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

AN EXPLORATION OF THE ARWA VALLEY, BRITISH

CAPTAIN E. ST. J. BIRNIE

THE ASCENT of Kamet, the chief objective of the Expedition to the Himalaya led by Mr. F. S. Smythe, having been attained, the party, after a short period for recuperation at the base-camp, proceeded to the village of Gamsali, a few miles below Niti in Northern Garhwal, and spent three days in reorganizing stores and supplies. Although we still had a month in hand before we need start on our return to Ranikhet, it was decided to send a large proportion of our heavy kit to Joshimath and remain equipped only for high altitude work. Accordingly twelve loads were despatched to Joshimath in charge of Lance-naik Randoj Kan. Eighteen, under L.-N. Budibal Guru, were sent by the lower Dhauli gorge to Mana, there to await our arrival, while the rest of the expedition left Gamsali on the 5th July to explore the Banke glacier for a high route across the range to the Mana valley, indications of a pass having been noted by Mumm in 1907.

On the second day a camp was pitched at Eri Udiar within sight of the Banke glacier ; unfortunately an accident to Smythe now delayed matters considerably. On the 7th July Holdsworth and Shipton climbed a very formidable rock peak north of Eri Udiar with a view to getting a sight of this pass ; they did not, however, see any place which gave them cause to suspect that a route could be found. Actually on this occasion they just failed to reach the summit, but Shipton, returning to the attack the following day with the porter Nima, succeeded in doing so after some excellent and difficult rock climbing*. On the 8th Beauman and Greene ascended the Banke glacier. Lack of time prevented them from going far, but they reported that there was no chance of crossing the range as far as they could see. Greene, however, reports that the ridge leading northwards to the Mana peak dips considerably before joining that mountain. It was impossible to see round the corner, but this depression may possibly be the pass indicated by Mumm.

* The old Survey of India map, 53 N, showing the glaciers south of Kamet is inacourate in these parts. The best map of the Banke glacier at present existing is that accompanying Dr. Longatafl's paper in the Geographical Journal, vol. xxxi, 1008. The actual summit climbed is difficult to identify, but it is possibly the one shown with a height of 19,815 on Longstaff's map, which I have put on the map accompanying Captain Birnie's paper on the Kamet ascent, and which is situated at about lat. 30° 50', long. 79° 44'.-Ed.

As the exploration of the tributaries west of the Mana valley was now our chief consideration, Smythe decided not to continue the search for the pass, but to make directly for Badrinath and Mana, crossing by the Bhyundar Khanta pass to the Thiapap-ka-bank glacier. The pass is reputed to command a magnificent view of Gauri Parbat and Hathi Parbat, but a biting cold wind, driving snow and mist prevented any view and sent us quickly over. The pass presents no difficulties, but under the circumstances the route down to the Thiapap-ka-bank glacier was not easy to find. We now descended into the beautiful valley of flowers already described by Longstaff and spent the second day in camp at Bhamini Daur surrounded by flowers of every description[1]. No better place than this could be imagined for a Himalayan holiday, providing as it does what is so rare in the Himalaya, the combination of grassy glades and streams with the rock, snow and ice of giant peaks in close proximity.

Before leaving the valley we discovered that a shepherds' track exists, running from the Bhyundar Khanta pass along the range north of the Thiapap-ka-bank valley. The first camp is pitched close under the ridge at over 17,000 feet. The next day it is necessary to make a long march of approximately ten hours to reach the Mana valley after crossing the ridge. As we had already descended into the valley we took the very obvious pass to the west and camped on a small grassy plateau a thousand feet above Hanuman Chatti, reaching Badrinath and Mana the next day. I must mention here that down the gorge of the Bhyundar stream, mentioned by Longstaff, there is now a goat-track running due south from Bhamini Daur, passable for coolies and eventually leading to the Badrinath pilgrim-route some seven miles north of Joshimath.

