Himalayan Journal vol.07
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.07

Publication year:
1935

Editor:
Kenneth Mason
Index
  1. NANDA DEVI AND THE SOURCES OF THE GANGES
    (H.W. Tilman)
  2. THE GERMAN HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION TO NANGA PARBAT, 1934
    (FRITZ BECHTOLD)
  3. DIARY JOTTINGS NANGA PARBAT, 1934
    (CAPTAIN R. A. K. SANGSTER)
  4. THE SCIENTIFIC WORK OF THE GERMAN HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION TO NANGA PARBAT, 1934
    (I. GENERAL r. finsterwalder)
  5. A VISIT TO NUN KUN, 1934
    (LIEUT. J. B. HARRISON)
  6. THE PROBLEM OF KANGCHENJUNGA
    (F. S. SMYTHE)
  7. TRAVERSES IN NEPAL
    (J. B. AUDEN)
  8. NOTES ON EASTERN AND CENTRAL NEPAL
    (LIEUT.-COLONEL KENNETH MASON)
  9. SIWALIK EROSION
    (A.P.F. Hamilton)
  10. THE FORESTS OF TIBET
    (Captain F. KINGDON WARD)
  11. SIKKIM RHODODENDRONS
    (P. C. DUNCAN)
  12. ON THE MAP OF THE ZEMU GLACIER
    (RICHARD FINSTERWALDER)
  13. THE GEOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY OF THE HIMALAYA
    (Lieut.- Colonel Kenneth Mason)
  14. EXPEDITIONS
  15. IN MEMORIAM
  16. NOTES
  17. REVIEWS
  18. CORRESPONDENCE
  19. CLUB PROCEEDINGS
  20. CLUB NOTICES
  21. LIBRARY NOTICES

A VISIT TO NUN KUN, 1934

LIEUT. J. B. HARRISON

The wind which blew ill to the Mohmands in September 1933 blew good to me, for it was then that I met Waller and first heard of the Nun Kun. He had read the Workmans' Peaks and Glaciers of the Nun Kun and had decided that here was a mountain on which a small party might get some cheap but interesting high climbing. Later we agreed to 'have a crack' at it together, but with only two months' leave available we had to make as many arrangements as possible beforehand. Lists of stores were sent backwards and forwards, proposed, rejected, amended, agreed upon, and cancelled; clothes, equipment, coolies, routes, and so on were discussed at length on paper; bright ideas went flashing across the Punjab till finally by the end of April 1934 we were, as far as possible, ready. Our leave was granted from the 11th May till the 10th July-rather early as it proved, but the best we could do. We joined forces at Rawalpindi at 5 o'clock one May morning, chartered a large car, and were in Srinagar, 200 miles away, on the 10th May, some hours before our leave was due to begin. Good staff work at the start!

Followed four busy days collecting and packing stores and kit suitable for each stage of the trip: Srinagar to the base camp, base to the high camp, on the mountain, back to the base, and from there back to Srinagar. We personally checked and packed everything. The packing of even our small amount of kit caused us so much trouble that we wondered how Merkl's Nanga Parbat expedition with their 600 coolie-loads ever got started at all.

Before discussing our plans I must give a short account of our objective. 'Nun Kun' is not a single peak, but a comparatively small and compact massif some 80 miles, as the crow flies, almost due east of Srinagar; its highest peaks, Nun and Kun, or Ser and Mer, rise to heights of 23,410 feet and 23,250 feet respectively. A certain amount of climbing has been carried out on the massif. In 1903 Mr. H. Sillem reached and photographed the plateau basin at 21,000 feet enclosed by the highest peaks. In 1906 the Workmans further explored the region, and in their book, already referred to, claimed the discovery of the plateau for themselves. Possibly they had not heard of Mr. Sillem's climb.1 It was in this year that Mrs. Bullock Workman climbed the third highest peak of the group, which she named 4Pinnacle Peak', 22,810 feet, asserted that its height was 23,300 feet, and claimed that it was the second highest summit of the region. These assertions were conclusively disproved in 1911 by the retriangulation of the peaks by the Survey of India.1 However, 22,800 feet was a fine altitude for a woman (especially in those days when they climbed in skirts!) and I believe it remained the height record for a woman until handsomely beaten by Frau Dyhrenfurth in the Karakoram in 1934. As a matter of interest I may mention that the Workmans brought out one professional Alpine guide and six experienced Alpine porters, and left Srinagar with a train of 170 coolies and 50 ponies. In 1914 an Italian expedition led by Count Calciati climbed Kun. Besides these climbing expeditions notable exploration was carried out in the region by Majors Bruce and Lucas in 1898, by Dr. Arthur Neve and the Rev. C. E. Barton in 1902, and again by Dr. Neve in 1904 and 1910. Doubtless the Nun Kun has been visited by many others, but I have been unable to find any other records. Nun, so far as I know, had never been attempted, and Waller and I wanted-well, shall I say-to find out why.2 The Workmans said that Nun was inaccessible from the basin, but from their photographs and those of the Italian expedition it seemed to us that a way might be found. Anyhow, we could not afford the time or money for a long and elaborately equipped attempt, and we were prepared for failure.

