UNABLE TO STAND UP to the editor about this series of articles on past volumes, I was reconciled to trundling along at the rate of a volume a year; I looked forward to a peaceful 50 years when I would catch up with Vol. 50. By then, there
would be another 50 volumes —but why cross bridges before you get to them?

Our canny editor shattered this cosy old-age plan. Realising that our arrangement would stretch to infinity, he decreed that the volumes would be dealt with in batches so that the 50 would be finished with the century; the first article
under the new dispensation would cover nine volumes. And nine volumes arrived by post. Didn't you protest? you will ask. Of course I did. But have you ever tried arguing with the editor ?

Volumes IV to XII cover the 30s till the outbreak of the war. Kenneth Mason remained the editor throughout, and his devotion is evident everywhere: articles, book reviews, notes on expeditions laboriously put together, scrappy accounts
turned into readable articles, articles suggested by him or demanded by him, meticulous footnotes often geographical, and notes and articles prompted by other articles. He was everywhere and did everything, setting up a good tradition for
his successors, including the bullying of innocent members. And by 1936, he was no longer in India but at the School of Geography in Oxford, with J.B. Auden of the Geological Survey of India, Calcutta, as Assistant Editor. One is forced to
repeat the happy phrase of Bill Aitken and say that 'the Journal was built on Kenneth Masonry.’

How does one give a summary of nine volumes, totalling 1785 pages, with some 120 major articles, not to mention Notes, Notes on Expeditions, Book Reviews, Obituaries,
Club Proceedings and Advertisements? The shortest Volume is XII of 1940, with 156 pages; the longest is Vol. X of 1938 with 229 pages. The book reviews alone could inspire a lengthy article; so could the obituaries, or the advertisements,
or the Letters to the Editor. If the editor allowed me 1785 pages for this article, I could hope to cover the rich material adequately; as it is, my selection has to be arbitrary.

The Journal remained very British; of the 120 articles only one is by an Indian, 'The Trend-Line of the Himalaya', by D. N. Wadia (VIII-36).1 Be it noted that he was awarded the Back Grant of the Royal Geographical Society in 1934 (VH-35). Most of the contributions seem to be by officers of the Army or of the Survey of India.


  1. Volume VIII, published in 1936. References to the Himalayan Journal throughout this article give the number of the volume followed by the year of publication.


Mountaineering was now definitely the primary focus of the Journal. Roughly, 95 of the 120 articles deal with mountaineering, trekking, exploration. These were the years of the great Everest expeditions of Hugh Ruttledge; Kangchenjunga continued to attract attention though Paul Bauer had turned his sights on Nanga Parbat which brushed off German attempts in a tragic fashion; Nanda Devi was breached and climbed. Tilman, Shipton, Smythe, Merkl, John Hunt, Spencer Chapman, J.O.M. Roberts, Andre Roch, Holdsworth, Gibson, Martyn became familiar names. For people of my generation, we are moving into a more familiar era.

The editor, like all editors, kept appealing for the timely submission of articles, with little effect. In IX-37, he declared sternly, 'All papers ___ must reach either the Hon. Editor, Lt.-Col Kenneth Mason ___ or the Asst. Editor J. B. Auden.... by 31 December 1936/ and in X-38, 'The present volume is the tenth that I have edited. In previous Journals I have appealed to members to submit their papers for publication by the end of December at latest, and earlier, if possible. The response to this appeal has been so poor that only two papers for the current volume were received by the end of 1937. This has meant a great pressure of editorial work at a very busy time, besides increased expenditure on postage and telegrams to the Club.'

Nanga Parbat

31. Nanga Parbat, ….. route climbed, ------------ proposed routeof ascent. Article 16 (C. Walter)

Route from C2 to C3 on Nanga Parbat.

32. Route from C2 to C3 on Nanga Parbat. Article 16 (C. Walter)

Route to C4 on Nanga Parbat.

33. Route to C4 on Nanga Parbat.



The British went to Everest in 1933, 1935 (Reconnaissance), 1936, and 1938.

The great event of 1933 was the attempt of Mount Everest made by an all-British expedition under the leadership of Mr. H. Ruttledge, one of the Founder Members of the HC,' reported the Secretary in VI-34. And the same volume contains Hugh Ruttledge's account of the expedition.

'Brig. E. F. Norton, DSO, MC, and Major. G. Bruce, MC, being unable to leave their military duties, I was invited to lead the expedition on the ground that some one was needed with experience of Himalayan people as well as knowledge of mountains,' he said.

The 14 British members included Smythe, Shipton, Shebbeare, Wyn Harris, St. J. Birnie.2


  1. The list of expedition members included Lt.-Col. Hugh Boustead, Sudan Camel Corps. This seemed curious, and by a strange coincidence, while I was making notes for this article, I was reading Wilfred Thesiger's The Life of My Choice, Collins, 1987. Thesiger was, for a while, in the Sudan Political Service, stationed in Kutum. 'In 1935/ he writes, 'I was interested to meet Colonel Hugh Boustead, who had recently on retirement from the Army been appointed on contract as District Commissioner at Zalingi in western Darfur; I had missed him in Cairo where he too had been staying with John Hamilton, but Hamilton had told me a lot about him.
    'All his life Boustead had sought adventure, and revelled in hardship and danger. At the beginning of the First World War he had been a Midshipman on the South Africa Station. Fearing that he might not see action, he had actually deserted the Royal Navy, joined the Transvaal Scottish, and gone with them under a false name to Egypt and France, where he won an MC; he was later granted the King's Pardon for desertion. After the war he was attached to General Denikin's White Russian Army; later he joined the Sudan Camel Corps and rose to command it. After a noteworthy journey in the Himalaya, he had taken part in the 1933 Everest expedition.'
    Incidentally, Thesiger later wrote, Then I spent two summers, of 1952 and 1953, in Pakistan, travelling with three or four porters among the stupendous mountains of the Hindu Kush and Karakorams. From Chitral I looked out over the Wakhan,
    and from the Boroghil Pass saw far below the headwaters of the Oxus. On my way to Hunza, I skirted Nanga Parbat, passed beneath that superb mountain Rakaposhi, and reached the borders of Sinkiang.'


A few innovations were introduced,' wrote Ruttledge, 'such as a new kind of tent... Oxygen was not used by the climbers, though it saved a life in a pneumonia case and also saved a frost-bitten porter's hands.'

72 Sherpas and Bhotias were enlisted in Darjeeling and equipped; three Gurkha NCO's were specially selected to safeguard the treasure chest and organize camps. 36 days for the 350 miles to base camp, established on 17 April. Then the
laborious business of making the route and establishing camps. An advance wireless receiving and transmitting station was established at Camp HI, and 'from there a telephone wire was run, with immense labour, all the way to Camp VI’'

Camp VI was one small tent 'at a height of 27,400 ft___600 ft. higher than a camp had ever been placed before__The misery of two men enclosed in a tiny tent seven by four, perched insecurely on a sloping ledge so narrow that one third of the floor projects into space, may be better imagined than described.' Ruttledge pays tribute to the 5 Sherpas and 3 Bhotias who established the camp. Langland was bringing them down when 'one of those sudden blizzards which were a feature of almost every afternoon at this period came tearing up out of the west, with no warning. Visibility was at once reduced to a few yards, and goggles became iced up and had to be discarded.' Langland descended via the Camp VI of 1924, where they found a folding lantern and an electric torch which worked.

Wyn Harris and Wager made an attempt from Camp VI. About 200 yards east of the first step and 60 ft below the arete, Wyn Harris 'found an axe lying free on smooth, gently sloping slabs. It looked quite new, the wood of the haft unstained and the steel head polished. Yet that axe must have lain more or less in that position for nine years. It could only have been carried by Mallory or Irvine, for no other party had passed that way. Presumably it marked the scene of a fatal accident.'

On the way down Wyn Harris 'retrieved the-derelict axe, leaving his own in its place.' A little later, he 'had a narrow escape while attempting to glissade down a small snow slope. He got out of control and only just saved himself, by means of his axe, from a fall down the eastern face.' Presumably it was the axe that he had found, Mallory's or Irvine's. And presumably Mallory was watching from wherever former mountaineers go, and saying, 'You were saved "Because it was there".'

