Himalayan Journal vol.28
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.28

Publication year:
1968

Editor:
Soli S. Mehta
Index
  1. MALI-KA-PARBAT, KAGHAN VALLEY, 1967
    (GENE F. WHITE)
  2. THE MOUNTAINS OF MALANA
    (COLIN PRITCHARD)
  3. THE VALLEY OF REFUGE
    (DERVLA MURPHY)
  4. MUKARBEH, 1968
    (JOHN ASHBURNER)
  5. A HIGH WALK THROUGH LAHOUL, ZANSKAR AND JAMMU, 1968
    (YASHODA N. SINGH)
  6. NETHERLANDS HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION, 1967*
    (DR. J. A. NOORDYK)
  7. THE SECOND CZECH EXPEDITION TO THE HINDU KUSH
    (VLASTIMIL SMIDA)
  8. A RECONNAISSANCE INTO NORTH-EAST CHITRAL, 1967
    (GERALD GRUBER)
  9. THE LAMKHAGA PASS AND LEO PARGIAL *
    (SOLI MEHTA)
  10. PERAMBULATORS IN THE LAND OF THE THUNDER DRAGON
    (PETER STEELE)
  11. KOKTHANG, 1966
    (MISS PUSHPA ATHAVLE)
  12. THE THREE ASCENTS IN ROSH GOL VALLEY
    (KEI KURACHI)
  13. NORTH GARHWAL-HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION, 1968
    (SUNIL CHAUDHURI)
  14. BETWEEN ANJUMAN AND MUNJAN VALLEYS
    (WOLFGANG FREY)
  15. PAPSURA CLIMBED
    (ROBERT PETTIGREW)
  16. N.D.A. EXPEDITION TO THE KUMAON HIMALAYAS, 1968
    (FLT. LT. V. P. SINGH)
  17. THE MANCHESTER KARAKORAM EXPEDITION, 1968
    (J. T. H. ALLEN)
  18. A VISIT TO THE CHIANTAR GLACIER REGION, EASTERN HINDU KUSH, 1967
    (ALFRED LINSBAUER)
  19. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  20. OBITUARY
  21. BOOK REVIEWS
  22. LETTER TO EDITOR
  23. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1967-68

PAPSURA CLIMBED

ROBERT PETTIGREW

[With a description of the summit climb by the late Geoffrey Hill]

(Reprinted from the Alpine Journal)

PAPSURA, 21,165 feet, the legendary Peak of Evil, was climbed for the first time on June 3, 1967, by Geoffrey Hill and Colin Pritchard in a bold and final sortie of our month-old expedition, which turned defeat into victory. Colin's participation in the final climb was commendable since, three days before, he had been badly shaken in a 1,500-foot fall down Avalanche Couloir together with Mike Payne, who was unhurt, and me, who sustained a dislocated left hip, and was hors de combat in camp at the foot of the South face.

Our objective, the third highest mountain in the Kulu/Lahul/ Spiti divide of the Punjab Himalaya, lies near the point where the Pir Panjal range branches off from the Great Himalayan Divide. Two striking twin peaks over 21,000 feet high dominate their end of the watershed. They are known in Lahul as the Peaks of Good and Evil (i.e. Dharmsura and Papsura), and are said to vary in height according as Good or Evil prevails in the world. Needless to say, Papsura is significantly higher than Dharmsura (otherwise known as White Sail) which has had two ascents: first by James Roberts in 1940[1] and second by our Derbyshire expedition to Kulu in 1961.[2]
In a Himalayan valley so dominated by the gods as Kulu, it was doubtless inauspicious of me to shoot a mad dog, which had badly savaged a porter, just before we drove the Land Rover out of Manali on the last motorized ferry to the Parbati Valley. From then on it seemed that our team of eight[3] had to endure every known type of mountain penance, the most usual being incarceration in high camps by storms one of which lasted for seventy- eight hours and put the mountains out of condition for a further three days.