1 On the contrary, before the Workmans left for the Nun Kun, Dr. Arthur Neve described to them his own explorations of the approach to the massif by the Sliafat glacier to the east of the massif and of the Sentik La route between Tongul and the Bara Zaj Nai. He lent them a photograph of the plateau taken by Mr. Sillem, and discussed the possibility of ascents from the plateau with them. See also my note at the end of this paper.-Ed.

I must make it quite clear that we were on a climbing holiday, and had no ulterior scientific motives. Any one who has read this paper so far in the hope of learning anything about geological formations, glacial systems, the effects of altitude on the psychology-or do I mean the physiology?-of the mountaineer, is doomed to disappointment. We were so acutely conscious of our lack of scientific objective, that in an attempt to justify ourselves we gave each other special appointments. Having remarked on the beauty of the Kashmir irises, I was appointed botanist, ornithologist, and psychologist in addition to the more prosaic job of coolie-driver. Waller became geologist, photographer, and archaeologist. Our scientific equipment consisted of one aneroid (borrowed) which optimistically registered up to 30,000 feet, but proved to have an error of 900 feet at a much lower level; a compass which we never used; two cameras, one of which was lost; one cine-camera; three watches, all of which we broke before we reached Nun Kun; and a telescope.

1 See Geographical Journal, vol. lvi, 1920, p. 124. What pernicious things 'height records' are!-Ed. 2 See my note at end of this paper.-Ed.

A word about our plan. Briefly it was this. Our kit, with our climbing shikari Abdulla, our cook Nur Mahomed, our one camp coolie, and ourselves, was to go by lorry to Pahlgam. From here transport coolies would take our baggage by the East Liddar valley and the 14,450-foot pass, the Gulol Gali, to the head of the Warwan valley, up the Bat Kol valley and over a i6,ooo-foot pass into the Ghilung (or Ghalong) Nar to Suru.[1] Here we intended to leave superfluous kit and, with Suru men, to follow the Suru river by the Ringdom valley, and to establish a base camp at a height of about 14,000 or 15,000 feet as far up the Shafat glacier valley as possible. Five days were allowed to establish a high camp at about 20,000 feet, and ten days were allotted for the achievement of something from the high camp. Abdulla alone, whom we had equipped with windproofs, boots, &c., was to be with us at the high camp, to help prepare food and, if necessary, to establish one small camp higher on the mountain. The rest of the men were to go down to the base camp and return after ten days.

This was the plan. As a matter of fact, the only part which went 'according to cocker' was our departure from Srinagar at 6.15 a.m. on the 15th May. We were in high spirits as we careered along the road to Pahlgam, where Abdulla awaited us with a crowd of pessimistic coolies. Our 18 loads were laid out in a row, but had become 23. We fondly hoped that having laid out the loads we should then fall in the requisite number of coolies, number them off, choose a coolie sirdar, give the command 'Advance', whereupon each coolie would march smartly up to his allotted load, pick it up, and move off up the valley. We were sadly mistaken. With one accord the coolies lifted up their voices and groused about their loads, old men and village elders stood around and gave advice, children shrieked, pi-dogs got in the way, and an old woman, with tears in her eyes, implored me to give a light load to her darling boy. At last we got away and, making a short march of six miles, camped on a grassy patch in a clump of syringa bushes on the river bank. Life that evening was indeed good. We had left behind the clamours and conventions of civilization. The cool air was sweet with the scent of syringa, and, as darkness deepened, the roar of the river swelled and spread, dominating, but not drowning, all the little night sounds. Around us rose the dark masses of the snow-topped mountains. There are few experiences that can equal the first night in camp.

