On April 5 after my third night of headaches, vomiting and insatiable thirst, my camera stopped working. The Bolex movie camera froze up completely, and I decided to return to Pokhara and then to Katmandu for repairs. I flew down with Max Eiselin, the expedition leader, who complained of chills and aches. Once down, I had a bath (in four inches of water) and a Scotch (the first thing I was able to keep down) and after a few hours began to feel human again.
I sent my cameras by courier to Calcutta with instructions for their delivery to the American consulate for repair. Nearly a week passed without news of them, so on April 11 I flew to Calcutta myself, rescued them from the consulate where they had been "tabled," and rushed them to a photo repair shop.
On April 13 I returned to Pokhara. My good friend the Sherpa Ang Dawa, who had been with me on my three previous Himalayan expeditions, greeted me. "Did you hear the bad news?" he asked. "Our airplane is finished." It turned out that shortly after dawn that day, an explosion occurred soon after the take-off of the Yeti and a cylinder head blew off. Oil spattered all over the windshield, and Ernst Saxer, Emil and Adam were barely able to land.
This seemed a near-fatal blow to the expedition. A new engine would have to be flown in from Switzerland, a delivery that might require a month. There simply wasn't time: the monsoon season was creeping ever closer. We had no choice but to forget the plane and revise our assault plan drastically and instantly. This meant setting up an entirely different route of approach, a supply line on foot instead of by air. It meant establishing a base camp at the foot of the perilous and difficult icefall which we had bypassed with the airplane and pushing through the icefall to Northeast Col. Our camp on Dapa Col would have to be evacuated because, having been picked for its virtues as a landing field, it now proved impractical as a base camp for an assault on foot. The equipment would have to be brought down to the new base camp and then up the other side. In effect, we had to start all over in the old, slow way.
We spent the night hiring coolies, and on the morning of April 14 Ernst Saxer, our pilot, four coolies, the Sherpa Ang Dawa and I set out for the acclimatization camp on Dapa Col. Adam and a Nepalese liaison officer set out on another route with 15 coolies. We were to join up at our base camp.
The others, of course, were still on the mountain, ignorant of the disaster to the plane. We had no communication with them, but before we left we requested All- India Radio to broadcast periodic messages telling of the plight of our plane and encouraging the men at the Dapa Col acclimatization camp—who now included Max Eiselin, Peter Diener, Hugo Weber, Michel Vaucher, Jean-Jacques Roussi and Georg Hajdukiewicz, good climbers all—to begin to remove the supplies from there. Meanwhile, the seven men at the advance base camp on Northeast Col—Ernst Forrer, Kurt Diemberger, Albin Schelbert and four Sherpas—were to be urged to press the assault on the mountain. When we reached them, we could then support their climb to the summit and, if acclimatized ourselves, still have time to make our try.
We began our race against time and the mountain tense but not dispirited. In the beginning it was just a walk up a fairly easy and broad valley, but the heat was considerable, and I began to get blisters on my heels for the first time I can remember. We were packing very sizable loads, and the boots I had to use were too heavy for the long approach marches.
The people we met were marvelous, as they always are. The Nepalese are known among climbers as "the smiling people," and they greet you with hands folded in steeple fashion, like acolytes in a European cathedral. At night they gathered silently around our camps. They are used to expeditions passing through and cheerfully provided lodging and tea.
We climbed steadily, past the little half-Hindu, half-Buddhist villages with prayer flags flying and prayer wheels whirling. Once we paused at a glacier river where I took a swim. We passed files of Tibetan refugees. Often, Ang Dawa would disappear into a house and come out winking at me and asking, "Chang?" Chang is Sherpa beer, very good sometimes, not so good at other times.
We would go uphill as high as 9,000 feet and then down as low as 4,000 feet. The days crept by. I began to dream all day long of beer—a foaming beaker of dark, cool L�wenbr�u. In the evening light we could make out the outline of Dhaulagiri and Tukuche Peak. On our right was the huge tower of Annapurna, with the ever-present cumulus cloud that boils and swirls around it. Once we bought a chicken for seven rupees and roasted it. I lost it soon after eating it.