Himalayan Journal vol.19
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.19

Publication year:
1956

Editor:
H. W. Tobin
Index
  1. THREE MONTHS IN UPPER GARHWAL AND ADJACENT TIBET
    (GURDIAL SINGH)
  2. KANGCHENJUNGA RECONNAISSANCE; 1954
    (T. H. BRAHAM)
  3. Kanchenjunga Climbed
    (George Band)
  4. FIRST ATTEMPT ON MAKALU, 1954
    (L. BRUCE MEYER, M.D., AND FRITZ LIPPMANN)
  5. MAKALU-THE HAPPY MOUNTAIN
    (JEAN FRANCO)
  6. JUGAL HIMAL
    (ELIZABETH STARK)
  7. THE 1954 ITALIAN EXPEDITION TO THE KARAKORAM AND THE FIRST ASCENT OF K2l
    (PROFESSOR A. DESIO)
  8. ROUND ABOUT DHAULAGIRI
    (J. O. M. ROBERTS)
  9. TO THE MONK'S HEAD ON RAKAPOSHI
    (ROGER CHORLEY)
  10. THE BATURA GLACIER
    (MATHIAS REBITSCH, GERHARD KLAMERT, AND DOLF MEYER)
  11. CHO OYU 26,750 FEET
    (HERBERT TICHY)
  12. OXFORD UNIVERSITY WEST NEPAL EXPEDITION, 1954
    (IAN F. DAVIDSON)
  13. THE EXPEDITION OF THE ROYAL AIR FORCE MOUNTAINEERING ASSOCIATION TO LAHOUL, JUNE 1955
    (GROUP CAPTAIN A. J. M. SMYTH, O.B.E., D.F.C.)
  14. THE ASCENT OF ISTOR-O-NAL
    (JOSEPH E. MURPHY, JR.)
  15. THE RELATION OF SCOTTISH TO ALPINE AND HIMALAYAN MOUNTAINEERING
    (W. H. MURRAY)
  16. THE HEIGHT OF MOUNT EVEREST A NEW DETERMINATION (1952-5)
    (B. L. GULATEE)
  17. NOTES AND EXPEDITIONS
  18. IN MEMORIAM
  19. REVIEWS
  20. CLUB PROCEEDINGS AND NOTES
  21. EDITORIAL

JUGAL HIMAL

ELIZABETH STARK

In the Spring of 1955, three of us, members of the ladies' Scottish Climbing Club, embarked on the first all-woman expedition to the Himalayas. We went to the Jugal Himal which lies north-east of Kathmandu and which, as far as we could discover, was the last great unexplored region of the Nepal Himalaya.

Of the members of our party only one, Monica Jackson, had been to the Himalaya before, on an earlier expedition to Sikkim where she had reached a height of 21,000 feet. Having spent much of her life in India she speaks Hindustani fluently which proved a great asset. The doctor of our party was Evelyn Camrass, an all round sportswoman and an unfailingly cheerful companion. I myself am a speech therapist. All of us had experience of climbing in the Alps, and in Scotland all the year round. Evelyn and I, with three other members of our club, had camped and climbed in Arctic Norway.

As it happened we did not want to go to the Jugal Himal at all. The fact that this area is so easy of access-it is little more than a week's march from Kathmandu-led us to suspect that there was some good reason for its having remained unexplored. We were not long in discovering what it was. Tilman had tried to penetrate the area during the monsoon and had described its Mountains in the Alpine Journal as difficult of approach and in compromising.* He had looked down into one of its deep gorges, where the waters, in full spate, were roaring their loudest. By a more practicable route he reached Tempathang, the village nearest to these mountains, but the local people-who are Sherpas-told him that they no longer took their yaks up to the high alps, and that the track and its bridges had fallen, through lack of use, into disrepair. Tilman did not have enough time at his disposal to make further investigation.

We did apply to the Nepal Government, for permission to visit the Jugal, but only so that we might in the passing investigate any possible approaches to these mountains. Our real objective was the Langtang Himal which lies to the west of the Jugal. Unfortunately, or so it seemed at the time, Raymond Lambert forestalled us in applying for the Lang tang, and when our permit arrived it was for the Jugal Himal only. There was nothing for it but to go and look at the deep impassable gorges which we imagined must defend its mountains-or to stay at home.

I Vide ' Nepal Himalaya ' by H. W. Tilman.

We left Kathmandu on 13th April, alarmed by reports in the Himalayan Club Bulletin of mountaineers being drowned on the march. We had learned how to cope with swollen rivers-in theory. But the only hazards we met in the foothills were drought and forest fire. The local people burn the grasses on which their yaks graze to encourage after-growth. Often these fires get out of control and spread to wooded areas, with the result that much valuable timber is lost and the danger of erosion is incurred. A day or so before we reached Tempathang, one of these fires roared up the hillside opposite with terrifying speed, like an avalanche in reverse, and a little later we had to pass through another, though fortunately it was neither so violent nor so devastating.

