WHEN a Polish team in 19691 narrowly failed to climb Malubiting (24,470 ft.), a major group situated south-east of Rakaposhi,2 it seemed to me that here was the ideal objective for a small party with limited time. The Poles reached the summit of Malubiting North (22,451 ft.) on 8 October and blazed a way to a high plateau below the main summit, seemingly beyond all the technical difficulties. The lateness of the season (surely a record for Karakoram high climbing ?) had partly accounted for their failure ; also the extreme length of their route—from Skardu across 30 odd miles of the Chogolungma glacier to a col (Polan La, 17,980 ft.) leading north to the Barpu glacier in Nagar, and thence via three high camps to the North peak. Like the British expedition which had preceded them in 1968 their request for an attempt from the north via the Barpu glacier had been turned down by the authorities in Pakistan.

They generously gave me the benefit of their impressions and their photographs ; and with a personal invitation from the Mir of Nagar ' dans la poche’, my enthusiasm ran high. Two were ready to come out to Pakistan from the U.S.A. to join me, and two more from England.

But there were snags. It seemed that the Mir had no authority to issue invitations; Islamabad had decreed that Nagar was closed: and that was that. Besides, others were keenly eyeing the same mountain. A party of eight from Austria (leader Koblmiiller) had been allocated Malubiting from 15 May to 15 July 1970 from the Baskai glacier ; whilst from 15 July to 15 September the mountain was bespoke to a party of four from Munich (leader P. Gizycki) via the Chogolungma glacier. The fact that the Munich team were impatiently kicking their heels in Rawalpindi on arrival at the end of April with no sign of the Austrians, seemed to add to a complicated situation ; which ended in a compromise. The Austrians agreed to attempt K-6 (23,890 ft.), and duly achieved a first ascent; the Germans departed for Malubiting. From the Chogolungma they worked out a new route reaching a plateau between the East and Central peaks ; but they were still 1,000 metres below the main summit when an accident claimed the life of one of their party (Dr. Melzer) and the climb was abandoned. They estimate that theirs was shorter and more direct than the Polish route.


  1. R. Szafirski (leader), A. Kus, Z. Heinrich, R. Petrycki.
  2. See A.J., 1962 (1), illustration facing p. 168.


North-west Karakoram

North-west Karakoram

So much by way of introduction; a reminder to the uninitiated that before you dream up any Himalayan or Karakoram plans first appoint a Chief Administrative Officer equipped with plenty of letter-paper and ink and armed with at least half a dozen alternative schemes, in case the first four or five are turned down.

Without Malubiting, the U.S. contingent cried off; and letters from the U.K., where the sticky problem of leave had been practically solved, understandably queried ‘what, now ? .Swat or Kaghan hardly seemed to justify the 5,000-mile journey ; whilst our 4-5 week time-limit ruled out the Hindu Kush/Hindu Raj because of the lengthy approach to the glaciers.

Half-heartedly I suggested Dobani (20,126 ft.), with a Base Camp in the Bagrot valley on the second day out from Gilgit. I was surprised to find this proposal readily acceptable ; and the U.K. party swelled to three, Mick Briggs, Cliff Meredith and Eddie Thurrell. All of them possessed several years experience in Britain, climbing to the severest modern standards ; and in addi¬tion they had several climbs in Europe to their credit. Dobani is a striking looking mountain towering above Gilgit to the south¬east. With such a challenging appearance it may seem surprising that it is still inviolate. Only one attempt has been recorded by two young army officers, Lts. Durrani and K. Ahmed, in I9603 who, though ill prepared and lacking in experience, followed a route which took them to within 3,000 feet of the summit.

Whilst Dobani hung in the balance, I happened to glance at a map (quarter-inch Survey sheets 42H and 42L) which revealed a partly unexplored area north-west of the Naltar valley border-ing Ishkuman on the Karakoram-Hindu Kush watershed. The area had been briefly looked at by a German party in 1959,4 but the glaciers on the Ishkuman side were practically untouched ; and the map showed a pass to Ishkuman leading from the head of the Naltar valley into the Baj Gaz valley. From here there seemed to be easy access to a large snow peak with a triangulated height of 20,646 feet. A known adversary like Dobani with a clearly defined route to its base seemed to be a safer bet to my companions than an elusive mountain whose approaches seemed to be lost amidst the conjectural lines of a 1915 map. I hardly dared tell them that it was the conjecture which exerted the strongest appeal; but I did express my suspicions that the Pak Army had their eyes on Dobani and we might not get a look in.5

