Members : Simon and Elizabeth Brown, Pete Butler, Niki and Jane Clough, Rob and Netti Collister. (Jane is Only Six but Already a Powerful Walker.)
THE aim of the expedition was to climb Brammah II (21,080 ft.—6425 m.). This we failed to do—indeed, we never set foot on the mountain. We were hindered by bad weather and ill-health. (Pete and Simon both suffered from recurring bouts of stomach trouble and Pete, in particular, grew steadily weaker and weaker till by the end he was but a walking shadow.) But we failed primarily because we were unable to find a viable approach to the mountain.
Of the two ways attempted, one proved impossible for a party of our size and nature, the other highly dangerous; a third, in¬vestigated at the end, would have been neither impossible nor dangerous, but is impracticable for porters. A fourth possibility, up the better-known Nanth Nullah, we had rejected in England from the evidence of photographs and on the advice of those who had been there before. The glacier approach would have been easy, but all possible climbing routes looked both difficult and dangerous. We preferred to "look round the back".
On our return to Kishtwar we learned that a Japanese expedi¬tion using the Nanth Nullah and Brammah glacier approach, had climbed the mountain while we were actually in the area. We knew of their existence but had been assured by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation that they were attempting Brammah I. In fact they had been given permission for Brammah II from the start. We were not hindered by their presence in any way and have no desire to criticize a fine ascent, but the devious- ness, displayed by the IMF was totally unnecessary. We failed to climb Brammah II; but motives are more complex than objectives and, truism though it may be, the effort we expended was far from fruitless in personal terms. From the valleys and glaciers we travelled, from the thousands of feet, we climbed and the hundreds of pounds we carried, in our different fashions we all of us came away richly rewarded.
Delhi to Athole.
Abortive attempt to enter the Kijai Nullah from the East.
The Kijai Nullah is the obvious approach to Brammah II from the South, but the map shows the paths into it—one running up the Nullah from La, the other crossing a 15,000 ft. ridge to the East (the so-called Munial Pass) to reach the valley bottom just below the glacier snout. In Athole, we were assured that the latter route was the quicker and easier, and the porters -engaged in Ligri seemed equally confident about it. Only when we reached the ridge at an obvious col and looked down 3,000 ft. of steep rock, did it emerge that none knew the way. We spent the next week trying, unsuccessfully, to find it. Once, we actually started down with the porters, but by the time Rob had been hit on the head by a stone, Fateh, the Liaison Officer, had fallen fifteen feet, and Netti had got herself cragfast: they wisely refused to go any further. Paying off the porters, we continued to search up and down the ridge, not helped by daily falls of snow. In places it might be possible for unladen men to force a way with the help Of a few abseils, but for porters there was nothing remotely practicable. At one point, well down the Nullah, a path was found which led down as far as some pastures, but these ended abruptly in cliffs. The small peak, named Kirthai (16,500 ft.) on the map, was climbed by four of the party. A large, well-made cairn, similar to others scattered all over the hillside, was found on top. Perhaps the most likely route into the Kijai Nullah from the East, for climbers, would be to traverse this peak and descend a small hanging glacier (crevassed) and grass slopes below, onto the Kijai glacier. The Munial Pass, however, is a myth.
Sept. 29—Oct. 3
Athole to Donali glacier.
The next logical step would have been to try the route into the Kijai Nullah from La. By now, however, we were suspici¬ous of dotted lines on the map, and all favoured a change of scenery. Accordingly, we decided to try approaching the mountain from the North. This would involve crossing a col 17,200 ft., steep but short on the Kijai side, an unknown quantity on the northern side. From here we would be within striking distance of the North face and ridge of Brammah II. This we knew from photos taken on Brammah I to be difficult but feasible—it was the route to the col below the North face, 18,500 ft., from the Brammah glacier, that had deterred us from that approach. We had seen no obvious route on the South or East sides of the peak, so our hopes were pinned on the North face. From the contours on the map, we were hopeful that the col 18,500 ft. would be reasonably accessible from the Kijai glacier, could we but cross col 17,200 ft. to reach the Kijai.
From Athole, two days' march took us to Halot. This is a Buddhist village, complete with a mani wall, gompa and resident lama, whose inhabitants are unmistakably Tibetan. The villages of Halot, Hango and Sumsam form a Buddhist enclave at the head of an otherwise Hindu valley (though in summer,, there are also Moslem Gujars with their flocks), cut off from their origins in Zanskar and Ladakh by the Umasi La. We were told that we were the first Europeans to visit Halot in living memory. This cannot have been literally true, as Fritz Kolb's party travelled up the Bhazun valley in 1946, but our apperance certainly aroused even more curiosity than usual. In Halot we changed porters for the final two days' walk to a comfortable Base Camp on the terminal moraine of the Donali glacier. The main Bhazun river was crossed on a snow bridge. Some of the porters were taken on up the left (true right) bank of the glacier to establish a food dump.
Attempt on Brammah II via Kijai—Donali col.
