It was as victims of the tightened Inner Line policy that we turned our eyes to Kulu. Plans for another attempt on Panch Chulhi, this time from the west, ideas of making a new pass to the north of the Ralam, of exploring more thoroughly the upper Darmaganga and then a visit to the Kuthi valley came to nought when our application to revisit the country we had roamed so freely in 1950 was refused.
So, in 1952, Dr. J. de V. Graaff, Dr. E. A. Schelpe and I went to Kulu where the Line is well to the north of the main range. We all finally assembled in the town of Kulu on 3rd June. Accompanying us were five Sherpas, our old friend from 1950 Sirdar Pasang Lama with Sonam Sherpa, Tashi Sherpa, Tashi Kiron, and Pasang Sherpa.
Our plans were to travel up the valley of the river Parbati, a tributary of the Beas, one of the 'Five Rivers' from which the Punjab takes its name, to the Dibibokri Nal, a tributary of the Parbati. The rather vague map showed the Dibibokri to drain a basin of some 130 square miles backed by the main Himalayan divide and containing four major glaciers. On the divide itself, the map marked peaks of 20,830, 21,760, 21,350, 20,414, and 20,482 feet. None of these mountains had been climbed or attempted, indeed the visit of only one mountaineer to the Dibibokri Basin is on record and he, Major J. O. M. Roberts, of the Ghurlcas, spent only one day there.
On the far side of the main range, the map was even more sketchily drawn. With a series of the vaguest strokes it indicated four rivers, the Gyundi, Ratang, Parahio, and Pin flowing northeastwards to the Spiti river, a tributary of the great Sutlej which it joins before the latter breaks south through the Great Himalayas. It is on record that the lower reaches of the first three of these streams are gorges, impenetrable from the Spiti. If we could find a way over the main divide, we might enter entirely new country. Such, then, were our plans as, with our gear carried by seventeen mules, we left Kulu for the snows on 5th June.
A march up a Himalayan valley is always a delight. The broad- leafed trees of the sub-tropics change to conifers as the altitude increases, then to silver birches and finally dwarf juniper before all timber is extinct and the topography moulded entirely in rock and ice. The track changed also. For two days, totalling 35 miles to Pulga, the last village in the Parbati valley, it was a well-engineered mule track with sound bridges across the river as the steepness or the valley sides forced it from one side to the other. Above Pulga, only shepherds generally venture. The path became a scramble and soon the only bridges were the result of rock falls or the snow of winter avalanches beneath which the river had tunnelled a passage.
The mules would go no farther than Pulga and two days had to be spent recruiting coolies from among the local peasants. Schelpe welcomed this delay since it enabled him to spend more time collecting plant and insect specimens for the British Museum, but Graaff and I chafed at the wait and went ahead on 8th June with two Sherpas and twro local men to choose a suitable site for Base Camp in the Dibibokri Nal.
The ioth of June found us following a faint shepherds5 path into the entrance to the basin and we had our first view of the country we had come to explore. The narrow valley wound between grim black cliffs below steep flanking mountains of 18,000 feet or so. Dominating the scene was a peak on the main divide which we immediately named the 'Dibibokri Pyramid', a great black tooth rising to about 21,000 feet and, surprisingly, not marked on the map. The whole aspect was so fierce and wintry that, for a few fainthearted minutes, we discussed turning the baggage caravan around and seeking another district.
The Dibibokri Basin
Optimism prevailed and much of our gloom dispersed when we found the ideal base camp site. The snow had melted a few days previously from a little alp, about two acres in extent, perched a hundred feet above the river at an altitude of 12,800 feet. Through it flowed a clear stream and the last dwarf juniper of the nal assured us of a firewood supply. The first spring flowers were bursting through the turf. Schelpe reached the site two days later with forty troublesome coolies carrying the main baggage and by the evening we three Sahibs and five Sherpas were alone in our new home.
