Himalayan Journal vol.09
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.09

Publication year:
1937

Editor:
Kenneth Mason
Index
  1. THE MOUNT EVEREST EXPEDITION, 1936
    (HUGH RUTTLEDGE)
  2. SURVEY ON THE MOUNT EVEREST RECONNAISSANCE, 1935
    (MICHAEL SPENDER)
  3. THE ASCENT OF NANDA DEVI
    (H. W. TILMAN)
  4. STRUCTURAL STUDIES IN THE CENTRAL HIMALAYA, 1936
    (ARNOLD HEIM)
  5. THE MOUNTAINS SOUTH OF DRAS
    (MAJOR E. A. L. GUETERBOGK)
  6. The Ascent of Siniolchu and Simvu North Peak
    (Dr. Karl Wien)
  7. SURVEY WORK IN THE NANDA DEVI REGION
    (ERIC SHIPTON)
  8. CLIMBING IN LHONAK, 1936
    (LIEUT. J. B. HARRISON)
  9. THE ZEMU GAP
    (H. W. TILMAN)
  10. THE FRENCH KARAKORAM EXPEDITION, 1936
    (CAPTAIN N. R. STREATFIELD)
  11. QUETTA ROCK CLIMBING
    (LIEUT. J. R. G. FINCH)
  12. THE PROBLEM OF MOUNT EVEREST
  13. PEAK 36, SALTORO KARAKORAM A MOUNTAINEERING ANALYSIS
    (JOHN HUNT AND JAMES WALLER)
  14. EXPEDITIONS
  15. IN MEMORIAM
  16. NOTES
  17. REVIEWS
  18. CORRESPONDENCE
  19. CLUB PROCEEDINGS
  20. CLUB NOTICES

THE ASCENT OF NANDA DEVI

H. W. TILMAN

Plans for an attempt on some major peak in the Himalaya in 1936 originated in the U.S.A. and, when four English climbers were co-opted last winter, the objective, Kangchenjunga, was already chosen. Since, however, it was possible that permission to go there might be refused, it was agreed to adopt Nanda Devi as an alternative.

This mountain (25,645 feet) is the highest in Garhwal, or indeed in British territory,1 and its unique position is too well known to readers of the Journal to need describing. No previous attempt on it had been made, and up to 1934 no one had even set foot on it, but in that year Eric Shipton and the writer penetrated into and explored the surrounding basin and reconnoitred up its south ridge to a height of 20,000 feet. As a result, we thought that this ridge might 'go5 and were certain that no other would, so in 1936 the party could set out untroubled by any doubts or hesitations about the best route.

When I left for India in April to arrange for transport to Kangchenjunga, the Government of India, which decides these matters of high policy, had not yet pronounced its ukase about that mountain, and I first heard of our disappointment on landing at Calcutta. There was thus some time to put in before the rest of the party would arrive in June, so I took four Sherpas into Sikkim in order to try them out. Owing to the Everest expedition, a French expedition, and a small English party in Sikkim, who took respectively 165, 30, and 20 Sherpas, I expected some difficulty in recruiting our comparatively modest quota of six. This expectation was correct, and to get even this number any picking and choosing had to be forgone. Of the four tried only one, Pasang Kikule, who was quite outstanding, proved worth a place on a serious show, but in the end, owing to lack of choice, I was obliged to take three out of the four, and to make up the total with three Everest veterans who were past their best. The six were Pasang Kikuli, Pasang Phuta, Nima Tsering, Da Namgyal, Kitar, and Nuri. The last had been nowhere prior to accompanying me in Sikkim and was a complete novice, but his inexperience was made up for by Kitar, who had been three times to Everest, three times to Kangchenjunga, once to Kamet and Nanga Parbat, and with two smaller parties in Garhwal.[1]
1 It is not, as is sometimes stated, the highest mountain in the British Empire. Even if there is a slight doubt whether K2 lies wholly within the British Empire, owing to the fact that the boundary here has not been delimited, Nanga Parbat is most certainly wholly within it, as are other mountains in the Gil git Agency and Kashmir.-Ed.

Back in Darjeeling from this trial trip I heard that Loomis, one of the Americans, was arriving in Bombay on the 21st May, and I decided to make a quick dash into the Nanda Devi basin to dump some food there before the monsoon started or the others arrived. It had to be done quickly or not at all, because we had to be back in time to organize the main party. Before Loomis's unexpected arrival I had not intended dumping anything there in advance, having in mind the possibility that monsoon conditions might make the gorge impassable and the dump useless; but, since there were now two of us in India kicking our heels together, I decided to risk it. If successful it would mean that the main body would be less unwieldy, and we should also satisfy ourselves that the route of 1934 was still practicable.

