Himalayan Journal vol.10
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.10

Publication year:
1938

Editor:
Kenneth Mason
Index
  1. THE SOURCES OF THE SUBANSIRI AND SIYOM
    (F. Ludlow)
  2. THE SHAKSGAM EXPEDITION, 1937
    (MICHAEL SPENDER)
  3. RESUME OF GEOLOGICAL RESULTS, SHAKSGAM EXPEDITION, 1937
    (J. B. Auden)
  4. A WINTER VISIT TO THE ZEMU GLACIER
    (John Hunt and C.R. Cooke)
  5. THE ASCENT OF NANDA KOT, 1936
    (Y. Hotta)
  6. ACROSS THE GANGOTRI-ALAKNANDA WATERSHED
    (J.A. K. Martyn)
  7. KARAKORAM NOMENCLATURE
    (Kenneth Mason)
  8. THE ASCENT OF CHOMOLHARI, 1937
    (F. SPENCER CHAPMAN)
  9. NANGA PARBAT, 1937
    (PAUL BAUER)
  10. THE KASHMIR ALPS, 1937
    (James Waller)
  11. SOME SCRAMBLES ON THE DHAULA DHAR
    (J. O. M. ROBERTS)
  12. THE FUTURE OF CLIMBING IN TIBET
    (F. SPENCER CHAPMAN)
  13. SURVEYS AND VARIOUS EXPEDITIONS
  14. IN MEMORIAM
  15. NOTES
  16. REVIEWS
  17. CLUB PROCEEDINGS
  18. CLUB NOTICES

THE ASCENT OF NANDA KOT, 1936

Y. Hotta

(The original narrative of this first expedition of Japanese mountaineers to the Himalaya was written by Mr. T. Hotta. For various reasons the narrative has had to be abridged, and, as time did not permit him to refer the paper back to the author in Japan, the Editor asked Lieut.-Colonel Tobin to revise it for publication. Colonel Tobin has endeavoured to adhere to Mr. Hotta's own style and phraseology as far as possible; and both he and the Editor hope that the author will forgive the liberty taken in the unavoidable editing of his interesting narrative.)

Strictly speaking, Nanda Kot is not an untrodden mountain, for Dr. Longstaff had been at least half-way up it some thirty-one years before our attempt. Moreover, it is not so difficult to approach as many other Himalayan peaks, and its height is only 22,530 feet. The esteemed Editor of the Himalayan Journal has, however, honoured us by considering our ascent as sufficiently important for an account of it; and so, by way of greeting on the occasion of Japan's first participation in Himalayan alpinism, this narrative is offered.

Our party consisted of four members of the Mountaineering Club of the Rikkyo University, with Mr. Takebushi, who had, as a ski- runner, represented Japan at the Olympic Games. We were all of us young and without experience of mountains other than those of Japan, none of which exceeds 15,000 feet; so that we could not feel confident of a successful assault on Nanda Kot, some 7,000 feet higher. We had, however, trained ourselves and acquired experience in the Japanese Alps, where heavy snowfalls and intense cold occur. We had experienced temperatures of 30 degrees below zero on Mount Yatsugatake, while lower temperatures than these have been recorded on Fujiyama. We hoped, therefore, that, if Western mountaineers trained in the Alps could succeed in the Himalaya, we stood some chance of success. The main question was whether we could acclimatize or not to Himalayan heights. Subsidiary difficulties were those of transport and supplies. We had no experience of dealing with Indian coolies; and as regards food, we felt it necessary to take a quantity of Japanese supplies. This was done to counteract loss of appetite and under-nourishment at high altitudes; we were, in fact, extravagant enough to take a heavy load of tin- best Japanese rice, although we knew that India is a great rice- producing country.

On the 10th July 1936 the party, with the exception ofYamagata, who had gone ahead to make certain arrangements in India, left Tokyo station. During the weeks of preparation we had tried to remain cool about our enterprise, though our friends made this difficult. We were given an enthusiastic send-off by our university and mountaineering comrades, who sped us on our voyage with the sound of our college and club songs. The sea journey was far from pleasant, owing to the Monsoon, and though we were treated with great hospitality in Calcutta, we were quite relieved to alight from the train at Kathgodam, the railway terminus, and begin the journey to Almora. On the 19th August we started out for Martoli, in the valley of the Gori Ganga, where we arrived on the 30th. The grandeur of the Himalaya, the magnificent scenery of the great gorges, and the lovely snow-covered mountains of Nepal to the east of our route, made a deep impression on us.

