A WINTER VISIT TO THE ZEMU GLACIER
John Hunt and C.R. Cooke
(With the exception of the two sections on The Reconnaissance of the North Col, and The Return by the Simvu Saddle, the following paper is written by John Hunt. The other two sections are written by C. R. Cooke.)
The expedition planned and organized by C. R. Cooke for the autumn of 1937 was intended to have as its object an attempt to reach Peak 1 of Kangchenjunga,1
the most easterly of the three summits of the mountain, by climbing a prominent spur thrown out by the east ridge towards the Tongshyong glacier.
By a last-minute alteration of plan made in Darjeeling, it was decided instead to visit the Zemu glacier and examine the possibility of reaching the col between Kangchenjunga and the Twins, known as the North col, with the idea that it might provide a possible route to the highest summit (Peak 3) of Kangchenjunga itself, and also to the higher summit of the Twins. In the event of failure in this project it was felt that from a base on the Zemu glapier there would be a greater scope for alternative expeditions than if we were based on the Talung.
After two days of feverish activity in Darjeeling, during which we sent off our coolies, 50 men, via Namchi and Temi to the Tista valley, the party, which consisted of C. R. Cooke, my wife, and myself, left on the 9th October and walked down from Takdah to Tista Bazar, whence we took the mail car to Singtam. From here on we followed the Tista valley to Maka, where we were joined by our coolies. The weather, which had been exceptionally bad for a fortnight, improved steadily as we made our way upstream. Long before we reached Lachen conditions had settled and gave us reason to hope for a fine winter. Arrived in Lachen on the 14th October, we met the party of two Germans, Schmaderer and Peider, and the Swiss, Grob, returning from a six weeks' stay up the Zemu glacier. We spent a convivial evening with them in the dak bungalow, and listened with interest to their activities. The heavy rain which had occurred in Darjeeling during the early part of October had been synchronous with a spell of terrible weather in the mountains. Since the -28th
September they had been confined in their base camp while about 6 feet of new snow fell, the snow-line at the end of this period being clown to 13,000 feet. We were promised a trying time in making tracks, even at lower levels, for some time to come. They had climbed Siniolchu but had been forced to retreat from Nepal Peak owing to the wind-slabbed slope immediately below the summit ridge.
For the heights of the five summits of Kangchenjunga see Himalayan Journal, vol. vii, 1935, p. 67, footnote.-Ed.
Taking on nine Lachen men, we moved up the Zemu Ghu next day. Rain fell at Yaktang, but the weather was again good when on the 18th we reached the corner above Green Lake, where the Nepal Gap glacier joins the Zemu ice-stream-the site of Bauer's Gamp 4.1
This was chosen as our base; situated at a height of 16,200 feet, it provides a convenient starting-point for the Nepal Gap glacier, the Simvu Saddle, and also for the Twins arid upper reaches of the Zemu glacier.
We had already sent back all but fourteen men from the German Camp 3, and we now dismissed the remainder, keeping only six men, chosen for camp and high-altitude work. They were: Pasang Kikuli (Sherpa), with a long record of expeditions to his credit; Da Thondup (Sherpa), with an equally fine record; he had been with me in the Karakoram in 1935 and was freshly back from Nanga Parbat, his second escape from that mountain; Pasang (Sherpa), who had reached the summit of.Chomolhari earlier in the year; Rinzing (Bhutia), one of the men who reached Camp 6 on Everest in 1933; Pasang Ghakadi (Bhutia), a porter of the French Baltoro expedition of 1936; and, finally, Hawang, a Nepali, who was selected for work in camp.2
The first three days were spent in relaying up the loads left at the German base camp and making certain reconnaissances in the neighbourhood. Thus, on the 19th, my wife and I made a short excursion up the Nepal Gap glacier; on the 20th Cooke accompanied me across the Zemu glacier and some way up towards the Simvu La; and on the 22nd I went with Da Thondup to the German Camp 5, and some distance farther towards the Twins glacier, which we planned to visit as soon as possible. Ever since leaving the glacier snout we had waded in new soft snow, and these short excursions served at least to emphasize the fact that not the smallest of our difficulties was to be the making of a track from the base in any direction. The glacier was particularly trying, the leader sinking sometimes to his armpits between boulders masked by the recent snowfall.
1 For a proper appreciation of this expedition see Bauer's map of the Zemu glacier, Himalayan Journal, vol. vii, 1935.-Ed.
2 The more important expeditions of the first two are:
Pasang Kikuli: Kangchenjunga, 1929, 1930, 1931; Mount Everest, 1933; Nanga Parbat, 1934; Nanda Devi, 1936.
Da Thondup: Mount Everest, 1933; Nanga Parbat, 1934; Saltoro Kangri, 1935; Gangotri, 1935; Mount Everest, 1936; Nanga Parbat, 1937.-Ed.
Attempt on Sugarloaf, 21,400 feet, 23rd-26th October.
There seemed, however, no good reason for waiting for the snow to melt or consolidate; on the 22nd the last load had been brought up from the German base, and a move was made on the 23rd to the Twins glacier, with the idea of climbing Sugarloaf by way of acclimatization. The task of getting there proved unexpectedly exhausting-in addition to the deep snow, the sun was found to be exceptionally powerful at this time of year, almost blackening our porters' faces and causing severe blistering and pronounced swelling of our own, despite precautions (two of us eventually resorted to masks). The next day, Gooke, who since leaving the glacier snout had not seemed as fit as the rest of us, was unable to start from our 'Boulder Camp' near the junction of the Twins and Zemu glaciers, and my wife and I therefore moved off up the Sugarloaf glacier-this was our name for the glacier flowing into the Twins glacier from the Sugarloaf, and had no name on the map-accompanied by Rinzing and Kikuli. We made our way up the right of the ice-fall to the large level basin at about 19,000 feet and eventually pitched our tent about 700 feet higher and directly below the foot of the south face of the peak. The porters were sent down at half-past one with instructions to come up again next day, and we settled in just as clouds blew up and the wind started blowing from the north-west. It continued strongly all night.
