Himalayan Journal vol.35
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.35

Publication year:
1979

Editor:
Soli S. Mehta
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. THE STORY OF THE HIMALAYAN CLUB, 1928-1978
    (JOHN MARTYN)
  3. FIFTY YEARS RETROSPECT AND PROSPECT
    (TREVOR BRAHAM)
  4. THE PASSANRAM AND TALUNG VALLEYS, SIKKIM
    (DR EUGEN ALLWEIN)
  5. NANDA DEVI AND THE SOURCES OF THE GANGES
    (H. W. TILMAN)
  6. THE MOUNT EVEREST RECONNAISSANCE, 1935
    (ERIC SHIPTON)
  7. THE SHAKSGAM EXPEDITION, 1937
    (MICHAEL SPENDER)
  8. GANGOTRI TRIANGULATION
    (Major GORDON OSMASTON)
  9. EVEREST, 1976
    (MAJOR M. W. H. DAY, R.E.)
  10. LHOTSE, 1976
    (KANJI KAMEI)
  11. THE SECOND ASCENT OF LHOTSE, 1977
    (DR HERMANN WARTH)
  12. MAKALU, 1976
    (ANDERS BOUNDER & OTHERS)
  13. THE CLEAN-UP TREK, 1976
    (MICHAEL CORDELL)
  14. THE THIRD KOREAN MANASLU EXPEDITION, 1976
    (JUNG SUP KIM)
  15. THE HONGKONG KANJIROBA EXPEDITION, 1976
    (DICK ISHERWOOD)
  16. AVALANCHE ON SISNE, 1977
    (R. A. L. ANDERSON)
  17. DHAULAGIRI IV, 1975
    (KUNIAKI YAGIHARA)
  18. NORTH SIKKIM, 1976
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  19. NANDA DEVI FROM THE NORTH, 1976
    (H. ADAMS CARTER)
  20. NANDA DEVI SANCTUARY - A NATURALIST'S REPORT
    (LAVKUMAR KHACHER)
  21. A BOTANICAL SURVEY IN THE NANDA DEVI SANCTUARY, 1974
    (N. C. SHAH)
  22. AN ATTEMPT ON NITALTHAUR, 1974
    (MANIK BANERJEE)
  23. CHAMRAO GLACIER EXPEDITION-1977
    (M. DEY)
  24. CHIRING WE, 1977
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  25. KINNAUR-1976
    (LIEUTENANT-COLONEL BALWANT SANDHU)
  26. BLACK PEAK, 1976
    (MANDIP SINGH SOIN)
  27. NILAMBAR EXPEDITION, 1977
    (RANVIR SINGH)
  28. POLISH K2 EXPEDITION, 1976
    (JANUSZ KURCZAB)
  29. A CRAWL DOWN THE OGRE
    (DOUG SCOTT)
  30. ISTOR-O-NAL NORTH I, 1976
    (RONALD NAAR)
  31. THE ASCENT OF SHERPI KANGRP 1976
    (PROF. KAZUMASA HIRAI)
  32. AFGHAN DARWAZ, 1975
    (RYSSZARD W. SCHRAMM)
  33. SWISS THUI EXPEDITION, 1975
    (DR ADOLF DIEMBERGER and HANS SCHIBLI)
  34. CLIMBING SHERPAS OF DARJEELING
    (DORJEE LHATOO)
  35. OF MOUNTAINS & MEMORIES
    (SITU MULLICK)
  36. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  37. OBITUARIES
  38. BOOK REVIEWS
  39. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
  40. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1976
  41. EXPEDITIONS 1975-1977

KINNAUR-1976

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL BALWANT SANDHU

The Parachute Regiment Expedition consisted of 18 officers and men and made two first ascents at the head of Baspa valley, in Kinnaur District of Himachal Pradesh. Organized adventure and expedition experience were the aims of this band of enthusiasts.

Kinnaur, a terraced wilderness of the forest-clad, steep-sided ridges of the Great Himalayan Range and the barren powdery spaces of the Zanskar is approached from Simla along the valley of the Sutlej River. The river has carved itself a spectacular gorge providing a natural way for the pony road to Tibet. Modern hill lorries ply the road and reach most road terminals in two to three days.

The climbing area lies north of the Inner Line, entered at Wangtu, and except the oft-attempted twin peaks of Leo Pargial (6816 m and 6791 m), has largely remained unvisited. Baspa River, a large tributary of the Sutlej, starts at the Indo-Tibetan watershed and empties into the Sutlej above Karchham. From its source (or sources, for these are the many high alpine and glacial petals and basins) the river meanders down an open valley as far as Sangla. The valley floor of grass and boulder lies at 3000 to 4200 m and the hillsides rise to 6000 m, and occasionally higher.

