THE IDEA OF CLIMBING DHAULAGIRI began in the Fall of 1992 when Peter Green and I discussed organizing a climb of a big interesting peak. Dhaulagiri, which at 8167 m is the sixth highest mountain in the world, is located in Nepal. We decided upon Dhaulagiri for several reasons. It was one of the 14 peaks in the world that is over 8000 m high, the northeast ridge has a relatively non-technical route which was within our capabilities, and the administrative problems of climbing Dhaulagiri were manageable. My experience in leading treks in Nepal had allowed me to develop personal contacts in Kathmandu who were reliable, could help to obtain the necessary permits, and could work the bureaucratic issues.

The climb was very successful in that 4 of our 8 members summited on 3 and 4 October while 2 more got to within 100 m of the summit on 9 October before turning back due to high winds. Credit for this success is due to our team members having common objectives and a consistent philosophy which is described in greater detail below. Good weather was also a key factor.

Team Philosophy and Planning

Our initial group consisted of 6 people: Peter and Rob Green, Dave Custer, Alois Smrz, Miguel Carmona and myself. We had periodic meetings as early as December 1992 to discuss climbing objectives and to determine the equipment that would be required for the climb. A team philosophy was developed that proved to be very successful. We wanted the team members to consist of friends who would enjoy spending extended time together in addition to being capable mountaineers. Professional climbers or hotshots, who might have more at stake in reaching the summit than a group of amateurs, were not sought out. Out objective was to have a good time in the mountains with a group of friends, and if weather and conditions were favourable, we hoped to reach the summit. We wanted a team of 8-10 people; our final team was 8. Miguel had to drop out because of back problems. Brian Johnson (a doctor), Rick Taylor, and Ke*i Brameld were added. In addition, Lorraine Green (Peter's wife) trekked in to base camp with us and remained for the entire climb.

Another key feature of the climbing approach was that we would use minimal equipment but would stop short of an alpine style climb. J»ure alpine style has climbers moving up a mountain at one time, carrying everything needed for a successful climb. Camps are set up and vacated completely as the climbers move up from camp to camp. This type of climbing is not practical for 8000 m peaks because climbers do not have sufficient time to acclimatize to the high altitudes involved. High altitude alpine climbs have been successful only when climbers hav« had time to acclimatize on other high peaks immediately before starting their ascent. Our plan was to set up several camps on the mountain and stock these camps with tents, sleeping bags, food, and fuel as we made several trips from base camp.

The Approach to Base Camp

Upon arrival in Kathmandu, my time was filled with endless paperwork and preparations. Our $8000 peak fee had been sent to Nepal 10 months earlier, but we still did not have our expedition permit in hand. By the third day in Kathmandu, everything was in order and we left by bus for the 8 hour drive to Pokhara, Nepal's second largest city. The following day we drove to Baglung at the end of the road and started trekking.

The approach to base camp at 4750 m was similar to self-contained full service treks which I had organized numerous times in the past. We trekked north along the Kali Gandaki staying in tea houses, (small Nepali inns), along the way. By some estimates this is the deepest gorge in the world. It is flanked by Annapurna I and Dhaulagiri which are about 25 km apart. At a point beneath a line connecting the two peaks, the gorge is almost 5 km deep. Our approach hike occurred during the summer monsoon and we expected leeches and lots of rain. We saw no leeches, had only a little rain, and enjoyed the trek immensely. We started walking with a support staff of about 15 people, sending most of our gear by plane to Jomsom which we would reach in 6 days. In Jomsom, ponies supplemented our porters for the long climb over Dhampus pass (5210 m) and French col (5360 m). Since there were no tea houses here, we relied on our Nepali staff for food and camps. We descended to base camp at 4750 m on 11 September ten days after we started walking.

The Climb

Once in base camp, we organized our gear and investigated the route through the icefall. Expeditions that had arrived earlier had fixed the route, but the initial stretch looked difficult and dangerous. A fixed rope extended for 100 m on a very steep slope with lots of loose rock and dirt and was very exposed to rockfall from above. Closer inspection showed that it was not as steep as it appeared and that rockfall was infrequent. Nevertheless, it was my least favourite part of the climb.

The fixed ropes in the icefall were necessary and were used extensively during every trip from base camp to Camp 1. When required, we helped to maintain these ropes since the ice screws to which they are attached often melt out and need to be replaced. The icefall was constantly changing which often necessitated moving the fixed ropes. We found fixed ropes higher on the mountain which we clipped into, just because they were available. However, given the conditions encountered, we could have climbed almost all of the mountain above the icefall without fixed ropes, with just a few short exceptions.

Over the next several weeks, a continuing pattern emerged. In groups of two, we determined how much weight to carry, how high to go, and when we needed to return to base camp for food and rest. Above base camp, each person was responsible for his own food. Each camp was equipped with hanging stoves and pot sets that provided unlimited hot water. Personal preference dictated the food selection.

Two days after arriving at base camp, five of us climbed for twelve long hours with much too heavy packs, and established Camp 1 at 5670 m. Here we pitched four large tents in a flat, safe and secure camp. Seven days later, on our second trip up the mountain, Rick Taylor and I established Camp 2 at 6700 m on a small flat spot below a vertical ice wall. Five days after that, on our third trip above base camp, Rick and I established Camp 3 at 7100 m. In retrospect, this location was a mistake, since a much better camp existed 200 m higher, which was established three days later by Dave Custer. Camp 3 was used sparingly and the two successful summit bids bypassed it completely. We were very pleased with our excellent progress. This was primarily due to the near-perfect weather conditions we had encountered. Dhaulagiri has been called the 'Mountain of Storms' and previous climbers have often failed to summit due to difficulties with the weather.

