THE ARMY MOUNTAINEERING ASSOCIATION HIMACHAL PRADESH EXPEDITION 1973
MAJOR J. W. FLEMING
JUST after midnight on the 6 May 1973, 25 dusty, tired and thirsty travellers tumbled out of a hot bus into the cool, fresh and fragrant air of Johnson's Orchards in Raisan. The Himachal Pradesh Expedition had arrived. The purpose of the expedition was to climb a number of peaks in the Kulu Valley and in the Chamba Lahaul areas of the Himalaya in North India, with a view to selecting a competent, well equipped team to climb Mount Everest during the pre-monsoon period of 1976. Months and months of planning nearly came to nought when the DC in Kulu refused to recognise the permit which I had been issued with to cross the Rohtang Pass (13,050 ft.). It took a day to win him round, and so with permit and sufficient cash in small change to last us the next ten weeks we were off.
On 9 May, having advanced our watches by 2 hours (to Expedition Time) so as to make the maximum use of sunlight, the expedition split into 2 parties. Ten members and an Indian L.O. left Raison for their allocated mountain of Indrasan (20,410 ft.) and Deo Tibba (19,687 ft.), under the leadership of Major Gerry Owens .
Our party of 18 had left Raisan on 10 May. Our aims were to climb Menthosa (21,140 ft.) and Baihali Jot (20,602 ft.). Our approach march was a longer one than that of the other party and because there were more of us, we needed more porters. The route lay initially over the 13,050 ft. Rontang Pass, as yet still blocked to wheel traffic by snow, into the restricted area of the Chandra Valley. Once in this valley, we were told, a bus or even mules would take us and our two tons of stores the remaining 45 miles to Udaipur, which was to be the Base Camp. We engaged 120 porters and crossed the Pass in a day, during which some of the team suffered their first bout of altitude sickness. At
Photo Plate 27.
See next article-Ed.
Khoksar, the first village on the Chandra side o£ the Pass, it became quite obvious that the road would not be motorable for at least two months. It was blocked by huge avalanches, boulder- slides and torrential rivers which had swept the bridges away. After three days, during which we had to ferry our own kit 9 miles down the road to Sissu, we were eventually able to hire 50 mules. Three days later we had reached Udaipur, where the Base Camp was set up on the football field and on 19 May, following a day of kit reorganisation, the party set off up the Miyar Nallali for Menthosa. This was even more spectacular than the Chandra valley. The narrow track was barely discernible for a lot of the way at first . It clung precariously to the steep shaley bank some hundreds of feet above the crashing torrent of the river. Often the rock face overhung the track causing high packs to get caught and the weary expedidoner to lose his balance. The gorge became ever narrower and gloomier shutting out the midday sun. After three days the ABC Menthosa was established at 14,200 ft. on the snow. The porters struck for more money, so we dismissed them. From the camp we got a fabulous view of the mountain, heavily caked with the winter snow yet yielding a feasible route up the right hand skyline ridge (the East ridge). Camp I at 16,500 ft. was established on the next day, positioned on a col deep in snow following a technically easy but soul destroying flog through indifferent snow conditions. While Camp I was being stocked by the rest of the team four lead climbers, Dilly, Armstrong, Thompson and Khagendrabahadur Limbu, recced a way to Camp II at 18,350 ft. The route lay along a tricky snow traverse and then up a steep 800 foot snow slope eventually giving out onto a huge plateau some 3000 ft. below the summit. The next part of the route to Camp III (20,300 ft.) was clearly visible. After the route to Camp II had been made safe by the provision of fixed rope, the storm which had stopped the Indra- san party now effectively stopped us. It was the only period of sustained bad weather that we experienced during the whole of the expedition. The wind howled round the small flimsy tents on the col and at Camp II, and a great deal of new snow fell. The temperature dropped to -28°C. Even so we were able to snatch at least a part of most days to release the fixed ropes and to carry out oxygen instruction. Thus by 2 June the lead four climbers had completed their recce to Camp III. The route lay along the crest of the right hand skyline ridge overlooking the A.B.C. glacier. The last part of it was along a most spectacular snow arete, very exposed with a 5000 drop on to the A.B.C. glacier on the one side and a 2000 ft. drop to another glacier on (Ire other. On 3 June, Camp III was established, by the four lead climbers and by Fleming, Swanston, Muston and Battu (the L.O.) acting as porters. Taking advantage of the fine weather Dilly decided that on this day too his four would make an attempt on the summit. Having just returned from our carry to Camp III the four 'porters' were thrilled to watch progress from Camp II. Four black, minute dots crept across our front, but about 2,500 ft. above us. They soon disappeared over the lip of a plateau and then the cloud, which had been threatening all afternoon, rolled in and obliterated our view. It was not until the evening radio schedule at 1900 hrs. that we heard of their success. It was drams all round, by courtesy of Bells Ltd., and of Swanston who carried it!! During the next six days all IB members of the party climbed to the top of Menthosa. On the way they carried out stringent oxygen tests using the different types of apparatus which we had, under the eagle eye of Swanston. the tame medic. It was a great mountain to climb, offering as it did a piece of really interesting mountaineering at every stage. Finally it was a most satisfying summit which completely dominated the area. From it, there stretched a profusion of peaks, all of them unclimbed. We withdrew off the mountain in good order and retraced our steps back clown the spectacular Miyar Nallah reaching our Base Camp on 14 June.
