National Geographic : 1961 Jan
A New Look at Everest and vicissitude in the shadow of the timeless mountains. The air had the freshness of a spring night at Easter time in Burgundy. The association may seem farfetched, but the hills around led my thoughts to the land about Vezelay, where a shrine rises in the same way as a goal of pilgrimage.* The stillness was broken by chattering screams and noises, and soon we were sur rounded by monkeys, surprised but seemingly also pleased to get this unexpected company at a late hour. Visitors Join in Tribute to Buddha Two Tibetan monks in their high boots were walking around the stupa, turning the prayer wheels as theypassed. Atthe side open toward Katmandu we stopped and looked out over the wide valley. A few lights still shone in the city and in Patan. For the rest, everything was asleep in a quiet that seemed to be in deep harmony with the spirit to which the shrine was dedicated. We were not far from the birthplace of the Buddha, and back of us the stupa rose against the night sky in a silence broken only by the light metallic sounds from the prayer wheels. One of the monks opened the screen doors to a side chapel in which a big Buddha could barely be seen. Silently the monk invited us in and gave us candles and flowers. To share with him his reverence for the mystery of life was easy in this setting, so intensely reflecting the endlessness of man's search and the greatness of the world to which he belongs. The clouds had disappeared, but a haze had arisen in the cool night and cut us off from the view of the high mountains. Al though they were invisible, we could none theless strongly feel their presence in the deep blue behind the foothills. I have described this evening because it gave me such a perfect introduction to our flight the next morning into the mountains. They are holy to the people as the dwelling of the gods, and for that reason they should be approached in the spirit into which our visit to the stupa had initiated us. I learned later that because of this rever ence for the mountains--but naturally also for more secular reasons-the government heretofore had permitted only a few persons to photograph the high ranges from the air.t After sunrise the next morning, the haze had gone and the sky was without a cloud. When we came down to the airstrip, the icy summits of the closest mountains stood out sharply over the green hills around the valley. We flew through the valleys in the direction of Gauri Sankar and Everest (map, page 92). Even if we had never come to these mountains, it would have been a great experience just to see the beauty of the valleys and of the hill sides in the early morning light, the structure of the landscape, and the picturesque way in which cultivation and villages have developed. The plane in which we were flying was a DC-3, nonpressurized and without oxygen. That naturally set an altitude limit for the flight; we flew at a height of twelve to fifteen thousand feet. Our route took us first in under the over whelming south wall of Gauri Sankar, with its beautiful double summit consecrated to the two Hindu deities that give the moun tain its name (next page). At our altitude we seemed to approach it at mid-height. Its vast size gave the impression that we were even closer to the mountainside than we were. A somewhat lighthearted association was that this must be the way a fly feels as it ap proaches a house where it hopes to sit down on the wall for a nice quiet rest in the sun. Then, as we came closer, my climber's in stincts were aroused and I started speculating -in vain-on possible routes of access for those who one day might brave this most in accessible south mountain wall. Regal Plume Marks Everest But planes move fast, and a few minutes later we had, so to speak, rounded a corner and were looking in over the icy wastes of the Himalayas. Forbidding in its bold, sculptural structure, it was a world far beyond human comprehension and of the harsh purity we are accustomed to find in the miniature world of crystals. But here it met the eye in proportions that reduced our human world to a microcosm. Swinging southeast, we left these areas be hind us and headed toward Everest. Over the highest green hills, which seemed to be clad in dark green moss, the Everest range stretched out in compact strength. The pilot pointed to a sharp peak behind the nearest ice-clad moun tains. It wore a plume of snow, made by strong *See "Vezelay, Hill of the Pilgrims," by Melvin Hall, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, February, 1953. tSee "The Aerial Conquest of Everest," by L. V . S. Blacker, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, August, 1933.