Himalayan Journal vol.13
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

C. W. F. Noyce
    (E. GROB)
    (Ludwig Krenek)
    (T. H. TILLY AND G. W. F. NOYCE)
    (R. G. F. SCHOMBERG)
    (J. A. JACKSON)
  12. NOTES



An account of these ascents has been put together because there are in them points of similarity and of general interest perhaps to those who organize small expeditions. They were both made in the course of a short leave (twenty-eight days and a month) during the monsoon season of 1945, from Delhi. They were both believed to be second ascents of peaks ascendedfirst by Dr. Kellas. And they were both made with Angthar- kay as sirdar, philosopher and friend. The success of them, as climbs and enjoyable experiences, was in a very great measure indeed due to his thoughtfulness, his reliability and mountaineering knowledge. Enough has been written about him already, and by .those who know him better. Later in this Journal is a notice published by him and giving his address and terms. He, more than any other single man, has advanced the Sherpa standard along the path on which Dr. Kellas started it towards the immense reputation as climbers and carriers which the ' Tigers now hold.

In another way too Dr. Kellas1 s name is linked with these escapades. He was the first, or almost the first, climber to show that a quick expedition made to a mountain of 22,000 or 23,000 feet by unacclimatized men is not the impossibility it used to be believed. Whether another big peak immediately after Chomiomo or Pauhunri would have been possible, without a short space for breathing, may be more doubtful. The ascent of peak 20,330 feet was accompanied with as much puffing and groaning as had been needed on the higher Pauhunri. But the parties reached Gangtok exceedingly fit and an immensity fitter than when they started. That is the encouragement that they have to offer, and the excuse for this article.-Ed.

Chomiomo. (By T. H. Tilly.)

The choice of a climbing district in which to spend a war-time leave of a bare twenty-eight days from and back to Delhi is not embarrassingly wide if much precious time is not to be lost in travelling, which includes the considerable amount of pleasant, but time-consuming, trekking usually necessary. Eventually George Crosby and I came to the conclusion that the mere forty-eight hours needed to reach the centre of things at Manali, with its splendid peaks and glaciers, almost selected the Kulu valley for us. Then Wilfrid Noyce returned from Aircrew Mountain Centre and Gordon Whittle from a visit to Burma. In spite of the long journey involved, we all felt enthusiastic about seeing something of Sikkim, about which we had heard so much, so we decided, provisionally, to visit the Lhonak valley.

The Club provided much of our equipment and we were able to bring' a number of spare pairs of climbing boots and some warm clothing for the use of our porters. We started a reasonably well- found party, by war-time standards, and though lacking some of the gear usually considered necessary, we never felt short of anything on the march or the mountain. Angtharkay and sixteen Sherpas were engaged from Darjeeling.

North Eastern Sikkim

North Eastern Sikkim

Most unfortunately Wilfrid Noyce's leave was cancelled at virtually the last moment-a great disappointment to all of us. The rest of us left Delhi by the Calcutta Mail on 10th July with quantities of baggage. Counting the various packages was not the least of our jobs en route. None of us seemed to know how many there ought to be and, in fact, a vital kitbag containing boots and spare clothing for the porters was nearly left behind at Giellekhola. A Sikkim State 15-cwt. Chevrolet took us from Giellekhola to the break in the road at the twentieth mile from Gangtok. After some delay awaiting another truck, we reached Gangtok at 7.30 p.m. to find Angtharkay and our porters expecting us at the Dak Bungalow.

The following day Whittle took on the job of sorting out the gear and packing the loads. He was able to get the porters on the road by noon, an excellent piece of work. Crosby went down to the bazaar to make some last-minute purchases. My job was to get the necessary permits. The Access to Mountains' Act does not apply to Sikkim, and one has to disclose the most intimate details about one's blood- pressure and other clinical characteristics before the authorities relent. Other parties would be well advised to submit their medical reports, on the appropriate form, in ample time, and should at the same time furnish precise particulars of their proposed route. The Political Officer has to apply to the Sikkim Durbar for the permit, and this body is not always easy to satisfy. Although we had applied some weeks earlier and furnished an outline of our route, letters had passed to and fro and nothing much had resulted. The authorities were helpful, but none the less it was 4.30 p.m. before we were able to start for Dikchu.

