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



On a clear day you can see Nanda Ghunti from Ranikhet just to the left of Trisul, 52 miles away. It is the most prominent peak on the western rim of the Nanda Devi Trisul group and looks rather like a cathedral with its long ridge running east and west and its 'tower' at the western end. Although only 20,700 feet, it has not been climbed. B. R. Goodfellow and J. Buzzard tried the south face in October 1944 and found it impracticable. They advised us to tackle it from the north, although a month's leave would hardly allow enough time. After gleaning information from other sources we decided on the route shown in the sketch-map.

My job of organizing the party was made easy, thanks to the kindness and invaluable assistance of Mrs. A. E. Brown, Honorary Local Secretary at Ranikhet, who made all arrangements for coolies, lorry, &c., and solved many other problems.

Our party was R. H. Sams, my brother Jeremy, and myself, and we were lucky in having three good Dhotials, Ghunturia, Kalba, and Zudgir, to form the nucleus of our coolies. They had been in Goodfellow's party and also with G. W. F. Noyce. A breach in the main line from Bombay resulted in my brother arriving a day late, and after hectic last-minute shopping and the usual difficulty in obtaining enough kerosene and sugar (strictly rationed) we left Ranikhet on 25th September 1945. The ancient lorry, into which we piled with our thirteen coolies and loads, took us at hair-raising speed to Garur, 60 miles, with only one puncture and a few other stops to fill up the radiator.

The 50 miles to Sutol were covered in five pleasant marches, stopping at Gantoli R.H., Gwaldam R.H., Bagargad R.H., and Wan R.H. The view from Gantoli and Gwaldam is magnificent, Trisul being the dominating feature. After Gwaldam you drop down to the Pindar river, here 4,200 feet, and cross by a suspension bridge. This route involves much toiling uphill and down, heavy work for the coolies carrying 80-lb. loads, but the views from the ridges are grand. After Wan we pushed on ahead of the coolies in order to arrive early at Sutol where supplies of ata and more coolies had been arranged. At Kanol we followed what appeared to be the main path which took us down through dense jungle and petered out in a deserted village on the Nandakini river 2 miles downstream of Sutol. After scrambling about for three hours in very prickly jungle we retraced our steps and sweated up the 2,000 feet to Kanol, found the right path, and arrived at Sutol at dusk. The coolies had a good laugh and we relieved our feelings by broaching a bottle of rum. Subedar Umrao Singh, the village headman, was fetched and assured us that the seven maunds of ata and extra coolies, asked for by letter, would be ready the next day. The Subedar is an engaging old fellow and likes rum.

Nanda Ghunti

Nanda Ghunti

The following morning we set off with our thirteen Dhotials, nine Sutol coolies, two small boys we had picked up at Wan, and Prem Singh, the Subedar's brother, who has piloted various parties up the Nandakini gorge. Loads were reduced to 40 lb. and the going was unpleasant, thick bamboo jungle, rain most of the time, and up and down the whole way. Prem Singh did valiant work with a machete where the bamboo was particularly thick. We camped at Lat Kopri, a small grazing-ground in the jungle, where Kalba (Dhotial) distinguished himself by producing a sheep a few minutes after we arrived. He said he had found the animal with its neck jambed between two rocks and that it must have strangled itself. It was still warm and had obviously been killed by Kalba. We gave him full marks for this sly piece of work as we had been unable to obtain any meat at the villages en route, even offering as much as Rs.25 for a sheep. An irate shepherd appeared but was pleased with the Rs.5 we gave him for his dead sheep. The coolies had a good feast that night and we kept the legs for later consumption ourselves.

