View of the east and south faces of Dhaulagiri with the SE-Ridge visible in the centre, the NE-ridge on the right and the SW-ridge (with the fist roughly two thirds to the top) on the left.
- Elevation : 8,167 meters (ranked 7th*)
- Location : Dhaulagiri Himal, Nepal (Himalayas)
- Coordinates : 28° 41′ 54″ N, 83° 29′ 15″ E
- First Ascent : May 13th 1960 (ranked 13th)
- First Ascent Expedition : Kurt Diemberger, Albin Sherbert , Ernst Forrer , Peter Diener , Nawang Dorje, Nima Dorje
- First Winter Ascent : January 21st 1985 (ranked 3rd)
- First Winter Ascent Expedition : Andrzej Czok, Jerzy Kukuczka
- Death Rate : 16,20 % (ranked 6th)
- Ascents : At least 358 (2007), assumed ranking : 5th
- Deaths : At least 63 (2010), assumed ranking : 4th
- Standard Route : North East Ridge
- Unclimbed Route(s) : South face direct
* Some still claim Manaslu is 7th highest. But it is generally accepted that Dhaulagiri is some 4 meters higher.
The mountains name comes from Sanskrit and is interpreted in two ways: Either White Mountain (standard) or Beautiful/Dazzling Mountain. It lives up to those names as it has a reputation for bad weather usually containing loads of snow. Dhaulagiri I is the highest and easternmost peak of the Dhaulagiri massif. This massif extends 120 kilometres from the Kali Gandaki river in the east, to the Bheri in the west. Dhaulagiri is the neighbour of Annapurna I which lies just over 30 kilometres away. Between the two mountains flows the Kali Gandaki river and this gorge is often said to be the deepest on Earth.
In 1808 Dhaulagiri was believed to be the highest mountain on Earth (until Kangchenjunga was discovered and took its place). Dhaulagiri’s sudden rise from terrain is only surpassed by great mountains like Nanga Parbat. It rises almost 7000 metres from the Kali Gandaki.
This is only a very rough sketch containing only the bare minimum necessary to understand the basic lay-out of the mountain.
Number 1 represents the NE-ridge by which Dhaulagiri was first climbed. Nowadays this is the standard route for going up the mountain. One enters the route via the Eiger ice fall (yellow) between Dhaulagiri and Tukche-Ri peak to the north-east.
Number 2 represents the impressive SW-ridge that rises from the gorge between Dhaulagiri’s I & II. This is the steepest ridge on the mountain and evidently is very prone to avalanches. The left leg indicates the SW-pillar and the right the SW-ridge.
Number 3 is a simple representation of the SE-ridge which rises almost 7000 meters from the Kali Gandaki river gorge. To its right there is another ice fall (sometimes referred to as the French passage). Starting from White Peak in the utmost south, this is the longest ridge towards the Dhaulagiri summit (roughly 5 miles).
Finally, number 4 represents the NW-ridge. This ridge is much shorter than represented in the sketch. Dhaulagiri is quite round in this section so this ridge is less distinguishable. To the right of it on the North face lies the infamous Pear buttress.
Compared to mountains like Nanga Parbat, with three distinct faces and a complex labyrinth of ridges, Dhaulagiri is a much simpler mountain and thus harder to represent correctly. It is quite a round mountain and is marked by a complexer east face that is connected by a col to the neighbouring Tukche-Ri.
Dhaulagiri was one of the last 8000ers to be conquered but since that feat most attempted routes have been successfully repeated at least once. However, as of 2013, the south face remains one of the last unclimbed faces in the Himalayas.
1 : The North-East Ridge (1960)
The NE-ridge was the first successful way up Dhaulagiri. Expeditions before 1960 had tried over and over again to use the difficult Pear buttress on the north face. First of all, the Pear is a lot steeper so it is more prone to avalanches and objective dangers. Secondly, the Pear meets with a particularly difficult section of the summit wall.
The NE-ridge was pioneered by an international expedition with Austrian, Swiss, German and two Nepali climbers. It provides a gentler approach through a big ice fall on the north face.
The approach starts south of Dhaulagiri, trekking through the Majhangdi Khola, the gorge between the Dhaulagiri’s I & II, around the north face of the mountain. Base camp is usually set up a cross the Eiger, a steep rock tower that separates the north nace from the north-east spur. The Eiger is notorious for producing avalanches.
The first part of the climb consists of a lengthy trek up the ice fall that starts at the foot of the Eiger, up towards the saddle between Dhaulagiri and Tukche-Ri. From there the climbers venture on to the actual NE-ridge for the first time.
The first section of the ridge is known as Jacobs Ladder and is a moderately steep ice and snow climb. Nowadays, the top of the ladder forms the location for camp 2, but the 1960 expedition had set up an intermediate camp near the top of the ice fall.
Starting from camp 2, the route progressively becomes more steeper and the last 200-300 meters of this section before camp 3 are regarded as the crux of the ascent: it is a mixed climb of the steepest ice and rock passages. Above this section nowadays high camp 3 is erected, but the again the original 1960 expedition used an intermediary camp before the crux.
At around 7800 meters, the most difficult part of the climb is over and one approaches the shoulder of mountain. From there it is another 300 meters to the summit in western direction over a very narrow summit ridge. The original expedition set up camp 5 after the crux and another camp 6 on the shoulder before finally attempting the summit. Nowadays, Dhaulagiri is thus climbed by only using 3 camps, which is quite exceptional.
2 : The South-West Ridge (1978)
The SW-ridge provided the second successful means of climbing Dhaulagiri. It was pioneered by a Japanese expedition called The Yeti Doujin in 1978 lead by Amemiya Takashi. This ridge proved far more challenging and hazardous than the 1960 route. No wonder it had taken 18 years for a new route to develop on Dhaulagiri (4 ascents had been completed on the standard route by then) and needless to say the Japanese success was admired around the world. This route has not been repeated since the original 1978 ascent.
The ascent on this ridge began already at an altitude of 2000 meters with a moderate rock climb section. Base camp was built between the rocks at 3700 meters. Camp 1 was erected a whopping 1500 meters above. This was a necessary safety measure against avalanches that had destroyed the previous Japanese expedition (see climbing history). A distance this great between base camps was unprecedented in climbing history and presented the expedition with a formidable logistical challenge.
At 5200 meters there was an ice Fall passage leading to a snowfield above on which camp 1 was thus erected. The snowfield presented the first pitch of ice climbing: some 600 meters at an inclination of almost 60%. Camp 2 was erected at the top of the snowfield.
Above camp 2, the climb turned to rock once again: the Japanese were forced to set up wire ladders and winches because the rock section was simply too steep. They had now surpassed the high point set on the ridge by the previous Japanese expedition.
After the steep rocky band, another section of steep ice (60%) followed. Camp 3 was set up at 6530m. Only three out of eleven porters could manage the difficult rock band between camps 2 & 3 so the Japanese had to do most of the porting themselves. From camp 3 up to around 6800 meters the climb eased up and the Japanese figured they were home free.
Then they reached an horrific difficult section known as The fist. It was a rocky formation that from base camp had looked like a clenched fist. But the fist turned out a lot bigger and more difficult than anticipated. It was a 150 meters high overhanging rock with an 1800 meter drop below it. It took the Japanese 5 days to free climb an acrobatic route a cross it.
At 7500 meters camp 4 was erected but supplying that camp proved difficult because of the The fist passage. The route didn’t let up after that either. Mixed steep rocks and snow slabs lead up to a final 200 meter long dangerous ice couloir towards the shoulder. This section again took them 5 days to master.
From there on, the route met the summit ridge and became comparatively easy. Still, a few rocky needless meant that it is a harder summit approach than coming from the east. Finally, on the 10th of May 1978 the new route was opened. A day later, a second summit team also completed the ascent.The route proved perhaps the most difficult on Dhaulagiri and to my knowledge has not been repeated since.
3 : South-East Ridge (1978)
After the monsoons of 1978, the Japanese returned to Dhaulagiri to open up another new route on the equally difficult SE-ridge.
Tanaka Seiko of Japan lead a team of 18 members to a successful climb of the very long and difficult SE-ridge. Three members were killed early on in September when an avalanche swept through the route between camps 4 and 5. A month later, the climbing leader fell to his death in that very same section.
Three members reached the summit on October 19th 1978 :
Miyazaki Tsutomo, Tani Hiroyuki and Ube Akira. The next day, Yamada Noboru, Suzuki Shigeru and Nawan Yonden (NPL) repeated the feat.
The fifteen climbing members were divided into 5 teams of three taking turns in opening the route. The expedition chose the same approach route to the ridge as the previous failed American expeditions: over the East Dhaulagiri Glacier. They then ascended a spur connected to a subsidiary ridge some 300m lower than the one the Americans chose before them.
On the crest of this subsidiary ridge, they encountered a steep rock formation called The needle. At first they traversed around it but when they couldn’t find a spot for camp 2, they worked two days to flatten the rocky tower and built camp 2 on top of it. They then moved onto the SE-ridge proper.
The actual SE-ridge was called Gojira’s back for it had jagged rock towers in a similar shape as the mythical creatures back. This was one of the most difficult technical sections of the climb (the Americans had avoided this section altogether so this was unknown territory at the time). At a height of around 5800m, camp 3 was erected in order to tackle the difficult section. There was no room for traversing beneath the jagged peaks so all had to be overcome by wire ladders and winches. The route didn’t let up either as a narrow crawling passage beneath an overhanging rock formed the next (logistical) difficulty. Finally, after 16 days camp 4 was set up at 6450m (a new high point on the ridge) with seemingly all technical climbing sections behind them and only the extremely narrow snow ridge towards the summit ridge remaining.
Then the avalanche disaster held up the climb for a considerable time. But by October 16th, they had manoeuvred a large section of the Knife-edge ridge and reached 7450m were room was found for camp 6. The upper section of the climb proved by far the easiest. A day later camp 7 was up at 7800m and the summit push was on. In windy weather and waist-deep snow the men took until 12.30pm to reach the summit (over the summit ridge also used on the standard route).
A day later (20th), three more climbers repeated the summit. But in the meantime the team had figured out that climbing leader Kogure Katsuyoshi had died from a fall and further summit attempts were called to search for his body. The expedition was over.
4 : East Face onto NE-ridge (1980)
The idea of climbing the east face had sprung from the mind of Polish Voytek Kurtyka whose previous expedition to Dhaulagiri was repelled by heavy snow on the (then) unclimbed north face in 1979. He had reconnoitred the steep yet predominantly icy east face during a break in the climbing.
In 1980 he gathered an international team to attempt the east face: he had climbed before with Brit Alex MacIntyre who in turn brought a friend from Chamonix, Frenchman Renalto Ghinili. The final member, Ludwick Wilczyczynski, had been part of the 1979 Polish expedition.
This route shares base camp with the standard route of 1960 though it is approached from the East trekking around Tukche-Ri from the village of Tukuche. The route also crosses over the ice field and shares advanced base camp on the col between Dhaulagiri and Tuckche-Ri with the standard route.
Before descending into the basin below the east face to start their climb, the expedition put several caches along the NE-ridge which took up almost the entire month of April.
The bottom section of the face is a rock band about 300 meters high. Because the rocks are in a roof tile formation, they are very tricky to climb. After this rock band, the proper ice face begins: it is very smooth and suitable for climbing. At midday the expedition reached one of the only rock outcroppings on the smooth face and stopped there for a rest. They spent the next two days going straight up the exposed face with two marginally sheltered bivouacs in cut out ledges.
By nightfall of the third day they had conquered the ice face and hooked up with the crest of the NE-ridge. Harsh weather and avalanche danger meant the men had to retreat down the standard route to a lower camp. Finally, on the 18th of May all reached the summit of Dhaulagiri over the NE-ridge. They had gone up the length of the north face (roughly 7200 meters) before so they were accredited with opening a new route.
