SOME PAPERS HAVE had to be held over until 1941,' wrote Kenneth Mason, the editor of the Himalayan Journal, XII-40.1 In fact the next issue appeared in 1946, six years later, edited by C.W.F. Noyce. Why didn't Mason, who had been Professor of Geography at Oxford since 1932, and had edited the first 12 volumes, take up the editorship again?
Wilfrid Noyce paid warm tribute to his predecessor. Mason was, he wrote in his Editorial (an innovation for the HJ), 'the perfect editor,' who had 'the art and the knowledge to present the various facets of the Himalaya, and to link each with each....the Himalayan world owes to him an immense debt of gratitude.'
The 1946 Journal was meant to be a 'coming to life' number after a long gap. Noyce, son of a distinguished Indian Civil Servant, writer, scholar and mountaineer, felt that there were 'far too many expedition accounts and far too few articles of general or non- climbing interest....If the chances of return to the Himalaya grow, they will grow most profitably from the small, easy and self-planned party, rather than from the heavy and laborious expedition. ..The inclusion of a short story is a novelty in this journal...It needs defence. The good fortune of securing a story of such quality as the "Two Griefs" would be almost sufficient.' The story was by Philip Woodruff.2 Alas, the experiment was repeated only once, in XXXII-72/73 when the editor. Soli Mehta, published 'The Hunt of a Urial' by Parash Moni Das.
The journal did not attempt to make a complete record of all that had happened since the last issue, but did try to restore the HC to its former position. At the Annual General Meeting of 24 May 1946, it was reported that the membership was 527 as against 497 in 1940; two Club dinners were held in Delhi that year; a Bombay Section was launched in July with A.R. Leyden as President; Noyce was elected Hon. Editor but in fact XIII-46 was the only issue he edited. The post-war journal cost 12s 6d or Rs. 8; Vol. XVI-50/51 was up to 15s or Rs. 10; and Vol. XVIII- 54 to 21s or Rs. 14.
XIV-47 was edited by Lt.-Col. H.W. Tobin, well-known to the HC and the HJ in pre-war years. What happened to Noyce? Tobin reviewed Noyce's book Mountains and Men in XIV-47 and wrote, 'Wilfrid Noyce, who is in the van of our younger climbers, had already made a fine contribution to mountaineering literature in his able editing of last year's HJ.' Perhaps Trevor Braham's obituary in 23-61 gives a clue: Noyce had a climbing accident in 1946 - his third - and gave up climbing and even membership of the Alpine Club for a while. Be that as it may, Tobin, also resident in England, edited all the subsequent issues covered by this article.
Poor Col. Tobin felt that he had been appointed editor to preside over the liquidation of the HJ. Independence was on the way and as the HC was still almost completely British, it was natural for him to write in his first issue, XIV-47, that while XIII-46 had been a promising rebirth, 'alas, the swift evolution as independent states of India and Pakistan brings in its train the early repatriation of nearly all active members of the HC....Consequently, unless, or until, mountaineering is taken up seriously by Hindu, Moslem, Sikh and others, the very raison d'etre of the Club will be no more. Nationalisation of the Club or its successor will mean production of its Journal by a national editor and a national publication. So it seems that volume XIV is almost certain to be a final issue, which is a tragic thought for all of us members.'
There was no Journal in 1948, and in XV-49, Tobin3 could begin his editorial devoutly hoping 'that the issue of this volume of our Journal will help to dispel from the minds of members the unnecessarily dismal apprehensions expressed last year in Vol. XIV. That issue was, compared with most of its predecessors, slim and puny.... this one has been rather better nourished and is more robust.'
Encouragement had come from many including the Swiss Stiftung, from Tilman, and 'from K. Menon, late of the Indian Political Department and now Minister for External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations,' and Harish Dayal, Political Officer in Sikkim. Indianisation had begun. But it is obvious that Col. Tobin, editing from his home in England, was a little out of touch with Delhi. 'K. Menon' was hardly enough to identify someone in Delhi where so-called 'Menon-gitis' was rampant; in this case it was surely the brilliant K.P.S. Menon who was in the Indian Political Service and was Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs in 1947-48, not Minister. What seems to confirm this is the review of K.P.S's book Delhi-Chungking in the same volume.4
'There has been a feeling, I think, particularly amongst Overseas members that the Club has "faded out",' said the President, C.E.J. Crawford, in his report on 1948 (XV-49). 'I am glad to say categorically that the Club is not dead; it is not even dying.'
The process of Indianisation is noticeable in XVII-52; it reported Gurdial Singh's climb of Trisul; had an obituary of Lt. Bhagat who died on Kamet ('an extremely promising young officer....on the point of becoming a member of the HC'); mentioned that Salim Ali, together with S.C. Law, had been appointed Ornithological Correspondent, that Gurdial Singh had been appointed as Hon. Local Secretary in Dehra Dun and that Brig. C.R. Mangat Rai was a member of the Additional Balloting Committee. And there was an article on the name and height of Everest by B.L. Gulatee, Director, Geodetic And Training Circle, Survey of India. The first climbing article by an Indian was Navnit Parekh's 'An Attempt on Pumori' in XVIII-54.
The editor, perhaps overcome by seeing his vision of 'Hindu, Moslem, Sikh and others' taking to mountaineering becoming a reality, described Gurdial and his companion Roy Greenwood as being 'on the staff of the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun.' Gurdial was in fact an assistant master at the Doon School, not with the IMA. 'This was the first time,' the editor continued. 'that an Indian member of the HC had ascended one of the greater Himalayan peaks, and it is to be regretted that we are not able to record his own observations and reactions; but we take this opportunity of congratulating him on a very gallant effort.'5
In his report for 1951 (XVII-52) the Secretary declared that almost all the members who had been 'lost' had now been traced; and in XVIII-54 he reported that it could now be said that 'the Club is in a flourishing and vigorous state....On 1 April 1954 there were 553 members of whom 189 were resident in India.'
Left-Overs from the Pre-War Era
Mason had warned us in 1940 that there was material left over for the next issue; thus, accounts of some pre-war doings appeared in 1946 and subsequent volumes. XIII-46 carried Peter Mott's account of the '1939 Karakoram Expedition' when Shipton led a party to conduct a proper survey of the Snow Lake country, some 2000 sq. miles. They had nine Sherpas, headed 'by the redoubtable Angtharkay'.
At Askole they received a telegram sent from Srinagar by runner giving news of the outbreak of the war; the whole party reunited at Gilgit wondering whether to continue with their winter plans or return. Not surprisingly, they returned. They had mapped 1600 sq. miles of difficult country, discovered a number of new passes, opened up new routes, collected a large number of plants and conducted physiological research. ' Six months of absorbing interest and delectable endeavour that not even the shadow of the Nazi spectre could ever snatch from our memory,' wrote Mott.6
The next volume of the HJ, XIV-47, contained L. Chicken's article 'Nanga Parbat Reconnaissance, 1939'; Peter Aufschnaiter had been the leader and the party included Heinrich Harrer. These two were in Lhasa when XIV-47 was being prepared; Aufschnaiter's account of the 1939 Reconnaissance and of his escape from Dehra Dun were lost in transit; a second copy was made and sent and reached the editor when the Journal was already in the press. However, the publishers agreed to include them as a supplement.
The Germans had met tragedy on the Rakhiot route but were planning to return to Nanga Parbat in 1940; the 1939 reconnaissance explored the approach from the Diamir valley. It concluded that though the old Rakhiot route was technically easier, the Diamir presented many favourable features. The expedition assembled at Srinagar on 22 August and went on to Karachi to 'embark for home but fate had decided otherwise. We were interned and were not to climb mountains for years,' Chicken confided sadly.
'We hurried to catch our Hansa boat in Karachi, which, however, never arrived,' wrote Aufschnaiter. 'In those anxious days my comrades attempted a rush to Persia, but were caught in Las Bela. At the outbreak of the war we were interned and by autumn 1941 eventually came to a camp in Dehra Dun.'
The Swiss E. Grob climbed Tent Peak, 24,165 ft. in 1939 and his article 'In Sikkim - The Tent Peak' was written at Base Camp in July that year. However, it only got to the editor from Grab's brother much later, together with the book about the climb published in 1940. The article appeared in XIII-46.
Their first attempt had to be abandoned because the porter Kandova had broken his leg in a fall. Strangely. Grob makes no mention of this in his article. His attitude seems to be of the Dyhrenfurth persuasion: 'Yes, this mighty ice and rock peak, which had hitherto repulsed every attempt....was the chief goal of our expedition.' They had to go over Nepal Peak to get to Tent Peak along a steep undulating ridge. 'Progress seemed a mad idea. Our boots found scarcely any grip, left and right were tremendous drops...But we were now quite determined to defy resistance'. On the summit, 'We shook hands repeatedly.'
