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One can certainly reach the neighbourhood of Khangchenjunga with delightful comfort. Though the mountain is only forty-five miles from Darjeeling, as the Crow flies, the way is round about. The stages from Ghum are Jorpakri 8½, Tongly 18½, Sandakphu 33, Falut 45, Chabanjong 51. Up to this point there is an excellent riding path, while the first four stages have well-furnished dak baghlas.
Unpleasant features of the journey are two: one, the rain, and the other the leeches. I thought I knew a bit about rain — I didn't. At Akyab one puts one's head under water in the hope of getting out of the wet; at Darjeeling one's head is under water all the time. But on that ghastly ridge, I met a quality and quantity of bat weather that I had never dreamt of in my wildest nightmares. What follows sounds exaggerated. On getting into a dak baghla and standing stripped in front of a roaring fire, one expects to get dry. But no! the dampness seems to be metaphysical rather than physical. The mere removal of the manifestations of the elements of water do not leave one dry. But one used to obtain a sort of approximation to dryness by dint of fires; and of course we were provided with waterproofs specially constructed for that abominable climate. One morning I timed myself; after taking every precaution, it was eight and one half minutes from the door of the baghla before I was dripping wet. When I say “dripping wet”, I mean that the water was coursing freely inside my clothes. In most parts of the world rain falls, but on that accursed ridge it rises. It is blown up in sheets from the valley. It splashes on the rocks so as to give the effect of waterfalls upside down.
On the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth, there were short spells of respite; otherwise, from the eighth to the twentieth it never slackened and outside the dak baghlas I was not dry, even partially, for a single second.
The leeches of the district are a most peculiar tribe. For some reason, they can only live within a very well-defined belt. Thus, I never saw a leech at Darjeeling, while at Lebong, some five hundred feet lower, they are a pest. The Terai is the haunt of some of the most tenacious of animals, but the leech has cleared them out completely. A single leech will kill a pony. It works its way up into the nostril and the pony simply bleeds to death. Hence the Anglo-Indian proverb. “A jok's a jok [Hindustani for leech] but a jok up your nose is no jok.”
I witnessed a remarkable sight on the road to Chabanjong, which was here
a paka rasta (that is, a road made by engineers as opposed to kacha rasta, a track made by habit or at most by very primitive methods) wide enough for carts to pass. I had squatted near the middle of the road as being the least damp and leech-infested spot available and got a pipe going by keeping the bowl under my waterproof. I lazily watched a leech wriggling up a blade of tall grass about fifteen inches high and smiled superiorily at its fatuity — though when I come to think of it, my own expedition was morally parallel; but the leech was not such a fool as I thought. Arrived at the top, it began to set the stalk swinging to and fro; after a few seconds it suddenly let go and flew clean across the road. The intelligence of and ingenuity of the creature struck me as astonishing. (Legless animals are practically helpless on open ground. One can walk up to a king cobra on a smooth road and set one's heel on its head, as prophesied in Genesis, without much danger of being struck, and though it sees you coming, it is quite unable to escape. But give the same snake a little grass to flagellate and the eye can hardly follow its motion. It goes like a snipe.)
Coming back over the same ridge, I was on an open hillside running fast. It was raining downwards instead of upwards for once, and that but slightly. I heard a little noise, as if something had fallen on my hat, and took no notice. A few moments later I found that my hand was wet with blood, running fast, and looking down I saw a leech on the back of it. How it managed to fall from the sky I don't know. I have seen leeches up to seven inches long; and there seems hardly any limit to the amount of blood they can assimilate. I heard of a gorged leech weighing nearly two pounds and I believe it without effort.
Another strange sight in these parts is the sheep. Tartarin, still proud of his haggis, invented wonderful theories to explain the fact that they are muzzled. However, they are not mountons enragés; the muzzle is to prevent them from poisoning themselves with wild aconite.
The scenery along the while of his ridge is extraordinarily grand, so far as the mist permits one to see anything. Some of the Himalayan trees are superb. But the prevailing vegetation is the rhododendron, a plant which has little in common with its English cousin. It grows to a height of fifteen feet or more and the stems are often as thick as a man's thigh. It grows in unbroken forests and the worst Mexican chaparral I ever saw was not worse to have to cut one's way through.
At Chabanjong the road stops and I sent back my horse. Thence a shepherd's track leads along the ridge. One the whole it was very good walking.
We had already found trouble with our own coolies. To begin with, the police had caught me up atJorpakri and arrested one of them for some petty offence — he joined us for more reasons than one. Six of the men deserted in the early part of the march. I was a small percentage and they had evidently
never had any intention of earning their advances. Later, when I had to go on ahead, five men deserted Pache, whom I had to leave in charge. They were probably scared by superstitious fears. Pache could not talk to them and did not know how to encourage them.
After leaving Chabanjong it was impossible to tell exactly where one was on the ridge. The paros have names, but I could never discover that they applied to anything; it was all rain and rhododendra. There is a place called Nego Cave which I hoped was a cave where I could shelter from the rain for a few hours, but nobody seemed to know here it was and I never found out. I had actually to rest a day in this abominable place, as the official permit for our party to enter Nepal had not arrived; but it did so during the day and one the eighteenth came a very long march of something like eight hours of actual going. During the latter part of the march the path dips suddenly and one descends some three thousand feet into a valley.