After two days' rest at Mana we started on our journey to visit the glaciers west of the Mana valley. Smythe had decided that as the Alaknanda glacier valley had already been visited to its head by Meade, it would be more interesting to try and establish a crossing of the Great Himalayan watershed into Tehri-Garhwal in the entirely unknown area at the head of the Arwa valley[2]. We accordingly pitched camp on the opposite side of the river to Gastoli on the main route to the Mana pass on the 15th July. Turning westwards up the Arwa valley on the following day we soon found ourselves in uncharted regions, the glacier shown on the Survey of India map some three miles from Gastoli being non-existent. It was not till the next day at a point about seven miles from Gastoli where the valley takes a direct turn to the north that we found ourselves faced by the snouts of five glaciers flowing into the valley in a semi-circle. Being now above the wood-limit we formed our base-camp at a very excellent site selected by Smythe, directly opposite the snout of glacier "3", as shown in the accompanying sketch and map. This camp was situated at a height of 16,300 feet and was conveniently central for the exploration of all the glaciers around us. Here we dismissed the majority of our porters, keeping only fifteen for high-camp work and twelve to maintain the wood supply and communications between the lower camps.

On the 18th July Smythe, Shipton and Greene climbed a peak of 19,300 feet to the east of camp in order to sketch the country and to look for a likely pass. Meanwhile Beauman, Holdsworth and I ascended glacier " 5 " to a height of approximately 19,000 feet from where we obtained a close view of the 20,000-foot pass to the west, which we eventually used in the first crossing of the range ; we were also able to sketch the four glacier-systems, " 5 ", " 6 ", " 7 " and " 8 ". On our return we compared the sketches and observations with the result that Smythe decided to form Camp I on the rock ridge we had reached between glaciers " 5 " and " 6 ". It may be mentioned here that this camp was on a level with glacier '' 5 ", while " 6 " was eight hundred feet below, down a steep slope.

Camp I was established on the 19th July. Holdsworth on ski accompanied the porters up the glacier, while the rest of us climbed the ridge dividing the two glaciers, a route not to be recommended owing to a steep and very tiring scree slope, but we were able to take many photographs and to check and improve our map. That evening we witnessed the most glorious sunset. To the east the sky turned a beautiful turquoise blue, light-rays were thrown out as if the sun were setting in the east instead of in the west; these rays slowly rose higher and higher as the sun sank, the sky changed to purple and mauve, to the south a lovely storm cloud showed up salmon-pink in colour. Then the clouds rolled back and for a short time Kamet and the Mana peak in the east stood out still catching the sun's rays, after all the other peaks were wrapped in dusk.

On the 20th Smythe, Holdsworth, Shipton and myself started early for the col a mile and a half west of the camp. We found the snow hard and reached the foot of the col in an hour. We now had an anxious half-hour until we reached the crest, for we were not certain that this was the boundary between Tehri and British Garhwal. However we were not mistaken, for on breasting the col we saw a long glacier (No. '' 11 ") running practically north and south. At its southern end this glacier turns sharply to a point slightly north of west and must join the Gangotri glacier after a short distance. Holdsworth returned to camp on ski, while Smythe and Shipton decided to climb the peak (20,800 feet), the southern ridge of which rises directly from the col[3].

Taking Dorje with me I crossed the watershed and descended to glacier '' 11 ". The route is steep with occasional ice and a bergs chrund to cross some five hundred feet below the crest, but it is quite practicable for laden porters if roped. After continuing my survey from the centre of this glacier we turned northwards to reconnoitre a col over which appeared to be a route leading back to the westerly branch of the two glaciers leading down to the Arwa valley (No. "6 "). Unfortunately it started to snow, and thick mist made it impossible to see any distance. Reaching a snow ridge overlooking glacier '' 6 ". we descended a steep rock rib which would be impracticable for laden porters; it was somewhat dangerous also, owing to the overhanging ice-falls above it.