We met at Ranikhet on the 27th May and left on the 29th, accompanied by two Sherpas (Pasang Kikuli and Pasang Phuta), 10 lb. of cheese, and a tarpaulin. The meagreness of our baggage was partly by design and partly by accident, for none of the expedition food or equipment had yet arrived. Before leaving I sent a wire to the sarkari bania in Joshimath, our jumping-off place, to collect fifteen loads of atta, rice, and satu, and another to His Holiness the Rawal of the Badrinath temple, Pandit Basudeva Nambadrdi, who knew me, to send fifteen Mana men to Joshimath. Mana is a little village of Bhotias, three miles from Badrinath, and the last village this side of the Tibet border. Thanks to these wires there was a delay of only one day when we arrived in Joshimath on the 5th June, before we started for the Rishi gorge carrying fifteen loads of coolie food. The monsoon had now broken, but the weather was kind to us, and the food, packed in canvas bags, kept dry.

All went well until the last march but one, half-way through the gorge, which involved the passage of what we called 'The Slabs', a place where the loads have to be hauled up a rock face.[2] The slabs themselves form the smooth floor of a gully, sloping at about 30 degrees, where a fixed rope is a great comfort to the climber with a heavy load. While supervising the slow process of load-hauling I was knocked off a ledge by a falling stone, and, after dropping head downwards on to the slabs 20 feet below, was lucky to stop rolling before completing the remaining 1,400-odd feet into the Rishi below. I was a bit battered and cracked a rib, and lay up in camp next day while Loomis went on with the men and dumped the last of our loads in a cave at Tisgah' buttress, beyond the difficulties of the gorge.

View up the Rishi Ganga gorge near Pisgah. (Lioyd)

View up the Rishi Ganga gorge near Pisgah. (Lioyd)



View down the Rishi Ganga gorge from below Pisgah. Route on left (south) side. (Lioyd)

View down the Rishi Ganga gorge from below Pisgah. Route on left (south) side. (Lioyd)



This was on the 16th June, and on the morrow we started double- marching back to Joshimath. For the first day or two I required some assistance but soon recovered the use of my arms, and from Joshimath, where we paid off the men, we continued to march double stages. On the last day we did three stages and were back in Ranikhet in five days on the 25th June.

Thanks to the kindness of Messrs. Shebbeare and Champion of the Forest Service we were allowed to use the forest bungalow, a delightfully situated house and one in which there was room to cope with the flood of food and equipment that was now arriving. The food was in sufficient quantity for a prolonged siege of Kangchen- junga, and the jettisoning of much of it was a heart-breaking but necessary task-a task that it was advisable to finish before any more of the party arrived to darken counsel by pleading their individual likes and dislikes.

By the 8th July all had arrived but Adams Garter, one of the Americans, who was reported to be in Shanghai. Since my first association with Loomis I had seen something of American hustle, but it seemed doubtful whether even that would avail in this case. We cabled advising him not to come at all unless he could reach Ranikhet by the 20th July, and made arrangements, both here and at Joshimath, for him to be forwarded expeditiously if the impossible should happen.

The party now consisted of Professor Graham Brown, N. E. Odell, Peter Lloyd, W. F. Loomis, Gharles Houston, Arthur Emmons, and the writer-four Americans and four British. Emmons did not intend going very high, because both his feet had been severely frostbitten on Minya Gonkar (24,900 feet) in 1932.1 He proposed looking after the Base Camp and making a more detailed plane-table survey of the South-East Glacier, so the climbing party actually numbered seven. We had no official leader, and, merely through the accident of knowing the ground and the porters, the arrangement of the bandobast fell upon the writer.

The scientific part of the programme did not stop at surveying, and I learnt with dismay that Odell was bent upon much geological and glaciological work. Until he arrived, which was not until the 8th July, it was impossible to know how many coolies would be needed, because it was credibly reported that he was accompanied by, or was expecting, a great number of scientific instruments whose name I do not know and whose purpose I could not guess. However, we were in a hurry to be off, so, mentally reserving two of them for the service of science, I sent off thirty-seven Dotials to meet us at Garul, fifty miles away, in three days' time. These Dotials come from Doti in Nepal, bordering on the Almora district, and they had done so well in 1934 that I believed they would carry for us right through the gorge and into the Basin. But by way of leavening the lump I arranged for ten Mana men to accompany us from Joshimath.

1 Himalayan Journal, vol. viii, 1936, p. 163.

On the 10th July we piled ourselves, six Sherpas, and 2,500 lb. of kit into two lorries, and arrived at Garul at midday, where we met the Dotials. We marched that afternoon to Gwaldam. Monsoon conditions were established in Garhwal at the beginning of June this year; during our stay in Ranikhet it had rained steadily, and none of the party, except Loomis and myself, had caught even a fleeting glimpse of the snows. The rain continued during the ten-day march to Joshimath, and on one occasion it fell so heavily that it compelled us to remain in camp for the day.



We picked up the Mana men at Joshimath and on the 21st July started for the Rishi-7 sahibs, 6 Sherpas, 10 Mana men, and 37 Dotials. The first day was signalized by a first-class row between the Mana men and the Dotials over a load, and, pour encourager les autres, I sacked the most aggressive of the Dotials on the spot; and so upset was I by this untoward beginning, that I paid him five rupees too much. An armistice was then arranged, and we had no troubles of any sort until the march which should have taken us to the camp below the difficult part of the upper gorge.

