Although some of this story has been published elsewhere, full material was not available for recent issues of our Journal, and we are indebted to the Schweizerische Stiftung fur Alpine Forschungen for permission to publish this article in English, and for the photographs they generously supplied. The translation has been made by Willi Rickmers, who led the successful German Expedition to Pic Kaufmann—now styled Pic Lenin-in 1928. For our own purposes the narrative has been a good deal abridged.—Ed.
The party consisted of R. Kappeler, Campbell Secord, H. W. Tilman, and myself. We left Abbotabad by car on 21st May together with our four Sherpas, and as interpreter, Naib Tah- sildar Ahmed Sultan Khan, whose services the Deputy Commissioner had most kindly placed at our disposal. On the Babusar pass we were welcomed to Gilgit by the Assistant Political Officer, Captain Hamilton, and on 30th May reached Chilas. After crossing the Indus by the Rakhiot Bridge we got our first glorious view of Raka- poshi and also, to the south of us, of Nanga Parbat. At the Gilgit Agency we were royally welcomed by the Resident, Colonel Bacon, and his wife.
The meaning of the name Rakaposhi is wrapped in legend; one version is that when the head of the Raki family of the Bagrot valley dies, clouds—'poshi'—veil the mountain, but according to Dr. Longstaff, Raka (dragon) with poshi (tail) is the interpretation. The Hunzas call the mountain Domani. The upper part of Rakaposhi rises as an isosceles triangle above a glacier plateau; the legs are formed by the western and south-western ridges between which is the steep icy flank traversed by horizontal bands of rock. The narrow rocky north-west ridge forms a knoll on the ice plateau and then continues up. A long horizontal arete at about 19,000 feet connects the summit ridge with the lower peak, climbed by Secord and Vyvyan in 1938. The south-west ridge descends evenly to about 20,000 feet and then divides into a fork to contain the Kunti Glacier —broad and snow-covered above the fork, the branching spurs, below it, turn to knife-edges studded with fantastic gendarmes. A depression leads to the Dianor valley and beyond, the ridge rises towards the Badishish group and turns sharply west. This part of the spur forms the southern flank of the Jaglot valley. Another subsidiary ridge, the south-west spur, divides the Biro from the Kunti Glacier; near the branching-olf point of this ridge is a snowy eminence which we named the 'Monk's Head'. The near peak on the south-west spur—which is heavily corniced—is named Baraioshen. The northern flank of the mountain is an ice wall close on 20,000 feet high, facing the Hunza valley. The eastern face of the summit pyramid is also nearly vertical. Towards the north it is bounded by the gently inclined east ridge, whose flanks are, however, steep. The lowest notch, about 18,000 feet, is above the upper end of the Minapin glacier. The Dianor valley does not quite reach the east ridge but ends in a col abutting on the eastern wall of Rakaposhi. It leads to a snowy dome whence the ridge separating the Bagrot and Dianor valleys descends; Conway crossed this ridge in 1892.
Surroundings of Rakaposhi
Rakaposhi from the Southwest
Our base camp was established on the right bank of the Biro glacier on 7th June at a spot named Daru Kush, at about 10,500 feet in a high meadow. We assumed the possibility of reaching the top of Rakaposhi from the glacier plateau by the south-west ridge. The choice lay between four routes to the plateau:
On 11th June Kappeler, Secord, and Tilman investigated the labyrinth of the Biro glacier which proved troublesome. Next day Tilman and a Sherpa advanced over the slopes of the south-western spur and reached a flattish place acceptable for a camp. On their way back that afternoon they were nearly swept down by avalanches from the south-western spur. That same day, Keppeler and Secord tried to circumvent the ice-fall on its left bank; it was steep and they did not even get as far as Tilman, and they narrowly escaped death from an avalanche during the crossing of a gully—luckily they had jumped so far apart that the jumble of ice and rock passed over the rope between them. This damped our optimism and we resolved to explore a route from the Kunti glacier to the Monk's Head. Next day, loaded with provisions for four days, we traversed the Biro glacier and reached the snout of the Kunti glacier, followed the lateral moraine as far as the Mano glacier, and then scrambled northerly over screes until we found a place safe from stones where we could pitch our tents. We awoke in deep snow through which we plodded up the Kunti. Disappointment again! The nullah ended in a vertical wall. A last chance seemed to be offered by a saddle on the south-western spur; the couloir leading to it looked possible so we decided to camp in the Kunti valley and sorrowfully moved from delightful Dara Kush to a desert of stone. Next day three hours through fresh snow brought us to the foot of the couloir; there was often ice under the snow. Five hours of hard work and we were on the saddle at about 16,500 feet, but would loaded men be able to get up?
