1. KULU NOTES, 1964-65



1 KULU NOTES, 1964-65


In October, 1964, the Times of India published a paragraph which stated that Mukar Beh, 19,910 feet, at the head of the Solang nullah, Kulu, had been climbed for the first time by a team from the Western Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Manali. A fuller report was later studied by Mr. Jagdishj Nanavati, Honorary Secretary of the Climbers' Club, Bombay, and the writer. We came to the conclusion that the W.H.M.I. party had mistaken an intermediate summit of about 18,600 feet for the mountain Mukar Beh. This intermediate point, hereafter referred to as H.M.I. Claim Peak, stands on the north-south ridge, approximately half-way between Ladakhi Peak, ca. 17,525 feet, and Mukar Beh, 19,910 feet.

The photographs produced by Professor Chandekar, a member of the summit party, showed features corresponding closely with those of Claim Peak, observed by the writer during the first ascent of Ladakhi Peak in the same season the previous year. On one of the photographs Mukar Beh itself was clearly visible in the background. When asked about this view, a member of the party replied that the mountain at the back was Shikar Beh. However, a study of Survey of India Sheet 52H/SW shows that Shikar Beh could not have been seen from any point on the Kulu/Lahul watershed ridge in line with Claim Peak because of intervisibility.

A comparison of timings is equally significant. In October, 1963, the writer crossed the same watershed ridge en route for the first ascent of Ladakhi Peak, ca. 17,525 feet, due south of Claim Peak, with Bob Menzies of the Alpine Club and the Ladakhi Wangyal, and recorded the following times:1

Departed camp at 16,500 feet : 07.00 hours.
Reached crest of watershed ridge : 08.20 hours.
Reached summit of Ladakhi Peak, 17,525 feet : 10.00 hours.
Time up : 3 hours.
During the ascent of Claim Peak the following times were recorded :
Departed Advance Base Camp, 16,500 feet : 07.30 hours.
1 H.J., Vol. XXV, 1964, p. 178.

Reached crest of watershed ridge : 09.30 hours.
Reached summit of Claim Peak, 18,600 feet : 13.45 hours.
Time up : 6 hours 15 minutes.

Before getting to grips with the south ridge of Claim Peak the party had to descend about 1,000 feet from the watershed to the Col between Ladakhi Peak and their objective. In addition, there is a difference of about 1,000 feet between the two summits. Allowing that the H.M.I, party was slower than mine (they took twice as long to get to the ridge from a camp at the same height; they were also trainees), it can be shown that from their times the Claim Peak is the furthest point that they could have reached. It would take at least an hour to descend the steep, 1,000-foot wall to the Col. That put the party back at 16,500 feet. There was still over 2,000 feet to climb , an unknown ridge, part snow arete, part rock; but assuming that they started from the foot of the south ridge at about 11 o'clock they could have reached the summit in the time claimed, i.e. 2f hours, at 13.45 o'clock. What is certain is that they could not have proceeded past that point in the time given. More than a mile of ridge with another 1,300 feet of a'scent, most of which appears to be a snow arete of considerable difficulty crowned with steep rocks, remains to be climbed before Mukar Beh is reached.

Distances between the points referred to above and measured from the Survey of India Sheet 52H / SW are as follows:

Ladakhi Peak to Shikar Beh : 2 miles 7 ½ furlongs.
Ladakhi Peak to Mukar Beh : 1 mile 5 furlongs.
Ladakhi Peak to Claim Peak : 0 mile 4 ¾ furlongs.

The writer's photographs, taken from the summit of Ladakhi Peak, show very clearly the south ridge of Mukar Beh with Claim Peak in the foreground. Mukar Beh, it must be concluded, is still a virgin peak.

