Himalayan Journal vol.44
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.44

Publication year:
1988

Editor:
Soli S. Mehta
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. MOUNTAINS AND RIVERS OF THE HIMALAYA: THEN AND NOW
    (JACK GIBSON)
  3. MEMORIES
    (MAVIS HEATH)
  4. ZHANGZI - AUTUMN, 1987
    (JOSS LYNAM)
  5. BRITISH XIXABANGMA Expedition, 1987
    (LT COL M. W. H. DAY)
  6. MENLUNGTSE, 1987
    (CHRIS BONINGTON)
  7. KINGDOM OF THE THUNDER DRAGON
    (S. K. BERRY)
  8. RATHONG, 1987
    (MAJOR K. V. CHERIAN)
  9. PANDIM - DIARY OF A WAR-TIME ESCAPADE
    (LORD JOHN HUNT)
  10. MAKALU
    (GLENN PORZAK)
  11. CHO OYU, 1987
    (Dr MAURICIO A. PURTO)
  12. KUMAON SECRETS
    (GEOFF HORNBY)
  13. FIRST ASCENT OF CHIRBAS PARBAT, 1986
    (INDRANATH MUKHERJEE)
  14. KALANAG EAST FACE EXPEDITION, 1986
    (W. J. POWELL)
  15. CHURDHAR MORE OF THE LESSER
    (WILLIAM MCKAY AITKEN)
  16. A RETURN TO LINGTI, 1987
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  17. ASCENT OF KARCHA PARBAT, 1986
    (J. K. PAUL and S. N. DHAR)
  18. A TRYST WITH PHABRANG, 1987
    (ANIL KUMAR)
  19. BRITISH KISHTWAR EXPEDITION, 1986
    (BOB REID and EDWARD FARMER)
  20. CANADIAN KASHMIR HIMALAYAN
    (JOHN A. JACKSON)
  21. UNKNOWN SPITI: THE MIDDLE COUNTRY
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  22. PICNIC ON A GLACIER -A KARAKORAM JOURNEY
    (STEPHEN VENABLES)
  23. THE GOLDEN PILLAR
    (A. V. SAUNDERS)
  24. PROBLEMS OF ACCURACY IN REPORTING MOUNTAINEERING
    (ELIZABETH HAWLEY)
  25. HIMALAYA-OUR FRAGILE HERITAGE
    (N. D. JAYAL)
  26. THE CONTINUING STORY OF THE HIMALAYAN CLUB
    (M. H. CONTRACTOR)
  27. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  28. IN MEMORIAM
  29. BOOK REVIEWS
  30. CORRESPONDENCE
  31. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1987

KUMAON SECRETS

GEOFF HORNBY

A review of the Sunderdhunga and Pindari valley region and an account of a recent Indo-British expedition.
TUCKED AWAY IN Northern India there lies a range of mountains that have become, to mountaineers, one of India's most well known jewels - the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. The dominance of Nanda Devi and its well travelled satellites cannot be denied, but to the south and west, outside the sanctuary wall lie a collection of mountains that seem less attempted by foreign expeditions.

Access to these mountains is via the Dhakuri pass and then up either the Sunderdhunga or Pindari valleys. Both valleys are well travelled by Indian people, the Sunderdhunga due to the religious lake of Devi Kund being at its head, and the Pindari because of a well made path that leads to a viewing point of the Pindari glacier. This path was originally built by G, W. Traill, the first Commissioner of the Kumaon region. He built the three foot wide path up the right bank of the Pindari river with the idea of opening a route all the way over the Gori Ganga. However, the huge ice-fall of the Pindari glacier has prevented this from becoming a popular traverse, in fact, there have been only few traverses made since the first crossing in 1830. The col stands in his honour with the name Traill's Pass.

