Readers of the Himalayan Journal will not need telling that there appears to be no pre-eminently ‘best’ season for mountaineering in Sikkim. Accounts have appeared of climbs undertaken before, during, and after the monsoon; if anything, more seems to have been done during the later part of the year. The great disadvantage of the monsoon period of seeing neither where one is going nor the surrounding scenery is compensated for in a small degree by the surprises and shocks occasionally administered by a momentary lifting of the clouds, and by the fun of guessing where one is. A journey at this season can also be recommended to those who enjoy discomfort.

As is usual with a party returning from Mount Everest, we soon began to break up, like rats leaving a sinking ship. We had seen quite enough of each other for a time, delays in getting transport were trying the patience of us all, and the crowning blow fell at Tingkye Dzong, where a valuable box belonging to Odell was stolen. Shipton had already left for the Nyonno Ri, happily brandishing a theodolite instead of an ice-axe; Smythe, sniffing the flesh- pots from afar, disappeared over the plain, leaving behind a cloud of dust and small stones; Odell and Lloyd intended returning by the Choten Nyima La; and I was bound for the Naku La. Warren alone stuck to the ship, having to look after the paralysed Pasang.

My relief will therefore be understood when on the last day of June, leaving Karma Paul to bear the burden, I escaped with two Sherpas, rejoicing in the knowledge that our progress would depend on our own exertions and not on the whim of some Tibetan official. The Naku La is an 18,000-foot pass lying west of Chomiomo. It is used by Tibetans who graze their sheep in the Chaka Ghu on the Sikkim side. There is a beautiful lake half a mile long and a quarter wide on the Tibetan side, grass on the summit, and a smaller lake on the Sikkim side. Before reaching this lake a curious thing is seen. Spanning the valley floor from hill-side to hill-side, a distance of perhaps three-quarters of a mile, is a roughly built stone wall about 4 feet high and 6 feet thick at its base. Doubtless it is of Tibetan construction, but when it was built or why I have no notion.

I had designs on Lachsi, a 21,000-foot peak lying west of Chomiomo, which had been attempted in 1936.1 Of this, however, I knew nothing at the time, and I was ignorant of the mountain or its approaches, except that I remembered seeing it from below Tangu. The Sikkim map (Survey of India map, 78 a) led me to believe that it bounded the Naku valley on the east. Immediately on crossing the pass we ran into mist, rain, and cloud—our constant companions throughout the trip from now onwards—but enough was seen to learn that no high mountain bounded the valley on that side, and only a low rock ridge. We camped that night with some Tibetan shepherds at a place they called Naku, about 4 miles from the pass. To the north-east a depression on this rock ridge separating us from the next nullah, which I argued must lie below Lachsi, invited us to cross, which we did next day. We took a Tibetan to help us with our loads which were still very heavy, since we were carrying a fortnight's food. Going up to the col we found cairns, and learnt later that it was called the Tashi La and was used by Sikkimese with yaks going presumably from Lhonak to the upper Tangu valley. It is exceedingly steep, even for yaks, on the Tashi Ghu side, into which nullah it leads.


  1. Himalayan Journal, vol. ix, 1937, p. 149. A view of the Chomiomo-Lachsi group from Lhonak appears on p. 151. I have attempted in the sketch-plan which appears with the present article to correct the topography as shown on the Survey of India map, from both this earlier account and from Mr. Tilman's description.


On crossing this pass we had one great stroke of luck. It was the usual cloudy, drizzly day, but just as I topped the ridge a rift in the clouds disclosed for a bare minute, immediately opposite across the valley, what I took to be Lachsi. It appeared very similar to the mountain I had seen from the south; a long snow ridge, almost a plateau, crowned by an unmistakable snow pimple. The Sherpas who joined me a few minutes later saw nothing at all and when we climbed it had no notion of what we were trying to do. This momentary glimpse had, however, revealed a possible route, so we dropped down and camped in the moraine trough immediately below the pass, and sent the Tibetan home.

Starting at 5 a.m. and going north, we skirted the ice-fall at the head of the glacier by the rocks on the left, climbed the snow-slope above to a col, and then veered round to the right in a half-circle until we were heading almost south. The snow was very bad until a height of about 20,000 feet was reached, where there appeared to have been some attempt at freezing during the night. Hitherto unseen peaks began to loom up through the mist on our left, so that I began to wonder if we were on the right mountain; and the pimple obstinately refused to disclose itself until we were within about half a mile. At the same time the 'plateau', which had always had too much tilt to deserve that name, became less plateaulike than ever. It narrowed to a knife-edge, which on the Tashi Chu side fell away in a steep and broken ice-fall and on the west was precipitous. Here was the notch which I had seen yesterday, i nd which on closer acquaintance proved more worthy of consideration. One of the Sherpas, not liking the look of things, had to be parked here, but two of us descended by steep and devious ways into the notch and, moreover, succeeded in climbing out the other side. The snow was good. When we reached the pimple shortly ;ifter, it proved to be about a hundred feet high, and care was required to reach the summit by a ridge of very shaky rock concealed by snow. The ascent had taken six hours, and the now uniformly soft snow obliged us to spend four over the descent, which was carried out in an unpleasant mixture of snow and rain.

