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



as many members of the Himalayan Club well know, there are two kinds of expedition: the all-out attack on a high mountain ending in complete success or complete failure, and the exploratory expedition where an unknown region is visited and convenient peaks climbed. The first type is most deeply ingrained in the imagination of the public, who are almost incapable of understanding the second where success or failure is far less easy to define. As with the 1955 expedition of the R.A.F. Mountaineering Association to Lahul, we in 1961 did not do everything we intended. We did not climb K6, but at least we contributed to human knowledge on this peak. But with two 22,000 feet and two 20,000 feet summits attained, a glacier system opened up, and, we hope, a good map, we have no reason to be disappointed with our results.

The choice of the Hushe Valley which runs northward from the Shyok at Khapalu may seem strange, for many parties have been up it on their way to Masherbrum, but it happens to lie in a pocket between the better known and better surveyed areas of Haramosh, Baltoro and Siachen, which has been overlooked by previous expeditions. Moreover, in spite of its accessibility, only one party- from Harvard in 1957-has previously penetrated the South Cho- golisa Glacier, while no climbing party has ever been to the Aling. With K6, Peak Baltistan, of 23,890 feet in the area, and probably many mountains of 21,000 to 22,000 feet, we had no reason to doubt that Hushe would suit our limited resources in experience and money.

The expedition consisted of twelve British climbers of whom eleven came from the R.A.F., and one guest climber-Chris Jonson -from the R.N. We divided ourselves into a main climbing party of Sims, Nichols, Wilkinson and Bottomer, a survey party of Mervyn Hughes, Aitken and Addis, and an administrative party of Jones the doctor, Ridley for equipment, Shaw Close for transport and myself as leader . Of course teams were very flexible, but I think I can claim that the administrative team climbed as much as the climbing team and their greater luck and smaller ambition brought them a high proportion of successes. The party was joined by the Pakistan Air Force contingent of two-Squadron Leader Shah Khan of Raka- poshi fame, and Flight-Lieutenant Beg, a new-comer. Saib Shah, on high seventh major Karakoram Expedition, represented Pakistan Survey.

This party assembled at Skardu Rest House on June 28th having been down in by P.A.F., together with our five tons of stores. We had been anxious about the supply of high-altitude porters (H.A.P.s), but the Austrian Expedition led by Erich Waschak had returned some days previously, and there were a number of highly recommended men available. We soon chose Guhlam Rasoul as sirdar and about five others, planning to make up the numbers to ten at Khapalu. I went to the Political Agent, Faizullah Khan, where we had a number of details to settle. We were most anxious to know of the Austrian progress on K6 for we knew that they had permission to look at it from the east; we here heard that they thought it looked impossible from that direction, and did not have time to make a real attempt. We then cleared our own political permits. Here we had slight difficulty, since our party had been several times amended since the original application a year previously. One such amendment list had not got through, but since I had my copy and the acknowledgement of this, it was accepted. It is a good thing to take all official letters and copies of replies to Skardu if proceeding into the military area immediately east of it.

Without actually being our objective, K6 was of the greatest interest, and therefore we decided to look at it first. In order not to hold up the main baggage train, Sims, Nichols and Bottomer were formed up into a light reconnaissance group with three H.A.P.s including Rasoul, and they left at first light on the 29th with four baggage ponies. It was their sufferings as reported to us by the local doctor who came in one of the three jeeps of Baltistan that made us decide to set off at 2 a.m. the next day.

For those who have not been to this end of the Himalayas, I will give a brief picture of Baltistan. An annual rain equivalent of only five inches puts it in the desert class, and nothing useful can grow below 15,000 feet without some form of irrigation. The melting of the snows on the peaks allows plenty of water to flow down the side valleys, and the occasional rapids allow water to be taken from the river for use lower down the valley ; but in spite of the frequent rich villages with their lush vegetation, much of the way is desert and hard going during the heat of the day. Our route to Khapalu was 62 miles long, first up the Indus and then up the Shyok, following the jeep track opened only a month before we arrived. The jeeps arrived in quantity while we were in the mountains, so it is probable that we shall have been the last expedition to travel with ponies on this stretch.

