Himalayan Journal vol.03
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Kenneth Mason
    (Brig.-General the Hon. C. G. BRUCE..)
    (Lieut.-Col. O. L. RUCK.)
    (M. D. N. WYATT.)
    (LIEUT.-COL. J. R. C. GANNON.)
    (LIEUT. G. C. CLARK.)
    (LIEUT. P. R. OLIVER.)
  14. NOTES


Brig.-General the Hon. C. G. BRUCE..

To-DAY, when climbing in the Himalaya has become almost common, it seems to me that that marvellous page in the history of mountaineering, which closes with the tragic loss of Mummery and his two Gurkha companions, might again be brought to the notice of those interested in all such strenuous enterprises.

In 1895 mountaineering in the Himalaya was considered in a very different light from what it is to-day. Officers of the Survey of India had made some adventurous journeys, which, considering the conditions under which they were undertaken, very often entailed much strenuous climbing ; and travellers, such as Sir Francis Younghusband-whose crossing of the great Muztagh range, via the Muztagh pass, was one of the most daring feats of a completely un- equipped party that ever occurred in the old history of Himalayan exploration-had accomplished much. But the Art of Mountaineering as understood in Europe, was little known in the Himalaya, nor had the Survey of India at that time any knowledge of even the most elementary technical use of ice-axe or rope. Knowledge of this art grew none too quickly in Europe and amateurs had to go through a very long initiation before they could form parties whose skill could compare with that of even average professionals. Nevertheless in Europe some very remarkable mountaineers of different nationalities came to the front during the 'nineties. Of these there were two outstanding parties of amateurs, all English and friendly rivals. The three best-known members of one of these parties were Mummery, Hastings and Collie, and it was these three, under the leadership of Mummery, who in 1895 undertook the tremendous task of attempting to conquer Nanga Parbat.

Nanga Parbat is one of the most glorious mountains in the world. It is situated at the westernmost extremity of the Great Himalayan range and its summit looks down westwards directly to the Indus, 24,000 feet below. There may be in the Himalaya other tremendous faces of equal depth, but surely there can be nothing so imposing as this magifificent mountain, towering head and shoulders above anything in its neighbourhood, and containing all that goes to make a mighty and imposing mass.

There are three great Himalayan views familiar to English dwellers in India. Kangchenjunga from Darjeeling, Nanda Devi and Trisul from Naini Tal, and Nanga Parbat from the Murree hills or from Gulmarg. All these are wonderful and each has its own particular glory. But none is more stimulating or attractive to the true lover of mountain adventure than the mighty northern giant.

Mummery's expedition of 1895 was backed by no great Society, nor was it equipped regardless of expense. It was not much further furnished, either with special stores or tents, than an ordinary shooting expedition, except, of course, with mountaineering equipment.

In July of that year, 1895, I found myself, with my wife, high up in one of the side valleys of Kagan, a sleeve which runs up between Kashmir and the Indus Kohistan. We had our camp in a beautiful spot and I intended, with the help of my four Gurkha companions, to explore the surrounding mountains of Manur. Alas ! In a little time, first the four Gurkhas and then myself were all down with mumps!

One morning a special postman brought with the English mail a letter telling me that Mummery and his party were coming out and asking for my help to arrange some transport to carry their kit to the Astor district, in which Nanga Parbat is situated. For the moment we were helpless, but, having partially recovered, I set out, taking two of my Gurkhas with me, and crossed over the mountains into the Kashmir valley. We arrived at Bandapur on the Wular lake in time to arrange for ponies and other things to meet Mummery on his arrival, and then, my leave being at an end, I started for India and ran into shocking weather. As usual, the Kashmir road had been carried away in a number of places, and on the ruins of a bridge I came face to face with Mummery, Collie and Hastings, struggling with their tonga. It was here that Mummery urged me to join him and bring two Gurkhas.

A journey at full speed to Abbottabad-a telegram-a day to pack-and then off again. A mixture of ponies and carts brought us on the first day to the Jhelum valley, where we found an old- fashioned tonga awaiting us. We travelled so light that the three of us with our luggage fitted comfortably into the tonga ; then once again off at full speed, and we found ourselves in Astor and up at the British Agent's camp at Chongra, some 3000 feet above the village of Astor, within a week of leaving Abbottabad.