We were off at 7.15 next morning and made our way up towards the col (6,170 m. on Bauer's map). Progress, however, was made so difficult by the force of the wind gusts blowing loose snow into our faces, and by the extremely irksome breakable wind-crust, that we decided to make for the west ridge at once by climbing directly up its southern flank. We had not reckoned, however, with the condition of the snow, which, lying loosely and in places very thinly on extremely unstable rocks, made upward progress a most exasperating affair. The angle of the slope was, moreover, steep (over 50°) and the conditions, combined with our insufficient acclimatization, had well-nigh exhausted us by the time we reached the crest of the ridge at 10.15 a.m. We continued upwards for a few yards to a point where the difficulties increased below a prominent gendarme, where we realized that we had 'shot our bolt' for that day-the height was possibly slightly less than 21,000 feet.
The descent was made entirely by the ridge; on the glacier we found our upward tracks ruined by the wind, and plodded wearily back to the tent, where Kikuli and Rinzing had already arrived. Cooke had also come up with Da Thondup and was now visible on his return journey. It had been our intention overnight to stay up and make another attempt if necessary, but the amount of heavy track-making involved since our arrival had left me feeling glad of a rest. We therefore decided to go down, and were back at Boulder Camp on the Twins glacier at 2.30 p.m.
The expedition had shown that the west ridge of Sugarloaf offers certain technical difficulties. It also brought home to us once more to what extent the recent snowfall would be a handicap, at any rate in the early stages, of our more ambitious enterprises.
A Winter Visit to the Zemu Glacier
We returned to our base next day and were at once confronted with the first indication of what proved a serious problem, and a factor which was to limit considerably the scope of our activities. Rinzing, our strongest and, by repute, our best man, who had been sick on the descent from Sugarloaf the afternoon before, was found to be seriously unwell on the way back to the base. Even without his load, which was distributed between us, he had the greatest difficulty in getting back to the camp, where he was found to have a high fever. This in itself was a serious loss from the porterage point of view. The trouble further increased when, on the 28th, Cooke and I with three porters took a first 'carry' of stores to a dump above the lower ice-fall of the Nepal Gap glacier; P. Chakadi was found to be lagging far behind, and we were already returning down the ice-fall when we found him. He was obviously unwell, and we made him dump his load and come back with us to the camp, where he too was found to have a high temperature and was likewise put to bed.
Sugarloaf from the north, on the Nepal Gap Glacier between Camps 1 and 2,3rd November 1937
Eveninmg cloud over Siniolchu from the Keilberg Couloir, 30th October 1937
Ascent of the Snow Summit of the Keilberg, 19,000 feet.
Kangchenjunga from the south-west ridge of Nepal Peak 5th November 1937
It had been our plan to start, with the second relay of stores, up the Nepal Gap glacier next day, and from a camp at its head to attempt either the Twins or the Nepal Peak, or both. With two sick men-Rinzing's condition at this time gave cause for grave anxiety-this was now out of the question; we must wait and nurse them with a view to getting them safely down to Lachen. It was an unfortunate set-back to our plans. On the 29th, however, for want of something to do, we decided to attempt the ascent of the Keilberg,1
a rock tower and snow dome overlooking the Green Lake plain. Half an hour later, we three, with Da Thondup carrying one tent, sleeping-bags, and food for one night, were already on our way. After ascending scree slopes for three hours, we reached a small glacier basin on the west side of the peak at 11.30 a.m., where we pitched our tent and sent Da Thondup back. So cold was the wind that after a short rest we decided to explore a route for the next day, and, roping up, ascended a steep snow and ice couloir on the left of a very prominent bulge of ice which overhangs the glacier basin from between the rock tower and snow summit of the Keilberg. The couloir, alternating between hard ice and deep soft snow, and set in places at a severe angle (measured at 55°), provided interesting climbing, but with three on the rope it also took some time. At half-past three we were just below the col between the two summits, and it was clear that we could not reach the higher rock summit and get down before dark. We therefore descended, with due precautions, reaching the tent well after sundown, and settled in to a draughty, cramped, and somewhat uncomfortable night. We were unpleasantly surprised to find the basin an exceptionally windy spot.
The wind, on which I fear some emphasis has been laid in this article, was blowing at gale force next morning, and, as the sun did not reach the tent till about 8.45 a.m., some difficulty was experienced in getting away, frozen boots and a Meta stove being largely to blame. An inspection of the couloir, which would clearly be in shadow for some hours yet, and the fact that it was being swept by gusts of wind, decided us to try another route. My wife stayed behind to 'hold the fort' for us-an almost literal expression in the circumstances, for with our departure it became a matter of holding down the tent poles-and Gooke and I raced off to shelter and some warmth beneath the ridge enclosing the glacier basin on the north. We then ascended without difficulty by a loose scree gully, and, skirting the edge of the 'Hidden glacier5
to avoid a gendarme, rejoined the ridge below the snow dome of the mountain. This was ascended on firm snow. Although only about noon, the weather was already bad and we were surrounded by swirling clouds. An inspection of the ice-plastered rocks of the rock tower now immediately opposite us, and only about 60 feet higher, decided us that it might be wiser to be content with the snow dome and reserve our energies for the more important objectives from the Nepal Gap glacier. We therefore descended from the summit to the col nearly attained on the previous evening, and had soon rejoined our steps, or what remained of them, leading down the couloir. By this route we descended and at 1 p.m. were again in the basin, where we found my wife patiently waiting for us with cold pemmican, having • dug herself a hole as protection against the wind, the tent having been fetched earlier on by Pasang Kikuli. We reached the base camp somewhat weary, at 4.30 p.m., to find a consignment of mail, for which we had sent down Pasang and Hawang some days earlier-a much-needed consolation, for the condition of Rinzing and Ghakadi, to say nothing of the weather, was by no means encouraging. There was no question as yet of moving them down the glacier, and at the same time we could not go ahead with the next phase of our programme until it was certain that they were on the way to recovery.