Well do I remember this camp Gamotang! Apart from the flora and fauna, the last two days might have been spent on the Welsh mountains, but the descent to Gamotang was like stepping into fairyland. There are certain places — Sonamarg in Kashmir is one of them — which possess the quality of soft brilliance quite unearthly. There is really nothing to distinguish them from a hundred other spots in the neightbourhood, yet they stand out; as a genius does from a hundred other men in evening dress. I find these phenomena quite as real as any others and I feel impelled to seek an explanation.
Assuming the existence of inhabitants imperceptible by our grosser senses, the problem presents no difficulty. One of a row of similar houses is often quite different from its neightours, perhaps on account of the loving care and pride of its chatelaine. When I see an analogous phenomenon in scenery, I cannot blame myself if a similar explanation comes to my mind.
The weather was already noticeably better than at Darjeeling. It did not begin to rain till eight or ten in the morning every day.
The partial failure of the bandobast kept us a day atGamotang. There was in any case no great hurry. I was glad of every opportunity to acquire the affection of the men. I was careful not to overwork them. I gave a prize to the first three men to come into camp every day and those who had come in first three times had their pay permanently raised. I made friends with them, too, by sitting with them round the camp fire and exchanging songs and stories. On the other hand, I made it clear that I would tolerate no nonsense. They responded for the most part very well, I never had any trouble in all my wanderings with natives, servants, dogs and women. The secret is that I am really unconscious of superiority and treat all alike with absolute respect and affection; at the same time I maintain the practical relations between myself and others very strictly indeed.
It is the fable of the belly and the members. It is absurd for one speck of
protoplasm to insist on its social superiority to another speck, but equally absurd for one cell to want to do the work of another. There is another point, admirably stated by Wilkie Colins. Count Fosco says that the way to manage women is “never to accept a provocation from a woman's hands. It holds with animals, it holds with children and it holds with women, who are nothing but children grown up. Quiet resolution is the one quality the animals, the children and the women all fail in. If then can once shake this superior quality in their master, they get the better of HIM. If they can never succeed in disturbing it, he gets the better of THEM.”
I make it an absolute rule to be imperturbable, to impress people with the idea that it is impossible to avoid doing what I have done. I never try to arouse enthusiasm. I never bribe, I never threaten, but I identify my purpose with destiny and I administer reward and punishment unsparingly and impersonally.
The ciikues began to be very fond of me, not only because of my good comradeship an my cheerful calm and confidence, but because they were subconsciously relieved by my conduct from their personal demons of fear, jealousy, desire and the like. They became unconsciously aware that they were parts of a machine. As long as they did their duty, there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Most people suffer all their lives from subconscious irritation; due to what the Hindus call Ahamkara, the ego-making faculty. The idea of self is a continual torment and though I was still far from having got rid of this idea completely. I was pretty free of it in practice in matters where my responsibility was extensive. I had begun to understand how to work “without lust of result”.
Unfortunately, Tartarin and Righi were undoing my web as fast as I wove it. Righi was a low-class Italian, who ran his hotel by hectoring the men under him. Finding himself for the first time in his life in a position of real responsibility, and without the background of an external authority to which he could appeal to enforce his orders, he was utterly at sea. On one occasion he actually threatened a disobedient coolie with his kukri and revolver, and the man, knowing he would not dare to use them, laughed in his face. The natives despised him as a weak man, which is the worst thing that can befall anyone that has anything to do with them.
Tartarin too, though cheerful and genial, had forgotten the lesson of 1902. He was fussy and helpless. On one occasion he actually tried to bribe a man with boots and claws to do his ordinary duty. As long as I was with the main body, these things didn't matter. Nobody dared to disobey the Bara Sahib. A moment's hesitation in complying with any order of mine and they saw a look in my eyes which removed the inhibition. They knew that I would not scold or wheedle, but had a strong suspicion that I might strike a man dead without warning; at the same time they knew that I would never give an
unreasonable order and that my active sympathy with the slightest discomfort of anyone of them was as quick as my insight to detect and deal with malingering or any other attempt to pull my leg.
From Gamotang one has to climb to the Chumbab La — about four hours' march. Then one skirts the slopes of the Kang La and descends to the branch valley of the Yalung Chu. I found a great block of quartz three and one half hours beyond the pass and pitched camp. The doctor arrived late — eight thirty. He had had some trouble with the coolies, but they were safely camped some short distance above.
The next day was fearfully wet. There is another little pass to cross, and hour beyond the quartz block; two and a half hours more took me down the valley to a camp near Tseram, which is a group of huts on the main stream a couple of miles below the snout of the Yalung glacier. I avoided camping in Teseram itself, on the general principle of having nothing to do with natives. The Dewan of Nepal was sending an officer to superintend our journey. I should perhaps have mentioned before that England has a special treaty with Nepal, one of its terms to the effect that no foreigners are to enter the dewan's dominions. He knew that the most harmless of Europeans is the herald of disaster to any independent country. Where the white man sets his foot, the grass of freedom and the flower of good faith are trampled into the mire of vice and commercialism.
