Himalayan Journal vol.23
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Dr K. Biswas
    (W. P. GAMBLE)
    (INST. LIEUT. M. S. KOHLI, I.N.)
    (M. B. GILL)
    (J. P. O'F. LYNAM)
    (A. J. M. SMYTH)
    (H. B. GURUNG)
  22. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1961-62



The range of the Saltoro Kangri is an independent group of mountains south-east of the better-known seven and eight thousand metres high peaks of the Karakorum such as Chogolisa and the Hidden Peak.

In the north it is bordered by the Sia La, in the south by the Bila- fond La and the Bilafond glacier, in the west by the Kondus glacier and in the east by the longest glacier of the Karakorum, the Siachen.

Six peaks more than 7,000 m. high crown this almost 50 km. long and 30 km. wide mountain-group:

Saltoro Kangri 7,742 m. (76° 53", 35° 23')

7,706 m.

Mount Ghent 7,400 m.

Sherpi Kangri 7,303 m.

7,380 m.

Mount Depak 7,150m.

None of those peaks had been ascended before 1961. In 1934 an English group including Sir John Hunt tried to ascend the Saltoro Kangri; they were not successful, however. First Bullock-Workman in 1912, and later Shipton in 1957, carried out exploration in the immense area of the Siachen, particularly on the eastern side. As late as in 1960 the Alpine guide Senn, of Innsbruck, brought information on the till then absolutely unknown Kondus region that real opening-up work was to be done there still.

Application for permission to ascend the Saltoro Kangri was refused to our expedition by the Pakistani Government. As 4 substitute aims' they assigned to us Sherpi Kangri, Mount Ghent and Peak K6, 7,280 m., appertaining to the Chogolisa range. The permission provided for our expedition to try to ascend those peaks from the main Kondus glacier or from its tributary glaciers.

The expedition left Vienna on March 28th, 1961, and arrived at Karachi on April 11th, 1961, by the Victoria of Lloyd Triestino.

The Austrian Ambassador in Pakistan, Dr. Fritz Kolb, had provided for us and prepared everything in a more than fatherly manner, so that two days later-after an interview with the Minister of Education of Pakistan and calls at the Ministry of Defence and at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as at the Meteorological Institute-we could continue our travels to Rawalpindi. At Rawalpindi, the headquarters of the Army, our Liaison officer, Captain Aman Ullah Khan, joined us. The Joint Secretary of the Kashmir Ministry granted permission to the expedition to use the air line to Skardu and at the Army headquarters we had been given the possibility to purchase provisions for the porters.

It had been agreed with the Director of the Meteorological Institute that the Pakistani meteorologist, Mr. Rauf, should join our expedition at Skardu. Since Mr. Rauf had not arrived by the date fixed for our departure from Skardu-April 4th, 1961-we deposited his outfit with the Political Agent. Unfortunately the meteorologist did not join us later either, so that the measurements made in the base camp and in the high camps have been restricted to our own observations.

The approach march led up the Indus, Shyok and Kondus valleys in ten days. The stages were in particular:
Skardu-Gol ... .. 32 km.
Gol-Qwali .. 29 km.
Qwali-Kurpak .. 16 km.
Kurpak-Khapalu .. 22 km.
Khapalu-Huldi .. 19 km.
Huldi-Brakhor .. 22 km.
Brakhor-Karmading .. 22 km.
and two intermediate camps at the Kondus glacier to the base camp at the junction of the Sherpi glacier and the Kondus glacier.

The Political Agent in Skardu keeps records on high-altitude porters tried in earlier expeditions. He recommended us as chief of porters Ghulam Rasul, Sirdar, and Mohammed Hussein. Both men proved very efficient during the course of the expedition. Particularly Ghulam Rasul had sufficient experience, as he had been decisively put into action during the Pakistani-American expedition to Masherbrum in 1960.

By the good offices of the Political Agent we also were able to get 25 horses as pack-animals and had to hire in addition 12 porters only. From Khapalu up we employed altogether 73 porters.

The population of the valleys was rather friendly and after they had overcome their initial shyness people readily made use of the medicaments we were obliged by the Pakistani Government to make available to them. The number of patients varied in the individual villages between 30 and 50 on our approach, and between 50 and 80 on our march back. The medicaments not used, especially antibiotics, were left as a gift to the regional hospital of Skardu before we started for the return flight.

After arrival at the base camp on May 3rd, 1961, the porters were paid off and sent back. The following men remained at the base camp:

Captain Aman Ullah Khan, Liaison officer, Ghulam Rasul, Sirdar, high-altitude porter, Mohammed Hussein, high- altitude porter, Jamal Din, post messenger, Erich Waschak, leader of the expedition, Karl Ambichl, Wolfgang Axt, Raimund Heinzel, Ignaz Obermiiller.