We reached Sangla in the afternoon after an hour's stomach- turning drive and stopped in the comfortable PWD Dak Bungalow1 situated above the tree-shaded old village. While ponies and porters, contracted in advance, settle their loads, Helga and I loiter in the village. The carved wooden door-frames and the fluted slate roofs typical of the region are impressive. There is much activity, worshipful and otherwise, about the village monastery. Unlike monasteries elsewhere, those in the Baspa valley stand in the midst of the village and remain locked except at the morning and evening concourse.

Across the river, at the edge of the pine forest, is the old Forest Dak Bungalow; a fire has destroyed half of it and some coolies now inhabit it. A level walk along the river and past the powerhouse leads to the trout hatchery. The visitors are welcome to the hatchery and in vain we look for fingerlings and fish in the hatchery pens. Later, I try the river, also without luck.

Beyond Sangla are a few Kinnauri villages-an admixture of Dogra, Buddhist and Tibetan. Chitkul, the last village in the valley, has a school, and we find the Chitkuli friendly and delightfully incurious. The beam-end life of the mountain man is evidenced in his simple hut and habit. The government road, power and irrigation schemes employ men and women. The women are comely and wear the north Indian salwar-kameez topped by the colourful Kinnauri cap. The older women sport the traditional baku and the pigtails.

1. Permits are issued by Executive Enginner, Kalpa.
We walk north of the Baspa River. The river runs blue and noisy in its spring freedom. The valley floor lies awakening like the morning hour of some warm bed. Some riot of colour it will be when the wild flowers bloom. DJ (Devenderjeet Singh) and Colonel Baljit Singh are our two experts on wild flowers. Occasionally they do disagree and then one of the two wives on the expedition helps. We start early, walk at our own preferred pace, in our own preferred company.

On the fifth day we reach a welcome oval niche in the' side of a mountain above Suiti Thatang and make this our Base Camp. We pore over the map like a bunch of uneasy generals. Among forest of peaks and waste land we look for possible, safe routes to our mountain, a point marked 6215 m. To our north is an easy angled moraine. Hoshiar Singh and I pull up for two hours, gain a thousand metres and drop the few cans we brought with us. Room for two tents will have to be found here. We descend to find the Base Camp organized.

Next day we carry to the Advance Camp and in the evening we have an open house and go over the climbing schedule. Doctor, an expeditioner of experience, will guide members at the base to push loads according to climbing priority.

Cruz, Jawahar Singh and I reach the site of Advance' Camp at 4 p.m. on 11 June. After much picking and shoving of rocks we level two platforms for the tents. - The tents are uneven and exposed and for safety are tied in tandem. Leaving Jawahar Singh to heat the supper, Cruz and I walk across and up a snow-covered couloir to look at tomorrow's route. Stamping deep hard steps in the snow is tough, slow work. We gain a rocky outcrop and find ourselves cheated of a view by a lazy, low cloud that has drifted up the valley for a' night's lie. And it is back to the tents and a disturbed sleep.

Up at 4 we leave at 6 a.m. The camp is in the shadow and the cold is brittle. Going up yesterday's steps is like getting up Jack's beanstalk-if only there were a fairy at the end of it. At the top of the couloir is a narrow wind-beaten col, and beyond is a rocky, deep chasm. Across the kilometre-wide gash begins the final slope of our mountain. To get across will be days of dangerious, hard climbing. To the east is a serried rock ridge, possibly leading to the lower slopes of our mountain. We explore this.

The rock is rotten. Wherever it is iced, it is more dangerous. After hours of hard dicey climbing, along and across the ridge, we now climb for the highest point on the ridge. Cruz climbs surely and slowly-we stop often to let him warm his frozen hands. His gloves are not for this kind of work. I must remember to tell his girl. Musing, chipping ice off this niche or that welt of rock, it is past midday. Two rope lengths later, the rock leans away-does it finish ? There is a sheltered ledge to our right and it seems to go around the rock pinnacle we are headed for. Jawahar Singh explores this while Cruz and I scramble up the now warm rock to the top. Below us lies a sleepy hollow- snow-covered and at ease. Across its face are occasional welts of blue-black ice faintly visible under the fresh snow. Yes, that is the glacier up which we shall go. We need two camps to reach the summit.

30 m below us, Jawahar Singh has let himself into a warm rock niche and we join him. 50 m below us is another level- looking ledge leading all the way round the rocky pinnacle. We drop down to it and descend to the col, making stone cairns on the way. The ledge peters out and we fix a rope to the col, dump ropes and pegs, hammers and knick-knacks, cover these, lest the wind blows them away and plunge down the snow couloir to the Advance Base.

A ferry left us cooked food, climbing gear and letters. We peel off crampons and wet gloves and sip a warm brew coaxed out of snow and a coughing stove. We put our bags and mattresses out for airing and sort loads for tomorrow. Shovel in grub and back to our pits. Low clouds fill the valleys. Quill fingers of the setting sun stroke the wandering clouds for a night's peace. Some dark, sharp-angled hill-tops nearer the sun are burnished in the alpenglow and look like sail boats keeling against a gale. Rich gold of the sunset and the dark of the night, many-layered and illumined, like the edges of a life lived well. The evening radio crackles-fine weather for tomorrow and details of ferries.