Our long approach march started from an untidy camp in the side valley sacred to the goddess Parbati, the gentle daughter of Himalaya and bride of Mahadev, on May 4. Characteristically, the coolies recruited from the mountain-girt community of Malana, a village at 8,500 feet, in our line of march, struck for higher pay and lighter loads within half-an-hour of starting. An Indian road engineer became self-appointed arbitrator and his urgings carried us as far as the first set of public scales, which were immediately requisitioned by the disgruntled ones. At the great weigh-in the process was delayed sufficiently to ensure that the caravan would not get beyond Malana that night-thus securing an extra day's employment. That achieved, the ragged band filed laboriously into the spectacular gorge of the Malana river and the first stage had really begun.



Malana, where we spent the night, is a fascinating village which abounds with religious and social survivals, some probably dating from a time before the first Aryan wave of immigrants had entered Kulu. We trod the paved path warily to avoid desecrating the sacred soil of the village-a serious offence said to incur the standard fine of one goat! Although the villagers' aversion to strangers was apparent, the Government chowkidar was most friendly and hospitable, placing his own house at our disposal.

Four days up from the Parbati river we took possession of a spacious bivouac kitchen under a prominent boulder, ringed it with tents and set up Base Camp.

As a last theatrical gesture the coolies threatened to reject the new ten rupee notes of their pay as forgeries, but this allegation was received so hilariously that they realized that the game was up for this season and withdrew gracefully to Malana.

From previous campaigns in Kulu half the party were familiar with our Base Camp site on Umrao thach (grazing ground) at 12,000 feet, the last pasture in the glen, a bare, wind-swept shelf on the true right bank of the infant Malana river within an hour of the snout of the Malana glacier. Across the river eastwards arctic conditions prevailed and the redoubtable peak of Ali Ratni Tibba[4] dominated our camp as the Matterhorn dominates Zermatt.

To gain access to the base of Papsura with sufficient supplies to sustain a determined assault we were obliged to back-pack our gear, food and fuel in stages over a lengthy and arduous route. Commencing at the snout of the Malana glacier we bore across to the east bank, where a temporary camp was placed, crossed the Pass of the Animals, 15,025 feet, which marked a stage and sheltered a camp unrivalled for its mountain prospect, and took the upper Tos glacier to its junction with the Papsura glacier. This exhausting operation, continually beset by bať weather, occupied us for a fortnight.

During the final stage of the ferrying operation Colin and I set off from Advance Base on May 17 to make the route across the upper Papsura glacier. Initially, we climbed easily up the 1,000- foot crescent-shaped moraine which starts just above the junction of the Papsura and Tos glaciers and which conveniently borders the east side of the ice-fall. This route was known to me since we had used it in 1961 to make the second ascent of Dharmsura, 21,148 feet, Papsuras 'twin'.[5] We pitched our tent at 15,300 feet, an ice-bound eyrie backed by the rippling ice-fall and the savage grandeur of the Papsura cwm. Directly south-west we could easily pick out through the monocular the four tents on the Pass of the Animals, some six miles away. Immediately opposite, across the East Tos glacier was the ice-draped north face of Roberts' unnamed peak 19,061 feet[6] a nightmarish staircase of fluted ice, easily the most photogenic view we had yet obtained.

The next morning we set out on our pathfinding mission at a quarter to seven. There was a spirited debate about the direction we should take through the ice-fall, but eventually we agreed to try a direct line through the middle, thinking this would give us a speedier insight into the Papsura cwm. Instead it gave Colin a speedier insight into the awesome interior of a very wide and deep crevasse when the bridge he was trying to leap across collapsed under his weight. His extraction was prolonged since his Prusik loops jammed on the doubled perlon line, leaving him no alternative but to climb a disintegrating ice-wall, perch on an isolated mushroom of frozen snow and wait patiently. Meanwhile I reversed our route of the morning, then traversed around the upper ice-fall to approach him from the far side where we were reunited, The retrieving of Colin resulted in the establishment of a safe ferrying route through the upper ice-fall, flanking the base of Dharmsura, to the entrance of the Papsura cwm.

