THE A.M. A. ROUTE ON INDRASAN, 1973
CAPTAIN HENRY DAY
PART of the Army Mountaineering Association Expedition to Himachal Pradesh1
chose to make Indrasan (20,410 ft.) their main objective. Climbing in Kulu is so well documented in the Himalayan and Alpine Journals that our planning was made simple. Actually the number of accounts of previous expeditions created a problem - the works of R. G. Pettigrew2
alone would have doubled the number of porters required. Perhaps a Himalayan Club guide book to Kulu could be prepared? [Bob, I hope you are reading this - I would be delighted to collaborate-Ed.].
Jimmy Johnson gave us all an amazing welcome at Raison. At times he played host to nearly forty climbers without seeming in the least inconvenienced; a wonderful introduction to the area. He arranged for the veteran Ladakhi Wangyal, and the excellent Dharam Chand to accompany us. They were quite the most energetic and competent assistants one could hope for on an expedition.
A gentle reconnaissance to the Chandra Khani Pass with my wife and two friends who were making a short visit to India, showed that this approach to Indrasan was sufficiently clear of snow for porters to cross, so this route was chosen. The Jagatsukh Nullah was rejected as giving too limited climbing above Base Gamp, and the Mai ana Nullah as giving a less pleasant walk, being steep and enclosed.
The approach up the head of the Malana Nullah to Base Camp, thence up the Malana Glacier3
went according to Gerry Owens
well oiled plan. As leader he had the chores of administration to contend with, whilst we had the pleasures of scaling other peaks in the vicinity.
1 The main party went to Lahul-see Maj. Jon Fleming's article.
Members: Sgt. J. Anderson, Capt. M. W. H. Day, Lieut. S. J. Eskell,
Capt. P. W. Gunson, Lt.-Col. R. H. Harclie, Capt. I. J. Hellberg, L/Cpl. M. P. Lane, Maj. G. F. Owens (leader), Sgt. Gyalzen Sherpa, L/Cpl. Narbu Sherpa.
2 H.J. XXVIII, 1967-68 (pp. 102-112), "Papsura Climbed".
Photo Plate 28.
3 See Colin Pritchard's map in H. J. XXVIII, 1967-68 (p. 9). Our capms were in much the same sites as theirs.
The De Graaf couloir gave the first climbing and was hard work. It took Gerry and I three days to fix ropes up it, which were mainly suspended from pegs in the right (east) wall. Gerry was at his best, bullocking his way up insecure, steep and heavy snow as he ploughed a trench up to the final ice slope. As I belayed him from a poor stance beside a rock buttress he climbed out of sight up the steepening head wall. The rope passed slower and slower between my hands, until it stopped altogether, No amount of shouting elicited a reply. At last a great doud of snow swished past, accompanied by a powerful jerk on the rope. I thought Gerry was off and clutched the rope around me expecting a mighty tug from his flying body somewhere in the avalanche of snow. But the canny fellow had sensed that the snow was unstable and had buried a deadman in the underlying snow- ice, so he was safely held and the jerk I had felt was the falling snow being divided by the rope between us. Such was my relief when he reappeared that I scolded him volubly. He ignored my outburst, being rather put out himself.
The couloir that we climbed to reach the plateau at 18,000 ft. faced SE as shown on Pritchard's map, so we believed it was the De Graaf couloir. It would seem that the party which climbed Indrasan West Ridge
gained the plateau up a subsidiary gully further west. This was indicated to me by Dharam Chand when we climbed Consolation Peak later on. The other couloir faces SW and was apparently even steeper than ours.
Ivor Hellberg and Simon Eskell, on their first foray above Alpine altitudes, made an excursion to peak 16,615 ft. next to the pass over to Tos Nullah named by Pettigrew as the "Pass of the Animals''. It had first been climbed by members of Pettigrew's AM A party in 1965, but this was not known to our pair at the time. They took Wangyal with them and returned saying they would like to name the peak after him. As it transpired, on subsequently consulting the journals,
that splendid fellow had been on the first ascent as well! We used to read him his own exploits from these accounts, translated for him by our laision officer, O. P. Sharma, but in spite of his tooth grin he never seemed to recollect the incidents.
