We have to thank the Climbers' Club for their permission to use this material and for their wilting co-operation. And we also thank very warmly the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research for generously supplying illustrations and for their assistance. It will be noted that the heights on the Swiss map are shown in metres, but other maps covering much the same area have recently been published in the Journal.—Ed.
This is a brief account of a small expedition which was lucky enough to climb a 24,ooo-foot peak in the summer of 1950. It began with no such pretentious ambitions, when two of us in Cambridge, Alfred Tissieres and I, casually agreed to spend a holiday in the Himalayas. From the start we tried to keep our plans modest, for the limitations were severe. We could only take our holidays in the University Long Vacation, which meant climbing in the months of July, August, or September; we were limited by the shallowness of our pockets to an outside figure of £400 each; and we were restricted most of all by our complete lack of experience of India and the Himalayas. So we agreed, firmly, that our first visit was to be a kind of reconnaissance trip, to see the country, travel in the hills, and (perhaps) attempt an easy peak of moderate size.
As the months went past the scheme seemed to gather a momentum of its own, and we began to gather help. Eric Shipton appeared in Cambridge for a few days and we were able to ask him a mass of detailed questions about travelling and camping in that part of the world. Then Michal Vyvyan, also in Cambridge, agreed to join the party and that meant one great headache was cured. He had been out twice before, knew the ropes and the people, and was able to conduct all those dreaded negotiations for permits, passes, and maps. Finally, our party was made up to four by the addition of Gabriel Chevalley, a doctor then working for the International Red Cross in East Pakistan, who had climbed in the Alps with Alfred Tissieres ever since they were at school together. Then we felt our party was complete, two Swiss and two English.
On 23rd July we assembled in Delhi, Tissieres and I by boat from England, with half a ton of food and equipment; Chevalley by air from Dakar. At the last minute, however, the fourth member of our party had changed. Michal Vyvyan could not leave England and his place was taken by Rene Dittert. Fortunately, this meant that our expedition remained 25 per cent, experienced, for Dittert had been out in India twice already since the war.
As the map accompanying the New Zealand Expedition, pp. 42-59, covers practically the same area, a separate one is not published for this Expedition.—Ed.
Between the Walls
Unnamed Mountain on the frontier chain north-west of Mukut Par bat Photo by Bernie
When Tissieres and I arrived in Delhi on 23rd July we found that Dittert's experience was already bearing fruit. He had arrived by air from Geneva only a day or so before we came up by train from Bombay. In that short time he had done a host of essential jobs, from checking the equipment which our four Sherpas had brought with them, to buying another half ton of food in the Delhi bazaars. From the start we could see that Dittert was going to be the hustler of the party.
Our four Sherpas were the first that the rest of us had ever seen. In their appearance and in their hard-working cheerfulness they were so exactly what we had been led to expect that we seemed to get to know them well in a very short time. Dawa Thondup and little Ang Dawa had both just come back from the French Expedition to Annapurna; the Sirdar, Ang Dawa, a first-class cook, had been with Tilman on Rakaposhi; and Penuri, the biggest, the youngest and the least experienced, had been out with Dittert the year before.
Of our stay in Delhi I need say little, except to record our sincere thanks for the hospitality we received at the Cecil I Iotel. Major Hotz was kindness itself, and our demands were heavy. We borrowed everything from him, his car to go shopping, part of his flat to repack our loads, and even ready cash when we found ourselves short. His advice was invaluable. He told us where to buy food of all kinds, where to get permits for inland customs, and even how to get a large sum of money from the bank an hour after it was officially closed. Indeed he must have been glad when, 36 hours after Tissieres and I had arrived, the expedition was ready to start.
It was 25th July, 3.30 a.m., and we borrowed Major Hotz's car for the last time to get our loads to the station, the local porters having decided to go on strike. They all seemed to be sleeping on the station platform as we loaded our ton of baggage on to the train in the unflattering light of dawn and tried to get a little sleep to add to the hour and a half which was all we had achieved so far that night. We certainly felt a far from fit party of mountaineers. Our whirlwind stay in Delhi had culminated in being entertained to dinner by M. Aubaret and other members of the Swiss Legation. After they had wined and dined us royally until midnight we had to complete our personal packing in something of an alcoholic haze. As I lay in the train looking at the dawn, the pouring rain, and my companions, I was sure that my sleeping bag was still under the bed in the hotel. It took the afternoon's sunlight, the nearness to the foot-hills, and the celebration of each change of trains with some of our last present from Delhi, a bottle of whisky, before the expedition again took on a rosy hue.
