Himalayan Journal vol.14
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

H. W. Tobin
    (J. O. M. ROBERTS)
  4. NANDA GHUNTI, 1945
    (P. L. WOOD)
    (L. CHICKEN)
    (R. V. VERNEDE)
    (C.G. Wylie)
  10. NOTES



There seems to be little prospect of obtaining from the Tibetan Government in the near future, and at any rate during the present minority regime, permission to send another expedition to Everest. The young Dalai Lama will not come of age for another five years, and in addition certain 'unlucky years' have to be taken into consideration. This always happens in connexion with important events in the life of every Tibetan, and, of course, still more so in that of the spiritual and temporal head of the State. It must be realized also that it was never easy to get permission in the past, and there is little reason to think that a request through the new Government of India would be favourably considered by the Regency Council. Further, the nature of future relations between Tibet, Bhutan, Hindustan, and Pakistan seems at the moment of writing to be far from definite. This should, however, be clearer before very long. But in the circumstances which at present exist, it might be worth while to try to enlist the good offices of our allies of Nepal. The Nepal Durbar has had for many years friendly and more intimate connexions with Tibet than did the late Government of India; though Nepal would, we think, almost certainly hesitate to urge on the Regency Council the grant to a British, or indeed to any, expedition of access to Everest by the Rongbuk glacier and of local facilities. But now that we no longer control India, the longstanding opposition of Nepal to the passage through the country of Europeans might conceivably be modified, and permission, even facilities, might be given to examine, with a view to eventual use, the little-known southern approaches.


Note on the Sherpa Porters

Even people who know Darjeeling and the Sherpa porters well sometimes ask how these men, who have played such a large part in Himalayan climbing, first came to be employed on mountaineering expeditions.

In 1939 I set myself to find out. Angtemba, an elderly porter, who had climbed with Dr. Kellas before the First World War, brought an old Tibetan Sirdar, Tenzing Wangdi, to see me, saying that he remembered much about the early days of climbing and exploration in Sikkim and Tibet.

The enormous bundle of 'chits', wrapped in a silk handkerchief, which Wangdi produced, showed that he had plenty of material to remember.

He was, in 1939, about 70. As a boy his father had brought him on a trading journey from Tibet, to sell musk in Darjeeling. On the return journey they were robbed, so they turned back to Darjeeling, and worked on the Phalut track, which was then being made. They became useful as interpreters, and settled in Darjeeling.

According to Tenzing Wangdi, the first Sherpas came to Darjeeling about 1902 or 1903. They came to trade, and, finding they could earn good wages, they stayed through the summer season. One of them was called Norbhu Jhau, 'The Bearded Man5. This fact would be likely to fix itself in the memory, as it is rare to see a nyone of Tibetan blood with a beard. The other man's name was Ghoktuk.

With their earnings they bought themselves fine clothes and many other things. (I wish I could reproduce Wangdi Norbhu's flowery Hindustani and wealth of gesture, as he told his stories.)

When Norbhu Jhau and Ghoktuk drew near their home in Sola Ivhombu in Nepal, the people left their work and ran from their fields to see who these two grandly dressed strangers could be.

Their account of Darjeeling fired several of their fellow countrymen to follow their example. The following year the original two and half a dozen more journeyed to Darjeeling to work as coolies and rickshaw-wallahs, and so it has gone on ever since.

I have not been able to trace with any exactitude when the Sherpas were first used for mountaineering work, but I am fairly well convinced that it was Dr. Kellas, who did so much climbing in Sikkim and other parts of the Himalaya, from 1907 till 1914, who first discovered their excellent qualities as mountain porters.

On page 296 of his book Himalayan Wanderer General Bruce says: ‘L put down very largely the success of the Sherpa and Bhotia porters whom we used so much on Everest, and who have been used on other expeditions, to the splendid training they had under Dr. Kellas, and the confidence they thus obtained.'

