THE KASHMIR ALPS, 1937
There is fun to be got out of the Kashmir Alps, but my run of luck started with my leave being cancelled when all preparations were made for a return to the Karakoram. Being supposed to remain within forty-eight hours' recall of Jhansi, I had to try my luck in Kashmir, where things started too well with a nice climb on the 15,928-foot Thajiwas peak above Sonamarg, carried out on the 2nd June.
My companions, Mapchi Topgay and Pasang Ghekkedi, and I carried camp up to 12,940 feet on the 'First' Thajiwas glacier. My training did not impress them. On the morning of the 2nd June we got away at about six o'clock and followed my 1933 route
up the north-face couloir. The bottom of the couloir was guarded by two easily avoided schrunds and the snow was in excellent condition for crampons. The couloir is about 1,500 feet high, wide at the bottom and narrowing slightly higher up, with an average angle of about 50 degrees. Later in the year it is heavily iced.
Our, or rather my, progress was painfully slow, and by eleven o'clock, when we neared the top of the couloir, the sun was already beating down on it at a place where it steepened and took a bend to the right. Not fancying the traverse, we took to the rocks on the left, or east side. These provided some difficult climbing, as they were very steep and were insecure and mostly covered by ice or by ice overlaid with a foot of powder snow.
Once at the top of the couloir the climb was finished. Unroped we traversed a little snow slope on the south of the mountain, then went up a broken rock ridge to the summit, which we reached at about half-past twelve. Mapchi and Pasang built a cairn. In spite of a snow-storm over the Liddar valley and thunderclouds towards Nanga Parbat, we got a magnificent all-round view, including an unusual one of Kolohoi's great north ridge. Looking down the ridge leading to Ganj it struck me that here was as pretty a piece of climbing as any expert could desire; may I be preserved from trying it!
We glissaded down the south face to the neve of the ‘Second' glacier. For its ice-fall we roped and found a way down its centre. It was quite spectacular, but not difficult.1
Pasang excelled himself by sliding and being held on the rope five times. Nothing on earth would persuade him to give a warning shout.
On the 6th June we reached Machhoi on the other side of the Zoji La. The 17,980-foot peak south of Machhoi is well worth climbing. To the east is a beautiful snow-and-rock pyramid, about 1,300 feet higher than the glacier. Westward from a point some 500 feet from its top runs a long rock-and-snow ridge containing four peaks, probably all higher than the pyramid. The whole block is about a mile and a half long and is very broken. Both north and south faces are sheer, with little buttress-like ridges, plastered with lumps of snow. The climb would be to go up the pyramid, traverse the ridge and peaks, and come down to the west. The best way to do this is not obvious.
We had a shot at the peak. On the 7th June we pitched camp at 15,200 feet on the glacier ice-fall. We stopped about one o'clock as a hot sun was making the snow and serars a little uncertain. In the afternoon a surprising brown haze restricted the view to a few miles. During the night a thunderstorm kept us awake for a bit, as our tent poles were metal. The early morning of the 8th was very clear and washed-looking, but soon the brown haze came up again. At 10 a.m., when we reached the bottom of the north ridge of the pyramid (16,400 feet), having got unnecessarily tied up in the ice- fall, murderous-looking clouds were blowing up and it began to snow. Half-heartedly I gave the word to retire and we ran down a much easier way right under the length of the ridge, then down the west of the glacier. By one o'clock it was snowing at Machhoi and by evening the whole valley was white, and alive with sheep dashing in all directions to find shelter.
After three days of this sort of weather we went down to Sona- marg. It was not until about the 15th June that the hills began to get in condition again for climbing.
I next decided to try my old friend Nun (23,400 feet),2
but determined, because of the time factor, to take it from the west. We spent from the 14th to 16th June getting over to Shishram Nag by the Amarnath route.
With Shishram Nag as base, the three of us, with six lightly laden coolies, crossed the 14,400-foot Gulol Gali and dropped into the Wardwan, where we lost ourselves and spent a beastly couple of days wandering up and down precipitous sheep-tracks. On the 21 st June we pitched Nun Camp 1 at 14,300 feet on the Bat Kol glacier, just above the Lonvilad ice-fall. The coolies were sent back from Camp 2 at 16,270 feet on the 22nd, having walked up the centre of the wide glacier in perfect weather. Camp 2 was pitched near the head of the glacier. The first loads of food were taken to Camp 3 at the top of the Bat Kol glacier cirque and at about 18,500 feet next day. The lower part of the route was easy going. After about 1,000 feet we took to some avalanche debris, which unfortunately petered out into a series of treacherously bridged schrunds. A good deal of step-cutting followed.
1 This is the glacier of which Colonel Watts writes (Himalayan Journal, vol. vi, 1934, p. 128): 'It (15,928) appears to be practicable from the glacier to the south of it. This glacier is, however, the most difficult in the valley and could only be ascended under very favourable conditions/ In July 1933 we found it difficult owing to the snow bridges having melted, but were able to ascend it by a route carefully worked out beforehand.
