IN 1958 we had gone to Spiti and worked our way south over the ridges to the head of the Bara Shigri Glacier (H.J., Vol. XXI). On that occasion we had been more interested in exploration and survey, and had had no time to do more than admire the peaks around the head of the valley before turning down towards the Chandra again. We determined to return, and in particular to climb the big peak at the head of the Bara Shigri which Peter Holmes measured as 22,500 feet but which we more soberly estimated at 21,800 feet.
In 1961 I returned with Stephenson (leader of the 1958 trip) and two others, Peter Harvey and Harold Mellor. Our original intention had been to explore from the Bara Shigri into the Parahio, and back to the Parbati, thus clearing up the last blank on the map of this area. However, permission to cross the Inner Line could not be obtained and this part of the programme had to be abandoned.
The rest of the party gaily assumed that since I was in India, it would be very easy for me to make all the preliminary arrangements. They overlooked the fact that I was 1,300 miles from Kulu, and not in a position to visit even Calcutta. However, food, boxes, and equipment were somehow arranged, and reached Manali in time. The others drove out from England in my Hillman Estate car and reached Manali on August 7th after a 19-day trip. As porters we had two of the best and most experienced men at Manali, Jigme (who had been with us in 1958) and Wangyal. We also had Sonam (who had been with Holmes) and Sonam Wangchuk, another of our 1958 porters. As one pony-man we were fortunate to get Rigzen, Holmes's best porter. We set off on August 8th ; the monsoon was in full blast, but as in 1958 we expected to find fine weather as soon as we had crossed the Rohtang Pass into Lahul. This time we were less lucky and rain and cloud followed us for two more days up the Chandra.
In six days from Manali, in spite of some trouble with our second pony-man, we reached the foot of the Bara Shigri, where we paid off the ponies and made our Base Camp. Rigzen remained with three ponies to look after the Base, and he also helped us by load-carrying as far as the first camp up the glacier. The lower part of the glacier is a tangled mess of moraine heaps, which seemed even worse than in 1958, and relaying our kit up it we averaged not more than half a mile per hour. It look us live days, including relay trips, to set up our camp in the middle of Concordia, 12 miles from the glacier snout.
At this stage 1 was more or less incapacitated by blisters on my feet and 1 had to spend the next few days hobbling around Concordia, playing the part of non-climbing leader. The others were despatched up to suitable survey stations from which they duly photographed or plane-tabled, but as I was the only one thoroughly familiar with the known landmarks of the area, the survey suffered. Neither Peter nor Harold were very fit, so after two days Gwynn and Wangyal went off to the head of the south-east branch of the Bara Shigri, to take a look at least into the forbidden Parahio.
On August 22nd the rest of us were sufficiently recovered and set out for the south wall of the Bara Shigri where we hoped to climb the very fine 19,600-foot rock peak just west of Gunther's Ice Pass. We camped at the pass which leads to the Tichu Nal and Jigme was able to point out the pass from the Tos Nal to the Tichu which he had reached earlier in the season with Pettigrew. One small cartographical query was thus answered. That night it snowed heavily, plastering the rocks, and we had to wait for a day until it melted. From our camp we traversed a snow slope, crossed a bergschrund and climbed diagonally across small avalanche grooves to reach the rocks below the NE. ridge. Jigme and I climbed on one rope, Harold and Peter on the other. The rock was loose and interspersed with snow, but became steeper and sounder as we neared the ridge. When we reached the ridge we found ourselves immediately faced with a vertical step, but this could be avoided by a through route on the left. A second step now barred the way, but Harold managed to climb it, using three pitons to reach a little cave on the left. From this it was possible to traverse some slabs and regain the ridge. We paused; it was now after 11 a.m. and innumerable rock steps rose above us ; I was keen to get a survey station, and it was obvious that even if we got to the top there would be no time for one. So Jigme and I stopped and set up the plane table (height 19,100 feet) while the others continued. Eventually they also turned back as we had no food and so wanted to get back to Concordia that night. It was certainly impossible to reach the summit and return to Concordia, and it appeared hardly possible to reach it and return without a bivouac. In retrospect, I find to my regret that a good survey station weighs very lightly compared with a missed ascent. We retreated, rappelling where necessary, and reached Concordia to find Gwynn had returned and was impatient for action.