There certainly were at least two Sherpa porters in Darjeeling in 1939 who had climbed a great deal with Dr. Kellas, and it seems probable that some of these men were the nucleus of the Sherpas who were on the Everest Expedition of 1921, on which Dr. Kellas died.

On the 1933 Everest Expedition, Nima Dorji and Sonam Tobgye went through the winter snows to Sola Khombu to fetch porters to I)arjeeling. Later, during the march through Tibet, Nima was sent ahead to Sola Khombu to recruit more men for work on the mountain. He brought up forty-six, and this method proved so satisfactory that it has been followed several times since.

Sola Khombu is a district in Nepal. It lies at the head of the Dudh Kosi valley, at an altitude of about 13,000 feet, near the southern slopes of Mount Everest. The Nangpa La, 19,000 feet, leads from the top of the valley on to the Tibetan highlands, and since this is the route by which the Sherpas trade with Tibet, they are accustomed from early youth to carrying loads at great altitude.

The Sherpas came from eastern Tibet and settled in Nepal several generations ago. In appearance and language they are Tibetan, though Tibetans say they speak with a strong Nepali accent.

On the Himalayan Club register there are about an equal number of Sherpas and Bhotias, or true Tibetans. Both nationalities have distinguished themselves on mountaineering expeditions, and it would be impossible to say that one has outdone the other.

Joan Townend.

Note on the present Whereabouts and Occupation of

some of the sherpa and Bhotia porters

The following notes were sent by the Hon. Secretary, Darjeeling, as it was thought that members might be interested to know what some of the porters have done since 1940 and what they are doing now.

Angtharkay. H.G. No. 19. Living in Bhutia Busti, Darjeeling. Working as trek organizer. Very helpful and efficient. Prefers not to go above 18,000 feet now.

Angtsering I. H.G. No. 36. Living in TungSung Busti, working as Sirdar. Gan no longer do high climbing owing to the loss of most of his toes on Nanga Parbat.

Angtsering II. H.G. No. 51 (Pansy). Still working. Chiefly employed on treks by Mr. Kydd. Angbao. H.C. No. 43. Was Mess Cook in the 1 /10 Gurkhas. Served in Burma and Singapore.

Lewa. H.G. No. 46. Was working as a house cook in Jalapahar in 1946. No news of him recently.

Manbahadur Sherpa. H.G. No. 132. Address 'Majong Koti', Gang- tok. Working as Sirdar. Would be glad of work organizing treks. Served with the 1/2 Gurkhas as a grade I orderly and was with the 8th Army in Greece, North Africa, Italy, &c.

Mingma Thu Thu (Alice). H.G. No. 7. Was in Assam during the war, helping with recruiting. Is still working in Darjeeling.

Pasang Dawa. H.G. No. 139. Working as Sirdar in Darjeeling and glad to have work. Wangdi Norbhu (Ongdi). H.G. No. 25. Is still working in Darjeeling. Was in Burma during the war doing some civilian job.

Hints on Nailing and Oiling of Boots

The climber who is planning a visit to the Himalaya is often faced with the necessity for having boots nailed in India by an inexperienced bootmaker or even nailing them himself. Similarly in the Base Camp he may have to rely on his own resources when replacing worn or dislodged nails. The correct nailing of boots is not difficult if tackled in the right way but, if undertaken the wrong way, considerable damage can be done to both a good pair of boots and an expensive set of nails. This applies particularly to nails of the clinker type. The following notes may be of help to those who have to undertake their own nailing.

Tools required: An iron last is practically essential, though with difficulty the head of a piton hammer or an ice-axe can be used. A cobbler's hammer (with a cross-pane, see fig. 1) is desirable, but i piton hammer will serve very well. The only other tools required are a bent auger and a pair of side-cutting nippers. If an auger (fig. 2) is not available, clinkers can be driven in without, but this requires a very practised hand and should not be attempted. Therefore, on an important climb, take to the Base Camp at least an auger; any good cobbler can supply one at a cost of about 8 annas. Nippers are used for removing a nail which is going in crooked, but if necessary the nail can be levered out with the pick end of an ice-axe.

