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

THE GOLDEN PILLAR

A. V. SAUNDERS

The first ascent of the Northwest Pillar of
Golden Peak (7027 m), Karakoram
IN THE HEART of the Karakoram, in the ancient Mirdom of Nagar, lies a little known mountain. Although the Karakoram Highway passes no more than twenty miles from it, the peak is not visible from the road. Yet, from Nagar the mountain is striking.

On the Skardu side of the watershed, the peak is called Spantik. (This may be a Balti name, I have not been there). According to some sources the peak is also known as Yengutz Sar, but this is clearly erroneous, as the peak cannot be seen from the Burushaski speaking Yengutz Har valley ('Valley of the Torrent of the Flour Mills'), and Sar is not a Burushaski synonym for peak; it means pond.

The first westerners to attempt the mountain were the Americans,, Fanny Bullock Workman and her husband Dr William Hunter Workman. In 1906 they climbed the laborious Chogolungma glacier, taking in the peaks of Chogo and Lungma on the way to-the plateau, about 1000 ft below the summit. Their name for the mountain was Pyramid Peak.

The Workmans’ effort was not bettered till half a century later,, when in 1957 a party of West Germans under the leadership of Kramer made a successful ascent by the Chogolungma glacier, possibly following the route pioneered by the Workmans. The Germans used the name Spantik as well as, presumably in honour of the home town, renaming the mountain 'Frankfurterberg'.

Visitors to the region have a habit of adopting bizarre nomenclature. One Italian expedition in 1954 improved on local usage with Cima Marconi (Sumayar Bar Chish) and Cima Bolzano (Melangush Chish).

On the north side of the mountain a large monolithic pillar catches the evening sun, and gives the peak its Burushaski name, Ganesh Chish, which means Golden Peak.

The Golden Pillar is marble. The rock is crystalline, almost sugary in parts, but generally sound. The Pillar is the coup de grace of a vertical outcrop of met amorphic limestone, which leapfrogs the glaciers from above the village of Hoppar. Looking out from high on the Pillar we were able to see the cream-yellow rock arcing from glacier to glacier for fifteen miles, like a series of rainbows.

Photos 42 to 45
The Golden Pillar is the clear, unavoidable challenge of the mountain, it soars from the glacier for 2200 m. The summit is about 300 m higher and set back, perhaps, 3 km from the Pillar. We saw the Pillar in 1984 while attempting to climb Bojohagur Duonasir, a 24,000 ft mountain directly above the Karakoram Highway. Not only did we fail to climb the mountain, but a Japanese walking club made the first ascent while we were there. They used five camps and several kilometres of fixed rope, while we were attempting an alpine-style ascent. In spite of this obvious difference in attitudes, when Phil Butler and I met them on Day 10 of our gruelling 14 day climb, they were very decent. They offered us food and had kind words about our effort.

The 1984 Bojohagur expedition was an NLMC (North London Mountaineering Club) affair, and it was much the same team that seeing the Golden Pillar in 1984, knew they would have to return. Even though Golden Peak was on the horizon, it was clear that something remarkable, very nasty even, decorated it's north face. At first the Pillar reminded us of Cenotaph Corner.

In England, further enquiries revealed a little of the mountain's history. From Poland the encyclopaedic Kowalevski sent us some photographs taken from Kunyang Chish. Nazir Sabir, Doug Scott and Tadeusz Piotrovski (who perished on K2 during the awful summer of 1986) all kindly donated 'front on' prints, which all but persuaded us to cancel. At about this time we began to compare the Pillar to the Walker Spur, just a little higher, and perhaps a bit harder.

Also during 1986 the team gelled. It was to consist of the Bojohagurites Phil (Lobby) Butler, Mick Fowler, Dr John English, and myself, together with two NLMC members new to this sort ef thing, Liz Allen and Bruce Craig. George Fowler (Mick's father), our liaison officer, Dr Iqbal Ahmed and Rajab Zawar our Nagari cook completed the expedition team.

We established our base at a place known to the locals as Suja Bassa c. 4000 m, on 14 July. The march from the roadhead at Hoppar had taken five days, though it could easily have been done in three. The porters had originally wanted to make six days of it, but we compromised on five and a goat. (It is 'traditional' for expeditions to give their porters a goat). Visitors to this region should note that the daily rate of pay to the porters is not excessive, but the 'traditional' day stages can be as short as one and a half hours. This makes Nagar the most expensive region of the Karakoram for expeditions. We found the Hoppar men honourable. Having struck a bargain, they invariably stuck to it.