The three stages to Chungtang are dank and leechy. I had rubbed a heel and walked from Singhik to Chungtang in rubbers. This was the leeches' opportunity, and in spite of constant warfare my feet and ankles were a mass of gore. I counted twenty-six punctures. An unpleasant trick these pests have is working up the shaft of the ice- axe and getting between the fingers. The first intimation, as a rule, is seeing blood running down the shaft. The leech has usually fallen off by that time, gorged to repletion.

The walk up to Lachen took us out of the jungle, a welcome release, and the following day up to Thangu was delightful. The rhododendrons were not, of course, in bloom, but meadows of giant cowslips gave gaiety to the scene. At Thangu we took a day off to overhaul our equipment, most of which we had only received the day before leaving Delhi, but I was feeling tired and lethargic and had a sore throat so was of little help. That evening we had a long talk about our plans. Whittle suggested, instead of crossing the Lungnak La into Lhonak, continuing north for another day and then attempting Chomiomo (22,403 feet). Angtharkay had been there before and told us that Chomiomo was certainly accessible from the north-east, so Whittle's suggestion was adopted without further ado. In the event, it was sad that he was unable personally to profit by it.

Photo by G. Crosby View towards Pauhunri from Camp I on Chomiomo

Photo by G. Crosby View towards Pauhunri from Camp I on Chomiomo

The following morning we set out again. The snows were now often visible, and the Teesta, dwindled to a relatively small stream, flowed happily through a green Alpine country. At Donkung (15,700 feet) camp had been pitched near a collection of stone built houses inhabited by Tibetans, and many black tents, each with attendant cur, were round about. I subsided into my sleeping bag and remained there all the next day. In the evening my temperature had dropped, following aspirin, and the next morning I was well again except for a cough and an attack of diarrhoea. Both proved a thorough nuisance in the days to come. Unfortunately, Whittle was feeling the altitude severely and had to go down on the 22nd, a bitter disappointment. The party was at a low ebb except for Crosby who was feeling very fit and spent the 21st climbing a rocky peak of 18,250 feet above Donkung to the west. The day was fine and he enjoyed excellent views.

On the 22nd Crosby and I set off after Angtharkay and the porters to establish the Base Camp. The morning was fine and Kangchenjau, rising directly opposite in great sweeps of slab crowned with ice, looked magnificently unassailable from the direction of Dongkung. Turning a corner, I saw for the first time the east face of Chomiomo which Crosby had examined the previous day from the 18,250-foot peak. It consists of broken cliffs at a high angle with a tortured glacier in the middle, suspended from the summit ice-cap. The upper ridges were veiled in cloud. A valley, in which sheep and goats were feeding, descended to the Teesta, and a subsidiary to the north gave access to an easy col about 17,500 feet in height at the foot of the fine rocky north-east ridge of a peak of 19,360 feet.

We traversed the ridge at about 18,000 feet half a mile above the col, descended easy slabs and scree, crossed a stream, and were soon in camp. It was cold but all the tents were up, there was a pleasant haze of wood smoke, and hot tea and malted milk biscuits appeared at once. Later we settled down in our sleeping bags, lying on comfortable lilo mattresses, and made short work of an excellent dinner consisting, for the most part, of the more succulent internal organs of a sheep purchased at Donkung. Snow fell during the night and it was rather cold. None the less, we both slept well.