When we reached Tempathang, the villagers declared, to our joy, 1 that there was a track to a high alp, from which a glacier could ; be reached. One of these worthies boasted of having been right up to the glacier, close enough to put his hand on the ice. All seemed willing enough to accompany us as porters. On further enquiry we did not find that these people had resumed old habits and gone back to high alps which had been abandoned for a time. They had never stopped using them. Our guess is that they tried to put Tilman off with their story, because they did not want to go up to the mountains with him during the monsoon.

We dismissed our Kathmandu coolies in favour of these natural mountaineers, who turned out to be irresponsible, but likeable and strictly honest. Signing them on was rather like getting up a Sunday School outing.

There are three main glacier valleys in the Jugal Himal, running roughly parallel north and south. We could not penetrate the first two of these, for their exits are deep gorges, but our track took us to a high alp near the foot of the furthest, most easterly glacier. Here we established our base camp. It was in a delightful spot. The tents were sheltered by stalwart boulders, and round them grew primulae and cowslips. Above the camp towered a queenly mountain, 21,844 feet, with the splendid name of Phurbi Chyachu. To our disappointment the local people said this name meant' Rather like a chicken.'

The nearby glacier was the Phurbi Chyachmbu, and from the map, though it must have been drawn mostly from guess work, and from what we had seen of this glacier, we expected it to be the most difficult and complicated of the lot. This was far from being the case. Once we had puzzled a way up through its lower ice-fall, which was like playing counters in a shining topographical game of snakes and ladders, we found ourselves on a long, smooth highway to the heart of the Jugal Himal and the frontier of Tibet.



The clouds held off till the afternoon at first, but as the monsoon strengthened they came up earlier each day. Often we finished our day's climb and made camp in cloud. We had no idea of what we should see in the morning on first looking out of the tents-what unclimbed, unnamed mountains might have taken shape in the mists of the previous day's advance, or what new and sometimes terrible aspects of those we had already seen might be revealed. We were discovering a magnificent horseshoe of peaks, and even when we sat blowing on our fingers in camp in the early morning, the snow blue and iron-hard, or when we struggled up in deep, soft snow gasping for breath, it gave us a thrill of pleasure to remember that we were the first people to go among them.

We visited this glacier twice and reached a colon the frontier of Tibet on the second occasion. We found the frontier here was very clearly defined. On the Tibetan side, the Jugal peaks fall in sheer precipices, as if sliced away. Nearly all the bulk of the massif lies in Nepal.

From our col rose the long north ridge of Phurbi Chyachu. This ridge had looked fairly level from distance, at least as far as the north top of the mountain, and we had imagined that we might be able to find a route along it. Close up, it was now revealed to us as an appalling series of towers and pinnacles, each one leaning away from the next, so that they looked like a huge grotesque flower unfolding.

We did spot one approachable mountain at this juncture, a snow dome well to the north. It turned out to be the only mountain in the whole group which could by any stretch of the imagination be called easy. The others beggared our ideas of the impossible, their slopes polished by avalanche, their ridges sharp and formidable, with huge cornices. One possible exception, apart from our snow dome, was the highest mountain of the group, 23,240 feet in height. We began to refer to it as the Big White Peak, because J we could think of nothing better and because the Sherpas thought this was a very beautiful name. But even this mountain would demand a much stronger and better equipped party than our own.

To reach our snow dome we saw we should have to climb a steep branch of the Phurbi Chyachmbu glacier, running north-west. We named this branch the Ladies' Glacier. The way up this was barred by an impressive ice-fall.

To the left of this fall was a narrow snow corridor which turned the worst of the crevasses, and though we did not like the look of it at first, since it seemed to be the very place where avalanches might occur, we found it did offer the best route. To reach it we liad to cut diagonally across the lower part of the ice-fall, through a maze of stable seracs, capped and caped with snow, and striped pink and green like neapolitan ices.

Monica and Evelyn study Gyalgen Peak, the snow dome dominating the north-west arm of the Phurbi Chyachmbu Glacier. It is in the top right of the picture.

Monica and Evelyn study Gyalgen Peak, the snow dome dominating the north-west arm of the Phurbi Chyachmbu Glacier. It is in the top right of the picture.



The three of us leaving Kathmandu with our liaison officer (the Nepal Government now insists that all expeditions shall take a liaison officer. We expected a Gurkha N.C.O., bristling with kukris and other weapons, but were met instead with a young lad who looked at first as if he needed looking after. He was most enterprising and helpful however)

The three of us leaving Kathmandu with our liaison officer (the Nepal Government now insists that all expeditions shall take a liaison officer. We expected a Gurkha N.C.O., bristling with kukris and other weapons, but were met instead with a young lad who looked at first as if he needed looking after. He was most enterprising and helpful however)



This took so long that we had to camp in the corridor, immediately below a large bergschrund. This had swallowed all the small avalanches which had so far come its way. No big avalanches did fall near us that night, nor had any fallen when we descended by the corridor some days later, but we spent an uneasy night in this camp all the same.

