The expedition planned to go to the Hunza valley, north of Gilgit, in the Karakoram range, and explore the Minapin glacier east of the Rakaposhi massif. The party consisted of E. G. C. (Ted) Warr (leader), Dr. Chris Hoyte, Walter Sharpley, Dennis Kemp and Trevor Braham, who flew up from Calcutta to meet us in Minapin.
Three days before the leader and the doctor sailed from Liverpool a telegram arrived: 'Permission for Minapin refused, alternative plan approved.' The alternative was to visit the Biafo glacier, with Skardu as our starting point instead of Gilgit.
We arrived at Rawalpindi on April 20, where after many delays, permission for the Minapin glacier was eventually granted. Here, we were joined by our liaison officer, Lt. Jaffery of the Pakistan Army. On May 2 with our If tons of baggage we flew to Gilgit over what must be one of the most exacting routes that any airline has to fly. Here, we hired five jeeps for the 48-mile journey to Minapin along the recently completed road that continues on to the capital of Hunza. Minapin proved to be a green oasis situated on the debris cone beneath the Minapin glacier. The names Minapin glacier and Minapin Peak did not seem to mean anything to the men of the village. Minapin Peak was referred to as Dumani, as was Rakaposhi itself.
We required 50 coolies to carry our stores up the glacier, and in addition the Mir of Nagar had selected some men for us as h.a. porters. Unlike the Hunzas, the men of Nagar had not worked as h .i pol lers before. We visited Nagar and were most hospitably received by the Mir. He was anxious that his men should work lor us in order to gain experience.
We were advised by the people of Minapin that it was still too early to go up the glacier because the snowline was very low. We planned to place our Base Camp at Kacheli, c. 12,250 ft., a summer grazing ground, which we were told would not be clear of snow until July.
Our first sortie was to a reconnaissance camp on grass at about 10,000 ft. From here, four of us and Lt. Jaffery made an early start and walked over perfectly firm snow to Kacheli. The walk back was tiring, through deep soft snow under a hot sun. We decided to establish a small camp at Kacheli to enable the upper reaches of the glacier to be explored. Meanwhile, arrangements were made for the bulk of our stores to be carried up the glacier as far as the snowline.
At this point our liaison officer, who had been conducting all the negotiations on our behalf, received a message to return to Rawalpindi. Immediately he had gone the porters came out on strike, and all the arrangements which had been agreed upon in great detail broke down. Whilst the deadlock continued, there was a spell of bad weather with high winds and rain and snow. On May 24, Trevor Braham arrived and suddenly cur fortunes changed. Red tape had kept him cooling his heels in Rawalpindi for a fortnight of his precious six weeks' leave. In no time Trevor, with his fluent Urdu, had engaged fifty coolies to carry our stores to the snowline, and selected seven men to act as porters; they were headed by Ghulam.
We equipped them with clothing and boots and very soon a depot camp was established at the snowline at 11,500 ft. While the seven porters ferried loads to our Base Camp at 12,250 ft., we reconnoitred the icefalls of the upper glacier and flagged a route to Camp I at 15,000 ft. Our Base Camp at Kacheli lay about 4 miles up the glacier, near a tributary issuing from a rocky group to the north, and behind a protecting moraine-ridge. The grazing ground was under 12 ft. of snow when we arrived. Four miles beyond, near the head of the glacier, was situated Camp I on a broad plateau that seemed to be free from the danger of avalanches; these were many and impressive. We now began to stock Camp I, taking it in turns to ferry loads from Base. The round trip took about 6 hours and starts were made at 2 a.m. in order to avoid the deep soft snow and the heat of the sun.
To the south a breathtaking ridge of fluted ice connected Minapin with Rakaposhi. Mike Banks and his party were attempting this peak by a ridge route remote from us and out of our view. Minapin Peak, 23,861 ft., rose pyramid-shaped at the eastern end of the connecting ridge, which looked as though it did not anywhere fall below 20,000 ft. The head of the Minapin glacier ran up to a steep col at about 16,000 ft., leading over to the Silkiang and Bualtar glaciers. On the left of this a steep ridge rose to a Snow Dome at 18,510 ft.; to the right of the col the North ridge of Minapin Peak rose in one unbroken line to the summit.
Above the glacier to the north was a group of rock peaks rising to about 19,000 ft. To the west, the ridges and spurs of the Rakaposhi massif squeezed the broad and smooth Minapin glacier northwards into a steeply descending mass of seracs, discharging its melting waters into the Hunza river. This provides the irrigation water that alone prevents Minapin from being a hot and barren desert.
Minapin Peak 23,861 ft., seen from below base camp. North ridge left skyline, west ridge right, leading to Rakaposhi Massif. Between the two ridges is the north face.
East face of Rakaposhi, 25,550 ft., seen from camp IV on west ridge on Minapin peak. Note avalanche sweeping across glacier.
The obvious route to the summit of Minapin Peak was up the long North ridge from the col. But reconnaissance from the Snow Dome showed the other side of the ridge to be an impressively steep wall of ice, with the lower part of the ridge itself undercut by waves of cornices for much of its length. The top half was certainly easy but it did not seem to be accessible from the col; and the slopes leading to our side of the ridge were composed of rock-studded ice, steep and with many avalanche-couloirs, all very active. The only route seemed to be up the North face to the broad col situated on the West ridge. The face was studded with seracs but closer scrutiny revealed a route that possibly avoided the worst of the dangers.
