Himalayan Journal vol.23
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.23

Publication year:
1961

Editor:
Dr K. Biswas
Index
  1. NUPTSE
    (J. WALMSLEY)
  2. CAMBRIDGE EXPEDITION TO NAGIR, KARAKORAM
    (W. P. GAMBLE)
  3. NAVAL EXPEDITION TO NANDA KOT
    (INST. LIEUT. M. S. KOHLI, I.N.)
  4. HIMALAYAN SCIENTIFIC AND MOUNTAINEERŽING EXPEDITION, 1960-61
    (M. B. GILL)
  5. THE AUSTRIAN KARAKORUM EXPEDITION, 1961
    (ERICH WASCHAK)
  6. BACK TO THE BARA SHIGRI
    (J. P. O'F. LYNAM)
  7. WOMEN'S KULU EXPEDITION, 1961
    (JOSEPHINE SCARR)
  8. THE SALTORO EXPEDITION, 1960
    (P. J. STEPHENSON)
  9. ROYAL AIR FORCE KARAKORAM EXPEDITION, 1961
    (A. J. M. SMYTH)
  10. THREE MONTHS IN WEST NEPAL
    (JOHN TYSON)
  11. NEELAKANTHA-CHOWKHAMBA EXPEDITION
    (COMMODORE S. N. GOYAL)
  12. THE DERBYSHIRE HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION, 1961
    (ROBERT PETTIGREW)
  13. A REGIMENTAL EXPEDITION TO THE HIMALAYAS
    (CAPTAIN J. S. KEEN)
  14. A SUMMER TRIP TO NANDA DEVI
    (HARI DANG)
  15. MANA EXPEDITION, 1961
    (BISWADEB BISWAS)
  16. THE CONQUEST OF MOUNT EVEREST BY THE CHINESE MOUNTAINEERING TEAM
    (SHIH CHAN-CHUN)
  17. EXPEDITION TO KANGCHEN JAU (22,603 FEET), 1961
    (SONAM GYATSO)
  18. ASPECTS OF THE SNOWMAN
    (H. B. GURUNG)
  19. OBITUARY
  20. REVIEWS
  21. LETTER TO THE EDITOR
  22. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1961-62
  23. THE HIMALAYAN CLUB

WOMEN'S KULU EXPEDITION, 1961

JOSEPHINE SCARR

are there any peaks in the Himalayas suitable for two girls without any Himalayan experience to tackle alone? 'This was the question that we tentatively put to John Jackson, warden of a mountaineering school in North Wales and a member of several Himalayan expeditions. We expected a severely discouraging reply, but to our surprise John was most enthusiastic, and from that moment became the main adviser, supporter, and eventually the patron of our Expedition.

Although we were styled an ‘Expedition our aims were modest- to see something of the Himalayas and to try to climb an un- climbed peak. It did not matter if it was only a very small one, but after several years treading the well-worn peaks of Britain and the Alps, we longed to go somewhere where no one had ever been before.

On the advice of Dr. A. E. Gunther of the Alpine Club and Miss Eileen Gregory and Mrs. Eve Sims, members of two earlier women's expeditions, we decided to make our objective the Bara Shigri Glacier in the Kulu area. Access to it is both easy, quick, and reasonably cheap, for in six days a pony train can trek from Manali to the foot of the glacier. It is also not too far from help in the event of an accident, an important factor for a small party without a doctor. And, above all, much of the area is still unexplored, and contains many unclimbed peaks of up to 21,000 feet.

Once our objective was decided preparations really began, and for six months we collected equipment, food, documents and injections. Like most small expeditions we were on a very tight budget, but by making much of our equipment such as sleeping- bags and mountain clothing we managed to keep costs to the minimum, and were fortunate to receive very generous support from British firms and also a grant from the Mount Everest Foundation.

Borrowing the money to buy a second-hand Land Rover, we set off to drive to India at the end of July, 1961. The 7,000-mile journey took us six weeks, taking time off en route to stretch our legs on Mount Olympus, 9,570 feet above our camp on the shores of the Mediterranean.

