THE SOURCES OF THE SUBANSIRI AND SIYOM
ON the 9th February 1936 Messrs. G. Sherriff and F. Ludlow, with Dr. K. Lumsden, left Kashmir on a botanical expedition to the sources of the Subansiri and Siyom in the Bhutan Himalaya. Gap- tains Bailey and Morshead in 1913, and Captain Kingdon Ward in 1935 (Himalayan Journal, vol. viii, pp. 125-9) appear to be the only other Europeans who have visited the upper reaches of the Subansiri. The sources of the Siyom appear never to have been explored.
Leaving the East Bengal Railway at Rangiya on the 14th February, the party entered Bhutan via Diwangiri and reached Trashi- gong on the 2nd March. The first half of that month was spent on the Bhutan-Tibet frontier at Mera and Sakden. From there they returned to Trashigong, ascended the Nyam Jang Ghu valley to Trimo, and reached the Tibetan trade-mart of Tsona, via the Po La, on the 12th April. Tsona was just awakening from its winter sleep. A few primulas were already in flower, while Brahminy duck waddled about on the roofs of Tibetan hovels, seeking nesting-sites.
From Tsona the expedition struck eastwards across the bleak plateau, crossed the Nyala La, and descended the Loro Karpo Ghu to Tongme Gompa, where they joined Kingdon Ward’s route of 1935. Ghayul Dzong was reached on the 21st April. From here they descended the Ghayul river to its junction with the Ghar Ghu at Lung, where they met a party of Lung-tu Lobas who fled incontinently into the jungle. The fears of these Lobas were allayed with empty cigarette-tins and bead necklaces, and they eventually became friendly, though never helpful. At Lung the Chayul river—really the main branch of the Subansiri—cuts its way through the Great Himalaya. The climate is wet and the mountain slopes densely forested. There were signs of an abundant flora, but the year was still too young for any but the earliest flowers, so it was decided to move on into the Tsari district and to return to Lung at a later date.
The next objective of the expedition was Sanga Choling. The quickest route thither lay up the gorge of the Ghar Chu, but the Raprang bridge was impassable and the Drichung La, which Kingdon Ward had crossed the previous summer, was still under snow; the party was therefore forced to return to Chayul Dzong and reach Sanga Choling via the Le La. The position of Sanga Choling madeit a convenient base, and half the loads were dumped there in the imposing monastery, the expedition passing on into the Tsari valley via the Gha La.
Tsari is holy ground. The circuit of the mountain called Takpa Shiri is an act of merit equalled only by the circumambulation of Kailas. The late Dalai Lama performed the circuit in 1900, and annually pilgrims flock to Tsari from various parts of Tibet for this purpose. No life may be taken in Tsari and no crops cultivated, save at Migyitun. The inhabitants of the various villages in the Tsari valley subsist largely on the money they receive from the pilgrims, but they also desert their homes in late September, when the pilgrim season is over, and beg in adjoining districts.
There are two pilgrimages, called in Tibetan Kingkor and Ringkor. The former is a short pilgrimage and occurs annually. No women are allowed on this. The road leads down the Tsari valley from Chdsam to Ghikchar, and then-crosses seven steep passes between 15,000 and 16,000 feet before Chosam is regained. Colonel F. M. Bailey and Mr. G. Sherriff are the only Europeans who have performed this pilgrimage.
No European has ever completed the Ringkor, which is a long pilgrimage occurring every twelfth year. This also starts at Chosam, whence the road descends the Tsari Chu to the frontier village of Migyitum, and then follows the river downwards into tribal territory until it joins the Chayul Chu. It then ascends the Chayul Chu as far as its junction with the Yume Chu, and follows the latter river up to Yume, whence Chosam is reached via the Rib La.
The Tibetan government finds it expedient to propitiate the Lobas—probably Abors—with presents of salt, tsamba, swords, and cloth before this pilgrimage is undertaken. The distribution of these articles takes place at Migyitun. The next Ringkor occurs in 1944.
The Tsari valley is peculiarly wet and heavily wooded. The magnificent Sikkim stag, or Shao, still finds a safe refuge in its dense forests. Bharal are so tame that they enter the rest-houses on the Kingkor. Harman’s Eared Pheasant struts about the Chikchar meadows as fearlessly as a barn-door fowl.