See Bauer's map. The rock summit is shown there with an altitude of 5,800 metres (19,040 feet). The snow summit, somewhat lower, at 5,780 metres (18,977 feet).-Ed.
Nepal Gap Glacier Expedition, 2nd-ioth November.
Thus it was that the 31st October and 1st November were spent in the base camp. It should be mentioned here that the weather since the 27th October had been by no means good. Every day a valley cloud crept up from the glacier snout, contrary to the direction of the higher prevailing wind-north-west-and by midday it would be cold, windy, and snowing at the base, not clearing again till nightfall. When on the 1st November my wife and I crossed the glacier with the idea of paying a flying visit to the Simvu La, we found few signs of the track so laboriously made only ten days earlier, and by the time we had reached the right lateral moraine it was already snowing hard, making further progress pointless.
Fortunately, however, both the invalids showed signs of improvement on this day, and it was now considered possible to make the move up the Nepal Gap glacier. We all three left on the 2nd November with the three remaining fit men (Kikuli, Da Thondup, and Pasang). My wife, who accompanied us as far as the dump made on the 28th, then returned, as she was to have the thankless task of escorting Rinzing and Chakadi to Lachen as soon as they could walk.
From the dump the party moved up the glacier, camping eventually at 2 o'clock beneath seracs at the top of the second ice-fall (Gamp 1). Next day half our stores were moved a long distance up the glacier, where Camp 2 was established at about 19,500 feet and immediately opposite the lowest point of the ridge connecting the Sugarloaf with the lower Twin. This proved a most exhausting march for the leader, who sank deep in partly wind-crusted snow, the surface of which was some indication of the wind which blows over the Nepal Gap at the head of the glacier.
While the porters fetched the remaining loads on the 4th November, Cooke and I went up the glacier to examine the Nepal Gap, to search for a dump of food left by the Germans, and also to look for a possible route up either of the Twins or the Nepal peak. The food was not found, but the gap was reached, unroped, in a wind the force of which has to be experienced to be believed. Movement was only possible between slight lulls, and on one occasion I was literally lifted from my steps. Cooke's hat, which sailed from his head on the arete, after spinning upwards for some distance, floated down to the Nepal Gap glacier, where it was caught by violent gusts blowing vertically up the precipitous flanks of the north arete of the lower Twin. Ascending at great speed some hundreds of feet up these incredibly steep slopes and over the knife-edged arete, it was wafted over into Nepal.
After recovering later on the glacier, we were able to find a hopeful start for reaching the south-west ridge of Nepal peak, and also to confirm that, though the lower Twin is quite evidently feasible, there is no question of reaching the higher Twin direct from this side. We decided to make Nepal peak our objective.
Ascent of Nepal Peak, South-west Summit, 25,500 feet.
On the 5th November we started up the glacier, and, turning right-handed as soon as the final level portion was reached, made for the foot of a steep snow couloir, seen on the previous day and appearing to offer a satisfactory route to the south-west ridge of our peak at a fairly high point. To save labour, crampons were worn by the party, excepting Pasang, for whom by some error none had been brought. The couloir was found to be divided conveniently into two sections by a terrace, about two-thirds of the way up, which was reached at 11 o'clock. Shortly above this a minor tragedy occurred when Da Thondup's load suddenly broke loose and careered down the steep slope (450
), distributing its contents as it went. A bag of tsampa burst, and tins of various descriptions were scattered in all directions, all of them being arrested by the terrace. But less fortunate was a roll of porters' bedding, which decided not to stop, and, overtopping the brink, descended the remaining thousand feet to the glacier. As it was intended to establish Gamp 3 on or near the ridge, we decided to continue, and Da Thondup had the arduous task of descending some 1,500 feet and returning later in the day.
A little later we were directly below the cornice, and I shall never forget the thrill of cutting through it and suddenly being confronted with the most magnificent view I have ever yet seen. Framed between a tremendous and curiously uniform rock wall falling from the Nepal peak on the right and the precipices of the higher Twin on the left, the Everest group stood out clearly above a vista of peaks in Nepal. The grandeur of the spectacle, seen through a gap made in the narrow crest of the ridge, defies description.
Meantime Cooke, behind me, had equally dramatically found a site for our two tents in a most unexpected spot. Directly under the ridge we were to traverse on the morrow, a small ice-cave beneath the cornice offered excellent shelter from the wind, and also a level platform where it was least expected. The situation was remarkable enough, with the upper part.of the couloir plunging steeply down at our feet, and a few yards away the breach made in the cornice. It proved to be a most suitable camp, for shelter on the ridge itself was not to be had, and we had no desire to descend 400 feet to the terrace. Camp 3 was at about 21,300 feet, facing due east towards Siniolchu and with an interesting view of the northern aspect of Kangchenjunga.
On the 6th we set out with Kikuli and Da Thondup, climbing on two ropes and leaving Pasang in charge of Camp 3. To our relief and surprise we found no more than a stiff breeze blowing as we mounted on to the ridge. Conditions were indeed excellent, the snow being well hardened by continuous wind action, and good progress was made for some time. Shortly after starting, we were amazed to find distinct wind-raised tracks of the Germans, who had attempted the peak not less than six weeks earlier. At about 22,000 feet a difficulty occurred where the ridge narrows and rises in a series of nearly vertical steps. We left it in favour of a terrace on the sheltered (south) side, and were at once wading in deep snow. A very steep ice-gully (measured 6o°) well led by Cooke, and a steep slope, followed by a traverse to the left along the lower edge of a monster crevasse, enabled us to regain the ridge above the main difficulties. We left a line fixed above the ice-gully.
A further 200 feet up the ridge led us to an area of large crevasses, and beneath the highest of these we decided to pitch Camp 4- above this point there would be no shelter from the already strengthening wind, and it was time to let the porters descend to the lower camp. We were on a broad terrace facing east, at about 22,400 feet, with a most striking and extensive view from north-east to southeast.
