The Himalayas are
a Gargantuan range which stretches in a majestic arc
more than 1,500
miles across south Asia. Youngest of the world's great ranges in geologic time,
the Himalayas have shorter but not less imposing satellites: the Hundu Kush,
Pamira, Karakoram, Ladahk and Pir Panjal?to name a few?which twist across the
main range like turned sod in a carelessly ploughed field (map below).
These ranges are
crowned by some 70 peaks that are higher than all others of the world, and they
boast 1,100 more that tower above 20,000 feet. Less than 100 of these peaks
have been climbed. Some lie in Communist-dominated Tibet and Turkistan and are
thus not accessible at the moment to Western climbers. Most, however, are in
hospitable Pakistan and India or in Nepal, a country which only recently began
to encourage explorers.
Why have the
Himalayas defied so many attempts by man? Peaks in the Alps demand more
technical skill. The storms that lash the Himalayas are severe, but those of
the Arctic are just as ferocious. The temperature seldom drops lower than that
of Colorado in the winter. What makes the Himalayas deadly is that the wind,
the cold and the precipitous slopes are all combined against a climber at an
altitude which already has stripped him of strength, lowered his resistance to
fatal pneumonia and left him gasping for thin, bitter air.
Kanchenjunga, third highest mountain in the world, for example. Called the
showplace of the Himalayas, this peak can be seen from Darjeeling jutting its
beautiful yet menacing head above the skyline. Actually, Kanchenjunga is not
one, but a spectacular cluster of five summits. The highest soars 28,146 feet
Many men have
attempted this giant; all have failed. In 1929 and 1931 the Bavarians proved
Kanchenjunga's terrors. Paul Bauer, the leader, wrote of their ordeal: "On
the crest of a spur towered successive mushroom-shaped pinnacles, one above the
other. At least five of these, each 20 to 30 feet high, had to be demolished.
Every blow had to be carefully struck, each was a real technique itself. We
were poised like wild animals, crouching beneath the cornices, balancing
between earth and sky, sometimes on the party's respective heads, to try to
avoid a simultaneous fall when the overhang collapsed."
deaths of two members of the party, who plunged into an abyss, the Bavarians
inched up Kanchenjunga until they reached an altitude of 26,220 feet. But they
found the final slope crusted with ice and blanketed with nearly two feet of
powdered snow. It was so steep and so dangerous that any attempt to go higher
would have loosened hundreds of tons of avalanche. With victory within
hand-grasp, the Bavarians were forced to turn back?defeated.
Problems no less
imposing faced the Italians on 28,250-foot K2 (color opposite). Just to reach
the foot of this peak requires a tortuous two-week march through barren
wasteland, across raging streams and over a treacherous glacier. Once at the
base you are 16, 500 feet above sea level, higher than any point in the United
States. Even at this altitude your muscles ache and your head throbs for lack
Before you looms
a menacing pyramid of black rock, bristling with razor-sharp ridges and rocky
barbs, which rises almost vertically to the snowcapped crown two miles high. To
attempt such a giant, a series of camps, each within a day's climb of the next,
must be carved out of sheer wall and stocked with enough food and equipment to
maintain a party in case of a storm.