In the second attempt, Shipton was unwell so Smythe went on alone till about 28,100 ft, Norton's high point of 1924, about where Wyn Harris and Wager had got to. There seemed to be some sort of invisible barrier at this height as it was attained several times without being passed. Corbett, in his review of Ruttledge's book (VII-35) wrote, 'Solitary climbing is not a practice to be encouraged anywhere; on Everest, in dangerous conditions, it is bad mountaineering. No one will blame Smythe for going on. Everyone will be relieved that his skill and high courage brought him safely back.'

The expedition was 'fairly and squarely beaten by the weather conditions of an abnormal year,' wrote Ruttledge. 'Mallory once put the odds against success of a given party at fifty to one __ When all is said and done, we need the best organization, the best party, and above all the best luck.'

Ruttledge was awarded the Founder's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in 1934 for 'his journeys in the Kumaon and Garhwal Himalaya, and for his leadership of the 1933 Mount Everest Expedition' (VII-35). Incidentally, it is from the same note that we learn that 'he started climbing in a modest way at Zermatt in 1906, where, during a spell of bad weather, he met Edward Whymper, who first interested him in mountaineering.'

In VI-34, L. V. Stewart-Blacker gives a very detailed account of the flights over Mount Everest in April 1933, which were then a great achievement. Specially built planes and cameras were used, and permission had to be obtained from both Nepal and India. Air Commodore P.F.M. Fellowes, DSO, L. V. Stewart-Blacker OBE and other members of the flight wrote a book The Houston-Mount Everest Expedition, 1933. Mason reviews this in VI-34. Some of the long introductory chapters were too much even for the long-suffering Mason: 'Chapters VIE (Nepal) and IX (Life at Purnea) become more than tedious — Much is irrelevant, and by this time the reader will not require to be told that "along the north-eastern confines of India lies the mightiest range of mountains in the world.” ' However, the accounts of the flight to Mount Everest, followed by that to Kangchenjunga and the second one to Everest ‘are enthralling’

The Notes in VH-35 give a short account of the folly and tragedy of the maverick, Maurice Wilson, who made a solo attempt of Everest in 1934. Kenneth Mason does not have much sympathy for Wilson's folly, but one can't help having some sneaking regard for a man who, perhaps annoyed at accounts of the large expeditions with scores of porters, decided to have a crack at the mountain by his lonesome self. 4In 1934/ writes Mason, 'Maurice Wilson, with no technical training and no qualifications but a crazy idea that all his fellow men were fools, set out from Darjeeling, disguised as a Tibetan___with three porters, entered Tibet, and reached the Rongbuk Monastery___ Here one of his ill-equipped porters developed dysentry. Wilson with the other two, continued up the glacier to Camp HI, where on the 17th May, his porters tried to wean him from his folly. Without his porters, he persisted, attempted to climb the North Col, and perished. The weather was perfect, the conditions ideal, the mountain took no part in his death. He died of his own accord/ Mason did not tell us that Wilson was an army officer, had qualified as a pilot and flew his own plane to India: an achievement in itself in those times.

In 1935, Shipton led a reconnaissance to Everest, 'to study monsoon snow conditions, alternative routes and survey the surroundings/ The party of seven included H. W. Tilman. A few hundred yards above Camp II, 'we came upon the body of Maurice Wilson. It would seem that he had died in his sleep from exhaustion rather than from starvation, since he had found the cache of food which had been left in 1933.’

Shipton's account in VHI-36 is one of good fellowship, interesting climbs of smaller peaks, and good fun. They climbed26 peaks over 20,000 ft. and had 'fine views into the great Western Cwm ... As far as we could see the route up it did not look impossible.' As Shipton himself was to prove later.

All this was quite different from the rather grim assault of 1934. No wonder Shipton grew convinced of 'the tremendous advantage which a light mobile party has over the heavy cumbersome organizations too frequently sent out to attack the great Himalayan peaks___ I am becoming increasingly convinced that the ideal number for an attempt___is six.'

Camp Six, Frank Smythe's book of the 1933 expedition, is reviewed by Ruttledge in X-38. This provides the 'subjective treatment which an "official" narrative lacks,' he says. 'Camp VI and what lay beyond it were the No Man's Land ..... Mr. Smythe reminds us that the memory of suffering is mercifully short, while that of beauty remains.'3

Ruttledge also led the 1936 Everest Expedition (VTtI-36), and his account appears in IX-37. They had new tents, new sleeping bags, new boots; the oxygen apparatus weighed 35 pounds and allowed 6 hours climbing. 'Several of our best men still think that the mountain can and should be climbed without its aid.' Smijth-Windham 'had to work the wireless single-handed this year and most competently did he do it. He had a very good understudy in Gavin, who learnt the Morse Code ... in very quick time and later on ran the telephone exchange at Camp III ...' A dishonest link in their chain of communication resulted in the loss of 5-700 expedition letters.

Although promised that the monsoon would be late, in fact it arrived early and made climbing conditions impossible. Shipton and Wyn Harris tangled with an avalanche and had a narrow escape; the expedition didn't get beyond Camp IV. When it became perfectly obvious that 'the North Col must not be meddled with any more during the monsoon/ they decided to explore up the main Rongbuk glacier. 'Our first halt was at a delightful place which we have called Lake Camp. Here we found a little oasis of grass, with a lake. Grass and flowers at 18,000 ft. and in the middle, by the side of a small boulder, a lark's nest with two eggs in it. The hen was sitting, and hatched out those two eggs while we were further up the glacier.’


  1. I have a very special feeling for Camp Six. It was the first mountaineering book I read when I was about 13 and it left an indelible mark. Other books by the prolific Smythe were also reviewed: The Mountain Scene and The Valley of Flowers by Tobin in X-38 and XI-39 respectively; Peaks and Valleys by Mason in XI-39; The Spirit of the Hills by S. G. Dunn in XI-39.


In X-38, Kenneth Mason reviews Ruttledge's book of the expedition, Everest; the Unfinished Adventure. The Eastern Section of the HC published a paper in IX-37, prepared for their representative on the Mount Everest Committee; the volume also includes comments by Shipton on this paper and for good measure, Mason adds his own comments including a discussion of weather conditions. All three are fascinating as stages in the history of Himalayan climbing.

The 1938 expedition was led by H. W. Tilman, and his account is carried in XI-39. Rather different from Ruttledge's official, civil-service sounding reports, this is readable, amusing and pleasantly self-deprecatory.

They got to the Rongbuk earlier than their predecessors; they reduced the number of porters and this meant 'four relays of loads for each camp on the glacier. There was an unseemly amount of stuff to shift. As usually happens, we took up too much food', (they had found a large stock left in 1936). 'Our combined library alone was in every sense weighty. Shipton took the longest and bulkiest novel that has appeared in recent years. Warren's reading was not only professional but practical, comprising a two-thousand-page work on physiology and, even more appropriately, a rather longer text-book on tropical medicine. I rather think Odell had a volume on geology, but if not he made up for it himself by daily writing the equivalent in what he called humorously enough, field notes. Oliver may have had Clausewitz on "War", and Lloyd "Inorganic Chemistry"; but I had carelessly come without the Badminton volume on Mountaineering.'

At Camp IV on the North Col, the mountain was white. 'Even this, however, did not convince us that the monsoon had begun in earnest. As with a man marrying for the second time, hope was indeed triumphing over experience.' The final results were again attempts beyond Camp VI by the Shipton-Smythe duo, and by Tilman-Lloyd, but monsoon, snow and cold made any serious attempt impossible.

Tilman and Lloyd were coming down from Camp V unroped, 'so that Lloyd's fall into a crevasse close to Camp IV will probably evoke neither surprise nor sympathy. I had to leave him down there, properly penitent we hope, before a rope was brought from camp and we hauled him out.'

Pasang had a stroke at Camp IV and had to be carried pick-a-back until the fixed ropes began; then he was treated as a load, lowered down rope's length by rope's length... for nearly 1500 ft.

Among the conclusions Tilman reached, the first was that 'a small party run on modest lines had proved itself as likely to reach the top as a large expensive one.' He clearly joined Shipton in advocating small rather than large expeditions. Another was that the mountain could and should be climbed without oxygen.4


  1. Reinhold Messner was the first to climb Everest without oxygen and to do it solo. The first traverse of the summit was by Tom Hornbein and Bill Unsoeld; the Sherpa Ang Rita has climbed Everest eight times; Brent Bishop climbed it in 1994 following in the footsteps of his father Barry who climbed it in 1963; in all, some 600 people have now climbed Everest.



