Himalayan Journal vol.29
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.29

Publication year:
1969

Editor:
Soli S. Mehta
Index
  1. Editorial
  2. RENNELL AND THE SURVEYORS OF INDIA
    (G. F. HEANEY)
  3. INDIA UNDERGROUND
    (S. A. CRAVEN)
  4. AFTER EVEREST-THE FUTURE OF INDIAN MOUNTAINEERING
    (ASHOKA MADGAVKAR)
  5. THE ISWA KHOLA HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION, 1969
    (J. P. WARD, M.B., F.R.C.S.)
  6. KOYO ZOM, PECHUS ZOM, GAINTHIR CHISH, GAHKUSH, DAS BAR ZOM AND OTHER PEAKS OF HINDU RAJ, 1968
    (ALBERT STAMM (O.A.V.))
  7. HINDU KUSH EXPEDITION OF THE MOUNTAINEERING TOURIST GROUP GRAZ, 1968
    (HEINZ BADURA)
  8. DIRAN, 1968
    (RUDOLF PISCHINGER)
  9. WAKHAN, 1968
    (HENRI AGRESTI)
  10. WAKHAN CORRIDOR AND LUNKHO, 1968
    (ALES KUNAVER)
  11. THE DESCENT OF LUNKHO
    (DR. R. A. NORTH)
  12. NORTH KOHISTAN, 1968
    (R. COLLTSTER)
  13. A VISIT TO THE USHNU GOL (NE. CHITRAL), 1968
    (M. H. WESTMACOTT)
  14. ON THE BANKS OF RAKTAVARN GLACIER, 1968
    (G. R. PATWARDHAN)
  15. RETURN TO KANJIROBA, 1969
    (JOHN TYSON)
  16. TREKKING IN KASHMIR
    (H. STEYSKAL)
  17. A WALK THROUGH THE GREAT HIMALAYAN AND ZASKAR RANGES FROM KISHTWAR TO LEH (LAD AKH), 1968
    (SHEO RAJ SINGH)
  18. THE INDO-BRITISH HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION-1969
    (MAJ. H. V. BAHUGUNA)
  19. THE SUNDER DUNGA-THARKOT (20,010 ft.) EXPEDITION, 1969
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  20. THE AMERICAN DHAULAGIRI EXPEDITION, 1969
    (By William A. Read)
  21. THE FOURTH ASCENT OF TIRICH MIR WEST,1 1969
    (CAPTAIN HENRY DAY)
  22. AUTUMN UNDER MALUBITING
    (ANDRZEJ KUS)
  23. BARCELONA HINDU-KUSH EXPEDITION, 1969
    (JOSE-MANUEL ANGLADA)
  24. THE PROBLEM OF ISTOR-O-NAL
    (DR. A. DIEMBERGER)
  25. THE SARAGHRAR PEAKS
    (DR. A. DIEMBERGER)
  26. THE LUNKHOS
    (DR. A. DIEMBERGER)
  27. EXPEDITION NOTES, 1969
  28. MOUNTAINS ABOVE 7,300 m. (23,950 ft.)
  29. OBITUARY
  30. BOOK REVIEWS
  31. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1969

RETURN TO KANJIROBA, 1969

JOHN TYSON

There can be few places on earth more savage and forbidding than the gorge of the Langu Khola. This river's course is a strange one even by Himalayan standards for, rising in the gentle uplands of Dolpo, geologically part of the Tibetan borderland, it flows for a while in shallow open valleys before plunging westwards straight into the massif of the Kanjiroba Himal on the Great Himalayan Range. Thundering between sheer walls for more than 20 miles, it emerges to join the Mugu Karnali, which in its lower reaches becomes one of the greatest rivers of Nepal. Stranger still is the fact that only in the winter season does it provide a possible passage to man. When the mountains on both banks are plastered with snow and the dry trans-Himalayan Dolpo region has its dusting, blown into drifts here and there by the northern winds, the Langu dwindles sufficiently for occasional parties of traders to force a route along its stony shore. Trees can then be felled to make temporary bridges, soon to be washed away! Apart from the route by the river bed, just one ther possible way can be made along the gorge, a shikari track with exposed rock-pitches high on the cliff side-no route for laden men.