The Rhamani, a glacier-fed torrent coming in from the north, had to be crossed, and though on five previous occasions I had not met with any serious difficulties there, this time it made up for any omissions of the past. When we reached it at midday it was in flood, and after Loomis and I had waded out a short way we soon realized there was no crossing it that day. It was raining briskly as we pitched our tents by the river, and continued doing so all the afternoon and most of the night. The miserable conditions, the fury of the river, and the savage aspect of the gorge quite unmanned the Dotials-it might be said, as on a more famous occasion:

... at first sight the crew were not pleased with the view, Which consisted of chasms and crags-

so much so that as I was going to sleep that night a delegate from the Dotials put his head into my tent and poured out a torrent of words, the gist of which was understood to be that they had had enough and were now going home.

Early next morning the water was down a bit, and Loomis played me1 across at the end of a rope which was then made taut across the river. We hoped that the sight of it would hearten the Dotials, and after breakfast a few of the Mana men crossed to receive the loads. Two lines were rigged high above the water and we began slinging the loads across. When everything and everybody were safely over, the Dotials merely reaffirmed their intention of having nothing more to do with the river and asked to be paid off. I now played our last card-a winning one, I thought-and pointed out, sympathetically but hopefully, that all the money was now on the far side of the river. To this they replied by suggesting that I should go and fetch it back. However, two of them were at length persuaded to cross, and we handed over the money due to all, crouching under a canopy of umbrellas.

Certainly it was a comfort to be rid of the faint-hearted and to know that the remaining men would stand by us; and comfort of some sort was badly needed, for the immediate outlook was gloomy indeed. There were now twenty-three of us to carry fifty-six loads; half a mile of desperately steep ground to the Rishi had yet to be covered; this river had to be crossed by a natural bridge of rock, where the loads had to be slung down, before a camping-place was reached; and it was still raining steadily.

By carrying gigantic loads we got everything down to the river in two shifts, and by one o'clock were ready to start the slow process of lowering the loads down to the bridge. Operations began in ominous fashion with a load whizzing over our heads into the river. One of the Sherpas had slipped and parted company with his load, an oxygen apparatus (for medicinal use) and 2 gallons of kerosene. He himself was badly shaken and took no further interest in the proceedings, but the loss of the oil was the most serious part of the mishap. Meantime the rain continued relentlessly and every one got colder and colder, so that before half the loads had been carried across the slabby boulders which formed the bridge the Mana men quietly withdrew to the shelter of a near-by cave. The Sherpas and ourselves carried what was wanted to the overhang, a couple of hundred yards up stream, where we camped in wet tents and wet sleeping-bags.

In the morning some reorganization was required to meet our reduced carrying-power. It was decided to carry forward only forty of the sixty days' food we still had with us, and much that was previously and mistakenly regarded as necessary was also scrapped; so that finally we were able to carry everything with only one relay and no one had to carry more than 60 lb.

Later on the Mana men came up from their cave with the loads left at the bridge, and, although they talked of an off-day, were persuaded to make a trip up to 'The Slabs', 1,500 feet above us. The way lies straight up the side of the gorge above the camp, and for the first 500 feet one climbs through a sort of vertical rock garden where trees and wisps of grass make the climbing easy but unsafe-a brutally sudden introduction for the new-comers to the hazards of the gorge. 'The Slabs' were reached in three hours, the loads dumped, and, having put a fixed rope on them to facilitate matters next day, we returned to camp. In the morning we moved over a mile beyond 'The Slabs' to 'Half-way Camp', and the same afternoon returned and brought forward the loads dumped the previous day. The second half of the gorge is perhaps more difficult and exposed than the first, but on the 2nd August, four days later, we camped in the Sanctuary, the inner basin of Nanda Devi, a mile below the snout of the South Glacier.

This glacier consists of two main branches, the one with which we are concerned coming in from the south-east. The true left bank (the side away from the mountain) of this glacier was known to me because in 1934 we went up it and found easy going and a delightful camp site, with grass and a spring, at about 16,000 feet. This year, however, we decided to hug the mountain and go up the unknown right bank, because it would be shorter, and time was of more importance than eligible camp sites. Grossing the river below the glacier by an avalanche cone we followed a moraine trough between the lower cliffs of Nanda Devi and the glacier, and one mile above the snout we camped on a convenient mud flat watered by a stream. The height was about 15,500 feet.

To celebrate our arrival here, and perhaps with more prescience than we gave him credit for, Loomis surprised us by producing a bottle of apricot brandy, hitherto secreted in his load. The bottle was small and did not go far amongst seven, but, when Garter arrived next day, we felt that Loomis's instinct had been uncanny but admirable. In Joshimath we had received a wire from Garter at Ranihket on the 20th July, and we had calculated that he could not arrive for another two days. From Shanghai he flew most of the way, but he did, thank heaven, stop at Delhi and refrain from desecrating the Sanctuary by landing there.

We had to conserve our small stock of kerosene for use on the mountain; juniper wood had therefore to be brought up here and carried forward to the future Base Camp. While the Mana men did this the Sherpas and ourselves reconnoitred and carried loads to the Base Camp, and, on the 7th August, this was stocked with three weeks' fuel and food and occupied. On the same day the Mana men were paid off and went down, and we parted, at any rate on our side, with esteem and affection. To them we owed a lot.

