Himalayan Journal vol.50
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.50

Publication year:
1994

Editor:
Harish Kapadia
Index
  1. TO LIVE AND LEARN
    (W. H. MURRAY)
  2. AFTER NANDA DEVI
    (PETER LLOYD)
  3. Article 3 EDITING THE AMERICAN ALPINE JOURNAL
    (H. ADAMS CARTER)
  4. Article 4 EDITING THE ALPINE JOURNAL
    (JOHANNA MERZ)
  5. RECOLLECTIONS OF A FORMER EDITOR
    (TREVOR BRAHAM)
  6. THE JOURNEY OF THE JOURNAL Editing the Himalayan Journal
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  7. Article 7 THE HIMALAYA THROUGH THE JOURNAL
    (M. H. CONTRACTOR)
  8. A LIGHTER LOOK AT DARK MEANINGS Reading between the Journal's Lines
    (WILLIAM McKAY AITKEN)
  9. HIMALAYAN JOURNAL: VOL. III (1931)
    (AAMIR ALI)
  10. RETURN TO EVEREST 1953-1993
    (GEORGE C. BAND)
  11. TENZING NORGAY 1914-1986 AND THE SHERPA TEAM*
    (CHARLES WYUE)
  12. THE FIRST ASCENT OF NAMCHA BARWA THE HIGHEST UNCLIMBED PEAK IN THE WORLD
    (HIROMI OHTSUKA)
  13. Article 13 TRAVELS IN THE ARUISACHAL HIMALAYA Western Arunachal Himalaya
    (P. M. DAS)
  14. Article 14 ROUND KANGCHENJUNGA
    (DORJEE LHATOO)
  15. MULTINATIONAL ARMY NILKANTH EXPEDITION, 1993
    (Lt. Col. H. S. CHAUHAN)
  16. CROSS-ROADS IN SPITI Exploring Western Spiti Valleys
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  17. Article 17 BACK TO RUPSHU
    (ROMESH D. BHATTACHARJI)
  18. Article 18 CERRO KISHTWAR
    (MICK FOWLER)
  19. Article 19 SUMMER ON THE SAVAGE MOUNTAIN
    (ROGER PAYNE)
  20. Article 20 BRITISH TIEN SHAN EXPEDITION, 1993
    (DAVE WILKINSON)
  21. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 1 BRITISH MASAGANG EXPEDITION
    (JULIAN FREEMAN-ATTWOOD)
  22. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 2 INDO-JAPANESE PATHIBARA EXPEDITION, 1993
    (YOSHIO OGATA)
  23. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 3 INDO-UKRAINE KANGCHENJUNGA EXPEDITION, 1993
    (P. BODHANE AND V. SIVIRIDENKO)
  24. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 4 THE IRISH EVEREST EXPEDITION, 1993
    (DAWSON STELFOX)
  25. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 5 BRITISH PERI HIMAL EXPEDITION, 1992
    (PETER HUDD)
  26. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 6 INDO-US ARMY EXPEDITION TO MANA
    (Lt. Col. H. S. CHAUHAN)
  27. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 7 MERU SHARK'S FIN British Mem Expedition to East Face, 1993
    (PAUL PRITCHARD)
  28. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 8 SARASWATI PEAK
    (REIKO TERASAWA Translated by Eri Kusuda)
  29. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 9 ON SWARGAROHIM I
    (AKE NILSSON)
  30. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 10 WHAT DID YOU DO IN SORANG VALLEY?
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  31. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 11 PIN VALLEY NATIONAL PARK AND ITS WILDLIFE
    (YASH VEER BHATNAGAR)
  32. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 12 LAYUL PASS, 1985 Barashigri Glacier Expedition
    (SHAMSHER SINGH)
  33. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 13 ON BARA SHIGRI
    (CHRIS CHEESEMAN)
  34. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 14 CLIMBING IN LITTLE TIBET
    (DAVID I. MACGREGOR)
  35. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 15 MAMOSTONG KANGRI II, 1993
    (GUNTHER STEINMAIR)
  36. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES 16 AQ TASH Indo-Japanese expedition
    (HUKAM SINGH)
  37. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES FANTASTIC MOUNTAIN, THE OGRE
    (CARLOS P. BUHLER)
  38. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES NANGA PARBAT EXPEDITIONS, 1992 AND 1993
    (DOUG SCOTT)
  39. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES TWO NEW ROUTES ON FALAKSER AND MANKIAL Climbing in the Eastern Hindu Rush (Upper Swat
    (HERMANN WARTH)
  40. BOOK REVIEWS
  41. IN MEMORIAM SIR JACK LONGLAND (1905-1993)
    (SIR JACK LONGLAND)
  42. CORRESPONDENCE
  43. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1993
  44. THE ALPINE JOURNAL, 1994