Kamet and Nanda Devi

The story of Nanda Devi weaves through that of Everest in the 30s, not because they are akin but because the cast of characters overlaps. Thus the Report of the Club for 1931 (IV-32) states, 'Last year has been a memorable one __ Perhaps the most important expedition, because of its success, was Mr. F. S. Smythe's to Kamet. Mr. Smythe joined the club in 1930 during Prof. Dyhrenfurth's international attempt on Kangchenjunga, so we may claim this perhaps as a Himalayan Club Expedition, more especially as his right-hand man, Capt. E. St. H. Birnie, was the representative from India and was mainly responsible for the organization of transport/ He was the only member who spoke Urdu.

And it was Birnie who wrote 'The First Ascent of Kamet (25,447 ft)' in IV-32. Smythe had consulted the Hon. C. G. Bruce and Mr. Ruttledge; his party included Eric Shipton and R. L. Holdsworth 'who is probably better known as a skier than a climber.' Perhaps, but as the HJ has pointed out on various occasions, it was Holdsworth, Martyn and Gibson who, as schoolmasters, introduced generations of Indian boys to mountaineering. The use of ski by Holdsworth was fully justified,' said Birnie. 'As far as Meade's Col, he was able to use them throughout practically the whole route ... and by skiing at 23,500 ft. he must surely have created a record for high altitude skiing. Furthermore, on the descent, he was able to take his frostbitten feet in one day from Camp III to the Base, whereas others similarly affected but not so fortunate, were compelled to drag them down in two rather long and tiring marches.'

Nanda Devi 'stands within a vast crater-like ring 70 miles in circumference, the average height of which is some 20,000 ft. On this ring are 12 measured peaks over 21,000 ft. high, while there is no depression less that 17,000 ft; except on the west, where the Rishiganga river, rising at the foot of Nanda Devi and draining some 240 sq. miles of ice and snow, has in the process carved a stupendous gorge.' Thus wrote Hugh Ruttledge in 'Nanda Devi', in V-33.

'Since 1883 there had been nine attempts to penetrate the basin or to set foot upon the mountain,' wrote Tilman in 'Nanda Devi and the Sources of the Ganges', in VII-35. A few months after returning from Everest, 1933, Shipton and Tilman set off for the 10th attempt. With Ang Tharkay and Pasang, they spent five months, penetrating the Sanctuary twice through the Rishiganga gorge; in between they explored the Badrinath-Kedarnath watershed.

The way to the Sanctuary having been opened, it was only a matter of time before the mountain itself would be climbed. And in 'The Ascent of Nanda Devi', in IX-37, Tilman tells the story of the climb. The party included four Brits (Tilman, Graham Brown, Odell, Lloyd) and four Americans (Charles Houston, Adams Carter, Loomis, and Emmons). They had in fact wanted to go to Kangchenjunga, but permission having been refused at the last minute, they headed for Nanda Devi. 4We had
no official leader,' writes Tilman, 'and merely through the accident of knowing the ground and the porters, the arrangement of the bundobust fell upon the writer.'

The Indian Mountaineer, No. 30, 1994, contains a lively article by Charles Houston, recalling the first ascent of Nanda Devi. (It also has an account by Adams Carter.) Houston's article fills in many blanks in Tilman's modest recital. For instance, Houston writes, Tor six weeks we had made decisions by consensus but it was becoming clear that we needed a leader to make some tough decisions. By secret ballot we voted that Tilman should take command and choose two teams to go for the summit.' It was only when Houston fell ill that Tilman replaced him on a summit team.

They established four camps and a bivouac on the mountain and Tilman and Odell reached the summit; Houston recalls Tilman saying that "We so far forgot ourselves as to shake hands."'

With the returning porters from Lata and Mana for the return trip, the Rawal of Badrinath sent them a welcome gift of apples, vegetables and potatoes, 'a really kind and thoughtful action which went straight to our hearts.' And stomachs, one presumes.

How was it that Shipton, Tilman's inseparable companion, was not with him? The explanation is found in Shipton's article 'Survey Work in the Nanda Devi Region', also in IX-37. Two days before Tilman reached the summit, Shipton left Ranikhet with Maj. Osmaston who was to carry out a photographic survey 'of the basin drained by the Rishi Ganga. As I had made a reconnaissance of the region in 1934, the Survey of India invited me to accompany the party in order to assist Osmaston with the route and in the selection of suitable stations.'

When they were in Lata on 4 September, 4a bearded and tattered figure appeared rushing down the steep path. This proved to be Peter Lloyd, the first of the returning Nanda Devi party. From him we heard of their splendid achievement. In my opinion the climbing of Nanda Devi is perhaps the finest mountaineering achievement which has yet been performed in the Himalaya.' And Shipton goes on quickly to throw in his ideas about the value of small expeditions, 'their team consisting exclusively of mountaineers; they avoided the great mistake which, to my mind, nearly all the major Himalayan expeditions since the War have made, and did not handicap themselves with a vast bulk of stores and superfluous personnel.’

'The Ascent of Nanda Kot’, in X-38 is an account of the first Japanese expedition to the Himalaya. The article, offered by way of 'greeting on the occasion of Japan's first participation in Himalayan alpinism', was written by Y. Hotta and revised by Col. Tobin. Knowing that food was important, wrote Hotta, 'we felt it necessary to take a quantity of Japanese supplies... to counteract loss of appetite___; we were in fact extravagant enough to take a heavy load of Japanese rice, although we knew that India is a great rice-producing country.' And back at Camp IV after all of them plus Ang Tseiing had climbed the summit, they celebrated by eating mochi 'a kind of rice dumpling taken on festive occasions ... but on this occasion it was tinned mochi!'

Tom Longstaff wrote a letter to the editor in XI-39, concluding that changes in the ice-scape had made the route much more difficult than it was in 1905.



Paul Bauer, who had led the 1929 expedition to Kangchenjunga (11-30) led another one in 1931 which included five of the previous team. The editor is left to puzzle out the authorship of 'The Fight for Kangchenjunga, 1931', IV-32. 'My friend
Paul Bauer promised to write it,' he writes in a footnote, 'but it came from Peter Aufschnaiter, who in a covering letter says "he only received it yesterday", but not from whom.'

Just below Camp Vm, Pasang fell and dragged Schaller with him down a steep ice couloir and over a precipice. The advance was suspended, and 'after a bivouac — we hurried down as fast as possible___ On a rock island in the midst of the upper basin of the Zemu glacier----we laid Hermann Schaller and the porter Pasang to their last rest.'

After an attempt to establish Camp XII, dangerous snow conditions forced them to 'renounce final success'.

Frank Smythe wrote a careful analysis of 'The Problem of Kangcl enjunga' in VII-35, examining all the approaches to the summit and giving an account of the various attempts on it.


Nanga Parbat

In 'The Attack on Nanga Parbat, 1932', V-33, Willy Merkl tells the story of the German-American Himalaya Expedition which he led. There were eight Germans and two Americans: Elizabeth Knowlton, reporter of the English press, and Rand Herron, who 'was an ideal comrade, always fighting in the front line.' He met a strange death; on the way home, he fell from the Chefren Pyramid near Cairo! Perhaps the pyramids should also not be climbed solo or unroped.

Frank Smythe had stood down in favour of Merkl who was first in the field, 'for it is impossible for two expeditions to visit the same mountain in the same year,' we learn from 'Club Proceedings'. How times change!

During 'the longest approach march of any Himalayan expedition' (it wasn't), they found that the loads containing the kit for 40 porters had disappeared, so they had only four complete kits and five meagre ones. 'Finally, good humour helped us to overcome this blow of fate.'

The first night at Camp I there was an ice avalanche in the neighbourhood and the blast cracked the bamboo poles like matchwood. The Hunza porters had a real fright. 'Over and over again we had to learn that our porters __ did not possess the same willingness to work nor the same stamina as the porters of the eastern Himalaya'.

They established seven camps, experienced another near-miss ice avalanche at Camp IE, succeeded in climbing Chongra, 20,480 ft, and Rakhiot 23,170 ft, but had finally to abandon the attempt. 'The renunciation was hard; the realization of defeat was bitter.'

Merkl immediately began planning the next attempt described by Fritz Bechtold in 'The German Himalayan Expedition to Nanga Parbat, 1934', in VE-35. This time, 35 Sherpas and Bhotias were engaged from Darjeeling with the help of the HC.

