Himalayan Journal vol.33
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.33

Publication year:
1975

Editor:
Soli S. Mehta
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. WHAT GEORGE EVEREST DID
    (JOHN MARTYN)
  3. SOME RECENT TRENDS IN MOUNTAINEERING MEDICINE
    (DR. ARNOLD PINES)
  4. MT. EVEREST, 1972
    (DR. KARL HERRLIGKOFFER)
  5. LHOTSE, 1973
    (RYOHEI UCHIDA)
  6. AMERICAN DHAULAGIRI EXPEDITION 1973
    (LOUIS F. REICHARDT)
  7. TUKCHE, 1974
    (YOSHIO OGATA)
  8. MANASLU, 1974
    (K. SATO, N. NAKASEKO, T. KUROISHI)
  9. LAMJUNG HIMAL, 1974
    (DICK ISHERWOOD)
  10. GANGAPURNA, 1974
    (TOSHIO NOSHI)
  11. PUTHA HIUNCHULI, 1972
    (TADAAKI SAHASHI)
  12. HIMAL CHULI, 1974
    (A. BONICELLI AND N. CALEGARI)
  13. THE FIRST ASCENT OF KANGBACHEN, 1974
    (K. OLECH)
  14. THE ASCENT OF SERKU DHOLMA AND EXPLORATION OF THE EAST AND SOUTHEAST AREAS OF PHOKSUMDO TAL, 1973
    (EIJI KAWAMURA, M.D.)
  15. THE ASCENT OF KANJERALWA, 1973
    (FUMIHITO WATANABE)
  16. A TREK TO RARA DAHA LAKE WEST NEPAL, 1972
    (SUMANT R. SHAH)
  17. MOUNTAIN BY MOONLIGHT -THE ASCENT OF CHANGABANG, 1974
    (BALWANT SINGH SANDHU)
  18. THE ASCENT OF UJA TIRCHE, 1974
    (SHYAMAL CHAKRABORTY)
  19. RESCUE ON DEVTOLI, 1974
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  20. THE ASCENT OF CHAUDHARA, 1973
    (SUBHASH DESAI)
  21. HOMAGE TO SASER KANGRI, THE 'YELLOW MOUNTAIN', 1973
    (CMDR. JOGINDER SINGH)
  22. THE ARMY MOUNTAINEERING ASSOCIATION HIMACHAL PRADESH EXPEDITION 1973
    (MAJOR J. W. FLEMING)
  23. THE A.M. A. ROUTE ON INDRASAN, 1973
    (CAPTAIN HENRY DAY)
  24. THE FIRST ASCENT OF BRAMMAH, 1973
    (CHRIS BONINGTON)
  25. PEAKS, PASSES AND PHABRANG, 1974
    (JOHN ALLEN)
  26. SOUTH PARBATI, 1973
    (ROB COLLISTER)
  27. RAKAPOSHI (7788 m.) 1973
    (K. M. HERRLIGKOFFER)
  28. WAKHAN, 1971
    (BRUNO TUSCAN)
  29. THE JURM VALLEY MOUNTAINEERING EXPEDITION, 1973
    (DR. ARTURO BERGAMASCHI)
  30. TIRICH MIR, 1973
    (JOSE MA MONTFORT)
  31. THE SOLOTHURNER HINDU KUSH EXPEDITION, 1973
    (OTTO ZBINDEN)
  32. QUIET CRISIS IN THE HIMALAYA
    (A. D. MODDIE)
  33. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  34. OBITUARY
  35. BOOK REVIEWS
  36. CLUB PROCEEDINGS 1973

THE FIRST ASCENT OF BRAMMAH, 1973

CHRIS BONINGTON

NOWADAYS, with fast-improving communications in the shape of cheap air travel, and roads or air strips stretching into the very heart of the mountains, it seems possible that climbers should be able to decide to take a Himalayan holiday in much the same way they go off to the Alps. Nick Estcourt and I were in this position this summer. We only had a month to spare but wanted to go to the Himalaya. Although the only time we could get away was August, we were attracted by the Kishtwar range just to the south of Kashmir. This period is at the height of the monsoon for most of the Himalaya, but we hoped that it was sufficiently far to the west to avoid the worst of the monsoon weather - although we found this was not so. The area had the singular attraction of having a host of attractive rock and snow peaks of between 18,000 and 21,500 feet, not one of which had been climbed.