The descent was difficult, 'The porters were weak and uncertain.' Two porters fell but were held; Ajeeba fell into a crevasse but Paidar and Schmaderer pulled him out complete with pack.' Grob also claimed that the Lachen natives could not stand the cold, a claim challenged by Noyce, the editor.
Expedition members Paidar and Schmaderer, who were German, came down from the Zemu glacier and 'learnt that Britain was at war with Germany. That was the end of our second Sikkim Himalayan Expedition of 1939.' They ended up with Harrer and Aufschnaiter in the internment camp in Dehra Dun (their escape ended tragically). Grob, a Swiss, was free to get back home.
The same volume carried Ludwig Krenek's article on 'The Mountains of Central Lahoul'. Organised by the National Union of Students, the expedition consisted of seven members, mainly British and Germans and had three Sherpas; Krenek came from Vienna but had a German passport. On 11 September they received news by runner of the outbreak of the war, and returned to Manali.
One member of the expedition, Hilda Richmond, died a strange death. Seeking a place to have a wash, she followed a stream 'till she found a pool of clear water. There she was hit on the head by a falling stone and killed instantly.' One wonders how other members of the expedition worked all this out.
Krenek surfaced again after the war - in fact he became the Darjeeling Secretary of the HC - and provided, together with his wife, notes for XVI-50/51 on a tour to Northern Sikkim undertaken in Nov-Dec. 1948. In the same volume, Krenek also contributed a detailed roll of Himalayan porters, with rates of compensation. Thus the death of a married man rated Rs. 1000; a single man Rs. 500; while a female porter, married or single, rated but Rs. 500. Since home and children depend on the female, one would have thought she would rate rather higher; but perhaps she was easily replaced or the women's lobby was weak.
Rex Cardew had visited Lahoul in June 1938 and Ladakh in August that year. He wrote his reminiscences in XV-49 and told us that 'there is much to see off the main track of the Kashmir- Ladakh road, that one can enjoy without having to be a climber in the strict sense of the word.'
There was some climbing activity during the war, such as Noyce's first ascent of Simsaga (now called Tharkot) and of Pauhunri in 1944; and of the Hunts and the Cookes to Pandim, 21,953 ft. in 1940 (XIII-46). Hunt was recalled to duty when at Base Camp.
R.D. Leakey attempted Bandarpunch in November 1942 (XIII- 46). He gave up the attempt at 4 p.m. and decided to take a short cut back. Local and icy-cold cloud came down and blotted out landmarks. 'There followed the worst journey of my life and the only time I have really felt the need of others on lone climbing....My Indian-made boots (built with cardboards in the soles, I discovered) were in bits, and I was frozen up to the knees. But a 1000 ft. glissade down a snow-gully....thawed out my legs almost to the toes, and soon I could feel them painfully....'
Leakey was on Bandarpunch II again in 1946 with two others (XIV-47). Bad weather led them to abandon the attempt. Sergent, the novice of the party, slipped and finished 1000 ft. below, suffering from concussion and shock, and unable to walk. The coolies had evacuated and gone down to Nisani as they thought the climbers were dead; they had to be fetched back. Sergent was wrapped in a sleeping bag and tent and slid off the mountain, then carried to Calcutta on a stretcher.
There is special interest in the escape stories of Harrer and Aufschnaiter, recounted in 'Escape to Lhasa, 1944-45' in XIV- 47 and of Paidar and Schmaderer in March 1945, 'Destiny Himalaya'.
Harrer and Aufschnaiter were two of seven who escaped from Dehra Dun in April 1944 and their story has become famous. They arrived in Lhasa 21 months later, 'The total expenses for the two of us for 21 months had been 2000 rupees (£ 150). On 15th January 1946, we arrived in Lhasa, our sheepskin coats in tatters, almost barefoot, with one tola of gold sewn into my rags, one and half rupees in our pockets, and all our belongings on a donkey.'
Paidar and Schmadcrcr.interned after their climb of Tent Peak, were not so lucky. Schmaderer had made his first escape in May 1943 and been recaptured three weeks later. In March 1945 he escaped again, and three days later, Paidar, having escaped in a garbage cart, joined him. They went into Tibet, crossed back into India, not knowing that the war had ended. One day Schmaderer went into the village of Tabo to buy food and never returned. Paidar finally learnt that he had been murdered. Paidar reported to the police and was taken back to Dehra Dun.
With the end of the war, while the British were girding up their loins to settle their account with Everest and the Germans theirs with Nanga Parbat, the French came breezing along with Gallic flair and claimed the first 8000 metre peak. They also seemed to bring the metric system to the Himalayas and the 8000 m contour suddenly became a mystic barrier; to climb one of the 8000 m summits was a specific goal, to climb all 14 was a mountaineer's Grand Slam. So far only Reinhold Messner, Jerzy Kukuczka and Erhard Loretan have achieved this, while Benoit Chamoux died tragically in autumn 1995 on Kangchenjunga, attempting his 14th at the same time as Loretan: whether the climbers wanted it or not, the media turned had turned it into a Swiss-French race.
Maurice Herzog's account 'Annapurna', was published in XVI- 50/51 by permission of the Federation Fransaise de la Montagne, and translated by Barbara Tobin.
The Annapurna expedition, like Minerva, sprang full grown from birth. The French had not been very active in the Himalayas, but when they came, they came with colours flying. There were no reconnaissance, no failed attempts, no explorations. As Shipton wrote in his Introduction to Herzog's book about the climbing of the first 8000 m. peak (26,493 ft.)7, 'The approaches to Annapurna were quite unknown. The expedition had not only to find a practicable route to the summit; they had first to find a way of reaching the mountain. It is this triple accomplishment of successful exploration, reconnaissance and assault, all within a brief season between the melting of the winter snows and the onset of the monsoon, that places the achievement of the French expedition in a class by itself.'
The French had launched only one major expedition prior to 1950, to the Karakorams in 1936. They actually set out forDhaulagiri in 1950 but decided that Annapurna was a better bet. Angtharkay was the Sirdar. Camps were established swiftly, and finally Herzog and Lachenal were alone at Camp V; Angtharkay and Ang Dawa had been asked if they wanted to stay but had chosen to go back to Camp IV.
The two climbers left at 6 am and attained the summit. Lachenal wanted to descend immediately as he felt his feet beginning to freeze. Putting on his gloves after taking some condensed milk out of his rucksack, Herzog dropped a glove and saw it fall to the bottom; 'unfortunately it never occurred to me that I had a pair of socks in my rucksack.' Clouds came up, the monsoon had arrived, and it began snowing and turned bitterly cold. They reached Camp V where Rebuffat and Terray had come up, but Lachenal did not arrive till later. He had fallen about a hundred yards down the slope and was lucky to have stopped himself with his crampons. Herzog's gloveless hand was white and wooden and Terray busied himself rubbing it.
They spent a second night at 7500 m; the weather worsened; visibility was low and they searched desperately for the tents of Camp IV. Terray, to see better, took off his glasses and was snow blind the next day.
Night came and still no Camp IV; the mist was opaque. They bivouacked in a crevasse; they had nothing to drink. Lachenal felt his feet hardening, Herzog felt all four limbs freezing. Terray had a sleeping bag and this had to be shared among the four. Avalanche snow covered everything that night, including the boots of Herzog and Lachenal; these took some time to find next morning. Lachenal was feverish and rambling and wanted to leave in bare feet. Herzog couldn't get his boots on to his swollen feet; he told Terray to lead the others down without him but Terray refused and finally forced Herzog's boots on. And suddenly, Schaatz was there, and they got down to Camp IV, to the waiting Sherpas.
Descending further, an entire slab of snow fell away and Herzog and the two Sherpas helping him were carried away. Herzog found himself hanging face downwards, the rope round his head, arm and leg; Rebuffat had fallen 50 m but was unhurt. Getting down the ice walls, 'my skin flaked off my hands and stuck to the ropes - my hands were so terrible to look at that I hid them in a scarf,' wrote Herzog. And so to Camp II to the care of the Sherpas and Oudot the doctor.
'No one remained on the mountain,' wrote Herzog. 'We had beaten her, and I could lie back and think: the job has been finished; the struggle is over.'