View eastwards from Camps 4, Nepal Peak. The Zemu Glacier in right in right foreground, Chomolhari in the distance. 6th November 1937
Cross Peak, Makalu, and Mount Everest from about 22,500 feet on the southern ridge of Nepal Peak 7th November, 1937
That evening we both felt most unwell, possibly from altitude, but whereas next morning I had recovered, despite a sleepless night due to the wind and severe cold, Gooke was still quite unfit and unable to eat his food. This was a great disappointment, but that it could not affect our plans, for the time being, at any rate, was made quite evident shortly after, when I ventured out with the intention of proceeding alone. As soon as the shelter of the crevasse was left, the force of the wind was terrific. A somewhat delicate step up and round the corner of the crevasse, to regain the ridge, was rendered out of the question in the circumstances-it was indeed difficult to stand up on level ground-and there was nothing for it but to return to the tent. At noon the wind had abated somewhat and we were both able to ascend some distance above camp to the foot of the great snow slope which had deterred the Germans. As Cooke decided not to go far, I unroped and went up the slope alone, moving rapidly with the aid of crampons. It was in excellent condition-a sign that it had not been so was an old crack, which ran horizontally across it for some 200 yards. At 1 p.m. I was immediately below the summit marked on Bauer's map as 7,145 metres (23,500 feet); cutting and kicking steps up the steep flank to the right of this for about 150 feet, with pauses to wait for the gusts of wind, I reached the summit ridge at 1.20 p.m., and a minute later stood on the 7,145-metre summit. The force of the wind was staggering; it was all I could do to stand with axe and crampons well dug in; every movement had to be made deliberately and with care. Two attempts were made to advance from here along the ridge towards the higher summits (7,163 metres and 7,180 metres), but it narrows to a crest on which progress, if possible, would have been hazardous for a roped party, let alone a single climber. It was a rather bitter moment to have to descend at this point, though some consolation was found in the amazing panorama in every direction but the north-east, where it was masked by the summit ridge. Most striking, because it was new country to me, was that to the north, with the 'Longridge' and Jonsong peaks, and, beyond, the brown land of Tibet. An eagle was flying immediately below at over 23,000 feet.
The descent of the long slope below the ridge was a matter of minutes, and at 2.15 p.m. I was back in camp. The outing had only been in the nature of a reconnaissance, for at the time we fully intended to make a serious combined attempt to reach the north-east summit (7,180 metres) the next day. This, however, was not to be. Next morning Cooke was weak through inability to eat; moreover, the wind at seven o'clock was still blowing with force. I went up again on to the steep snow slope, but it was evident from here that there would be no hope of traversing along the ridge, at any rate alone. Clouds of snow were being blown off, and Kangchenjunga was a turmoil of cloud and driven snow. The two porters could be seen coming up as instructed, from Camp 3. I therefore returned to wait for them, and on their arrival we packed up and descended, reaching the cornice camp at 11.50. Pasang had some welcome tea ready, and after a rest a further descent was made by the couloir to Camp 2 on the Nepal Gap glacier, which we reached at half-past one. The Burns tent, left standing with a reserve of stores since the 3rd, had been collapsed by the wind, which had broken one of the aluminium poles and torn the fabric-indeed, the night of the 8th was one of the windiest experienced during the expedition, and conditions down on the glacier -were such as to convince me that, apart from other considerations, a further stay higher up would have been pointless in the circumstances. It was perhaps satisfactory to have reached a summit on the ridge, only 35 metres below the highest point.
Direct Route from the Nepal Gap Glacier to the Twins Glacier over the Twins-Sugar loaf Ridge.
Mount Everest from above Camp 4, Nepal Peak, at about 23,000 feet 7th November
For the 9th we planned to cross the ridge connecting the Sugarloaf with the Twins at its lowest point, and to descend thence to the Twins glacier, returning to the base camp the next day. Da Thondup and Pasang were therefore sent back with all spare equipment to the base by the route of ascent, while Cooke and I, with Kikuli, moved across the glacier to the foot of the ridge, equipped for one night's bivouac. The aspect of the slope falling to the Nepal Gap glacier became less forbidding as we approached, and we were surprised and a little disappointed to see wind-raised tracks, both up and down, on its surface, on the very route by which we had elected to ascend-the Germans had forestalled us as far as the ridge. Using crampons and line, and spurred on by the cold and gusts of wind from the Nepal Gap, quick progress was made up the 500-foot slope, the surface of which was in good condition and not excessively steep (measured 490
). On the ridge we sat in shelter on the south side and surveyed a wide glacier basin below us, which descended gently towards the upper Zemu glacier until it fell away steeply right-handed out of sight, in an ice-fall already examined some days ago from the Twins glacier snout. The descent from the ridge at the point where we reached it was made by a steep snow couloir rendered in poor condition by the sun. Some anxiety w «s felt .1; we neared its lower end, for from this point there was a sheer drop of at least 100 feet to the glacier. On either side the cliffs were higher, and the rock everywhere was seen to be in the rottenest possible condition. By great fortune, however, we had struck the line of least resistance. A short downward traverse to the right across the crumbling cliffs led us on to the upper basin of the glacier at noon. The shelter provided here from the wind was not an unmixed blessing, however, for, in contrast to the excellent hard snow conditions enjoyed during the ascent of Nepal peak, the descent of the glacier-which might conveniently be called Lower Twin glacier, for the ascent of which mountain it provides a convenient approach -involved heavy ploughing for an hour and a half through deep snow before the head of the ice-fall was reached. After being forced into the trough on the left of the seracs, we had to take again to the ice before we could rope down a 30-foot ice-cliff to reach the trough at a lower point. We were soon driven out of it again, however, by a short vertical pitch of debris-polished rocks. This time the tumbled nature of the ice decided us to move left-handed on to the rocks of the left containing ridge, where a horizontal traverse gave some hope of an escape across to the Sugarloaf glacier. Difficulties, however, soon occurred on the very friable rock, and our troubles were enhanced by the usual valley cloud, which now completely surrounded us and made the choice of a route a difficult matter. We reached the top of a steep narrow scree gully and could vaguely see snow slopes some 300 feet lower down. The gully was therefore descended with due care, and to our relief we found ourselves a few minutes later at the edge of the ice-fall we had recently left, and below the difficulties. After a further descent over loose snow- covered rocks, at 3.45 p.m. we vaguely discerned through the mist the main ice-stream of the Twins glacier and realized that we had won through. It was in any case time to pitch the tent, and shortly afterwards we were enjoying a magnificent meal of tea, pemmican, tsampa, and bully beef.
