Himalayan Journal vol.14
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.14

Publication year:
1947

Editor:
H. W. Tobin
Index
  1. SASER KANGRI, EASTERN KARAKORAMS, 1946
    (J. O. M. ROBERTS)
  2. A SHORT EXPEDITION TO THE NUN KUN MASSIF LADAKH, MAY-JUNE 1946
    (CAPT. RALPH JAMES, F.R.G.S.)
  3. THIRD CHOICE-PADAR REGION
    (FRITZ KOLB)
  4. NANDA GHUNTI, 1945
    (P. L. WOOD)
  5. NANGA PARBAT RECONNAISSANCE, 1939
    (L. CHICKEN)
  6. SKI-ING IN GARHWAL
    (R. V. VERNEDE)
  7. A PRE-SWISS ATTEMPT ON NILKANTA
    (C.G. Wylie)
  8. EXPEDITIONS
  9. IN MEMORIAM
  10. NOTES
  11. REVIEWS
  12. CLUB PROCEEDINGS
  13. EDITORIAL

NANGA PARBAT RECONNAISSANCE, 1939

L. CHICKEN

(This article, which had long been awaited, arrived only a very few days before going to press. Fortunately the author's English is good and needed but little correction. He has also taken the trouble to put heights in feet instead of in metres. The promised map not having materialized, one of those in Bechtold’s Nanga Parbat Adventure has been reproduced with slight amendments. But it is hoped that Paul Bauer will be able to send the expedition map and also their photographs.

Peter Aufschnaiter also has an article under dispatch, but it is long overdue. He has been handicapped by not having his kit with him in Lhasa. He arrived there in January 1946, after almost unbearable hardships, together with Harrer, the only other survivor out of the four who escaped from Dehra Dun six months previously. Aufschnaiter is working on an electric power station for the Regency Government in Lhasa, while Harrer is doing reasonably well as a trader. Both are apparently quite content to remain where they are for the present.-Ed.)

The steep north-west flank of Nanga Parbat which rises from the Diamir valley was attempted in 1891 by A. F. Mummery. He was the first to try to conquer this peak, one of the highest summits in the world, 26,650 feet, and he did not return from the terrific task that he had set himself. Most probably the audacious pioneer and his two porters were killed by an avalanche while he was exploring the Diamir glacier for a possible route to the Rakhiot valley. In 1932 Nanga Parbat was approached again by an expedition under the leadership of Willi Merkl. This time the route chosen started from the Rakhiot valley leading through the north-east flank, and it was by this route that all subsequent expeditions endeavoured to find an ascent to the summit. Although this route was first considered to be the best and only practicable one, the experiences of later expeditions gave reason to doubt whether the long ascent (about 9 miles from Camp I), necessitating nine camps to reach the summit, was not too serious a handicap. Moreover, avalanches and bad weather conditions seem to be rather frequent at this side of the mountain where they had been encountered by both the expeditions of 1934 and 1938. These difficulties induced P. Bauer, the leader of the 1938 Expedition, to look for the possibilities of more practicable routes. Advised by him, Dr. Luft, who was to lead an eventual attempt on the summit in 1940, investigated the north-west face from the Diamir valley. He took many valuable photographs of the flank from the valley and from the expedition aeroplane. Taking into consideration that the line from the bottom of the Diamir valley to the top of Nanga Parbat is only about 3 miles long, although the route would be a very steep one, it was decided further to reconnoitre the north-west flank of the mountain for a possible ascent route, and this task was to be carried out by the German Himalayan Expedition of 1939.

The leadership of the expedition was conferred on Peter Auf- schnaiter, an experienced Himalayan mountaineer who had been with P. Bauer at Kangchenjunga in 1929 and 1931. The other members were Heinrich Harrer, who had been with the party that made the first ascent through the Eiger north face in 1938, Hans Lobenhoffer, and Lutz Chicken, a medical student.

Surroundings of Nanda Parbat

Surroundings of Nanda Parbat



The party left Rawalpindi on the 11th May via the Kaghan valley and the Babusar pass, and reached the Indus valley near Ghilas on the 22nd May. Entering the Bunar valley to the south of the Indus and proceeding through the narrow gorge of the lower Diamir valley, we reached the moraine of the Diamir glacier. The Base Camp was established on the 1st June, on the north bank of the glacier at 12,600 feet, below the rocky western slopes of the Ganalo ridge. Opposite this ridge, to the west of the valley, the dark mass of the precipitous Mazeno ridge, corniced with hanging glaciers, rises, while to the south-east the rocky summit of Nanga Parbat towers above the glaciated north-west face, the ice cover being interrupted only by the three ribs climbed by Mummery. At first sight this appeared to be the most fascinating route to the top. Farther east, not visible from the Base Camp, the Diamir flank is more rocky, several ribs leading to the north peak of Nanga, which is separated from the summit by a glaciated saddle, the Bazin pass.

