air splint, we managed to reach base camp at 7.30 p.m. the same evening, 30 September. As luck would have it, I came down with a bronchial infection the same day. As neither of us where in immediate condition to climb, George went ahead with Nuru to set up some tents on the mountain and acclimatize. Elizabeth Regan, an orthopedic surgeon and George's newly wedded wife (as of 16 September!) examined Dainius knee and explained to him to the alternatives. After careful deliberation, Dainius decided to remain in base camp as an observer of the climb. Over the next seven days George and Nuru set up light camps at the northeast col (5600 m) and on the northeast ridge (6400 m). During the same week my condition remained in limbo.
Two Czechoslovakian climbers of an international team, also attempting the east side, reported that the abundance of snow made climbing the face unreasonable at the present time. George and Nuru's opinion concurred with this. Thus, our thoughts and efforts shifted now towards the northeast ridge. On 8 October, however, I came down with a serious fever. 1 left base camp early the next morning with the assistance of George and the three base camp staff. It seemed to us that my only hope of doing any climbing lay in recovering from my infection completely and starting all over again, from scratch.
George and Nuru returned to the NE col after two days' rest on the 13th. They sat out a severe storm during the next three days. When the storm cleared on the 17th, George and Nuru climbed to their tent at 6400 m. Nuru then returned to base camp with several Sherpas and members of other teams who had also been on the mountain. George remained at 6400 m for the night. On the 18th he climbed to 7280 m, bivouacked alone, and the next day reached the summit. His descent to his bivi tent was marked by difficult conditions and poor visibility caused by an afternoon snow-storm. Reaching the tent after dark, he biwied the second night at 7280 m and descended the next day to about 5900 m. Meanwhile ....
Accompanied by our cook Mingma, I spent a lazy but anxious week between Marpha (2670 m) and Muktinath (3600 m), recovering from my bronchitis. When I returned to BC on the 18th, I was surprised to find Dainius with determination to climb. He had been hiking regularly on the glacier for exercise and had covered about 15 kms the day before (the 17th) when he went over the 5300 m French Col. Though neither of us was in our best condition, to say the least, Dainius and I decided to take a look at the NE ridge. Between the 20th and the 25th we acclimatized up to 6700 m. Nuru, who had accompanied us up to the col on the 20th, descended with a tired George (who had descended from his 5900 m bivi) to BC on the 21st. George had suffered mild frostbite on his fingertips and toes during his climb and, thus, decided to leave for home immediately. The temperature was dropping by the day and any attempt now on the east face seemed remote.
During our acclimatization, Dainius and I accustomed ourselves to descending at different paces as his knee prevented him from going downhill at his normal speed. Nevertheless, we both were satisfied with his knee's performance after descending 2100 m (from 6700 m) on the 25th to BC. It was by now quite cold, even at midday. In BC the water sources had frozen up permanently and we had to wear heavy clothing even in the sun. It was apparent to us that our extremities would take a severe beating about 7300 m, especially during a night-time summit bid. On the 28th the three of us (Dainius, Nuru, and I) set out for the NE col with all the warm clothes we could carry. We climbed to 6400 m on the 29th and bivouacked on the 30th at the same spot as George (7280 m). On the 31st of October, in extremely cold but otherwise good weather, we set off for the summit at 4.45 a.m. In the conditions we encountered, the delicate and exposed summit ridge made us call forth enormous concentration. We reached the top at 3.15 p.m. after about 10&frac; hours of climbing. After taking a few photographs and enjoying the near perfect day's view, we started down the delicate summit ridge. On the descent Dainius took his time, as was normal. Nuru and I went on ahead. The wind was relatively light, the sky clear, and the moon was nearly full. It was, however, extremely cold. (On 7 November a friend registered a staggering — 45°C on the summit of Pumori, 7161 m, at 1 p.m.).
At about 6 p.m. Nuru and I-stopped to see if Dainius was within view behind us. But the terrain on»the north face hid the summit ridge. Alter sunset, the cold was so intense that we dared not stop for longer limn several minutes at a time. Nuru told me he was so cold he wasn't mire he could make it back to the tent. I knew that stopping was out of the question. We would have to continue down at our own pace and meet Dainius at the bivouac. At about 8.30 p.m. Nuru and I reached ilif lent. We sorted ourselves out, melted snow, and prepared a simple ITWil. To our horror, Dainius never returned.
After a stressful night of half dreams and sudden awakenings caused hy (justs of wind buffeting our tiny tent, we began to realize that Dainius wnu most likely either killed in a fall or frozen in an open bivouac. We waited until midday on 1 November, hoping that Dainius might yet ippcar after a terrible night. But it was not to be. With both Nuru and I Buffering severe frostbite and possessing the strength only to descend, we abandoned our bivi at 1 p.m. Just in case Dainius was alive, we left all the survival equipment behind and reached our 6400 m tent that afternoon. With doubts still clouding my mind as to Dainius' whereabouts, we opted to spend a night waiting for Dainius to somehow, magically, tmerqe on the ridge. On 2 November, when he did not appear, Nuru and I descended to BC to a tearful reunion with our BC staff. Mingma nimle an extremely rapid trip to Jomsom on the 3rd to call for a helicopter rescue. His efforts, coupled by terrific efficiency on the part of the Nepali military, led to our arrival in Kathmandu the next day, 4 November.
Flights out of Kathmandu were so booked up that no travel was possible to medical facilities outside Nepal for the time being. Nuru and I were treated by the doctors of the Ciwec Clinic (Canadian) while I worked with the embassy of the USSR and Nepal's Ministry of Tourism regarding DaImIus' disappearance. The base camp materials and gear were brought back to Kathmandu by our staff on 14 November, the same day I finally mmmqed to get space (with the lucky help of an influential friend in Nepal) on a flight to Madrid.
While Nuru chose to be treated in Nepal, I entered the specialized himpll.il clinic for frostbite in Zaragoza, Spain on 15 November. I was a patient there until 4 January 1991 when I was permitted to recuperate at a friend's home one hour away in Huesca. At present I am making Visits to the clinic every 5-6 days. Nuru has suffered the loss of most of all his left toes and I have lost two cms of my left big toe at the time of writing this report.
An ascent of Dhaulagiri I (8167 m) by the NE ridge by an international tamn In October-November 1990. One member was lost in the descent while two others suffered severe cold injuries.
Members: Carlos P. Buhler, leader (American), George Lowe (American), Makauskas (Lithuanian), Nuru Sherpa (Nepali).