At this stage it seems appropriate to say something of the plans which we were discussing that day as the train took us north. We were going into Garhwal, and up to Badrinath, to climb in the Kamet Massif and the Badrinath range. This choice of area had been made almost by a process of elimination. We had to climb in August, and we had no time for a long approach march. It seemed that the pilgrim route, with its newly opened motor road stretching 150 miles from the railhead at Kotdwara to Chamoli, offered a quick means of transport to within 50 miles of Badrinath. We had been told, too, that the monsoon in August was likely to be as moderate in the Badrinath region as anywhere. So much for our choice of area, that was rational enough, but our choice of mountain needs rather more explanation, for our original modest plans had changed considerably. Marcel Kurtz and Professor Dyrenfurth had both suggested that we try something rather grandiose, Abi Gamin, a peak not as high, of course, as Nanda Devi or Kamet, but still the highest unclimbed mountain in Garhwal. This was very much beyond our hopes, but it had two arguments in its favour which made it sound almost reasonable. First, since it lies right to the north of Garhwal on the border of India and Tibet it might be getting less of the monsoons than peaks nearer the plains. Secondly, and much more romantically, there was an ancient traveller's report that described it as a very easy mountain from the north.
Several parties had looked at Abi Gamin from the south, usually from Meade's Col which divides it from Kamet, and opinions differed as to how easy it would be to climb it from there. But only one party had ever reported approaching it from the north, and that was nearly a century ago. In August 1855 two famous Austrian travellers, the brothers Adolphe and Robert Schlagintweit, journeying west from Lhasa, made an attempt on the mountain from the north. In a letter home to their Emperor they reported having climbed to over 22,000 feet and to have been robbed of the summit only by lack of food and the fears of their porters. This was a most remarkable height record for the middle of the nineteenth century and must have meant that the mountain was not difficult from that side. There was the danger, of course, that glacial changes in the succeeding hundred years had turned it into a difficult mountain by 1950. Anyhow, our plan was to take half our food forward from Badrinath and have a look at this northern side of Abi Gamin. We would, at least, be going well to the north in the early part of our holiday, when the monsoon might be expected to be heaviest. We then hoped to come back to Badrinath, pick up the remainder of the food, and move west towards Nilkanta and Ghaukhamba early in September.
It took us a full day to get from Delhi to the railhead at Kotdwara with three changes of trains which became quite an event with our ton of assorted packets. Most of these were army-surplus kit-bags inside waterproof navy-surplus signal rocket bags—a cheap combination which we were to find most effective. At Kotdwara our experiences were mixed. We were worried at the news that landslips and a missing bridge would make the 150 miles journey along the road to Chamoli longer than we had thought. The fact that no one could say just how long it would take was what worried us most. But we did have the pleasant experience of meeting the manager of the co-operative transport company which operates along the road, and he did everything possible to speed our trip. He sent a relay of traffic superintendents along with us, telegraphed ahead to all points where we might expect trouble, and refused to take any payment for us, our Sherpas, or our baggage. Mr. Uma Nand Barthwal completed his hospitality by asking about our equipment and presenting us with a jerry can and a flit-gun which he said we lacked. Over breakfast he told us of his own travels in the Nanda Devi area long ago, with Ruttledge and Longstaff. This was a hospitable beginning indeed. On the boat coming over I had often wondered how Indians now felt towards the British and it was always a nice feeling to come upon instances of this kind of friendliness.
The trip from Kotdwara to Chamoli took three days, fascinating days to a newcomer like myself, as the bus lurched past groups of pilgrims in the costumes of every province and caste in India. Those who rode in the buses with us were a source of continual interest, especially the frightened women who bandaged their eyes whenever the bus started and chanted religious songs to save them from the drop below. But these days were not without their difficulty for the traveller. The monsoon caused many slips, more than the hardworking coolie gangs and engineers with dynamite could quickly repair, and we had to change buses many times. 'Change bus' is a euphemism. It meant getting our loads carried anything from 50 yards to a mile past the landslips. This was trying, time consuming, and expensive. The pilgrim season was in full swing, which meant that about 10,000 a month were trying to travel along this road. The effect on the price level can be imagined. Coolies were asking (and getting) 1 rupee a mile to carry loads around the slips. This was our first experience of the local inflation, but it was far from being our last. We had begun to realize that getting into the Himalayas along the pilgrim route might be a quick method, but it was not going to be the cheapest.