It was still raining in the morning and the path was no good to us as it plunged down to the Nandakini river leading to grazing- grounds up Tomin Gad, a side valley on the north side of the Nandakini. Prem Singh led us well, keeping about 1,000 feet above the Nandakini, but the going was worse than ever, with a similar series of ups and downs, and everywhere very slippery. We did, however, emerge from the jungle several times, once to cross a large tributary. The rocks here were rich in mica. We finally emerged from the jungle at 11,000 feet, where the gorge became steep and narrow. The rain stopped to give us an occasional glimpse of the precipitous face of Trisul with its upper part shrouded in cloud. It was nice to be out of the jungle and at the threshold of our climbing ground. We camped a quarter of a mile below the snout of the Silisamudar glacier, at a cave which was quickly appropriated by the Dhotials. The Sutol men found a better cave a little farther on. For the first time the Dhotials were in low spirits and crawled into their blankets without cooking a meal.

The next day fortunately dawned fine, the sun reached us at 9.30, loads were dried out, and the coolies ate their fill of chupatis. In fact we had a thoroughly lazy morning before attempting to cross the Nandakini: it was the obvious place to cross, the stream being narrow at this point. A bridge was made with the trunks of two slender silver birches placed on convenient boulders, and hand-rails were formed with a rope pulled tight by two men on each boulder. Loads were got across and no one had a wetting. After making a dump of ata we sent the Sutol men back to Sutol for the rest of the ata, with instructions to follow us up the valley to our Base Camp.

We were now at 12,000 feet and the date was 3rd October. The monsoon in this part of the Himalaya should have been over but there was still no sign of settled weather: disappointing, as we should have soft snow to negotiate. Following the right-angle bend in the stream we headed due north and had our first close-up view of Nanda Ghunti with the 17,000-foot col on the right which was our first objective. Heavy rain started at four o'clock and we decided to call it a day although our late start had resulted in a ridiculously short march of four miles. However, we made up for this the next day, pushed on up the boulder-strewn valley and established Base Camp at 14,000 feet and Camp I at 15,500. The obvious site for Base Camp seemed to be at the bottom of the moraine which formed the begin- ning of the slope leading to the i7,opo-foot col. There was water here and probably none higher up. Also we only had boots for five coolies. We left Chandra Singh in charge of Base Camp and took the five best men with us. A small platform was made for Camp I, on snow.

The following day was spent relaying loads up the slope to Camp II, sited in a hollow by a crevasse, 300 feet below the col. We had hoped to cross the col but the combination of soft snow and glaring sun was exhausting. We soon reached the col the next morning. The view looking over the other side was glorious. The west face of Bethartoli Himal was particularly impressive, falling almost sheer for 5,000 feet to the Ronti glacier. Below us stretched a broad snow basin, its only outlet being the Ronti glacier flowing north which disappeared in a narrow gorge 4 miles from our viewpoint. We could not see the upper part of the Ronti glacier which, according to the map, flows north along a shelf high up on the west face of Trisul, and is shown as gradually descending to the level of the snow basin below us. Beyond Bethartoli Himal to the north, Dunagiri was just visible, and behind us to the right rose the great dome of Trisul.

We were now confronted by a steep snow slope of about 800 feet to the basin below us. This was somewhat of a surprise as according to the map the gradient should have been easy and the slope not more than 300 feet. We roped up, cut a hole in the cornice, and I was lowered cover the side’, followed by my brother. After descending 100 feet the slope eased off and we decided that it was not going to avalanche. We made a platform on to which the coolies and loads could be lowered. My brother proceeded down the slope to test the snow bridge over the bergschrund and to take up a position as 'long stop'. Sams lowered the coolies and loads to my platform where I unroped them and launched them down the slope under their own steam. Catastrophe nearly occurred when the youngest of the coolies took fright, sat down just out of my reach and released his load. It was a light box and rolled down the remaining 700 feet at phenomenal speed, jumping the bergschrund and fortunately landing intact. It contained one of our precious primus cookers!

