SURVEYS AND VARIOUS EXPEDITIONS
PROGRESS OF HIMALAYAN SURVEYS
The new survey of the Himalaya of Garhwal was completed during 1937 by No. 1 Party, Survey of India, under Major G. H. Osmaston, r.e. The plane-tabling, as in the year before, was done on the scale of 3/4 inch to a mile for publication on the half-inch scale. The area comprises the Alaknanda drainage between Badrinath and Joshimath, and the Dhauli Ganga from Niti to Joshimath, excluding some areas near Nanda Devi which were surveyed in 1936. Both flanks of Kamet are included in this survey as well as the complicated system of mountains running southwards from that mountain. Mana peak, Rataban, Gauri Parbat, and Hathi Parbat all lie in this group.
Many of the glaciers in the area had never been visited by surveyors before and a great deal of new information was brought in. While surveying the Banke glacier Lieutenant Gardiner discovered a route across the main divide about 2 miles south-west of Mana peak. This must be the pass suspected by Mumm in 1907 and unsuccessfully searched for by the Kamet expedition in 1931. At the close of the survey season Lieutenants Gardiner and Edge crossed this 19,ooo-foot pass from the Banke glacier and came back via Badrinath. Later in the year the same pass was used by Smythe and Oliver when climbing Mana peak.
One surveyor and one khalasi lost their lives during the year owing to climbing accidents. The former, an experienced mountain surveyor, fell down a crevasse on a snow-covered glacier during May. He was moving unroped at the time.
The new half-inch maps of the Tehri Himalaya are expected to be published during 1938; and the survey of northern Almora will be taken up in the autumn.
G. H. Osmaston.
(I tried to get a paper out of Lieutenant Gardiner, but failed. The best I can do is to publish extracts from a private letter addressed by him to the Honorary Secretary of the Eastern Section.-Ed.)
We spent a very enjoyable three months in Garhwal, though we only put in two actual months surveying. We went out via Ranikhet to Joshimath and were then held up by the condition of the road. . . . We reached Niti, where it snowed for a week; I actually started work on the 1st May. I have seldom had such fun. . . . We never went very high-a little under 20,000 feet was my limit-and we had no troubles at all. My chief regret was that the monsoon arrived too early for us to use a few fine days I had set apart for seeing how high we could go. We had reconnoitred a route up to a 21,400-foot peak and pitched a camp at 19,000 feet in readiness to go up next day. Four days of bad weather stopped that. The bad luck was that afterwards it cleared and Smythe nearly a month later could still see our tracks. I sent him a rough sketch-map and my ideas as to where to go. He climbed the 21,400- foot peak (Very easy') and a 22,500-foot one which I had marked down as the next move. Then he pushed off and climbed Mana from the west-a really magnificent effort.
We got most fun over a 19,000-foot pass I found. A. L. Mumra had suspected it when Longstaff was there thirty years before. It lay between the Banke valley, where I was working, and Badrinath. I had crossed it earlier on and descended a few hundred feet on the Badrinath side. When closing down for the season, I decided to return that way; but the weather let us down badly. From our camp to the pass, which I had done before in an hour and a half, now took us six hours in continuous snowfall. Five and a half more hours saw us only 1,000 feet down the far side. All the coolies were completely done, two or three very ill, and one drunk-the unaccustomed effect of a little brandy with which we tried to revive him. We had an unhappy night without fuel except for a minute quantity of kerosene, which gave us all a hot drink. Next day, feeling none too well, we staggered down through the rain till we found grass and wood, when we let the men gorge themselves till they could hardly stand. R. C. A. Edge, who was with me then, did wonderful work. He had to bring up the tail, while I had the easy job in front of finding the way; without him I don't think we should have got over. Quite silly, because it is an easy pass in fine weather.
FRANK SMYTHE AND PETER OLIVER IN GARHWAL, 1937
(Both pleaded that they were ‘too busy to write a paper for the Journal. My experience is that it is only the 40-hour-week wallahs who are ‘too busy’ for the odd job; the really busy men always find time for one more spot of work, as I learnt when I started this Journal ten years ago. Members of the Club will therefore have to be content with my version of a letter written by Frank Smythe in pencil on leaves from a note-book at an odd moment in the Byundar valley on the 25th September 1937. Incidentally one page of the letter was not included in the envelope, which went from p. 6 to p. 9.
I make no apologies, therefore, for the inadequacy of the account nor for any errors; I merely state that an Editor's life is a very hard one!-Ed.)
Smythe left Ranikhet on the 5th June with four Darjeeling porters: Wangdi Nurbu, Nurbu Urgen, Pasang (I do not know which), and Tewang, together with eleven Dotials. Travelling by the Kuari pass, in great heat and thunderstorms, he reached Joshimath on the 13th, and his base in the Byundar valley three days later.