The second peculiarity of Baltistan is its almost complete surface isolation. The previous trade routes via the Deosai Plains or the Zoji La are cut where they cross the Cease-Fire Line, leaving only the very difficult route via the Indus Gorge which is unsuitable for anything but lightly loaded mules. Everything for Baltistan now has to fly in and out of Skardu, and will continue to do so until the new road is cut through.

The first day leaves rather a bitter memory, and it was my fault that I was thinking of Singhik and Gwaldam when I decided to use the Rest House at Gol. The march of twenty miles, mostly across desert, was indeed hot, but those who reached the end by 9 a.m. avoided the grilling experienced by those who travelled with the last loads. Our troubles really started with our insistence that all unloaded baggage should be stored in the Rest House ; again, when I made this decision, I had in mind the story of Noyce's unpleasant experience of the Nagas. In fact, the honesty of our Balti drivers and porters was absolute. Our fifty-one loads completely filled the main courtyard of the little house, built to accommodate only one guest at a time, yet bulging with eleven sahibs and ten expedition stall". The doctor then waded in and put the chowkidar and his kitchen completely out of bounds on the grounds that his son had typhoid. He then proceeded to give Gol its greatest entertainment of all time by treating about two hundred patients during the afternoon.

Though there are signs that Baltistan will get a health service, and there is a hospital at Skardu and a dispensary at Khapalu, the villages are still almost without attention. We had been warned of this, and Doc Jones had acquired from the drug suppliers a total of five hundred pounds weight of medical supplies, which we carried grudgingly. The sick parades were a little difficult because no member of the party, not even the Pakistanis, spoke Balti ; usually a schoolboy was found whose Urdu was adequate and who gladly interpreted, but usually he was deficient in the more intimate medical terms. Tooth extraction was a great attraction, particularly when we began to run short of local anaesthetic ; but the courage of the Baltis more than made up for this. I had to hold the head of one boy while the doctor took out a most difficult tooth, the patient hardly uttering a sound. In spite of all this practice, Doc Jones still broke one of my teeth when he tried to take it out later in the expedition.

It only took about three days for things to find their proper place in spite of Hughes and Aitken running temperatures of 105 degrees. At Korphuk we detached Saib Shah and Pete Addis to go up Ombartru, the local trig, point, in order to tie in our survey with the rest of the world. They caught us up eight days later. At Khapalu we paid off the ponies and prepared for the crossing of the Shyok.The Rajah paid us a visit with the local schoolmaster, both of whom entertained us in return. On the way back we had an amusing (for the spectators) polo match on his ground, played on the pack ponies we had just engaged, but who had neither saddles nor bridles. Pack ponies do not make ideal polo ponies for they have funny habits. For one thing they prefer to walk in line astern. Jimmie Aitken, however, had one which loved leaning up against one of its fellows. At odd periods of the match it would saunter up to you and lean against your mount, quite oblivious of any discouragement offered by an embarrassed Aitken.

The crossing of the Shyok went smoothly enough, thirty-six loads lifted twice over the main channel and a side channel by the usual goatskin rafts. We moved steadily into the Hushe Valley, now carried by 139 porters at the exorbitant fee of ten rupees per day each as laid down by the Government. This consists of four rupees actual pay, four rupees ration allowance, and two rupees for the return journey unloaded. We did our best to stop subcontracting but without much success. This iniquitous practice consists of a porter signing on to carry a load from A to B, but getting another to do the actual work for a quarter of the wage. Such a rate, far in excess of the market value of the labour, is certainly having the effect of driving expeditions to India and Nepal. Unfortunately the big semi-national expeditions of America (Masherbrum), Austria (Sherpi Kangri) and Italy (Gasherbrum) have so inflated prices that even the Sherpa fees seem reasonable.