The expedition spent a busy month collecting between Chosam and Migyitun. From the latter place they made excursions down the Tsari Chu until they were held up by the inundations of the swollen river. They also visited the holy Tso Kar lake, crossing the Na La, Pang La, and Dza La passes in rapid succession. Then on the 12th June the party split up. Sherriff, accumulating both flowers and merit, set off along the Kingkor and performed the circuit of Takpa Shiri. From thence he returned to the Chayul valley via the Dri- chung La, and collected in the neighbourhood of the Kashong La on the main range above Lung. Ludlow and Lumsden followed Kingdon Ward’s footsteps as far as Molo, and then went south into the unknown Pachakshiri country via the Lo La. They then re- crossed the Lo La and returned to Kyimdong Dzong by a new route via Langong and the Pa La. From Kyimdong Dzong they descended to the Tsangpo and marched along its right bank to Tungar Gompa. Here they crossed the Kongbo Nga La into the Laphu Chu valley above Nang Dzong, and again broke new ground by ascending the Laphu Chu to its source on the Sur La, overlooking Chosam. A chain of four lovely lakes was discovered three miles north of the Sur La at a place called Tsobunang.
The party reassembled at Sanga Choling on the 30th July. After a week’s rest they ascended the Char Chu to Shirap and returned to the Tsari valley by an unexplored route via the Traken La and the Tendong La. Here the remainder of the flowering season was spent. On the 14th October the party again split up for the seed harvest. A Bhutanese and Lepcha collector were sent back to the Lo La; Sherriff returned to Lung and the Kashong La, and then went up the Loro Nagpo Chu to the Pen La and across to Tsona; Ludlow and Lumsden returned via the Nyala La to Tsona, and thence via the Kechen La to Tawang, and on into eastern Bhutan. Finally the whole party were reunited at Diwangiri on the 25th November.
The botanical results of the expedition were very satisfactory. The flora of many of the localities visited was extremely rich. It is estimated that of primulas alone nearly fifty different species were found. Rhododendrons were equally varied. At the time of writing the collection is being worked out at home, and it is not possible to state what new species have been discovered. An interesting feature of the collection is the strongly marked occurrence of Chinese forms east of the 93rd meridian. Use was made of the air mail for the dispatch of certain living plants. A number of valuable primulas were sent home by this method, and it is satisfactory to learn that all reached the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, in a healthy condition.
The more directly geographical results of the expedition were not great. Concentration on plants and seeds leaves no time for theodolites and plane-tables, and no survey work was attempted. Nevertheless a number of hypsometric readings were taken, reports of new routes were written up, and certain obvious errors in the Survey of India Atlas sheets were corrected. Both in Bhutan and Tibet the expedition met with kindness and courtesy everywhere. Even the barbaric Loba smiled upon occasion and tried to be polite.
THE ZEMU GLACIER, MAY 1936
A party organized and led by Marco Pallis visited the Zemu glacier in the pre-r?ionsoon period of 1936. Besides the leader the members were R. G. Nicholson, R. Roaf, F. S. Chapman, and J. K. Cooke. The original plan was to establish a base camp by the end of April, climb one Or two minor peaks, and attempt Simvu during May.
In addition to the Sherpas engaged from Darjeeling, mule transport was u^ed as far as Lachen. There local men were obtained to assist on the final stages up the glacier, where the Base Camp was eventually placed three miles below the site of the Green Lake.1 The great trough along the North side of the Zemu was plentifully covered with snow at the time of the party’s arrival, progress being consequently slow. With the exception of five Sherpas, the porters returned when the Base had been established.
The weather proved persistently unfavourable for most of the time spent on the glacier, though, in spite of daily snowfalls, the snow in the neighbourhood of the camp disappeared with remarkable rapidity. During the first few days the early mornings were heralded by a violent easterly wind which subsided by 7 a.m., the warmest part of the day then occurring before 10 a.m. By the 30th April this dawn wind was no longer experienced; instead, milder conditions were noticed in the early hours, followed by clouds gathering and blowing up from the east along the glacier level, bringing driving snowstorm^. The only really good day occurred on the 9th May.
Short jotirneys were at first made to the Green Lake and Simvu glacier, Pallis and Chapman also going towards the Zemu Gap on ski. On the 28th April Nicholson and Cooke climbed a small peak, (18,060 feet), which is shown on Karl Wien’s map as the Lagerberg (5,505 m.), finding an existing cairn on the summit rocks. On the 1st May Pallis and Cooke climbed the peak shown as 5,920 metres (19,420 feet), to the west of the Kegelberg, naming it the ‘Crevasse Peak’ by reason of a striking cleft in the summit ice. Both these are on the north side of the Zemu glacier, below the Green Lake. Later an attempt was made on the north-east peak of Simvu from the Simvu glacier. At this period bad snowstorms caused long delays but camps were established by way of a branch glacier to the Upper Saddle (separated from the Simvu Saddle by a subsidiary point of rock and ice, point 5835 on Wien’s map). A further bivouac was placed at a height of close on 20,000 feet, after an ascent through deep loose snow. Above the camp unpleasant snow conditions made it awkward to gain the final ice-ridge leading to the north-east peak, but a way was found on the 17th May after an exhilarating ascent up an exposed ice-wall. About 400 feet higher, however, the party was brought to a standstill on the brink of a wide fissure at a point where the ridge began to narrow, and the attempt had to be abandoned.1 A severe storm set in during the afternoon, and early next morning in the tents a shock resembling a minor earthquake was felt, which proved to be caused by the sudden opening-out of a crevasse, previously noticed, a few yards below the camp. It was a most peculiar sensation. Snow was cast up along the line of the crevasse like a row of small mole-hills.
