Himalayan Journal vol.11
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.11

Publication year:
1939

Editor:
Kenneth Mason
Index
  1. MOUNT EVEREST, 1938
    (H. W. TILMAN)
  2. PIONEER EXPLORATION IN HUNZA AND CHITRAL
    (BRIGADIER-GENERAL SIR GEORGE COCKERILL)
  3. THE ATTEMPT ON MASHERBRUM, 1938
    (J. O. M. ROBERTS)
  4. THE DIET PROBLEM FOR MOUNTAINEERS IN THE HIMALAYA
    (DR. G. A. J. TEASDALE)
  5. BIRDS OF A KARAKORAM TREK
    (DR. ELIZABETH TEASDALE)
  6. KA KARPO RAZI BURMA'S HIGHEST PEAK
    (F. KINGDON WARD)
  7. NANGA PARBAT, 1938
    (PAUL BAUER1)
  8. PHOTOGRAMMETRIC STUDIES OF GLACIERS IN HIGH ASIA
    (R. FINSTERWALDER AND W. PILLEWIZER)
  9. A RECONNAISSANCE OF K2, 1938
    (CHARLES HOUSTON)
  10. GANGOTRI TRIANGULATION
    (MAJOR GORDON OSMASTON)
  11. THE GERMAN EXPEDITION TO THE GANGOTRI GLACIER, 1938
    (PROFESSOR RUDOLF SCHWARZGRUBER)
  12. LACHSI AND THE ZEMU GAP
    (H. W. TILMAN)
  13. RECONNAISSANCES OF RAKAPOSHI AND THE KUNYANG GLACIER
    (CAMPBELL SEGORD AND MICHAL VYVYAN)
  14. SIKKIM THIRTY YEARS AGO
    (J. G. FRENCH)
  15. SURVEYS AND VARIOUS EXPEDITIONS
  16. IN MEMORIAM
  17. CORRESPONDENCE
  18. NOTES
  19. REVIEWS
  20. CLUB PROCEEDINGS
  21. CLUB NOTICES

THE GERMAN EXPEDITION TO THE GANGOTRI GLACIER, 1938

PROFESSOR RUDOLF SCHWARZGRUBER

The team of the German expedition to the Garhwal Himalaya, which was sent out by the Deutscher Alpenverein in 1938, comprised five climbers and a medical officer. The climbers were Professor Rudolf Schwarzgruber, leader, Edi Ellmauthaler, Dr. Walter Frauenberger, Toni Meszner, and Leo Spannraft; the medical man was Dr. Rudolf Jonas. None of us had previous Himalayan experience, but three had spent two climbing-seasons in the Caucasus. In India the party was joined by the transport officer, Lieutenant S. H. J. Whitehead, of the Royal Garhwal Rifles, from Lansdowne.

In choosing the district for our expedition we had two points in mind: firstly, that the objective should be as little explored as possible, and secondly, that the cost should be kept as low as possible. It was in Marcel Kurz's monograph on the Himalaya that we found the Gangotri district mentioned as a worthy aim for an expedition of moderate size. After reading the report of Marco Pallis on his expedition to Gangotri in 1933,[1] and after consulting Colonel Kenneth Mason, we were determined to make the mountains which border the Gangotri glacier the objective of our expedition.

In our preparatory work we were greatly supported by all the British and Indian authorities concerned. Thanks to them, and especially to Captain M. W. White, of the 9th Gurkha Rifles at Dehra Dun, who was to have been our transport officer, but who eventually could not get leave as late as the period from August to November, preparations went smoothly. When we left Germany on the 2nd August, the Himalayan Club had already appointed Lieutenant Whitehead to act as our transport officer. Arriving on the 15th August, we started from Mussoorie on the 20th with fifty- nine coolies and seven Sherpas, Whitehead and our quartermaster, Dr. Jonas, having dispatched another thirty coolies two days earlier. The greater number of our coolies came from Lansdowne, while some were collected from Raj pur and Mussoorie. The Lansdowne coolies proved so excellent throughout the whole outward journey that we engaged them again for the return. Undoubtedly the smooth running of the transport arrangements was due to the fact that the transport officer knew the coolies before they came on the expedition and because he maintained that personal contact with them that is so essential in order to get the best out of them.