But from now our programme began to go astray. Late, low, soft snow delayed our progress up the Liddar, and an unfortunate break in the weather which brought new snow occurred when we reached the foot of the Gulol Gali. The coolies with one accord refused to make the passage and we were forced to turn back to Pahlgam and Srinagar. This meant a complete change of plan and an approach to Suru by the Sind valley and the Zoji La.

We were at Woyil bridge near the mouth of the Sind valley on the 21 st, and with nine baggage ponies reached Gund, twenty-one miles up the valley, next day. Here we were told that it was impossible to take ponies over the Zoji La and that we must pay Rs. 150 for coolies to take us over the pass to Dras. Fortunately, during the night of the 22nd, a party of three Ladakhis with twelve pack ponies arrived at Gund from over the Zoji La and offered to take us all the way to Kargil for Rs. 90. We spent the following night a mile short of Baltal, after a march of twenty-three miles, and were off at dawn the next morning. The track was still under snow, but we managed * to get the grand little beasts over the snow-bridges in the gorge. It did one good to see them following in each other's steps, seldom putting a foot wrong as they zigzagged up the snow slopes, which in places must have been at an angle of 450. At 9.30 we were at the top and thence made good progress until about a mile beyond Machhoi, when the ponies began to sink in the softening snow up to their bellies. Finally we had to manhandle the loads to a small grassy rise, which stuck out of the snow, and there we camped for the night.

A few days later we were at Kargil, a picturesque little town with one narrow main street twisting between ramshackle, double-storied buildings and with tiny side streets, hardly more than passages, leading either up the hill or down to the river. The forty miles from Kargil to Suru were interesting. The valley wound along, changing direction regularly every few miles, and in each re-entrant, where the earth brought down by tributary streams had silted up, were little clusters of stone and mud huts set amid patches of cultivation, clumps of poplars, and carefully pollarded willows.

We camped at Tsaliskot [Chalis Kot] the first night out of Kargil and about nine miles short of Suru the second. We reached Suru in the forenoon of the third day, the 30th May, and pitched a comfortable camp in a little willow grove, where cuckoos roosted at night, at the mouth of the Ghilung valley, down which we would have arrived had we come by Pahlgam and the Gulol Gali. There is a village called Suru, but the name is really given to the wide and comparatively fertile area at the junction of the Chilung and Suru rivers where are some half a dozen little villages. The name had become very familiar to us, for we had written it scores of times and it had often rolled importantly off our tongues. At last we were here, with the great snow peaks all round us, while, hidden by a small 14,ooo-foot ridge, were just visible some intriguing peaks flying banners of cloud, which proved to be the higher summits of Nun Kun.

Immediately on our arrival we interviewed the zaildar, a toothless old gentleman whose surly expression belied his willingness to help. He promised us twenty stout porters unafraid of snow, but said that they must have a day to prepare food, clothes, and boots. We were glad of a day's rest for we had been going pretty hard since we left Woyil bridge on the 22nd, and had covered nearly 160 miles on foot in under nine days. The next morning, the 1st June, the porters duly turned up and we explained exactly what would be required of them. They had all heard of the Workmans' expedition, and one had been on it as a boy. We read to them and emphasized the few kind words the Workmans had said of Suru men, saying that we expected them to be as good now as then. We also showed them a photo of a group of the Workmans' carriers and they recognized one or two. Without hesitation they accepted the terms we were prepared to give: 8 annas a day to the base camp, 4 annas a day to men left there, 1 rupee a day to each man who came higher, and free issue of blankets, goggles, gloves, socks, and waterproof ground- sheets. We were fortunate in finding an intelligent and rather better-class man, by name Kazim Khan, who, by common consent, was appointed sirdar. He was made responsible to us for all the porters, was to receive double pay, and was relieved of the duty of carrying below the base camp.

That night several inches of snow fell and our start was delayed one more day. I spent it on ski on the Parkutse ridge, while Waller climbed the ridge behind our camp and passed a useful morning studying Nun Kun through a telescope. It was from here that he first conceived the idea that the best way to ascend the final 2,000 feet of Nun would be from the col between Nun and 'White Needle'. That night after we had finished supper and long after the world around us had become cold and dead, I glanced towards Nun and saw the snowy summit still glowing in the light of the sun, while from its crest floated a glorious wisp of crimson cloud. As I watched, the colour gradually drained from the peak, leaving it outlined against the evening sky, clear, cold, and infinitely remote. It was in a very humble frame of mind that I turned and crept into my tent.