Between the 16th June and the 22nd July he divided his time between climbing and botanizing; he considers that the Byundar valley, the Khiraim nullah south of Nilkanta, and parts of the Rishi nullah are superior in flora to anything he had seen in Sikkim.
Between the 16th June and the 22 nd July there was only one completely wet day, though there was sometimes bad weather higher up on the mountains. Smythe made seven expeditions during this period, as follows:
- He climbed a rock peak, south of the valley, about 16,500 or 17,000 feet high, for training purposes.
- He reached the col between Rataban and a peak about 19,500 feet, and climbed the latter, which was easy, alone. Very bad weather, with a blizzard and lightning, prevented any attempt on Rataban.
- He climbed a snow peak, c. 20,000 feet, in the Gauri Parbat massif, in fine weather; this was a difficult snow and ice climb, with Wangdi and Nurbu, from a camp at about 14,500 or 15,000 feet. He considers that there is no hope of climbing either Gauri Parbat (21,747 feet) or Hathi Parbat (22,141 feet) from the west, and states that they are both very difficult peaks from all directions.
- He climbed a peak, c. 20,000 feet, south-west of Nilgiri Parbat, with Wangdi; it was a very difficult climb up a 6o° ice-slope with a fine rock arete to the top.
- With Wangdi he climbed the rocky wall immediately above the base camp, but failed to reach any peak on the wall owing to dangerous snow in a couloir.
- He climbed two minor rock peaks of about 17,000 or 18,000 feet, west of the base camp, in order to obtain a view of Nilkanta, but failed to get the view.
- He crossed the glacier pass, about 17,000 or 17,500 feet, to an unvisited valley, running west-north-west towards Mana, with a large glacier in it; camped about 15,000-15,500 feet in this valley and from this camp climbed Nilgiri Parbat, 21,264 feet. Smythe considers his route to be the only possible one up the mountain, and describes the technical aspect of the climb as like 'two Brenvas'.
On the 22nd July Smythe was joined by Oliver, and they began by attempting Rataban by its formidable north-west face. After very steep climbing they nearly reached the easy-looking north snow ridge, when Oliver found the altitude too much and they had to retreat. The descent was unpleasant in a storm.
They next crossed the Bhyundar pass; only four men were available as Tewang was ill with bronchitis and had to be sent back to Joshimath. Each of them therefore had to carry about 50 lb. Base camp was now established in the Banke valley and a series of camps were pushed up to the plateaux discovered by Gardiner two months before. They then explored the two upper plateaux unvisited by Gardiner, and climbed two peaks, 21,400 feet (easy) and 22,480 feet (a very fine ice and rock climb). They failed, however, to discover a way from here to Mana peak, which was their principal objective. There was a hopeless 'cut-off’ and no chance of turning peaks 22,480 and 22,800 feet.
The party then descended to the base camp and ascended the Banke glacier to the Zaskar pass, which had been discovered and crossed by Gardiner. The two local men proved useless and again they had to carry heavy loads themselves. From the Zaskar pass they climbed a difficult peak, c. 21,800 feet, a rock climb with narrow ice ridges, and then descended to a small plateau enclosed by the south and west-north-west ridges of Mana peak. Camp was established at 20,200 feet, the highest they could get it without spending days of work making a route fit for laden men.
On the 11th August
they left camp at 5 a.m., traversed the 2i,8oo-foot peak, and descended to the plateau. It was extremely cold as they did not get the sun till half-past ten, and both were slightly frostbitten in the feet. They tried to cut steps up the face of the west-north-west ridge, but found it to be a sheet of ice over 1,000 feet high, so gave it up and returned to the plateau.
The only alternative was a west buttress of the south ridge of Mana. They therefore crossed the plateau to this and cut a way up it. The buttress joined the south ridge below the crest, but the ridge was reached at last. Progress along the south ridge appears to have been difficult owing to ice and rock towers, and the ridge steepened considerably towards the summit of Mana. About 800 feet from the top Oliver had to stop owing to fatigue, but Smythe went on in brilliant weather and reached the summit at half-past one. The weather changed to mist and snow on the descent to camp, which was reached about 5.30, where their coolies were awaiting them; and from here they descended to below the Zaskar pass. The following day they descended the valley and reached Badrinath in the evening.
The Niti Gorge.
Kamet from Camp 3 . The Attempt on Kamet, 1937
Climbing the Couloir to Camp 4
At Badrinath I must leave them, as I have no notion where they went or what they did afterwards.