At Kande we received the news from Sims, but it did not tell us in black and white that K6 was a proposition. While the rest of the team outspanned at Kande at nine o'clock on July 6th, Wilkinson and I carried straight on up the Ngamah. This is a superb valley for its flat narrow bottom receives enough water for vegetation moa of it wild, to attain some luxuriance. The sides rise vertically I'm- a mile or so, confining the sky to a narrow are of 50 drgrees. After a pleasant camp by the summer huts of Ngamah, We were on the road early and just caught Sims in his main camp at 13,000 feet as he set out for a day's pleasure climbing. We went on up to a planning conference at 15,000 feet with the south -west face of K6 spread out before us.

After spending already five days in the Ngamah Sims was very doubtful about our chances of climbing from this side. He had been up a ridge to about 20,000 feet but it had petered out in unclimbable precipices. However, there did seem one possible way which led across the south-west face in an ascending terrace, but there were several disadvantages. Firstly, the approach was up a steep ice-fall which did not seem easy. Then the terrace led below several large hanging glaciers and seemed to form the main channel of discharge for them. This in itself did not present an ideal climbing prospect, but would be unpleasant if no safe alternative campsites existed. As the terrace extended from about 17,000 to 22,500 feet such camp-sites would inevitably be necessary.

The gallery and the approach to it were not the only aspects we did not like. Once on the fairly easy ground below the western summit, all was plain sailing for about two miles until well up the eastern (higher) summit. Thenceforward the route led up a difficult rock ridge. For about an hour we argued the pros and cons of committing the whole expedition to a task which obviously had its dangers in case of a sudden spell of bad weather. Since we were not in any way committed to K6, we decided not to attack it since our chances of success were not very great.

Before dismissing K6 from our thoughts entirely, we decided that we must have a look at the north face, because Nick Clinch with the Harvard party in 1957 had been far from definite on the possibilities from this side. I, therefore, went down to Kande to join the main body while Sims went round to the Chogolisa Valley where he set up a camp which became known as 'Chog Camp' and was used by the surveyors for some weeks. I put the rest into camp above Hushe village, while Jonson and I joined Sims and were promptly given the job of reconnaissance.

Sims and Wilkinson from their camp at the foot of the Chogolisa Glacier had already found that the best way led up the gallery on the north side of the glacier to the dividing point of the south and north streams. Thereafter a gallery continued up the north side of the South Chogolisa via a summer hutment for a short way, but we could then cut across to the centre where the ice became excellent and continued so beyond K6. Jonson and I did not find the way as easily as this, but stood below the north face of K6 just after dawn on July 11th. There was no question about it. A direct assault on K6 from the north was impossible for the average gradient was about 70 degrees. However, it would have been possible to get up to the western ridge and to climb the very attractive peak forming the western end which we called Bell Peak. But because we knew that Clinch had climbed in this area, we did not wish to duplicate his work.

The time had now come for us to part company with the surveyors, so we left them all comfortably settled in Chog Camp, complete with Saib Shah and Addis who had now caught us up after a very successful trip to Ombartru. They were to work their way round the South and North Chogolisa glaciers, the Chundogero and Masherbrum glaciers, and eventually join us on the Aling. Meanwhile I returned to Hushe, meeting on the way a very smart gentleman apparently from my old school, but realized it was only Rasoul in cast-off clothing. I subsequently met him in one of my city suits and wished I had given away my bowler to go with it.

On July 13th Sims established the Aling Base Camp at 13,000 feet under some rose bushes at the very foot of the main Aling terminal moraine. He had traversed on the north side of the rivers from Chog Camp, having a rough crossing of the Masherbrum River, nearly losing an H.A.P. in the process. Immediately above the Base Camp, the West Aling Glacier joined the main stream, and in between the two streams stood Green Mountain, an excellent platform from which to get some idea of the lower Aling system.

