THE SIX OF us left riotous Kathmandu with two climbing Sherpas, cook, general factotum, liaison officer and 63 porters in two buses on 7 April. 24 weary hours later we arrived in Surkhet - a hot dry town on the edge of the Terai; north of Nepal Ganj in far west Nepal.
Our 18 day journey to base camp commences with a ludicrously hot 1520 m ascent. Pleasant rhododendron forests follow as we walk through the foothills to reach the major jungle-covered range of hills south west of Jumla. The Haudi Lagna at 3050 m affords us our first hazy view of Saipal (7031 m), miles to the north. Having descended to the Sinja Khola (which runs west from Jumla into the Karnali) another hot climb takes us to Manma, the local district capital, at the end of our first week.
From Manma we follow the Karnali river northwards for five days. The gorge is arid cactus country, and whilst of high caste Hindu origin, the people of the very poor villages here adopt Tibetan style flat roofed houses. In this season the river thunders by, a wonderful turquoise colour, and from far above is like a golden ribbon leading us onwards.
Finally we reach the Kuwari Khola, our secret backdoor to Saipal and Humla. We leave behind the Karnali zone and enter fragrant pine forests, and deep in the river valley, a wet and wonderful jungle of walnut and bamboo. This constricts to a narrower gorge before opening out into a parkland of Alpine meadows with one or two small Bhotia settlements. Here the goats which we have previously seen laden with bags of rice, kicking up dust further down trail, are grazing on green grass. Potatoes, chang and curd are available. There is a freshness in the air and for me a sense of home coming.
Base camp is established in front of the east face of Saipal on 26 April at the foot of the terminal morraine of a short flatfish glacier which leads to broad open meadows. Trees cover the hills on either side - it is very low (3650 m) but very beautiful.
We make advance base at 3850 m in the middle of the glacier directly below two large icefalls separated by a rock buttress. A continuous barrage of serac avalanches from both sides and stonefall on the buttress renders any direct assault on the face unadvisable.
We therefore turn our attention to circumventing the right hand icefall to the north, and climb a gully and bowl to reach Cl (4800 m) on a hitherto uncrossed pass into Humla. From here attempts to reach the main north ridge along its northeast spur prove unfruitful, and so we decide to push round on the north side of the mountain.
We descend into Humla, and ciimb avalanche-prone slopes to C2 (5200 m) which is situated on a ridge running north from the northeast spur. Progress from here is blocked by an arete running between the mountain and Kerang Tse (an unattempted 6000 m satellite peak of Saipal). We push towards this, but retreat at the prospect of another descent and re-ascent under an unpleasant icefall. Our final effort is to dimb to a high point of 5700 m on the northeast spur.
We meant to turn our attentions to the approaches to the east ridge, south of base camp, but unfortunately, descending from C2 on 16 May, Nuru Sherpa and I were involved in separate falls, sliding on unstable snow down the same gully. I was relatively unscathed but Nuru broke his ankle and hurt his back. John Holland and Roshan made a marathon journey over the Chote Lagna (4700 m) to Simikot to order a helicopter (possibly the first Westerner to cross this pass also). Nuru was evacuated on 21 May from the north side of the mountain. His ankle was operated on and pinned in Kathmandu, but he now seems to be making a reasonable recovery.
When we left Kuwari Khola base camp on 26 May it was covered in spring flowers. Yaks from the nearby Humla village of Chala were grazing in the summer pastures at Sain. However the north side of the 4560 m Sankha Lagna pass into Humla was still deep in snow. We struggled down through mist into a canyon and next day crossed the Kerang Khola to reach Chala - a primitive collection of flat roofed houses huddled together below a broad ridge separating the Humla Karnali and Kerang Khola rivers.
Next, we travelled north west into Humla, rejoining the Karnali at Muchu on the Tibetan trade route. The region was much more Alpine and less arid than expected. We had panoramic views of several unnamed 6700 m peaks to the north of the Karnali as well as exceptional views back to Saipa! and of the south side of Gurla Mandhata in Tibet.
Humla was also less poor than we had been led to believe. Whilst the people clearly led a subsistence life-style, the Bhotia villages we passed through as we followed the Karnali back east to Simikot, were well ordered and prosperous in comparison to those further down river. The Thakuri villages neared Simikot were dirtier and seemed poorer through a lack of organisation, despite superior natural resources.
Members: Chuck Evans (leader), Frank Evans, Matthew Heffer, John Holland, Caroline Purkhardt and Julia Wood.
Summary: An attempt on Saipal (7031 m) in summer 1992 by a British team.