Our return to the base camp next day coincided by all but ten minutes with the arrival of my wife from Lachen. She had gone- down with Rinzing and Ghakadi on the 4th November and brought up with her both the mail and Ang Kitar, the mail runner, to replace one of the sick men. It was also the signal for a spell of bad weather, similar to that experienced during our last stay at tin- base. On the 10th, nth, and 12th it was cold, windy, and snowed most of the day. We spent some leisure hours working out some interesting routes on the crags in the vicinity of the camp, one of which bears a striking resemblance to Kern Knotts. Here again, to judge by a cairn found at the top of a certain crack, Bauer's 1931 party had not been idle.
Second Twins Glacier Expedition, ijth-igth November.
On the 13th the whole party-Hawang was also taken as a porter owing to shortage of personnel-moved up the Zemu glacier to Boulder Gamp at the entrance of the Twins glacier. The plan was for Cooke, with Da Thondup and Kikuli, to make a route to the head of the glacier and examine, and attempt if feasible, the wall below the North col, while my wife and I, accompanied by Pasang and Hawang, made another attempt on Sugarloaf, subsequently returning and going up the Zemu glacier to inspect the Zemu gap as a possible route for return to Darjeeling (via the Guicha La). Kitar was to help carry for Cooke's party as far as his next camp, and then return to Lachen, bringing up six coolies to fetch down our spare equipment and stores to Lachen on 22 nd November. All were to be back at the base by the 20th, in order to prepare for the return expedition, either over the Simvu La or by the Zemu gap.
Second Attempt on Sugarloaf ,21,400 feet.
As usual, snow fell in the night of the 13th November, and my wife and I made a late start the next morning at 9 a.m. after drying tents, sleeping-bags, &c. There was little sign of the old tracks, but we were by now thoroughly fit, and all made good progress except Hawang, who made heavy weather of his new role and eventually had to give most of his load to Pasang and myself. This delayed matters, and though we eventually camped some 200 feet higher than before, at about 20,000 feet, it was not as far as I had hoped to go that day. The tents-we were keeping our porters with us this time-were pitched in a very windy spot, and we had little peace for the rest of that day or during the night, the wind buffeting the tents and spraying them with driven snow, while a continuous roar was audible as it blew against the north face of our peak. Conditions next morning were hardly auspicious; we made our way towards the 6,170-metre col in the teeth of violent gusts of wind and driving snow, despite a perfectly clear sky. Shortly before the col was reached we turned right-handed and kicked steps up the steep slope to a point near the foot of the first rocks on the ridge. The snow seemed in good condition, which is interesting in view of what happened a few minutes later. We had reached the ridge and I was approaching the nearest rocks when, with an unmistakable sound, a huge slab broke from the very crest exactly between my wife and myself and careered down 200 feet to the glacier, carrying away our tracks up the slope and those we had made along the ridge. The breadth of the slab was some 40 feet, and it w.ii 15 inches deep at the point of fracture. It had been a near thing, and it is almost inexplicable that it showed no sign of breaking during the ascent.
Kangchenjunga over the pass on the Twins-Sugarloaf Ridge crossed on the 9th November 1937 Photographed from the Nepal gap Glacier on the 3rd November
The Twins from the Ice-fall of the Sugarloaf Glacier 15th November 1937
Roping up on account of the loose nature of the rock and the force of the wind, we had soon passed the point reached on the 24th October and were then forced out on to the south flank of the ridge below the great gendarme. This was circumvented by a sheltered traverse on to the south face and the ascent of a steep snow couloir, whence 80 feet of vertical rocks made a difficult lead to the ridge. Further technical difficulties lay immediately above-a rock step caused some delay for inspection-a most unpleasant business for the second on the rope in the icy wind, whose fingers had long since come through her gloves by contact with the rock and had now lost sensation; a large frost-bite blister developed later. Further delays were inevitable before the final snow arete could be reached and we could move together, and meantime the wind was increasing in strength; retreat seemed the wiser course, as we were both numb with cold. We therefore turned down, finding an easier route below the gendarme by keeping longer to the ridge. From the snow arete, where the avalanche occurred, to our tents on the glacier, we were literally hounded by whirling snow, blinding us and making balance a difficult matter. Doubtless we should have stayed and made another attempt next day, but at the time, at least, such a course seemed unattractive and without advantage. To judge by our experiences and our observations of the high ridges since arrival at the base, the north-west wind seemed to be a constant feature of the season. I wrote in my diary at the time, 'There seems no reason to suppose that it will be better up there to-morrow. The wind does not abate . . We therefore went on down to Boulder Camp, arriving shortly after 3 p.m.
The Zemu Gap.
Next morning Hawang, who had doubtless had enough, announced that he was unwell. This meant that either one or both of us must return to the base camp. With the deep snow likely to be encountered on the glacier, we could not hope to carry enough for three for a three-day expedition, moreover Hawang might need to be doctored. On the other hand, an inspection of the Zemu gap was considered important in view of our future plans, and it was regretfully decided that my wife should return to the base while Pasang and I went on. Such was the labour involved in ploughing a track, however, that for two days it was merely a gruelling struggle up the glacier, with few redeeming features. Sinking constantly to the knees, sometimes to the waist, and occasionally falling between boulders to the armpits, a monotonous trudge of five hours on the 16th took us some 3 miles up the glacier, where we camped on the central moraine just as the afternoon clouds and snow blew up. On the 17th, moving largely over a particularly unpleasant breakable crust, camp was pitched at the foot of the ice-fall below the col. In the night the tent was rocked by violent wind, which broke open the entrance sleeve and covered us with a thick layer of drift snow. Starting at 7.30 a.m., and moving fast over slopes strewn with the debris of ice-blocks fallen from the Simvu ridge above us, we reached the col at 9.45 a.m. Once again tracks were visible on the final slope-the German party must have been here as well. It was a relief to emerge from the intense cold and shadow in which we had been climbing into the sun and comparative shelter above, where a stupendous view was had over the Tongshyong glaciers to the Guicha La and Pandim, with the Darjeeling hills beyond. A short descent was made to where the slope ends in a vertical ice- cliff, some 200 or 300 feet high, falling to a snow basin. Below the basin an ice-fall was visible which promised further difficulties, but it was clear that a considerable quantity of line would be required for the initial obstacle. A possible alternative to the ice-cliff might have been to descend inside a crevasse on the left, and work outwards towards the cliffs falling from the Simvu arete, but it did not look by any means a simple matter, and two of our porters, Hawang and Kitar, could not be relied on where 'rappels' and difficult ground were encountered.
