Himalayan Journal vol.10
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Kenneth Mason
    (F. Ludlow)
    (J. B. Auden)
    (John Hunt and C.R. Cooke)
    (Y. Hotta)
    (J.A. K. Martyn)
    (Kenneth Mason)
  9. NANGA PARBAT, 1937
  10. THE KASHMIR ALPS, 1937
    (James Waller)
    (J. O. M. ROBERTS)
  15. NOTES



IN February 1936 I went to India as a member of Marco Pallis's expedition to the Zemu glacier, and afterwards climbed for several weeks with J. B. Harrison in the Lhonak district.1 On my return from this expedition I was fortunate to become private secretary to Mr. B.J. Gould, the Political Officer in Sikkim, and accompanied him on his diplomatic mission to Lhasa, where we stayed for six months as guests of the Tibetan Government. In August 1936, on our way to Lhasa, and again in February the following year, we rode for several days within sight of the sacred sentinel peak of Chomolhari,2 for the trade route, as it crosses the Tang La, at 15,200 feet, passes within 6 or 7 miles of this holy mountain. Rising straight from the level plateau to 24,000 feet, Chomolhari gives an extraordinary impression of sheer height and inaccessibility. At the same time it is extremely beautiful. I examined it minutely, and on each occasion while halted at Phari Dzong, just 10 miles from the summit in a straight line, I climbed a neighbouring hill and examined it, so far as the persistent clouds permitted. I concluded that, if I could once reach the comparatively gently sloping southern snow face, the mountain would 'go'.

In April 1937, finding that I had a few weeks to spare before returning to England, I determined to put my theories to the test. The question of permission, however, presented serious difficulties. Chomolhari is so holy to the Tibetans that each year a procession sets out from Phari to crave her protection; and as we had already, during Mr. Gould's visit to Lhasa, obtained a reluctant permission for the 1938 Mount Everest expedition, I felt rather unwilling to trouble the Lhasa Government again, in view of their evident veneration for their sacred places. Moreover, Chomolhari is on the Tibet-Bhutan border, and as I hoped to climb it from the Bhutan side, the permission of the young Maharaja was necessary. My friend Raja Tobgay Dorje at Kalimpong immediately sent a runner with a letter to His Highness at Punakha, the capital of Bhutan, and at the same time telegrams were sent to Mr. H. E. Richardson, i.c.s., who was still maintaining the Lhasa mission, to see whether he could obtain the permission of the Kash-ag, or Cabinet. I should like to record here my deep gratitude to all concerned for their kindness.

Chomolhari from the roof of the dak bunglow at Phari, 6th August 1936

Chomolhari from the roof of the dak bunglow at Phari, 6th August 1936

Chomolhari, 23,997 feet, and its neighbours from Tuna, on the north, 7th August 1936

Chomolhari, 23,997 feet, and its neighbours from Tuna, on the north, 7th August 1936

Meanwhile, optimistically, I made my preparations. It was very difficult to find a companion at such short notice, when the project ' was still uncertain, and when most of those who might have been available were either home on leave or climbing elsewhere. I wired to Holdsworth at Peshawar, to Martin at Dehra Dun, to Wood Johnson at his tea garden, and to the various Himalayan Club secretaries. At last I persuaded C. E. Crawford, of Imperial Chemical Industries at Calcutta, to apply for leave, which he managed to get, though he had to be back in Calcutta well before the end of May. He had had no previous experience of snow work, but being only twenty-four and fit I felt that he would learn quickly. In view of the number of expeditions already in the hills, I was lucky to find several porters available at Darjeeling. I chose three of them: Nima Tondrup, who had been on Everest in 1924, Kang- chenjunga in 1930, and Kamet in 1931, to name only a few of his achievements; Pasang Kikuli, a younger man, who had served on three Kangchenjunga expeditions, and was on Everest in 1933 and on Nanga Parbat in 1934; also a less experienced porter, Pasang (Sherpa), who had been with Bauer in 1929. At the very last moment, Ang Nima, who had been with us the year before in the Zemu region, appeared; much against my will I had to refuse him, because we could not afford four porters; also, he was liable to become ill above 20,000 feet, and the other three wanted to serve together. As I had had only one season's experience of the Himalaya, though considerably more of snow and ice conditions in the Alps and Arctic, I thought that Nima Tondrup's knowledge would be valuable when a second opinion regarding routes was required. Owing to his age-he was forty-two-I did not expect him to get very high. I imagined that Crawford, Kikuli, and I would attempt the summit, with the other two in support.

Towards the end of April I went to stay with those dear friends of so many mountaineers-the Odlings of Kalimpong. Meanwhile, Crawford and I exchanged hectic telegrams. I had some personal equipment left over from Marco Pallis's 1936 expedition, but no tents or gear for porters. The Himalayan Club did what they could, but several expeditions were already in the field and we had to be content with remnants. Crawford collected what they had left: a miniature marquee with two heavy poles and no ground- sheet, weighing about 40 lb.; two Mummery tents in rather dilapidated condition; and two tiny bivouac tents. Primus stoves, cooking utensils, boots, windproofs, warm clothes, and sleeping-bags had to be borrowed, improvised, or, as a last resort, bought. Rigid economy was essential; we were both very hard up and the whole expedition was planned to cost us £20 each. Actually we managed to keep just within this figure, £19 12s. 6d.