5 : North Face: the Pear buttress (1982)
The Pear buttress was the most popular route on Dhaulagiri during the fifties and sixties (even after the standard route emerged in 1960). However, it wasn’t successfully accomplished until 1982 proving its difficulty. In the picture above, the green line represents the Pear Buttress route, while the red line on the left represents the standard 1960 route. For detailed information on the exploration of the buttress, I would like to refer again to climbing history.
The first section of the climb is a steep but fairly straightforward ice climb up towards the section where the big seracs start roughly a third up the green line (see picture). The serac field is usually the location for camp 3 for it is protected against avalanches by the massive yet solid seracs above. It is also the last place where a stable camp site can be erected: the proper north face is generally to steep for digging out camps and platforms.
The second section of the route consists of a trek up the steep north face towards the actual Pear buttress passage. This passage gives access to the Gendarme ridge (part of the NW-ridge) which then leads to the summit wall. One has the choice of climbing left, right or even through the pear buttress. The Japanese, who pioneered the route, stayed to the right side of the buttress (erroneous in picture above) where it is less steep but the snow is a lot deeper. The buttress is by far the most avalanche prone section of the route and is notoriously difficult for finding safe camp sites. Its difficulties repelled a lot of the early expeditions.
In the final section, one has to work on the very exposed Gendarme ridge to the North-West of the summit. After moving on the ridge, one still has to manoeuvre the 40m high Cathedral Towers and the summit wall before standing on top. The Japanese accomplished the feat on October 18th, 1982 with Komatsu Kohzo, Saito Yasuhira and Yamada Noboru.
6 : West Face onto North-West Ridge (1984)
It was a Czechoslovakian team that in the post-monsoon season of 1984 first climbed the impressive West Face of Dhaulagiri before linking up with the North-West Ridge (Gendarme Ridge).
On August 28th 1984 they established a base camp at the bottom of the glacier of the West Face at an altitude of roughly 3800 meters. It was decided that the left side of the massive wall would present the easiest way up. By September 3rd, camp 1 had been established at roughly 4300 meters.
They had planned to go up the big rocky step a 100 meters above, but a big avalanche completely covered that in snow and they had to search for another route. They found no feasible alternative and still climbed the rock step (now covered in fresh snow) in dangerous conditions leading into a long gully towards the crest of the North-West Ridge. The men slept at night roped up out of fear of being dragged away by the air pressure of the avalanches around them.
The gully led all the way up to a serac field just below the North-West ridge and they followed it up pitching camps 3 and 4 inside in spite of the constant threat of avalanches. They then traversed from right to left beneath the seracs reaching the crest of the North-West ridge at around 7600 m where camp 5 was pitched. They defeated the last difficult 500 meter rock pitch on the West face side of the Gendarme Ridge which they later called the crux of the climb. From there, they hooked up with the Japanese route to the summit. For the dramatic ending of this climb I would like to refer to the climbing history section.
7 : South West Pillar (1988)
The complete ascent of the South West Pillar was accomplished by an International expedition in the post-monsoon season of 1988. It is different from the Ridge completed by the Japanese in that it uses a pillar on the West face side of the ridge before hooking up with the ridge proper in the highest parts.
The pillar itself was 2200 meters high and the snow fields above it another 900m before linking up with the Ridge. The expedition made an alpine ascent without using camps, porters or fixed lines. The expedition took only a total of 14 days.
From 5000 to 6000 meters the rout is characterised by a succession of rock towers. Between 6000 and 6800 meters the conditions were similar to the Ridge with snowfields up to 65% steep. Before linking up with western flank of the Ridge, one more section of rock towers had to be overcome.
Then much like the Japanese, they still had to conquer The Fist (though from a different angle). The expedition reported a 400 meter vertical climb of grade V+ climbing. From there on the expedition summited with relative ease. The summit team consisted of Zoltan Demjan (SVK), Yuri Moiseev (KAZ) and Kazbek Valiev (KAZ). The ascent was awarded the Best Himalayan Climb of 1988 for difficulty, length and its alpine style.
8 : West Face Direct (1991)
A strong Kazakh team (including Anatoly Boekreev who would become famous for his role in the ’96 Everest disaster and later perished on Annapurna) finally completed the first ascent of the West Face direct in 1991. They didn’t diverge on to the North-West ridge and fought the steep headwall with success putting 5 members on top.
9 : North Face Direct (1993)
Two years later a Russian effort joined by Richard Allen (climber of the Mazeno Ridge to summit on Nanga Parbat) managed the same feat on the North Ridge, staying left of the Pear Buttress and declining the Gendarme Ridge so as to tackle the steep summit wall head on. They put 7 men on top including Allen and famous climber Sergei Bogomolov.
The South Face Direct has been attempted several times but has never been climbed completely to the summit. In fact several expeditions who linked up with other routes along the way still had to turn around after finishing only part of the South Face. It remains one of the last big unclimbed faces in the Himalayas.
Dhaulagiri was very late to see its first action (compared to for example Nanga Parbat or Everest) despite already being discovered in the early 19th century. Of course this was also because Nepal had long been a closed country. The first serious attempt was organised by The French in 1950.
The French were looking for a patriotic incentive that would restore national pride after the devastating 2nd World War. They had plenty of mountaineering experience in the Alps and figured the first summit of an 8000m mountain would deliver the boost the country needed. They chose Dhaulagiri.
This first expedition (paid for by the French taxpayers) was lead by Maurice Herzog and further included Lionel Terray, Lachenal, Gastron Rébuffat and Oudot. They enlisted an unprecedented amount of 200 porters. They managed to cross the dangerous French Pass and arrived at the South-East Ridge and the East Face. They didn’t like what they saw. They considered both the ridge and the face completely impossible to climb (the SE Ridge is indeed one of the hardest routes) and instantly turned around. They moved some 30 kilometres to the East were they fancied the looks of Annapurna I a lot more. A month later, on June 3rd 1950, this French team accomplished their goal by topping the first 8000 m peak ever: Annapurna. They hadn’t even set foot on Dhaulagiri. Terray was later quoted saying “No man will ever conquer that mountain!”.
Three years later, The Swiss were the next to visit Dhaulagiri (some websites have the year as 1951 which is incorrect). The Academic Alpine Club of Zurich delegated a resourceful expedition to the Dhaulagiri area. Expedition leader was Andre Roch with the lead climber being Bernhard Lauterburg. Other members included a Dr. Pfisterer and senior Sirdar Angtharkay along with climbers Schatz, and Braun. They hired 10 Sherpas.
This expedition pioneered what would later become the Standard approach route to Dhaulagiri: through the Mayanghdi gorge around the North Face of the mountain. They first looked at the North-West Ridge and the Pear Buttress but were daunted by the task ahead. They proceeded further to the North-East ridge and the Eiger Ice Fall but that looked an even more horrific prospect. The decision was made and they would be the first expedition to attempt the Pear Buttress.
The group was extremely fortunate that there were no casualties. They proceeded up the Pear Buttress but in sight of the Gendarme Ridge things started going terribly wrong. First, Angtharkay was sent racing down the North Face when a snow bridge collapsed. Because he was roped up with Dr.Pfisterer, who halted his fall, he survived. They set up an unstable camp 6 just below the ridge at around 7100m.
The next day, three Sherpas came up from camp 5 (at 6500m) with oxygen. From camp 4 below, Roch saw the three sliding down the North Face, miraculously catapulting over two crevasses that otherwise would have swallowed them up, to then come to a halt just feet before the plunge off the edge of the serac field. They got up and made their way back to the route between camp 4 and 5 as if nothing had happened.
In the end, the expedition didn’t reach any higher: they were suffering from the high altitude, were distrustful of their unstable camp sites (Roch uttered the idea of blasting a camp site out of the rock face with dynamite for more stability, something the next Argentinian expedition would actually do!) and feared they didn’t have the skill to manoeuvre a difficult rock section on the ridge they called “the Pera”. The expedition was aborted.
The Argentinians would be the second party to attempt the Pear Buttress and their attempt would be the most notable on the route until the Japanese finally succeeded there in 1982. It was the first Argentinian expedition to the Himalayas.
Expedition leader was First Lieutenant Francisco Ibáñez. He was an experienced climber from Patagonia where he had coordinated several first ascents.
The state of Argentina funded the 11-man team. They wanted Argentinians to become the 4th nation to successfully ascend an 8000m peak. Outside Ibáñez the expedition included (but was not limited to) the following members:
Cameraman Jorge Inarra-Iraegui, Roberto Busquets, Alfredo Magnani and Dinko Bertoncelj. I have not found a complete member list yet.
The Argentinians had closely studied the Swiss ascent from the year before. They followed roughly the same route up the North Face towards the North-West Ridge. In the Pear Buttress, they blasted a camp site out of the rock using dynamite, for which they were scrutinised later. Slowly but certainly they advanced towards the ridge. They set up camp 6 on the ridge and reached a new high point on the mountain. Soon camp 7 was erected at 7600m before the crucial final section.
The Swiss had been halted by the the Pera, a 40m high rock tower on the ridge. The Argentinians feared this obstacle and a scouting mission had revealed there were not one but several towers. The Argentinians renamed this section the Cathedral Towers. Though probably less skilled in mountaineering than the Swiss, a small party consisting of Watzl, Magnani Sherpa Pasang and his brother (name unknown), conquered the section through sheer persistence. There was no turning back now for the party as they bivouacked after the Cathedrals at around 7900m. with intentions of pushing on to the summit the next day.
But they were subsequently forced down by horrible weather and returned to camp 7 where they were confined for two days and two nights in white-out conditions. The nights had been exceptionally cold, with temperatures below -30c°. It soon became apparent that expedition leader Ibáñez was suffering from severe frostbite to both feet and could no longer walk, collapsing high on the ridge. The ascent was halted and a massive rescue effort had to be improvised to get Ibáñez off the mountain. The heroics performed by the Sherpas and other team members saw them successfully carrying Ibáñez down the mountain over the next days in very bad weather. The summit push was over, but at least everyone was glad that their captain had seemingly made it down alive.
But a few days later, Ibáñez died of his injuries in a hospital in Kathmandu. Dhaulagiri had claimed its first casualty and the expedition was over. The Argentinians had set a new high point at 7950m and were within reach of the summit.
Editors Note: I only found a Spanish source for this and tried the best as I could with the translation. I only wrote down what I was sure of but a more detailed account of this ascent exists.
1955-58 : More failure at the Pear
1955 was the year of the second Swiss (and third overall) attempt at the Pear Buttress of Dhaulagiri. It was actually a joint German/Swiss effort with team leader Martin Meier (DE) assisted by Swiss Stäubli and Villiger. In horrible weather and waist deep snow, they reached nowhere near the hight of the previous two expeditions turning around in the Pear Buttress.
In 1956 the Argentinians returned to their mountain in the Himalayas. They were still in possession of the high point and wanted to finish the job. Deep snow and adverse weather halted them in their camp at the top of the Pear Buttress. They had ventured no higher than 7600m this time around as the expeditions resources ran out. Furthermore Nepali Sherpa Bal Bahadur had perished in an avalanche becoming the 2nd fatality on Dhaulagiri.
By 1958, there had already been 4 failed expeditions to the Pear Buttress. It looked as though it was becoming a hopeless affair with more and more 8000m peaks in the Himalayas being ticked off.
Still, Swiss Werner Stäubli returned to the Pear Buttress once more in 1958 after his unsuccessful expedition of ’55. The Swiss had altered their approach route this time coming from the South-East and crossing the French Pass onto the East Ice Wall of Dhaulagiri and then going around the North Face. Here they had been tempted by the looks of the North-East Ridge. The Swiss expedition of 1953 had claimed the Ridge was equally difficult (if not more) than the Pear, but to Stäubli this seemed a false assessment Still, the team had prepared for the Buttress and that’s where they finally went up.