Weather and snow conditions were excellent and camps were established more or less on the 1932 sites, when Alfred Drexel fell ill at Camp II. 'Bernard, the doctor arrived at Camp II and at 3 o'clock during the night Wieland with two trusty porters (''after a wonderful night climb from Camp I" wrote Sangster) Pasang and Palten, arrived with oxygen. Too late!' He died of 'inflammation of the lungs, in the arms of his comrades.'

He was given a worthy burial. 'The trusty Darjeeling porters had given wonderful proof of their fidelity. Some of them - Pasang, Palten, Angtenjing, Nima and Kusang — had in their attempts to save Drexel's life accomplished within 24 hours the work of three or four days.' In 'Notes' VII-35, we read, 'Pasang Norbu achieved the almost incredible feat of carrying a message from Camp II to Camp HI, then going half way to Camp I to meet the doctor and bring his loads to Camp II. At 7 pm they again went down to Camp I in a snow storm, and carried oxygen to Camp II during the night, a steep climb which they accomplished in the dark in four hours. Pasang Norbu was one of the survivors of Camp VIII.’

Camp VIII was established beyond the Silver Saddle at 24,540 ft; Schneider and Aschenbrenner felt they could have gone for the summit but decided in fairness to their comrades to wait as arranged. (19 years later they were back on Nanga Parbat when Hermann Buhl made his solo ascent.) But storms broke out and continued and so began, on 8 July, the epic and tragic retreat. Bechtold's account, supplemented by the 'Diary Jottings' of Capt. R.A.K. Sangster, transport officer, and S. G. Dunn's review of Bechtold's Nanga Parbat Adventure: A Himalayan Adventure in VH-36, tell the detailed story.

Schneider and Aschenbrenner got down to Camp IV believing the others were following. But no one came. For the next seven days, the drama was played out between Camps VII and IV. Some had stayed behind in Camp VII; others had rigged up a secondary camp without a tent. Uli Wieland died on the 9th 30 m in front of Camp VII; Merkl and Welzenbach remained in Camp VII while Kitar, Da Thondup, Nima Tashi and Kikuli went on but were forced to shelter in a snow cave.

On 10 July, as the storm continued, Pasang, Kitar, Kikuli and Da Thondup struggled to Camp IV; their comrades had died amid the ropes of the Rakhiot Peak. All four were badly frostbitten. 'Throughout the first half of the night we rubbed their frostbitten toes and fingers with snow. At last Kitar was able to give us an account of those terrible days of storm on the ridge.'

Dakshi died on the 11th, up in the secondary camp; the next morning Gaylay and Ang Tsering descended to Camp VII where Merkl and Welzenbach had remained. Every morning they saw the rescue party leaving Camp IV but didn't realize the rescuers were being repulsed by heavy snow.

On 12 July, Aschenbrenner, Schneider and Mullritter, with Norbu, Ang Tenjing and Lobsang finally managed to get up to Camp V; they found Pinju Norbu lying in the snow in front of the tents. Willi Welzenbach died during the night of the 13th in Camp VII; on the 14th the last survivors descended towards Camp VI, Merkl supported by two ice-axes. 'At the ascent of the "Mohrenkopf" his strength gave out. Here they built themselves into a small ice-cave.'

Ang Tsering, in a superhuman struggle, completely exhausted and terribly frostbitten, got to Camp IV. Two more rescue attempts proved impossible; the weather remained bad. 'The last cry from above had ceased. Willy Merkl and his trusty porter were no more ___ Gaylay, who might possibly have saved himself with Ang Tsering, stayed with his master and kept troth with him till death.' In all, three Germans and six Sherpas died.5


  1. In the early 40s, I had an Urdu tutor, Mohamed Shihab, who came every Saturday morning to drill some elementary knowledge of the language into me. He did not always find this easy going; he hit on the bright idea of using an Urdu translation of Bechtold's book as a text. I still know how to transliterate all those German names in Urdu. I could perhaps have qualified as a transport officer! I might add that in November 1994, nine Germans and two others were killed in a fall on Mt. Pisang in the Annapuma range; about 40,000 climbers visit the Nepal Himalaya every year.


VII-35 gives information on the porters of the Nanga Parbat Expedition collected from the Eastern Section of the HC, from Ruttledge, Bauer, Smythe and others. The eastern Section was 'now distributing official Club books to each porter engaged on major Himalayan expeditions.’

The fate of German climbers now seemed indissolubly linked to Nanga Parbat in suffering and death. The Germans felt that they could not continue their seige of Kangchenjunga without having settled accounts with Nanga Parbat. 'To Karl Wien — it would have been intolerable to attack another Himalayan mountain as long as Nanga Parbat held his comrades unavenged,' wrote Paul Bauer, in 'Nanga Parbat, 1937', in X-38. 'We have immortal longings,' the Germans might have said, with Lear.

So back they went and Bauer put together an account of this second ill-fated expedition, including Karl Wien's last dispatch, and extracts from the diaries of Dr. Hans Hartmann and Martin Pfeffer.

Bauer wrote, 'I was sitting in my office about noon on Sunday the 20th June when I received a call on the telephone. There was a journalist at the other end. Among the mass of indifferent agency communications, he had come across one with the terrible news that seven climbers and nine porters had been killed on Nanga Parbat by an avalanche. It seemed so incredible that I could not believe it. How could disaster once again, we argued, so terrible and of such magnitude, happen to men whose qualifications for the task could not be surpassed, and on a mountain that had once been classed as "easy" — a word the sense of which in some measure must mean "not dangerous"?'

Ulrich Luft had gone up to Camp IV on 17 June. 'At mid-day, I reached the foot of the ridge of rocks and ice which comes down from the Rakhiot peak. I knew that Camp IV had been built up here on the 10th June. Not finding any trace of the Camp, I waited in the track of a gigantic avalanche. A serac some 300 m above had split off and strewn a vast field of enormous ice-blocks and debris down the slope. The porters following slowly in my tracks confirmed the worst of my fears. This was exactly the spot on which Camp IV had stood.'

Lt Smart of the Gilgit Scouts, the liaison officer, sent messages to Chilas and Gilgit, and men and tools came in response to dig out the bodies of the buried men. The RAF offered to fly out a relief party from Munich. 'One effect of the geographical situation of the Himalaya is that it brings us into contact with English mountaineers,' wrote Bauer, 'and other people of England and the British Empire; we thus came again and again to enjoy their help and hospitality. On the other hand, we must see our debt of gratitude growing indefinitely, while — Germany lacking a similar geographical feature — we have nothing with which to neutralise it save the expression of our grateful thanks___This time our special gratitude is due to __ Prof Kenneth Mason, who directed a mere question of mine in such an efficient manner that the result was an almost immediate response.' Bauer and his rescue party reached base camp only 12 days after leaving Munich.

Six days of digging enabled them to find the bodies of Pfeffer, Hartmann, Hepp, Wien and Frankhauser, in two tents; they couldn't find the third. They found the porters' tent and Pasang, but Nursang the leader of the porters, said 'that it would be more in keeping with their religious views to leave them to rest where they had met their fate.' X-38 gives notes and photographs of the eight porters who died. The rescuers found the diaries of Hartmann and several others. Catastrophe must have come on the night of 14 June; the tents had just been squashed down, not blown away. 'We could establish the fact that it was brought about through no error of judgement __ it becomes clear that we must go again to Nanga Parbat — as soon as possible.'

In the obituary on Karl Wien, Mason adds, 'Very occasionally, avalanches reach much farther than the best experience can foretell ___ Members of the HC will recall the destructive avalanche which overwhelmed the Ski Club of India hut at Khillanmarg on the 1st March 1936; the site of that hut had been selected after consulting both expert and local opinion. Prof R. Finsterwalder also calls my attention to the fatal avalanche at the Pordoijock, early last winter, which covered an area normally entirely safe, and in which eight experienced mountaineers lost their lives.'6


  1. And I might add the freak avalanche in 1988 which swept away the Panossiere hut of the Swiss Alpine Club (no one was in it at the time). But it caused more damage than the destruction of the hut; since then the SAC and the local commune have been at odds about its rebuilding.