On the 6th May Crawford reached Kalimpong with a car-load of assorted gear, and we spent a busy day testing the primus stoves, pitching the tents for examination, and so on. In the evening we went down to the village store for supplies. At six o'clock the next morning we left Kalimpong by car for Gangtok. No permission had yet come through, but with the monsoon not far off and Crawford's leave being very limited, we had to make a move to Gnatong near the Tibetan border. It was all rather a forlorn hope. At Gnatong we must wait for permission to enter Tibet; then we could go as far as Phari and wait for the Bhutanese permit. We got away from Gangtok Residency at four o'clock and, under-estimating the steep 10-mile rise to Karponang, only reached there at 8.30 p.m., long after dark and in pouring rain.

The Sikkim forests with their graceful bamboos and white tree- orchids were at their best. It is amazing that vegetation can cleave to such precipitous hill-sides, though in some places whole strips have peeled off, leaving bare grey scars of rock. On the way up it was raining and we were lucky to see the most wonderful double rainbow, which went so far down into the valley at our feet that it seemed almost worth while descending to search for the Crock of Gold.

Next day we reached Changu, to find half the lake still frozen over. A foot of new snow lay on the hills. We had come by Gangtok on the Natu La route in order to save time, but now we had to cross over to the Jelep La route to reach Gnatong, where there is a post office, and where we hoped to receive permission to proceed. At the foot of the Natu La, however, we found that the track to Kopup and Gnatong was quite impassable; there were 2 feet of new soft snow. We were therefore forced to go on over the Natu La to Yatung in Tibet, where we could get in touch with Gnatong by telegraph.

From the top of the Natu La, 14,200 feet, we should have had a view of Chomolhari, but unfortunately the weather was bad. At the summit of the pass we met a train of about fifty mules bringing the coarse Tibetan wool down to Kalimpong. Our own four mules had to take to the deep snow, leaving the single track clear for the larger caravan.

On the Tibetan side the rhododendrons and azaleas were not yet in flower, but a strongly aromatic smell emanated from them as we descended once more to the warm resin-scented pine woods and the comfortable bungalow of Champithang (Chubitang). It is curious that on this march I felt violently ill. Since leaving Gangtok I had been unable to eat anything, and it was not till I reachcd Phari that I felt well again. As I was at my worst on the Natu La, I am forced to believe that I was suffering from mountain sickness, which is surprising, as I had only recently returned over 16,000-foot passes from Lhasa, where I had spent six months at 12,000 feet without any sickness whatsoever.

Chomolhari from a mile or two on the Tuna (north) side of the Tang La. The aiguille Khap-ri just breaks the line of the long snow slope about the centre of the picture. 1st March 1937

Chomolhari from a mile or two on the Tuna (north) side of the Tang La. The aiguille Khap-ri just breaks the line of the long snow slope about the centre of the picture. 1st March 1937

Chomolhari: Dawn on the 2nd March 1937

Chomolhari: Dawn on the 2nd March 1937

The next march took us down to the comparatively large village of Yatung, where lives the hospitable Rai Bahadur Norbu Tondrup, the British trade-agent, who had been our interpreter in Lhasa. The valley here, shut in by steep fir-clad hill-sides leading up to lush upland pastures where yaks can be seen grazing, is reminiscent of Switzerland, especially as the houses are roofed like chalets with grey wooden tiles weighed down with stones. There were several kinds of primulas and gentians in flower, and a very sweet-smelling daphne shrub.

As soon as we reached Yatung we went straight to the post office, where we learnt that there were two telegrams for me at Gnatong. We waited in suspense while the telegraph master had them relayed over the line. One was from Mr. Gould saying that we could proceed to Yatung with the permission of the Tibetan Government, and there await the Bhutanese permit. The other was from the Raja Dorje saying that the Maharaja of Bhutan had no objection to the enterprise. No presents could have been more welcome on this day, the 10th May, my thirtieth birthday.

From Yatung the winding cobbled track leads steeply uphill following a turbulent mountain stream. Suddenly, half-way between Yatung and Gautsa, the valley opens out most unexpectedly, and the track crosses several miles of wide level meadow-land, the Lingmatang plain, set about a deep meandering river, in which, much to the surprise of the muleteers, we bathed. Here could be seen the black yak-hair Tibetan tents often pitched over a surrounding wall built of the bales of coarse wool, while hundreds of yaks grazed placidly in the neighbourhood. Beyond the plain the hills close in again; and after Gautsa the track rises steeply once more and leaves the fir and rhododendron forests by a valley that gradually widens until it joins the rolling grass-covered plateau of Tibet proper.

Snow-finches, skylarks, and the ubiquitous little mouse-hare replace the birds and beasts of the forest; and instead of flowering shrubs and masses of mauve and purple primulas we found dwarf azaleas and a typically Alpine or Arctic flora. All at once, rounding a corner, we saw the gleaming snow-clad pyramid of Chomolhari, rising in splendid isolation above the plain, dominating, even at that distance, the landscape. We gazed at it for some time through glasses; the porters seemed optimistic. If only we could get on to that final ridge!

We were carrying packs in order to accustom ourselves to the loads we should have to carry on the mountain; and very wearisome did we find the last part of that 17-mile stage, with the village of Phari in sight in the abnormally clear atmosphere, but apparently drawing no nearer.

Approaching Phari the track runs in a straight line across a rolling plain nearly 10 miles wide. Bordering this plain are rounded grass-covered hills not unlike the Yorkshire moors, and in places can be seen the snows of the Great Himalaya. From Phari the sandy track can be seen leading to the hamlet of Ghug-ya ('the frozen stream') and from there over the Tang La, 'the level pass', surely the easiest of all passes in Tibet.