After a three-day delay through floods in Pakistan we finally reached Manali on September 12th, and left three days later, accompanied by three Ladakhi porters, Jigmet, Wangyal and Antchuk whom Major Banon had very kindly engaged for us. They had all been on several previous expeditions, and had just returned from accompanying Lynam's party to the Shigri area. Also with us came Rigzin, who has now given up climbing in favour of the more lucrative job of gorahwallah. He and a Tibetan were in charge of the six ponies and donkeys that we had hired to carry our equipment and food supplies for five weeks.

Our route lay over the 13,050-foot Rhotang Pass, across the Chandra river by the bridge at Chattru and along the north bank to Batal, where we re-crossed the river by the new bridge and returned on the south bank to Shigri, and placed our Base Camp at the foot of the glacier. It was an enjoyable six days' trek, but on the way I unfortunately developed a tooth abscess, and in spite of penicillin treatment by the time that we reached Base Camp one side of my face was so swollen that I could hardly speak, eat or blow my nose. More penicillin, but next morning it was no better, and, consulting the medical section of Hints to Travellers (that invaluable Royal Geographical Society publication), we came to the conclusion that I had an apical tooth abscess, for which the treatment appeared to be extraction or lancing, or both ! Barbara was reluctant to experiment as dental surgeon, so we decided that I would have to return thirty miles to Chattru, where fortunately an Indian doctor was temporarily stationed, looking after the Tibetans there.

Taking Antchuk with me, I set off in company with the ponies and donkeys returning to Manali. This time we went along the south bank of the river, a very rough path which the ponies found difficult, even though unladen. My recollections of the journey are rather hazy, but I remember crossing four fast-flowing nullahs, clinging precariously on to a pony as it stumbled across, saddle- deep. After twelve hours and twenty-five miles of huge boulders and steep scree, followed by a forced bivouac on the banks of the last raging nullah, we reached Chattru and the joy of hot tea and spaghetti in a Tibetan 4 hotel

Here I said good-bye to Rigzin, arranging for him to come back to Base Camp with three ponies to collect us on October 11th. Then up to the tiny Rest House, where I found the young Indian doctor deep in The Return of the Native. He was so delighted to have someone to talk to that it was nearly two hours before I could coax him away from discussing Hardy and the whole of English literature to the more immediate problem of my abscess. It was gratifying to find our diagnosis was correct, but luckily extraction was not necessary, and after only ten minutes' treatment I emerged cured.

Returning via Batal, Antchuk and I got back to Base Camp at 10 a.m. next day, very weary and hungry. Barbara revived us with a magnificent lunch, and told us of her two days' load-carrying up the glacier with Jigmet and Wangyal. They had done another carry the third day, with the result that all five of us were able to move up the following day to the first camp, always known as Lynam's camp, as we used his old camp-site. After several hours of jumping from one wobbly gravel-covered boulder to another, I decided that my abscess had been a blessing after all !

The next day we again moved up, the porters carrying about fifty pounds and us about thirty, and established our Advanced Base Camp at 15,000 feet on the glacier. That afternoon, whilst the porters went down for more loads, Barbara and I set off to explore the tributary glacier above our camp, which we hoped would lead to our objective, Central Peak. We had chosen this 20,600-foot peak mainly on the advice of Dr. Gunther, who in 1953 had approached and photographed it from the north side. He proclaimed it the finest unclimbed peak in the area, and as it also lay at the head of an unexplored glacier, we felt it would make a very worth-while objective for our Expedition.

Up and up the moraine we climbed in thick mist, following a stream that we hoped came from the glacier snout. After two hours we had almost given up hope of ever finding the glacier when suddenly we glimpsed a wall of ice ahead. At the same moment the mist cleared, and we had a brief view of rocky buttresses rising steeply upwards in the right direction for Central Peak. It was a most exciting moment, especially when we consulted our altimeters and discovered we were at 16,000 feet, higher than we had ever been before.

