Himalayan Journal vol.02
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Kenneth Mason
    (PAUL BAUER.*)
    (DR. A. M. HERON.)
    (L. R. FAWCUS)
  5. THE SHYOK FLOOD, 1929
    (J. P. GUNN)
    (LIEUT. J. B. P. ANGWIN.)
    (DR. E. F. NEVE.)
    (LIEUT. D. M. BURN.)
    (W. E. BUCHANAN)
    (H. M. GLOVER.)
    (Captain J. BARRON.)
    (Captain A. A. RUSSELL.)
  16. NOTES



INTEREST is doubtless centred on those districts to the north of Kashmir, the exact topography of which still calls for elucidation. But to those whose circumstances limit their opportunities for distant travel and exploration there are many parts of Kashmir proper which can provide much interest and enjoyment to the traveller, the scientist and to the Alpine climber. Sonamarg, for instance, is so situated as to be an excellent base for both tours and climbs. Within easy reach are a score of peaks which have never been ascended and upon which attempts should afford real pleasure.*

Even the approach to Sonamarg by the Sind valley is most impressive. The pony-track runs along the side of the river, sometimes by the water's edge, at others crossing precipitous spurs. Right and left the grey cliffs tower up, in tiers, to a height of five to eight thousand feet above the river, which, during the melting of the snows, is a mighty torrent, descending in foaming rapids, intensified by the rocky walls between which it is pent. There can be but few places in the world where there is an almost vertical rise of one and a half miles sheer above a river.

As we emerge from the Gagangiyer gorge, the beautiful glacier valley, the Thajiwas Nar, comes into view. Sonamarg is an immense moraine fan at the entrance to this valley, and four hundred feet above the Sind river. The marg consists of a series of crescent-shaped terraces and ridges, the outer of which are nearly a mile across. These are the successive terminal moraines of the immense glacier which once filled the Thajiwas valley above. Between the curved ridges there are now grassy meadows, spangled with Alpine flowers. Sonamarg may have derived its name from the sheets of golden ragwort, the widespread orange-coloured wild wall-flower, or the troops of yellow mullein. But many of the slopes are brilliant with pink balsam or gloriously blue with forget-me-nots and other varieties of the boragine. The glacier stream falls in tumultuous rapids and cataracts to join the Bind river just below the Shitkari bridge. The steep hillsides are clothed with magnificent Himalayan spruce, some of which attain a height of a hundred and fifty feet. The swiftly-rushing stream is overhung by grey rock, half masked by moss and ferns, jutting through the dark masses of firs. Above, the crests are clothed with birch, with here and there a clinging bush of pink rhododendron.

At the entrance to the glacier valley, in the angle between the gorge of the Sind valley and the defile down which the glacier stream plunges with deafening roar to join it, is one of the most impressive pieces of mountain scenery, not only in Kashmir, but in the world. Seven thousand feet above the marg, on the opposite side of the torrent, rises a line of bold peaks, whose jagged aretes and sheer precipices drop down on either side. These embrace, in their steep hollows, four extensive glaciers, the lower ice-falls of which are three thousand feet above the stream. The glacier valley is under snow until summer is far advanced, and often with a crash and a roar the ice-cliffs above topple over and a stream of great blocks rolls down the precipitous slopes. When the sun is shining warmly, these slopes are raked by falling stones and rocks set free by the melting of the ice above, while great areas below are strewn with the trunks of trees and other forest debris brought down by the recurring winter avalanches. It is possible to climb on to the glaciers and to explore the deep crevasses with their blue cliffs and towering seracs. But care has to be exercised if descent into the icy caverns is contemplated, as, owing to the sun heat, disintegration is constantly going on and immense fragments subside and often fall into the chasms and fissures.

From Sonamarg there is a fine view of the Sirbal peak (17,178 feet). As the crow flies it is only six miles away. Descending from the marg and crossing the bridge at the village, a march of four miles up the Baltal road brings us to a charming little pine-forest with a stream flowing down a narrow valley on the left. Turning up this, which is known as the Kokurun Nar, and ascending steadily for three miles, we reach an open space with a large cave in the cliffs facing us ; and up above we see the glaciers and ice-falls of the Sirbal peak. A camp might be placed here and an attempt made to climb the peak, the ascent of which would be most interesting.[1]
Baltal, at the head of the Sind valley, is well known as one of the stages on the road to Leh. From here it is just nine miles up the gorge to the south to the cave of Amarnath. Until the end of July the route lies over the snow which bridges the torrent. From the cave there is an interesting route over the mountains to the Zoji La. Leaving the cave on our left, we ascend steeply to the north for two thousand feet, reaching by the Seki Pantsal pass (15,263 feet), an extensive snow-field which stretches away to the east, where it culminates in the Machoi peak (17,904 feet), the snout of whose northern glacier lies just above the Machoi (or Mitsahoi) hut, the first stage beyond Baltal. The ascent of this peak would be attractive to the climber. To reach the Zoji La, however, we turn down a valley which descends sharply for about four thousand feet to the pass. This valley lies between Kainpathar Nar and the lesser Gumbur Nala.[2] The Kainpathar Nar itself is also well worth exploring. Its entrance upon the Zoji is marked by a small waterfall. Following up this little stream, which is usually under snow, we come to the Amarnath glacier cirque/ with the peak (17,290 feet) facing us in all its majesty. We are now about 13,000 feet above sea-level, and a climb south-east by east for two thousand feet brings us to the northern arete of the peak, which has never been climbed. It is possible that by camping here the summit might be reached the next day by following the arete. From this camp-site we overlook the steep little valley down which the route from the Amarnath cave passes to the Zoji La, and look right down on to the ice-falls at its head.