At Chamoli we were glad to leave the bus after three days of dust and noise and we faced with pleasure the prospect of walking gently uphill out of the heat. Badrinath, 50 miles away, at 10,000 feet, seemed a very pleasant prospect. We had wired ahead to the Tahsi ldar at Chamoli asking for porters, but we were staggered when he told us of the daily rate of pay. So high was the price asked that we found it cheaper to take ponies at Rs. 7 a day, and we engaged thirteen of them to carry our food and baggage. Only our resentment at this expense dimmed the pleasures of our five days' walk to Badrinath. The statutory 10-mile stages could easily be covered in the mornings, the weather was fine, and the bungalows were pleasant. We pushed on up from village to village, breaking in our new boots, watching, as we got higher, the vegetation change and the thermometer fall. Chamoli at 4,000 feet was decidedly hot and humid, Badrinath at 10,000 was cool enough for sweaters. Indeed, we found the Alaknanda valley up there very much like North Wales, especially as we arrived in mist and drizzle. However, early next morning the famous view of Nilkanta framed between two shoulders of hill-side soon put the mountains back into perspective.
Any remarks I make about our experiences of Badrinath are bound to be derogatory so they had best be short. We found it a dirty squalid boom town. The pilgrim traffic had doubled in recent years and a spate of jerry-building was in progress; rough dormitories, small houses, one-room shops, and mud everywhere. Only the Temple had any pretence of interest. But what really jaundiced our view of Badrinath was the effect of all this on the local labour supply. We had been sure that when we got this far our transport trouble would be over, for all previous expeditions seemed to agree that at Mana, 3 miles farther up the valley, we should find the best porters in all Garhwal. Sure enough, the morning after we had arrived Mana coolies came along to the bungalow with tattered letters from previous expeditions. But the building boom in Badrinath meant that they could earn Rs. 4 a day digging ditches three miles from their home, and they wanted at least Rs. 5 plus food to come north with us. This was much more than we were paying our Sherpas and seemed to us completely outrageous. We spent two days trying to bargain them down into reasonableness, but it was no use, they really were not at all keen to go. Eventually we abandoned the idea of porters in favour of the only other means of transport offered by Mana. We agreed to take ponies instead. These were not the valley ponies which had carried our loads from Chamoli to Badrinath but tough little Mana hill-ponies. They were normally used on the trade routes into Tibet, and grazed most of the summer at 13,000 feet. Their owners, the Mana ponymen, assured us that they were quite capable of carrying loads across our first objective, the 18,400-foot Mana pass. We had our doubts. Even ponies were far from cheap. We could not get them for less than Rs. 12 a day (plus the usual half-rate for the return journey), but that included one ponyman for each pony and food and fuel for both horse and master. After our two days' inactivity our impatience was becoming extreme and we finally agreed to pay this high figure in order to get away from Badrinath.
On Sunday, 5th August, we left Badrinath for the Mana pass, but not before we had received one more demonstration of the change in Mana. Dittert and Chevalley were loading the ponies and ponymen when a local agitator, who had been haranguing a crowd in the street of Badrinath the night before, decided to lend his advice. Although he had no connexion with the party, he began volubly to criticize the loads, picking them up, and gesticulating. Our Sherpas had been viewing the attitude of the locals with increasing disgust for some days and suddenly a most threatening scene developed. Dittert tried to persuade a Mana ponyman to pick up a load, the man objected, a Sherpa thought his sahib was threatened, one swift right cross to the jaw and the ponyman was on the ground. All the loads joined him on the floor, every man's hand held a club, and it took apologies, backsheesh, and lighter loads to heal the breach.
Having made these criticisms of Mana porters, I must hurry to confirm that once away from the village they proved excellent carriers. One man became so keen that he stayed with us throughout our expedition, accepted the same rate of pay as the Sherpas, crossed a large snowfield without boots, and sat on a rock and cried when we had to leave him behind for the final attack on Abi Gamin. Yes, Mana men are still very good porters, but they are no longer cheap ones, and no longer uncorrupted by the ways of civilization.
It took our caravan of sixteen men and eight ponies four days to get from Badrinath at 10,500 feet to the Mana pass at about 18,500. Each day the deep valley up which we moved became more and more desolate until the scene was limited to the greys and yellows of moraine and scree. Every side valley had its glacier sending down fast streams across our path. But looking up from the main valley, all we could see of these side glaciers was their terminal moraines; sending down stones, dust, and rubble. It was cloudy and rainy a good deal of the time, but when the mist cleared we could see behind us, and to the south sharp clusters of aiguilles reminiscent of the Ghamonix valley, and ahead the more rounded border peaks of the Indian frontier. On these four days from Badrinath to the Mana pass we did not cover a great distance. Partly this was because of the ponies. They meant that we had to cross the larger side streams in the forenoon before the melting glaciers made them too deep and camps had to be pitched by early afternoon on one of the scanty patches of grass so that the ponies could be let loose to get their fill for the day. Next morning at dawn came the job of rounding them up from wherever they might have wandered, perhaps a mile or two down the valley and far away up on the hill-side. But they went very well and carried their loads over piles of horrible large scree and across wide steep slabs. At times the track was so poor that it was hard for us to credit that this was a regular trade route between India and Tibet, but we saw several caravans making their way towards the pass. Some of these caravans were of yaks, some of ponies, and some of flocks of sturdy mountain sheep each carrying a tiny saddle pack with a 4 lb. load.