The Base Camp was placed at about 17,700 feet near a small tarn below the north-east Chomiomo glacier amid a tangle of moraines. The glacier, deriving from the icy north-east face of the peak, is about a mile and a half in length and is contained between the steep rock walls of Peak 19,360 feet on the south and a massive mountain 20,330 feet high to the north. The views are grand, when visible, Chomiomo rising at the head of the glacier as a great cone. At its south-west extremity the glacier is bounded by a steep wall of rock and scree leading to a gap between the north-east ridge of Chomiomo and the pinnacled arete of Peak 20,330 feet. The route lay up the glacier and up and across the rock and scree wall to the gap, from which point the north-east ridge could apparently be followed to the summit. We hoped to place two camps en route, the second as high as possible so as to minimize the effect of our lack of acclimatization by a relatively short final ascent.

The following morning, after sorting out and packing the loads, we left the Base Camp, threaded our way through the moraines, and ascended the glacier snout to find that the glacier was mildly inclined and not crevassed. Snow fell at intervals but only lightly. As we gained height the weather gradually improved, disclosing a row of ice walls across the face of Chomiomo ahead, and a deep black groove down the centre caused by the frequent rock falls from a buttress just beneath the summit ridge. We kept near the true left bank of the glacier, which bends to the west, and, crossing the moraine, ascended the steep screes ahead. This part of the climb proved very laborious-and I dragged painfully. The altitude was about 19,000 feet, but I fancy my wretched performance was due rather to the after-effects of the chill than to lack of acclimatization.

Camp I was placed on a promontory of rock jutting over the screes at an estimated height of 19,500 feet. Three tents were pitched and a small cave served the office of kitchen. Two of the tents had to be re-pitched as Crosby, after a horrible struggle, found it impossible to enter his. It started snowing in earnest, but all depression was banished by Angtharkay's culinary skill. Later we both took aspirin, in spite of which I spent rather a cold night.

The next morning, the 24th, was fine and cold. The arrangement was that all four Sherpas, Angtharkay, Dawa Thondup, Ila Namgyal and Ghil Khan, should carry to Camp II, and the last two would return and go up again the following day to help carry down the Camp II loads. An upward traverse over scree and*broken rocks led to the rock gap in the ridge ahead. We named this gap the 'Portje' as it was faintly reminiscent of the well-known one at the foot of the Portjengrat above the Saasthal. Here the purpose of a bundle of slips of paper on top of Angtharkay's load became evident and with loud cries and much laughter the rock gateposts were glimbed and a splendid streamer of prayer flags was soon fluttering bravely over the gateway. The gods having been presumably appeased, the porters went on their way whilst we, passing beneath the banner, settled down out of the wind on the west side to smoke a cigarette. Behind rose the north, that is the Tibetan, face of Chomiomo, snow and ice from base to summit. From the base a white, relatively uncrevassed, glacier flows due north. The altitude of the Tortje' must be about 20,000 feet, and a striking view over the 16,000 feet plateau on the Tibetan side extended to a row of snow-tipped summits on the horizon. Across the glacier a rock peak of well over 20,000 feet appeared as a mere buttress of the northwest ridge of Chomiomo by which Dr. Kellas made the first ascent of the peak. A network of crevasses low down corresponds with the position he gives in his description of the ascent. The weather was fine though rather unsettled. The monsoon was not much in evidence. Thin wisps of cloud drifting up from the south were dispersed on the Tibetan border. Squalls occasionally passed, sweeping at high speed from east to west across the Tibetan plains.