We could never have done this without a double outfit of ponies : but for training purposes the three of us ran along on foot. Having arranged everything with Captain Stewart, the British Agent, we set off for the Rupal valley, which is directly under Nanga Parbat, and just beyond the village of Tarshing we ran into Mummery's camp -empty, except for their Kashmiri shikari, a very scared individual, who had been taken on an experimental rock climb and had his life nearly frightened out of him. An indifferent shikari, and a thief of the worst type, he was rapidly discharged.

The village of Tarshing is some 9500 feet above sea-level and the great central massif of the mountain directly dominates it. Its prodigious precipices drop down for at least 15,000 feet, of which some 13,000 seem to be practically perpendicular. The Rupal valley extends along its foot to the west for some 25 miles, the east of the massif stretching for another 20 miles towards the Gilgit district and dominating the plains of Bunji. The highest point of the mountain is 26,629 feet above sea-level and the great massif contains other points on its ridges quite distinct from those actually belonging to it. Of these, to the east and north-east lie the Chongra and Rakiot peaks, 23,000, 22,000 feet and over. To me the most impressive sight was the mighty wall formed by the western ridge slowly descending to the Mazeno pass, which forms the only suitable connection between the Rupal valley and the Indus. On the south of this ridge lies the magnificent Rupal valley, its southern boundary formed by the Chiche and Thosha peaks, any of which would excite the greatest admiration were they not dominated and dwarfed by Nanga Parbat.

Over this Mazeno pass, 18,000 feet, Mummery's party had gone and had descended to Lubar, at the head of the Bunar valley. Thence they had traversed the slopes of the mountain to the next valley, Diamirai, from which they observed the north-west face of the mountain-that fact which was afterwards to see those strenuous attempts to conquer it and to witness the most skilful and desperate mountaineering which had been undertaken not only in the Himalaya, but possibly in any part of the world up to that time.

From this north-west face descends the Diamirai glacier, filling up the whole Diamirai valley. This first advance was merely an exploring enterprise, and the party had not yet got their sense of scale. It is curious how mountaineers, well accustomed to the Alps, fail at first to realize true heights and depths in the Himalaya. It often takes a considerable time before mistakes due to this underestimation of scale, are rectified.

As food was running short, Mummery sent the luggage back the usual way and took only his absolute requirements in food for a short cut to the base. His party set out to cross the great western ridge, as they thought, thus evading the horrible grind over the Mazeno. For this pass, when fairly clear of snow, is a horror, the whole of its south face, miles of it, being composed of the loosest and roughest collection of big stones and moraine to be found almost anywhere, even in the Himalaya, which is saying a good deal. A dip in the great ridge, Mummery had considered, would probably bring the party down to the south of the Mazeno pass ; but after leaving at midnight and climbing till dawn, they found themselves still a long distance from that dip. On their ascent to the ridge they now experienced, as Collie afterwards described, as fine a snow and ice expedition as they could wish to have, but to their dismay they found on arrival that they were merely on a subsidiary ridge and could look straight down at the north side of the Mazeno pass, directly at their feet. They now had to descend many thousands of feet and join the path that their porters had already taken and from there begin the ascent of the Mazeno pass.

The last atom of solid food was eaten at the foot of the pass as night was falling, and they now started a march of five-and-twenty miles over as horrible a road as it is possible for any man to traverse in the dark. Their way was lit by candle-lantern, they were dead tired, without food, and with no prospect of getting any.

Meanwhile there was I waiting for them in their camp at Tarshing. In the afternoon of the 23rd July I saw a figure stumbling along towards the camp, the first of the party, Collie. On his way he had passed two Bupal men with a couple of ponies, and had sent them back to help Hastings and Mummery, who, towards evening, came in singly, pretty well done up. Their powers of recovery were, however, remarkable, for by dinner-time they all seemed pleased with themselves and rather amused at their adventures during that awful night on the Mazeno pass.

