Himalayan Journal vol.25
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.25

Publication year:
1964

Editor:
Dr K. Biswas
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. MOUNT EVEREST, 1963
    (NORMAN G. DYHRENFURTH and WILLIAM F. UNSOELD)
  3. ANNAPURNA III, 1961
    (Lt.-Cdr. M, S. KOHLI, I.N.)
  4. THE ASCENT OF BIG WHITE PEAK
    (AKIRA TAKAHASI)
  5. THE HIMALAYAN SCHOOLHOUSE EXPEDITION, 1963
    (J. G. WILSON)
  6. THE 1963 AUSTRIAN DHAULA HIMAL EXPEDITION
    (EGBERT EIDHER)
  7. ASCENT OF MOUNT NUMBUR
    (MAKATO NUMATA)
  8. LANGTANG HIMALAYA
    (PETER TAYLOR)
  9. MEDICINAL PLANTS OF THE HIMALAYA
    (K. BISWAS)
  10. MODERATE MOUNTAINS FOR MIDDLE-AGED MOUNTAINEERS
    (R. L. HOLDSWORTH)
  11. THREE MOUNTAINS-AND NANDA DEVI, 1961
    (HARI DANG)
  12. NANDA DEVI, 1964
    (CAPTAIN N. KUMAR)
  13. THE ASCENT OF KULU PUMORI
    (ROBERT PETTIGREW)
  14. THE DIAMIR FACE OF NANGA PARBAT
    (DR. KARL M. HERRLIGKOFFER)
  15. THE ASCENT OF BALTORO KANGRI, 1963
    (DR. SEIHEI KATO)
  16. SASER KANGRI EXPEDITION, 1956
    (LT.-COMDR. M. S. KOHLI, I.N.)
  17. PAKISTAN-JAPAN JOINT KARA- KORAM EXPEDITION TO SALTORO KANGRI, 1962
    (PROF. T. SHIDEI)
  18. THE AUSTRIAN HINDU KUSH EXPEDITION OF 1963
    (SEPP KUTSCHERA)
  19. THE THIRD POLISH HINDU-KUSH EXPEDITION, 1963
    (ANDRZEJ WILCZKOWSKI)
  20. BRITISH-SOVIET PAMIRS EXPEDITION, 1962
    (I. G. McN AUGHT-DAVIS)
  21. ODD CORNERS IN KULU
    (ROBERT PETTIGREW)
  22. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  23. OBITUARY
  24. BOOK REVIEWS
  25. LETTER TO THE EDITOR
  26. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1964
  27. THE HIMALAYAN CLUB

THE ASCENT OF KULU PUMORI

ROBERT PETTIGREW

When Kim asked the Lama from where he had come, the old mendicant replied, 'I came by Kulu, from beyond the Kailas.'

Kulu is the name commonly given to the attractive, forested valley of the river Beas, one of the five rivers rising in the Punjab Himalaya whose eternal snows it drains. It is, perhaps, the farthest flung corner of the Punjab, lying as it does beyond the former princely State of Mandi and bordering on the 'buffer' States of Lahul and Spiti where the landscape and the people are Tibetan in character. The high mountains of Kulu, which form the Pir Panjal range of the Great Himalayan Divide, were for more than a century the haunt of the shikari rather than the mountaineer. Even before the building of the motor road through the Largi gorge in the 1920's by sappers of the Indian Army, it was accessible by such passes as the Bhabu or the Dulchi (c. 13,000 feet) over the Dhaula Dhar range from Mandi State. For those with time to spare, this is undoubtedly the finest way of entering the beautiful vale of Kulu.

Once one is under its spell, the Valley of the Gods does not easily relinquish its devotees, but compels them to return again and again.1
In May, 1964, the pre-monsoon season, our quarry was a mountain named Kulu Pumori, 21,500 feet high, and unclimbed. It lies, as the crow flies, 30 miles east of Manali, dominating the majestic course of a great glacier, the Bara Shigri.2 In shape its profile is classic, being a pyramidal peak. Four great, distinct ridges leap abruptly from the ice-fields at 16,000 feet, express their individual character in combinations of rock and ice features and finally combine in a summit ridge of fluted ice. On all sides this is defended by steep buttresses embracing avalanche-prone couloirs which run out on to the great snow faces. It is the third highest mountain in the Kulu region of the Punjab Himalaya ; the highest, Shigri Parbat, 21,800 feet, fell to Mr. J. P. O'F. Lynam's party in 1961 ; the second highest, Point 21,760 feet, by local tradition the loftiest point in Kulu, is likely to remain inviolate for many years to come, to judge by the ferocious aspect of its approaches. There are approximately 20 unclimbed mountains between 19,000 and 20,000 feet, of varying degrees of difficulty, in the vicinity of Kulu Pumori. The remainder were all climbed in a resurgence of mountaineering activity in the 1950's.

1(a) H.J., Vol. XXI, 1958, p. 102.

(b) H.J., Vol. XXIII, 1961, p. 110.

(c) H.J., Vol. XXIV, 1962-63, opp. p. 136.

(d) H.J., Vol. XXV, 1964.

2See sketch-map.