By the time we arrived at Base Camp, Sims had already climbed the 17,000 feet of Green Mountain, and decided that his party would climb Twin Peaks, a beautiful mountain with a divided top in the 22,000 feet region. The way up the East Aling being duly marked, all available manpower was used to carry loads to Camp I at about 16,500 feet where we left Sims to fight his way up the first ice-fall. His attempts ended in failure-for several reasons : the low altitude (17,500 feet) of the ice-fall and warm temperature exposed climbers to much falling debris except between midnight and dawn ; steps, once cut, melted out in a day or two ; the severe gradient of the fall; and the fact that five days of bad weather followed the first two days of effort. By the time Sims returned to his work, successes elsewhere suggested that Twin Peaks represented rather a small return for expenditure in time and effort.

Luckily the period of bad weather which was holding up Sims in his struggles with an ice-fall at 18,000 feet did not hold up Ridley, Nichols, Jonson and Jones in their exploration of the Main Aling Glacier between 13,000 and 16,000 feet. On leaving the Base Camp on the south side of the Aling River where it emerges from the ice, they crossed to the north bank of the glacier and followed it by galleries, where they existed, to the very centre of the system at the confluence of the north-east, north and north-west streams. Here a camp (Camp la) was laid down which became an advanced base, about seven hours' good going from Base Camp, and at a height of about 16,000 feet. It was a dreary route, and it passed, about half-way up, a small bivouac which was the only sign of any previous human visit to the area. Presumably this was the limit of the visit of the U.S. Consul in Peshawar in 1959 (?).

Sims and his team, still down at Base Camp in improving weather, devoted July 20th to brushing up their ice technique and that of the liaison officers on the ice-cliffs while I dealt with a vast ocean of correspondence. We were just settling down to the evening 4 Clag' session when the doctor rushed into camp with the news that Nichols had pneumonia at Camp la. Jones had given him a massive dose of tetra-cyeline from an aircraft emergency pack, and then came down for the oxygen set. These sets, made originally by 4 do-it-yourself9 methods for Annapurna II by members of the R.A.F., proved perfectly serviceable in spite of rough handling on the journey. We therefore organized for a large party at first light in case a carry-back should be necessary.

However, when we arrived at Camp la shortly after noon the next day, we found Pete Nichols making tea for us, seeming little the worse for his attack. With everything mobilized for a great effort, the weather fine, and a sense of expectancy abroad, there seemed nothing better to do than go off and climb something. Since Nichols had found a way through the North-east Glacier ice- fall before his illness, it was decided to go up that way and tackle two summits we could just see, and which we called Sceptre and Mitre because of some alleged resemblance.

The North-east Glacier was passed mainly by the east side which might prove a little hazardous in the afternoon, and for this reason we sent down the H.A.P.s at 10, relaying the stores the final half- hour up the glacier ourselves. A camp (Camp Ha) was set up on the level snow-covered upper glacier at about 18,000 feet, and well placed for both of the peaks in mind. The idea was that Jonson and I should try Sceptre, the steeper of the two, by the west ridge, while Ridley, Shah Khan and Doc should try Mitre by the north ridge. Things turned out differently.

There were only about ten degrees of frost in the night, and although the surface of the snow was hard enough to give a good crampon grip, it was still soft four inches below. Jonson and I left camp at 4 a.m. and were half-way up the mountain and across the bergschrund by 5. Here the west ridge petered out into the face and the angle steepened. While the climbing was fairly easy, it became apparent that Seligman (Snow Structure) would not like the situation. Five days' snow had fallen on ice made by one month's sun and only two days had elapsed since. After the harder surface, the ice-axe penetrated very easily for a foot and there met solid ice. The adhesion between the two layers did not seem good. How would it be at noon on such a large and unbroken snow-field? We decided to take no chances and quickly descended to try the other ridge while there was still time.

