A Member of Japanese Alpine Club


Reprinted from JAPAN QUARTERLY, October—December,
1958, Vol. V, No. 4.

THERE have been many expeditions to the Himalayas, but our party A can have had few parallels. Its members, for one thing-an author, a painter, a photographer, and a doctor—were an unlikely crew. On all the tents we took with us was sewn the legend ‘Artists A C.' (A.C. signifying ‘Alpine Club'). The phrase, perhaps, concealed a certain pride: we might not be energetic climbers, but in our appreciation of the beauties of the mountains we were second to none.

The next oddity was our ages. Yamakawa Yuichiro, the artist, was 48. Kazami Takehide, the photographer, was 43. The doctor, Kohara Kazuyoshi, was 36, while the present writer must confess to 55. An average age of over 45. In any ordinary job, a man may be at his prime at 45, but for mountaineering he is an old man. I know of almost no case where a party of such ripe years has ventured into the Himalayas.

The third peculiarity was the comparatively little money we spent. The whole three months from the time we left Calcutta for the Himalayas until our return to Calcutta cost under Y300,000 (approximately $830 or £300) per person. We lived, in other words, more economically than the man leading a fairly comfortable life in Tokyo.

We set sail from Kobe, on March 2, on board the B.I.S.N. ship Sangola. We four were the only Japanese on the ship, but we were treated with every kindness by the passengers and crew, who even held a concert to wish success to our expedition.

We reached Calcutta in broiling heat on March 24. The equipment and food we had brought with us—approximately 2½ tons of it-was stored in the hold, and we were forced to hang about in Calcutta for more than a week before the unloading and the troublesome customs procedures were got through.

From Calcutta to Raxaul on the border of India and Nepal involved a sweltering train journey of about a day and a half. At Raxaul, we were joined by the Sherpas whose services we had previously engaged, and who had been waiting since their arrival from Darjeeling the day before. These worthy fellows, indispensable to any Himalayan expedition, deserve a special mention of their own. Their names were Pasang Phutar, Lhakpa Tenzing and Dawa Thondup. The last named in particular is a veteran of the Himalayas, having taken part in a whole succession of famous expeditions ever since 1933.

At Raxaul we were forced to spend yet another, boring, week waiting for our baggage to come by freight train. In order to recover lost time, we went from Simla, near the border, to Kathmandu by plane. The trip occupied a mere 20 minutes, but it took us over the great jungle area of Terai, famous for big-game hunting. The air in the Nepalese capital, about 4,000 ft. above sea level, was refreshingly cool after the heat of India. Here was the starting-point for the Himalayas.



We first reported to the Nepalese Government, went through the prescribed formalities and paid the necessary royalty of 1,000 rupees. Next we made contracts with the porters and set about buying the stocks of goods necessary to take with us in caravan. One of the things which kept us most busy was dividing up our 2½ tons of baggage into lots of 30 kilograms, the share for each porter.

We found we should need 80 porters in all. When to these porters were added ourselves, four in number, the three Sherpas and our liaison officer, Amatya, we had assembled a vast company of close on 90 souls.

On April 17, the morning of our departure arrived at last. At 9-30, the army of porters bearing red, yellow, blue and white packs, coloured to distinguish their contents, formed a long single column under the direction of the Sherpas and set off from Kathmandu. During the next eleven days until our arrival at Base Camp the party trudged along mountain paths too narrow for two to walk abreast. All the time we went either up or down ; there were almost no level stretches. The heat of the day was terrible, and clouds of dust arose from the parched red earth. Occasionally by the wayside there would be a tree with widespreading branches, under whose cool shade we and the porters would stop with the same relief to take rest.

The march in caravan, which is an inevitable forerunner to any climbing in the Himalayas, is said to be an ideal opportunity for getting the body in trim. Nothing could be more true. Thanks to our march to Base Camp, up hill and down dale without a day's rest, we began to develop muscles of steel. The foothills reaching out from the Himalayas stretched on before us, range after range, as far as the eye could see, each of them terraced from base to summit. Even the highest places were cultivated, in silent witness to man's perseverance.