Between bouts of bad weather the whole party established Camp I in the cwm at 17,000 feet on May 22. The big storm broke as Jock and I left the solitary tent to descend to Advance Base. To our consternation the aluminium frames of our packs appeared to be storing static electricity and they administered mild but painful burns every time they came in contact with shoulders or backs.

For the next six days we were incarcerated in our tents while the camp site was utterly transformed by seventy-eight hours of continuous snow-fall. Each tent was in its own pen, dug out for a few minutes each day by the occupants. The snow level rose above the roofs and essential journeys had to be made by ' crutch- hopping.

Using short skis Geoffrey was the first to test conditions underfoot when he set out with Pasang for a journey to Base Camp to replenish supplies on May 28. The rest of the party occupied Camp I on May 29, planning to reconnoitre the Eastern Couloir (later known as Avalanche Couloir) of the South face the following day, whilst Wangyal and I returned to Advance Base to wait for Geoffrey and Pasang.

These two gave alluring reports of grass, flowers and birds at Base Camp as well as producing tangible goodies in the form of cigarettes and chocolate. They supported Wangyal and me to Camp I on May 30, then descended to Advance Base for the final loads. Meanwhile John, Colin and Mike had taken a closer look at the assault route and had placed about 500 feet of fixed rope at the foot of Avalanche Couloir.

We planned to climb Avalanche Couloir in three ropes of two, place a light camp on the ridge and launch a summit attempt of two climbers with two pairs in support on the following day. Geoffrey and Pasang would be supporting from Camp I.

General Bruce, the first mountaineer to explore Kulu, delighted in midnight starts, so it would have pleased him to see us depart at that hour for a pre-dawn trudge over the neve to the foot of the couloir on May 31. Climbing steadily, rope length by rope length, we rose out of an amphitheatre of stupendous ice architecture in company with the dawning day. Two-thirds of the way up we were forced towards the east containing wall by ice in depth and climbed warily over frozen snow adhering thinly to steep rock. At this point we noticed Geoffrey and Pasang at the foot of the couloir following in our steps. Anticipation was high when we finally emerged from the gloom of the couloir to stand on the airy summit ridge which fell abruptly away on the far side for thousands of feet to the Bara Shigri glacier. It was a cul-de-sac and our hopes were dashed as we surveyed the massive and repellent boss of clear ice which lay athwart the ridge leading to the summit. It was obvious to all that we should have to retreat and seek an alternative route to the top. After their great effort to join us Geoffrey found that Pasang was showing signs of frost-bite in his feet, and they started down at once.

During the descent snow conditions had deteriorated badly and Mike fell three times in the upper section of the couloir, but each time he was held by Colin, who had a secure stance. However, the danger of avalanches now made it imperative to move together so I joined Colin and Mike in a rope of three. Balling-up was now a serious menace and I suggested that we should remove crampons, which we did. Mike and I were both wearing canvas overboots, while Colin was wearing gaiters. I am convinced now that I made a serious error of judgement in not insisting that we remove overboots too. Mike certainly asked me if I thought we should, but I replied that we need not because the snow was so soft it would make little difference. As we moved off again a small avalanche hissed into the main couloir from a tributary whereupon Mike lost his balance and fell out of his steps. Colin was jerked from his steps-he thinks they collapsed under the strain, and the two of them falling free brought me down too. At first sliding on my back I turned over and applied the ice-axe brake in approved fashion and succeeded in stopping myself. However, when the expected jerk came it was unbelievably violent and I was plucked off the surface of the snow to a height of about six feet and then we were all three falling out of control in every conceivable position, cartwheeling, somersaulting, sliding and rolling. At one point Colin and I were clasped in a fond embrace and, since I knew that we were falling in a sort of perpetuating avalanche, I was telling him we should try and keep together so l hat if we were buried in the debris at the foot of the- couloir we should be able to help each other. These instructions were clearly heard by the other party as we flew past them. Suddenly everything ended, not in the way I expected, and I found that my companions and I were still alive, though groaning in unison and appealing to the other party for help.