As we got higher most of us began to feel the altitude. Dittert went best: he had been on the summit of Mont Blanc only a few weeks before. I was the worst by a long way. The day after leaving Badrinath my stomach became upset and it was not getting any better. I did not know it at the time, but this trouble was to last throughout the trip and cost me a couple of stone in weight. I was already finding that shortage of food and sleep was becoming quite a trial as the altitude increased.
For the present we concentrated entirely on getting over the pass into Tibet. To try to conserve my strength I was put on the back of a pony for the last stretch, a painful process as I was seated on a local wooden carrying saddle. This pattern has two bars on which the loads are normally tied. Anyone who tries to ride such a saddle finds these bars running right under the buttocks. After an hour every jolt is like an extra whack from a schoolmaster's cane. To go riding at over 18,000 feet was quite an experience but I was more than pleased to be sitting at last with Dittert and the Sherpas by the prayer wall on the frontier pass. At our backs was India, in front of us Tibet, but even this romantic thought could not disguise the bleakness of the spot. The path ran round the side of a hill which seemed to be completely composed of shale scree. Below us the flat Abijugan glacier filled the valley and formed the watershed. Across the other side of this glacier was the rounded back of Balbala, 21,400 feet (which Dittert had climbed in 1947). The only bright spots were the gaily coloured prayer flags above the wall and a tiny blue lake a little way back on the Indian side. Our Sherpas had already added their prayer flag brought from Darjeeling to the fluttering mass on the pole and were chattering with the Mana men, with whom they were now good friends. Everybody seemed to have a headache, and the local remedy, home-brewed rice spirit and garlic, was pressed upon me! I try anything once.
A long way behind, still toiling up towards the pass, were Tissieres and Chevalley, two very tired men. More than once Tissieres sat down on a rock and fell asleep sitting up. Chevalley went back to wake him. To the three of us who had had no experience of this altitude the whole business was very worrying. If we felt like this at less than 19,000 feet it seemed stupid to be looking for a mountain at over 24,000. Dittert seemed to have no such worries, perhaps because he knew that we would acclimatize. He was right—three weeks later we came back over this pass and marched slowly over it in a tight Indian file without any real discomfort.
With in an hour or so we had come down from the pass, had left the glacier snout behind us, and were walking on the level plains of a wide shallow valley running north into Tibet. I have never seen a frontier which marked the difference between two countries so dramatically. On the Indian side the valley had been deep and stony, the mountains sharp and spiky, and wild life conspicuous by its absence. Here in Tibet the mountains, though quite high (about 20,000 feet), were rounded and soft; the colours had turned from dull yellows and greys to rich green and purple; all around was wild life, groups of wild asses (kiang) grazing in the valley, hares starting from near the path, eagles above cruising on air currents, and, occasionally against the far hill-side, wild deer (burhelJ galloping into the distance. Naturally, we all looked away north across the plains of Tibet hoping to see something unusual. About a hundred miles away could be seen the snow-capped peaks of a far mountain range. Before us was a vast plateau eroded by many streams into valleys and sharp cliffs. The scene was unreal, largely because of the ever- changing colours, which shifted through every shade of yellow, brown, and purple.
We never ceased to be surprised at these colours, at the variety of the wild life, and at the ability of the local people to earn a living grazing their flocks along the scattered grass of the valleys. The first Tibetan family we met after crossing the border provided an amusing contrast in dress. For the most part the herdswomen wore the colourful traditional costumes, and had the unwashed faces we had been led to expect. But there was a pair of shoes on the smallest boy which might well have been made in Northampton. It was interesting to speculate on the series of, transactions by which they could have come from Europe to here.
Once in Tibet our troubles were largely concerned with the maps of the district. Throughout our journey on the Indian side of the frontier the maps had been excellent; accurate both in general and in particular. This had bred a dangerous confidence in cartographers which was to lead us badly astray in the days to come. According to our map of the Tibetan side of the range, the method of getting from the Mana pass to the north side of Abi Gamin was simple. Between the valley running north from the Mana pass in which we were now camped and the valley running north from the Abi Gamin group from which we hoped to attempt the peak, the map showed only a simple ridge. This Abi Gamin valley contained a glacier which soon became a substantial river, the Mungnung Pani. Our ponymen claimed to know the Mungnung Pani and were willing to take us to it. They said it involved a journey of a day and a half north along the valley from the Mana pass, crossing the ridge on the right by an easy pass, the Ghori La, and on the far side we should find ourselves on the river. This story tied up with the map, all seemed to be well, so we followed them and did exactly that.