It is suggested that false claims of this nature could be avoided if mountaineers anxious to participate in exploratory mountaineering would adopt the following procedure:

  1. Consult all the literature available on the area in which they intend to climb. Indices are available for the Himalayan Journal and the Alpine Journal (the latter is the most comprehensive in the world). A knowledge of previous exploratory work in the chosen area might save much embarrassment later on.
  2. Carry the best map and the best compass available and be competent in their use.
  3. Record times, exclusive of halts.
  4. The summit party must always carry a camera and should aim to photograph views down the main ridges and faces with part of the summit in the foreground. Views composed mainly of people on unidentifiable ground are useless.
  5. Be guarded in all claims made, especially those sent to newspapers. Eschew extravagance and visions of glory.
  6. In the written account of the climb:
  1. Give exact references to any previously published descriptions of allied routes to which you may have occasion to refer.
  2. Quote the figures of any measured point your route may touch.
  3. Use the points of the compass instead of the misleading words right' and’ left’.

The 1965 pre-monsoon season in Kulu saw another ascent of Deo Tibba, 19,687 feet, by Mr. Chari's party. This ascent inn its interest, since the party imported Sherpas into Kulu again after a lapse of several years. Although two Sherpas are employed by the W.H.M.L, Manali, there has been a welcome tendency for nearly a decade for parties to employ the Ladakhis resident in Manali. These men are unspoiled, willing and keen and as technically proficient as Sherpas.

Dr. Frank Thompson, accompanied by Sherpas, made the first ascent of the square-cut obelisk, ca. 14,500 feet, rising to the south of Dudu in the Jagatsukh nullah.

Accompanied by Messrs. Langford, Henty and the Ladakhis Wangyal, Zangbo and Palgaon, the writer revisited the upper reaches of the Malana and Tos nullahs. Access proved especially arduous because of the late snow-fall of last winter (which barred three of the passes we were obliged to cross), and the mutinous behaviour of the Tibetan refugee porters we unwisely employed on May 16 for the march-in to Base Camp in the Malana nullah.

On May 29, 1965, we made the first ascent of Ramchukor Peak, 17,025 feet, in the east containing wall of the Ali Ratni Tibba East Glacier via the last-named glacier, easy neves, and the splendid snow arete of the north ridge. The summit was reached by Langford, Pettigrew, Wangyal and Zangbo. At a later stage in the expedition Henty, with Palgaon and Zangbo, climbed the northernmost peak in the group, unnamed Point 16,800 feet. Although modest in altitude, there were several attractive and difficult peaks in this area, most of them virgin.

In H.J., Vol. V, p. 82, A. P. F. Hamilton refers to the Sara Umga Pass, which once carried the ancient trade route from Ladakh to Rampur-Bashahr in the Sutlej Valley, as being little known, not less than 16,000 feet high, and probably difficult. The pass was reached by our party on June 3. Some difficulty was experienced in scaling the steep north bank of the deeply entrenched west stream of the Tos Glacier to enter the pass from the south, but conditions would alter radically in the post-monsoon season when the pass probably opened each year for a brief period. Its height by aneroid barometer is 16,025 feet. This is probably the first crossing of the Sara Umga La by mountaineers. Later, a camp was established for six days on the Chota Shigri Glacier leading north to Phuti Runi on the true left bank of the Chandra River in Lahul (not the Bara Shigri Glacier as suggested by Hamilton).

Using the pass as a base, Langford, Pettigrew, Zangbo and Wangyal on June 9 reconnoitred the approaches from the south to Point 21,165 feet (Papsura) and its north-westerly outlier, Point 20,300 feet, both prominent, unclimbed peaks in the northern end of the Kulu/J?ara Shigri Divide. We took the northernmost of two tributary glaciers. This, though the steeper of the two, was less exposed to falling ice from the upper shelf of their common neve. The recce, camp was sited on a Col, 18,013 feet, overlooking a glacier cwm draining first north then west into the lower Chota Shigri Glacier and surrounded on three sides by precipitous walls. This cwm is unmarked on Survey of India sheets. By traversing the neve at the foot of Point 20,300 feet, in an easterly direction, we reached a good viewpoint on the south ridge of that mountain. Here, at 18,400 feet, we were on a watershed between tributary glaciers flowing into the Tos Glacier and those flowing into the Chota Shigri Glacier. Looking south-east beyond the Tos East Glacier we identified Point 19,061 feet, climbed by Colonel J. O. M. Roberts in 1941. We examined the north-west ridge, the west face and the south ridge of Papsura, 21,165 feet, but we could not trace a feasible route from this side.