The post messenger Jamal Din took care of the contact with the last post office at Khapalu during the expedition. Six times he was on the way between the base camp and Khapalu.

The Meteorological Institute of Karachi had granted our application for a daily weather report. We had agreed with Radio Pakistan and with the Meteorological Station at Rawalpindi that a special weather report was broadcast every day.

The distance from the base camp to the depression under the western ridge of Mount Ghent where high-altitude camp 4 had been established was 34 km., of which 23 km. was on the Kondus glacier.

The first attack was made together with the escorting officer and the two high-altitude porters on May 7th, 1961. At the Army headquarters we had been requested in the presence of Capt. Aman to give him a chance to enlarge his alpine knowledge, acquired during a high-alpine training course for Pakistani army officers, by our experience and to put him into action on the mountain as far as possible. However, Capt. Aman gave up during the first attack for establishing camp 1 and later did not show any inclination to accompany us again to the further high-altitude camps.

Up to May 22nd, 1961, we succeeded in establishing four high- altitude camps. Persistent bad weather conditions, however, caused the members of the expedition to leave? the camps three times and to return to the base camp. At the decisive fourth attack the youngest member of the expedition, Wolfgang Axt, succeeded in reaching the top of Mount Ghent on June 4th, 1961, climbing solo over the western ridge from high-altitude camp 4 as starting point.

The altitude of the different camps were:

Base camp 4,150 m., camp 1 4,500 m., camp 2 5,200 m., camp 3 6,000 m., camp 4 6,400 m.

Previously Wolfgang Axt and Raimund Heinzel also had succeeded in ascending for the second time the almost 7,000 m. high Silver Throne, ascended for the first time by Ernst Senn in 1960. They started from high-altitude camp 3.

Considering that the expedition had started for their proposed task in the Kondus region one month earlier than usual, the snowline was very low still. This was an advantage which allowed the use of our short skis. On the other hand, however, because of the long distance of the track to be laid afresh every time, our high- altitude porters could only reach camp 2 twice, otherwise as far as camp 1 only.

Accidents occurred during our ascents and descents : Two falls into crevasses, one fracture of ribs, one bruised chest, one snow- blindness, one beginning pneumonia. However, everything went well and no serious complications ensued.

On our march back we followed the same route as on the approach, the number of porters employed from the base camp was reduced to 33. The escorting Liaison officer, the high-altitude porters and all our other porters arrived at their starting points in perfect health. The members of the expedition safely returned to Vienna on August 24th, 1961.

Apart from the successful first ascent of Mount Ghent and the second ascent of the Silver Throne, the expedition also took home a collection of 60 plants and flowers from the Kondus region. This collection was handed over to Dozent Dr. Gilli of the Museum of Natural History of Vienna for elaboration. The measurements and meteorological observations were remitted to the Meteorological Institute of Karachi.

For any subsequent expeditions we may say that there is no possibility of ascending Sherpi Kangri with its two peaks- 7,303 m. and 7,380 m.-or the K6, 7,280 m., from the region of the Kondus valley. The only possible access to Sherpi Kangri is the Khorkondus valley, branching off the route of this expedition in a north-eastern direction at Karmading. From our experience, however, we should say that for Sherpi Kangri as well as for the chief peak, Saltoro Kangri, the smoother slopes towards the Siachen in the east are promising for a successful ascent.

Our stay in Pakistan meant a valuable experience for all the members of the expedition. We met with a very kind reception both by the population and by the authorities of the country. Our impression was corroborated still by a congratulatory letter His Excellency the President of Pakistan addressed to us on the occasion of the successful ascent of Mount Ghent.

Storm on Mount Ghent

The last slope to camp 4 is very steep. Every ten yards I rest gasping. I almost can't stay any more, because I am tired out by the enormous effort to reach camp 4. The heat is terrible, the soft snow sticks under my short skis and the heavy rucksack presses unmercifully my back. Finally I come to the lonely tent at a height of 6,400 m. It is 1 o'clock p.m. The tent is fallen by the storm of the last days and I have to work hard to re-erect it and clean it of the covering snow. I look back, but I can't see my comrades, Ober- miiller and Ambichl. I open a fruit-tin to take some refreshment. I rest while observing the long west ridge of Mount Ghent. From the camp 4 col there is to climb a difference of thousand metres to conquer the peak. I see two problems. At the beginning of the ridge a short steep rise of rocks and further up a zone of ice-cliffs. Perhaps one can evade them on the right side. In the meantime the sun has perished behind the wonderful chain of Gasherbrum. I get the last glimpse of the highest peaks sparkling in the red beams of the setting sun. It becomes biting cold. I retrace my steps for a certain distance to look for my comrades. Together we started early in the morning from camp 2 at about 2.30 a.m. Yesterday our leader had brought up from base camp the newest weather forecast of the Pakistan meteorological department. This bulletin had foretold two fair days and then the beginning of the monsoon. Waschak and Heinzel didn't feel well. So they had to descend to base camp. To succeed in conquering the peak we other three left should ascend the next day from camp 2 to camp 4, a difference of 14 km,! In the following terminal clear day the two best should try the final assault. It seems now that my comrades remain at camp 3 for the night The snow conditions were really very bad, soft deep snow and an unbearable heat.

