Himalayan Journal vol.37
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.37

Publication year:
1981

Editor:
Harish Kapadia
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. YUGOSLAV EVEREST EXPEDITION
    (TONE SKARJA)
  3. AUSTRIAN LHOTSE EXPEDITION AULEX, 1979
    (ERICH VANIS)
  4. POLISH LHOTSE EXPEDITION, 1979
    (ADAM BILCZEWSKI)
  5. THE BRITISH-NEPALESE GAURI SHANKAR EXPEDITION, 1979
    (PETER BOARDMAN)
  6. AUSTRALIAN GAURI SHANKAR (TSERINGMA) EXPEDITION
    (P. A. CULLINAN and G. BRAMMER)
  7. MAKALU WEST PILLAR
    (JOHN ROSKELLEY)
  8. TUKUCHE WEST PEAK (6780 m) EXPEDITION
    (RENE COLLET)
  9. ANNAPURNA III, SOUTH FACE
    (RON and LINDA RUTLAND)
  10. SWISS SISNE HIMAL EXPEDITION, 1980
    (RUEDI MEIER)
  11. DHAULAGIRI EAST FACE EXPEDITION
    (ALEX MACINTYRE)
  12. SIKKIM HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION, 1979
    (SAMARENDRA NATH DHAR)
  13. SINIOLCHU*
    (SONAM WANGYAL)
  14. ASCENT OF RATABAN AND CANOEING/ RAFTING THE MANDAKINI AND ALAKNANDA RIVERS
    (COL BALWANT S. SANDHU)
  15. SATOPANTH GLACIER EXPEDITION, 1980
    (SHASHANK KULKARNI and SOUMITRA WADALKAR)
  16. GUERILLAS IN THE GARHWAL
    (JOHN THACKRAY)
  17. CZECHOSLOVAKS OVER THE SOURCES OF THE GANGA
    (ZDENEK LUKES)
  18. VASUKI PARBAT
    (N. G. CLEAVER)
  19. RAKTVARN GLACIER AND ASCENT OF UNNAMED VIRGIN PEAKS
    (RANVIR SINGH)
  20. KINNAUR, 1980
    (SUDHIR SAHI)
  21. EXPEDITION TO THE DHARLANG VALLEY, PANGI AND ZANSKAR
    (N. A. PITTS-TUCKER)
  22. AIRMEN IN LAHUL
    (WING COMMANDER N. M. RIDLEY)
  23. A TREK IN LADAKH AND ZANSKAR
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  24. TERAM KANGRI II EXPEDITION
    (COL N. KUMAR)
  25. LADAKH, 1979
    (AAMIR ALI)
  26. THE FIRST ASCENT OF CHORICHO1
    (GEOFFREY CHILDS)
  27. THE 'OBVIOUS LINE': ULI BIAHO
    (JOHN ROSKELLEY)
  28. THE CHILEAN KARAKORAM EXPEDITION, 1979
    (GASTON OYARZUN)
  29. RISK *
    (MIKE THOMPSON)
  30. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  31. EXPEDITIONS 1978- 1980
  32. IN MEMORIAM
  33. BOOK REVIEWS
  34. CORRESPONDENCE
  35. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1980

AIRMEN IN LAHUL

WING COMMANDER N. M. RIDLEY

LAST YEAR the Royal Air Force Mountaineering Association organized an expedition in conjunction with the Indian Air Force Trekking, Mountaineering and Skiing Association. The location chosen was central Lahul, which lies beyond the Kulu Valley between the Bhaga and the Chandra rivers. This part of the Himalaya was first explored in 1939 by a joint UK/Austrian National Union of Students expedition led by Ludwig Krenek. The expedition was very successful and kept a careful record of its activities.1 The highest mountain in the area is Mulkila (M4) (21,380 ft) and this was chosen as the central objective of the expedition. Mulkila was climbed in 1939 but has only been climbed once since,[1] despite a number of attempts by strong parties.2 KR1 and KR4 were also booked as secondary objectives. These mountains lie in a glacier complex adjacent to the 'M' group and both were believed to be unclimbed.