From Martoli we ascended the Lwanl Gadh. Our first intention had been to establish a base camp at Narspan Patti, about 5 miles up this valley, but this place was found to be too far from the mountain. A brief reconnaissance decided us to turn off southwards at Narspan Patti towards the snout of the Nanda Kot glacier, and establish camp about a mile and a half farther on.

On the 1 st September as we passed along the Nanda Kot valley it was difficult to notice the ice at all. The valley was filled with huge stones fallen from the mountain-sides. Our base camp was pitched in a hollow at about 15,000 feet. We all suffered to a slight extent from mountain sickness, headaches, and some difficulty in breathing, while during the night we were alarmed every half-hour by avalanches. The next day we paid off fifty of our Almora coolies, who went on their way in the rain contentedly. God bless them! They had worked cheerfully and well under the able direction of our sirdar, Nursang. We had only fifteen Almora coolies remaining with us.

We took a rest on the 3rd September. About noon the weather began to clear and we were able to see the summit of Nanda Kot through a break in the clouds. Some 10 miles to the north-east of it we could see the east peak of Nanda Devi, 24,391 feet, outlined against the sky, with the southern arete along which Dr. Longstaff had once reconnoitred a possible route. We could also see the col on this ridge, crossed later in the year by Tilman's party, leading out of the Tnner Sanctuary'. We wanted to examine it, but were unable to do so from lack of time.

We spent the 4th September reconnoitring. On this dayTakebushi discovered a short distance over the ridge we were on traces of Longstaff's camp of thirty-one years before, an old camp-fire and some empty tins. We found that a steep ridge joined the main east arete of Nanda Kot at a saddle, and that in order to reach this saddle we should have to cross several ice-cliffs on the ridge. It was these cliffs which were going to be our greatest difficulty, and we concluded that we should have to cut a route over them gradually and methodically for the porters, however long this might take. We therefore decided to form an advanced base at the spot we had reached. This took us two days, by which time every one had become quite acclimatized to this altitude, though we were still deceived by the Himalayan scale of the mountains.

Nanda Kot Glacier and Nanda Devi Esat, 24,391 feet 3rd September 1936

Nanda Kot Glacier and Nanda Devi Esat, 24,391 feet 3rd September 1936



 Nanda Devi Kot from the route between the Base and Camp I, 4th September 1936

Nanda Devi Kot from the route between the Base and Camp I, 4th September 1936



Nanda Kot from the route to Camp II, which was pitched in the valley beyond the farthest tracks seen and in front of the small pyramidal peak near the centre of the photograph. 15th September 1936

Nanda Kot from the route to Camp II, which was pitched in the valley beyond the farthest tracks seen and in front of the small pyramidal peak near the centre of the photograph. 15th September 1936



Camp III, Nanda Kot, with the twin summiys of Nanda Devi behind 24th September 1936

Camp III, Nanda Kot, with the twin summiys of Nanda Devi behind 24th September 1936



This advanced base, Camp I, was a short distance beyond Long- staff's old camp on 'Pioneer Terrace'. From here we followed the debris-strewn ridge, passed over a snow-covered ice-field, and selected the site for Camp II at about 17,820 feet. The journey from the base camp to here took about five hours with heavy loads, and for the job we selected some of the strongest of the Almora coolies. We thought it very curious that these men should take three meals a day when resting at the base, whereas they took only two when carrying loads.

Camp II having been established, Hamano and I, with the porters Topgay and Ang Tsering, remained there, while the rest returned to Camp I. On the 8th September we four continued up the ridge in order to cut a route over the ice-cliffs forming its upper part. We reached a point where the slope steepened considerably, and returned to Camp II about four o'clock. Here we were joined by the rest of the party, including twelve Almora coolies, carrying provisions and equipment for Camp III. We suffered a great loss when Topgay became ill this day and had to be sent down to the base. He lay there for several days, but, getting no better, we had to send him back to Almora for treatment; we were glad to hear later that he quite recovered.

Snow fell the following day and as the weather turned very threatening we all returned to Camp I, leaving Camp II unoccupied. Here we remained doing almost nothing until the 14th, owing to the weather, though some of the coolies we had sent down to Martoli for supplies brought back news of the splendid success of the Anglo- American party on Nanda Devi. Three of this party had crossed the Nanda Devi pass, and, following the Lwanl glacier, had reached Martoli.1
The 14th September was very fine and we were able to resume the attack. The leader rearranged the party. Yamagata was to stay at Camp I, and, assisted by Yuasa and Takebushi, was to be responsible for sending up supplies to the advanced party. Hamano, the porter Ang Tsering, and I were to form the attacking party. We left Camp I at two o'clock.

