SOME QUETTA ROCK CLIMBS
W. K. MARPLES AND R. O. G. THOMSON
In the 1937 volume of the Himalayan Journal was published an article by Finch, 'Quetta Rock-climbing'.1
The information now given should be regarded as supplementary to that article. Of Finch's 'Thorn-bush Crack' climb the writers of the present article have nothing to say, not having attempted it, but they regard his discovery, 'The Great Step' climb up the grim crags opposite mile 18 on the Kachh road, as a classic.
The 'Quetta Slabbers', whose climbs form the subject of the present article, did many interesting practice climbs on weekday afternoons after tea. That it is possible to find climbs so near Quetta that it is worth while making them between tea and dinner may be news to many. The climate of Quetta makes late afternoon climbing-for those who are prepared to undergo a mild roasting on westward facing slabs-possible throughout the summer; and the discovery of the 'Nursery Slabs'-not by any means all nursery- brings rock-climbing within twenty minutes' drive by car from the middle of Quetta Cantonments.
Practically all climbing round Quetta is on limestone. On very old slabs the surface has weathered into countless rough points upon which rubber soles grip excellently. Under these conditions remarkably steep slabs can be climbed on little more than 'fountain pen' holds for the toes, and finger scrapes. Nearly always some hold turns up to save a situation which may be becoming precarious, and not seldom one's fingers clench thankfully round a hold of the 'stirrup' variety, or to a thin leaf held to the parent rock by some slight, but adequate, stem. This type of slab can be distinguished from the smooth variety by the duller light tone of the former.
Crumbling holds are occasionally met with on slabs, but are far more common in gullies. In these and in any crack or hollow there are usually accumulations of dry clay, loose stones, and thorn bushes. Bushes are found to be loaded with dust and pollen, and as it is usually with one's head that a way has to be forced through them, in addition to being scratched, one is apt to be subjected to prolonged fits of coughing. Where gullies are swept clean by occasional storm water the rock is polished and firm. Nailed boots are useless on water-worn rock. On the 'Nursery Slabs', which are close behind Quetta city, the steeper and less accessible cracks, gullies, and chimneys are the roosting sanctuaries of carrion birds, whose droppings and the gruesome relics of whose meals encumber some of the holds. To be swooped and croaked at by ravens just as one is fumbling for a salvation hold is a quite unnecessary reminder of mortality. Where birds are absent, in shaded gullies, hornets are usually present, their inquisitive buzzing being apt to lend excessive emphasis to the bare space between the end of the stockings and the beginning of the shorts. One or two snakes and scorpions have been seen, but not on steep rocks.
Volume ix, 1937, pp. 105-9.
The Nursery Slopes or Slabs.
Immediately behind Quetta city, approached by the ribbon of dust-filled ruts and pot-holes known as Quarry Road, lies an outlying foothill of Murdar, which runs roughly from south to north to culminate in Volunteer Point. Rather south of the centre of the ridge, which is about 400 feet high, the west face, overlooking Quetta, is scarred by a great variety of slabs, gullies, and buttresses which provide a magnificent rock-climbers' practice ground, the full possibilities of which we have not yet exhausted. Details of some of the more interesting climbs are given below. For simplicity the climbs are described in order from left to right (north to south) from the point of view of someone looking at the hill from the direction of Quetta city.
The most prominent slab on the face is 'the Plate'. This is a very conspicuous, smooth, steep, vertically elongated slab about 200 feet high. The face is unclimbable, but it is possible that a very difficult arete climb could be made along its north edge. The 'Sanctuary Slab' lies about a hundred feet to the left (north) of the Plate, some rough slabs and ribs intervening, and is the northernmost limit of the climbing area.
The Sanctuary Slab is steep, but rough, and owes its name to a number of shallow hollows upon its surface in which it is possible to rest. Two courses have been made up it, both of which may be classed from difficult to very difficult. The first lies from the very bottom up towards the left edge, from sanctuary to sanctuary. After about 80 feet there is a satisfactory anchor in an obvious resting-place on the left-hand edge, following which a small overhang is avoided by regaining the slab to the right and finishing with about 30 feet of steep and exposed ascent on small rough holds back to the left edge once more, where the climb finishes, though it may be prolonged for another 40 feet or so as a scramble.