We were away without a hitch next morning, the coolies following tin river round by Tongul, while Waller and I crossed the Parkutse pass, 13,600 feet. We sat at the summit for a long time and examinee I Nun Kun. We camped that night at Parkutse, and the next morn ing, the 4th, we made a very early start and pushed up the Kingdom valley, intending to pitch our base camp that evening up the Shafat Nala, which enters the Ringdom valley about ten miles from Par- kutse. As in the East Liddar valley, however, we found very much more snow than we had anticipated, and progress was slow. We pushed on until we were within a mile of the mouth of a tributary valley which we took to be the Shafat, and pitched a very uncomfortable base camp on the last visible patch of bare earth in the valley, at 12,700 feet. We hoped that from this base We should be able to camp successively at 15,000, 18,000, and 20,000 feet, and then send the coolies back to the base. We therefore ordered the coolies to prepare five days' rations and detailed two men to carry firewood. Our chief worry was their equipment. We could not afford to equip them all with warm clothes, windproofs, boots, and proper mountain tents, and we were anxious lest our inability to do this should wreck the entire trip, for we were determined not to take unjustifiable risks. We therefore warned them that they would have to spend some very cold nights on the snow high up. However, they seemed to think nothing of this and treated the whole business as a matter of course, an attitude that was most cheering. Their own clothes for the trip were interesting. Each man had two or three- or possibly more-long, thick puttoo coats, all of which he wore the whole time, his only concession to the heat of the day being to turn back the skirts of the top few coats; he had trousers of the same stuff, warm Kashmiri puttees and puttoo boots which came up to his calves. The feet of the boots were covcred with leather and each man carried a bundle of soft, dry grass which he stuffed into his boots; if his feet got wet and cold, he took out the wet grass and put in fresh dry grass in its place. I cannot say whether they wore woollen 'undies', but I am convinced that each man had a layer of good warm dirt next his skin. Their food, apart from the tea and sugar we gave them, appeared to consist entirely of cakes of coarsely ground parched grain-sattu. At a halt they would extract a cake of this from among their many coats and pop it under an armpit, doubtless to warm it up.

Now for our experiences. Having no liking for marching through soft snow we left the base camp with our thirteen porters very early in the morning, long before the sun had touched even the highest peaks. Base camp was on the north bank of the Suru river, but there was a convenient snow bridge just below the camp, by which we crossed. Having reached the valley previously mentioned, we turned into it without a second thought. We are not proud of this day's achievement. The snow rapidly softened as the sun rose and we spent some weary hours stamping a track for the porters. About midday, at a height of nearly 15,000 feet, we began to think vaguely of camping, when one of us remarked casually: T suppose we are in the Shafat Nala.' Of course we weren't, and through sheer carelessness we had wasted a valuable day and needlessly expended a great deal of energy. There was nothing for it but to retrace our steps. The track being made, we had no compunction in putting on our skis and the grand slopes back to the river compensated us, to some extent, for our wasted day. That night we pitched 'Camp Nought', named in recognition of our failure, on the snow-covered bank of the Suru river about two miles beyond the base camp. The next day we made an even earlier start, found the right tributary and were over the almost level three miles to the glacier before the sun reached us.

Once on the glacier we found that the snow never really softened. It was tiresome winding about on the broken lower reaches of the glacier, but for once the excess of snow was no hindrance, for it enabled us to traverse slopes and cross glacial streams, which otherwise would have been impassable. About 2 o'clock we saw a cairn on a shoulder to our right, and to our surprise found sufficient bare earth there for the whole camp, at a height of over 15,000 feet, when the previous evening we had had to camp on snow at 12,700 feet. The cairn we had seen was that built by the Italian expedition of 1914, while a few yards away was the one made by the Workmans in 1906. We did not trouble to build one. It is easy to be wise after the event, but it was undoubtedly a pity that we did not push on up the Shafat valley with the whole party and establish base camp on this eminently suitable site with its south aspect, convenient water supply, good drainage, and magnificent view. Below us the Shafat glacier came sweeping round the shoulder, a great river of smooth, glistening, white ice. Opposite rose the mountain Z 1, its twin snow domes rendered inaccessible by tremendous avalanche-swept precipices. Flung out eastwards from Z 1 and forming the southern wall of the very broken ' Ice-fall Glacier' was the finest ice ridge I have ever seen, 6,000 feet from the glacier to its crest; with fluted ice ribs and hanging glaciers, and never a rock to mar its purity, it presented a picture of unconquerable beauty.