Returning to the tent, we found it still in shadow at 10.45 a
« The Zemu gap and its approaches from this direction are, in fact, exceptionally chilly, for the sun left the camp site as early as 2.30 p.m. Packing up our tent, we made a rapid march, this time on well- consolidated tracks, back to Boulder Camp, covering in three and a half hours ground which had taken no less than ten hours to plod up on the preceding two days.
Next morning, after looking up the Twins glacier in vain for Cooke, I returned to the base. Had I but waited another half-hour I should have seen him for, shortly afterwards, he came in as well.
The Reconnaissance of the North Col, 14th-19th November (written by c. r. cooke).
On the 14th November, while Hunt and his wife were moving up the Sugarloaf glacier, Kikuli, Da Thondup, and I were on our way up the Twins glacier to reconnoitre the back door to Kangchenjunga, namely, the approaches to the col on its great north ridge. The North col lies midway between the Twins and tin- junction of the north-east spur, which has been made famous by Bauer's climbs. It is about 13 feet higher than the summit of Siniolchu and about 2,500 feet above the neve of the Twins glacier. The ridge on which it lies forms an abrupt barrier at the head of the glacier and shuts off the approach to Nepal.
On the Zemu Gap, 18th November 1937
North Col, Kangchenjunga, from the lower portion of the Twins Glacier, 14th November 1937
The wall of 2,000 feet of rock and ice is imposing from any viewpoint. From a distance it looks almost impossible; nevertheless, the route, if feasible, is such a direct one for the north ridge of Kangchenjunga that its reconnaissance was one of the principal objects of our expedition. Unfortunately, the appearance of the wall deceived us into making only a brief reconnaissance, when a more thorough attempt might well have been successful.
There was deep soft snow on the Twins glacier. On leaving Boulder Camp, therefore, we followed its northern flank up to the lower of its two ice-falls. Here the easiest route lay up the scree slopes on our right, and we followed this to the upper part of the ice-fall where the glacier widened round a spur of the Twins ridge and afforded a sheltered spot for a camp. The route of the next day followed a wide curve, keeping to the scree slopes, which at this time of the year were covered with good hard snow, until by lunch- time we had arrived level with the middle of the upper ice-fall. Here we stopped under a rock cliff which met the seracs of the ice- fall and which with them formed a narrow steep snow couloir. After climbing the couloir to the upper neve basin at about 19,700 feet, we met very changed conditions-heavy breakable crust and an icy cold wind directed at us from the North col a mile ahead. Windproofs were donned and crampons hastily removed, as our boots were soaked, owing to the melting snow below, and froze solid on our feet. We could find no sheltered place to camp in the immediate neighbourhood, and pitched the tents a little farther on in a hollow of the neve, diving inside at once to remove our boots. This sudden change of conditions was a lesson in the importance of dry feet.
The evening was blustery but became calm later, though the roar of the wind at 25,000 feet on Kangchenjunga could be heard throughout the night. On the 16th Kikuli and I prospected without loads along the harder slopes towards the col. The appearance of the col wall became less forbidding as we approached it, so Kikuli went back to fetch Da Thondup with a tent and stores for three days, while I continued to prepare the route. The slopes were easy but required step-cutting in many places, and a watch had to be kept for occasional falling stones. I reached the bergschrund which barred the way to the slopes of the wall, and hacked a route across an ice bridge, over the upper lip of the schrund, and up the steep snow beyond to the first of the rocks.
On the arrival of the porters we pitched camp on a platform cut out of the lower lip of the schrund, which here falls away for about 600 feet to the neve under the col wall. The tent was protected from occasional falling stones by the upper lip and also by a tall cliff behind.
We worked hard the next day, climbing almost continuously for seven hours. Grossing the schrund, we ascended sun-crusted snow to a rock gully leading steeply to a vertical buttress of fairly difficult but very sound rock. Two hundred feet of this brought us to a small steep snow couloir, which we climbed. We then traversed to the right to another smaller rock gully with patches of snow and climbed steeply up the side of a snow-fluting, such as are so characteristic of the Sikkim mountains. The fluting was then turned towards the left with care owing to the difficulty of cutting steps satisfactorily in the spongy ice of which it was formed, and we reached the foot of a cliff. We passed under the lee of this cliff over rocks and patches of steep snow in the direction of the North col. Our objective was a long snow slope above us which would take us to a point under the ridge about level with the col; but ahead there was a snow gully exposed to falling stones and ice, which forced us to ascend a rather difficult crack 30 feet up to some overhanging rocks. Here the climbing became more difficult. The porters had to climb the crack with the aid of a fixed rope, and their loads were hauled up afterwards; I then had to climb round and over the overhang and haul up Kikuli. The loads were then swung up the overhang.
It was now getting late and a camp site had to be found. I therefore prospected towards the snow slope above in order to see whether there was a reasonable hope of crossing it and of reaching an ice-bulge a hundred feet under the col. I was forced, however, into another gully, which was swept by a continuous fall of small pieces of ice and occasional stones. This decided me to make the best of the overhang, although it was a very awkward place to fix a camp.
