Himalayan Journal vol.20
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

H. W. Tobin
    (P. F. HOLMES)
    (N. D. HARDIE)
    (J. G. R. HARDING)



THE western end of the Great Karakoram in Hunza and Nagir used to be difficult to visit for political and geographical reasons but it is now one of the most accessible parts of the Karakoram Regular air-services from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, and jeep- roads penetrating far up the valleys beyond, enable one to get into the mountains quickly and easily, so that it is likely to become a popular region for the small expedition, like ours, organized in Pakistan.

I. F. Bennett and I planned to visit Gilgit for our summer vacation and, independently, R. L. Oliver and G B. Westwood were each hoping to arrange climbing trips there in July or August 1956. By good fortune we found one another and decided to go for three weeks up the Bar Valley from Chalt and climb whatever we could find The map showed a number of peaks between 18,000 ft. and 22 000 ft. and a possible objective for us in Kampire Dior 23,434 It. Bennett and l intended to stay on after the other two left, to do further exploring and some biological collecting. To our great regret Westwood at the last moment was unable to come, which curtailed our plans for Kampire Dior.

Through the generosity of the Pakistan Air Porce, Bennett and I with all our equipment and food were flown to Gilgit in a service aircraft on July 4th, and Oliver followed the next.day m a ami aircraft We flew between the high rock walls of the Indus Valley and then around the cliffs of Nanga Parbat. Then we enjoyed some spectacular flying as the plane was made to circle several times m one of the narrow valleys in order to drop supplies to an isolated village, before flying on to Gilgit. A 30-mile drive by jeep took us from Gilgit to Chalt in Nagir State; a green oasis m the desert of steep barren hills, which stands at the confluence of the Bar and Hunza Rivers. It had been our intention to keep the expedition light and to carry everything ourselves, as Oliver and I have been accustomed to do in New Zealand, but not knowing what conditions to expect and burdened with the thought that obmbingm the Karakoram required extra precautions, we left Chalt with 6 porters each carrying 50 lb., ourselves carrying about 40 lb. each and the lambadar of Chalt carrying an ice-axe

On the first day we passed through several small villages where apricots were ripe but beyond Bar village, where we spent the night the valley becomes utterly desolate. In 1947, Tilman explored the Kukuay glacier, and reached a 19,000 ft. pass leading to the Batnra glacier.[1] In 1954, the German-Austrian Karakoram Expedition came up this valley and explored the Baltar glacier.[2] Also in 1954, the Cambridge Uni versity Expedition to Rakaposhi spent a fortnight in this region for acclimatization before going to Rakaposhi, but they turned off to the west before Bar and climbed in the Kerengi Valley.[3]


According to the Survey of Pakistan map, two glaciers meet 10 miles above Bar and we thought we would be able to cross the eastern one, the Baltar, and proceed up the western Kukuay glacier towards Kampire Dior. However, both glaciers have retreated up their respective valleys since the area was surveyed and we were obliged to make a four-mile detour to cross the snout of the Baltar glacier before we could walk up the Kukuay. The glacier was covered with loose moraine but we were spared the frustration of walking up it by one of the porters who led us up the moraine wall to grassy slopes above and we walked along these all day, finally camping amidst birch trees growing in the ablation valley above the glacier. The following day we had to drop down to the glacier at a point where a subsidiary glacier, not marked on the map, joins the Kukuay glacier from the west. The porters would not go on up the main glacier as we had hoped they would, because they said their footwear of raw-hide thongs was not sufficient protection when carrying loads; so we were obliged to go straight across the glacier and make our Base Camp in the ablation valley on the opposite side, again among silver birches. We paid off all the-porters except one, and the lambadar stayed to keep him company. As the Kukuay glacier extends for several miles further, and as the porters had refused to carry our camp further, we reluctantly abandoned any attempt on Kampire Dior and decided to concentrate on a range of peaks surrounding the tributary glacier to the west. This decision was strengthened by the short time available to Oliver and the reduced size of the party due to Westwood's absence.

