Himalayan Journal vol.18
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.18

Publication year:
1954

Editor:
H. W. Tobin
Index
  1. EVEREST - 1953 1
    (Charles Wylie)
  2. THIRD AMERICAN KARAKORAM EXPEDITION 1953
    (H. R. A. STREATHER)
  3. NORTH OF POKHARA
    (B. R. GOODFELLOW)
  4. OXFORD UNIVERSITY EXPEDITION TO TEHRI-GARHWAL, 1952
    (J. B. TYSON)
  5. THE HARKI DOON
    (J. T. M. GIBSON)
  6. A RETURN TO THE HIMALAYA
    (T. H. TILLY)
  7. THE DIBIBOKRI BASIN ... AND BEYOND
    (KENNETH SNELSON)
  8. DHAULAGIRI, 1953
    (ANDRE ROCH)
  9. A FOURTH VISIT TO NORTH-EAST SIKKIM
    (T. H. BRAHAM)
  10. ON THE SUMMIT OF NANGA PARBAT
    (HERMANN BUHL)
  11. THE SOUTH PERUVIAN ANDES
    (PIERO GHIGLIONE)
  12. AN ATTEMPT ON PUMORI
    (NAVNIT PAREKH)
  13. THE THIRD DANISH EXPEDITION TO CENTRAL ASIA ITS WORK IN THE HIMALAYAS
    (H. R.H. PRINCE PETER OF GREECE AND DENMARK)
  14. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  15. REVIEWS
  16. CLUB PROCEEDINGS AND NOTES
  17. EDITORIAL

NORTH OF POKHARA

B. R. GOODFELLOW

When they extended their service to Pokhara at the end of 1952 Himalayan Aviation, however unreliable their schedules may have been, immensely improved the access to the central Nepalese Himalayas. Pokhara is only two days' march from the highest villages in the valleys running southward from the Annapurna Himal, and J. O. M. Roberts's striking 1950 photographs showed the splendid mountain scenery in which Pokhara is situated.

Frank Yates and I, having both to be in India on other affairs, applied for permission to visit the Pokhara district at the end of March 1953; we are greatly in the debt of H.E. C. H. Summerhayes, C.M.G., and to the British Embassy staff at Katmandu for their efforts on our behalf and for their help and hospitality on the way through, as well as for the very necessary letter of introduction to the 'Governor' (the Bada Hakim) of Pokhara, which was obtained for us.

With only a little over a fortnight, and so early in the year, serious mountaineering was out of the question. We thought it best to explore the two main valleys running northward from Pokhara, to sro as high as we could on the ridges either side of them, and to see, survey, and photograph the southern approaches to the Annapurna Himal for the pleasure of looking at big mountains from a new angle and for the benefit of future (and more serious) parties.

Leaving Pokhara on 17th March we travelled first up the Seti Khola to Bharbhare, the last village, went some way up the gorge beyond and back, crossed to Mirsa, climbed through the rhododendron-magnolia forest to a camp just below Pt. 10982, and walked along the ridge northward by summer pasture tracks to perhaps 14.000 feet, where we had a magnificent panorama of most of the south side of the Annapurna Himal, except for Annapurna III, which was obscured by Machhapuchhare which towered very close above us.

Then we went round eastward to the Madi Khola (known locally as the Mahindri Ganga) and established ourselves at Siklis, the last \illage, splendidly situated at 6,500 feet, high above the river. Here our presence caused a good deal of consternation. As in the other valley we were, so they assured us, the first European visitors. But in Siklis we were told that we must not go beyond the village, neither up into the hills nor down across the river. We gathered that there is a genuine fear in this village of disturbing the gods by trespassing on their privacy. This is understandable since Siklis is dominated by the tremendous precipices of Peak 22921, whose southern face is ringed with hanging glaciers from which ice avalanches pour down in great size and frequency. Fortunately, after a day's discussion amongst the elders, we were given permission to visit the upper pastures on the condition that we were only absent from the village for one night. Escorted by the friendliest of the village headmen we were able to put a camp on high summer grazing. Thence we walked to the highest point of the ridge west of Siklis, to perhaps 14,750 feet, where we were close under the precipices of the mountains proper. We had from here magnificent views of Machhapuchhare's east face, of Annapurna III, of the whole Annapurna II group, and of the upper gorges of the Madi Khola. We returned to Pokhara on 2nd April.

The following is a summary of our observations, from west to east along the range.

(i) Head of the Modi Khola

We could not see into this valley, but the fact that the last villages are low and a long way down from the glaciers suggests that its upper gorges are formidable, as in the Seti Khola (see iii). The head of the Modi Khola appears to form a huge glacial cirque, and Annapurna I (26,504 feet) rises sheer above it, looking as inaccessible on its southern side as Kangchenjunga. Our views of this terrain confirm the French opinion that the map is wrong on the south side of the range, as well as on the north. The main ridge probably runs north from Pt. 23607 to a point south-west of Annapurna I. The point shown 3 miles east of Pt. 23607 is an outlying spur.