In the meantime the Scouts had brought our kit up to the camp. Their commander supplied us regularly with fruit and vegetables from his own garden, and Angdawa, who had been cook in a Dar- jeeling hotel, served us delicious meals. The other three Sherpas, excellent fellows all, were Phurbo, Angtingit, and Neina. When the weather cleared up we transported three tents, climbing gear, primus, paraffin, and pemmican to the saddle and found the ascent much less toilsome than we had feared. The view was superb; in the far distance Haramosh stabbed the sky with its spearhead of ice. In spite of heavy clouds we sallied forth next day to seek a higher camp site, but a blizzard drove us back to base again. Finally, we assembled stores for two weeks at the saddle and, the weather turning fine, we tackled the long slope above us—in spite of deep snow and heavy loads, we were able to manage the normal 1,000 feet per hour. After about three hours' going we came to the main ridge, garnished with enormous cornices, and snaked cautiously towards a pinnacle known to the natives as Bareioshen, from where the going looked less simple than we had hoped. The ridge became steeper and the overhanging bulges more threatening—while negotiating a delicate piece of work I heard a cracking noise and felt the ground giving way—I threw myself over to the other side just as the cornice broke off exactly along my track and thundered down to the Biro glacier. After a series of difficulties the highest point of the south-western spur rose 600 feet above us, and tackling it, we reached a shoulder from where we could look over a precipice of ice and rock down to the Biro glacier, 9,000 feet below. Tilman worked his way through deep snow to the top of the pinnacle; when he called to me to follow up his face already showed evil news, as did an ugly grin on the face of the Monk's Head; the threatening wall might have tempted us in the Alps, but we were in the Karakoram—we had to foresee a descent almost impossible with heavy loads in uncertain weather. Again, it was brought home to us that on these mountains retreat was not merely wisdom but a stern command. On the way down we considered the north-west ridge which held out some hope. At the advanced camp we were met by Angdawa and Neina, but we found that ice and avalanche had made the couloir too dangerous for a descent under heavy loads, so we lowered these on the rope stage by stage.
After a long discussion in the Kunti camp we decided that Tilman and I should attempt a direct climb from Biro base camp to the north-west ridge, circumventing the peak reached by Secord and Vyvyan in 1938. Meanwhile Kappeler and Secord would try to cross the south-west ridge into the Dianor valley. At Dara Kush we found shelter from rain under the overhanging rock till the arrival of the tents. Two Sherpas returned to join Kappeler and Secord, and when the weather cleared somewhat, Tilman and I went up to a small camp site about 15,000 feet high where we dismissed the Sherpas, warning them to keep in our tracks, for on the way up we had narrowly missed a big avalanche. Next morning we awoke in a tent crushed down by new snow; so back to base we went and found Kappeler and Secord there. They had reached a saddle whence a descent into the Dianor valley appeared feasible.
Later Tilman and I managed the 'short cut', reaching a point about 19,000 feet on the main ridge after seven hours of the usual difficulties. But when the mist lifted elation gave way again to despair—the ridge to the plateau was a ferocious array of white- helmeted policemen. 'Hopeless! Hopeless!' muttered Tilman. Approach from this side was barred. On the way down we caught a glimpse of the upper recesses of the Biro glacier where avalanches guarded the 'corridor route' efficiently; they also swept across our track to Dara Kush and made it advisable to wait until the sun had dropped behind the ridge. Then their growls stopped suddenly.
We returned to Gilgit by devious ways. Meanwhile the new Indian government had taken over and the Bacon family were preparing to leave; in spite of that they made our stay as comfortable as they possibly could. It was quite evident that the people of Hunza honestly regretted the departure of the English under whom they had enjoyed so many years of peace.