After a suitable rest, Mummery, Collie and myself started out with the Gurkhas to see how they shaped, and also to explore the lower southern face and ridges of Nanga Parbat. Mummery was immensely pleased with one of the Gurkhas, Raghobir, who was indeed a first-class hillman and rock climber. But neither of the two men who were with me, though thoroughly reliable in most ways, hat? any real experience of organized mountaineering. Raghobir had been on the rope once or twice, but his companion had never used one nor seen an ice-axe until his arrival in Astor. But like many of the mountaineers of the Himalaya, both had great natural ability and wonderful balance. Raghobir was tried pretty hard by Mummery, and his later performances proved that he had the makings of a really first-class man.

We returned to the base after a magnificent scramble, very pleased with ourselves. Mummery now proposed to move a permanent or semi-permanent camp over to the north-west face, whence he thought there was a better chance of attacking the mountain. The astounding difficulties of the southern face may be realized by the fact that the gigantic rock-ridges, the dangers of the hanging glacier and the steep ice of the north-west face-one of the most terrifying faces of a mountain I have ever seen-are preferable to the south face.

And so we started. Porters were engaged at Tarshing, and additional supplies for a prolonged stay in the north were taken. The camp was to be in charge of one of the Gurkhas, Gurrian Singh, assisted by an experienced Kashmiri servant of mine who had been with Sir Martin Conway's expedition in 1892 to the Karakoram.

Mummery, horrified by the Mazeno pass, voted for an attempt to cross the great west ridge of Nanga Parbat further up from where they had failed before, climbing to a point whence we could descend direct to our camp in the Diamirai.

Camping some hours short of the track leading to the Mazeno, at the foot of the Eupal glacier, our party, consisting of Mummery, Collie, Hastings, Raghobir and myself, started at midnight and climbed over the moraine to the snow and ice, whence we gained an arete leading up to the great west ridge soon after daybreak. Then hour succeeded hour, and the ridge seemed as far away as ever, until by five o'clock in the afternoon, when it became certain that, even if we reached the crest, a night must be spent on it, Collie, Raghobir and myself determined to seek a less-exposed place for the night. Mummery and Hastings said they would try and reach the ridge if they could, but they failed to do so.- Meanwhile the rest of us descended for some distance, and, turning west in the direction of the Mazeno pass, climbed down a steep rock and ice-face until, luckily for us, we found a little outcrop of rock situated on a steep ice-ridge. Collie, in his account of this adventure in Climbing on the Himalayas, writes as follows :-

"Finally, as the sun was setting, we found a crack running through the arete, into which a flat stone had got jammed, just large enough for three people to sit on. Here we made up our minds to stop for the night. Roughly, we were 19,000 feet or 1000 feet higher than the Mazeno pass, and two or three miles to the eastward of it. A stone thrown out of either side of our small perch would have fallen many hundreds of feet before landing, so we did not take off the rope but huddled together to keep ourselves warm. How we tried in vain to get into a position so that the freezing wind would not penetrate! How Bruce and Raghobir groaned, and how we suffered! I will refrain. Anyone who may be curious should stop a night on a rocky ridge at 19,000 feet and try it himself, placing himself in such a position that twist and turn as he may, he still encounters the cold, jagged rocks with every part of his body and though he cover himself ever so wisely, he must feel the wind steadily blowing beneath his shirt."

After some time we heard Hastings and Mummery climbing down towards us, but owing to the difficulty of the ground in the darkness, they were unable to reach us and found themselves another little perch higher up. So there we were, and there we had to remain till daylight. We huddled together as tight as we could, as described by Collie, and put our feet together into rucksacks. Unfortunately for all of us, we had brought a very inadequate supply of food, and to our horror we found that this had been exhausted at breakfast on the morning we had set out. For the whole of that evening and that horrid cold night, we had nothing to eat. In the early morning Collie showed himself a master of the art of extempore cooking. Two or three bits of chocolate were discovered, and with the help of the climbing-lantern and some snow, a few sips of hot cocoa were available for the three of us, cooked in a little mug. It was a real tour de force. Then Hastings and Mummery, as soon as they could unfreeze, descended to us and we all very slowly crept down to the glacier below, where we joined the Mazeno route. Here we lay down and rested for a considerable time.

