Himalayan Journal vol.26
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Dr K. Biswas
    (LT.-CDR. M. S. KOHLI, I.N.)
    (D. N. WADIA)
    (M W. H. DAY)
    (N. E. ODELL)
  6. HINDU KUSH, 1963 AND 1964
    (G. F. WHITE)
    (J. P. O'F. LYNAM)
  11. GAURI SANKAR, 1964
    (MRS.L. H. DAYAL)



In June, 1963, the Irish Himalayan Expedition asked the Pakistan Government for permission to climb Kampire Dior, 23,434 feet, in the Batura Mustagh in 1964. In November we were refused, and immediately re-applied for 4 The Ogre23,900 feet, above the Biafo Glacier. This application was also refused but eventually, after the Irish Government had intervened, we were offered Raka- poshi instead of either of our original choices. This was very disappointing, because it was not an unclimbed peak,1 and because it was rather higher than we had wanted to climb.

However, it was then March, and we either had to go to Raka- poshi or abandon the expedition, so we decided to attempt the North-west Ridge. This had been attempted by Secord in 1938 (H.J., Vol. XI, p. 156), Tilman in 1947 (HJ., Vol. XVII, p. 101) and Band in 1954 (H.J., Vol. XIX, p. 109). Neither of the last two had thought it a hopeful route ; Tilman had found a direct ascent to the ridge from Darakush to be dangerous for avalanches and Band had reckoned that to follow the ridge over the 19,700-foot Secord Peak would be too long and difficult.

The main party-Paddy O'Leary (Leader), George Garrett, Emmett Goulding, Tony Kavanagh, Barry O'Flynn and Sam Payne-arrived at Rawalpindi by various routes, and flew into Gilgit on June 10, accompanied by Capt. Rafi Mohammed, our liaison officer. They reached Base Camp at Darakush, beside the Biro Glacier on June 13.

I had been unable to leave my job as early as I had hoped, and only reached Gilgit on June 15. I followed them up to Base Camp, a quite interesting short march, diversified by my efforts to make my Urdu understood amongst Shinar-speaking villagers. Their diet (and perforce mine-apart from the inevitable apricots) is thick, stodgy chappattis, and salted tea without milk, so on arrival at Base Camp I was ready to sample the food the others had brought from Ireland.

At Base Camp, I found Rafi and the four Hunza porters, Ayub, Habibullah, Sagai and Wapai, who quickly brewed tea and fed me biscuits. Rafi was a mild-looking bespectacled Captain of Artillery ; he was, however, a much stronger character than he at first appeared, who carried out his unenviable job as liaison officer with firmness yet with tact and politeness.

1 First ascent by T. Patey and M. Banks on June 25, 1958. See HJ., Vol. XXI, p. 55.

As the only Urdu speaker amongst the climbers, I mostly dealt with the porters. Ayub was easily the best ; young, smart and willing, he had been high on Nanga Parbat, and hoped to go high on Rakaposhi. Sagai was Havildar-Major of the Mir of Hunza's bodyguard, and a first-class barrack-room lawyer; Habibullah said he was 60 years old, and probably was-he was a havildar of the bodyguard; of Wapai all we knew was that he had run away from one Nanga Parbat expedition.

Base was at Darakush, familiar from photographs in Tilman's and Band's books. It is a lovely spot, a grassy plain with a stream flowing through the middle, and birch trees on the moraine slopes all round. Amongst the boulders, within 200 yards of the camp, Barry and I found over seventy species of flowering plant. There was a good view of the North-west Ridge, and the summit beyond, and also of the Biro Glacier squeezed between Northwest Ridge and South-west Spur, down which poured huge avalanches which spread the width of the glacier and discharged a cloud of fine snow-dust over the camp. The sight of these avalanches was enough to convince everyone that the Biro Ice-fall was no route to the top.

George and Emmett arrived back while I was drinking my fourth mug of tea. They had been prospecting the route to Tilman's Col up a rock-rib to the right of the ice-fall used by him, which seemed to be an avalanche trap. The other four, they told me, were reconnoitring the route along the crest of the ridge, over Secord Peak. This looked immensely long, and the chance of retreating over Secord Peak in bad weather seemed small.

