A first-hand account of the summits of Everest from a Nepalese surveyor

A dark cloud enveloped me. I don’t know if it’s the weather or a hallucination. Altitude is a tricky place, it was common knowledge for me. I don’t remember exactly what went through my head. Maybe it’s the thin air that faded…everything that was on my mind. I realized that unconsciousness could be a pleasure. What is this luxury? Why am I in heavenly ecstasy here in the death zone? How is it possible that I don’t remember anything and don’t even try? These questions remain unanswered to this day. The summit I had reached, the historic summit…did I reach the summit? I couldn’t remember. My home, my family, my beloved, my status, my prestige, my wealth, everything is gone. The emptiness of my soul gnawed at me. My legs collapsed before I could force myself to regain my human identity, and I vaguely remember tumbling down to the hard snow of South Col (p. 176).

This excerpt from Khim Lal Gautam’s recently published book “Pandhraun Chuli” is a surveyor’s story of the ups and downs with Everest and life after.

Gautam is a mixture of several qualities. Twice summited Everest, engineer working for the Survey Department of Nepal, academician and historian of mountaineering and very enthusiastic exploration. A rather apt title to introduce the author would be the man who led a team of investigators to the top of the world, scaling the 8848.86 meter summit of Mount Everest.

Gautam, merging his experiences of ascents with the knowledge base of Everest, has put together a 351-page book called “Pandhraun Chuli”, (unofficial translation: Peak XV). The book takes readers on a mountaineering journey filled with historical facts and events related to Everest.

I was reminded of George Mallory and his love triangle while reading this book. When Mallory was home, all he cared about was Everest, and when he was in front of Everest, all he thought about was his wife, Ruth Mallory, and the kids. Similarly, Gautam is seen in a love triangle that swings between Everest and his pregnant wife. The book is divided into two main sections: a personal climbing diary of two Everest expeditions and a second that gives us insight into the history of exploration, surveying and mountaineering on Everest. ‘Everest.

In the first section, Gautam recounts his ascent to Everest. He chronicles his involvement with the Everest team in 2011, proving himself as a civil servant who is not just a desk jockey but, in a down suit, an enduring mountaineer.

The second section of the book exposes readers to a high level of emotional volatility. Having to leave a pregnant woman behind and go to Everest without the cheerful consent of the family is a difficult decision, especially when the body has passed its physical peak and the direction of the expedition is given to measure the height of the mountain for the first time by an entirely Nepalese team of surveyors. Gautam tells his story in the form of a travelogue with many sentimental experiences. From embracing his fast-approaching fatherhood to nearly dying in South Col, The Ascension Diary takes readers through many thoughtful questions. The book also questions the management style of the Nepalese expedition organizers and serves as a chilling reminder of the widespread discrimination against Nepalese climbers.

An interesting and unique aspect of the book is the writer’s ability to find religious and spiritual connections in geographic and climbing activities. It may be the only Everest peak to date that has decided the final push from the South Col based on an astrological weather forecast calendar! The writer’s philosophical duel with an inanimate Everest and himself is well worth reading. He says in the book that the load a climber has in his backpack is not all he is carrying. There are heavier things in the pursuit of mountaineering. For the author, a promise of safe return to his wife and parents, a wish taken in the name of national pride, as well as a desire to show his leadership to the team, weigh more heavily than the physical loads. Philosophically, the author questions himself and Everest. Who is behind the climber’s mask? What dreams does he have? What aspirations made it soar? How much sacrifice is he willing to make for the summit and the return? The answers to these daunting questions surround the author’s ascents.

For a reader new to mountaineering and mountaineering, the book should be an enjoyable read as it details the flow of day-to-day things at Everest Base Camp and above. The book also indirectly warns aspiring Everest climbers of the prevailing litter on Everest, ever-increasing human excrement, problems of environmental degradation and expedition contributions to these, and unclaimed corpses lying on the mountain.

Readers finally get the satisfaction that the team, at great expense, accomplishes its mission. A remarkable decision is made by the author (as expedition leader) to begin their final push to the summit from the South Col, at noon. It is a very risky move, which leads climbers to extreme physical exhaustion while being tormented by fierce winds and freezing cold. Climbers usually begin their summit push around 10-11am. The team reaches the summit safely, and the advantage of traveling at midday gives them valuable time in solitude to configure the GNSS device and collect data. If the team had reached the summit at the same time as other climbers, they would not have been able to obtain accurate data because of the crowds. They also wouldn’t have been able to arrest anyone for a ‘national pride project’ because summiting Everest is a moment climbers had to spend thousands of dollars and years on. in training.

Gautam led the first successful Everest height remeasurement expedition, but his Everest expedition enjoyment was dashed by the tragedy of losing his one-year-old son to premature health complications from the birth. Fate intervened for a man who took fatherhood as the motivation for every step he took to Everest and back. The book becomes melancholic towards the end of the first section.

The second section of the book proves to be a wonderful treat for Everest fanatics and scholars. Readers understand in plain Nepali the tales of Everest’s geological evolution, naming, British mountaineering ambitions and expeditions from the first reconnaissance in 1921 to the first successful summit in 1953, followed by survey and mapping stories. The book covers some issues not generally seen in other Everest accounts. Most intriguing to me was seeing a photograph of the famous Gurkha soldier Tejbir Budha, who took part in the 1922 expedition; a thorough investigation

the Tenzing-Hillary debate over who reached the top first; and a grounded analysis of the existence of Everest and its connection to the Vedic texts, which I believe lays the groundwork for an almost unprecedented body of study. The last part of the history section gets quite technical for someone who needs help understanding the science of cartography and surveying. This doesn’t make much sense to a non-scientific reader.

The book does have a few flaws, however. A notable mistake would be to claim that Dr. Alexander Kellas is inexperienced in high altitude mountaineering (p 238). The reality is that Dr. Kellas was one of the greatest mountaineers of his time, who climbed extensively in the Himalayas of the Indian state of Sikkim. The date formats in the book jump from Bikram Sambat to Gregorian back and forth, and erratically, thus confusing readers. The next edition could enrich the climbing experience with images of relevant geography. It would also be better to have photographs from the story section in the gallery.

In summary, the book is worth reading. The language of the book is lucid, and a rare Nepali publication that chronicles mountains and adventures so well. Young people can read it to understand what Everest is and gain insight into the experiences of mountaineers during the ascent. I hope the book will be released soon in English and other international languages.


Pandhraun Chuli

Author: Khim Lal Gautam

Editor: fine print

Price: Rs525

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