Chomolhari is hidden in cloud now. It seems to be snowing up there. Across the plain purple cloud-shadows chase each other and a sudden wind starts blowing dust-devils high into the air. It is a good thing to travel early in this country, especially on the high wind-swept plateau.

Except for the dak bungalow and one or two other buildings, Phari is a compact village built round the Dzong, which was ruined in the 1904 expedition and has not since been repaired. The houses are built of mud and sods, and have flat roofs. Over them flutter hundreds of prayer-flags in a haze of blue smoke from the yak-dung fires within. The village, at a height of 14,300 feet above sea-level, is reputed to be the filthiest in the world. 'Dirt, dirt, grease, smoke. Misery, but good mutton', wrote Thomas Manning when describing it in 1811. Changes come very slowly to Tibet, and Phari is just the same to-day.

The Ascent,

On the afternoon of the 12th May, the day we reached Phari, I scrambled up a further 3,000 feet among the outer foothills of Chomolhari to reconnoitre some way of approach; but so low were the clouds that the mountain was completely hidden. Next day, with six wild-looking men to carry our gear so that our own porters could take things easily till we reached the snow-line, we left Phari hoping to discover a way through to the high glaciated ridge that runs due south from the summit. The only available map was the Survey of India quarter-inch sheet 78 e, which was only approximate, showing a single ridge where there were actually four or five.

At seven o'clock we caught a glimpse of Chomolhari with clouds of new snow blowing off the ridge and a long snow plume trailing from the summit. There is something unearthly about that solitary spire of dazzling whiteness framed in the sombre hills. Nima and I started an hour before the others in order to climb a rocky hill from the summit of which we hoped to get an uninterrupted view of the intervening country. Unfortunately by the time we got there the clouds had once more come down and a hailstorm swept over us, forcing us to rejoin the others. We camped on fresh snow in a desolate horseshoe valley surrounded by a serrated rocky ridge.

Crawford and I spent the afternoon reconnoitring this obstacle, which greatly resembled the Snowdon horseshoe in form and steepness. We decided that it was too difficult for laden porters. From the top of it, when the mist cleared for a moment, we had a rather disconcerting glimpse of a deep wooded Bhutanese valley on the far side of which was another steep rocky wall surmounted by hanging glaciers.

More snow fell during the night, but the morning of the 14th was clear. As we struck camp the first rays of the sun were reddening the snows of Pauhunri, 23,200 feet, just the other side of the Phari plain. The great mass of this mountain, almost a complete range in itself, rose above the mass of billowing grey mist which filled the whole plain like a tranquil sea. Very soon, however, clouds formed on the summit of Pauhunri and we saw it no more. Snow- cocks were calling to each other across the valley with harsh grouselike notes. Later in the day we would hear their usual call, a liquid curlew-like whistle, suddenly interrupting the silence of the rocky hill-sides. Above our camp a pair of immense lammergeyers soared in wide inquisitive circles.

As we could not approach the mountain directly from this side we crossed the Tibet-Bhutan boundary by the Sur La and descended a very steep track into another valley. Only two of our six Phari men had been over the pass before, but it was clearly marked by a line of cairns which showed up well through the deep new snow. Once when we stopped to rest below the mists that shrouded the hill-tops we saw far below us a herd of about sixty bharal grazing quietly on the level pastures at the bottom of the valley. Among them we could make out a dozen rams with exceptionally fine heads and bold black markings on their necks and legs.

The well-marked track led down steeply to the valley bottom, where it was lost in pasture-land. The far side of this enclosed valley looked very steep and disappeared in cloud; if we followed il down towards the south we could see that we should soon be among rhododendrons, junipers, and deodars again, and still farther from our objective. To the north, however, the valley divided; up ili< western branch there was a track which we later discovered crossed a pass to Chu-gya, on the Phari-Tang-La route. The eastern branch led up to a semicircular valley, above which, looming through the clouds, we could just make out the blue-and-green snouts of several hanging glaciers. It seemed that there might be a route beside one of these glaciers on to the big snow-field beyond and thence to the southern arete of Chomolhari. We therefore camped in the amphitheatre at about 17,500 feet, and sent back our six Phari men with the marquee in which they had slept and as much gear as we could possibly spare, for, as is usually the case, we found that we had brought far too much with us. We also sent back the crampons, as the mountain had up till now always been hidden in snow clouds and we thought that ski would have been more valuable.

At midday Crawford and I set off to climb a steep snow couloir behind the camp. Among the rocks were many tall wild rhubarb stems left from the year before. Choughs were common; we saw occasional vultures and lammergeyers, and a pair of powder-blue Hodgson's grandula. After spending three hours scrambling up steep new snow with some rock pitches, we followed the crest of the ridge northwards for half a mile. We could see down into the purple Bhutan valleys clothed in pine, and across our 'Snowdon ridge' to the Phari plain. We must have reached about 19,500 feet. At four o'clock the clouds suddenly cleared and we saw Chomolhari far above us.1 The last 3,000 feet seemed to be just possible. The southern slope was cut by several slashing ice-falls and fearsome crevasses. Between us and the foot of Chomolhari there was a col of snow and ice which it was impossible to reach. This meant that we should have to make a detour into another abysmal valley in order to reach the hill-side leading to the south arete. There is a sharp aiguille on this side of and to the south-west of Chomolhari; I called it Khap-ri, 'the needle mountain'.

By this time our boots and socks were soaking wet. It started to hail and snow at about six o'clock as we returned after a difficult descent to camp.

