Himalayan Journal vol.18
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

H. W. Tobin
  1. EVEREST - 1953 1
    (Charles Wylie)
    (H. R. A. STREATHER)
    (J. B. TYSON)
    (J. T. M. GIBSON)
    (T. H. TILLY)
  8. DHAULAGIRI, 1953
    (T. H. BRAHAM)



It is seldom that expeditions from our universities are inspired by a single objective. Usually the motives include the wish to carry out specific investigations and the desire to see and travel in the chosen region. The objectives of the Tehri-Garhwal Expedition conformed to this pattern; the emphasis was on science, though we intended to do some climbing and exploration.

Our party numbered five. Dr. Acheson came to continue research on plant pigments. His stay in India was unfortunately limited to six weeks, but the rest of us were no longer bound by the exigencies of the academic year. We had the whole post-monsoon period to work in. Huggins and Lamprey, both biologists, were to study the plant and animal ecology of the high meadows near the snow-line. Borup was interested in the people and intended a three-year stay to complete his anthropological work.

When the expedition was first mooted, it had seemed impossible that we could ever raise enough money. We greatly appreciate the financial support and the backing which we received from Oxford University, from friends, and from various scientific bodies, which together put the venture just within our grasp.

The five of us assembled at Dehra Dun in the middle of August, where Mr. Martyn and his staff at the Doon School gave us a warm welcome. Here, our four Sherpas were waiting-Thandu (cook, sirdar), Annullu, Passang Dawa, and Ila Namgyal. There was much to be done; food had to be bought, coolies hired, and gear sorted into 6o-lb. loads. It was a hectic rush. On 18 August we were off.

Our plan was to reach the Bhagirathi river and follow it through the Great Himalayan Range to its source near Gangotri. This would take us past the summer homes of the Jadh traders, whom Borup particularly wished to visit. Having arrived at the village of Gangotri, we should be well placed to explore and climb on the northern flanks of the Gangotri and Jogin groups whose valleys appeared from the map to offer promising country for the biologists also.

A ragged, grey monsoon-cloud clung to the tree-covered ridges as we headed across country towards the Bhagirathi. In a brief clearance we saw two great snow-peaks to the north-east-probably Srikanta (20,120 feet) and Jaonli (21,760 feet). We were frequently deluged by monsoon cloudbursts, and the rivers in spate had washed away many of the bridges. At Dharasu we reached the Bhagirathi river which we followed northwards for a week. The banks of this great browm torrent, thundering through precipitous purges nung witn a lush tropical vegetation, proved rich collecting fields for the botanists. On the seventh day we emerged from the dank recesses of the gorge into a different landscape. Soft blues and greys replaced the tropical colours. The river now meandered peacefully over its broad shingly bed, between hill-sides clothed with deodar. Cool breezes raced up the valley and the sun shone from a cloudless sky.

We spent a day ferrying stores across the flooded Sian Gad. Then our track turned eastwards and in 2 miles led to a large village near the river. Mani walls and prayer staffs proclaimed that we were nearing the Buddhist Tibet. Cheerful, laughing people gathered around us, open and independent, fearless and friendly. This was Harsil, summer home of the Jadh traders. We were much moved by their spontaneous welcome. Tales of these great travellers had captured our imagination and Borup and I had hoped to spend some weeks living with them. Now our opportunity came. Govardan nephew of the headman, stepped from the crowd around us and soon we were seated on carpets in his courtyard drinking tsampa-tea from silver Tibetan cups. We were to be his guests for as long as we wished to stay. For our climbs he would come as head porter and shikari, having had experience with Roch in 1947. No arrangement could have suited us better. We decided that Borup should stay in Harsil and that I should rejoin him there later.

Meanwhile the rest of us climbed to an alpine meadow in the Rudugaira valley, two days5 journey above Harsil, and set up Base Camp at about 13,500 feet. From this point I set out on 2nd September with two porters to make a reconnaissance of the Gangotri and Jogin Groups. The journey lasted three days. The weather was bad but we saw enough to plan a route on Gangotri III (21,578 feet). We also climbed to the head of the Rudugaira valley, reaching the pass which had been crossed by J. B. Auden in 1939.1 On the southern side a steep snow-slope leads down to the Khatling glacier and to the Bhillangana river valley where we intended to spend November on our biological surveys. The height of the pass is 18,000 feet. It is one of the few places in this part of the Great Himalayan Range where a reasonably easy crossing can be made. Local tradition claims that it was in former times a route frequented by pilgrims. If this is so, great changes in the glacier must have taken place, for the route, though nowhere very difficult, would now be dangerous for an unequipped party.