TO LIVE AND LEARN

W. H. MURRAY

MY ACTIVE CLIMBING LIFE having come to an end, I thought to regale readers with some vivid memories of past days. I went so far down this wrong road as to make a list of what these might be: the moments of great danger, the hairbreadth escapes, the suspense of exploration - and their direct opposites when relaxation brings new insights: 'Number your red-letter days by campsites', said Tom Longstaff, 'not by summits (no time there)'. The long length of the list gave me second thoughts. Not only had much of it been said before, but all mountaineers had had such experiences of their own, therefore had had them more vividly than by hearing them again from me.

My plan had been a mere beating about the bush, an evasion of the real issue, which was: what had mountains taught me in a long life? What, if anything, had 1 learned of real value? Real, not just for me but hopefully for others too ? I had of course learned a multitude of things. Two rose at once to mind, and two are enough for this short discussion.

The first thing I had learned was thre value of commitment, and .the second, its corollary, that all obstacles are imposters, and. none impossible. I will explain these two, but first, let me say that I do know the aphorism, 'Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn't have to do it himself.' The words sound to me glib, spoken perhaps by one who had not yet discovered commitment's secret.

When I began climbing as a young man, one of the first things I had to learn, if only by slow degrees, was a proper irreverence for the pundits of my own country, that is, when they told me as they did from time to time, that a rock-route was impossible, or else 'unjustifiable under snow and ice.' In my early years on Scottish mountains, I began to appreciate the truth of Fridtjof Nansen's words, spoken out of his Arctic travels: 'The difficult is that which can be done at once, the impossible that which takes a little longer.' But I still had to learn their truth more thoroughly.

In 1939, I had found a friend in John Hartog, then a schoolboy of 17 at Westminster. He told me that ever since he was 14 his ambition was to climb one particular peak in the Karakoram - the Muztagh Tower. When he spoke of its awesome obstacles, his eyes shone. Sella's famous photograph hung on his bedroom wall. I took one look at" that monolith, nearly 10,000 feet of unbroken rock -impossible! - the thought came to me involuntarily, despite the lessons I thought I knew by heart. Mercifully, I held my tongue and swallowed my laughter - I did not want to embarrass the boy. The north wall of the Eiger, which had just been climbed, looked by comparison stumpy and practicable. Yet John was no wild-eyed youth. He had commonsense and an orderly mind. Behind his glasses were quiet eyes and a quality of stillness. I liked him. He knew already that he had a first-class brain, and seemed able to relax in that awareness. When he grew up, he would act with authority without seeming aggressive - and would also, 1 felt sure, grow out of his Muztagh folly.

The war with Germany carried us off. When we were demobbed, John went to Oxford and soon became president of the OUMC.1 His boyhood dream was still with him. Sella's photograph still hung on his wall at college, and still I discounted all thought of his acting, for he could not climb to my standard on rock and ice, and I reckoned my standard not equal to his Muztagh. (I had not seen his collection of other photographs taken at other angles).

Two years later, I was climbing with friends in Kumaon. Within a month of our return, China invaded Tibet. That event sharply reminded Michael Ward, Tom Bourdillon and me, that the old approach to Everest being closed, a new one might be opening, because Tilman, that same autumn of 1950, had been allowed to go up the Khumbu glacier with Houston's American party.