Ali Ratni Tibba, 18,013 feet, and its fore-top, known respectively as Paptula and Dramtula to the local paharis (hillmen), is a formidable mountain resembling the Aiguilles des Drus.2 Aiming to carry out a close reconnaissance, Langford, Pettigrew and Wangyal circumnavigated the base of the mountain by ascending the Ali Ratni Tibba East Glacier, a tributary of the Malana Glacier, and descending the Ali Ratni Tibba West Glacier, which emerges in the upper Malana nullah on the true left bank of the river, just below the snout of the Malana Glacier. Two camps were required, one on the new pass we made immediately southwest of Ali Ratni Tibba, and one above the lower ice-fall on the descent glacier. The pass was named Pass of the Obelisks, ca. 16,000 feet. We consider that, once gained, the south-west ridge offers the best chance of an ascent of the mountain, but it would have to be reached by a route traversing the steep ice-fields of the south face, which would require considerable resources and prolonged preparation.

The party withdrew from the area down the remarkable and precipitous gorge of the Malana River, reaching the motorable road of the Parbati Valley at Jari, 5,260 feet, on June 17.


  1. H.J., Vol. XXI, p. 107. Photo.



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In September-October, 1964, my wife and I enjoyed two delightful treks in the Kulu Valley, making Manali our headquarters. Our first trip was in the direction of Deo Tibba, where we hoped to reach Watershed Ridge and then see how feasible an ascent would be.

On September 19 we set off with Ladakhi porters, Wangyal, Aug Chook and Lama Tashi. A bus took us south to Patli Kuhl, from where we began walking up a steep jeepable road to Nagar. Thereafter a foot-track took us through Rumsu village and across a still-moving slide of stones and mud to Puling. There we made the mistake of thinking that 2 p.m. was too early to call it a day. Soon afterwards in the forest rain set in, and by nightfall we were still slogging up through the mud and had not reached the open pastures above. The men levelled off two tent-sites where we were, and in spite of the wet soon produced a fire and a hot meal. The rain stopped at about 8 p.m., and next morning we soon emerged on the pastures, by 1 p.m. reaching a fine open camp-site just below the Chandar-Khani Pass. Being not yet very fit we decided to camp there, and from 3 p.m. rain and hail fell for the rest of the afternoon. The disturbed turf all around looked as if pigs had been rooting there, but it had been bears, and, sure enough, the claw-marks were visible where they had been digging for roots.

The morning produced a crunchy frost on the grass and perfectly clear views all around, but these soon clouded over. As I had a touch of altitude sickness we decided to stay yet another day here, and spent the morning up the rounded hill of 12,540 feet south of us. A minor pass into the Malana Valley, south of the Chandar-Khani Pass, crosses the ridge well above the Col where one would expect to find it.

An even clearer morning on the 22nd afforded fine views of the western side of the upper Kulu Valley, especially of the Manalsu basin dominated by Hanuman Tibba, 19,450 feet,3 at the head of the Solang nullah. Chandar-Khani Pass was bright with flowers, and the magnificent view up the long Malana Valley took in Deo Tibba, White Sail and Ali Ratni Tibba. We went down into holly and pine forests, in and out of gullies and eventually to the Malana stream. Passing the last few houses, we camped some distance upstream in an overgrown pasture. Next day was distinguished by a particularly delightful spot for lunch, where a clear side-stream rushed past banks of dry springy grass and the sunlight filtered through the pine trees. Then followed a steady climb to the upper pastures of Umreruan Thach at the top of the valley. There several expeditions have pitched their Base Camp, facing across the valley to Ali Ratni Tibba.


