The Himalayas are the Mecca of most mountaineers, and the Cambridge University Mountaineering Club prepared four of us to make the pilgrimage this summer.

None of us had ventured there before, so possible objectives were limited by size and difficulty. The long vacation is a strictly defined 16 weeks, so nearness and ease of approach were important. Finally, the preparation had to be fitted into a full university year.

The scope of an expedition depends upon the money obtainable. However unambitious and spartan the plan, the contribution of members could not possibly finance the project. The journey needed money, but once in the mountains the requirement was for food and equipment. So the members begged and borrowed and, through the generosity of many people, the solvency of the expedition was assured. It must be mentioned here that, without the support and approval of the Mount Everest Foundation, no expedition such as ours could survive. The total cost has been less than £600, which should encourage others to follow.

How to get there was the next problem. Half-a-dozen Land Rovers burn along the ' Asian Highway' from Cambridge every year to projects' in India ; ropes and ice-axes would replace folding tables and picnic cases. In the event, a short wheel base Land Rover carried six weeks' mountain food and all mountaineering equipment, plus four people, over 14,000 miles.

On June 16 the Land Rover drove out of Cambridge. On July 17 the party, including 18 Pathan porters, walked out of Kalam to return six weeks later, having climbed six virgin peaks and made a map. September 18 saw the Land Rover again on English soil.

Passing over the adventures of the overland journey, the story of the expedition proper begins in Saidu Sharif, capital of Swat State. On arrival there, we saw the Chief Secretary, Mr. Ata Ullah, who made all the necessary arrangements. We were passed down the administrative chain of hakim, tehsildar, subedar to arrive in Kalam, our roadhead.

All our equipment, plus food for six weeks that we had prepacked into eight man/day boxes of 22 lb. each, had been carried aboard the Land Rover before we left. It only just fitted, and weighed more than the makers' recommendation of 1,000 lb. and two passengers.

Sketch-map of Mountains of Siri Dara

Sketch-map of Mountains of Siri Dara

The tehsildar had telephoned to the subedar of the fort at Matiltan to arrange for 15 porters (called ‘labours'), in the charge of a non-carrying jemadar, and two armed policemen to meet us there. We were not yet attuned to the ways of the Pathans, and after happily waiting in pouring rain at six o'clock in the morning by a bridge over the Swat River two days later, it dawned on us that our porters would not arrive. The jeep track was very muddy and dangerous, and it was in four-wheel drive that we crept along to Ushu to see what was going on. Nothing was arranged but by 8.30, out of indescribable confusion, just what we wanted emerged. The drive back was enlivened by the 26 passengers we carried in two shifts—some went twice for the fun of it.

We were aiming for a 15,000-foot Col called Sho Ho Dara at the head of a valley called Sho Nalla. As we were now less than 7,000 feet high and the pass was only ten miles away, it proved a grind, especially as we had been sitting in the truck a month.

The country was magnificent, although the drenching rain we had for most of the journey to Base Camp dampened our enthusiasm. All our 4 retainers' were Pathans, and most striking in appearance. Once we started, the leaders were constantly split up and reapportioned, everyone, including the policemen, carrying something. Iza Khan, the senior policeman, was splendid and was soon a favourite. He and I exchanged hats very early on.

We took two-and-a-half days to reach the Col, after a second camp in a quagmire around some Guja huts, where the porters were kippering themselves in juniper smoke. I felt the height particularly and blessed Iza Khan when he glissaded down the snow-field leading steeply from the Col to carry my pack. Once there, we could see tantalizing glimpses of the plateau through the cloud. It was exactly as we had expected from the photographs, with the enormous ice-fall contemptuously spewing avalanches every few minutes, day and night.

After a mid-day sleep on the Col, the party set off downhill to the valley bottom, 5,000 feet below. The porters were invigorated, but we knew the height would have to be regained later, for the plateau was almost on a level with us, sloping up to 16,000 feet. The Survey of Pakistan map3 showed a 21,000-foot peak, which could only be one of the high peaks surrounding the plateau, so we eagerly put heights to all the others and the conclusions were mouth-watering.


  1. Sheet No. 43 A. The latest editions are unobtainable.


We set up Base Camp on some flat sand edged with grass and streams. Boulders were jumbled everywhere, and only the bright tents enabled us to pick out the area. We were on a trade route, and the Base Camp became an approved stopping-place for the traders, to whom our police would show off the wireless and umbrella.

