Himalayan Journal vol.43
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.43

Publication year:
1987

Editor:
Soli S. Mehta
Index
  1. THE ASCENT OF KULA KANGRI FROM TIBET
    (PROF KAZUMASA HIRAI)
  2. EDITORIAL
  3. KANGCHENJUNGA CLIMBED IN WINTER
    (ANDRZEJ MACHNIK)
  4. GYACHUNGKANG, 1986
    (LT COL JEAN-CLAUDE MARMIER)
  5. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MERA
    (MAL DUFF)
  6. DHAULAGIRI 1984-85
    (ADAM BILCZEWSKI)
  7. DHAULAGIRI I EAST FACE
    (STANE BELAK AND MARJAN KREGAR)
  8. FIRST ASCENT OF SULI TOP
    (RAMAKANT S. MAHADIK)
  9. AN INDO-FRENCH MOUNTAIN ROUND-UP
    (COLONEL BALWANT S. SANDHU)
  10. POLICEMEN IN KEDAR BAMAK
    (P. M. DAS)
  11. INDO -SWEDISH EXPEDITION TO MERU 1986
    (MANDIP SINGH SOIN)
  12. A VERY MODEST MOUNTAIN
    (EMLYN THOMAS)
  13. BASPA AND ROPA, 1986
    (M. H. CONTRACTOR)
  14. A NOTE ON KINNAUR
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  15. MENTHOSA; ALMOST
    (ALOKE SURIN)
  16. SIA KANGRI, 1986
    (MAJOR K. V. CHERIAN)
  17. SASER KANGRI III 1986
    (S. P. CHAMOLI)
  18. THE SOSBUN GLACIER BASIN
    (LINDSAY GRIFFIN)
  19. 1986 BRITISH K2 EXPEDITION
    (DAVE WILKINSON)
  20. AN ATTEMPT ON GASHERBRUM III, 1985
    (GEOFF COHEN)
  21. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  22. IN MEMORIAM
  23. BOOK REVIEWS
  24. CORRESPONDENCE
  25. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1986

THE SOSBUN GLACIER BASIN

LINDSAY GRIFFIN

LATE JULY 1985. We sat in the garden of the Dasso rest house; the roar of the Braldu river only occasionally drowned by the raucous whirring of helicoper blades carrying supplies to the troops fighting it out at the head of the Siachen glacier. Our five porters, organised by the resident Pakistani Intelligence Officer were as friendly, honest and hospitable as one could imagine. Three mornings later we left the deserted grazing village of Nangma a relaxed and happy team. Slopes of lush elephant grass led up towards the terminal moraine. Beyond lay a scant history of exploration.

In 1908 an indefatigable Workman team, so dominant during that decade in the Karakoram, reached two cols at the head of the upper arms of the Sosbun and peered nothwards onto the Sokha glacier. The Bullock-Workmans pronounced this a glacier with no outlet - one entirely surrounded by mountains -- a scientific enigma?1 Of more importance was their identification and nomenclature of the two big peaks in the area, Ganchen (6462 m) and its immediate neighbour Hikmul (untabulated but felt to be at least 6300 m).

Members of Shipton's 1939 survey expedition were next to examine these glacier basins. Tilman, after some deliberation and various 'tentatives" on a feasible approach to both Ganchen and Hikmul from the Basha valley, crossed the main divide north of the Hikmul la to gain the western branch of the Sosbun glacier. In order to clarify the somewhat confusing topography he ascended to the Workman's Col' west of Sosbun Brakk before descending the Hon Bluk to the Braldu valley.

Shortly after, Mott surveyed the area from a rocky ridge just west of the main valley and above the terminal moraines. He then moved camp to below the 'Peninsula' ridge that splits the upper arms of the Sosbun and from atop this, took yet more readings before descending to Nangma where he encountered Fontaine. The latter moved swiftly up the Tsiblu glacier, crossed the Hikmul la and descended steeply to the Basha valley.

1. In his autobiography That Untravelted World, (p. 113) Eric Shipton notes that 'Tilman had referred to the enigmatic glacier as 'Fanny's (Workman) Fantasy' and a lake as 'Martin's Moonshine% after easily locating its outlet.-Ed.

Photos 20-21

So far all parties seem to have agreed on an almost continual disturbance due to avalanches down the faces of Hikmul and its brother peak Ganchen.

Thirty seven years elapsed before the next expedition visited the valley. A fourteen-man German party under the overall leadership of Robert Wagner reached the Sosbun glacier in August after considerable delay due to bureaucratic and porterage problems. Splitting into two parties they reconnoitred Ganchen from the Hikmul la (this seems a very unlikely point of attack, were they perhaps confusing Hikmul with Ganchen?) and reached a height of about 5450 m on Sosbun Brakk.

