IN his book, Twenty Years in the Himalaya, C. G. Bruce remarked that when passing through the Kaghan Valley there is only one object worth trying, the peak Mali-ka-Parbat, but since it is only 17,356 feet high, no one would take the trouble to stop and climb it, but would go on to climb the giants of the Karakoram. R. L. Holdsworth in his article in the Himalayan Journal, Vol. XXV, calls it a moderate mountain for a middle-aged mountaineer. He made two attempts to climb it, in 1936 and 1938. In the latter attempt, he stopped 500 feet short of the South Summit because of the inexperience of the other members of his party who were two local porters.

Since the peak is easily visible from the Saif-ul-Muluk Lake, a favourite scenic spot visited by generations of tourists from the plains of the subcontinent, the peak has been seen by many persons and the ascent attempted many times. In recent years a jeep road has increased the popularity of the Saif-ul-Muluk Lake by making it accessible in two hours from Naran, the tourist headquarters of the Kaghan Valley. Though many attempts have been made from the lake, only one has been successful, that of two British Army officers, Lieuts. Willoughby and Price, who reached the summit in 1940.

There are two summits, the south one being 17,356 feet and the north one 17,135 feet. The first ascent of the peak was made in the 1930s from the north side by a Capt. Battye of a Gurkha Regiment. The topographical map of the area was first published in 1931, so perhaps Capt. Battye discovered the possibility of the northern approach from the map. It is not known whether he climbed both summits or only the north one, because he did not leave an account of his climb.

Trevor Braham had examined the peak from the Saif-ul-Muluk Lake in 1965 {Himalayan Journal Vol. XXVI) and reconnoitred to about 13,500 feet. He managed to take a very good photograph of the northern side of Mali-ka-Parbat from another peak that he climbed near Burawai to the north. Having studied this photograph, we decided to attempt the peak from the northern side. We invited Norman Norris, a British climber employed by the Protestant Mission Organization, and Abdul Rauf, a student of the Punjab University and a member of the Karakoram Club, Lahore, to join the expedition. My wife and two-year-old son also came as far as Base Camp.

Sketch map of Kaghan Valley

Sketch map of Kaghan Valley

We came by car from our various homes in Pakistan and on July 1 we arrived at the rest-house in Balakot. The following morning, we packed our baggage into two jeeps for the 52-mile drive to Naran. Above Naran the road was not open to jeeps, so we hired two coolies, two donkeys, one pack-horse and one saddle-horse, the latter for my son to ride. We followed the main road from Naran to Buttakundi (10 miles). Beyond Buttakundi this road continues over the Babusar Pass and for two months out of the year provides a road link with Gilgit and the northern areas. Though the Buttakundi rest-house was not officially open, it provided us with shelter from a violent electrical storm which lasted most of the night. This was the fourth consecutive day of rain, and we began to fear that the monsoon would ruin our plans but, luckily, after July 4 we had perfect weather for 10 days.

At Buttakundi we left the main route to Gilgit and turned south up the Dadar Valley. We placed our Base Camp in a beautiful meadow at 10,500 feet near the village of Dadar. South of Dadar, a foot-path continues to a 13,900-foot pass into Kashmir; and to the south-west was the Siran Valley which would give us access to the Chitta Valley and our peak. There is a regular path for horses and cattle to Dadar, but our pack-animals had some difficulty crossing two narrow stone bridges near Dadar, and for the last few hundred yards before Base Camp the trail got so bad that the baggage had to be carried by our porters.

As we put up our tents, we tried to identify our objective, Mali- ka-Parbat. At the head of the Siran Valley there was a peak which resembled that of Trevor's photograph, but on closer examination of the map it became clear that the Chitta Valley, which gave access to the peak and was a sub-valley branching off to the west from the Siran Valley, could not be seen from our Base Camp. The peak, lying at the head of the Chitta Valley, would therefore not be visible from Base Camp either. Actually, we later discovered that, from a spot a few hundred yards across the meadow, both peaks of Mali-ka-Parbat were visible; and the group of peaks visible from our Base Camp were those at the head of the Siran glacier.

After a great deal of discussion, we persuaded our two porters to carry loads up to Camp I, and then to wait with the muleteer at Base Camp until our return. One of the elders of the village of Dadar had offered us the facility of the small stone mosque near our tents as a mess and storage area, but some villagers complained and more discussion was necessary to convince them that we would not contaminate at and that our pack-animals would not consume too much of their grass. These discussions were livened by the varieties of language used, Rauf with Punjabi, Trevor with Urdu, and I with Pushto. In the end everyone was satisfied.

On July 5, we were to carry loads up the Chitta Valley to Camp I at about 12,500 feet. Though everything had been settled the previous evening, in the morning the porters threatened to strike if they were not issued with boots and goggles, so we provided these items and started off. On the map, the Chitta Valley was a prominent valley leading off to the north-west from a point one and a half mile up the Siran Valley. After we had gone one and a half mile we saw no such valley. To the west there was an extremely steep slope coming down from what could be a hanging valley. After some deliberation it was finally agreed that this must be our valley. A 1,500-foot climb brought us to the head of the Chitta Valley. A large moraine ascended left from the valley at a sharp angle. At about noon after ascending this moraine we reached the edge of the glacier at 12,600 feet and finally had a clear view of the mountain. Mali-ka-Parbat looked very sharp and impressive.

The others had lunch, but the altitude had taken away my appetite. After studying the terrain, we decided to put our first camp below the moraine on the snow where a stream would provide water. We cached our loads and returned to Base Camp.

The following morning we carried up the remaining loads, this time finding an easier route up to the hanging Chitta Valley by going to the right of a small gorge, whereas we had gone to the left before. By noon we set up the tents of Camp I on the glacier at 12,675 feet and levelled a spot on the moraine for cooking and eating. The remainder of the afternoon was spent eating, reading and writing in our diaries.