On the 15th May we set out at dawn realizing that we had a very heavy day before us. Now that we were without our six Phari men we each had to carry at least 60 lb.; probably the three porters' loads weighed 20 or 30 lb. more than this. With a good twelve hours' daylight before us we took it slowly, walking for twenty minutes and resting for ten. In the mist it was difficult to find the best way round the steep rocky spurs, but without losing much height we traversed the hills that separated us from the next valley. Then, finding that the sides of the upper part of this valley were too precipitous to be climbed, we were forced to descend again past birch- and rhododendron-covered hill-sides to the fir and juniper woods of the valley bottom. This was certainly discouraging, for we were even lower than at Phari, but we could at last see that the steep mountain-side before us was the one that led directly to the maze of ice-falls and corniced ridges through which we should have to thread a way to the final 3,ooo-foot snow slope leading to the summit.

1 See illustration No. 5.

Summit of Chomolhari appearing through clouds, Photographed from the ridge behind the camp, 14th May 1937

Summit of Chomolhari appearing through clouds, Photographed from the ridge behind the camp, 14th May 1937

At the foot of the curved ridge leading to the top of the wall, before camp at 20,000 feet, 18th May 1937

At the foot of the curved ridge leading to the top of the wall, before camp at 20,000 feet, 18th May 1937

Foreshortened view of the route of ascent, Chomolhari. Giant's Fang at bottom right. Camp 20,000 feet, 18th May, at white dot. Last Camp, 21,500feet, 20th May, at white cross. Photographed on 16th May 1937

Foreshortened view of the route of ascent, Chomolhari. Giant's Fang at bottom right. Camp 20,000 feet, 18th May, at white dot. Last Camp, 21,500feet, 20th May, at white cross. Photographed on 16th May 1937

This last descent to the valley was so precipitous that we had to hold on to the rhododendron trees. Some saffron, pink, and white blooms were already showing. After about 1,000 feet the tiny track led through a wood of large alder and birch. There were some magnificent patches of deep-purple Primula Roy lei, and then we emerged into a most beautiful level valley with a trout-stream meandering down the centre, which was fed by several large glaciers of Chomolhari. Having crossed the river by a crazy plank bridge we fought our way up the juniper-clad hill-side until we reached a 'mani' wall. These mani walls are common features of Tibet; this one was about 8 feet high, 4 feet thick, and 60 feet long; it was embellished with flat stones on which were carved and painted buddhas and prayers in Tibetan characters. Such walls must always be left on the right hand by the traveller.

We were much tempted to camp by a yak-herd's hut in a delectable valley carpeted with blue and purple irises as well as the usual varieties of brightly coloured primulas. There were several marmots, too, who sat up and whistled shrilly at this invasion of their privacy. There is a spring of crystal-clear water on the eastern slope of this hanging valley. We rested here before staggering up the steep grassy slope to our long-sought ridge. By three o'clock we had reached a height equal to that of our last camp, 17,500 feet, and here we camped, just below the snow-line, feeling that we had had a most successful, if arduous, day.

Sunday, the 16th May, was a miserably ineffectual day. It was quite clear outside the tents in the early morning though some dirty cumulus clouds were blowing up. From a hummock 50 feet above the camp there was a fine view of Chomolhari. After a double pinnacle of rock about 80 feet high which was vertical on the north and western faces and which I called 'the Giant's Fang', there appeared a broken ice hummock with a sharp and twisted corniced edge; this looked as though it might be difficult. Then there was a long ice-crested ridge which led to a mile-long saddle at a higher level. This was scarred by many crevasses, and just where it joined the foot of the final long arete there appeared to be gashes right across it.

We set off along the broken slabs towards the Giant's Fang, but mist enveloped us before we reached it and forced us to camp. Snow fell at 9 a.m. and continued all day.

The next day there was better visibility. Before we got on to the snow we made a cache of anything we could leave behind in order to lighten our loads. Passing between the foot of the Giant's Fang and some loose stones we reached the low ice col at the foot of the north face of the Fang and roped up, Nima behind me on the first rope, Kikuli, Crawford, and Pasang on the second. There was deep snow on the ridge and crevasses on either side, but it was not too difficult, and from here we reached a corner of the four-ridged dome we called Dorje, 'the thunderbolt'.

Passing some wide crevasses which were safely bridged, and following another narrow snow ridge, we eventually reached the . long level saddle. I estimated that we had risen about 800 feet from the Giant's Fang col, and here, although it was only eleven o'clock, the mist closed down on us and it began to snow. It is difficult to believe that this happens at every season of the year, but certainly on almost every day we were on the mountain a fine mist with falling snow, through which the sun shone with a blinding diffused glare, started between nine o'clock and noon and lasted intermittently until night. As the whole mountain was badly crevassed it became necessary to camp the moment visibility became bad from this cause. Without this handicap it might have been possible to reach the summit in two days from the snow-line and to return in one, though without the snow underfoot we should probably have had to cut very many more steps which would have delayed us.

From here we could see better what lay ahead. On the eastern side of our saddle the glacier stopped abruptly, showing naked rock which fell in a series of almost vertical precipices to the moraine- filled valley below. On the west the glacier tumbled in a steep and much broken ice-fall to the valley we had crossed two days earlier. Ahead of us the next quarter of a mile looked level and easy, but after that the saddle narrowed to the point we called 'the Great Divide', where two formidable alternatives which had been hidden from us up till now presented themselves. On the east was a long undulating crest of hard blue ice, very steep in places and unpleasantly exposed; on the west was an amphitheatre of ice, flanked on the east by this ice ridge. Beyond, the last 3,000 feet of the arete were steep and seemed to be crossed by several bare ice-falls, though it did not appear unduly difficult.