Next morning, the 7th, with Kazim Khan and Ghulam Mehdi, the porter who had been with the Workmans, we made good progress until we stopped for food at 16,500 feet. The slopes then steepened and progress was slower. About midday we reached the site of the Workmans' Nieve Penitente camp (17,600 feet) at the end of a short rocky rib of the main massif, where the men wanted to camp. We urged them on another 400 feet, and levelling a little platform pitched our tents (Camp 2) about 70 yards from the foot of the ridge; the coolies pitched theirs on a small patch of rock detritus right under the ridge. The weather when we left Camp i had been glorious, but by midday clouds rolled up from the west, and before we camped had formed a thick roof above us, and snow fell. This camp was the first at which had not been able to procure water in its liquid state and from now on we had to melt snow over the primus, a tedious business which we soon came to hate. Our dinner consisted of porridge, then sausages, potatoes, eggs, and bacon all fried up together and followed by hot cocoa. It was our normal meal on the mountain and took a long time to prepare on one primus and a small meta stove.

Lying in the darkness listening to the wind driving the snow against the straining canvas, the storm sounded much worse than it really was, so we decided not to move camp next day in spite of the fact that we had already been away from the base camp for three days and the coolies only had food for five. An important factor in this decision was that just above the camp was a very steep snow slope which we did not want to tackle with a lot of new snow on it. This slope led to the rib which connected Nun Kun with Z I and divided the Shafat from the Fariabad glacier. This premature decision was a mistake, for the morning of the 8th dawned fine and the two of us climbed the slope, which involved some labour but presented no difficulty. We spent some time on the slopes getting to about 19,300 feet and examining Nun and 'White Needle', of both of which we had a good view for the first time. On our way up we had aimed too high and encountered some unpleasant, loose, snow-covered rock which necessitated the use of the rope; we returned to camp by stamping a zigzag track down the steep slope, which must have been at an angle of over 50°, from a huge rock which projected into the air on the very crest of the ridge.

It snowed again during the afternoon, but not enough to obliterate entirely the track we had made. The next morning the coolies went steadily up the steep slope, and as soon as they topped the ridge and came in full view of Nun they gathered in a circle and, led by Kazim Khan, chanted a prayer. From here on there was a depth of about 6 inches of fresh snow on a breakable crust, which was very tiring. By midday we had reached the site of the Workmans' White Needle camp, 19,900 feet, by which time a peculiarly opaque mist had settled and limited visibility to about 30 yards, though the sun shone through it with a glare very trying to the eyes. We had hoped to get considerably higher with the coolies, but we were among large crevasses, the men were tiring, and it was essential to give them time to get back to Camp 2. As soon, therefore, as they had levelled a space sufficient for our tents, they gathered again in a group, and chanted another prayer-this time obviously committing us to the protection of Allah. We stood silent and strangely moved during this simple little ceremony. When it was ended, Abdulla went round and solemnly shook hands with each coolie. With orders to return after seven days, they salaamed deeply, turned, and disappeared silently into the mist.

After we had had some food the mist lifted and we were able to look about us. The situation was not very encouraging. Our impression had been that if we could get a camp to about 20,000 feet we would be on the edge of the high plateau, a more or less flat plain dipping down steeply at its south-eastern extremity direct to the Fariabad glacier. Now we were here it was obvious that the plateau was really a basin, the lip of which, the eastern ridge of 'White Needle', was still a thousand feet above our camp with an approach by a steep snow-covered ice slope. There was a bergschrund backed by an ice-wall right along the foot of the slope, which looked as if it could be surmounted without much difficulty. We went off at once to reconnoitre, but the distance was deceptive, soft snow delayed us, and we had to turn back before reaching the wall. Arrived in camp we found Abdulla complaining of a severe headache; we gave him some aspirin and sent him to bed, and throughout the cold gusty night he groaned and moaned as though he was about to die.