The only exit from this ice-fall to the upper part of the glacier was by way of a huge crevasse, splitting it, as it were, from ear to ear. At either end it was overhung by ponderous ice-blocks, so that we could not turn it. Once we had got over the first shock of discovering it, we found it was filled with debris, chunks of snow and ice which were all stuck together like sweets in a boy's pocket. On this stuff we crossed without mishap, though once or twice the foot of one of us went through, to the accompaniment of ice- chips tinkling far below. We chopped away an overhang on the far wall in order to get out. There was no further obstacle and about 1,000 feet higher we reached a snowy wind-swept waste. This lay immediately below a high col which overlooks the next big glacier of the Jugal to the west. Here we camped, though it was an inhospitable and sinister looking place.

A long, narrow arm of this glacier now ran north from our camp to another very high col, overlooking Tibet and lying about 500 feet below the summit of the snow dome which was our objective. Where it debouched above us was a monumental ice-fall, simple in architecture.

The following morning Evelyn was sick. She had more difficulty in acclimatizing to begin with than either Monica or myself, and at this camp could eat very little. In fact all she could keep down was marmite, which she cannot abide at sea level. After a short mental struggle she decided regretfully not to attempt the snow dome with us, for fear of keeping us back.

With two of the Sherpas, Monica and I sneaked through the ice-fall above by a little back door of a crevasse. Then a long, if grind faced us, up slopes of soft snow, through which ice showed when we least expected it. When we reached the high col, we crept out, well-belayed, over a huge cornice, and looked straight down a tremendous precipice of rock and ice to Tibet. Illegal entry was hardly possible. The only way we could get into Tibet was by falling in.

Crampons are probably advisable on the last part of this climb, though the slope is gentle. Mine came adrift, but this was not the only reason why I reached the summit half an hour behind Monica. She is only five feet one inch in height and seven stones in weight, but she is a really fast goer. To myself, barely able to take one step for every two or three breaths, she seemed jet- propelled.

We called this mountain Gyalgen peak, after Mingma Gyalgen, our Sherpa sirdar, because we were very pleased with the enthusiasm he and his men had shown throughout. At all times they had co-operated well with us, and they were truly anxious for us to succeed in all we attempted.

When we got back to camp, Monica and I found that we had been panting so heavily that the insides of our mouths had been badly burned by snow-glare. A storm which had been brewing jnow fell upon us, and confined us to camp for three nights and two days. The Sherpas' tent blew down and caught fire from the primus they had been keeping alight for warmth. Luckily they smothered the flames at once, and luckily too, the tent had a fly-sheet. Otherwise the screaming wind would have ripped it, apart as soon as it was re-erected.

On the third morning the wind abated somewhat and we hastened to strike the tents, ripping them up, where their cotton skirting was frozen to the snow, and to pack up all our gear. Our fingers were soon quite numb. The tent poles would not come apart and had to be packed still stuck together and poking out at all angles. We got down to the Phurbi Chyachmbu glacier with- out mishap-except that one of the Sherpas slipped when climbing down a small ice-pitch and dropped his load. As it disappeared, we realized it contained all our sleeping bags and air mattresses. It was retrieved on the very brink of a grey-walled crevasse.

Negotiating the lower ice-fall was a very different matter. A thaw in the last few days at this height had stripped away the firm snow which had made the climb so easy that, as Monica said, we felt as much at home of it as on our own back-stairs. Now it was in a highly dangerous condition. The structure of the ice- fall was laid bare in all its ugliness and was rotten and crumbling, I was bringing down three Sherpas on the second rope, one of them snow-blind. The route had been made for me, but the steps were breaking by the time I reached them. I was badly scared and thankful to get off the glacier. None of us had any intention of tackling it again.

We now split up. Evelyn made a reconnaissance to the south with some of the Sherpas climbing a peak between 17,000 feet and 18,000 feet in height and overlooking the south-easterly part of the Jugal. Monica and I crossed a pass we had discovered above base camp to reach the second big glacier to the west. Towering above it was Dorje Lhapka, 22,929 feet. This glacier presented a horrid spectacle and drew attention to itself every now and then by the thunder of its collapse and avalanching. It was in a state of wholesale disintegration and we did not care for it at all. To climb it would be a highly dangerous proposition, we thought.

We crossed it where it levelled out, by ice hummocks, and traversing below Dorje Lhapka reached a notch on the south ridge of the mountain at about 16,000 feet. From this we saw a kind of shelf linking the small glaciers of the most westerly valley of the Jugal. We think this shelf may form a high-level route, right round to the Langtang Himal. We wanted to explore a little further, but our time was running out and we had to come away unsatisfied on this point.

We certainly had not exhausted all the possibilities of the Jugal Himal. We had achieved a great deal more than we believed possible when we set out, and we had experienced the delights of climbing in the Himalaya, the adventure of the unexplored, and the peace of high camps. We could ask no better than that.