THE object of the expedition was to carry out glaciological and botanical studies on the Minapin Glacier. The Minapin Glacier is in the North-west Karakorams, and rests beneath the eastern shoulder of Rakaposhi. However, it is more directly associated with the unclimbed Minapin Peak (often known as Diran). Two expeditions have attempted, unsuccessfully, to scale this peak, a British expedition in 1958 and a German one in 1959. Both used the valley of the Minapin Glacier as their access route, and their reports on the nature of the valley helped us greatly when we were planning our expedition.
The Minapin Glacier is unusual. Both parties must have been aware of the spectacular ridge which links Rakaposhi with Minapin Peak. All along this ridge are enormous cornices and ice-cliffs, parts of which periodically break away and collapse on to the glacier below. This is the feeding ground of the Minapin Glacier and it is unusual because most glaciers have as their feeding ground a neve field, which receives a regular winter accumulation of snow. Unlike these, the Minapin Glacier is nourished throughout the year by spasmodic avalanching. Little work has been done on glaciers of this type, though theories have been advanced that they react more sensitively to any short-time climatic fluctuations.
The expedition travelled overland from England. The party consisted of eight members. The journey was made diagonally across Europe, crossing the Bosphorus at Istanbul into Asia. Here, for the first time, dust roads over long stretches were encountered. This meant that the second Land Rover had to be at least a quarter of a mile behind the first, or else the driver would have his vision obscured by a cloud of dust. A convoy of army lorries encountered in Eastern Turkey was the most difficult obstacle to pass on the journey to Rawalpindi.
We had decided initially to enter Azad Kashmir by driving over the Babusar Pass. This was the only pioneering aspect of the expedition. The Babusar Pass road had been constructed exclusively for the use of jeeps and the long-wheeled base Land Rover is both bigger and heavier. A considerable amount of argument was required to convince the authorities that the Land Rover was capable of negotiating the sharp bends and steep gradients.
Reluctantly they reverted, and we proved our confidence in the Land Rovers was not unfounded by arriving in Gilgit, the political centre of Azad Kashmir, without mishap. However, a few major road modifications had to be made by members of the expedition, notably hacking away the side of a fallen boulder with tyre levers. When the return journey was made the road had been, for much of the way, improved out of all recognition. The reason for this was that Ayub Khan was taking a holiday in Naran, the new tourist centre just south of the Babusar Pass, in the delectable Kaghan Valley. The return journey was, consequently, considerably speedier than the outward journey.
At Gilgit we had to abandon the Land Rovers and resort to hired transport, donkey and human. Three days were spent in travelling up the Hunza Valley from Gilgit to Minapin. This more leisurely speed of travel enabled us to absorb the unrivalled magnificence of the mountains, which shrined the simple charm of the villages and their settlements. The inhabitants of the miniature state of Nagir were certainly spontaneously generous, apricots were in season as we passed through and they were presented to us in wooden bowls, still dripping with the water in which they had been washed. We ate these with dubious relish, nagged by the thoughts of evils which threatened us if we were so rash as to drink unboiled water. However, our intuitions were overcome by a desire not to be offensive.
It was not until a week after we left Rawalpindi that we were preparing to ascend the Minapin Glacier. Our local headquarters was the Rest House and it was there where we organized the porters who were to ferry our food and equipment up-glacier. The porters, unconscious of time, could not be infected by our sense of urgency. To them, time is broadly divided into its widest units— the seasons ; to us every moment was of value. This caused a certain amount of irritability. Fortunately, our liaison officer could make himself understood to the more intelligent of the porters who knew a little Urdu, and he coaxed and threatened them up to our Base Camp, while we stood by feeling powerless. Our fierce gesticulations were taken merely for jests. However, the porters were scrupulously honest or our system of checking was infallible. I hardly think the latter is likely so I must praise the integrity of our porters.1
Once our Base Camp had been established at about 10,000 feet, a smaller party continued higher up-glacier, in order to work on the Upper Basin and the surrounding area. The Minapin Glacier can be divided broadly into two sections. The Upper Basin in which the ice flows westward is at the south-western corner. The glacier then turns sharply northwards and is constricted into a sinuous valley, leading down towards the Hunza River. The glacier falls steeply and is deeply crevassed almost throughout the whole length of this lower section. The ice surface progressively becomes more covered in moraine as the snout is approached. Where the glacier courses round in the Upper Basin there is a fine accurate moraine, which encloses an ablation valley at about 12,500 feet. It is within this valley that the botanists did most of their work, particularly on a species of Polygonum. Collections of plants on the moraine, and also from two mountains, were made and these have been presented to the British Museum. It has been recently announced that two new species have been collected.