We chose for our first climb a peak of about 18,000 ft., which rose above our camp but was not marked on the map. The three of us left camp on July 10th, leaving the porter and the lambadar behind, and walked up the ablation valley through pleasant silver birchwoods until the valley abruptly ended at the edge of a deep cut-off. The packs had to be lowered 100 ft. down this, and two hours passed before we were up the other side, climbing towards a small stream that we intended to follow to the grassy alp above. The stream fell steeply by several waterfalls, so we chose the rock by the side of it, but the angle deceived us so much that we spent hours climbing 500 ft. The difficulty of the rock forced us to climb each pitch and then haul up the packs separately, so we were thankful to have Oliver's experience of English rock-climbing, which enabled him to find a route to the top and out to fairly steep slopes covered with Alpine shrubs and flowers. On our second climb, Oliver and I saw from the glacier an easier route to the upper levels further up the glacier which would not have entailed nearly such arduous climbing.

We camped among bushes at 12,000 ft., the three of us in one Meade, and made a meal of rhubarb which was growing there in profusion. The next day we carried our camp to 15,000 ft. on the snow neve below our peak. From the camp we saw Eakaposhi rising above the nearer peaks of 18,000 ft. and the two Hunza peaks of 25,000 ft., and we enjoyed once again, after many months, the boundless calm of an evening in the high hills.

We left the tent at 4-15 next morning and cramponed across the neve to a short steep couloir which led out to a high snow-basin under the peak. It was separated from the main south ridge by a schrund, which we passed, and we rested on the ridge overlooking our camp. So far the snow had been in excellent condition, but the rest of the way along the south ridge was a laborious stretch in very soft snow, which at times let us down to our waists. We reached the top at 10-30 a.m. and the two altimeters registered 100 ft. above and below 18,000 ft.

From the top we were able to see the shape of the main Kukuay glacier and also the neve of the glacier to the west and these are shown in the sketch-map as we saw them then. Kampire Dior is set well back and would require more than three weeks for an attempt, but it is not nearly so attractive as a beautiful snow spire of 22,547 ft. nearby, which reminded me of photographs of Nilkanta. Incidentally, there seems to be some doubt about the exact identity of Kampire Dior. The peak of that name on the Survey map does not appear to be very significant and no one we spoke to in Nagir had heard of it, although there is a village called Kampire Dior in the Chapursan valley north of the Batura glacier. Later, we were told by the Governor of Gupis that Kampire Dior is a peak considerably further north in the Hindu Kush and could not possibly be approached from the Bar valley. The Governor is a keen hunter and seems to know the country well, and the absence of a prominent peak in the area we saw tends to support his view. Without being properly equipped for surveying one cannot offer much useful information, but our conclusion is that the Survey map in the Kukuay valley is fairly inaccurate and needs considerable revision, a conclusion supported by Tilman, whose sketch- map of the Kukuay glacier in Two Mountains and a River agrees very closely with our observations.

The descent was almost as laborious as the ascent and we were all very tired before we reached camp at 4-15 p.m. The weather began to deteriorate and we prepared the tent for a storm but none developed, and the next day we returned to Base Camp by the way we had come up, arriving at 7-30 p.m. after spending 4J hours on the descent of the stream and some more at the cut-off.

We rested at Base Camp for a day and ate fresh ibex meat, shot by the porter while we were climbing. We now had four days left before Oliver had to return, and we debated whether to go up the Kukuay glacier as far as possible or to attempt a peak of 19,211 ft., south of the one we had already climbed. We chose the peak, so Oliver and I left the next morning carrying 40 lb. each. We retraced our steps as far as the cut-off where we dropped down to the glacier and walked up it for four miles. Unlike the Kukuay, this one was free of moraine and it was very pleasant to walk up its clean surface. We left the glacier above a small icefall and climbed a spur which led to the upper neve and avoided the intervening icefalls. The spur was covered in a profusion of flowers and shrubs, a most beautiful sight and a delight to climb. Above the flowers, winter snow was still lying and we kicked steps up this for 1,000 ft., and reached the neve, an extensive area on several levels surrounded by four peaks of over 18,000 ft. We camped on this in the shelter of a rock outcrop and enjoyed a long evening in the stillness, seeing the sun set on the Hunza peaks and being surprised by small birds going to roost in the cliffs far from vegetation.