A new reconnaissance of Everest from Nepal seemed to us an urgent need. Tilman had photographed its west side from 18,000 feet on Kala Pathar, at six miles' range. I asked him what he thought. His reply was unequivocal, characteristically terse: 'Impossible. No route.' Confounded as I felt, I was not unduly dismayed. I knew that no one could say such a thing of any obstacle without 'rubbing his nose against if, and Tilman's nose was not six miles long. I am unable to criticise his opinion. Had I not been saying the same thing (inwardly) of the Muztagh Tower? Meantime, the Himalayan Committee of the RGS and AC2 backed Tilman. That was hardly surprising - they had read Mallory's report of tr?e Khumbu side (seen from the col east of Pumori): 'I do not much fancy it would be possible, even could one get up the glacier... the western glacier and the slopes above revealed one of the most awful and utterly forbidding scenes ever observed by man.' Tilman's emphatic words therefore came as a clincher. They would grant us no money. So we each agreed to put up £500 of our own, and on that basis I went ahead and organized. (The News Chronicle had offered us £40,000 on condition that we took along a staff photographer, and a reporter with freedom to write as he chose. We turned that down as likely to result in ballyhoo of a kind we were unwilling to suffer. At the last moment, the Times gave £5000 with no strings attached, but too late to be of practical use). Throughput, we had good moral support from the RGS.

1. Oxford University Mountaineering Club.

One month before we set off, Eric Shipton had arrived back from China. We asked him to lead. He told me that he too had seen Everest's west side from the Pumori Col, and agreed with Mallory and Tilman - no route from the Khumbu - but would come because he'd love to visit the Sherpas' homeland ... The upshot was, of course, that as soon as we climbed on to Pumori in late September, and looked full on to Everest's west face, the route to the South Col lay plain before our eyes.

No less plain rose that major obstacle, the Khumbu icefall. It seemed to us all like a death-trap. Hanging glaciers draped the flanks of both its containing ridges. Judged by Alpine standards, the avalanches falling from these must surely rake the icefall from side to side. I could already see that debris scarring "the Nuptse wall had shot out to near the icefall's centre. Could we justly ask Sherpas to go there? Doubts filled our minds. But long as we watched and waited, no other ice-blocks fell. I then remembered the advice given to me by Tom Longstaff when he first heard of our reconnaissance: 'My guess is that you'll find the ice on the mountain's southwest side much more viscous than that on the north, therefore less prone to avalanche.' I mentioned this to Eric. He was naturally uncertain.

We made three probing climbs to search that icy chaos for a safe route through, and in late October began our final ascent of the whole icefall. Nearly a month of dry weather had reduced its snow-cover. It was now in an extremely open, rickety condition. The glacier seemed to have been moving down in unco-ordinated jerks. Less than two hours up, we came upon a badly shattered area, which had greatly changed in the last five days. It looked as if shaken by earthquake. The upper glacier overhung the lower, and between them a great chasm had opened, jammed tight with ice blocks the size of houses. A glassy bridge spanned the nearer part of this chasm. As we roped carefully across I could feel it trembling beneath our feet. I felt terrified. Shipton did too. He muttered to me, 'We shouldn't be here!' I agreed wholeheartedly. Quite apart from the blue depths waiting below us, I feared still more the Nuptse flanks above. The farther we went, the more tortuous grew the route. The glacier became badly 'shot', with dark cracks running in every direction. When an ice-axe was thrust hard through, it was apt to meet empty space. (We were glad not to be wearing crampons). At one passage through seracs, a giant pillar, as tall as the Tower of Pisa, leaned so far out that we expected to see it topple at any moment. We crept past, holding our breath. At last we faced the final wall. After two abortive attempts, a route to the top was cut by Tom Bourdillon. We had made it - the way looked clear to the South Col. But not quite - a vast crevasse at our feet barred the full breadth of the glacier. We could do no more, and turned back. We knew now that the mountain could not be ours - not today - but its day would come. We had dispelled the psychological barrier of 'the inaccessible' and the negative attitudes it engendered. We had found the key and could pass it on. Our successors, to gain the upper glacier basin and to make a supply route up the icefall, would need aluminium ladders and much fixed rope.

