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

FIFTY YEARS RETROSPECT AND PROSPECT

TREVOR BRAHAM

The idea of founding a Himalayan Club, and a general concept of what its aims and objects should be, was first suggested about 100 years ago. But it was not until the late 1920s that the initiative and energy of a small group of men brought about the means that resulted in its formation. Pre-eminent in this group were Geoffrey Corbett, then Secretary for Commerce and Industry to the Government of India, and Kenneth Mason, Superintendent of Surveys, Survey of India. Corbett and Mason discussed the project frequently together during 1926 and 1927; Corbett arousing the interest of persons highly placed in Simla and Delhi, and Mason sounding out various Alpine Club friends as well as mountaineers in France, Germany and Switzerland. In one of his letters to me a few years ago, Mason wrote: 'Corbett's motto was "It is the first step that counts", and we were both determined to found the Club on rock.' When both felt sure that they could count upon sufficient support the decision was finally taken to form the Club. Mason and Corbett sent out a circular letter on 20 December 1927 addressed to men all over India, Europe, Africa and America who had 'done things in the Himalaya. The response exceeded their expectation : and when the Club was formally inaugurated on 17 February 1928 Geoffrey Corbett was able to say that its 127 Founder Members 'contribute to the objects of the Club much that there is of Himalayan knowledge and experience'. At its outset the Club enjoyed a sound financial base, a foundation fund of several thousand rupees having been subscribed by its founders.

In the early days Corbett was well aware that if the Club were to expand and to flourish, it should help to foster in the widest sense the opportunities that the Himalaya offered. At first ‘shikar seemed to provide a strong motive for many, but Corbett included in his plans the need and the means to encourage those interested in geography, geology, glaciology, botany, zoology, ethonology, photography and mountaineering. In his concept of the Club's future role he expressed the hope that 'it may help to rear a breed of men in India, hard and self-reliant, who will know how to enjoy life on the high hills.'

Mason gives a glimpse of the era that preceded the Club's formation, possibly extending slightly into the earliest years of the Club's life, when he wrote in a letter to me in 1973: 'the expense and the difficulty of overseas expeditions to the Himalaya will not diminish, and future travellers will forget how much has been done before. My book (Abode of Snow) was intended to put on record how much we were indebted to those who had gone to the Himalaya before. There was much more fun in the old days when one went where one liked, and boundaries did not matter, and restrictions did not restrict; nor was climbing of interest to newspapers, and climbers did not have to do what the press desired.'

The Club's 50-year history, during which it has been closely linked with the development of Himalayan activity, could be divided roughly into four periods.

The first period 1928-39 was one of consolidation and expansion. Established upon sound foundations, an organization was gradually built to provide assistance and advice, which was drawn from the available reserves of Himalayan knowledge and experience. This role was shared by the Club's office-bearers and by its technical correspondents spread far and wide all over India, each expert in his field and possessing an intimate knowledge of his region. Maps and records were available from the Club's library to members, who also had access to camping equipment from the Club's stores. The local secretary in Darjeeling began to organize a system for the recruitment of Sherpa porters and to compile an official register of men available for employment. Every porter upon registration received a numbered Record Book showing his experience, usually written up by expedition leaders. This unique system, to which all were able to turn, whether large expeditions or small groups, soon resulted in Darjeeling becoming the focal point for the engagement of Sherpa porters. The whole burden of the work rested upon the Club's Honorary Local Secretary who could be relied upon to select suitable men for employment according to rules laid down by the Club. In those days the Club awarded a 'Tiger' badge to porters recommended by leaders of expeditions for 'devotion to duty at high altitude'. This usually went to men who had distinguished themselves on Everest, Kangchenjunga and Nanga Parbat. Up to 1940, sixteen Tiger Badges were awarded. Expeditions from abroad were assisted with local arrangements, and in the early years it was normal for a member of the Club to accompany the larger European expeditions in order to provide practical help with transport.