We reached Tangu next day, 4th July, passing a Sikkim grazing- camp just where the Tashi Chu bends east to join the Lachen Chu about 3 miles above the bungalow. I was hospitably received by Dr. Schaefer's party who were spending several months in Sikkim collecting birds, insects, and plants. Karma Paul with the caravan had left that morning three hours before I arrived. Schaefer's party comprised every breed of scientist known to man: ornithologist, zoologist, entomologist, anthropologist, and many other 'ologists'. I took the anthropologist on one side and abjured him to spare no pains in tracking down homo nivis odiosus, the Abominable Snowman, and begged him not to be discouraged by the zoologist, who would certainly tell him that the tracks he was following were not those of our abominable friend, not even a Snark, nor a Boojum, but a bear.

Next day we took the Lachen road and turned short up the Zemu glen, camping with some cowherds near Yaktang. Their rough wood shanty rose like an island out of a sea of mud and was amazingly squalid inside, but we passed a pleasant night with the cowherd, his wife, and some female relations. The next camp was in a cave about a mile below the glacier snout, and like most caves could be summed up as 'draught and drips'—still it was better than outside in the rain. After reaching the snout of the Zemu glacier the route follows the moraine trough on the left bank and is very rough, but later, after crossing a stream (which should be crossed early) the going improves. The old German base camp was reached in three hours. Here there is a collection of tins and rubbish which would not discredit a similar collection to be found on any of the more popular beauty spots of England, but here it had the shock of unexpectedness. We have much to be thankful for that Tibetans are such thorough scavengers. Any one walking up the East Rong- buk would not realize that there more tins had been opened and more rubbish dumped in the last twenty years than anywhere else in India. On the Rongbuk there is not a tin, nor a trace of one. The grimness of life at Camp III would be greatly enhanced if the accumulated debris of seven expeditions was still to be seen.

We pushed on to the Green Lake the same day and managed to get a fire going under the lee of a boulder; the Sherpas never mind how wet they get if there is a fire to be tended. From here, after crossing the glacier to the foot of the ridge descending from Sugar- loaf, a well-cairned track leads to the foot of the North-east Spur. Before reaching this we took to the glacier again and crossed it to the foot of the small glacier leading to the Zemu gap.1 Again we were in luck. This was the only day on which the clouds conceded a view for any length of time. They did not rise above the 19,000- foot level, but it sufficed to leave us in no doubt we were on the right track. Two glaciers on our right, which at first I thought might be the one we wanted, obviously ended under the cliffs of Kangchen- junga, but of this mountain, or Simvu, or Siniolchu, we saw nothing. Without a map of the Zemu glacier it was all very puzzling.

  1. See Himalayan Journal, vol. x, 1938, p. 52, for a small sketch-map of the route.—Ed.


We had started at 5 a.m. with the intention of tackling the Gap that day, but we did not reach the foot of the approach glacier until 11 o'clock. The col was just visible under the cloud canopy and looked close enough, but in view of the late hour and the warm weather I decided to wait for the morrow. For once I decided wisely. We had brought no Primus stove with us; not purposely, in order to travel light, but for the more usual reason—forgetfulness. However, Rinsing went back to the foot of the North-east Spur and presently returned with fuel of sorts, so our camp on the ice was not so unpleasant as we deserved. It is surprising how far up the eastern slopes of Kangchenjunga fuel extends.

We were up before dawn next morning making tea in the open in a drizzle of rain. At 5.45 we started, and within a quarter of an hour, on reaching the neve, had our worst expectations realized in the state of the snow. At this season, below 20,000 feet, starting at midnight or midday makes little difference. It took us four hours to reach the col (19,200 feet), though I suppose there were not more than 2,000 feet to climb. There are no difficulties on this side, but the approach is narrow and subject to avalanches from both the Kangchenjunga and Simvu sides. We had to walk up the remains of two very big ones. With full day the weather had worsened, the drizzle turning to snow accompanied by a wind from the col which drove it in our faces. Visibility was so poor that I had to take my glasses off to find a way through the crevasses.

