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HOW THE DUKE OF ABRUZZI, WHO NEARLY FOUND THE POLE, CLIMBED THE HIMALAYAS.
Details of the Himalayan trip in 1909 of the Duke of Abruzzi, whose romance with Katherine Elkins was much talked of in 1908, shows this journey to have been the greatest mountaineering feat of the times. He reached a height of 24,500 feet above sea level, — this after a dangerous and thrilling journey at the head of a large party.
The duke had already been distinguished for his mountaineering work, and his Arctic explorations as well. He belongs in the front rank of those who sought the north pole. In 1900 he led an expedition to latitude 86 degrees, 33 minutes, breaking Nansen's record by about 23 miles. Abruzzi established his base of supplies on the north shore of Franz Joseph's Land, 480 miles from the Pole. He planned to make the polar dash in 45 days. The party started from the base on February 25, 1900. Violent winds and bitter cold proved a terrible handicap to the party's progress. On March 22, three men were sent back to establish communication with the base of supplies; but these men were never again heard from. On reaching latitude 86 degrees, 33 minutes, a shortage of food and the condition of the men made it necessary to turn back. Abruzzi left a cylinder containing a record of the expedition at this point, the farthest north up to that time.
of the duke's adventurous trip to the Himalaya Mountains, during
which he reached the greatest height ever attained on this earth by
man, were published in the Corriere della Sera of Milan. They were
obtained by a representative of that paper, who boarded the steamer
on which the duke was returning to Italy at Port Said, proceeding
from there with the royal mountaineer and his companions to
Marseilles. Abruzzi himself gave no description of the momentous
trip. Though always courteous, according to the Italian newspaper
man, his silence is absolutely impenetrable. But from his comrades
the latter obtained an interesting narrative of the expedition, from
its beginning last spring to the accomplishment of the
record-breaking feat of its intrepid leader, on Bride Peak, in the
Himalayas, on July 17, 1909.
LEFT MARSEILLES IN MARCH.
The expedition started from Marseilles on March 26 on the same Peninsular and Oriental steamer that brought it back two weeks before to that port. In addition to the duke himself, it consisted of Marquis Negrotto-Cambiaso, Abruzzi's aide; Vittorio Sella, a well-known photographer; Doctor De Filippi, and several Swiss guides, who had already been the companions of the duke on former mountain-scaling exploits. Negrotto, never having had any experience in mountain climbing, feared at first that he would be more of a hindrance than a help, but Abruzzi, who knew him evidently better than he knew himself, insisted that he form part of the expedition.
Sella, on the other hand, had been accustomed since early manhood to braving all sorts of perils in quest of photographs of mountain scenes. He was already acquainted, not only with the Alps and the Caucasus, but with the Himalayas themselves, the goal of Abruzzi's efforts. De Filippi, likewise, was already an expert Alpine climber.
OF THE BEST.
Fully two months before starting for India the duke had busied himself making complete preparations. He had made two trips to England for the purpose of providing all the necessary equipment. As a result of this foresight the equipment was of the very best, including, among other things, three different kinds of tents — those used in tropical countries, large and comfortable, but rather difficult to transport; Whymper tents, holding three people, and Mummery tents, very small, holding one person. There were also 60 cases, each containing all the necessaries for one day for 12 persons — everything, from tobacco to marmalade, from preserved meat to a stock of oil for the special stoves provided by Abruzzi similar to those used on polar expeditions. The members of the expedition were also provided with sleeping bags, of three thicknesses each; the first of goatskin, the second of feathers, the third, or outside one, of camel's fur.
On April 9 the expedition arrived at Bombay, proceeding on that same day by rail to Rawalpindi, which was reached on the 12th.
There an entire day was spent in getting the impedimenta of the party in traveling order. The latter was sent on to Shrinagar in queer two-wheeled native vehicles drawn by ponies and called "ekkas." The duke and his companions preceded these in European landaus, the local authorities having adjudged the native "dongas," commonly used for passenger transportation, unsuited to the august member of the house of Savoy. But it would have been almost as well for the duke to have gone to Shrinagar on foot, as the old vehicles made the journey very slowly and with such extreme difficulty that they pulled into Shrinagar in a pitiable condition, with some of their wheels held in place by ropes.
At Shrinagar the Italians waited from April 17 until the 23d, the delay being caused by the ekkas containing the baggage, which took their time on the road from Rawalpindi.
Finally they embarked in boats on one of the canals which have given Shrinagar the name of the "Venice of India," and proceeded to a village at the head of navigation of the canal, being escorted to that point by Sir Francis Younghusband, British Resident of Cashmere, famous as the man who entered the sacred Tibetan city of Lhassa at the head of British troops some years ago. In addition to this he had traversed the Himalayas twice and made several journeys through lands unknown before to white men, hence his interest in Abruzzi's contemplated feats was of the keenest.
ARMY OF 250.