Starting off again, Crosby and I ascended broken rocks on the Tibetan side of the ridge to the' crest, where easy rocks and short slopes of snow were succeeded by a long sweep of snow to a steep buttress. Angtharkay had wisely decided to traverse to the right to outflank the buttress which looked arduous for laden porters. The traverse took the four porters to the east flank of the north face. They had roped, and Angtharkay was busy cutting steps in diagonals where the slope steepened and ice was only an inch or two below the surface. Before we reached the steps a squall of wind and hail swept over us from the east, but was fortunately short-lived and the sun then became very hot. Some zigzags took us easily up a steepish slope to easier ground. The porters were now on the slopes to the left, cutting back to the crest of the ridge above the buttress. When we reached the foot of the slope Angtharkay appeared at the top and shouted down asking whether we wished to camp there or higher up. There seemed to be a good camp site a few hundred feet higher, the day was now perfect and we had plenty of time in hand; so, with the object of shortening so far as possible the summit climb the following day, I told him to make for this spot. We then went up the slope and tucked ourselves into two crannies to have a bite to eat and cool off. We then climbed up snow under the rocks and soon Kangchenjau, Gurudongmar, and a mass of cumulus casting shadows on the Cho Llamo plains greeted us over a translucent snow edge. The ridge ahead consisted of easy snow and scree, and soon we met Ila and Ghil Khan returning to Camp I. After some easy climbing, Angtharkay met us with mugs of tea just below a scree platform on which Camp II had been pitched. We estimated the height at about 21,000 feet.

On the way up the ridge we had seen a typical squall formation approaching from the north-east. As we toiled up to the camp the base was trailing up the north Chomiomo glacier, and no sooner had we settled down in our sleeping bags than a gale with driving hail struck the camp. The hail changed to snow which started to enter our tent on a large scale through a gap beneath the zip fastener, but Crosby's bush hat, wedged in the gap, kept out most of it. After about an hour and a half the storm died down, about dusk. Then, after tinned meat, tea, and biscuits, we settled down for the night, both thoroughly warm, and I had an excellent sleep. I awoke at 6 a.m. and went outside the tent. Dawn was breaking, and though there was no wind it was bitterly cold. I struggled back into my warm sleeping bag. At 7 a.m., hot tea and sardines and, later, porridge flavoured with kerosine were delicious. Crosby was feeling far from well and decided, wisely, not to come any farther. His had been a great effort. He had never been high before but had gone very well without any pauses for acclimatization to 21,000 feet.

At 8.15 a.m. Angtharkay, Dawa Thondup and I started for the top, I slightly after the others. The surface was frozen and in perfect condition. The ridge formation just beyond the camp merged in a snow slope which, at varying angles, continued to the summit ridge -about 800 feet. It was still very cold. A short distance above the camp I saw Angtharkay prodding the snow. Undoubtedly there were a few small crevasses about, most of them choked with snow. When I reached them, the two Sherpas had roped, Angtharkay leading, and were making a loop for me in the middle. Roped, we set off again, kicking steps where the slope steepened. At one point a few steps had to be cut, and it was very steep for a few feet at the top over the remains of the cornice. Both porters appeared perfectly acclimatized and were going strongly. I felt perfectly well but was apt to become rather breathless and tired quickly. A short rest on my axe, however, would quickly revive me. I had never before been above 17,500 feet, At the top of the slope we settled down in the snow for a rest. My fingers were numb and the two Sherpas (whose hands felt hot) rubbed and beat them back to life.

We started again about 10.30 a.m. We had been in cloud continuously from a short distance above the camp, and visibility on the summit ridge was very bad. We were near the east end of this long ridge, and the highest point is towards the west end. The snow was soft but not deep. The ridge became narrow and a spiky gendarme, rock on the left and snow on the right, loomed through the murk. We avoided it easily on the right, but the traverse took us some way off the crest which rose again beyond the gendarme. Back on the ridge again in wretched visibility we arrived on a broad, plateau-like summit which the Sherpas seemed to think was the top. However, there had been one or two slight local clearances and we sat down hopefully to await another. Soon a fine pointed snow summit to the south-west, about 200 yards distant, loomed up, and we made our way towards it. Once we saw Kangchenjau through a gap in the clouds, bu£ visibility then became, if anything, worse than before. The ridge rose steeply and we kicked up to the right of the crest to a sloping shelf and then a few steps half left to the top. Instead of a clearly marked summit, however, we found merely a slightly elevated area and it seemed that the sharp rise was merely a step on the ridge. Nothing was to be seen and we sat down to await another clearance. Soon a big unmistakeable top appeared vaguely but how distant it was impossible to say. We waited until sure that it was indeed part of our mountain and then tracked over the snow towards it, at first slightly down and then steadily upwards. Near the top Angtharkay unroped and positively rushed to the top at a speed which, at 22,400 feet, spoke volumes. Arrived, he rent the air with hideous screeches. Dawa Thondup and I followed, and the former added his contribution, in a small way, to the din. The time was 12.30 p.m.