On the morning of the fifth day of caravan we had, as we reached the top of a certain pass, our first full view to the north of our goal, Jugal Himal. It was a magnificent sight, glistening with its cover of snow and ice. Thenceforth our route took us along the Balephi river, which flows down from Jugal Himal. The road wound its way high up along the flank of the mountains on the left bank ; on the lofty stretch of hills, separated from us by a deep valley, that formed the opposite bank, the terraced fields stretched up almost to the summits, while here and there were groups of houses on slopes so high that one wondered why they were not too inconvenient for anyone to live on at all.

When we reached the last hamlet, Tempathang, however, the terraces finally came to an end. The increasing milky cloudiness of the river water proclaimed that we were at last approaching the Himalayas, for it was a sign that glaciers were near at hand. We struck our tents on the dry river bed at Tempathang. That evening a swarm of the village children came to see us and danced Tibetan dances for our benefit. We were utterly charmed by the sight as, all with a vast seriousness, they danced in a ring to a monotonous melody played on the mouth-organ by one of their number.

We took three days from this last hamlet to Base Camp, during which we passed through forests of rhododendrons in full bloom. The flowers, in scarlet, white, pink and a host of other shades, formed a seemingly never-ending tunnel through which we passed. At a height of about 11,000 ft., however, the forest petered out and there followed an Alpine zone of small shrubs and rocks only. The thing that delighted us most here was the pale mauve primulas that covered the ground.

The site of our Base Camp was about 13,000 ft. above sea level. Right near by, there were the traces of the Base Camp of the English expedition that had come the previous spring, and the ground was still littered with wrapping paper from food and the like. The thing that most moved us was a copper memorial plaque let into a rock just to one side of the site. Captain S. T. W. Fox, leader of the expedition, together with two Sherpas, had lost their lives on the glacier when they had been swept into a crevasse by an avalanche.

April 30, the third day after our arrival, was the anniversary of the tragedy. We marshalled the whole company to pay our respects at the plaque, before which we placed a large dish of primroses which we had picked, and stood awhile in silent tribute. The Sherpas were muttering repeatedly to themselves the Om mani padme hum, the Buddhist invocation. The morning was bright and clear, and immediately before us rose with startling vividness the awe-inspiring form of Phurbi Chyachu (21,844 ft.) with its mantle of snow and ice. Our tribute over, still no one made to move from the spot for some moments. Lhakpa Tenzing decorated the edge of the plaque with primulas from the dish, and scattered the remainder before it.


On Jugal Himal, two glaciers flow down toward the south, the Dorje Lakpa Glacier and the Phurbi Chyachumbu Glacier. Our first plan was to go up the former, and the main party set out to investigate it. The other party, however, brought back the report that the latter was far easier to tackle, so we decided to abandon the Dorje Lakpa Glacier and concentrate all our energies on the Phurbi Chyachumbu Glacier.

By May 4, the very next day after we returned to Base Camp from the Dorje Lakpa Glacier, we were already on our way to the Phurbi Chyachumbu Glacier. The steep mountain ridge of ice and rock forming a barrier between the two glaciers, we named Central Ridge. Base Camp was on the east slopes of these mountains, just where the Central Ridge peters out to the south. We traversed the slopes on the east side of Central Ridge, and set up first camp. From here, we could look down on where the Phurbi Chyachumbu Glacier dropped away in an icefall.

We spent four nights at first camp, prevented from going ahead as we had hoped by bad weather. In the morning, the skies would clear for a brief spell, but it would soon cloud over and, inevitably, snow would fall—a fine, dry, hail-like kind of snow. As we lay in our tents, we could hear it rustling as it ran down off the canvas.