Nanda Parbat from the Diamirai glacier; Mummery’s supposed route marked-----; x indicates spot where wood was found, 1939; o indicates point reached in 1939

Nanda Parbat from the Diamirai glacier; Mummery’s supposed route marked-----; x indicates spot where wood was found, 1939; o indicates point reached in 1939



The Mazeno ridge

The Mazeno ridge



Couloirs on lower part of North Peak

Couloirs on lower part of North Peak



Ascent towards North Peak. Mazeno ridge to right

Ascent towards North Peak. Mazeno ridge to right



The first week was spent on reconnaissance from the south slope of the Ganalo ridge, just opposite the Diamir flank. An ascent starting from the Diamir valley towards the north peak and crossing the upper Diama glacier was taken into consideration. However, the snout of the glacier, about 400 feet above a steep rock wall, and the fact that the approach to the ascent along the lower Diama glacier is exposed to avalanches coming down the Diamir couloirs, made the route appear very difficult. An attempt to reach the north peak by this route was therefore abandoned.

Our attention was now attracted by the few rocky ribs pointing to the north peak, and later we chose one of the middle ribs as probably most practicable.

On the 13 th June Lobenhoffer and I climbed the historic Mummery route to the top of the second rib, where, extraordinarily enough, we found a piece of wood about 10 inches long. Was it a vestige of Mummery? Above the third rib the spacious Bazin glacier breaks off precipitously above the rock walls of the rib, endangering the route. We returned to Camp II, below the ice-fall of Diama glacier, the same day. A few days later we saw an enormous avalanche starting from the snout of Bazin glacier. This avalanche covered the whole amphitheatre of the Diamir glacier, sweeping also over the top of Rib II, where we had at first intended to bivouac. So this route was also abandoned. During the next weeks we saw several avalanches coming down near the Mummery ribs, though none of the size previously observed. Our hopes now turned to the middle rib from the north peak. From the Ganalo flank, Aufschnaiter and Harrer had examined the various ribs, and selected this one which apparently offered the best chance for an ascent.

On the 15th June Aufschnaiter and Harrer established Camp III at 18,000 feet on the right bank of the lower Diama glacier, above the ice-fall and opposite the ascent to the middle rib. The route to Camp III seemed fairly safe below the rocky spurs of the Diama flank, though the snow couloirs between the ribs showed avalanche fans. From this camp we tried an ascent and climbed up to approximately 20,000 feet. Through a system of couloirs we reached a broad ice slope covered in its lower part by hard frozen snow, which facilitated the climbing, but higher up there was bare ice. This slope was exceedingly steep and in its uppermost part we had to cross the rib, to the right of the slope. There the rock was covered with loose stones and broken slabs. We had to start very early in the morning as from noon onwards there is stone-fall of increasing intensity along this route. Farther up, from our highest point, the rib ends below an ice rampart. In July Harrer and Lobenhoffer reached this point at about 20,300 feet (Camp IV). The route would have to lead from this camp to a small platform above the ice wall from where, over snow slopes, the north peak could probably be ascended. We never saw avalanches on these slopes and, in Aufschnaiter's opinion, in this upper part of the flank a practicable route could be found. The lower part of the route is the steepest until the platform mentioned. On the last day in Camp III we discovered that the track between this camp and Camp II was also considerably endangered by avalanches, as one big avalanche crashed down during the night, covering our tents, pitched at a distance of about half a mile from the slope, with snow. Still another came down from one of the couloirs reaching the route, just when we were on the way down to Camp II.

For the last ten days of June the Base Camp looked like a hospital. Lobenhoffer, from a neglected angina, got a septic fever with temperature up to 104° F.-a dangerous condition, especially at the height of 13,000 feet above sea-level. Fortunately our dispensary was very well equipped and Prontosil had a good therapeutic effect while Sympatol prevented circulatory failure. One of our Bhotia porters had broncho-pneumonia. Both recovered slowly and at last could be transported to lower altitudes where their convalescence made more rapid progress. While I had enough medical work in the Base Camp, Harrer and Aufschnaiter made some smaller excursions. Before leaving we climbed the Diamirai peak, 18,270 feet, from where we had an excellent view, especially into the higher parts of the flank.