The summer route between the country to the west of the Langu gorge and Dolpo climbs by way of the Chhapa Khola near Mugu, then follows a winding track through mountains far to the north over several passes close to the Tibetan frontier-more than a week's journey with loads. This route is blocked with winter snow until late April when it opens for some six months. But it is an austere journey, without the luxury of an occasional habitation, and is rarely used. In this way two adjoining areas of Nepal are almost completely separated by eight days of dangerous travel and by the natural barriers of winter snow and summer flood. Between these two regions the ethnological similarities of Tibetan speech and Buddhist or Bon-po religion relate to a historical period of easier movement through Tibet and of cultural penetration well south of the Kanjiroba Himal, the principal barrier to east-west movement.

In the detailed topographical mapping of Nepal, carried out in the years 1924-27 by order of Maharajah Chandra Shumsher,

the area of the Kanjiroba Himal was one of those parts never surveyed, and though much is now known it still remains the least explored part of Nepal. In spring 1961 and autumn 1964 our small expeditions had as their main aims the mapping of the principal ranges and locating and, if possible, climbing the highest summits. These were optimistic goals for those early days when the three-week approach march started from Nepalganj or Pokhara and much of the journey was over quite unknown terrain. It was one of those exciting moments rare even in exploratory mountaineering when we reached the River Langu in 1964 near the little village of Dalphu, and forced the first sections of the gorge with three flimsy bridges ; checking our position by theodolite starfix from wireless time-signals in the small hours of a cold late October morning, we found we were only a dozen miles from the position we had fixed for the highest peak.

Our supplies and time were running out, and we calculated that Kanjiroba's main summit was still 13,000 feet above us, and due south. A southern tributary valley joined the Langu at this point, aligned only a little to the west of south, dark and narrow, thickly forested on both sides of the stream except when vertical rock walls thousands of feet high blocked out the daylight. Exchanging the nervous tensions of the swift Langu current for the exasperations of steep jungle, we cut a way which opened out through birch woods and moorlands of Azalea and juniper, gaining height rapidly to the tongues of northern glaciers. On the last day of October 1964 we had reached a point from which we saw, five miles away to the south-east and shining in the sunlight, the two highest summits of the Kanjiroba Himal. From our own peak, Bhulu Lhasa, a little over 20,000 feet, we now saw that the main ranges were quite inaccessible and that almost at our feet was the gorge we should have taken, leading northwards to the Langu, buried deep in the valley system.

The Geographical Journal of September 1967 included with the account of our earlier journeys a map plotted by Mr. George Holland from our theodolite stations. This illustrated the complex system of gorges protecting these two highest peaks a mile apart on a north-south ridge. The northern one we fixed at 22,510 feet and the southern one 22,580 feet making it the highest mountain between Saipal, 75 miles to the north-west, and the Churen Himal, 60 miles to the south-east. There were, however, still many blanks on the map, especially towards the eastern Kanjiroba Himal, whose fine but forbidding ranges had been seen by the Japanese from Dolpo in 1958.

View of the eastern ranges of the kanjiroba himal from the great snow field, three miles north-east summit .  The location of the ranges of the right of the Panorama , to the east of the Jagdula Khola, is shown on the map

View of the eastern ranges of the kanjiroba himal from the great snow field, three miles north-east summit . The location of the ranges of the right of the Panorama , to the east of the Jagdula Khola, is shown on the map



View of the highest summit (22,580 feet)  and the gidge

View of the highest summit (22,580 feet) and the gidge



Ranges to the east of the middle reaches of the Jagdula Khola

Ranges to the east of the middle reaches of the Jagdula Khola



For more than four years no explorers were allowed into these remote areas, and the sudden lifting of the political ban early in 1969 allowed only two weeks for the provisioning and packing of a new expedition. With less than a day in hand the crates were loaded at Liverpool on to the last vessel from Britain to India by the Cape in time for a pre-monsoon attempt. I was lucky to be able to make up a strong team at such notice. Peter Dean was leaving for a year's teaching in India and could exactly fit this expedition in first; Simon Brown and Charles Clarke had both climbed before in the Himalayas and other distant ranges on expeditions which were principally exploratory.

