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Hummel Meets the Mountain

The Story of
the First (and Only)
All-American, All-Cat
Himalayan Expedition

Part 5

Chapter 11: Into The Sanctuary

After 5 days of hard walking the cats were in need of a day of rest. They were two days ahead of schedule and could, at last, afford to loaf around in the morning. Expedition leader Hummel set the tone for the day when he rolled off his sleeping pad at the crack of noon, ate a full can of gourmet delite, found a big, flat rock, and stretched out full length in the sun. All the cats marvelled at how Hummel, with the weight of the expedition on his shoulders could rest so contentedly.

Not all the cats loafed around all day. Alphonse and Cuthbert had been talking with Sherpa Pahu. He told them that the Hinko area was known throughout Nepal for its fine game. So they decided to go out hunting. And sure enough, after three hours they returned with several rabbits and 2 dozen field mice. Monster decided to try his fishing luck in the river and managed to haul in several large trout. All this was enough for a grand feast!!

And so the scene was set for a jolly evening. The cats were in high spirits knowing that with a single days climb they would be at the foot of Macchupachere, in perhaps the most beautiful place in the world. They talked about how this had all been, only a few months ago, a wild dream in the mind of a little cat. And that through hard work and faith in themselves they had reached for something that few in the world would ever have ... and now it was theirs to take. Only the mountain remained.

And so they celebrated; they had a delicious dinner; they danced up a storm; they howled at the moon; and they marvelled at Macchupachere, silhouted against the stars on this their first clear night in the mountains.

But morning dawned and the clouds rolled in and descended until they encased the expeditioners in a shroud of fluff. After the spirited celebrations of Hinko, the dreary hike into the Sanctuary was anticlimactic. They had been told, in such marvelous terms, of the incredible beauty and the powerful spirit the sanctuary exuded. But on this day they could not see a thing ... no mountains, no river, only the clouds.

But they could feel the Sanctuary; they all could. One by one they climbed around a moraine and glanced at one another. Hummel summed up the electricity of the moment.

"This is a special place."

No further explanation was necessary.

Chapter 12: Base Camp

Soon after entering the sanctuary proper the expedition was on snow for the first time. They would not leave the snow for another month. But for now it meant learning something new. Walking on snow with their bulky loads was not easy for the cats. Their paws were unaccustomed to the cold and they kept sinking in the snow. They could no longer delay. It was time to put on their special boots for the remainder of the climb. And so, throughout the day they trudged and trudged and by late afternoon they had reached their basecamp.

But no more celebrations for this team ... there was work to be done. Everybody set out to do their appointed tasks. Hummel and B.C. had prepared assignments and there was not an idle cat to be found. Tabby took charge of setting up the cook tent and sorting out the hundreds of pounds of food. Herman took charge of setting up the big tents that would serve as sleeping quarters for the climbers while in base camp. Winston began the job of organizing the boxes and boxes of equipment.

Each cat had to have the proper climbing gear: the carabiners, tiny links they would use as connectors to anchor their ropes and protect themselves in case of falls; chockstones, small aluminum shapes that could fit in a variety of cracks in the rocks to hold the cats from falling; pitons, tiny spikes that could be hammered into cracks in the rock; ice screws, that inserted in the ice and held firm; ice axes and hammers for climbing the vertical walls of ice. Yes, the cats were surely well prepared.

With their hard work and dogged determination, although Hummel might not have liked that adjective, the expeditioners had impressed their Sherpas and porters as to the importance of the climb to each and every individual cat. This sense of purpose had even spread to them. The cats were now one; united with a common, though immense, goal.

The porters set about establishing their own little camp. For many, though, the work was over and they would leave, to return after the climb for the pack out.

The Sherpas immediately began to investigate the expected route of the climb, to create beaten paths in the snow (called trail making), and to check snow and ice conditions.