When we were down the arete the weather cleared and we saw what appeared to be an easy snow route over the glacier leading to the Gangotri about half-a-mile north-west of the point where we had crossed. This col has since been seen from both sides and appears easy, but it requires further reconnaissance. The walk down to a point on the glacier, eight hundred feet below camp, was quite tiring in the soft snow, and the final climb up a steep slope of rock and scree was an unkind end to an otherwise very interesting day.

The weather now turned from bad to worse. However, on the 22nd Smythe and Shipton, with the porter Nima, started at 7-10 a.m. for the head of the glacier, to attempt the beautiful peak which we afterwards named " Avalanche Peak " and the height of which we assessed by aneroid to be 21,600 feet. I followed an hour and a half later with Dorje as I did not wish to expose my feet to the cold too early. As we crossed the glacier I could see Smythe's party making its way up the very steep corniced snow-slope in the re-entrant directly east of the peak. Simultaneously Beauman, Greene and Holdsworth were leaving camp to climb the rock peak (20,300 feet) west of camp, the ascent of which proved to be quite easy.

Arrived at the foot of the snow-slope we found the most amazing ladder of steps up it; however, as the snow was firm and held well, nothing could have been nicer. Cutting through the cornice at the top we found ourselves looking down at the upper portion of glacier " 4 ", to which we were forced to descend for about two hundred feet before turning north-west towards another corniced snow-wall which Smythe had again taken straight. There was another excellent ladder of steps which came as a great relief after plodding through the now softened snow of the glacier. On the ridge I found some sardines left for me, so taking off my boots I warmed my feet and partook of lunch while awaiting the return of the climbers. Soon their voices could be heard through the mist and snow which had now begun to fall. They did not bring very encouraging news, for where they had been able to kick steps on the ascent, the sun had melted the snow and they had found dangerous ice on their return. As, however, it was now snowing again and getting colder, I decided to make the attempt, after promising Smythe to turn back if the conditions proved dangerous. He and Shipton insisted on staying on this col until they should learn by a pre-arranged signal that all was well.

Starting with Dorje I very soon came across the ice conditions reported. However, we cut great " soup-plates" across the icy parts and tried not to look down the A. P. slope to our left, for a slip here would have carried us down two thousand feet. Twice we nearly turned back, but the continued snow and cold convinced me that the descent would be easier and safer later. After an hour and a half of very steep climbing the slope eased off, and a short walk brought us to a summit well worthy of the mountain, for it fell away sharply on all sides and must give one a distinctly airy feeling on a clear day.

It was now snowing hard, so we started the descent, immediately finding the conditions greatly improved. The snow lay thicker and held firmly on the steep ice. An avalanche was the chief danger to be feared and we tried to avoid it by keeping as close as possible to the corniced west edge of the ridge. In spite of this I think the top six hundred feet of this climb under these conditions are certainly amongst the most sensational that I have undertaken. The porter Dorje was steadiness itself throughout all the trying pitches and used the rope intelligently.

It was a long trudge to camp through the softened glacier snow. On arrival there I learnt that in descending the last steep snow-slope Smythe had started an avalanche while glissading and was carried down the slope and flung across the bergschrund. Almost immediately a second avalanche started by Shipton had descended on him. Smythe had been completely swamped by it, and when extricated was extremely lucky to escape with only a fractured rib. He had an unpleasant journey getting into camp.

It was now decided to split up into three parties of two each. Holdsworth and Shipton were to base themselves on Camp I in order to climb and report on the country north of glacier " 6 ", Beauman and Greene were to return to Mana and proceed up the Alaknanda glacier valley, and Smythe and myself were to cross the watershed into Tehri-Garhwal and attempt to find alternative routes back; if time permitted we would search for a return route to Mana via the Alaknanda glacier valley.

Accordingly Smythe and I started on the 24th July with nine porters and rations for seven days. Unfortunately we had barely gone a mile before Smythe found that his fractured rib was giving him such trouble in breathing that there was no alternative for him but to return to Camp I. I afterwards heard that he had suffered considerably and was carried down to the base-camp, where he joined Beauman and Greene.