But the Germans were back on Nanga Parbat as Paul Bauer recounts in 'Nanga Parbat, 1938’, in XI-39. Bechtold was with Bauer, as was Luft, the sole survivor of 1937. They had trouble enlisting porters, 'for there was much talk in Darjeeling about evil spirits and devils on Nanga Parbat, and none of the surviving Sherpa porters were willing to go again/ And who can be surprised at that?

This expedition used planes of the Aero Club of Germany to transport loads and drop them near Base Camp, Camps IV and Vm. The RAF had to rescue the plane before it got to Srinagar when it force landed in a storm before Lahore.

On the ice wall of Rakhiot peak, Bechtold and Zuck came upon a porter who had died in 1934, 'the poor fellow in his last extremity had tied himself fast to the hand rope, hoping perhaps that he would be saved by some one from Camp V — The dead man was Pinju Norbu.' They cut him down and buried him 'without our porters being aware of it.' Near the Moor's Head, they saw 'what ... must be the feet of dead men.' They hid this also from their porters.' None must come here except Luft and Bechtold ___ Soon afterwards, the three of us stood before the two bodies, and even before we had freed them from the snow we knew that Merkl, the friend of Bechtold's youth, lay before us ___The two bodies were perfectly preserved - Willy Merkl and the porter Gaylay, the servant who had remained faithful to his master to the last, and even in death had not forsaken him.'

Storms, deep snow, avalanches with near misses, four assaults, and they did not get beyond Camp VI. 'It was not possible, after the disasters of 1934 and 1937, to approach the task with the same lightheartedness with which we made the dash to Kangchenjunga in 1929 and 1931. None, whether mountaineer or porter, nor the public outside, could have borne another catastrophe on Nanga Parbat'.

Two days after they evacuated base camp, their aeroplane flew them over the mountain; their camps could still be seen. And they wondered by what route the mountain would ultimately be climbed.

In XI-39, S. G. Dunn reviews Paul Bauer's Himalayan Quest, 1938. 'This book knits up in an effective manner the sequence of events and relates the men to their adventures and fates in such a way that the whole reads like a Greek tragedy.' Sir Francis Younghusband writes a foreword, saying 'the chief interest lies not in the detailed description of the climbs, but in the spirit in which they were made.' Bauer tells us how in the joyless days after the war he found hope again in the mountains. 'They proved to us that courage, perserverance and endurance bring their eternal rewards ... Out of this was born the German Himalaya idea, and it was in this spirit that the first Himalaya team set out in 1929.'

Dunn felt that the Germans climbed mountains for a sense of achievement, which 'has more than a personal reference; it is a vindication of Germany's claim to world acknowledgement of her national strength and honour; it has a subconscious — and even as appears several times in this book, a conscious — political significance. Is it too much to hope that if we can understand each other's attitude towards climbing, we may learn to live on terms of political understanding also?' And I would interject, 'Yes, of course it is, a damned sight too much.'

It's interesting that while the Germans were being once again repulsed by Nanga Parbat, they achieved success on the North Face of the Eiger. It had been attempted in 1935 by two Germans; both died in the attempt. In 1936, two Germans and two Austrians tried; all four died after an epic rescue attempt. In 1937, several parties — Italian, German, Austrian — tried. And in 1938, the Austrians Kasparek and Heinrich Harrer, and the Germans Heckmair and Vorg, succeeded.

One can speculate on the relations between the British and the Germans during a period of mounting tension in Europe. Bauer pays tribute again and again to the unstinted help he got from the British authorities, from individual officials and officers, from the HC.

As Andre Roch pointed out in his article on Dunagiri in XII-40, 'There exists an unwritten law of honour in the Himalaya causing certain mountains to be reserved for certain countries.' But it must have been galling to the British to leave Kangchenjunga (Freshfield was the first there) and Nanga Parbat (Mummery was first, after all) to the Germans, especially as the 30s advanced and Hitlerian clouds gathered in Europe.

When Odell and Lloyd got to the Thangu dak bungalow after many weeks of tent life in 1938, (The Chorten Nyima La from the Tibetan Side', in XH-40) returning from Everest,'there was a surprise in store for us ___ tents in the garden proved the presence of a large European party, and over the tents fluttered an incongruous flag. The swastika on it was unmistakable, bearing a message so different from those scrawled on the Tibetan monuments ___ our hosts of tonight were the members of a German scientific expedition__filling the bungalow with their rifles and shot-guns, their cameras and food-boxes. How different this was from the return we had imagined___

'But we were soon reconciled ___ we were soon sitting round a bottle of their Schnapps, playing records on their gramaphone and talking __Politics first crept in, I suppose, when, turning over the records, we came to the Horst Wessel song; and before long the new topic was irresistible__ "Why couldn't the English trust Germany?" - ... "Why were we blind to the Jewish plots for world domination?" _ soon we were lost in the flurry of barren argument. In camp, in that life which seemed suddenly so remote and unreal, we had been used to turn in at dusk; but that night the talk went on until all hours. We were back in civilisation with a vengeance!'


Climbing for Fun

If the 30s were the years of the big expeditions to the big peaks, they were also a golden age for the small climbing parties which Smythe would have characterised as fun rather than duty. Such expeditions were not beyond the means of ordinary folk, there were unclimbed peaks and unexplored valleys, bharal and ibex, monal and khaleej still abounded — and alas, were often 'bagged'. A shikari seemed to be a standard member of every expedition. It is impressive how many people took skis with them and used them, up to 20,000 and even 22,000 ft. Many of the trips were by army officers and sights were set on peaks of between 20-24,000 ft. Mass tourism was not even a gleam in the eye of tour operators and none could conceive that these mightly mountains would ever be despoiled, degraded or polluted by puny man. 'Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive'. To be a sahib was very heaven.

Thus Lt. P. R. Oliver tells us in 'Dunagiri and Trisul, 1933' (VI-34) how he and David Campbell pored over Gen. Bruce's maps in London, wishing 'to find a mountain about 23,000 ft. high, fairly easy to get at, not of great known difficulty, and if possible, unclimbed.' They chose Dunagiri, 23,184 ft. But on the mountain they realised the difficulties were beyond their capacity 'and the possibility of Trisul occurred to us.'

Campbell had to return, Oliver went to Trisul, 'with seven high camp porters, nine other Bhotias, and a shikari to show us the way.' The shikari, Kanchan Singh, about 60 years old, had been with the 1907 Trisul party and had several stories to tell, especially of a very strong sahib (Gen Bruce). They followed Longstaff's route and Oliver and Kesar Singh reached the summit from Camp II.

Longstaff also acted as guru, 'I should rather say mabap to Marco Pallis and four close friends.' They set off for 'Gangotri and Leo Pargial, 1933' described in VI-34. They practised Hindustani with the lascars on the voyage out as they didn't intend to take a transport officer; in Mussoorie they called on H.H. the Raja of Tehri-Garhwal and the Dewan — who, I suppose must have been the father of Nandu Jayal, the first Principal of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling.

They climbed several peaks in the Gangotri area, made an exciting passage of the right bank of the upper Bhagirathi gorge, and finally two of them achieved the summit of Leo Pargial; it then began to snow and they had no views.

Four officers wrote about 'Mountaineering in the Kashmir Himalaya' in VI-34. Lt J. Waller, finding no companion, trained a Kashmiri to climb with him. Presumably he is the same James Waller who found a 'lot of fun to be got out of 'The Kashmir Alps,' in X-38. He went with Mapchi Topgay and Pasang Chekkedi on Machhoi and Nun and Kolahoi. In Srinagar he 'was lucky to meet Miss M. V. Sanderson and we fixed to try a new route up Kolahoi together;' they climbed it in 1936 with the shikari Aziz. 'Possibly the first ascent by a lady,' Waller remarks.

The real experts on Kashmir were the Neve brothers, Ernest and Arthur, doctors at the Mission Hospital in Srinagar. They were there since the 1890s and, says Mason in XII-40, 'they learned to love the people and their land; they carried hope and health to every remote village... and, long before the Himalayan Club came into existence, they were the two fountain-heads of information to which all mountaineers went for advice/ Ernest Neve writes his 'Memories of Early Kashmir Climbing' in XII-40.

Lt. J. B. Harrison writes a readable, joyful account in 'A Visit to Nun Kun, 1934' in VII-35, when he was with Waller; though always referred to as just 'Waller', one can presume again it is the Lt. James Waller of the Kashmir Alps. For once, the careful editor has added no note to identify him. When the loads were ready they thought they would move smartly on. 4We were sadly mistaken. With one accord the coolies lifted up their voices and groused about their loads, old men and village elders stood around and gave advice, children shrieked, pi-dogs got in the way, and an old woman, with tears in her eyes, implored me to give a light load to her darling boy. At last we got away___ and camped on a grassy patch... on a river bank — There are few experiences that can equal the first night in camp.' As the Americans put it, you can say that again.