  1. First ascent. See H.J., Vol. V, p. 83.


On the 24th we headed for the glacier, first going up steep hillside tracks and then threading our way through a huge tangled rockfall before emerging on the stone-covered ice. Further up, the ice had a thin covering of old frozen snow, which gave a firm footing. Each time our way was blocked by a small crevasse, Wangyal expertly found a way across to the next large block of ice. We noticed an ice hump roofed with an inverted carton labelled ' D.H.E., 1961 '—no doubt from the Derbyshire Himalayan Expedition.2Later we found the remains of Camp I of the Japanese Indrasan Expedition, 1962 (from the Kyoto University Alpine Club).3 Among the debris of willow stakes and small tin of wood-alcohol Wangyal pounced on a still-serviceable vacuun flask, Ang Chook retrieved a pair of elephant-foot snow over shoes, and I found a folding candle-lantern ; all of which we proceeded to use. A little above this spot we pitched camp in a very light snowfall. This soon cleared to reveal four or five ‘thangrol' (ibex) eyeing us curiously from the skyline of the ridge far above us on our western side. We called this feature, which supports the Second Shelf, Claw Peak, after the distinctive shape of its summit, visible from afar. We were at about 15,000 feet, not far below the spectacular major ice-fall which comes down from the snowfield of the Third Shelf. This ice-fall had formed the upward route for the Japanese climbers, and to its left was the rock wall containing the de Graaff Couloir. We intended to proceed left up the glacier to the Second Shelf, at the far side of which we could see the southern buttress of Deo Tibba, i.e. Watershed Ridge. After some late afternoon sunshine, a cloud ceiling settled half-way up the ice-fall.

At about 10 p.m. we woke to the ominous patter of snow on the tent. The roof began to sag, and then one end collapsed. The weight of snow had been too much for the metal peg, which we had not been able to hammer very deeply into the hard ice. Lama Tashi came to our rescue, but soon the same thing happened again, and several more times until it was secure. From time to time we thought that the fall had slackened off, but it was just that the thickness of snow accumulated on the roof had deadened the patter. About every hour we woke to shake it off a bit.

In the morning it was still falling, and to get out of the sleeve entrance I had to push snow away with my boots, finding it eight inches deep. The men valiantly produced hot tea and porridge, brought to us by Ang Chook because he owned the overshoes ; while the other two stayed in their bags in their tent, keeping warm beside the petrol stove. I knew the snow could keep falling for several days, and as we did not have enough stores to sit out a siege, it seemed time to retreat; but Wangyal advised waiting till midday, thinking the snow might stop. Melting snow began penetrating our roof, and we sat huddled inside getting wetter and wetter.

At 10.45 a.m. Wangyal emerged, looked about and agreed that we'd better make good our escape before the snow concealed the crevasses in the glacier. Camp was struck in record time and we were away by 11 a.m., in snow now a foot deep and still falling. Wangyal picked our way down in what was practically a ' white- out', probing with his axe all the time. We stopped only once during the day, to shed our packs for a few minutes and enjoy tea from flasks. At last we got below the snow-level and into rain, before leaving the glacier for the rocks, and back to Umreruan Thach. Shamelessly filching some dry firewood from a shepherd's cache, we made for the huge boulder whose cavelike shelter gave room for us all to sit round a fire and dry off. After dinner the men went off to a similar shelter under the other great boulder, leaving us room to stretch out our bags. Those few feet of overhanging rock, with constant drips falling all round outside, gave us an absurdly perfect sense of dry security in a sodden world.

The rain was still incessant in the morning (and no doubt also the snow up higher). It did not stop until the late afternoon as we neared Malana village. On the path Wangyal warned us of the heavy fines inflicted on anyone who wears leather into the village ; so we all had to change into rubber or canvas footwear, and wrapped our wet and muddy climbing boots in a green plastic sheet, in which they stayed hidden until our departure. The villagers seemed very indifferent to strangers, and Wangyal's best efforts failed to get us a room in any of the many stone-and-wood houses. But we were allowed to occupy an old disused temple with a hilly, earth floor. This gave enough space to put up our own tent, and to hang the other two tents over the rafters to dry.

The day's stage down to Jari began with an abrupt descent by rough deep steps down the cliff-face of the bastion on which Malana stands. This took 1 ¾ hours and was obviously not the way to approach Deo Tibba, I thought—until I checked up on the account of the Japanese expedition and found they had done just that ! From there a delightful forest path followed the river through the gorge. The river descends so steeply that it is more like a turbulent succession of low waterfalls. Jari afforded the delights of a bazaar, a tea shop and a Forest Rest-house from which there is a fine view of the Malana Gorge and also of the mountains at the head of the Brahmaganga.