This peak Pt. 23607 is a magnificent mountain, and the main ridge, south-south-west from the summit, might offer a route up it, though a long one with a formidable step towards the top. We could see no obvious difficulty in getting onto this ridge from the east side. The various other ridges up the mountain on the south-east face look more difficult.

(ii) Machhapuchhare (22,958 feet)

This splendid peak, standing well forward from the range, dominates all views from the south. Seen at close quarters the southern aspect strikingly resembles the Matterhorn in form, but on about double the scale in detail.

The two ridges shown on the map as bounding the Mardi Khola meet in fact at a subsidiary peak of about 17,000 feet, from which the south-west ridge of Machhapuchhare develops.

We believe that this south-west ridge could be climbed by a really determined party who were prepared to tackle first-class Alpine difficulties at 20,000-23,000 feet. Access to this ridge over the foot- bills presents no problem-apart from water-supply on the dry hill-sides above Mirsa.

But this south-west ridge leads only to the first peak of the 'Fish Tail’, and from the south-east the northern of the twin peaks jippeared to be very slightly the higher and Tilman's photograph in Sepal Himalaya, page 125, confirms this. The ridge joining the twin summits looked a tough proposition.

The south-east ridge of Machhapuchhare has less to commend itĄ looking harder to reach and to climb. The east flank of the mountain is not to be thought of. We did not see its western face.

iii) Seti Khola

Considering its proximity to big mountains this river is at a very low altitude. From Pokhara up to Bharbhare, the last village, the river valley forms a striking series of gravel terraces. Beyond the village a good track leads past grazing meadows for four miles; there the river emerges from a formidable gorge at a height of only 5,000 feet. Machhapuchhare is only 6 miles away and 18,000 feet above. This gorge seems to be 7 or 8 miles long, exceedingly steep walled, and densely forested. We picked up a vestige of a track, probably a hunters' trail; if so, it may lead through to more open country. If these gorges cannot be forced we think they could be turned by a high-level traverse (at about 15,000-16,000 feet) from the ridge which we followed (ii above), going on under the east face of Machhapuchhare.

However, our views into the glacier basin at the head of the Seti gorges did not encourage us to think that there was much to be climbed there. The ridge joining Machhapuchhare to Annapurna III (24,858 feet) falls on its east side in an appalling wall of rock seamed with steep, narrow glaciers. The west flank of Annapurna IV 24,630 feet), and of the ridge running south from it, falls in an impossible wall built of horizontal bands of alternating black slabs and snow. The main Annapurna ridge could probably be reached v.-ithout great difficulty about midway between Annapurna III and IV, and Annapurna IV might be climbable from that side, by a very long ridge. We could not see if Annapurna III was accessible from this point. W. P. Packard, who has seen our photographs, considers that these southern approaches are more difficult than the 1950 route from the north.

iv) The ridge south of Annapurna IV (24,630 feet)

This ridge, which is shown clearly on the map, descends to a slender ice spire and continues in a narrow spectacular ridge to end in a huge rock fang whose height we calculate to be a little over 20,500 feet. This is called Rudrasi by the Siklis people.

(v) Head of the Madi Khola

We were not permitted to visit the gorges above Siklis, nor could we see very well into them. Again the level of the river is low, and it looks as if a route could be made along the bed up to the foot of the main mountain wall. But the glaciers descending from the 7-mile- wide basin at the head end in three tremendous ice-falls. The ice-fall descending from the broad eastern basin between Annapurna II and Pt. 22921 falls in part over a cliff into a huge funnel high above the main gorge. We watched enormous and constant ice avalanches coming down this, the ice dust of some falling a good 10,000 feet. It is possible that this hanging glacier might menace a route up the gorge at any time of year.

If the gorge can be forced we believe that the ice-falls can be turned and the upper snowfields reached. The ice scenery there is magnificent; through our glasses we studied seracs which measured up to 400 or 500 feet in height. If the upper snowfields can be reached there is a wide choice of mountains which look climbable.

(vi) Annapurna IV (24,630 feet)

The main ridge looks accessible at a number of points and from it it looks possible to climb Annapurna IV from the east without great difficulty.

(vii) Annapurna II (26,041 feet)

This huge sombre mountain dominates the whole area. It carries hardly any snow on the south and south-west faces, which rise from the glaciers in grey-black rock slabs. The west (skyline) ridge looks climbable; its average angle is about 40° and no obvious difficulties (other than altitude) are apparent. The summit ridge could be reached at its lower eastern end by a long couloir from the south, but it would then be necessary to traverse the summit ridge for a long way to reach the true summit.