We made a dump of gear two hours above base at a place we called Hewitt's Gamp. (There was evidence that the Canadian geologist had used the same site in 1986). Hewitt's was directly across the small Golden Peak glacier from the base of the Pillar, at c. 4500 m. From here we could see the Pillar divided into four sections. First, a four hundred metre pinnacle, the First Tower, barred access to the long serpentine snow-arete. The snow-arete ended in a small step, which led to the third section, a tiny hanging glacier. The fourth part was the point of the exercise, 1200 m of wall, like a great spear thrust into the sky.

On 19 July, Fowler and I made a preliminary reconnaissance of the approaches to the Pillar, (it took three days to reach the hanging glacier). Meanwhile, English and Allen made a start on the 'Descent Ridge'. They were stopped by deep snow and indifferent weather, but not before they had climbed the initial 400 m 'Prominence', a sort of pyramidal tower. Butler and Bruce inspected the Yengutz Pass, which had not, so far as we knew, been crossed. This initial flurry of activity was followed by a period characterised by various attempts to climb either the Pillar, or the ridge which failed in outbursts of appalling weather.

On the evening of 5 August Fowler and I walked up to Hewitt's Camp knowing this was our last chance to try the route. Fowler, a Civil Servant, was due back at his desk on the 23rd, 18 days time. If we allowed 10 days for the climb, he would just make it.

We had packed carefully after lunch, checking and rechecking -each detail. A great sense of fate hung in the afternoon like an impending storm. We packed and repacked our sacks, tidied the tents, laid out our clothes in order until there were no displacement activities left. Then we shouldered the enormous loads, and wordlessly began to walk. The weather was variable in the extreme, there was even a minor snow-storm while we were walking.

During that night we climbed the 1000 m to the hanging glacier, and spent the remainder of the 6th praying for good weather. On Day 2 we were fortunate, and starting at 4.00 a.m. were able to ęsUmb 10 pitches of slabs and walls to reach the amphitheatre by 5.00 p.m. It was important to reach the amphitheatre, there would have been no possibility of finding a bivouac ledge on the slabs.

We had thought, when we started, that the main difficulty on this 4ay would be the little walls which crossed the slabs, and a larger wall that barred access to the amphitheatre. In fact, we found the reverse was true, there was no ice on the rock, and the blank surfaced slabs offered precarious climbing with no protection. The walls, however, contained cracks which could be cleaned of snow to provide the occasional runner.

On Day 3 the weather was not so kind, and we stopped at midday for a brew which became a bivouac, as it began to snow heavily. We had climbed out of the amphitheatre by a steep system of chimneys and grooves. This was one of the few parts of the route we had not been able to examine with binoculars, so from a route finding point of view we had passed one of the two cruxes. This day also included some of the most technically demanding climbing of the route. The first pitch out of the amphitheatre was a groove with an overhanging section. Mick managed to place two wobbly pegs above his head, then began to swear loudly and forcibly . . . for a long time. He could not, it seems, clip the pegs because the sling was stuck under his hood. The belay was on black shale, and Mick was grinning like a cat with two tails, as he pointed to the shale chimney that continued in the direction we wanted to climb. It looked coated in inches of thick inviting ice, but we were deceived. The pitch was horrible, verglas on shale fragments.

Although it snowed overnight, the next morning brought visibility, if not clear skies. As the mists receded we recognized the features that would act as landmarks. It was enough to go on with. We began to follow lines on the right wall of the Pillar. By midday we reached a large flat ledge, the top of a giant jammed block. Here we made tea and relaxed, until it occurred to us to look up We were surrounded by overhangs, completely blocked in. Fowler led an aid pitch to gain the lowest of a series of ramps, using a technique that had been developed in Europe in the days of Heckmair. I had never seen anything like it, but Mick was not prepared to learn new tricks just then. The lower ramps lead to a shield which was the other area of uncertainty for us. From base camp there appeared to be no line round this feature, but a hidden chimney revealed itself at the end of the ramp. It was blank sided, and there was no belay at the top, so I was forced to belay Mick by wedging my body across the chimney, and asking him not to fall off.

I do not remember having a more miserable bivouac than the one we had that night. We were benighted, something we said we would avoid at all costs, and there was no ledge, nor any possibility of cutting one, on the thin ice. We used the tent as a hanging bag, inside which Mick spent the night hanging in his harness, while I stood in my rucksack. It snowed all night.

The 3.30 alarm was greeted with relief. It was Day 5, looking up we could see the final ramps. When we reached them, they looked easy, as we climbed the truth dawned on us. They were covered in a layer of powder snow, which when swept off, revealed blank rock, no runners, and the impending side wall pushed you off balance. We had hundred foot run outs, and lots, and lots of fear, These ramps in turn led to the final corner, a vertical bookshaped corner under an earshaped serac. Mick made short work of the difficulties, banging in the pegs with care. (I had asked him not to disturb the serac above us.) And then we found the snow leading to the plateau so deep. We began to have horrible thoughts of being forced down the way we had got up.