I returned to the porters, lowered one load and Kikuli, and then roped down myself. We now all set to work digging a camp site in the airiest of places at the top of a steep snow-and-ice slope under the overhang. The outside of the tent projected beyond the ice- floor and had to be trussed up with ice-axes supported with ropes. During tea two large stones whirred over our heads like shells, and in the night we were roused by the hum of two rocks going over, though actually we were quite safe.
We passed a warm and comfortable night and were up for the next day's work while it was still dark. Da Thondup and I set off without loads to see whether we could make the col and get a view of Nepal on the other side, but unfortunately the route we had come by was altogether too much under the south face of the higher Twin and we were stopped by falling stones. The first rocks presented all sorts of difficulty and gave no place in which to fix a pi ton, and I had to climb on to Da's shoulders in order to start. We ascended the steep and slabby rocks to a higher overhang, encountering small pieces of falling ice all the while, a disappointment at this early hour. After about 200 feet on this tack we had to make out across the open slope. Da therefore belayed under the rocks while I started to traverse. It was a slope of pure blue ice at about 450
, so that care had to be taken in making the steps. Once a large stone sang overhead on its way to the glacier below. The ice slope seemed interminable, and the step-cutting took so long that I eventually had to admit defeat, the risk not being worth while. The col looked very close when we gave up.
Upper part of North Col, Kangchenjunga, at about 22,000, feet, 17th November 1937
Porters descending North Col Wall, Kangchenjunga, 18th November 1937
Siniolchu, 22,610 feet, from the Simvu La,22nd November 1937
We photographed the north ridge of Kangchenjunga and climbed back to camp. The descent to the schrund camp was a most interesting rock climb and the porters showed an ability which will ever stand out in my memory. We arrived there at one o'clock and passed on quickly to the upper glacier camp, where we took up our spare tent and hurried on to the ice-fall.
On the morning of the 19th we reached Boulder Camp, where we found Hunt's note explaining that he had only just left for the base camp, after examining the Zemu gap. We also found a whole box of food thoughtfully left by Hunt, which was literally pounced upon.
The Return, 22nd November--5th December (written by john hunt).
In reviewing the situation on the 20th, we decided that our much anticipated plan of making a route back over the Simvu La or Zemu gap was now not practicable in view of the fact that we no longer had sufficient carrying power capable of covering difficult ground. Kitar was entirely inexperienced in snow and work, and Hawang had completely broken down. This was a great disappointment, but it seemed better that one of the party at least should attempt it; the plan was therefore made that Cooke, taking the three Sherpas, should move off on the 21st to the Simvu La and send back for second relay of stores. I was to accompany him to the pass to make the track, returning on the 22nd, by which time Kitar should have brought up the Lachen men. We would then return with the latter, taking the remainder of our equipment.
I was back in the base from the Simvu La at 9.30 a.m. on the 22nd, and we at once set off down the glacier. We reached Lachen on the 24th and spent a delightful fortnight wandering back through Sikkim, visiting Gangtok on the way, where we had the good fortune to watch the Lama devil-dancing at the invitation of the Maharaja. From Gangtok we walked via Maka and Kyosing to Pamionchi, returning to Darjeeling through Rinchenpong and Chakung. The beautiful weather and clear view of the Kangchenjunga massif during the latter part of the journey, combined with the facts that we were in no hurry, were travelling light, and that the oranges were ripe, helped in bringing our part of the expedition to as pleasant a close as can well be imagined.
In conclusion, a word of apology is perhaps necessary for the extent to which the conditions of snow and wind, prevailing in November, have been stressed. In an expedition designed primarily for pleasure, and of which the undertakings were, perhaps, more in the nature of an Alpine programme on a large scale, no special analysis of achievement or failure is called for. There is, however, no question but that the factors of deep snow (as a result of the heavy fall in early October) and high winds-a recognized feature of the month of November-affected considerably our efforts at the time, and loom large in my general impressions of our winter visit to the Zemu glacier. Should this heavy precipitation be a regular feature of the late monsoon in this part of the world, and assuming that high winds are normal, then these are serious objections to plans for high ascents at this time of year.
The Return by the Simvu Saddle and Passanram Valley, 21st November -6th December (written by c. r. gooke).
On the 21 st November Hunt and I started for the Simvu saddle with Da Thondup, Kikuli, and Pasang, with food for four men for twelve days. Hunt came with me in order to take photographs and to make the track through the soft snow. He led the entire distance, a fine piece of work, for the snow was extremely exhausting. My plan was to descend to the Passanram glacier, cross the watershed westward into the Tongshyong valley, and return by the Guicha La to Darjeeling.
I had enjoyed ideal weather throughout my Nepal gap reconnaissance, but on this venture I was not so lucky; and as it turned out bad visibility prevented me from reaching the Tongshyong glacier. On the morning of the 22nd, after parting with Hunt, Pasang and I moved our camp over the saddle into a shallow crevasse, while Da Thondup and Kikuli relayed extra food and equipment from the base camp. They had considerable difficulty in doing so, for the wind had completely covered the tracks of the day before with drift snow. Meanwhile, we tried to inspect the proposed route down but were unable to reach a good view-point owing to a crevasse. Pasang was as keen as mustard, and it required considerable argument to dissuade him from marching on to a snow bridge which was about as thick as a biscuit.
Clouds over the Passanram Valley, seen from the Simvu La, 22nd November 1937
On the way down the Passanram glacier. Slopes of Siniolchu on left
After a calm night the morning of the 23rd broke clear, with views nearly to the Talung valley but with a higher bank of cloud filling the Passanram valley level with us at 18,000 feet. I quickly memorized the route on the opposite mountains before the clouds descended. We then started lowering the loads, belayed them, and then roped ourselves down the first pitch of steep snow. The next obstacle was an unclimbable rock chimney. Pasang climbed off to the left under threatening seracs and down to the bottom of the chimney, and the loads were passed down to him. Progress, however, was slow until one o'clock, when we had only descended about 400 feet, but the next 600 feet of easier snow were negotiated quickly in spite of thick cloud and falling snow. We kept a diagonal course down the slope towards the right in the hope of reaching the first of a series of ice-falls on the Simvu slopes. After another 50-foot pitch of easy rocks Da and Pasang returned to the chimney to relay additional loads, while Kikuli and I crossed another snow slope and cut out a camp site.