First Successful Summit

On 30 September, Rick Taylor and I left base camp and arrived in Camp 2 six hours latter. This was our fourth excursion from base camp. Lighter loads, better acclimatization, and familiarization with the route had reduced the time required to reach Camp 1 by a factor of 2. During the next 2 days, we climbed to Camp 2 and then to Camp 4. The weather remained excellent. On 3 October, we left our small tent at 3 a.m. and started for the summit using the light from our lithium headlamps. Snow conditions on the mountain were such that we were able to traverse upward on a moderate snow slope that led directly to a steep couloir just below the summit. People with whom we talked from previous expeditions had been forced to stay on the ridge which was more technical and exposed. We climbed unroped, each with a single ice axe and light pack. In fact, climbing ropes were only used in a few cases, lower on the mountain early during the climb. Except for the altitude, the climbing was routine. At about 12.30 p.m. we stood on the summit, undoubtedly the highest people in a world of 5 billion people. What did we do on the summit? We took hurried photos, and started down. Our major concern was for a safe descent, and not to bask in the sunshine. The snow couloir at the top had a fixed rope which was very useful on the descent.

We arrived back at Camp 4 before dark, where we spent several hours melting snow to rehydrate and eat. We were cold and shaky but by the time we were ready to sleep we were both feeling fine. Meanwhile, Bryan and Rob were in a Bibler Tent slightly below us, but we were too tired to visit or even to yell 'we made it'. We learned later that they knew we had returned because of all the snow and ice that we kicked down on their tent. They had left base camp one day after us and would attempt to summit the following day.

We had some snowfall and very poor visibility in the afternoon, and while this caused us some minor problems in route finding, we were more concerned for our friends on their summit bid. The descent to Camp 1 seemed to take forever and the poor visibility made it very difficult to see the wands marking the way. Rick was very tired, and for a change, I led the way down. We reached Camp 1 two hours after dark, both exhausted. We did find enough energy to eat and drink however, since we knew the following day would be another challenge.

One of the problems with not having climbing Sherpa support is that we had to take our gear back down in addition to carrying it up. Except for food and fuel, what we had carried up in four trips had to be carried back down in one. The next day heavy packs were a certainty and we were exhausted from the previous two days. Rick had a somewhat bad night. You read about people hallucinating at altitude. We were back down to 5670 m but nevertheless Rick had some strange observations during the night. He was sure that the people from an Italian team in the adjacent tents were making love; he could hear them, them. Yes, there had been some Italians on the mountain. But they had departed a week earlier! Altitude does strange things. By morning, Rick and I were feeling fine but it took us forever to pack and start our descent. We packed all of our personal gear plus some community gear which would not be needed by the rest of the group. We started down carrying 45 pound packs. It took me 6 hours to reach base camp where Lorraine and our support team were waiting. Food and rest never felt so good.

Second Successful Summit

Rob and Bryan left Camp 4 on their summit bid at 2.30 a.m. on 4 October. Fresh snow impeded their progress but they reached the summit by 2.30 p.m. However, the same storm that caused Rick and me a problem between Camp 2 and Camp 1 caused even more problems above 7600 m. Visibility deteriorated to a point where they risked walking off the cliff bands above Camp 4 since they could not see the wands marking the descent route. They had to make a critical decision of whether to risk falling off a cliff or spending the night in a storm at such a high altitude. They dug a depression in the snow and waited out the night. Spending a night out at 7600 m is a serious proposition. Both Bryan and Rob were wearing heavy Feathered Friends' Down suits which was a key factor in their surviving the night. However, Rob's feet became cold. During the night, he kept them warm by putting them against Bryan's stomach under layers of down. However, putting on his cold snow filled boots in the morning did not help the situation. In the morning, visibility improved enough for them to reach Camp 4 where they spent the rest of the day rewarming Rob's feet. The foDowing day they slowly descended to Camp 2 where they met Ken who had gone up the mountain to help. It took 2 more days to reach base camp with Peter assisting them through the icefall. Imagine how Rob felt during the 5 day descent when during the entire time he believed that he might lose some of his toes. Rob said later that if he had to get frostbite at all, it was good to be with Doctor Bryan. His good care kept Rob's toes from freezing, which was the key factor in not losing them. During this descent, the people at base camp were well aware of what was going on through daily radio contact. We sent a runner to Jomsom to request a helicopter rescue which arrived on the morning of 9 October, the day after Rob and Bryan returned to base camp. Rob, Lorraine, and I flew to Kathmandu where Rob immediately went to see a doctor well versed in frostbite. His diagnosis was that Rob would not lose his toes, which luckily has turned out to be the case. Rob has become quite a specimen for our Southern California doctors who rarely get to experience a frostbite case!

Post Summit Period

On the day that the helicopter evacuation occurred, Ken and Dave were making a summit bid. As the three of us left on the helicopter, we could see the top of the mountain from base camp, and from the way snow plumes were blowing off the top, we estimated that the wind speed was 100 m per hour Dave and Ken made it to the foot of the high snow couloir but had to turn back only 100 m from the summit. The weather had definitely changed for the worse. The good weather of late September and early October had given way to the cold winds of the approaching winter. There were no other successful summit bids from any of the expeditions after 9 October. Alois had been at Camp 3 during the storm. The three of them cleared the upper camps as they retreated down the mountain. Camp 1 was also vacated and with help from some of the climbing Sherpas from the French expedition, nothing of value was lost. We vacated base camp several days later and the remainder of the team began the hike out on 15 October to return to Kathmandu.


The ascent of Dhaulagiri (8167 m) via the northest ridge by an American expedition on 3 and 4 October 1994.


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