Typical limestones rock in the Quette region. The photographs is taken on an easy pitch of Finch’s ‘Great Step’ climb on Tukatu
Rock climbers near Volunteer point, Quetta.
The second route consists in climbing the crack or gully on the right edge of the Sanctuary Slab for about 40 feet, and then following a very meagre crack, obstructed by one or two small thorny shrubs, diagonally up and across the face towards the left, without anchor or belay, for about go feet, the climb ending a little above the finish of the left-hand route. From this point, looking half-left, there may be noticed, about 150 yards away across easy broken rocks, a 20-foot chimney leading to the top of the ridge. This is a pleasant scramble.
A less strenuous variant to the two routes up the slab is a steep scramble up the rocks to the right of it, including a short easy chimney of the rat-hole variety, to the ascent of which interest may be introduced by leaving it after a short straddle, and climbing up outside.
The Plate Gully.
About 60 feet to the right (south) of the Sanctuary Slab is a steep, angular gully about 250 feet high, formed by the sheared-off edge of the Plate Slab, from 10 to 20 feet thick, overlapping a lesser slab. The climb, which may be classed as moderately difficult, consists mainly of straddling.
Pitch 1. Scramble up the first 50 feet or so of the V to where the gully narrows to an overhanging crack in which is wedged a chockstone out of reach. Here tie on the rope.
Pitch 2. The problem is to reach the chockstone. There is just enough friction on the slab to make this possible, and it is noticeable that different climbers use different holds, or rather, scrapes. Fortunately the stone is secure, and with a gymnastic pull up and wriggle over the overhang is surmounted. There follows an easy scramble to a shelf where an excellent anchor is obtainable on the edge of the Plate. 30 feet.
Pitch 3. Straight up the V by straddling for about 20 feet and a scramble of like distance. Beware of loose holds on this pitch.
Pitch4. Continue to straddle upwards past a small green tree growing out of the crack, a little way beyond which one is forced out on to the slab on the left just before the slope eases. 70 feet.
Similar to pitch 4, and also divided midway by a green bush. This is a bird sanctuary, a circumstance to which eyes, ears, and nose testify. 60 feet.
The Beginners' Buttress.
This is an irregular pile of limestone rocks about 200 feet to the right (south) of the Plate, from which it is separated by broken rocks suitable for scrambling and a nullah inhabited by hornets. The climb starts well round to the right on a western aspect to the right of an obvious overhang. It offers a delectable variety and there are some short severe pitches which can be circumvented. These the climber can solve for himself. Towards the top, where the climb degenerates into a scramble, leave the buttress and choose a route across, up, or down a spacious slanting wall of slabs, seamed with cracks and ledges, to the right. Standard, moderate.
About a quarter of a mile south of the group of climbs described above, which may be called 'the Plate group', there lies a very similar group which has not been fully explored. Conspicuous and close below the top of the ridge are three black, wavy, and roughly vertical lines, which indicate gullies formed by overlapping slabs: 'the Triplets'. The two left-hand (northerly) cracks have a most uninviting outward lean to the left, and have not been attempted by the Quetta Slabbers. The third, right-hand, or southernmost triplet provides a moderately difficult climb of about 90 feet, either as a straddle or as an exposed slab climb if the V-crack is disregarded in favour of the rough, steep slab to the left. If the V-route is taken, there is an anchor in the form of a rather inaccessible point of rock on the arete to the right about half-way up, to which the leader may tie himself while bringing up No. 2. Sufficient grip to give a tight rope, though not enough to hold a bad slip, is obtainable by a wedged stance in the V. Experienced climbers will not find belay or anchor necessary in the V, while on the slab none exist.
The start of the Triplets climb described above is reached by scrambling for 150 feet or so up rough rocks to the left, but it may be made much more interesting by adding to the climb the ascent for about 200 feet of the slabs directly below. These look somewhat steep and grim, but the darkish tone of the rock, by contrast to the light tone of smooth rocks, gives promise, which the ascent proves to be fulfilled, of the rough, sharp surface typical of old weatherworn limestone slabs. Beware of crumbling holds here.