Continuing with six porters I found the pass with great difficulty owing to thick mist and snow which was driving down on us with a bitterly cold wind. It was a most unpromising day on which to start the exploration of a new area, but as we had had six days of continuous bad weather it was hoped that a change would now favour us. We built a cairn on the pass and started a direct descent of the far side by a route which Dorje said he had reconnoitred while we were building the cairn. This ended with twenty feet of ice falling sheer to the bergschrund below, into which the last four porters went headlong. We dug them out unharmed and continued down the glacier in thick mist and snow until we found ourselves completely surrounded by crevasses and seracs. Luckily now, at four o'clock, the mist cleared and we were able to pick our way through the intricate ice-falls of this glacier to the moraine, passing a beautiful ice-cave and lake en route. We camped where the glacier turns westwards and is joined by another from the east. While tents were being pitched (Camp II) and dinner prepared Kesar Singh, who had previously iaccompanied Greene and me on our ascent of Kamet, surveyed this glacier (No. " 10 "). We could see a snow ridge at its head, which Kesar Singh insisted was a double pass (by local superstition only), with a descent north-eastwards to the Arwa valley and south-eastwards to the Alaknanda.

The beautiful twin summit of Satopanth (23,240 feet)-incidentally the only triangulated peak in this area-being now directly south of my camp and also almost exactly west of this ridge suggested that there was every possibility of there being some foundation for this story. I therefore decided to remain based on Camp II and to reconnoitre the circle of mountains surrounding the glacier on the 25th July.

After a very cold night we woke to a perfect morning, but it was some time before I could thaw my boots. As Dorje was now in charge of my cooking, I decided to take with me the local porter Gian Singh, whose home was at Gamsali, and who had proved himself the steadiest of the local men. We used a yak-hair rope instead of an Alpine rope and found it absolutely satisfactory and much lighter. In fact for all work not entailing serious rock climbing it is to be recommended[4].

We found the snow in wonderful condition and making rapid progress we reached the base of the ridge in two and a half hours. This proved to be much too steep to climb, but making a detour towards the peak north-eastwards we forced a way up a very steep snow-slope above a big bergschrund and struck the ridge some two hundred feet above the col and just below a place where there is a cornice fully thirty feet thick. It was disappointing to find that this route led to glacier " 3 which quite obviously swung back into the Arwa valley. Moreover, though it would be quite possible to descend to this glacier, the descent on both sides of the ridge must certainly be classified for climbers only. A party of porters lightly laden and well supported by experienced climbers would, no doubt, also be able to effect a crossing, though it cannot be recommended. Before returning to Camp II we visited the ridge dividing glaciers " 10 " and " 4 ". The ascent from glacier " 10" is an easy walk on snow; the descent to glacier " 4 " is steep, but several routes could be found. In fact, a crossing of the watershed by this route would probably be the best and shortest from the Arwa valley to the Gangotri.

I had meanwhile sent Kesar Singh and a porter called Chonu down towards the Gangotri glacier, but found them rather vague in the information they brought back. On the 26th we continued westwards towards the Gangotri glacier over rock-strewn hillocks of moraine. The easier routes at the foot of the mountains were so dangerously overhung with ice-falls that it was necessary to keep at a safe distance from them. Moreover the mountains to the north were composed of a dark red rock which peeled off in an almost continuous bombardment as soon as the sun had risen. After a mile a large glacier (No. '' 9 ") joined in from the south. From the map it appeared that any crossing of the watershed south of the Satopanth peak must lead to the Alaknanda glacier valley. I therefore decided to ascend glacier " 9 " to its head and attempt a passage, though I realized that if a crossing existed it would not be the one by which Meade had once ascended from the Alaknanda valley. Looking westwards from the point I had reached I could see the moraine of the Gangotri glacier coming in from the south some five miles away.

