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

SKI-ING IN THE HIGH EASTERN HIMALAYA

ULRICH WIELAND ?

THE MEMBERS of the International Himalayan Expedition of 1930 did much ski-ing on their way round Kangchenjunga. One pair of ski and sticks for each Sahib had been brought from Europe. At first this part of our equipment caused some transport difficulties. The porters disliked intensely the long wooden boards, which were so awkward to carry on their backs through thick jungle. The sticks, on the contrary, were in great favour, because such handsome straight poles with such fine leather handles could be found nowhere else in Sikkim. The trouble was that the stick was too long for the small people ; also the object of the snow-ring attached to it was not obvious to them ! It was characteristic of our porters that they had their own ideas about everything connected with the expedition, and most of them followed out these ideas with striking persistence. Their aversion for the ski and their liking for the sticks therefore called for our constant attention. The ski were always in danger of being abandoned, and the sticks of being cut short. Fortune was with us, and the whole outfit reached its destination safely, not least owing to the high ability of our transport masters and the otherwise perfect qualities of our porters.

The first opportunity of using ski was as early as our passage of the Kang La. This 15,000-foot pass was still buried deeply under winter snow when we crossed it in April. The first party to cross unfortunately could not use ski, because the leaders had to stamp a track for the heavily-laden coolies. I was lucky to be with the second party and could enjoy ski-ing to its full extent. On reaching the summit of the pass I had to return, and so had a perfect run down on the Sikkim side. When we crossed the pass finally the following day the run on the Nepal side was equally satisfying. I may mention that the difference between the time of descent and that of ascent is considerably greater here than in the Alps. The reason is, of course, that one climbs more slowly at Himalayan altitudes than in the Alps,

but travels as fast downhill. Snow conditions were otherwise very similar to those we were accustomed to.

One great difference in the Himalaya lay in the behaviour of the spectators. The impression that the swinging and rushing down made on our porters was far from what we had expected. It was one of neither admiration nor fright! The men simply regarded us as perfectly absurd-so ridiculous, in fact, that they sat down and laughed at us, making no effort to hide their gaiety.

Between Tseram and Khunza we had to cross several ridges at an elevation of about 13,000 feet. After climbing to the highest point of this route over rather steep slopes we found the following part quite fit for ski, except the last descent to Khunza, which was as steep as the first ascent from Tseram. Here there was not much use for ski, because the snow showed unexpectedly difficult qualities. It had a very deceptive hard crust above absolutely rotten snow-dust beneath ; the crust was so thin as to break at any time, whether we were on ski or not. The snow-dust had almost no bottom, which resulted in a very deep fall from which it was difficult to emerge. Sudden frequent falls on ski at this altitude are very exhausting and we therefore preferred to walk on foot. Similar snow conditions prevailed at only two other places on the whole journey, on the Jonsong peak, and on the Lhonak-Zemu pass, close to Tent peak. However, there were only short stretches of this difficult snow ; we can therefore speak of good snow conditions on the whole.

During our attack on Kangchenjunga, ski proved very useful as a means of communication after a good track had been stamped for the porters. From the Base Camp to Camp I the glacier rose very little, but just enough to afford a pleasant slide. From Camp I to both the Camps II, the steep east and west slopes and ice-falls had to be overcome before the large snow-basins above, which were well fit for ski-ing, were reached. The first part of these routes called for some practice and experience in glacier ski-ing, while the surroundings of Camp II in particular formed excellent ski-ing grounds. " The Mouse ", a point of 19,000 feet on the ridge connecting Kangchenjunga and Ramthang peak, was climbed entirely on ski; on Ramthang peak itself ski could be used as high as about 20,000 feet with great advantage. The proof of this is the fact that all climbing members of the expedition returned from the neighbourhood of Camp II direct to the Base Camp within a few hours-a two-days' stage normally.

For crossing the Jonsong La, ski were once more a great help, although they could only be used half the distance. The glaciers descending to the Kangchen and Lhonak valleys are in their lower parts covered with all kinds of rock, from rubble to gigantic boulders. Such a surface makes even walking difficult. But from 16,000 feet to over 18,500 feet and down again to 16,000 feet the snow was very fine and the ski-ing conditions excellent. On the Sikkim side of the Jonsong La ski proved very useful, too, except on the first steep slope.

Later on, when climbing the Jonsong peak, the Dodang Nyima peak, and when crossing the ridge between Lhonak and the Zemu, We could have used our ski with further advantage had there been no transport problem. This factor also prevented us from using ski on the Nepal Gap climb although the ground is very suitable on both sides of the pass.

I may conclude with the following observations drawn from our experiences.

There is no doubt that ski are of great value for an expedition like ours. They facilitate crossing snow-covered areas, thereby saving time and shortening distances. They also add a great deal to the pleasures of the journey. At present, however, their use is very much limited by the fact that the porters cannot run on them. A trained ski-runner alone can enjoy all the advantages of ski-ing. The high regions of the Himalaya will never be training-grounds, and experience and practice must be gained beforehand. This applies both to porters and Europeans. The problem is not difficult for Europeans, because they have their training-grounds in the Alps and elsewhere, and nowadays a mountaineer cannot be considered fully efficient unless he is also a good ski-runner. But the training of native porters presents more difficulties; and as long as a party includes a single man who cannot ski, the rate of progress depends entirely on that man. As on our expedition, a track has to be stamped for the man who cannot ski, and this may be a reason to renounce ski entirely.

The problem can only be solved by teaching the porters, or certainly the "Tigers ", how to ski, and this I strongly advocate. As soon as these men are trained, a climbing party will be far more mobile in glacier regions than at present. The fact that the Himalayan Club is about to build a hut somewhere in the Eastern Himalaya- for the training of ski-runners I would prefer the upper Lhonak valley-will aid this task considerably. Ski and sticks may be stored there and need not be carried backwards and forwards through the Sikkim jungles. There is no reason why the inhabitants of the Himalaya should not produce as good runners on ski as the Tyrolese or Swiss mountain peasants to whom ski-ing was brought by men of the plains. At first they objected, then they became interested, and now they are the best ski-runners on earth, having surpassed their former teachers. Why should not the same development take place in the Himalaya ?

Summarizing, I might say that one can enjoy high mountain ski-ing in the Himalaya as much as in the Alps. The upper Lhonak valley should become a great training-centre for ski-ing and for ski- touring. Moreover there is a suitable landing-ground for aeroplanes in the vicinity!