DEO TIBBA AND INDRASAN, 1958
idea of an attempt to climb Indrasan, 20,410 ft., which lies about two miles to the north-east of Deo Tibba, was born on April 10, 1958, in the lounge of Major Henry Banon's guest-house at Manali at the head of the Kulu valley.
Gathered there was a party of climbers to whom the Himalaya represented a desirable, but not essential, stage on a trans-world journey either to or from home according to their point of origin.
Pat Morrison and Ron Mowll, who had been working in Canada and sight-seeing in New Zealand, had reached the Himalaya stage; moreover, they had persuaded Basil Poff, a professional Alpine guide in New Zealand, to accompany them en route for the United Kingdom.
My own presence in Kulu was due to fortunate travel circumstances. I was returning to the U.K. via India from Malaya where I had been working for the Outward Bound Trust. Further, I had been advised by Major Jeff Douglas, leader of a Yeti-hunting expedition to Kulu in the winter of 1957/58, that the area was accessible and attractive even to lightly-equipped parties. Whilst in Malaya, I had discussed tentatively plans based on Jell s letter with Michael Thompson, a subaltern in the King's Dragoon Guards. He subsequently joined the party eight days after (he original meeting.
On arriving in Manali on March 22, I set about acquiring information regarding Deo Tibba and Indrasan from the Himalayan Journal, especially Vol. XVII, 1952, and The Mountain World, 1954, which contain comprehensive accounts of attempts on the two peaks up to that time. Since then, Deo Tibba has been climbed a second time by Miss Eileen Gregory, with two Ladakhi porters in 1956.1
From March 22 until May 6, the party was assembling in John Banon's bungalow and making reconnaissance sorties into the nullas radiating from the valley of the River Beas. These were the Duhangan and Hampta nullas to the east, and the Manalsu nulla to the west, of Manali. From the heights to the north of this last-named, excellent views of the two peaks were obtained.
Finally we made a memorable journey to Kyelang, the capital of Lahul beyond the Rohtang Pass, 13,050 ft. For allegedly cross-ing the Inner Line at Sissu we were arrested in Kyelang by the Punjab Armed Police. We were, and still are, under the impression that this barrier is not encountered until Jispa beyond Kyelang, but our ‘error' was courteously corrected and we were urged to return to Manali.2
The attractive, variegated ice-sheathed peaks which lie to the south of the Chandra river commanded our admiring gaze throughout the marches along the failing shale track, the ' route one' of Lahul.
Indrasan, 20,410 ft., from 18,000 ft. Plateau due S.E. of Dei tibba.
Casual Himalayan travel is the pleasantest way of passing time I know, but economic circumstances now decreed that we should commence our attempt on Indrasan.
Sent out from London, Mike's equipment was held up by the Bombay Customs, and it was obvious that it would not be released in time. He devised a pair of overboots, soled in vibram, to envelop his light kletterschuhe and prevent frostbite. One of the Manali cobblers created the boots from Mike's design. We possessed three tents, the best was an American Army mountain tent in oiled fabric. The other two were light two-man tents which we adapted by sewing in groundsheets and snow flaps. Two of the party had double sleeping bags and I had the unique honour of an air-mattress which, however, refused to stay inflated. Our climbing equipment was suitable for British winter ascents, with the addition of crampons and a few pitons.
Despite our minimum equipment, seven Kulu porters assembled on the evening of May 6 to receive loads and instructions for the following day. We had food and fuel sufficient for eighteen days away from Manali. That night Pat accidentally set fire to one of the adapted tents and averted its complete destruction by beating out the flames with his bare hands, which were badly blistered. But the main caravan was not delayed and it departed from Manali early on May 7, leaving Pat and Mike to follow on. Though back-packing equivalent loads the climbers, perhaps on account of fitness, found the porters aggravatingly slow and reluctant to increase speed. Consequently Pat, to his astonishment, overtook the caravan as it was turning east from the main valley of the Beas into Duhangan nulla on the spur high above the slated roofs of Jagatsukh village. Progress was slow and the first night was spent near a huge overhanging rock used as a cattle-shelter on Khanuri Thach.
The next day saw a great improvement, for the distance and height achieved was twice that of the initial march. Two hundred feet above the river and two miles up the valley from Dudu, Base Camp was sited in a dry and homely cave, its entrance carpeted with wild rhubarb, at the foot of a cliff in the north wall of the nulla. Late that evening a wild shout from the depths of the nulla announced Mike's arrival; though heavily laden he had covered 12 miles and 6,000 ft. of ascent in the excellent time of 12 hours.
