Hidden Peak is waiting for us, more precisely its southwestern wall. There are no more Swiss. We are alone. In addition, the weather goes bad. It's snowing. It's snowing a day or two ... Every morning we get up, get out of our tents, look at the sky, and here it's snowing. Can not see anything. It is snowing. The worst times were between meals when each of us disappeared into his tent. The books we had with us, and any scrap of newspaper or magazine, were read to the very last word. I knew the manufacturer’s instructions on the inside of my tent sheet by heart. Wojtek was swotting up on French vocabulary and I on English. Is it time for supper yet? Two weeks had passed and it never stopped snowing... We had told each other all our stories and the inevitable moment came when we started to get on each other’s nerves. No matter how well I got on with him, I needed my solitude in this vast empty space. I would put on my jacket and just go. Two kilometres in an unspecific direction but alone, totally alone. Idleness combined with waiting for the weather to change brought about a further downward spiralling of my mood. I caught myself admitting that we stood no chance any more and might have to retreat, and we couldn’t do the slightest little thing about it!
On the 19th of July, totally without warning, the sun came out. Wojtek and I wordlessly admired the wealth of sun-drenched summits around us. After a time the eyes focussed on one area — the cwm at the base of the south-west face, its flanks swollen with snow. In that second we noticed an avalanche breaking loose from below the crest of the cwm and pouring down into the basin below. I had never seen such an enormous avalanche before. Neither of us uttered a word. We stood there, at first petrified and awed, but after a bit of time also much relieved that what could have caught us in its lethal descent, was already over and spread across the entire basin.
The last night before setting out for a summit attempt is always uneasy. One rarely manages to turn in before midnight and is too nervous to fall asleep at once. You have to leave camp long before the sunrise. We set out for our assault on Hidden Peak at two o’clock in the morning. The deadly cwm with its menacing avalanches was crossed at a near run, so desperate were we to clear its ever threatening dangers. The climb started with steep snowfields that turned into ice-fields several hundred metres higher up. ‘Bloody hell!’ I could hear him cursing. ‘No place to put another peg in.’ I watched him fighting, trying over and over again, but hardly moving upwards. For the following four hours we were cutting ice to make a ledge for the tent. It was big enough to allow us to crawl inside the tent but a part of it still hung over a drop of several hundred metres.
We made up our minds to set out the following day for our summit attempt. The tactical problem that needed resolving beforehand was no less complicated. We were expecting porters to arrive this very day and it was necessary to let them know that we were high up in the mountains and they must wait for us. The problem was how to inform them about our whereabouts without wasting any of this brilliant weather. Writing a letter seemed out of question since we knew that most of them were in fact illiterate, and if not, what they could read would be in Urdu — totally beyond our ken. After much deliberation we decided to draw a picture letter, on a big piece of cardboard. A store of food for the porters was put into invitingly open drums, prominently placed. We hesitated over what to do with all our documents and money and resolved simply to carefully wrap it up and bury it under stones some two hundred metres from the camp. It was obvious to us that we were still running a risk of returning to a Base Camp swept clean of all our possessions, including tents and equipment, but these would just be material losses worth risking, whilst the ascent of our mountain was what mattered. We were there because of the mountain after all.
Next morning it was my turn to lead. At long last I freed a hairline fissure, into which I managed to bang the thinnest of my pegs. Feeling comforted by this more-imagined-than-real belay, I ventured a few rather risky moves that took me up to easier ground. That day we bivouacked at some 7,200 metres. No sooner had we gained height, than our bold plan was thwarted — the route variant we’d followed was barred by a rock barrier insurmountable at this altitude. We had to turn back, but were determined to give it another try at another place. But which way?
Wojtek had lost one crampon In mixed terrain with plenty of ice, such as the one we were in, one couldn’t pretend to be a stork and use only one leg. I couldn’t give up so easily, not after twenty days of that terrible waiting for better weather, not when we were so close to the top. To retreat now?
‘How about this: I’ll be leading, and cutting steps in the ice where necessary, and you’ll follow somehow in my footsteps…’
Wojtek took up my vein of thinking, as if my arguments were acceptable to him. We were gaining height, one hundred, two hundred metres. There, caught in soft snow, lay Wojtek’s crampon. Finding a needle in a haystack would be child’s play compared to this!