Perhaps Herzog's words at the end of his book are worth recalling. 'Annapurna, to which we had gone empty handed, was a treasure on which we should live the rest of our days. With this realization we turn the page: a new life begins.
There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men.'
Meanwhile, British eyes were turned, naturally enough, to Everest. Tibet was closing up, Nepal opening up, so the southern approach suddenly became a real possibility.
H.W. Tilman, who had led the last expedition in 1938, wrote a note on the Problem of Everest in XIII-46, answering Kenneth Mason's criticisms of Tilman's expedition in XI-39. The main controversy centred round the heavy versus the light expedition and to me at least there is no doubt that the round goes to Tilman.
XIV-47 records that it was reported 'in the Swiss Press that a New Zealander by name Earl Demnan, made a single-handed attempt on Everest early in the year. The affair is still wrapped in mystery.' And so it remained because there is no further reference to this second solo maverick in the HJ. However, Demnan had managed to persuade Tenzing and Ang Dawa to accompany him and Tenzing's autobiography gives details of this peculiar mini-expedition, the Tilman-Shipton concept carried ad absurdum.
Demnan had little money, poor equipment, and no permission to enter Tibet. He and the two Sherpas left Darjeeling secretly and lived from day to day, finally getting to the Rongbuk. Then, poorly equipped and ill-protected against the cold, they climbed to the foot of the North Col but could go no further. 'Even Demnan knew we were beaten...He was not ready to kill himself like Wilson and he was willing to go back.' And they were back in Darjeeling, the whole trip having taken five weeks! Next year Demnan was back for a second attempt, somewhat better equipped but still without permission; Tenzing resisted his blandishments and Demnan went back to Africa. 'In 1953, when I reached the top of Everest, I was wearing a woollen balaclava that he had left with me; so at least a little part of him has reached his goal.'8
In 'Towards Everest, 1950', XVII-52, Charles Houston describes his trip with Tilman to the southern approaches of Everest. The route to Thyangboche was a novelty, the lamas of the monastery there had never seen a white man (perhaps their successors envy them this Shangri-la isolation?). 'Such access as we saw to the summit did not offer much encouragement to the climber, and although a route may be worked out with hazard and toil through the western cwm to the South Col and thence to the summit, it does not appear to us a practicable route.'
The preliminary work was followed by 'The Reconnaissance of Mount Everest, 1951', by W.H. Murray, also in XVII-52. Eric Shipton came back from China just in time to join the expedition of six which included Edmund Hillary, Tom Bourdillon and Michael Ward. Shipton and Hillary explored the ice fall, then all six, with Angtharkay and two other Sherpas climbed it to the top. There they were confronted with the biggest crevasse of all, varying from 100 ft to 100 yards wide, and 100 ft deep. They saw the slopes leading to the South Col but were too far away to judge conditions. They concluded that the western route may yet prove to be a better one than the old north route.
In the same volume, B.L. Gulatee contributes a most interesting account on 'Mount Everest - Its Name and Height'. It is worth pausing in the story of the climbing of the mountain to note that the observations 'to Mount Everest were taken in 1849 and 1850 but it was not till 1852 that the computations were sufficiently advanced to indicate that Peak XV possessed a height greater than that of any other known mountain.'
It was finally decided to name it after Sir George Everest who had actually retired in 1843. Alas, Gulatee shatters the jolly legend of the Bengali computer, Radhanath Sikhdar, rushing breathlessly into the room of the Surveyor-General exclaiming, 'Sir, I have discovered the highest mountain in the world'. Happily, the legend will survive mere facts and we will all go on repeating it.
Conspicuous by its absence is any account of the two Swiss attempts on Everest in 1952. They pioneered the route to the South Col - though they chose to go by the Geneva spur rather than the Lhotse face which seems to have become the voie normale - and Raymond Lambert and Tenzing came near to success. The only reference to their expeditions is a note by Andre Roch, reprinted from The Times, on the Sherpas of Everest.
And so to John Hunt's successful expedition of 1953 described in a series of articles in XVIII-54. Different members of the expedition wrote on different aspects: thus George Lowe wrote on the Lhotse Face; Wilfrid Noyce, back to climbing, on the South Col; R.C. Evans on the First Ascent of the South Peak; Edmund Hillary on The Summit and so on. And the series was closed by Flight-Lieutenant N.D. Jayal's article 'Indian Air Force Flights over Everest, 1953', which took place eight days after the successful climb.
Not the least interesting is James Morris' article 'The Press on Everest', and one paragraph bears repetition. 'I shall never, as long as I live, forget the transformation that overcame the camp when the summit party appeared and gave us the news of their victory. It was a moment so thrilling, so vibrant, that hot tears sprang to the eyes of most of us. The day was so dazzlingly bright - the snow so white, the sky so blue; the air was so heavily charged with excitement; and the news, however much we expected it, was still somehow such a wonderful surprise; and it felt to all of us that we were very close to the making of history; and away in England, as we knew, an entire nation, in celebration for the Coronation, was waiting eager-hearted for the word of triumph. It was a moment of great beauty.'
Not surprising that James (Jan) Morris went on to become one of the best known travel writers of our age.
And while the British were settling their unfinished business with Everest, the Germans were doing the same with Nanga Parbat. Their success in 1953 had, however, been preceded by another tragedy.
In November-December 1950, J.W. Thornley, W.H. Crace and R.M.W. Marsh attempted a winter reconnaissance. Thornley and Crace pitched a tent at about 18,000 ft; there were three days of storm and the two were not seen again. A Note in XVI-50/ 51 described the efforts of Marsh and two Sherpas to find them, of a search by planes; less nothing was found.
Hermann Buhl wrote 'On the Summit of Nanga Parbat', in XVIII-54. The mountain was climbed by the Rakhiot face after all and the article is Buhl's diary of his epic solo climb. From the last camp, he started off at 2.30 a.m. on 3 July; Otto Kempter was slow getting ready so said he would catch him up. He never did; Buhl didn't wait. He reached the summit at 7 p.m., lost a crampon on the descent, had to bivouac at 8000 m without sleeping bag or provisions. Next day, 'the whole day I had the impression of an invisible companion behind me,' he wrote. That evening he was met by two men at the Moor's Head. 'They were absolutely dumbfounded, for they had given me up as dead, and here I was coming back from the top.' Next morning, 'I looked back for the last time at those crests on which all our hopes had been built, and my emotions of the previous day coursed through my mind like an impossible dream which had only for an instant come true.'
Buhl wisely stopped his account there for, alas, unlike the success on Everest a few weeks before, he was met with controversy and recriminations. The story of an amazing climb turned sour.9
The French on Nanda Devi
The account of the Third French Expedition to the Himalaya, 1951, led by Roger Duplat, was put together for XVII-52 with the co-operation of the French Alpine Club. The plan was to try Alpine practices and traverse the 3 km arete linking the eastern and western summits of Nanda Devi. This ridge was nowhere less than 23,000 ft, an 'awe inspiring rampart of rock and ice'. Tenzing was the Sirdar.
Duplat and Vignes were seen moving to the main summit from Camp III, while Dubost and Tenzing waited at Camp II on Nanda Devi East to receive them. They went on to the summit, where 'Tenzing surpassed himself', but after nine days they had to abandon all hope. Gevril, looking for them on the north face, nearly met death himself trying to cross the Rishi in full flood and was saved only by the brave efforts of the Sherpas and coolies.
On the way back they camped in the Bhyundar valley and it so happened that Gurdial Singh and his party, returning from Trisul, were also camped nearby. The two parties had already shared an evening at Dibrugheta on the way out; then Gurdial and Greenwood had met them at Chamoli on the return and kept company for three days 'we met the remnant of the French team on the return journey at Chamoli a month later when we enjoyed their hospitality up to Kotdwara, the railhead, via Pauri. Yes, we had quite a gastronomic treat all the way: a welcome change from the rather frugal fare of the previous six weeks. What a delight to eat hot puris with chocolat, nougat, gruyere cheese, etc.!'10
Tenzing had originally been booked to go with Gurdial but when the French asked him to be their Sirdar, Gurdial immediately released him; obviously the French offer was a much better one. Tenzing not only sent them a 'fine lot of Sherpas, including Dawa Thondup' but on the return, when the two expeditions were both camped in the Bhyundar valley, he surreptitiously helped to replenish their larder with French goodies. 'Our Sherpas had gone to Joshimath to replenish supplies, mainly rice and dal,' wrote Gurdial in the letter already cited. 'Lo and behold, we saw them unpack a few kilos of dainty delicacies,' gifts from Tenzing. He had noted that their supplies were low; the French were overstocked. He helped to balance things out. No doubt there was feasting in Gurdial's camp that night and many happy shouts of 'Sante!'