The next morning we packed up half of the baggage for Camp II, which we hoped to establish at about 15,000 feet. It was a long open glacier with only one steep portion and no open crevasses. Four hours later we found a level spot at 15,200 feet that seemed relatively free from the danger of avalanches and falling debris. Again, the altitude affected me more than the others and I arrived last at the camp site. After caching loads in the snow, we returned to Camp I in 45 minutes. Two aspirins and a three-hour nap made me recover enough to have lunch.

MALI-KA-PARBAT seen from above ascent base camp. North Summit right, South Summit left.

MALI-KA-PARBAT seen from above ascent base camp. North Summit right, South Summit left.





On July 8 we carried the remaining loads up to Camp II. Again the altitude bothered me and I almost decided that at 33 and after 20 years of mountaineering I was getting too old. Trevor noted that when he was on his Minapin Expedition at 36 he had decided he was through, but here he was at 45 and still going strong! Rauf, aged 22, was somewhat surprised to find he was half as old as Trevor. It was extremely hot at Camp II with the sun reflecting from the snow, so everyone retreated to the tents. When it had cooled a little, Trevor and Norman decided to go on a reconnaissance to the col above camp to examine possible routes to the summit. Half an hour later I set out in their tracks. Without the heavy load of the morning, I felt like a new person, and soon caught up with Trevor and Norman. When we reached the col at about 16,000 feet we thought there might be an easy route to the summit on the other side, but instead there was a steep drop right down to the Saif-ul-Muluk Lake, 5,500 feet below. The view toward the north was superb with the afternoon sun shining on Nanga Parbat and the speaks of Karakoram. The snow slope leading to the summit ridge of Mali-ka-Parbat looked quite steep, possibly avalanche-prone, and corniced at the top. Norman and I were confident that we could surmount it, but Trevor had reservations about the safety of the slope. Returning to Camp II, we agreed that such a slope was not a place to take Rauf who had little experience with crampons and an ice-axe ; Trevor decided that he would stay behind so that a summit party of two could move more quickly.

This evening was the first when it felt cold at all, and we found in the morning that our melted snow water had frozen during the night.

The morning of the ninth, Norman and I were away at 6 a.m. We moved up rapidly to the bergschrund at the foot of the steep slope and searched for a place to cross it. Finally, we were able to cross it on the extreme left. We then traversed slightly to the right and continued straight up towards the summit ridge. I felt a vertical track would be less likely to start an avalanche than a route traversing the slope diagonally. The slope was steep enough for us always to have one hand on the slope. There were one to two feet of soft snow overlying the icy surface. Crampons bit in well and we did not bother to use the rope. Norman led and carried the rope and a small knapsack. He was in superb condition, having recently returned from a two-week expedition to Swat where he had made a difficult first ascent of a 19,000-foot peak with Wolfgang Stefan, a prominent Austrian climber.

At the top of the slope I was disturbed to see how far away the main summit of the peak was! The final ridge leading to it looked very steep and exposed. Our topographical map showed a one-half mile distance between the north and the south summits. Norman proposed traversing the entire distance via the face below the ridge connecting the two. I could see that a fall from such a traverse would carry one all the way to the Saif-ul-Muluk Lake. We had decided previously that if the question of going on or turning back should arise, I should make the decision. I told Norman that I was not keen to traverse that long dangerous ridge and he accepted my decision although I was sure he was capable of going to the far summit by himself. At this point, we roped up, with Norman leading. In three pitches up the northwest face of mixed ice and rock of moderate difficulty but great exposure, we arrived at the north summit, 17,135 feet. It was only 8 a.m. but the twisting ridge to the other peak did not tempt me to change my decision. I had grave doubts whether Capt. Battye, who had climbed the peak from this side, had traversed to the higher summit. Ours is presumed to be the second ascent of the north summit.

The day was very clear and the view was superb in every direction. The most spectacular view was of nearby Nanga Parbat with the sharply-etched Chongra group to its right. The faintly visible peaks of the Karakoram had a mysterious air. To the west we could distinguish Mankial, which Norman had climbed the year before and where his two companions had perished. In the far distance we could see the king of the Hindu Kush, Tirich Mir, which I had attempted in 1964.

We called and waved to our companions at Camp II, and at about 8.45 a.m. we started the descent. After the three roped pitches we arrived at the top of the steep snow slope. We wanted to get down this slope before the sun softened the snow and increased the chances of avalanches or of the cornice breaking off. We took off the rope and descended quickly facing into the slope. By 9.30 we were back in Camp II with congratulations from Trevor and Rauf who had followed our climb and photographed us the whole time. My wife had sent the two porters up to Camp I to see if there were any messages from us ; and having not found us there, they started up to Camp II. We met them 800 feet below Camp II and happily gave them some of our loads. At Camp I, we had lunch and decided to continue to Base Camp, though we were sure the porters would have to come back to Camp I the following day for the remainder of the equipment. Somehow, they managed to get it all down in one carry, their loads weighing over 90 lb. each. We arrived at Base Camp by mid-afternoon.

After a day of rest in Base Camp we walked to Buttakundi, where we found a jeep to take us to Naran. The following day we hired a jeep in Naran and rode up to the Saif-ul-Muluk Lake to see the peak from that side and convince ourselves that we had climbed one of its summits. The view from the lake was quite spectacular, and Trevor and my wife were sure that I had been justified in deciding not to traverse the ridge between the summits. From the lake there appeared to be a feasible route to the final snow slope of the south summit on the left side of the west ridge which did not appear so severe.

After a day of fishing in Naran, we reluctantly left the Kaghan Valley to return to the heat and monsoon humidity of the plains.

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