One of the Club's more important activities was the publication of the Himalayan Journal. The first volume was published in 1929 and succeeding volumes appeared annually up to 1940. The first 12 volumes under the editorship of Kenneth Mason carried high authority, recording virtually every major and a large number of the minor Himalayan undertakings of the period. Volumes I-IV were printed by Thacker's Press in Calcutta and Volumes V-XII by the Clarendon Press in Oxford. This first period of the Club's life seemed to mark the start of a new Himalayan era, ushering in two distinct categories of Himalayan expeditions, the large sponsored enterprise aiming at the ascent of a major peak, and the small privately organized group interested in exploration. The first was typified by repeated British and German attempts to climb Everest, Kangchenjunga and Nanga Parbat and the second by the activities of individuals like Frank Smythe, Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman.

The Club was only 12 1\2 years old when World War II began. The war brought Himalayan activity to a temporary halt, and the affairs of the Himalayan Club, which had flourished largely through the individual efforts of men in the civil and defence services of India, came almost to a standstill. In August 1945 an Air crew Mountain Centre was set up in Kashmir, essentially for servicemen recuperating from the war in Burma. Those who were the main moving spirits of this project, Tony Smythe, Wilfrid Noyce, John Jackson, T. H. Tilly and others, all became members of the Himalayan Club drawing from and contributing to the limited facilities that the Club was then able to offer. It was often possible for individuals or small groups of servicemen to spend brief periods of leave visiting the more accessible Himalayan regions such as Sikkim, Garhwal and Kashmir. Trekking grew enormously in popularity, and some were even lucky enough to achieve small climbs on peaks of 20,000 ft. Those undertaking such ventures were glad to avail themselves of the club's library and equipment store which were still located in Delhi. The Sherpa population in Darjeeling, which only a few years before hardly had seemed sufficient to meet a growing demand from expeditions, found during the war great difficulty in obtaining employment. But a few of their leaders, men such as Angtharkay, Wangdi Norbu, Pasang Dawa, began individually to offer their services as guides, organizing arrangements for trekking parties.

It was at about this time, following my first visit to Sikkim in 1945, that I joined the Club. The headquarters were still in Delhi, although a small library and equipment store were available in Calcutta where was living. I lost no time in making contact with members who could assist me with information and I consulted books, maps and such old records as were available. This opened up a new world for me, and when I planned my next visit to Sikkim in 1946, I had already made separate plans for the next three years ahead.

I think that, excluding the relatively quiet spell of war years, it was about then that the Club entered its short second period spanning the years 1946-50. Post-war expedition activity commenced in 1947 with the arrival of a party of five Swiss, who had received permission to climb in Garhwal. In response to their request that the Club should recommend a member to join their party, I was invited to accompany them. I returned from this expedition to Delhi about three weeks after India had achieved her independence. There was an atmosphere of excitement and restlessness and I had a feeling of loneliness amongst the crowds. At the Imperial Hotel I was fortunate to find accommodation, sharing a double bedroom with seven others. I was very grateful for the welcome which I received from Brig. Gordon Osmaston, and from A. Percy Lancaster who as the Club's Honorary Secretary had been responsible for putting forward my name to the Swiss. Gordon Osmaston, then acting as the Club's President, had headed the Survey in Garhwal a decade earlier which had resulted in the publication of the new half-inch scale Survey of India maps used by our expedition. The areas which we had visited were thoroughly familiar to him, and he later identified on my photographs the then unexplored Lampak group, of which I had obtained a tantalizing glimpse on my journey back from Mana over the Bhyundar Pass to Niti.

By the end of 1947 it was becoming difficult for the Club to carry on in Delhi, and it was decided to shift the headquarters to Calcutta. For a short term L. R. Fawcus became President, and I recall at the time a few enjoyable Club evenings held in the Lawn House of the United Services Club on Chowringhee. Soon after, Charles Crawford took over, and he remained as President for the next five years during the crucial period of the Club's re-activation. In 1949 I became Honorary Secretary. We faced the enormous task of trying to trace lost' members, and of bringing up-to-date the names and addresses of the 570 or so members whose names appeared on the Register. It was equally important to find out how many were still able to contribute to the functioning of the Club and to furthering its objects. It was obvious that we would need to attract new members upon whom would rest the future expansion of Himalayan activity. How could this be done ? The Himalayan Journal had re-appeared under Wilfrid Noyce's welcome helping hand. A new home was found for the library in Calcutta ; the equipment store was refurnished, and the Sherpa Register was brought back to life by an active Honorary Secretary in Darjeeling.