Of course expedition photographer Cuthbert took photographs of Macchupachere to compare with those they already had. This would allow them to examine their proposed routes carefully and see if they were feasible. A large combination camera-telescope was set at base camp for the duration of the climb so that progress on the mountain could be continuously monitored. This late addition to the equipment would prove to be worth its weight many times over.

Chapter 13: The Climb Begins

So early on April 17th, with base camp well established, equipment organized and plans well developed, the cats looked toward the mountain. What they saw was very, very impressive, I am sure you'll agree.

The picture you see here shows what the expeditioners saw from base camp; the awesome west face that guards the fishtail. After much thought, study of photographs, and consultation with the team, Hummel had sadly but firmly rejected any attempts at the sheer 5000 foot face.

"We must be aware of our abilities" he wisely observed. "Dreams must be tempered with a healthy dose of reality. The humans have a saying for it. Something about discretion and valor."

Attention turned to the long, sharp north ridge of the mountain. It was the only approach that seemed to offer a reasonable chance. Several obstacles were evident, the first, of course, being the climb to the ridge itself.

The first advance teams led by Marley and Monster set out to find a route through the series of cliffs that form the base of the mountain. This route would lead to the climb up to the ridge proper.

They wandered in and around gullies and snowfields until, as luck would have it, they came to a promising gully that went in the right direction. They followed the gully to a gentle snow slope that provided the key to this section of the cliffs.

It was at the base of this snow field that the cats set up their camp I. When mountaineers climb big mountains like Macchupachere, it is often necessary for them to go one stage at a time since the mountain is much too high to climb all at once.

The usual procedure is to climb for a day and set up a camp. Then equipment and food can be brought to this camp and the climb can proceed without having to go all the way back to base camp. Then the climbers climb high and establish another camp. This process continues until a camp is established within a one day round trip to the summit; from here the final climb is made.

Of course this is the way an ideal climb would proceed. Rarely is a climb ideal and modifications to the plan are usually necessary. The day after camp I was established the cats climbed the snow field and, 1000 vertical feet up, found an excellent site for a camp. This became camp II and replaced the lower camp as the primary staging area for the climb to the ridge.

At camp II Marley and B.C. quickly established themselves as a top notch hunting team with six birds to their credit on their first night out.

Expedition Leader Hummel and his right paw tactician Winston arrived at camp II on the 20th. Hummel had seen to the satisfactory establishment of operations at base camp and he and Winston had developed a very detailed schedule for the climb. Each day was planned out and there even were contingency plans in case of bad weather or other surprises. Hummel was now ready to climb.

So, on the very next day, Hummel, Winston, Monster, and B.C. set out early. They continued through the lower cliffs crossing several moraines and glaciers. A glacier, I should explain, is an immense sheet of ice that can be very very thick. A glacier moves constantly as new ice forms or old ice melts. In its movement, the glacier can often push rocks in front of it or leave rocks piled behind. These rock piles are called moraines.

Often a glacier leaves many moraines and that can be a problem for little cats who have to cross fields of glaciers. They would climb a few hundred feet up to the top of a moraine and then they would go down to the glacier and begin the climb to the next moraine.

At an elevation of 18000 feet they established camp III. This looked to be the start of the rough going because from camp III the only way to go was straight up. Over 3000 feet of steep snow led to the imposing north ridge. To the north an obvious col, 1500 feet above camp, beckoned. A col is like a pass through the mountains; it is where a ridge dips down to its lowest point.

Hummel thought that the cats would have a better chance at the ridge by climbing to the col. He knew that the humans had reached this col in 1957 but were unable to proceed. They found a sheer and unusable east face that dropped off the other side of the ridge. The ridge itself was a treacherous knife edge that would have been disastrous for the heavy humans to attempt. He also knew that if that route did not go then there would be no choice but to climb the 3000 feet directly from camp III.

If you are enjoying the Hummel Mountaineering story please Let Us Know. We will be putting the rest of the book on the Web with some great photos of the peaks and images of the expeditioneers. Check back to keep in touch with Hummel.

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