The Swiss and the Himalaya
The Alps evidently only encouraged the appetites of the Swiss for what they fed on; they sought vaster worlds to conquer.
'The Swiss Garhwal Expedition of 1947', XV-49, is an abridged version made by Barbara Tobin (was she the wife? daughter? of the editor?) from articles written by various members. The idea of the expedition was originated by the 'young Annelies Lohner'; Andre Roch was chosen as leader and Rene Dittert and Alfred Sutter were among its members, as was the well-known guide Alexander Graven.
The accident to Wangdi occurred on the first assault on Kedarnath, 22,770 ft. They were on three ropes, going for the summit, when, Roch wrote, 'the mountain gods struck. We heard Wangdi, [the Sirdar, roped with Sutter] cry "Sahib" and what we then saw actually took place in a fraction of a second. Wangdi had become entangled with his crampons; he had fallen forward, and was slipping faster and faster down the icy slope of 50 degreees. Hearing his cry Sutter thrust the shaft of his ice-axe hard into the snow and belayed. The rope tautened and Wangdi swung like a pendulum across the ice....but the snow gave way and both men hurtled downwards at an ever increasing speed. We were terrified.'
After 7-800 ft. the slope eased off and the two men stopped. 'We could hardly believe it when Sutter stood up, evidently only slightly hurt - but Wangdi did not rise, a broken leg, a fractured skull', and a knee severely damaged by the point of a crampon. They got down to the two men, injected morphia, and Ang Dawa, Graven and Dittert harnessed themselves to Wangdi to pull him along: a dangerous and exhausting procedure.
They bivouacked in a crevasse. Next morning, explaining to Wangdi that they would come back with help, they left to get down; met their Sherpas and sent three of them to rescue Wangdi; they themselves were 'utterly exhausted'. The Sherpas returned that afternoon in the softened snow without having been able to get to Wangdi who was thus left alone, 'with a wounded skull and a broken leg at 20,000 ft. without provisions and without drink.' It was useless to start so late in the afternoon, so they left at 5 am next day on three ropes. 'Dittert, Tenzing and Ang Norbu led like men possessed; in three hours they reached Wangdi.' As Tenzing wrote in his autobiography, 'Indeed, it was I, I felt, of whom most should now be expected, because the others had worn themselves out the day before, while I was fresh and rested. Besides Wangdi Norbu was an old friend and climbing companion, a fellow-Tiger from Everest back in 1938, and at all costs he must be rescued and brought down alive.'
But Wangdi, having the previous day seen the three men coming and then retreating, had concluded that he was abandoned and decided to end his life. He took his knife and tried to pierce his heart; this was unsuccessful so he tried to cut his throat. 'Fortunately he had missed the artery and had only succeeded in making a large gash like a second gaping mouth in the middle of his throat,' wrote Roch.11
The second rope consisted of Trevor Braham, the liaison officer, with two Sherpas; the third of Roch and three Sherpas. They prepared Wangdi and slid him down, dragged him and finally the Sherpas carried him to base camp, 'a really magnificent effort.' Wangdi had already had accidents on Everest and Kangchenjunga; luckily he recovered from this one too and became an instructor at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling.
In the same volume, HWT (presumably the editor) reviews Andre Roch's book Climbs of my Youth and describes the author as 'one of the world's finest climbers, whose name is well known far beyond his own Swiss frontiers.'12
In 'The Swiss Himalayan Expedition, 1949; N-E Nepal' in XVI-50/51 Rene Dittert gives an account of this expedition with Alfred Sutter and Wyss-Dunant of Geneva, and Mine. Annelies Lohner and two guides from Grindelwald.
They explored the approaches to Kangbachen, 25,927 ft. and reached the summit crest of Pyramid Peak 23,370 ft. They climbed Tang Kongma c. 20,500 ft, and attempted Nupchu c. 23,160 ft. From Camp V at 21,700 ft. they couldn't follow the crest because of fragile cornices, and had to go by the steep north face. 'About 20 ft from the crest we thought we were safe, when suddenly a sinister crack rent the air. Above me I saw the ridge subside, and wondered if I was dreaming or drunk, but realized it was an actual fact when about 160 ft of the huge cornice broke off and crashed down the north face.... leaving us petrified with fright.'
The whole west face was one great precipice and it became more and more risky. 'Personally,' wrote Rene Dittert, who was more than accustomed to face dangers in the mountains, 'I have never spent such a long time above so stupendous an abyss - nor have I ever traversed such steep slopes.' They did not quite reach the summit.
Dittert adds a note on the Sherpas and Sherpanis, full of praise for their work, ice-craft, honesty and cheerfulness.
Andre Roch is back again with 'Dhaulagiri, 1953' in XVIII- 54. Dhaluagiri is 25,810 ft. (the introduction to the article says 23,810 ft. which must be a misprint.) The expedition was organised by the Zurich Academic Alpine Club and Andre Roch was the deputy leader; Angtharkay was the Sirdar and there were ten other Sherpas.
While establishing camps, 'Dr. Pfister was leading with Angtharkay following and myself taking photographs. A sudden loud crack was heard and our brave sirdar disappeared with a cornice of which 25 yards had broken off. They had been cutting too near the crest...Pfister, one foot in space, clung on and saved himself, and looking down...saw Angtharkay clinging on to the dizzy slope - braking with all ten gloved fingers....I climbed down with Lauterburg holding me on the rope for the first twenty metres which were all but vertical - in ten minutes I was with our sirdar and in half an hour we were on the ridge once more.'
Two climbers left Camp V, 21,500 ft. while three Sherpas carried oxygen equipment for a stretch. Roch was watching from Camp IV and saw the Sherpas fall down the long slope which ended in a sheer ice-wall; they tobogganed over two crevasses and stopped short of the ice-wall. Immediately the watchers prepared for the rescue, with hot tea, splints, medicines and so on, but 'just as we were starting up, we saw the three Sherpas get up and, as if nothing had happened, cross horizontally to the track between Camp IV and V.'
The highest point reached by members of the expedition was about 25,000 ft. Roch concluded that the 'climbing of Dhaulagiri will demand a new technique for the Himalaya, such as the dynamiting of the camp-site, which at present seems far-fetched, but in fifty years' time may perhaps be accepted as commonplace by all climbers.' Thank goodness his nightmare vision has not come true.
Tirich Mir and the Norwegians
Tirich Mir seemed to have become a Norwegian mountain, and H.R.A. Streather of the Chitral State Scouts (who went as a guest and to help with transport problems; he was later President of the Alpine Club 1990-92) wrote an account of the successful Norwegian expedition, 1950, (XVI-50/51). A reconnaissance the previous year by Arne Naess had run into trouble with Chitrali porters, but Streather was out to prove that 'really well-picked Chitralis can hold their own anywhere,' though of course they could not compare with Sherpas.
Through the years, Chitral was hardly ever mentioned without reference to the dangerous fairies guarding the mountains. However, there had just been a revolution against the Mehtar, the area was going through hard times and porters were anxious to earn money, even if this meant braving the fairies. At Camp V, Mutaib became seriously ill because he had seen fairies. He went mad when he saw anything red because, of course, fairies didn't like red. He began screaming that there were three fairies sitting and watching him. He was given a strong shot of morphia and taken down to BC.
Arne Naess was the leader of the 1950 expedition and Prof. Abdul Hamid Beg was the liaison officer. The summit was reached from Camp IX. 'Looking back,' wrote Streather, 'there seem so many things that contributed to the success of the expedition....I must thank the Norwegians for inviting me to join them, and for giving me the privilege of being with them to the summit - a privilege and an honour which I shall never forget.'
The Americans on K2
Charles Houston was back on K2 and H.R. Streather wrote an account of the 'Third American Karakoram Expedition, 1953' in XVIII-54. At Camp IV they found the remains of the gallant Pasang Kikuli and other Sherpas who had disappeared trying to save Wolfe in 1939. They found the remains of two tents; neatly rolled and ready for moving were 'the sleeping bags and few personal belongings of those gallant Sherpas.'
They had six men and plenty of supplies at Camp VIII, 25,500 ft., and were ready to set up one other camp and then go for the summit. Then came the storm which continued for days. Art Gilkey complained of pain in the legs and collapsed; Houston diagnosed thrombophlebitis and they knew they must get him down. They bundled him in sleeping bags and a torn tent but dragging him in fresh snow while the storm still raged, besides being very dangerous, was almost impossible.