There remains a climb which we may call the 'Triplets Diret- tissima'. This consists of a direct ascent of the slabs leading to the base of the right-hand triplet, a climb of 200 feet or so, with one or two easy ledges on which to rest and belay, ending with the ascent, not of the triplet V or slab to the left, but of the continuation of the lower slabs immediately to the right of the triplet arete.
This is a projecting rock platform high up on the rounded bluff to the extreme south of the Nursery Slabs climbing area. It has not been fully explored, but one difficult and very exposed climb has been made from the ledge near the foot by a left-handed ascent which passes above the smooth overhanging base of the buttress; no place for a slip, especially for the leader. A hardly perceptible ledge and some patches of whitish rock mark the route.
The Quarry Nullah.
Quarry Nullah, or Kasi Dara according to the map, lies immediately to the right (south) from the Nursery Slabs area. It is rendered normally accessible by the road formed in the torrent bed by lorries bringing out shingle.
This remarkable gorge grows more fantastic as one proceeds up it between almost vertical walls from 10 to 20 feet apart. On the left the rocks are somewhat broken and offer no continuous course, but on the right a steep precipice rises some 2,500 feet nearly to the summit of a point called Hingi, up which no route has been reconnoitred. There is a broad ledge which traverses the face about 200 feet above the nullah bed. There are innumerable opportunities for short climbs on these crags, and several have been made, the most interesting being from above the western edge of the shelf, a difficult and exposed diagonal ascent of a pock-marked bluff named 'the Bowery'.
Penetrating farther up the ravine the bed is found to turn to the left, opening up somewhat, and then to the right almost immediately. Here a 20-foot waterfall-pitch gives access to a most impressive section where both walls rise almost vertically from the 15-foot-wide boulder-strewn bed.
The Maiden's Bower.
Here, up the right-hand wall, is 'the Maiden's Bower', a delightful climb characterized by exposed situations, good hand-holds, and sound rock. Avoiding the temptation of an easy backward slanting shelf the precipice may be attacked at a buttress beneath some young trees growing out of crevices, moving first left and then right to a stance about 30 feet above the nullah-bed; from here a right- hand traverse leads to 'the Maiden's Bower', a shallow cave about 50 feet above the nullah-bed, into which three may crowd, but which does not give any really secure anchor.
From here there are two routes, one an exposed traverse upwards to the left where about 100 feet of rope have to be run out behind the leader before a magnificent belay is offered by a healthy young fig-tree growing out of a crack. Though this traverse is exposed it is not difficult, but the leader may be forgiven for feeling, as his hands clench round this secure anchor, that he would not exchange it for all the maidens of Baluchistan, bowery or otherwise. Beyond the fig-tree the climb by this route degenerates into a scramble.
The correct route after making an exit from the bower on the left-hand side is straight up a steep bulge for 12 feet or so and thence right-handed till one is standing directly above the roof of the bower. From here a very exposed step out of a minor hollow takes one on to the upper edge of a leaf of rock which is followed diagonally upward right-handed for about 60 feet, the extreme steepness easing off somewhat. There follows some steep slab climbing with good holds leftward to a spacious stance below an imposing nose which may later be surmounted from the left side, bringing the climb to a conclusion.
The Maiden's Bower climb may be classed as difficult and exposed, and may occupy about two hours.
The nullah above the foot of the Maiden's Bower climb opens out to some extent, and an exit to the right is possible on to typical Baluchistan rocks of the scramble variety. The way up the nullah itself is obstructed by numerous waterfall pitches and water-worn bowls, while higher up still there are great rock walls which have not been explored, but which look very impressive.
All the climbs so far described lie either on the lower spurs or on the south flanks of Murdar ('the corpse'), the mountain which dominates Quetta. The reverse slopes of the mountain, on the side remote from Quetta, are gentle in the extreme, but the last thousand feet of the mountain on the side which overlooks Quetta, and farther round towards the north, are steep, broken escarpments, intersected by ravines and crowned by four rugged summits, the form of which give the mountain its name.