Once more we five tired men set out for the 18,000 feet pass. There was nothing for it. We had to go, for our only means of obtaining nourishment was to rejoin our camp by crossing that horrible Mazeno again. What a procession it was ! We stumbled along for a hundred yards over the boulders, rested, then stumbled on again. Collie and Raghobir led, I came along a little later, and was followed by Mummery and Hastings. After some hours Collie and the Gurkha reached the top of the pass, the Gurkha, who had had nothing to eat the day before, due mainly to his own want of forethought, being completely exhausted. Collie writes:

On arrival at the top of the pass, it was already midday, and here was I with a Gurkha who could scarcely crawl, and the rest of the party in a worse condition far behind, so after a short rest I started down over the pass on to the west side, leaving Raghobir behind, and then I waited for him. Repeating these tactics he was enticed along until, after crossing an ice-couloir, rendered dangerous through falling stones, I walked on to a rock to await him. Very slowly he crawled down and then in the centre of the couloir, though I screamed to him he was to hurry, he was nearly hit by a huge rock, weighing about a hundredweight, falling from two or three thousand feet above. Although it only missed him by a few feet he never changed face, and when at last he reached me seated on a stone, he dropped full length on the ice absolutely refusing to move and groaning. He had eaten nothing for forty hours."

In the end the rest of us joined Collie and Raghobir and we all descended the Lubar glacier some 7000 feet below the pass as far as the shepherd's settlement at Lubar Alp, as one might call it. Nothing rejoices me so much as the prospect of food, especially under such conditions, and luckily we were able to get from the shepherds not only milk in great gourds, but also a sheep. The milk revived Raghobir immediately ; food was really all that he required; and between us, with the help of a shepherd, we very soon killed, skinned and cooked the sheep, although we had no utensils whatsoever. It was roasted on pieces of stick round the fire, and I do not think I have ever seen anyone enjoy a dinner more than we did that night.

The height of the Lubar Alp was about 11,000 feet and the nights were very cold. There was, however, plenty of wood, so the following night was not so unpleasant as it might have been, though we had to pass it with no covering. But we were all so tired that not even the hoar-frost which covered us in the morning could wake us up Breakfast off milk and the remains of the sheep soon set us on our legs again and we had sufficient enterprise to make what was to us a new pass over a ridge some 6000 feet above our bivouac.

A rest on the pass was rewarded by one of those views which is occasionally granted to the mountaineer-a view which in itself we almost looked upon as a sufficient reward for all our struggles. Far away across the ranges to our north-west we could see the last great group of high mountains-the Hindu Kush of Chitral, Tirich Mir and the whole of the Hindu Raj, which seem to form the extension of the range so curiously named " the Kailas." North of us lay the Indus, directly under our eyes. Such masses of unexplored country were enough to excite the ambition of any man. But for the moment our travels were almost over for we could see our camp almost directly below us.

Then came two days of complete repose in camp. And my leave being nearly over, my own activities with the expedition came to an end. On 5th August, to my grief and disappointment, I was obliged to trudge back over the Mazeno pass and away to Abbottabad. The day which I spent skirting the great ridge which cut me off from the Lubar Alp was not at all monotonous. I could look right down the Diamirai valley, down to Bunar and into the Indus valley. The scale is so prodigious and the view contains so much country which even now is unknown to Europeans, that no man with the least imagination could suffer from boredom. We made a fine march the next day over the Mazeno pass and camped within easy reach of our old camp at Tarshing, which I left next day on my 250-mile march to Abbottabad.

After I had left, Mummery and the others commenced to explore the upper Diamirai with a view to attacking the great mountain. They found what appeared a practicable ridge and Mummery made a great reconnaissance of it, but discovered that it led up through the most uncompromising mountain face it is possible to conceive. At first sight it gives the impression of being like the south-east face of Monte Rosa, but it is infinitely greater, the face being a full 13,000 feet of snow and ice. The little ridge that led through the centre appeared to be threatened from the great overhanging glaciers above which circled the route by which Mummery proposed the assault. As on an Alpine mountain, so on Nanga Parbat, the upper part appeared less dangerous and less difficult than the middle. In the Himalaya, however, it is more difficult to be certain of this, for ice and snow conditions vary so much.