In 1949 Frank Smythe returned to the Himalaya with plans for a long botanical and mountaineering season. But he fell ill in Darjeeling at the home of the Hendersons, and had to return to England where he died. Later on, Jill Henderson became the Club's Honorary Local Secretary, a role which she filled with great success for a number of years. Nepal was just beginning to open its doors to the outside world, and one of the first to enter in 1949-50 was Bill Tilman who, during the course of two expeditions, carried out extensive journeys including an attempt on Annapurna IV and a first glimpse, with Dr Charles Houston, of the Khumbu ice-fall and the south side of Everest.

As the Club began to re-emerge, membership increased and I found that we started to receive a flow of correspondence. In the face of many new difficulties, especially rising costs, there was an increasing stream of visitors, comprising small groups with little or no financial backing, eager to explore every untouched area of the Himalayan field, and in those days there were indeeded many. I had received invaluable help from the Club on my first visits to the Himalaya, and it was rewarding to be able to pass on information to others, and to help members to keep in touch with the Club and with each other.

In 1950 the French climbed Annapurna I, and following the drama and publicity created by that expedition, the flood burst through, opening a new era of large nationally-backed expeditions competing fiercely to achieve Himalayan 'firsts'. It was during the 1950s that all the highest peaks of the Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush were climbed, and perhaps for this reason the years between 1950-60 deserve to be remembered as the 'Golden Age' of Himalayan climbing.

Those were the years spanning the third period of the Club's life. The Club was strong and was always at the centre of activity, whether recruiting Sherpas, assisting with baggage and other formalities, hiring out equipment, or merely lending a helping hand when needed, equally for the large expeditions to Everest and Kangchenjunga as for the smaller groups with modest objectives. The Journal had begun to appear more regularly; and practically every expedition, whether organized in India or abroad, applied to the Club for some measure of assistance or advice, obtaining a willing response from stalwarts like General Harold Williams and Bobby Hotz in Delhi; and from many others in Calcutta, Bombay, Dehra Dun and elsewhere.

In the early years of that decade, the principles and the methods adopted by expeditions were not very different from those that had existed in the days of the pioneers. Later on, better equipment and more detailed knowledge provided expeditions with a greater assuransce of success. By the end of the decade much of the old attitudes had changed. Mounting costs and a greater determination to get there, brought about a different approach to Himalayan ventures. Between 1957 and 1959, during my editorship of the Himalayan Journal, the growth of Himalayan Activity made the collection and co-ordination of information immensely interesting, and changes were already in train in line with bigger changes in European climbing. New technical strands were being explored by climbers who came to the Himalaya in smaller parties, more lightly equipped, and relying more upon their own resources with less dependence upon porters. I think, that Hermann Buhl's unique feat on Nanga Parbat in 1953, although much overshadowed at the time, marked the opening of a real change in ethical and technical trends.

Buhl reaffirmed this development in 1957 with his small party on Broad Peak, the first 8000 m peak to be climbed by four men carrying little more than normal alpine equipment, and without the aid of high-altitude porters. In 1958 a staggering rise in technical standards was achieved by Waiter Bonatti and others on Gasherbrum IV, and by a small British party on the Mustagh Tower ; followed by the French on Jannu in 1960 and 1962.

During the early 1960s entry into some of the most sought-after areas in Nepal, Pakistan and India became restricted, and expedition activity from abroad temporarily diminished. During the same years there was a sudden growth in Himalayan activity within India. Two factors predominated in bringing this about. The first was the setting up in Darjeeling in 1954 of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, which became the central training establishment for Indian mountaineers. The second was the formation of the Government-affiliated Indian Mountaineering Foundation in Delhi, which became the main sponsoring organization for national Himalayan ventures.