This base camp was to prove a delightful haven to which to return from our periodic excursions into the basin. It soon became a riot of flowers. Yellow buttercups and purple dwarf irises grew in profusion. In the dryer areas were yellow and red potentillas, while in the shelter of large boulders sprouted large mauve primulas. Purple geraniums and white anemones appeared later with forget- me-nots, yellow peas, and minute gentians. A special find was a small orchis with an intense shade of orchid mauve. Two types of fritillary grew on the alp, one a pale green and the other a slate blue. Down by the river, among the dwarf willows, appeared cream-coloured azaleas, while the smaller stream was bordered with king-cups. Towards the end of our stay we were delighted to find eidelweiss growing by the streams, a contrast to its craggy Alpine habitat, and blue Himalayan poppies among the rocks. It was a market garden too, for wild rhubarb grew in damp patches below the cliffs and was a welcome addition to our base camp fare.
From this idyllic spot we began our exploration of the Dibibokri Basin by climbing two small peaks of between 16-17,000 feet altitude which rose on either side. Then we made long day-excursions up three of its four glaciers. This preliminary work gave us a chance both to sort out the bewildering topography and to acclimatize to the altitude. Slowly the picture began to form and what had been an astounding mass of jagged upheaval was sorted into peaks we could recognize from different aspects, very few mountains we thought we might possibly climb and very many more we knew we could not climb.
We named the four main glaciers of the basin, rather unimaginatively, Western glacier, No. 2 glacier, Main glacier, and Ratiruni glacier. The last was because the map showed a forest of that name where there was nothing but rock and ice. The Main glacier was formed by the union of two branches beneath a most frightening rock wall which rose to the summits of Peak 21,760, the Dibibokri Pyramid (c. 21,000 feet), and Peak 21,350, all without the hope of a route to their tops. No. 2 glacier ended in a gloomy cwm beneath a similarly steep wall. We had not been able to see to the heads of the Western and Ratiruni glaciers due to bends in their courses, but all our hopes now centred on them.
Rubal Kango, 20,300 ft, from Camp II Western Glacier, showing route of ascent. Peak 20,830 ft, behind is obscured by cloud
Peak 21,760 and the Dibibokri Pyramid 21,000 ft. at the head of the Main Glacier
Before pushing camps up these glaciers, we decided to give them a week of the sun to melt some more of the winter snow from the moraines. For a change of scenery Graaff and I, with three Sherpas, made a four-day reconnaissance up the main Parbati valley where peaks 20,101 and 20,229 excited our interest. Before this venture had time to bear fruit, Sonam Sherpa was taken suddenly and violently ill with stomach trouble, vomiting up a tape worm. To Graaff and me this seemed the wrong exit so we rushed him back to Schelpe who was guardian of the medicine-box. Fortunately he rapidly recovered and by 23rd June we were ready to begin the more detailed exploration of the basin.
Our first big sortie was to be up the Western glacier and Graaff and I mustered four Sherpas to carry our first camp. This we established on the afternoon of 23rd June on its terminal moraine at an altitude of 15,200 feet. One Sherpa returned to Base Camp, leaving the party Graaff, myself, Pasang Lama, Pasang Sherpa, and Tashi Sherpa. On the 24th, after a wet night, we pushed up the glacier. Our packs were heavy and the sun now shone intensely and, reflected from the snow around and underfoot, induced extreme lassitude and a desire to sit on every protruding rock.
There was an excuse for this laziness. Ahead, where Peak 20,830 should have stood, were swirling clouds and a long view, before proximity foreshortened the mountain, was desirable if we were to find a climbable route to its summit. The mists parted and dashed our hopes by revealing the peak to be a magnificent tower of rock, but with almost vertical sides and without a chance of a way to the top.
A little to the left, however, was a peak about 500 feet lower which seemed to offer definite possibilities of ascent. From above an ice-fall a long humped ridge soared towards an apparently minute rock pinnacle of a summit at 20,300 feet. This mountain looked rather like a rearing turtle so we named it Rubal Kang, Tibetan for Turtle Peak.
We camped on the snowfield below Rubal Kang at an altitude 1 : 7,800 feet. The 5,000 feet of ascent in two days from Base Camp n: w demanded its due and I had a splitting headache that evening. In the morning, 25 th June, while I was fit again, Graaff was confined to his sleeping-bag suffering from vomiting attacks. Three inches of snow fell in the night and a thick mist enveloped the two little tents. This was not the day to attempt to climb Rubal Kang.