Ring-clinkers: The most important part is the spike which, like die rest of the clinker, must be soft (i.e. not brittle) and quite straight. If any nails are crooked the complete set must be checked and hammered straight. This done each nail must be given a very, very slight bend 1/8 inch from the tip of the spike (shown by the irrow in fig. 3). This bend must be so slight as to be almost imperceptible (about 10°) and must be towards the outer edge of the boot when held in the position for nailing.

The boot should be placed on the last and marked out for nailing with a pencil, see fig. 4. Lines A.A. should be marked radially to show where the nails are required. Line B should then be drawn round the sole leaving a margin M which must not be less than the corresponding dimension M of the nail. Auger holes should then be made as follows: Hold the auger sloping well outwards so that the tip enters at right angles to the surface of the sole, and push it in firmly so as to make a curved hole by bringing the auger up to the vertical as the tip goes in, see fig. 5. It is not necessary to push the point right through the welt, but this may be advisable for the first hole in order to see that the tip is emerging close to the edge of the upper, as shown by the dotted arrow.

Method of Nailing Boots

Method of Nailing Boots

It is of fundamental importance that the spikes of the nails shall come through close to and even pressing against the 'upper'. The appearance of a correctly nailed boot before the spikes are turned over should be as shown in fig. 6. Before inserting each nail, see that it is the right way round and test by pressure on the sole that the edge of the last is jammed against the side of the boot and in contact with the portion of the sole where the maximum support is required. Effective support at the right point makes all the difference between a nail which goes in without any difficulty and one which requires repeated hammering. If three blows are not sufficient to drive the nail firmly home, then there is something wrong with the position of the boot on the last. The nails must be held with the bent tip of the spike at right angles to the sole, then, as it goes in, the spike will follow the lead of the tip and come through having followed the curve of the hole.

Having inserted some or all of the clinkers the next job is to bend each spike in under the wings of the clinker so as to hold the welt in a vice-like grip, without leaving a sharp exposed spike. If the spike is too long, it should be cut shorter with the nippers so that it projects the right amount for bending in under the wings, about 1 to 1J inches is sufficient.

Then, either with the nippers or with light blows of the hammer, increase the curvature of the spike, see fig. 7. Note that when hammering the nail the head must be supported, otherwise it may become loose in the sole. Gently hammer the spike so that the tip digs into the leather on the outer edge of the sole and under the wings of the nail, then hammer the wings flush with the edge of the sole. Finally clinch the nail by reversing the boot, so that the curved spike rests on the edge of the last, and giving the head of the nail ;i shrewd blow. Properly fixed, a single nail should stand the whole weight of the climber on a ledge without shifting.

When putting clinkers into the heel, it is not necessary, though preferable, to bring the spikes out at the sides, but beware of the spikes getting crumpled up against nails which will have been put in during manufacture of the boot. A preliminary hole made to a depth of J inch with the auger will guide the clinker and disclose obstacles in the leather.

Tricounis, and all other types of nail which fix flat on the sole, are niuch easier to put in, but the position of the complete set should be marked out beforehand if they are to be used to the best advantage. When fixing these nails it is preferable to drive the spikes and any < xtra brads straight into the leather without previously making a hole, because this ensures the maximum grip. A hard dry sole can be moistened with water to help the nail in. If there is difficulty in getting a nail started, small punctures, not more than inch deep, may be made in the surface of the leather at points which can be marked on it by first holding the nail in position and giving it a light blow to show exactly where the punctures are required. Small brads can be put in easily if held in position with the points of the nippers.

Arrangement of nails: There are innumerable ways of nailing a boot, but it is as well to remember when nailing boots that crampons may be fitted later, and to see that there are no awkwardly fitted nails to interfere with the crampons. Crampons should be adjusted to fit by careful hammering to suit the ready-nailed boots and, if necessary, should be altered by a competent blacksmith. The nailed sole of the boot should fit tightly all round inside the crampon and rest evenly on it. The crampon should be no larger than can be fitted on the boot and the spikes must all project parallel and in line with the weight of the climber. No spike should project beyond the edges of the sole, in fact they should all be contained within a line corresponding to the outline of the 'upper’. Thus fitted, crampons do not have to be tightly strapped on, thereby minimizing risks of frost-bite, and they will give a great feeling of security on a slope.