From my visit in 1936 I had expected a steep ice-wall on the south side and had taken the precaution of bringing 240 feet of line.1 Even so I got a shock on first looking over the top. There was a wall, over 200 feet of it, and overhanging sufficiently to prevent one seeing where one would land. There was no roping down this, but search revealed a very steep and narrow snow gully starting where the col articulated with the precipitous shoulder of Simvu. Between two deeply cut runnels of bare ice was a narrow ribbon of snow. It was very loose but very wet, and with careful handling compacted into steps. I will not guess the angle for fear of being called a liar, but it seemed to me that a man with a long nose, standing upright, could have wiped it on the snow. I went down a rope's length, where I made a platform for one of the Sherpas who followed. It was so misty below that I was not certain we could reach the snow plateau below the wall on which we had gained a footing in 1936. There was a bergschrund at the bottom, but another rope's length sufficed to see me over this and on easier ground.

  1. Himalayan Journal, vol. ix, 1937, pp. 95-9. Illustrations of the Zemu gap appear opposite p. 97.


Returning to the Sherpa I had the loads sent down the ice-runnel to our level where we could drag them on to the platform by making a long arm with an ice-axe. The first Sherpa was then sent down, the other joined me on the platform, and the load lowering recommenced. My own load, which was lighter than the Sherpas', I sent down the runnel under its own steam. Leaping the schrund it disappeared across the snow at the rate of knots into the mist. I thought it had gone for good, and the possible loss of sleeping-bag, mat, spare clothes, tobacco, camera, and 10 lb. of sugar, was offset by the certainty of having no load to carry. The remaining loads were lowered.

Crossing the little snow plateau we found my load, which had stopped short of the next obstacle—an ice-fall which had given considerable trouble in 1936. It had altered out of all recognition. A great chasm more than 100 feet wide and 100 feet deep had opened up right across the narrow glacier from wall to wall. We found a place where an abseil of 50 feet would have done the trick, but it overhung slightly and there was a crevasse at the bottom of the chasm into which it seemed there was an even chance of landing. It would have been awkward to have found oneself dangling at the wrong end of a 50-foot rope over the crevasse instead of on terra firma, but having a second rope with us I imagine that the situation would not have been irretrievable. The difficulty in such places is to make the man above understand what is happening. Even in the gully we had just come down it was difficult to make the Sherpas standing at the top understand what was to be done.

We left this, and moving over to the right I reconnoitred another route. It started in an unorthodox manner with a jump of 15 feet, so it was of importance to know whether the rest would 'go' before committing ourselves; although we had in fact burnt our boats by descending the gully which would have been very difficult to ascend with loads. The lower part was possible, so the Sherpas jumped, and down we went. The final 30 feet to the floor of the chasm was a steep icy funnel ending in close proximity to another crevasse. I well remember the first man's, Lhakpa's, plaintive cry of £Do you want to kill me?' on being told to trust to the rope. One load on being shot down did finish in the crevasse, but we managed to get it out. Having let the men down I cut steps half the distance and then, being in a hurry, slid the rest. Climbing out on the other side I was half afraid there were more surprises in store, for mist hid everything, but as we descended the ground became easier and presently we reached the spot below the ice-fall where we had camped in 1936. It was buried under the debris of a colossal avalanche. When we were there in May 1936 little avalanches were hissing down the Simvu slope above the camp and stopping just short of it. I imagine these big falls take place after the first heavy monsoon snow when the temperature is rising rapidly. September and October should be safe unless fresh snow falls.

We reached the Tongshyong glacier at 3 p.m., five and a half hours from the top, nine and a half from the other side. To cross the Gap in the reverse direction in its present condition with heavy loads would be extremely difficult. I think it must alter considerably from year to year, but still, the alleged crossing in 1927 on which I have already commented must have been a remarkable feat. The party left their camp on the Tongshyong at 3 a.m., crossed the Gap, descended to the Zemu, and returned to the Tongshyong in time for breakfast at 9 a.m. I1

We were rather tired, ourselves and our loads wet through, so the thought of finding fuel at the snout of the glacier led us to go there instead of crossing at once to the Talung by the easy snow pass used in 1936. Besides, it would be downhill all the way, an important consideration to us at the time, and we had not yet made up our minds to abandon the original plan of returning by the Talung Chu. We found some fuel late that evening, but it was the wrong kind of shrub and nothing would make it burn. In those damp conditions only something like juniper or the chir, full of resin, would have consented to light. We dined on cold water, sugar, and satu. The last two moistened and squashed together are very palatable. I had just written up my diary, commenting on the remarkable fact that although I had been practically all day without glasses my eyes were all right, when they began to smart, and presently I was in the agonies of snow-blindness. There was no sleep that night either for me or Lhakpa, who was also touched. Next morning the pain was easier, but I could only see the ground at my feet. This did not matter so much because only some one blessed with infrared eyes could have penetrated the prevailing mist.