'We had just lowered Art (Gilkey) over a steep rock cliff, when one of the climbers slipped. We were climbing, for the most part, in pairs, and in some miraculous way our ropes crossed. Five of us were pulled off the steep ice slope. Pete Schoening, who was at the time holding the rope on which we were lowering Art, had the only strong belay, and somehow he held us all.' Bell fell more than 200 ft. and the rest a little less. Again miraculously, no one was badly hurt; Houston was unconscious for a time and Bell had badly frozen hands, having lost his gloves in the fall.
They couldn't move Art, but hoped to be able to cut a ledge to make him more comfortable. They left him for a while to recoup but 'when we got back he had gone. At first we could not believe our eyes,' but realised that a small avalanche had come and taken him. 'Once over the shock... we realized that his passing was a miraculous deliverance from a situation which might well have meant disaster for all of us.'
When they struggled down to Camp II, 'the Hunzas were there to meet us...they did not attempt to hide their joy at seeing us safe again...I told them about Art, and they offered a most touching prayer in his memory and asked me to translate their feelings to the others...No people from our so-called civilized countries could express themselves with such complete and unaffected sincerity as those six men from the remote central Asian state of Hunza.'13
The Attraction of the Himalaya
In the first volume of the HJ, J. de Graaf Hunter, the Director of the Geodetic Branch, Survey of India, had written an article 'The Attraction of the Himalaya'; aware that this would be misunderstood, he hastened to explain that he was referring to the gravitational pull of the range.14
We might well pause here to ask what the attraction of the Himalaya is to mountaineers and why they seem to come back again and again. Many of them have quicker and easier access to mountains nearer home and yet, as Trevor Braham told the Swiss Members of the HC on 17 March 1995, 'Once you've been to the Himalayas, you always want to return.'
'It was good to return for a while to the more varied and indulgent ways of life, but I knew that in a very few weeks I should be yearning once more for the high hills,' wrote Braham in XV- 49. 'The Himalayas: the highest and loveliest mountains in the world. To us they were a dream - unattainable - and therefore always to remain a dream,' wrote Maurice Herzog (XVI-50/51). 'We marched through green dales covered in white and yellow edelweiss, forget-me-nots, anemones, rhododendrons, asters, roses, and fragrant mint. The clear streams meandered between granite rocks, in the shelter of which grew primulas, blue and yellow. These were dream valleys,' wrote Rene Dittert (XVI-50/51).
'Enormous, bright-hued butterflies danced around our heads. Grey and red monkeys browsed among banana palms...As to the birds! At last we heard the black partridge calling. In one day we saw the pigmy owlet as small as a thrush, the grey-headed flycatcher, a most brilliant sunbird that fluttered like a moth while it sipped nectar from the blooms of a shrub - but these are just a few among a great host,' wrote W.H. Murray (XVI-50/51).
'A clear spring; firewood not far below; overhanging rocks to provide quarters for ...our two servants; and the Agyasol (20,141 ft.) filling the valley...Every week our meadow was covered with different flowers. The blue of the lilies gave way to pink, the pink to white, the white to a golden yellow,' rhapsodised the stolid Fritz Kolb (XIV-47). 'For any mountain-lover, the Himalaya must be the greatest of all adventure-grounds; operation "Quit India" must not be taken as ruling out small Himalayan expeditions for British climbers....Certainly our leave was so incomparably the best we had ever spent that we intend to return, whatever the difficulties,' wrote C.G. Wylie (XIV-47).
'Our route seemed to me to have come straight out of a dream. Far from civilization, dependent only upon ourselves, we had to accept every whim of the broken terrain, where forests of birch, dried up river beds bordered with cactus, small villages and rice fields followed each other in quick succession....we learnt patience in a country which has absolutely no idea of time,' said Annelies Lohner (XV-49).
'A march up a Himalayan valley is always a delight. The broad leafed trees of the sub-tropics change to conifers as the altitude increases, then to silver birches and finally dwarf juniper before all timber is extinct and the topography moulded entirely in rock and ice,' wrote Kenneth Snelson (XVIII-54). He continued, 'Much of our gloom dispersed when we found the ideal base camp site. The snow had melted a few days previously from a little alp, about two acres in extent, perched a hundred feet above the river at an altitude of 12,800 ft. Through it flowed a clear stream and the last dwarf juniper of the nala assured us of a firewood supply. The first spring flowers were bursting through the turf...It soon became a riot of flowers...From this idyllic spot we began our exploration of the Dibibokri basin.' And after the trip, 'All of us returned with the reaffirmation that the Himalaya is the most wonderful country in the world and that an expedition to explore even some of its minor mysteries is the best way of living we know.'
'The grass on which we camped was like a cushion, sprinkled with tiny mauve primula (minimissima) and the gentle lapping of the water brought to mind the Beethoven Pastoral Symphony,' wrote Nalni Jayal (XVII-52) about Base Camp, Trisul. 'Indeed, the serene atmosphere with the snowy Devistan peaks overlooking us from the east, the deep blue sky and the brilliant moon in the clear mountain air gave us probably the keenest joy of our expedition.'
And Maj. Banon, after having travelled all over the world, could write, 'never in all my travel did I come across scenery to match the sublime splendour of the Himalayas; nor did I discover more serene environment than is available in my own home valley (Kulu),' (XVII-52).
Memories of days in the mountains even overcame tragedies. The Oxford University Expedition to Tehri-Garhwal, 1952, described by J.B. Tyson in XVIII-54 had two tragedies: Huggins, after climbing Gangotri I, became sick and died, probably of pneumonia. Borup fell on a grassy hillside crossed daily by herdsmen, hurt his leg and died in hospital. 'It was a cruel blow and a tragic ending to our first visit to the Himalayas. But the delight we shared in the weeks that came before will not be forgotten.'
'For mountains, especially in the Himalayas... do bring us right away from the world of materialism, and in very truth give us an experience of something which is, I believe, heavenly and divine. Some of Smythe's "sermonizing" on these lines is not only very well written, but is very good sense,' said Howard Somervell (XIII-46).
Murray sums up the attraction of the Himalaya: 'Himalayan climbing did not seem to us to be better than Alpine for the altitude is against full enjoyment. But the travel among the mountains - surely it can have no equal in the world' (XVI-50/51).
But that is only half the equation. The other half is the people. Travel and comfort in camps depends largely on porters and time and again there is almost astonished praise for the local people: Hunzas, Chitralis, Dhotials, Bhotias, Garhwalis. And of course for the Sherpas who are in a class by themselves.
There can be few pleasanter things in life than arriving in camp, perhaps after hard days spent amongst snow, ice and rock; perhaps after some distressing struggle with bad weather and difficult conditions; or perhaps just after a long hot slog up hill and down dale, to find the tents already up, the sleeping bags unrolled, steaming mugs of tea ready - and perhaps a pakora or two. And instead of sneering at you because they are so much tougher than you and have carried loads which would have bowed you down in just a few minutes, the men of the hills give you a warm smile and seem genuinely pleased to mollycoddle you.
'We selected 18 of the best men (Dhotials) mostly young men and all tough...Never before had I met so many men all at one time whom I liked so well. They were very simple and upright, and soon proved themselves to be scrupulously honest and high spirited. In four months' travel we had no pilfering and never a suggestion of mutiny. They cooked for us without extra pay,' wrote Murray (XVI-50/51).
'The Sutol men were a hardy lot and had carried well. We were particularly sorry to part with Prem Singh who had proved an efficient head man with plenty of initiative,'... On the way back, 'the Dhotials were in good spirits although several had cracked heels and two who had carried on snow were suffering frost-bitten toes. This, I am glad to say, was very slight. They never complained and I dressed their feet every evening,' writes P.L. Wood (XIV- 47).
So much has been written about the Sherpas that two or three quotations will suffice. Fritz Kolb declared as an axiom that 'A Himalayan trip with, and one without, Sherpa porters are two very different tilings,' (XIV-47). 'There are two things one admires in these men,' wrote Andre Roch. 'First is their unfailing friendliness to everyone...The second ...is the way he manages the transport of baggage up the mountains....All my companions stand amazed at their performance,' (XVII-52).
There are two names that run through this series of Journals like a leitmotif: Tenzing and Angtharkay. They had established solid reputations before the war, but the era we are writing about seems to belong to them.