What shall I do tomorrow, June 4th, 1961, probably the last fair day ? I am alone and I know that the success of our group depends on me only now. I consider what to do. It is a dangerous venture to climb the ridge alone. Finally I am determined to go. I hide into my tent, prepare some food on my cooker and pack the rucksack for the decisive attempt. I sleep very badly. Thoughts bother me: 4 What brings the next day, victory or defeat ? ' I can't sleep any longer. Already at 2 o'clock I get up. To put on the heavy boots and the special equipment in the tiny tent needs patience. I look out of the slit of the tent to judge the weather. It is very cold, but millions of stars sparkle clearly in the sky and the full moon spreads her mild light all over the snowy mountains. At 2.30 I start for my bold attempt. The first part of the ridge consists of grey slate. The climbing is adventurous in the gloomy light. Above the rocky part I experience a wonderful sunrise. I have an extraordinary good view and I can see almost all high peaks of the Karakorum range as the first sunbeams gild them. The ridge becomes steeper and the snow and ice are in bad condition, sometimes powder snow, sometimes breaking ice. At 9 o'clock I come to the key of the whole ascent, the zone of ice-cliffs, and almost invincible obstacle of vertical ice-walls. I am lucky to find a steep couloir that leads directly up to the upper plain ridge, but it is filled with groundless powder snow. I struggle hard to gain height but I am exhausted. Lack of oxygen, the heavy rucksack and the troublesome tracing needs all my endurance. With the last energy I reach the upper level part of the ridge. I fall in the snow to rest. I guess that I have not more than 300 m. to the top. This idea gives me new strength. My will drives me forward. In the west I perceive thick clouds flowing eastwards. A wind begins to blow, all a sign for the beginning monsoon. I climb higher while the storm becomes stronger and drives ice needles from the lower slopes over the ridge. They hurt my face and I almost can't see anything. At 12.30 p.m. I reach the highest point, 7,400 m. I am the first human being on this lonely point. I am happy and satisfied that I reached the summit of Mount Ghent. I bind the flags of Austria and Pakistan to my ice-axe and push it into the snow. Under these inhospitable conditions I need all my energy and will to take my camera out of the rucksack to photograph the summit and the flags as a proof of my conquering the peak. A last look round shows me a sea of snowy mountains. The wonderful pyramid of K2, the second highest peak of the world, impresses me most. But Broad Peak, Hidden Peak and Nanga Parbat are wonderful mountains too, striking my eyes. The clouds approach very quickly from the west. They fill the valleys and only the highest mountains look out of it like islands. Now it is time to descend. I can't feel my fingers. 1 fear frost-bite. I move back, back to camp 4, back to my waiting comrades. The clouds mount higher and surround Mount Ghent and also the west ridge including me. It begins to snow. The storm blows incessantly. I can see almost nothing except a few signs of my track. After my triumph over Mount Ghent I relax. I feel very bad and exhausted, so that I stagger down and sink every moment into the snow to rest. My ski-sticks are an important help as a support. I cannot distinguish between reality and appearance. I imagine a blue sea, green palms and a wonderful beach. I know that these thoughts contain a deadly peril. If I give them way, I begin to sleep and I freeze to death. I continue the descent slowly. At about 4.30 p.m. the clouds diminish and I make out camp 4 close by and near the lonely tent two figures waving with their arms. I move down, I don't know how, and I reach my comrades at about 5 p.m. They congratulate and refresh me with delicious Ovomaltine, I hear they observed my whole ascent. At twilight I go down with the skis to camp 3 accompanied by my friend Ambichl. I lie down while Ambichl prepares a substantial soup. After eating it, a look out of the tent shows for the last time some of the highest peaks. I wish them a hearty good-bye. Then the clouds increase again and it begins to snow. While I fall asleep, T hear the monsoon storm singing in the strings of the tent.

Wolfgang Axt

Note on the Mountains of the Kondus Group

[The Editor takes no responsibility for the views expressed in this note. The topographical information it contains is based upon observations made by the author.]

