Himalayan Journal vol.12
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Kenneth Mason
    (F. LUDLOW)
    (J. B. AUDEN)
    (LIEUT. J. F. S. OTTLEY)
    (Lieut. I. H. LYALL GRANT and Lieut.-Colonel KENNETH MASON)
    (Flight-Lieut. ARTHUR YOUNG)
  13. NOTES



As may readily be imagined, the Himalayan Journal has been edited and published this year under considerable difficulty and great pressure of other work. Some papers have had to be held over until 1941. There is little time in England now for anything but concentration on the task of ridding the world of the disgusting cruelty and sadistic brutality of the creed which permeates Hitler's Germany.

K. M.

The Himalayan Club Dinner, 1939

The third annual dinner of the Himalayan Club took place at the Cafe Royal in London on the 30th June 1939. Owing to General Bruce's inability to preside through illness, the chair was taken by Mr. N. E. Odell. Fifty members and their guests were present, among whom were three members of the Masherbrum expedition of 1938, Harrison, Hodgkin, and Waller, the first two of whom were well on their way to recovery after their severe frost-bite. Both the chairman and Dr. Longstaff spoke of the Club's activities, of the next attempt to climb Mount Everest, and the latter paid a well- deserved tribute to Colonel Tobin, who had organized the dinner. After the dinner Waller showed his exceptionally fine film of the attempt on Masherbrum and Streatfeild followed with some lovely colour films of the K2 reconnaissance, the first coming up from Colchester and the latter from Salisbury Plain to attend the dinner. Special thanks are due to both of them and to Colonel and Mrs. Tobin for all the trouble they took to make the evening the great success that it was.

Owing to the war, it is improbable that a dinner will be held in 1940.

A. A. M.

Himalayan Club Huts in Sikkim

The Himalayan Club has built two huts in northern Sikkim, one in the Jha Chu valley, the other at Mome Samdong, thus making it possible for travellers to go up the Lachung valley, cross the beautiful Sebo La, 17,000 feet, and return by the Lachen valley, or vice versa, without the trouble and expense of taking tents all the way through Sikkim. The huts are about eight hours' march apart, exclusive of halts.

These huts are available to travellers who are not members of the Himalayan Club, on payment of Rs. 2/- a night per head, or of Rs. 8/- for a whole party. They may be reserved through either (a) The Honorary Secretary, the Eastern Section, Himalayan Club, c/o the Geological Survey of India, 27 Chowringhee, Calcutta; or (b) the Deputy Commissioner, Darjeeling. Duplicate sets of keys are with the chowkidar at Chungthang, and should be returned to him. There are no cooking-pots or bedding in the huts, and no chowkidars in charge. Below are some details of situation and accommodation.

The Jha Chu valley Hut. This is situated on the north side of the stream about 9 miles (5 to 6 hours' march) from Thangu, and about half a mile from the ascent to the Sebo La. Its altitude is about 15,000 feet. It contains:

(a) One living-room, 14J by feet, with a stove, 5 bunks (wooden frame and nawar webbing), and one table. Above is a loft reached by a ladder and trap-door.

(b) One kitchen, 8\ by feet, with chula for cooking. The loft above is also reached by a ladder and trap-door.

Good water and dwarf juniper fuel are available close to the hut.

Mome Samdong Hut. This is situated on a grassy terrace on the west side of the Lachung river, above its junction with the stream from the Sebo La on the west. There are several rough stone huts belonging to yak-herds scattered on the terraces below the Club hut, which lies at about 15,000 feet. It is 10 miles north of Yumthang and 8 miles south of the Donkhya La. It contains:

(a) One living-room, 8 by 10 feet, with 4 camp chairs and a camp table. There is a wooden shelf, 8 by 7 feet, above part of the room, on which bedding can be spread for sleeping. This is reached by a ladder.

(b) One kitchen, 8 by feet, with stove. A loft above is reached by a ladder and is available for porters' sleeping accommodation.

Water is available close by, but no fuel, except possibly some yak-dung, of which the supply is uncertain. Fuel should therefore be brought from Yumthang or Lachung.

The crossing of the Sebo La in either direction should not be undertaken in bad weather, for there is no track, and it would be easy to miss the way.

L. J. T.

Himalayan Accidents in 1939

The lessons to be learnt from the German failures and disasters on Nanga Parbat in 1934 and 1937 have been forcibly driven home by the three major accidents of 1939.