Rock climbing on the practice slabs near Volunteer Point, Quetta. The mins of Quetta city in the middle distance with the cantonments beyond
Final crags of Tukatu, East Peak. The Grand Arete climb, about 1,500 feet, is up the central bastion. The crags are fireshortened owing to the tilt of the camera
Of the ravines the most spectacular is that which originates between the two middle summits, but in place of breaking out towards Quetta it turns sharply to the north-east to join the streams which flow into the Spin Karez valley, up which there is a motorable road to the base of an 8,000-foot hill which contains seams of poor coal. The route from Quetta lies up the Hanna road to mile 6 and then forks right and continues for about 4 miles farther, bearing right at the second fork, to the end of the track at the base of the coal-mines hill. The entrance to 'the Summit Ravine' lies over aspur to the right. Apart from the climbs to be described later the walk up the Summit Ravine involves several short, but interesting, pitches, mostly up smooth, water-worn chutes, and in one case an exit from underneath a huge chockstone. There is at least one point where direct progress is impossible, and a short detour up the wall of the ravine on easy broken rocks and an equally easy return to it is unavoidable. By contrast, the walk from the summit of Murdar back to the Goal-mines lies almost entirely along ridges which afford extensive views on all sides. Particularly beautiful are the changing colours and shadows cast by the setting sun on the serried brown precipices of Zargun. Care should be taken to keep to the goat-track, which disappears in the most exasperating manner, a map being a valuable aid in preventing a deviation to the wrong spur with consequent delay. The descent takes a full three hours.
This is the name given to the narrow buttress in the middle of the Summit Ravine where it merges into the final escarpment between the north and central buttresses which descend from the two middle summits or towers. The climb can be divided into two sections, upper and lower buttresses, the dividing-point being a flat landing, called 'the Table', which lies at the top of a lateral chimney.
The lower buttress has not been climbed direct, but should yield a fine climb of difficult standard. The alternative route adopted to reach the Table was to climb the 'Rat-hole', a dark chimney-pitch in the bed of the ravine, obstructed by boulders about the size of railway wagons. From the top of the Rat-hole there is a walk of 50 or 100 yards along the nullah-bed to the foot of a conspicuous chimney about 120 feet high on the south side of the buttress, which leads to the Table. The chimney is moderately difficult.
The ascent of the upper buttress direct from the Table appears to be impossible, but a way to continue the climb was found by traversing right-handed a little way above the Table, involving one severe and airy step needing much deliberation. The solution seems to lie in a 20-foot traverse to the right some 10 feet above the level of the Table, followed by a steep and difficult chimney-pitch of some 30 feet. Above this point the arete gives a succession of steep and moderately difficult steps as each layer of rock is surmounted. The buttress eventually merges in the col between the two central towers. Except for a few doubtful holds immediately above the Table the rock appears to be sound.
The Rat-hole, already referred to above, is a short but mostinteresting and delectable climb, the last of its kind in the bed of the Summit Ravine. It lies immediately above a pathway which traverses the base of the summit crags, and it gives the alternative route to the Table chimney by avoiding an ascent of the lower buttress.
The first pitch is short but steep, up a vertical tunnel into a dark cave from which there appears at first to be no safe means of exit. This is the second and larger cavc. Exploration reveals an exit up the smooth outside face of the great top chockstone on the side overlooking the first pitch of the ascent. A very exposed wriggle and reach out to the face is rendered permissible by a most remarkable belay which resembles a snatch-block. This consists of a small pyramid-shaped rounded boulder which is wedged on its base in a crack underneath the great chockstone. The small boulder, though wedged in the crack, rocks easily on its base as though on trunnions. The rope is passed over the pointed end and the stone is then rocked back till the point bears against the great chockstone, where it has to be held by No. 2, while No. 3 anchors himself securely in the cave and pays out rope to No. 1 as he emerges from the obscure security of the cave into the bright sunlight of the outer face, swings round the bulge, and in about twice his own height gains the top of the great chockstone. Standard, moderately difficult to difficult. The Rat-hole climb is only about 80 feet in height, but may occupy from half to one hour.
If, after completing the Rat-hole, there is not time, or inclination, to tackle the lateral chimney on the left up to the Table, and thence the Amphitheatre Buttress, the climb may end with a scramble up a steep but easy rock staircase to the summit amid an interesting tangle of pinnacles and gullies.
Hanna Lake Slab.