The Swiss would be the first team since the Argentinians in 1953 to venture above the Buttress and onto the ridge to a high point of around 7750m. But they were confined to camp 6 for days on end in bad weather and the resources and climbers were worn out. This was now the 5th failed attempt at the Pear in a row.
1959 : Finally the North-East Ridge
The Austrian expedition of 1959 would finally abandon the Pear Buttress and make the first serious attempt at the North-East Ridge. Still that had not been their original plan as some controversy sparked the start of this expedition. By now, Dhaulagiri was becoming an obsession for the climbing community as it was the last accessible unclimbed 8000m mountain (Shishapangma is located in Tibet which was closed to foreigners in that period).
Expedition leader this time was Austrian Fritz Moravec (first ascent GII in ’56). He was assisted by the following climbers: Othmar Kucera, cameraman Stefan Pauer, Karl Prein, Hans Ratay, Heinrich Roiss, Erich Vanis and lastly Doctor Wilfried Wehrle. The expedition was financed by the Österreichische Himalay Gesellschaft on their fourth venture into the Himalayas (with previous first successes on Gasherbrum II and Haramosh and a failure at Saipal).
Two members of the 1958 Swiss expedition, Detlef Hecker and Max Eiselin had advised Moravec to attempt the North-East ridge instead of the Pear Buttress. Their advice was dismissed as a deliberate attempt at sabotage by members of the other previous Swiss expedition Lauterburg and Pfisterer who had reconnoitred the South-East ridge before their failed attempt at the Pear and had found it equally difficult. Furthermore, Moravec knew Eiselin had a permit to climb Dhaulagiri again in 1960 and assumed he was pushing him towards a more difficult route so Eiselin could claim the first summit himself in 1960. But in fact, Eiselin was a really good friend of expedition member Erich Vanis and was actually being sincere.
The Austrians set out via the standard approach route West of Dhaulagiri with 12 Sherpas. They reached the base camp of the Pear on April 3rd 1959. Vanis convinced Moravec to at least check the North-East ridge with his own eyes before making a decision and the two set out together with a number of Sherpas. They passed the rock tower next to the glacier for the first time and christened it The Eiger, a name that stuck.
They found the Ice wall to be quite dangerous but when they finally had a clear look at the North-East Ridge from the saddle, they didn’t hesitate for long. First, there was less avalanche danger for one could stay on the crest of the ridge. Second, there was more ice on the surface so steps could be carved contrary to the avalanche prone snow slabs of the Pear. Third, there was room for a solid camp 5, which wasn’t the case in the Pear (the Argentinians had brutally blasted a camp site out of the rock but the other expeditions had all been disrupted by insecure camp sites on the face). And fourth, the technical section lay much lower on the North-East Ridge. Three time Dhaulagiri veteran Sherpa Pasang agreed with the new choice of route and the base camp was moved towards the North-East Ridge.
By April 14th, Hans Ratay and Heinrich Roiss were in camp 2 just below the col. By the 24th, they had overcome Jacobs Ladder and had established Camp 4 below the Crux of the ridge. The first week of May was set as the window for the summit push. But on April 29th, tragedy struck: Heinrich Roiss slipped into a deep crevasse near camp 2 on the col during a supply run and didn’t survive the fall. His body was recovered and buried near base camp. The members were shocked but in his will, Roiss had demanded the team continue up in case of his death. Roiss was the third casualty claimed by Dhaulagiri.
The expedition went back up but camp 4 had been completely buried under heavy snowfall (a trademark of Dhaulagiri). The tents were useless and they had to resort to digging snow caves there instead. Moreover, the crux was giving them a very hard time and moral was already low after the death of Roiss. There were heavy snowfall and gales every day and it took the team until May 19th to reach 7000 meters. That night, one of the snow caves in camp 4 collapsed under heavy snow with still 3 Sherpas inside. Miraculously, a small crevasse provided them with air as it took them three hours to dig themselves free. Moravic knew that the expedition was running on its last legs and gambled everything on one final summit push.
On May 23rd a summit party had finally managed to occupy camp 6 nearly at the shoulder of Dhaulagiri. The party consisted of Karl Prein, Dhaulagiri veteran Pasang and two other Sherpas Gyaltzen and (Pasang) Dawa Lama.
On the morning of the 23rd Prein and Pasang (who had been this high before with the Argentinians) set out in clear conditions, but the Monsoon winds were freezing. They had passed all the technically difficult sections and in 4 hours made it to roughly 7800m, almost a new high point. But they had lost all sensation in hands and feet and decided it was best they turn around and hope for less wind the next day. But upon return to camp 6, one side of the tent was ripped to shreds by the high winds. So Dawa Lama and Gyaltzen were sent a camp down. The others held out in freezing conditions until the morning of the 26th when they made a second attempt. But in 100mph winds they never got far. Back in the tent they were rejoined by the 2 Sherpas who had just bivouacked the night in the open as the tent in camp 5 had been destroyed by stone fall. On the 27th Prein and Pasang made one last effort but by now the Monsoon was raging and heavy snowfall again repelled them early on. The men made it down in a blizzard to camp 4 the next day and the expedition was over. That blizzard raged on for three more days and the Ice Fall had become so dangerous the porters left most of the equipment behind on the col. Moravic ended his report by wishing Max Eiselin the best of luck in 1960.
1960 : The First Ascent
The 1960 effort was truly an international ordeal: several countries and institutions sponsored the attempt and there were several nationalities present among the members. The expedition included:
- Leader Max Eiselin, Albin Schelbert, Ernst Forrer, Michel Vaucher, Hugo Weber and Jean-Jacques Roussi from Switzerland.
- Adam Skoczylas and Doctor Georg Hajdukiewicz from Poland.
- Cameraman Norman Dyhrenfurth from the United States.
- Lead climber Kurt Diemberger from Austria.
- Peter Diener from Germany
The expedition also utilised a plane, named the Yeti, to transport supplies and people onto the Saddle between Dhaulagiri and Tukche-Ri. It was flown by Swiss pilots Ernst Saxer and Emil Wick.
On March 28th Diemberger and Forrer were dropped by the Yeti on the Dapa col close to Dhaulagiri with supplies. The duo set up an acclimatisation camp on the col and in the next days, the rest of the expedition was airlifted in. But all suffered from altitude sickness and acclimatisation difficulties in the following days because they had risen so sudden in altitude using the plane.
On April 3rd, Diemberger and Forrer were dropped on the glacier between Dhaulagiri and Tukche-Ri as the plane set a new record for highest glacier landing ever performed. The climbers started with the construction of Advanced Base Camp from which all attempts would be launched. Later a base camp was also established below the glacier. Acclimatisation troubles were still a concern, one Sherpa suffered pneumonia and had to be flown down to Pokhara. After returning to Pokhara, the Yeti, which had been making daily supply flights to the glacier, was grounded until May 4th because of engine troubles.
This incident meant that the expedition was forced to work in isolated pockets throughout April. Diemberger and Forrer with some Sherpa support were already heading up Jacobs Ladder establishing small lightweight camps. Eiselin returned to Pokhara to help with repairs on the plane. The group acclimatising on Dapa Col set out towards the North-East Ridge under the leadership of Hajdukiewicz. Lastly, Skoczylas and Dyhrenfurth came in with porters and the rest of the gear over the Western approach route. They all converged on the base camp around April 27th.
Meanwhile, Forrer and Diemberger had already ventured into the Crux where they had come a cross fixed ropes from the previous expedition. They haphazardly erected a camp within that was extremely exposed to the wind, but they found no alternatives. On May 2nd, the lead group and the second group finally hooked up below the crux and Diemberger and Forrer learned what had happened to the Yeti. Weber and Diener were the second party to reach camp 4. By May 4th after having established camp 5 between the crux and the shoulder, the first summit push was on.
Forrer, Schelbert and Diemberger made up the first summit team. They were forced onto the East Face side of the ridge because of bad snow conditions. The climb was more difficult here than on the crest. They had to abort the attempt in sight of the shoulder because at midday, a snow storm erupted. The team decided a 6th camp was needed on the Shoulder because one had to summit before noon when the weather usually turns on Dhaulagiri. They would build the camp on the next summit push but for now, all headed down for a recuperative rest.
Meanwhile the Yeti was back in operation and had dropped Eiselin on the mountain. But on the morning of the 5th, it crashed whilst attempting to take off from the glacier. The pilots were unhurt but the plane could not be recovered from its awkward position.
The second summit push started on May 9th. The proposed summit team were Forrer, Diemberger, Shelbert and Nima. The second summit team would consist of Sherpas Dorje and Nawang Dorje. The two Sherpas headed up Jacobs ladder first, expecting to encounter the support team in the intermediate camps. But they found only Peter Diener in camp 4.
The threesome of Vaucher, Weber and Roussi, encouraged by clear weather, had decided to make a quick dash for the summit on their own with just two days worth of supplies.
5 men moved up to camp 5 the next day: Forrer, Diemberger, Shelbert, Nima, Dorje and Peter Diener, who was not yet fully acclimatised. They had brought two tents hoping to be able to install a camp 6 regardless of the outcome of the presumably ongoing three man summit push. But Vaucher, Weber and Roussi hadn’t even made it out of camp 5. With Nawang Dorje also coming up, there were now 9 people in camp 5 with only room for 6. They couldn’t take one of the tents from camp 5 to make camp 6, as had been the plan, for there were simply too many exhausted people and all tents were needed there.
Finally, on May 12th Vaucher, Weber and Roussi agreed to descend back to camp 5 and bring up another tent from there (their provisions had run out anyway). On the way to camp 5, Vaucher became violently sick and he had to be brought down immediately. Meanwhile, the 6-man Forrer group decided not to wait for the threesome and sacrificed two tents to set up a camp 6 on the shoulder on the same day. All 6 of them stayed in high camp during the night.
The morning of the 13th marked the start of the 2nd summit push. The weather was clowdy but their was no snow and almost no wind: a perfect day by Dhaulagiri’s standards. In 4 hours, Albin Schelbert was the first to reach the top with relative ease. He was followed by Diemberger and Nawang Dorje. Next up where Ernst Forrer and Nima Dorje. The last up the mountain was German Peter Diener despite not being fully acclimatised. They hoisted pennants—Swiss, Austrian and various Club emblems—and thought of all the other nations and clubs whose pioneering work had played so great a part in this success of May 13th, 1960.
Bad weather prevented an immediate third push. On the 21st, a recovered Vaucher saved the life of a Sherpa who slipped into a crevasse near camp 5. By May 22nd, Vaucher, Roussi and Weber were in camp 5 ready for a summit push. The next morning, the third summit push started.
Roussi lost his ice axe and was forced to return to camp 5. But Vaucher and Weber were really strong: they were fully acclimatised and eliminated the need for a stay in camp 6 leapfrogging it during the night and going straight to the summit. They summited very late at 6.15pm and descended to camp 6 during the night. There had now been two successful ascents of Dhaulagiri I in 1960 with 8 men on top.
By May 26th, all members were finally off the mountain. Max Eiselin and Kurt Diemberger would both write books on the first ascent of Dhaulagiri. Now only Shishapangma remained as unclimbed 8000m mountain.
1969 : Drama for the Americans
During much of the Sixties, a climbing moratorium issued by the Nepalese government was in place preventing any expedition from launching a second successful attempt on Dhaulagiri. I know for a fact the Brits had a permit to climb the mountain in 1961, but can’t find any information on that expedition. Perhaps it was cancelled because of the International success the year before, or because the moratorium was already in effect? At any rate, the Americans would be the first expedition to try and repeat the summit in 1969.