On the night of the 17th May we all slept well, though Crawford and Nima were very much exhausted and I noticed that Kikuli was spitting blood into the snow. The next morning we left Nima, who was too old to go much higher, alone at our camp on the ridge, with the two larger tents. The rest of us, with two minute bivouac tents, a primus stove, and food for five days, set off at four o'clock, just as the sun rose. Kikuli came on to my rope and Pasang led the second.

There was deep snow on the saddle and many crevasses to circumvent or cross. We could now see that there is a more eastern approach to the mountain, higher than the one we had chosen and parallel to it, but I think that ours was the easier. The two ridges met just south of the Great Divide. Across this narrow passage there was one rather perilous oblique snow bridge. Had this proved unsafe we should have been forced to return.

The nearer we got to the ice ridge the more formidable did it appear. A single false step would almost certainly end in disaster. The amphitheatre route appeared safer, for here a slip would merely precipitate the party into a pile of deep soft snow at its foot. We therefore traversed round to the foot of the amphitheatre and cut a devious route up the tangle of ice blocks that lay against the lower slopes of the ice ridge, and up the ioo-foot wall beyond.

It was a most exhausting day, for where we were not cutting steps in ice we were sinking over knee-deep into new snow. The dazzling glare of the sun on the snow produced intolerable lassitude. Pasang, though a trifle over-eager, climbed magnificently, and both he and Kikuli did their share of leading. Kikuli, however, was feeling ill. Whenever we halted he spat quantities of blood and sat disconsolately on the snow. At the top of the amphitheatre we worked our way up a series of steep snow-covered slopes, zigzagging to cross the bridges over the innumerable crevasses. Several times one or other of us went through up to the arm-pits; it was very good practice for the party, but rather a severe initiation for Crawford. A vertical wall of ice about 20 feet high next barred our way, but we found a way up a curved ridge which led to the top of the wall.1 We plodded on until we reached a steepening slope on which the snow lay thigh deep. Here I kept sinking into hidden crevasses which I could not find with my axe owing to the depth of snow on top. We were now completely exhausted and therefore made for a small col which would be free from any danger of avalanches. Here we pitched our two bivouac tents feeling that things had gone better than we had dared to hope. It had hailed and snowed during the afternoon, but we had been able to go on till three o'clock. We estimated the height of this camp at 20,000 feet.

The next day, the 19th, I called the other tent at 3 a.m., and we were ready to start at 4.30. Only Pasang, however, turned out; Kikuli stretched out an arm and emptied a large cupful of blood into the snow. As it was only his teeth that were bleeding, and nothing internal, I decided that we should be justified in leaving him alone for the day while the rest of us went on. As he needed one tent and it was quite impossible for the three of us to crowd into the other, we were forced to leave the camp standing. I do not think that I realized quite how far we were from the summit, and I felt that, if all went well, we might just reach it and get back to the camp that day.

See illustration No. 6.

Just as we left camp a small tortoiseshell butterfly fluttered past the tents and disappeared from view still flying, or perhaps being carried unwillingly, upwards. The going above the camp was not difficult; but, as on the previous day, the new snow hid many crevasses and made it difficult for the leader, probing with his ice- . axe, to know whether he was pushing it into soft snow or into a crevasse. Several times one of us went through, but the rope prevented him from going far.

After eight hours, without cutting a single step, we reached a point about 1,000 feet above the camp. Here we realized that we had gone too far to the east. The slope became too steep to traverse any farther round, and above us was a 30-foot ice-wall. We were all three almost at the limit of our strength and staggered back to camp wondering why on earth we had ever come on this fantastic and forlorn quest. It snowed all night and we were much constricted in our tiny tents.

Crawford, who still felt rather ill from the effects of the height, was due back in Calcutta in a few days' time; and as Kikuli could obviously get no farther the two of them returned to Nima on the 20th. On that day it took us a long time to start, for the tents were buried in snow and everything had to be sorted out. Kikuli seemed no better, but had the good sense to realize that he could not stay there for ever; in fact he said he felt quite competent to guide the party downhill. It was fortunate that Kikuli rallied, because Crawford told me afterwards that he was suffering badly from mountain sickness with the result that he lost his sense of balance and had frequently to be steadied by Kikuli.

Pasang and I each carried about 25 lb. We took with us one bivouac tent and double eider-down sleeping-bags, an 8o-foot rope, and food which would last from four to eight days. We followed our tracks of the day before, though they were covered in 6 inches of new snow, and then keeping more to the west crossed the ice-fall where a fallen flake of ice formed a natural bridge. It was so steep that both hand- and foot-holds had to be cut, though fortunately not for long. Looking back from here I was relieved to see that Crawford and Kikuli had reached Nima and that the three of them were nearing the ridge leading to the Giant's Fang.

Just above the ice-fall we were laboriously cutting steps up a steep slope when suddenly a violent gale sprang up from the west accompanied by snow. The blizzard lasted for two hours without intermission; there were several peals of thunder. All we could do was to crouch motionless in our steps and hold on to our axes. Eventually the wind lessened, though the snow continued. We were cold and exhausted: something had to be done. There was no level campsite, so we found a place where the ice fell vertically for 6 feet or so, and with our axes we cut out a platform for the tent at the foot of the wall, hoping that it would throw falling ice clear of us. This camp was at about 21,500 feet, 1,500 feet above our last camp, and 2,500 feet from the summit.