Three British Expeditions had been into the area, all of them led by Charles Clarke. Each had done a very thorough job of photographing and surveying the mountains. Clarke had also made two serious attempts on Brammah Peak, the third highest peak, but the most prominent and, in some ways, the most attractive peak in the range. Unfortunately, he had been defeated on each occasion - on the second attempt he was within a few hundred feet of the summit but found unstable snow on the summit ice cone. There had been a further attempt on Brammah by a Japanese Expedition which had tried the north-east ridge, but had abandoned the attempt after two members had been killed in an accident.

Nick and I were extremely fortunate in being allowed to join a training meet organised by Lt. Col. Kumar, director of the Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering, based at Gul- marg in Kashmir. Our aims were two-fold. We were to climb with potential members of the Indo-British Expedition to Chan- gabang in the Garhwal, and we also hoped to have the chance of making an Alpine-style ascent of one of the virgin faces in the region of the Kibar Nalla, where we planned to make our base. Ambitious plans indeed, for a stay of only three weeks, actually in the mountains at the height of the monsoon.

We flew out to Delhi in the lush comfort of an Air India Jumbo Jet on 2 August. After two days in Delhi, we fought our way on to the packed night train to Jammu, the railhead on the way to Srinagar. The following morning we reached Jammu to find waiting for us the group of Indian mountaineers with whom we were going to climb in the next few weeks. Within an hour of leaving the train, we were on board a bus, driving over the most spectacular route I have ever seen, along the precipitous sides of a deep-cut forge which, in places, dropped sheer for over a thousand feet into a racing glacier river. A twelve hour nerve-wracking drive took us to the village of Kishtwar - we were just twenty-four hours out of Delhi and only four days walk from our Base Camp.

Our trip seemed under way, but we had failed to take a full account of the monsoon season. That night it started to rain, and continued non-stop for three days. The road behind us was swept away and we were warned that the track in front would be too slippery for the mules who were going to carry our gear. We sat it out in the Government Rest House, tickling off the vital days that we were losing before even reaching our Base Camp. It was 11 August before we were able to start our march to the mountains, along a steep river valley to the village of Son- dar, then following the narrow gorge of the Kibar Nalla to the site of our Base Camp. One of the herdsmen who spend their summers looking after flocks of goats and herds of cattle, assured us that Brammah was the highest mountain in the world and that we had no hope of climbing it. We wondered if he could be right, for the bad weather had returned after only a break of two days.

Base Camp was established on a grassy alp near the glacier snout of the Kibar glacier on 15 August. Our first problem was to reach the south-east ridge of Brammah which, from Charles Clarke's report, seemed to offer the most feasible route to the summit, but first we needed to see at least the lower slopes of the mountain, which were swathed in heavy cloud.

On 17 August, helped by members of the Indian Meet, Sherpa Tashi from the Darjeeling Institute, and IJjager Singh from the Nehru Institute, we established a camp at a height of approximately 15,000 ft., on the southern flanks of Brammah, just below the snow line. Our route lay across beautiful alpine pastures, be-jewelled with magnificent wild flowers. Setting up camp in the driving rain, we still had no view of the mountain.

We could make no further progress until the cloud lifted to show us a safe route on to the south-east ridge. Our chance occurred on 18 August when, at last, the weather improved and we had a fine day. Lt. Col. Balvant Sandhu, Phu Dorje and Bajwa from the Kashmir Institute had joined us and the next day they helped us to move up to our next camp. We made our way across the southern flanks of Brammah, to the foot of the south-east ridge, finding a camp site for our assault camp at a height of 17,500 feet - still a long way from the summit. On 20 August, we moved into the camp with two of our Indian companions - Sherpa Tashi and Ujagar Singh. At this stage we planned to tackle Brammah with the Indian climbers, and then make a two-man ascent of one of the other peaks.

On 22 August, we set at 03.30 hours, with Tashi and Ujagar Singh, climbing the steep snow slope which led up to a knife- edge rock ridge. A quarter-moon gave us just enough light to see by, and the cold of the night had consolidated a thin covering of snow which lay over hard ice.

In the distance, a massive cumulo nimbus cloud pulsated with the glow and flash of lightning, a grim reminder of how unsettled the weather still was.