What took us a day, is today done by 10 a.m. Weighed under our packs we walk above the glacier along the east flank of the rock ridge. The glacier lies beaten under the sun. We find an unfissured, level patch close to a massive crevice that should swallow any avalanche breaking off the mountain. Packing the snow takes hours; a brew and the ferry party leaves. I feel burnt and spent. Mercifully a low cloud envelops the camp, blots, the sun and the landscape. Sometime during the night the cloud turns to snow.

Another early start: walking across the soft mattress of the snow, in four hours, we gain about a thousand metres. We climb through cloud and stop often to know where we are. It begins to snow, and in near darkness we return to camp. The snow comes down in sheets and our tents .are buried. No ferry could get through this. Through the dense snow appear Inderjeet Sandhu and a porter. They have walked for nearly 8 hours to get through to us. It looks like a regular depression and we abandon camp and reach Base before nightfall

After two days we pack and move to Advance Base Camp. Next day camp 1 is reoceupied. A 4 a.m. start is put off to 5 a.m. as we find the cold intense. Cruz and I, lightly laden, plug up the mountain and find the snow hard and a joy to clump on. With the drawning and out of the inky sky emerge marble, frosted faces of hills around us. We walk in even, unhurried strides, youthful strides, we are in the morning of life. The floor of the open snowbowl we walk across is quite featureless and we drop marker flags to mark the route and a possible site for camp 2 and go on up to the final ridge.

Loose snow off the hillside is piled at the base of the ridge, packing and stamping we flounder up the snow mushrooms towards the crest of the ridge. We set the hillside in motion and move one at a time, from one rotten stance to another.

As the angle steepens, we reach a harder crust of snow. Occasionally I break through, sending wafery thin slabs sloughing off the ridge. Five metres above is the crest of the corniced ridge- delicate blue and sunlit. We cannot move along the crest and must traverse along the steep-sided ridge.

We are now out of the shadow and on soft snow. If the wind holds, we shall reach the summit in about an hour.

A crystal morning of a high windless day, A day to be on a mountain top. The rope goes slack: annoyance and then panic courses the living part of me. I dig my ice-axe, lean against the mountain and wait. The rope lies inert and there is no warning wail, no slicing tug. Slowly, up the bulge of the snow emerges a frosted cap, an anguished face of Cruz gone old during the ages of a day. I draw the rope taut and haul, Cruz holds his hand out like a medal and drags one foot. I remove his one remining wet glove, rub his insensitive hand and hope the circulation is restored. He is beginning to lose feeling in his toes. My mind gallops-should we turn back? That will be the end of the expedition. Or should I anchor Cruz to the mountain and get up alone? He will surely freeze sitting like a rock. Can he manage it back alone? Yes and no. If only there was an answer in the wind. I look up to the peak. A delicate, snow- plumed ridge; rather easy now. Cannot make out how far or how long. We stay anchored and eat bits of chocolate and nuts.

Rested we go on for a while. Bad bits are all gone. We unrope and walk at our own pace. There is more sky beyond the cone of our summit, more blue-hazed ochre-tinted distances. More, white capped mountains. I see a crack ahead It marks the line of the conice. Our border for today. About us, below and in the distance are many snow peaks, mostly unnamed. I try to identify a few of the Garhwal mountains to the east and south- east. For away and distant I spy Nanda Devi and Chaukhamba. Perhaps I am wrong. I stand near the illumined wind-blown edge of the cornice and let the wind spin whorls of wet snow about me. Some of the spindrift enters my anorak and the camera and I miss some exciting shots of Cruz get up his first mountain, a boy become a man.

We reach camp by 2 p.m.-Nadgauda, Kooks and Jawahar Singh have come up. They get to work on Cruz-removing his wet clothes, feeding and keeping him warm and getting rested for their own bid next morning.

I watch three figures disappear next morning at 4 a.m. Kooks, Kushal Singh and Jawahar Singh. A silent, clear day. There is a hint of dawn, far to the east, I turn to look at the diminishing dots disappear up the windless, hope-filled daybreak. They reach the summit at 9.30 a.m. and are back in camp by 1 p.m.

Cruz is got to the Base-finder DJ's practised care he recovers slowly. We leave Base on 23 June-this time there are more grassy slopes, more flowers. And ahead is the comfort of a homecoming.

Team: Balwant Sandhu (leader), Nadgauda, Chauhan, Dhillon, Inderjeet Sandhu, Hoshiar Singh,Kushal Singh, Jawahar Singh, Japan Chand, Ananda Chavan, Ram Bhaj, Baljit Singh, Devenderjeet Singh. (Doctor), Mrs Helga Sandhu and Mrs Baljit singh.