Returning to camp, we decided that it looked sufficiently promising to risk moving a camp up next day, and accordingly by the following afternoon we had established a camp at 16,500 feet, at the foot of one of the ridges of what we hoped was Central Peak. The topography certainly seemed to fit in with our map, but we were not absolutely certain until the following morning, when, on a further reconnaissance, we rounded a spur and saw before us a huge rocky spire, immediately recognizable from Dr. Gunther's photographs as Central Peak. To its south stood Lion, a beautiful snow dome, also unclimbed, and looking considerably more feasible than Central Peak.

As we made our way back to camp (christened Tanda Camp after our first night there) we saw in the distanceWangyal, Jigmet, and Antchuk plodding up the glacier under the most enormous loads. Through this wonderful effort we were all able to move up again the next day, and place a camp at 18,000 feet in the wide snow basin below Central Peak and Lion. Until now the route had been straightforward, if wearisome, plodding up moraine and soft snow, but at the head of the glacier was an intricately crevassed ice-fall, up which we zigzagged for hours, crossing some very dubious snow bridges. It was a great relief when in the late afternoon we reached the huge snow basin above the ice-fall, and set up our tent. A quick cup of tea, and the porters went down to Tanda Camp again, whilst Barbara and I spent our first night at 18,000 feet.

Before we settled down to the lengthy business of cooking supper, we decided that next day we would reconnoitre the impressive 19,850- foot rock peak rising to the east of our camp. It looked steep, but possible, and after five days' continuous glacier work, we were impatient to begin climbing. Unfortunately next morning we woke late, and felt so lethargic with the unaccustomed altitude that it took us two hours to cook breakfast.

We finally set off at 9.30, and an hour later reached the berg- schrund a mile away, feeling very tired and panting with very step. The bergschrund proved awkward to cross, and above it was a steep ice-slope that we estimated to be one rope length, but which turned out to be more than four, so deceptive are distances to new-comers in the Himalayas. Fortunately we were able to crampon up the ice, but we were so unacclimatized that progress was very slow. At last we reached the rock, only to find it a rotten mass of snow-covered blocks, which seemed ready to slide down to the glacier below at any moment. Gingerly we made our way upwards, and after two hours reached the col about 500 feet below the summit. It was too late now to go any further, but our climb was rewarded by a magnificent view down into the W. Gyundi Glacier, and in the other direction of Central Peak and Lion. After a brief lunch we descended by the same route, and were relieved to reach the glacier safely after rather hair-raising cramponing down the steep ice-slope with the bergschrund gaping below. When we got back to camp we found Wangyal, Jigmet, and Antchuk there, with hot tea and chappattis ready for us. They had clearly been rather anxious about us, and we were welcomed back like long- lost daughters.

As we drank our tea we peered out at the surrounding peaks and discussed plans for the morrow. Jigmet and Wangyal kept pointing at Lion, and, although we felt we were not yet sufficiently acclimatized to attempt a 20,000-foot peak, we decided that there would be no harm in reconnoitring the lower slopes the next day.

At 7 a.m. the four of us set off, leaving Antchuk to have a good rest, as he preferred not to climb if he could avoid it. The snow was crisp, and we made fast progress up the easy-angled East face, until we came to a steep ice-slope intersected by enormous crevasses. Luckily we managed to find a zigzag route through, and on to the long East ridge leading up to the summit. The lower section of this was rock, and although not difficult, the scrambling drained much of our energy. Up and up we dragged ourselves until suddenly the rock gave way to snow. High up above us the summit was in view, and possibly within reach, if we could only raise enough energy to climb those last few hundred feet. Barbara and I were both really feeling the altitude and envied Wangyal and Jigmet who were quite unaffected, but, after a stop for Glucose Tablets (' for Instant Energy!'), on we went to the final steep cornice. Whilst we rested Wangyal cut a passage through the soft overhanging snow, another 100 feet up, and there we were, on the summit of our first 20,000-foot peak. It was a thrilling moment, all the more because it was so unexpected. It had taken us six hours to climb 2,000 feet, but the descent by the same route took only two hours.