The North Face of Bhagirathi North Peak, 21,364 feet

The North Face of Bhagirathi North Peak, 21,364 feet



Bhagirathi North Peak, 21,364 feet, from the north-east, climbed on 9th September 1938

Bhagirathi North Peak, 21,364 feet, from the north-east, climbed on 9th September 1938



Chandar Parbat, 22,073 feet, from the north, climbed on 11th September 1938

Chandar Parbat, 22,073 feet, from the north, climbed on 11th September 1938



In Mussoorie we had the opportunity of meeting Major G. Osmas- ton, of the Survey of India, who supplied us with invaluable data and with an advance copy of the new survey of the Gangotri district, where he and his party had been working in 1936.1 At Mussoorie we were also kindly received by His Highness the Maharaja of Tehri-Garhwal, who did everything in his power to facilitate our journey through the inhabited part of his territory. He even went so far as to put a chaprassi at the disposal of our transport officer.

On the outward journey we were extremely lucky inasmuch as the monsoon practically ended on the day we left Mussoorie for the base camp. We understand that it usually does not end before the first or second week of September. At Harsil, eight stages from Mussoorie, we allowed ourselves a rest day, and here we dismissed eight coolies from Rajpur. Two private dak-runners were hired to bring our mail from the last post office at Uttar Kashi tip to the base camp once a week. We also made arrangements for supplies of potatoes, vegetables, and fruit to be brought up with the letters. Later on, these supplies were to prove invaluable.

The site of the base camp, at 14,230 feet, and about 4 miles above Gaumukh on the right bank of the Gangotri glacier, was reached on the 4th September at noon, after sixteen days' march including two days' rest. The coolies were now sent back and we set to work to establish the base camp. Unfortunately I fell ill with dysentery and two Sherpas went down with malaria. While the latter recovered soon after an injection of Atebrin and with subsequent treatment with Atebrin tablets, I was unable to do any mountaineering for three weeks. It was lucky that it took the doctor about the same period to acclimatize, for thus the lack of Sherpas was not felt so much. For expeditions similar to ours we would recommend taking three Sherpas for two climbers, instead of the two we had. On our expedition there was more moving about than on bigger expeditions, and high camps, for instance, were never occupied for more than two nights. There is also the likelihood of one or more Sherpas falling ill.

On the 8th September two parties of two climbers each set out from the base camp. Ellmauthaler and Meszner started work where our predecessors, Marco Pallis's party of 1933, had finished, with an attack on Bhagirathi North Peak, 21,364 feet, then called by them 'Satopanth North'.[2] The attempt in 1933 had to be abandoned on account of an early break of the monsoon on the 21st June. We were lucky to have good snow and good weather. The top was reached on the 9th September at 5 p.m., after a very hot and tiresome climb up the steep north-east face through deep snow, and crampons had to be used for the last 2,400 feet of the ascent.

1 An account of the triangulation for this survey is given in the preceding article. See also Himalayan Journal, vol. ix, 1937, pp. 165-7.

Meanwhile Frauenberger and Spannraft had a longer approach to their objective, Chandar Parbat, 22,073 feet. They pitched their Camp I at about 16,000 feet on the left bank of the Chaturangi Bamak, just north of Basuki Parbat. Camp II was placed on the right bank of the tributary glacier, the Suralti Bamak, at 17,700 feet, and Camp III, on the 10th September, at about 19,600 feet, just below the snow-line on the west ridge. The next day the west ridge was followed to the summit which was reached at noon. Good weather and ideal snow conditions were experienced. The climbers returned to Camp II the same day and to the base camp on the 12th September.

These two achievements raised hopes of further and bigger successes. It was therefore a blow to us to find out that neither Sato- panth,2 23,170 feet, nor Chaukhamba, 23,420 feet, could be climbed by us. Another disappointment was caused by a reconnaissance to the north of Shivling, 21,466 feet, that mountain which our British predecessors had called the 'Matterhorn peak', owing to its resemblance to that famous peak of the western Alps. No feasible route up this mountain could be discovered, the only possible but extremely dangerous way leading across the north-west face which is overhung by threatening ice-towers.

Another reconnoitring tour led to Ghanahim Bamak, the glacier which descends the slopes of the ridge between Kedarnath and Kharchakund and joins the Gangotri glacier north of the Kedarnath massif. The impression was gained that from this glacier basin not a single peak could be climbed by a reasonable route. Kharchakund and its neighbour, Sumeru Parbat, will probably have to be climbed from the east.

These conclusions were reached after comparatively brief recon naissances. It was much more difficult to discover that Satopanth and Ghaukhamba could not be climbed by us, and their reconnaissance took a long time.