The UK contingent of sixteen arrived in New Delhi on 17 August 1979 to be joined by five climbers from the Indian Air Force Trekking, Mountaineering and Skiing Association. By modern standards this was a large expedition, the object being to give as many people as possible Himalayan experience whilst at the same time reducing high-altitude porterage costs. On 19 August we left New Delhi aboard a 20-seater bus followed by a lorry containing our kit. We were bound for Manali which lies at the head of the Kulu Valley and is the last outpost of real civilization before entering the district of Lahul.

A couple of days were spent at Manali in transferring kit from plywood air-transportable boxes into mule-transportable jute sacks, purchasing fresh food and engaging a couple of local cooks cum porters cum general factota. Having repacked our kit and partially acclimatized to the heat and the altitude, we left Manali on 21 August bound for Darcha, which is the confluence of several Himalayan trade routes, and also, incidentally, the terminal for the local bus service. From Darcha our stores had to be carried by mules, pack horse or any other four-legged animal capable of carrying a load. We set off from Darcha up the Milang Valley on 22 August and our first camp was erected near the village of Yotse at a height of 11,300 ft. From Yotse the route led up steep glacier moraine, it was very hot and most people found the going tough. Base Camp was established on the moraine at 14,000 ft, seven days after leaving New Delhi. Practically everyone suffered some degree of altitude sickness, which was interesting considering the time taken to reach Base Camp. The problem probably arose from the fairly rapid rise from 10,800 ft at Darcha, coupled with burning sun and very high temperatures.

The day after our arrival at Base Camp, Francis, MacDonald and Ajgaonkar departed at 0600 hours to reconnoitre a route up the Milang glacier to Camp 1. The Milang glacier lies in a coomb surrounded by the 'M' range of mountains. The peaks are numbered Mi to Mio and form a complete horseshoe around a glacier complex with numerous fingers stretching up into gullies and ridges dividing the peaks. Our objective was the dominant feature of the cirque and lay appropriately near its central point. The recce party returned at 1400 hours, very weary, having established a safe route up the glacier and discovered a suitable site for Camp 1.

The following day was 26 August and everyone, with the exception of the food member, carried sufficient stores up the glacier to establish Camp 1. The route was a terrible five-hour slog up fairly steep and heavily crevassed ice. The camp was situated at 16,500 ft and was higher than most peoples' acclimatization. Rogers, Taylor, Honey and Ranjit Kumar, who appeared to have acclimatized best, were left behind in Camp 1. During the next few days the build-up of Camp 1 continued whilst the spearhead group established a second camp. Honey had to come down to Base camp because he was suffering from acute altitude sickness; his place at the front was taken by Francis. Camp 2 was established on 28 August near the head of the glacier at 18,300 ft. The build-up continued and by 31 August both Camps 1 and 2 were well stocked and occupied both to support an assault and for subsequent ascents.

On 30 August Nev Taylor and Ted Rogers on one rope, and Roy Francis and Ranjit Kumar on a second, set out for the summit. The attempt failed after twelve hard hours on the mountain because of the loose state of the rock and the danger of one party dislodging stones on to the other. There had been several weeks of fine weather, consequently there was no ice or snow on the summit cone to bind the rocks together, and they were very insecure. It was therefore decided that Rogers and Taylor would have a second attempt at the summit the following day on their own. They left Camp 2 at 0730 hours just as the sunlight warmed their tents. All went well and they reached the summit ridge proper at 0930 hours. They then encountered pleasant climbing up snow slopes and ridges of ice to a small unnamed peak at about 20,000 ft, here they left their rucksacks. They were again on the summit cone and the climbing became very difficult, the rock was extremely loose and great care was required to prevent large actions falling away. Good belays were very difficult to find and the going was very slow. Rogers eventually reached the summit at 1600 hours, leaving Taylor belayed about 150 ft below; in Rogers' own words, 'The top 50 ft of the summit cone required a hands-and-knees technique just to stop the whole lot sliding away'. Because of the danger from loose rocks and the lateness of the hour, Taylor wisely decided not to risk the last pitch to the summit, so, after only a few minutes to admire the views and take some photographs, they started on the descent. The route down required both care and patience. On one occasion a rock on which Taylor was balanced started to slide and when his weight came on to the rope it caused Rogers' own foothold to collapse, and they both started to slip down the mountain. Luckily their belay held and they were suspended from it whilst they sought firmer stances. After a very tiring descent they reached the glacier just as it got dark, to be met by the back-up team carrying flasks of hot chocolate.