Turning now up glacier " 9 " we were soon clear of the tiring moraine and swinging eastwards with the glacier soon perceived an easy col south-east of the Satopanth peak. We pitched Camp III on a rock rib almost directly south of this peak, surrounded by an amazingly beautiful circle of others[5]. We had now reached the furthest point to which we should go, for Camp I and the base-camp were now being evacuated to Mana, and after the next day's reconnaissance we would have only three days' rations left. These would only be just sufficient if the crossing failed and we had to retrace our steps to the base-camp. I had arranged for a box of 20 lbs. of ata, rice and sattu to be left on a rock for our return journey from there to Mana. A similar amount of food was being carried up the Alaknanda valley in case we succeeded in forcing that route. There are two beautiful snow peaks directly south-west of Camp III, which I believe to be those seen from Mana at the head of the Alaknanda.

Again selecting Gian Singh to come with me I started on the following day to reconnoitre the col to the south-east. We soon found the route steeper than we had expected and the snow was so hard that we had to cut some two hundred steps. Much dodging of seracs and ice-falls was required, and half-way up a large crevasse was encountered which luckily was safely bridged.

This is a most imposing route. Tier upon tier of snow ledges, connected by steep winding snow-slopes, each terrace edged with an ice precipice, form a gorgeous foundation for the Satopanth and other lovely peaks which rise above it. We reached the col in four and a half hours, the final gently sloping snow-fields at the top giving rise to great hopes of an easy descent to the Alaknanda. But we were again disappointed. The gentle slopes ended abruptly at an almost perpendicular snow-slope of quite two thousand feet leading to a glacier (No. '' 2 ") which again swung round into the Arwa, after being joined by glacier '' 3 ". To the south we looked down into the Alaknanda, which was separated from us by only four hundred yards of precipitous rock and ice. Peering over the cornice I found eventually what looked like a practicable, though very steep, route down to glacier '' 2 ", but it would be necessary first to cut through fifteen feet of the cornice to a snow ledge below, and all would depend on the absence of ice on the descent. I spent some time throwing snowballs down the slope and as most of them fell firmly into the snow I decided to attempt the crossing on the following day.

Pledged to return to Mana by the 30th July, there was no time for further reconnaissance, so we signalled to our camp below and soon saw it start on its way to a small snow hollow about three hundred feet below the col. This had been selected for the site of Camp IV and was practically the only place on the route safe from falling ice. The day was perfect and the panorama from the col, which is approximately 20,500 feet above sea-level, is magnificent and certainly equal to that from the Kuari pass. The whole of the Kamet group is viewed from its south-western side and presents a splendid spectacle. I spent the five hours waiting for the camp in mapping the area, and joining my sketch of this with the portion I had already contoured. The Sherpa porter Dorje was splendid ; carrying the heaviest load he arrived half an hour before the others, pitched my tent and theirs on their arrival in addition to cooking me an excellent meal.

The 28th proved again a perfect day. We started late and reached the col in half an hour. Kesar Singh went down on his knees at his first sight of Kamet since his ascent of it. I was anxious to get the porters safely down the two thousand feet of steep descent to the glacier, so quickly lowered them one by one over the cornice to the snow ledge fifteen feet below. Roping here I found that two men, Kalu and Gian Singh, had left their ice-axes behind at Camp I, while another, Thelu, was shod in the local blanket and rope shoes. This was certainly a poser; I suppose I should have noticed it before; the men had all kinds of excuses. The snow however seemed to be in a thick firm condition and I decided to continue the descent. Placing the culprits where we could best hold them in case of a slip, we proceeded slowly down the almost precipitous snow-slope and reached the glacier below in three hours. The greater part of the way was absolutely safe, but there were occasional patches of ice which we carefully avoided, after I myself had shot down a couple of them; I was well held by Dorje.

Looking back, our route certainly appeared most sensational and I doubt whether it would have been considered practicable from the Arwa side; yet this pass would always be passable for porters laden up to 40 lbs., provided they were properly equipped and roped and that great care was taken throughout the route. The condition of the snow should, however, be carefully reconnoitred first. These remarks refer only to the route taken in the Gangotri-Arwa direction. I do not think the reverse way practicable, for the highest camp that could be pitched would still be too far from the col.