George and Emmett wanted to put a camp at the foot of their rib in order to start work early each day, so the next morning, while they went ahead, I brought up the four porters with a tent and food and pitched a camp under a big boulder half-way up the snowbay to the right of the rib (Boulder Camp).

The other four returned that afternoon, pessimistic about their route; apart from its length, soft deep snow prevented any progress, and it would be a week at least before conditions could be expected to improve. On hearing of George and Emmett's progress, they decided to push the rib route.

This rib would take us about half-way up the face below Tilman's Col before it merged into the main glacial face of the ridge at a little saddle. Above this it seemed feasible to turn the various ice-walls of the face and reach the ridge some distance nearer the summit than Tilman's Col. Beyond this point the ridge rose sharply (the gendarmes which had discouraged Tilman) and continued in a jagged hogsback, rising again to a definite subsiding peak (named by us the 4 Nun's Head'). From the Nun's Head we would have to descend to the glacial plateau running across the face of the mountain between the North-west Ridge and the South-west Ridge. The final ascent would be made up the South-west Ridge following the footsteps of Banks and Patey. It was a very long route, and the fact that the Base Camp was under 12,000 feet altitude was also discouraging.

George and Emmett came down the next day because their Primus stove was not working (we were very short of stoves, as some were delayed in transit and never got beyond Karachi).

On June 19, Tony and Sam fixed ropes up a couloir leading to a little Col in the rib, while Paddy and I brought the porters to a point directly below the Col, hoping to be able to send the loads up a rope. This was not possible and it was not till the next day that 6 Col Camp '-one tent perched precariously on the rib-was established.

From Col Camp Emmett and George fought their way slowly up the rib, progressing perhaps two or three ropes' lengths in a day. The rock rib was plastered with unstable snow, which had to be laboriously cleared away before pitons and ropes could be fixed. By 10 a.m. the sun had so softened the snow that it was unsafe, and the climbers had to spend the rest of the day in camp. Meanwhile Tony and Sam, based on Boulder Camp, improved the route behind the others.

From Base Camp Paddy and I watched impatiently, and began to wonder whether Tilman's Ice-fall was so dangerous. Tony and Sam had the same idea and one day descended from the Col into the ice-fall; they reckoned it was safe until 10 a.m.

After a week of steady but very slow progress, Paddy and I went up to the Col and had a long chat with George and Emmett; as a result Paddy and Emmett decided to have a last look at the rib while George and I went round to the ice-fall.

George and I started early from Boulder Camp that ran across the avalanche chute and climbed up to the left of the ice-fall; a snow-slope (half-way up it there was a rock island suitable for a camp) led to a little gully down which was discharged all the debris from the snow-field above, but to the right of the gully it looked as though we could work up and finally return to out glacier above the ice-fall. An awkward rock pitch beside the gully took us out on to a little snow-field, which led diagonally up in the right direction ; we followed it for a while, seeing no difficulty ahead, and then, mindful that we had to cross the avalanche chute again, fled down, after shouting to Paddy and Emmett who were level with us on the rib. We returned to Boulder Camp and I climbed up the ropes to Paddy and Emmett, full of enthusiasm. We decided to transfer the assault to the ice-fall, after one more reconnaissance next day by Paddy and Emmett.

Sketch-map of Rakaposhi

Sketch-map of Rakaposhi

Route of Irish Himalayan Expedition, 1964

Route of Irish Himalayan Expedition, 1964

Next day they climbed beyond our highest point, reached the glacier above the ice-fall and found a site for Camp 2 at 16,000 feet; Tony and Sam and the porters put a tent underneath the bulge of rock beside the gully, George and I shifted kit from Boulder Camp and went down to Base.