The objective danger on Mulkila was too great to warrant a second attempt. Therefore on I September preparations were made to carry everything down from the mountain. Whilst these preparations were taking place Francis and Fountain climbed the unnamed peak of about 20,000 ft adjacent to Mulkila. All the stores and equipment were moved from the mountain by 3 September.

Whilst the summit was being climbed I went in search of the site of the 1939 Base Camp and came across the grave of Hilda Richmond. Hilda was the only female member of the '39 expedition. She was unfortunately killed by a falling stone on the last day of the expedition. The grave was in fairly good order and needed only a little repair to restore it to what had obviously been its original sound construction. The site commanded fine views down the valley and across the great Himalayan chain.

The sketch maps made in '39 showed a route over the dividing ridge into the Koa Rong glacier. In the intervening years the glacier moraine had moved considerably and this route no longer existed, so we were faced with the daunting task of carrying all of our stores back down the Milang Valley to where it joined the Koa Rong, and thence up that valley to establish a new Base Camp. Joshi and Roa descended to Darcha to hire mules whilst the rest of us started to pack up Base Camp. Rogers and Taylor went ahead to look for a further high route round into the Koa Rong; they too failed. On 4 September Taylor passed a message on the radio to say that 20 mules should be with us by 0800 hours the following day. Because we would need double that number of mules to move all of our stores, Kumar, Brooks, Kilner and Morning elected to stay with the equipment which would have to be left at Base Camp pending the arrival of more mules. The mules were, as usual, four hours late and an argument ensued with the muleteers to persuade them to load and return down the valley that day. Muleteers are paid for the number of mules provided per day, consequently, their interest in making a journey last as long as possible was in direct conflict with ours. Constant arguments took place with the muleteers over the length of their stages, on one day the stage lasted only one hour and fifty minutes, and stages seldom exceeded four hours. This short working day probably has its origins in the easy money to be earned from the rapid growth in the trekking industry.

Our second Base Camp was established on 8 September in a pleasant little valley at 14,400 ft. The valley lies between the southern ridge of KR1, which was to be our next objective, and the lateral moraine of the main glacier system. The valley had been occupied previously by another expedition, which we deduced to have been Polish by the names on the empty tins left behind. Water was obtained from a patch of snow which melted into shallow wells which we dug below it. Unfortunately the system only worked when the sun shone all day, otherwise we had to melt the snow and this made rapid inroads into our fuel reserves.

The following day three parties set off to reconnoitre KR1 and KR4; one party explored the approaches to KR1 from the south, the second party looked for a route up through the icefall on the eastern flank, whilst the third party reconnoitred the approaches to KR4. Once the three parties had returned it became obvious that the best approach to KR1 was from the south, whilst KR4 would be a very difficult mountain to climb from the south.

Camp 1 was established on 10 September on the southern ridge of KR1 at 17,200 ft. It proved to be a long, difficult and arduous carry. The route started off up a very steep hillside, which eventually became covered with loosely-stacked roundish stones. After the stone-field came a section of very loose slatey scree. Having overcome the slate, the ridge proper was reached, which consisted of firm but sharp and steep rocks. Camp 1 was eventually established on the western flank of the south ridge overlooking a snow-filled basin which lay in between a curving ridge and the summit pyramid proper. Rogers, Francis, Taylor uid Honey were left in occupation of Camp 1 to develop the route to the summit and, if necessary, establish a further camp.

