SPITI - LAHUL-WATERSHED
THE objects of our small party were to fill in the gaps in P. F. Holmes's map 1 and to clear up the discrepancies between his map, the Abinger expedition map,2 and Survey of India Sheet 52H. We thought we could best achieve this by moving south from the Spiti valley through the Gyundi and so into the Bara Shigri. In view of Holmes's and Braham's failure to force the Gyundi gorge, we decided to try and enter the Gyundi above the gorge by climbing the small valley which enters the Spiti river at Losar; from it we hoped to find a pass to the Gyundi.
The party was five strong. The leader was J. G. G. Stephenson, and the remainder were myself (in charge of the survey), D. T. Osselton, J. Stopford, and Captain R. K. Malhotra. We assembled at Major Banon's in Manali on July 24, and found there our three porters, Jigmy (who had been up the Ratang in 1955), Sonam (not Holmes's Sonam who was with McArthur's party), and Ghering, an enterprising Sherpa who live4 in Manali. The wonderful Rinz- ing, of whom we had heard so much, has unfortunately got married and gone back to Ladakh to settle down.
We left Manali on July 26 in pouring rain and took the usual route over the Rohtang Pass and up the Chandra valley. Unlike previous parties we crossed the river by the suspension bridge at Chatru and followed the north bank as far as Batal, where the P.W.D. have nearly completed another bridge. We ferried our kit across a rope bridge here but the ponies had to go further upstream to cross at a ford. While we awaited the return of the ponies, Stephenson, Malhotra and Osselton, with Jigmy and Chering, went over the Kunzum La. The next day, Stephenson, Malhotra and Jigmy climbed a hogsback of about 18,000 ft. to get a view of the area around Peak 20,570 ft. Stephenson had intended to climb the 18,500 ft. peak climbed by Braham and Holmes in 1955, but actually climbed the next ridge. They had good views of Holmes's choice for Peak 20,570 (which we refer to as Holmes's peak) and also of Berrill’s choise for Peak 20,570 (which we refer to as Berrill's peak). Most unfortunately during this climb Malhotra became ill and had eventually to leave us and return to Manali.
The party now made their Base Camp at Losar in the Spiti valley. Stephenson and Chering prospected the Dongri-mo nulla which runs south from Losar, while Stopford and I commenced our plane-table survey by picking up two of the triangulation stations above the Spiti—Ganmo and Shilatakar. Osselton went back over the Kunzum to look after Malhotra, who was at Batal.
On August 7, after Stephenson and Osselton had returned, we all started up the Dongri-mo nulla, with three local coolies to help carry our loads (our own porters had already made one carry the day before). The nulla was narrow with steep sides and we were continually having to climb over spurs and descend again; only at a few places were there lengths of snow-bridge upon which we could follow the stream bed. The coolies gave up after two-and- a-half miles, where the porters had dumped their loads the previous day; we took what we could and pushed on another mile or so to camp on a snow-bridge above the difficulties and in sight of the glacier. The next day Stephenson and Osselton made Camp II on a patch of moraine in the middle of the fine glacial cirque at the head of the nulla. Meanwhile Stopford and I found a survey- station which gave us views both back to the Spiti valley and forward on to the glacier. The west wall of the glacier is formed by Holmes's and BerrilPs peaks, and from our observations there is no doubt that BerrilPs peak is the survey peak 20,570 ft. and that it is in the right place, and that the height is correct. Holmes's peak, two miles to the north, is about 20,340 ft.
We split again; Stephenson and Osselton with Chering climbed the easy snow pass at the head of the glacier and dropped down into a gorge which we hoped would lead to the Gyundi. Stopford and I remained at Camp II surveying, climbing, and ferrying stores. On the 11th, with Jigmy we climbed a fine snow peak ('Fluted Peak') of 20,200 ft. on the west of the pass to the Gyundi. From here we had an excellent view to the south and could pick out Peak 21,410 ft., Gunther's peak and Holmes's Central Peak. Two days later we attempted a rock peak of about 19,800 ft. on the northeast of the col, but were stopped by an exceedingly rotten tower about 300 ft. below the top.