But in the present instance our route touched only this one tiny outlying hamlet of Tseram and permission had been obtained without difficulty for us to pass. At the same time, the dewan was going to have a man on the spot to see that we did not maltreat and corrupt the natives as we have done in every other part of the globe in which our impulses of greed and tyranny have seen a possibility of satisfaction.
I saw no reason for waiting for the arrival of the dewan's “guide” and, leaving a man with a message for him, continued the advance.
I took only a very small party and left Pache in command. He was to wait until the arrival of the main body of the coolies, while I went on the glacier to reconnoitre. I wanted to establish the main camp as high as possible, but of course I did not know whether I might not have to retrace my steps. The glacier stream might prove uncrossable. I would make sure that the whole party could reach the glacier without difficulty.
I left the camp at six a.m. on the twenty-first. I was now in really mountainous country. The valley was gorgeously wild, it glowed with rich bright grass and masses of marvellous flowers. There was an admirable track. The day was fine and I had views of both Little and Big Kabru (21,290 and 24,015 feet respectively) but Kangchenjunga itself was hidden in clouds. I have rarely enjoyed a mountain walk so thoroughly and my heart was uplifted by the excellence of our prospects.
It sang within me. I was already at fourteen or fifteen thousand feet, less than a fortnight our from the base, in perfect physical condition, not an ounce of my reserve of strength yet called upon; a perfectly clear course to the peak in front of me, the mountain scarce five miles away, the weather looking better all the time, and none of the extremes of temperature which had been so frightful on Chogo Ri. No sign that wind was likely to give any trouble. In short, not one dark spot upon the horizon.
Camp 2, though no place for a golf course, as the game is at present played, possesses the great advantage of being a perfect Pisgah. The summit of Kangchenjunga is only two miles away and I am able to see almost the whole of the debatable ground which my reconnaissance from above Darjeeling had denied me. I climbed to a short distance above the camp: the last doubt disappeared. The level glacier stretched less than a mile away. Thence rose a ridge covered by steep glacier except at its eastern edge, where there was a patch of bare rock with scarcely any interruption from ice. This rock was cut away on its right by a terrific precipice, sheer to the lower glacier, but there was no reason why anyone should fall off. The rocks were of the character — easy slabs — of those of the Eiger above the little Scheideck, the precipice being on the right hand instead of on the left. The slabs ended in a level space of snow jutting beyond the glacier above, and therefore safe from any possible avalanche. The place would make an admirable camp.
Thence, one could work a way to the west; and, avoiding a patch of s‚racs, ascend steep slopes of ice (covered at present by snow) which led directly to the great snow basin which lies, as one may say, in the embrace of Kangchenjunga. These slopes were the critical point of the passage. It intended to fix a long knotted rope at the top, if necessary, to serve as hand-hold for the coolies, it being now certain that we could establish our main camp at the foot of Jacob's Rake. Certain, that is, bar the interference of absolute perversity.
The following day showed me that such perversity was only too likely to put a spoke in the wheel. The arrangement was that I was to find my way to Camp 3, which I had already been able to choose through my glasses. I left Tartarin and Reymond in charge of the bulk of the coolies, having pointed out to them the best way across the glacier. It was more or less intricate going compared with Piccadilly, but it was certainly less trouble than an average march on the Baltoro. My object in going ahead was merely to make sure that Camp 3 was as favourable as it looked from a distance. It was. There was a broad level plateau of loose stones marked by a big boulder, which I called Pioneer boulder, for a variety of reasons, all referring ironically to “Pioneer Peak”. This plateau was perhaps seven hundred to a thousand feet above the glacier.
I must here remark that I cannot pretend to any accuracy about either
heights or distances. Tartarin was in charge of the surveying and I do not know whether he took proper observations at all. All I can say is that Professor Garwood's map is seriously wrong in many important points. I could do little more than make shots at my position by dead reckoning. I settled down quite comfortably at Camp 3 and sent a man down to find the main body and tell them it was all right, and they were to come up. Most unfortunately, it was misty. I could not see what had happened. And if I had been able to, I might almost have doubted my eyes. The coolies were coming — Oh ho! oh ho! — in a long circular route round the head of the glacier, for no reason at all. The weather cleared towards evening and there they were, within shouting distance, within three quarters of an hour's easy going for the slowest men, up excellent slopes on firm rocky ground.
To my amazement, I saw the doctor preparing to pitch camp. It was inexplicable imbecility. Shouts produced no effect and there was nothing for it but for me to go down. He had chosen a bivouac on bare ice, where there was hardly sufficient level ground to pitch the tents, but it was too late to pack up again, so I had to make the best of it. I asked him the reason for his extraordinary conduct. He replied that there was a rumour that I had broken my leg on a moraine. This was as antecedently unlikely as anything could possibly be; and anyhow he could see perfectly well with his own eyes that I had done nothing of the sort; and thirdly, if I had done it, all the more reason for coming to my assistance. I began to think there was something seriously wrong with the man.