Mummery on that day accomplished some of the finest rock- climbing he had ever done and was greatly encouraged by finding a route which he considered possible. Unfortunately the weather was doubtful, and it was not till 8th August that the party again set out to complete the exploration of this ridge, haying with them Raghobir and a splendid specimen of a young man of the Indus valley, a Chilasi called Lor Khan. They carried with them a certain quantity of food and stores which they placed in what they thought would be suitable sleeping-places for the climb.

After a few days' wet weather, there followed a most sporting ascent of the Diamirai peak, south of the camp, where Raghobir and Lor Khan saw Mummery at his very best, and had a further insight into how ice and snow should be handled. It was on this peak that they had one of the most unpleasant experiences that mountaineers can be called upon to meet-a serious slip on an ice-slope. Lor Khan, wearing his native taoties, nothing more than strips of raw hide wound round his feet, suddenly slipped out of his steps when crossing a steep ice-slope. Luckily the rope between him and his neighbour, Collie, was taut, while Raghobir and Mummery had both turned upwards, so that the strain did not come entirely on the horizontal party. Fortunately also, Lor Khan kept his head and so employed his fingers and ice-axe that he produced a minimum of danger,-but it was a near thing. Often has the question been argued as to whether it is possible to hold a man who slips out of his steps on pure ice. The doubt remains!

Now followed the attempt on Nanga Parbat.

Hastings had been despatched over the Mazeno to the base to bring up more supplies. He had not yet returned and Mummery was beginning to get nervous that if he delayed much longer he might be unable to make any attempt on the mountain at all. He therefore rather reluctantly moved to a little advanced depot up the glacier slope at about 15,000 feet. Collie, unfortunately and to his great grief, was overtaken by trouble caused by the rough food, and was not fit enough to undertake such a great exertion as was required for the assault on Nanga Parbat. One of the secrets of getting a team fit for such an assault is diet. Diet cannot be too carefully studied, and many men coming from Europe unaccustomed to food of the rougher kind, are apt to fall sick at such altitudes owing to lack of a little experience.

Lor Khan also, having been sent on a commission down the valley, was not available for the climb. Mummery and Raghobir therefore started on their attempt on 19th August by themselves. They followed up the great rock-ridge which had been previously explored by Mummery and his earlier parties, taking with them certain rucksacks of food and the lightest possible tents, weighing some 2 ½ to 3 lbs. each, the invention of Mummery himself. They followed this ridge through the central north-west face, which separates two large couloirs on either side, down which almost continual avalanches fall from the glacier above. The ridge is broken in places, where ice and snow problems have to be tackled, but finally the third outcrop of rock joins the great ice-field immediately below the summit of Nanga Parbat. If this ice-field could be reached, it seemed comparatively easy to traverse it eastwards to a point where a ridge descended to it to the north of Nanga Parbat, and it was hoped that a route could be found up this to the summit. But even this involved at least another 5000 feet of ascent, and success depended largely on how much the axe would have to be used.

Mummery and Raghobir had a tremendous experience, but probably owing to his ignorance of Raghobir's language, and not realizing the irresponsible outlook of the Gurkha-Raghobir, though a very gifted mountaineer, was mentally on a plane with the average Gurkha-Mummery did not discover until they had been out two days that Raghobir had either brought no food with him, or bad finished it at the first bivouac. The result was that on the third morning, after having spent two nights out on the mountain, reached a height of 21,000 feet and almost arrived at the great ice-field, Raghobir collapsed. Mummery naturally was desperately disappointed ; but it is a remarkable fact that these two, neither understanding one word the other spoke, had carried out together one of the most strenuous feats of mountaineering ever accomplished. The climbing all the way up was over very difficult rock, the intervening ice-work being of the highest order. Dr. Collie describes the ridge as typical of the Chamonix Aiguilles, together with snow and ice of a distinctly difficult and trying kind. The dangers from avalanches were inconceivable. Avalanches passed them tearing down the troughs on either side of them. One was of such desperate energy that it took in its bound the rock-ridge on which they had spent two nights, and carried away the tent and rucksack which they had left for use on their return journey. A more hazardous and desperate feat has seldom been undertaken in the whole history of mountaineering.