Two days after crossing the Mana pass we were on the far side of the ridge on the right and had pitched camp on a pleasant acre of grass beside a small stream. This seemed too small a flow of water to be coming from a mountain as large as Abi Gamin, but we thought we could not be far away from the peak. It was perhaps a little east, certainly a little south, but anyhow quite near. So we called this plot the Base Camp (17,600 feet), and sent the ponies and the men back to Mana with instructions to come to collect us in a fortnight's time. Only one Mana porter, Bouang Singh, stayed with us. He seemed desperately keen to do so and agreed to take a much less daily rate of pay, so, a very much smaller party, we sat in this 'base camp' and watched the rain and snow fall outside for the best part of the next twenty-four hours. Less than three weeks before Tissieres and I had been on the high seas. We had reached this Tibetan base camp with only a little loss of time in Badrinath, but now frustration and delay was to start in earnest. For a glance at the map which accompanies this article will show how badly wrong we were in calling this camp 'Base Camp', and how wrong was our assumption that it was only a short distance to the north face of Abi Gamin.
For most of the next few days the whole of the mountain range to the south was covered in monsoon cloud, which brought with it a quantity of new snow every night. We were never allowed that clear view of the peaks which would have enabled us immediately to identify the high points of the Kamet massif. The only way in which we were able to discover the inadequacies of the map, and eventually to identify the mountain we were after, was by slowly working our way east and pushing our noses near enough to the face of each group of mountains to see that they were too small to be our goal.
All this took time. We went a short way up the near side of the first glacier we came to, which was unmarked on the official map. The peaks at the head of this glacier were ruled out as being probably too small. As far as we could judge, the highest was under 23,000 feet.
After this rebuff, ten days' food was carried forward across the glacier, which was quite hard to board from the side moraine and was a maze of large boulders and frozen pinnacles. The next problem was to get the loads up the steep high moraine on the far side of the glacier. This moraine was probably over 1,000 feet in height and surmounting it with the heavy loads of food and tents meant prodigious feats of load-carrying by the porters. Dawa Thondup especially was magnificent. We camped over the top at a little over 19,000 feet. This camp was on a pile of stones in a huge snowfield, which seemed almost flat except for a gentle rise towards the south. Most of the time the mist was down and we could see little. At night it snowed and by day the sun glared through the haze and burnt the face. Once or twice the mist cleared somewhat and some large easy peaks showed themselves to the south at the head of the snowfield. If this was the Kamet massif the easy ridge running towards us would explain why the Schlagentweits got so high in 1855.
Dittert and Tissieres set off on a reconnaissance through the mist south-east across the snowfield. In a few hours they had convinced themselves that these easy peaks were only about 22,000 feet high and were not what we were looking for. However, when they were at about 20,000 feet the clouds to the east cleared for a little while and they found they were looking down on a glacier bigger than anything we had seen so far. The glacier was shaped like a Y with, at the head of its eastern branch, a group of three big mountains which were clearly the ones we sought. On the left was Abi Gamin, on the right Mukut Parbat, and in the middle and a little behind the others, Kamet. This huge throne seemed so impressive that neither of them was at all hopeful as they told the story to Chevalley and me back in the camp on the snowfield, but they were tired and sunburned from their long tiring slog through the snow and we soon agreed to push forward to the base of the mountain group and have another look.
A day later we had a camp established across the snowfield down on the large glacier at the junction of the two arms of the Y (Camp I, 18,300 feet), and were having our first real look at the mountain. It was rather a tired look. Some prodigious carrying feats had been undertaken by the Sherpas to get the bulk of our food and equipment relayed over the 20,000-foot snow hummock. The Mana man, too, had done a fine job of load-carrying. At the end he had crossed the snowfield without complaint in his sandals with waterproof bags roped round his feet.
The glacier was long, flat, and tiring to trudge up, but Gamp II (just over 19,000 feet) was pitched on the moraine on the true right bank of the glacier. This was to be the real base for any climbing attempts on Abi Gamin, and, at that moment, the prospects of success did not seem high. The Mana ponymen had instructions to return to the 'Base Camp' after two weeks. Already we had used one of those weeks and consumed nearly half our food in finding the mountain and getting to its foot. If we did not succeed at the first attempt we should probably be forced to retreat through lack of supplies. Under these conditions we examined the view with some care, and the magnificent cirque of peaks around us fully paid for inspection.