A dock strike at Karachi lost us some precious time, which was made up by efficient customs arrangements at Bombay and Charles Clarke's refusal to leave the airport at Patna before the last of the crates, which were loaded in twos and threes each day for Kathmandu. But all this enterprise was to no avail because the Twin-Otter which we had booked to fly our supplies to Jumla had made a rough landing on a mountain air strip and was considerably damaged. At some risk it had been flown back to Kathmandu and spare parts from Canada were awaited. The Twin Pioneer had enough thread on its tyres for two more landings only and was booked by the Army Commander-in-Chief to fly him to Jumla on a tour of inspection ; spare tyres could not arrive until our Queen's Birthday on 21 April, when a party flying in from Singapore for the Embassy reception could bring them. Only STOL aircraft can land on Jumla's short and stony landing strip.

Suddenly all our problems disappeared. Through the kind efforts of the British Embassy it was arranged that we could charter a Royal Flight DC3 to Surkhet, whence the Swiss pilot, Hardy Fuerer, would lift by Pilatus Porter in four hops to Jumla our entire party. This included our four Sherpas, Nima Dorje, Mingma Tsering, Passang Kami and Passang Tendi, and our liaison officer, Captain Dil Bahadur Karki. By the time we had loaded all our equipment on to the DC3, with a few extra barrels of aviation fuel for the Pilatus Porter roped between the crates and a spare wheel thrown in on top, we were considerably overloaded as we took off into a thundery sky. Only as our plane had headed back empty for home, its pilot flying low with a cheerful wave over the single grass-roofed hut at Surkhet airport, of which our Sherpas had already taken possession, and goats and water-buffaloes were again grazing on the air strip, did we feel that our expedition had truly begun. Sights, smells and sounds, too long missed, came flooding back. But last letters could still be written and we were not quite cut off from an outside world which, except at family level, would not notice our departure.

The day was spent idly waiting for Hardy's light aircraft and eating the bread baked for us by order of Boris at the Royal Hotel. The flight with Hardy from Surkhet over the Mahabharat Lekh, a steep climb with the stall-warning light flashing, covered in 40 nostalgic minutes ground over which I had walked on different occasions for nearly two months, and gave the only view of Kanjiroba we were to have throughout the whole expedition, except when we were within a few miles of the mountain itself.

At Jumla we heard that the passes to Dalphu were still blocked with winter snow but that the route by the Mugu Karnali was open. No time was lost in heading northwards through thickets of rhododendrons and bamboo to the Bumra Khola and on to Pina. Near Lumsa we travelled for a short distance with the Commander-in-Chief of the Nepalese Army, General Surendra Bahadur Shah, who was heading for Mugu. Our own route took us by Mangri to Tera, a poor camping site at the confluence of the Langu and the Mugu Karnali. We were worried to find that three-quarters of the water was coming from the Langu itself.

On 4 May, eight days after leaving Jumla, we were in Dalphu. No foreigner had called since my last visit and the Lama, Guru Choma, was intrigued at magazine photographs of himself spinning a prayer-wheel on the roof of his lamasery. Many of the porters that we now took were old friends from our earlier attempt. The best of them was the elected Panchayat Member of Dalphu, Thondup, and without his co-operation the expedition could never have carried out its plans.

Our first three bridges over the Langu were built at the end of the first week in May. From Newport, Monmouthshire, we had brought 60 feet of aluminium laddering in 12 five-foot sections- the three most unpopular loads, though by no means the heaviest. The bridges themselves were extremely awkward to construct, and dangerous to cross with loads, any span greater than 30 feet being difficult to manoeuvre and having a sag which looked and felt most unsafe. Between bridges 2 and 3, I followed the high- level cliff route with Thondup and Sherpa Passang Kami, discarding boots and socks and climbing roped and barefoot on small holds. Bridges 4 and 5 avoided a similar rock precipice and brought us to the foot of the Rukh Khola, just two miles beyond our 1964 turning. We were fairly confident that this would "lead us to our mountain. On 12 May, we set up a Base Camp with about half the loads at 12,500 feet in full view of Kanjiroba's northern summit.

Thondup, unfortunately, was nowhere to be seen, for apparently he had dumped his load the previous day and gone off with poisoned arrows after musk-deer. As his co-operation would be essential for our return journey after the climb, we had now to find his hunting-ground amongst all those forested crags. Luckily, the following dawn we spotted some distant smoke rising through the trees, and we were able to find him and pin him down to something like an agreement to return a month later by the cliff route with a group of Dalphu men. At Thondup's departure we really felt isolated. Our transistor radio told of the American tragedy on Dhaulagiri.