During our preparations, we used the map Karakoram 1:750,000' drawn by Marcel Kurz and published by the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research. We also made use of a sketch- map which Ernst Senn, the well-known Tirolean climber, made available to us.

On M. Kurz's map, Mount Ghent is situated east of the Saltoro massif, which made us suppose that this peak belongs to the Siachen group. It seemed necessary therefore to select our ascent route over the Kondus Glacier and via the Sia La, a distance of 37 km. from our base camp. It was only at camp 4, 6,400 m., during the course of our climb that we discovered that Mount Ghent actually belongs to the Saltoro group and forms a corner pillar of the Siachen.

To describe the peaks and ridges starting from Sia Kangri, 7,422 m.: An ice-fall leads south-east towards the Conway Saddle, from where a rock ridge leads south-east to the Sia La, c. 5,700 m. A semicircular ridge containing four peaks leads to Mount Ghent. The westernmost point is the Silver Throne, c. 6,900 m., first climbed by Ernst Senn, a member of the 1960 International Kondus Expedition. From a saddle, c. 6,400 m., where our camp 4 was situated, the north-western ridge composed of rock and ice rises towards the summit of Mount Ghent. This was the route that Axt chose for his climb. From here an ice ridge falling southwards to about 5,900 m. from which rises a number of rock towers leads in turn to a serrated rock ridge culminating in Sherpi Kangri, 7,303 m.

Mountains of the Kondus Group

Mountains of the Kondus Group

(Erich Waschak of Veinna)   View of kondus glacier. In the background can be seen mount ghent rising above the Sherpi glacier

(Erich Waschak of Veinna) View of kondus glacier. In the background can be seen mount ghent rising above the Sherpi glacier

View from the vicinity of high camp 3 above the Sia la. In the background from left to right - Baltoro Kangri (this is the double-headed summit immediately to the right of the Ski polesAJK*) broad peak (hardly visible behind Gasharbrum 4- AJK), Gasherbrum 4 ( this is the pyramidal summit in the centre back ground immediately above and slightly to the left of the head of the seated person in the photograph-AJK), Gasherbrum 3, Gasherbrum 2, and hidden peak * AJK=Andrew J. Kauffman. (Ambichl)

View from the vicinity of high camp 3 above the Sia la. In the background from left to right - Baltoro Kangri (this is the double-headed summit immediately to the right of the Ski polesAJK*) broad peak (hardly visible behind Gasharbrum 4- AJK), Gasherbrum 4 ( this is the pyramidal summit in the centre back ground immediately above and slightly to the left of the head of the seated person in the photograph-AJK), Gasherbrum 3, Gasherbrum 2, and hidden peak * AJK=Andrew J. Kauffman. (Ambichl)

The summit mass  and west ridge of mount ghent as seen from the glacier throne. In the Hollow at farthest point (karl) is the site of camp 4. Above this can be seen east peak of Sherpi Kangri (7,303 m.).  (Axt)

The summit mass and west ridge of mount ghent as seen from the glacier throne. In the Hollow at farthest point (karl) is the site of camp 4. Above this can be seen east peak of Sherpi Kangri (7,303 m.). (Axt)

View of K6 from the east as seen temporary camp 2 on the Kondus glacier.  (Karl Ambichl of Hieflau)

View of K6 from the east as seen temporary camp 2 on the Kondus glacier. (Karl Ambichl of Hieflau)

From Sherpi Kangri two separate branches appear-one forms a sharp rocky ridge leading in a south-easterly direction towards Saltoro Kangri, 7,742 m., the other running in a westerly direction turns southwards via Point 5,302 m. and terminates in the mighty granite pillar of Karmading. The peak in the westernmost corner, about 2\ km. distant from Sherpi Kangri, I would say was about 7,380 m. ; making this peak about 77 m. higher than Sherpi Kangri as shown on M. Kurz's map. I made these observations from camp 4, where the westernmost peak appeared to be undoubtedly the highest; and this was borne out subsequently by photos.

Between Mount Ghent and the Siachen Glacier to the north and east, lie a conglomeration of mountains. A ridge leads north to the north peak of Mount Ghent, c. 7,350 m., and continues to Mount Depak, 7,150 m. From Mount Depak, first climbed by Ernst Senn and Michel Anderl on August 13th, 1960, a chain of peaks leads eastwards, falling in a sweep towards the Siachen Glacier.

According to M. Kurz's map, the Kondus Glacier appears to be fed by the Sia La. It also appears to be fed on the one hand by the 2,000 m. high and 45-degree steep ice-fall from the Silver Throne ; and on the other hand by the ice-fall from Baltoro Siachen Glacier ; and also, with its 2,500 m. high face to the south, forms a mighty glacier bowl out of which rise with incredible steepness Sherpi Kangri and Point 7,380 m.

I. Obermuller