Satopanth, 23,170 feet, and Bazuki Parbat, 22,285 feet from the north

Satopanth, 23,170 feet, and Bazuki Parbat, 22,285 feet from the north



The Summit of Bazuki Parbat, 22,285 feet, from the north

The Summit of Bazuki Parbat, 22,285 feet, from the north





Ellmauthaler and Frauenberger made two attempts on Satopanth. The first was over the very to give up on account of deep snow; the second was on the northwest ridge, to which, at about 20,000 feet, the approach was barred by a long rocky ridge, much too difficult to be surmounted by only two climbers. Our view is that Satopanth should be tried again by a team of four or six mountaineers by the north-east ridge, in the pre-monsoon period.

Meszner and Spannraft spent over four weeks in the quest of a possible route up Ghaukhamba. First they went to the head of the Gangotri glacier on the 15th September and explored the possibility of reaching the saddle at about 20,000 feet on the west ridge which leads to the top. Not only was the route to the saddle found to be impracticable for laden porters, but the ridge beyond the saddle was found too difficult for the climbers. There is, in fact, not much hope of the summit being attained by this ridge, and a serious attempt should not be made here. The two climbers then ascended Mandani Parbat, 20,330 feet, on the 20th September in an arduous ten- hour climb from the glacier, in order to find a possible route up Chaukhamba farther south. No practicable result was obtained; and therefore 'Swachhand peak'-so called by us-22,050 feet, was ascended. This is a very steep ice-pyramid at the north end of the Swachhand glacier. Its top was reached on the 23rd September at 5 p.m., by the south ridge; but again no route up Chaukhamba could be discovered. Very disappointed, the climbers returned to the base camp on the 26th.

There still remained the north-eastern and eastern sides of Chaukhamba to be explored, and Spannraft and Meszner set out to examine these on the 30th September. With two Sherpas they crossed Birnie's pass of 1931 over to the Arwa valley, went down to Mana and Badrinath, hired coolies there, and ascended the Bhagi- rath Kharak Bank, the northern of the two glaciers draining into the Alaknanda.1 At the foot of the north face of Chaukhamba they pitched camp on the 9th October, and made an attempt to climb the saddle on the north-east ridge. They reached a height of about 19,000 feet when suddenly, behind them, an ice-avalanche came down and covered them with ice-dust. The Sherpas were so frightened that they put down their rucksacks and refused to go farther. The climbers had therefore to abandon the attempt, although they think that they might have reached the saddle without any difficulty. Once on the saddle, the final ridge should be easy to tackle.

There still remained the eastern face of Chaukhamba to be explored. The climbers did this by going up the Satopanth glacier, but they soon had to realize that from this side any attempt would be hopeless. After nearly five weeks of hard work round this mountain they express the following opinion. Chaukhamba should be attempted by a strong party of from four to six climbers who should dispense with high-altitude porters, lest technical difficulties should prove too great. The attempt should be made across the north face to the saddle on the north-east ridge, thence following it as far as practicable, and possibly by a traverse to the west ridge later. The pre-monsoon period would probably be the best time, but in September, soon after the end of the monsoon, snow conditions may perhaps also be suitable. On the 19th October the climbers were back at the base camp, having crossed over from the Arwa valley about half a mile north of Birnie's pass.

1 Previously known as the Bhagat Karak glacier.-Ed

Shivling, 21,466 feet, the Gangotri ‘Matterhorn’

Shivling, 21,466 feet, the Gangotri ‘Matterhorn’



The ascent to 'Swachhand Peak' 22,050 feet, climbed on 23rd September 1938

The ascent to 'Swachhand Peak' 22,050 feet, climbed on 23rd September 1938



In the meantime, the four climbers who had remained in the base camp neighbourhood made an attempt on a peak on the northern bank of the Chaturangi Bamak. On Major Osmaston's map its height is given as 20,981 feet. We expected that this peak would give us a good view of the mountains to the north, and that it would provide a chance of breaking me in after my illness, and the doctor who had now acclimatized. Camp I was pitched on the 29th September at about 16,000 feet on the right bank of the Chaturangi Bamak, Camp II at about 19,500 feet on the south ridge, and the top was gained at 3 p.m. on the 1st October, after a most arduous climb up a slate-covered ridge, and then along a steep knife-edged snow ridge. The view from the summit was overwhelming, and we were particularly impressed by what we saw to the north. There a pyramid-shaped, snow-covered mountain rose from the glacier below, its height according to the map being about 22,300 feet. To the north of this mountain the brown, desert plains of Tibet appeared. We decided to tackle this mountain if time permitted.