The sahibs had now been carrying between 50 lb. and 60 lb. loads for twelve days on end and were to carry lighter loads for many more. It is not the sort of training for high climbing that the pandits advise, but few, if any of us, were harmed by it. To have left the carrying to the sixteen Sherpas and Mana men would have delayed our arrival at the base, and we had insufficient food to permit delay.

This camp was reached by following the moraine trough for another mile and then climbing a scree slope to a point 1,000 feet above the glacier and 500 feet below the top of the 'Coxcomb Ridge'. This is a saw-tooth ridge of crumbling yellow rock which is a sort of splayed-out toe of the foot of the south ridge; its direction is almost east, and it divides the head of the South-East Glacier from its middle section like a cape dividing a sea. We had hoped to put the Base Camp on top of the ridge at about 18,000 feet, but lack of water prevented this.

The day after arriving we made a trip with loads to look for a site for Camp 1. Ship ton and I had been this way in 1934 so that no reconnaissance was needed. Grossing the ridge we traversed along the north-east or mountain side of it, and then up the steeper rock and snow at the foot of the south ridge. We reached a height of 19,200 feet, measured by a clinometer observation to the top of'Long- staff's Col' on the eastern rim, and had difficulty in making platforms for the tents. Having prepared three of these we dumped the loads and returned in a snow-storm to the base.

Followed a delay of two days, the first a holiday and the second a day of imprisonment in our tents by a severe blizzard. The third morning the blizzard was wild and stormy and the snow deep, but, annoyed by the loss of two days, we loaded up and occupied Camp i. On the 12 th Odell and I reconnoitred up the ridge while the others brought more loads up and prepared a tent site for the Sherpas who came up that evening.

For 700 feet the ridge is loose and unstable and the crest of it too narrow and broken to follow. A way had to be picked gingerly amongst the broken debris on the north-east flank of it--debris that was ready to slide down at the slightest touch of foot or axe. At about 20,000 feet we roped up-we were roped from here to the top-and the route lay now on snow or on rock lightly covered with snow. The climbing was interesting and in places difficult, for we traversed on the steep north-east side of the ridge, since cornices denied to us the use of the crest, and the Rishi or western side was precipitous. A place for Camp 2 was at last found on a small ledge crowning a projecting rock buttress lightly covered with snow, the climbing of which gave us some anxious moments. The ledge was 20 feet long by 6 feet wide and was named, appropriately enough, the Gite. The height was about 20,400 feet; on one side there was a sheer rock wall, on the other a steep fall to the glacier below.

Life at Camp 1, which some of us endured for a week, was rendered cheerless for a number of reasons. Snow fell daily, movement between tents was difficult owing to the lie of the ground, the effect of altitude was most noticeable, the Sherpas began to fail rapidly, and we suffered a grievous loss in the shape of all our tea (but for an ounce) which had to serve for the rest of the trip. The tin fell down the khud to the glacier below and defied the efforts of two search- parties to find it. None of the so-called 'food-drinks' made up for its loss, and the Americans (traditionally hostile to tea) and the British alike felt we had received a severe set-back. Not that we imagined our efficiency so hopelessly impaired as when, during the passage of the gorge, it was feared that all our salt was lost, and one of the party seriously suggested that with the salt had gone any hope we yet had of success.

The Sherpas succumbed to altitude surprisingly early. Da Nam- gyal had already been sent back with the Mana men on account of a frightful cough. His substitute, a local man who had been high on Trisul with Oliver, went down after only one day at Camp 1. Pasang Phuta followed him a day later. Kitar and Nuri had been left sick at the base and never went above it; Kitar, I grieve to say, died three weeks later from dysentery. Pasang Kikuli and Nima carried twice to Camp 2, but on stopping there the third time Nima became sick and Pasang snow-blind; and having lain there for seven days they returned to the base. Except for assistance in establishing Camps 1 and 2, the carrying on the mountain was therefore done by the sahibs; and perhaps the absence of the Sherpas was not such a handicap after all, because Pasang Kikuli was the only one who, as a climber, could be trusted, and on many parts of the climb the presence of the others would have been an embarrassment.

Camp 2, ‘The Gite’  (Lioyd)

Camp 2, ‘The Gite’ (Lioyd)



Sundardhunga or maiktoli pass, on southern rim of Nanda Devi ‘Sanctuary’. (Lioyd)

Sundardhunga or maiktoli pass, on southern rim of Nanda Devi ‘Sanctuary’. (Lioyd)



Between Camp 4 and bivouac, about 23,000 feet. (Lioyd)

Between Camp 4 and bivouac, about 23,000 feet. (Lioyd)



Nanda Devi, Camp 3, 21,200 feet. (Lioyd)

Nanda Devi, Camp 3, 21,200 feet. (Lioyd)



Camp 2, or the Gite, as it came to" be known, was occupied on the 14th by Graham Brown and Houston, who on the following day reconnoitred up the ridge for a site for Camp 3. On the same afternoon (15th) Pasang and Nima were left at Camp 2 with a second tent, the plan being that on the next day they would assist Graham Brown and Houston to carry a tent to Camp 3; we assumed that this would have been found on what we called the 'snow saddle', a broad belt of snow lying at a much easier angle than the rest of the mountain. Meantime, we others made a journey daily up to Camp 2 with loads. Some of us made four or five trips, and though the route became familiar it never became dull; the unstable rocks and the fresh falls of snow set a new problem every day.