1 See Map of the Zemu Glacier, of the German Himalayan Expedition 1931, published with Himalayan Journal, vol. vii, 1935.
The Base Camp was reached again on the 18th May. Following a descent to Tsetang the party separated, Chapman and Cooke remaining in Sikkim and visiting Lhonak with Lieut. J. B. Harrison, whilst the three others departed for Ladakh to pursue Tibetan studies.
GHOMIOMO AND LAGHSI
During April and May 1936, Messrs. R. K. Hamblin and J. R. G. Finch spent seven weeks in northern Sikkim. They first made an attempt to climb Lama Anden, but were unable to go farther than a camp on the top of the Keshong La, 15,749 feet. On arrival at the foot of the pass on the 18th April, deep snow was found to be lying down to 12,000 feet. After two days’ hard work a camp was placed on a valley flat at 15,000 feet, a mile from the summit of the pass. Most of the route was up steep snow slopes which became dangerous after midday, and it was obvious that a bad break in the weather might cut off retreat for several days. On the following day a camp was established on the top of the pass, and immediately the weather broke. The Keshong La is best avoided at this time of year.
On the 27th April the party climbed the hill behind Thangu and obtained a perfect view of the mountain marked on the map as Lachsi, 21,100 feet. It was not, however, possible to determine exactly which was the highest point, as the mountain was seen almost end on. The summit of Ghomiomo was visible beyond the head of the glacier separating Lachsi itself and its east peak, and about half-way between the two. According to the existing map, it should be in line with and behind the east peak. Furthermore, a simple calculation will show that if the head of the glacier between Lachsi and its east peak is at 20,000 feet, as shown on the map, the top of Ghomiomo could not be seen. Later observations from the main ridge of Lachsi proved that the glacier between the two peaks is no higher than 19,000 feet.
1 The point is shown on Wien’s map about the 6,200 m. contour, about half a mile north of the north-east peak (point 6550 of the Simvu Massif).
The party now tried to ascend this glacier, but a maze of crevasses forced them to the side of it and under overhanging ice. An attempt to climb the south-east ridge of the main peak was no more successful. The weather throughout this period was very bad and there was no visibility. After a visit, therefore, to the ridge below the east peak, the party moved round to the Tashapo in order to try the mountain from the west. This peak, about 19,000 feet, would provide a pleasant ice-climb, or perhaps the steepest ice could be avoided by an easier rock ridge to the north-east.
The Tashapo proved to be far more extensive than had been expected. The i6,ooo-foot contour is not crossed till 2 J miles above the junction of the two glacier streams shown on the map, while the 17,ooo-foot contour is another 3 miles beyond this. From the head of the valley two passes lead to Lhonak.
The lower pass, 18,000 feet, on the 9th May, had remarkably little snow on it. It leads over scree slopes to the neighbourhood of the Naku La, and is known to the Lachen people as the Tasha La. They take their yaks over it later in the year. The other route leads over an interesting glacier pass, and is 500 feet higher. The route from the Tashapo leads up a trough of ice between cliffs and an ice-fall. The summit of the pass gives access to the main ridge between Lachsi and Chomiomo, or alternatively, a gentle descent may be made to a glacier descending from the latter peak to Lhonak.
On the 9th May the party camped near the foot of the Tasha La at 17,400 feet, and two days later at 18,900 feet, above the higher route. Next day two of the coolies were ill, one of them a Lachen man. This prevented any chance of taking a camp higher if it proved necessary. Exploration showed that a rift 500 feet deep existed at about 20,000 feet on the main ridge, some two miles short of the summit of Lachsi. This would have necessitated a full day’s hard work step-cutting to make a crossing, and under the circumstances was impossible.
After a few days’ rest, exploration for a pass out of the Tashapo into Lhonak showed that a crossing could be made straight to the Yalung lake. The following day the party crossed with three coolies and camped on the slopes of Rokcha. The summit of the pass, 17,300 feet, was reached in four hours, the glacier presenting no difficulty owing to a covering of snow. Later in the year, when this covering has melted, crevasses may cause a lot of difficulty. A few days later a return was made to Thangu by way of the Lungnak La.
