THE IMPERIAL COLLEGE KARAKORAM EXPEDITION, 1957
By K. J. MILLER
This expedition., which was initiated by mountaineers of the Imperial College, was led by Eric Shipton. The party was: Brian Amos (geologist), Geoffrey Bratt (surveyor), Graham Budd (doctor), Roger Cratchley (glaciologist), Chris Gravina (surveyor), Peter Grimley (geologist), Capt. Qureshi (Pakistan surveyor), Eric Shipton and myself.
Before trying to set down the expedition's successes and failures I would like to thank, on behalf of the team, all those who made this venture possible, in particular the men and women who constitute the Imperial College.
The expedition was almost sunk at the outset due to the Suez dispute, one effect of which was to delay the arrival of our equipment at Karachi by almost three weeks; it did not arrive until July 17.
Unperturbed, Amos, Gravina and I 'clad only in a shirt' and wearing cheap pairs of plimsolls set out to taste the 'local food'. The flight between Rawalpindi and Skardu, down the corridor formed by Nanga Parbat and Rakaposhi, is the most fantastic air journey of all but it is described most adequately and enchant-ingly in a previous issue of this Journal
In Skardu, we met the Austrian party returning from Broad Peak and Chogolisa and they informed us of the loss of Hermann Buhl on the last-mentioned peak. The same disquieting experience was repeated a few days later when we were told of Bob Downes' death on Masherbrum with the Manchester party, and our im-petuousness at seeing the Himalaya for the first time was greatly subdued.
The march out was fascinating. One would continually count hundreds of new granite spires and bug-bites but at the end of the Indus, Shyok, Hulde and Saltoro river marches we arrived in Goma, the hist; village in this area of Baltistan often referred to as Little Tibet.
Efforts to establish a survey base-line were thwarted by low clouds, on the Bilafond Wall, especially around Dansam at the junction of the Kondus and Saltoro valleys. After a week climbing in this neighbourhood only Chris had any footwear left. At this stage local food was not tasting too good but who dared grumble when we could see the porters nibbling away at boiled chick heads?
We were very thankful when the rest of the expedition was reported down at Khapalu by a local porter who unconcernedly was eating cake that Eric Shipton had given away. So we set off barefooted down the valley to meet them.
All the porters were paid off except those who had carried well on the march out, whom we retained as porters for the mountain journeys. The next day, August 5, the party set off up the Bilafond along the route last used by Sir John Hunt in 1935.
The right- hand route through the snout and moraines of the glacier was heart-breaking and to our disgust we later found an ablation valley down the left-hand flank which afforded an easier line.
Ali Brangsa moraine camp near the head of the Bilafond glacier was our launching base just before the Bilafond La (Saltoro Pass). From here Qureshi was to descend the Bilafond and map it, and then continue his work in the Gyong and Chulung valleys. Amos, Cratchley and Gravina were to go over the pass, descend the Lolo- fond glacier, find a way across the fast-flowing surface streams of the Siachen glacier and eventually set out up the Teram Shehr glacier, a tributary which enters from the east and survey this to the watershed of the Rimo glacier. Meanwhile Shipton and Grimley were to ferry down I he loads to a Base Camp at the junction of the Lolofond and Siachen glaciers. This left Graham Budd, Geo I Trey Bratt and myself to sit up on the La and start our survey work and when possible to climb neighbouring peaks, hour survey stations were set up, three of them being on the Bilafond Wall overlooking K36. K36, or Saltoro Kangri I, 25,400 ft., had been one of our ambitions but due to the time lost and the poor state of the mountain it was decided to concentrate on the area in the vicinity of the Lolofond head.
Towitz Peak, c. 21,000 ft., between the Lolofond and K36 glaciers, was climbed. The summit was heavily corniced which necessitated volunteer Geoff, sitting on its very edge, complete with photo- theodolite equipment, so that a 360° vision could be achieved. Whilst the cornice groaned Geoff did a first-class piece of work, and his sin of mishandling the loose rock during the ascent was readily forgiven.
The descent down the ice-wall was taken very slowly to the edge of the ice-cliffs when a traverse to the buttressed ridge was effected. The first party down waited for the second party at the base of the ridge where we congratulated ourselves on our first 20,000-ft. peak.
The La Camp was now evacuated and transferred to the upper Lolofond at about 17,500 ft. This camp was under the shadow of a peak we called Island Peak, c. 22,500 ft., and conveniently placed us for an attempt on the mountain. It was a very pleasant camp between several ice-pools which delivered ready water, allowing early breakfasts and early starts. Our first station was east of the mountain on a ridge aiguille. From here the first possible approach route to Island Peak was seen to possess too many difficulties to assure us of success within one day's climbing. A one-day attempt was necessary because we had no porters to help us establish higher camps. Our attention was now turned to the West ridge which was first inspected from a survey station set up near its foot. The next day Geoff, Graham and I set out on our 'cheap day excursion' and after the icefall, the steep snow Hanks of the ridge were climbed and so on to a very easy ridge. Although not technically difficult the ridge was long and distance was grossly underestimated. The ridge finally embedded itself into a snow dome about 600 ft. below the north summit which we had until then thought to be the top.
On the pinnacled north summit, crampons were removed and the survey work completed (ieoll, who wished to descend, very unselfishly waited whilst Graham and I traversed across to the south summit, which we thought was 'only ten minutes away'. The traverse was low down the steep west Hank because of a heavy cornice. Then the top; a few photographs, some feelings of joy and of gratitude to those who made it possible; then the descent. Poor Geolf, after praying for us began to pray for himself some ninety minutes later. We were amazed when he told us how long we had been. All this effort had been worth while, however, because from the summit ridge the whole north flank of K12, 24,370 ft., was revealed and what amazed us was the colossal basin it commanded. Where did this huge reservoir empty itself; and was that a col on its western rim that could lead to the Bilafond? It was obvious that a party must try and get itself established in the basin soon, if only the entrance could be found. From the north peak we descended the now melting ice until it ran out into the ridge. A much deviating route was taken back to camp, where we arrived very late and not a little tired.