On May 8, we at last went ahead to second camp. To do so, we had first to go down to the foot of Phurbi Chyachumbu Glacier, then set off up the glacier itself. Its steep slopes were a riot of splits and cracks, and innumerable crevasses yawned over its surface. If one peered down into them, all one could see were walls of green ice dropping down to bottomless depths. Dawa Thondup, with his long experience of the Himalayas, went first and found a way for us across this complex and dangerous terrain. Once, when we came to a crevasse which we absolutely must cross, the metal step-ladder that Kazami, the photographer, had brought for taking photographs served us as a bridge.

At last we came out on top of the glacier and set up second camp. That day, clouds and the subsequent snow restricted visibility, but the next morning was magnificently clear, and we could see all the way up the glacier. With its covering of snow, it stretched upwards, gently sloping, in the form of a snowfield. We should be able to climb it, it seemed, without danger or difficulty.

The porters who brought the baggage as far as Base Camp had been dismissed there, though we selected five of their number who seemed strong and of pleasant disposition to help out the Sherpas. Under the direction of Pasang Fhutar, they spent day after day carrying goods from Base Camp to advanced camps.

It was May 10 when we moved on to third camp. We climbed from second camp up the broad, gentle slope of the glacier. The heat from the direct rays of the sun, plus reflection from the snow, was excessive ; we took off our jackets and rolled up our shirt sleeves, but still we were hot. There was not a breath of wind. The mountain ridges that barred the way on both sides of the glacier shut in the heat as in a Turkish bath.

On the Central Ridge to our left, we were treated to the spectacle of frequent avalanches. The new snow that had fallen since noon the day before would now, under the direct rays of the morning sun, go gliding smoothly down the steep rock face. Some would rush straight down like a stick, some would split into countless threads as it fell.

The lofty barrier to our right was the mountain ridge which includes Phurbi Chyachu as its highest peak, and beyond which lies Tibet. Along the edge of the ridge, a fine snow mist was rising, suggesting that fierce winds were blowing there constantly. From this side, too, yet another avalanche came tumbling. The glacier was wide, and there was no danger to us as we went up the centre of it. Only the spray from the avalanche beat against our faces in tiny grains.

At the third camp we again suffered from bad weather. The only clear spells were two or three hours in the morning, to be followed immediately by clouds and snow. Every day it fell, till even the Sherpas declared that years with such continuous snow were rare.

As one gazed up the glacier from our camp, a pyramid-shaped mountain rose up directly ahead. The British women's expedition that climbed Jugal Himal for the first time in 1955 named this peak Ladies' Peak. The glacier skirts the base of the peak and bends round to the left. Right at its very source are situated Big White Peak (23,240 ft.) and Gyalgen Peak (22,000 ft.), the two highest on Jugal Himal. Both these peaks were named by the British women's expedition, but the peak on which these intrepid ladies succeeded in their brilliant ascent was Gyalgen Peak, and Big White Peak still remained unconquered.

Our own target was this highest peak. When I first planned this trip to the Himalayas, I had had no such ambitions. In view of my own age and capabilities, I thought it would be quite sufficient to make a round tour of the Himalayas, which I had so long yearned to see, and to admire the views they had to offer. Before we started, thus, I made no declaration of any intention to make the first ascent of this main peak. My only idea was that we might try it if it seemed possible. Looking back on this now, I can see that the half-hearted, ' try-it-if-possible' approach was no good for a mountain of over 23,000 ft. in the Himalayas. If only we had been firmly resolved to climb it, come what may, we ought to have found some different strategy. For instance, we should have returned to the Base Camp and rested for a few days until the weather recovered, then made a fresh attack on the peak. We had other plans to follow, however. We intended to go on to Langtang Himal, and could not afford to spend all our time on Jugal Himal.