Oiling: It is not advisable to take very old boots on a snow climb because leather which is four or five years old is likely to be spongy and to contain cracks which will cause it to absorb a considerable quantity of water, and requires a lot of oiling which is undesirable. Old leather does not hold oil or grease well, soon absorbs water, and is particularly liable to freeze hard during the night so that it has to be thawed out in the morning before the boots can be put on. Good new leather, lightly greased, is better in this respect and reduces risk of frost-bite.

In oiling boots it is preferable to avoid fluid oils of any kind because they are too penetrating and do not last for any length of time; light greases and fats are better. Boots should not be over- oiled, because thereby the uppers will be made too soft and nails rendered liable to come loose, and what is gained by reduction in wetting is lost by perspiration of the foot. Coco-nut and other cheap oils are capable in time of rotting the stitching. Vaseline and mineral greases are also not recommended. The best grease for general use is natural animal dubbin, obtainable from some bootmakers.

If a journey is expected to be very wet underfoot, the following procedure will be found very effective. Purchase 3 lb. of crude mutton fat, and melt out the fat in a biscuit tin over a slow fire; at the same time warm the boots (the soles of which must be absolutely dry). Then apply with a paint-brush, or a piece of rag tied tightly round the end of a stick. Allow the leather to go on soaking up the fat, by holding it at intervals near the fire to keep the fat fluid, but do not saturate the leather completely. Apply the same treatment to the welts and sides of the uppers. Three or four coats well soaked in should be ample and will keep the boot reasonably free from water for several days of very wet conditions. Do not expect climbing boots to be completely waterproof for long periods. Climbers often demand, and bootmakers often unwisely offer, boots which are supposed to be waterproof and turn out afterwards to be little better than ordinary good leather boots. There is no such thing as an entirely waterproof climbing-boot, nor would one be desirable.

G. R. Cooke.

Kagan Valley

Browsing through old numbers of the Himalayan Journal, I was most interested by J. B. P. Angwin's account of the Kagan valley in 1926, in vol. ii. I did a trip up this valley in June 1942, and it is interesting to note the different impressions given to Angwin and myself by the Safr Maluk Sar (incidentally, I found some diversity of opinion amongst locals as to the name, just as Angwin did, though by 1942 4 Safr Maluk Sar' or 'Saif-ul-Maluk Sar' seemed to be fairly widely recognized). The lake seemed to me to be one of striking beauty, with its great length of pure blue water, with snowy peaks rising direct out of the shaded side, while the north side, where I sat, was fresh green pasture rising to snow some hundreds of feet higher. Further, I was treated to no stone-avalanches. The locals assured me that the lake used to be considerably larger, but that part of the mountain had fallen either into or away from the exit (I forget which), and had reduced the size. Did the landslip foretold by Angwin actually occur between 1926 and 1942, and if so, is this the reason that the stone-avalanches have ceased?

I heard also a slightly different version of the story of the fairy: I was told that the fairy was the wife of a demon who kept her on the southern bank of the lake in a cave, whence she used to come down to the water every day to bathe. One day her bath was watched by a mortal, and the demon, discovering this, was so incensed that he banished his wife to the bottom of the lake.

Another tale of the lake I was told was that a very worthy fakir who had stopped for a drink dropped his stick into the water where it immediately sank and was lost. Deeply regretting the loss of a fine stick, his companion of many wanderings, the fakir made his way down towards Abbottabad, and while he was on his way from Kakul to Nawanshahr he stopped for a drink at a spring. While he was drinking, what should come out of the water into his hand but his stick, doubtless much purified by being filtered through three- quarters of the length of the Hazara District! Impressed by the omen, the fakir started building the mosque that is now such a feature of Nawanshahr.