The Hushe valley

The Hushe valley

The Aling glacier

The Aling glacier

Sceptre and Mitre from camp Ia

Sceptre and Mitre from camp Ia

Mitre and Cathedral peaks seen up NE. Aling glacier from camp Ib. Smyth, Jonson, Ridley, Jones and shah Khan all climbed Mitre

Mitre and Cathedral peaks seen up NE. Aling glacier from camp Ib. Smyth, Jonson, Ridley, Jones and shah Khan all climbed Mitre

Twin peaks at head of West Aling. Ice fall not safe

Twin peaks at head of West Aling. Ice fall not safe

On the col between Sceptre and Mitre we overtook Ridley and party, held up by large cornices on top of an almost vertical wall to the east. Leaving everything on the col, including all our cameras, we started up the south ridge of Sceptre which was broken rock and snow at about 40 degrees. All would have been well had this continued, but large cornices appeared which overhung the east face to a considerable degree. These forced us to make frequent traverses oft the south-west face, where the snow was even more unstable than we had met on our earlier route. However, the surfaces involved were far smaller and a slide would not have meant inevitable disaster. Three times we were forced off the ridge, to regain it by a pleasant climb mostly on rock. The last such, involving slabs of about five different standards, led us into a chimney which led to the summit. It is interesting to note that we climbed these last 1,000 feet one at a time as we found that it gave us just the rest we needed to regain our breath at 20,000 feet. We reached the summit at 9 a.m. and lost no time in descending.

After an afternoon in a snow-hole to avoid the intolerable heat of tents, we prepared for a combined assault on Mitre the next day. This time I led Doc Jones, while Ridley followed with Shah Khan and Jonson. The way was by a side valley which joined a rock and ice gulley splitting the south-west face. This gulley, which became dangerous the minute the sun loosened the slopes above, led to a pleasant ridge starting at a gradient of 25 degrees, but which led directly to the summit at a steadily increasing angle. We had no difficulty, and reached the summit in about two hours. From it we got a wonderful view all round, but especially of the climb of the day before, and of Masherbrum, only about five miles away.

With some mountains climbed at least, we descended to Base Camp that day, passing the Sims party on their way up having evacuated Camp I. After a few days of recuperation, they set up a camp (Camp lib) on the North Aling which runs parallel to the northeast, but separated from it by a line of cliffs about 1,000 feet high. From this camp at about 18,000 feet, they had a grand day's climbing on a peak they called Portcullis, failing to get to the top by a few hundred feet where they were foiled by overhanging ice-cliffs. They put a higher camp (Camp IIlb) at nearly 21,000 feet above the head of the North Glacier, and from there could certainly have reached two or three 22,000 feet summits had the weather held. As it was, they only made Hunchback before worsening weather and lack of supplies drove them down again.

But although it was now August, and we were due to evacuate Base Camp on the 9th, Ridley, Nichols, Jonson and Doc Jones went off up the North-west Aling for another attempt. With camps at 18,000 and 20,000 feet, they climbed Atwa (Sunday) Peak by its south-west ridge-Addis (from the survey party) and Ridley on August 6th and Nichols and Jonson from an even higher camp the day after. The survey party had, by this time, finished their field work, though it may be a year or more before the final results are available. Before we left, a large dancing floor was constructed at Base Camp and an evening of Hushe dancing was held with our 56 porters assembled for the journey down.

Since The Himalayan Journal is the most likely publication to reach anyone intending to visit the Hushe Valley, I ought to end with a summary of its interests. Botanically, only the Ngamah held much plant life, and zoologically, only ibex and ram chukor were much in evidence. Snow leopard tracks were seen and evidence of bears, but little else. As a climbing area the mountains arc too steep for the average small party, but the Apo Brok Valley, west from Kande, might turn out to offer the same scope as the Aling, and is, as far as we know, unvisited. The people are charming, unwashed and honest, and a few of the young speak Urdu ; they learnt English quicker than we learnt Balti.