On the top of this, there was bad news from the rearguard. Righi sent up bitterly quarrelsome messages. His antics had made all sots of trouble with the coolies, who were at one time in open revolt. Pache managed to get them into good humour again. He was a gentleman; he understood the oriental mind instinctively. He was, in fact, making extremely good. As soon as he saw that Righi was half insane with the fear that comes to people of his class in the absence of a chattering heard of his fellows, and in the presence of the grandeur of nature, he assumed moral charge of him. The difficulties with the rearguard disappeared immediately. Unfortunately, I did not understand at the time what was happening, o I should have gone down and sent Righi back to his kitchen. Pache himself did not realize his own importance and took it upon himself to come up. The moment his back was turned, Righi became insane.
Everyone had passed a most uncomfortable night at the absurd bivouac. I decided to go no further than Camp 3 the next day. Tartarin was abosoutely astonished that the men which whom he had been having such trouble behaved quite simply and naturally as soon as I was on the spot. He claimed that they had positively refused to go further, but they picked up their loads and strolled cheerfully up the slopes without so much as a word of admonition.
Not understanding the secret of my power, though he had seen it exercised so often by Eckenstein and myself, he imagined that I must be terrorizing the men by threats and beatings. In point of fact, I never struck a man during the entire expedition, save on one occasion to be described presently.
Camp 3 was extremely pleasant. It afforded magnificent views in every direction and one had one's choice of sun or shade. I spent the day in taking advantage of the amenities of the situation. I took pains to fix up an excellent shelter for the men by means of large tarpaulins, and saw to their comfort in every way. We had even the advantage of song, for the camp was a haunt of small birds. Its height cannot have been far short of eighteen thousand feet.
It was urgent that the march to Camp 4 should be started at the earliest glimmer of light, for though the route lay almost entirely over rock, there were a few short snow passages which would become dangerous after sunrise, and the hanging glacier on our left might conceivably discharge some of its superfluous snow across one or two points of the route. I explained these points carefully to the men, who were for the most part quite intelligent enough to understand. Moreover, they were already aware of the general principles, a number o them having already travelled, if not on glaciers, at least on winter snow. They were eager to start; but Tartarin deliberately hindered them. I had awakened at three o'clock and got them off by six. It had not been a cold night, none of the men showed any signs of suffering or made any complaint, but the doctor said that they ought to be allowed to warm themselves thoroughly in the sun before starting. He suggested that the march should begin at about eleven o'clock. These were the words of sheer insanity. Even on Chogo Ri, where the nights were really cold, no such nonsense had ever been suggested.
I led at once on to the glacier. There was no difficulty of any sort; the snow being in excellent condition, it merely required a little scraping and stamping. But at the point where it becomes necessary to take the rocks on the right so as not to be under a small patch of séracs, the slope is in the direction the the tremendous precipice previously described. It was there that I gave an exhibition of glissading. I do not think the men would have been afraid at all if the excited shouts and gesticulations of Reymond and the doctor had not demoralized them. These celebrated climbers were themselves actually afraid for their own skins. And this, if you please, on a slope down which I could glissade head first! Having got the men across, we proceeded up the rocky slopes. I must confess that here I had misjudged the difficulty.
I had expected to find quite easy walking, but there were a few passages where it amounted to scrambling from the point of view of a loaded man. I decided to arrange for a fixed rope as a measure of safety, it being my plan to send the picked coolies up and down regularly to bring up supplies as they
were needed. In the meantime, the men behaved magnificently, laughing and joking and giving each other a helping hand whenever required. I posted the Kashmiris and the other personal servants at the mauvais pas, but there was no hint of any real danger.
Camp 4 is at the top of this rocky slope on a level ridge, level enough, but not a broad as I could have wished. There was, however, a certain amount of natural shelter afforded by rocks and I was able to construct a fairly comfortable place for the night. There was a better camp three hours higher; but the weather, after a fine morning, had begun to look bad and the snow was in bad condition. The men, too, though perfectly happy, were most of them very tired, and some of them knocked over by what they supposed to be mountain sickness — symptoms of exhaustion, headache, pains in the abdomen, dizziness and so forth. I knew what the trouble was and went round to the sufferers and dropped a little atropine into their eyes. Half an hour later they were all perfectly restored. The alarming symptoms were all due to the glare.
I sent down to Pache to come up to Camp 3 as better in every way than Camp 2. I asked Tartarin and Reymond if they had any messages to send. They were too exhausted to reply to their names. I was utterly bewildered. The previous day had been a bare hour, and the march to Camp 4 perfectly easy and by no means long or trying for men without loads. I myself, though I had borne the burden and heat of the day more than anyone, was as fresh as paint and as fit as a fiddle. I had never felt better in my life. I was in perfect condition in every respect. I spent the afternoon nursing the invalids.
Tartarin recovered by the next morning sufficiently to curse. I could not imagine what his grievance was an cannot imagine it now. The most charitable explanation of his conduct that I can give is that he was mentally upset, partly no doubt due to psychical distress, and to some form of heat stroke. I have always been satanically happy in the hottest sunshine, but the slopes of Kangchenjunga on a fine day at noon were near my limit. Both the doctor and Reymond were unquestionably very ill. It was impossible to think of going on to the next camp that day. We rested accordingly. Late in the day, to my surprise, Pache arrived with a number of coolies, I had asked him to send up the sirdar and one other man. I wanted to give Naga personal instructions about the management of his men. It had been no part of my plan for any of the others to come beyond Camp 3. I wanted to make Camp 3 the base until we found a good place on the snow basis above. The arrival of Pache and his men overcrowded Camp 4.