Back in camp over tea and onion chappattis we unanimously decided that the following day should be a day of rest, our first since leaving Manali eighteen days ago. We thereupon slept from 6 p.m. till 9 a.m., had a leisurely breakfast, and spent a pleasant day surveying on the glacier. At the same time we studied Central Peak for the best route. There were three alternatives, the very long but easy-angled North-east ridge, the short but steep South ridge, or one of the rock buttresses of the South-east face. We wanted to find a route that would enable us to climb the mountain in a single day in order to avoid carrying heavy loads whilst rock- climbing, so determined first to try the shortest way, the South-east face.

Leaving at 7 a.m. next morning, with Jigmet and Wangyal again, we had crossed the bergschrund within an hour, and after 200 feet of step-cutting reached the foot of the rock. We had expected it to be loose shale, but found to our delight that it was reasonably sound granite, providing some really fine rock-climbing. We were both also feeling much better than on our previous two climbs and progress was quite rapid. After about 500 feet the angle steepened, and we were confronted by a series of steep rock walls. Several times it seemed we would be forced to abandon our buttress for the ice couloir on our right, down which hurtled large stone-falls every few minutes, but luck was with us, and on each occasion we managed to find a way round the obstacle.

At 12 p.m. we reached the crest of the South ridge, and were able to look down on Tanda Camp and the main Bara Shigri Glacier far below ; another hour of delightful ridge-climbing reminiscent of Crib Goch in Snowdonia, and we were on the summit, a beautifully pointed summit crowned by one block on which there was just room for the four of us to sit, our legs dangling over into space.

We were now in the happy position of having climbed our two main objectives and still having seven days left before our rendezvous with the ponies. After some discussion we eventually decided to return to our Advanced Base Camp, collect another five days' food, and explore part of the range to the west of the Bara Shigri with the object of finding a new pass across into the Tos Nullah.

To save time we moved down to Tanda Camp that same evening, covering the last two miles in the dark, and were down at Base Camp by 2 p.m. next day. After re-packing, a much-needed wash, and a magnificent meal from the ‘luxury tin’, we set off early next morning for the unexplored glacier basin opposite our camp. The lower section was the usual glacial debris, but after about two miles we found ourselves on snow, and at a fork in the glacier. Both branches looked equally unpromising, so we decided to camp at the fork and explore from there. After setting up camp, we started up the smaller south branch, and after about half a mile saw what appeared to be a col leading in the right direction. With mounting excitement we made our way up the ice-fall, negotiating snow bridges and cutting steps across crevasses amongst most magni ficent ice scenery.

On and on we went, determined not to turn back until we readied the col, although we knew it was getting late, but when only about 200 feet below it, we came to a completely impassable crevasse. It was more than 120 feet deep, far too wide to jump, and stretched the whole width of the ice-fall between vertical rock walls. Beyond it, tantalizingly close, a smooth slope led easily over the col, although of course we could not sec what the other side was like. Perhaps another year the ice-fall will have changed, and a party will be able to reach the col and answer this question.

October. With only three days left now, we decided to move camp straight up the other branch of the glacier without a preliminary reconnaissance. This saved us a day but made it a very arduous ascent as much of the way we had to cut steps with heavy loads on our backs, and it took us five hours to go two miles and 1,500 feet up. Above the ice-fall the only camp-site free from the danger of avalanches was a small patch of level snow surrounded on three sides by wide crevasses. On the fourth side was a small crevasse, which we just hoped would not open up and leave us stranded on our ' iceberg

Next morning we set off first to reconnoitre the low col lying to the north of our camp, and after an easy scramble up a scree reached its top, only to find a very long ice-slope down the other side, far too steep to be a practicable pass down into the next glacier basin. It seemed that after all we would be forced to return to the main glacier by the same route, but we still had one day left before we must go down. Studying the surrounding peaks we decided that only one looked even faintly possible, the unnamed twenty- thousander directly above our camp-site. From bearings and photographs we have since identified this as 20,495 feet, marked on the Survey of India map, but at the time we were not at all sure which peak it was, since the topography of this area did not agree with Lynam's provisional map at all.