The Inner Line is reached at Darcha, one stage beyond Jispa; the policemen were over-dutiful (Ed.).
On the morning of May 9, the Kulu men were paid off and commenced the descent to Manali. Simultaneously Basil, Mike and I began the first ferry journey of many to lift our stores towards the mountain. Shortly before the head of the nulla at Seri we walked through an idyllic glade carpeted with spring flowers of brilliant hues, which was used as a base camp site by Charles Evans in 1952. The head of the nulla was a semi-circular line of cliffs seamed by cascading glacier torrents and marked on the map as ‘moraine '.
We cast around for a route up to the higher continuation shelf which eventually abuts against the final containing wall of the Watershed ridge of Deo Tibba. The south side offered a long and laborious snow plod, which later became the normal descent route. The north side was shorter but steeper and eventually yielded a route up the centre by way of a difficult crack and a steep slab. This was abandoned in all subsequent ascents in favour of an easy snow tongue.
The top of the clilf led easily into the snow-covered upper valley which carries the outflow from the Chandra Till. To the north, the satellites of Deo Tibba presented a fantasia of aiguilles from the roots of which two colossal green-blue glacier snouts hung poised above us. Under the stark south face of Deo Tibba, the source of regular avalanches, protected by a deep transverse trench, we established Camp I at 3.30 p.m. on May 9. From this site, about half-a-mile from the cliffs supporting the Chandra Tal, we identified the 17,155-ft. summit climbed by Mr. and Mrs. Peck in 1950, and we traced a possible route for climbing the west side of the Watershed ridge bounding the large plateau of the Malana neves. We intended to place Camp II somewhere near Piton ridge and supplement our light tents with ice-caves, if conditions were suitable. The second day of ferrying was marked by a fierce snowstorm and stores were hurriedly dumped at Camp I by snow-plas- tered figures anxious to regain the sanctuary of a substantial cave.
Camp I was occupied on May 11 without Ron Mowll, who was forced to descend to Manali with a catarrhal infection. The last stage of the climb from Camp I to the plateau of the Malaria glacier lay across the steep 1,000-ft. side of the Watershed ridge. A minor bergschrund lay at the foot of the slope which could be climbed by burdened men in one-and-a-half hours. On May 12 it was ascended by the party, and a hasty cache of food and equipment was deposited on a windswept col at 16,500 ft. The inclement weather forced a hasty retreat from the sobering vista of the Deo Tibba massif in the north round to Ali Ratni Tibba in the south.
South face of Deo Tibba, 19,687 ft. Upper part of Indrasan visible behind watershed ridge.
View North-East from c. 17,500 ft. (‘consolation peak’) situated on rock island in Malana Neve south of peak 17,511 ft.
The following day of sunshine was spent resting and repairing equipment, but far from heralding a period of fine weather it was the calm before the storm. This broke on May 14, and gave the tents such a severe battering that we lost confidence in the plan of placing them high. The crisis of the storm occurred in the early morning of May 15, when the front poles of the Army tent snapped. The party extricated itself and abandoned the camp for the relative security of the cave 3,000 ft. below.
At the end of four days the storm abated sufficiently to encourage a return to Camp I. Ron had returned in better health, but Basil became sick and descended to Manali. Mike and Ron re-opened the route to Camp I and occupied the tents on May 20. Pat and I joined them later in the day and we were relieved to find a sturdy shelter.
The delay caused by the storm meant that Mike needed additional leave, and he planned to descend to Manali and send a cable. In the end, he could not resume the climb and returned to Malaya having worked hard for little reward. Resuming our plan on May 21, Ron and I plodded up to the foot of the Watershed ridge slope through a myriad of tiny dead flies which, presumably, had perished trying to attain the col. Three hours later, Camp II was established at 16,500 ft. Three days of storm followed that event and effectively interned us at Camp I where the time was spent repairing Basil's tent and Ron's face, both storm-ravaged.