We remained on the summit for 20 minutes during which several slight clearances confirmed our position above everything else; so we were spared the gnawing doubts experienced earlier. I had already reconciled myself to the fact that there would be no view.

The descent went very easily, and at 1.40 p.m. we were back in camp drinking hot tea and eating biscuits. Ila and Ghil Khan had arrived; camp was soon struck and the four Sherpas on their way to Camp I. Grosby had spent the morning in his sleeping bag and was still feeling weak, so we descended slowly. It was a perfect afternoon and Chomiomo became completely clear of cloud. How I wished I could have been on the summit then ! I spent a long time sitting in the evening sun a couple of hundred feet above the Tortje', gazing out over Tibet and to the west where a fine group of snow peaks could be seen in the distance. Crosby joined me and we were soon in camp, Angtharkay producing soup and a superb dish of stewed mutton. The following morning in cloudy weather we made our way to the Base Camp, the four Sherpas cheerfully shouldering loads which looked enormous to us, carrying only light rucksacks,

It was cold at the Base Camp, and we retired into our tents to nurse our complexions. The following day we had intended to climb one of the peaks in the vicinity but the state of our faces induced a certain lethargy, and we had an off day.

The next morning, 28th July, we left the Base Camp. It was a most unpleasant morning-always the best weather to leave the mountains-and we became very wet before getting into camp 4 miles south of Donkung. The precipitous east face of Chomiomo was alive with falling rocks, but little or nothing could be seen of it. The journey back to Gangtok was very wet. A huge landslide just north of Chungtang on the west side of the valley had created chaos, by blast, on the east side, uprooting trees and demolishing about 100 yards of the track. The most difficult climbing of the expedition was necessary here-down one tree trunk, up another, across a rock ledge under a small waterfall, and up a vertical bank of earth. The whole face of the hill opposite had collapsed into the Teesta. Trees, undergrowth, rocks and soil had all come down in a stupendous avalanche. Only the bare stump of a hill remained. The cloud base was low, and consequently we could not see what had happened above, but to the south of the shattered hillside a deeply cut gully was the channel for continuous rumbling falls of mud and rocks. A fan of debris had been thrust into the Teesta which presented a fearsome sight. There had been several lesser landslides between Chungtang and Singhik, and heavy and continuous rain made this the most laborious march of all. The jungle was doubly revolting after the heights, but was soon over, and we reached Gangtok in fine weather on the afternoon of 3rd August and Delhi on the evening of the 6th. We had been away 27^ days.1
Pauhunri. {By C. W. F. Noyce.)

I wanted more and more to visit Sikkim, the less likely it looked that I ever should. The valleys, they told me, are wilder and more enchanting than anywhere, the jungles are steeper and lead more directly to higher and more intricate snowfields. But the land too is guarded, like the garden of the Hesperides, by its dragon. Sikkim is a semi-independent state governed by a maharaja; to enter, it is necessary to go through the very complicated formalities described above, involving both the British Political Officer in Sikkim, who seeks permission to enter the inner sanctuary, and the Deputy Commissioner at Darjeeling, who grants the frontier passes (subject to Sikkim's approval). Thus even after the Armistice of August 1945 had made leave unexpectedly possible, I found that I was but a very short way on the road to Sikkim. My companion was unable to come; so that from my own heat-stricken and unreliable brain alone had to emanate the positive sheafs of telegrams that seemed to pass between Delhi, Darjeeling, Gangtok and Calcutta (residence of the Equipment Officer of the Himalayan Club). No more relieved and surprised person than myself could have been imagined, when the friendly Dak Bungalow of Gangtok loomed through a Scottish mist, and the grin of Angtharkay greeted me upon its doorstep.