Looking for a route up the ice-fall, we were obliged to discount Trevor Braham's advice of trying the true right flank.2 It seemed too dangerous, a view confirmed when we climbed a long moraine to look more closely. However, from there we were able to scan the western edge of the obstacle with binoculars, and trace a route up to about 15,000 feet across rock and grass to the area where he had camped.

Hugh returned at once to Rawalpindi to await the first returning expedition in order to borrow more ice-axes. We had one Irishman's already, from an injured member of the Rakaposhi Expedition.4 He returned ten days later with three, loaned by the Canadians. By that time, John, Richard and I had carried everything to Camp 1, and climbed two peaks on the edge of the plateau that looked fine from a distance but which turned out to be very insignificant gendarmes on a ridge. We called them Adam and Eve (ca. 16,000 feet). We had also seen a route through to the plateau. With only ski-sticks, this had been too fraught to try, so we looked for some rock to climb to fill in time.


  1. H.J., Vol. XXVI, p. 70.


La Verte, 18,000 feet, rose straight from the valley of our camp, the eastern buttress of the plateau. Feeling fit, we decided to try it, prepared for a bivouac. However, all our kit was now at Camp 1 on the other side of the valley, so we made do with empty cans for cooking pots and so on. By 3 p.m. we were having to climb singly, and realized that the apparent difficulties ahead would only lead us to a subsidiary summit separated from the main peak by a Col some thousands of feet lower, so we called it a day. After a fast descent, involving abseiling, scrambling, glissading and wading, we were delighted to find Hugh with the precious axes.

We had now seen another aspect of the plateau, and could tell him what its approach entailed. The watershed ran approximately north-south from Falak Ser to Sho Ho Dara. South of there stands Mankial, buttressed by three symmetrical ridges—one leading to the pass and the next starting south-west before swinging north to contain in Sho Nalla, our approach. The south-east ridge contained the plateau, curving in a great arc to meet the Verte five miles away. In the centre was another great peak of much the same height as Mankial, which is also plotted on the oldest Survey of India maps. Trevor Braham had named this after the Zermatt Breithorn.

However, at the time we believed that Mankial was five miles away to the south, right outside the plateau, and that the Breithorn was the 2L000-footer reported by the Survey of Pakistan. We thought the Watershed Peak (Mankial) to be a little lower than this. All these we now do not believe.

The approach up the Siri Dara Valley is dominated by ' Central Peak' and we decided to attempt this first. We all four quickly got up to Camp 1, and tried out our proposed route on to the plateau. It proved disappointingly simple, with only a single line of crevasse to cross. Even that could be avoided by an extra but steep diversion. On Central Peak, the line we had chosen up a broad snow ridge that swung left-handed to the summit proved correct and we plodded to the top—probably 17,500 feet—by 11 a.m. The sun was shining and we spent an enjoyable hour taking a photographic panorama and rounds of angles and inclinations on prominent peaks with prismatic compass and clinometer. On the way down, Richard went off to climb the 6 Cromlecha rock island in the ice-fall, very prominent from Base Camp.

This was to be Hugh's only summit, for on returning to Camp 1 he developed a stomach upset which was with him until we left Base Camp. Next day John, Richard and I carried about 45 lb. each to set up Camp 2 at the foot of a ridge leading to Watershed Peak (Mankial), 18,750 feet. We found a wonderfully sheltered site for the tent where the wind eddies had scooped a hollow in the snow behind a rock ridge. A gentlemanly start in the morning gave us a chance to thaw out—we had been testing our bivouac gear—and we started in fine weather for the summit about 3,000 feet above. It was not a great climb, since the rock was extremely broken—quite in contrast to all the other climbing we had. Later, where we merged with the south-east ridge proper, the snow covering the rocks proved tiresome. Here John found a tin can (made in Peshawar), and some cairns appeared, which sowed the seeds of doubt in our minds. Ours could not have been better than a third ascent.4

Panoramic view of plateau from central peak. Swat breithron in centre

Panoramic view of plateau from central peak. Swat breithron in centre

Mankial from central peak. Confusion and Bar teen further right

Mankial from central peak. Confusion and Bar teen further right

NE. ridge of pudding peak showing tracks of assault party

NE. ridge of pudding peak showing tracks of assault party

Broken cloud prevented taking a complete panorama, but we could see that we overlooked Sho Nalla and Siri Dara. Also the clinometer showed a declination to the Breithorn, meaning we were higher. Unfortunately, Falak Ser and the Barteen peaks were obscured.