(viii) Point 22921

This is a fine mountain, broad, many topped, and quite impossible from the south. However, it looks as if it might be climbable from the high snowfield to the north-west of it. The big ice-fall leading to this snowfield looks as if it could be turned by a corridor immediately to its north, provided, of course, the gorge can be forced.

 Eastern group of Annapurna Himal from about 14,000 ft. on ridge west of Siklis. (B.R. Good Fellow, 29 March 1953)

Eastern group of Annapurna Himal from about 14,000 ft. on ridge west of Siklis. (B.R. Good Fellow, 29 March 1953)



Eastern group of Annapurna Himal from the south-west (from about 12,500ft. on ridge west of Seti Khola).  (B.R. Good Fellow)

Eastern group of Annapurna Himal from the south-west (from about 12,500ft. on ridge west of Seti Khola). (B.R. Good Fellow)



Machha Puchhreb (22,958 ft.) from the south. (B.R. Good Fellow)

Machha Puchhreb (22,958 ft.) from the south. (B.R. Good Fellow)



Nomenclature

The many locals whom we questioned were extremely vague about the names of individual peaks. Machhapuchhare is, of course, known by that name to all of them. They do not seem to use the r.in e Annapurna at the eastern end of the group, and this name might well be reserved for the main peak which the French climbed, if better names can be found than 'Annapurna IF, &c., and reconciled between the various valleys. The Siklis people call their mountain 'The Three Sisters' and refer to any of them vaguely as Rudra Parbat' or cRudra Kailas'. 'Rudra', we were told, means a necklace, and indeed curved bands of rock on Annapurna II could explain this allusion.

We found no name for Pt. 23607 at the west end of the range. Pt. 22921 is called 'Siklis Himal' in the village. It was made quite clear to us that the Lamjung Himal is the group starting east of this peak.

Weather

Up to 24th March we had westerly winds and clear dawns. Every day by 9 or 10 a.m. cloud obscured the higher peaks. This usually produced thunder and rain each evening. After a severe storm on 24th March the weather changed. We had days without cloud until the late afternoon, but a great deal of dust haze (up to 12,000 feet) from the plains of India obscured the lower views. The wind was still westerly across the high summits; on several occasions we were able to calculate its force by taking bearings on clouds. This showed a steady 60-70 m.p.h. at 25,000 feet.

Food

We found food in the villages abundant and very cheap. We bought flour, rice, potatoes, eggs, chickens, milk, and occasionally vegetables. We could probably have bought sheep, which are abundant. Salt, sugar, and kerosene can be bought in Pokhara. Raksi was often as good as we could have wished, and costs only Rs. 1 per bottle. The Nepali rupee was then at 146 to Rs. Indian 100.

Porters

Our Darjeeling Sirdar picked up coolies on the Pokhara airfield. Rate Rs. 2 per day, plus rations. Their slow going in the hills was infuriating and it would be better to recruit locally for going high. But we found that the local 'guides', who are essential for the maze of woodcutters' tracks through the forests, were very reluctant to go on spring snow or beyond familiar ground. We had not brought boots for them, and the thorns troubled them exceedingly, once the beaten tracks were left, and naturally they disliked the spring snow which lay on north slopes above i 1,000 feet.

Eastern flank of Annapurna Himal from the south-west at about 12,500 feet. From, left: Annapurna IV, 24,630 feet; Annapurna II, 26,041 feet. Rudras.

Introductions

Our letter of introduction to the 'Governor' the Bada Hakim of Pokhara was most necessary. We had every possible help from him, but had we known how suspicious the upper villages would be of our intentions we would have prepared ourselves with letters of authority from him. Others would be well advised to do this.

Photographs and Survey

We have a large number of photographs illustrating the topography of this region, and took prismatic-compass bearings from all our main viewpoints. The outline map published with this note adds some knowledge to the Survey of India J-inch maps of the district.

It was a great disappointment to us not to have been able to attempt any mountaineering. But our short visit was well rewarded in other ways.

There can be few towns to compare with Pokhara; its neat ochre- washed houses, its cobbled main street with no wheeled traffic, its fields bounded by coral trees which in March are a blaze of scarlet on leafless branches, and the whole dominated at every turn by the unbelievable pyramid of Machhapuchhare.

In the villages old Gurkhas would come out to greet us, and the women and children who had never seen a white face crowded closely round our tents. It is a prosperous land, with rich crops (thanks to their astonishing industry as farmers) and they ask little from the world outside Nepal.

It was enough to visit these happy, honest, healthy people, to hear them singing as they tended their flocks and to watch their dancers with the Annapurna as a background.