On the night of the 14th June 1937 almost the whole of the German expedition was wiped out by an ice-avalanche which over whelmed Camp 4 on Nanga Parbat. The camp was believed to be in a safe place, far out of reach of any possible danger. The ice- blocks broke away from the slopes above and were carried an immense distance floating on the newly fallen snow which avalanched in front of it. Most mountaineering journals commented on this unusual occurrence. The same thing appears to have happened in 1939 on both Chaukhamba and Tirsuli. On both occasions the victims were overwhelmed when in camp; both expeditions were new to Himalayan conditions; both had, in my opinion, through over-confidence born of previous success, relaxed that caution which is so absolutely essential on Himalayan ice-slopes. It is impossible to come to any other conclusion than that all these three disasters, which have befallen the Germans, the Poles, and the Swiss, were due to fundamental errors of judgement in the placing of camps caused by ignorance of Himalayan ice-conditions, or to the taking of unwarrantable risks.

But if ignorance or lack of judgement may be held responsible for these three accidents, what is there to excuse the catastrophe on K2? Almost every rule of prudent climbing appears to have been broken, and only good luck and the occurrence of fine weather prevented a far worse disaster. There are points in common with the disaster on Nanga Parbat in 1934, when Willy Merkl, the leader of that expedition, was caught on the 8th July in Camp 8 by storm, with an inadequate and badly stocked line of communication, and most of those at the high camps were destroyed. From the 15th to the 21 st July 1939 Wiessner, the leader of the American expedition to K2, was out of touch with his communications. He knew nothing of the complete breakdown of his supply organization on the 17th. He, the leader, knew that there was one sick and one exhausted climber on the mountain, and yet went on for five days hoping for the best. Had the weather which had been bad on the 15th and 16th remained unfavourable for a few more days, it is doubtful whether any of the porters on the mountain would have survived, if they had carried out the orders issued to them on the 13th.

The 1938 reconnaissance to K2 had been a brilliant affair; it had experienced exceptionally fine weather during the attempt on the mountain. Yet Houston had written:

The descent was long and tiring, and even more difficult than we had expected, for the snow had melted from the rocks and new steps had to be made. From below Camp 3 the route was especially difficult, and when we reached the Base Camp on the 25th July, we realized that we had seriously under-estimated the difficulties of the descent and its dangers in a storm. The weather, as if by signal, began to thicken while we were still at Camp 4, and on our arrival at the base, clouds came in on the upper part of the mountain which did not lift until we left the Baltoro glacier a week later.

Here was a clear and very sound warning of the danger of being caught by bad weather on the mountain in the last half of July. Why was it disregarded in 1939? Why was the expedition not abandoned on the 11th July when many of the climbers were incapable of further effort? Dogged by bad weather in June-the rule, not the exception, in the K2 region-the party was by that day reduced to three climbers and seven porters. Through sickness and strain half the original strength of ca small and mobile party' was ineffective; several of the rest were tired. Of the three remaining climbers, one cracked on the 13th and one on the 17th. The morale of the porters remained intact to the end, as is evidenced by the superhuman efforts they made to avert the disaster. Had there been one climber capable of reaching Wolfe and of forcing him to descend on the 28th, that disaster would still have been prevented; but every climber was beaten.

These may seem harsh words; but the sooner climbers forget their little Alps and Rockies when they are climbing the great Himalayan summits the sooner they will meet with success. May the advocates of 'the small and mobile party' take this lesson to heart. Six climbers were sufficient to establish Camp 4 at 21,400 feet; one fit and two tired climbers were left to make the assault; common sense and ordinary prudence demanded that the climb should be abandoned, because the party was too weak and because success could only be fluked by unwarrantable risks, the neglect of every rule, and the wanton sacrifice of porters' lives.

Time and again it has been proved that Alpine conditions are vastly different from high Himalayan. The sooner that lesson is learnt the better for Himalayan climbing; for such expeditions as that on K2 in 1939 can only be classed as inglorious failures, whatever peaks are climbed. 'Eigerwand' tactics are criminal in the high Himalaya and Karakoram.

K. M.

The Grading of Sherpa and Bhotia Porters

At a Committee meeting of the Eastern Section of the Himalayan Club on the 6th February 1939 it was decided to create a superior grade for experienced climbing porters, and to give them 8 annas a day extra pay beyond the rate paid to others, for work above the snow-line. It was first suggested to give them a smaller increase at any time, until it was realized that this might prevent travellers from engaging them for ordinary treks, where climbing skill and experience are not so valuable; and since they count on employment on these journeys to keep them between the high climbing expeditions, it was decided to give them a larger increase when their greater skill is being used.

It was suggested that these men should be given the name of 'Tigers', together with a badge representing a tiger's head. There were a number of criticisms of this name, but none of the alternatives appeared suitable. 'Climbers' is a term already used for Europeans of the party; 'guides' would give a false impression, for it is most undesirable that the porters should be looked upon as guides in the Swiss sense; and since the name 'Tiger' has been fairly constantly used since the Mount Everest expedition of 1924 for the picked porters who have gone high, it has been adopted as the best name put forward.