The day following the establishment of Camp 1 dawned fine, so whilst the spearhead party looked for a site for a further camp, another carry was done from Base Camp. We had prearranged a radio link for 1200 hours, during which it was announced that Honey had hurt his ankle and would have to return to Base Camp. Within 30 minutes Kay had set off to replace Honey, but he had to retreat in the face of i very heavy snowstorm. Honey eventually arrived in Base Camp at 1600 hours having descended down a gully protected from the worst of the storm. The same storm caused the spearhead party to abandon their search for a suitable route and camp site after they had done about 900 feet of difficult rock climbing up the ridge on which Camp 1 was established.

The bad weather continued into the next day, consequently, there was no movement either at Camp 1 or at Base Camp. The following day dawned fine and I accompanied Fountain, Hunter and Kay up to camp 1. Kay would replace Honey, whilst Fountain and Hunter were to support the summit party and mount a second assault. Because of the depth of soft snow, the people at Camp 1 had been able to do little more than observe the mountain and place some fixed ropes which would assist them down into the snow basin and from the other side of the basin up towards the ridge and the summit pyramid. The line of ascent had been changed because of the difficult rock climbing encountered two days before and it was decided to attempt the summit without a further camp.

On 14 September Francis, Taylor and Rogers left Camp 1 at 07 hours, by 0900 they had reached the top of the fixed ropes which had been placed between the glacier and the summit ridge. They climbed the fixed ropes and the gullies between a system of buttresses and reached the crest of the ridge at 1100 hours. The knife edge of the ridge was climbed direct. Although there were a few loose stones the rock was much sounder than it had been on Mulkila. Only one difficult ice pitch lay between the ridge and the upper snowfield. The ice pitch was climbed and the party found themselves on steeply sloping ice covered with between six and twelve inches of powder snow. After a never-ending slog up the icefield they arrived at the summit rocks at 1400 hours having done 3000 ft of exacting climbing. Only several pitches of scrambling remained between them and the summit, which they reached at 1430 hours. They spent half an hour on the summit then made their way carefully to the fixed ropes from where they abseiled down into the glacier basin. The final climb from the glacier basin back up to Camp 1 was extremely exhausting and it was a very tired trio that stumbled into Camp 1 at 1800 hours.

The following day, whilst the successful summit party made their way down to Base Camp, Hunter and Fountain set off for a second attempt, and a further three set off from Base Camp to occupy the empty bed spaces at Camp 1. Fountain and Hunter climbed to approximately 1000 ft below the summit before reluctantly turning back in the face of rapidly deteriorating weather. The bad weather continued throughout the next day and it became obvious that, with only four days left before we needed to start our return journey, little further climbing would be possible. Cartwright, Easy, Morning and T therefore set off up the mountain to take down the fixed ropes and start the evacuation of Camp 1. From then on the weather drew the curtain across the expedition. All preparations for departure were done under an ever-thickening blanket of snow which followed us down the mountain to about 12,000 ft. Below 12,000 ft we once again walked into a world of great beauty and apparent eternal sunshine, which lasted until we bade a sad farewell to India about ten days later.

Members
Royal Air Force
Wing Commander N M Ridley (leader), Group Captain R J Honey, Squadron Leader J E Cartwright, Squadron Leader W R Easy, Flight Lieutenant K E Hunter, Flying Officer N S Daniel, Chief Technician R A Fountain, Sergeant P N Taylor, Sergeant A J Lockwood, Sergeant P F Kay, Sergeant A Kilner, Corporal C A Brooks, Corporal T W MacDonald, Corporal F A Moorehead, Corporal J L Morning, Mr I Rogers, Sergeant R Francis.

Indian Air Force
Squadron Leader Ranjit Kumar, Flight Lieutenant D B Ajgaonkar, Flying Officer T Sridhar, Flying Officer Joshi, Corporal Roa.


  1. Ref.H.J. Vol. XIII, p.54
  2. Ref.H.J. Vol. XXVI, p.175
  3. Ref.H.J. Vol. XXV, p.207
Vol. XXXII, p.92

Vol. XXXIV, p.156, --Ed.