Oliver rose at 1-30 a.m. to make breakfast and we left the tent at 3, and cramponed across the first level of the neve by torchlight, finding a way through the crevasses quite easily. By first light we were looking down on the second level of the neve, which we had to descend to and cross before we could reach a ridge, which led up to a subsidiary peak of our objective. We found, on gaining this ridge, that we could attempt the peak either by going over the subsidiary peak, or by crossing another snow level and climbing straight up the peak itself. This snow level is not part of the same system we had been crossing, but pours down to the west into Ishkuman and our ridge is, in fact, the watershed. We chose to go up the subsidiary peak and began plugging steps up the snow of the ridge, which was soft on top with a layer of ice and then soft snow underneath; very awkward to climb and difficult to belay in. We felt the height a bit and climbed slowly so that it was noon before we reached the top of the subsidiary peak at 18,400 ft. Storm clouds were gathering over towards Bar and occasional thunder rumbled in the hills, and this, coupled with our lassitude and the prospect of several more hours of soft snow, turned our thoughts towards the descent. We were not keen to retrace our steps up the ridge and looked for an alternative way down a steep ice couloir, but after much vacillation went down the way we had come up. It was much easier to descend and we were soon walking back over the firm neve to the tent and wondering why we had given up so easily.

During the night the tent protected us snugly from a thunderstorm, but in the morning we had to pack up in cold rain and return to camp. Four porters arrived at Base Camp shortly after us and the next morning we loaded them up and, carrying light packs ourselves, started back for Chalt. On the way we met some shepherds who gave us curds to drink and fresh bread to eat and one of the porters bought a ploughshare from them, carved from the trunk of a birch tree. At Chalt, Oliver returned to Gilgit while Bennett and I spent several days in idleness before moving on to Nagir and the second part of our trip.

Jeeps do not yet go beyond Chalt, although the road to Minapin has been built, so we hired two donkeys and walked in comfort along the well-levelled road. The journey to Nagir from Chalt takes two days and the way is mostly through cultivated land, in contrast to the Bar valley, and everywhere apricots had been laid out on flat rocks to dry and the wheat was being harvested. Cold mountain water flowed abundantly in the irrigation channels, turbid with a fine mica suspension. For drinking, most of the suspension is removed in settling tanks, which are roofed over to keep the water cool. On the way we passed through the village of Tol, which was the site of a famous action in the fiunza- Nagir war of 1891.[4] The Nagiris were defending Tol from very good defences overlooking a gorge and these defences were stormed by 100 Gurkha and Dogra troops led by two British officers, who climbed the conglomerate cliffs at dawn and overpowered the Nagiris from above, thus concluding the war. The climbing must have been of a severe order and meanwhile they were being harassed by stones thrown down from above. All along the route the huge north face of Rakaposhi kept appearing in each valley opening, and we wondered how the British-American Expedition were faring in their attempt on the mountain. The big peaks in this region are so very foreshortened by one's proximity to them that they do not look as impressive as one is led to believe they should. Later on, when we got higher and further from them I began to appreciate their colossal proportions.

We intended to spend some days at Nagir township because I wanted to renew acquaintance with the Mir, who had been a student of my father in Kashmir; and then we hoped to spend two weeks at the head of the Barpu glacier. There I planned to collect plants and animals living above the tree line, particularly the small mammals, and to make a reconnaissance of Ghenishchish, 23,056 ft., which is an impressive peak on the Barpu-Chogo Lungma watershed clearly visible from Nagir. Ghenishchish means the Golden Mountain in the language of Nagir, and it is certainly an appropriate name. The whole north face, 10,000 ft. high, is composed of yellow-white rock, devoid of snow, and at Nagir it catches the evening light and glows with an ineffable beauty. In the daytime it made for us the background to a Van Gogh-like picture of ripening wheat fields, stone walls and tall green poplars.