The root of the trouble, apart from any ill-feeling, was that none of my companions (except Pache) understood that I expected them to keep their word. I had arranged a plan, taking into consideration all sorts of circumstances, the importance of which they did not understand and other of which
they did not even know, and they did not realize that to deviate from my instructions in any way might be disastrous. Their disobedience having resulted in things going wrong, they proceeded to blame me. Righi had refused point blank to send Nanga on my express command; he had failed to send up any supplies, so that we were absolutely out of petroleum and short of food, both for ourselves an for our men.
Pache reported that some of the men had deserted. It was never cleared up why they should have done so. But one of them, in disobedience to orders, had gone off by himself — I never discovered exactly where — and had fallen and been killed. This man, it was said, was carrying Pache's sleeping valise. This at least was certain, that the valise was missing.
An accident being alleged, I sent down the doctor on the following morning to make in inquiry into the matter, and also to send up supplies of food and fuel which we needed urgently. Pache told me that Righi was deliberately withholding food from us. His conduct was murderously criminal, if only because we might have been prevented by bad weather from descending in the last resort.
That afternoon Reymond and I mad a little excursion up the slopes. We found that the snow was not as bad as might have been expected, and the gradients were so easy and the glacier so free from ice fall that there would be no danger for a prudently conducted party, even when the snow was soft.
On this slope of Kangchenjunga one occasionally meets a condition of snow which I have never seen elsewhere. Rain or sleet blows against the face of the mountain and is frozen as it touches. The result is to produce a kind of network of ice; as frozen drop serves as a nucleus from which radiate fine filaments of ice in every direction. It is like a spider's web in three dimensions. A cubic foot of network would thus be almost entirely composed of air; the ice in it, if compact, would hardly be bigger than a tennis ball, perhaps much less. With the advance of the evening, the rain turns to snow; and in the morning it may be that the network is covered to a depth of several inches. The temperature possibly rises a few degrees and the surface becomes wet. It then freezes again and forms a hard crust. Approaching a slope of this kind, it seems perfectly good névé. One strikes it with one's axe and the entire structure disintegrates. In front one one is a hole as big as a cottage and as the solid slope disappears, one hears the tinkle of falling ice. It is a most astonishing and disconcerting phenomenon.
During the while time that I was on the mountain, I experienced no high wind and no unpleasant cold. But the heat of the day was certainly very severe. My skin had gradually become inured to the sun. I had not been burnt painfully in ten years. I simply browned quietly and pleasantly. But on Kangchenjunga it got me — not badly enough to cause sores – but enough to make the skin somewhat painful and brittle. Here was another
reason for starting early in the day and reaching camp, if possible, by noon at the latest.
On the nineteenth, having dispatched Tartarin to the rear, Reymond, Pache and myself went on with our small party. The doctor was, of course, to make sure of sending up supplies and Pache's valise. We reached Camp 5 in about three hours. It was situated on a little snowy hump below a small peak on the ridge. We intended to make out way to the path between this peak and the main spur. The slopes were rather steep in one or two places, but quite without danger, as they eased off a short distance below (about two hundred and fifty feet) to a practically level part of the glacier. I should, in fact, have preferred to go straight up them instead of making the detour by the rocks on the edge of the big precipice, had it not been that a small patch of s‚rac overhung them.
No valise arrived for Pache that night, and no petrol or rations. We were accordingly obliged to rest the next day. I had given Pache my eiderdown sleeping-bag and one of my blankets. He was thus quite comfortable physically; but he was, of course, anxious about his effects. All his spare boots, clothes etc. were in the missing bag, and all his private papers.
During the day a few provisions arrived, but no rations for the men, and no petrol. I sent back one of the men with urgent orders and several others to assist in carrying the supplies. (Also because we could not feed them where we were.) I wrote a second letter to Tartarin the same day; a man arrived at last with the petrol. In this letter which was signed by Pache as well as myself, the blame for the failure of the bandobast was given entirely to Righi.
It seems to me and to Pache also that the shortage of food is the fault of M. Righi who refused to send Naga when Pache told him to do so. This disobedience, which has come so near to involving us in disaster, must not be repeated. All the loads should be sent to Camp 3 except those which are under shelter. Righi must be responsible for carrying this out. For yourself, you should join us as soon as you can with at least ten loads of asttu and Naga to help us. The next three days will be the crisis of the expedition.
With cordial friendship, yours.
There was no difficulty whatever in carrying out these perfectly simple, normal instructions.
Camp 5 is at the height of twenty to twenty-one thousand feet and certainly not more than two to three thousand feet above Camp 3. We had taken the first ascent very easily, it having been transformed into a regular snow track with immense steps made solid by repeated regelation. It might be called two hours' easy going. The doctor had recovered his health and his
good humour, and we had none of us a moment's doubt that he would put the fear of God into Righi and carry out the above instructions promptly and efficiently.
On Thursday, August 31st, I started up the slopes with six men and a perfectly light heart. The problem was, of course, how to get the coolies up with the minimum of trouble. I sent Salama ahead with an axe and shovels on a rope. Their job was to clear away all loose snow and to enlarge the steps made by Salama so that the way up the mountain should be literally a staircase of the easiest kind. Their leader was a man named Gali. I remained close to him throughout so that if by any chance he fell I could catch him.