On reaching the crest of the ridge Tashi told us that his crampons had come to pieces. This meant that he had to return, leaving three of us - a bad number for a long summit push, since a party of three takes over twice as long as a party of two. In spite of this we carried on, picking our way carefully in the dim light of the moon, across the broken rocks of the ridge. By dawn we had reached a height of around 19,000 ft., at the foot of a series of spectacular gendarmes which presented Brammah Peak's most formidable barrier. We made a mistake here, trying to by-pass these gendarmes across broken rocks on the east side of the ridge. Quickly we got on to difficult and dangerously loose rock. The fact that we were a party of three slowed our progress still further. It was half past ten before we managed to get back to the crest of the ridge at the foot of the final barrier, a smooth gendarme across which was draped a rope left by Charles Clarke's 1971 Expedition. It was a moment of serious decision, for we had come ill-prepared for such high- standard climbing, it was quite obvious that if we were to go on we should inevitably have to have a bivouac. Ujagar Singh, unfortunately, did not have any bivouac equipment. We therefore took the reluctant decision to return, knowing all too well that we might have used up our only chance of reaching the summit of Brammah.

On returning to our camp, we found two more members of the team, Balwant Sandhu and Phu Dorje. They had been hoping to make a second ascent the following day. That afternoon we agreed that, whilst Ujagar Singh went down for a rest, the four of us should take another day's rest and then make a further attempt on the summit.

That night Nick and I felt worried and depressed. We were due to start back in three days' time. Miraculously, the weather had been perfect for our unsuccessful attempt, but having spurned good fortune, could we expect it to last?

Our fears were well-founded and the following day, the cloud rolled in and once again it started to rain - the monsoon had returned.

There was no question of making another assault as planned. At this stage, our food and fuel had very nearly run out and we had only one day left before - we should have to start down. To enable us to sit it out for that final day Sandhu and Phu Dorje very unselfishly agreed to go back down to Base Camp.

And then we had our second chance. On the afternoon of 23 August, the clouds began to scatter and by dusk it had cleared. Leaving at 03.30 hours on the 24th, we climbed to the beginning of the knife-edge ridge. By this time the weather had deteriorated and we experience a stormy dawn, which very nearly caused us to turn back. We knew now, all too well, just how serious climbing on Brammah could be. The rocks below the gendarmes were extremely loose and dangerous, a rubble of huge boulders piled one on top of the other. Then above this were the gendarmes themselves, giving difficult technical climbing and beyond them, the great summit cone of Brammah - at least a thousand feet of steep snow on ice.

We decided to press on, however, and by 08.30 hours had reached our previous high point. Climbing as a pair we were moving extremely well together. Beyond the hope traverse were another two interesting rock pitches to the crest of the rock ridge and the start of the summit cone. It was 10.30 hours when we started up the summit snows. At this stage we were feeling the altitude and were needing to rest every ten paces as we kicked up the steep snow towards the summit, the snow only just 10 holding our weight. At 12.30 hours we reached the top, a shapely and very steep pyramid of snow. We had a tantalising view of green valleys and glimpses of snowclad peaks through the early afternoon clouds. It had been an exacting, and supremely satisfying climb. A height gain of 3,500 ft., in a summit bid, at these altitudes is an extremely long way. In addition, we were not fully acclimatised. On the way down we bivouacked at a height of approximately 20,000 feet - it was a cold, but incredibly beautiful night, with one of the most magnificent sunsets that either of us had ever seen.

Since the weather appeared settled we did not get into our bivy sack but spent the night, lying in our sleeping bags and closed cell foam survival bags. Cramped but warm, we were able to watch the transition of light to dark, with the myriad stars and the beauty of the mountain scene around us.

Next morning we were able to get back to Base Camp, and within five days we were back in Delhi.

It had been a mountain holiday rather than an expedition and yet the climbing without fixed ropes and with a long summit push had, in some ways, been more committing than what we had experienced on Everest the previous Autumn. We owe a great deal to the help we received from our Indian companions and to the Indian Mountaineering Foundation for making the trip possible.

Whilst our Changabang team had been climbing on Brammah, Lt. Col. Kumar and his staff had been holding a technical climbing course, based on the rock walls immediately above Base Camp and the snout of the Kibar glacier. Members of the Meet, who had been drawn from all over India, made piton routes on the rock walls and several members practised spending the night in a hammock strung half way up the crag. Besides having completed a satisfying time, Nick Estcourt and I had gained a great deal from the friendships we made with our Indian comrades.

Kishtwar is undoubtedly a perfect scale for this type of climbing with a host of attractive unclimbed peaks, ali giving technically exacting routes even by their voles normales, and even more challenging climbs, by their steeper flanks. It is to be hoped that this area will become increasingly accessible to foreign mountaineers, and that it will be treated as an area for super- alpine techniques rather than heavy weight seige tactics. This could be a true mountain playground for future generations.