Tenzing was with the Swiss in Garhwal in 1947. 'Tenzing was an absolute gem. Neat and full of initiative, he spoilt me dreadfully,' wrote Annelies Lohner. After the accident to Wangdi, he led one of the rescue ropes. For the final assault, at Camp II 'Tenzing proudly brandished a bottle of cognac which he had brought for us.' At Camp III while 'Ang Dawa and Ang Norbu were rather anxious about making the final assault with us ....there was a gleam of determination in Tenzing's eyes.... we had a further 500 ft. to climb, Tenzing still in the lead. I wondered where the man drew his strength from and tried to catch up with him but he still kept well ahead,' wrote Alfred Sutter (XV-49).
He was the Sirdar of the French Nanda Devi expedition, 1951, and when searching for the two missing climbers,' surpassed himself.'
And of course the apotheosis of Everest. But if getting to the summit was an achievement, to have lived through the all the media attention and bally-hoo, the honours heaped on his defenceless head from all over the world, and yet to remain a normal, unaffected, genuine human being, 'one of nature's gentlemen,' was a greater one. There are other Everests in the lives of men.
I cannot help recounting a personal experience. A couple of years after Tenzing had become a world celebrity.he came to Switzerland to do a guide's course. Still chased by reporters and media-hounds, he took refuge with his Genevese friends Raymond Lambert and Rene Dittert. Dittert asked me to help in looking after him and brought him to my office. Just then, the tea trolley came along and Lili, our popular waitress, goggled at the visitor. I introduced her; Tenzing immediately stood up, took her hand in both of his broke into his dazzling smile, and spoke to her in very good French. It was completely sincere and natural. And, needless to say, he won yet another life-long friend and admirer. And that afternoon, reports of Tenzing's unspoilt charm were served with afternoon tea all down our corridor.
Angtharkay had been with T.H. Tilly and then with Noyce in 1945 and was Sirdar, philosopher and friend (Tilly said he climbed Chomiomo mainly due to Angtharkay, Noyce climbed Pauhunri where 'Angtharkay's 'final effort was magnificent'); Angtharkay was the Sirdar of the Annapurna expedition; he was with Trevor Braham in 1949 on the Khangkyong Plateau ('Angtharkay revealed his great superiority over the others'); and again in 1953 in N-E Sikkim.
Angtharkay was the Sirdar on Dhaulagiri in 1953 with Andre Roch and had a miraculous escape when he was swept down more than 300 ft. with a cornice which broke under him. Later the same year, he was with the French on Nun Kun as Sirdar. Nalni Jayal, who was the liaison officer of that expedition, wrote that the famous '43 year old sirdar ...was undoubtedly in the same class as Tenzing.'15
And in XIII-46, Angtharkay Sirdar wrote a note to say, 'Travellers wishing me to make arrangements for transport and/or servants for touring in Sikkim or Tibet' should write to him; while in XVIII-54 the HC advised members that 'as there are now Sherpa Sirdars....the Committee recommends that even when the Darjeeling Local Secretary is available, members should apply direct to the Sirdars.'
'Angtharkay was the eldest, a more sophisticated man than his brethren...' wrote his friend Eric Shipton in 1936. 'we could also delegate to him the very unpleasant business of bargaining, for he was a Hotspur who would "cavil on the ninth part of a hair"...he was the soundest, too, on a mountain, both in movement and judgement, and as a route-finder we had many occasions on which to bless him.'16 Angtharkay was also with Shipton on the reconnaissance of the southern route to Everest in 1951 and on Cho Oyu in 1952.
It was only fitting that Tenzing and Angtharkay were on the staff of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute when it was set up.
Yes; the period saw Annapurna, Everest, Nanga Parbat and a host of other splendid adventures, but it really belonged to Tenzing and Angtharkay.
Enjoying Mountains, Great and Small
'I enjoy all mountains, small and great; looking at them, travelling among them, slogging away at the approaches to them, climbing their steep sides or ridges, attaining their summits if possible; but if not, what matter?' wrote Howard Somervell, describing 'Some Minor Expeditions in the Himalaya' in XIII-46. 'I have found, in common with many others, that a climbing expedition with one or two companions and no terrific objective can give a more real and serene enjoyment than you are likely to get from a large and spectacular attempt on a major peak.' Somervell, of Everest 1922 and 1924, should know. And so between 1922 - a spinoff to Lhonak after Everest - and 1944 to Lahoul the 'best climbing- ground of all for those who don't feel able to tackle the major peaks,' he made half a dozen expeditions 'not to climb giants but to find uplift and beauty and a change from the relaxing moist air of Travancore,' where he worked as a doctor.
In 1928 with Allsup in Sikkim and a 'grand lot of Everest porters', he headed for Pandim. On the way, 'the tame Lama of the village from Dubdi came along....and offered to pray for fine weather for our expedition, if we rewarded him suitably....We gave him 8 annas, considered ample reward by our staff, but not by the Lama, who procured in return only 8 annas' worth of fine weather.' On their return after much bad weather, the Lama said, 'What do you expect for 8 annas? If you had given me a rupee you would have had good weather.' Fair enough.
J.O.M. Roberts wrote of his expedition 'Saser Kangri, Eastern Karakorams, 1946' in XIV-47. He had planned the trip to Saser Kangri, 25,170 ft. with Charles Wylie, a Gurkha officer back from four years in a Japanese prison camp; unfortunately Wylie had to drop out. They explored the approaches to the peak and climbed a couple of 20,000 ft. summits.
With one month's leave in hand, Capt. Ralph James, joined an expedition to Nun Kun, 23,400 ft. in 1946 (XIV-47). They established three camps on the mountain but realised that they didn't have the time or possibility to try for the top. James used skis and on the way to BC, the 'run from 20,000 to 17,000 ft. was one of the most exhilarating I have ever experienced, and although only a mediocre performer I had made Base Camp in 20 minutes with very few falls.'
In 'Third Choice - Padar Region,' Fritz Kolb wrote of his trip to Kishtwar - permits for more ambitious plans didn't come through - (XIV-47) with Ludwig Krenek. It seemed an ideal holiday; they had two local porters, were self contained, did some tough climbing, explored new areas and made some thrilling geographical discoveries, climbed a 19,000 ft. summit 'in grand Swiss style,' and found some lovely camp sites.
P.L. Wood, with his brother and a friend, went to Nanda Ghunti 20,700 ft. 'the most promising peak on the western rim of the Nanda Devi-Trisul group.' They got up to 19,890 ft. but the 'loose rock on the narrow ridge defeated them.' One of the Dhotials got sick and had to be carried back; crossing the Nandakini on a bridge of two silver birches, Sams was pulled off balance and fell in. Fortunately, he was grabbed before being swept away. 'Though we had failed to climb our peak, we had the satisfaction of breaking fresh ground.'
Charles Wylie, having missed the expedition to Saser Kangri with Roberts, made a 'Pre-Swiss Attempt on Nilkanta' (XIV- 47). Andre Roch was due to attempt the peak in August 1947; Wylie made his 'modest attempt' in May. They established Base Camp near Holdsworth's col; Holdsworth had thought the ridge would be possible though mist prevented his seeing very much. It was more difficult than the small party of six could tackle so they returned and had a look at the west ridge 'which was promising.' But it began to snow and their leave was ending.
Wylie was on John Hunt's Everest expedition in 1953, as transport officer. He received the news of the birth of his son by wireless to Namche Bazaar. John Hunt reported that 'the operator at Namche added his own congratulations. 'I am transported with great exultation to announce the birth of your son. I hope that you have cause for similar rejoicing at least once a year. Please pay bearer one rupee.'
Trevor Braham led an expedition to N-E Sikkim in 1946 and the editor put together a report based on notes from Braham: 'Chomo Yummo, Sebu La, Chombu,' (XIV-47). They attempted a peak 20,320 ft. north of Chomo Yummo, but 'the leader's badly worn boots forced a descent to camp.'
In 1947, after two months with the Swiss in Garhwal, Braham went from 'Kalindi Khal to the Bhyundar Pass' XIV-49. He went over the 16,688 ft. pass, where the Mana coolies, improperly shod, balked at the steep descent. Braham and Angtenzing cut steps and 'the coolies, like the fine fellows they are, descended bravely in the steps, where a slip would have been impossible to hold.' He climbed a rock peak c. 18,000 ft. from where a number of well- known peaks and 'a vast array of mountains rising close at hand in every direction under brilliant skies emphasized the splendour of this valley - truly the mountaineer's paradise, filled with accessible peaks of moderate height.'
In 'The Khangkyong Plateau and Kangchenjau,' XVI-50/51, Trevor Braham gave an account of his trip in November 1949 to a plateau south of Pauhunri which had never been explored. He wanted to attempt Kangchenjau 22,603 ft (climbed by Dr. Kellas in 1912) from the north. He was joined by Hruska, a Czech from Calcutta, a ski expert. Braham was happy to have got Angtharkay and four other Sherpas.