So to Naltar we went: but only after bad weather had kept the Gilgit flight grounded in Rawalpindi for eight days. From Gilgit on 9 July, in two jeeps with all our baggage, we motored 28 miles via Nomal to Naltar village, 10,000 feet. Here, armed with a letter addressed to the Lambardar,6 we had the good fortune to engage two excellent local men, Burum and Jamset. They remained with us until we returned to Gilgit about three weeks later, acting as porters above the snow-line; and providing pack- transport for the journey from Naltar to Base Camp and back. We paid them Rs.5 per day, and the rate for pack-animals was 10 rupees (120-130 lb.). I have seldom come across more honest, loyal or congenial men. These high-mountain dwellers are among the world's natural climbers ; it was encouraging to see them traversing crevassed snow-fields quite undaunted, and tackling rock with enviable ease and grace. Their summer homes are in Shani at about 12,000 feet, comprising scattered dwellings about 15 miles up the Naltar valley. In winter, when the valley is snow-bound, they descend to Naltar with their horses, cattle, sheep and goats.

Naltar village is surrounded by green fields, intensively culti¬vated ; but we did not come across a single cultivated plot above, although birch and juniper trees are fairly abundant up to 13,000 feet, whilst below that level are pine, fir, spruce and deodar. On 10 July we left the comfortable Forest Rest House and began the march up the valley with our two men and five pack-animals. Our intention was to set up a Base at the top of the valley, as close as possible below the Baj Gaz Pass.

In a day and a half we covered about 18 miles establishing a Base on an alp at about 12,500 feet, three miles beyond the highest dwellings and within a couple of miles of the watershed into Ishkuman. The main Shani glacier flowed below us to the south-east, and directly above our camp towered Shani peak, a triple-headed giant, one of the most dramatic looking mountains any of us had ever seen. Attempted route-finding on its vertical and overhanging faces of rock and ice soon dissipated with the relentless thunder of avalanches off its east side. If this mountain had been placed above Alpiglen instead of a more famous one, we wondered how many ascents would have been achieved—or lives lost. It may be some years before the Browns and Bonattis of future generations are attracted to it because its height is a mere 19,310 feet.


  1. A small team including K. Ahmed and Durrani (both Majors now) broke away from the main Army team attempting Minapin peak (leader Mai J. Akhtar) and set out for Dobani on 26 July 1970.
  2. Village headman.


Burum and Jamset told us that the route over the divide to the Karambar valley in Ishkuman was familiar enough, though the name Baj Gaz was not; nor were they sure how practicable it would be for pack-animals. On 12 July we decided to take them over it in order to prove both points. We were due for a surprise. Within two hours from Base Camp we were over the top of an easy snow pass at about 14,250 feet, and then down on the other side over crevassed snow-fields to the moraine of a small glacier. Far enough down to glimpse at a pleasant wooded valley 7-8 miles below. We were a bit shaken when our compass told us that we were looking due west. The Baj Gaz valley, according to the map, led NNW. The porters then revealed that two separate routes existed here, both leading from the Naltar Pass which we had just crossed. The right-hand one led down the Phakor valley to a village of that name on the Karambar ; that on the left led down the Hayul valley to the large settlement of Chatorkhand about four miles south of Phakor village. 4 Where is the Baj Gaz ?' We have never heard of it. 'How long have you lived in Shani ?' All our lives. Burum then confided that as a small boy, when visiting relatives at the village of Imit (residence of the former Raja of Ishkuman) in the Karambar valley, he had been taken to a small village at the entrance to the Baj Gaz valley, but had never travelled up the valley. That seemed good enough. So the Baj Gaz did exist; and as the map showed a pass leading to it from here it was obviously up to us to find it.3

During the next three days we reached the divide at three different points, all higher than the Naltar Pass, the lowest being 14,500 feet and the highest over 15,000 feet. These were reached from glacier basins to the NW., N. and NE. of the Base Camp. On all these excursions snow-, ice- and rock-work was involved to a greater or lesser degree. From none of these points could we see a reasonable descent to the other side. Indeed the dividing ridge, which was quite sharp, fell away precipitously almost every¬where. We were able at least to form a general picture of the watershed which seemed to follow a semi-circular direction from south-east to north-west; though not with a marked break to the north where the map showed the Baj Gaz Pass, which latter we were now beginning to regard as a myth.

The valley on the other side of the divide, flowing roughly from west to east, appeared to be the Daintar. A prominent peak directly north of the divide, its long south ridge abutting against it at a snow col and then sweeping upwards for about half a mile, seemed reconcilable with a point marked 19,558 feet on the map. Peak 20,646 feet, located eight miles behind this mountain to the north, was probably obscured by it and had not been visible to us. Had unlimited time been available, I would have liked to travel by jeep from Gilgit to Imit, then moving up the Baj Gaz valley to settle the question of the pass once for all.