In 1978 an eight-man Japanese team under Tohru 3hibazaki made the first ascent of Ganchen from the Hon Lungma glacier. From an advanced base at 4850 m they sieged the rock spur leading up to the Ganchen-Hikmul col. The ice-slopes on either side are obviously too dangerous and although the spur looks of reasonable angle, the rock is decidedly rotten. Three weeks and 1000 m of fixed rope were required before a camp was placed on the col at 5930 m on 29 July, Amazingly three members climbed to the top the following day via the long north ridge and over four subsidiary summits. This rather suggests that the final section must be somewhat easier than it appears! This expedition also reconnoitred Sosbun Brakk and in 1981 another Japanese expedition from the Shigakukai Club, comprising ten climbers and led by Seichi Kawau-chi, reached the summit via the south face on 4 July. Dangerous stone fall was reported throughout the climb,

Chris Forrest and i had originally hoped to attempt the fine spires and rocky peaks that form the west Biafo wall. However, on reaching the lower reaches of the Sosbun glacier it became immediately obvious that, on this side of the range at least, the rock was universally appalling. Rather disheartened we transferred our base on 31 July to the lateral moraine of the Hob Lungma glacier at which point it began to rain. I seem to recollect at the time being almost relieved as I felt one or two days acclimatization - i.e. lying in the tent and eating - would not go amiss. My only problem was how to deal with Chris's urge to get on with the job.

Unfortunately it rained on 80% of our subsequent days spent atf or above, this altitude and characteristically the only real fine spell developed on the outward march to Dasso! Chris is, by qualification, a chef and consequently we achieved, if nothing else, the highest standard of campsite cuisine!

An ascent of a nearby summit, christened "Bakree' Peak was achieved in dubious weather and on awful snow. It did however confirm our first impressions of the area. The most compelling objective presented itself in the form of the unclimbed Hikmul. The east ridge looked long but objectively safe, while avalanches poured at very regular intervals from the flanks of Ganchen. First we needed some practice and a group of spiky alpine peaks around the head of the Chonga Hanmung glacier appeared to offer a suitable venue.

The ascent of this delightful valley and miserable moraine was memorable for the discovery of alarmingly huge 'Yeti' tracks in the mud - presumably belonging to a very large species of bear! An excellent pair of ibex horns protruding from the ice were dug up in order to export home - a decision quickly abandoned on trying to lift these fearsome weapons from the ground. Apart from the weight, the smell alone would never have passed through customs.

We pitched camp at about 4700 m on the upper reaches of the glacier and after an initial sortie, which produced a violent electrical storm, we proceeded to while away four unpleasant days in sodden clothing and sleeping bags before a break in the weather allowed a retreat to base. Next day the bright sunshine leered at us! Soon we were again scrutinizing bear tracks 'en route' for our high camp.

The following days saw the ascents of Zarn I, II and Hoh Lungma peak, all giving relatively easy climbing although the ridge north from Zarn II gave entertaining mixed work.

The weather remained unsettled but time, as always, is a limited commodity. We loaded five days food and set off in diminishing drizzle on 14 August for HikmuTs east ridge. This will provide someone with a fine 1800 m route to the summit given the right conditions. The latter, I rather suspect, being a rare occurrence. After three days climbing up, down and along cornices of every shape and size and at approximately five hundred metres short of the summit, a bottomless rotten snow-slope cracked and groaned. We had reverted to climbing at night due to the atrocious conditions encountered along the ridge; conditions that seemed to become more worrying the higher we rose. It was actually an hour before dawn and quite cold. Chris both heard and felt the crack.

I'm not very happy' I shouted down into the night but inwardly thought 'you coward".

'Do whatever you think best' came the reply.

Ironically our descent coincided with the most perfect of clear skies and we were consoled by splendid views of the Baltoro giants. It was somewhat gratifying to observe, two days later, the slopes below point 5400 m had avalanched - the fracture line neatly coinciding with our tracks.

Ever optimistic we threw our last few days into an attempt on Ganchen South. A variation on the theme - this time we spent two depressing days above 5000 m camped in a steady drizzle and in agreement that frostbite had been the least of our concerns during this mild month. With sacks that were later found to weigh 38 kilos, largely composed of warm clothes we never wore and climbing gear we never used, Hoh Lungma base was left on the 21st and Dasso reached, via the intense furnace of the Braldu gorge, on 23 August.

Perhaps a little should now be said of the other peaks in the area. The fine SW spur of Ghur rises from between two glacial basins at over 5000 m, looks reasonably straight-forward and leads directly to the summit. Access unfortunately is well guarded by steep icefalls and narrow rotten rocky ridges. Perhaps when the peak is finally climbed it will be from the Biafo. As previously mentioned the sharp spires flanking the upper arms of the Sosbun are composed entirely of very rotten rock and any prospects in this vicinity look rather unattractive. South of Ganchen a number of large snow peaks rise above the lower Basha valley and might be best attempted from that side as the southern approach from Dasso is steep with complex Icefalls in the upper reaches.

To gain the grassy lower section of the Saitoro valley would necessitate crossing the extensive and rugged moraine-covered lower Sosbun/Hoh Lungma confluence. A dry glacier appears to lead gently upwards to the enticing peaks of the 6000 m Meru group. Were it not for these and the unclimbed Hikmul, both very worthwhile projects, one would be pressed to recommend the area to future parties.

Sosbun Glacier

Sosbun Glacier



Gnachen - Hikmul east face

Gnachen - Hikmul east face