1 Himalayan Journal, vol. ix, 1937, pp. 34-7.

The next day dawned very fine, and, feeling that the Monsoon was really over, we decided to press forward the attack. In the afternoon, Yuasa and Takebushi reached Camp II with supplies for Camp III and were retained with the advanced party, leaving Yamagata to look after the supply details. That evening the perfect form of Nanda Devi became visible. How lovely she was! Her rare beauty enchanted us.

On the 16th September Hamano, Takebushi, Ang Tsering, and I started from Camp II at 8.20 a.m. in intensely cold but fine weather. We rested and warmed ourselves in the sun when we reached the farthest point we had attained before the spell of bad weather set in. At this point the most difficult part of the climb commenced. The route had to cross a series of ice-cliffs and terraces. The first cliff, which was about a hundred feet high, took us an hour's hard work to surmount by a direct attack on its face. The next two were equally difficult, but the fourth was considerably larger. It was half-past one when we reached it, and we then decided to knock off for the day. On the way down we made rope-holds on the first cliff to help bring up the loads.

The Ascent of Nanda Kot

The Ascent of Nanda Kot



On the 18th September material for Camp III was brought up to the foot of the fourth ice-cliff, the loads being hauled up the first cliff by ropes. On our return to Camp II Yamagata had arrived, so that all the five climbers as well as Ang Tsering were present. The construction of Camp III on the following day at 18,800 feet was completed, Hamano, Ang Tsering, and I spending the night there. All of us had found the 40-lb. loads which we had had to carry very heavy for the altitude.

The difficult approach to Camp IV, 4th October 1936

The difficult approach to Camp IV, 4th October 1936



Camp IV, Nanda Kot, 4th October 1936

Camp IV, Nanda Kot, 4th October 1936



The summit of Nanda Kot, 22,530 feet, from the East, 5th October 1936

The summit of Nanda Kot, 22,530 feet, from the East, 5th October 1936



The 20th was our most strenuous day. It started gloomily though not excessively cold, being only 10° below zero at 7 a.m. Determined to conquer the fourth ice-cliff, we roped before leaving the tent, reached the ice-terrace, crossed this knee-deep in soft snow, and made for an ice-gully which was separated from us by a crevasse, which we crossed by a snow bridge. When we reached the gully, the surface of which was so hard that our crampons would make no impression on it, we put Ang Tsering on to cutting steps, while Hamano and I held him from below, though it was distinctly unpleasant being hit by fragments of ice and tormented by the cold in our precarious position.

After passing the gully, which was about 180 feet long, we encountered an ice tower about 180 feet high. We tried to traverse it first on the left-hand side, then on the right, but both sides were equally dangerous. We then tried to climb it direct, but found great difficulty in making any holds. Meanwhile it grew colder and colder and at last began to snow. We therefore decided to go no farther and returned to Camp III, where we found that we had been slightly frostbitten. In the afternoon Yamagata, Yuasa, and Takebushi came up to Camp III, and we all returned then to Camp II.

The next day we were compelled by a snow-storm to rest, but on the 22nd we made another fruitless effort to conquer the tower. The reserve party again came up to Camp III and it seemed wiser to concentrate the whole party at this camp; but before doing so we decided that Yamagata, Yuasa, and Takebushi should carry on where Hamano and I had left off, while we two went down to Camp I for a rest. This change-round took place on the 23rd, and the attack was renewed on the 24th.

Progress was made by inches. Gradually a route was forced by the left side of the tower and a piton driven in from which to hang a rope. Thus a way was made past the great icicles of the overhanging crest of the tower, and the party at last reached its far side. This point was still about 300 feet below the saddle of the main eastern ridge of Nanda Kot where the spur met it, but it could now be seen that there was no insurmountable obstacle in the way. During the return to Camp IV a rope was fixed to facilitate the climb in future.

On the 25th the attacking party reached the main ridge. From here it seemed no more than three-quarters of a mile to the summit, though low clouds impeded visibility. Hamano and I went up to Camp III the same day and the whole party was again re-united. The following morning all except Ang Tsering, who returned to bring up more sugar from below, left Camp III with 30-lb. loads at 11 a.m. and reached the col on the main ridge four hours later. The late start was due to the cold of the early morning, for it was not till eleven o'clock that the sun reached the tent. Arrived at the col, we pitched Camp IV between two ice towers on the southeast side of the main ridge. Hamano and I remained here while the rest hastened back to Camp III.

After a very cold night during which fresh snow fell, the party at Camp III tried to reach us at Camp IV with supplies, but were prevented by bad weather, while we were compelled to remain idle at the high camp. During the nights of the 27th and 28th terrible winds were experienced, but the morning of the 29th broke calm and clear. After climbing a short distance from Camp IV, we came to a knife-edged ridge, dangerously corniced on the side of the Nanda Kot glacier, but, with insufficient time to reconnoitre, it could not be safely tackled and we returned to Camp IV. The same day the rest of the party from Camp III, except Ang Tsering, who had gone down to Camp I with a bad cough, came up to Camp IV, which thus became very crowded.