They had lots of snow, used skis up to 20,000 ft. on Nun; had to give up; on the way down on skis, a snow bridge yielded under Harrison and he went down 12 ft. 'I know I ought to have waited for Waller and roped before crossing.' However, he managed to climb out — properly penitent, as Tilman would have hoped.

James Waller turns up again in Teak 36, Saltoro Karakoram, 1935,' Vm-36, by Lt John Hunt. 'The objective for his holiday was suggested to Waller by a random glance at the Survey of India quarter inch map 52A,' and the Workman's book provided some information. The party of four included Brotherhood with whom Hunt had done a new route on Kolahoi. Hunt and Brotherhood were swept off by a wind-slab but Hunt was lucky with a thrust of his ice-axe which held and stopped them. They had some extremely difficult climbing and filthy weather and had to give up some 600 ft below the summit.

Hunt and Brotherhood crossed into the East Liddar, and climbed 'Kolahoi by the South Face', which Hunt describes in VIII-36. Mason, who had climbed the mountain first with Ernest Neve, naturally adds several notes.

John Hunt and C. R. Cooke write of 'A Winter Visit to the Zemu Glacier', October-December 1937, in X-38. They made two attempts on the Sugarloaf, 21,400 ft.; climbed the Keilberg, 19,000 ft; explored the Nepal Gap glacier; climbed the Nepal Peak, 23,500 ft.; and tried to find a route to the north col.

C.R. Cooke had described "The Ascent of Kabru' in VIII-36. While Hunt was on Peak 36, Cooke climbed Kabru, 24,003 ft.; he was accompanied by a Swiss, G. Schoberth. They established six camps; Cooke reached the summit alone; on the way down he slipped 'and shot down on my back... the pace was terrific... I fetched up with a bang on a bulge of rock, severely shaken but unhurt.'

Lt. Harrison also contributed 'Climbing in Lhonak, 1936' in IX-37. He went with J.K. Cooke (not to be confused with C.R. Cooke: too many Cookes?) and five Sherpas, and set up Camp I on the Pyramid, a 23,400 ft. peak. 'The next morning, while having breakfast at about five o'clock, we heard, of all the unexpected sounds, a Swiss yodel, and soon afterwards we were joined by Spencer Chapman, who had also been with the Pallis expedition.' They managed to climb the Sphinx, 22,300 ft. but not the Pyramid.

They then tried the Fluted Peak and leaving camp at 17,800 ft. 'had an immediate thrill when we discovered snow-leopard tracks round our tent.' They were successful; on the way back Spencer Chapman was 'in a hurry... so left Lachen one morning at 2.30 am and arrived the same evening at 8 pm at Gangtok, a total drop of 7000 ft, a climb of over 4000 ft. and a total distance of 49 miles, all done in a pair of thin gymnasium-shoes with flapping rubber soles!'

In 'A Climb on Istor-O-Nal, 1935,' VHI-36, Capt. R. J. Lawder describes a 'rather lighthearted' decision to attempt Istor-O-Nal, 24,271 ft. in Chitral. Neither he nor his companion had much experience of climbing but managed to get to about 24,000 ft. Mason adds a note, 'The belief in revengeful guardian fairies and malevolent spirits is, I believe, far more common among the peoples of Hunza, Gilgit, and Chitral than among those of other parts of the Himalaya __ Disbelief in the power of the mountain spirits is fatal to success. It angers the spirits and increases the fear of the people. Nevertheless, it is possible, by certain ceremonies, even to propitiate the anger of the gods.’ One recalls the article by Lt. D. M. Burn in 11-30 about Chitrali superstitions.7


  1. See 'Himalayan Journal: Volume II (1930)' in 49-1991/1992, page 160


Lt. J.F.S. Ottley, trekking in Western Chitral, (VIII-36) looked into a tarn. 'Hardly had I gone a 100 yards beyond it than I had a mild heart attack and was hors de combat for about 20 minutes___ My shikari knew exactly what had happened; he told me that this lake, together with three others in Chitral, was inhabited by fairies who objected to strangers looking into their abode, and he said that it was only by virtue of his strenuous silent incantations that I had not succumbed.’

Capt. J. Barron, describing Rama, a 'miniature Gulmarg at over 10,300 ft/ where officers from Gilgit take their families, says the waters of the torrents are 'beautifully clear, because they have their origin in the lake, sacred to the fairies of Nanga Parbat'. An officer of the Gilgit Agency brought out a light motor-boat, got it to the sacred lake at Rama to try it; that year there were torrential rains. The officer sacrificed a goat to propitiate the fairies. Shortly after, floating down the Indus, his boat stuck between two rocks, he tried to swim to shore but was drowned. One up for the fairies.

'The French Karakoram Expedition, 1936' to Gasherbrum I, 26,470 ft. is described by the liaison officer, Capt. N. R. Streatfield in IX-37; they started with 670 coolies, established five camps, were overtaken by the monsoon 'or something very like it/ They made several ski excursions, up to 22,000 ft. They had one accident: two Sherpas coming down from Camp III slipped and 'started a small avalanche... (which) carried them down for the amazing distance of 1800 ft to the main glacier below. By a miracle they were seen by a party ... and dug out. By a still greater miracle, neither of the men was killed and neither had any bones broken. They were, however, both badly concussed and bruised, and one of them had to be carried the whole distance back to Srinagar.’

J.O.M. Roberts explored 'Some Scrambles on the Dhaula Dhar' X-38 with C. D. Buckle, on short leave. 'The Dhaula Dhar has, I feel sure, a big future before, it in the history of Himalayan mountaineering; for here is an ideal and very accessible training ground/ Was its big future fulfilled?

Roberts (escribed 'The Attempt on Masherbrum, 1938' in XI-39. It was the ubiquitous James Waller who assembled the party which included J. B. Harrison and T. Graham Brown. They met a blizzard at Camp VI and Harrison and Hodgkin spent a night with sleeping bags but no tent. Their hands were frostbitten; the attempt was given up. The frostbitten men had to be carried back from Base on litters made from climbing ropes and skis; Pasang Phutar's hands were also badly frost bitten as were Graham Brown's feet. Harrison had to be carried all the way and lost his toes.

The doctor of the Expedition, G. A. J. Teasdale, contributes an article on 'The Diet Problem for Mountaineers in the Himalaya' in the same volume, while his wife, who accompanied them to base, writes delightfully about 'Birds of a Karakoram Trek', a rather more interesting subject.

F. Spencer Chapman had been on the Zemu glacier with Marco Pallis in February 1936, and then climbed in the Lhonak district with J. B. Harrison. He became Private Secretary to B. J. Gould, the Political Officer in Sikkim, and accompanied him to Lhasa for six months as a guest of the Tibetan Government. He ogled Chomolhari, 24,000 ft. as he passed it and got permission from Tibet and Bhutan to climb it. He describes this in 'The Ascent of Chomolhari, 1937', in X-38.

After trying Holdsworth and Martyn, he finally persuaded C.E. Crawford of ICI Calcutta, to join him. They planned to keep expenses to £20 each and managed.

Spencer Chapman got to the summit with Pasang 'who was magnificent; his cheerfulness and determination never flagged.' On the way down, one mishap followed another. 'Pasang shot past me on his back; I threw myself on my axe; the next moment I was falling head first down the slope on my back. We fell fast. At last my axe bit home. I stopped, felt a slight tug. Pasang too had stopped. We must have fallen 3-400 ft. Fortunately neither of us was any the worse for the accident.' They were caught in a blizzard and spent six miserable nights — their matches had disintegrated — in a bivouac tent.

Jumping across a crevasse, the rope proved too short; he fell about 30 ft. and had to cut steps to climb out. They finally got to a yak-herd's hut. 'Seldom have I met such friendly, hospitable people. Round the open fire in the hut we were given bowls of fresh yak milk, cheese, and delicious puffed rice. Never have I been so conscious of the change from cold, hunger, and despair, to comfort, safety and content.’