On the 16th a second pair were to occupy the Gite, room for them having been made by the migration of the first pair to Camp 3, but on the way up we were puzzled to see two tents still standing there and only two climbers visible on the ridge above it. On arrival we found Nima sick and Pasang snow-blind, and a note from the advance party asking us to bring up a tent and bedding to meet them half-way. This was done by Lloyd and Loomis and made a long day for them and Graham Brown and Houston.

On the 18th Odell and I moved up to Camp 3 and Loomis, Lloyd, and Carter occupied Camp 2. For 200 feet above the Gite we climbed on the steep north-east slope of the ridge before taking to the crest where it merged into a narrow snow ridge. The upward angle was 45 degrees and on both sides it fell away steeply, though less so now on the western or Rishi side. Eight hundred feet above the Gite the angle eased off where the ridge broadened out into the 'snow saddle', and here we found Camp 3 established under the shelter of a steep snow bank. The height was 21,200 feet.

The heights of the several camps given here1 are based on the rather inexact results furnished by a hypsometer which we called by a name less scientific but more expressive of our feelings towards it. We had neglected to bring an aneroid and this was, perhaps, wise, because the hypsometer gave our scientists some much-needed mental exertion and the non-scientists a great deal of amusement. For example, going, say, from Camps 2 to 3, our eyes, our legs, our lungs, all told us that we had risen several hundred feet, but the hypsometer thought otherwise and indicated that a slight descent had been made. But our scientists were quite unabashed, for they had been dealing with such small discrepancies all their lives, and they gave us chapter and verse for the reason. I remember that it had something to do with a 'column of cold air5; had it been 'hot air5 it would have sounded more convincing.

1 A survey party which went in after we left, reports that our heights given for Base Camp and Camp 1 are 300 feet too low.

Next morning the party at Camp 2 came up to Camp 3, while Odell and I reconnoitred farther up. For 700 feet the 'snow saddle’ provided easy going on sound snow at a moderate angle before it steepened again to 45 degrees. As we rose the snow covering became thin, slightly protruding outcrops of rotten rock appeared, and we soon discovered that neither the rock nor the snow near it could be trusted. A quarter of a mile to our left was a wide, shallow gully which seemed to offer a safer line on sound snow, and we turned half-left towards it. But after only a short distance in this new direction we got into difficulties on some ice-glazed rocks and only extricated ourselves by a long, unpleasant traverse in the opposite direction. We got back to camp, just before a blizzard started, with some useful negative information but nothing else.

The blizzard blew itself out in the night, and Lloyd and Loomis set out to see if the gully could be reached by a lower route, while the rest of us went down to Camp 2 for loads. The reconnaissance party reported that the gully could be reached by a route that was nearly all on snow, but there was no camp site near nor likely to be for a long way up. We thereupon decided to put a new Camp 4 at the top of the 'snow saddle5 and to press the attack by the gully. That afternoon we saw with apprehension a sun halo and mock suns, seeming to indicate the approach of bad weather, but the following day was fine. Three of us went down to Camp 2 for the remaining loads and four dumped loads and dug out a platform for the new camp, 500 or 600 feet above. The two Sherpas, alone now, were still lying at Camp 2, Pasang being too blind to move, but I promised them that the next day two of us would come down and see them safely over the worst of the route to Camp 1. I was anxious to get them down before we lost touch with them altogether by going higher up the mountain.

We awoke next morning to find a blizzard raging which confined us to our tents for forty-eight hours. It was very cold, the wind at times reached gale force, and outside was a swirling fog of snow. This was the third and longest blizzard we experienced, and like the others it came from the south-east. When we emerged again from our tents on the 24th we all felt the worse for these two days of inactivity and anxiety. Lloyd and I went down to fulfil our delayed promise to the Sherpas, and the rest carried two of the three tents and some stores to Camp 4 at 21,700 feet. The Sherpas, however, had already gone, having evidently tired of waiting, so Lloyd and I were spared a yet further descent. We therefore returned, and the evening saw five of us established with food for nearly a fortnight at Camp 4.

Having the duty of deciding who were to have first crack at the summit, I chose Odell and Houston, who were both going strong. The plan was for the five of us now at Camp 4 (two were still at Camp 3) to carry a bivouac as high as we could next day. The summit party would then have two days in which to make their effort, and on the third day a second pair would take their place whether the first had been successful or not.

Our loads weighed about 15 lb. each and we did not get off until after nine o'clock. Approaching the gully there was a long traverse on rather thin snow which required great care, but once in the gully it was a steady grind up snow at an angle of from 45 to 50 degrees. The snow was fairly good, in some places so hard as to require the axe, but we climbed on two ropes and so were able to change the lead frequently.