Hanna Lake, about 8 miles north of Quetta, is formed by a dam across the entrance to a narrow gorge which forms the exit from a wide valley. A pathway crosses the crest of the dam, descends a few steps, and then crosses the face of an exposed limestone slab which rises at an angle of about seventy degrees for a height of about 100 feet above and to the left of the path.
Course 1. Immediately after descending the steps climb straight up a shallow depression to the left until the way is barred by a prominent bulge, which is surmounted, not by venturing precariously on the slab to the right, but by the aid of a long arm reach over the top to a small shelf and recess (stance with belay above); height 30 or 40 feet. From here there is a choice of two routes, one a simple traverse along a shelf across the face of the slab to the right and then up the last pitch of the face route, and the other, which is moderately difficult and very exposed, a traverse slightly down to the left, finishing up a shallow chimney about 10 feet high.
Course 2. This is an ascent of the wall at about the centre of its length. The start adjoins that of Course 1, but the route lies right- handed up an obvious diagonally ascending, but broken, ledge for about 50 feet to where it ends beneath a protruding rectangular block which is out of reach. The key is a left toe-hold in a small hollow with finger-holds on small square ledges, a second lift, a comforting embrace of the rectangular block, which appears to be firm, and so to a foot-wide shelf which leads up to the base of a shallow gully. This gully used to be obstructed by a bush and rendered dangerous by loose holds, but these have been removed. This little climb, which may be described as moderately difficult and very exposed, should be made in rubbers and treated with respect.
Course 3. Still further to the right there leaves the path and ascends the slab right-handed to its extreme limit (where it merges in broken rocks) a ledge 6 inches to 1 foot wide, obstructed here and there by bushes. As a climb it is not difficult, but needs care owing to loose holds and pockets of dried clay and dust.
Tukatu. The Grand Arete.
In the following description of a direct route up the summit crags to the north-east peak of Tukatu, 11,390 feet, it is assumed that the reader is familiar with the general appearance of the south-east face of the Tukatu massif as seen from the Quetta-Ziarat road. If he is not, he should read Finch's article 'Quetta Rock Climbing' in the Himalayan Journal, vol. ix, 1937. The route now to be described lies up the arete which leads direct to the summit of point 11,390 and which forms the south-west containing wall of Finch's 'summit nullah'.
1 The Gable. Standard moderately difficult. Enter the summit tangi and start from the top of a large block to the left of the first tangi pitch. Slab-climbing for about 60 feet to a stance above which another 20 feet of easy climbing leads to the top of the gable. Below lie the gentle slopes between the top of the intermediate band of crags, a couple of miles in length, called by Finch the 'Great Step', and above tower the slabs of the final crags.
1. The Gable Face variant. Standard moderately difficult. A way up the face can be found about 200 feet to the left of the summit tangi, rising about 70 feet to a prominent ledge, exit from which to the lelt is barred by a small but continuous overhang. Traverse the ledge for about ioo feet right-handed and then pull up over an exposed nose on to the arete (here a rounded spur) about 50 feet below the point where it is joined by route 1.
- The Arete. Standard easy to difficult. For several hundred feet of height the climbing is for the most part easy scrambling with some more interesting pitches, all of which can be taken direct, ending with a broad landing at the foot of the final bastion.
- The Bastion. Standard of the direct ascent very difficult to severe. This is the crux of the climb and involves two severe slab pitches. The first of these cannot be avoided except by a traverse off the climb altogether into the summit tangi.
, about 100 feet. A moderate start leads to a slight overhang which can be surmounted by creeping up the slab to the left on diminutive foot- and hand-holds, working right-handed above the overhang on holds which test one's faith in the adhesion of rubber to weathered limestone to the utmost. The pitch ends by a direct ascent on similar 'fountain-pen' holds and finger scrapes to a spacious landing.
Pitch 2. From the landing there are two routes, firstly a short walk to the left and then up moderately easy but steep slabs on excellent holds up to the summit, and secondly a continuation of the direct ascent straight up the bastion. This route, the standard of which is severe and very exposed, should only be led by an experienced rock-climber.