Next day we all moved up the north-east branch of the glacier which leads to Peak 21,800 feet. For some reason the porters went badly on this stage and it took us two days to follow the sweep of the glacier first north, then east, and south up to its source below the NW. face of Peak 21,800 feet.
We camped below the face at about 2 p.m. Above us ice-walls and seracs rose into thick cloud. In the evening the clouds lifted and we watched the peak being slowly unveiled. High up the west snow ridge was climbable, but how to reach it ? Direct ascent to the col at the head of the glacier would involve a climb up steep fluted ice, well spattered with fragments from an overhanging cornice. We looked at the north-west face, pure snow and ice, and traced among the ice-walls and between the crevasses a route which threaded its way upwards and to the right until it seemed possible to break out on to the west ridge at the only point where the cornice relented. The ridge looked easy for as far as we could see it, but some rock showed high up and the clouds still hid the last 500 feet.
The next morning Harold was unwell with dysentery which had been dogging him for some days. Gwynn, Peter, Wangyal and myself, carrying a small tent and equipment for two to spend the night higher up, left camp at 8.45 a.m. We crossed the glacier and attacked the face. Everywhere the route we had planned was possible. Steps had to be cut, small bergschrunds crossed, and though our progress seemed funereal compared with the size of the face we gradually gained height. We were in shadow all the time and Gwynn and Peter suffered from frozen feet, so that we had to stop to take off their boots and massage them. Two hundred feet below the ridge I stumbled on to a small level patch of snow under an ice- wall with just room for our tent, height about 19,700 feet-nearly half-way to the top. We left Wangyal to put up the tent, and pushed on towards the ridge with Gwynn leading-along a shelf ; across a dying crevasse ; up a boss, left and up a steep wall gradually easing to a slope below the cornice. Then diagonally left to where the cornice only projected a foot or two, and so on to the ridge. It was 3 p.m. The ridge ahead looked climbable, but the top was still in cloud. The wind was bitterly cold and we hurried back to the camp. Wangyal had brewed tea and while we drank we discussed who would stay up. Everybody was prepared to be self-sacrificing, but obviously nobody really wanted to go down. Eventually it was decided that Peter and I should stay up, but we also agreed that if the upper part of the mountain offered no rock difficulties, and if the route was prepared, it would be possible to climb it direct from the glacier. So Gwynn and Wangyal would try this.
Looking across south east branch of the bara shigri from peak 19,400 ft. peak 21,760 ft. is on the right
shigri parbat, 2i,8oo ft., from north-wfst. the route went diagonally to the right across the face on to the skyline ridge
The others went down, and as the sun set we turned to the tent to prepare supper. No matches; Gwynn had taken the last box. We deliberated for some time before deciding to stick it out. Lack of hot food was not so bad as lack of any sort of liquid at all. We gloomily munched bully beef, jam and biscuits and settled into our bags for a miserable night.
We woke up (or more correctly ceased trying to sleep) at 5.30 a.m. and looked out on a creakingly cold but beautiful sunrise. We ate jam and biscuits and prepared to move. Everything was iron- hard, even our boots which we had taken into our tent (though not into our sleeping-bags). We spent a full hour fighting our way into boots, buckling on frozen crampons, and untangling the frozen rope.
We left at 0700, just as two dots moved out from the glacier camp below. We climbed quickly up the track to the ridge, repeating in half an hour the two hours' task of yesterday. Once there, we hoped to get into the sun, but it was blocked by the north ridge. Nevertheless we halted, to take off Peter's boots and massage his feet which were already dead. I was worried about my feet also, but as I rubbed Peter's, I worked my own toes in my boots until I could feel reassuring pins and needles.