We were straddled across the bergschrund, Mike a little way down from the lower lip with his right arm twisted back in a peculiar fashion looking like a wounded bird, myself sitting awkwardly astride the lower lip legs bound firmly in the climbing rope, and Colin somewhere in the depths of the bergschrund protesting in a strangled voice that he was being slowly throttled by his rucksack straps which were up round his wind-pipe. This galvanized me into activity and since the rope was obviously hindering me I took out my clasp knife and cut myself free. But I was still unable to move and it dawned on me that I had sustained a leg injury.

Within minutes the other party led by John Ashburner had reached us, rescued Colin, retrieved our scattered equipment, and started to evacuate me from the avalanche-prone couloir. After a painful period of experimentation, I found it most comfortable for my left leg to be glissaded down on my right hip, and in this fashion I was conveyed to an emergency camp in the Papsura cwm at about 18,000 feet. That night Geoffrey returned from Camp I, where he had been treating Pasang's frost-bitten feet, to look after me and make preparations for my evacuation to a safer place. Apart from vomiting over my precious cameras and being frightened by the continual growl of ice-avalanches I spent a fairly comfortable night on the uneasy flank of Papsura.

They evacuated me the next day on a stretcher improvised from an air mattress, skis and aluminium pickets lashed together by climbing line. Although we had not yet diagnosed the injury it was clear that I was not a walking casualty and that further evacuation was beyond the strength of the present party. Accordingly the party split, John and Pasang to proceed with all speed to Manali to inform my wife Deana and raise a stretcher party of tollmen, the remainder to remain at Camp I with the patient.

John and Pasang left at 2.30 a.m. in the dark and cold morning of June 2 and made excellent progress. The descent to Advance Base and long haul up to the Pass of the Animals was over by breakfast time and they were able to bivouac well beyond Base Camp that night. Another long day took them over the 11,617- foot Chandar Khanni Pass from where they ran down through 7,000 feet of forest to reach the road three hours later. After initial frustration they caught the last bus to reach Manali that night. My wife organized a stretcher party and by the following afternoon a team of seven hillmen and a much recovered Pasang were winding their way back up into the mountains.

Back at Camp I there was a growing conviction that a last attempt should be made to climb Papsura. Geoffrey Hill argued for a New Zealand style dash by Colin and himself, and his plan was accepted. They proposed to climb the first main couloir in the South face as seen from Camp I. Although this couloir is nearer to the summit than the one previously ascended, it is so shallow for most of its 3,000 feet that it is not much more than a depression in the face. We had ruled it out originally because its lower reaches were threatened by the masses of ice suspended high on the South face. They planned to avoid this danger by following a shallow rib of mixed snow and rock to the true left of the couloir.

The pair left the camp at 3.15 a.m. on June 3 and by 10 a.m. they had reached the top of what later became known as ‘Rolleiflex Couloir’-the Western couloir of the South face-at about 20,000 feet in excellent snow conditions. Here they rested and ate whilst contemplating the unclimbed summit ridge. Preparing to embark on the crossing of the heavily corniced couloir top Geoff tied their rucksack to the rope and began to lower it to Colin. Disastrously the knot came undone and the sack plummeted 3,000 feet down the couloir bearing with it all their bivouac gear, gloves, and my Rolleiflex, loaned for the summit pictures. They weighed the odds and decided to press on for the summit.

In Geoff's own words:

‘Moving one at a time we crossed the couloir and proceeded up the ridge, where the snow was in fair condition. As we had thought, the band of chocolate-coloured rock proved to be the crux of the climb technically. We had to move out on to the cornice to gain a footing on it; a little delicate at first. Then some brute force climbing, which left me winded, saw us up its exposed northern end. After that the snow was steep but straightforward until about 300 feet above the col from where it began to case back and become soft and deep. This was the final ridge and now we knew that we would make the top. I was suddenly stricken with an attack of Tilman's "Mountaineers' Foot", that profound reluctance to put one foot in front of the other. Better adapted, Colin plugged the steps over all the false summits. For a few minutes while moving up this ridge we could see the camp like a small heap of rubbish on the glacier below.