One of the ridges from 20,495 ran down to the col on which we were standing, so we set off to try to find a route up it. Up and up we climbed, finding some excellent rock-climbing on steep sound rock, but after five hours we were still less than a third of the way up the mountain, so had to abandon that route as impracticable. On the descent, however, we found another much more feasible route, zigzagging on ledges straight down the East face, so decided to try for the summit by this route next day.

Leaving at 7 a.m., we made rapid progress up the section that we had descended the previous day, but further up the angle steepened, and we came to a huge vertical rock wall, completely holdless and unclimbable. Our hearts sank, but Wangyal, always a genius at route finding, discovered a snow couloir round the side, and on we went, although much precious time had been wasted. At 2.30 p.m. we reached the heavily corniced snow ridge leading to the summit. Keeping well down from the edge we battled along, a strong wind driving snow into our faces, and mist blowing eerily around, obscuring any view. At 3.30 p.m. we reached what we thought was the summit, only to see about 50 yards away and 50 feet above us another pinnacle, the true summit. It was clearly climbable, but would have taken us at least an hour in those conditions, so we eventually decided that, with only three hours of daylight left for the descent, those last 50 feet were not worth a night in the open and possibly frost-bite, and after all, what were 50 feet in 20,000 ?

As fast as possible we climbed, scrambled, and slid down, and at dusk reached the vertical rock wall where we resorted to abseiling. This brought us on to easier ground but it was now completely dark, and still a thousand feet of rock and snow lay between us and our tents so that it seemed that we would have to bivouac out there for the night. We determined to keep moving as long as possible, however, and teeth chattering in the biting wind, gingerly felt our way down the loose boulders and scree-covered ledges, very conscious of the thousand-foot drop to the glacier below. Progress was very slow, and several times we came to an impossible section and had to retrace our steps, but after four hours we glimpsed level snow ahead, the glacier ! Crossing the snow proved to be the most difficult part of the whole descent, as in the dark we could not see the crevasses, and in fact Jigmet did fall into one, but being still all roped together, we hauled him safely out again, and half an hour later reached our tents, exactly fifteen hours after leaving them that morning. This ascent (and descent !) had been definitely the most interesting and memorable of our three peaks, and all four of us, squeezed into one tent, celebrated into the early hours with tea, soup, and a baby bottle of brandy.

With only one day's food left we hurried down next morning, and the following morning reached Base Camp, our supplies reduced to 1/4 lb. margarine and one spoonful of jam-our ration scale had been accurate. It took five days to return to Manali, the Chandra river now being low enough for the ponies to cross. The journey was enlivened by the exchange of four gallons of surplus kerosene for a live sheep. For ten rupees' worth of kerosene we had a whole sheep, that provided four large meals for the six of us. This was a lucky purchase, for usually no food of any sort is available in the Chandra valley, and in fact the valley was almost completely deserted when we returned along it in October.

The night before we crossed the Rhotang Pass a heavy snowfall occurred, and next day as our ponies struggled over, more snow was falling, bringing to an end the good weather we had enjoyed almost continually for five weeks. It was clearly time to be getting back to the valleys and plains, but as we left the mountains behind our spirits were not too low, for, unlike most expeditions, we were not travelling thousands of miles away from the Himalayas, only a few hundred to Delhi, where we were to spend the winter before a three-month expedition to Western Nepal in March, 1962. May it only be as enjoyable and successful as our weeks among the mountains of Kulu.

Note on weather.

Contrary to many predictions, the weather from mid-September to mid-October was remarkably good, and snow conditions excellent. From October 7th onwards we experienced light snow-falls each afternoon, but the first heavy winter fall came on October 13th.

Note on cost (for two people).

Overland journey from England:
Petrol ... £ 90
Other expenses ... £ 60
Equipment (including porters') ... £ 160
Food ... £ 20
Hire of 3 porters for 5 weeks ... £ 50
Hire of ponies for 12 days ... £ 35
Films, insurance, etc. ... £ 50
£ 465
(plus return journey)