A. H. Donald.

Mangal Singh, Kumaoni

He was one of those men who achieve dignity by a quiet competence of which all but they are aware. He came to our hospital with a severe head injury with which he was for long a very sick man. I knew him only when he was very much fitter and itching to use his sturdy body again, and it was then that he would offer to do any of those jobs which have to be done but which no one had time to do. He became a general favourite and a most devoted helper; he would do a succession of odd jobs during the day, and when need arose, as it too often did, sit up with men who were as sick as he had so recently been.

To talk with the Indian sepoy about his home country is the surest way to gain his comradeship, and as Mangal Singh had the broad, open features of the Hillman, I felt on safe ground. He told me he was a Kumaoni, from the land that lies to the west of Nepal and at the feet of Trisul and Nanda Devi. As he spoke, his paharia dialect became more pronounced and his years in the Army were forgotten.

Did I know Ranikhet?-Yes, well that was almost British. Al- mora?-that too. Then he hesitated; he could not expect the likes of me to have gone farther than that. So I carried on: You must know Bageshwar with its ancient temple by the rushing Sarju?- Did he know it! His eyes lit up as he told me of his visits there on the great market days, when wool and borax and carpets from Tibet are bartered for wheat and cloth and trinkets from the plains. And Loharkhet, a day's march thence up the valley? His expression was of one who hears but cannot bring himself to believe.

His own village was but a dozen miles farther on, high above the Sarju, and not far from the glacial Kaphini river. But his local knowledge was not limited to the village and the valley track to Bageshwar. He used to take his father's sheep to pasture and this led him far afield, for he had to choose out the rare patches that were bare of forest, snow, or rock. Sometimes he would cross the great Dhakuri ridge to the valley of the Pindar, and pasture his sheep on the lovely flower-studded alps above Khati. There at night he had to be watchful for the brown Himalayan bear. Sometimes he would take his flock to the head of the valley, where after the monsoon the snows retreat to the foot of the Pindari glacier, leaving a carpet of surprising green. Here at Martoli-the place of this seasonal habitation-I had once spent a most perfect night in a cave, with the moonlight glistening on Nanda Kot far above.

He told me how by day he would beguile his lonely time by playing on a bamboo flute; and I recalled vividly the joy I had had in hearing the simple rippling melodies, played nearby or afar on an unseen shepherd's pipe. It reminded me how in Bageshwar two of us had tried to buy such a murli, to make sorry imitation in the plains of this pure mountain music. No sooner had we made a few inquiries than from a dozen stalls in the bazaar we heard tentative notes on flutes that might satisfy our desire-treble and tenor, descant and bass, flutes single with pure and rippling notes, flutes double with drone and chanter in occasional harmony. These they came and played to us where we sat by one of the stalls; but none was what we wanted, none recaptured the shepherd's trilling. Was it that the dalesman was inexpert, or that the spirit of the place was absent? We left early next morning and at the bridge beyond the town were greeted by a lad with a murli, playing merrily a dozen melodies in as many minutes. Place and player did not fail us, and we bought our pipe. This I recalled and envied Mangal Singh his days of idle fluting.

He told us how by night he would build a fire and two or three of them would watch around it. If they were up near the glacier, wood had to be brought from below the tree-line, and one went back to collect the highest-growing wood, which is dwarf rhododendron. I remembered the fire we had made outside our cave, the rum-coffee we had brewed and the yarns before we turned in; and I thought how remote from us now was this slow tempo of life to which he would some time return. All this we had in common-the love of mountains and the silence of high places-and it transcended the horror of war in the Burma jungle.

Next day I brought him some photos I had taken in those parts. If he had seemed incredulous when I had told him names he thought no one could know of, he was now stupefied; overcome even to tears. I suppose it was the first time he had seen a picture of things and places he knew.

I have great affection for Mangal Singh; as I knew him, a stouthearted soldier, unconscious of his worth; and as he was in his own country, a stout-hearted fellsman who loved the mountains among which he was born and lived.

P. E. Thompson.