To the south-west of the base camp, across the Gangotri glacier, the 'White Mountain' of Marco Pallis, Kedarnath on the map, 22,770 feet, had attracted our curiosity and mountaineering ambition from the day of our arrival. In the beginning we did not dare to attack it, since we were not acclimatized to such heights. Now, however, the time had arrived when we thought we would be in good condition for it. An advance depot of provisions was dumped at the foot of Kedarnath, and on the 8th October Ellmauthaler, Frauenberger, Whitehead, and I, with four Sherpas, left the base camp for an assault. Unfortunately it turned out a failure. From Camp I, at about 16,000 feet, the party climbed well over 4,000 feet, ploughing through knee-deep snow up the north face until we reached a point below some huge ice-crevasses, where we had to realize that the snow on the steep face was too loose and was cracking too dangerously under our feet to justify continuing the assault. The party therefore retreated to Camp I the same day, and reached the base camp the next. Kedarnath could possibly be climbed by two mountaineers over the adjacent peak, 22,403 feet, to the east, preferably before the monsoon or during the first two weeks afterwards; later, the temperature never rises high enough to enable the new snow to consolidate.

On the 13th October Ellmauthaler, Frauenberger, Jonas, and I set out for our last expedition, which was to take us to the top of Sri Kailash, that mountain which had impressed us so much a fortnight before when viewed from Chaturangi peak. This time there were five Sherpas with four climbers, as well as the dak-runner who happened to be with us and who carried up to Camp I. At first the route led us down the Gangotri glacier past the juniper which served as fuel at the base camp; then we turned up the Raktbarn Bamak, where Camp I was pitched at about 16,000 feet on the moraine of the glacier. The next day saw us toiling up the moraine scree to the point where the glacier comes down from the north and changes its course westwards. Camp II was pitched at about 18,000 feet on a moraine between two glaciers covered with ice-pinnacles. On the third day we continued up the Raktbarn Bamak, and after about two hours' climbing turned to the left, where a good stretch of glacier suggested a possible route between tremendously steep and broken ice. We cautiously climbed to 20,200 feet and set up our tents there, keeping two Sherpas with us, while the rest of them returned to Camp II.

The night of the 15th October was perhaps the coldest we experienced during the whole of our expedition; on the morning of the 16th, after sunrise, the thermometer recorded a temperature of minus 160 C. Before starting at 8 a.m. we put on crampons, and we had to use them as well as ropes up to the top. The saddle at the foot of the west ridge was bitterly cold, the wind taking our breath away as we went on. However, the final ridge, about 1,000 feet high, was not too bad, and the snow was excellent. The top was reached at 1.45 p.m., but we soon left it. Our efforts were amply rewarded by the wonderful view we obtained from the summit, especially of the mountains of Tibet and Garhwal. Among the latter were Nanda Devi, Mana, and Kamet. On our return to Mussoorie we learnt that the exact height of Sri Kailash is 22,742 feet, which is the highest altitude reached by the expedition.

On the 19th October the whole party was reunited, Meszner and Spanncraft having returned from their Badrinath adventure. The base camp was finally left on the 22nd October. The return journey was as uneventful as the outward march, but much more pleasant owing to considerably lower temperatures. Mussoorie was reached on the 3rd November.

Note by Editor

Some of the photographs taken by Professor Schwarzgruber on the expedition described above have been used to illustrate Major Osmaston's paper gangotri Triangulation' (see pages 132, 133, 135, 137).

The last camp on Chaukhamba, 23,420 feet, 9th October 1938

The last camp on Chaukhamba, 23,420 feet, 9th October 1938



View from Sri Kailash siuthwards, The distant peaks from left to right are Bazzuki Parbat, 22,285 feet; Bhagirathi South Peak, 22,495 feet; Bhagirathi North Peak, 21,364 feet; and Kedarnath, 22,770 feet

View from Sri Kailash siuthwards, The distant peaks from left to right are Bazzuki Parbat, 22,285 feet; Bhagirathi South Peak, 22,495 feet; Bhagirathi North Peak, 21,364 feet; and Kedarnath, 22,770 feet




[1] Himalayan Journal, vol. vi, 1934, pp. 106-19.

[2] Professor Schwarzgruber's photographs of Bhagirathi North Peak should be compared with Pallis's photographs in Himalayan Journal, vol. vi, 1934, p. in, where it appears as North Satopanth. The sketch-map opposite p. 113 was drawn before the modern survey in an attempt to illustrate Pallis's expedition. Some of the points reached in 1933 are indicated on the sketch-map accompanying this paper, which has been drawn by me from Major Osmaston's survey.-Ed.