In the afternoon the weather improved and Pasang Lama and I roped to make a reconnaissance. First we kicked steps to a snow saddle at the head of the glacier and from 18,200 feet looked down into the upper cwm of No. 2 glacier. One interconnection had been found. Next we kicked more steps up tne slopes leading 10 a long ice-wall we had seen barring our intended -route to the ridge of Rubal Kang. This we surmounted with surprising ease and reached a hump at 18,800 feet from which we could see that the slopes to the ridge, although steep, offered a definitely possible route early in the morning when the snow would be hard.
Graaff felt fitter next day, 26th June, and he, Pasang Lama and I were away from camp at 5 a.m., crunching across the preliminary snow slopes in a clear cold morning. By 6.30 we reached the foot of the slopes to the ridge and started up the steep snow. Luck was with us. Each step took two or three kicks and was then a firm hold. In twenty minutes we were astride the main ridge. From then on it was straightforward. The left side of the ridge steepened and was overhung by a cornice, but there was a safe route on less steep snow to the right.
At 9 a.m. we reached the base of the little summit head of rock, now seen to be 200 feet high and with a clear fall all round. A first tentative prod with an ice-axe loosened two blocks which flew into space. Loose snow plastered the rocks. It took half an hour to climb this last pinnacle. We moved very carefully, one at a: time. The angle lessened slightly and there was suddenly no farther to go. We sat on the summit with our legs dangling over space, gazing with wonder at the vast panorama of mountains and glaciers extending around us for hundreds of miles. We had climbed a virgin twenty thousander and were supremely content with life.
After an hour of taking photographs, eating chocolate, biscuits, and raisins we sped down to our camp as quickly as safety would permit and on the following day crossed the pass Pasang and I had reached and returned to Base Camp via No. 2 glacier in a miserable precipitation of snow and rain, there to celebrate with Schelpe, using precious drops of that staple Scottish export which makes even melted snow taste so nice.
The next area for exploration was the Ratiruni glacier. A wet spell kept us slothfully in Base Camp until 2nd July. The 3rd of July found the same party, with the addition of Schelpe, camped at 16,500 feet on the upper snowfield of the glacier. Our hopes had been for Peaks 20,414 and 20,482, marked on the map as the possible prizes of this region, but a grim black amphitheatre frowned at us and told us there was no route up either. However, a consolation prize was offered, Peak 19,200 feet on the main Himalayan divide whose appearance caused us to name it the Ratiruni Pyramid.
In the evening light, the snow slopes leading to its summit seemed climbable and in the morning this opinion proved a correct one. Graaff, Schelpe, Pasang Lama and I reached the top without difficulty after a very pleasant climb. Schelpe was delighted to find some lichen in which he is interested adhering to the topmost rocks, an Asian high-altitude record for this species, he thought. While he scraped away with his penknife, Graaff and I turned our eyes to the other side of the main divide and feasted them on a sight probably never seen before. Below us was the upper valley of the Parahio, a great long, smooth glacier not indicated on the map. Indeed this showed a mountain wall extending right across its position.
To our joy, there seemed to be a way into this sanctuary. By branching off our route to the summit of the Pyramid we could have reached a saddle at about 18,000 feet and now we could see reasonable snow slopes descending from the col to this new glacier, in fact here was a pass across the main range.
Schelpe returned to Base Camp with Pasang Sherpa on 5th July while Graaff, Pasang Lama, Tashi Sherpa and I set to the job of carrying ourselves and a camp over the pass. It was hard work and on the Parahio side the rather steeper slopes had been long heated by the sun. For much of the descent, rotten snow and heavy packs made it necessary to move one at a time on the fope, but by noon we reached the glacier and a few hours later had tramped a thousand feet up it, to camp just as it began to snow.
Our food supplies could only sustain one night behind the range so we planned a double day for 6th July. We were anxious to see more new country and add to our rectification of the map and then had to get ourselves to the home side of the divide. After a cold dawn start, we reached the head of the glacier and following a stiff climb up steep snow, brilliantly lead by Graaff who cut hundreds of steps, we were astride the ridge to our left and looked onto yet another glacier of which the map gave no hint. This was a tributary of the Parahio, joining it some miles below our pass.