Two days later we started carrying 60 lb. across the plateau, with a view to attempting the Breithorn. We dumped the loads past Central Peak, John and Richard pushing on a good deal further than I. Suffering only from indigestion, I almost persuaded Richard to whip my appendix out. We slept at Camp 1, returning with yet more kit the next day. Hurriedly finding a site, as descending cloud threatened a white-out, we were to discover next day that Camp 3 was a truly spectacular place. Whereas to the north of a line joining Mankial with the Breithorn the plateau sits almost level with the surrounding country, to the south it plummets away sheer for many thousands of feet. We pitched the tent once again in a snow depression behind the ridge, where a notch in the rock framed an impressive line of ice peaks running south-east from the Breithorn. Later, having nearly lost John through a hole, we discovered we were pitched over the bergschrund. We were too lazy to move the tent and never went that side of it.

John and Richard went off to climb one of the peaks visible through our 4 window' which they called the Pudding. From their footmarks seen next day they seemed to have taken an impressive line.

The Breithorn is a tetrahedron in shape, with a particularly fine buttress to the north-west. We had decided against any of the major ridges, so next day we found a bridge over the bergschrund and traversed on to the west face across a 30° snow slope. We were removing our crampons prior to climbing an ill-defined rock rib, when a tremendous rumble caused us all to take cover. A large part of the ridge on the skyline, perhaps 100 tons, was approaching fast. Richard tucked himself under cover, leaving a head-sized hole in which I inserted mine. My last glimpse of John showed him flitting northwards across ice-glazed slabs with alacrity. The main rock-fall went down the couloir but many bits and pieces showered over us. When Richard had dug me out and discovered my groans were purely theatrical, we packed up with understandable haste and shot up the ridge, which soon developed into the most enjoyable climb of the holiday.

* AJ., Vol. 5.3, p. 319. First ascent in 1940 by Holdsworth. Second ascent in 1950 by Wolfgang Stephan and W. Smith.

The firm yellow granite was warm to the touch and reminded me strangely of the Grepon. We were of similar ability, fitness and experience, which contributed a great deal to our complete relaxation and confidence on the whole expedition. Here we solo'd, finding our own routes on the usually easy rock. At about 18,000 feet the rock gave out on to a snow-field, so we roped and struck towards the main south-west ridge which was above and to the right. Once there, we followed it to the summit, alternately on rock and snow-covered ice. Twenty yards before the summit the ridge sharpened to a knife edge of snow, but Richard, to compensate for his lost breath, ploughed through to make a way.

We had seen Nanga Parbat earlier, but now the cloud had built up to the south. Further east, Falak Ser and the Barteens revealed themselves, so we hurriedly surveyed them—too hurriedly, for the readings are suspect. Tirich Mir seemed to dominate its surroundings completely. We imagined we could see Saraghrar and other peaks of the Rosh Gol, our original objective. A check confirmed that Mankial was higher—as was Falak Ser (19,415 feet). This last was proof that one of our peaks reached 20,000 feet. Rather disappointed, we set off down the south-west ridge, reckoning it could not fall on us if we were on top of it. There were many gendarmes and the ridge must have been over a mile long, but it gave some excellent solo climbing on difficult granite.

We had used more than half of the expedition's rock pegs (three !) by the time we met yesterday's route, on the Col with ' Pudding Peak '. We passed the rock-fall that had nearly got us, spread out over acres of the glacier. Some of the pieces were still as big as a tent.

After speaking to Hugh by radio that night, we decided to go down to Base Camp. Richard left first thing, while John and I measured a base line for the survey with the 200-foot climbing rope. It took us one-and-a-half hours to Camp 1, then another two hours to Base Camp. Probably 6,000 feet and six miles.

After a few days, Hugh seemed better and with only three weeks' food left, we had to get on. Richard and I started to look for a route out from Camp 1 to Sho Ho Dara that would contour across the hillside and save dropping all the kit down to Base Camp again. Next day John came, too, and we pushed a very exciting route across to Camp 1. Continuing easily with 30 lb. the next day, we arrived at Camp 3 in good time. The tent had stood there nine days, during which time the sun had shone without a break. The snow had changed to a dirty yellow, melted considerably, and the tent was now sitting on a pedestal about a foot high. This was used as a table, once we had repitched the tent.