Towards three o'clock we began to edge over towards an ill- defined rock ridge on our right where we thought there might be better going and possibly a place for a tent. After our experience of the rocks below the first was rather a wild hope and merely shows the state of mind engendered by six hours' step-kicking. The change was for the worse, and the proposed tent site sloped away as steeply as the rest of the mountain, but above us there was a rock tower on the top of which we hoped for better things. Before tackling the tower, and while Loomis recovered from an attack of cramp, we took a long rest, and marked with satisfaction that we were now level with the top of Trisul, 23,400 feet.

Lloyd led us up the rock tower by a chimney with his load on-an effort that went unrewarded because the top of the tower would not permit four of us to stand there, much less to pitch a tent. The ridge near by seemed equally unaccommodating, but it was now four o'clock, the snow would be in its worst condition after a day of hot sun, and three of us had yet to get down. By common assent, but feeling like deserters, Loomis, Lloyd, and I dumped our loads and left Odell and Houston to their own devices. They had an uncommonly busy evening, having to climb another 150 feet before finding a small sloping niche for the tent, and it was nearly dark before they got settled for the night.

Next day at Camp 4 we were joined by Graham Brown and Carter, and early the following morning, while we were debating whether to go up that day with a second tent and risk not finding a platform for it, in order to save time, we were startled to hear Odell's familiar yodel. It sounded so close that at first I thought they had got the peak and were coming down, but presently it dawned on us that he was sending an S O S. The bivouac was out of sight 1,500 feet above, but Garter went outside and shouted back, and then returned to tell us: 'Charlie is killed'-'Charlie' being Houston.

When we had recovered from the shock, Lloyd and I started up as fast as we could manage, followed later by Graham Brown and Carter. Loomis was having trouble with slightly frost-bitten toes and was unable to come. A climb under more distressing circumstances can scarcely be imagined: trying to hurry and not being able to, wondering what we should find, and, above all, what we were going to do. It was a likely assumption that Odell was also hurt, for they would have been climbing roped, and the idea of getting a helpless man down the mountain would hardly bear consideration.

At two o'clock we came in sight of the bivouac a few yards away. Voices were heard talking quietly, and the next thing was, 'Hullo you blokes, have some tea?' 'Charlie is ill' was the message Odell had tried to send down.

While we drank tea-tea that was almost the last and reeked of pemmican but was none the less blessed-we heard what they had done and discussed the next move. Their first day had been devoted to a reconnaissance. Five hundred feet higher, at 24,000 feet, they found a snow shelf big enough for two tents and obviously the place from which to start for the top. Followed several hundred feet of rock and snow ridge demanding a high standard of climbing but where, happily, the rotten rock had at last yielded to a firm quartzite which was a joy to handle. This ridge ended in a snow dome where it abutted against a wide snow terrace which led by an easy gradient to the foot of the final snow and rock wall only a few hundred feet below the top. From the dome they returned to the bivouac, intending to move it higher next day, but that night Houston was taken violently ill-it is possible that some of the bully beef which they ate was tainted.

To us Houston appeared in no condition to move, but he it was who insisted on going down the same afternoon in order to make room for another, so that no time would be lost in making our bid for the summit. After some demur we all four roped up and started down. Some way below we met Graham Brown and Carter, and leaving Houston with them and Lloyd, Odell and I returned to the bivouac. This was a piece of shocking bad luck for Houston and a very unselfish and determined effort on his part.

On the 28th Odell and I moved the bivouac in two carries to the higher site and on the 29th started for the top, getting away at 6 a.m. Knowing the route, Odell led quickly along the difficult ridge and after two hours we began the long trudge up the snow terrace. The snow at first was of unequal quality but soon became uniformly bad. We sank in over our knees at each step, and in steeper places it was difficult to find any firm footing at all; it was like climbing cotton wool. A hot sun sapped the energy of mind and body, and our desperately slow rate of progress seemed to sound the death-knell of any hopes that we yet had of the summit.

The summit of Nanda Devi, 25,645 feet, 29th August 1936 View towards Nanda Devi East, 24,391 feet. (Odell)

The summit of Nanda Devi, 25,645 feet, 29th August 1936 View towards Nanda Devi East, 24,391 feet. (Odell)



Trisul, 23,360 feet [centre background), from the summit of Nanda Devi 29th August 1936. (Odell)

Trisul, 23,360 feet [centre background), from the summit of Nanda Devi 29th August 1936. (Odell)



Longstaff's Col from high up the south-east glacier. Rock buttress on left of Col is the foot of the south-east ridge of Nanda Devi East.

Longstaff's Col from high up the south-east glacier. Rock buttress on left of Col is the foot of the south-east ridge of Nanda Devi East.



We plodded on perseveringly, resting frequently, and consoling ourselves with the thought that the track we were ploughing might at least assist a second party. Hardly daring to look ahead, and thinking only of the next step, we were therefore surprised to find ourselves approaching the foot of the final wall. The time was one o'clock, and once that was reached we felt that we should take a deal of stopping. The first rope's length up the wall, led by Odell, was decidedly thin, but it was the penultimate difficulty and the summit was only a couple of hundred feet above us.