Leave the landing and climb straight up the face. A short pitch of about 30 feet ends at a small landing from which the leader can be anchored by No. 2 in a sitting position. From here the leader has to climb on steep weathered rock on very small holds for 100 feet before being able to jam himself into a crack slightly to the right, and bring up the second man. The features of this pitch are the exposure and the fact that the holds are so diminutive and sharp that both hands and feet become tired, and any hesitation only leads to more muscular fatigue, especially in the feet and ankles. There are, however, one or two holds of the 'thank God' variety to give momentary relief.
After this severe pitch some moderately easy slabs bring one to the summit of point 11,390.
Marked erroneously upon the map of Baluchistan as Khalifat- the correct name is Khali Pat, meaning the 'empty begging-bowl'- this 11,434-foot peak raises its domed head above the surrounding wilderness within half a day's tough walk from Ziarat, the summer headquarters of the Baluchistan Administration. It is possible for a person in hard training, starting from Ziarat at dawn, carrying sufficient water, and returning at nightfall, to make the climb by one of the two easy routes in a day. It is much better, and if a rock-climb is intended it is essential, to camp at the foot of the south-east face at Zezri.
One of the middle pitches on the Grand Arete of Tukatu
W. K. Marples leading on the severe pitch of the Grand Arete, Tukatu
1. south-east shoulder. 2. North buttress
South-east face of Khalifat in winter. Zezri camp site is the level patch at lower right centre.
From Zezri there are two well-known routes to the summit, the well-worn track up the west face, and the scramble route up the south-east shoulder. Beyond the south-east shoulder lie the tremendous precipices of the south face, unclimbed and probably unclimbable, traversed by nerve-testing, but practicable, shelves covered with debris. Between the south-east shoulder and the westerly track already mentioned are the towering bastions of the north-east face, a first ascent of which will be described. Spread over a period of three years no less than three expeditions based on Zezri were made to Khalifat, involving one abortive roped attempt, before a practicable route up the north-east face was found. When found, this proved to be almost easy. A more striking example of the truth of the never-to-be-forgotten, but again-and-again-neglected injunction ‘Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted' would be hard to find.
The main features of the south-east face as seen by a person standing on the knoll behind Zezri, or on Tsut mountain, near Ziarat, are as follows: Firstly an outer wall about 600 feet high and several miles long which merges on the left in the south face precipices, and forms on the right one wall of Zezri ravine. Above this outer wall the ground slopes up for about half a mile of broken ground to the base of the 2,000-foot crags of the north-east face. This feature is similar to the 'Great Step' feature on Tukatu. Descending steeply from the crest line to the right of the summit, cutting deeply into the great shelf, and joining finally Zezri gorge, is a deep and rugged ravine. On the left of this ravine-its 'right bank' in fact-there curves up from the base of the final crags to the actual summit plateau a steep and broken buttress or arete. This we named the North Buttress, and up it lies the south-east-face route, which will now be described.
Leave Zezri camp-site and ascend the outer wall to the right of the prominent tributary ravine. Local shikaris will oppose this, the route normally used being up a goat-track to the left; but the right- hand route is the only way to get to the base of the North Buttress without becoming involved in a maze of subsidiary ravines. It will be found that the prominent tributary ravine is not the one which lies to the right of the route, but a lesser one which comes down direct from the summit. From start to finish the route lies more or less along the watershed between these two ravines.
Tie on the rope at the base of the cliffs at the top of an obvious fan of thorn-covered debris and ascend by easy pitches, with traverses to right and left to avoid water-worn rocks, on the general line of a crooked couloir. Eventually one is led into the course of the left-hand minor (summit) ravine, then right-handed back to the North Buttress close above some unpleasant looking gulfs which plunge down into the depths of the main ravine. Ascend a band of yellowish rocks for about 100 feet where the rocks are steep, but the holds are good, and so up to an easy shoulder. Still following the general line of the buttress, which here starts to curve to the left, avoid an amphitheatre of steep, broken rocks, and emerge on the slopes of the summit sloping plateau, whence the last few hundred feet are merely a walk. The total height from Zezri campsite to the summit is about 3,500 feet and the time required from 4 to 5 hours. The climb is not a difficult one once a route has been found, and there are many obvious variations, all without leaving the North Buttress.
A more delightful holiday than one spent in climbing on Khalifat, based on Ziarat, with a camp at Zezri, would be hard to find. The possibilities of new courses and variations of old ones are immense.