The others returned on the 14th, having found a way down to the Gyundi. They had had some difficulty and had spent a day and a half scrambling over rotten rock and scree before they found a route. They had not, as they had hoped to do, gone far enough up the Gyundi to locate the pass to the Bara Shigri. We had in-sufficient supplies for the whole party to make the traverse to the Bara Shigri, so Stephenson took Sonam and Chering back to Batal via Losar to collect more supplies. (The P.W.D. supervisor at Batal, Beant Singh, was most helpful in allowing us to dump our supplies in his stores, in organizing our post, and in many other ways.) Stephenson would then ferry food up the Bara Shigri to meet us at Concordiaplatz.
View from point, about 18,000 ft., on ridge above Kunzum La, Looking South-East. Right to left peak 20,570 ft., peak 20,341 ft.
The rest of us, with eight days' food and lots of equipment, making very heavy loads, set off over the ' Losar' pass down to the Gyundi. At first we descended easily over a glacier but thereafter we spent hours traversing, slipping and sliding over scree before we could find a practicable descent into the valley. As soon as we reached the valley floor, we dumped the less important parts of our loads and trudged an interminable mile to the tent which the reconnaissance party had left behind.
The next day, we strolled up the valley with light loads nearly as far as the confluence of its central and western branches. It may have been the contrast with the scree of the previous day or our stay on the Losar glacier, but the Gyundi valley seemed one of the most beautiful that I have visited. We were still on the sedimentary rocks of Spiti and as we stood and looked down the valley each spur on either side was a different colour, blue-grey slate, purple shale, or red-brown flagstone. At one point, we came on an area of fine black shale, in which there were thousands of well-preserved brachiopod fossils. We also found three rough stone-shelters and a corral carpeted with sheep droppings. We wondered how the gaddis had brought their animals in; our route was certainly quite impossible for flocks. Possibly in the early summer when there are many snow-bridges it may be feasible to get through the Gyundi gorge. Someone should enquire at Morang. We did, however, find a cairn above our Losar pass, so our pass must have been crossed before, possibly by some belated shepherd.
Two days took us well up the Gyundi glacier. On August 19, we explored the head of the glacier searching behind a succession of overlapping spurs for a pass. We were now on the edge of the granite and in front of us was the curtain of aiguilles reminiscent of Chamonix. There seemed to be no break, but behind the next to last spur, just as we seemed to be heading for a dead end, we found a couloir leading up to the ridge. The snow, though steep, was in good condition, and utilizing a rock outcrop we soon reached the col. Looking through a small gap on the other side, we could see down to a sunlit glacier and, beyond, a meeting of three glaciers which could only be Concordia. From their description, this cannot be the same pass as the Abinger party used ; possibly they crossed a more awkward depression which we noticed in the ridge a little to the west.’ Back in camp after a hair-raising descent among concealed crevasses, we reassured Jigmy who had been getting more and more anxious the further we got from Losar; we were quite glad to be reassured ourselves, as the thought of climbing back from the Gyundi to the Losar pass was not pleasant.
We had three days' food which allowed us a spare day which we spent climbing a peak west of our camp; this proved to overlook the Karcha-Bara Shigri watershed and gave us a wonderful view of 'Central Peak' about one-and-a-half miles to the south-west. We decided to try to approach this mountain from the Bara Shigri and climb it. The next day, we moved camp to the foot of the col, thankful that it was an overcast cold day so that the crevasses were solidly bridged. Finally, with enough food only for that evening, we crossed our pass. At the top I unroped and climbed over a snow spur to prospect our route down; as I descended the convex slope, more and more of the glacier came into view and suddenly I saw two figures. They were Stephenson and Chering; they soon heard my shouts and climbed up to meet us. We had been lucky; Stephenson had concluded that we would not take such a risk with our provisions and that we were on our way back to Losar, but he had not wanted to miss seeing the Gyundi glacier, and so was on his way to have a I ook at it before returning down Ihe Bara Shigri.