Mummery now came to the conclusion that his attempt from the Diamirai glacier must be abandoned, and it was agreed that the only chance of success was by finding a suitable snow route. The ridge mentioned above as descending to the north of Nanga Parbat to the ice-field, divides the Diamirai valley from the valley of Buldar- Rakiot, known also as Yoway, and it was considered likely that a route might be found at the head of this valley, which would provide a far less difficult approach to the mountain than that by the desperate north-west face. The expedition therefore determined to cross to Rakiot. The north ridge descends to a col, beyond which it rises again to a subsidiary peak known as Gonalo. From the Diamirai side, a trough filled with a glacier called Diama leads up to this col.

The main camp of course could not go by the col, and in order to get to Buldar-Rakiot, a long and laborious march of some two or three days, skirting the sides of the mountain, was necessary. Mummery loathed that kind of work and determined to' take the Diama glacier route, cross the col, and drop down directly to the Buldar valley beyond, while Collie and the main outfit skirted the mountain. Lest he should find his route impossible, he took men with him to leave rucksacks containing food, at suitable places on the way up, so that in case oi retreat they could pick up the food and follow Collie's tracks!

On the 24th August Mummery, with the men carrying his spare rucksacks and accompanied by both Gurkhas, Raghobir and Guman Singh, started for the col. The rucksacks were deposited by the men. Mummery, Raghobir and Guman Singh proceeded on their way. They were never seen again.

Meanwhile Collie moved the camp round and pitched it in the Rakiot valley, from where he could look up to the pass over which Mummery was to come, and he has often told me since of the uncompromising character and desperate steepness of those ice and snow slopes descending from the pass. As soon as he had seen them he realized the utter impossibility of Mummery's party being able to face that col. In his own mind he was perfectly certain for some days that Mummery had beaten a retreat and would rejoin him by the route he had himself taken. But when at last there was no sign of him, even after Lor Khan, who had been round to reconnoitre, reported the rucksacks still in position, Collie knew that a disaster had occurred.

Hastings had joined him just before Mummery had set out. On receiving Lor Khan's report it was agreed that Hastings should return via the Diamirai, and that Collie should follow round the mountain to the eastward until he rejoined the main road to Astor.

Hastings pushed up the Diamirai valley as far as he dared go, every sign showing him that there had been heavy snow. Overhanging the route beyond from the high slopes of Nanga Parbat were the ends of the great glacier-field, hundreds of feet in height. Avalanches fell continuously. The scale was immense, and it is impossible to describe it to those who only look through Alpine spectacles. Hastings retrieved the last of the rucksacks left as a reserve by Mummery on his advance, thereby showing that the latter had not turned back. The valley itself was now too dangerous for a single unequipped man to penetrate. There was no other outlet from this valley save by the col. It became obvious that the disaster must have occurred further up this valley. Hastings therefore returned, descending to the stifling heat of Chilas, where he got into communication with both Collie and the British authorities.

Then once more Hastings and Collie determined to penetrate into the Diamixai, if possible to ascertain exactly what had occurred. But once more on arrival at the mouth of the Diama valley they realized that any attempt to penetrate the upper glaciers was entirely and absolutely out of the question. Snow had fallen in great quantities. Avalanches tore down the face of Nanga Parbat. Entry to the Diama valley was a complete and utter impossibility.

Such was the passing of Mummery, one of the greatest and most adventurous of British mountaineers of all time. Perhaps I may quote the last sentences of Collie's account:

"The pitiless mountains have claimed him and among the snow- laden glaciers of the mighty hills he rests ; the curves of the wind- moulded cornice, the delicate undulations of the fissured snow cover him, while the grim precipices and the great brown rocks, bending down into an immeasurable space, and the snow peaks he loved so well keep and guard and watch over the spot where he lies."