‘At 14.30 hours we stand on the highest point of a broad, snowy summit with a wide cornice which we dare not approach. The only nearby peak approaching Papsura in height is Dharmsura (White Sail), only seventeen feet lower and looking tremendous from here. We see it end on, a tower of brown rock, a thin line of snow. It was twice climbed, but certainly not from this side Further clown the divide, Kulu Makalu and Kulu Pumori7 are visible.

‘Our cornice overhangs a north face plummeting into the tributary basins of the filthy Bara Shigri glacier, which is here strewn with ballast and as straight as a railway. Stibnite was once mined in the Shigri, but the only trains which carried the ore were comprised of mules. Beyond the Shigri is a sea of roofs, the Spiti mountain metropolis, and beyond this, the open plains of Tibet. Far north, in Lahul, one mansion stands out above the others. (Probably the peak mentioned by Holdsworth and probably still unclimbed.)8 On the Kulu side the clouds have rolled up, the usual afternoon fluff, and we are disappointed in not being able to see Hanuman Tibba (Solang Weisshorn) and the unclimbed Mukar Beh.9 This morning we saw the hazy plains of Hindustan over the blues and browns of the Kumaon hills. Not now. But we still see our line of approach from the Malana ; the Animals' Pass up to which we laboured to gain the upper Tos Valley is now rendered insignificant; and the great rock pyramid of the unclimbed Ali Ratni Tibba.10 (Possibly higher than the 18,013 feet given on the survey map and certainly not in the position shown thereon.)

‘Ah! Found some sweets in inside pocket! By no means do we feel transported on to a new plane of existence, there are no sudden ecstacies. True, there is a certain satisfaction in being here, but the moments of joy were below-by the torrent in the forest, by the first dunes of dappled snow, in our couloir with its crisp crust and expanding universe, in the many acts of discovery. Visually, what is new here is the vastness, the extent of the snows, the beyond, beyond and beyond. It's getting cold and we have our promises to keep, must retrace our steps.

7 A .J., Vol. 68, p. 54 and Vol. 70, p. 74.

8 H.J., Vol. XXV, p. 85.

9 But now see separate article in this Journal.

10 A .J., Vol. 71, p. 246.

'By the time we reached the steep shoulder of the ridge, the air was thick with flying snowfiakes, like the showers of petals from an apple orchard in a spring gale. The row of holes toe- punched by No. 1 was obliterated by the time No. 2 moved down. We descended over the rock band on a tight rope, leaving an ice screw behind. This must have irritated Papsura, this thorn in her side, for she summoned the elements to do their worst. At the top of the couloir I peeled off twice in the first rope length while cutting down the steep ice. So we decided to try the rock pitch after all. Besides, by this time, approximately 17.30 hours, some nine inches of snow had already fallen and it was still flying. The couloir was bound to avalanche. It was now becoming clear that this was more than the usual afternoon cotton wool and that some bad weather was with us. Had we not lost our gear, a bivouac would have been safest. In the circumstances, lightly equipped as we were, it was imperative that we keep moving. What should have been a straightforward climb down became a nightmarish descent on the blanketed face.