Just behind the camp was a rock tetrahedron, about 17,000 feet high, which, of course, we named the Pyramid. Through our 4 window' John had seen a great open corner, which we called Peck's Diedre after him. When we reached it next morning it turned out to be 300 feet high, not the 30 we had estimated. Quite near the top it got rather hard, and it was Richard who led the crux. From the top we were threatened by precariously balanced rocks, some of which were knocked down, so we were glad to get away. One more long pitch and the summit was reached. The cloud was closing in but we managed to photograph an impressive twin-peaked mountain called The Thumb, of about the same height. A steep ice curtain leading to the Col between the summits appealed to John and me, but this was to be our last climb on the plateau. Very much a rock-climbers' mountain, an easy way down the back led us home in an hour.

The ignominy of the following night was almost worse than the discomfort. It rained and we were camped on snow at 16,000 feet. No flysheet and a sewn-in ground sheet ensured a steady three inches of water for our foam rubber mattresses to eagerly drink up. Then I kicked the soup and ‘pog ' over to join the fray, scalding Richard and John. There appeared no let-up next day, so we retreated to Camp 1 with 60^-70 lb. each. The line of crevasses had opened up a lot and it took a very big leap without packs to get across.

The move over Sho Ho Dara to our final camp was carried out with superb military precision, as befitted the two Sapper Officers manning the radio set. Hugh had been recruiting the locals for some time, including their leader, called Peroz, who intended to return to London with us. They completely packed up Base Camp and came slowly up to join our traversing route. We left about four loads at Camp 1 for collection later. At that time we had four policemen, for the move coincided with a changing of the guard, a thing which happened every nine days. As a reward for photographing them formally, I was appointed ' police sahib' and one of them gave me his rifle, bandolier and beret, and carried my pack. The far side of the Col was a wonderful glissade, the first and probably the last I shall do with a rifle.

We camped on a soft grassy meadow surrounded by streams that buried themselves under the turf. Snow had covered the whole region when we had last passed that way four weeks beforehand, an indication of the rate of thawing.

The morning after returning to Sho Nalla dawned fine, but we elected to laze around in the sun. It was exactly a week since we had had a rest day, and our green meadow, carpeted with edelweiss, was a delightful situation. Shamidar, the senior policeman, stayed with us in camp, fussing politely about us. It was always an embarrassment that there was little for them to do but fetch water and light fires. Shamidar passed the time by shaving carefully, producing a pocket mirror from some hiding place in his drab grey shirt. He was very well-mannered and would delicately look away when we stripped to wash. The young policeman had left at dawn to forage for wood. He must have gone several miles down the valley in his search, for he did not return until late afternoon. He presented us with a bunch of sweet-smelling primula, as bashful as any bridesmaid.

The view around was superb. The steep valley of the Sho Nalla ran westwards to join the Swat River at Kalam. Behind us to the north lay an impressive cliff, reaching over 18,000 feet, that we still believed to be one of the Barteen summits. A ridge to the right had one obvious summit which was probably Trevor Braham's Consolation Peak. Between the two was a Col which seemed the key to climbing ' Barteen' or 4 Confusion' Peak, as we later dubbed it. East, the notch of Sho Ho Dara was clearly etched against a cloudless sky. The ridge next soared 3,500 feet to the twin summits of Mankial, impressively corniced on this side. Further on, 6 The Lip' was the last snow summit on the ridge, which swept south and west to form the true left wall of Sho Nalla. Half-a-dozen hanging glaciers, separated by strong ridges, fed the stream. The Bowl was of the same scale as Siri Dara itself but lacked its grandeur.

It had been hoped that Peroz, who with his friends had rushed off to Kalam to spend his wages on a spree, would return early next day, loaded with wood for which we had promised a rupee a load. John was to have taken four of them to ferry the remainder of the kit from Camp I. However, they did not reappear, so all four of us plus Shamidar set off to atone for the previous day's sloth. After a prolonged halt on the Col for photographs, we eventually reached the site for lunch in three-and-a-half hours. Returning, Hugh slipped on the wet slabs below the camp whilst carrying about 40 lb., as we all were. His ice-axe caught in a crack and snapped but he seemed to survive his 20-foot tumble with only temper impaired, The last hour to the Col dragged badly, but Richard stormed ahead and we saw him next in camp. One rest before the top we met Peroz and his gang, who cadged aspirin and vitamin pills as usual. They had not brought any wood, it seemed, but it did not matter. Peroz made a final appeal to be taken to London but this was the last we saw of him. A number of things we found later had been skilfully extracted from the kit we had left behind, so we felt sure they would return to share out those rations that they understood had gone—salt, tea and sugar, and some attractive red nylon line. Richard had previously missed some 6 long johns ' and gloves from that camp, so one kandiawal will be warmer than usual this winter. The sugar shortage was to cause great suffering next day, which was again wasted. Food went much more quickly when we 6 festered ' in camp.