I would not rope myself, so as to be able to go to the rescue instantly in case Salama got tired or came to a passage too difficult for him. We advanced very rapidly. We were certainly over twenty-one thousand and possibly over twenty-two thousand feet. There were no symptoms of the slightest deficiency of physical energy on the part of anyone. I have never seen a man ply an ice-axe faster than Salama did that day. I was, of course, very carefully on the lookout for the slightest tendency on the part of the snow to slip.
We had reached a shallow couloir. Reymond and Salama had got some distance ahead of the coolies. Some of the chips of ice dislodged by their step-cutting were sliding down in our direction and they began to carry some of the surface with them. I was warned by the gentle purring hiss, rather like a tea kettle beginning to sing, which tells one that loose snow is beginning to move. Gali saw the little avalanche, coming towards him, was frightened and fell out of his steps. I caught him, put him back and hastily anchored the rope to a wedged axe. But the man had completely host his nerve and by the operation of that instinct which make a drowning man throw up his hands, began to do the one thing that could possibly have brought him to harm — to untie himself from the rope. I ordered him to desist, but he was quite hysterical, uttered senseless cries and took no notice. There was only one thing to do to save him from the consequences of his suicidal actions, and that was to make him more afraid of me than he was of the mountain; so I reached out and caught him a whack with my axe. It pulled him together immediately and prevented his panic communicating itself to the other men. Things then went on all right.
Some of the slopes were really very bad; deep soft snow on ice. One short patch was at an angle of fifty degrees. It was a question of fixing a rope or finding a new route to the left, which I did not want to do as I was in doubt about the glacier above. There were some s‚racs which might or might not be stable. We went down to Camp 5 without further adventure, but the morale of the men had been shaken by the incident of the toy avalanche. Their imaginations got out of hand. They began to talk nonsense about the demons
of Kangchenjunga and magnified the toy avalanche and Gali's slip and wallop to the wildest fantasies. During the night some of them slipped away and went down to Camp 3.
On September 1st we renewed the assault. Reymond, Pache and Salama went up the sloes on the rope and got over the bad patch. They were so much encouraged by their success that they went out of sight and hearing, contrary to my instructions. I needed them to help the three coolies with loads over the had part. They preferred to leave the whole responsibility to me, but I could not bring three heavily loaded men up such slopes without assistance, and there was nothing to do but await their return. In the meantime, I saw to my surprise that a large party had arrived at Camp 5. When I dot down I found that Tartarin's hysteria and Pighi's malignant stupidity had created yet another muddle.
They had arrived at the camp, bringing with them some seventeen or twenty coolies, and they had not brought any of the things of which we stood in such need. Their behaviour was utterly unintelligible. The doctor did not seem to know what he was saying; his remarks were merely confusedly irritated. He did not seem to be able to answer any of my questions or give any explanation of what had happened in the past. His one idea was to hold a durbar and have himself elected leader in my place. There was no provision in our agreement for any such folly. He pointed out that it was merely a scrap of paper. When the others arrived, an excited argument began. There was no suggestion that I had acted improperly in any way. From first to last it was merely the feeling of foreigners against being bossed by an Englishman. The same thing had happened with Pfannl on Chogo Ri.
On the present occasion, however, the Englishman was in a minority of one. Fortunately I had never heard that a fact of that sort makes any difference to an Englishman. I did my best to reason with them and quiet them, like the naughty children they were. Reymond had nothing to complain of and was actively friendly.
Indeed, I had much more to worry me than the nonsense of Tartarin and Righi. They had brought up all these men without any provisions for food or shelter and it was now late in the day. The snow was in an absolutely unsafe condition and though I had chosen the route so as to minimize the danger, it was absolutely criminal to send men down. But the mutineers were utterly insensible to the voice of reason. I told the coolies that since they could not stay at Camp 5, the best thing they could do was to shelter under the rocks at Camp 4, and they went off and did so. I warned the mutineers that they would certainly be killed if they tried to go down that night; it was perhaps more or less right for coolies, but for THEM — I knew only too well the extent of Tartarin's ingenuity in producing accidents out of the most apparently unpromising material. They stormed all the more. I ought to have
broken the doctor's leg with an axe, but I was too young to take such a responsibility. It would have been hard to prove afterwards that I had saved him by so doing.
To my horror, I found that Pache wanted to go down with them. The blackguards had not even had the decency to bring up his valise. I implored him to wait till the morning. I told him he could have the whole of my sleeping kit. But nothing would move him. I explained the situation, but I suppose he could not believe that I was telling the literal truth when I said that Guillarmod was at the best of times a dangerous imbecile on mountains, and that now he had developed into a dangerous maniac. I shook hands with him with a breaking heart, for I had got very fond of the man, and my last words were, “Don't go: I shall never see you again. You'll be a dead man in ten minutes.” I had miscalculated once more; a quarter of an hour later he was still alive.
