Himalayan Journal vol.04
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.04

Publication year:
1932

Editor:
Kenneth Mason
Index
  1. ON ANCIENT TRACKS PAST THE PAMIRS
    (SIR AUREL STEIN)
  2. THE FIRST ASCENT OF KAMET
    (CAPTAIN E. ST. J. BIRNIE)
  3. AN EXPLORATION OF THE ARWA VALLEY, BRITISH
    (CAPTAIN E. ST. J. BIRNIE)
  4. MY EXPEDITION IN THE EASTERN KARAKORAM, 1930
    (Professor GIOTTO DAINELLI)
  5. SKI-ING IN THE HIGH EASTERN HIMALAYA
    (ULRICH WIELAND ?)
  6. BY SHONTHAR GALI TO RAMA, ASTOR
    (CAPTAIN J. BARRON)
  7. THE SHYOK ICE-BARRIER IN 1931
    (CAPTAIN C. E. C. GREGORY)
  8. A FRONTIER TOUR
    (LIEUT-COLONEL J. R. C. GANNON)
  9. HIGH ALTITUDE AND OXYGEN
    (N. E. ODELL)
  10. SUB-HIMALAYAN DIETETICS
    (Dr. C. STRICKLAND)
  11. THE TSARAP VALLEY, EASTERN LAHUL
    (LIBUT.-COLONISI, C. H. STOCKLEY)
  12. PEAKS AND PASSES OF THE T'lEN SHAN
    (Lieut-Colonel R. C. F. SCHOMBERG)
  13. THE FIGHT FOR KANGCHENJUNGA, 1931
    (PAUL BAUER)
  14. Lhonak, 1930
    (G. B. GOURLAY)
  15. A Journey in Upper Kumaun and Garhwal
    (Lieutenant HUGH ROSE)
  16. Expeditions
  17. In memorium
  18. Notes
  19. Reviews
  20. Correspondence
  21. Club Proceedings

PEAKS AND PASSES OF THE T'lEN SHAN

Lieut-Colonel R. C. F. SCHOMBERG

The T'lEN SHAN, or "Heavenly Mountains" of Chinese Turkistan, are very little known to Europeans, although they are not difficult of access and lie close to the main routes of the country. Speaking generally they have been neglected by the traveller and climber, little though they deserve such neglect. It is an easy journey of three weeks from Kashgar, and even less from Yarkand, to the mouth of the Muz-art valley which leads to the very heart of the Khan Tengri massif on the Russo-Chinese frontier. The Muz-art valley is on the main pack-route from Kashgaria to the Hi valley, and the Muz-art pass at its head is open all the year round, except after severe storms ; there is, however, nothing to be gained by crossing it in the winter.

Merzbacher has explored a great deal of the Khan Tengri region, although more on the Russian than on the Chinese side of the frontier. There is however much still to do, especially towards the south, and west of the Muz-art river. For instance, instead of going straight up the main track to the pass, a visit should be made to the valleys parallel to and west of it and to the vicinity of Kizil Bulak, where there is much little-known ground. The difficulty would be due to the narrowness of the valleys and to the water in the streams[1].

Three marches due north of Aksu is the shrine of Sultan Karamish, behind which, running north-eastwards, is the delightful valley leading up to the Khan Tengri massif. This area is known as Sagheb- chi, the Sawabzi of Stieler's map (No. 62). There are many Kirghiz settlements here, fine forests of spruce and some ibex shooting. The district is a most attractive centre for exploring in almost unknown region with good climbing and superb views. It is better not to attempt to travel by the upper route from Uch Turfan as the passage of the river at Sultan Karamish will prove very difficult and is usually impossible, unless the expensive precaution of sending up boats from Aksu is adopted.

The western limit of the T'ien Shan is really the Khan Tengri massif; west of this point the range loses in interest and grandeur. It is well to remember this, as little is to be gained by exploring the mountains to the south-west, an offshoot of the T'ien Shan, but an unworthy one. As the range also forms the Russo-Chinese frontier there are apt to be political difficulties as well; there is no need whatever to go west of Saghebchi, for there is ample scope for climbing, shooting and exploring in the neighbourhood with few transport or supply troubles. Saghebchi has another advantage which should appeal to all who know the T'ien Shan : it is not so wet as most parts.

Another interesting and fairly accessible area lies at the head of the Kucha river, where the Muz-damas pass, a little-known one which opens late and closes early, adjoins the twin peaks of the same name which are such a feature in the landscape of the south-east T'ien Shan, just as Khan Tengri is in the west. Here the central T'ien Shan is more accessible from the south than from the north, as the route from Ili (Kulja) is complicated by the tiresome detours necessary for crossing the Tekes, Kok-su and other rivers which constitute at once a great obstacle and a great waste of time during the flood season in summer.

Much of the Kucha valley is unmapped and almost unknown. It is also possible to visit it in winter, but the Muz-damas pass is then impassable and all travel would be confined to the river and its neighbourhood. To the east of the Muz-damas there is a route to the Yulduz by the Kirghiz Art and Kara-kul, most picturesque and comparatively well known.

In the northern T'ien Shan, the great mass of snow and ice between the Kash and Manas rivers, which comprises the Manas peaks, probably the highest in the country, has never been properly explored. It is remote, not easily accessible and a very difficult region in every respect when reached. The deep canyon-like valleys with their swollen impassable torrents always embarrass a traveller in the more distant uplands of this mountain system. In the neighbourhood of the Manas peaks the difficulties of the actual ground are very great. The best route to this region is from Manas itself and not from the Yulduz nor from the head of the Kash, and any other line of advance might lead to loss of direction in the maze of gorges, defiles and unfordable rivers.