We spent an uncomfortable night as snow continually poured off the slope on to our tent, and by morning we were half buried. The zip fastener which should have closed the opening of the tent had refused to czip', and our heads were buried in a pile of fine snow which had driven into the tent. There was, therefore, no temptation to dally long in our sleeping-bags and I began cooking at two o'clock. We had a good breakfast of porridge with plenty of butter and sugar in it, and Tibetan tea, which contains butter and salt instead of milk and sugar. With this we ate tsamba, or roasted barley meal, a very appetizing and nutritious food that forms the staple diet of the poorer Tibetans.

On the morning of the 21st May we were away by 4.30. For several hours, with only a few short rests, we cut and kicked steps up the snow slope. It was only after an hour's climbing that we rose above the sharp summit of Khap-ri, to the west-south-west, which is actually much higher than it appears from below. First we kept to the left and worked across to a reddish outcrop of granite separating the snow slope from a tremendous rock precipice that seemed to fall almost sheer to the Phari plain. Then we kept on the edge, occasionally climbing between outcrops of rock. The going was ideal. We were in prefect rhythm-kick, pause, step, kick, pause, step-moving together for three-quarters of the slope, and only stopping to belay over particularly steep or difficult sections. Only occasionally did we have to cut steps, when exposed ribs of hard ice protruded through the snow. Luckily most of the new snow had blown off and the going was not as heavy as the heartbreaking surface we had experienced lower down. We took it in turns to lead. Pasang was magnificent; his cheerfulness and determination never flagged.

Just before midday we reached the top of the slope. The view on the way up was superb. As Chomolhari is so isolated we could see for miles in every direction. To the south we looked down into the steep wooded valleys of Bhutan, which were separated by massive mountains of brown rock only occasionally raising their heads above the snow-line. Phari was plainly visible and I almost hoped that the people there could see us; though they were so certain that Chomolhari was unclimbable that I felt sure they would not even trouble to look. The colouring of the Tibet plateau was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. On the plain and among the foot-hills towards Kampa Dzong were shadows of the deepest violet and of the brown of autumn bracken and beach leaves. Each time I looked at it the pattern and colouring had changed as the cloud shadows scurried across.

Gradually, as we approached the western ridge, all the mountains of the Eastern Himalaya that I had ever heard of swung into view. We felt as if we were on the very top of the world. Ma-song-chong- dzong-ri to the south-west; Pauhunri, just across the deep-shadowed Phari plain; the great mass of Kangchenjunga, with a cloud system all of its own; Siniolchu, Chomiomo, Pandim, Kabru; and 150 miles away to the west, yellowed by distance, unconquered Everest and Makalu. I felt a sudden sense of shame. What right had we to be up there?

At the top of the slope Pasang was disappointed to see that the actual summit still lay another 500 feet above us to the north. It was separated from us by a curved undulating ridge of extreme sharpness. On the west an error of judgement would have resulted in a fall of thousands of feet down almost vertical rock. To the east one would have fallen over ice and snow, but the result would have been the same.

Pasang asked me if I wanted to go to the farther summit. My body certainly had no desire to go on, and as the wind was blowing up from the west accompanied by tatters of cloud the wisdom of further advance was questionable. However, we went on. Luckily the snow was rotten and we could kick step$ and travel fairly fast. The last 300 feet were up a snow slope which only became steep at the very end; and it was indeed the easiest part of the whole climb.

The actual summit is a triple ridge of snow. There was little view, especially to the north and east. We only stayed there five minutes as drifting cloud already obscured the view and I wanted to return over the knife-edged ridge before the wind increased.

The Descent.

The great explorer Stefansson once said that the story of a successful expedition makes dull reading, because, if all goes according to plan, there should be no adventures to relate. If this is true, then our descent of Chomolhari must be an epic of incompetence, for one mishap followed hard upon another.

View southwards from camp on 21st May 1937. The well-defined saddle in bottom right-hand corner appears at right centre of Photograph 3. Phari is at A approximately; the Sur La D; the Gaint’s Fang at B. Photograph No.5 was taken from C. Ma-song-chong-dzong-ri range in snow behind

View southwards from camp on 21st May 1937. The well-defined saddle in bottom right-hand corner appears at right centre of Photograph 3. Phari is at A approximately; the Sur La D; the Gaint’s Fang at B. Photograph No.5 was taken from C. Ma-song-chong-dzong-ri range in snow behind

Extension to right of photograph No.8. View westwards from the top of the long slope on Chomohari towards Kangchenjunga (centre) and Pauhunri (right). Phari plain in cloud on extreme left. 21st March 1937

Extension to right of photograph No.8. View westwards from the top of the long slope on Chomohari towards Kangchenjunga (centre) and Pauhunri (right). Phari plain in cloud on extreme left. 21st March 1937

We had sucked some barley sugar, but had eaten nothing else since three in the morning. I thought, however, that we ought to regain our camp before stopping for any length of time, especially as it was now beginning to snow. The Tibetans had, of course, told us that the holy fastness of the Goddess was impregnable, and they had warned us that she would probably make us pay dearly for defiling her solitary snows. Her fury, and my desire for haste, must be held responsible for the troubles that befell us from the moment we began to descend.

I have no clear recollection of how the fall started. We were standing together preparing to descend the long slope. I had just taken some photographs and had told Pasang to go ahead. A moment later he shot past me on his back. I slipped the camera into my windproof pocket and threw myself on to my axe just as the rope whipped tight. The next moment I was falling head first down the slope on my back. We fell fast, occasionally bumping over outcrops of ice. Several times I got the point of my axe into the snow, but always before I could stop myself I was pulled on by the more rapid acceleration of Pasang, on whose Buddhist mind the Goddess had worked so powerful a spell that he could make no attempt whatever to retard our descent, and eventually even let go his axe.