The rest of the loads were relayed from Camp II and time was saved by rolling some of the bulky ones containing bedding to the bottom of the slope where we fielded them. We then headed north across the basin, skirting the foot of the east ridge of Nanda Ghunti and intending to cross the Nanda Ghunti glacier. The ice-fall at this point held us up and we could see an easier way across moraine farther down. It was getting dark so Camp III was pitched.

One of the Dhotials, Atit, showed signs of collapsing and was no better in the morning: a pity, as he had carried well. A council of war was held and we decided that I should take Atit back to Base Camp and bring up reinforcements which we badly needed, and also another 20 lb. of ata. Sams and my brother were to push on and establish Camp IV, lightening loads as far as possible by making a dump at Camp III. It was slow work getting Atit up the slope to the i7,ooo-foot col and I did not reach Base Camp till nearly 2.30 p.m. I organized a party to return with me consisting of Prem Singh and Bhajan Singh, both Sutol men, and Nagmal Dhotial, scrounging a spare pair of my brother's boots for Bhajan Singh, whose feet were enormous. Atit's boots did for Nagmal, and Prem Singh preferred to wear his own contraptions of sacking and plaited grass. We got under way at 3.0 p.m. and made good progress up to the 17,ooo-foot col with light loads including a tent and 20 lb. of ata. The col was reached at 6.15 p.m. and we tried to attract the attention of Camp IV by waving and shouting. It was a lovely still evening and our voices echoed for five seconds at each bellow. I knew approximately where Camp IV would be but could see no answering signal. We slid down the slope, reached the dump at Camp III at dusk, raided it for food, clothing, and rum, and followed the other party's tracks. Our progress across the Nanda Ghunti glacier was comic to say the least of it, and we flopped about all over the place among the snow-covered boulders and in the holes between them. In due course we got on to dry moraine and could no longer see the tracks as the snow was patchy. The air was so still that even a candle was used groping about for tracks. We were on the point of making a night of it in our one small tent and no bedding when a faint shout was heard. We answered lustily and pushed on to be greeted ten minutes later by Sams with a hurricane batti. By this time we were in excellent form, the effect of only a small quantity of rum. In less than an hour's stumbling up moraine we reached Camp IV at 9 p.m., and swallowed gallons of hot tea which my brother had ready. The funny thing was that Sams and my brother had seen our four figures appearing on the skyline at 6.15 p.m. but had not observed our signals. They had watched our progress and only when seeing us pass the site of Camp III did it dawn on them that we were not stopping. Failing to attract our attention Sams set off to meet us.

The following morning was glorious and we hoped to make the col between Nanda Ghunti and Ronti. A reconnaissance the previous evening by Sams and my brother had shown the glacier to be smooth and uncrevassed. But we failed to start early enough and the hot sun soon softened the snow. Sinking up to our knees at every step, our progress was painfully slow and the glare from the sun was strong enough to cause our faces and hands to swell up. It was a bad ease of glacier lassitude and in two hours we only made one mile with the coolies lagging behind. Sams, going strongly and making the trail most of the way, followed by my brother, reached a point about three-quarters of the way up the glacier and there waited. The coolies and I arrived two hours later, both Sutol men suffering from mountain sickness, probably owing to their effort the previous day. The fit coolies returned to Camp IV to fetch the remaining loads and we pitched Camp V where we were at about 17,000 feet. Sams's hard work in the morning, followed by a long wait and a rapid drop in temperature in the afternoon, brought on a severe attack of shivering. For the next two days he was feeling far from well and had to remain in camp. This was wretched luck as our time was desperately short. My brother was suffering from cracked lips which had become horribly raw and he could only eat with difficulty.