After a day's idleness we broke camp and, owing to the non- arrival of the porters, an overburdened party zigzagged its way down the Lolofond glacier. A lot of new snow appeared to increase the number of crevasses and consequently progress was slow and painful. The porters met us a few hundred yards from their camp. That evening we appreciated their food and company in their large Whymper tent.
Saltoro Kangri (k36), 25,400 ft., seen from the bilafond wall.
View East from summit of towitz peak. Lolofond Glacier (foreground), Teram Shehr Glacier (background), Unite with Siachen glacier. ‘Lost’ Oasis, offshoot of Teram Shehr, is right of centre.
Siachen base was reached the next day, August 22, and from here Budd and I crossed the Siachen glacier to find the Teram Shehr party. The Siachen has many fast-flowing surface streams and some twelve medial moraines; we found that the slate moraine, lying approximately 900 yds. from the right bank, provided remarkably easy travelling. We found Gravina, Cratchley and Amos at the 'lost’ oasis which lies near the junction of the Siachen and the Tern ni Shehr glaciers. This beautiful spot is a paradise for any mountaineer. Here, at nearly 16,000 ft., one finds grass in abundance, lakes, ibex, many birds and gloriously-coloured flowers. We found a monument carved out by Prof. Dainelli in 1930.2
When we arrived we found the others contemplating a somewhat similar carving which, however, was never begun. In about two-and-a-half weeks they had accomplished a great deal of work, having reached the great ice plateau at 20,000 ft., formed by the tributaries of the Teram Shehr and those of the Rimo glaciers in the vicinity of the Italy Pass (first crossed by Prof. Dainelli). The views down the Rimo and across the Shaksgam to the Aghil range had been superb. We all re-crossed the Siachen the next day, August 24, and reached the main base.
For the next three days the weather was bad and plans had to be re-arranged in order to make the best use of the limited time left to us. It was decided to find an entrance into the K12 basin and search for the possible pass we had viewed from the top of Island Peak. Whilst a reconnaissance group set off in waist-deep snow down the Siachen, the rest of us set down a chain of food dumps. Five days later the reconnaissance group of Cratchley, Gravina and Budd returned, having found not only the entrance but a way through an icefall into a low secondary basin and then up a second icefall to the edge of the main basin itself. Soon we were all camped at the foot of the first icefall and here Shipton, very unselfishly, volunteered to prepare an escape route back over the Bilafond La in case it should prove impossible to find a way out of the K12 basin via the pass. This proved to be the case, but largely because the weather in the upper basin made travel almost impossible.
The whole team helped Cratchley, Bratt, Gravina and myself to move camps into the basins and then left us to work. Cratchley and I did two stations in and above the lower basin. However, both relied on common points being located by Gravina and Bratt in the upper basin. Unfortunately this they were unable to do, owing to foul weather, having had to struggle through deep snow through the second icefall. From one of our stations on the containing walls of the basins we could look into the upper basin where conditions looked anything but good. The upper party had a rough time, shovelling snow off their tents most of the night with low cloud and snow preventing stations being established during the day. Five days later, the winds whispered retreat into our ears and a very slow and careful party made its way down the icefalls, which were now masked by new snow. Gratefully we fell back on to the route prepared by the rest of the team.
His Base Camp was retained at this spot for nearly two months. H.J., IV, p. 50.
Reuniting with the party on the Lolofond we were told of Budd's lucky escape from a crevasse-long outstretched hands had saved him, whilst he called on nature only six or seven yards from camp. From now on, everyone moved in pairs with a rope between them wherever they went.
Early next morning, September 12, Shipton, Gravina, Bratt, Budd and Grimley set out to beat a track for Amos, Cratchley and myself who with three porters were to cross the Bilafond La and descend to Goma to recruit porters should conditions further deteriorate; this, however, proved unnecessary.
From a tributary glacier which joins the Bilafond opposite Naram, it was found that one branch led to the South face of K12 and another to the col which we had tried to reach from the K12 basin. As the snow conditions were no better on this southern side, no attempt was made to reach the col, which, however, seemed to be quite accessible.
At Goma we linked up with Qureshi. We began the journey down to Skardu on September 24.
Dr. T. G. Longstaff, in 1909, visited the Siachen glacier via the Bilafond and discovered Teram Kangri (R.G.S. Journal, June 1910).
The Bullock-Workmans, in 1911 and 1912, surveyed the Siachen glacier (The Rose glacier), and established the height of Teram Kangri (24,489f ft.). They entered the area via the Bilafond and returned via the Kondus (R.G.S. Journal, February 1914).
In 1929, the Vissers visited the Siachen glacier ascending it for Some five miles (H.J., II, p. 109).
Central Peak and Island Peak on right Flank of Lolofond glacier
K12 observed from Bilafond glacier, summit is left of centre background.
Siachen Glacier-The Jiunction of the k12 glacier and entrance to the basin.
Part of the road up the Shyok Valley near Sailang.
In 1930, Prof. Dainelli explored the Siachen, Teram Shehr and Rimo glaciers (R.G.S. Journal, 1932; H.J., IV, p. 46),
Reports of the Imperial College expedition have been completed, and it is hoped that maps based on the party's survey will be published shortly.
HJ., VIII, p. 14. The Attempt on Peak 36.