Now the trouble started. As soon as I mentioned that two porters should go up to Camp 1 and carry to Camp 2 there was an immediate list of complaints ; the boots weren't good enough, they hadn't got anklets, they hadn't got duvet jackets. They were not to be persuaded ; each answer of mine produced a new complaint. Ayub on his own would have come, but he was over- persuaded by the others. Having taken Ladakhis to 21,800 feet on Shigri Parbat[1] with worse equipment than these Hunzas had, I was not very sympathetic. Hope for extra money was one cause, fear of avalanches a second ; perhaps a genuine, if ignorant, fear of cold was a third. What it added up to was that none of them would sleep above Base Camp or carry above the rock wall (Paddy afterwards induced them to make two carries to Camp 2 for a bonus). It was a crippling blow ; we were going to have to do all our own carrying from 14,000 feet upwards, all the carrying for a probable five camps above that altitude.

Meanwhile Tony and Sam were not happy. All afternoon a series of snow-slides poured over the rock-bulge above them and, though they shot clear over the tent, minor debris landed, and it was clear this was no safe place for a camp. Next day they went on, leaving Paddy and Emmett to chip out the tent from a mass of ice fragments and move it up to the site of Camp 2. Meanwhile George and I and the porters shifted gear from Boulder Camp and established Camp 1 at 14,000 feet on the rock island.

On June 30, we all moved up to Camp 2, where we found Tony and Sam resting after the previous day's hard work, when they had pushed to within 500 feet of the ridge. Their tent clung to a bulge in the glacier, and there was no room for a second, so we persuaded them to move to the top of the bulge. This was level, and quite commodious, but not very solid. We put the tents on hummocks which we thought were solid ice. But walking around the tents, one was liable to sink into the snow up to the thigh and to see a suspicious darkness at the bottom of the resultant hole. We got used to this and George and I (who became permanent residents) almost welcomed the holes, as by the end of our long tenancy, wherever we sat we were never out of reach of a bottomless waste-bucket into which we could throw tea-leaves, insufficiently re-hydrated cabbage and other unwanted items. The first evening we were disturbed by a hollow thump as of something falling down a crevasse immediately underneath us. That night we were kept awake by creaks and thuds which I attempted to persuade George were caused by the wind on the tent. The creakings mainly came between 8 p.m. and midnight and accounted for the high consumption of sleeping tablets at the camp: the thumps occurred at any time, and always produced a minute's reflective silence from everyone. However, the site was the least avalanche-prone that we could find, and we concluded that to slide, sleeping-bag and all, into a crevasse in the middle of the night was preferable to being carried over the ice-fall by an avalanche.

The plan of campaign had been decided ; four of us would fix Camp 3 near the ridge, and then Paddy and Emmett would prospect along the ridge. Meanwhile, Barry would supervise the porters carrying to Camp 1, Tony and Sam would carry from Camp 1 and Camp 2 (and occasionally persuade the porters to come up to Camp 2) and George and I would carry from Camp 2 to Camp 3. Having stocked Camp 3, the six of us would push along the ridge, while Barry (and, we hoped, Ayub) would support from Camp 2. The line of communication was rather frail; it was to become frailer.

On July 3 we put up Camp 3. We dodged out from behind the ice hump protecting Camp 2, and headed up the big snow cwm leading to the saddle connecting the rib with the main face. The route was straightforward going (over avalanche debris !) until the head of the cwm where it steepened and we had to traverse beneath an ice-wall to reach the saddle. We were now on the main glacial face leading to the ridge; the slopes were cut up with ice-walls and crevasses, and we took a zig-zag route following the almost obliterated traces of Tony and Sam. They had turned back below a bulging wall at the top of rather an unstable snow-slope. There was V-recess in the wall, and Emmett in the lead fought his way up this ; a crevasse was the cause of the recess and the route followed the edge of the crevasse. We decided that for the future a direct staircase up the ice-wall would be preferable. Above this another slope led to another ice-wall, but this could be avoided on the right, and on top of it, at about 19,500 feet, we found a flat place insulated from the slope by another crevasse-a commodious camp-site.

The view was superb ; clouds were building up, but the wind would tear holes in them now in one direction, now in another, so that we got quick glimpses of the South-west Spur, of the Monk's Head, of Secord Peak and the ridge from it, and of Base Camp between stream and wood, far below. But the weather was looking bad and the wind was bitterly cold, so we started down, and reached Camp 2 without incident, to find that Tony and Sam had been up with loads. My big toe, which had been frost-bitten in 1961,[2] had been dead when I reached Camp 3 and, in spite of massage there, was still dead. George rubbed it for hours before it returned painfully to life. My high-altitude boots were still in the Pakistani Customs and I was wearing ordinary alpine boots.