Our destination was the region north of Chalt, marked 'unexplored' on the map. By way of Nomal we reached the Chalt bungalow where we found Azail Khan, the tahsildar of Gilgit, in heated discussion with the lambardar who had brought our porters. They wanted to extort higher wages. Finally the tahsildar threw a bag of flour at the lambardar's head, thereby causing great merriment all round, and that settled the dispute. We slept at Bar and next day camped at the hamlet of Pujupushkutu on the bank of the Kukuay glacier. From here a local hunter guided us past the magnificent Sat Marao glacier and through some jungle to Baro Daru Kush, and finally to Tuduo Daru Kush where the last scrub offered fuel for the camp. It seemed that it might be possible to reach the pass, a little less than 17,000 feet high at the head of the glacier. It might lead to the Koz Sar (sar — glacier), to the Yashkuk Sar, or to the Batura glacier explored by Visser in 1925. It took us six hours to reach it through an irritating maze of crevasses and seracs, and lastly through a gully in rotten rock. A forbidding ice wall of 6,000 ft. fell away to what could only be the Batura glacier which is 30 miles long. I the east we saw the Karun Pir and in the north the mountains around the Kilik and Mintaka passes; in front of us we had the imposing half-circle of the Batura peaks. Then back to the Tuduo Dara Kush and over the Chillinjhi pass to the Ghapursan river. This time impassable crevasses beat us back and falling chunks of ice nearly killed Tilman and Secord, the latter getting a blow on his arm. Even the return to Chalt proved ticklish as an enormous landslide had carried away the path and the river now gurgled at the foot of the high sandstone cliff. We sat down perplexed. Then the last of our porters seized an ice-axe and cut a line of excellent steps in the soft sandy soil with the rapidity of a Swiss guide, and by this path, which clung miraculously to the cliff, we regained our track and pushed on through Bar to the hot springs of Shotun and Chalt where we were greeted by our friend the Lambardar. Secord's leave was up and Tilman wanted to join Ship ton at Tashkurgan on 5 th August: the former left for Gilgit and a man with a donkey came to fetch our revered teacher; we accompanied his modest caravan to the end of the village. Sad as we were to lose our English comrades, we drew consolation from the fact that now we must show what we had learnt from a great Himalayan expert.
Kukuay Glacier Region
On 28th July we started our journey through Nagar and Hunza; just below Chalt we met the Wazir of Nagir on his way to Gilgit, where he said he had prepared everything for us. At Minapin we were welcomed by Abbas Ali Khan, the Rajah's son, who, hearing that we wanted to examine the north-eastern side of Rakaposhi, begged to be allowed to join us. Naturally we were glad of such agreeable and useful company, and next day he duly arrived, with several servants, a modern rifle, and an alpenstock. Three hours' march over the rubble of the Minapin glacier brought us to a small settlement where children were making ghee in a high churn. The milk is so poor in fat that the ghee has to be replenished day after day until it inevitably becomes rancid.
We plodded on through pines to where the Minapin glacier bends to the east; on our right rose the east ridge of Rakaposhi bristling with weird pinnacles. We left Abbas Ali Khan here and two hours later discovered a flat place for our sleeping bags—it was a wonderful moonlight night. We left at 5 a.m. with the intention of traversing into the Bagrot valley over the lowest depression in the east ridge, but an endless succession of seracs and crevasses and knee-deep snow made gruelling work so that at noon the pass was still far away, and after a grind of eleven hours we gave up as we could not reach our pass before dark. After another night in these beautiful surroundings we rejoined Abbas Ali who suggested descending to Minapin by a parallel valley. From a saddle in the dividing ridge we obtained a good view of the northern flank of Rakaposhi and especially of the three conspicuous ribs of the east ridge from which the summit pyramid rises almost vertically. We thoroughly enjoyed this excursion with that very nice young fellow. Next day, the blackest of our wanderings, we left for Nagir, 22 miles away. At Miacher, 4 miles away, the porters laid down their loads according to custom and we promised to pay them on arrival of the new batch of porters. At the next hamlet, Talshot, it was 'all change’ again after fifteen minutes' march, and the place was deserted as everyone was in the fields. Finally a head-man turned up, promised to find porters, and disappeared forever. In despair Kappeler rode to the next village for help, and, five hours later, three men arrived with donkeys, impertinently shouting the exorbitant prices which the 'other sahibs' were supposed to have agreed to, and what else could we do in the absence of lambardar and tahsildar ? At Phikar, too, we wrestled with exorbitant prices for fruit and vegetables, and the late afternoon still found us 12 miles short of Nagar. A comparatively decent man offered to accompany us and a fine evening made us forget our worries. On the opposite side of the gorge we could see the gardens of Hunza and the peaks of Bolochabaring towering above the white castle of the Mir; up a valley glistened the dome of Sumaiyar. A long stumble through the dark then brought us to the outskirts of Nagir where news, travelling mysteriously, took the shape of a man with a lantern who led us to the castle, where next day we breakfasted in the sun as guests of the Mir (represented by his brother-in-law), for, like all the princes around here, the Mir had gone to Kashmir for a conference with the Maharajah. The Maha- rani sent her son, aged three, to greet us with due ceremony. He bore himself sedately, already conscious of his rank, and his servants treated him with great respect. The Munshi who had met us at Minapin was also present and he sent for, and dressed down, the insolent porters, making them repay what they had charged in excess.