We camped on the first moraine rocks at about 17,000 feet. The porters behaved splendidly throughout the crossing. It took us four hours of scrambling on moraine to reach the Arwa valley on the 29th. There we met four porters going up to the base-camp to bring down the last loads and learnt that Holdsworth and Shipton had passed through the day before. They had climbed three more peaks, two of them over 21,000 feet, and that portion of the map north of glacier " 6 " has been completed from sketches and data supplied by them. I have unfortunately no record of their climbs. Their routes to the two peaks north of glacier " 6and the one peak between glaciers " 4 " and " 5 " are marked on the map. From their descriptions some splendid climbing was encountered, Holdsworth partially using ski. The porters Nima and Ang-Nerbu accompanied them in turn[6].

Returning to Mana on the 30th I found everyone assembled there except Shipton, who with his untiring energy had found some other peak to climb. Smythe and Greene had started up the Alaknanda valley, but an accident which involved the loss of nearly all their rations had forced them back.

At the request of His Holiness the Rawal of Badrinath Temple we moved camp to Badrinath on the 31st, and after a day during which he received us most hospitably we started on our return to Ranikhet, parting with great regret at Joshimath with our six local porters who had done us so well among the snows of Kamet and Badrinath.


[1] " The hillsides were snowy with anemones, like the narcissus fields about the Lake of Geneva. There were countless potentillas, yellow nomicharis, kingcups with single and double flowers, the beautiful Himalayan blue poppy, geraniums of two kinds, forget-me-nots, pale blue borage, mauve polemonium, crimson orchids, rosy-coloured cypripedium, dwarf larkspur, and clumps of great purple asters. Holdsworth, our botanist, discovered no fewer than ten varieties of Alpine primula, among which were the tiny stemlets of primula reptans and primula denticulata, primula involuceata, and primula androsace ".-F. S. Smythe, in Geographical Journal, vol. lxxix, January, 1932.-Ed.

[2] Above Mana the valley leading to the Mana paas is known as the Saraswati. From this village the name Alaknanda is applied to the enclosed tributary which drains the Satopanth peaks of the Badrinath range and enters the main vallev from the west.-Ed.

t The height 16,200 on the sketch-map is a misprint.-Ed.

[3] 20,500 feet oil the sketch-map.-Ed.

[4] It depends on the yak-hair rope. There are yak-hair ropes and yak-hair ropes! As editor of this Journal, I do not like to see this remark in print without emphasizing that only the best Alpine rope is good enough for the Himalaya and such rope is unobtainable in India.-Ed.

[5] Colonel Sir Sidney Burrard writes : " When Captain Hodgson and Lieutenant Herbert, visited Gangotri in 1817, they named four prominent snowy peaks standing near the head of the glacier, St. George, St. Andrew, St. Patrick and St. David : these names have now fallen into disuse and it would be a pity to revive them : the four peaks of Hodgson and Herbert can be identified with the group, known to modern geographers as Satopanth ". (A Sketch of the Geography and Otology of the Himalaya Mountains and, Tibet, page 138). It seems probable, though without access to the writings of Hodgson and Herbert it is imposible to Ľay for certain, that these peaks mentioned by Captain Birnie are identical with thole referred to by those travellers more than a hundred years ago.-Ed.
[6] For brief accounts of Holdaworth's and Sliipton's explorations between the 25th and 30th July, see Geographical Journal, vol. Ixxix, January, 1932.-Kd.
H Geographical Journal, vol. Ixxv, p. 404; Himalayan Journal, vol. ill, p. 102.




AVALANCHE PEAK, C. 21,600 FEET.Photo. Capt. E. StJ. Birnie.

AVALANCHE PEAK, C. 21,600 FEET.Photo. Capt. E. StJ. Birnie.



Satopanth Peaks at the head of the Alaknanda.Photo. Capt. E. StJ. Birnie.

Satopanth Peaks at the head of the Alaknanda.Photo. Capt. E. StJ. Birnie.