The peaks bordering the Malana Nullah in the Kulu Himalaya have provided fine sport to several mountaineering expeditions.1 When, predictably, we were refused permission to attempt the high peak in Central Lahoul tantalizingly described by Holds- worth,2 the small international student party3 which had teamed together for the ascent became the 1966 Malana Expedition. The prospect we had entertained of making the second ascent of Indrasan, 20,410 feet, was shattered by Bob Pettigrew shortly after our arrival in Kulu, and we set our sights instead on the much- frequented Deo Tibba4 and on some mountain exploration in the upper reaches of the Malana Valley. A quick reconnaissance of the Chandrakanni Pass, 11,617 feet, revealed at once its impassability and our unfitness, so May 1 witnessed a transhipment of our half ton of equipment to Jari by bus and jeep. From the rest- house we gazed awestruck into the gaping portals of the Malana gorge, which we entered next day with our retinue of 15 porters.

Our stay in Malana village was enlivened by the imposition of a fine of one goat on our American member, who had inadvertently strayed from the path whilst pursuing a particularly elusive snapshot subject. Not to be intimidated, we defied this ruling of the village committee, as eventually at the instigation of our invaluable Ladakhis, Wangyal and Zangbo, did the mercenary band of porters. Notwithstanding their subsequent mutinous behaviour, these surly Malana men enabled us to establish Base Camp at 12,800 feet on May 4. The site was protected by an immense boulder under one corner of which a commodious cave provided the luxury of a dining-room and wet-weather shelter; it commanded fine views of the lower Malana glacier and of the classic pyramid of Ali Ratni Tibba, 18,013 feet, the perfect subject for armchair mountaineering.

  1. H.J., 1961, Vol. XXIII, p. 110; H.J., 1962, Vol. XXIV, pp. 90 and 138 ; H.J., 1965, Vol. XXVI, pp. 146 and 148 ; A J., 1966, Vol. 71, p. 236
  2. H.J., 1964, Vol. XXV, p. 90.
  3. Ron Hatch, Prem Kamath, Bruce Kjeldsen, Santosh Kumar, Bharat Merchant, Colin Pritchard.
  4. H.J., 1952, Vol. XVII, pp. 118 and 122 ; H.J., 1957, Vol. XX, p. Ill ; HJ„ 1958, Vol. XXI, p. 108; H.J., 1961, Vol. XXIII, p. 110; H.J., 1962, Vol. XXIV, p. 90; H.J., 1965, Vol. XXVI, pp. 122 and 146.


Sketch map of the Malana Nullah

Sketch map of the Malana Nullah

The reconnaissance party of Hatch and Kjeldsen was established at 13,900 feet on the glacier next day, and ferrying continued on 6th and 7th whilst they climbed to 17,000 feet on both the Watershed and Piton ridges.5 They were deterred by the De Graafe couloir which was prone to avalanche, but found the ridges even less inviting. On May 8, with Kamath and Pritchard in support, they moved up to establish Camp II at 15,500 feet, but bad weather set in on 9th and a judicious retreat was sounded. Kamath and Kjeldsen had to leave for Delhi on 11th, and the depleted team was interned for four days in Base Camp by the mid-May storm which seems to be a regular occurrence in the Western Himalayas Not until May 15 were conditions suitable for a general advance' and even then the walk to Camp I took an agonizing six hours' The afternoon was spent in excavating food and equipment from the four-foot snow cover, and this process had to be repeated at Camp II the next day. On 17th Hatch and Pritchard, supported by Wangyal, established Camp III above the De Graafe couloir at 18,200 feet. The couloir provided good climbing on firm snow for most of its length, but the last 300 feet were soft snow at an angle of 60°, and progress was very laborious. At 4.30 am on 18th we started across the third shelf to the foot of the south face of Deo Tibba, witnessing as we went an unforgettable sunrise which bathed the mountain in gold. The crux of the climb turned out to be obtaining a footing on the near-vertical soft snow at the foot of the face; once there, the slope gradually eased until the summit was reached at 11 a.m. The view amply rewarded our efforts and compensated for our malaise, and we chilled at the close-up view of Indrasan's bastions.

By the 19th, conditions were much improved in the De Graafe couloir, where we met the second summit party of Kumar Merchant and Wangyal. Whilst they tackled Deo Tibba on 20th Hatch and Pritchard crossed the second shelf behind Camp II and climbed the airy north ridge of Jagatsukh Peak,5 whose snow summit of 17,155 feet was reached at 8 a.m. Crossing the shelf again we picked out a new route on the north face of Consolation Peak, 16,800 feet, reaching the narrow summit at noon. The descent to Camp II was effected in a blizzard, and at 5.30 p m the party was reunited and plans were laid for the remaining few days Whilst Kumar and Merchant, aided by the Ladakhis, dismantled the camps, Hatch and Pritchard established a new camp at 16,500 feet m an icefall below the intimidating group of unexplored rock peaks which form the north containing wall of the Malana Nullah. These were appropriately named the Malana Towers and promised some fine climbing. Having established the camp by 11 a.m. on 21st, we decided to attempt the nearest unclimbed peak immediately, lest the imminent bad weather deprive us of any new ascent. A long curving snow ridge led up to an imposing summit block which we searched in vain for a weakness; but by following the precarious snow ridge for a quarter mile we were able to reach another, higher block seamed with climbable cracks. The summit, 17,400 feet, was reached at 3.30 p.m. as the storm broke. We built a cairn and beat a hasty retreat.


  1. H.J., 1952, Vol. XVII, p. 118 ; H.J., 1958, Vol. XXI, p. 102.


Early snow meant a late start the next day, but we made rapid progress up the couloir separating the highest summits of the range and bore right at the distinctive pillar which rises a vertical 500 feet between the east and west towers. A long snow ridge led to a face of steep, soft snow overlooking a drop of thousands of feet to the Sakchum Nullah in Lahoul. The difficulties of the climb were concentrated in this pitch and the next, an airy traverse leading to the foot of easier rock which led in turn to the summit ridge. The highest point was totally inaccessible, for it was separated from us by half a mile of wildly contorted, rotten rock ridge capped with six inches of new snow and gashed by numerous icy clefts. It was awe-inspiring and frightening, and we had to make do with the nearby subsidiary summit of 18,300 feet, reached at 12.30. The descent was punctuated by a 200-foot slide initiated on the treacherous steep snow face. Hatch's rope technique assured a safe outcome, but it was a subdued team that regained the security of Camp IIA that evening.

The attempt on the Western Malana Tower on May 23 ended half-heartedly at the watershed as we thawed out our frozen boots in the welcome sunshine. The 400 feet of climbing that remained bore a distressing resemblance to the worst pitches of the previous day, and expediency decreed an honourable retreat. This was continued on 24th in worsening weather to Base Camp, where we were met by our contumacious coolies who escorted us lucratively to Jari.

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