We left at nine for Hopar, a view-point on the Barpu glacier. The flat roofs everywhere were golden with drying apricots that scented the air; flour and apricots seem to form the only winter store of the population. In the fertile basin below Hopar wheat was being reaped and the maize stood high. The Barpu glacier cuts clean through the fields without a moraine. From Hopar we saw the grandiose icy flank of the Bagrot group; the track to Hispar runs straight across the glacier. On the way back we faced the mighty Bolochabaring rearing its head, 15,000 feet over the plain, but the wide expanse of the Hunza and Hispar valleys makes it difficult to realize the height of the mountains that seem to take up so little room in the great hollow. At night they gave us a big supper in the palace, and on the following day the whole retinue from the Mir's brother-in-law down to the last scullery-boy conducted us to the boundary on our way to Baltit. The suspension bridge over the Hispar river was decrepit and dangerous and the locals extorted money for repairs and levied a toll of one rupee per head. At Baltit children were splashing about in the swimming-pool, 600 feet above the bottom of the valley, and in the garden two gorgeous tents awaited our pleasure. Our host was Mohammed Nazim Khan, the Mir's brother. The laws of hospitality allowed him to sit at table with us although it was the feast of Ramadan; in the afternoon young Hari Tham Khan (the Mir's uncle, in spite of his fifteen years) showed us the sights of Baltit, being particularly proud of an irrigation ditch cut through solid rock. We heard of the big landslide that had buried many of the Mir's yaks, camels, and horses, and in the visitors' book we read the names of famous travellers, among them that of our countrywoman Ella Maillart—during the night ripe apples dropped on our tent but could not disturb our slumbers.
Next day we strolled through Baltit alone—terraced fields with miles of irrigation channels testify to the diligence of the peasants, and neat, pleasant houses show the skill of their builders. The people are very fair; legend has it that their ancestors came with the armies of Alexander the Great. In the shady garden the life of the court had no secrets: no door is locked; the humblest of petitioners is received personally by the Mir. Hunza pays tribute to Ghina and to India in order to stand well with both. In the cool of the evening we walked leisurely through the lanes followed by a man playing 'Annie Laurie' and 'The Bluebells of Scotland' on the bagpipes, while the workers in the fields listened enraptured.
After our last night in our princely tents we left with the lambardar of Aliabad, two men and two donkeys, and tramped on through Murtazabad to the rest-house at Mayun on the Hunza frontier. On reaching Gilgit for the third time we were invited to stay with Major Brown, the Commander of the famous Gilgit Scouts, and join in two big festivals—Independence Day on 15th August and the end of Ramadan on 17th August.
Our next base was to be Ghamongarh whence we planned to visit the Haramosh La and Ghogo Lungma. We engaged an excellent interpreter, Mahomed Nazim, and camped next day at Batkor under a mighty apricot tree. On the 20th the view from Batkor Gali, a pass of some 15,300 feet, was superb. Eastward towers the icy pyramid of Haramosh with the Baskal and Pupurash mountains close by on the north. Nanga Parbat is visible to the south. From near Khaltoro, the next hamlet, we could look into the recesses of the Purpurash glacier. At the tiny settlement of Barche, late in the evening, we were roused by the astounding news that three lambardars had arrived with eleven men—the local wireless had functioned again!
To our surprise the lambardars were able to give us exact information about the route to be followed to the Haramosh La, which we had believed to be far from easy to reach from this side. We followed their instructions and were rewarded at daybreak with brilliant sunshine, from our bivouac 150 feet below the crest. Another splendid panorama: south-west rose Haramosh with its three peaks, to the north-east Ghogo Lungma, beyond the chain forming the south boundary of the Hispar glacier. We descended, partly over crumbling rocks and partly by glissade, at which the hillmen were not adept, to the Mani glacier. In the night we were awakened by the roar of an avalanche which swept across the whole width of the glacier and stopped close to our bivouac on the far side of the moraine; we were marooned for a few days by the weather, which had broken, but villagers from Iskere and Daru lower down kept us supplied with food.
Route to Haramosha LA
At last, on 4th September we started up the Haramosh glacier with our remaining Sherpas and four porters. The air was often full of whizzing stones, but the natives were either believers in Kismet or did not realize the danger. We reached the La late in the afternoon, and found next day that the knife-edges of the pinnacles preclude attack from this side. Next day we got down to the Congo Lungma glacier, in a couple of hours—rather heavy going. Here we found marks of a bear which, according to the Sherpas, were actually those of a yeti or Abominable Snow Man! We pitched our tents on a glorious autumnal meadow covered with red and yellow leeks. From here the Chogo Lungma glacier, which is one of the longest in the Karakoram, loses itself in the distance. Kappeler and I climbed up to a small notch from which we could see the Bullock- Workman's white Pyramid Peak and also the three glaciers flowing from the Pupurash and Baskal group. In this impressive solitude we took our leave of the Karakoram.
On the Kukuay Glacier
Haramosh, from the Haramosh La
Rakaposhi. South-west spur with 'Monk's Head'. Photo by Klaus