After the farewells on April 24 to Sir Francis and to the wife of Dr. De Filippi, who turned back to await her husband's return at Shrinagar, the difficulties of the expedition began. The Italians were now accompanied by long lines of native porters carrying the baggage. Some of this was loaded on ponies, too, but many of the latter had to be abandoned along the way. In their place additional porters, natives of Cashmere, were collected from the neighboring valleys, until finally their total number of natives was 250. At the head of this small army marched the duke and his companions.
As they traversed the valley of the Sind they encountered deep snow everywhere, which, being fresh, made the danger of avalanches imminent. The expedition could advance with safety only early in the morning, or late at night, by the light of lanterns. After several days of this arduous marching the duke and his comrades reached the junction of the Dras and the Indus, proceeding from there to Skardo, the capital of Baltistan.
They were already at an altitude of 6,500 feet. Leaving Skardo on May 9 and following the valley of Braldon, partly on foot, partly on ponies, they arrived on the 14th at Askole, last inhabited village of the valley nearly 10,000 feet above the sea.
Hereabouts was the easiest part of the journey. The valley was free from snow, covered with flowering trees, filled with pretty fields. Nevertheless, it had some difficult paths, traversed by rivers and mountain torrents, over which the expedition had often to pass on primitive rope bridges, some extremely long. It frequently took two or three hours to get the entire expedition over one of the bridges, as the construction is so frail as to allow at most two or three men to cross at a time.
The first experience on a bridge of this sort. Marquis Negrotto told the Italian reporter, is not pleasant. To begin with, it oscillates frightfully. The water beneath, he added, seems to be motionless, while the traveler, on the other hand, seems to be flying through the air, driven along by the wind in an impetuous and fantastic career.
Of these wild scenes the intrepid Sella took many photographs, climbing frequently in order to take them to all sorts of perilous vantage points.
At Askole about 100 additional porters joined the expedition for the purpose of carrying the provisions for the other porters and of driving to the expedition's base at the head of the Baltoro glacier a small herd of cattle and sheep in order that fresh meat and milk might be available.
On May 18 the base was established at Rdokass, on a grassy spur extending over the glacier at a height of 13,000 feet. From that time on it served as a supply station for the duke in his advance over the glacier to the lofty peaks which he had resolved to scale.
2 IN ITS MAJESTY.
On the 21st he set out from Rdokass, leaving behind the majority of the natives to act as guards over the greater part of the provisions and baggage, which were in charge of an Englishman. Abruzzi and his companions marched for four days through the imposing solitude of the glacier, crossing spur after spur, until, on the 25th, after having averaged nearly 10 miles a day, they found themselves at the foot of the immense peak known as K 2, where they encamped and rested all night.
Here the work began in earnest.
The 26th of May dawned, livid with dense fog, which floated over the grim rocks and over the fields of snow, on which no human being had ever set foot. The thermometer registered 10 below zero. Now and then the shroud of mist would be blown aside, revealing immense piles of rock, buried in eternal ice, seemingly stretching upward into the infinite. Already the duke was at an altitude of over 16,000 feet, much higher than the highest points of his own Italian Alps. He and his brave troop, standing in silence at the foot of the gigantic mountain, waited for the mists to clear and reveal to them the coveted peak.
At last, after several hours of waiting, the mist disappeared. K 2 appeared in all its majesty. Abruzzi decided to devote some time exploring the rocky base of the mountain. Its slopes, he surmised, were so steep as to render avalanches wellnigh inevitable.
The expedition was split up into small parties, which began to explore the approaches to the peak in order to find some point from which it might be attacked. With two guides the duke left his companions and spent four days trying to discover a way up the huge mountain. In the course of his investigations he scaled two neighboring peaks, both about 20,000 feet high, and visited the western part of the great glacier, hitherto unexplored, and the eastern part visited previously by Guilermood.
The result of his four days' work was to convince him absolutely that K 2 was inaccessible to man, no matter what efforts he might put forth to attain its summit. Hence the duke retraced his steps to the base of supplies at the head of the glacier, where, throughout the month of June, the members of the expedition devoted themselves to topographical and photographic work around the mountain and the adjacent country.
OF THE PEAK.
At the end of June the little troop again took the road along the glacier, and climbed to the summit of the Windigab, 20,000 feet above the sea, in order to learn from there whether it would be possible to work downward into Little Thibet, where there are regions little known or entirely unexplored. They found that such a descent would be possible only without baggage, hence it would be merely a hunting trip, which the duke resolved not to make.
Instead he turned his attention to the Chogolisa or Bride Peak. Disappointed in his desire to ascend K 2, he made up his mind that he would not be foiled a second time.