The Americans had been hoping for permission in the Karakoram. During the winter of 1968, Boyd Everett had desperately been trying to get a permit for K2, the American mountain. The Pakistani government had refused stubbornly and instead, had promised him Malubiting (7458m). But political and administrative struggles kept delaying the permit. It was then that the Nepalese lifted their moratorium and Everett immediately applied for a new route on Dhaulagiri. In only three weeks after submission of the application, Nepal granted Boyd Dhaulagiri I by the 8km long South-East ridge.
The final personnel were: Leader Boyd Everett, Deputy Leader Al Read, Jeff Duenwald, Paul Gerhard, Vin Hoeman, Jim Janney, Lou Reichardt, David Seidman and Doctors Jim Morrissey and Bill Ross. Terry Bech and German Hari Das were in charge of logistics. The Americans enlisted only four Sherpas: Panboche Tensing, Pemba Phutar, Mingma Norbu and sirdar for the climb Phu Dorje II (fact is most of the experienced Sherpas were on Annapurna at the time with a large German expedition). With 90 porters they set out from Pokhara towards the Kali Gandaki. They approached the unclimbed South-East Ridge from the East Dhaulagiri glacier. The advanced party had managed to set up base camp on the glacier at around 4700m. This is were things started to go wrong.
From April 21st, deputy leader Al Read was forced to confine himself to his tent. He was suffering from terrible headaches and had lost all appetite. He was an experienced mountaineer who worked at relatively high altitude in Wyoming and he had risen in elevation with caution. At midnight he asked for a few more Darvon to suppress his gruesome cough. At 3am it was Vin Hoeman who noticed Read rambling in his sleep and breathing very heavily. Read would be unconscious for the next 32 hours. He had developed severe pulmonary oedema and Hoeman and Terry Bech of the advanced party wrapped him in a tent ready for transportation.
The next day, Sherpas came up with oxygen and medicine from the valley floor whilst Bech and Hoeman moved down on fresh avalanche prone snow with Read wrapped in a tent. At 11 a.m. Lou Reichardt and doctor Jim Morrissey arrived applying first aid. They noticed Read was in a very bad shape right away:
“His colour was ashen ; his eyes bulged causing the lids to retract. He had assumed a decorticate posture and an indication of obliteration of neural communication between the brain and spinal cord. His pulse and respiratory rate respectively were still 160 and 60 per minute. He did not respond to painful stimuli. His conjunctiva were suffused and his pupils unequal (the right larger than the left). His neck veins were distended and a gurgling sound was audible when he inspired. On examination of his chest the lungs displayed the classical findings of pulmonary oedema. Neurologic examination confirmed the impression that there was swelling and increased pressure in the brain.”
Read was administered more (sometimes experimental) medicine and was brought all the way down where he finally recovered in Kathmandu. The incident was scientifically important as a few alternative treatments for HAPE and HACE were discovered.
The expedition had lost its deputy leader and was now also slightly delayed.
But on April 26th, Lou Reichardt and Vin (Vincent) Hoeman set out on the glacier a first time towards the South-East ridge to find an appropriate spot to climb onto the ridge. There were no difficulties up until 5200m. They returned at that point, confident that easy altitude could be gained by staying on the glacier.
The next day, the two were joined by Paul Gerhard. They progressed another 150m on the glacier. They found a feasible spur of rock and ice out of the glacier and onto the South-East ridge. They estimated that via the long spur they could reach an altitude of up to 6100m on the ridge. It seemed ideal, the climb even looked moderately easy from down below. But there was one problem: a large crevasse in the basin before them blocked the access to the spur: they would need to descend into the basin with overhanging seracs to the right and build a bridge over the crevasse.
On the morning of the 28th, Pemba Phutar and Tensing joined the effort: loads were carried up the glacier and an intermediate camp was established not far from the location of the crevasse. Meanwhile, Boyd Everett, Dave Seidman and Bill Ross arrived in the main camp with loads. When Hoeman and Reichardt learned the logs for the bridge weren’t coming up until the next morning, they abandoned the intermediate camp and all joined together in base camp for an amicable night.
On the morning of the 29th, Migma finally brought the logs up. Everett, Seidman and Ross where also anxious to see the route and tagged along towards the intermediate camp near the crevasse. Bill Ross and Lou Reichardt took the lead with the logs on their backs, Seidman, Hoeman, Everett, Gerhard and Sherpas Pemba Phutar and Pamboche Tenzing followed close behind.
Reichardt and Ross arrived first and started constructing the bridge over the crevasse. They wanted it ready by the time leader Everett arrived (perhaps to convince him of the easiness of the route?). It was hard work though as Hoeman took over work from Reichardt whilst the others sat around inspecting the route above. In a matter of minutes a fog descended on the men. Then a deafening roar could be heard: they had but seconds to duck for cover.
A triangular cliff of ice to their right, estimated to be as large as a football field, had come tumbling down the glacier in thousands of pieces and had completely transformed the landscape. The crevasse was gone, filled up with seracs as was the entire basin. Lou Reichardt who was positioned closest to the South-East ridge figured a snow avalanche had hit the men: he wasn’t hit by anything heavy enough to injure him. But when he got up from under a small ledge, he didn’t recognise anything any more. The Seven men around him were all gone with only a few remnants of destroyed equipment remaining. It was not a snow avalanche but a pure ice serac fall: nobody had stood a chance. Reichardt spent an hour searching for his companions alone. He returned to base camp in what he described as the loneliest walk ever. He returned with the remainder of the expedition to search for the bodies of his countrymen, but they found nothing. A week later the expedition had packed up.
Reichardt was the only survivor of the advanced party, with Duenwald, Terry, and Janney still at base camp. Doctor Morrisey had gone down with the sick Read. In one instant, 5 American climbers and 2 Sherpa died. This was the first major mountaineering disaster to unfold on Dhaulagiri.
Success in 1970 & 1973
The next years signalled a complete turnaround from the disastrous 1969 season. Two expeditions set out for Dhaulagiri in the next three years and both were highly successful.
In 1970, the Japanese visited Dhaulagiri for the first time. Up to that point, Manaslu had been heralded as the Japanese mountain for it was a Japanese climber who had stood on it first. But in the years to come, Dhaulagiri would take over that role with half a dozen Japanese expeditions to the mountain and three new routes opened up by Cherry Blossom teams.
In 1970 though, the Japanese focused their efforts on the climbed North-East ridge in search of a first repeat. The expedition was lead by Ohta Tokofu and Imanari Shoji and they put Kawada Tetsuji and Sherpa Lhakpa Tenzing on the summit after a fairly uneventful ascent. Kawada found a red ribbon on the summit left behind by one of the members of the 1960 international expedition. The ribbon would still be there when the Japanese ascended again in 1975. In the same season, the Japanese also premièred Dhaulagiri VI and later, in 1975, Dhaulagiri IV.
Three years later in 1973, the Americans returned to Dhaulagiri to overcome the drama of the 1969 expedition by becoming the third successful expedition on top of Dhaulagiri.
In 1971, Terry Bech, survivor of the unfortunate 1969 expedition, had set out on a reconnoitring mission to prepare the planned 1973 return (he lived in Nepal). He came to the mountain with only his wife Cherie. Their mission was double: scout the North-East Ridge and at the same time, take many photographs of the South-East ridge.
On the col, Terry and his wife found unused and working oxygen bottles left behind by the 1970 Japanese expedition. They managed to use them and their reconnoitring mission almost turned into an unexpected summit push: they reached a whopping 7600m on the North-East Ridge before being repelled by bad weather. They took photos of the entire South-East ridge and the reconnoitring mission was deemed a great success.
The mission of the 1973 expedition was two-fold. A strong team would first attempt the unclimbed South-East Ridge in the same fashion as the 1969 expedition. They would climb to the crest of the ridge via a spur from the glacier below rather than ascending the entire 8km ridge. Whilst this attempt was ongoing, a second party would start ascending the North-East Ridge and if all went according to plan, the two teams would meet on the shoulder for a joint summit push. Motivation was high as an all-American team had not stood on top of an 8000m mountain for almost ten years.
For this ambitious expedition, the Americans, with sponsorship from the American Alpine Club, had gathered an impressive 16-man team. They would rely mainly on their own strength, hiring only 7 Sherpas of whom only 4 would climb the higher camps.
- Leader: Dr. James Morrissey (1969 member)
- Deputy Leader Jeffrey Duenwald (1969 member)
- Scientific Coordinator Dr. Drummond Rennie
- Climbers Terry Bech (1969 & 1971), Louis Reichardt (1969), Ronald Fear, Andrew Harvard, Del Langbauer, Peter Lev, Thomas Lyman, John Roskeiley, John Skow, Lowell Smith, Todd Thompson and Del Young
- Medical Doctor David Peterson
- High Altitude Sherpas Sonam Girmi (Sirdar), Nawang Samden, Pasang Tenzing (1954, 1958, and 1959) and Nawa Tenzing
Like the 1960 expedition, they would also count on a plane for supplies. It would drop those on several places as the expedition advanced on the mountain. After a long and harsh approach in bad weather, the advanced party finally reached the glacier at The Eiger.
On March 30th 1973, climbers Lev, Roskeiley, and Thompson opened up a new approach route to the col: rather than climbing the glacier, they went up the lower reaches of The Eiger and traversed it. This saved them a lot of time but the Eiger is notoriously avalanche-prone so it was not without risk. On the upper flatter reaches of the Ice Fall, they erected ‘Glacier Camp‘. By April 1st they had passed over the col and a second camp was erected in the basin a cross from the East Face. From then on, the airplane started dropping supplies there. The climbers wasted no time and before the base camp was completely finished set out for the glacier beneath the South-East Ridge.
They had found the spur they wanted to climb up to the crest. It was the shape of an hourglass, about 760m high and with ice slopes around 65% steep. In the middle of the hourglass there was difficult bergschrund. The upper section lead onto the final rocky bulges before the crest. A strong party was selected for the first technical leg of the climb: Lead climber Duenwald with Thompson and Roskeiley who had so far pushed the route. The first team progressed to above the bergschrund.
On the second day, strong Roskeiley was joined by Harvard and Lyman but they were driven back by the first of Dhaulagiri’s storms at the crevasse. on April 3rd a new rotation of Lev and Young pushed the highpoint entering the upper half of the hourglass. They survived a tricky night time descent. The next 5 days were spent in stormy weather with no advancements.
On April 11th, Lyman and Thompson pushed the highpoint up by another 140m whilst Langbauer and Fear constructed ice steps making the route a lot more comfortable. But all had noticed that the condition of the snow and ice were already deteriorating, especially on the glacier below the spur. On April 15th, Roskeiley and Langbauer finally moved out of the hourglass spur and hooked up with the crest. Step cutting was halted as Duenwald escaped a barrage of rockfall unscathed.
But as Langbauer finally set foot for the first time on the South-East Ridge, he was horrified: the crest was so narrow and thin it could barely support a climber. He could punch a hole right through it and his arms would stick out on the south Face. They would have to move on this terrain, with a 55% inclination, for another 2 miles or so before things would get any better. Roskeiley and Langbauer agreed that even if a lightweight party should attempt the route, erecting camps would be impossible for there simply wasn’t enough room on the ridge. The expedition abandoned the South-East Ridge and the climbers who were still fit rotated towards the North-East Ridge.
On April 12th, Morrissey had established a first camp at Jacobs Ladder on the North-East Ridge. On April 17th, a lead team of Rennie, Langbauer (switched from SE-Ridge), Bech and Anderson had dug out platforms above Jacobs Ladder. But tents didn’t last long on Dhaulagiri as with each heavy snowfall, they crumbled.