Leaders of expeditions were asked to recommend porters for this higher grade, and on the basis of their recommendations the following porters were appointed at a Committee meeting held on the 30th May 1939:

Dawa Thondup (No. 49). Tenzing (No. 48)

Pasang Dawa Lama Sherpa(No.139) Ang Tenzing.1 Lobsang (No. 144).

Dawa Tsering (No. 53). Kusang Namgir (No. 9).

Ang Tarkay (No. 19). Paldan (No. 54).

Wangdi Norbu (No. 25). Lhakpa Tenzing (No. 30).

Renzing (No. 32).

Pasang Kikuli (No. 8), Nima Tsering (No. 129), and Da Tsering1 would have been promoted, but Pasang Kikuli was killed on K2 during the year and the other two died during the spring of 1939.

At a Committee meeting on the 8th September 1939, it was decided to promote Lewa to the higher grade, in view of his past achievements.

The Honorary Secretary, Eastern Section, the Honorary Secretary and the Assistant Secretary, Darjeeling, presented signed certificates to as many of these porters as were present in Darjeeling at the end of October 1939. Those who were in the field with Eric Shipton were to receive them on their return. Mountaineers who know porters whom they consider fit for the higher grade should send in their names to the Honorary Secretary, Eastern Section.

L.J. T.

The Porters' High Altitude Record

It is possible that the porter Pasang Dawa Lama Sherpa (No. 139) has been as high on K2 as other porters have been on Mount Everest.

1 The numbers of these two porters were not given by the Honorary Secretary, the Eastern Section, in her notes sent for publication.-Ed

It will be remembered that eight porters reached and pitched Camp 6, 27,400 feet, in 1933. If Wiessner's claim to have reached 27,450 feet on K2 is admitted, Pasang Lama will have been higher than this. It must be remembered, however, that the height of Camp 6 on Mount Everest has been triangulated, while that on K2 is only an estimate. Aneroids are notoriously untrustworthy instruments at high altitudes. The triangulated height of the great shoulder on K2 is 25,354 feet. My own view is that owing to the foreshortening of Vittorio Sella's photographs, both Houston in 1938 and Wiessner in 1939 have considerably under-estimated the distance they were from the summit.

Pasang Lama holds a record of fine achievement. He reached the summit of Ghomolhari with Spencer Chapman in 1937, and carried to 23,500 feet on Masherbrum.

K. M.

The Royal Geographical Society's New Karakoram Map

As a result of the discussions that began some ten years ago regarding Karakoram nomenclature, which culminated with the Karakoram Conference of 1937, the Royal Geographical Society has now published a very fine map of the Karakoram on the scale of 1 : 750,000, which gives the names of all the mountain groups. The results of the Karakoram Conference decisions were published in Himalayan Journal, vol. x, .i938, pp. 86-125.

The colouring of such a map is by no means easy, the altitude range being from about 3,000 feet to 28,000 feet, and the final map is the result of much experimenting. The following notes are taken from the Geographical Journal, vol. xcv, 1940, p. 300.

After many experiments we have abandoned the layer system. The strong red or brown warm colours of the normal scale combine badly with the blue and white required in the representation of neve and glacier. We tried without success to find a colour scheme which would pass into the cold greys for the higher altitudes below the snows. And we concluded also that no layer tints are satisfactory when the contours are close. Unless the distance between contours is at least 5 mm. the tint of the layer is affected by the colour of the contour. Hence we renounce the use of layer colours for the heights, reserving the possibility of using them in the valley bottoms.

In principle we accentuate the mountain slopes, colouring those which are bare in brown on a ground tint of yellow with blue shading of the snows and in addition a general oblique purple shading. The hill shading is in principle cast from the north-west, as is usual; but we reserve the liberty to vary its direction somewhat to suit the ground, as was done long ago by the Swiss cartographers. The system much resembles that used in recent Norwegian maps, adapted to the higher altitudes.

For the valleys we have adopted tints of greyish green and have been careful not to carry the hill shading down to the valley bottoms. The idea was derived from the old habit of the Austrian cartographers in colouring Thalsohlen green on maps otherwise uncoloured.

The framework of the map is the triangulation of the Survey of India, and the greater part of the topography is derived from Survey of India maps, though this has been extended and modified by the results of the most recent expeditions. The map is drawn by Mr. F. J. Batchelor, working under instructions of a small committee appointed by the Council of the Royal Geographical Society. It is printed in eight colours on a sheet with engraved surface 22'J by 20*0 inches. The price of the map is 7s. 6d. or Rs. 5 and it can be bought from the Office of the Royal Geographical Society, Kensington Gore, London, S.W. 7.1 Members of the Club interested in the topography of Kashmir and the Karakoram will find this map extremely useful.

1 In order that Members of the Himalayan Club should have the opportunity of obtaining this map in India, a limited number of copies have been bought by a member and presented to the Club for sale to members. These can be purchased from the Honorary Secretary. The proceeds will go to Himalayan Club funds.