We spent six days in all in bad weather at the third camp. During this time, we took advantage of one of the brief fine spells in the morning to climb to the top of the mountains on the Tibetan border. This was the highest point our party reached during the trip. We gave up all idea of scaling Big White Peak. In order to climb to the top, we should have had to bring up a further week's supply of food from the Base Camp. We had neither enough supplies nor enough personnel for further assaults. What was more, we had no idea when the weather was going to improve. We were loath to give up when we had come so far, but we had already had our fill as far as Jugal Himal was concerned, and it was without any undue sense of tragic failure that we decided to retrace our tracks.


On May 17, we returned to the Base Camp after an absence of two weeks on the glacier. Here the scenery was already spring-like, the snow had all disappeared, and the ground all round was covered with Alpine plants in bloom. We shaved off our growth of beard, wrote reports, put our baggage in order and waited for the porters to come up from the village below. It was a week later that we set foot on the road to Langtang Himal, the second of our two destinations.

On May 23, we quit the Base Camp. During the past month, we had grown used to Jugal Himal towering above our heads, and the thought that we should probably never see it again made us turn again and again to gaze at it regretfully as we made our way down the slopes. We went down into the valley of the Balephi river first, then began climbing the mountains on the opposite bank. It was a climb of about 6,500 ft., and a succession of steep slopes from the start. After two days' climb we reached Panch Pokhari ridge. Panch Pokhari means 4 five lakes ' and, true to its name, there were five small lakes of clear water scattered about the area. We set up our tents by the side of the largest, at a spot of unforgettable beauty.

We had been planning to approach Langtang Himal along the ridge of the mountains. At this point, however, we met with opposition from the porters. They had neither boots nor snowglasses, and complained that without proper equipment they could not go along a steep mountain route with so much snow. We discussed the matter for many hours, at the end of which we decided to give in to their views.

We made up our minds instead to cross the Gangja La Pass and enter the Langtang Himal valley. To reach the pass, we had to go through the Helmu area. According to Amatya, our1 liaison officer, the area has the finest natural scenery in the whole of Nepal, as well as being richest in female beauty. Both alike were a major attraction for this particular band of pilgrims.

Leaving Panch Pokhari, we descended into a deep valley, then once more climbed up and up till we were sick of climbing, and in the afternoon of the fourth day reached Tarke Ghyang in the centre of the Helmu area. Here, there was a close huddle of about 100 homes, each with its pole flying a white banner. On the banners were printed in tiny letters passages from the sutras.

No sooner had we pitched our tents in a pretty meadow a little outside the village than a large number of the inhabitants descended on us, and the meadow took on the lively aspect of a local festival. Thanks to this, we were able to discover a few approximations to those beauties we had been secretly hoping for. They were only to be found, however, among the young and innocent maidens, the rest being displeasing in proportion to their age. Worst of all, the majority of them had great wens on their necks. This is a local disease often to be seen in the Himalayan region. What a cruel trick, I reflected, for the gods to play on women, whose chief pride is their looks.

To get to the pass of Gangja La, a path led from the village up the mountains to the rear and along the ridge of the mountains. At Tarke Ghyang, we divided the party into two. We ourselves headed for the pass with the three Sherpas and 15 of the strongest porters, while we sent the rest of the. porters under the direction of Amatya directly back to Kathmandu with the baggage of which we should have no urgent need.

From Tarke Ghyang to Gangja La was a journey of four days— four delightful days as it proved. For one thing, we had hitherto had too many porters, and we felt incredibly unencumbered and carefree now that we were a small group of only 22 in all. Here was the ideal type of Himalayan trek that I had long been picturing to myself.

The party made its way along the mountain ridge 14,000 ft. up. At one time, we came to a beautiful meadow carpeted with flowers of all hues, where there stood a kharka, or herdsman's hut of stone, completely in keeping with the Himalayan scenery. The season was too early for pasturing, however, and the hut was empty. On another occasion, late one clear afternoon, we stood in front of our tents and gazed at the distant chain of peaks that was the Himalayas. The chain stretched, it seemed, without end and behind it rose layer upon layer of further mountains. Yet another time, we came out quite unexpectedly on a spacious, plateau-like slope, a vast tilting of the earth such as we had never seen in Japan. The men who led the way ahead seemed little larger than ants. Then, finally, we reached a point just before the pass, where we pitched our tents. In the afternoon of the same day, snow began to fall. With its covering of fresh snow, the scenery became still more beautiful.