On April 19th, Bech and Anderson opened up the way towards the crux. They had to divert onto the East Face side of the crest (like the 1960 expedition) because of poor snow conditions. Here they found a rocky platform that could serve as the second camp. In the subsequent days the route below was fixed with ropes. On April 24th Anderson, Bech and Reichardt tried constructing camp 2 on the platform in blizzard conditions. The ledges were too small and all tents had to be fastened with ropes to the face to prevent people from falling out into the depths at night.
Over the next days, Roskeiley, Peterson, Lev and two (undisclosed) Sherpas joined the frontrunners. By April 27th, Bech, Roskeiley and Reichardt had opened up the route towards the final tricky rock band before the shoulder and they built a third camp on a platform. Over the next days, weather again hampered the expedition. A lull in the storms on May 6th provided Roskeiley and Nawang Samden (who had come up with Pasang Tenzing to replace some of the Americans) with a chance to scout ahead. They left the final rock band behind them and found a suitable place for high camp on the shoulder before the storms started again. Moving and supplying between camps had become very difficult because of the exposure to the gales and snow storms. Furthermore camp 3 was beginning to disintegrate with all the tents snapping under the heavy winds. For Terry Bech the expedition was over. He had suffered a serious respiratory infection with risk of oedema. He would not make it to the summit on his third expedition. Another lull on May 10th finally gave the expedition the chance to set up camp 4 from which the summit push would be mounted.
On May 12th the storm was over and the first summit team set out from camp 4 towards the summit: Roskeiley, Nawang Samden and Reichardt (sole survivor of the 1969 serac fall) became the second team to repeat the North-East Ridge. They reached the summit in less than 4 hours and spent another hour taking pictures. Roskeiley and Reichardt had been above 7800 metres for more than 20 days and were exhausted. Roskeiley had frostbite to the feet and had to be carried down the glacier. Duenwald was also suffering from severe frostbite in a lower camp. He had given his all on the SE-Ridge and the early stages of NE-Ridge. He had to be flown out and returned to America immediately. The advanced medical treatment there saved his toes.
On the 16th of May, Fear, Lev, Pasang Tenzing and Nawang Tenzing moved into Camp 4 ready for a second assault. Another storm confined them to high camp. Pasang Tenzing was in the high camps for 15 days straight! But by May 20th, the ice fall had become so unstable it was becoming suicidal and the entire expedition was ordered down. By May 23rd, all were back in base camp and it was disassembled. It was a sour thing, as between May 22nd and 26th an exceptionally good weather window opened up that surely would have allowed more members of the expedition a go at the summit.
Jim Morrissey was credited after the expedition for his excellent leadership and strategic planning of the expedition. The Americans were finally on top and the trauma of 1969 was overcome when Reichardt reached the summit. Unfortunately Bech had fallen ill and Pasang’s chance at a first summit on his 4th expedition to Dhaulagiri was thwarted by the lousy condition of the ice fall below. All in all though, the expedition was a great success without any casualties.
1975 : Drama on the South-West Ridge
With the standard route now repeated twice, expeditions started focussing on finally opening up a new route on Dhaulagiri. The Americans had failed on the South-East Ridge but now the Japanese set up an ambitious expedition and secured the first permit for the South Face.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Mountaineering Association had, in 1971, succeeded in opening up a new route on the West Face of Manaslu. But the climb had been rather disappointing: the expedition struggled mainly with deep snow and adverse weather and the climb itself had proven fairly straightforward. They were now looking for a challenging rock face that would bring prestige and thus secured the impressive South Face of Dhaulagiri. After studying photographs, they chose the South-West Ridge for their ascent.
Leader of the expedition was Amemiya Takashi who had been part of the Manaslu climb. Peculiar about this expedition was that they had started extremely early in late February.
The team was experienced in rock climbing and they would need that experience as the crux of the route was a 2000m long rock band between 5200 and 7200m with the most notable feature being The Fist. In a matter of weeks the advanced team had progressed up to 5900m where they set up camp 3. The team planned camp 4 to be above the Fist. The advanced team set out to tackle the Fist which at that point was estimated to be anything between 200 and 400m of overhanging rock.
Down below, the support teams were making their way up the fixed ropes towards the intermediate camps. But on March 26th disaster unexpectedly struck. With the intermediate camps well occupied, the last team of two Japanese climbers and three Sherpa were occupying Camp 1. They were surprised in their tents by a massive avalanche from the Ice Fall section above. Imura Tetsu, Numao Yoshitada, Pasang Kami, Dakye and Dorje died instantly. The event was reminiscent of the 1969 disaster when a serac fall on the lower reaches also wiped out an expedition.
With the supply route interrupted (the route between camp 1 & 2 was also gone), two of their countrymen dead and the Sherpa too in mourning, the expedition was immediately over.
After studying what went wrong, the Japanese would, in 1978, move their Camp 1 up another 1500m to above the ice fall. This proved to be a logistical nightmare but did prevent further casualties from avalanches in the treacherous lower section.
1976: A Fourth Success
A year after the Japanese, the Italians would be the second nation to get a permit for the South-West Ridge. Francesco Santon was issued the permit somewhere in late November or early December 1975. He met with Renzo Debertolis, leader of the Aquile Di San Martino Group of Mountain Guides, who put together a team for the challenging ascent.
Expedition Leader would be Renzo Debertolis. Debuty leader was of course permit holder Francesco Santon. Independent climbers were Sergio Martini, Luigi Henry and expedition doctor Achille Poluzzi. Climbing members of the Mountain Guides were Camillo De Pauli, Gian Paolo De Pauli, Luciano Gadenz, Gian Pietro Scalet, Silvio Simoni, Giampaolo Zortea and Edoardo Zagonel.
By 17th of March, the team was constructing a base camp at the South-West Ridge. But, upon inspecting the ridge they had a permit for, it was decided that it looked too difficult and dangerous. And the Italians agreed that they would trek around to the North Face to see if that looked more promising (at least, that is the official story, perhaps this was their intention all along?). Five days later, they were setting up base camp a cross from The Eiger. Like many they first looked at the Pear, but finally decided to tackle the climbed North-East Ridge.
The expedition moved at a snails pace: heavy snow, hurricane winds and poor snow conditions meant slow progress up the crest. By late April, they were finally setting up high camp on the shoulder of Dhaulagiri. With the camp in place, another heavy storm broke out and the summit team were forced down to a lower camp. On May 2nd, the summit team had returned to high camp 5 ready to receive supplies needed for the final summit push (mainly food and gasoline). But the next day, they discovered that the support teams below them had moved down instead of up because of the horrible weather. The summit team was isolated with barely anything left. But when on May 4th, the winds subsided a little, the Italians took a guess and simply went for it.
Giampaolo Zortea, Silvio Simoni and Luciano Gadenz set out for the summit despite being isolated in high camp. After no more than an hour of climbing, they were back in storms. Gadenz had to turn around at 7900m due to frostbite injuries but the other 2 pushed on in horrible conditions. At 2.30pm they made the 4th successful ascent of Dhaulagiri in white-out conditions. By 4pm they were back in camp 5 and all made it off the mountain alive. They were the third Italian expedition to successfully ascend an 8000m peak.
1977 : Messner on the South Face
The third permit for Dhaulagiri South Face was issued to none other than Reinold Messner. He attempted a direct route on the South Face alpine style with other famous mountaineers Peter Habeler (AUT), Otto Wiedemann (DE) and Michael Covington (USA). They were among the top rock climbers of the world which would be needed on this terrible 4000m high face.
I strongly advise you read Reinhold Messners book ‘The Big Walls: From the North Face of the Eiger to the South Face of Dhaulagiri‘. It contains an amazing account of their short climb on the face as well as unbelievable pictures that illustrate the steepness and difficulty of the face most accurately.
The foursome constructed camp 1 at 5350m on April 9th under a rock outcropping. This protection was necessary as seracs and avalanches came down the mountain daily when the face started heating up. They started out on the only feasible buttress left of the central spur of the South Face. But they soon hit a band of rotten rock and moved more to the centre (into the stream of avalanches). From the central spur of the South Face, Messner and Habeler, the lead climbers, progressed to the right of the face mastering several rock steps woven together by the occasional steep ice field (60%). Messner said some of the ice was the steepest he had ever climbed. The Eiger Nordwand was child-play compared to this. The face, being directed towards the South, warmed up considerably during the day but every morning it would be covered in fresh snow: a recipe for disaster.
Indeed on the final afternoon of the expedition, the men were hit by two smaller fresh snow avalanches as they were pushing the hight point. But all survived. That was the signal for the team to turn around. The expedition had lasted for 4 weeks and reached a high point of roughly 6200m, an impressive performance in its own right.
Messner, not one to back down easily, said it was one of the most beautiful and challenging climbs he’d ever been involved in (perhaps even at number one) and admitting defeat did not hurt him one bit. In fact he had it in the back of his mind from the start that perhaps this was one face not to be conquered by him.
The ascent was supposed to have been filmed by ZDF but one of the crew members suffered Hight Altitude Sickness and Messners brother barely got him back down in time: a tragedy was avoided. There would be more impressive attempts on the face direct, but none succeeded. It remains the highest unclimbed face in the Himalayas in 2012.
1978 : Japanese success and drama
In 1978, two separate Japanese expeditions finally managed to open up two new routes on Dhaulagiri. But not without paying a terrible price.
First in the Spring, Amemiya returned to his South-West Ridge. We’ve already gone over all the details of this ascent in the South-West Ridge route description. If you’ve forgotten the details, please read that again. He would once again lose a team member who fell to his death (Naganuma Katsuni) but in the end two summit teams were successful on May 10th and 11th respectively. Especially the mastering of the The Fist was a memorable feat.
In September and October, an 18-member expedition set out under the leadership of Tanaka Seiko of the Gunma Prefectural Mountaineering Club to succeed where two American expeditions had failed. On October 19th and 20th, five climbing members and one Sherpa of the Japanese team reached the summit (with 02).
The ascent came at a terrible cost: On September 23rd three men were killed by avalanches en route between camp 4 and 5: Fukusawa Yujiro, Akuzawa Hiroshi and Kobayashi Kiyoshi. The three-man team had taken the climbing lead that day in search of a camp 5 position (very difficult on the narrow ridge). At 7 am, all communications were lost. A team lead by Ishikawa set out to investigate. They found only a cut rope hanging from the South Face with nobody at the end of it and assumed the worst: an avalanche had swept them from the narrow ridge and down the South Face. A helicopter search was mounted later by leader Tanaka Seiko, but not a trace of the three could be found. Though the expedition was in shock and didn’t climb for several days, they decided to continue in spite of the tragedy.
A month later, as the second summit bid was under way, tragedy struck in the exact same location. Deputy climbing leader Kogure Kazuyoshi was supposed to ferry a load up to high camp for the proposed third summit push but by afternoon, he still hadn’t arrived in camp 5.
Abe Hajime and Kaneko Kazumi were sent up from camp 4 whilst Yagihara Kuniaki, taking over the deputy climbing lead, aborter the third summit push and headed down from high camp 7 also in search of Kogure. Yagihara found camp 6 abandoned by the Sherpas. In fact, camp 5 was also empty and in camp 4, only Kogure had remained as all Sherpa’s had gone down feeling unwell.
Abe and Kaneko found Kogure‘s body hanging at the end of a rope on the South Face, nearly at the exact same position where the avalanche had struck a month before. They yelled out to him for an extended period of time but he did not respond nor move. They could not free his body with just the two of them so he was declared dead and the news was reported. What had most likely happened: with no Sherpa’s remaining below high camp, Kogure, wanting a third successful summit push, must have tried to carry excessive loads all by himself up the narrow ridge. He must have lost his balance and fell down the South Face. Though the rope had prevented him from falling all the way down, he died at the scene either from exposure (he had been hanging there for many hours before he was found) or from injuries sustained in the fall/by the rope. Wit a fourth member lost, all further summit pushes were abandoned and the expedition was terminated.