We led off, stumbling in the wake of Rinsing, whose eyes were all right, intending to cross the foot of the dividing ridge to the Talung glacier. Knowing the Talung Chu I had decided that in the prevailing conditions we should have had a very thin time had we attempted it. The few who know that valley will agree that this was my second wise decision, but it was soon borne in upon us that our decision of trying to reach the glacier by this route was incredibly stupid. We kept too low and presently we were fighting a losing battle with rhododendron and other close-growing abominations. After struggling for six hours, when we had come about one mile, we found ourselves overlooking the snout of the Talung, but unable to get down to it on account of the very high, steep moraine banks which are a feature of the country near the Talung-Tongshyong junction. We bush-crawled to the right and came upon a rock cliff. By now we were becoming desperate. Using a rhododendron tree as an anchor we lowered the loads and roped down ourselves. Tired and wet we crossed the glacier, climbed on to the moraine and proceeded up it until 5 p.m., when we camped. There was plenty of shrub about but none of it would burn, and we dined as austerely as on the previous evening. Our struggle in the bush had wet anything which had by chance remained dry in the loads during their treatment of the previous day, but nothing mattered now that less painful eyes assured a night's sleep.

  1. Himalayan Journal, vol. ix, 1937, p. 98, and illustration no. 2, p. 96.—Ed.


The mist was as thick as ever next morning when after a cold breakfast of satu, sugar, and water, we set off to look for the Guicha La. I had been there before but feared there would be much 'trial and error' work before we found it. However, our luck was still in; we had not been going an hour before I spotted a wisp of mist with a decidedly bluish tinge. I dare not suggest it was smoke for fear of rousing false hopes, but presently the Sherpas, who had probably noticed it earlier, announced that it was smoke. In a few minutes we were drinking sheep's milk and warming ourselves in a matting shelter with some very astonished shepherds who were camped at the foot of the Guicha La. They had come over the previous day.

Even now our misadventures were not quite over. We toiled up grass slopes for what seemed an unconscionable time, until from my previous recollection I felt we should have reached the pass. There was nothing to be seen except a scree slope ahead of us and some snow on our left, nor could I recognize anything. Casting about, we hit on a path and eventually we reached the pass—but not the one I was aiming for, which must have lain nearly a mile to our right. This was the higher Guicha La pass at the foot of Pandim. There were cairns on top and a path each side which had been used by our friends the shepherds. We dropped down to the Pareh Chu, getting glimpses of the sun for the first time for many days. I walked with my sleeping-bag draped outside my load to dry, but presently it started raining again steadily. The glacier stream in the valley looked formidable, and knowing that Dzongri was on the right bank, and uncertain about a bridge, we decided to cross while we could before the stream got any bigger. We forded it without much trouble and proceeded gaily down a rather half-hearted track. The track became more and more uncertain and at 2 o'clock, in pouring rain and in the heart of a thicket, we lost it altogether. We had passed some sheep on the other bank, but now we feared there would be too much water to recross. Retracing our steps for a mile we saw the shepherds' hut on the other side and plunged desperately into the water—drowning seeming almost preferable to another night out. We crossed without accident and made for the mat shelter which appeared to be empty except for a heap of blankets. However, in response to our shouts the pile of blankets stirred and a boy put his head out. He was evidently not desirous of having us as guests, for in answer to our questions he replied unhesitatingly that Dzongri was only 2 miles away. We sped away in the rain hardly stopping to thank him for the glad news. A long 2 miles brought us to a bridge and for the next 3 we climbed steeply for what I thought was 10,000 feet but may have only been 2,000.

I was well ahead of the Sherpas and just about dusk took up quarters in a muddy, leaking, derelict yak-stable which seemed to be the only shelter in Dzongri. By hacking bits off the underside of the wooden roof with my axe I managed to get a fire going just as the men arrived. The pan was put on for tea, one of the Sherpas went off to look for juniper, and in five minutes returned to tell us that just round the corner was a more eligible billet with a roaring fire. We moved over and spent a luxurious evening in the company of a young yak-herd and half a dozen still younger yaks. Travelling via Yoksam and Soshing, in three days we reached Singtam, on the Tista. It was 18 miles from our destination, Gangtok, but, leaving the Sherpas there to recover, I procured a car the same afternoon and arrived.

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