Dick Hardie and I had an enjoyable day off, traversing the two summits of Jagatsukh Peak (17,155 ft.). We had an excellent view of the SW face of Deo Tibba, and the approach up Jagatsukh Nullah. We could see a good line up glacier snow fields to the east of the summit, the route of a large Italian party a few years ago.7
From this side a direct route to the summit of Deo Tibba up the SW face would be a worthwhile climb.
The time had come to get to grips Indrasan and four of us started work on the East Ridge on 2 June. We had agreed that we would fix ropes if wr
e felt they would safeguard our descent. None of us had experienced these technicalities at altitude and, as we were partly preparing for the A.M.A. attempts on Everest in 1976, we wanted to take the opportunity to try these things for ourselves. I certainly felt a little guilty about banging so many pegs into the rock - it seemed as though we were reducing the climb to our level of competence and certainly not bringing Alpinism to the Himalaya - but the ridge was too hard to have ferried up loads without prussicking up a fixed rope. Andy Anderson and I led on the first day to gain the ridge at a small col, while Pat Gunson and Dick Hardie fixed 500 foot of rope behind us. Another British party containing the Burgessbrothers reached this point a few weeks later whilst attempting an Alpine style ascent. They turned back at this stage feeling too extended as they had no camps to fall on, but mollified us by assessing the route so far as TD by Alpine standards.
The second day gave excellent rock climbing in the sun up to Very Severe standard. Pat Gunson joined me in the lead while Dick and Andy followed up with our fixed rope, a non- stretch type used normally for suspending the White Ensign on Her Majecty's ships. After traversing into the gloom of the north face, onto some steep and disconcertingly smooth slabs, we tied off the rope above a nasty looking gully full of rotten snow, and went home for the night. Gerry had now arrived to stay at Advanced Base Camp, having supervised the carrying of enough supplies to last us all for a good two weeks. While we rested, he went up to have a look, and let himself in for a frightening day with Andy, traversing across the north flank of Indrasan to reach saw Gerry, Andy and Simon reach the top of Indrasan at about an obvious gully. They had to abseil for several ropes lengths, traverse above an abyss, then climb all the way back up extremely steep and rotten snow to a headwall by the gully. They must have released a lot of adrenalin into their bloodstreams that day, for even with the assistance of the ropes they fixed, I found this section the most harrowing of the climb.
7H.J. XXX, 1970 (pp. 206-211), "Deo Tibba' 1969" by Giuseppe Tente.
Perfect weather continuing, on the fourth day Gerry sent off Pat, Dick and myself with a chance for the summit. It was not to be, as the hoped for bivouac site never appeared, we ran out of rope (after a further 400 ft.), and Dick suffered a badly cut eye from debris falling down the gully. So we hung the bivouac gear from several pegs and withdrew to Advance Base. The stoical doctor raced down so fast to the plateau that we could hardly keep up. Andy's bear-like hands applied adhesive sutures to Dick's cut which swiftly healed leaving scarcely a scar with which to impress his children when he returned home.
Gerry called up Simon Eskell, the junior member of the party, with an impressive rock climbing record, and together with Andy they set off to finish the climb. I had been caught earlier in the gully by a soft snow avalanche caused by the mid-day sun, so at our suggestion Gerry's party left late so that the north side would be sunless and frozen by the time they reached it. This they did but found themselves faced with a very steep snow-field. In the gloom Andy climbed way above the bivouac site but fortuitously found it while descending to sort the ropes. He had found an ideal spot on the very crest of the ridge where the eddying wind had blown snow into a platform just large enough to hold the tiny tent. They had a cramped night, having first caused us great alarm at sunset by haloo-ing to us from their eerie. We leapt from our tents but could see nothing of them, almost 2,000 ft. above. We assumed, correctly, that their calls were caused by jubilation and not alarm.