For a detailed account of this ascent, I would like to refer to Tanaka Seiko’s book : “峭峻の白き尾根DHAULAGIRI・Ⅰ－1978” that also contains marvellous pictures showing the difficulty of the ascent.
Dhaulagiri had claimed 7 Japanese lives but Japan did have the honour of three successful ascents with two of those being on new routes. Over the next years, the Japanese would continue to have success on the mountain and so the title Japanese Mountain is, for me at least, more than deserved.
In the same year, the French also launched the first attack on the unclimbed Sout-West Pillar. The Pillar is not actually a pillar but more a second South-West ridge that joins the proper South-West Ridge, climbed by the Japanese as mentioned above, near the fist and the basin above. The South-West Pillar starts on the West face rather than the South and it is there that the distinction lies.
The expedition was lead by Yves-Pollet Villard but the expedition was repelled on October 31st 1978, at an altitude of roughly 7200m (The Fist presumably) by the onset of harsh winter weather. The French would return to the SW-Pillar a couple of years later.
1979 was another year marked by both success and failure at Dhaulagiri. There were three teams active on the North side that year.
The Spanish & French on the NE-Ridge:
The first team on the mountain in the spring season of ’79 were an all Spanish expedition issued by the Grupo Navarro de Alta Montana. Leader was Gregoria Ariz Martinez and the climbing team consisted of another 16 members. Their goal was to become the 5th expedition to repeat the NE-Ridge ascent (and 7th overall).
The team made slow progress hampered by the usual Dhaulagiri snow storms. Heavy winds destroyed several camps along the ridge that had to be rebuilt. But by May 11th the first reasonable weather window presented itself and a summit team moved into position for a push.
On May 12th at 3am the team consisting of Inaki Aldaya, Javier Garayoga, Gerardo Plaza, Jordi Pons and Sherpa Ang Riti set out for the summit. They all reached it at 2pm and found souvenirs (photos, letters…) left behind by the two previous Japanese expedition. A fifth successful repeat of the Standard Route had been accomplished.
The next day, the 2nd team of four climbers and a Sherpa were in high camp for another go. But the climbing Sirdar Sonam Girmi (member of ’73 American expedition) strongly advised against another push as he predicted an imminent change in the weather: he would be right.
Behind the Spanish, a second French expedition was moving up the mountain. Expedition leader of the small 6-man crew was Sylvain Saudan (FRA). He had secured a permit for the North-West Ridge and Pear Buttress and had hoped to accomplish the first ski-decent off the summit. But the expedition moved to the North-East Ridge with the Spaniards who were not amused by the extra activity and filed an official complaint against the French for violating their permit. But both team leaders came to an understanding where the French would start their attempt after the Spaniards had had their shot.
With the second Spanish team retreating reluctantly from high camp on the 12th (the successful summit team had already pushed on to a lower camp), the 6-man French team moved into camp 5 on the morning of the 13th planning a summit push in the coming days.
During the late hours of the 13th, the predicted snowstorm erupted and several avalanches trashed camp 5 high on the mountain. A tent containing Eric Poumailloux and Jean-Louis Sabarly was swept down the mountain: they were never found. The site of camp 5 was completely destroyed and the survivors had to spent a night out in the open in the raging snow storm.
The next morning, Swiss Climber Jean Pierre Ollagnier took charge of the retreat dragging the remaining survivors (Saudan, female climber Marie Jose Valencot (FRA) and Sherpa Pemba) off the mountain. The Spanish were already disassembling their base camp but Ollagnier managed to climb down and return with some of their staff. During this phase, Sherpa Pemba who was descending last, fell behind. The weather was still poor and in the fog and snow, nobody saw what happened to him (most likely a slip due to exhaustion and exposure). He was never seen again.
Thanks to the heroics of Ollagnier, Saudan and Valencot (after 4 days out in the open) made it off the mountain alive but both suffered terrible permanent frost-bite injuries. Valencot was off the worst with all her extremities, her nose and her mouth affected.
The Polish on the North Face
We previously mentioned the Polish expedition to the Pear Buttress lead by Gerard Malaczynski with prominent mountaineers such as Voytek Kurtyka and Ludwik Wiczyczynski in the routes section. The 18-man expedition organised by the Polski Zwiazek Alpinismu set out to finally conquer the Pear Buttress route to the top (and so finally claim the unclimbed North Face).
The expedition was in bad weather and deeps snow throughout the post-monsoon season. Through sheer persistence they had conquered the Pear and the Cathedral Towers and set up high camp for the firs time on October 3rd before storms chased them down. A second attempt began on October 12th when a high point of 7800m was reached (still not better than the Argentinians in 1952) before more snow storms thwarted the attempt. A final attempt on October 14th didn’t succeed in pushing the high point and the expeditions resources ran out.
But in the meantime, Kurtyka had explored the East Face of Dhaulagiri and he would return with ambition the following year.
1980 : The East Face Conquered
In 1980, three expeditions converged on Dhaulagiri all attempting to open up new routes.
Spring: Anglo-Polish open the East Face
In the spring season, it was a Polish/English joint effort that claimed the East Face. Kurtyka had explored the smooth but steep East Face the year before. During April the team worked the standard route putting up caches in case of an emergency retreat. In the space of a couple of days in May, in bad weather conditions, they conquered the East Face going straight up it until about 7200m where the face joins the NE-Ridge.
They were subsequently forced down the mountain by storms but on May 15th, managed to climb the mountain via the NE-Ridge. Kurtyka,Wilczyczynski (POL), MacIntyre (UK) and Ghilini (FRA) reached the summit that day. Before them, a Swiss expedition had failed on the standard NE-Ridge because of the worst weather on Dhaulagiri in decades.
Autumn: More failure on the Pear Buttress
For the autumn season, Czechoslovakian turned American Vera Komarkova (who was the first woman on top of Annapurna two years earlier) had intended to secure a permit for the standard NE-Ridge with an all female expedition. But when push came to shove, she decided they would give the still unclimbed Pear Buttress on the North Face a go.
The team of woman climbers set out with Sherpa support, and by the end of September had constructed camp 3 just below the buttress. Outside of leader Komarkova, the team included Annie Rushmore (also there on Annapurna), Sue Giller, Lucy Smith and Cyndy Simer, Diana Dailey, Shari Kearney (USA), expedition doctor Heidi Ludi (SUI), Lyn Griffith (AUS) and climbing Sirdar Sonam Girmi (with crucial roles in the successful ’73 American and ’79 Spanish expeditions) Chewang, and Ang Rita.
The team climbed to the right side of the Buttress where there was less snow but it is a lot steeper thus making slow progress. On October 5th, the expedition reached its high point of 7100m.
On October 7th, after several days of heavy snow, tragedy struck at camp 2. Usually sheltered below seracs, camp 2 wasn’t really considered that avalanche prone (compared to camps 3 and 4).
The climbing team in camp 4 received a distress call and started looking down at what was happening below in camp 2. There, under pressure of an avalanche, a crevasse had opened up in the middle of the camp and a tent had slipped in the crevasse. The tent landed on a snow bridge around 12m into the crevasse. Daily, Simer, Kearney, Chewang and another three undisclosed Sherpas climbed out of the tent and the crevasse on their own strength. A cook had to be freed by a rescue party but there was no sign of Lyn Griffith.
One team started looking for her in the layer of avalanche snow that had disrupted the camp and caused the crevasse to open. Without luck.
Ludy and Giller were then lowered some 46m down the crevasse but couldn’t find her either. Griffith, sitting at the entrance of the tent, must have slipped out into the crevasse where at the bottom she got covered with snow. She was the first female climber to perish on Dhaulagiri. With a casualty in their ranks, a lot of equipment destroyed and several Sherpa injured, another unsuccessful attempt on the Pear was over.
Autumn: The French return to the SW-Pillar
The French gave the SW-Pillar a second go (2 years after their first attempt) in the autumn of ’81. The expedition, lead by Jean Coudray, encountered the usual difficulties on this side of the mountain: rocky steps, ice fields up to 65% steep, avalanche prone seracs and finally the overhanging fist. This is as far as the Sherpa could go. Hampered by strong winds, lead climbers Pierre Beghin and Marc Salomez needed several days to conquer the fist, but eventually they managed to push the highpoint up to 7500m by reaching the shoulder ice field. But high winds, difficult weather and the logistical nightmare of the fist prevented the two from getting high camp installed on the shoulder from which to launch their summit push. The SE-Pillar remained unclimbed after a second attempt.
1981 was again a busy year on Dhaulagiri with action on three faces. The standard NE-Ridge was slowly beginning to produce summits on a yearly basis (especially post-monsoon) and 1981 was no exception. Still, there was one special première:
Kamuro Hironobu was the first man to climb and summit the ridge completely solo from base camp taking 6 days, thus adding to the Japanese successes at Dhaulagiri.
On the North Face, the Argentinians returned to finally conquer their face on the third go. They assembled their most seasoned and ambitious team yet lead by commander Mario Serrano and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Club Andino Bariloche. The team also included Everest and Manaslu veterans Hector Cuinas, Vitale Ulyssess, Jorge Viton and Marcelo Aguilar.
The team were confined to their highest camp above the buttress at 7600m by the usual bad weather. But then somewhere between the higher camps, team leader Serrano disappeared. Nobody saw what happened so his fate remains unknown. But since his body wasn’t recovered lower on the steep face, a fall seems unlikely and it is presumed he slipped into a hidden crevasse. This dramatic incident meant the expedition was over and the third Argentinian attempt had failed. They were still in possession of the high point on the ridge though (from 1954).
The most ambitious project was happening on the South Face though. The high point on the unclimbed South Face Direct was still in the hands of Messner and Habeler.
The Yugoslavian team had requested a permit for spring 1982, but were granted permission for the post-monsoon season of ’81. After acclimatisation trips to neighbouring mountains and a period of bad weather, the climb finally started on October 7th, 1981.
The team chose to ascend to the right of the central spur of Dhaulagiri South Face (Messner and co started left). There was a lot more snow compared to other years on the South Face which was dangerous but sometimes an advantage. By October 13th, they had set up a first camp at 5350m. From this camp they would launch the alpine style ascent (meaning no tents and no Sherpa support). On October 15th, the attack started.
The first rope consisted of Stane Belak, Cene Bercic and Emil Tratnik. After only 150m of vertical gain, the team was halted for 7 hours by constant rockfall. By nightfall they had only reached 5700m and set up a bivouac. They then reached the mixed section of rock steps and extremely steep Ice Faces (up to 65%) the next day. They managed to conquer the difficult section and bivouacked again at 6100m almost reaching the Messner highpoint.
The same night, the second rope consisting of Rok Kolar, Joze Zupan and Janez Sabolek started heading up. On October 19th, they reached an altitude of 6900m on the face thus pushing beyond Messners highpoint by 400m before they were forced into another bivouac. The next day, they reached the final massive rock band at around 7000-7300m: it is a trademark of the Southern Face. They could not find a way through it (rotten rock and overhangs) and were forced to traverse onto the South-East Ridge to the right. In the afternoon of October 20th, they found old ropes used by the Japanese in ’78 and they were now on the ridge proper.
In harsh conditions, they managed to ascend up to 7800m on the ridge but on the morning of the 28th they were forced into an immediate retreat: high winds destroyed their tent and the gas stoves inside. Their food rations had also run out. Climbing down the SE-Ridge was not an option so they went up in the bad weather to the shoulder where they could access the North-East Ridge. They could not inform base camp of their retreat. They slept in an old Japanese tent without food or heat.
On October 25th, they started their decent down the NE-Ridge. It would take them until October 29th to finally reach the foot of the mountain after a horrifying final leg in the highly unstable Eiger Ice Fall. They went without food or heat for 6 days surviving countless marginal bivouacs. Cene Bercic suffered moderate frost bite injuries and could not descend further on his own strength but the others were relatively unhurt after this epic and heroic retreat.