Between Baltal and Sonamarg, and on the left side of the Sind river, is the Saribal Nala, a beautiful, narrow, steep little valley, which, after a climb of five miles and an ascent of five thousand feet along Durin Nar and Nila Nag, and past two charming sapphire- coloured tarns, brings us to the summit of a pass (14,422 feet), overlooking the Kolahoi glaciers and the source of the Lidar river.| The northern cliffs of Kolahoi face us across the valley. A steep descent of three thousand feet brings us to the snout of its northern glacier. Owing to the very difficult ice-falls of this glacier, the best route to ascend it is by crossing the Lidar river and climbing the left lateral moraine for about two thousand feet to a point beyond the first two ice-falls. The scenery is charming ; bushes of pink rhododendron and sparkling patches of primula rosea, surmounted by cliffs clothed with birch, gradually give place to snow-covered slopes. Sometimes here the phenomenon of red snow is noticeable, far away from the possibility of coloration by red rocks, of which indeed there are none in the immediate vicinity.

Above the second ice-fall is an ice-field, to the south of which stands the pyramid peak of Kolahoi, rising five thousand feet from the ice. From this point two aretes can be seen-the eastern and the northern; and on the west a rib runs down steeply. The northern glacier descends from the east of the peak.

The colour of Kolahoi is dark grey; the strike north-west. The rock formation is extraordinarily stable. On the great snow-field there is no rocky debris, but at the foot of the eastern arete there is a collection of small rocks and shaley detritus. To the north and west the glaciers are wonderfully free of rocks ; and where these exist they are small. The fragments are polymorphous, many of them with sharp edges and extremely hard, giving a metallic ring if struck. Some are basalt; most are trap. Purple, pale jade-green, and dark grey are the commonest colours, with here and there a reddish-brown mass stained with iron. Few of the moraine blocks exceed twenty cubic feet in size and there is evidently very little disintegration taking place. Doubtless the extreme steepness of the sides keeps the rocks dry and saves them from the influence of freezing and melting snow. Kolahoi peak in its stability presents a marked contrast to the cliffs on the right bank of the Lidar a few miles lower down, where massive rocks have fallen in abundance.

To the west of the peak is another glacier, which, so far as I am aware, has never been described.[3] This glacier, near its junction with the north glacier is about one-third of a mile across. It is considerably longer than the north glacier, but much less steep. Above the junction it has two ice-falls, and it is bounded on the west by a ridge with an outstanding peak (16,250 feet). The width at this point is about half a mile. When there has been a heavy winter snowfall, the crevasses of the lower, and the seracs of the upper ice-fall are easily passable. Above the upper one is a snow-field, about a mile long, completely isolating the Kolahoi massif from all the mountain ridges to the west. The snow extends southwards to a pass which leads to the wonderful little glacier cirque of Katar Nag, with its seven little emerald lakes, a mile and a half below. From the pass the snow extends to the great snow-field which stretches round Kolahoi from south to east, and covers an area of four square miles at an altitude of about 15,500 feet. It was from this snow-field that the first ascent of the peak was made in 1912 by Major Kenneth Mason and the writer. The west side of the peak is most impressive. It stands up four thousand feet from the glacier, with extremely steep couloirs, fissured with bergschrunds. The south arete is jagged and peaked, the angles being filled with corniced snow. The axis of the peak is from south to north with an inclination of ten degrees to the east. Its height is 17,799 feet.



Another delightful route from Sonamarg is to Haramukh. Behind Shitkari, the small village below the terminal moraine of the Sonamarg glaciers, there is a valley opening from the north-west. Up this lies the path to Haramukh, via the lakes Vishan Sar and Gad Sar ; the latter is called Yem Sar by the local shepherds.

This is a beautiful upland route. At first the track ascends over green slopes, covered with masses of elder with cream-coloured blossoms. Then the hill-side is clothed with bracken. Overhead the lark sings joyously. Groups of the stately eremurus are still in blossom. Clumps of pink balsam, yellow ragwort, mauve scabious, bright blue delphinium, and rich red polygonum impart vivid colour to the luxuriant herbage. Here and there are slopes mantled with thyme or crowned with the prickly spikes of the pale yellow Morina Wallichiana.