During this fourth period in its history (1960-70) the Himalayan Club took on a complementary role. As an established organization with traditions linked to the Himalayan pioneers, it continued to be approached by those who needed advice and assistance. Many of its functions had altered or become unnecessary -porter-recruitment, for example. This was inevitable, for it would have been impossible for a single organization to handle the enormous volume to which the demand had grown. By 1958 Lt-Cl. 'Buster' Goodwin, who had spent most of his professional career serving on the NW. Frontier, took over the Club's representation in Rawalpindi. With his expert local knowledge he was helpful countless small groups visiting the Karakoram and Hindu Kush for many years his home became a caravanserai for climber and travellers from all over the world.

In 1960 Noshaq was climbed by two separate parties. It was the first major Hindu Kush ascent for a decade, and it opened up an invasion into the Hindu Kush of climbers especially from Austria, Poland and Japan. The area was easily accessible, both politically and physically, in contrast to other better-known areas at the time. Small groups found that at relatively little cost they could explore and climb in practically untouched regions independent of any burdensome 'expedition' formalities. By the late 1960s every Hindu Kush mountain above 7000 m and a very large number of those above 6000 m had been climbed, in practically every instance by parties numbering between 2 to 6 people. I think that it was the realization of this possibility that marked the beginning of the end of the large-scale expedition. As restrictions were relaxed in Pakistan, Nepal and India, the new trend was gradually applied everywhere, and the small lightly-equipped party began to predominate.

The development foreseen after the first ascent of Everest in 1953 had finally taken shape by 1970. Hard new routes-of which the Himalaya possess an inexhaustible supply-were being sought by small groups adopting a new-style approach. Amidst such a wealth of achievement on Everest and other big mountains, it wouId be invidious to single out particular highlights during recent years, but I think that some of the more striking successes have been Reinhold Messner and Peter Haebler on Gasherbrum I In August 1975; Joe Tasker and Dick Renshaw on the SE. Face of Dnunagiri in October of the same year; the Polish attempt on K2's NE. ridge in August 1976; Pete Boardman and Joe Tasker on the W. Face on Changabang in October 1976; the Pakistan Army on Paiju Peak in 1976; an Indian team on Kangchenjunga's NE spur in 1977. So much for the climbers.

But there are others who visit the Himalaya nowadays in equivalent numbers-the tourists and trekkers who travel in large groups and are loath to shed too many of their creature-comforts. The Himalaya has had to cater for them. Of course their presence has meant some measure of increased local prosperity. But it has also given rise to the acute need for nature conservation. In the battle for precedence between the conservationist and the fee-paying tourist it is obvious so far who is winning. But surely there can be found a happy medium, so that those who visit the Himalaya in order to enjoy the environment do not irreparably disturb that which they have come to seek.

To what extent have the objects of the Himalayan Club founders been achieved? I think it cannot be doubted that, especially in the formative era of Himalayan exploration and mountaineering, the Himalayan Club contributed directly to the growth of knowledge and achievement in the widest sense. I think also that Geoffrey Corbett's personal hope has been realized, and that there does now exist 'a new breed of men who know how to enjoy life on the high hills'.

But what of the future? In order to continue to flourish, the club must adapt its role to meet changing trends. Its continuing conribution to Himalayan activity will keep alive the desire to belong to the Club.

Student membership, introduced a few years ago, should be encouraged and popularized. The Club's technical and regional correspondents should be spread far and wide, embracing every possible area of the Himalaya, Karakoram, and Hindu Kush with their expert knowledge and experience. Those who visit the Himalaya, whatever their objectives, should be able to count equally upon their guidance and assistance. Not least of all, the Club should remain in the forefront of efforts to promote conservation projects in the Himalaya.

Soon after I joined the Club, what struck me as one of its unique features was the feeling I had, wherever I roamed across the ranges, that there was someone somewhere upon whose advice and support I could always count, whether I found myself in Kulu, Garhwal, Darjeeling or the Karakoram. May similar feelings always remain alive for present and future generations of if Himalayan Club members.