Less than half an hour later, Reymond and I heard frantic cries. No words could be distinguished, but the voices were those of Tartarin and Righi. Reymond proposed going to the rescue at once, but it was now nearly dark and there was nobody to send, owing to Righi's having stripped us of men. There was, furthermore, no indication as to why they were yelling. They had been yelling all day. Reymond had not yet taken his boots off. He said he would go and see if he could see what was the matter and call me if my assistance were required. He went off and did not return or call. So I went to sleep and rose the next morning at earliest dawn and went to investigate.
The task was easy. About fifteen minutes below Camp 5 the track had been carried away over a width of twenty feet (seven short paces). The angle of the slope was roughly twenty degrees (limits of error twenty-five degrees and twelve degrees). The avalanche had stopped two hundred and fifty feet below, and at this point it was from forty to sixty feet in width; that is to say, it was an absolutely trivial avalanche. A single man could have ridden it head first without the slightest risk of hurting himself. The width of the avalanche (and other signs) showed that six men on a 120-foot rope had been walking on each other's heels, the rope being festooned so as to be worse than useless. A man struggling in loose show avalance has a fair chance of getting to the top, but if every time he does so he is jerked away by the rope, it will be the greatest piece of luck if he is not killed. Tartarin, who should have been the last man on a descent in order to watch the others, to see that the rope was kept stretched, and to check any slip at the outset, was leading.
Here is Righi's account of the accident.
Suddenly the four men above us began to slide; we hoped they would be able to stop themselves, but the slope was too steep. They swept past us like lightning. The doctor and I did the best we could to stop them, but
in vain; for, as they rushed downwards, they started an avalanche (the snow being in such a moist condition from the afternoon sun, and easily moved). I was torn away from my anchor, head downwards, the doctor vainly calling to me to hang on as we might be able to stop the others. I was pulled down in what seemed a whirlwind of snow. I remember nothing during the fall. The doctor followed and fell farther down. I came to a few minutes after, hearing the doctor calling and telling me to get up. I could not do so, being pinned down on one side by the rope which was straight into the avalanche, and on the other I was keeping the doctor from falling farther down the slope. Had he been killed by the fall, I should have been helpless and most likely would have been frozen where I lay.
It is noteworthy that some seventeen coolies without ropes, axes, boots, claws and Tartarin, had crossed the fatal spot quite safely.
I found these men perfectly happy. They had taken my advice and passed the night under the rocks by Camp 4. I slowly descended, they following at a short distance. Presently I came to a place where the snow had slipped off the glacier ice for some distance. The angle was decidedly steep, and though I was able to cross it easily enough in my claws, it would not do for the coolies; so I called to them to go higher up over the glacier. But they were afraid to do this. They said they wanted to follow me, which they did, after enlarging my steps with an axe. At the time, I had no doubt that this place was the scene of the accident, if there had been one,of which I was not sure. Anyhow, I could not see how even Tartarin could have come to grief on so easy and safe a slope as the other. But on arrival at Camp 3 I was able to understand what had happened. Thanks to my habits of accuracy, I had taken careful measurements.
Pache and three of my best coolies had been killed. Tartarin was badly bruised, and thought his spine was damaged. The accident had brought him completely to his senses. He realized that I had been right all along, and was appalled by the prospects of returning to Switzerland and meeting Pache's mother.
Righi, on the other hand, showed only the more what an ill-conditioned cur he was. He had not been hurt at all badly, but his ribs were slightly bruised; he claimed that he had “rupture of the heart”, and spent his time moaning and bellowing. That his sufferings were mostly pure funk was evident from the fact that he forgot all about them directly he was engaged in conversation.
I ought to have been much angrier than I was, for the conduct of the mutineers amounted to manslaughter. By breaking their agreement, they had assumed full responsibility. It was impossible for me to continue with
the expedition. My authority had been set at nought, and I would not risk any man's life. Eckenstein had made it the first point of mountaineering that the proper measures invariably reduced the risk of accident to nothing. They wanted me to go on. Righi himself said that the coolies believed the demon of Kangchenjunga was propitiated with the sacrifice of the five men — one for each peak — and would go on in future without fear. He had a little image given him by a Tibetan lama. This had saved his life. He never took any important step without consulting it, and it had now told him that we could climb the mountain without difficulty. Like Queen Victoria on a celebrated occasion I was not amused.
As a matter of fact, the coolies had been very much demoralized by the accident. Small blame to them: I told Righi, as transport officer, to bring down my belongings from Camp 5. He parleyed with them, gave it up as hopeless, and turned it over to me. I told the sirdar to send up men at once to help Salama and Bahadur Singh, who were still at Camp 5. He made no difficulty and sent up, not two men,but twelve. They brought everything. I made the necessary arrangements about digging out the corpses and building them a commemorative cairn, which was done. The next day, September 3rd, I left, and reached Darjeeling on Friday.
Here I was faced by an extraordinary circumstance, illustrating the fact that when men loose their heads on mountains they lose them very completely. The money of the expedition was banked against the signature of either myself or Guillarmod. He had written to the manager to ask him to refuse to honour my signature! The bank though he must be out of his mind, and advised me to draw the whole of the amount so as to be sure that it would be used to pay the coolies the sums due to them. This I did. On the twentieth the others arrived. I had all the amounts in proper order. I immediately paid the men what was due, with a reasonable amount of backsheesh. In view of Tartarin's extraordinary behaviour about money, I was on my guard. He was anxious not to come to a settlement. I, on the other hand, had no further business in Darjeeling, and I naturally asked him to sign a release, which he did.