Charles Houston led 'A Reconnaissance of K2, 1938', which he describes in XI-39. There were six Americans, Capt. Streatfield was the liasion officer, and they had six Darjeeling Sherpas. It was really an attempt and they got to 26,000 ft. 'Our Sherpas had proved most satisfactory. It is hard to be moderate in the praise of these stalwart little climbers, both as mountaineers and as companions.... they were always cheerful, helpful, self-sacrificing; true friends and fellow workers.' 'Our purpose, reconnaissance, was completely accomplished, and a way was found by which, with the smile of fortune, a second party may reach the summit.'

And a Note in XII-40 indeed tells us that another American Expedition went to K2 in 1939; it was neither well-led nor lucky. Dudley Wolfe was in bad condition in Camp VII; Pasang Kikuli and Tsering accomplished the amazing feat of reaching Camp VI in a single day from base camp, to bring him down. Wolfe had eaten nothing for several days, he had no matches with which to light a stove. The. porters cooked him a meal and re-set the tent before going back to Camp VI, because Wolfe insisted on being left another day saying he was too weak to descend. The next day the weather was bad but Pasang Kikuli, Pasang Kitar and Phinsoo started for Camp VII, determined to bring Wolfe down or get him to sign a note saying they'd done everything possible to rescue him. They were not seen again; Tsering waited for two days and then went down. Their bodies were not found.

J.A.K. Martyn gives an 'account of a journey which broke no new ground, but which got fairly well away from the beaten track', in 'Across the Gangotri-Alaknanda Watershed', X-38. He was with Jack Gibson, and as I write this, I have received the saddening news that Jack died at his home in Ajmer. He was the last of the trio with Holds worth and Martyn, and generations of boys of the Doon School and of Mayo College, to whom he was teacher, guide, mentor and an inspiration, will mourn him. Tenzing was with.them on this expedition, the first of three expeditions with Gibson; they became very close friends.

While the extraordinary qualities of Sherpas and Bhotias were widely recognized, particularly by the large expeditions, and praise was frequently showered on them, it is pleasant to read the appreciation that local men in Garhwal, Chitral, Kashmir and so on earned for themselves. Thus, Lt. Oliver wrote that the porters 'and I had been good friends... except on the frequent occasions when I found out some new loss or damage to equipment — But these were small faults in the face of their virtues — loyal hard work and cheerfulness. The thanks of everyone who climbs nowadays in Garhwal should go to the pioneers whose just and kindly treatment of their high camp porters has resulted in the general trust and confidence in the "Sahib" above the snow line.'

Or as Marco Pallis wrote, 'Ishwar Singh was the great discovery of the expedition, for which I myself am ready to take all the credit. He is a rare character, intelligent, open-minded, scrupulously honest, devoted, and humane. He has remarkable tact with every sort of person whatever their rank or race.' Back in Simla, they parted from their two climbing porters from Harsil, 'than whom I can imagine no better or more devoted men.'

Lt. Waller, finding no companion in 1933, decided to train a Kashmiri, Abdulla, and later climbed Buttress Peak, 16,785 ft. with him. 'Throughout the climb, Abdulla carried a rucksack and iceaxe, and would have out-distanced me anywhere had we not been roped. His "head" is excellent and height had no effect on him.'

And Andre'Roch wrote, 'An old Kosa shikari or guide offered to show us the way on the upper Kosa glacier.' They scaled one of the aiguilles, 'in the descent, we tried a variant along awkward slabs, and I was obliged to take off my nailed boots and go barefooted to stay on the smooth rock. I was astounded at the way the old hunter climbed; he moved like a chamois in places where I dared not follow, then held out his hand to help me.’

Many of the articles quote prices and costs and however often you tell yourself that the rupee of those days bears no relation to the devalued, impoverished, pathetic rupee of today, you can't help your mouth watering, Waller, climbing Buttress Peak in Kashmir with Abdulla, says 'the expenses of such a climb are negligible — about seven rupees, excluding climbing equipment/ Harrison and Waller, on their visit to Nun Kun, say, 'From start to finish, including windproof (aerowing) suits, boots (but not tents or ropes) stores, transport, and wages, the trip cost about Rs. 1300 say £50 each — not a great deal for a delightful six weeks' holiday'. Coolies engaged at Suru cost 8 annas8 a day to Base Camp, 4 annas a day to men left there, 1 rupee a day to each man who came higher, and free issue of blankets, goggles, socks and waterproof groundsheets. The sirdar, Kazim Khan, received double pay.



Most expeditions seemed to have taken skis with them. Ulrich Wieland, writing in IV-32, says that members of the International Himalayan Expedition, 1930, did much skiing on their way round Kangchenjunga, up to Camp I and above. Each Sahib had a pair of skis. 'The porters disliked intensely the long wooden boards, which were so awkward to carry on their backs through the thick jungle.'9

'One great difference in the Himalaya,' wrote Wieland, 'lay in the behaviour of the spectators. The impression that — (we) made on our porters __was one of neither admiration nor fright! The men simply regarded us as perfectly absurd — so ridiculous, in fact, that they sat down and laughed at us, making no effort to hide their gaiety.'


  1. For the benefit of modern generations, I feel obliged to point out that an anna was not someone who lived in the Court of Siam with Yul Brynner, but a unit of money; 16 of them made a rupee. I will not complicate life further by talking of pice and pies (not edible) which were further divisions of the anna.
  2. I can testify to this and more than fully sympathise with the porters. I took a pair of short skis to Mrigthuni Base Camp, 1958; to watch the poor unfortunate who had to make his way through thick rhododendron forests with them often made me wish that I hadn't brought them.


'There is no doubt that ski are of great value for an expedition like ours___At present however their use is very much limited by the fact that the porters cannot run on them- There is no reason why the inhabitants of the Himalaya should not produce as good runners on ski as the Tyrolese or Swiss mountain peasants to whom skiing was brought by men of the plains.’


J. B. Auden, whom we met in earlier volumes, wrote 4Notes on the Biafo Glacier in Baltistan', in VI-34; 4An Excursion to Gangotri', in VHI-36, a 'Resume of Geological Results, Shaksgam Expedition, 1937', in X-38, and 'A Season's Work in the Central Himalaya', in XH-40. For good measure, he wrote a review of Thron Der Gotter by Arnold Heim and August Gansser, in X-38.10

The Shaksgam Expedition was also written up by Michael Spender in X-38. He joined Shipton, Tilman and Auden11 and the days they spent mapping and climbing 'were some of the pleasantest I have ever had on any expedition__ Beds of primula were in all the gulleys, bharral in large herds on the mountains.'


'Nepal is in all ordinary circumstances closed to foreigners— It seems strange to think that there should still be territory practically unknown to us, distant only a few hours' march from a British Indian railhead,' wrote Capt. C.J. Morris in 'A Glimpse of Unknown Nepal', VI-34. And Capt. Morris was echoing the thoughts of many an Englishman in India. He was writing about two trips into the Palpa hills 'for the purpose of obtaining some photographs from the Massiang ridge.'


  1. The English translation, The Throne of the Gods, was published by Macmillan, 1939.
  2. The coming together of the names of Auden and Spender is too big a coincidence to let pass without comment. W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender were poets and friends of that era; our J. B. Auden, as we noted in the article on Volume I in 48-1990/1991, was the brother of the poet; poetically fitting, Michael Spender also was the brother of Stephen!


Mason supplements Morris's article with 'A Note on the Nepal Himalaya' in the same volume, while in VII-35, J. B. Auden, in 'Traverses in Nepal' describes his work in a party of four 'from the Geological Survey of India— which was sent to examine the effects of the (Bihar-Nepal) earthquake (of 1934).' Mason contributes 'Notes on Eastern and Central Nepal'.


Ella K. Maillart was, indeed is, 'an adventurous Swiss lady, equipped with a knowledge of five languages, high courage, plenty of common sense, and a keen sense of observation,' wrote Mason, reviewing her book Turkestan Solo in VII-35.12


  1. In 1951, Ella Maillart spent time in Nepal in the villages and shrines north of Kathmandu, and wrote The Land of the Sherpas, 1955.


Chitral and its surroundings were an abounding source of adventure and wonder. Lt.-Col. B.E.M. Gurdon, who spent five years in Chitral as Assistant Political Agent, writes a fascinating account in VIII-36 of the 'Early Explorers of Kafiristan': Alexander Gardner, 1826 and 1828; W. W. McNair, 1883; and Surgeon-Major G., S. Robertson, 1889-91.