The following two days we repeated the climb. On the first day my toe was dead when we reached the V-recess, so I handed over my load and went down; the others were back late, having had great difficulty in finding their way down in thick cloud in spite of our having placed marker flags. The second day the weather was better and Paddy and Emmett stayed up. Emmett laboriously cut steps up the ice-wall to the right of the V-recess, but the slope below was creaking ominously and the sun was creeping down to touch it, so George and I raced up the old route with our loads, dumped them and fled down. This was a major problem of the route; we had to be off the route by 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. at the latest each day; after that there were always avalanches sliding down.

We settled into a routine. I got up at 4 a.m., brewed tea and made porridge and at about 5 a.m. we left for Camp 3 with loads, dumped them there at about 8.30 a.m., waved to Paddy and Emmett working somewhere up on the ridge above and returned to Camp 2 about 10.30 a.m. to find some more loads had come up from below.

On the evening of the 6th about 5.30 p.m. a huge avalanche hurtled past us, down the avalanche chute and over the ice-fall. Next day we found it had swept the whole cwm up which we climbed to Camp 3 and we made record time up it, chased by a couple of small snow-slides. That day no one came up from below ; we thought there must be porter trouble. We had no loads to take to Camp 3, so the next morning we relaxed happily in our sleeping-bags, till the sun came at 8 a.m. By 9.30 a.m. there was no sign of a carry from below, and shouts failed to draw any sign of life from Camp 1 (the tent was hidden, but we could see anyone who was on the snow near the camp). Worried, we decided to go down. Tony and Sam had fixed plenty of ropes, and we soon reached the snow-field above the camp, and unroped. As we reached the rock island we saw that it was partly covered with avalanche debris. George who was ahead gave a shout and ran on. The tent was flattened and in tatters with half-a-dozen ice blocks lying on it; kit, food, tins were scattered down the slope below ; we saw an overboot sticking out of the tent and for a shocked moment we thought there was a body inside, but it was only an empty boot, abandoned. After searching for some time we found a message from Barry to say that the others were safe. We hurried down to Base, where we met Tony, looking very shaken.

The avalanche which had passed us had poured down the ice- fall and had so filled the chute below that the top layer overflowed and spilt over the rock island. Tony and Sam had been having a smoke before going to sleep when the avalanche came. They had crawled behind a little rock-wall and the avalanche had passed straight over them; Tony had been hit about the head, while a block had landed on Sam's left hand and broken a finger. He was already being taken down to Gilgit by Ayub.

This left us with four fit men (for Barry had recurrent stomach trouble) and a gap in our line of communications, for nobody was going to want to stay at Camp 1, and there seemed no real reason why a slightly larger avalanche should not come off the same ice- fail and hit Camp 2. Unless Paddy and Emmett had found the ridge to the Nun's Head unexpectedly easy, the expedition had failed. And Tony reported that he had seen them that morning and they had not progressed more than one-eighth of the way from Camp 3 to the Nun's Head, let alone the summit. In any case George and I would have to go up to the others, who, out of touch for several days, would be very worried by this time (if only our walkie-talkie had worked !).

Looking back along the North-West ridge to second peak

Looking back along the North-West ridge to second peak

The Monk’s head from camp 3

The Monk’s head from camp 3

We left Base Camp early next morning, hoping to reach Camp 3 in a day, but by the time we reached Camp 2 it was 9.30 a.m. and the avalanches were already beginning, so we stayed the night there and continued in the morning. When we reached Camp 3 we could see Paddy and Emmett high up on a steep snow ramp which avoided the first big step in the ridge, but as we looked, they turned back from the top of it and came back to camp.

