The Manchester-Nepalese Expedition 1970 to Nampa (22,162 ft.)


Nampa (22,162 ft) was on the list of permitted peaks. As an objective for our type of party it seemed ideal—unclimbed, not too high, remote. And so an evening expedition to Windgather Rocks in Derbyshire was translated fifteen months later to the head of the Chamlia river in Nepal. The despairing journey of organization to that point was not without satisfaction. From Delhi we had the services of an Indian (Capt. Hukam Singh) as well as a Nepali (Inspector Hang Singh Chemjong) Liaison Officer, and without them we might never have reached the mountain at all. Almora, Pithoragarh, Jhulaghat—places from a fantasy world travelled by Longstaff, Shipton, Murray, Tyson. And now out of the dust and carbon monoxide of 1970 appeared John Allen, Rob Brighton, Yvonne 'Nobby' Clarke, Arthur Clarke, Brian Cosby and Bill Rowntree.

We did have a map but it was hardly correct, and most of the village names were not the ones in local use. Tracks were incompletely marked. Local advice was at variance with itself concerning the best route to take, and no one knew if it were possible to advance beyond Chaubisho because the forests had overgrown the paths during the monsoon, which dropped leeches as well as rain upon us. At Pithoragarh we had tried to negotiate access to Nepal at this western end via Darchula, for the journey would be shorter, requiring fewer days of porterage, and therefore cheaper. The weather had not settled down after the monsoon, and rain fell frequently right up to the end of September during the approach march. Our immediate problems were to hire 44 porters for the boxes, to decide on a route to Chaubisho where further advance could be ascertained, and to service reliably our postcard scheme. On our first day out, we all suffered blisters. Nobby twisted her knee. After an ascent of 4,000 ft. from 1,600 ft. above sea level, Rob ran back down barefoot. We had tasted the adventure ; and by entering Nepal with all the porters on 16 September I was immensely relieved that we had cut the red tape. For personal reasons, I took a photograph of the bridge across the Kali (the Indo-Nepal frontier), was spotted by the local police chief on the Indian side, and had the film confiscated. I didn't care. A short downpour. The local idiot stole my brief case. A goat picked a half-eaten banana out of my hand. Delay while the customs officer finished his prayers. But we were on our way. The unexpected had begun to happen.

The paths were very hilly, the jungle hot and steaming, without fresh water, and the route uncertain with constantly diverging tracks. The porters dictated the overall pace of 8 miles per day, and anyone who went too far ahead missed his mealtime. Porters only ate chapattis., and drank river water, whereas we ate delectables from Arthurs cupboard such as cheese, sweet biscuits, oatcakes, porage, prepared by the two of us on meal rota. Eventually we were eating large quantities of chapattis. Water was always filtered. And oh! the flies. How they irritated Bill, a mosquito's natural food. Hygiene was a major concern, as with any expedition, but from Jhulaghat back to Jhulaghat we had hardly any illness from local sources. As a result of treating the local people and through our living close to them, tiny insects found new hosts. For our own medical emergency use on the mountain we took oxygen, and used it thus, to reduce the possibility of infection in Rob's frost-bitten feet. He may have had pulmonary edema, when at 20,500 ft., and the presence of oxygen at Camp II seemed altogether justified in spite of the expense.

Both serious and amusing incidents livened our routine. As only one porter could write, signatures were by thumbprint. Tributary rivers had to be waded, or crossed in balance on tree- trunk planks, or by rope sling. A cow was dragged across completely submerged and almost drowned. Wherever tangerines or bananas were known to be on sale ahead, the pace quickened. Where rivers were dry, the porters could not make chapattis., and no one could drink. A ration of cigarettes was agreed. Wheat had to be arranged in advance, and then milled into flour. For lack of co-operation I fired a newly appointed sirdar and feared the porters would strike. After an exasperating discussion, I lay down to relax, whereupon a tiny kid goat trotted over my chest, causing great mirth among the flyblown, hookah-smokmg on lookers. The wrangle evaporated. Then on 22 September the peaks came into view. After a steep ascent through an archway, a boy with very Tibetan features welcomed us to another world, nf hipli mountains, mists and sky. My diary: 'At last we were dragging our feet out of the valley (here 6,800 ft.). We stopped and gasped, and Rob pinpointed Nampa with map and compass. It is certainly the most attractive peak in the area, and extremely shapely, with ice flutings like Alpamayo. Breathtaking/ That night we celebrated by beheading two chickens for dinner. Almost in reprisal the leeches came out in force and settled for a bit of juicy liaison officer, whose whitening face registered aghast at the galloping one inch long monster. Roasted cobs of corn were passed round. Then rain. The lasting memory of the day was 'the view of Nampa, with mists around its shoulders, the shapely summit spuming spindrift and clouds'.

Six days later we arrived at our Base Camp, at about 12,700 ft. The tracks had been steeper, the rates for porters had consequently risen and it was difficult to find good overnight accommodation (i.e. caves, large overhung boulders, grass huts). At night the jungle resounded with screeches, the river thundering between steep sides, eerie, remote. And to find a spacious meadow for Base was great good luck. The site was idyllic, sunkissed, and on sweetly smelling grass, overlooked by perhaps the most attractive peak of Western Nepal. As no previous attempt had been made to climb Nampa we first of all had to reconnoitre a safe and possible route. All of us were well, but fatigued, and with some blister and jolted muscles. The weather seemed affable. We spent three days on reconnaissances, and by 4 October were sleeping at Camp I.