As we continue to rise we pass groups of scattered pine and sycamore and through glades fringed with birch. The watershed is crossed by the Nichinai pass (13,387 feet) from which there is a fine panorama. On the left, looking south, are the Sirbal peaks ; to the right, and beyond the Zoji La, stands Machoi ; to the right of this hj 5 again is the extensive snow-field sloping up to the Amarriath peak; south of it rise the bold sentinel peaks of Panjtarni, marking the point where the path to the Amarnath cave comes over from the lake of Shishram Nag. Beyond them, still to the right, are the beautiful summits of the Koh-i-Nur group-the Mountains of Light.* Towering immediately above us and extending backwards to our right are the jagged, pointed Yishan peaks of the Sogput group. And from Sonamarg, stretching northwards, there is a very interesting range of limestone crags, cliffs and peaks. Even at a height of 13,000 feet I have found marine fossils, corals and crinoid stems.

To reach Haramukh we must cross two more passes. Leaving the beautiful blue lakes of Yishan Sar and Krishan Sar| on our left, we ascend sharply and cross a narrow ridge at a height of 13,749 feet. A gradual descent of four miles past Yem Sar (Gad Sar), and another day's march past Sat Sar, finishing with a steep climb, brings us to the second pass, the Zajibal Gali, at about 13,500 feet. From the summit of this there is a glorious view. Facing us is Haramukh, rising five thousand feet in a series of sheer precipices, above two exquisite turquoise-coloured lakes. On the eastern and north-eastern faces are two magnificent glaciers. The whole is wreathed in cloud, and mist comes swirling and eddying up from the valleys below. Sometimes the mountain opposite is blotted out, and a glimpse is caught of the summit alone, looking incredibly high ; or some fragment of stupendous precipice is framed in a wreath of mist. Anon the clouds lift; and the whole mountain is revealed in its full glory, with its glittering domes and tiers of ice-cliffs, its wide glaciers and rounded ice-falls, its thin curved terraces and sparkling seracs. The highest summit of Haramukh (16,872 feet) was ascended by the writer in 1899 by the western arete ; since then it has been climbed from the western end of the lake by General Bruce, who found a comparatively easy route to the summit.*

?There are three peaks in the Koh-i-Nur group. They are shown in an illustration opposite page 106 of Major C. G. Bruce's Twenty Tears in the Himalaya. Major Bruce climbed the north-eastern peak of the group, and Karbir, one of his Gurkhas, climbed the highest and south-western peak (16,852 feet) in September 1898. The middle peak, Kunyirhayan (16,725 feet), was climbed by Captain J. B. Corry, r.e., Lt. R. D. Squires, the Sherwood Foresters, and myself on 30th June 1911 (Alpine Journal, Vol. 26, p. 201). They are shown on map 43 N/12, one-inch scale.-Ed.

Both lakes have been called Vishan Sar on the half-inch map of the Purvey of India. The western of the two should be Krishan Sar, as shown on the one-inch map 43 N/3.

Gangabal lake is most beautiful. It is normally blue with broad masses of violet shadow lying across it, for Haramukh is seldom free of cloud. Throughout the day in the varying light, in sunshine or cloud, in calm or wind, the waters reflect every shade of green, from liquid emerald to pale eau-de-nil, with darker bands. Sometimes, as in a mirror, we see in their depths every detail of the mountain walls. More often, a gentle breeze throws the reflections into vertical masses of light and shade. In the evening the colour gradually deepens to dark green and from dark green to violet, grey or purple, while long lines and sheets of light still remain.

The rocks are mainly a pinkish trap. Many are veined or spotted with quartz. Along the shore, in a few places where it is shallow, the boulders impart a reddish hue to the water. Sheets of golden yellow marsh-buttercups brighten the madder-brown of the meadows' peaty soil on either side of the lake's outlet.

Above, I have sketched a few of the delights of travelling from a base at Sonamarg. With favourable weather a fortnight is sufficient to enable one to follow any of these routes and to climb one or more of the peaks to which I have referred. Whatever these peaks may lack in magnitude or mystery, compared with those north of the Indus, is fully compensated for by their technical interest and beauty.

[1] Survey of India one-inch map 43 N/7.

[2] The best maps of this area are one-inch sheets 43 N/7 and N/11, 43 N/8 and 43 N/12. Unfortunately the area is at the corner of these four, the one- inch survey was only taken to the watershed, and the quarter-inch map, compiled from old material, is incorrect. A careful sketch of this ground east of the watershed is required. The Kainpathar Nar is correctly shown on the map.-Ed. f Map 43 N/8 on the one-inch scale shows the Kolahoi regions.

[3] While surveying in this area I traversed this western glacier of Kolahoi on 16th August 1912, and crossing the pass at its head, descended to the glacier cirque of Katar Nag, which drains into a nullah leading to Arau. The Blue Poppy (Meconopsis Aculeata) grows in this nullah abundantly. I believe that this was the first time that the western glacier was traversed and the first time the Katar Nag was visited by Europeans. Neither glacier nor nullah were shown on the old map prior to the surveys of 1912. The crevasses were open and somewhat difficult. A short account of the glacier appeared in the Pioneer of 20th August 1913.-Ed.