‘Some strenuous acrobatics eventually got us up the rock to our old lunching place from where we belayed across to the nearest snow rib. Then began the long, blind climb down, keeping to the shallow ribs as far as possible, always to the true left of the couloir. At about 19.00 hours came a temporary clearance. What we saw was beautiful beyond words. Beneath the clear, moist eye of the sky clusters of spherical grey clouds clung to the peaks around the cwm, like the clusters of bubbles boiling and seething on the rim of a cauldron. Lightning flashed staccato in the west, sobs of thunder followed. Perhaps the witches were skulking somewhere among the plates and daggers of our south face. Perhaps it is colder in hell. Discovered finger and thumb beginning to get frost-bitten. Put them in mouth. Warned Colin. Down. Evening thickened. Snow hissed right, left. Snow ribs petered out, merged into general slope. No protection now. Moving together, facing outwards. Flurries of soft power, once up to our waists. Soft, cold and silent. Not unpleasant. Like sleep or unconsciousness, soft and feathery. But, like the down of the sleeping-bag, chokes you to death if it gets out, gets in your mouth, valves, lungs.11
‘Then the long roar of the couloir avalanche shook the earth. The grey horses of the invaders streaming down the couloir, leaping over the bergschrund, fanning out across the cwm, fading away in the grey light. And silence, waiting. The air quivered. Like the stillness in the jungle after a predator has passed, before we small fugitives dared resume our existence. We moved, rapidly, mechanically, yet warily down the exposed slope, all senses alert, a pair of grounded animals forced to cross a clearing, ready to whip round and fight for life or to run, run and jump.

‘Time was elastic, minutes were hours, until at last the angle eased and we began peering in the dark for the bergschrund. After several false alarms it appeared and we leapt from its lip into a gulf of space. Picking ourselves up we staggered across avalanche debris for half a mile, then, still staggering, steered a course down towards the camp. Fortunately, the floor of the cwm was clearer, like the floor of a smoke filled room, Felt numb, drunk with weariness too, dragging the feet as though ill rough long grass, not walking straight, but still remembering where the hidden lacunae lay, to avoid them. Somewhere near (he camp we gave a rude shout. A guiding light at once appeared. Bob, alert and in good spirits. Time was 23.00 hours. We had been out for 20^ hours.'

Papsura was climbed. On June 5 Jock and Mike left for the valley to prepare the route. Geoff accompanied them so far, to pathfind for the stretcher party. He led the hillmen back on June 8 to commence an exhausting labour for them and a precarious ride for me. Fixed ropes were placed in the ice-fall below the Papsura cwm but soft snow proved the greatest hindrance. It took four days to reach Base Camp over the Pass of the Animals, and a further three days over the 11,617-foot Chandar Khanni Pass into the Kulu Valley. An X-ray taken by Dr. Peter Snell at the Lady Willingdon Mission Hospital, Manali, confirmed the dislocation. By a remarkable coincidence a Sikh orthopaedic surgeon and his anaesthetist had just arrived on holiday in Manali and he reduced the joint by manipulation using spinal anaesthetic. Encased in a plaster spica from chest to left foot I then served my term of immobility. Papsura! The honours are even.

11 These words were dreadfully prophetic. Geoffrey Hill, together with Suresh Kumar of the Bombay Climbers' Club, and Sherpa Pemba of Sikkim, suffocated in their small tent in heavy snow at Camp 1 (c. 15,000 feet) on Mukar Beh, 19,910 feet, on about October 25, 1967. They were encamped on top of a moraine spur and it is believed that a cornice might have formed over the tent. The bodies were later recovered by a search party led by John Ashburner in November, 1967.

Summary-Punjab Himalaya: Kulu/Lahul/Spiti divide. Papsura 21,165 feet. First ascent June 3, 1967, by the Western couloir of the South face, Geoffrey Hill and Colin Pritchard.

Party: John Ashburner ; Charles Henty ; Geoffrey Hill; Michael Payne; Robert Pettigrew (leader); Colin Pritchard. High-altitude porters: Sonam Wangyal (Ladakhi); Pasang Lakpha (Sherpa). Coolies from Malana and Manali assisted the expedition to establish and strike Base Camp, and evacuate Pettigrew.


[1] A.J., Vol. 53, p. 329.

[2] A J., Vol. 68, p. 58.

[3] See end of article.

[4] A J., Vol. 71, p. 246.

[5] A.J., Vol. 68, p. 58.

[6] A .J., Vol. 53, p. 327.