The glaciological work was concentrated on the western end of the Upper Basin and the snout area. The snout according to local reports had advanced about 200 yards since the previous year and this had caused anxiety because one of the channels which used to irrigate the villagers' crop had been disrupted. Over the last thirty years the glacier had been steadily retreating, but this was preceded by a very rapid and alarming advance at the beginning of the century. The economy of the villages in the Hunza River Valley is closely associated with the glaciers, for as the rainfall is only between 4" and 7" a year, meltwater is used extensively for irrigation. Any severance of the supply of meltwater, which can be caused by landslides destroying the ingeniously constructed channels, or by fluctuations of the glacier tongue, which necessarily leads to shifting of the meltwater streams, can have disastrous consequences. This fear is greater than glaciers actually encroaching into the terraces where the villages are generally situated, for the glaciers have now retreated well up into the mountains. Most of the snouts are above 10,000 feet. Minapin, being one of the few exceptions, advances to about 8,500 feet. This is indicative not only of a very large supply area, the Upper Basin and the great ridge between Rakaposhi and Minapin, but also its very shattered position on the north side of a towering range and a deeply unused valley. A plane table map has been prepared by our surveyor of the snout region and this will be particularly useful when compared with maps produced by Haydon in 1906, Mason in 1913 and the German Karakoram Expedition of 1959. Except for the German map those were all devoted exclusively to the snout. The German expedition surveyed the whole glacier photogrammetrically, but their results have yet to be published in detail.
SKETCH MAP OF THE GLACIER
About a month was spent in the vicinity of the glacier. This was interrupted by a visit to the Mir of Nagir at his palace in Chalt where he was celebrating Independence Day. This time we travelled the twenty-three miles up and down the valley on horseback, a very exhilarating experience, for these horses insisted on tracing the most perilous paths as close to the edge as possible. Why the horses did this we could not imagine; all sense cried out against it, and presumably instinct as well, yet the horses were undaunted.
The Independence Day celebrations consisted of a feast and moonlit dancing. We, as guests, were invited into performing the third dance of the evening. As the Mir announced, this was according to the custom of his country. There were eight of us, so we naturally chose the Eightsome Reel. This, if the amount of noise it provoked can be the judge, was a resounding success.
We continued our studies until the end of August. No tragedy marred our stay. Nevertheless we were witness to many incredible sights. Avalanches were particularly common. They would sweep down from the ridge and inflate into great cumiliform clouds of snow dust at the bottom. This would slowly dissipate and the myriads of suspended crystals reflected the sunlight, splitting it into a multitude of colours. After heavy rain one day we were forced to move an upper camp because of boulders bounding down from the ridge above.
It was with terrible reluctance that we left this haven of untrammelled splendour, to set out on our tedious return journey. Still it had its consolations, we now knew for when to save our enthusiasm. The uninspiring stretches were passed quickly by, and we lingered in centres of graceful beauty such as Lahore, Isfahan and Istanbul, surrounding their oriental charm, inwardly grateful that our expedition was not concerned with nature's grandeur alone.
The upper basin of the glacier with Minapin peak, looking eastward
The snout of the glacier, looking southward up the tongue