AN ACCOUNT of an attempt made to cross this pass in 1925 may be of some interest to mountaineers, if for no other reason than that it illustrates the necessity for reconnaissance. The successful crossing in August 1926, has been fully described by Brigadier R. C. Wilson in the Alpine Journal, Vol. xl, No. 236, May 1928, pp. 33 sqq.

Traill's pass lies in the main chain of the Kumaun Himalaya, between Nanda Devi and Nanda Kot, at the head of the Pindari glacier.9 The latter is so easy of access that the pass is likely to attract climbers, but it should not be attempted by any but a well-equipped and experienced party. A good account of its history may be found in the late Mr. A. L. Mumm's delightful book, Five Months in the Himalaya. The old survey map indicates a route over the west shoulder of Nanda Kot, to the east of the true pass ; this may be due to a belief, attributed to Traill, who made the first recorded crossing in 1830, that he had reached a height of 20,000 feet. In fact, the west shoulder of Nanda Kot is unclimbable ; and the height of the actual pass is about 17,700 feet.

In 1925 a party consisting of Brigadier Wilson, Major T. C. Carfrae, and the writer and .his wife reconnoitred the pass, a procedure rendered necessary by the fact that none of the previous three successful parties had left a detailed account of their doings ; moreover, the last crossing had been in 1861. Enquiry among the Danpuria hillmen of Loharkhet elicited discouraging statements that the pass had become impassable, owing to the retreat of the Pindari glacier ; but several men volunteered to assist the reconnaissance, as porters or as well-wishers, the latter including the malguzar Ratan Singh, whose grandfather went over in 1861. Two Johar Bhotias, who had made a sporting attempt to cross from the north a year or two before, had already joined us at Almora.

Cjamp was pitched on 31st May under the left lateral moraine of the Pindari glacier, and on the same afternoon Wilson and I made a voyage of discovery to the upper end of the moraine and thence round a rock rib descending from Nanda Kot, to the more or less level ice between the two icefalls, at a height of about 14,500 feet. Here we found a good deal of new snow, and many crevasses. On the other side we could see what was probably the cave mentioned by the Schlagintweits and Colonel Smythe, in 1856 and 1861 ; and we were much interested to observe distinct traces on the opposite mountain side of the three-foot path constructed in 1830 by Traill, in those halcyon days of authority and cheap labour. Obviously, therefore, the glacier must be crossed ; and in any case further progress up the left bank presented great difficulties. But the new snow and numerous crevasses indicated that an alternative route to the other side was to be preferred, if the porters were to be got any further ; and we found that there was dry ice, less crevassed, below the lower icefall and leading to a rock gully which looked climbable.

Next morning the gully was reached by the whole party with ease. Access to it was obtained up a snow fan, somewhat liable to be raked by seracs from the icefall, while the gully itself was a suitable funnel for falling stones. But all went well; the cave was reached and passed, and the remains of Traill's ftpath " permitted fairly rapid progress to the snow-line, then at about 16,000 feet. Sunset found us on an outcrop of rock at about 16,500 feet, where a platform was rapidly constructed and shelter found for all. Just before the light failed, the Bhotias, casting round for amusement, announced blandly that a party was coming down the upper icefall, from the direction of the pass. Sceptical examination with the binoculars revealed the " party " as a bunch of healthy seracs at least 50 feet high and still quite stable.

Morning disclosed two unhappy facts : Carfrae was far from well and was unlikely to recover his form at that altitude; and most of the porters, and all the well-wishers but one, were obviously frightened by the close proximity of Nanda Devi and the obstacles in front Superstition, which nearly wrecked the plans of our predecessors, is still potent in this neighbourhood.

Reluctantly it was decided that Carfrae should return to the moraine base-camp with the doubting Thomases, leaving us just enough men to get over with, should the passage " go." He would wait one day, and if we did not return would assume that we had succeeded, and would go round via the Gori valley to meet us at MartolL My wife undertook to overhaul supplies while Wilson and I, with the twojBhotias and the best Danpuria, set off to reconnoitre higher, the pass being invisible from our camp. We selected a likely rib skirting the upper icefall, and after a little step-cutting reached a col at about 17,400 feet. It is almost certain that from this point, which we have marked with a cairn, our predecessors were able to attain the comparatively flat neve of the upper glacier, leading direct to the pass. The retreat of the glacier has, however, cut off all access to the neve from here, and it would have taken days to cut down and across a slope of ice and up the fall. The only alternative was to climb a rock face some 800 feet high, part of the great shelf descending from A59 (21,624 feet), or traverse round a corner where it fell to the glacier. Bearing N.W. across easy slopes, and crossing a small rimaye, we effected a lodgment on the cliff, which is loose and very steep. The obvious difficulties higher up, and the incessant falling stones, inclined us to try for the corner, but eventually a snowstorm compelled retreat and we made all speed back to camp, leaving the problem still unsolved. This was a blessing in disguise, for in the successful crossing next year from the north, with better porters, we were obliged to descend the cliff, and are of opinion that, with the porters available in 1925, an accident might have occurred had we persisted. Actually, the cliff affords the only way, and it will always be dangerous, owing to the angle and extreme looseness of the face.

From the top, at a height of over 18,000 feet, the pass is visible and is easily attainable between two systems of crevasses which have not yet united but may do so before very long.

The north side is steep everywhere, but it is possible that an easier route than ours of 1926 exists to the west, and parties might investigate this.


  1. Nanda Devi falls in one-inch map 53N/15 ; Nanda Kot in 62B/3. The maps are still in their old hachured form and are from very old reconnaissance surveys.

⇑ Top