We returned to camp and packed it. We could have retraced our steps over the pass beneath the Pyramid but decided to take a chance by trying to break out of the sanctuary into the main Parbati valley. The chance came off. We ploughed up rotten snow slopes to a col at about 17,000 feet and looked hopefully downwards. We were rewarded with steep, though feasible slopes which we descended for 5,000 feet to the warmth and luxury of a valley camp. The following day, 7th July, was a delightful stroll through carpets of wild flowers down the Parbati and up the Dibibokri to Base Camp.
In spite of mostly uncompromising views of Peak 21,760, the highest in the basin and the whole Kangra Himalayas, we were not entirely persuaded that it was invincible. Accordingly, on 10th July, Graaff and I set off up the Main glacier with three Sherpas to ascertain. By noon on the 11 th we were faced with a stark rock wall spitting avalanches and we knew that our earlier surmise had been correct. Peak 21,760 was not for us.
The Parbati Valley
Graaff returned down the glacier with two Sherpas in order to go ahead to Pulga to make arrangements for the evacuation of the expedition, but I was keen to try and find a pass to the Parahio from this glacier. With Pasang Sherpa I pushed up the right-hand branch beneath the fearsome wall of Peak 21,350 and camped near the head of the glacier at 17,000 feet. Ahead was an ice-fall but very early in the morning we evaded this by cutting steps up a small ice couloir to the right, negotiated a steep tongue of snow and then some of the most insecure rocks I have ever met to stand at 18,500 feet on another new pass over the great Himalayan range. On the other side we looked down easy snow slopes to a tributary glacier of the Parahio, the third new and unmapped glacier to be discovered.
One more sortie was needed to round ofFour exploration of the Dibibokri Basin, an attempt to break out of it to the west into the Tichu Nal. The Tichu is a tributary of the Tos Nal which joins the Parbati near Pulga. While Schelpe evacuated Base Camp with the coolies Graaff would be sending up, I could try to make this new route to Pulga. Accordingly, on our way down from the Main glacier, Pasang Sherpa and I dumped our tent and high-altitude gear at the site of our first Western glacier camp of 24th June and on the following day, 14th July, had returned to it with six days5 food from Base Camp.
The 15th was a hard day struggling up the Western glacier bearing loads of 60 and 70 lb. and searching for a way up one of the series of tributary ice-falls to the left. Up the fourth we found a route and pitched camp at 17,000 feet. There was enough daylight for a quick reconnaissance higher and at 17,500 feet we found a snow col which, when we breasted it, appeared to fall away in gentle slopes to the west to a glacier which could only be a tributary of the Tichu. It was comforting to have found this new pass since Schelpe was then evacuating Base Camp and our source of supply in the rear was being cut off. It was go on, or go hungry.
Next morning, after crossing the pass, we discovered that the slopes were not so gentle. In fact they were a series of ice walls, requiring crampons and very careful handling of the rope. The sun made the surface softer every minute and we were extremely thankful to reach the glacier below. This led to the main Tichu glacier and to lower country and by the middle of the afternoon we camped on green grass.
The journey to Pulga was not as easy as expected. On the following day, 17th July, our net progress was one mile after nine hours smiggling through matted rhododendron bushes on the steep sides of the gorge into which the Tichu plunged below our camp. However, on the 18th, we extricated ourselves, reached the Tos and camped above the highest village in the nal. Now there was a good path and we joined Schelpe at Pulga in the morning. All the gear was with him, having been brought from Base Camp by twenty coolies. Now, eight mules bore the burden and we all reached Kulu and civilization, intact, on 21st July.
The achievements of the expedition can be listed as two new peaks climbed, altitudes 20,300 and 19,200 feet, five passes found, three of them over the main Himalayan divide, and three new glaciers discovered. Schelpe returned with 500 botanical and 200 zoological specimens. All of us returned with the reaffirmation that the Himalaya is the most wonderful country in the world and that an expedition to explore even some of its minor mysteries is the best way of living we know. The Inner Line disappointment no longer rankled.