The Yugoslavians claimed the South Face as theirs but since they had traversed onto the SE-Ridge almost a 1000m below the summit and then hadn’t reached it via the SE-Ridge, the ascent was not credited as such. Still it was a very valiant and brave effort and had been the best performance on the South Face yet.
1982 : The North Face
In 1982 after 24 years since the first attempt and 9 failed expeditions, the Japanese finally opened up North Face/Pear Buttress route on Dhaulagiri, their third virgin route on the mountain.
Leader of the expedition was Sasaki Norio and climbing members Komatsu Kozo, Saito Yasuhira and Yamada Noboru (summit team), Miyazaki Eiko (Dhaulagiri IV) and also Murakami, Yagihara, Takahashi, Matsunaga and Suzuki (first names unknown).
By September 21st, Base Camp had been constructed, the team launched their attack. On the 26st, they survived their first scare: on the route to camp 2 Miyazaki, Murakami and Yagihara were dragged 150m down by an avalanche. They were in luck the fixed ropes held and stopped their slide. Yagihara had his right hand lacerated and damaged his right leg. Miyazaki had rope burns on his right arm and armpit. Their expedition was over.
By October 2nd, they had established camp 3 in the Pear Buttress (right side). On October 9th, lead climbers Saito and Yamada reached the crest of the North-West Ridge. It took another two days to open the route up to the Cathedral Peaks where camp 5 was placed.
By October 16th, after a great effort, the Peaks were behind the first team who were now in camp 6 on the shoulder at 7800m ready for an attack. There were no signs of previous expeditions remaining at this altitude. On the morning of the 17th, the first party of Takahashi, Matsunaga and Murakami made it to 7950m (roughly the same as the 1954 Argentinian expedition) before giving up because of exhaustion (they climbed without O2).
At 2.20am on the 18th, the second party of Yamada, Komatsu and Saito, this time using O2, made it to the summit at around 11.40am. And so the North Face was finally conquered through the Pear in 1982 on the 10th attempt. A third party had set out a little behind the summiteers but two climbers were soon in a bad shape (Miyazaki through exhaustion, Suzuki had gone snow blind) and abandoned early on.
Saito achieved another remarkable landmark: in climbing Dhaulagiri I, he was the first person who had stood on the summit of Dhaulagiri’s I,II,III, IV & VI.
On the NE-Ridge there was one more notable summit. Lutgarde Vivijs, along with her husband Jan and three others Belgians, was the first woman to stand on top of Dhaulagiri. The relatively inexperienced youngster had only climbed Peak Lenin before being invited on the first Belgian expedition to Dhaulagiri. She summited on May 5th, 1982.
1984-1985 : West Face and Winter
In the post-monsoon season of ’84, a Czechoslovakian expedition ventured onto the West Face and climbed it in an alpine style. The three man team of J. Simon, K. Jakes and J. Stejskal ascended on the left side of the face in dangerous avalanche prone gullies. They then traversed beneath a serac field onto the NW-ridge where after a final difficult section, they hooked up with the Japanese route of 1982 (for more technical details check the routes section). The entire team spent weeks in high camp before a weather window finally opened up. In the book by Reinhold Messner mentioned above there are more amazing pictures also illustrating the Czech route of 1984.
The expedition was lead by V. Smida and Jim Novak. Two teams were in operation each taking the lead on various pitches. By October 1st high camp 5 had been established. In camp 5, the first team of Jakes, Silhan and Rajtar waited for days for a summit window to open, but it never did. The high altitude and bad weather had exhausted them and frostbite was also setting in.
Miroslav Smid, regarded as the best climber of the expedition, was the next to move into high camp. But he too was repelled by bad weather and gave up.
The third team was finally successful (or lucky with the weather): on October 22nd Jakes, Simon and Stejskal took a gamble and moved up from camp 5 spending a night in a snow cave at 8000m. The reasonable weather continued the next day and they proceeded towards the summit. At around noon all three reached the summit and now they could claim the first route (and ascent) via the West Face.
Simon was suffering from a terrible toot ache on the summit and headed down after only a few minutes well ahead of the others. When the other men reached camp 5 Simon was not there. They descended down to camp 4 but there was still no sign of Simon. He never reached camp 3 where climbers were waiting. A search around camp 4 revealed some of his gear so it is presumed he fell somewhere above camp 4. Nobody saw what happened and his body wasn’t recovered so it remains a mystery.
Despite a magnificent effort and the opening of a new route, another Dhaulagiri expedition ended in tragedy.
A month later, an ambitious and skilled Polish expedition set out to conquer Dhaulagiri for the first time in winter (up to that point, only 2 8000m mountains had been climbed successfully in winter).
The team was lead by Adam Bilczewski of the Gliwice Mountaineering Club. The other 9 members were Janusz Baranek, Andrzej Czok, Julian Kubowicz, Jerzy Kukuczka, Miroslaw Kuras, Andrzej Machnik, Janusz Skorek (deputy leader), Waclaw Sonelski and Krzysztof Witkowski (doctor). For the ascent, they had planned to go via the Pear Buttress, but chose the standard North-East Ridge when the Japanese Winter Expedition of 1984-85 had given up on the route because of impossible amounts of snow.
On the approach route, the Poles escaped disaster when large parts of the serac field on the Western Face (where the Czechs had been climbing a month and a half ago) came down the mountain creating an avalanche of epic proportions. Some of the Polish gear was destroyed but nobody was hurt.
On December 15th, the Poles firs tackled The Eiger: the Ice Fall was impossible during winter and so they traversed on the avalanche-prone rock tower (the Americans did it before in ’73). Just before Christmas they had set up a first two-tent camp at the top of the Ice Fall on the saddle between Tukche-Ri and Dhaulagiri. Christmas was spent together in base camp.
Between December 27th and January 7th, the team progressed no further than camp 2 tormented by hurricane force winds and temperatures below -40c°. Meanwhile, legend Kukuczka had joined the expedition. On the 7th, Kukuczka and Czok finally carried supplies to a height of 6800m before weather again turned apocalyptic. On the 12th, Baranek and Kuras managed to set up camp 3 with the supplies dumped earlier. On the 14th, Kukuczka and Czok took the lead once more manoeuvring the crux and setting up camp 4 near the shoulder at an altitude of 7400m (still relatively low). The team were ready for a first summit push.
Kukuczka and Czok wasted no time reaching 7900m on the 15th before another hellish storm forced them all the way down to camp 3. Skorek and Machnik moved up next planning to push camp 4 closer to the summit: the same scenario repeated itself as both were forced to camp 2 by the next hurricane. On the 19th, Czok, Kukuczka and Kuras managed to reach camp 4 where during the next morning, they were struck by an avalanche. By this time, empty camp 3 had also been destroyed so there were only two real camps remaining: 2 and 4. The threesome survived the ordeal but had to dig the tent free: Kuras froze his hands and his summit bid was over. Czok’s over-boots had filled up with snow and he couldn’t wear them: frost-bite was starting to affect his legs. Nevertheless, Kukuczka and Czok pushed camp 4 onto the shoulder.
At 6am on January 21st, Kukuczka and Czok moved out of camp 4 to attack the summit. In deep snow and harsh winds, the two reached the summit at 3.30pm. They could only spent 15 minutes there because of the late hour but brought back a tonkin stick left on the summit by a previous expedition to prove their first winter ascent. In the dark, they could not find the final couloir towards camp 4 and were forced to bivouac in the open at 7800m. This was hell especially for Czok already suffering from frost-bite to the legs. At 9am the next day, they finally reached camp 4 where they were forced to rest until 3pm. With camp 3 destroyed, they set out on the long leg towards camp 2 when darkness again caught up with them: they got separated. By 10pm, Czok was above camp 2 where he was greeted and guided to safety by Kuras. But Kukuczka was less fortunate, spending a second bivouac in the open with little to no protection. Czok later said he doesn’t recall anything from the descent. At 9am the next morning, Kukuczka finally stumbled into camp 2 as well. The two climbers were reunited and decided to head down together after a days rest. They finally had radio contact with base camp. Kuras had already descended. Then, another 17hour snow storm raged on the lower reaches of Dhaulagiri.
Czok came down to base camp on the 25th but there was no sign of Kukuczka. The worlds toughest climber had moved alone towards the French Pass from camp 1 through snow up to his arms. He would join two others waiting for him there and went on to climb Cho Oyu in the same winter. A true testament to the willpower of the worlds strongest climber.
As we said before, the NE-Ridge was producing summits (especially in the fall) at a yearly basis by now. On the West face of the mountain, the Austrians were trying to repeat the Czechoslovakian route when climber Franz Mulleder from Salzburg suffered fatal oedema on the North-West Ridge. That ended their expedition.
On the South Face, A mostly Polish expedition completed the third notable attempt at establishing a direct route up the face. But like the Yugoslavian expedition before them, they could not conquer the trademark rock band that runs through the higher reaches of the face. The Polish had started on the same spur Messner and co. had used on the left of the face. When their advance was halted, they traversed on the South-West Ridge climbed before by the Japanese (the Yugoslavians had traversed right to the SE-ridge also climbed by the Japanese). The Polish managed to conquer the Fist but were repelled later on the big ice field above. Like the Yugoslavs, their efforts weren’t even awarded with a summit.
1988 : The SW-Spur Conquered
After three failed French expeditions to the Spur (’79, ’81, ’85), an international team consisting of Kazakh climbers Y. Moiseev and K. Valiev together with Slovakian Z. Demjan finally succeeded in climbing the SW-Buttress or Pillar. Moreover, they accomplished the feat without Sherpa help, fixed camps or fixed ropes in true Alpine style. They encountered the usual technical difficulties for which I would once again like to refer to the route section.
This 3000-metre ascent, with difficult technical climbing between 6,800–7,300 m, was acknowledged as the year’s best achievement at the UIAA Expedition Commission Conference. All ridges on Dhaulagiri had now been climbed successfully.
1989 : Deadly Year on Dhaulagiri
There were no new routes or special climbs attempted on Dhaulagiri in 1989 but the autumn and winter season of that year proved particularly deadly.
First, on the 25th of September, two time Everest summiteer Ajiwa Sherpa was taken by an avalanche on the standard NE-Ridge together with fellow Sherpa Kami Sarki.
Then on the 9th of October, Spanish Francesc ‘Quico’ Dalmases, an established mountaineer from Catalunya, disappeared high on the mountain. He was attempting an alpine-style first repeat of the Czech route on the West Face together with climbing partner Jordi Canyameres. They managed to ascend the face in 6 days in bad conditions with a lot of snow and ice-cold temperatures (-40c°) before making camp on the NW-Ridge. Canyameres could not proceed to the top because of the onset of frostbite. Both ventured onto the North Face where Canyameres descended presumably via the Buttress route. Dalmases was still fit enough for a final push and headed back up towards the summit. He disappeared in the clouds and was not seen again. The exact position of his disappearance is unclear. A Spanish source has his last known location somewhere on the North Face moving up. An English source claimed both had traversed the North Face beneath the summit ridge and onto the standard route. There Canyameres descended and Dalmases resumed on the standard route. A traverse of the North Face seems highly unlikely to us but so does Canyameres descending the Pear Buttress with frostbite. What is certain is that Dalmases perished somewhere above 7600m high on Dhaulagiri on his way to the summit.
Lastly, a small American team trying to repeat the International Route on the East Face onto NE-Ridge in the winter was also hit by tragedy. Gregory Barber, Scot McGrath and their Sherpa Nuru Wangchuk disappeared on Christmas Day of 1989. They had set out for a summit push from their high camp on the face at 6400m moving towards the North-East Ridge but disappeared. Other members of the expedition mounted a search and rescue and found traces of their equipment on the ridge beneath the Shoulder. There were indications of an avalanche and presumably that’s what swept the three away.