The name Lachsi seems to be unknown to the local people, and the mountain bearing that name was several times pointed out to the party as Chomo Kong. Half-way between Lachsi and Ghomiomo is a fine peak at least 21,000 feet, known locally as Lachin Kong. This northern of two Khonpuk glaciers. The area concerned is shown on a sketch-map, drawn from the Survey map 78A, on p. 140, Himalayan Journal, vol. vii, 1935, to illustrate some notes of a journey made by Messrs. Gourlay and Auden in 1934.
No information is available about any one having previously crossed the Karpo La, and the pass used by Mr. Glaude White some years ago from Mome Samdong to the Sebo Ghu cannot be the one given this name on the map. Messrs. Auden and Gourlay in October 1934 were prevented by bad weather from solving the problem, but they reported that there were not two Khonpuk glaciers, but a single one fed by subsidiary ones descending from the whole of the upper Sebo Chu amphitheatre.
In April 1936 Gaptain Sams, r.e., of the Survey of India, went into northern Sikkim to investigate the Karpo La. He followed the Lachung valley to Junguden, about six miles beyond Mome Samdong and three miles south-west of the Donkhya La. From here he went up to a pass which he believed to be the Karpo La, which led to a valley said to be the Khonpuk Ghu. From this valley, according to Gaptain Sams, a steep climb of about 600 feet leads to another pass, apparently called the Sepo La, said to lead into the Sebo valley. The Khonpuk Ghu flows down towards Mome Samdong, so that Captain Sams’s notes of this part apparently agree fairly well with the existing map.
Later in the year Mrs. Townend, acting on notes made by Sams, decided to go up the Khonpuk Chu valley and cross the Sepo La into the Sebo Chu. On being told by Lachung men, however, that they knew the Khonpuk Chu, she was surprised to find that they did not take her up the valley running almost due east from Mome Samdong. She imagined, however, that she eventually reached the Khonpuk glacier indicated by Sams, as the peaks at the head corresponded with those on a sketch which he had made. Four snow saddles were visible, only one of which turned out to be practicable, after some difficulty. From this saddle Mrs. Townend descended to a snow-covered glacier below, which brought her into a wide valley draining from north to south. On the left side of the valley there was a distinct track, zigzagging steeply down a cliff, while the river fell steeply in cascades. At the foot of the cliff the valley opened out to a wide meadow, and another stream flowed in from the north-east (bearing 20°). According to the Lachung men, the valley followed to this point was known as the Po-kye-Sebo Chu, or Chumbotheng Ghu, while the river below the junction is the true Sebo Chu. According to Mrs. Townend, the river does not make a big bend below this point.
Mrs. Townend remarks that on subsequently comparing notes with Captain Sams, it is clear that she did not go up the valley he explored, or cross the pass which his men called the Sepo La, but that the valley she ascended must be very close to the other, and the peaks at its head bear a close resemblance. The map is undoubtedly wrong, but the scale is small, and in this type of country marching-times give little indication of distance, so that it is impossible from Mrs. Townend’s notes, without a sketch-map, to correct it. The local men boast that they know all the country, but they know no farther than the points where they graze their yaks, and their information is most misleading. It is impossible as yet to place the Sepo La or the Khonpuk Chu on the map.
ASCENT OF GORDAMAH PEAK (22,200 FEET), NORTH SIKKIM
On their return from the Mount Everest expedition, 1936, E. E. Ship ton and E. G. H. Kempson climbed Gordamah peak in northern Sikkim. With G. Warren and E. H. L. Wigram they left the main party on the 1st July, after crossing the Kongra La from Tibet into Sikkim, and followed the valley running at the foot of the lovely north face of Kangchenjhau. From their camp on the southern shore of the Gordamah lake they took a light camp up the glacier descending from the col between Kangchenjhau and the Gordamah peak and pitched it at about 18,500 feet. At first sight the north side of the col appeared to be an extremely difficult proposition as it was guarded by formidable hanging glacier cliffs; but on rounding the corner of the glacier, the party found an easy ice terrace, up which they climbed without any great difficulty early in the morning of the 3rd July. They reached the col a little too late for a clear view, and, except for a glorious view of Chombo (.c. 21,000 feet), to the south of the Sebu La, standing above the clouds, they saw very little. Below them on the southern side was a very steep ice-fall, which Shipton considers could probably be descended if sufficient time were spent over it. They then moved round a small peak which divides the col into two sections and reached the foot of the western ridge of Gordamah peak. Kempson and Shipton started up it, while Warren and Wigram returned to camp. Parts of the ridge were very steep, but the snow and ice were in perfect condition and provided a most enjoyable climb. They reached the summit of Gordamah peak at about one o’clock, and regained the col before the steep sections had become dangerously soft. A break in the clouds while they were on the summit gave them superb views. They descended to the Gordamah lake the same evening.
 Lob a is a Tibetan word applied without distinction to all the savage tribes (Akas, Daflas, Abors, Mishmis) along the south Tibet frontier.