THE SCOTTISH/SWISS Putha Hiunchuli expedition 1992 was a small family expedition trying to climb the remote and little visited Putha Hiunchuli. This is situated at the extreme west of Dhaulagiri, and is the last 7000 m peak, to the west, in this range. We wished to climb the summit alpine style, making a first British/Swiss ascent from the south side, using a new route if possible. Our climbing team consisted of my Swiss wife Bernadette, my brother Gary and I, with my father James Kerr as base camp manager, and a family friend Stewart Smith as a support member.
Putha Hiunchuli (7246 m) was first climbed by the reknowned British expedition organiser and expedition leader Jimmy Roberts, the father of trekking in Nepal. He climbed the peak from the Kaya valley on the north side in 1954. The early seventies saw 2 ascents of the south side using the traditional siege style tactics, by Japanese teams. Since then the mountains have seen a handful of attempts.1
Leaving Kathmandu on 26 September 1992 we had our first night under canvas outside Pokhara, and at the same time our first taste of the torrential monsoon rains. After a 9 day trek through this sparsely populated region, with the obligatory 'who's got the biggest leech?' competition, we established base camp at 4100 m on 4 October. Fortified by 'ramburgers' provided by a reluctant ram who had walked with us over a 4600 m pass, we made a recce the next day to our Cl at 5200 m. Immediately it became apparent that our proposed route to reach a large snow slope, giving access low down on the east ridge, was barred by suicidal looking seracs. We immediately decided to try a variant of the Japanese route on the south ridge, following the glacier several kilometres to the west before tackling the technical climbing. In effect this route traverses underneath the long east ridge, and avoids serac danger, apart from the occasional huge serac avalanches, one of which covered our tracks.
1. See H.J. XIX, p. 106 for Roberts' first ascent, H.J. Vol. XXXIII. p. 49 for the Japanese ascent, H.J. Vol. 36, p. 192 for German attempt.- Ed.
We made 3 carries to C2 at 5800 m, which was established on a flat glacial plateau. On 11 October it began snowing heavily during the night. The next 3 days were spent at Cl, digging out our tents, eating and sleeping. During the 3rd night my wife Bernadette had problems with ,her breathing. Gary, the expedition doctor, diagnosed a pulmonary oedema. Bernadette's condition seemed to be deteriorating rapidly so I got ready to escort her down to base camp. However, Gary gave her some Adalat, manufactured by the company Bayer, along with some Dexamethasone in case of cerebral oedema. The Adalat greatly improved the condition of Bernadette's pulmonary oedema. She was able to pass a comfortable night, and descend with help to base camp in the morning. This drug Adalat is little known in high altitude medicine, its use in this field being recent. Certainly our experience proved it to be highly efficient. Gary and a medical colleague have written a paper on this, which appeared in the British medical journal Lancet in December 1992. Future expedition doctors would be well advised to look at the high altitude qualities of this drug. Gary and his colleague hope to research this drug further, with the backing of Bayer, in the near future.
On 14 October Gary and I broke trail in thigh deep snow to reach C2 after 12 hours of effort (normally it took us 4 hours). Our Sirdar Moti Lai and Lhakpa Sherpa came up behind us in support. Throughout our expedition these Sherpas were extremely helpful, and very strong on the mountain.
After a recce on the 15th to a col, we moved up on the 16th, over a technical ice slope/serac, trying desperately to keep on the right side of the conspicuous serac crack line. Moti and Lhakpa followed behind us belayed on our 2nd rope. We made a rather cramped one tent C3 on a snow-shelf at 6400 m. We decided to try for the summit the next day, going as lightly laden as possible. This decision was influenced by our lack of gas and limited time for our trip. Immediately after C3 we climbed a 50° wall of rotten snow and ice which allowed minimal ice-screw protection. Again we were supported by Moti and Lhakpa. Arriving on a shoulder we traversed over a subsidiary summit at around 7050 m, to arrive at the foot of the final ridge. This is a variation of the Japanese route, as they dropped down from the shoulder to an upper glacier, and climbed a ridge further to the right, from a top camp established on this glacier. On climbing our final ridge, the afternoon cloud came swirling in to obscure our route. Given the late hour and the thought of a bivouac without a stove, we decided to retreat. Abseiling down the 300 m 50° wall in the dark, we arrived at C3 at 8.30 p.m.
In retrospect our summit attempt was too optimistic given the technical ground and height we still had to cover. We ruled out a 2nd attempt, not wishing to climb the 50° wall of rotten snow again. Had we been equipped to fix rope in this section, a 2nd attempt would have been undertaken. However, our 1st attempt could have been successful had we moved our C3 equipment with us, and established a C4 below the final ridge.
Disappointed yet happy with our progress with limited resources, we abseiled down the large serac to the col on the 18th, cleared C2, and descended to Cl before dusk. Cl was cleared on 19 October, before descending to base camp. Base camp was cleared the next day.
Being a mainly Scottish expedition, we celebrated the end of our climb with a good Scottish whisky. The Sherpas also seemed to appreciate our 16 year old Lagavulin Malt. However I wish I could say the same for the local rum.
We certainly appreciated our adventure in this beautiful part of the world, and hope to return for another expedition, and renew our contacts with the Sherpas who helped us so much to make our attempt. Must remember to bring more whisky though. They drink it almost as much as the Scots. Which whisky company will sponsor us ?
An attempt on Putha Hiunchuli (7246 m) by a Scottish/Swiss expedition in October 1992.