We did not stir till the sun struck our tent, when one of us got up and prepared breakfast. Owing to Abdulla's indisposition nothing had been cleaned, so we had tea-leaves in our porridge and porridge in our tea! The two of us started off on ski about 8.30 and followed our previous tracks towards the wall. As we approached it the slope steepened and we had to discard our ski. The bergschrund was so well blocked with snow that we were able to reach the wall and cut steps up it. The ice-slopes above, however, were covered with a nasty thin layer of snow and were so steep that we did not feel competent to tackle them and returned to camp. In the afternoon I carried out a short reconnaissance up the slopes to the west of the camp to the crest of the little ridge forming the west boundary of the Fariabad glacier, and it looked as if we might find a practicable route through the crevasses to the final slopes of 'White Needle'. What we really wanted now was to find a route by which the three of us could carry a small bivouac for two. Abdulla, however, still complained of pains and sickness, and there was nothing left but to send him down next morning with orders to bring up the coolies at once. We calculated that they should reach us on the morning of the 12 th and they were to bring four days' food with them. Meanwhile we would try to find a route and, if successful, intended to put a higher camp with the help of the coolies. Abdulla's sickness had upset our plans, because the two of us did not feel capable of carrying a camp by ourselves through the soft snow, in addition to cooking and doing all the camp work.

Having sent off Abdulla, we two started off on ski. All went well till at about 20,600 feet we found our way blocked by an enormous crevasse across which was a rather flimsy snow bridge. We put off our ski, roped, and crossed safely. Once across, the slopes became very tiresome, steep and covered with powder snow which would not bind and into which we sank thigh deep at every step. By now it was tacitly admitted that we could not get our inadequately equipped coolies up by this route and we merely pushed on desperately in an attempt to achieve something before we left Nun Kun. Before midday the usual afternoon clouds rolled over us and it became cold and started to snow. However, we plodded slowly on and eventually reached the crest ridge of 'White Needle' just in time to catch a glimpse of the whole basin and its encircling peaks before the clouds closed down and blotted out everything. We turned lefthanded and struggled up to the summit of the 'Needle', 22,000 feet, where we smoked a cigarette and ate sugar lumps soaked in rum. We sat here for about fifteen minutes in the hope that the clouds would lift, but they only thickened and we had to start down. This was the unkindest cut of all, for a half-hour's fine weather now would have confirmed our opinion that the route to the summit of Nun lay, not up from the basin, but along a traverse at about 21,500 feet across the south slope of 'White Needle' to a camp on the col between the two peaks, and thence by the east ridge.

We arrived back in camp feeling rather tired and depressed. The next morning was fine and I suppose that if we had been real heroes we would have gone again to the top of 'White Needle' just to have a look round. But one's outlook at 20,000 feet is different from what it is at sea-level. The idea never entered my head and, if it entered Waller's, he never mentioned it. After a leisurely breakfast, we started up to recover our ski which had been left at the snow bridge the previous day. Having put them on we decided to get on to the west ridge of the Fariabad glacier in the hope of getting a close view of Nun. I started first, leaving Waller adjusting his bindings. There was snow right to the top of the ridge, but just below the crest was a bergschrund, bridged in many places by snow. Having selected a solid-looking bridge I tested it and started across, but without warning it broke under me and down I went. I know I ought to have waited for Waller and roped before crossing. Before the scorn of more experienced mountaineers withers me, I confess my sin. Fortunately for me there was a lot of new snow about 12 feet down and I landed upright on my skis and stuck there. I climbed out carefully and stuck my head over the edge in time to see Waller come pounding down the slope wearing a most anxious expression.

We now chose another bridge and exercising extreme caution crossed safely and gained the ridge. From here we had a clear view of Nun. Words would fail me if I tried to describe this tremendous south-east flank which dropped from the summit in one ice-armoured sweep nearly 11,000 feet. We could see the crest ridge from the col to the summit, and from our position, 1,000 feet below the col, it looked quite practicable except possibly where, a short distance from the col, an outcrop of rock would prove a formidable obstacle. A closer reconnaissance is necessary to decide the question, but there is no doubt that this east ridge route offers the best line of approach to the summit.

This day proved to be the first completely fine one we had while on the mountain. Strangely enough we found that the warmest part of the day was about 9 o'clock in the morning, and we actually sat sun-bathing after breakfast in perfect comfort with nothing on above the waist except goggles. That evening, having cleared up after supper, I stood for a few minutes looking out over the Zaskar mountains. What a magnificent vista it is! In the centre, dominating the scene, was Z 1, and on either side of it a frozen sea of snow and ice and rocky peaks stretching away as far as the eye could reach. It was a still evening and the sun had disappeared behind Nun, leaving the camp in shadow and freezing cold, but the warm evening light still flooded the Zaskar peaks, throwing black rock into sharp relief against rosy snow and here and there gleaming on a stretch of naked ice. It is moments like these which bind the spell of the high places closer around those who have once surrendered to them.