Part of Tehri-Garhwal

Part of Tehri-Garhwal

  Gangotri II (centre) and Gangotri I (right) from the north-east ridge of Gangotri III.  8 September 1952.  (John Tyson)

Gangotri II (centre) and Gangotri I (right) from the north-east ridge of Gangotri III. 8 September 1952. (John Tyson)

  A Jadh funeral on the banksof the Bhagirathi river near Harsil  22 September 1952.  (Paul Borup)

A Jadh funeral on the banksof the Bhagirathi river near Harsil 22 September 1952. (Paul Borup)

Gangotri III (left centre) and Gangotri II (extreme right)  24 September 1952.  (Paul Huggins)

Gangotri III (left centre) and Gangotri II (extreme right) 24 September 1952. (Paul Huggins)

 View north-east from the slopes of Gangotri I. The Rudugaira valley lies on the rightof the picture. The distant ranges include the Chirbas Parbat and Matri groups.  (John Tyson)

View north-east from the slopes of Gangotri I. The Rudugaira valley lies on the rightof the picture. The distant ranges include the Chirbas Parbat and Matri groups. (John Tyson)

On the following day, Lamprey, Acheson, and I set out with three Sherpas and established Camp I at about 16,800 feet on the Rudugaira glacier, and two days later found a site for Camp II at 18,500 feet on the north-east ridge of the mountain. On 9th September we made an attempt on the summit from this camp, Acheson climbing vrith Ila Namgyal on one rope, and Lamprey with me on the other. Ila Namgyal unfortunately suffered from altitude sickness, and he and Acheson had to abandon their attempt. Lamprey and I were forced to turn at about 20,600 feet, 900 feet from the top, on account of deep snow. During the climb we obtained magnificent views westwards to the other peaks of the Gangotri Group, and eastwards to the Kedarnath and Kedar Bamak peaks.

Next day, Lamprey and I made a second attempt, accompanied by Sherpa Annullu. We left our tents at 5.40 a.m. and as all our steps were intact, in five hours we reached our farthest point of the previous day. Shortly after midday we found our route blocked by an ice-cliff extending from our ridge for hundreds of yards across the north-east face of the mountain. By traversing to our left across steep ice on to the east face, we were able to turn this obstacle and reach a small snow-covered plateau. From here we could see the shapely summit, glistening softly in the faint autumn sunshine, its corniced crest rimmed with shadow. But soon clouds began to eather around the tops, and when we reached the peak at 2.40 p.m., nine hours after leaving camp, there was little to be seen except for glimpses of Jaonli (21,760 feet), 2 miles south-south-west of us, and the nearby Gangotri peaks.

Shortly after we left the summit, the mists parted, giving us a clear view to the east. Across the Rudugaira basin was Ganesh Parbat (21,210 feet), whose three ridges were all visible. The southeast ridge looked the most promising in its upper section, and the map suggested an easy approach from the basin of the Kedar Bamak. Between the steep and corniced south-west ridge and the long north-north-east ridge lay the hanging glacier by which Auden had thought the peak could be approached. From our position we could look down on the upper part of this glacier. It was heavily crevassed and covered with the debris of rock and snow avalanches from the north-north-east ridge above.

Behind this mountain we could see the strange line of peaks which forms the right wall of the Kedar Bamak, along the 79th meridian. Brigupanth lay just to the left of Ganesh Parbat, a formidable array of cliffs filling the whole of the upper part of its long v.-estern flank. To its south rose the gigantic, rocky spire of Phating Pithwara (22,650 feet), its precipitous north-western face towards us. Behind, and half hidden in cloud, we could make out the gently sloping snow cap of Kedarnath peak. We reached camp at 6.30 p.m., the whole climb having taken thirteen hours. The weather now south-west ridge of Ganesh Parbat. Instead we descended to Base Camp.

I then returned for a fortnight to the Jadh encampment (an account of which has been published elsewhere1), while the biologists continued their work in the Rudugaira valley. The zoological programme included detailed ecological work on an alpine meadow extending from 13,000 feet to 16,500 feet and studies of altitudinal variation within species. Birds, mammals, and reptiles were either identified in the field or were collected, and collections of all the invertebrates found were made. Among the insects brought back, at least fifteen were new species and some were new genera. The altitudinal variation of lizards, voles, bees, butterflies, and grasshoppers was studied, marked variations in the size and colour cx the grasshoppers being recorded.

The botanical work consisted mainly of ecological surveys of tne higher-altitude plant communities found between 13,000 feet and the snow-line. Measurements of various environmental factors were made, and a considerable herbarium was collected. Seeds for horticultural purposes were also gathered. Chemical analysis of the anthocyanin pigment of flowers was carried out by Acheson. About fifty flower species, mostly from the Rudugaira valley, were examined microchemically in the field, and all the colouring matters with the exception of two were identified as known pigments. The unknown pigments merit further investigation.