We entered a short but very steep gully in which the snow was fairly good and emerged from it, after some hard work, on to a snow corridor rising gently towards the summit. I was sitting here taking in the rope while Odell moved up to join me, and had just suggested continuing by the corridor, when there was a sudden hiss, and, before one could move, a mass of snow forty yards long slid off the corridor and down the gully, stripping off the snow in which our tracks were, as it went. The avalanche broke away at its lower end to a depth of a foot all round my axe, which was well driven in and to which I was holding. At its upper end the line of cleavage was three or four feet deep.

The corridor route seemed less inviting now, so we finished the climb by a ridge just above it and reached the top at 3 p.m. The view was disappointing, owing to cloud, but through a gap in the cloud-bank to the north we saw the sun lighting the Tibetan uplands to a warm brown. Compared with the tops of many Himalayan peaks the summit was a vast snow-field, for it was a ridge at least 150 yards long and 20 yards wide. We almost basked in the sun; there was no wind, and the air temperature was 20° F. It was interesting to learn afterwards that on this same day the foothills of Garhwal experienced disastrous floods. Our 'crowded hour of glorious life' passed all too soon, and at 3.45 p.m. we started down, reaching the bivouac two hours later.

Little remains to be told. We spent the following day at Camp 4 with the rest of the party, less Graham Brown and Houston, who had gone down. We had food enough for a second pair to try the peak, but both Loomis and Garter were worried by slightly frozen feet, so that there was not the carrying power available to establish the bivouac again, even had there been any one to accompany Lloyd, as there was not.

When we started down on the 31st the mountain was in a vengeful mood. A strong and bitter wind blew, the snow was hard and dangerous, and it cost us much time and hard work to cut steps down the arete to Camp 2. We were all rather tired and made an inordinate number of slips, all fortunately checked in their early stages; eyewitnesses of our progress that morning might have been excused for wondering whether we had been on snow before.

We returned to the base twenty-one days after leaving it, and the pleasure of our return was only dimmed by the death of Kitar. We buried him there, and the Sherpas fenced the grave with stones and Lloyd tried his hand, not unsuccessfully, at a lapidary inscription. We heard with interest of Emmons's doings: how he had almost finished his plane-table survey of the South-East Glacier and its two branches (he stayed behind a day to complete it), and how, accompanied by one inexperienced coolie, he had made a valiant attempt on 'Longstaff's Col' on the eastern rim of the Basin, and got within 500 feet of the top.

Six Lata men had come up with Da Namgyal to help us out as arranged, but an unexpected, and even more welcome, arrival was a Mana man bearing a load of apples, vegetables, and potatoes, from the Rawal of Badrinath-a really kind and thoughtful action which went straight to our hearts. After a day's rest the party, which had assembled but two short months ago, dispersed, some to go down the glacier and some up. But whichever way they went, none were likely to forget the mountain which had called eight men of two nations together and made of them 'a band of brothers' animated by a selfless determination to put any two of its members on the top.

Longs taff's Col and the Return

Before ever we left Ranikhet, it had been in my mind that, whatever happened on the mountain, two or three of us should try to force a new route out of the Basin over what we called ‘Longstaff's Col'. Nor did our success on the mountain, and the desire for a speedy return to the flesh-pots which usually assails one at the latter end of an expedition, lessen this determination. Houston was of a like mind, and that in spite of the fact that it was imperative for him to be back in Ranikhet by the 13th September, and that none of us knew how long the journey by this new route might take.

The col which we proposed to cross lies on the eastern rim of the Basin at the foot of the south-east ridge of East Nanda Devi, and is 19,200 feet above sea-level. In 1905 Dr. Longstaff and the two Brocherels, approaching from the east, came up the Lwanl valley from Martoli to attempt East Nanda Devi. Their second camp was on this col, and they were thus the first to look down into the Basin, into which any access was still to be denied for nearly thirty years. In his account of this journey Dr. Longstaff wrote:

... It would seem natural to call this col the Nanda Devi Pass. It is practicable for mountaineers, and it would only take a month to get back to the Milam valley again by any other route. Below us was an extraordinary chaos of wind-driven cloud half veiling the glaciers which surround the southern base of Nanda Devi. Above us was the vast southern face of the great peak, its two summits connected by a saddle of more than a mile in length. From this spot the mountain strangely resembles Ushba, and the likeness must be even more striking from the west. Directly from the col rose the southern ridge of the eastern peak by which we hoped to make the ascent. Facing round to the east the gaze plunged down to the confused glaciers of the Lwanl valley, bounded by the northern face of the Pindari ridge which culminates in the enormous snow-draped cliffs of Nanda Kot.1
On our second journey into the Basin in 1934 Shipton and I had designs on the pass, but, from below, so uninviting was its appearance that we relinquished them, and took the easier way offered by a col on the southern wall.2 Apart from the severity of the angle, the upper few hundred feet appeared to be ice-no place at all for a heavily laden party, two of them, the Sherpas, without axes.

On the 2nd September, then, the party broke up: the others to return by the Rishi; Houston, Pasang, and the writer to attempt the pass.