AN ATTEMPT TO CLIMB KAMET
An interesting attempt to climb Kamet was made by a party of soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment during 1937. The party consisted of Corporal Ralph Ridley, Lance- Corporals J. A. Williams and J. Bull, and Private S. F. Hillier.1
Once again I must cut short the story owing to lack of details. The route seems to have been the same as that taken by Meade in 1913, by Kellas and Morshead in 1920, when the eastern approaches were mapped, and later by Smythe's party in 1931, when the summit was reached. The party left Ranikhet on the 3rd May and seventeen days later established their base camp on the Raikana glacier at a height of about 15,000 feet. From here three glacier camps were established; the first at the junction of the Raikana and East Kamet glaciers at about 16,000 feet. The next camp (Camp 3), at about 18,000 feet, was fixed beyond the narrow section of the East Kamet glacier, and Camp 4 was placed above the long snow couloir leading out of the upper basin of the East Kamet glacier to the ice plateau below 'Meade's col'. From this point kit and supplies were relayed across the plateau to the foot of the ice slope leading to the col, and the party was faced with the alternative of climbing the ice precipice leading to these slopes or choosing the dangerous snow couloir to the north of it. They found that they could climb the precipice, but only without loads, and therefore climbed the couloir. They eventually reached a point about 200 feet above the col before giving up the attempt.
Quite apart from the achievement of getting up to an altitude of 23,000 feet, this expedition is a most noteworthy performance. The warm clothing was all of Service pattern and climbing boots were made by the regimental bootmaker. The tents were the small Army 21-H). ones; ice-axes were presented by Mr. Tilman after his climb on Nanda Devi the year before. Inspiration was forthcoming from Spencer's Mountaineering, Smythe's Kamet Conquered, and Shipton's Nanda Devi, and encouragement from the Commanding Officer and other officers of the regiment. Practice was only possible 'in the barrack-room'. Above Camp 3 all the carrying was done by the climbers themselves. I only wish that I could have persuaded Corporal Ridley to be a little more communicative on so fine an effort.
A photograph of the party shows five men; and a press account adds the name of Lain (lorporal H. Hamilton; but I am uncertain whether he was one of the climbing party. I think not.
THE MANA PASS
Lieutenant J. F. S. Ottley of the 1/1 Punjab Regiment spent July and August 1937 in British Garhwal and had some good sport, bagging a 27-inch bharal, a thar, and a gural. From Badrinath he went to the Mana pass, which is about 25 miles farther on. He describes the going as very bad, the rough track running between desolate scree slopes and over huge moraines, so that each march is an exhausting ordeal of boulder-hopping. The 25 miles to the pass is nearly four days' march.
Beyond Badrinath, which lies at 10,100 feet, there is a certain amount of grass for 10 miles, as far as the little arena of Ghastoli. Beyond this point the country is so desolate that there is even no game. Every 5 miles or so a scanty patch of grass affords a camping- site, though the grazing is negligible owing to the passage of Tibetan trade with Mana village. Between the months of June and September the Tibetans bring their salt and borax over the pass on the backs of sheep, which crop the grass down to the last quarter of an inch.
From Khati to Tarisumdo the ascent is gradual. From there onwards there is a big pull-up over terraces of moraine as far as the frozen lake of Deo Tal, from which the last mile is again gradual, and the loose boulders are at last left behind.
It is interesting to recall that the Mana pass was first crossed by Europeans as long ago as July 1624, Y Father Antonio de Andrade and Brother Manuel Marques, on their way to found the first Christian mission at Tsaparang in Tibet. Father Andrade mentioned the little lake of Deo Tal, with the result that geographers mistook it for the great Manasarowar, which they subsequently declared to be the source of the Ganges. From this mistake there grew up the tradition that the Ganges tunnelled under the Tibetan watershed. When this myth was exploded, doubt was thrown on the whole of Father Andrade's story.1
Ottley must have been at the Mana pass about the same time of year as the old Jesuit father. In July 1937 snow lay in patches and could be avoided, the faint track running along the scree hill bounding the west side of the pass. Heavily iced peaks stand up on the other side of the valley, from which flow broad though short glaciers, with remarkably smooth white surfaces.
Himalayan Journal, vol. iv, 1932, pp. 170-4.
The Frozen Lake of Deo Tal, near the Mana Pass. The route to the pass lies up the snow-filled moraine trough on the left
The Mana Pass and, peaks to the east of it
On the old Survey of India map the Mana pass is shown at 17,890 feet, but the latest survey places it at 18,400 feet. The summit is crowned with a broad snow-field about 3 miles across, and from this a glacier reaches about 4 miles down into Tibet, where a pleasant green valley curves out of sight among desolate red hills.
Ottley considers that this northern glacier is retreating, for a mile of ice blocks and piles of moraine lie at its snout. On the Garhwal side the glaciers also seem to have retreated, leaving the lake of Deo Tal.
Until the publication of the new Survey of India half-inch maps of the region (53 n), the best map is that in the Geographical Journal, vol. xxxi, 1908, which accompanies Longstaff's paper.
I notice that in a press account Smythe gives the date as the 12th August. In his letter to me he gave the 11th.