feet above us loomed the summit of Dhaulagiri, the White Mountain, the goal of
seven previous expeditions. We looked at it in the clear light of evening—a
beautiful, lonely, immensely alluring sight. Would we be the chosen ones? At
first idly, then with growing audacity, we began to speculate on a daring
strike, a final dash over the last 2,500 feet. In high excitement we made our
decision: we would catch the mountain unawares.
was clear when Albin woke me at 3 a.m. In cramped and careful haste we prepared
ourselves. Three men in a two-man tent, putting on reindeer boots and crampons,
trying to cook breakfast on a butane cooker, are anything but comfortable.
Furthermore, a thick layer of frost had formed overnight on the inside of the
tent, and as we shifted about, we constantly scraped our noses against it.
Again and again, the icy stuff broke off in sheets and dropped on us.
"As we stood
outside in the first rays of the sun, we decided to attempt the summit in a
direct line across a steep snow slope. We started out, but very shortly we were
breaking in up to our hips. It was a mistake; there was no chance to advance
here. We had lost valuable time which we sought to make up by regaining the
ridge in a tricky traverse. The weather began to deteriorate rapidly;
Dhaulagiri was rallying against our surprise attack.
glance at the altimeter showed us we were a few feet below 25,000 feet. The
climbing became difficult: we were on steep rock, affording almost no purchase,
covered with a layer of fresh snow. At this altitude, the effort was
"At last the
difficult rock wall lay behind us. To safeguard our retreat, we hammered in a
piton and placed a fixed rope. We continued climbing, and things began to
improve. We made excellent progress up a snow ridge.
dreaded summit weather gathered and burst on us. We found ourselves enveloped
in turbulent clouds and air currents. In the dim, diffused light we could make
out what looked like a secondary summit. We went for it. A violent storm
awaited us there. Wind-lashed ice crystals stung our faces like needles. In a
matter of seconds our eyes, beards and noses were sheathed in a thin layer of
there was only one thing to do: go down. But the climb was not in vain—we
learned an important lesson. Camp 5 was not high enough for a successful
assault on the summit. The weather on Dhaulagiri never remained favorable for
more than four to six hours. We realized, as we clawed our way down, that
another tent must be established at about 25,600 feet."
This was the
story Ernst Forrer told Adam, Georg and me when we reached the advance base
camp on the Northeast Col with our supplies. A daring try had been repulsed,
but Ernst, Albin Schelbert and Kurt Diemberger were chafing for another attempt
after their near miss. And since the weather was good, they set out once again
for Camp 4, where four other members of our team—Jean-Jacques Roussi, Peter
Diener, Michel Vaucher and Hugo Weber—awaited them. We, meanwhile, remained at
Camp 2 to lend aid and support if another assault on the summit should be
On the late
afternoon of May 10, still tired from our efforts in bringing up supplies, we
were about to take a nap when suddenly we heard footsteps in the snow. As I
called out "Who is it?" Ang Dawa stuck his head in the tent. He was
pale and shaken. He said that Urkien had come racing up the glacier shouting
that the other Sherpa, Nima Tenzing, had slipped and fallen down a
The accident had
occurred while they were shuttling supplies. As is usual with Sherpas, they had
not been walking correctly with a rope. Instead of keeping a safe distance
apart, with the rope stretched between them, Urkien and Nima Tenzing had walked
with several loops of rope in their hands. So when Nima slipped, instead of
falling only a few feet into the crevasse, he hurtled 50 or 60 feet down before
becoming wedged. He had almost pulled Urkien in with him, dragging him to the
very edge of the crevasse. Urkien had jammed in his ice ax just in time,
attached the rope to it and then raced uphill to get us.