From the Ruka Khola a sheer north face rises to the northern peak (22,510 ft.). On our 1964 photographs the lower part of the north-east ridge was hidden whilst the upper part seemed genial. Nevertheless, our first attempt was on the closer northwest ridge. It seemed, however, to involve unstable snow slopes at severe angles followed by thin aretes leading steeply towards the northern summit. It is hard to judge in retrospect whether this ridge would have yielded to a full-scale assault, but from about 19,000 feet we spotted a side glacier opposite which looked as if it might lead to the eastern side of the north-east ridge, a more attractive proposition. With the loss of a week, Simon Brown and two Sherpas had climbed this glacier, leaving a tent and some supplies on a huge snow-field. Mist and snowfall had prevented a full reconnaissance, but Simon reported enthusiastically and we switched our plan at once to the eastern side, taking loads part way the following day.

On 22 May the four of us and our four Sherpas started early towards the dump, following a lateral moraine which led up to a smooth rocky rib. Whilst we were climbing this, a shout from the Sherpas made us look up to see a great avalanche pouring like a white billowing cloud towards the couloir beside us. The Sherpas themselves were partially protected by a large overhanging rock, but the rest of us were knocked breathless by the air-pressure and blinded by flying snow which drove straight through clothing to the skin. The whole episode, in which many tons of snow with chips of ice poured past us with a deafening roar, lasted less than a minute, but I have never before been on the fringe of a big avalanche and the experience was extremely frightening. My own rucksack was carried away ; happily I recovered many of the lighter valuables such as sleeping-bags amongst the debris a thousand feet below.

We had ferried a fortnight's supplies up to the site of Simon Brown's tent by 23 May. The mist had cleared and we found ourselves on the edge of an immense unexplored neve, almost flat, with ranges of about 20,000 feet to the east, north and west. What lay to the south we could not yet tell, but we hoped to make our way as planned to the north-east ridge of Kanjiroba.

Whilst Simon and the Sherpas brought up the rest of the loads, Charles, Peter and I crossed the neve. This reconnaissance was very revealing and equally discouraging. To gain the ridge at all an intermediate summit of almost 20,000 feet would have to be traversed. This in itself would involve a difficult descent; but after it half a mile of the thinnest ice-fluting led to a ridge which was beautiful to look at but quite unclimbable. Moreover, the southern side of our neve fell for 3,000 feet over cliffs and icefalls to a hitherto unsuspected glacier system fed also from the eastern side of the mountain. Beyond this abyss rose the south-east ridge, leading directly to the summit of the highest peak itself. The rest of this day was spent in trying to spot a possible route down through the cliffs and icefalls.

And so for the second time the plan was radically changed. While Simon and two Sherpas confirmed our opinion of the northeast ridge, Mingma Tsering, followed by Peter and me, made an improbable route down through the cliffs and icefalls of the glacier, and next day, with the help of 400 feet of fixed rope, we got almost all our loads down to the glacier before darkness overtook us.

This was the glacier system we had tried to reach from the south in 1961. Small shrubs grew in the moraine. We felt very isolated and quite exhausted. It began to snow. Looking back, it is difficult to recapture our feelings as we took stock of our new situation: in front of us, across the T-shaped glacier and 8,000 feet above, was the top of the south-east ridge where our last hopes lay. Behind us were the technical difficulties of 3,000 feet of cliff and icefall and the avalanche slope which could so nearly have carried some of our party away ; beyond that the eight-mile long Ruka Khola and five dismantled bridges over the Langu separated us from Dalphu, itself one of the remotest villages in Nepal.

Making double journeys, we climbed 3,000 feet and camped once more in falling snow. Another thousand feet next day, and a further camp was set up shortly below the crest of the south-east ridge. At dawn on 31 May a cloud-sea at 17,000 feet covered all western Nepal. The familiar routine was repeated: with no supporting party, we dismantled our entire camp, carrying everything up a ridge which was creaking and groaning as warm monsoon winds sapped the snow at depth, whilst the almost unceasing thunder of avalanches from the east face of Kanjiroba warned of an early monsoon. The ridge above looked serious but possible. Given another week of clear weather and crisp nights we could perhaps have made it; but it was too late, and as we and the Sherpas sank to our knees on corniced ridges we knew that our last hope was gone.