Allowing for a day's rest on 15 June, on the next day the same party, less Battu, the L.O., who had very unfortunately damaged his ankle at A.B.C. on Menthosa, set off to climb Baihali Jot (20,602 ft.1
) and Duphao Jot (20,011 ft.) which we had decided to try as well. After another three days walk-in punctuated by the usual porters' strikes, A.B.C. was established on snow at 14,100 ft. right underneath a chaotic and most unpleasant looking 2,500 foot icefall. This effectively barred any easy access to Baihali Jot. While Camp I on Duphao Jot was being established on a ridge line to the north of A.B.C. Peacock, Lynch, West and Bridges forced a way up the extreme left hand side of this most dangerous obstacle, while their kit was portered up using other expedition members. To our dismay we found the way barred by a huge crevasse which ran the entire width of the icefall. The next day, having had to take to the rock on the left, the crevasse was successfully turned and Camp I on Baihali Jot was established at 16,700 ft., about the same height as that on Duphao Jot. Not without mishap, however, for on the way round Lynch slipped on the ice into a crevasse and was only extricated after a long, cold hour.
On 23 June, Armstrong, Thompson and Blister left their Camp I on Duphao Jot very early in the morning for their summit bid, the snow was, at last, in a reasonable condition. After a very long and spectacular ridge walk they came to the summit ridge. This provided them with some entertaining mixed snow and rock climbing for about 1,000 ft. At 1100 hrs. they were on the summit of their peak gazing anew on the veritable mass of peaks below them. If they had looked to their north west they would have seen ten minute dots making their way up to Pegasus col, some two miles up the glacier from our Camp I on Baihali Jot. Once on this col we began to doubt that the mountain which we had always considered to be Baihali Jot, based on the Alpine Journal Report of the 1969 Anglo Indian Expediton, was in fact that mountain. Our map did not help much, it had been made before the days of airiel survey. We were now aiming for a delicate looking snow spire which seemed to be higher than the 1969 party's peak which they called Baihali Jot. After surmounting a thoroughly rotten buttress Camp II was established at 18,500 ft. just beneath the snow spire. Peacock, Lynch, West and Bridges spent that night there. The load carriers returned to Camp I, having resolved to climb the hitherto unclimbed peak just above the camp the next day. Menthosa, our recent adversary, was clearly visible that night in the setting sun, her proud ramparts sharply etched against the sinking, crimson orb. The 24 June dawned; our last climbing day. Early, the Peacock party left their Camp II for their peak, their route lying up a long, steep and exposed snow arete. It was an exhilarating climb with the panorama of hundreds and hundreds of Himalayan peaks stretching for miles and miles all round them. By 1100 hrs. they were on the top. The summit consisted of a shall cone which dropped very steeply on all sides to the yawning crevasses many thousands of feet below. We are now virtually certain that this was the first ascent of Baihali Jot. However we have suggested to the Indian Mountaineering Foundation that it be named Bahunguna Peak after Major H. V. Bahuguna who led the Anglo Indian Expedition of 1971. I have not yet heard if the IMF have agreed to this.
In the meantime Fleming was leading his team of Swanston, Basantakumar Rai, Pasang Ta- mang, Khagendrabahadur Limbu and the Sirdar Rinsing up the unclimbed peak decided upon the previous day. From Pegasus col we went up a very steep, crisp snow slope which gave onto a well corniced, crevasse ridden ridge which dropped veiy sharply on the south to the glacier below. It was cerainly most exhilarating climbing. Soon we were above the minute dots which is all we could see of the Peacock party's Camp II. The ridge became even more corniced and to add to our problems the clouds rolled in. Soon sight and sound were muffled in dense fog. At 1300 hrs. we stood on the summit for the first time - a fine moment in any mountaineer's life. The summit consisted of a huge cornice which loomed 3,000 ft. over our Camp I. We have suggested that this peak be called Gurkha Parbat after the magnificent and cheerful soldiers who were on the first ascent, and who will be with us on Mount Everest. That evening safely back down in Camp I two happy parties drank many mugs of tea and swopped hairy stories of the day's events. On 25 June Camp I was struck and we made our way back to A.B.C. and Udaipur. While negotiating the most tricky part of the route a huge serac, some 200 ft. high, we had called it Ronan Point, collapsed with- our warning. Luckily West and Bridges were agile enough to dive for cover and most of the debris which weighed hundreds of tons, passed harmlessly into a neighbouring crevasse. Two days later the team was back in Base Camp celebrating our achievements by killing a sheep and eating fresh meat for the first time in ten weeks. On 29 June the march out began. Because the road was now open to buses from Thirot to Khoksar what had taken us nine days on the way in only took us three days on the way out. The Rohtang Pass, however, was still not motor able and Hardy met us on the top with a truck from Raisan. On 1 July we were a united expedition once again.
Harsh Bahuguna was a close and clear friend of mine, but may I please request expeditious not to name peaks with personal names. The Survey of India will not accept them anyway.-Ed.
A.B.C. on Baihali Jot (seen as a snow summit in left background)