Gardner's full diary was destroyed but his edited memoirs were published in 1898. McNair of the Indian Survey Department, spent his leave visiting Kafiristan. 'McNair decided to disguise himself as a Mohamedan Hakimor Tabi, and to confine his speech to Urdu, a language which he knew as well as English, and to eschew Pushtu, his foreign intonation of which might lead to his detection..... Having obtained the consent of two Mians (two traders with whom he planned to travel) — by 3 o'clock in the following morning, with head shaved, a weak solution of caustic and walnut juice applied to hands and face, and wearing the dress peculiar to the Mians or Kaka Khels, he sallied out as Mir Mohammed or Hakim Sahib.'

On his return, he was officially reprimanded by Lord Ripon, the Viceroy, but was consoled 'by being told by the same nobleman at a private interview that his pluck was admired, while his fast friend Sir Charles McGregor (the Quartermaster-General) received him with open arms.'

The Romance of the Frontier

Chitral, Dir, Bajour, Swat, Yasin, Kafiristan: the names are redolent of the romance of the Frontier, of tribes, of feuds and feudalism, of the Great Game, of strong men coming face to face.

Lt.-Col. J.R.C. Gannon, in IV-32, continues his diary of 'A Frontier Tour', his journey with H. E. Lord Rawlinson in 1923, the first part of which was given in IH-31.13 A In Chitral, Gannon went to Bowers' house, 'he has some splendid head, his best markhor, 53 inches, being the second best shot in Chitral; ibex and leopard good, he had shot two snow-leopards during the year.' Bowers was an Irishman, 'who talks very indistinctly__ and after five years in Chitral has, I think, got his languages a little mixed.'


  1. See 'Himalayan Journal: Vol. m (1931)' in Vol. 50-1992/1993.


The whole tour was 756 miles carried out in 32 travelling days.

Lt.-Col. B.E.M. Gurdon tells, in V-33 and VI-34, how 37 years ago he was 'one of a small band of British officers who, in company with detachments of the 14th Sikhs and of the Ragonath regiment of Kashmir Imperial Service Infantry, were besieged in Chitral fort__ I am now the last survivor of that band of six.'

Brig.-Gen. Sir George Cockerill, at the editor's request, writes of his 'Pioneer Exploration in Hunza and Chitral' in 1892-95 (XI-39). Fifty years ago, his task was 'to explore the western Karakoram and eastern Hindu Kush from the extreme confines of Hunza Nagar on the east to the eastern borders of Kafiristan on the west.' This was 'nearly 300 miles long and 60-70 miles in depth, comprising the whole of Chitral, Yasdin, Hunza and Nagir — about the same size as Switzerland.'

The Hunza legend of Babaghundi, 'who must have been the equal of Elijah in his powers of calling down destruction from Heaven on anyone who incurred his displeasure', is recounted by Capt. G. C. Clark in 'A Prophet of Old,' V-33. After meting out punishments to wicked villages, Babaghundi saves the villagers of Ishkuk, obliged to offer a villager chosen by lot, to a monster every week. It was the turn of a young girl when Babaghundi appeared, killed the monster and saved the girl. The editor adds a note giving variations of this Minotaur-type legend.

Natural History

While many of the mountaineers of the 30s went around with their favourite shikari, keeping their eyes open for a 'good head' of bharral (or burrhel) or ovis, it is noteworthy how keen their eyes also were to note the flowers and birds. Thus, Marco Pallis (VI-34), on the march to Uttarkashi, notes that 'all sorts of birds appeared; we were hardly ever out of sight of eagles. One eagle caught some small animal and carrying it to a height let it drop on the rocks in order to kill it before eating.'14 And in the Baspa valley, anemones, asters, flowery meadows and deep glens, rhododendrons, irises, orange lilies, potentillas yellow, orange and dark crimson, large white rhododendrons, blue poppy, a small dark rhododendron, and great purple banks of willow herb, love pale turquoise aquilegia, blue gentians, and a brilliant deep violet delphinium: one specimen 'of Meconopsis poppy was also met with, mauve with a yellow centre.'


  1. Could this have been a lammergeyer? This large bird takes bones up to a great height to drop them on rocks to break them, then goes down to eat the marrow.


Harrison and Cooke spent a few days botanizing 'under the enthusiastic direction of Spencer Chapman' (IX-37). Spencer Chapman himself on Chomolhari (X-38) saw 'Snow-finches, skylarks, and the ubiquitous little mouse-hare replace the birds and beasts of the forest; instead of flowering shrubs and masses of mauve and purple primulas we found dwarf azaleas and typically Alpine or Arctic flora'... On the mountain, 'Snow-cocks were calling to each other across the valley with harsh grouse-like notes ... Above our camp a pair of immense lammergeyers soared in wide inquisitive circles.' Higher up, 'There were some magnificent patches of deep purple Primula Roylei, and then we emerged into a most beautiful level valley with a trout stream meandering down the centre ... a yak-herd's hut in a delectable valley carpeted with blue and purple irises as well as the usual varieties of brightly coloured primulas ... There were several marmots too, who sat up and whistled shrilly at this invasion of their privacy.'

Dr. Elizabeth Teasdale, writes a delightful article, 'not for the expert... but for those who are humble beginners,' about 'Birds of a Karakoram Trek' in XI-39. She endears herself by saying she did not shoot or fish as her husband did, and obviously took immense pleasure in watching for hours and making careful notes. Mason asked Hugh Whistler to comment on her identifications; and the Ornithological Correspondent of the HC did so, rather superciliously. No, they couldn't have been storks, he said, they must have been herons; not black-headed orioles, but possibly black or yellow grosbeaks; and so on. As a non-expert bird watcher who has suffered the occasional scoffing of experts, my sympathy goes out to E. Teasdale and I think it rather mean of the editor to have blown the whistle(r) on some of her identifications in this way.

In, 1935, Kingdon Ward journeyed for six months in SE Tibet (V1II-36). 'Throughout the expedition I was collecting plants, of which I found many entirely new species. The geographical results are not less interesting — In the course of five months I covered 500 miles of unexplored route and crossed twelve new passes.' Mason, reviewing Kingdon Ward's book A Plant Hunter in Tibet, 1934, (VII-35) complained that 'It is difficult to keep count of the number of journeys Capt. Kingdon Ward has made to the frontier region of Burma, Assam and Tibet'.

In the same volume, Kingdon Ward writes of 'The Forests of Tibet', and one learns that 'About one tenth of Tibet,' far from being a desert, is more or less forested.' And one tenth of Tibet is the size of Great Britain.15 In XI-39 Kingdon Ward describes 'Ka Karpo Razi: Burma's Highest Peak': a visit to the snow peaks of Burma means an outing of eight weeks. Is this the area that Burma is opening up to trekking tourists ?


  1. An article in the September 1994 issue of the magazine GEO makes sorry reading about the destruction of nature in Tibet. In 1949, there were 222,000 km2 of forests, by 1989 this had been reduced to 134,000. Some 2.5 million cubic metres of wood worth $54 billion had been cut. By 1990, 30 species of animal and birds had been put on the endangered list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In certain villages, each family was under compulsion to kill at least 12 wild animals a year!


On the slopes of the Putrang la, 16,470 ft. 'two pheasants skulked in the thick undergrowth, the Eared Pheasant and the Tibetan Pheasant.' On the way to the Kongbo Nga La, they saw 'a strange satanic-looking woodpecker about the size of a jackdaw, jet black, save for a flaming crown and crest — the Great Black Woodpecker.' On the southern slope of the Lo la, 'more and more species burst upon our view, blood-red Neriiflorums, golden-yellow Triflorums, snow white Maddenis, and many others__The rhododendrons and primulas were in bloom, and spring in God's great Himalayan Garden had come.'

The War and Suspension of the Journal

And so Kenneth Mason, having edited his twelfth issue of the Journal, wrote: 'As may readily be imagined, the Himalayan Journal has been edited and published this year under considerable difficulty and great pressure of other work. Some papers have had to be held over until 1941. There is little time in England now for anything but concentration on the task of ridding the world of the disgusting cruelty and sadistic brutality of the creed which permeates Hitler's Germany'.

Kenneth Mason did not know at the time that the Journal would not appear again until 1946.


A browse through the Himalayan Journals Vols. IV-XII (1932-1940), and their relevance to the present day.


⇑ Top