On the 30th we got away early, confident of reaching the summit that day. Fortunately, the dangerous-looking cornice proved to be easy and led us to a dome connected with the summit by a steep ridge which fell away sheer to the Nanda Kot glacier, 5,000 feet below. We soon realized, however, that the distance was farther and the slope steeper than we had anticipated, while the altitude forced us to rest every ten steps. The magnificent view, however, encouraged us on this toilsome ascent. We could see Panch Chuli, Trisul, and the twin peaks of Nanda Devi, and possibly the massif of Badrinath. A strong north-east wind cut through our heavy clothing, which was only poor protection against the bitter cold. After surmounting another dome we found ourselves still 1,000 feet below the summit. The route led up a steep ridge with precipitous sides, falling to the Nanda Kot and Shalung glaciers.

The weather now began to look threatening and it began to snow. Though we could only see a few yards, we pushed on undaunted; but at three o'clock, when we were still 500 feet from the top, we had to give it up. Two hours later we regained Camp IV tired and glum.

Heavy snow fell during the night and when we turned out next morning the ice-axes and crampons, which had been left outside, were all buried. After some hours we recovered them, but the work took so much out of us that we decided to beat a retreat to Camp I for a thorough rest. Yamagata, however, was too exhausted and decided to remain a day longer; he joined us next day below.

Nanda Kot, 22, 530 (left), and her Shoulder, 20,740  feet (right), from near Trail Pass 9th October 1936.

Nanda Kot, 22, 530 (left), and her Shoulder, 20,740 feet (right), from near Trail Pass 9th October 1936.



The twin peaks of Nanda Devi, 25,645 and 24,391 feet, from the route between Narspan Patti and Traill’s Pass, 9th October 1936

The twin peaks of Nanda Devi, 25,645 and 24,391 feet, from the route between Narspan Patti and Traill’s Pass, 9th October 1936



We spent the first two days of October at Camp I. In spite of the fact that the alpine plants had withered, the place seemed a paradise to us. The date of our return to Japan was, however, approaching, and if we were to succeed we must finish the climb within a week. On the 3rd October, therefore, Yamagata, Take- bushi, and Ang Tsering went up to Camp III, going on to Camp IV the following day, when the rest of us joined them from Camp I.

On the 5th the weather was windy but fine, and we determined to make a supreme effort, knowing that this would be our last chance. We filled our pockets with dried fruits, chocolates, and sweets, and took with us hot tea. Starting at 7.30, we made good progress to the top of the dome at 21,450 feet, which we reached in two hours. The wind abated considerably as we ascended and the view became grander and clearer.

At half-past eleven we began the final ascent. We were all roped together; we knew that this was technically wrong, but we could not help it. Yuasa began by leading, though I relieved him later. The last 60 feet were over a cornice. It was 2.55 p.m. when we reached the summit. It was, however, too cold to remain there long, so we hastily buried our National Flag and other mementoes of the ascent and began the return to Camp IV, which we reached at half-past five. Here we treated ourselves to a feast of Mochi-a kind of rice dumpling taken on festive occasions in Japan-but on this occasion it was tinned Mochi I We even enjoyed the severe cold that night at 20,000 feet, now that our cherished ambition had been fulfilled.

The journey down to the base camp was without incident and from here some of us decided to return by way of Traill's pass and the Pindari glacier, while the rest returned by Martoli. We had with us for the Pindari crossing both Ang Tsering and a sixty-year- old volunteer, Dewan Singh Martolya, who many years before had been with Mr. Ruttledge over Traill's pass.[1] It took us an hour to cut through the cornice on the north side of the pass. We bivouacked on the rocks above the Pindari glacier. On the nth October Dewan Singh guided us cleverly over the two ice-falls and down the glacier.

We reached Almora on the 17th October. In closing this account would like to express our gratitude to the Government of India, the Government of the United Provinces, the Deputy Commissioner of the Almora district, and to the officers and Committee of the Himalayan Club and other individuals and organizations without whose help our expedition could not have been successful.


[1] An account of this crossing in August 1926, written by Sir Roger Wilson, is given in Alpine Journal, vol. xl, 1928, pp. 33 seqq. A reconnaissance of the pass in early June 1925 is summarized by Mr. Ruttledge in Himalayan Journal, vol. i, 1929, pp. 81-4. The earlier history of the pass is given in A. L. Mumm's Five Months in the Himalaya.-Ed.