The day we crossed the Gangja La Pass, the weather was as fine as we could have wished. At one o'clock in the afternoon, lagging behind the rest of the party, I stood alone at the top of the pass. Before me stretched all the snow-capped peaks of Langtang Himal. The sight took me off my guard with its beauty. So magnificent was it that for a while I could do nothing but gaze, oblivious to everything else. I had never foreseen that so many fine mountains would be gathered together in Langtang Himal. Countless peaks, each asserting its own individuality, succeeded one another, piled on one another, stretching as far as the limits of vision.

Gangja La, according to the four-miles-to-the-inch map of the Indian Survey Bureau, is 18,450 ft. high. Tilman, the authority on the Himalayas, has it in his book as 19,000. Unfortunately, however, the needle of the Japanese altometer we took with us registered only some 16,000 ft. One wonders which height is the true one. I, of course, put my faith in the Japanese instrument!

The next day, we went down into the Langtang valley. Doctor Hagen of Switzerland has extolled this valley as one of the most beautiful in the Himalayas. I could agree with him. On both sides of the valley, ranged sharp, snowy peaks, while at its bottom the river rushed down its broad bed. This on both sides consisted of meadows where Alpine flowers bloomed and herds of cows and yaks grazed.

Wishing to see more of this beautiful valley, I took one porter and climbed upstream. Some way up, there was a gompa, and a group of lamas reading the sutras. Near by were pleasant pasturing grounds, where a Swiss had settled and was making butter and cheese. I was struck by the intrepid pioneering spirit of this man, who could venture quite alone into this remote spot, so cut off from civilized society. He gave me a warm welcome, and fed me with yak's milk and Tibetan tea. Seated in two crude chairs in the open, we talked for close on two hours, more as though we were old acquaintances than strangers from foreign lands. There were two huts—one a simple factory, the other a storehouse for the farm's products. He himself lived in a small white tent he had put up near by. As I glanced at my watch and made to get up, he said,' I lost my watch long ago. There's my watch now.' And with a smile he pointed to the sun. His name, he told me as we parted, was Josef Dubach, Kaserei Werligen, Neuenkirch, Luz., Switzerland. From there, I went to Langsisa, about ten miles upstream. There was nothing but five or six uninhabited kharkas or stone huts scattered around the area, but for me it was an immense satisfaction just to see the snout of the glacier covered with moraine.

The next day, we went down the Langtang valley. For about twelve miles from the village of Langtang to the next village, we passed between bushes covered with blossom, through sunny forests, by frequent chortens—the stone stupas of Lamaism—with waterfalls here and there in the lofty cliffs to each side and, above the cliffs, the peaks with their pure white1 snow sparkling in the sun. We walked in a state of unbroken ecstasy.

From the Langtang valley we went down a long incline, and finally came out on the bank of the main stream, the river Trisuli. Above the slope to the north-west we could see between the clouds three white peaks—a part of Ganesh Himal, perhaps. Our return route took us along the side of the mountains parallel with this Trisuli river. The route is an important highway linking Nepal and Tibet, but in its ups and downs and its narrowness it was scarcely any different from the other paths we had already traversed.

After three days' walking along the flank of the mountains, we descended again on the fourth to the banks of the Trisuli. The Trisuli Bazaar valley was unbelievably hot. Bananas were ripe on the trees, and the yellow flowers of the cactuses were in full bloom. To get back to Kathmandu from there, we had one more mountain to crosis. We crossed it, gasping in the heat, and on June 11, two months after our departure, arrived back in Kathmandu. To us, burnt black by the sun, our pores clogged and itchy after so long without a bath, it was indeed a return to civilization.

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