The huge glacier swept down in a graceful curve from the head of the valley where stood Abi Gamin, its north face a sheet of white with just a little rock showing near the summit. From Abi Gamin's flat summit a long north-east ridge curved down left to form the rim of the valley. At the top of this ridge there was a short steep rock passage, but then it fell away quite gently with two snow shoulders between the rock and the lowest part of the basin rim. The general angle of this north-east ridge was quite moderate, but it seemed very long and at least two camps would be needed. To the right of the flat Abi Gamin summit was a steep rock and ice-wall which fell to Slingsby's Gol which separated our mountain from its twin, Mukut Parbat. This peak, which was far grander looking in every way than Abi Gamin although some 200 feet lower, used to be known as Western Abi Gamin. To the right of the Abi Gamin summit there also fell sharply away a south ridge leading down to Meade's Col and Kamet. The route of Smythe's 1931 Kamet expedition was in sharp profile from our camp.
It was quite clear that the route up Abi Gamin lay along the left- hand, north-east ridge to the summit. There were, however, two possible ways of getting to this ridge. It might be possible to climb to Slingsby's col to the right of Abi Gamin and then traverse across the north face to gain the north-east ridge. Through binoculars there seemed to be a balcony running under the head of the mountain which would make this possible. However, also through the glasses, we could see the tracks of avalanches down this face which made such a traverse an unpleasant prospect. It was agreed that we much preferred to try to get straight on to the north-east ridge by climbing up the ice-fall at the head of the valley and working our way up to the basin rim at its lowest point.
To make such a choice after a binocular survey from Camp II was easy enough, but to find a way through the ice-fall at the head of the valley proved much more difficult. Here the ice craft and physical fitness of Dittert came fully into its own. Well away from Abi Gamin, on the left of the valley as we looked at the mountain, a natural ramp ran from the head of the snowfield up towards the centre of the ice- fall. This provided a technically easy, if physically tiring, method of climbing to 21,000 feet. It was exhausting plodding up steep snow in crampons in the fierce glare of the sun. Then, at about 21,000 feet, the ramp ended at the foot of a sheer ice-wall. The only prospect of turning it seemed to be to work across through the mass of broken ice and crevasses on the right. It took two days of searching to find a route through this ice-wall, and when a crossing point was eventually found it was rather a rickety affair. An avalanche had poured over from the snowfield above and built up a mushroom of snow some 25 feet high on a ledge below. This mushroom formed a temporary bridge by which the ice-fall could be crossed at a low point. Once on the snowfield above it seemed as though the way was clear to the ridge. With the route discovered we made preparations back at Camp II on the glacier, and at 9.30 a.m. on 19th August the real attack on the mountain began. The first day was very short. By 12.30 the party was at the top of the ramp at the foot of the ice-fall. We could go no farther that day for our snow mushroom was too soft in the afternoon for laden porters to use with safety, and Camp III was set up at 21,000 feet. The night was terribly cold, particularly for those in the nylon tent, and it was quite late in the morning before the sun crept over the ridge above us to bring a little warmth. At 9.30 on the 20th we set out in crampons in three ropes. After working slowly up and down through the maze of the ice-fall for about J mile we arrived at the mushroom, and with careful belays from above and below the porters were shepherded on to the top snowfield.
From there the way to the route was straightforward, if tiring. Again, it was a slow trudge in crampons with always the worry lest the snow might avalanche. All around we could see where thin wind- slab avalanches had slid off into space and ahead were long cracks running across our path. But by early afternoon we had gained the basin rim and Camp IV was established on a small platform hacked out of the snow a few feet below the ridge at about 22,000 feet. The evening was fine and the view quite magnificent. For the first time we could look over the ridge which forms the Indian frontier down on the Raikane glacier. The drop was precipitous, and the valley looked much colder and less attractive than that from which we had just climbed. Below us on the Tibetan side was the long smooth curve of the Gantug glacier with a network of unnamed peaks on either side of it, most of them easy rounded mountains from 21,000 to 22,000 feet. Kamet was hidden from us by Abi Gamin, but still towering above us was Mukut Parbat with its thin east ridge running straight down towards us like a knife.
Four Europeans crowded into one small tent to hold a council of war. We knew we were at the bottom of the second shoulder on the north-east ridge of Abi Gamin, but foreshortening made it difficult to calculate the distance and the gradients which lay between us and the summit. The choice lay between the fittest of us making a dash for the top on the morrow, or of putting up another camp a short distance below the summit and hoping that the fine weather would persist for another two days. Although we had already been very lucky to experience such a long spell of fine weather in the middle of the monsoon we decided on the second course. We went to bed that night believing that only bad weather or very deep snow would prevent some of the party from making the top, but knowing that both of these obstacles were very possible.
Again the night was cold, with light snowfall outside the tent and just about as much inside, as moisture from our breath froze to the roof and was shaken down by the wind.