On the eighteenth day out from Manali, May 24, Pat, Ron and I occupied Camp II which comprised two tents on the windswept Malana plateau. The snow condition was not conducive to digging caves. The array of peaks to the east was a breathtaking spectacle but our immediate need was to uncover the cache of food. This proved to be a herculean task since 3 feet of snow had fallen in 14 days and our original sightings were faulty. Storm was the rule and a fine day was a rarity. For a further three days we endured continuous snowfall whilst Pat and Ron grew steadily weaker from a throat infection. On May 28, Pat and I climbed part-way up Piton ridge and cached a small supply of food in preparation for establishing Camp III on the 18,000-ft. plateau between Deo Tibba and Indrasan.
Pat's throat grew worse on the descent and he decided to return to Camp I the following day. Meanwhile Ron had taken to his sleeping bag with chest pains, and it became obvious that the weather's siege had defeated us. It was decided to quit the plateau on the 30th after two more days of storm. However, soft snow and violent gusts made progress very slow and the first man down the side of Watershed ridge avalanched the entire wall! He was unceremoniously hauled back and we retreated to dwell another night in what had become canvas-lined ice-holes. The 31st dawned clear and we descended past Camp I, buried to the apex in snow, to the first cave-bivouac below the snowline.
On June 1, we re-entered Manali and refreshed ourselves on the abundant cherries. Eight days later, Basil and I set out again for the mountain, leaving Pat and Ron to convalesce and recover from their throat infection. We reached the cave in one day, Camp I the second day, and on the third consecutive fine day we reached Camp II. It was completely wrecked with a foot of water lying in the American tent. An hour's exposure to the sun sufficed to dry out the contents and the tent was re-pitched. Our plan to attempt Indrasan was modified to seeking a way up the Watershed ridge of Deo Tibba with the secondary aim of reconnoitring an approach to Indrasan.
The weather held fine, and on June 11 at dawn Basil and I com menced to climb the Watershed ridge of Deo Tibba. The welcome sun cast a rosy glow over our objective and we cramponed hurriedly across the bergschrund on a substantial bridge. From this rift the ridge leaped steeply upwards bordering a narrow couloir. We gained the crest of this magnificent snow arete and climbed it for about 500 ft. Re-entering the couloir, and keeping a wary eye on the ice-cliffs which threatened it, we zigzagged impatiently until we reached a rock outcrop marking the end of another arete on the Punta San Marco side of the couloir. Basil escaped on the right by a steep snow bank and regained the foot of the arete by traversing over putrefying ice. I joined him and we arrived at the base of the final dome. Together we ascended the staircase kicked by Basil in firm compact snow.
At 10.15 a.m. we arrived at the crest of the dome to be confronted by Indrasan which appeared in splendid isolation. We both felt certain of the summit and, like Charles Evans, had reason to regret our confidence. After a photographic session and a short meal we turned towards the glacier col and the final summit dome. The weather had deteriorated and heavy cumulo-nimbus clouds were building up around Ali Ratni Tibba and the peaks of the Tos nulla. At the glacier col perhaps 1,000 ft. below the Summit of Deo Tibba the snow consistency changed and we began to flounder to the knees whilst the storm clouds hovered ominously. It was
nearly 1 o'clock. At that point, we stopped and debated the issue. The odds were against our going on. Our tent was 2,000 ft. below and we could not have reached it before nightfall. Reluctantly we decided against going for the summit and, with one accord, we turned to descend. Since this was our last opportunity to examine the 18,000-ft. plateau we traversed eastwards over the Punta San Marco at the top of Piton ridge and descended the couloir used by Graaff during the first ascent of Deo Tibba in 1952. Recrossing Piton ridge near its foot we recovered our cache deposited exactly a fortnight earlier and reached our tent at 7 p.m. as a cold blanket of darkness enveloped us.
VIEW FROM PEAK ,C.17500 FT., LOOKING EAST - SOUTH-EAST - SOUTH
Basil spent a bad night but we were determined to seek consolation for our defeat on Deo Tibba, so we set out for a sprightly little peak about 17,500 ft. high on the south-east edge of the Malana neve directly south of Peak 17,155 ft.-which we thought would make a good observation point. This offered a sporting climb along a snow ridge rising to a rock summit from which I photographed the panorama here reproduced.
Long ago, General Bruce wrote that it was unwise to arouse the wrath of the Kulu gods. We now know what he meant, for was it not an outraged Indra-the Thunder God-who subjected to fierce storms the mortals who had contemplated ascending his throne ?
Survey of India Sheet 52H/SW.