MEMORIES OF EARLY KASHMIR CLIMBING
Dr. ERNEST NEVE
(No mountaineer who has visited Kashmir during the last half-century has ever appealed to our veteran member for advice or help in vain. Dr. Ernest Neve joined his brother Arthur, who had already been at the Mission Hospital in Srinagar for four years, in the winter of 1886. They learned to know and love the people and their land; they carried hope and health to every remote village in the State; and, long before any Himalayan Club came into existence, they were the two fountain-heads of information to which all mountaineers went for advice. In the memories that follow, Dr. Ernest barely mentions his own achievements and claims no repayment of the debt so many of us owe to him and to his brother.-Ed.)
IN this article, ‘early climbing' must be taken to end with the War of 1914-18. Even so, it is impossible to draw a sharp distinction between travellers and explorers, such as Schlagintweit and Shaw, surveyors, such as Godwin Austen and Montgomerie, and sportsmen and climbers, such as Mummery and Bruce. All in the early days contributed to our knowledge of routes, passes, and mountains.
It was during and after the Indian Mutiny that the Great Trigonometrical Survey first undertook the scientific survey of Kashmir. The position, heights, and names of many lofty and impressive peaks north of the Indus and in eastern Kashmir were then determined, and in 1861 Godwin Austen first discovered and surveyed such glaciers as the Biafo and the Baltoro. This important work should have revealed the enormous potentialities of the Kashmir Himalaya for the Alpine climber. Yet, in spite of the splendid work done by the Government Survey, there still remained areas off the main valleys north of the Indus almost unvisited, and much further exploration was accomplished by such expeditions as the Forsyth Mission to Yarkand in 1878. W. H.Johnson in 1866, and Freshfield again in 1884 proposed the founding of a Himalayan Club, but it was not till 1927 that the Club was born and nursed by Corbett and Mason.
In 1882, when my brother Arthur first went to Kashmir, there was very little mountaineering for sport. In his first year he made an interesting little journey into the Astor valley and climbed the Alampi pass, obtaining a fine view of Nanga Parbat which he thought infinitely more impressive than the great snow slopes and ice-cliffs of the eastern face of Mont Blanc. Descending to the Indus at Katsura, he entered the wonderful gorge, where below Rondu the peaks tower up to the south to over 19,000 feet, while on the other side Haramosh reaches 24,270 feet only 7 miles away. On this journey Arthur began those first glaciological observations which, amplified and matured, were recognized in 1911 by the Royal Geographical Society by the award of the Back Grant, 'for his important contributions to our knowledge of the physical geography and glaciology of the Kashmir Himalaya'.
The first large-scale exploration after my arrival in Kashmir in 1886 was that of Younghusband. In 1887, inspired by the example of his uncle, Robert Shaw, he traversed the whole length of Asia, and from Yarkand crossed the main K'un-lun range by the Chiragh- saldi pass. He was able to correct a topographical error in the map of the Yarkand basin; for he observed that the southern tributaries of the Yarkand river came down, not from the Muztagh range, but from an intermediate one which he crossed by the Aghil pass; and that between the range and the Muztagh lay another long tributary of the Yarkand river, the Shaksgam.
On the Aghil pass Younghusband had stood entranced by the magnificence and glory of the view-peak after peak stood before him, their snowy summits and beetling crags reaching heights of from 15,000 to 18,000 feet. Following down the Shaksgam valley and turning the corner of the Sarpo Laggo, K2 again came in sight, rising to an almost incredible height. What an experience it must have been for him! Then followed his daring crossing of the Muztagh pass, with its adventurous and perilous descent.
Younghusband visited this region again in 1889. Since that time he has always been the most influential supporter and a valued adviser of the numerous expeditions which have visited these regions, whether for climbing the higher peaks, or for exploring and mapping the Muztagh range. He was a pioneer himself of that fascinating country.
My next memory is of Conway, Eckenstein, and Bruce, who in 1892 made their way to Gilgit, and after some practice climbs reached the Hispar by a cross-country route and then traversed that glacier, some of them crossing the Nushik pass and others the Hispar pass. The latter went down the Biafo glacier to Askole and on to the Baltoro glacier, which has since been the operation ground of so many subsequent expeditions. Conway climbed 'Pioneer Peak' (c. 23,000 feet), with its glorious view of 'the Muztagh Tower'. He would have liked to attempt Masherbrum, 26,500 feet, but the weather was too unsettled. From the north the summit of Masherbrum appeared fenced round by ice-cliffs and crags.