In 1939, Shipton's party visited the Barpu glacier briefly 5; Scott Russell to study the plants, and Fazal Ellahi to make the survey map. Shipton and Scott Russell went to the head of the glacier to look for a route through to the Chogo Lungma glacier, but considered that the great wall of ice-covered mountains which block the head of the Barpu offered little chance of a pass. The Workmans explored the head of the Chogo Lungma glacier in 1903, and' climbed some distance up a peak that they named the Pyramid Peak and estimated its height to be 24,500 ft. 6 From its position on their map and its configuration in their photographs, I think it must be Ghenishchish and their height was probably an overestimate, as their heights have generally been found to be. If their peak is in fact Ghenishchish it would appear that the main difficulties in an ascent of Ghenishchish or of a crossing from Barpu to Chogo Lungma would be on the northern side. It appears from their map that the Chogo Lungma glacier extends up to a Col at 19,000 ft. on the Nagir-Indus watershed, but as their map is much at variance with the Survey map it is difficult to see whether this Col is the same as the one that can be seen from the Barpu glacier (see photograph). If a route could be found up to the Col on the Barpu side this would be an interesting crossing to make, and Ghenishchish a fine peak to climb.

After savouring the hospitality of the Mirs of Nagir and Hunza for some days, we engaged two porters and set out for the Barpu glacier on August 4th. On our way up to Nagir the apricots had been drying in preparation for the winter; now as we approached the settlement of Hopar at 10,000 ft., they were ripe on the trees and we ate of them to excess as we had done four weeks before in the lower altitudes of Bar. Hopar is a cultivated piece of land lying in a broad ablation valley between the southern mountain slopes and a large lateral moraine thrown up by the Bualtar glacier. As one comes to the edge of the moraine wall one looks down on the chaos of boulders that makes the surface of the Bualtar glacier where it is joined by the Barpu glacier. Strangely, the surface of the Barpu glacier is some 500 ft. higher than the Bualtar glacier, and the junction presents a steep face of moraine. Shipton mentions that the terminal face of the Barpu fell short of the Bualtar in 1939 but, contrary to the present-day widespread retreat of glaciers, the two glaciers appeared to be contiguous this year and we walked across both of them to gain the true right side of the Barpu. On this side an ablation valley has also formed between the hillside and the glacier but it is not cultivated. Shrub willows and rose bushes grow wherever there is water, and hares were abundant; we shot a number and they made excellent eating. Further up the glacier, juniper trees replace the willows; we made our camp among them, and I collected small mammals and the plants of the area.





On August 12th we left camp for a closer view of Ghenishchish. A peak of 17,4804 ft. obscured the view from our camp, so we decided to climb this for a better view of the approach. The Barpu glacier curls around the base of this small peak and lies between it and Ghenishchish in its upper regions. It also receives subsidiary glaciers from the slopes of Malubiting, 24,470 ft. To the east of Malubiting the main divide drops to a Col of about 19,000 ft., and then rises to a peak of 20,750 ft., and then rises gradually for three miles to the summit of Ghenishchish on the eastern extremity. To the north, Ghenishchish presents a sheer face of 10,000 ft. from the summit to the Barpu glacier, but below Malubiting and tB.e Col the mountainside is ice-covered and the only possible route would be in this region. Unfortunately, we did not get a view into the valley immediately below the Col where it looks most feasible. If Ghenishchish is to be attempted from the north it would be necessary to establish a camp at or near the 19,000-ft. Col, and then traverse the 20,750-ft. peak and the long ridge to the summit. If it is possible to do this, Malubiting might also be accessible from the same camp, and the pass to Chogo Lungma might also be crossed.

The view as we climbed peak 17,480 ft. was superb and I felt that at last I was seeing the great mountains in their true proportions. Close to us to the south were the peaks of Malubiting and Ghenishchish, and several lesser ones that rise above immense rock walls down which mud-stone avalanches rumbled incessantly to the Barpu glacier curling away at the bottom. From the Barpu glacier one's eye was led upward again to the great peaks of Hunza in the north-west and to the Pamirs, faintly visible 150 miles away to the north.