Since Traill's efforts to popularise the Pindari valley, little was done to promote activities in high mountains. Part of a recent programme was to construct lodging bungalows at key points along the Pindari valley thereby encouraging trekking. This has proved very successful with up* to 1000 visitors a year scrambling up to 'Zero Point' on the Pindari glacier moraine. Surprisingly though, despite all this trekking activity very few expeditions, and then only Japanese and Indian, have made any inroads into the peaks surrounding both valley heads. From the Sunderdhunga valley; Tharkot (6099 m) has two British ascents, two Indian ascents and one joint Indo-British ascent, the smaller peaks to the south having been climbed by various Indian expeditions. From Tharkot one gets a superb view of the Sanctuary wall made up by the 3000 m south faces of Mrigthuni (6855 m), Devtoli (6788 m) and Maiktoli (6803 m). This steep mixed wall has yet to be attempted, however, the long and arduous approach combined with a probable descent into the Sanctuary make this a complex challenge. Maiktoli has been climbed by the Japanese via the Maiktoli glacier, a long and dangerous route. Between Maiktoli and Panwali Dwar (6663 m) lies the {Sunderdhunga col, which Shipton used as an exit from the Sanctuary. Panwali Dwar has claimed the lives of two Japanese climbers and there is some cause to believe that it may, as yet, still have an untrodden summit.1 Probably the most reasonable route is the steep ice-face above the Bauljuri col.

Photos 13 to 16


The Pindari valley in the home of some of the higher summits in the Kumaon region. Easily accessible as far as 'Zero Point' it contains some of the most striking ice-faces in the Indian Himalaya. Visibility is limited by the sides of the Pindari gorge until just before the snout of the Pindari glacier. This glacier tumbles chaotically from Traill's Pass and must rival the Khumbu as one of the most impressive icefalls in the world.

1. There is no doubt about the first ascent at all. The first Japanese expedition in 1979 attempted from southwest ridge, from the col between Panwali Dwar and Bauljuri. The second expedition in 1980 climbed the south ridge from Buria glacier;. After a seven hour climb, all four members made the first ascent on 30 May.-Ed.

Looking east from 'Zero Point* the skyline is made up of Bauljuri, Panwali Dwar and Nanda Khat. The face on Nanda Khat (6611 m) seems almost to be a continuation of the Pindari icefall, a jumble of serac bands and exposed slopes. Despite the obvious objective dangers this mountain seems to be the most attempted peak in the valley. This has led to a most unfortunate track record. In 1970 two Indian mountaineers were killed in the icefall attempting Nanda Khat. In October 1972, the mountain received its first ascent by the Nainital Mountaineering Club, this east face route was repeated in June 1981 and in September of the same year a Japanese team led by 3. Ojima lost seven members in an avalanche. This expedition was to have formed the basis for an Everest expedition which was subsequently abandoned. Search and rescue attempts revealed nothing. {Since then there have been three further failed attempts, by Japanese in 1982 and 1983 and by Indians in 1986 and 1987.2 During my recent (1987) expedition to the area, J met numerous Danpurian high altitude porters who refused to undertake any mountaineering activity on this side of Nanda Khat more, I suspect, due to superstition than respect for seracs.

The route to Traill's Pass from the west is the same as that for Nanda Khat and so it is no surprise that the last verified crossing by mountaineers was in 1936 by a Japanese team. Prior to this the pass was reached from the east three times up until 1861 and then crossed from west to east in 1926 by Roger Wilson.3
Changuch is probably 4 one of the finest looking and unapproachable virgin peaks in the Himalaya. At 6325 m it stands proudly at the head of the Pindari valley. Flanked on the west by the Pindari icefall and on the east by the great south face of Nanda Kot it remains a classic alpine-style challenge. I say alpine-style because the approach to the foot of the wall is a painful and serious one, requiring the negotiation of a 300 m deep moraine gorge and the crossing of a fast flowing river that finds it's source in the Changuch glacier.

2. See HJ. Vol. 43, p. 131.-Ed.

3. An account of crossing the Traill's Pass in August 1926, written by Sir Roger Wilson, is given in Alpine Journal, Vol. XI, 1928, p. 33. A reconnaissance of the pass in early June .1925, is summarised by Ruttledge in HJ. Vol. I, p. 81. This pass was crossed a few times; by Osmaston on 16 November 1938 (H.J. Vol. XI, p. 170), by A. Gansser in 1936 (HJ. Vol. IX, p. 41), by the Japanese in 1936 (H.J. Vol. X, p. 77) and by S. S. Khera in 1941 [Indian Mountaineer, No. 3 (1979)], p. 32. A possible alternative to Traill's Pass is described in HJ. Vol. XIII, p. 134. For detailed route description also see Five Months in the Himalaya (A. L. Mumm) and Throne of the Gods (Heim and Gansser).-Ed

From the base of Changuch looking to the east there have been no recorded successful ascents up until the successful Indo-British expedition in the post-monsoon season of 1987. This expedition originally planned to attempt Changuch from the south but after a lengthy reconnaissance revealing the trauma involved in gaining access to the peak, alternative plans were hatched. This was to follow the Changuch glacier to the col at its head and from there to investigate the possibility of making a circuitous route to Changuch. This was the route made by three previous Indian expeditions who failed in their attempts on the unclimbed Nanda-bhannar (6236 m).4 Complex route finding on the glacier caused considerable time to be wasted and eventually two camps were made between the base camp and the col. The route over the col was opened by John McKeever, Aqil Chaudhury and Rajsekhar Ghosh. From the col they attempted to find a direct route up the ridge to the north hoping to gain access to Nandabhanar. They were repulsed by bad weather and retreated to C2 below the col.