Meanwhile, the peak-baggers in the party were becoming rest¬less Above Base Camp there was a mountain rising to the north DI the Naltar Pass, the Sentinel, which seemed worthy of an ascent not only for its own sake but also because it would probably reveal something of the topography of the upper Baj Gaz valley. South-west of Naltar Pass, behind the fierce Shani peak, were the Twins two magnificent ice-fluted mountains marked 19,230 feet on the map. A few miles down the main valley was the Shani Snow Dome, seemingly offering no technical difficulty. Alongside it, and probably about 1,500 feet higher, was an attractive peak with a long and complicated north ridge of rock towers and steep ice.

On the principle that the first climb had better be an easy one, we all set out for Snow Dome on 16 July accompanied by Burum, leaving Jamset as camp-guard at Base. Five hours of fairly steep going along boulder-strewn slopes brought us to the Daintar Pass at 15,000 feet. Here we divided into two groups. Briggs, Meredith and Thurrell continued south along the ridge to establish a camp 400 feet higher. The following day the first two attempted the Snow Dome. At the end of the ridge beyond their camp, they descended through the semes of a small glacier to reach the broad snow-covered north face. They worked their way through a zone of crevasses up to within 400 feet of the top when a severe storm struck at about 11 o'clock ; so they wisely decided to forego the summit—estimated height about 16,500 feet.

My decision to descend to the Daintar was prompted by curi¬osity. I felt that we should not leave the area without clearing up some of the confusion over the Baj Gaz ; nor without examin-ing more closely the approaches to Peak 20,646 feet, if not from the west then at least from the east. The route over the divide into the Daintar is said to be occasionally used, though it is not suitable for sheep. After breaking through a snow cornice which covered the top of the ridge, we were faced with a descent of 750 feet of shattered rock at a 50° angle, that ended in a wide crevasse. The glacier beyond led easily to grass slopes rich with primulas, gentians, peonies and masses of wild onion. Late that evening we camped in the Daintar valley in a delightful sheltered glade amidst birch wood. Across the river, herds of sheep were moving down the valley in the declining sun.


  1. In 1959, Prof. H. J. Schneider of the 1959 German party had crossed from the Phakor valley in the Karambar over the Naltar Pass. R. Bardo- dej, of the same party, visited Imit but did not penetrate the valley up to the divide.

We continued our descent early the next morning, meeting large flocks moving up the valley for their daily grazing. On the 6-inch wide tracks traversing the rocky slopes, one of the Gujars stopped us. Did we know that we were in Nagar territory where by orders of the Mir, no ‘foreign' porters were allowed ? Nagar porters have a poor reputation; but the manner of my inquisitor, Dadu, struck my fancy and I engaged him on the spot, though he was told truthfully that I was carrying no money and he would receive his wages later on via the Mir. Relations between him and Burum improved to such an extent after an hour that whilst he took over the main load the latter was permitted to carry my rucksack. Soon we reached his home Taling (shown as Daintar on the map) situated 17 miles above Chalt. When I remarked about the lush green fields fed by a network of irrigation channels I was told that all this was the work of an Englishman Col. Cobb, a former Political Agent in Gilgit, who is still affectionately remembered here.

The next two days were perhaps the most enjoyable of the whole trip, and certainly the most enlightening. Setting up a camp about a mile below the snout of the Karengi glacier where Burum was left in charge, Dadu and I explored the head of the valley. The Cambridge University Expedition was probably among the first to visit the Karengi in 1954.4 They travelled to the head of the glacier and made an attempt on Peak 19,280 feet, a prominent snow dome apparently devoid of technical difficulty, which stands on the Karengi-Sat Marao divide. It was reported by Dadu to have been climbed since by German and Japanese parties, with whom he had been employed as porter; records of these ascents appear to be lacking.


  1. See A.J., May 1955, p. 49.

On a morning of intermittent sleet and rain, we were stopped by a 50-foot ice-wall from reaching the very head of the glacier, having traversed the entire icefall with surprisingly little difficulty. Our reward was a complete reorientation of the picture conveyed by the map. The Karengi glacier, about six miles long, flows south ; the lower valley veering sharply east towards Taling which lies about seven miles below its snout. Into the basin at its head drain two subsidiary glaciers. From the west, a tributary terminat¬ing in a complicated icefall leads to a prominent flat-topped summit of about 18,000 feet. On the eastern side, a relatively low dividing ridge appears to provide a pass into the Sat Marao glacier, which is a tributary of the larger Kukuay. The tributary to the north-west sweeping round behind to the west contains the large snow peak 20,646 feet. Thus was extinguished our last hope of launching an attempt on this mountain. The long approach, and the need to employ Nagar men outweighed the 6 gentle slopes by the SE. ridge'—the opinion of the Germans in 1959, with which I could only too regretfully concur.