For the most part, the climb was along a ridge of rotten rock and offered no difficulties except altitude which we both felt. The final 500 ft. was along firm snow to the rounded summit, from where we got our close view of Ghenishchish and could see the whole north face. We descended quickly by long scree slopes to Girgindil, a shepherd encampment, where we waited half-an-hour while our quart-size billy-can was filled from the milkings of twelve small nanny-goats, and then went back to our camp by moonlight. Five days later, we left Barpu and returned to Gilgit to prepare for the last part of our trip, which was to travel from Gilgit to Chitral over the Shandur Pass, 12,200 ft.

The road follows the valley of the Gilgit river, and in times past was the route taken by invaders from Chitral to Gilgit and later in 1894-95 by the British forces relieving Chitral from Gilgit.? The first 70 miles to Gupis can now be done by jeep, but thereafter one must walk or ride. We drove to Gupis by jeep and were entertained there by the Governor and enjoyed a pleasant evening in his company, discussing the geography of Kampire Dior and listening to him play haunting melodies on a sitar.

From Gupis, we rode and walked for two days up a valley which was mostly barren except for the settlement of Phandar, where the main valley is blocked by an old moraine or landslip and the river meanders through lush pastures and beneath drooping willows. Above Phandar we came out into a wide upland valley grazed by yaks, which led easily to the Shandur Pass where, as Tilman observes, are to be found three relics of the British period: a magnificent polo ground, a ruined rest-house and trout in the lake.8
Another march brought us to Mastuj, where we were the guests of the ex-Governor of the Province, and where we were also met by an escort of Chitral Scouts who made us travel the rest of the way to Chitral township in a more exalted manner than that to which we had been previously accustomed. Bennett remarked that, besides convicted criminals, we were probably the only people in Chitral to travel with an armed guard. The countryside of Chitral resembles Gilgit in that it is mostly barren, but where there is water it is abundantly fertile. At the township of Chitral, we were met by my friend, the Commander of the Scouts, and were entertained by people I had met on a previous visit to Chitral in December 1955. From Chitral we drove back to Peshawar over the Lowhari Pass, 10,000 ft., and through Dir State.

7 See Bibliography 5.

8 See Bibliography 6.

The first part of the trip up the Bar valley cost us each about £18, and the rest of the trip cost Bennett and myself £27 each, which seems to compare rather favourably with the expenses normally incurred in a trip to those parts, and would seem to suggest that more ambitious expeditions could be launched from Pakistan for considerably less than they cost from overseas. However, it is not easy to find experienced climbers in Pakistan and it is difficult to get suitable climbing equipment, the only source being that left behind by visiting expeditions. Emphasis is so often laid on the large expeditions which visit the Karakoram, that one tends to forget that there is so much there to occupy a small party and to provide a wonderful holiday at no great cost.


1. Band, G. Road to Rakaposhi. Hodder and S tough ton, 1955.

2. Knight, E. F. - Where Three Empires Meet. Longmans, Green & Co., 1895.

3. Shipton, E. 'Karakoram, 1939.' Geographical Journal, 45 : 409 (1940).

4. Workman, F. B. and W. H. Ice-Bound Heights of the Mustagh. Archibald Constable & Co., London, 1908.

5. Younghusband, F. E. and G. J. The Relief of Chitral. London, 1895.

6. Tilman, H. W. China to Chitral. Cambridge University Press, 1950.

7. Tilman, H. W. Two Mountains and a River. Cambridge University Press, 1949.

8. 'Erdkunde, Archiv. fur wissenschaftliche Geographies Band X, Lfg. 1, Bonn, 1956.

[1] Two Mountains and a River, by H. W. Tilman, Camb. Univ. Press, 1949, p. 95, et seq. See map on p. 101.

[2] Himalayan Journal, Vol. XIX, 1955-56, p. 120, et seq. Also see Bibliography 8; this contains the preliminary report of the scientific work of the joint German-Austrian Himalaya-Karakorara Expedition, 1954, which includes a new topographical map.

[3] Himalayan Journal, Vol. XIX, 1955-56, p. 118. Also see Bibliography 1.

[4] See Bibliography 2.