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Conquerors of k2, led by 57-year-old Professor Ardito Desio (standing, fifth from left), set off for the Karakoram with the year's largest expedition: 11 climbers, six scientists, 20 native guides, 500 porters, 13 tons of supplies and "enough rope to tie K2 up like a package." For 76 days, the climbers inched up the longest continuously steep climb in the world. Icy wind froze breath on bearded faces; loosened rock ricocheted like shrapnel down the slope with each step. At 19,000 feet, one climber died of pneumonia. At 23,000 feet, the entire party was close to exhaustion from the altitude and blinding storms. Then the weather cleared. Two men established Camp Nine, 1,750 feet from the top. With three tanks of oxygen the two set out at 5 a.m. For the next 12 hours they clawed up that final heartbreaking, icy slope. Then their oxygen gave out. But with the empty tanks still strapped to their backs, they blindly stumbled on. A tortuous hour later, on an icy, wind-swept area that could have held 100 men, two Italians, ravaged with frostbite, jubilant in victory, stood on the summit of the second highest mountain of the world.
Other climber of unconquered summits included (left to right) the Austrians on Saipal, Japanese on Manaslu and Americans on Makalu. All three failed in their attempts. Tragedy unexpectedly struck the eight-man team led by 45-year-old Viennese physician Rudolf Jonas. At 20,000 feet, one of the strongest climbers developed pneumonia and died before he could be carried down The party regrouped, but unending snowstorms stymied any further assault.
A Himalayan hazard of quite another sort beset the 14-man Japanese attempt to climb their 26,658-foot objective. Like most inhabitants of Nepal, the natives below Manaslu believe that their gods live on the mountain top, not to be disturbed by human intrusion. Earlier this year, the valley below the peak was ravaged by drought and avalanche, and the people blamed the Japanese reconnaissance party of the previous year. When the climbers returned this spring, they were barred by natives armed with clubs and stones. The expedition wisely withdrew and tried a new peak, 24,299-foot Ganesh Himal, where their reception?by the natives at least?was more favorable. But bad weather defeated this second try.
The American team of 10 California climbers, 20 Sherpas and 250 Nepalese porters, led by Dr. William E. Siri of the University of California, made the second highest bid of the year. Makalu is the world's fifth loftiest summit, and one never before attempted But at 23,000 feet, prolonged heavy snowfall forced them to retreat. Though none of the Americans had ever climbed in the Himalayas, they maintained the year's best safety record-no casualties, not even frostbite.
Near casualty was Sir Edmund Hillary, last year's conqueror of Everest. During the exhausting rescue of James McFarlane who fell 60 feet down a crevasse at 20,000 feet, Hillary broke three ribs. McFarlane lost all of his toes from frostbite. Said Hillary later, "Climbing the Himalayas is dangerous business. They must be treated with considerable respect."
Hardest hit of all expeditions was the small Italian party on Mt. Api in northwestern Nepal. Three of the four climbers died. Sole survivor was Himalaya-wise 71-year-old Piero Ghiglione, the leader. One man drowned in a raging glacial stream before reaching the mountain. Another collapsed and died of exposure during a blinding storm. The third, after reaching the summit, disappeared. His body was never found.
Defeated Briton, G.C.G. Lewis, member of a small team, attempted to find a feasible route up Kanchenjunga. Gigantic towers of ice bar the lower approaches. Further up, devastating avalanches are a constant menace, and the 28,146-foot summit is sheathed in ice. The third highest mountain, it is often considered the most formidable peak in the world.
Fatal illness claimed Argentine's foremost climber, Francisco Ibanez, whose group nearly won Dhaulagiri. Crippled by frostbite, he stayed alone at high camp for two days until carried down. During the 16-day trek through monsoon-drenched, leech-infested jungle, his toes were amputated. He later died of pneumonia in a Nepalese hospital.
STRUGGLE TO CLIMB HIGHER
Five miles high, the lonely climber precariously clings to rock which often crumbles under his stiff frozen hands. One misstep could send him 7,000 feet to instant death. His battle for survival is relentless. He must thread through the barrier of crevassed glacial ice just to reach the foot of the mountain. Once there, he then must fight every inch of the way to reach the summit. Weather, altitude and terrain are the mountain's defenses. And the giant seldom drops its guard. Gale-force storms try to sweep men from the slopes. Oxygenless altitude numbs his brain to the ever-present dangers. Falling rock and avalanches menace every move.