Our camp that night was just above the Concordiaplatz with wonderful peaks to admire, but unfortunately no time to do more than admire them. We decided to attempt Central Peak, so the next day descended the Bara Shigri until we came to a subsidiary valley which we hoped would lead to its south base. On the day after, having climbed an icefall, we found that we were on the wrong glacier and had to content ourselves with a 19,500-ft. snow dome, climbed by Stephenson, Stopford, Jigmy and myself on August 24. From its summit we could map the configuration of the glaciers around Central Peak and it was easy to see the route we should have taken; but we had no time to spare and began our return down the glacier on the 25th. We returned to Manali on August 30.
From a survey point of view, we were well pleased with our achievements. We had carried the plane-table survey from the Spiti to the Bara Shigri and closed it on to Peak 21,760 ft. It closed with only a small error, and we are therefore prepared to be dog matic about the positions of peaks which we surveyed, and about their heights. Much as we would like to, we cannot make Holmes's 22,500 ft. peak anything like that height. There is no question of mis-identification; he gave us copies of some of his photographs and we compared them with the peak as we saw it. It coincides in position with the survey peak 21,410 ft., as Holmes thought, but we think its height is nearer 21,800 ft. than 21,410 ft. Neither can we subscribe to his height of 21,200 ft. for 'Central Peak'; our figure is 20,600 ft. With these reservations, however, we were most impressed with the accuracy of Holmes's map, considering the simple methods used and the large area mapped. The accompanying sketch-map is based on his map with our own emendations and additions. The Abinger survey of the Bara Shigri unfortunately contains some error of scale; but I hope with the help of Mrs. Dunsheath and of our own photographic survey work of the area to be able to map the whole glacier successfully. I regret that I have not been able to do so in time for this volume of the Himalayan Journal.
VIEW SOUTH-EAST FROM PEAK 19,500 FT, ON THE WEST OF THE GYUNDI. MIDDLE DISTANCE IS THE CIRQUE AT THE HEAD OF THE GYUNDI. BACKGROUND ON THE LEFT IS GUNTHER'S PEAK, 20,900 FT., AND HALF-RIGHT IS PEAK 2I,8OO FT., I.E. SURVEY PEAK 21,410 FT. (MARKED ON HOLMES'S MAP 22,500 FT.).
‘CENTRAL PEAK’, 20,600 FT., ON THE RIGHT, WITH ' LION ' ON THE LEFT. TAKEN FROM PEAK 19,500 FT. ON THE WEST SIDE OF THE GYUNDI, LOOKING SOUTH-WEST.
PEAK 20 570 FT. FROM THE SOUTH-EAST, TAKEN FROM THE RIDGE NORTH¬WEST OF THE LOSAR PASS.
FLUTED PEAK ' 20,200 FT., FROM THE NORTH-EAST, WITH CENTRAL PEAK ' AND THE LION IN THE BACKGROUND.
The climbing achievements of the party were not spectacular, but then none of us are spectacular climbers; in fact, Fluted Peak was the first real mountain Stopford had ever climbed. We were very pleased with our porters, and there seems no reason for ever importing a Sherpa into Kulu again. Jigmy had been well taught on his previous expeditions and was a competent climber and quite a successful cook; Chering was a wonderful load-carrier though perhaps too independent in character for some people; Sonam was immensely good-natured and generally found himself with the most awkward load. We are most grateful to Major Banon for finding them, and for much other help which greatly reduced the time spent in preparations at Manali.
Wc were very lucky with the weather. We had only one day (at Losar) quite unfit for climbing, and while we were in Spiti the skies were mainly clear. As we moved south into the Bara Shigri there was more and more cloud, enough to interfere with surveying if not with climbing.
The expedition was organized as economically as possible. As I had only a limited holiday, I flew out, but the rest drove out with all the equipment in an Austin Gipsy. All four of us drove back, and to compensate for my extra weight we shipped some of the equipment home. Apart from a few delicacies which we got as gifts in England, we bought all our food in India. By bringing all our equipment overland, and by having so little fcod, we saved any delays at the Indian customs, who were most helpful.