When Dr. Franz Mohling and I planned our expedition last April we were aware that Kulu Pumori was still unclimbed and would offer our small party the chance of a classic ascent. This would be my fourth season of climbing in Kulu[1] ; my companion had had extensive experience in the North American ranges. Much information about the situation of the mountain, including a number of excellent photographs, was generously donated by Mr. L'ynam. Owing to the proximity of the 'Inner Line'-a sort of reserve frontier some 50 miles inside the true border with Tibet and running parallel to it-it was necessary to obtain a permit to climb in that area. This was readily granted by the local Deputy Commissioner.

The bulk of our provisions was purchased in New Delhi and I was relieved to find that some excellent dehydrated vegetables are now appearing in India-particularly the bhindis or ladies' fingers. However, dehydrated meats of the pemmican variety are still unknown and we were obliged to purchase tinned goods. It is an interesting and surprising fact that despite the tinned food which figured largely in our ration scales, the food of our Ladakhi companions, which was mainly composed of at a, tsampa and rice, weighed approximately the same.

For the transport of stores and equipment to an accessible Base Camp in the Kulu Himalaya it is always cheaper to take ponies than porters, provided the route is negotiable by animals. On arriving in Manali at the end of April, after a two days' traverse of a switch-back mountain road from the rail-head at Pathankot, my first question concerned the condition of the Rohtang La, 13,050 feet, the pass from Kulu to Lahul en route to our objective. The snow lay deep this year and although the pass was already being crossed by men, it would be many weeks before the first pack animals attempted to negotiate it.

Twelve porters were subsequently recruited in Manali. They were all from Himalayan countries. We enrolled six Ladakhis, four Nepalese (including one Sherpani), one Lahuli and one Spitial. Our two high-altitude men, an integral part of the climbing team, were Ladakhis, the Sherpas ' of the Western Himalaya, Wangyal and Ang Chook. On grounds of economy we also carried rucksack loads weighing 60 lb., so the caravan consisted of 16 heavily laden people.

Our route from Manali, 6,200 feet, to the foot of our objective lay first over the Rohtang La, once the classic pass of the Western Himalaya in the flourishing trade route between Tibet and India. It is said that a small detachment of Alexander the Great's army once entered India by way of this pass and that, a millennium later, outriders of Ghengis Khan's hordes gazed greedily into the verdant vale of Kulu. Once beyond this difficult barrier, we followed the left bank of the Chandra River into an icy land, in stark contrast to the rich and snowless pastures of Kulu. The principal feature of the route was the churning green torrent rushing, for the most part, through a gorge of ice. Conditions underfoot were wintry; often the route lay perilously close to the river as it traversed steep drifts of hard-packed snow, pock-marked from stone-falls, in which the "climbers cut steps for the porters. For the next few days the caravan penetrated loose-walled gorges, surmounted innumerable tongues of avalanche debris, walked the tight-rope over fragments of mule track revealed by the sun, and traversed frozen spurs at the foot of precipitous hill-sides bordering the river. Since, in theory, we were following a trade route we observed the daily stage of 12 miles, and sought nightly accommodation in the excellent P.W.D. Rest Houses provided by Government.

After five days' march we were opposite the impressive portals of rock and ice, beyond which lay our ice avenue to the mountain. Despite a fine sunny day, it looked like the mouth of hell and daunted us both. As if in compensation the remnants of an avalanche tongue lay across the unfordable river, permitting us to bridge it with ease and saving a costly detour of two days' duration.

From the moraine-blackened snout of the glacier to the foot of our objective was 12 miles with 5,000 feet of ascent. At this point we paid off our 12 valley porters and saw them safely across the river and down the valley. The four of us then commenced the back-packing of our stores and equipment in a series of ferrying journeys between successive camps on the glacier. This valuable period of positioning and acclimatization absorbed 10 days. We calculated that everyone had covered 80 miles over the surface of the glacier ferrying loads in seven working days. We had been snow-bound for three days, and had survived a great avalanche falling from steep cliffs to the north of our route.[2] The only sign of life we had seen was a pair of Ramchukor whose plaintive cry, sounding to me like a cross between a grouse and a curlew, seemed to emphasize the isolation of the party. From this and other signs we concluded that either we were too early or the season was late starting. Glowering above us, plastered in new snow, displaying a fierce aspect absent from the photographs, Kulu Pumori seemed to reiterate this conclusion.6
Avalanche falling from north wall of the bara shigri glacier. (Bob Pettigrew)

Avalanche falling from north wall of the bara shigri glacier. (Bob Pettigrew)



Kulu Pumori, 21,500 ft, from base camp at Concordia in the north-west route of ascent by right hand skyline ridge. (Bob Pettigrew)

Kulu Pumori, 21,500 ft, from base camp at Concordia in the north-west route of ascent by right hand skyline ridge. (Bob Pettigrew)



Reconnaissance along the snow-covered glaciers streaming around its base, first to the north and east, second to the west, revealed that our best chance of success on Pumori lay in attacking the South-west ridge. It was the only way we saw of fulfilling the most important requirement for a small party on a Himalayan peak in wintry conditions-it led directly to the summit. Furthermore, access to the foot of the ridge was open via a small neve below the South face, and a snow ramp. The last of the major ferrying operations installed us comfortably in advanced Base Camp at the foot of the South-west ridge in the finest glacier cwm I have ever seen. The fact that no-one had ever been there before added to our pleasure.