Thoroughly ashamed, John, Richard and I set off on the morning of the 21st to attempt 6 Confusion'. We were lost in cloud as soon as we reached the edge of the ice, but pushed on for an hour for conscience' sake, finally coming to a large bergschrund beneath a nasty ice gully. We ate lunch and retreated ; our tracks looked very funny the following day, leading steeply to the foot of a quite irrelevant ridge We were back in camp by 11.30 and, declaring a state of emergency, ate some ‘reserve' Horlicks rations. The rum fudge was delicious beyond description.

The alarm-clock woke us to a white-out next morning so, with mixed feelings, sleep was resumed. The next event was Richard rousing us in disgust to a cloudless sky. The omens were propitious, for he prepared the porridge for the second time since leaving England—no one remembered the first but charitably refrained from asking when it was.

We were off by 8.45, striking further left than before in order to traverse less glacier. The moraines were the sort that are climbed alone, out of earshot of each other. The glacier ran with water when we got there, so we abandoned the intention of reaching the Western Col by a steep snow gully. Instead, the line of broken rocks to the left was chosen, very trying in the heat, and the altitude seemed more telling on this part.

It transpired that the east ridge of Confusion is a broad, open flank. We cut in to keep on snow, but where the ridge steepened this was too unstable to be safe, so the next 500 feet was up rocks in crampons. Then a very open snow-slope had the old hand nervous but the others led across it, before the ridge edged steeply up to the icy rocks of the summit.

Cloud had been coming up, both locally and around the landmarks. I had been particularly anxious to tie up some of the mapping queries from here, but a complete panorama was out of the question, and we had to be content with a few hasty photographs and instrument readings through gaps in the cloud. The view to the north was clearest, and I sketched the lie of the ridges. 'Fishead' was definitely Barteen edge on. The valleys towards the Indus were quite different from the maps we held.

We were down in two hours, taking a different route from the Col. John and I glissaded down the snow-couloir, once we thought the slope was safe, to meet Richard ready to photograph our leap of the six-inch bergschrund at the bottom. We then cut diagonally across the glacier to meet the previous day's route which was kinder in descent. Richard amused us by disappearing into crevasses every third step, when he wasn't even the heaviest.

Shamidar returned with the porters that night, for food was almost at an end. We set off horribly early after a lot of rearranging of loads, everyone photographing frantically as they suddenly realized the expedition was nearly over. We promised the porters a sheep barbecue if we made Kalam that night, so we stopped at a village to bargain for a beast. All seemed determined to rob us and in the end we decided to get one through the tehsildar in Kalam. It was a very long way—8,000 feet down, apart from the horizontal distance, and we tended to leave the porters behind more and more. Where Sho Nalla joins the Swat River is a lot of terraced cultivation and a confusion of paths. Hugh, doing the journey for the fourth time, led us by the shortest route and we lost the porters. Not feeling capable of climbing back up, we slogged the final two miles to Kalam and trusted Shamidar to sort things out.

The Land Rover had been locked up in a garage since we left and was fine. We drove Shamidar up to Ushu, where we photographed and took bearings on a shy Barteen, still one summit enshrouded in cloud. Returning, we met a surveyor fixing some heights for a photogrammatic survey of Swat. John and I followed him several miles on foot to one of his stations, where at last we saw the infamous 21,000-foot peak plotted. He welcomed our numerous corrections to the map, going out of his way to explain why we must be right ! However, we were not allowed to photograph the map. He had the first strip of aerial photographs, running up the Swat Valley which showed quite clearly that Sho Nalla joined the main river from south, of east, not north-east as previously plotted. This brings the whole plateau south, and explains why our Watershed Peak corresponds to Mankial. We borrowed his tape to measure the climbing rope, and drove down to Saidu Sharif.

⇑ Top