Buses on September 29 took us to Bhuntar (Bhuin) and then to Manali, with one transhipment on the main road where a bridge had been weakened by a swollen torrent.

The first of October was a perfect day, the beginning of a fine spell. On the afternoon of the second Wangyal, Ang Chook and we two boarded the bus which goes north to Rahla. We alighted at Palchan, or ‘Pulcharn', at 4.30 p.m. and walked for 45 minutes up the Solang nullah to a good open camp-site beyond the rest- house built by the Western Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. A food-poisoning episode that had knocked us both in Manali (our own cooking !) still dogged Elizabeth next day, so our stage was shamefully short—only to Dhundhi Thach, arriving at midday. This glade is dominated by the fluted peak of Hanuman Tibba (19,450 feet), also called Solang Weisshorn. As the declining afternoon sun struck its eastern cornices, they glowed with a golden translucence.

From Dhundhi the track went up the true left bank of the Solang, rising to a spur crowned with silver birches whose leaves were just turning. A descent brought us to the foot of the terminal moraine of the glacier which fills the head of the nullah. This moraine was a mountain of boulders, partly covered with low scrub which fiercely resisted our passage upwards.

Reaching the rim our men, who had been there with Pettigrew,4 knew this time to turn right and go down to the sheltered campsite on the small flat beside the stream; so sheltered that as early as 4.40 p.m. the sun left us to the cold of the night. We met a member of the Mountaineering Institute's Advanced Course who was on his way to attempt Shikar Beh5 and Mukar Beh.


  1. H.J., Vol. XXV, p. 169.
  2. First ascent. See H.J., Vol. XIX, p. 147.


From here we hoped to reach the pass that leads into the Bara Bangahal. We were away by 7 a.m., but again Elizabeth was under the weather and we stopped for lunch at the foot of the couloir at only 10.15 a.m. After scrambling over loose stones we got on to the tongue of old snow and began trudging up it, kicking steps. As we rose, fine views unfolded, of all the peaks around the Rohtang Pass, plus Indrasan and Deo Tibba.

As we sat down at the side of the couloir for a breather at noon, Wangyal announced to our horror that we would not reach the pass before 7 o'clock that night. Ang Chook scouted round for a level patch for tents, but there were none. Then, from the other side of the couloir, a shower of stones came clattering down on to the snow, and a bouncing, whirling disc of rock, a foot in diameter, leaped over our heads, missing us by a couple of feet. This hastened our decision to go down ! From the foot of the couloir we found an elevated terrace on the north side, which provided a perfect camp, complete with water from a spring in the hillside (but without firewood). This is a better point from which to attempt the pass. That night we debated whether Wangyal and I would do so in the morning, and return the day after. It would have meant leaving our one petrol stove with the other two, and I did not like the idea of going high without any gear for making even a hot drink. So, faint-heartedly, I called it off, with a resolve to come again some day with better organization.

The morning's rising sun shone right into our tent, to begin yet another gloriously clear day. On our way down in the afternoon we met a friendly party of 21 Basic Course students from the Mountaineering Institute, on their way up with their Sherpa instructor and local porters.

Dhundhi Thach was this time occupied by shepherds with three separate fl6cks of sheep and goats. It was fascinating to watch the shepherds gather armfuls of lambs in the evening and stow them in a safe low stone hut; and in the morning distribute them back to their mothers.

At the end of a day spent exploring the fine scenery of the Seri nullah, we saw practically our first clouds in seven days, coming up the main Kulu Valley and massing over Deo Tibba. This was the day, we learned later, October 7, that the Institute's Advanced Course trainees accomplished the first ascent of Mukar Beh, 19,910 feet. Although next morning was clear, clouds reappeared at about 9 a.m. and hung on the hills all day ; while we reached Manali on foot at 1.30 p.m.

As for supplies, most kinds of ordinary foodstuffs, including a good lemon juice powder, were available in the Manali shops ; but none of them stocked chocolate, and sugar was strictly rationed.

The weather had repeated a pattern I had noticed in 19586 :two to six days of snow and rain late in September followed by a week or so of perfect days at the beginning of October. It seemed a pity that, as far as we knew, the Institute's two expeditions and we ourselves were the only climbers there in the whole Kulu area to enjoy it.

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