The Manas peaks offer a fine field for exploration and a very wide one. They, too, are noble summits, worthy of every effort of the mountaineer and are visible from far away on the Zungarian plain to the north.

To the east of Urumchi, the capital of the province, is the Bogdo Ola, with its sacred mountain Bogdo San and its temples, lake and forests. The central peak is not very high, but it is an isolated mass of rock which is a conspicuous and impressive feature in the landscape for miles. This is the best-known part of the T'ien Shan and is in truth very lovely, well repaying a visit. There is a good track from Urumchi, right up to the lake which can be reached comfortably in two days.

The eastern T'ien Shan deteriorates somewhat as it reaches Hami. The Barkul mountains are practically unknown, but though pleasant enough in their interior are not impressive and lack interest. Mr. Douglas Carruthers has explored the Karlik Tagh([2]), the extreme eastern limit of the T'ien Shan, above Kumul, but the remoteness of this place makes travel difficult, especially as recently the whole of the principality has been disturbed.

Turning again to the west, the T'ien Shan near Hi (Kulja) is not of great interest, for it lacks the one asset so necessary to every mountain system, namely, a great culminating massif which by its beauty and dignity acts as a magnet to every traveller. Visitors to Ladakh will remember how the want of a central feature is much felt; the same is needed in the mountains near Kulja. If only there were a Khan Tengri or a Manas group to dominate and control the landscape, how far more beautiful would be the jagged, lofty, serried peaks that lie to the north of that town.

From a purely academic standpoint the curious mountain system between the Hi river and its tributary the Tekes merits exploration. From afar these mountains are not very interesting, but on being scrutinized they offer many points of attraction, and some unusual features are encountered when they are approached.

A traveller to the T'ien Shan may be reminded of a few points. The maps are all bad. Merzbacher's map on the scale of 1: 500,000, published in Munich in 1928 and compiled from material found among his effects after his death, is the best but leaves much to be desired and is absurdly dear. Stein's maps only touch the southern fringes of the range. The T'ien Shan is outside the area compiled by the Survey of India. With inadequate maps guides become more necessary ; they are non-existent, or frauds. The shooting is disappointing, except for the ibex. The present time (1932) is politically unfavourable for travel in Chinese Turkistan. It would be most mortifying to find, after elaborate preparations and a long expensive journey, that all plans were frustrated and that the sole alternative were to clear out. This has recently happened to travellers. All transport is by pack-animals. Loads must be small. Coolies are absolutely non-existent and cannot be ' improvised '.

And last: the climate! I believe the T'ien Shan has been neglected by travellers because of the incessant rain. No one can conceive what this is like until it has been experienced. It is torrential and unceasing. Never can one rely on a fine day, and it is said locally that if it is fine for two days it will be wet for five. This is no exaggeration. The difficulties thus caused can be imagined; one of them is the effect on the supply problem, always awkward in the T'ien Shan.

I have been in different parts of these mountains at all times of the year, winter and summer, and I have never enjoyed a spell of settled weather such as can be counted on with some confidence at certain seasons in the Himalaya. Entrancingly lovely is the T'ien Shan, with its dancing vistas, its dazzling flowers and its glorious forests ; but the weather goes far to mar the pleasure and peace of mind of the traveller. The uncertainty hurries and flurries him. What can he do when for days on end, as in June 1931, the rain pours down and black mists blot out all views ?

Great is the vexation of spirit, meagre indeed the results of a journey among the Heavenly Mountains !


Sheet 5 of Merzbacher's map, scale 1 : 500,000, published in 1928 after his death, shows the areas of the T'ien Shan, including the Khan Tengri massif, more especially visited by Merzbacher, whose route surveys are the basic authority for the detailed topography. For parts of this area there are also fairly reliable Russian maps and surveys. Sheet 10, Series V, of the 10-verst map, dated 1925, was uninfluenced by Merzbacher's work in the Khan Tengri region and gives the height of Khan Tengri as 6996 metres (22,939 feet). Merzbacher had accepted an earlier approximation of 7200 metres, by Alexandrow-Ignatiew. There is a description of the Russian survey in 1913 in the Records of Topographical War Survey Sections of the Russian General Staff, Vol. 70, 1916, where the height of Khan Tengri is fixed as 6980 metres. Saposhnikow's corrected trigonometrical value was 6950 m., and this figure is entered on Sheet 5 of Merzbacher's map side by side with the other and older approximation. It seems therefore that the whole T'ien Shan range is under 7000 metres. The neighbouring heights on Merzbacher's map are estimates only. They are shown as Nikolai-Michailowitsch and Semjonow peaks; the trigonometrical observation were a failure.

Merzbacher's map shows the two Inylchek, the Kaindi, the Koi-kaf and the Ukur glaciers in considerable detail. The snout of the combined Inylchek glacier appears to be at about 9100 feet.

I am indebted to Lieut.-Colonel C. M. Thompson, Survey of India, for his translation of a note on the compilation of Merzbacher's map, from which I have abstracted the above details. The area south-east of the Russo-Chinese frontier is shown in broken lines on the map and is evidently guesswork.-Ed.
[2]1) See Douglas Carruthers: Inner Mongolia.