The next day, Day 6, was to be our summit day. At 6.00 a.m. we started out from the tent, leaving all but our clothes and a stove behind, At 12.45 p.m., we stood on top of the Golden Peak. It was 11 August 1987. We could see Bojohagur, Batura, Diran, Trivor and other large peaks, but from Kunyang Chish black clouds were invading the sky. The storm overtook us within the hour. First the electric shocks, we hid, trying to bury ourselves and axes in the snow; then high winds swept in from the south. We began to have fears for the tent, We could imagine it flying down to base camp in advance of us. The winds brought drifting snow and white-out. Our tracks disappeared. We were high on the plateau,, surrounded by precipices. We found, after a bit of experimentation, that if we got down on all fours, we could feel the softness in the slope where our tracks had been filed in. So we crawled down towards the tent.

By the morning of Day 7, the weather had regained its composure It was clear, and very, very cold. Below us a sea of cloud filled the valleys. This was worrying, because we could not be sure where we were to leave the plateau if we could not see the descent ridge. During the climb, we had noted a tongue of plateau stretching out over the ridge. On this tongue, lay some ice-blocks, Which we referred to as the 'crumbs' on the tongue. After three Worrying hours of crossing the high plateau, with its crevasses large enough to swallow a battleship, we arrived at the top of an icefall. There below us were the 'crumbs'. The valley fog was receding and the tongue was revealed, but where on the edge of the tongue was the descent? We knew that if we picked the wrong spot, not only would we miss the ridge, but also be abseiling over large seracs into space.

Descending the icefall involved making our first ever snow-bollard abseils, but these lead to the tongue, where we found the 'crumbs' were 40 ft high. Guessing that the ridge would be near the tip of the tongue, we pitched the tent and waited for the mist to clear down to the valley. We made brew, and dozed. We were feeling mentally tired, and needed to get down. At 5.30 p.m. the mist cleared. We had no 'dead men' for snow-belays, and so we dug a large hole in the soft plateau. I got as deep into the hole as possible, and we had a 'live man' belay. Mick gingerly stepped towards the edge, then got on his stomach and crawled towards it. It was an easy cornice, and he descended a few feet before coming back to the belay.

'Well Mick, How is it?'

'You try,' was all he said.

I looked over the edge of the cornice, and saw the descent ridge snaking down to the English-Allen Prominence. Surely we were going to survive this climb. Already I began to debate the value of it all. What is the point of mountaineering? It seemed to me in that moment that the nature of the goal did not matter. We are driven to reach for goals, but we can learn no lessons from them. There is no pot of gold, only the rainbow.

'I suppose it's because we live in an achievement orientated society,' I said to Mick. He looked at me as if I had just announced I was stark staring mad.

In the tent we discussed our plans should we get down safely. Over to the north I could see the Yengutz Har pass. I decided that after a day's rest J would try with the others to cross that pass. Fowler said that if we could get down the next day, he would walk out to Hoppar the next morning, take the jeep and bus to Gilgit the following day and hope to catch his plane to London from Islamabad on Sunday.

'Why the great rush?' I asked.

'Because it means by Monday the 16th I shall have parked those Civil Shoes under that Civil Service desk and saved a whole week's annual leave, know what I mean Vic?' He tapped the side of his nose.

Iqbal, Lobby, Bruce and myself did eventually complete the traverse of the pass, it took us four hard days for the round trip - much longer than we anticipated. We made the mistake of selling our rope in Hispar then descending the Hispar gorge on the wrong bank. We found ourselves soloing across difficult rock climbing ground above the roaring Hispar river. The other three showed great patience, waiting for me, tired and emaciated.

As for Fowler, I don't know where he got the energy from, but he caught the flight. By Monday morning, 9.30 sharp, those Civil Shoes were under that Civil Service Desk.

The Golden Pillar'; Spantik. The 1987 British route is along the central rib. 						(A. V. Saunders)

The Golden Pillar'; Spantik. The 1987 British route is along the central rib. (A. V. Saunders)



 Diran north face from the summit plateau of Spantik. 						(A. V. Saunders)

Diran north face from the summit plateau of Spantik. (A. V. Saunders)



On the plateau of Spantik. Lto R: Lupghar Sar, Trivor and Disteghil Sar. Article 22 										( A. V. Saunders)

On the plateau of Spantik. Lto R: Lupghar Sar, Trivor and Disteghil Sar. Article 22 ( A. V. Saunders)



Spantik. 'The Golden PUlar' climbed is in centre. The route of descent follows the ridge falling to the right. 									(A. V. Saunders)

Spantik. 'The Golden PUlar' climbed is in centre. The route of descent follows the ridge falling to the right. (A. V. Saunders)



Spantik British route 1987

Spantik British route 1987