It had been the original plan to proceed after the reconnaissance of the Diamir flank to Gilgit and explore Rakaposhi for practicable ascents. However, on the 8th July we received information from Gilgit that the permission to approach Rakaposhi could not be granted and Aufschnaiter decided to start for another exploration of the Diamir flank. So we returned to the Base Camp where we arrived on the 13th July. The climbing conditions of the flank had deteriorated considerably in all respects. The layer of frozen snow which had covered the ice in June had melted away and we had to scramble up the steep slopes over bare ice. Now, more than ever, the crampons with twelve spikes were extremely useful. Harrer and Lobenhoffer reached the top of the middle rib by an ascent which they considered as difficult as one of the hardest climbs in the Alps. The danger of falling stones was permanent, and not as in June limited to the hours of the afternoon only. On the other hand, there were less avalanches in July.

Chilasi Porter

Chilasi Porter



Nanga Parbat and North Peak from Diamirai Pass

Nanga Parbat and North Peak from Diamirai Pass



This second attempt gave us the experience that this route, and most probably every other ascent through the flank, would hardly be practicable in July, while in June a team of good mountaineers with excellent porters could possibly accomplish the task. The porters ought to be of the best quality, as the extreme steepness of the slope and the changing conditions of the 'ice cover’ demand from these men considerable courage and alpinistic skill.

The weather had been perfect from the beginning and the sky, although at times clouded in the afternoon, always cleared up overnight. Only occasionally we had slight snowfall or rain at the Base Camp until on the 25th July the weather conditions changed for the worse, but it was almost time for us to leave the Diamir flank.

On the 23rd July Aufschnaiter and I climbed the western peak of the Ganalo ridge, point 22,370, where we had a most fascinating glimpse through clouds down to the sunny Indus valley, 18,000 feet below. The ridge connecting our unnamed peak to the Ganalo peak did not offer any possibilities for a route to reach this rock and ice pinnacle.

None of us had been with previous Nanga Parbat expeditions and all were lacking the direct Rakhiot side experience. To gain a final opinion over the Diamir flank it was obviously necessary to see the Rakhiot side of Nanga, where so many German mountaineers had lost their lives in the struggle to conquer one of the great heights of the world, a struggle which on Nanga Parbat had become the dutiful task to carry on the effort of the dead.

On the 26th July the expedition party left the Diamir glacier- Harrer and Lobenhoffer with the bulk of the transport down to Bunar Rest House in the Indus valley, from whence they proceeded to Rakhiot bridge, Aufschnaiter and I up to the Kachal Gali from where via Patro and Jiliper pass we entered the Rakhiot valley. It was the most imposing view I have ever had, when after the descent through fog and moisture we rounded a corner and suddenly the gigantic amphitheatre of the Nanga with her satellites to the east, towering above the Rakhiot glacier and its tributaries, opened before our eyes. Overcome by this magnificent scenery, we walked down the grassy slope to the left bank of the Ganalo glacier. The Diamir valley, compared with these wide spaces, appears narrow, and there one feels deep down, as in a crevasse, between walls rising 10,000-12,000 feet above the valley bottom, only 2 miles broad. The Diamir scenery leaves a grave, if not sad, impression, while this Rakhiot side gives a sense of enthusiastic joy.

To arrive at a conclusion about the results of our expedition, it can be said that although the old ascent over the Rakhiot slope appears to be technically easier than any route through the Diamir flank, the latter presents many favourable features, and it would have been for the leader of the 1940 expedition to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of both alternatives and to decide which route would have to be taken for the next attempt on the summit.

While Harrer and Lobenhoffer proceeded from Rakhiot to Astor via Bunji, arriving at Srinagar on the 19th August, Aufschnaiter and I went to Gilgit where we paid a visit to the Political Agent at Naltar. At Gilgit we were treated very kindly by the small British colony which rendered every possible help. We owe special gratitude to Lt. Strover, Assistant Political Agent in Ghilas, whose guests we had the honour to be on several occasions, for his kind assistance rendered in many ways.

On the 22nd August the expedition assembled at Srinigar to leave on the 24th for Karachi. We had left Germany during the political crisis of spring 1939, in the firm belief that peace would be maintained. In the Himalayas newspapers and other means of information about the political situation were obviously very scarce, and it was only on our return to the civilized world that we realized the imminent danger of war. We came to Karachi to embark for home, but fate had decided otherwise. We were interned and were not to climb mountains for years.