It was snowing as we followed up the true right bank of the Southeast Glacier and crossed it where it curves round the foot of the 'Coxcomb ridge'. From the other side, shale and snow slopes led up the right bank of the short feeder glacier which comes down here from the direction of the col, and we camped at about 17,500 feet, on snow and in one tent. The actual site was near the left foot of the big rock wall seen on the left of the illustration; Emmons had camped somewhere near here in his attempt to reach the col and had given us a sketch, but we failed to find his platform. Possibly we misled ourselves by judging his pace to be as slow as our own, or the snow, which was now falling heavily, had covered it.

On account of all this new snow we did not take a rosy view of our prospects, but we were up at 3.30 a.m. and off by 5 a.m. in order to give ourselves every chance. As we traversed under the rock wall the state of the snow fulfilled our gloomiest forebodings, but once clear of the rocks it grew firmer, and soon we were scraping steps with our axes.

1 Alpine Journal, vol. xxiii, 1906.

The Sundardhunga or Maiktoli pass, Himalayan Journal, vol. vii, 1935, pp. 23-5.

Having gained some height we worked over to the rock rib, 700 or 800 feet below and slightly to the right of the col. In two different places we secured a lodgement on the rocks, but in both were frightened off by verglas and forced to continue our course up the snow at an ever steepening angle.

When level with the top of the rocks, we started to traverse to the right to gain the snow rib, which can be seen running up to the col from the rocks, at a slightly easier angle than the rest of the face. The snow here was very soft and deep, and, since it was unsupported below where the rock outcropped, we were fearful it would avalanche. However, the rib was temptingly close, and the angle of the snow to our left forbiddingly steep, so we decided to risk it, and worked slowly and warily across.

Once astride the rib-literally astride-we breathed more freely, but, on attempting to climb up, it looked as though we had reached it only to be defeated. The snow was similar to that encountered high on Nanda Devi, and at each step we sank back again as if climbing in loose sand. After great exertions we gained a few feet and things began to improve. It was no longer necessary to sink in to the waist, but only to the knees, before finding solid bottom, and, changing the lead frequently, we kicked and clawed a way up the edge of the rib and reached the top at 11 a.m.

It had been clear most of the way up, but now the mist had come down and there was nothing to be seen but the snow and rocks at our feet, falling away at an easier angle to the Lwanl glacier. Down this slope was a safe and certain way to Martoli, the highest village but one in the Gori valley, but we had other ideas.

From the wall of the Basin south of our col a ridge extends to the east to link Nanda Kot (22,530 feet) with the Nanda Devi group. About half-way between the wall and Nanda Kot the ridge is crossed by Traill's Pass, called after Mr. Traill, who was not only first Commissioner of Kumaun but also the first to cross this pass, in 1830, a prehistoric date for mountaineering. He was followed by Adolph Schlagintweit in 1855 and again in 1861 by Colonel Edmund Smyth, but thereafter it was not crossed again until 1926, when Mr. Rutt- ledge and Brigadier R. C. Wilson were successful.1 It leads from the Lwanl glacier to the Pindari glacier, from the foot of which is a well- used tourist route to Ranikhet, only five or six marches away, and on this account it was very attractive to us.

1 A history of this pass is to be found in A. L. Mumm's Five Months in the Himalaya', an account of the crossing in 1926 is given in Alpine Journal, vol. xl, 1928, p. 33.

From high up on Nanda Devi we had seen the ridge on which the pass lay, and it appeared to be not far distant from the col where we now stood. Houston and I thought that by traversing across to the south and east we might arrive somewhere in the vicinity of the pass without losing much height-a factor that in our present condition of body and mind was of paramount importance. After sitting in vain for an hour waiting for the mist to lift and give us some idea of what lay ahead, we put this design into execution. The slope of unreliable snow was uniformly steep, and after two uneasy hours of hard work the mist was as thick as ever and we seemed to be getting nowhere, except possibly into trouble. We then began casting about for a camp site, but nothing offered, and we were gradually driven lower and lower until, in despair, we struck directly downwards and camped at 5 p.m. only a few hundred feet above the Lwanl glacier.

In camp that night we decided we could not face the toil up again and that in the prevailing weather and snow conditions the longest way round might well be the shortest way home. We therefore wrote Finis to our climbing season, threw away our Primus and its oil, and lit out for Martoli and the flesh-pots.

From lower down the valley we had a view of the long ridge between the Basin and Nanda Kot, whose glorious north face now towered above us. It was much farther from our col than we had guessed and the pass looked to be by no means a walk-over.

Of our curious progression down both sides of the Lwanl stream, of the entertainment we received at Martoli, and of our footsore but enjoyable marches through the lower valleys, there is no space to tell. On the 12th September, eleven days from the Sanctuary and seven days ahead of our companions, we reached Ranikhet. Once again we had been reminded that crossing passes can be almost as satisfying as climbing peaks.


[1] A short account of this trip is given in this Journal; see 'The Zemu Gap', PP. 95-9-

[2] See Frontispiece to Himalayan Journal, vol. vii, 1935; also the folding diagram at p. 1 of the same volume.