Leaving Elisabeth and Jane at Base Camp, the rest of us travelled up the glacier and, having picked up the dump, camped on the South-west arm of the glacier. At its head, the Donali is separated from the Kijai glacier by a col of 17,200 ft. approach¬ed by an ice-fall and steep snow slopes. At 15,500 ft. the two girls turned back and the remaining three of us reduced our loads to 50 lb. in order to cope with exhausting snow conditions. We camped at 16,500 ft. still on the snow slope, and next morning climbed the final, very steep 700 ft. The descent on the far side was obviously going to involve abseiling down steep rock, but as it was difficult to judge just how many abseils would be needed, we decided to attempt a traverse along snow bands across the rocky South face of P. 19,350 ft. (5865 m.). This would lead directly to col 18,500 ft. beneath the North face of Brammah II. Unfortunately, the snow was in a dangerous state—plaques of wet snow sliding off the neve beneath—and it was necessary to pitch much of the traverse. As a result we had to camp on the face. Next day, the traverse was continued off the mountain onto snow slopes just below col 18,500 ft. but above the ice-fall which flows down into a snow-bowl at the head of the Kijai glacier. However, as one of the sacks was being lowered down a final rock step, the hauling-strap broke and the sack went bouncing down an avalanche chute, its con¬tents flying in all directions, to disappear among bergschrunds hundreds of feet below. After a lengthy search everything but a few small items and some food was recovered, but the incident had cost us a day. We had left the dump on the far side of the col with only six days' food, depending on rapid progress and good weather. Instead, we had taken three days already and now large black clouds were closing in. Deeming discretion to be the better part of valour, we decided to go back for more food. Instead of reversing the slow and potentially dangerous traverse, we continued down the ice-fall to the snow-bowl and next day climbed the col at its lowest point where it is about 800 ft. high. The first two pitches were grade 5 on excellent rock. It had snowed heavily during the night and started again just after the rock had been climbed, driven by a strong wind. Most of the snow had accumulated on the far side of the col, which is a lee slope, and the trench we had made on the way up had been obliterated. Having pitched the first 300 ft. using a deadman belay, we unroped. Soon afterwards Simon set off a slab avalanche and was carried down 500 ft. escaping unhurt. Lower down, Rob started a similar avalanche but, somehow, was not carried away. After camping at the depot we carried on back to Base Camp. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the slope was too dangerous to reascend. Given that the danger was caused by slab, the slope was unlikely to become any safer in the near future, and the idea of approaching Bram- mah II from that direction had to be abandoned. Unfortunately, in anticipation of our immediate return, a kitbag containing nearly all the climbing gear had been left on top of the col.
Donali glacier to Kishtwar via Kiar Nullah.
At this point the expedition split up. Simon and Elizabeth departed for the fleshpots. Pete, Niki and Jane spent a week camped at Halot before moving on to Athole for a rendezvous, with Rob and Netti who had returned to Kishtwar to collect a few items of surplus climbing gear that had been sent back earlier on. Entering the Kijai Nullah from the South, via La, we hoped to retrieve the gear on top of col 17,200 ft. and make another attempt on Brammah II. Whether or not this was successful, we hoped to traverse P. 19,350 ft. (5865 m.) and descend a steep ice-fall, visible in photos, to the Brammah glacier.
In the meanwhile, rather than reverse the route taken from Kishtwar, Rob and Netti travelled up the West branch of the Bhazun glacier to a col of 16,800 ft. used by Kolb and Krenek in 1946. From here they climbed P. 18,760 ft. (5,685 m.), South of the col, by its South-west ridge, naming it Consolation Peak for obvious reasons. Continuing down the straightforward Wakbal glacier, they entered the Kiar Nullah just below the Prul glacier. The best part of a day was wasted by crossing to the North side of the river here, rather than at Sarbal further downstream. Thereafter, there was a good path all the way.
(18,760 ft. converts to 5718 m. and 5685 m. converts t.o 18,652 ft—the exact height of Consolation Pk. depends on whether the S.O.I, map designates height in feet or metres. Please also correct height in sketch map which is in error.—Ed.)
Investigation of Kijai Nullah from La.
Rob and Netti returned to Athole with the extra gear to find Pete still far from well and in no fit state to go on a mountain.
Pete, Niki and Jane therefore left for Kishtwar. At the same time the weather broke and after two days' and a night of heavy rain the snowline on the surrounding hills was below 9,000 ft. Brammah II was going to be out of the question for some time, while the rock wall leading to col 17,200 ft.—and the abandoned kitbag—would not be possible plastered with snow. Dishearten¬ed, we gave up the struggle. Netti returned to Kishtwar; but before following her Rob spent three strenuous days in the forests of the Kijai Nullah with one Bagu, a solitary Gujar who spends most of the year in the mountains, hunting illegally.
The path into the Nullah from La is steep, difficult, and easy to lose. Halfway up the Nullah it peters out and one is left to force a way through thick forest. Unless a way was first cleared with machetes and some bridges built, this route would be extremely ackward for laden men and it is doubtful if porters could be found. From the valley bottom it was possible to confirm that there is no easy or obvious way into the Nullah from the East. On the return journey Bagu led the way to the mouth of the Nullah, where they forded the river and traversed the steep craggy hillside opposite Sasho on an amazingly im¬probable "path" until the Chenab river could be crossed on a rope bridge.
Fritz Kolb named the two glaciers he visited in 1946 Donali West and Donali East. However, the snouts of the glaciers are several miles apart and Donali East itself splits into East and West branches. For ease of reference, despite the risk of con¬fusion, we have called Donali West the Donali glacier and Donali East the Bhazun glacier. (The local name for the whole valley seems to be Donali; the map name Bhazun). The large glacier system flowing into the Kiar Nullah from the South, just below the Prul glacier, we have named the Wakbal glacier after the grazing ground at its foot.