My goggles were filled with snow; I could see nothing and I knew nothing, except that we were falling fast and that farther down the slope became very much steeper. My dominant sensation was one of extreme annoyance that I could have been so careless. I remember wondering if Crawford and the other porters were watching us from some point on their way back to Phari. I recollect also hoping that my camera would not fall out of my pocket; actually it did so, but I recovered it later, though half the film was ruined. Then I remember thinking that we must be getting close to the edge of the 3,ooo-foot drop into Tibet.

At last my axe-point bit home. I stopped. I felt a slight tug at my waist. Pasang, too, had stopped. Looking under my arm I could see him lying motionless, head downwards, within a few yards of the edge of the rocks, his ice-axe having come to rest near him. Then I lay still for many minutes, choking, gasping, fighting for breath. At that height any exertion is intolerable, and I thought my lungs would burst. We must have fallen 300 or 400 feet.

Fortunately neither of us was any the worse for the accident, but we now kept carefully to our upward tracks. We moved quickly, for a blizzard was blowing up. By three o'clock we were back at our camp. We still had eaten nothing, except the barley sugar, for twelve hours, though I had a pocket full of chocolate, sweets, and dried prunes. In the exhilaration of the climb I had not felt hungry and had simply forgotten to eat. We now made some Tibetan tea, but Pasang unfortunately spilt it and we had not the energy to boil up any more, though we ate some chocolate and sardines. Tired though we were I felt it important to get our tent away from its precarious ledge and from the danger and discomfort of falling ice and snow. Wearily we dug away the snow debris, rolled up the tent, and set off to get below the ice-fall. From there, with any luck, one day should see us off the snow. We had only descended about 300 feet, however, when suddenly a blizzard started and we were again held up in almost exactly the same spot where we had been stopped for two hours by a storm on the ascent. The ice-fall was immediately below us; we knew that there was only one reasonable way down it, a way that was difficult in ideal conditions to find from above, and that in this blizzard we could not hope to find, much less to descend. We waited for an hour, getting colder and more miserable, until the wind abated a little, and then began to retrace our steps upwards to our late camp-site.

As soon as we started to climb again I realized for the first time that I was utterly exhausted. I had no strength left at all. That climb of a mere 300 feet back to our ledge is one of the most dreadful memories that I have. Each single step required a concentration of will-power which I was almost incapable of exerting. My rucksack seemed intolerably heavy. I found difficulty in breathing. I felt sick and had a dull ache at the back of my eyes. It must have taken us well over an hour, and as soon as we reached our platform we incontinently fell asleep. It is strange how exhaustion can come over one suddenly, especially after disappointment. Some time later, I know not how long, we roused ourselves, as it was snowing hard, and put up the tent. Then we got into our sleeping-bags, wearing windproofs, helmets-in fact everything except boots-and again went to sleep. Later still we melted some snow over the primus and forced ourselves to eat some tsamba and sugar mixed with water.

That night was most uncomfortable, as our sleeping-bags were soaked owing to the absorption of the snow which had been melted by the heat of our bodies. The wind had gone round to the east and now blew in at our tent door, bringing in quantities of snow. Everything became drenched. In the morning I found that my matches, in my inner trouser pocket, had disintegrated. My only other box, in my rucksack, contained only four or five matches. Snow was still drifting gustily on a biting wind, but the sun was shining and we decided to make a move. Pasang, who had climbed brilliantly on the way up, had broken one of his snow-glasses in our fall and was suffering from snow-blindness; he had groaned aloud all night. I had the greatest difficulty in persuading him to move: he seemed completely demoralized as he lay on the floor of the tent watering at the eyes and moaning. He was happier when I had covered his bad eye with a handkerchief. Then we found that his boots were frozen; he had slept with them under his head, instead of taking them into his sleeping-bag, and they were quite flat and hard. Before he could put them on I had to use one of our precious matches in order to light the primus and thaw them out.

There was no sign of our tracks of the day before, and it took us several hours to force a way down the ice-fall. As Pasang kept falling, I had to go ahead, cut the steps, and then return to steady the rope while he descended. It is extraordinary how difficult it was to find a way down from above, as we failed to find the flake by which we had ascended, and by the time we were down the most dangerous part it had started to snow again and we had to camp about midday. If there had been any sign of our upward tracks we could have got off the mountain in a day. As it was, the frequency of crevasses made it too dangerous to move in the diffused light, especially as many of them were hidden by new snow. Once when Pasang fell, his rucksack burst open and our only cooking pot as well as most of our remaining stores went bouncing down the glacier. I decided that the Goddess was a siren! Having lured us to her stronghold, she was having her unholy revenge.

Snow pattered against the tent all night. On the 23rd May we tried to plough through snow thigh deep, and in our exhausted state could make little headway. It was impossible to move with any rhythm; all joy of progression was gone and only conscious drudgery remained. We passed the camp from which Crawford and Kikuli had returned and approached the amphitheatre which had caused us so much difficulty on the ascent. From above it was impossible to find our earlier route, but I had then noticed that a party could, if pressed for time, probably get down the middle of the ice-fall. The ice was very steep and exposed, but at the bottom there was a deep drift in which we could safely make a forced landing. To reach this 'shoot’ we had to cross a belt of about six crevasses. Before we could reach them, however, the snow came on again, and as we could only see about 10 yards we again were forced to camp, though it was not yet eleven o'clock.