1989 had claimed 6 lives on Dhaulagiri, almost equalling the death toll of the ’69 tragedy, to date still the deadliest year (and certainly event) on the mountain.
Climbing During the Nineties
During the Nineties, summit success via the NE-Ridge continued to increase. More importantly two more routes were opened up on Dhaulagiri. First in 1992, a strong Kazakh team finally climbed the West Face in a direct line. A year later, in 1993, the North Face direct route was also put up by an experienced Russian team and expert UK climber Rick Allen. There were also notable speed ascents (1994 Piotr Pustelnik (POL)) and the last great attempt on the South Face (Tomaz Humar (SLV) – reached the rock band at 7000-73000m but was the third to fail there).
Though as on most 8000m mountains, the Death Ratio started to decline dramatically on Dhaulagiri during the Nineties, there were still many casualties to be regretted. Remarkably, all casualties occurred on the Standard NE-Ridge. Of course this is also because it is the most popular route and sometimes less experienced expeditions also try it. An overview:
In the spring of 1990, Wangel Sherpa, a veteran of Annapurna, was surprised by an avalanche and died instantly. A few months later on October 30th, the first Lithuanian climber to summit Dhaulagiri, Dainius Makauskas disappeared high on the mountain in stormy conditions after his summit. His body was never found.
In the spring of 1992, German Hubert Weinzierl had a heart failure in one of the lower camps. He could not be saved. During the same season, Romanian Female climbing duo and Everest summiteers Taina Coliban and Sandita Isaile disappeared high on the mountain en route to the summit on April 11th. An avalanche most likely swept them away.
In 1993, Dhaulagiri claimed one of its most famous casualties. New Zealand-er Gary Ball formed a famous climbing duo with his Adventure Consultants partner Rob Hall (who would later perish in the ’96 Everest disaster). Ball had completed the seven summits but had suffered an attack of HACE during his most recent attempt on Everest in the spring of 1993. Despite being warned he attempted Dhaulagiri in October of the same year. In camp 2 at 6400m on the NE-Ridge, he collapsed and later died of pulmonary oedema. Hall, who also didn’t summit after the incident, was left to run Adventure Consultants by himself.
In 1994 on 26th of September, Czech mountaineer Robert Bahler fell to his death on the NE-Ridge (actually a rather rare occurrence). A month later, on October 18th, female climber Galina Chekanova (UKR) was on her way back from a successful summit together with climbing partner Tamara Ena (UKR). As she was entering the crux on her way down, Galina fell to her death (probably mistake after exhaustion) at an altitude of 7350 meters.
In 1995 on May 19th, German climber Albrecht Hamann died of exposure in the lower camps after successfully topping out with Swiss partners Norbert Joos, 34, and Urs Braschler, 43. They didn’t use O2. Possibly oedema and/or exhaustion from the oxygen deprived climb could have played a part. On October 6th of the same year, Japanese mountaineer Hisayoshi Tawaraya, leader of one of three Japanese expeditions going for the summit that year, tragically disappeared in bad weather after his summit (on a side note: for reference to climbing before the Nineties, in 1995 there were 28 successful ascents on the NE-Ridge and as many as 10 different teams working on the same ridge).
In the spring of 1998, the First Greek Expedition was having a go at Dhaulagiri. Deputy leader of the expedition Nikos Papandreu was climbing last in line and had drifted to the left of the crest route because of high winds. He took a wrong step and fell 1600 meters onto the rocks below the East Face. He must have died instantly but a helicopter search was mounted nonetheless: it came up empty handed in poor visibility conditions. A couple of days later, Dhaulagiri was also the last climb for one of mountaineerings most famous people: Chantal Maudit (FRA). She had bagged Six Eight-thousanders (including K2, 4th women) before joining the tragic Greek expedition on Dhaulagiri that year. On May 11th, she and her climbing partner Ang Tschering (NPL) were surprised at night by an avalanche in one if their camps. Their bodies were discovered inside the tent. But Maudit was already the subject of a lot of criticism: after 2 of the 6 ascents she had made, she collapsed and had to be rescued high on the mountain. She never pulled her weight on expeditions either and some doubted her competence, including American 14-Eight-thousander Ed Viesturs (normally known to be a sincere man) climbing on Dhaulagiri in that year. He uttered that simple carbon-monoxide poisoning was the cause of her death. An autopsy confirmed a broken neck suggesting an avalanche did kill her but there will always be debate on the tragic subject. In the fall season, the Greeks were struck again by tragedy as a second Greek climber fell to his death: On October 2nd, Charalampos Tsoupras was last seen in camp 3 at 7550 meters heading towards the summit. Presumably he fell but his body was never found and the Greeks had to cancel a second expedition to Dhaulagiri in the space of a year.
Finally, in 1999 UK female climber Ginette Harrison (successful ascents of Kangchenjunga and Makalu) was surprised by an avalanche together with her climbing Sherpa Dawa Dorje on October 24th. She became the 6th female climber to lose her life on Dhaulagiri. All deaths in the Nineties occurred on the NE-Ridge that hosted up to 11 expeditions per year. Four deaths came after a successful summit (only 1 before 1990).
Climbing Since 2000
Since 2000 there have been no new route attempts on Dhaulagiri. But that isn’t surprising since only the South Face remains unclimbed and the rock band at 7000m there doesn’t look like it is ready to be conquered any time soon. On top of the difficulty, there is the very large objective danger of avalanches and rockfall and ice seracs at the bottom.
In 2000 a South Korean team from the Gyung-Nam Student Alpine Association unsuccessfully attempted a repeat of the Pear Buttress route on the North Face. They were struck hard by an avalanche in the buttress on September 29th. Climber Lee Soo-Ho did not survive and the expedition was over. He officially became the 50th casualty on Dhaulagiri. A Sherpa, Chuldim Gyaltzen, also perished three days later on the NE-Ridge. No details on that event unfortunately.
2001 turned into a dramatic Dhaulagiri year for the Japanese again. The Japanese were on the mountain again in the post-monsoon season with 2 expeditions (4 converged on Dhaulagiri in total, roughly 20% of all autumn expeditions in Nepal).
First, on October 12th, Spanish mountaineer José Antonio Garcés, closing in on the summit at 2.30pm on his summit bid (a late time) fell and disappeared into a crevasse at 7800m and was declared dead. On the 14th, three members of the Gunam Miyama Expedition went missing during the night. Leader Hoshino Ryushi and members Shinagawa Yukihiko and Fukamoto Mahasi disappeared without a trace between camps. A large search and rescue helicopter operation was mounted but on the 29th, there was still no sign of them and they were declared dead.
After 6 years without any fatalities, fate struck hard again on Dhaulagiri in 2007 in what was arguably one of the most dramatic moments on the peak.
An Italian expedition was attempting the NE-Buttress with famous climber Mario Panzeri among the members. Nine people (including 8 Italians) set out for the summit early on April 29th in windy conditions. In the final couloir towards the narrow summit ridge, climber Sergio Dalla Longa slipped and fell over backwards. His fall wasn’t even that hard, but in the ice couloir he unfortunately fell right on one of the few rocks with his head and died at the scene. He was very unfortunate. His wife, Rosa was also climbing with him and went hysterical refusing to leave the body of her husband behind. By now, some had summited already and all were exhausted. Panzeri and climbing leader Mario Merelli had to drag her to high camp after their summit. During the night of the 30th she was still hysterical and by now suffering from frostbite to the fingers. She kept falling/losing conciousness on the way down and all had to go through incredible strengths to get her down alive. But in the end she made it down and was transported to Kathmandu for medical treatment. Life can be so harsh on 8000m mountains. And it wasn’t over yet. On the evening of May 13th, an avalanche surprised Spanish veteran climbers Santiago Sagaste (expedition leader and summits of Sisha and GII) and Ricardo Valencia (Cho Oyu, GII, Makalu & NP) in their tent in camp 2. They were suffocated by the snow inside their tents. Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner (14 eight-thousanders) and Javi Serrano were also hit in their neighbouring tent, but could be freed by the rest of the expedition that was alarmed and headed up from camp 1. They were the last expedition on the mountain. It was generally accepted that the snow condition of Dhaulagiri in 2007 was the worst in history with people pointing fingers to global warming as well.
In the spring of 2008, on May 1st, Spanish climber Rafael Guillen had turned around early on his teams summit bid not feeling fit enough. But when he received news in camp 3 that one of his team mates, Jesus Morales was suffering from frostbite and hypothermia after his successful summit bid, Guillen headed up to offer him help. He would never reach Morales who was eventually brought down by the member of the Argentinian expedition. David Ferrer of the Spanish team was on his way to camp 3 when he too received the call. he went past camp 3 to see if he could find Morales and Guillen. On his way to the summit ridge he saw Guillens body in a steep couloir: he had fallen and died on the scene either from the fall or from freezing.
Argentinian climber Darius Bracali had joined an international expedition. He saw his team mates move up with his fellow countrymen of the Argentinian expedition on May 1st but Bracali was not feeling well at the time and turned around at 7800m. He had summited Cho Oyu and GII before. On May 3rd, Bracali was feeling up for it and he was the only one attempting the summit that day from camp 3 at 7400m. He never returned. At night, team mate Christian Vitry launched the first search for Bracali and he continued searching for five days when on his way to the summit for a second time bad weather finally repelled him. Exhausted and without food, Vitry barely made it down. Near camp 2, after a bivouac in the open, he himself had to be rescued by two Lithuanian climbers. Sebastian Cure, another climber, also almost lost his life: he had to be evacuated by helicopter from camp 1 after suffering severe frost-bite injuries on his way down from the summit.
Polish Piotr Morawski would be the next famous mountaineer claimed by Dhaulagiri in 2009. Morawski had the first winter ascent of Shishapangma on his resume. He was attempting a double header of Dhaulagiri/Manaslu in the same season when he fell into a deep crevasse whilst doing acclimatising runs on the NE-Ridge (roughly at 5500m) on April 8th. He could not be recovered.
A month later, May 1st. 2009, Iranian veteran Mehdi Etemadfar (holder of the Soviet Snow Leopard and on top of G1 & Broad Peak) also fell to his death on his second attempt at Dhaulagiri. He perished in the same couloir that likely claimed the lives of Guillen and Dalla Longa before him from an unlucky bad fall.
2010 was fortunately the last year to see casualties on Dhaulagiri. On May 15th, Chinese climber Zhao Li-Yang were forced to turn around from their summit push to camp 3 after one of Dhaulagiri’s classic thunderstorms drove them back. Zhao, probably exhausted, missed the camp 3 site in poor visibility and disappeared over the crest on the North Face side where he probably fell to his death. In the autumn season, on September 29th 4 members of a Japanese team were surprised by a big avalanche near camp 2 at 5200m. They were dragged down the mountain. The remaining members immediately launched a search and rescue also enlisting helicopters. The next day, two members were found miraculously alive lower on the mountain: Yamamoto Toshio and veteran Tanabe Osamu (’93 Everest Winter, ’07 Lhotse Winter a total of 10 eight-thousanders). For one member, Honda Daisuke, all help came too late: he had died of his injuries sustained in the avalanche but his body was recovered. The final missing person, a Sherpa Pasang Gyelu, in a remarkable feat walked into base camp on his own strength a couple of days later.
As we said, Dhaulagiri has not seen any casualties since 2010. 2011 was a poor season for Dhaulagiri with only a handful of summits. But in the spring season of 2012 when snow conditions were terrible throughout the Himalayas, it saw one of the highest summit counts in a generally poor season (Kang had only 1, Cho Oyu had only a few, no summits on Makalu even Everest was relatively quiet).
With the South Face still waiting on its first ascent, it seems like only a matter of time before a new generation of brave adventurers will be willing to tackle the monster face.