We arranged to meet at Katmandu the capital of Nepal, on March 18, well ahead of the monsoons which, in early June, swirl up from the Indian Ocean and shroud the Himalayas in suffocating snow. Katmandu, cool after the heat and mosquitoes of India, is 4,270 feet high, a footstool to the towering Himalayas. It is a city seething with intrigue. Red Chinese, Russians, Americans and British mingle in the dining room of the Hotel Royal, weaving plots and counterplots. The first time I was in Katmandu, in 1952, there were only four Americans there. Now hundreds were visiting or stationed in this important gateway between India, Red China and Red Tibet. The Nepalese, once the shyest people in the world, are today trying as rapidly as possible to bridge the gap between their archaic, isolated kingdom and the 20th century. An American official holding a reception must, by new but rigid custom, invite a certain number of Nepalese, presumably to encourage cultural acclimatization.
On March 20 Max Eiselin, Albin Schelbert, Peter Diener and Hugo Weber flew into Katmandu on our expedition plane. The excitement was great. Newsmen, officials and some 20,000 people came out to the parade grounds to see the plane, and it took six jeeps to keep them in check.
The rest of the expedition came by boat from Europe to Bombay and by truck from there to Bhairwa near the India- Nepal border. Bhairwa was to be our staging area for the invasion of Dhaulagiri, but it proved to be ill-suited for that purpose. The heat and mosquitoes were terrible and the wind absolutely infamous. It damaged the landing gear of the Yeti on its first setdown and roughed up the plane even when it was tied to the ground. Finally, Eiselin decided the expedition would have to move to Pokhara, in the interior of Nepal, and use that town as our jumping-off spot.
Because we would use the plane for transport the expedition leaders felt they would not need many Sherpas, those indomitable porter-climbers of Tibetan origin whose services have always been so indispensable to the glittering conquests of the Himalayas' eight-thousanders. Our Dhaulagiri expedition employed only seven Sherpas for 11 climbers, a remarkably small number considering that in the 1953 Everest assault 36 Sherpas were used, and 50 participated in the Indian Everest climb this year.
The plan was to fly men and supplies directly to a level of 13,000 feet. From there, after an acclimatization period of about three weeks, we would mount the main attack. Once acclimatized (climbers must get accustomed to the thin air of high altitudes just as skin-divers must adjust to the great pressures of the depths), the men would make minor ascents up to 18,000 feet while the plane would seek out a landing place at a higher level where an advance base camp could be established for the main business of the climb.
On the 29th of March the first flight took off to penetrate into Dhaulagiri, with the two pilots and Eiselin, Diemberger and Forrer aboard. They were unable to find a place to land at 13,000 feet. After a search they finally found a snow field in a gentle pass 17,056 feet high, known as Dapa Col to the natives. Kurt Diemberger and Ernst Forrer were left there to acclimatize. Max came back down on the Yeti, which made another flight that same day with supplies. Every day thereafter two or three flights were made 'to Dapa Col.
Dr. Georg Hajdukiewicz and I, both with previous experience of high-altitude climbing in the Himalayas, were afraid that Dapa Col would prove to be too high for proper acclimatization, that the transition from the valley was too abrupt. So indeed it proved to be. Ernst and Kurt, who were certain they could take the altitude, found themselves unable to move, unpack, cook or even eat for the first few days. When the Yeti circled their camp on its subsequent supply flights they could not even come out of their tents to meet the plane. The pilots had to try and rouse them, sometimes without success. Nevertheless, the rest of the party were flown up and left there to acclimatize.
On April 2 I went up on the second flight of the day with Michel Vaucher. Peter Diener, who had gone two days before, was in such bad shape that he had to be brought down again. Adam Skoczylas was unconscious and had to be carried to the plane for the trip back. As for myself, for a few hours I felt fine. I took pictures. The weather and the sunset were exquisite, and I began to think I had been wrong. Then the headaches started. Dr. Hajdukiewicz, the physician in our party, gave us pills of various kinds. They did not help. Next came the terrific thirst. All of us, even the Sherpas, were too sick to make tea. Dehydration is a threat in the high mountains, where one must have from three to four quarts of liquid a day.
Over the next days most of us lost everything we tried to eat or drink. We spent a good part of the day in sleeping bags. Headaches were awful. It was quite apparent that our acclimatization camp was too high. Two of the Sherpas, Nima Tenzing and Urkien, caught pneumonia. Some of us had to be flown down to Pokhara. The expedition appeared a shambles.
Nevertheless, Kurt and Ernst did become acclimatized, and on April 4 the first flight was undertaken to establish an advance base camp higher up the mountain. A promising site at 18,700 feet on a broad snow valley below the northeast ridge of Dhaulagiri had been located. Here, on the pass called Northeast Col, the Yeti established not only a camp but a world record for high-altitude landings.