The extent to which this district has been subsequently explored is well known. My brother and I met most of the travellers in Kashmir. In July 1899 Dr. and Mrs. Workman visited the Biafo glacier and climbed on the Skoro La mountains. They mapped the great Ghogo Lungma glacier up to its sources. Drew had described this glacier thirty years before. In 1909 the Baltoro glacier was the base from which the Duke of the Abruzzi made his attack on K2, which presents an unbroken series of precipices and overhanging glaciers. Two attempts were made: the first, up the east- south-east ridge, only reached an altitude of 16,000 feet; on the west a fairly high col on the watershed was climbed. Judging this side of K2 to be impracticable, the Duke next surveyed the upper basin of the 'Godwin Austen glacier', and from the south-eastern ridge of'Staircase' he examined the northern side of the mountain; then, abandoning K2, he moved to the south branch of the upper Baltoro ice-field and set up a small camp over the seracs by the Chogolisa saddle. From here, on the 18th July 1909, after hours of climbing in soft snow, he succeeded in reaching an altitude of 24,583 feet on 'Bride Peak', or Chogolisa. This was, at that time, the highest altitude reached by any climber.
Farther east, De Filippi's great expedition of 1913-14 was splendidly organized, with very careful provision for scientific research. Dainelli was the geologist and naturalist. The upper Shyok valley, the Depsang plains, and the upper tributaries of the Yarkand river were surveyed by this well-equipped party, though the upper Shyok valley had to be omitted owing to the outbreak of the Great War; this was subsequently surveyed by Kenneth Mason. De Filippi's results were given in the finest series of volumes which has ever been published of this region.
These were the high lights of my pre-War memories in Kashmir; but there were many other journeys of great interest. If I mention my brother's, it is because the Editor pressed me to do so. In the autumn of 1895 Arthur crossed the Deosai plateau and visited the Shigar valley, making interesting observations and notes on the geology and former glaciation of the district. He ascended the Nushik La from the south, hoping to descend to the Hispar, but, owing to the lateness of the season, he judged the seracs and berg- schrund impassable. In 1897, starting from Kel in the Kishanganga valley, he made what was probably the first crossing by a European of the Barei pass, and descended through the little village of Paloi to Chilas.
In 1902 Arthur was especially attracted by the Nun Kun. Two well-known climbers, Bruce and Lucas, had previously visited these fine twin peaks, but had not had time to outflank the seracs. The Workmans had also skirted the massif and had photographed it from the Rangdum valley and the Parkutse La. With limited time at his disposal, Arthur Neve was only able to reach a height of 18,000 feet. He discovered, however, a practicable route between the precipitous North Peak and the Dome Peak, which looked quite easy. There appeared to be a good site for a tent at a point just above 17,500 feet, and it was here that Dr. Sillem, in 1903, acting on my brother's advice, placed a little base tent for some days and from it climbed to the great snow plateau between the two peaks.
In 1904, accompanied by Cecil Barton, my brother revisited Nun Kun. It was on this trip that they had an experience which might have had grave results. It was the end of July. The Gul- matonga river, above the junction with the Shafat river, was swollen by melting snows. Barton and two of the strongest porters roped together tried to cross and were almost swept away. They finally emerged on the other side, wounded and exhausted. This happened some distance below the Rangdum monastery.
Ascending from the Suru river where it tunnels under the rocks at Tongul, and establishing a Base Camp in the Sentik, my brother, with three porters, two days' provisions, and a Mummery tent, crossed the Barmal, found an excellent line up to the Barmal La, and then attempted the ascent of D41. By 11 o'clock he reached 19,000 feet, but the snow was so soft and the weather so threatening that the attempt had to be abandoned. At their highest point they were level with the snow plateau at the west foot of Dome Peak.
These activities had an interesting sequel; for in 1906 the Work- mans returned, and ascending by this route they placed a higher camp on the plateau, and from this point climbed 'Pinnacle Peak', 22,800 feet.
In 1902 Arthur had, in the Alpine Journal, pointed out a needed correction to the map, regarding the destination of the great glacier flowing westward. When the Workmans disputed this correction my brother returned once more in 1910, and carried out some survey work in the Nun Kun region, proving that the great Barmal glacier flows from the outlying buttresses of the Nun Kun massif, and with a length of some 15 miles enters the head of the Wardwan valley.1
In these Nun Kun climbs my brother demonstrated the economy with which these expeditions can be effected. He employed seventeen coolies, and obtained flour, sheep, fowls, and eggs from Suru. The whole cost of the tour for the two of them was under seven pounds.