We left at five o'clock the next morning for Deo Tibba. It had been planned that the members of the party not on Indrasan were to climb Deo Tibba from Camp III at the top of the De Graaf couloir, which they did, one pair traversing the mountain from south to north. Pat Gunson was now going to repeat the traverse solo (but from north to south), while Dick and I had a go on skiis. We climbed with an eye on Indrasan, hoping to see the others once they reached the summit cone. We ourselves left the top of Deo Tibba at about 07.30 hrs. after waiting for an hour, and had a quick ski down, taking twenty minutes. Later we 9 oclock, to our great delight. We went to meet them as they came down off the fixed ropes and heard how they had fared. They had needed to fix another 300 ft. of rope above our high point, but after that they had moved onto easier ground. They had been particularly cautious crossing some strangely crevassed ground at the foot of the summit cone of snow but had then made good time to the top.
Pat Gunson, Dick Hardie and I left next day for the bivouac site where we arrived at 15.00 hrs. We had an early night which passed uncomfortably because the tent was a small two-man model and the outer pairs were squashed against the walls. They pressed the inner lining against the impermeable nylon outer, soaking our sleeping bags with condensation. However, it ensured an early start on another cloudness day.
Having quickly put the last of the fixed ropes behind us, we roped together and traversed out of a rocky gully onto a spur that regained the ridge proper. After a short section of knife- edged snow, this ridge merged into the summit cone. We followed the steps of the previous party through some crevasses with confidence, realising it would have been a different matter for them. We used their stances cut in the ice up the steepening final slope until Pat and Dick were prodding at the summit cornice, which they decided would not bear their weight. After a few photographs and a good look round, we descended to Advance Base. On the way we left the bivouac camp in place and all the ropes ready for the third summit party.
However, when we arrived it was to be greeted by the news that there was not to be another attempt, and indeed that Advance Base was to be evacuated within the next two days. This was a bit of blow as not only was Indrasan festooned with our gear, but my oxygen trials would have to be hurriedly concluded.
I have been made responsible for oxygen equipment for the AMA's Everest attempts in 1976 and was taking the opportunity to test out a variety of equipment while we were on Indrasan. It was also a chance for other climbers to experience the benefits and drawbacks of using a portable oxygen supply. The benefit was of course for less at 20,000 ft. than it would be on Everest's upper reaches but even so the boost it gave was noted by all. Pat Gunson was able to climb 500 ft. of fixed rope to the col on the east ridge in 30 minutes. I was particularly keen to use oxygen apparatus during such mechanised activity, where muddled thinking can cause terrific tangles leading to delay. One source we had was a solid chemical in the form of a candle which decomposed to produce oxygen. This worked splendidly and was simple to use. I handed Norbu Sherpa the set as he was about to climb Deo Tibba, only telling him which string to pull to start the flow of gas and that he should place the mask over his nose and mouth. He returned later saying he had found it most useful on the steepest section and had experienced no difficulties whatever.
Having removed about thirty pegs and carabiners from the lowest 1,000 ft. of the ridge on 10 June, Pat, Dick and I returned to pull down the lowest fixed rope. Dick and I returned from there to Base Camp, a descent of over 5,000 ft. in eight hours, carried out mostly on skiis. Pat had arranged to join Bronco Lane and Ivor Hellberg at Camp I from where to try climb Ali Ratni Tibba (18,013 ft.). They had heard of a route round the back
and proposed to continue up the southern branch of the Malana Glacier, to Camp near the pass due south of Ali Ratni Tibba.
After an abortive foray in poor visibility on 13 June, they found the correct line next clay and successfully reached the summit, in full view of Base Camp. Gerry congratulated them over the radio which they had stalwarthly carried to the top. They found the steps left by the Burgess brothers, Dearman and Too- good on their way down after making the first ascent, Alpine- style, of the magnificent West Face.