The weather was very variable; perfectly clear days alternating with the thickest mists. The marches became extremely arduous. Already the thin atmosphere which the members of the expedition had been breathing for many days began to show its depressing effects. Work which under other conditions would have been quite normal was accomplished now with three times the amount of effort that would ordinarily have been expended on it. The duke's companions began to lose their appetites, to feel disgust at the unchanging diet of canned meat, to snatch only brief and troubled naps. Abruzzi himself, however, seemed to keep all his powers intact. At meals his appetite was unimpaired; his periods of sleep continued to be long and refreshing.
The duke and his three companions, Marquis Negrotto, Sella and De Filippi, reached the foot of Bride Peak together. Negrotto and De Filippi remained there in order to make botanical investigations in the neighborhood and do topographical work. Sella, after a little climbing, turned back toward Rokass in order to take a panoramic view of the Mustag chain of mountains.
As for the duke himself, he began with his three guides the ascent of the mountain, choosing as his starting point a camp located at a height of about 21,000 feet high.
The weather, which was very cloudy, compelled him to stay there for several days; but just as soon as the mists began to clear he ascended in two successive days' marches to a point nearly 2,000 feet higher up. From there some of the guides who had followed him thus far and who had been able to carry with them tents and provisions sufficient only for four persons returned to the camp situated near the base of the mountain.
The duke remained where he was one whole day. At dawn of the next, July 17, he began his ascent once again toward the peak.
He was making his supreme effort.
At II in the morning he had managed to get somewhere more than 1,200 feet higher. He now stood 24,000 feet above the sea. With him were three guides — Petigax and two named Brocherel. The mist had become so dense that further progress seemed out of the question. The four men, exposed at any instant to annihilation from falling masses of snow, shut themselves up in their shelters, waiting patiently on the perilous slope.
They waited until 3 in the afternoon. The mist became constantly thicker and thicker. The three mountaineers, without a word, turned their eyes on the duke.
Once more he gazed upward at the peak, which seemed to be eluding him as it lay in his very grasp. Then he took counsel with the three guides.
To climb any higher was impossible, they maintained. A few steps away not a thing was visible. The entire mountain seemed enveloped in gray, cold air. Man was obliged to yield before the invincible hostility, the insurmountable veto of nature.
For the last time the duke looked toward the peak.
"Let us descend," he then said, in a quiet voice.
A single march brought the four men to the camp established over 3,000 feet below. They were still four days' march distant from Footstool, at the base of Bride Peak, where the other Italians were encamped.
There, ten days after he had departed, the latter saw the duke unexpectedly reappear with his three guides.
"Well, your Highness?" they asked eagerly.
"Three hundred and eight, by the barometer," he replied.
That was equivalent, according to the calculations made with the instruments which he had taken with him, to 7,500 meters, or about 24,565 feet.
Luigil Amedo of Savoy, Duke of the Abruzzi, had broken the world's record for mountain climbing.
At once preparations were made for the return of the expedition. On August 12 it was already back at Shrinagar, having taken from Askoue a route different from that chosen before. It led the duke and his companions over the Skoro, where, after so many miles of grim snow-covered rocks, they saw again a beautiful flowery valley which seemed to them the abode of eternal spring.
It was like a return to life. As they descended this valley, headed once more toward Skardo, not only De Filippi, the botanist of the party, but all of its other members were soon carrying, in their buttonholes and in their hands, great bouquets of myosotis, gentians, edelweiss, and other flowers.
From Skardo, instead of again traversing the Zoji-la, by which he had traveled previously, the duke headed for the valley of the Geosai, through which the expedition made its way back to Shrinagar. There they were met by Sir Francis Younghusband once more, and De Filippi found his wife, who had awaited him through all the weeks that he had been lost in the snowy fastnesses of the Himalayas. For two days the British Resident entertained Abruzzi and his companions at his summer home of Gulmarg. Then, after short visits to Delhi and Agra, where he saw the old ruins of the time of the Moguls, they reached Bombay on August 25. On the 28th the P. & O. liner Oceana bore them out of Bombay harbor toward Europe.
All this was told to the Italian newspaper man mainly by the Marquis Negrotto and Sella, the photographer. As for the taciturn duke, he spent most of the days of the sea journey writing in the music room of the steamer, or else stretched out on his deck chair. Even when he took a walk on deck with the Marquis or another of his friends, he scarcely spoke at all. His eyes, says the Italian, seemed fixed on something far away, as if planning new expeditions to remote parts of the world.
OF THE EXPEDITION.
According to Marquis Negrotto, the duke will be occupied for some time in getting into shape the great mass of scientific and other data collected during the course of their journey by himself and those who accompanied him. The most important part of these are the combined topographical and photographic records, in which both the duke and Negrotto were much interested before their departure. At that time they elaborated the combination of photographic and topographical work under the direction of Signor Paganini, of the Geographical Military Institute of Florence, the inventor of the photographic theodolite, who was the first, by means of this system, to obtain exact descriptions of Monte Rosa, Mont Cenis and other Alpine peaks. The system, however, had never been used before at such altitudes as those attained by the Abruzzi on his Himalayan journey.