By now my face was terribly raw. In spite of every precaution -ill the skin was off my lips, which stuck together when I slept and bled profusely when I woke. It is curious how much more liable one is to snow-blindness and sunburn in diffused light; though fortunately through using the amber glasses as supplied to Mount Everest expeditions I was not troubled by blindness in spite of most trying conditions. We were too miserable to bother about food and drink, especially as our matches were now finished so that we could no longer use the primus. During the day I could melt enough snow on my boots for drinking water. We occasionally ate a little tsamba and snow mixed together, or some sweets and raisins, but personally I never felt the least bit hungry, and anyhow the tsamba tasted strongly of paraffin. Each night and morning we would wring out our sleeping-bags and socks. Those nights were dreadful. I consider myself rather a connoisseur of uncomfortable nights. I have had a tent blown off me by a hundred-mile-an-hour gale on the ice-cap of Greenland; I have, while camping far from shore on the Arctic pack, felt the sea-ice break up in a storm, and watched the water welling up through a widening crack across the floor of the tent; but for sheer, interminable, shivering misery I have never known anything like those six nights passed in our bivouac tent on the snows of Chomolhari.

On the 24th May it was some time before I could get Pasang moving. When we reached the first crevasse, which was in some places 20 feet wide, I made for a place where it narrowed and was bridged by a level covering of snow. Probing carefully with my axe I found that it was here about 5 feet across. As the snow seemed rather treacherous I decided to jump. Now Pasang has a tiresome way of letting out the rope rather jerkily I sometimes suspect that he ties a clove hitch round the handle of his axe so I told him I was going to jump. To make sure that he understood -we always conversed in Tibetan, which neither of us spoke very fluently-I went back to him and loosened the rope. But Pasang was not very intelligent these days and when I was in mid-air over the crevasse there was a violent jerk on my rope, and down I went. I fell about 30 feet, but was unhurt for the rope cut into the snow and that, combined with Pasang acting as an anchor dragged through the deep snow above, brought me slowly to rest. Not that there was much rest dangling in an apparently bottomless crevasse with the rope squeezing all the breath out of me! At first Pasang just hauled on the rope, to my extreme discomfort, but at last I managed to enlarge a ledge on which I could stand by pressing my axe against the opposite wall. Then I persuaded him to loosen his stranglehold on the rope.

I now realized that the crevasse was nowhere narrow enough to bridge by cutting steps up both sides. Having made myself as secure as possible I unroped and sent my rucksack to the top. Then I roped again and set to work to cut both hand- and foot-holds up one vertical blue wall of the crevasse. It was desperately hard work: I could get a little rest by leaning on my axe, which I dug into the opposite wall, but I had to descend to my ledge several times for every step I cut.

After three and a half hours of the most exacting work I have ever done, I put my head over the lip of the crevasse and there was Pasang sitting in the very middle of the snow bridge not 6 feet from the gaping hole through which I had recently disappeared. However, he seemed quite glad to see me!

The next obstacle was the amphitheatre. We came down the ice shoot in the centre without misadventure. As I could get good belays I lowered Pasang on the rope and then cut steps down for my own descent. The snow was waist deep at the foot of the amphitheatre and we could only just plough through it. We clambered up the 'Great Divide' and crossed it without incident. The sun was now very hot and the glare intense. Whenever we stopped to rest, every ten steps or so, we dozed. Not far below us, only two or three hours' walk in good conditions, was a small lake, where the snow gave place to grass, azaleas, and primulas. That vision of the lake, however, soon vanished. At eleven o'clock it started to snow, and with crevasses ahead we had to stop. We waited for an hour in the hope that it would clear, but the weather grew worse and there was nothing for it but to camp. The night that followed was the worst of all.

The next day, the 25th, we determined would be our last on the snow. All went well. We passed Nima's old camp, descended the Dorje and final snow ridge, and by nine o'clock were lying on the rocks by the little lake while our bedding dried in the sun. A pair of cuckoos flew past, noisily chasing each other; a small tortoiseshell butterfly fanned its wings in the sun; a bright scarlet vetch nestled among the grey boulders. The altitude was about 17,800 feet. Life was very good. It was as though we had just been awakened from a nightmare; already our adventures seemed unreal.

The others had added to the dump at the Giant's Fang. From here we took on certain things, but were forced to leave some behind, including a Mummery tent and two ropes. We were very weak to carry loads of 40 lb. each, but we only had to drift downhill, snatching an occasional sleep as often as we rested. When we reached the yak-herd's hut, that had so tempted us on the way up, we found a cheerful lama sitting cross-legged on the floor droning the Buddhist scriptures. A wild but handsome Bhutanese girl was weaving a bamboo basket in the sunshine. Presently the old yak-herd returned; his yaks were bringing juniper logs from the forest below. Seldom have I met such friendly hospitable people. Round the open fire in the hut we were given bowls of fresh yak milk, cheese, and delicious puffed rice. Never have I been so conscious of the change from cold, hunger, and despair to comfort, safety, and content. We had achieved our object in spite of the Goddess. My only regret was that Crawford had not reached the summit with me. Had it not been for his return with Kikuli the assault must have failed.

We were long overdue at Phari. I therefore felt that we ought to make an effort to reach it on the 26th. This involved a walk of 20 miles over several high passes, while both of us were suffering from frost-bitten feet. In the heavy rain and mist of evening we lost the track, and found ourselves on the Tremo La heading in the opposite direction. A friendly yak-herd gave us some Tibetan tea and put us right. We reached the pass in a snow-storm an hour after dark, and Phari a little before nine o'clock. The inhabitants had long ago decided that we had come to grief, and stood gaping as if we had risen from the dead. I must confess that I felt rather as though we had.