National Geographic : 1954 Jul
Triumph on Everest particular items he felt sure he would like to eat even at 25,000 feet, and these we packed in "luxury boxes." Our notion was that assault parties could then discard some of their standard rations before a big climb and substitute delicacies of their own choice. In the little time we could salvage from these quartermaster operations, we indulged ourselves in some practice climbs in Wales and in the Alps, partly to test our new equipment and rations, partly to let our new team get to know one another "on the rope," and partly, of course, to stretch our muscles and clear the fog of London from our lungs. Dress Rehearsal in the Alps For four days, in fact, some of us camped at 11,340 feet on the crest of the Jungfraujoch, trying out various boots, tents, sleeping bags, stoves, clothes, and meals, while the thermom eter skidded to -4° F. and a blizzard whipped snow off the peaks and flung it at us like birdshot. After this boisterous reception-a faint foretaste of what awaited us in the Himalayas -it was with mixed feelings that I read a telegram telling me of the Swiss expedition's decision to withdraw from Everest after two gallant attempts. It was our turn now. Where climbers as brilliant as Chevalley and Lambert had failed, could we succeed? We had reason to wonder. Three months later we assembled in Kat mandu, capital city of Nepal. The intervening weeks had been filled with more last-minute crises, midnight conferences, interviews, lec tures, television and radio appearances, inven tories, and travel arrangements than I have either time or temper to relate. Most of our party went out to India by ship; a few like myself, delayed by business or illness, flew. All of us, I think, were equally relieved when, on March 10 and 11, our porters (weighed down by the tons of - Porters Give Snow-lipped Crevasse a Wide Berth John Hunt, leading a reconnaissance team up the Western Cwm, found this route blocked by a long 60-foot-deep crack, too wide to span with poles or aluminum ladder. Anxiously he skirted its edge, aware that if he found no way across, a dangerous traverse under the avalanche-triggered cliffs of Nuptse ahead would be necessary. Luckily, just short of the mountain's foot, he discovered a snow bridge solid enough to support a climber's weight. Ektachrome by Alfred Gregory © R.G.S. and Alpine Club supplies we had brought up by rail, truck, and overhead ropeway) filed out across the green and tidy Valley of Nepal for the long trek to Thyangboche, our first Base Camp. Our route cut squarely across the Hima layan watershed, plunging us into deep valleys, carrying us over foaming torrents and swift flowing rivers and up the far hillsides (pages 5, 6, 7, and 9). This was big country, warm and welcoming.* Along the track we passed Nepalese girls ajingle with earrings, glass bangles, and necklaces of crimson beads. Their wide-grinning men were close-cropped and scantily attired. On the ridges we trod a carpet of mauve primulas, and in the forests the heavy-scented white magnolia blossoms lay like fallen snow. Flickering in and out above the gnarled, full-flowered rhododendrons darted gay sun birds, flycatchers, scarlet minivets, green backed and redheaded titmice. Up on the steep slopes, laboriously terraced, hayricks planted in the branches of trees drew our astonished glances. These were enchanted days, bright with the promise of adventure and free from the ex asperation of the winter's paperwork. We ate heartily and with what Everester Bill Tilman used to call "dogged greed." For on the top most heights far ahead of us we could each anticipate a rapid loss of weight. Sixth Everest Expedition for Tenzing As we strolled along, I was able at my leisure to become better acquainted with our Sherpas-and especially with their renowned leader, Tenzing Norkey. Lighthearted, simple in manner, but with an evident authority, Tenzing impressed me at once. Few men had seen more of the world's highest mountain. Ours was the sixth Everest expedition he had joined; the first had been in 1935 when he served as a 21-year-old porter. His great exploit of reaching the Southeast Ridge in 1952 with Lambert had, we feared, undermined his health, and he himself had written me that he could probably serve only as far as the icefall. Yet now, to my delight, he seemed not only fit but frisky. His fellow Sherpas from Darjeeling were a colorful lot, clad in green berets, blue skiing caps, balaclavas, vivid sweaters, and rather large boots. Thondup, the cook, was there; * See "Peerless Nepal-A Naturalist's Paradise," by S. Dillon Ripley, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, January, 1950.