The weather on the 21st was not so accommodating. We hoped that day to reach the short rocky section of the ridge just below the summit plateau and there establish Camp V, but soon after midday clouds and mist began to blow over the route and it was difficult to see whether there was going to be a cafrip site near the beginning of the rocks. By early afternoon we had reached one likely site at the foot of the second shoulder. I waited there with the Sherpas in case there was no reasonable place farther on. Tissieres and Dittert went ahead, but just as they reached the foot of the rocks, mist obscured them from view. The Sherpas and I pushed on hoping that they had in fact found a suitable site. That last 500 feet took a great deal out of me and also greatly affected the smallest Sherpa, Ang Dawa II, who was sick for the last hour of the climb.
At last we rejoined the others in the mist and a platform was hacked out of the snow for the two light tents which were to form Camp V (23,500 feet). As always, Dawa Thondup proved excellent at this exhausting job. He was the only Sherpa who stayed up at this camp to continue the attempt on the summit, the others returned at once to Camp IV. That night was not too cold and we wondered whether the higher temperature meant fine or foul weather for the last section on the morrow.
August 22 nd proved fine indeed and the view for the first few hours was wonderful, especially of Nanda Devi to the left of the ridge, and of Mukut Parbat, much nearer on the right. Before eight in the morning we were off, struggling through snow towards the rocks, snow which even at this early hour was soft and deep. The rock ridge was quite steep and snow covered and one short chimney required careful negotiation as there seemed to be no belays. At the end of the rocks 200 or 300 feet of snow sloped gently up to the summit plateau. By this time I was going very badly indeed and probably ought never to have left Camp V. Chevalley stopped for half an hour to massage my feet back to life and feed me a selection of tablets. Then he left me sitting in the snow in the sunshine and set off up the line of tracks to rejoin the others. By 10.15 a.m. they had reached the highest point on Abi Gamin on the far side of the summit plateau nearest to Kamet. The weather was fine and sunny, the wind was light, and for three-quarters of an hour they stayed on the summit enjoying the view and taking photographs, a rare pleasure indeed in the Himalayas. On the way down they met me plodding very slowly on up, hoping to catch them before they left the top, but that was not to be. As clouds were already gathering in the valleys below we all turned to go down. The descent of the rock passage proved difficult as the snow covering was now very soft. By the time Camp V was reached and dismantled mist was once again blowing over the ridge, but we pushed on down to Camp IV to rejoin the other Sherpas and the bulk of our provisions.
That night as we lay in the tent on the ridge the storm seemed heavy. We were on the windward side and it was very noisy. By next morning there was over a foot of new snow, the mist was still down, and the wind still blowing hard. The snow no longer fell so heavily but our tracks were completely covered. It was not going to be easy to find a way down to our snow mushroom across the ice-fall; on the other hand, the new snow had already made the face dangerous for avalanches and more snow would make it even worse. So it was decided to get off the mountain at once, if that were possible.
Dittert led the descent, and used his mountain craft to the full. He found a way down through the snowfields although visibility was only a few yards; a route which minimized the avalanche dangers and came out to within 10 yards of our snow mushroom. By early afternoon we were through the maze of the ice-fall and had staggered down the snow ramp on to the glacier. Now that we were safe the mist cleared and the sun shone. Back at Camp II we lay in the sunshine and took photographs, and that night the party slept better than at any time on the trip. We all found that coming back to 19,000 feet after 24,000 was almost like returning to sea-level.
To our surprise the weather remained fine for the next three or four days. We would have liked to have explored some of the passes in the district and perhaps tried a minor peak or two but our food was almost gone. We built a little cairn on the site of Camp II and hurried back in two days to the Base Camp to the waiting Mana men and their ponies. They had brought a sheep with them for us to eat and it was a change to eat solid lamb after days of pemmican hash. The weather was still kind as we crossed the Ghori La and looked back for our last sight of Abi Gamin. It was misty but not raining as we crossed the Mana pass back into India, but it started to rain two days short of Badrinath, then settled down firmly and rained for the next six days.
At the end of four of those days we were very bored with the bungalow at Badrinath, with the mist, with the rain on the tin roof, and even with the wonderful meals which Ang Dawa constantly produced for us now that we had recovered the other half of our food supply. At times the mist did clear for half an hour and we could see two-thirds of the way up the east wall of Nilkanta, framed between two shoulders of hillside. That two-thirds was completely plastered with new snow and we concluded sadly that high climbing would not be possible until at least a week of fine weather had passed, a view which later events were fully to justify.