Next day we expected the coolies to reach us, and we wasted the whole day waiting for them. We could not go out lest they should arrive. We did not worry much about their non-arrival because we knew that a hundred and one trivial things might have delayed them. But the next morning, when they failed to put in an appearance by 10.30, our consciences began to prick us for sending off Abdulla alone, though if he had fallen into a crevasse, suicide could have been the only possible verdict. However, it seemed pointless to remain, and, lacing up the tents, and each making a pack of a sleep- ing-bag, some spare clothes, and a few stores, we started down. It was with great reluctance that we left our ski behind, because we had been looking forward to the run down the glacier. We made good time down hill, and having done sitting glissades down the steep slope, we arrived at Camp 2 site about midday, where we found to our surprise all the coolies settled down comfortably for the day. It was the only occasion we were rude to them.

However, we were happy to find that everything was all right, and happier still when we were handed our mail, brought from Kargil by a special coolie engaged for the purpose. We shoved the coolies off to the high camp and settled down to a lazy afternoon with letters and papers and a freshly baked cake, sent up by Nur Mahomed. About 4 o'clock tiny figures appeared on the skyline by the great rock, and there floated down to us their farewell chant.

The next morning we were away early. As we came off the glacier we found ourselves among scrub willow, with soft dry grass underfoot. Winding among the willows was a stream of crystal clear water, flowing between banks of vivid green moss and over a bed of stones, coloured like autumn leaves. It was the first colour we had seen for ten days and until we met it we never realized what we had been missing. I shall always remember that little stream with affection. We looked at it, we drank of it, we washed in it, and we even took photos of it. In the ten days we had spent on the mountain several feet of snow must have melted, for the lower Shafat and the Ringdom valleys were practically clear. As a result the river had swollen considerably and we had great difficulty in fording it. When the Workmans tried in July 1906 they were unable to cross the river opposite the Shafat tributary and had to march twenty miles upstream before they could cross.

We arrived back in Suru on Saturday the 16th June and celebrated our arrival by having hot baths, the first for several weeks. Our achievements had fallen far short of our original aims, and we had had no real climbing, but we had reached 22,000 feet, and above all we had gained experience which would be of use in future years. On the Sunday I climbed the ridge behind our camp and in the light of what we had learned studied Nun through the telescope from the north-west. More than ever was I convinced that the route to the summit lies by the east ridge. Apart from the rocky gendarme I could see no real technical difficulty on this route.

On the 18th we started back for Srinagar up the Ghilung valley. We camped that night at Donore, a place with nothing but a name. We passed under the towering precipices of Snowy Peak No. 10, registering a vow to climb it one day, crossed the Lonvilad pass, and skied down to the Bat Kol glacier, where we spent the next night a couple of miles from the snout. On the 20th we camped about six miles north of Sokhniz, just under the Gulol Gali, after a lovely march winding steeply down the hill-side through a forest of silver birch and over ground carpeted with primulas, wallflowers, anemones, strawberries, violets, and forget-me-nots. At Sokhniz we changed to pony transport and completed the sixty odd miles down the beautiful green Warwan valley and over the Margan pass to Achhibal in three marches. From here we travelled by lorry and were back in Srinagar by 9 o'clock on the 24th June, having covered nearly 600 miles, mostly on foot, since our departure just six weeks before.

Before closing I would like to say a word about Suru as a climbing centre. In my opinion it would serve excellently. It is not difficult of access, and a party based on Suru would have within reach, in addition to Nun Kun, which alone can provide enough climbing to last for months, such attractive peaks as Z 1, D41, D 42, Snowy Peak No. 10, all 20,000 feet or more, and a host of others only slightly lower, while in Zaskar there must be hundreds of unclimbed summits. A very real advantage is that the Suru men appear to be excellent material for porters, hardy, used to discomfort, unafraid of anything from high snow to swollen rivers, and not expensive. Waller and I both felt that with good treatment it would be possible to build up among them a live mountaineering tradition.