And so back to Shani base; but first a word with Dadu's father. When he was a boy, about 45 years ago, an Englishman had crossed from the Daintar valley into Ishkuman. The route was none other than via the snow col forming the commencement of the long south ridge of Peak 19,558 feet and abutting against the Shani divide. The col looked steep from the head of the Daintar, and under existing ice conditions its ascent would present teachni- cal difficulties. He was sure that the crossing had never been made before or since. Here, then, was the possible solution to the elusive Baj Gaz Pass. Peak 19,558 feet presented a new aspect from the Daintar. Its south summit, the only one visible from Shani, was connected by a sharp horizontal ridge almost a mile long to a higher summit overlooking the Karengi.

Dadu insisted upon accompanying us back over the pass to Shani; and very early on the morning following our return, despite stormy conditions and poor visibility, he disappeared into the mists homeward bound. I hope he got back all right; he was tough and intrepid. Five days of appalling weather followed, which kept us practically pinned down to our tents while fresh snow accumulated around and below Base Camp.

24 July dawned clear. It had been our intention to attempt the Western Twin (19,230 ft.), slightly the higher and seemingly the less difficult of the two. Prior to the storm we had carried a tent and some food to a point above the Twins icefall at about 15,000 feet. We found a cairn here.9 Exploring further ahead, we discovered a feasible route down to the glacier draining between the Twin peaks. This flows north ; and a subsidiary basin to its west contains a group of three peaks, about 17,000 feet, two of which seemed to offer good climbing. After several days of fresh snowfall we judged that an attempt on the Twins, with the need to place one or probably two camps on an avalanche- prone north face, was not immediately practicable.

Our time was nearly up, and a lesser objective had to be found. The Sentinel (17,918 ft.), the highest point on the divide, seemed the obvious choice. In a day of brilliant sunshine, travers¬ing snow-fields under fatiguing conditions, the transfer of the old Twins camp was achieved to a magnificent site at about 15,350 feet overlooking the icefall of a small glacier draining from the south face of the Sentinel. Burum and I left Briggs and Meredith here late on the afternoon of 25 July. There had been fine views of Rakaposhi and Minapin and the Batura ; of Trivor, Mohmil Sar, Distaghil Sar ; of the Hindu Raj in the distance to the north-west; and, over 100 miles away to the south, of the gigantic mass of Nanga Parbat.

The following day Briggs and Meredith left their camp at six. Quickly cramponing past an avalanche chute, they tackled the south face at an average angle of 40°, reaching the summit ridge in three hours. The summit was only 250 feet above, but about 500 feet away along a ridge that was exceedingly sharp and exposed, with a final 80-foot rock and ice chimney. Two hours were needed for this section. They reached the top at 11 a.m. and were rewarded with magnificent views. They were able to observe that the col from the Daintar valley formed a comfortable plateau about half mile wide before dropping away steeply out of sight towards Ishkuman (via the Baj Gaz ?). They agreed that the large snow peak 20,646 feet to the north looked climbable, but a long way away. Alas, details of the topography to the north, and especially to the north-west, will have to await research by future geographers!

On 27 July we left Base Camp for the last time, accompanied by Burum, Jamset and four pack-animals. It was a long day's journey to Naltar, and when we arrived after 10 hours' march we were back in a different world. Recent rainfall had enriched the colours of the fields and the upper alps ; and had heightened the scent of the pine, fir and spruce trees that surround the Forest Rest House. The following day we returned to Gilgit having acquired a very decrepit vehicle for the journey—but that is another story.







Sentinel peak, 17,918 ft

Sentinel peak, 17,918 ft

Note of Cost

The cost of the expedition worked out at just over £100 per head. The additional cost for three members of the party who travelled to Pakistan by air was £150 per head for return tickets London/Karachi, by special charter flight. Here are some details for those who may be interested:

    Rs. P. £ s. d.
1 Food from U.K. 663.00 (58-00-00)
2 Air freight U.K./Pakistan 657.00 (57-12-10)
3 Food in Pakistan 564.50  
4 Customs and air freight Karachi/Rawal pindiIGilgit 592.70  
5 Return air fares to Gilgit 600.00  
6 Transport: Porters, donkeys 459.00  
  Jeeps 327.00  
7 Other miscellaneous expenses in Pakistan (including B and L at Rawalpindi/ Gilgit) 981.80  
  Less: Sale of surplus food 212.00  
    4,633.00 = Rs.l,158.00 per head
(£1 = Rs.l1.43)


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