Nanda Ghunti from 4 miles south

Nanda Ghunti from 4 miles south

18,700-ft. col between Nanda Ghunti and Ronti. North ridge of Nanda Ghunti leading off to the left

18,700-ft. col between Nanda Ghunti and Ronti. North ridge of Nanda Ghunti leading off to the left

Ronti (19,890 ft.) from near 18,700 ft. col

Ronti (19,890 ft.) from near 18,700 ft. col

Crossing the Nanda Ghunti glacier to the basin; 17,000-ft. col in centre background

Crossing the Nanda Ghunti glacier to the basin; 17,000-ft. col in centre background

Next morning, 9th October, my brother and I decided to try Ronti and to leave the attempt on Nanda Ghunti for the following day when Sams might be fit again. Taking Zudgir with us my brother led up the remaining half-mile of glacier and up the slope to the col (18,700 feet) which was reached without difficulty. I say without difficulty but we were certainly very out of breath. The view looking east was magnificent, and we could see the top of Nanda Devi behind Bethartoli Himal. Looking west it was quite a different story. A sea of cloud was rolling up towards us and all we could see, peering down the precipitous face, was part of a broken glacier 3,000 feet below us. We put the rope on and proceeded north up the ridge which consisted of shale slabs and large chunks of unstable rock. After an hour we had only climbed about 300 feet and the weather looked threatening. While negotiating an awkward place, belayed by my brother, the rock on which I was balancing moved several inches. This was rather alarming as the rock must have weighed many tons. My brother was keen to go on but the ridge beyond was narrower and looked even looser. It was starting to snow so we reluctantly gave up and returned to camp.

We had seen that the north ridge of Nanda Ghunti was a series of snow aretes, precipitous on the west side and gently sloping on t he east. We only saw the summit once through the clouds, but the ridge did not look difficult, once over the first bump.

If Sams had been fit, our obvious plan of action would have been to establish a camp on the col and have a shot at the summit from there. It would have been a 2,000-foot climb over a horizontal distance of one mile.

It blew hard in the night and the squalls threatened to uproot our tents; however, we managed to get some sleep and it was clear again in the morning. Several inches of snow had fallen since the previous afternoon. My brother and I set out for I he col, this time taking Kalba. Unfortunately my brother was too exhausted to climb the slope so I went on with Kalba, reaching the col at n o'clock. The clouds were already rolling up from all directions and it started to snow almost immediately. We shared a tin of sardines and waited hopefully for an hour, by which time it was snowing heavily. Sadly we retraced our steps to camp, where a council of war was held. As it was we had barely enough time to return to Ranikhet and our respective jobs. We anticipated difficulty in getting loads back over the 17,000-foot col in the fresh snow and the two Sutol men had already been sent back to Base Camp to muster more coolies to help over the col.

There seemed nothing for it but to beat a retreat. Camp was struck and we plodded down the glacier in driving snow. At dusk we found a sheltered spot half a mile beyond the site of Camp IV. It was exasperating to wake up to a perfect morning, clear and still. I consoled myself by taking photographs as we crossed the basin. The Dhotials had heavy work in the deep snow as all loads had been brought from Camp V in one carry. Prem Singh had brought reinforcements up to the col as arranged, in spite of the I act that the only available footwear was gym shoes and a few socks. Prem Singh and I controlled operations from the col, lowering the unfortunate coolies down the slope whether they liked it or not. Sams and my brother organized things at the bottom and by 5.30 p.m. all loads were up. It snowed during the last half-hour and Prem Singh presented a comic spectacle clad in snow-caked blankets and hauling on the icy rope. He stuck to his chilly job with fortitude.

As the line of coolies descended to the Base Camp the snow stopped and the rays of the setting sun lit up the stormy sky of scudding clouds. It was a glorious mixture of pink and iron grey. Quickly it faded until the last ray died on the lofty heights of Trisul. It was a thrilling sight, impossible to describe to those who do not come to the hills.