They went over 'Hidden Pass' and Hruska, who had been ill and not eaten for two days, put on his skis for the descent. 'Though they were only usable for a comparatively short stretch they provided him with some enjoyment and the porters with considerable delight; but I wonder whether they justified their weight and awkward carriage for over three weeks.'
Hruska returned and Braham attacked Kangchenjau again. He set up a camp at about 19,000 ft, 'the coldest we had experienced, and the thermometer registered 36 degrees of frost.' The cold and severe wind forced them to abandon the attempt.
In XVIII-54, Braham wrote 'A Fourth Visit to North-East Sikkim.' He had wanted to go back to Kangchenjau but the era of restricted areas had started and this was beyond his permitted region. Angtharkay was with him again with six Sherpas. Snow andbad weather conditions prevented any major climbs, 'the produce of an unfavourable season. We had seen some new country; and the mountains had given us all that we had cared to take from them; that alone was enough.'
Hans Gyr described the 'Karakoram Expedition, 1947' in XVII- 52; three Swiss and Tilman with four Sherpas spent over three months in the region. On Rakaposhi, Tilman and a Sherpa were nearly swept off by avalanches; while Kappeler and Secord had a narrow escape when an avalanche went down between them, over their rope. On the main ridge, a cornice gave way, Gyr threw himself on the other side and saved himself.
In the region north of Chalt, Tilman and Secord had a further escape when chunks of falling ice just missed them. A landslide had carried away the path; 'then the last of our porters seized an ice-axe and cut a line of excellent steps in the soft sandy soil with the rapidity of a Swiss guide, and by this path, which clung miraculously to the cliff, we regained the path.' They celebrated Independence Day, 15 August, and the end of Ramadan 17 August, with Maj. Brown, Commander of the Gilgit Scouts.
In 1948, Tilman went to join his friend Shipton who was Consul- General in Kashgar, a rather unlikely person to be an official, though a likely person to find himself in Kashgar. Tilman's account of the attempt on Bogdo Ola, 21,350 ft. and Chakragil, 22,000 ft. in 'Mountains of Sinkiang' XV-49 are joyful reading. 'To travel 16,000 miles for the sake of climbing two mountains shows at least a desperate ardour for mountaineering. And since we failed on both it may be thought also to show a desperate lack of skill,' he wrote.
On Bogdo, they attained the ridge but 'Even on the way up it had become plain that the proposed route was beyond our powers.
But we had neither the resolution to persevere nor to cut our losses and go down forthwith....To the north, where our tent hung upon the lip of space, the eye ranged unimpeded to the black and golden wastes of the Gobi; while to the south, beyond the broad white ribbon of the Chigo glacier, the tawny Asian landscape seemed as infinite as the pale sky.'
'Our tent had been on Everest in 1938 and considering its age and the fury of the gusts our surprise that it held together equalled our gratitude... With that prompt energy and decision which hitherto, when it was a question of going up, we had lacked, we packed and started carrying everything. On the icy part we lowered the loads, rope's length by rope's length, until near the end Shipton's impatience got the better of his judgement...our bulging rucksacks did stop, eventually, badly split, soaked in paraffin, and lighter by the loss of several pounds of sugar....That night we supped dryly on bread in frosty silence. The rucksack affair seemed an obvious topic of conversation, but one that only a very determined philosopher could have discussed dispassionately.
'Such was the inglorious end of our first round with Bogdo.'
On the way back to Chitral, Tilman reconnoitred Chakragil but their 'long, cadaverous Kirghiz' porter got sick and they were forced to go down with him.
Tilman was back next year, and provided another delightful article 'Muztagh Ata' in XV-49. He attempted the 24,388 ft. peak with Shipton - Mrs. Shipton had come to BC. From a camp at 22,000 ft. they made an attempt but couldn't see the summit and wisely turned back because their steps had filled up with snow and the descent would have been impossible in the dark. Both their toes were frost-bitten but came back to life later.
Tilman's book Two Mountains and a River is reviewed by Col. Tobin in the same volume, recounting the adventures of the previous year. We learn that on the way back from Muztagh Ata, Tilman diverged to the Wakhan where he met with arrest, imprisonment and eventual expulsion. The reviewer rightly says that Tilman had 'attained great literary altitude.'
In 1950, four doughty Scotsmen spent four months in the Kumaon and 'The Scottish Kumaon Expedition' by W.H. Murray in XVI- 50/51 is a pleasant account of a pleasant expedition. They went over the Kuari to Tapoban, got to within 900 ft of the summit of Bethartoli, climbed Uja Tirche 20,350 ft, and attempted Panch Chuli.
They had selected 18 'Of the best men (Dhotials) mostly young men and all tough, at the normal rate of Rs. 3 per day plus Rs. 1 for mountain work. And when the men of Malari tried to bargain, Murray tells us that they 'had not, it seemed, heard of Scotsmen and were slow to learn. At last, however, we beat them down from Rs. 7 to Rs. 4.'
In the following year, four New Zealanders came from the other side of the world to Garhwal (XVII-52); these included E.P Hillary and W.G. Lowe. They had four Sherpas and also took the Kuari pass route. They attempted Nilkanta 21,640 ft, and then 'opened our score with a modest but attractive 20,000 footer, and we were unfeignedly jubilant.' They climbed Mukut Parbat 23,760 ft. 'It was a moment of exhilaration. We closed up and shook hands.' They also climbed several smaller peaks.
Kesar Sinh (Gurdayal Singh)
At Badrinath they met he French party returning from their Nanda Devi adventure, six French with an Indian Army officer as interpreter. The officer was an Indian of 25, a 'keen and experienced mountaineer with a very English attitude towards climbing.' (This was Nandu Jayal, about whom more later.) Their equipment was 'far too expensive and luxurious for our pockets.. .their main baggage required over 100 porters to shift, and their food, climbing equipment, and special valley walking ensembles were for our admiration but not imitation.'
In 'Panch Chuli and the Darmaganga', (XVII-52) Kenneth Snelson described attempts on Panch Chuli and Chiring in post-monsoon 1950 with J. de V. Graaf; unfortunately the monsoon continued. Panch Chuli was also attempted by Heinrich Harrer and Frank Thomas, and XVIII-54 reproduced an article from The Statesman about this. Harrer, just back from Tibet, went to Darjeeling to buy equipment from various Sherpas and borrowed some more from the HC. Kailas Sahni of the Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun, joined them later and collected 400 different flowers, 'and a hunter too, would have found his thrills.' Harrer's Seven Years in Tibet was reviewed in the same volume by J.E.F. Gueritz.
'Trisul, 1951' by R.D. Greenwood in XVII-52, is an account of the climb by Gurdial Singh, Greenwood and Dawa Thondup. The party also included Fit. Lt. Nalni Jayal, Surendra Lai, Gyaljen Mykji, and Lhakpa Tsering. Lata had been denuded of porters by the French expedition to Nanda Devi, but then, as Nalni Jayal described it, Kesar Singh, who'd been with Oliver to Trisul17, 'appeared like a prophet and, thrilled by the prospect of scaling a familiar peak with a fellow Indian, not only volunteered, despite his age, to join us, but emphasised his own indispensability and swore to move Heaven and Earth to obtain from other villages the 15 porters we so desperately needed.'
Since I had followed the adventures of my friends Gurdial, and the two cousins Narendra (Nandu) and Nalni Jayal, I was puzzled not to find any account of their Kamet and Abi Gamin exploits in the HJ. I asked Gurdial why and he wrote, 'Because neither of the leaders, Maj.-Gen. Harold Williams (1952) and Nandu (1953 and 1955) responded to the editor's letters though Williams did write an obituary of Lt. Bhagat who died in 1952. It was not an uncommon practice among us to write for the newspapers.' So I asked Gurdial to write an account now, 'recollected in tranquillity' and here is an extract from his letter of 10 June 1995.
'On the initiative of Maj.-Gen. (later Lt.-Gen. Sir) Harold Williams, who was the last British engineer-in-Chief of the Indian Army, the Bengal Engineering Centre at Roorkee organised an expedition to Kamet in 1952. Nalni Jayal of the Indian Air Force, and myself of the Doon School, were invited to join the team. The party succeeded in attaining a height of c. 24,800 ft. on the N.E. face; Bill Williams went up to Camp V near Meade's Col, quite an achievement in itself at the age of 53, and Nandu, following in the footsteps of his former housemaster, R.L. Holdsworth, skied in the snowfields of Meade's Col.