We decided Peter had better not wear his crampons, which left the leading to me. The ridge was quite broad but steep, with snow lying insecurely on ice. Each step had to be kicked or cut, and the effort seemed appalling. I would move up four steps and collapse on my axe, take another four or five steps and again halt to pant wildly. Gradually we drew near some rocks which promised warmth and a change from step-cutting. But they were snow-dusted and smooth and we lost more time in climbing them carefully. Once we reached the top of the rock the slope eased, and looking back we saw the others following us up the ridge. We shouted to them to avoid the rocks by steep snow on the left. By now we were completely dehydrated and each step was an effort. We plodded up the easy slope to the apparent summit, and found that there was still a rocky ridge to be traversed. We crawled along this rather than climbed, moving singly simply because this gave us more opportunity to rest. At last the ridge fell away and we were there. It was 11.30 a.m. and we flopped on to the rock and tried desperately to assuage our thirst with fruit drops. After a long battle with my conscience I summoned up the energy to get the tripod out and take a round of survey photographs. Not that they were much use ; there was too much cloud around. It was neither possible to recognize the Gyundi peaks which we had climbed in 1958 nor to sort out the tangled ridges between the Parahio and the Parbati. Gwynn and Wangyal arrived, after forty-five minutes, having made extremely fast time.
We started down at 12.35 p.m. and all roped together for the descent of the ridge. The steps had softened and could not be trusted, and we moved very carefully. Wangyal was obviously wondering what the fuss was about, but as a slip would certainly have taken us down the NW. face quicker than we wanted, we firmly discouraged him from glissading. Once off the ridge we were out of the sun and on to hard snow, and we reached the Assault Camp at 3 p.m.
Wangyal brewed first tea and then oxo, and Peter and I slowly rehydrated while Gwynn scrambled around with four cameras draped from him taking photographs. The camp-site was in fact quite spectacular.
At 1700 we dragged ourselves to our feet and went down to the glacier camp, where we were welcomed with cheers and handshakes in the approved fashion.
That night 1 discovered my left big toe was dead, and in spite of rubbing it for hours, by morning it was purple and swollen. Gwynn's doctor had given him some notes on how to treat common disease, but there was nothing about frost-bite; Peter's first aid book was also silent. Despatching Harold and Jigme up the peak we decided that I had better go back at least to Concordia. My boot would not fit over the swelling, so my foot was wrapped up in duvet hoods and scarves and shoved into my leather-bottomed rucksack. At first I slipped and slid but soon acquired a technique of heaving the monstrous boot along by the rucksack straps. We un- roped below the crevasses and let the porters go on. But now my foot had got wet and I was afraid of it freezing, so I hurried on swinging the boot wildly along. There was a maze of open crevasses just above Concordia, but I was past caring by then and flung myself across them. Gwynn and Peter followed more decorously, concluding that there could not be much wrong with me. At camp I inspected the damage ; the swelling had burst and though the whole toe was still yellow and purple it looked a lot healthier.
That was more or less the end of the trip. I had to go down anyway, and Peter came with me. Gwynn and Harold tried a lovely 21,500-foot peak above Concordia, but Harold's dysentery returned and they had to give up. We reached Manali without incident on September 6th.
The survey produced some alterations and some added details to the Bara Shigri map. The map in Himalayan Journal, Vol. XXI, was produced in a hurry before I had time to fully plot the survey.
I merely distorted Holmes's map to fit in our new discoveries. The final map was printed in the Geographical Journal, Vol. 126, Part 4, December I960, and differed mostly in having more detail in the Bara Shigri and some altered heights. The big peak which we climbed has to have a name—referring to it by height is impossible. It is S. of I 21,410, Holmes 22,500, Lynam 21,800 (in HJ.) and 21,710 (in G.J.). From not very satisfactory observations this year it appears at least 21,800 feet, though there may be some personal bias now in raising it above Peak 21,760. It is possible that the 21,710 feet figure actually represents the lower northern end of the summit ridge, which alone was visible from our stations to the north in 1958. So I have retained the height of 21,800 feet which is certainly correct within one hundred feet, and I am firmly calling the peak Shigri Parbat. (During the trip we called it Moby Dick).
I have also incorporated in the map the plane-table survey of Miss Scarr and Miss Spark around ' Central Peak 20,620 feet, and their sketched amendments around Peak 20,495 feet.
There are some adjustments to be made to heights shown in my 1958 article. Peak 20,341 feet (Holmes's Peak) has become 20,413 feet, Fluted Peak has become 20,135 feet, Gunther's Peak has gone down to 20,700 feet.