When the weather improved, four days later, six team members regained the col and after collecting our cache of equipment, we set about crossing the snowfield at the head of the Kaphni glacier. Directly in front stood the unclimbed Laspa Dhura (5913 m), a beautiful perfect pyramid of snow and ice, whilst to the north was the heavily seraced icefall that forms a wall between the Kaphni glacier and the access to Nanda Kot (6861 m), Nandabhannar (6236 m) and Nandakhani (6029 m). To the south lay the Kaphni icefall which appeared to be impassable. The snowfield alley between the two was crossed swiftly and our C3 placed under the north ridge of Laspa Dhura.

The next day, we split into two teams with myself and Bivujit Mukhoty exploring the edges of the icefall to assess the likelihood of safe access to the upper slopes whilst the other four ascended Laspa Dhura via the north ridge. This route proved to be a classic, 400 m of 50 degree ice was climbed to reach the rocks of the true north ridge and from there easy angled snow-slopes led to the summit. The descent was made down the west ridge ending with a very hard and exposed traverse above the Kaphni icefall. The view confirmed that this tumbling river of ice, trapped between crumbling rock walls, is most likely to be impassable by the sane. The summit was first reached by John McKeever and Aqil Chaudhury and then by Duncan Hornby and Jonathan Preston. The whole episode was repeated the next day by Geoff Hornby and Bivujit Mukhoty who elected to down climb the north ridge in preference to the west ridge.

The icefall preventing easy access to Nandabhannar had proved fairly dangerous but not too difficult. It was to be a matter of personal choice. McKeever, Chaudhury and Preston elected to go, the others, fearful of Nanda's wrath, elected to sunbathe.
  1. See H.J. Vol. 41, p. 167.-Ed
Moving swiftly through the icefall the three found themselves on an icefield being raked by rockfall from the shattered buttresses of Nandabhanar. They climbed rapidly to a safer position below Nandakhani and considered their options. The tent and food were dropped between the two fore peaks of Nanda Kot and after a rest McKeever and Chaudhury climbed the easy snow-slope to Nanda-bhanar's summit. They were shortly followed by Preston. After returning to the tent McKeever walked slowly up the short rock strewn slope to Nandakhani's peak. Above their tent lay the mighty and beautiful unclimbed southeast face of Nanda Kot* Exhaustion and poor snow conditions prevented any attempt on this face and the three waited until the early hours of the next day before descending the icefall and a reunion with the others.

A safe retreat was made back to base clearing all rubbish, including that of previous Indian expeditions, from this mountain area.

This expedition cleared up three of the last virgin summits acces-. sible from the Pindari valley but there are three outstanding remaining challenges; the obvious Changuch with its great south wall, Panwali Pwar which has a number of possibilities from either the Sunderdhunga or Pindari valleys and of course the beautiful south face of Nanda Kjot. These last two have 1000 m ice-faces at an average angle in excess of 55 degrees, climbing it is no problem but the descent must be down the same way and with very little chance of a good bivouac site. Still today's mountaineer succeeds where yesterday's failed and tomorrow's is just around the corner.

SW face of Nanda Kot. 									(Geoff Hornby)

SW face of Nanda Kot. (Geoff Hornby)



R to L: The unclimbed south face of Nanda Kot, Nandabhanar, and in the distance, Nanda Devi.  										(Geoff Hornby)

R to L: The unclimbed south face of Nanda Kot, Nandabhanar, and in the distance, Nanda Devi. (Geoff Hornby)



Changuch, and Pindari glacier on left. 										(Geoff Hornby)

Changuch, and Pindari glacier on left. (Geoff Hornby)



 16. Changuch, with Nanda Devi peaks behind. 		(Geoff Hornby)

16. Changuch, with Nanda Devi peaks behind. (Geoff Hornby)



PINDARI VALLEY

PINDARI VALLEY