We exchanged gloomy news ; theirs was not more cheering than ours. The ridge was foul; rotten rock, festoned with masses of rotten snow ; once the sun got on it, it was hardly safe; the whole length would have to be fitted with fixed ropes. Next day we all went up to take cine-film and have a last look. I was going very badly ; I had swapped overboots with George to get more warmth for my toe, but for some reason I felt most unsafe in them. The ramp was no place to feel unsafe; there were no belays and, if I fell off, I would pull off George without a doubt; thus I rationalized, and decided to turn back ; in retrospect I regret it, and have to admit that metaphorical rather than physical cold feet may have been responsible for the decision. George wanted to see the ridge, so he and Emmett continued with the cine-camera, while Paddy and I went back. The others came back about 10 a.m. having got very little further, and we spent the afternoon discussing whether to turn back. Really, there was little choice, we had neither the stores nor the climbers for a war of attrition, and the ridge was quite impossible for a quick dash.

It was the eve of the great Northern Ireland festival arriving- July 12, anniversary of the battle of the Boyne-so we Southerners, swallowing our Republican feelings, joined George (a Northerner) and danced round the traditional bonfire which also served to show the waiting Base Camp that we were descending.

We went down the next day, laden like Christmas-trees, managing to carry everything except food and sponge mattresses. I tried to carry two of these but when climbing down Emmett's wall they swung on top of my head, and I had to cut them loose. The wall was a nightmarethe pitons had melted out and the rope had sunk in; the only handhold was the groove in the ice left by the fixed rope. We were happy when we were all down the wall, and could continue without much difficulty to Camp 2. There we found all the porters except Ayub, who had not yet returned from Gilgit.
Having emptied Camp 2 we all went down to Camp 1 (where the others could see that our description had not been exaggerated) and so to Base.

The weather broke that afternoon, and on the rare occasions when the clouds cleared sufficiently for us to see the North-west Ridge, it was plastered with fresh snow. We had made the right decision.

We reached Gilgit on July 17, to find that permission to visit Hunza had been refused. Disappointed, but no longer surprised by the waywardness of the Pakistan Government, we flew out to Rawalpindi, and returned to Ireland by various means.

An interesting, if disappointing trip. From the climbing point of view, it was an education to me whose previous Himalayan expeditions had all been small affairs, with no question of 'buildups ' and 6 advanced bases’ but a rapid ascent with perhaps one assault camp, of peaks between 20,000 feet and 22,000 feet. Being lazy, and quickly bored, I have to confess that I prefer small peaks.

One question we have to try and answer- ‘Is there any future in Himalayan mountaineering for foreigners? 'Year by year we are hedged with more and more restrictions. Rafi was helpfulness and amiability itself, but he had his instructions to carry out, and even his tactfulness could not conceal the cage of regulations in which we moved. Disappointed on Rakaposhi, we had hoped at least to find a route over to the Bagrot Valley and return to Gilgit that way; this he could not permit; photography, as always, was viewed with extreme suspicion ; George took a photograph of their Dakota on Gilgit air-strip, and was whisked off to the Police station in no time. The major national expeditions will obviously continue ; so will the small parties mostly organized from India or Pakistan, who do not have to make plans long in advance, and who can change their climbing area or abandon the trip without too much difficulty. But the privately organized foreign expedition, with a meagre budget, which still has to be planned long in advance, and which has to spend, money on fares, food and equipment in advance, is becoming an increasingly risky enterprise.

Porters. As long as high-altitude porters are chosen by the Mir of Hunza as a reward for services rendered, rather than for their ability as porters, so long will it be a doubtful advantage to have Hunza high-altitude porters. For every one Ayub, there will be three who are useless, or worse. To feed, pay and equip them according to the standards now required by the Pakistan Government costs as much as feeding and equipping a climber. The extra cost, including fares of four climbers instead of four porters, would not have exceeded £150-£200 per head (I am sure there would have been volunteers) and the efficiency of the expedition would have been much more.

The expedition, like most Karakoram expeditions, was greatly helped by Colonel Goodwin in Rawalpindi, who not merely puts up with, but positively welcomes, the unprepossessing groups of climbers who litter his house with food, equipment and crates.

[1] First ascent. See H.J., Vol. XXIII, p. 58.

[2] On Shigri Parbat. See H.J., Vol. XXIII, p. 56.