2. The Royal Geographic Society and The Alpine Club.

In one long day of nervous tension, we had climbed up and down without incident. Nothing had fallen from Nuptse. No serac had toppled. Longstaff had been right as usual. Subsequent history has shown the whole obstacle - so intimidating on our first ascent - to be like every other, an imposter, not impossible. None the less, it has been one of the mountain's principal killers. A wise climber has to keep alert at every move.

After that, I ought to have learned my lesson - but my grasp of it still fell short:

We live and learn, but not the wiser grow


Pomfret's one-line shaft might have been aimed straight at me. Thus, when John Hartog told me that he soon hoped to have time and money to make his attempt on the Muztagh Tower, I gave no positive encouragement. In 1956, now aged 34, he invited Tom Patey, Ian McNaught Davis, and Joe Brown, to join his team. That they were able to climb the mountain at short notice that summer, with minimum reconnaissance and no hitches, was due entirely to John's twenty-year research. He had in his possession every known photograph of the mountain from ground and air at every angle. Every written report had been collected, filed, and analysed. Never before had an unclimb.ed peak of the Karakoram been so thoroughly studied by a man trained to research from his youth. His was the first attempt by any nation, yet he knew already that his best approach was by the Muztagh and Chagarin glaciers, and his most hopeful route the northwest ridge.

At his first attempt, the twin summits were climbed. There has, since, been a wrong tendency to give all credit to Brown and Patey because of their great skills and known names. The truth is that while they all had need of each other, the Muztagh had been Hartog's peak. His, the chosen route; his, the long-term commitment, and so principally, his, the first ascent. He was the vital initiator, the linchpin and energy source in its conception. The route as climbed was technically the hardest done at that time in Asia (AJ 1956, HJ 1957). It made history for another and better reason: following the ascent of Everest and eight other 8000-metre peaks by ponderous expeditions, mounted at high cost and manageable only by use of army-type logistics, the Muztagh came as a pointer to the future. It seemed to clear the air. It directed the climbing world's attention to the new goal - not height for its own sake as before, but to high standard climbing on lower peaks, done alpine-style, by small, swift parties, and with costs cut from £100,000 or more to £4000 or less.

The Muztagh story had begun with a schoolboy's dream. John Hartog was so unassuming that I forbore to scoff, but confess I had thought his dream impractical. This is an old," old story, which we all have tp keep in mind - that dreams are more potent than reason:.that if you can dream a thing you can attain it too, as often as not. The pages of the HJ through the years give endless testimony. Dreams are for action.

That truth has a universal application, without limit. When I was young, we dreamed that Everest might be climbed one day without oxygen, and were derided by the physiologists. We dreamed of space travel to the moon and planets, and were derided by the physicists. And so it is on every plane. This year, in a debate broadcast from Oxford University, I heard those who dreamed of man's union with the deity derided by the biologist-philosophers. We may all be slow to learn, but slowest of all are the men of science, when they lack vision. I do not seek to abrogate reason, but to raise it. A camel cannot pass through the eye of a needle. Vision can. There are many doors closed in this world to a handicapped man or woman. But for mankind, of which we all are part, no doors are closed. Ways through will always be found.

That brings me to commitment. When three friends and I thought to make our, very first expedition to the Himalaya, we were dreaming in particular of Garhwal and Kumaon, but were not yet committed. Dearly as we wanted to go, we wondered: Could we raise the money? Dared we jeopardise our jobs ? Did we know enough about Himalayan conditions? We dithered and delayed, but not too long. The great change came when with sudden resolve, we put down our money and booked our passage to India. A simple but vital act. We were committed. Our change in fortune was then so rapid, much of it through prompt help from members of the Himalayan Club, that I felt moved at the time to set down this record:3

Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred. A whole series of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, and meetings, and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

What you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.


The Himalaya has finally taught me that man, given single-minded commitment, is, in the long run, not subject to impossible obstacles.

----------------------SUMMARY---------------------

Lessons learned from a lifetime's climbing.

3. Scottish Himalayan Expedition, (Dent, 1950).

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