Unable to find anyone else interested in joining me, I shang- hied the ever-obliging Dharam Chand to come and climb Consolation Peak (16,800 ft.). We moved up to Camp II directly and found the Burgess brothers and party still ahead which confirmed our suspicious that they were going to try Indrasan and not the Malana Towers as indicated. They passed through next day on their way down, a bit the worse for wear having carried enormous loads up and down the mountain to heights none of them had ever reached before. It was a sporting try, and the shape of things to come.
Dharam and I had a good climb on Consolation Peak, traversing it from east to west on another cloudness day. At the west end lay an unclimbed rock spire that had attracted my attention. It yielded after two pitches of rock climbing on the north and west sides, one of which was about VS standard and I required a peg for aid. Dharam Chand very sensibly declined to follow. Wangyal was waiting for us at Camp II which we packed up onto the fibreglass sledge we were trying out. Having piled a ridiculous amount of gear onto it (about 300 lb.) we had a hilarious descent to Camp I including many tumbles. The most spectacular occured when Wangyal lost his footing on some ice and the contraception careered down the glacier, towing him and Dharam. I heard them tell the others later that Henry Sahib was no use at all on this occasion, all he did was let go and take photographs.
Dick Hardie was waiting for me at Camp I from where wr
e intended to repeat Pettigrew's climb of Ramchukor (17,200 ft.). We left at 06.00 hrs. on 18 June and climbed towards the Pass of the Animals. At an ice lake beneath Wangyal Peak we turned south and contoured round a large bowl for almost a mile. After crossing a rocky ridge we gained the end of the north ridge of Ramchukor at the same point at the previous AMA party in 1965. We too had our moments crossing the heap of shale that obstructs the summit, which we duly reached at 11.00 his. It was an interesting view-point that showed a less impressive side to Ali Ratni Tibba. The next peak to the south (named Schrew- driver by Langford but Bari Ungli9
by the first ascentionists, Clark and Luetchford) looked very fine. Beyond it lay a rather pudding shaped mountain, south Malana Peak (17,812 ft.] which we thought was still unclimbed.
We would have liked to have a look at the Malana towers, particularly the west tower which looked the finest of the four, but porters were ordered for the following night so we reluctantly descended to Base Camp. We were greeted by our volunteer mail-runner, Tom Broadhurst. He had been staying with Jimmy Johnson when we first arrived in Kulu and had accompanied my wife and I up to the Chandra Khani pass. He had impressed us by his fitness and enthusiasm and when he asked to trek in with us, Gerry gladly agreed. He subsequently escorted Sara out, walking from Base Camp to Jari in a single day - which would have been seen most of us off. He walked to and fro from Raisan with our letters several times, finally arriving on 19 June. The other British party camping beneath us in the Malana Nalla were leaving for Kulu at the same time as us, and were abandoning a large amount of food. Tom decided to stay on to enjoy the countryside and no doubt the food as well, for he had a healthy appetite. Some time later we heard he had suffered a mishap on the high path back to the Chandra Khani, one that none of us had used. He was found lying dead in a Nalla beneath the path from which he had apparently fallen. It was a sad epitaph to the expedition, for all of us were impressed by Tom's interest in the hills and his serene manner of living.
8H./., Vol. XXXI, 1971 (pp. 214-217), "South Malana and the Manikaran Spires, 1971", by Graham Clark.
We reached Jari Rest House in two days, the party having spent the intermediate night sleeping on the balconies of two houses at the edge of Malana village. We were surprised that strangers were made welcome, and glad of the shelter for it rained hard.
We had a great party at Jimmy's that night. I notice that my diary reads enigmatically "Solon No. I Whisky and Chang" which I think is all that needs to be said.
G. F. Owens and J. Anderson were with me on Annapurna in 1970. 11.]., 1970.
1971. A.J. 1972 by Tony Jackson.
A. J., 1966 (p. 247), "Across the Sara Umba La" by Bob Pettigrew.
Moss's route. A. J., 1973 (p. 38) "Himalayan Sojourn" by Graham Clark.
Consolation Pk. (left) and the Spire (right) climbed by Dharam Chand and Henry Day (first ascent)