On June 12, Chris and Trevor ventured up the face to explore. Setting up a tent at 17,000 ft., under an ice-cliff, they spent an uneasy night thinking of the tons of tottering ice poised above them, and then they returned to Camp I. Their report was favourable. There was no technical difficulty, the snow was in good condition until 9 a.m. but there was no suitable place for a tent. So we dug a snow cave at c. 17,000 ft., which became Camp II and was first occupied by Chris and Trevor on June 16.
The weather at this period was cyclic; four or five days of snow followed by four days of bright sunshine. The first two of these fine days were spent watching the new snow avalanche and consolidate ; then we were off climbing again.
We started to build up supplies at Camp II, returning to Camp I each time the weather changed for the worse; for there seemed no point in spending snowbound days at the higher camp consuming supplies lifted there at such effort.
At last, before a chance of pushing further than Camp II presented itself, Trevor's leave ran out and he had to depart for home. But before this, one brilliantly fine day enabled Trevor and me to make the ascent of the Snow Dome. After a 3 a.m. start, the summit was reached at 9.45 a.m. on June 22. It proved to be a fine vantage point with a view of wave upon wave of peaks as far as the eye could see, including peaks of 24,000 ft.-25,000 ft. in Hunza that will tax the skill of future climbers unless there are less difficult faces than we could see. To the north-east, a massive rounded peak thrust up snow-covered shoulders in lonely splendour, possibly Peak 24,044 ft., over 20 miles away. To the east, the mountain architecture was really superb, with peak after impressive peak crowding in one above the other.
Trevor left on June 23 and with him went two of our porters, Ghulam and Ali Mohamed, who had refused to venture on the North face to Camp II. These two together with Shuja and Mehrban had been retained as h.a. porters; we had tried to give them simple instructions in the use of the rope and ice-axe, but they were mostly disinterested except for Shuja, who volunteered to carry to Camp II as did Mehrban. These two men were very loyal and, of all the Minapin men, we felt that they were the only two worth recommending for future employment. With their aid we made many carries to Camp II, and although they were willing to go higher, this raised problems of tentage, food and equipment. Moreover, the upper slopes did not look as though they would be an ideal place for two men completely untrained as climbers.
On June 24, Ted Warr and Chris Hoyte reached the col on the West ridge and sited a tent just below the crest; this was Camp III at 19,200 ft. We were delayed by snow and bad weather in following up this advance and it was not until July 4 that the four of us were able to make a carry. Ted and Chris had done a remarkable piece of route-finding. What looked from below like smooth unbroken snowslopcs turned out to be steep snowslopes broken by wide crcvasscs which caused considerable detours under nasty-looking seracs. None of these actually fell on us, but climbing under them was not a pleasant experience. Those that collapsed were courteous enough to do so while we were not near them.
One big crevasse was bridged by a caving ladder, borrowed from my caving club. There was another mauvais pas stepping from a snow-bridge on to the upper lip of a crevasse. The final 200-ft. slope to Camp III was the steepest of all, and took about three hours. Three feet of powder snow, that refused to compact into a decent step, lay on a firm substratum of good snow. But the powder snow made it difficult to reach the good snow. The problem was solved by digging away the powder snow with our shovel, and kicking bucket steps in the firmer stuff underneath, but it was tiring work.
On July 5, Walter Sharpley and I had a rest-day, but Chris and Ted, driven by inner fires, went off to reconnoitre the route to Camp IV. There was no difficulty anywhere and they found a good site at 21,500 ft. that was thought to be two-thirds the horizontal distance to the summit from Camp III. The next day, four of us carried a tent and supplies to Camp IV. Once Ted and Chris were installed, Wally and I returned to Camp III. Some clouds appeared in the sky that afternoon and the sunset was very red, signs that bad weather was coming. Our plan was that Ted and Chris would make the summit bid the next morning while Wally and I carried more food to Camp IV.
North ridge of Minapin peak, 23,861 ft., seen from top of peak 18,510 ft.
At camp III on Minapin peak, left to right on skyline: peak 23,620 ft., momhilsar, 24,090 ft., Trivor peak, 25,330 fgt., peak 18,510 ft. (snow dome), centre foreground.
Monday the 7th was very windy, and by the time Wally and I had reached the one narrow point on the ridge beyond which it was a stiff hour's climb to Camp IV, we were quite exhausted. We cooked our food, planted a flag and returned to Camp III. Some time later we saw Ted and Chris high up on the face under the summit. Soon it was evident that they were climbing up, not coming down, so we assumed that the wind was less fierce up there. There seemed to be no point in returning to Camp IV even if we could have summoned enough energy to do so, so we continued down to Camp III. At about 11 a.m. clouds descended and hid the summit from our view until the evening; we did not see Ted or Chris again.
The following morning, July 8, we set oIT at dawn for Camp IV, arriving at midday. It was a calm, sunny, warm morning but we saw no movement on the face nor had the tent been occupied. Later that day we followed the footsteps of Ted and Chris on to the upper slopes. We did so again on July 9, following their ascending tracks until the snow conditions worsened and it became prudent to return. There was no sign of Ted and Chris whatever. It was distressingly obvious that something more serious had occurred than an overnight bivouac. We could scarcely take in the tragedy; they had been so fit and confident. We descended to Camp I where Lt. Jaffery, Shuja and Mehrban were waiting.
At Minapin there were no jeeps as the river was in flood and the road had been washed away. I hastened on horseback to the Post and Telegraph office at Chalt. Then I came back to Minapin where we began the return journey to Gilgit with all the kit on foot and on horseback, arriving there on July 27.