2 Himalayan Journal, vol. vii, 1935, p. 53.
Thajiwas peak, 15,928 feet from Thajiwas
Thajiwas peak from 12,000 foot biouavoc, Route by Couloir, then by face to summit in right
Kolahoi from the summit of 15,928-foot Thajiwas peak
In the Sind valley in June
On the 24th June Camp 3 was established with a week's food and two tents. The west ridge of Nun started about a mile to the east and 600 feet below us. If too much step-cutting were not necessary I hoped to pitch Camp 4 at about 20,000 feet on the 25th June, having gone up by way of a hanging glacier. Above this we would keep to the rock ridge and pitch Camp 5 at about 21,500 feet on another obvious platform. From there the way would lie up the rock ridge, on to a snow one, and so to the top.
However, on the morning of the 25th I awoke with violent toothache and could eat nothing. Retreat had again to be sounded. The descent to Camp 2, heavily laden, was trying, and I paid for my bad temper by falling into two of the schrunds. At Camp 2 a good pull at the rum-bottle relieved my temper and we got through to Camp 1 before I needed another steadier. It was dark before we reached the bottom of the Bat Kol, where the moraine had certainly grown bigger. I had milk and rum for supper. Breakfast on the 26th was rum and milk and then we made tracks for home with a Gujar's ponies. I rode all day. By the time darkness fell we had almost reached the bottom of the Gulol Gali, and the rum was running short. The 27th saw us in Tanin and on the 29th I got rid of the tooth.
This does not want to be emphasized as a hard-luck story. Even without the tooth I doubt if we would have got to the top. A party of one European and two porters is (with exceptions) weak. My porters were splendid little fellows and did all in their power, but they were inexperienced climbers. There was a lot of step-cutting and too much mental strain for comfort. The porters could only speak a few words of Urdu and there was consequently none of the companionship in speech that is probably more necessary for the moral when things are going well than when they are bad. Also there was apt to be an unpleasant feeling that somehow the better motives in mountaineering were missing; the true friendship and mutual appreciation of things seen that makes climbing worth while. There was a sneaking feeling that one was climbing merely to be able to talk about it afterwards. As mountaineering it was missing on one cylinder.
In Srinagar I was lucky to meet Miss M. V. Sanderson and we fixed to try a new route up Kolohoi together. It is worth recording that she climbed Kolohoi in August 1936 with the shikari Aziza. Their route appears to have lain slightly east of the great south-face couloir, and it was possibly the first ascent by a lady.
We had hopes of trying the 5,ooo-foot high north ridge, but decided it was too much for us. A camp on the ridge would almost certainly be necessary, as would probably be the extensive use of pitons. A combined route on the north face and higher north ridge, although looking easier, deterred us through being also too difficult, and dangerous from snow and rock falls. We finally pitched camp on the 10th July at about 14,200 feet on the north-east ice-fall, at the foot of the north-east ridge. We determined not to climb the latter, although practicable, as it joins the main east ridge higher (at the 'Castle') and would be a longer climb.1
The bottom of the main east ridge was guarded to the north by an insecurely bridged schrund and rock slab. The next 400 feet were easy rock and snow. Then slabs started again and we were several times forced off the crest of the ridge before we reached the 'Castle', a great mass of rock, with vertical walls below. This gave us pause for some time as it did not look possible to climb it, and the only way of avoiding it was by an exposed traverse round the south face. A rotten ledge led to an ascending crack, and in turn to another little ledge. This was choked by a great boulder with a pointed top. The gymnastics of swinging round the boulder on one's hands were spectacular. Miss Sanderson brought round both our ice- axes and rucksacks; the porters had been left in camp.
After a slabby traverse on the south face we regained the ridge at the point where Dr. Neve's and Colonel Mason's 1912 route joined it. The climbing for the rest of the ridge was very interesting and somewhat exposed in places. We were several times forced to traverse on to the south face, until about half of the farther length of the ridge was completed. The higher part of the ridge overhangs the north face and the sharper portions made easy and airy climbing. Monsoon clouds were about us all day and the top was reached in a snow-storm.
We left camp at about 7.15 a.m., reached the top at 3.15, and were back in camp by 8 p.m. We came down by the considerably easier and shorter great-couloir route, crossing it near its top and keeping down the rocks in the centre and to the east as far as possible. Miss Sanderson was unable to recognize it in the reduced visibility, but we were under the impression that this was the route by which she ascended the previous year. It appears to be the one generally used by Kashmiri shikaris when acting as guides and is attributed by them to Dr. Neve. It is possible, however, that their route lies farther to the east, nearer that descended by John Hunt and W. R. Brotherhood in 1935,1
as Miss Sanderson thought that in 1936 they had to keep to the east ridge for some distance, and the way we came down avoids it altogether. The snow in the great couloir was not in good condition, being unpleasantly icy in places. I am, however, of the opinion that this is the shortest and quickest route to the top, and it is surprisingly simple.
The west ridge of Nun, from 18,500 feet, site of highest camp
For map, see Himalayan Journal, vol. viii, 1936, p. 104.
Himalayan Journal, vol. viii, 1936, pp. 103-6; see also ibid., vol. ix, 1937, pp. 173-4, for route of Messrs. Cooke and Battye in 1926.-Ed.
Editor's note 1, Himalayan Journal, vol. vi, 1934, P- I
incorrect. The route followed was that stated by Colonel Watts (Himalayan Journal, vol. vi, 1934, p. 128) to be 4
very steep and swept by falling stones'. This also appears to be incorrect.