It was now time for Acheson to return home. Before leaving the Rudugaira, however, he ascended a 19,000-foot summit to report on the possibility of climbing Gangotri I. Though bad weather hampered his reconnaissance, he was able to suggest a likely route on to the lower part of the peak. On 27th September Borup and Acheson left Harsil and headed south, the former to continue work in Uttarkashi, the latter to catch a plane to England. After seeing them off I set out alone for the Rudugaira. At Dharali, 3 miles above Harsil, the fields were scarlet with amaranth and buckwheat. Villagers were gathering the harvest. Above Dharali the track was deserted. I slept beneath the stars, and in the morning travelled up through birchwoods turned a golden brown. On the way up, I met Huggins, who had completed his botanical work and was ready to join me in the attempt on Gangotri I. Lamprey had not yet finished his collecting, so we arranged that he should ferry all the stores to a point on the glacier near the i8,ooo-foot pass, where we would meet a week later.

Next day, Huggins and I, with Govardan, Annullu, and Pasang Dawa, set out for one of our earlier camps at 15,400 feet on the moraine. We found it in chaos, a bear having torn open the tent and scattered our food supply. In the morning, we followed a long moraine to the west, keeping to the left of a 1,000-foot ice-fall which descends from the basin between Gangotri I and Rudugaira peak. We pitched camp in a snowy hollow at 18,400 feet. To our great surprise we found here a heap of juniper wood. At that time we had not heard of Auden's attempts on Gangotri I and II, seventeen years previously. This had been the site of his highest camp.

Just above camp there was a snow saddle leading over to the upper neve. Beyond was the rocky ridge joining Rudugaira to Gangotri I, the Very steep wall of rotten rock’1 which had deterred Auden. On 1st October Huggins, Pasang Dawa, and I crossed the neve and climbed the ridge. It belied its appearance-it was nothing but an easy scramble up screes. At the col we headed south-west up steep snow to some rocks, then up an icy section where we left fixed ropes. Above this the slope lessened. At 19,500 feet we found a possible site for our next camp. On the following day the five of us carried it up and prepared for our attempt on Gangotri I.

I had hoped to start really early, taking advantage of the full moon. But when we looked out at 3.30 a.m. there was a strong, bitterly cold wind and driving snow. At dawn the wind dropped, and a sea of cloud filled the valleys. We left at 7 a.m. in clear sunshine, and made good progress in crampons up easy snow and ice- slopes. At midday we gained a plateau, above which rose a graceful icy dome. We cut our way up to a cornice. A few blows with the axe and this collapsed. Pasang Dawa and I stepped out onto the summit. It was 1.30 p.m. Shortly afterwards Huggins arrived, with Govardan and Annullu. But the weather was breaking. Glouds had closed in and snow was falling, so we returned with all speed to our top camp. That night it snowed heavily and the Rudugaira valley was snow-covered down to the tree-line. We were glad of our fixed ropes on the ice pitch. We reached our lower camp as further falls began.

On the following morning Huggins mentioned that he was feeling rather tired and sick. This was the first sign that he was unwell. We came down together to the 15,400-feet camp where we met Lamprey. During the evening Huggins seemed normal and ate a good meal, but later when he lay down he began to experience a difficulty in breathing. This grew more acute as the night passed, and towards morning he became delirious. Shortly after dawn he regained consciousness, and we told him that we were taking him down at once to Gangotri, 6,000 feet lower. He protested that he would soon recover and insisted that this move would hamper the rest of us; a few minutes later he died. To the last he had displayed those qualities of selflessness and optimism for which he will especially be remembered. He was buried at 15,400 feet on an open flat on the glacier moraine.

We decided to end the expedition immediately. Leaving Lamprey to follow with the baggage I travelled as rapidly as possible down the Bhagirathi to Uttarkashi where Borup had been working. There I learned that he had fallen on a hill-side a few hundred yards from the centre of the village a few days earlier. He had died in hospital.

Within five days two of my companions had died in circumstances of pure misadventure; the one of a disease believed to have been pneumonia, though a thorough medical examination shortly before he left England had hinted at no such tendency; the other through- loss of blood from a leg injury on a grassy hill-side crossed daily by local herdsmen. It was a cruel blow and a tragic ending to our firs: visit to the Himalayas. But the delight we shared in the weeks that came before will not be forgotten.

Swargarohini from Pt. 15,600 feet.  (J.T. M . Gibson)

Swargarohini from Pt. 15,600 feet. (J.T. M . Gibson)

Banderpunch mountain from Pt. 15,600 feet. (J.T. M . Gibson)

Banderpunch mountain from Pt. 15,600 feet. (J.T. M . Gibson)