1 For an attempt on Chomiomo by the reverse of Kellas's route, covering much of this ground, see G. A. R. Spence's account in H.J., vol. v, p. 94.-Ed.

Descriptions of the journey through Sikkim are a commonplace. Travellers have loved to dwell on the dank stuffiness of the Dikchu valley, the horrors of leeches that creep into the boot unseen and roll out like jellies, leaving marks to be seen and felt for the next three days. The one part of the journey that I had not expected was the jungle traversing, in the many places where the path had been swamped by collapsing vertical forest. It was a bad monsoon, and in September and even October we were in the thick of it. We only escaped when we dragged ourselves in a snow-storm over the Dongkya La (18,030 feet) and looked down on the sunny-smiling fairy plains of Tibet.

Pauhunri had not been part of my programme. It was too high (23,385 feet), I did not know the way and neither did Angtharkay, and I wanted to follow Harry Tilly's route of earlier in the year. But we seemed driven in that direction, by the weather and the gentler slope, and it had the great advantage that I had the fun of the route finding, for the Sherpas did not know that area. Base Camp we set at 17,000 feet and reconnoitred the north-eastern, Tibetan flank of the mountain. We then took a well-stocked Camp I up to 19,500 feet, and Angtharkay and Namgar, the next in strength, set Camp II, occupied for only one night, at 21,000 feet. This speed was made possible by the relatively uncomplicated glacier nature of the north-east face. But it left me panting like a fish, and in the awkward position of Duke of Plazatoro to my troops. This was still more so on the summit day, a day of fine sun and sticky snow, when Angtharkay had to do most of the laborious trail breaking, and at 11.15 a.m. judged that we could not make it in the day. A policy of persuasion was demanded of the Duke (trying the while not to show how out of breath he was) so that we should 'just go and look over the next little bit'. The summit was reached at 1.15 p.m. ; I had been 16 ½ days from Delhi. Angtharkay's final effort was magnificent.

Returned to the Base Camp I found that there was time to visit Donkung and the Chomiomo glacier to the west, just not time to have a flying shot at the summit. And Angtharkay was unfit from a festering arm. We crossed the northern plain and he remained at Donkung, while three Sherpas and myself went up to Tilly's Base Camp site. I had two days there, one climbing the small peak to the north of Chomiomo (Neve Peak I called it, 20,330 feet), the next exploring Chomiomo's own north face, in the faintly optimistic mood that it was pleasing to assume when there was no chance of ever seriously attempting it. The monsoon clouds were still piling up against the Pauhunri-Kangchenjau ridge, stretching long fingers in vain over the sunny land of Tibet. Only at the beginning and end of the day the mountain barrier itself stood out clear and triumphant.

Angtharkay's arm was better when it was time to descend the westerly Lachen valley. We had been driven to Lachung and the east on the way up by reports of an excessive break between Chung- thang and Lachen. This we imagined would be easier to take on a descent than ascent. And so it proved. We rejoined our outward route at Chungthang, grateful that the two hours jungly traversing past a fallen spur of the Teesta were no worse. The monsoon, in fact, was still waiting to receive us. Gangtok I found cut off from all but wireless communication with the outer world. I must wait. Stephen Olver, at the Residency, received me with a great kindness and hospitality, and gave me help in arranging to walk the first stages of the journey towards Siliguri railhead. I said good-bye to the Sherpas, sadly, and sat looking at the incomparable Kangchenjunga from the Residency lawn. I knew that the spell of the Sikkim mountains would lure me back, if chance or season ever conceivably offered, into their high company.1
1 Roughly the same route up Pauhunri was attempted by G. B. Gourlay and J. B. Auden in late October 1934 (H.J., vol. vii, p. 139). Their conditions were very much colder and more unpleasant.

For Kellar's account of the first ascents of Chomiomo and Pauhunri see A. J., No. 196, p. 113.-Ed