'The Sappers, led by Nandu, went again the following year when Nandu with two others reached the top of Abi Gamin by its south face. Emboldened by this success and inspired by the British ascent of Everest, Nandu, now Principal of the HMI at Darjeeling, brought four Sherpa instructors, including the redoubtable Angtharkay, to this area again in 1955, in a joint venture of the HMI and the Sappers. A few months earlier they had completed a full course in climbing techniques at Rosenlaui in Switzerland18 where Nandu earned a guide's badge.
'Two parties of ten-officers, Sherpas and Garhwalis, got up both Kamet and Abi Gamin on a calm, sunny afternoon on 6 July. Nandu went up Kamet by the North ridge, while John Dias and I (both of whom climbed together later in the Nanda Devi Sanctuary and on Everest in 1961 and 1962) went to Abi Gamin instead. Crampons were used for the first time by Indians and the earlier attempts were launched with equipment of the pre-World War II days. The Garhwali porters, hardy hill men of the border villages, gave splendid support, equipped with army ammunition (and 'Hunter') boots. Nandu and I were members of all three expeditions.'19
B.R. Goodfellow, who had been with Wylie onNilkanta, described a fortnight in 1953 'North of Pokhara', XVIII-54. They went to the south of Annapurna, east to Madi Khola and to Siklis, and the article is interesting for the picture it gives of that corner of Nepal just over 40 years ago. 'Here our presence caused a good deal of consternation. As in the other valley we were, so they assured us, the first European visitors....we were told we must not go beyond the village...we gathered there is a genuine fear ... of disturbing the gods by trespassing on their privacy.'
And this idyllic description of Pokhara: 'There can be few towns to compare with Pokhara; its neat ochre-washed houses, its cobbled main street with no wheeled traffic....In the villages old Gurkhas would come out to greet us, and the women and children who had never seen a white face crowded closely round our tents. It is a prosperous land, with rich crops...and they ask little from the world outside Nepal.
'It was enough to visit these happy, honest, healthy people, to hear them singing as they tended their flocks and to watch their dances with Annapurna as a background.' (Shangri-la Regained?)
J.T.M. Gibson wrote of 'The Harki Doon', an area which he had made peculiarly his own, in XVIII-54. He first went there in 1948 after trekking in the Bhagirathi valley with Gurdial Singh, and found coins marked 'F. Wilson, Hursil. One Rupee.' Wilson, that 'curious, eccentric romantic character, soldier, forest contractor, adventurer...had left traces and progeny all over the hills...it is strange that no researcher into social history or seeker after plots for a period novel has found out and made use of his story.'
Gibson was back in the Harki Doon in 1952 and 1953 to initiate parties of school boys to rock climbing and skiing. They pitched their tents 'in a veritable fairyland at 11,650 ft.' The skiing was 'tremendous fun though we had to keep changing boots and skis so that everyone should get a turn. All did a run of 1000 ft. from 14,800 ft. the boys getting the hang very quickly. They must be the first party to learn at such a height....We practised rock climbing on different cliffs and great erratic boulders....some 100 ft. high, amid banks bright with every flower - the blue poppy, orchids, lilies, primulas, potentillas, anemones.'
Kirpal Singh, the local shikari, having taken only 10 cartridges, brought two bhurral and four snow pigeons 'Wish I could do as well.' They saw 'four bhurral quite close and very shortly afterwards a female red bear and cub.'
Gibson attempted the Black Peak 20,956 ft. with the 17 year old Cheema and Pemba Sherpa. There was a strong wind and Cheema had only a pair of old flannels; they had to give up about 100 ft. below the summit.
In the autumn of 1953, Navnit Parekh made 'An Attempt on Pumori' XVIII-54, with a group from Bombay including Rusi and Homi Ghandhy. They met Charles Evans at Thyangboche; reached 20,000 ft. but concluded that it was impossible to climb the mountain from the south.
In general, wild life was more abundant and more visible than in our day. Thus when Kenneth Berril (XVII-52) crossed the Mana pass into Tibet, 'all round us was wild life, groups of wild asses (kiang), grazing in the valley, hares starting from near the path, eagles above cruising on air currents and, occasionally against the far hill-side, wild deer (burrhal) galloping in the distance.'
The Oxford University Expedition to Tehri-Garhwal, 1952, (XVIII- 54) carried out ecological studies on an alpine meadow 13,000 - 16,500 ft.; birds, mammals and reptiles were either identified in the field or collected, and collections of all invertebrates found were made. Among the insects brought back, at least 15 were new and some were new genera. Dr. E.A. Schelpe (XVIII-54) collected plant and insect specimens for the British Museum in the Dibibokri basin, and returned with 500 botanical and 200 zoological specimens.
J.H. Bishop, 'a keen ornithologist', adds some bird notes to the account of his trip from Simla to Mural Kanda XVI-50/51: the Orange-gorgeted fly-catcher, the Slate-blue fly-catcher. Rose finches and six Monal pheasants among others.
H.G. Alexander writes on 'Some Birds Seen in Lahul' in XVI- 50/51, based on a fortnight's trek in June 1950. Where the rainfall was only 25 inches and the region treeless, birds were scarce; among groves of willows, there were several species of thrushes and finches were abundant. 'Two or three times we had the good luck to see that beautiful bird the Wall-creeper, with the flaming patch of red on his wings.' Also the Tree-creeper, 'the only species ...not recorded by the late Hugh Whistler, when he wrote of the birds of Lahul in the Ibis of 1925.'20
A.D. Moddie wrote an article on the 'Himalayan Journals of Sir Joseph D. Hooker' in 47-89/90; Soli S. Mehta reviewed a reprint of Hooker's Himalayan Journals in XXX-70; and in XVI-50/51 F.F. Fergusson gives a detailed account of Hooker's travels, mainly in Sikkim and Nepal.
Hooker spent two years in India, on a grant as naturalist. He finally got permission to get into Sikkim and there met Dr. Campbell, sent by the British Government to try and contact the Rajah directly, circumventing the Dewan who 'was the author of all the trouble then existing between India and Sikkim...an unscrupulous man.' Hooker spent some days round 'Kinchinjunga' then thought to be the highest mountain in the world; overcame several attempts by Lamas and officials to harass and stop him; reached a height of 19,300 ft.; was pursued by Tibetan soldiers but escaped.
At Chumanako, Campbell was attackedby some Sikkimese sepoys; Hooker rushed to help him and in the end they were both arrested because the Rajah 'was dissatisfied with his (Campbell's) conduct as a Government officer.' Finally Hooker was able to communicate with Dalhousie, the Governor General - who had been on the ship out from England with him - and the British Government made a show of force (gunboats in the Himalaya?), 'causing the Sikkim authorities to release the prisoners and speed them on their way.'
Hooker's Indian expeditions resulted in a 17 volume work, and a 'charming little Wedgewood portrait of him is still to be seen hanging on the walls of the Herbarium of the Botanical Gardens in Calcutta.'
S. Dillon Ripley, Professor of Zoology, Yale University, led the U.S. Expedition to Nepal, 1949, and the only British member, Francis Leeson, wrote an account for XV-49. Ripley (spelt Ridley throughout the article, as if he were a turtle) was later Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute and co-author with Salim Ali of the Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan, in 10 volumes. The main object of the expedition was the acquisition of a specimen of the rare partridge-like Ophvrvsia superciliosa, last seen near Naini Tal in 1876.
While this specimen remained elusive, the expedition explored Eastern Nepal, crossed the paths of Jospeh Hooker 1848, and of J.B. Auden's survey after the 1934 earthquake, and returned with 'nearly a thousand bird specimens, some of them of great rarity, and over a hundred small mammals taken during the three phases of the trip.'
Ripley's book on the expedition Search for the Spiny Babbler, 1952, was reviewed by FBL (probably Frank Ludlow, who had been engaged in natural history pursuits in earlier volumes of the HJ) in XVII-52. The Spiny Babbler 'was a bird species that had defied scientists for years. None had been collected since Brian Hodgson's Nepal collectors, working for him in Kathmandu, had secured a few specimens in 1844, and these had been simply labelled "Nepal".' The bird was rediscovered 6000 ft. up in Western Nepal. Summarising the results of the expedition, Ripley classified 1600 bird specimens into 331 species and sub-species, including 10 not previously recorded in Nepal.
A browse through the Himalayan Journals Vols. XIII-XVIII (1946- 1954), and their relevance to the present day.