I will not forget 5 October. ' Awake at 3.30 a.m., off at 6.00 a.m. Late. Clouds in the valley. 35 lb. sacks each. Api disgorging spindrift avalanches. At the base of the couloir, soft snow had us wallowing up to our knees. The runnel hardened. Light powder avalanches hissed past us. And then a heavier accumulation poured down on top of Brian. He could withstand no more, and became enveloped in swirling snow, which thrust him downhill, and over my head. I then began to slide ; later he said he tried the classic recovery attitudes, but to no avail. So this is what it's like to be in an avalanche; I hope it doesn't run out over a cliff, I thought. I resisted the movement and dug my heels in, and stopped. When Brian's flailing body came to the end of the rope, a terrific strain came on my right hand holding the loose coils. My rucksack was torn from my back as the straps broke. I shouted to Brian to get an anchorage. The eternity of a few seconds passed before he responded, not knowing who was on top or which way up we were. I tore my goggles from my face, and half eased myself from the compressing concretion of solidifying snow. The sliding stopped.' Trembling, but with a cold-blooded reserve, we extricated ourselves, and scampered off with our tails firmly between our legs.

Snowflakes began to curl out of the mists above, and for three days heavy clouds precipitated upon us. The couloir of our mishap became a psychological obstacle. Then on 10 October I wrote: 4 We've never had such a clear and promising day. I have felt such exasperation, verging on desperation, that we were not getting the cold dry days we had expected. But we must not take risks with bad conditions.' Most of us spent the night at Camp I. The evening light of a dying sun and a rising moon was staggeringly beautiful, ethereal silvery light, misty veils swirling among phantom ridges and summits. The utter silence reached a profound and intangible depth. Not a sound to shatter where no planes fly.

The weather stayed good. A tremendous effort by Rob and Brian put us on the col at the top of the couloir to establish Camp II on 11 October. The following day Arthur and I reached the same spot at 17,600 ft., having fixed a rope on the vertical section, and soon we had a continuous rope for 900 ft. We used a naturally formed snow cave, ferried loads to it, and erected two tents. Rob and Brian went ahead. Too far ahead, unfortunately. But it had been fully agreed that they should keep going in front if they could. As none of us were prepared to climb the steep couloir with porters because of the language problem, we did our own soul-destroying porterage. Thus while Rob and Brian established Camps III, IV and V, the support climbers brought food and equipment to the front as best they could. The main technical problems of three pinnacles were surmounted by 18 October. To this point the ridge was spectacular, with huge cornices and gasping exposure, and scintillating light, but with a bitter wind. The still air temperature was about minus 10 °C. To the north was the Tibetan plateau ; eastwards, ridge upon ridge of snow giants. From the south flecks of cloud always worried us, for they would move in, swell, advance like the tide quicker than we could descend. A strong bid for the top would need a large dump of food at Camp III, with plenty of fixed ropes, mainly for retreat. Camp IV was at about 19,200 ft. The ridge from Camp III was even more sensational than earlier, steep, with knife edges and snow/ice sides of 50°-70°. Ledges had to be carved to erect the tent. In a shouted conversation from the pinnacles they said they hoped to set up Camp V under a rock triangle at about 20,500 ft. and on 22 October to make a bid for the top. But down at Camp II, the rest of us watched snow begin to fall in the afternoon, and then all day on the 22nd. Bill and I carried loads yet again up the couloir, very worried for the summit party, Bill's steam-engine lungs pounding up the snow. For days now our feet had never been warm, and several weeks passed before the effect wore off.

Though our plan that day was to go right through to Camp III, exhaustion took over. But we must get to Rob and Brian. We couldn't move before dawn on 23rd. Anxiety consumed my breakfast. The rationalizing and human companionship of the others shored up my collapsing mind. All the time we knew Rob and Brian would not overstretch their necks, but nothing can withstand the overwhelming forces of nature. That night we again swallowed sleeping pills. Thankfully a few stars appeared in the sky.

A strong and bitter wind swept the col at 6.00 a.m. on the 23rd as we took down the tent. We set out to look for Rob and Brian, but the cold drove us back to the remaining tent. Feet on chests for warmth. Hot drinks. Re-erect the second tent. Sleep. Anxiety woke us. Again we should set out to look. The sun shone. And then they were back; with a shout and a sigh they flopped down. Hours passed before my mind could accept the evidence of my eyes. On the 22nd in a storm they had descended instead of going for the top, and spent the night at Camp III.

Rob's report to the Daily Mail ran: 6 We had no food reserves to sit out a storm, and the remaining distance to the summit would take ten hours in any case. Brian and I had the beginnings of frost-bite, and I had a hacking cough and a taste of blood. These were symptoms which others had died through ignoring. So we retreated—a nine-hour descent in blizzard conditions.'

A touch of possible pulmonary edema, bad weather at a crucial time, and shortage of food had stopped them. It proved to be our only summit bid. On reflection, it seems to me rather remarkable that they got as far as they did on the resources at their command. The determination and driving force which with little food carried them up also safeguarded their descent in wild conditions. Rob immediately hit the oxygen bottle and rested. And ate. And planned great feasts of home cooking. Nor was he disappointed.

Though we had not reached the summit, we had set out on something more than a mere mountain climb. In spite of exasperating problems, we had made our way into the heart of the Himalaya and mainly by our own efforts, with no serious loss of health or life. Apart from the summit, our principal aims were to remain solvent, to stay friends with each other and with the local population, and to experience an enjoyable adventure. Now that the various stresses and strains are passed, we can recall that the facts are living up to the fantasy through memories.

P.S. A full report on the Manchester-Nepalese Expedition 1970 is available, prize 75 p, from J. T. H. Allen, 15b, Lawngreen Avenue, Manchester M21 2FH.

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