Before us, much foreshortened, rose the great ridge, here easy snow-slopes, there a steep coxcomb of rock until in its upper reaches it landed abruptly against the formidable vertical cliffs supporting the summit cap.[3] Long and hard was the study through field-glasses and the conjecture was endless. Uncertainty was always present in our discussions. Would it be possible to reach the summit ? We did not know but we spent much time lying on our backs and wishfully thinking our way to the top by a variety of fancy routes. One of these avoided the upper cliffs by traversing to the east across a steep and tilted snow-field.

We planned to place two camps on the ridge in support of the climb to the summit. Each consisted of one tent. The first, a 'Meade', was sited at 19,000 feet, about 2,000 feet above the advanced Base Camp in a natural step deepened by our excavating the hard-packed snow.

The next day we resolved that Wangyal and I should make the first attempt on the summit so the whole party climbed the steep and difficult c Coxcomb Arete' section of the ridge to install us in the highest camp, a two-man c Mountain' tent, at 20,000 feet.

We sank the small orange tent securely in the snow on an exposed portion of the ridge, the best of several indifferent sites. Circumstances caused this to be the longest standing camp of the entire expedition; for a period of six days the diminutive tent shuddered under the onslaught of fierce gales but remained standing. As first occupants Wangyal and I threw in our sleeping-bags and prepared to take shelter for the night. The other pair bade us farewell and set off down the ridge to spend the night in the lower tent. I estimated that we were now in a very good position for our attempt on the summit since it could only be about 1,500 feet above us. But good weather was essential to success and the tent was now flapping wildly in the customary daily storm. By evening, though, the sky had cleared and a crisp cold calm held sway. The evening meal was cooked on a tiny petrol stove which performed with amazing efficiency at that altitude, then we struggled into our sleeping-bags for a few hours' sleep.

My first impression on June 6 was of Wangyal's bulky figure coaxing the stove to life for a quick breakfast before we set out on the last lap. It was 04.45. An hour later we were stooping beside the tent, strapping crampons to our boots with frozen fingers and then stuffing essentials such as clothes and food into our rucksacks. Benumbed and befuddled yet conscious of the fine, clear morning-an essential factor for success-we stumbled off up the ridge roped together, climbing from instinct as we collected our senses.

A few hundred feet above the tent the ridge we were ascending terminated decisively against the vertical cliffs forming the last great step. We now implemented our plan, worked out at advanced Base Camp with the aid of field-glasses, and outflanked the cliffs by traversing swiftly and diagonally to the east across the steep, crisp snow of the 4 Apron’. Here was the most exposed section of the ascent for our snow-field was detached from the main body of the mountain, its lower edge overhanging black cliffs many hundreds of feet high. It was a relief to stop traversing and climb directly up to the vicinity of some minor aretes of rock thrown down from the summit ridge. We clambered up the snow- covered ledges until the angle lessened and we knew that we had reached the final slopes which eased off to the topmost crest. But this was to be no easy conquest. We had to climb gingerly along a heavily corniced ridge poised between plunging ice-flutings of the North face and the swooping couloirs, gauntly buttressed, of the South face. Finally, three hours after leaving Camp 2 we mounted the crisp snow cone, the highest point of all, and ever inch a Himalayan summit. Below, on all sides, lay a welter of glaciers, snow-fields and mountains. We shook hands ardently and gazed in admiration at the snowbound ranges stretching towards Tibet.[4] Far to the west I located and recognized former objectives like White Sail, 21,148 feet, Indrasan, 20,410 feet, and Deo Tibba, 19,687 feet, where we had known defeat and victory. The same thoughts must have passed through Wangyal's mind for he has campaigned much in Kulu. The time available in such a place is strictly limited and I took a rapid round of photographs, including one of Wangyal. We had spent just half-an-hour on the summit when eventually we began to descend like overcautious cats. By the time we reached the Apron' we had become a little more care-free and we plunged down in the softening snow. W halved the ascent time on the return and arrived back at the tent, tired but supremely content.

 Kulu Pumori, 21,500 ft, from south west. Advanced base camp bottom left. Route to summit marked by broken line. (Bob Pettigrew)

Kulu Pumori, 21,500 ft, from south west. Advanced base camp bottom left. Route to summit marked by broken line. (Bob Pettigrew)



sunset on unclimbed peaks of c. 20,000 ft near the Kunzam La, 14,931 ft. (Bob Pettigrew)

sunset on unclimbed peaks of c. 20,000 ft near the Kunzam La, 14,931 ft. (Bob Pettigrew)



Shortly afterwards Wangyal and I withdrew down the ridge while Mohling and Ang Chook moved in to the assault. They made the second ascent of Kulu Pumori on June 9. The party was re-united on June 12 when it began laboriously to re-trace its route back to Manali which was reached on June 20.


[1] Op. cit.

[2] Photo 1.

[3] Photo 3.

[4] Photo 4.