Sept. 20, 1905. Les comptes de l'expédition étant définitivement réglés le 20 Sept. 1905, nous déclarons que tout réclamation après cette date, sera nulle. La somme des compensations dues aux parents des morts sera payée par la caisse de l'expédition. D. J. Jacot Guillarmod
He became very friendly and asked me to lend him or give him money. My account of the accident having been fairly frank, there was some question of a public inquiry.
I wrote accounts of the expedition for the Pioneer of India and the Daily
Mail of London, and I republished them later in Vanity Fair. I used these articles to attack the English Alpine Club. Every incident served for the occasion of some gibe, sarcasm, insult or irony. I had no personal motive, of course. I wished to hold up to ridicule and contempt the set of old women who were knocking the sport on the head by intriguing against any climbers who were no simply polite people pulled up peaks by peasants and proud of it at that. The Alpine Club has done its best to ignore Himalayan expeditions, as it did to burke every ascent by guideless climbers in the Alps.
The lessons of the Kangchenjunga expedition were not learnt; so we hear in 1922 the old idiocy that coolies should not start till it is quite warm. The Everest party repeated the fatal fatuity of the doctor, by putting seven men on one rope, and that without knowing the use of the rope, so that one fall of one man must inevitably drag down the others. When I heard the composition of the Everest party and its plans, I prepared an article to warn them they were violating every principle of common sense, and could only meet with further failure and disaster. I foretold exactly what would happen, except that I heartily hoped that the Englishmen would be killed and their coolies escape by some miracle.
It was not to be. They made the mistake against which I had warned them; they had precisely the same kind of accident as in 1905 that resulted from the mutinous violation of my orders; but, just as the doctor and Righi had escaped with their worthless lives, to go about the world with the manslaughter of their comrades on their consciences, so also it happened in 1922.
But the London press refused to publish my article. One editor told me that it was a shame to “crab” the expediton, and that my warnings would give pain to the relations of the party! No, better wait until the accident had happened, and then it would be interesting to point out why it had happened. Of course that is the journalistic point of view. Disasters should not be prevented. Heaven forbid! We should rather encourage battle, murder and sudden death. Our business is to make the splash. This psychology is one of my reasons for holding the press in horror. I do not believe in restrictions on business enterprise, but it really ought to be made impossible that it should be to anyone's interest to bring about a European war.
On the twenty-third Guillarmod came to see me and ask me to say no more in the public press, as far as he was concerned. On the twenty-fourth we discussed the whole matter. He admitted that he had been in the wrong and excused himself (on the ground of ill-health and nervousness) for his behaviour. I thought I knew him; he was simply a fool but incapable of malice or treachery. On the twenty-fifth he and Righi made a violent attack on me in the columns of a newspaper, but “out of their own mouths”! Their admission proved my case. In particular, they blamed the coolies, so I had to write
to the paper, “I would most especially call attention to the repeated complaints against the coolies as evidence of incapacity to manage them, and emphasize my own testimony to their steadiness, capacity and goodwill.”
Guillarmod's overtures had been intended merely to give them time to strike. “Cet animal est trŠs m‚cant: quand on l'attaque il se d‚fend.” I hit back and cut Guillarmod publicly on the twenty-sixth. On the twenty seventh I received the following amazing letter.
Vos procédés financiers puent l'escroc à plein nez & font honneur à la noblesse irlandaise.
Faire signer un papier par lequel je déclare ne plus rien réclamer alors que vous savez pertinemment que j'oublie plusieurs dépenses est un acte aussi honnête que l'hospitalité écossaise (haggis).
Je comprends maintenant les raisons qui vous font rechercher les endroits reculés & inhabités; vous craignez trop de rencontrer de vos dupes, filou que vous êtes.
Je conserve précieusement le reçdu de 300 Rs que vous venez d'envoyer à Reymond & si demain à 10 h. du matin je n'ai pas reçu un chèque de cette somme, je dépose avec une plainte en escroquerie un exemplaire des Snowdrops où vous préféreriez ne pas le voir. J.J.G.
I took it at once to a lawyer who warned him that by the Indian penal code he was rendering himself liable to a long term in prison. I realized that the man was simply insane with remorse and did not press the charge. On the contrary despite the agreement of the twentieth, I agreed to pay him a small sum for certain items which had been overlooked. I went down to Calcutta on the twenty-eighth, and a week later accepted an invitation from the Maharaja of Moharbhanj to shoot big game in his province.
I was very sad at heart about the death of my friends, but with regard to the mountain I was in excellent spirits. I had demonstrated beyond doubt the existence of an easy way up. I was sure of being able to establish a main camp within striking distance of the summit, and I had familiarized myself with all the vagaries of the weather and the snow. Cut short as the expedition had been, at its first leap, the actual attainment had not been insignificant. We had reached a height of approximately twenty-five thousand feet, and found life at that altitude as enjoyable and work as easy as anywhere else. I had written a detailed proposal to Eckenstein, suggesting that we should tackle the mountain in 1906 — but no foreigners!
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