On 3rd September we left Badrinath with ten Mana porters for the Satopanth valley and north side of Nilkanta, a journey which we estimated would take only a couple of days. After a long wait in Mana while the porters said good-bye to their families, we turned west up the Alaknanda valley. By early afternoon it was again raining and we had the melancholy job of making camp, cutting wood, and cooking, with visibility down to 40 yards. The porters seemed happy enough. Our camp site was near one of their shepherd bothies under a large rock and they seemed to have carried with them from Mana a good supply of home-brewed rice spirit.
The next morning, 4th September, was one of the pleasantest I have ever spent in the mountains. For the first time for many days the clouds cleared and the sun shone. Rapidly the grass and the dwarf juniper steamed and dried out. On either side high steep rock walls streamed with small glistening waterfalls. Ahead was the snout of the glacier and the trickle of the stream at its base which was the start of the Alaknanda and one major source of the Ganges. Beyond the glacier, far up the valley, we could see the sun shining on Satopanth and the south face of Chaukamba. What a contrast with the drab open valleys on the Tibetan side of the border. The porters chattered along happily and we looked for flowers and took photographs. It was a day for walking alone but we all met for a rest where a flock of several hundred sheep were being grazed by a Mana shepherd. Some of the sheep seemed most interested in our party and casually performed the most outrageous feats of rock balancing in order to get a better view. Bouang Singh, the Mana man who had come with us to Abi Gamin, sorted out forty sheep which belonged to him and inspected them carefully. They included two magnificent shaggy white rams. It seemed that he was quite a well-to-do Indian and came with us for pleasure, not profit. He spent some time trying to persuade Dittert to take him back to Switzerland where he wanted to drive a bus.
At the junction of two glaciers we turned left, taking the southern or Satopanth glacier; there is a shepherd's path running along the top of the moraine which makes the going very easy. On our left a series of waterfalls streamed down over a series of boiler-plate slabs from the slopes of Narayan Parbat (20,000 feet) and Nilkanta (21,800 feet). Behind us, on the north of the main valley, rose a most impressive series of spiky pinnacles dominated by Bagneu (19,000 feet). By early afternoon we had reached a wonderful spot for a camp. The 200-feet- high moraine made a curve and enclosed between itself and the side of Nilkanta a grassy amphitheatre about a mile long and a quarter of that at its widest part. It felt like camping in the middle of the pitch at Wembley. This was Magna (14,000 feet), an important local summer grazing alp and a good base from which to look at the north side of Nilkanta. By 2 p.m. the rain and mist were down again and there was little to do except eat and sleep.
It was with mixed feelings next morning that we took our three remaining Mana porters and the four Sherpas and set off up the steep grass of Nilkanta's lower slopes. We all hoped to be allowed an attempt on the mountain, but opinions varied about the weather. It was now 5th September and theoretically we could hope for the end of the monsoon, but the last ten days had seen such steady rain that it seemed as if it would go on for weeks yet. Also, every glance upwards at the surrounding peaks showed them thick with new snow and in a very unfriendly condition.
Inside a couple of hours we had climbed up the steep valley side, the angle had relented, and we were standing on a moraine beside a small hanging glacier looking across at the north face of Nilkanta. It was not an attractive sight because it was snow-plastered and partly obscured by drifting mist. The route to the col at the foot of the west ridge was swept by the tracks of new stonefalls and the deep drifts at the foot of the face were peppered with large boulders. Above the col the ridge swept 3,500 feet to the summit. It looked quite steep all the way and at the bottom very steep. The first rock section of some 1,500 feet had a series of large gendarmes which promised interesting climbing even when free of new snow. Nilkanta by the west ridge would be an excellent climb for a good party in fine weather, and even then they might not succeed. For the rest of this season it was clearly out of the question.
At this stage Tissieres and I made a snap decision to hurry back to Bombay and try to get a boat home and save on the air fare. Dittert and Chevalley stayed on for a few days to take photographs. They went back to the beginning of the Satopanth glacier and the source of the Alaknanda and climbed to an 18,000-foot col to the west of Bagneu. From here they had a wonderful view to the north and east, a view which included the whole Garhwal chain. In the middle was the Kamet massif with Kamet and Makut Parbat (Abi Gamin was hidden in cloud); to the left of the Kamet massif was Balbala; to the right was Mana Peak, Ghori Parbat, and Hathi Parbat; farther right and a long way off was Nanda Devi, and last of all Trisul. Turning their backs on the panorama they looked across at Narayan Parbat and Nilkanta and took telephotos of the latter's west ridge which should prove useful to any expedition which hopes to use that route.
Then they, too, came quickly back to Delhi, where we all remet on 17th September. It had not, after all, proved possible for Tissieres and I to get a place on a boat home. We had had a really first-class holiday. True, we had our share of monsoon rain, but at least we had the good fortune to have it all concentrated in the latter part of the trip, which meant that way we were able to get some good climbing done.