Reaching Base Camp after dusk we found poor old Atit in a bad way, having eaten nothing for several days. However, he quickly acquired a taste for the hot milk and rum which we administered. He was quite unable to walk and had to be carried for the next three days. The next day was dreary, thick snow lay all the way down the stony valley to £Cave' Camp, and more snow was falling. The coolies took turns at carrying Atit, some bare-footed. Edelweiss seemed to thrive in the snow and we picked some. All went well crossing the silver-birch bridge at 'Gave' Camp until Sams's turn came. The two men on the far side pulled the rope handrails so crooked that Sams was pulled off his balance and pitched into the stream. Fortunately he was grabbed before being swept away, but sudden submersion in icy water is not much fun. After changing into dry clothes he was well dosed with rum.

Atit was left at Sutol in the care of Subedar Umrao Singh. It was difficult to diagnose his case: his temperature was normal and he was not frost-bitten. He coughed a lot and a doctor later suggested that it may have been bronchitis. We bade farewell to the Sutol men. They were a hardy lot and had carried well. We were particularly sorry to part with Prem Singh who had proved an excellent head man with plenty of initiative.

The marches back to Garur were thoroughly enjoyable, fine weather most of the way and our enormous appetites were satisfied by many sumptuous meals cooked by Sams who had from the start been chief cook. The Dhotials were in good spirits although several had cracked heels and two who had carried on snow were suffering from frost-bitten toes. This, I am glad to say, was very slight. They never complained and I dressed their feet every evening. Those who had worn Australian ammunition boots were quite all right. It was the Indian-made ammunition boots that had caused the damage, letting in water and losing their shape after a few days on snow.

We reached Garur on the 18th October, camped in a field, and dined magnificently on tinned plum pudding, brandy butter, and genuine liqueur brandy, produced out of a flask by my brother. He had kept quiet about it all this time!

The bus turned up as arranged and took us to Ranikhet in the morning. As guests of Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Harding we were treated to the luxury of hot baths and lashings of beer. Many hours were spent lazing in the garden of their delightful bungalow.

So ended our visit to Garhwal, and although we had failed to climb our peak, we had the satisfaction of breaking fresh ground.


1. All names and heights are taken from the new J-inch map, sheet 53 N/se.

2. There was some difficulty in obtaining ata on the march to Sutol, but this could be avoided by sending a man on ahead.

3. Eggs were practically unobtainable. We got a few from a sweeper at Garu. A good supply should be taken from Ranikhet.

4.At least two weeks should be allowed for a letter to reach Subedar Umrao Singh, who supplies ata and vegetables and arranges coolies. Address:

Subedar Umrao Singh Negi,

Village Sutol,

Patti Nandak,

c/o Experimental P.O. A 582 Ramni,

District Garhwal.

5.Sutol men use shoulder-straps (pieces of string) for their loads. Porters' rucksacks for them would be an advantage.

6.The Dhotials and Sutol men who carried above Base Camp ate tinned sardines and herrings with much relish. They realized the disadvantages of chupati-making on a primus in a small tent, and half the ata carried above Base Camp was carried down again. In a few more days I think religious prejudices would have been overcome, with the exception of bully beef.

7.The Nandakini route to the basin at the centre of the Ronti glacier system has certain disadvantages. Sutol at 7,190 feet is the top village on the Nandakini river. Loads have to be reduced to 40 lb. for the next two marches through the bamboo jungle, and these two marches are unpleasant. Another two days are necessary, I think even for a well-organized party, to cross the I7,000-foot col and descend to the basin (we took four days).

The longer route via the Kuari pass, Tapoban, Dhauliganga river, Rishi Ganga, and Ronti Gad appears attractive and I should be most interested to know if good coolies and supplies of ata can be obtained from the villages near the junction of the Rishi Ganga and Dhauliganga, 6,170 feet. If the Ronti Gad is less afflicted with bamboo jungle than the Nandakini, this route would I think be easier, drier, and pleasanter. A base camp could be placed at about 15,500 feet in the basin, or at the site of our Camp IV at 16,600 feet, which is a good position for morning and evening sun. The obvious advantage of the Ronti Gad route is that there is no 17,000-foot col between the Ronti glacier basin and the top village.