A last word about our costs may be of interest. From start to finish, including windproof (aerowing) suits, boots (but not tents or ropes), stores, transport, and wages, the trip cost us about Rs. 1,300, say £50 each-not a great deal for a delightful six weeks' holiday.

Note by the Editor

I have recently received some interesting details concerning Mr. H. Sillem's climbs in Kashmir in 1903, from his nephew, Mr. J. A. Sillem, of Het Heideveld, Bussum.

Mr. H. Sillem and his wife took the route by Islamabad, Shangas, the Naubug valley, the Margan pass (12,110 feet, which was crossed on the 5th June), Inshan, Sokhniz, the Bat Kol pass (14,370 feet, crossed 10th June), Suru (nth June), Gulmatungo, and camped in the Shafat Chu valley on the 20th June.[2] Leaving his wife in this camp, Mr. Sillem spent three weeks in the region of the Nun Kun 'plateau', or 'basin', the upper ice-field of the Ganri glacier, which he discovered. It is uncertain now which of the several summits were climbed, but, through the courtesy of Mrs. Sillem (now Mrs. Sickinghe) I have been privileged to examine her late husband's albums of photographs, and there seems to be little doubt that he reached the 'plateau' by the slopes of what Mr. Harrison calls the 'White Needle Peak'. It is probable that on the 9th July he climbed to a height of 21,000 feet on the 'Knob Peak' from the 'Knob Peak Saddle', and by the northwest shoulder, which appear in Mr. Harrison's photograph of the 'Southern Lip of the Basin'. The Kashmiri shikaris could not go farther. Among Mr. Sillem's photographs is one taken from the 'White Needle' slopes. From another photograph I seem to recognize one of the shikaris as Abdulla Bat who was climbing for many years with the Neves, and who was with me generally from 1910 to 1913. It is possible that he could supply further details of the climbs, though it is now thirty years ago. Dr. Neve's Tourist Guide to Kashmir, Ladakh, Skardu, &c.} 15th ed., 1933, p. 148, states that the 'Dome Peak', or Nun, has not been attempted. It would appear that this is correct.

The two then went by Kangi, Lamayuru, the Indus valley, over the Chor- bat La to the Shyok river which was crossed by skin raft near Surmo on the 31st.[3] During August they explored the Hushe valley with the object of finding a pass at its head in the neighbourhood of Masherbrum, leading over to the Baltoro glacier. Although Mr. Sillem made several excursions from his highest camp in the Hushe valley, he had to abandon his efforts to find the pass owing to bad weather, though he was convinced that such a pass could be made by competent mountaineers in fine weather. As far as I am aware no attempt by competent modern mountaineers has been made.

After completing their explorations in the Hushe valley, Mr. and Mrs. Sillem went by the Thalle La to Shigar and Skardu, and returned by Tolti and the Sind valley to Srinagar in September.[4] The Kashmir trip was part of a world tour. Later the Sillems went to New Zealand, where Mount Cook, Mount Kinsey, and Elie de Beaumont were climbed,[5] to South America and the Andes, and finally to Mexico. On the 13th July 1907 Mr. Sillem lost his life by accident on the Col du Geant (Mont Blanc).[6] As far as I am aware no account of his climbs has been published.


[1] This approach to Suru is shown on the Survey of India map 43N (scale 1 inch = 4 miles), and in greater detail, as far as the Gulol Gali, on the one-inch inaps43N/ 8 and 43N/ 12. The Nun Kun massif lies inconveniently at the junction of maps 43N, 43O, 52B, and 52C.-Ed.

[2] Routes in the Western Himalaya, Kashmir, &c., vol. i, 2nd ed. Routes 35 B and 51.

[3] Ibid. Part of Routes, 51 and 72.

[4] Ibid. Part of Routes 72 A, 49 A, and 50.

[5] The information regarding the climbs in New Zealand is supplied by Mr. H. E. L. Porter. Mt. Kinsey and Elie de Beaumont were 'first ascents', on 11 Feb. and 15 Feb. 1906 respectively.

[6] Alpine Journal, vol. xxiii, pp. 641-2.

The Nun Kun Massif from the Parkutse La

The Nun Kun Massif from the Parkutse La



Sketch Map of Nun Kun Massif

Sketch Map of Nun Kun Massif



Southern Lip of Basin from Slopes of White Needle Peak

Southern Lip of Basin from Slopes of White Needle Peak



Zaskar Peak Z1 from Camp 2

Zaskar Peak Z1 from Camp 2