The first ascent of Kun was achieved by Count Calciati's party in 1913. His beautifully illustrated book with delightful reproductions of his photographs of this mountain from his camp at 20,666 feet, and of other views, was not published until 1930. Nun, however, still awaits its conqueror.
1 The details of this little controversy are given in the Geographical Journal, vol. lvi, 1920, pp. 124-7, i*1 a paper entitled 4A Note on the Topography of the Nun Kun Massif in Ladakh', which I wrote at the time.--Ed.
In 1907 Arthur visited the Karakoram. He travelled up the Nubra with Captain Oliver, the Joint Commissioner for Ladakh, through Panamik and as far as Gompa. It was from here that Collins of the Survey of India in 1911 ascended Shelma and other peaks in order to triangulate Teram Kangri. Oliver and my brother then turned up the Saser and made a careful examination of the Murgisthang, or Mamostong, glacier and the mountain K32.
In 1908 my brother joined Longstaff and Slingsby on a journey by Dras, the Suru, and the Indus valleys to Kharmang, and over the Ganse La to Khapalu. The view of the Saltoro spires is one never to be forgotten. Ascending the Saltoro valley and turning up a lateral valley to the north they looked right up the Bilaphond glacier, with the peak K11 in the clouds. Struggling over moraine they camped at Ali Brangsa, over 17,000 feet, and next day reached the Saltoro pass before midday. Before them lay a vast glacier, which according to previous accounts should have been flowing northwards to Central Asia. This was proved to be the Siachen glacier, its continuation downwards to the Nubra being subsequently demonstrated by Longstaff. Sir Francis Younghusband had shown much interest in this expedition and had given much advice and assistance. Longstaff's excellent sketch-map of the great Siachen glacier and its neighbourhood was a valuable contribution. His tracks were followed by the Workmans in 1911, when their surveyor, Grant Peterkin, made a careful survey of the glacier.
I have noted some journeys far afield in Kashmir; but both in the Pir Panjal, and in the mountains to the east and north of the Vale of Kashmir there are peaks which, although of quite secondary importance so far as Himalayan standards of altitude are concerned, are nevertheless of interest to the climber, especially to those who cannot afford the time or money for more distant and extensive climbing. The summits afford an attractive variety of glaciers, ice couloirs, snow slopes, and rock.
Haramukh, towering up above the Wular lake, has several summits.1 The 'Station Peak5, the lowest, can easily be approached from the west by a long ridge, and was used by the Great Trigonometrical Survey in 1858. From it Colonel Montgomerie first observed K2. In 1887 my brother and I successfully reached the summit of the western peak. It was not till 1899, however, that Geoffrey Millais and I made the first ascent of the outstanding eastern peak (16,900 feet). We used the Erin valley route, and turning up a small valley on the right above the village of Kodura, pitched a shelter tent at 15,000 feet on the western arete. Then, starting at 4.30 a.m. next morning, we reached the summit before midday. An ascent was made by Bruce some years later from the eastern side. He found it an interesting climb without any special difficulty.
1 For a good illustration of the Haramukh massif from the air see Himalayan Journal, vol. xi, 1939, p. 185.
Kolahoi, 17,799 feet, the highest of the peaks near the Vale of Kashmir, is also an interesting climb, varying in difficulty according to the amount of snow. The first ascent was made by Kenneth Mason and me in 1912. It has been climbed several times since, generally by the same route, but once by a new route, the southern face, by Hunt and Brotherhood in 1935.1 In the Pir Panjal range, Tatticooti, 15,560 feet, is the highest peak. C. E. Barton and the writer made the first ascent in 1901. Pitching a shelter tent at 12,850 feet, we descended to the eastern glacier and climbed a 6oo-foot couloir to the north-east arete, which we followed with occasional traverses to the summit. The Brahma Sakal peaks, beyond Konsa Nag, at the south-east end of the Vale of Kashmir, are still unclimbed. The highest of the three, 15,523 feet, is the nearest to the lake. The writer attempted this in 1910 from a Base Camp on the snow-field about a mile beyond Konsa Nag. No special difficulty was encountered until within about 200 feet of the summit, which was formed, by a smooth surface of up-tilted strata at an angle of about 60 degrees; this afforded no foothold. The north side is sheer precipice. Further exploration may reveal a possible route from the south-east.
Various other summits were climbed by my brother and myself in the decade before the Great War, 'Sunset Peak', Rajdain, Sachkach; but there are many others still left to our successors.
1 Himalayan Journal, vol. viii, 1936, pp. 103-6.