Two weeks later we were back at the River Langu with the Dalphu men, who had come unladen with Thondup by the cliff route. Once before in his life Thondup had crossed the Jhonpa La and followed the upper Langu in winter; he was prepared to try the route again, this time at high water. His Dalphu porters were the toughest men I have known, and the country the most savage. The final crossing of the Langu, now swollen to a great and raging river, was the most delicate task on the expedition. After it, for eight more miles of the gorge we edged our way across cliffs hundreds of feet above the water.

Near Phopa the dangers were over. At the shrine of the god who controls the water spirits of the Langu, Thondup and the Sherpas prepared a ‘pujaBut all were equally relieved to be alive after more than a fair share of luck. At Phijor the Dalphu men left us, returning home by the Chhapa Khola route. They had served us well, and I felt sad at their departure.

Nearly 10 years of effort had gone into the exploration of the hidden and elusive Kanjiroba Himal. Others will come and reach the highest point, but will not perhaps experience to the full the excitement of exploring unknown valleys, of piecing the map together, and travelling with such companions as I have had. During the 12 days in which we crossed the grey-brown landscape of Dolpo with our yaks there was plenty of time to think, but, true to form, we caught no final glimpse of Kanjiroba.

West Nepal

West Nepal





KANJIROBA  HIMAL

KANJIROBA HIMAL



Unexplored glaciers and ranges due east of the highest Summit of Kanjiroba Himal (Photo: John Tyson)

Unexplored glaciers and ranges due east of the highest Summit of Kanjiroba Himal (Photo: John Tyson)



From the top of the icefall three miles ENE. On the highest summit of Kanjiroba, aview of the east face showing the SE. Ridge, the highest point(22,580 ft), the northern summit (22,510 ft) and the NE, ridge (Photo: John Tyson)

From the top of the icefall three miles ENE. On the highest summit of Kanjiroba, aview of the east face showing the SE. Ridge, the highest point(22,580 ft), the northern summit (22,510 ft) and the NE, ridge (Photo: John Tyson)



The North face of Kanjiroba from the SE, ridge (Photo: John Tyson)

The North face of Kanjiroba from the SE, ridge (Photo: John Tyson)



Ranges to the East of the Jagdalu Khola, from the SE, ridge of Kanjiroba (Photo: John Tyson)

Ranges to the East of the Jagdalu Khola, from the SE, ridge of Kanjiroba (Photo: John Tyson)



The Eastern and Northern faces of Kanjiroba: highest summit (22,580 ft) on extreme left of photograph (Photo: Simon Brown)

The Eastern and Northern faces of Kanjiroba: highest summit (22,580 ft) on extreme left of photograph (Photo: Simon Brown)



View across the head of the Khola towards the ridge descending from Kanjiroba’s Northern summit (22,510 ft) (Photo: Charles Clarke)

View across the head of the Khola towards the ridge descending from Kanjiroba’s Northern summit (22,510 ft) (Photo: Charles Clarke)



The ‘Hanging glacier peaks’, c. 21,280 ft and 21,140 ft (see map in geographical Journal, September 1967), from snow-field five miles to their NNW. (Photo: Charles Clarke)

The ‘Hanging glacier peaks’, c. 21,280 ft and 21,140 ft (see map in geographical Journal, September 1967), from snow-field five miles to their NNW. (Photo: Charles Clarke)



Sixth crossing of the Langu Khola (Photo: John Tyson)

Sixth crossing of the Langu Khola (Photo: John Tyson)



The Eastern end of the gorge of the river Langu (Photo: John Tyson)

The Eastern end of the gorge of the river Langu (Photo: John Tyson)



Following the Southren bank of the river Langu gorge (Photo: Simon Brown)

Following the Southren bank of the river Langu gorge (Photo: Simon Brown)



Loading yaks at Phijor for the journey across Dolpo to Jomson (Photo: John Tyson)

Loading yaks at Phijor for the journey across Dolpo to Jomson (Photo: John Tyson)