At dawn the next morning the Passanram valley was clear. I went to the edge of the slope to look for the way across to the western slope of the valley, but found it barred by sheer precipices. I therefore decided to return along part of our route of the previous day and descend from there alongside the ice-fall which comes down from the saddle. On the way down we were careful to keep away from the seracs, which was fortunate because a large one broke away and thundered past us down an inviting gully. At a point about 200 feet below our camp both loads and porters had to be relayed down a difficult rock-pitch. Pasang here proved himself to be a capable if somewhat bold rock-climber. Visibility remained very bad, but we stumbled down to the glacier, making our way amongst crevasses, avalanche debris, and seracs, which loomed up one after another in the fog.
At nightfall it was still snowing steadily and we were ignorant of our height and whereabouts. The porters were very heavily laden but keenly interested in the problem and delighted with their successful efforts. It became necessary now to cut down loads if we were going to make Yoksom before our food petered out, for progress so far had been very slow. The porters busied themselves with this problem, doing away with heavy items of tinned food, jam, &c., by the delectable process of eating it in lumps with their fingers!
Hopes rose on the morning of the 25th when we set off over good hard crust with a clear view down the glacier towards a snow-field a mile farther on and up to the right. On reaching the steep snow slopes of Simvu, however, it started to snow, visibility became worse than ever, and we spent one of the hardest of days fighting for every foot of progress through very deep soft snow lying on a slope of from 35 to
45 degrees. The treacherous going made progress terribly slow, but we had no time to lose. At half-past four we suddenly came to a most welcome relief from the blank whiteness in the shape of a moraine a few feet ahead, and I decided to make height by turning right up the edge of it. We climbed 600 feet until it began to grow dark, then turned off the edge of the moraine and camped. We arrived looking like snow-men. Throughout the night . we were amazed at the continuous roar of avalanches; I have never heard anything like them. We had no idea where our snow-field lay, as this part is quite unmapped. We therefore decided to start next morning in the dark in order to make the best of the early- morning visibility; but in this we were disappointed.
It continued snowing the whole night and was coming down harder than ever at dawn. On calculating, carefully our progress, I was shocked to find that we were still somewhere north of Simvu! I even suggested returning to the Zemu glacier. The porters, however, were most reluctant to do so and persuaded me to try getting down to the Passanram glacier and to reach the junction with the Talung, when we might consider going up the Guicha La if conditions improved. On taking stock of our food, we were relieved to find that it could be made to last another twelve days. We therefore started and, following the moraine, descended rapidly for 1,200 feet. We then struck right-handed, and, becoming involved in a side ice-fall, turned downhill again. After another two hours we unexpectedly found ourselves down on the glacier. At noon we passed below the troublesome clouds and were delighted to see a river far below. The glacier snout was passed at 1.30; and at four o'clock we camped beside the Passanram Chu in pouring rain and sleet.
It was still snowing hard on the morning of the 27th as we packed the soaked and semi-frozen tents and bedding and started ploughing through the cold wet jungle deep in snow. Progress was very slow till we reached a wide stony part of the stream, where we put on quickly a welcome half-mile of valuable distance. We soon, however, had to dive back into the dense jungle and found ourselves being forced higher and higher up the thickly forested slopes far above the stream. At four o'clock there was a delay due to a vertical rock- face down which all of us and the loads had to be roped. Camp was pitched after cutting a clearing in a small patch of straight growing trees, where we built a huge fire and dried our equipment.
Everything had to be dried again the following morning because it snowed during the night. It was still sleeting when we started. Progress was desperately slow, about a quarter of a mile an hour, along the steep eastern flank of the valley, dense jungle and thick undergrowth masking the steep rock-faces, ridges, and towers. Once or twice we wasted much time in cutting down 600 or 1,000 feet to get a view of the river, only to find that it was flowing in a deep gorge. Having heard of the difficulties which the German party had had in getting into the Talung valley from here, and also knowing that the Talung valley was covered with practically virgin jungle, I was becoming anxious that we might run short of food. I had been watching the 1o,ooo-foot rock-pinnacle ahead of us which stands at the junction of the Talung and Passanram valleys and could see that it must take us at least two more days before we could reach the Talung. The question of attempting to cross the Guicha La was abandoned on account of the obviously difficult nature of the western side of the valley and the bad weather. Late in the afternoon Kikuli made a great discovery. He found a piece of fern which had been cut about a week earlier by a man, and from this we were able to follow scanty traces of a trapper till we reached a fine cave. Here I collected some interesting Lepcha eating utensils made of bamboo and some horns left by trappers, depositing my pocket-knife in exchange.
On the morning of the 29th we were overjoyed to find traces of a rough passage cut through the jungle by the trappers. The route was exceedingly difficult and without the track we must have taken four or five days more to reach the Talung. As it was, we came by a most unexpected route down steep rocks at about an angle of 60 degrees and reached the stream where it was bridged by a light bamboo structure. We crossed this, and after some difficulty found the continuation of the track, which followed a most tortuous course along the right bank to a point near the junction of the Talung valley. Here another bamboo bridge was crossed and we climbed steeply for 800 feet on to the crest of the ridge dividing the Talung valley from the Passanram. We cut a clearing and slept on the leafy floor of the forest with the stars above. Our luck had changed, for the weather had now cleared, and in the evening we discovered about 200 feet below our camp the body of a three-year-old wild pig which had evidently been killed by a fall from above. It was quite fresh and we fell on it in no uncertain manner with our kukri and removed about 40 lb. of meat.
Spirits rose high the next morning when we found ourselves on a regular path. An hour later we came across the first Lepcha habitation and were delighted to find that there is a regular main road, or so it seemed to us, all the way to Mangen, at the junction of the Talung with the Tista river. Here we arrived on the 2nd December. Darjeeling was reached on the 6th by way of Samdong, Damtong, and Namchi.