Himalayan Journal vol.58
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.58

Publication year:
2002

Editor:
Harish Kapadia
Index
  1. TWO POEMS
    (REV. ROY GREENWOOD)
  2. HIMALAYA: MYTHICAL SHANGRI LA TO GLOBALISING COCKPIT1
    (A. D. MODDIE)
  3. QUEST FOR SOURCE OF THE MEKONG RIVER
    (TAMOTSU NAKAMURA)
  4. FIRST ASCENT OF TIRSULI WEST
    (MAJOR KULWANT SINGH DHAMI, SM)
  5. NANDA GHUNTI FROM BOTH SIDES
    (MARTIN MORAN)
  6. MERU PEAK: THE GATE TO THE SKY
    (VALERI BABANOV)
  7. A CLIMB IN THE CLOUDS
    (ARNAB BANERJEE)
  8. PERMIT ME, SANCTUARY
    (STEVEN BERRY)
  9. NANDA DEVI JUGGERNAUT
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  10. THE TRIDENT OF SHIVA
    (COLIN KNOWLES)
  11. LAST MINUTE JOURNEY
    (ANTONELLA CICOGNA and MARIO MANICA)
  12. A DATE WITH THE TIMELESS MOUNTAINS
    (Lt. Col. A. ABBEY)
  13. IN THE LAND OF ARGANS
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  14. BARBAROSSA
    (MARK RICHEY)
  15. BRITISH SOLU EXPEDITION 2000
    (DAVE WILKINSON)
  16. TRAVELS WITH DONKEYS IN THE KUN LUN
    (COLONEL HENRY DAY)
  17. TO THE ALPS OF TIBET
    (TAMOTSU NAKAMURA)
  18. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  19. BOOK REVIEWS
  20. IN MEMORIAM
  21. CORRESPONDENCE
  22. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 2001
  23. CLUB PROCEEDINGS

TRAVELS WITH DONKEYS IN THE KUN LUN

COLONEL HENRY DAY

British Kun Lun Shan 2001 Expedition

WHEN WE RETURNED FROM the Kun Lun mountains of SW China last October it was interesting to read Shigeru Kodama's article about the ascent of Chong Muztagh1 in the Himalayan Journal and to see references to Capt Deasy's2 book In Tibet and Chinese Turkestan, with which we had familiarised ourselves as in it is a description of the route we had taken through the Aksu Gorge south of Polu.

The original objective of our expedition was the first ascent of Peak 6582 m and the exploration of unnamed and unclimbed peaks in the area: Lat N 35.30' / Long E 81. Mike Ward3 has defined the Central Kun Lun as being the part of the range lying between 77 deg 30' and 82 deg E. This section consists of two parallel ranges divided by the headwaters of the Yurungkash river, which start on a plateau at over 5000 m and which we planned to visit. This double row of mountains bolsters up the edge of the Chang Tang plateau to the south. The river breaks through the northern range and runs out into the Taklamakan desert, part of the Tarim basin which is in places below sea level, where it dries up.

The earliest western traveller who left a record of these parts was Marco Polo who traversed the route along the oasis south of the Taklamakan, visiting Yarkand and Hotan on his way to Cathay in the late 13th century. Later visitors came from India prompted by the
  1. Himalayan Journal 57 (2001) p224 "Chong Muztagh - Reconnaissance and Climb" By Shigeru Kodama.
  2. In Tibet and Chinese Turkestan. Being the record of three years' exploration. By Captain HHP Deasy. Pub: London 1901 T. Fisher Unwin.
  3. Alpine Journal Vol 94 1989/90 p90 "The Kun Lun Shan: Desert Peaks of Central Asia" By Michael Ward.
Photos 50-51

possibility of a land invasion as the Russians expanded their empire ever further south and east, and by concern about their government's ignorance of feasible routes through or round the mountain ranges to the north and northwest. By 1861 the Grand Trigonometrical Survey of India had been carried all the way from the south of India to beyond Kashmir and Ladakh and trig points had been fixed across the border with Tibet and Chinese Turkestan and along the Karakoram and Kun Lun ranges.

But it was dangerous for Europeans to leave the protection of British India as the murder of William Moorcroft in Bokhara in 1825 and of Arnold Schlagintweit in Hotan in 1857 had brought home. As Derek Walker has described in The Pundits[1], the government of India had been anxious to avoid conflict across neighbouring borders so they had instructed the surveyor general "to prevent all collision with the Chinese Tartars on the common boundary."

However the surveyor William Johnson, whilst in Leh, had received an invitation from the Khan to visit Hotan that was too good to turn down. The survey results he turned in after this unauthorised visit in 1865 included the claim that he had ascended K5 (previously E61 but marked as Muztagh 6710 m on present day maps). In a subsequent investigation, Kenneth Mason[2] concluded that he had not; but in good faith had climbed Zokputaran nearby. Aurel Stein[3] was not satisfied with this explanation and was further puzzled by the route that Johnson had actually taken from the Chang Tang plateau through to Hotan. Clearly there is unsettled business to interest the mountaineer hereabouts.

The next to record his journey from Hotan to Leh was the 'Pundit' explorer Kishen Singh. He crossed the Kun Lun from the village of Polu, south of Keriya (now Yutian) and eventually returned to Leh after completing a wide sweep across the Chang Tang to the east of the Aksai Chin. He confirmed the existence of another route yet further to the east. I surmise that this third route through the Kun Lun is the same as that taken by Kodama after he left Niya (now Minfeng) on his way to Qong Feng by way of Karasai in 2000. Capt Deasy describes this way, in addition to the route from Polu, which we followed in September 2001. Capt Deasy's account of his journey through the Aksu gorge made educative reading. He lost several ponies, one accident also causing a fatality to a member of his team. On the basis of this, we avoided taking ponies, and were delighted with the sure-footedness of our donkeys.

We had also studied accounts of visits 100 years ago through the Aksu Gorge by Sir Aurel Stein[4] and his surveyor Ram Singh. We had with us a copy made at the RGS of the Survey of India map[5] that incorporated his surveys. We had read an account by Newcombe[6] in the AAJ of an expedition through the Aksu Gorge to the plateau, which described our first choice of objective as being unclimbed. Nothing had been published about subsequent expeditions to the area when we left UK

From Cambridge to the Kun Lun

The journey overland in the expedition's own vehicle went on schedule and enabled the team to keep control of the schedule once in China. The traverse of the Taklamakan by a new desert road brought home the remarkable achievements of the great travellers such as Deasy, Stein and Sven Hedin. Our Land Rover's suspension had been strengthened to take a total weight of 3.5 tonnes which was certainly needed by the time all 5 members including Chinese and all the kits and rations including fresh supplies had been loaded. However on the last 25 miles to Polu the rough unmade track (or was it my driving?) proved too much for the front differential, which fell to pieces. The remainder of the journey, from China to Cambridge, was made in two- wheel drive.

In the mountains

While negotiating with officials at Polu, we learnt that foreign teams had visited the proposed base camp site more than once since Newcombe's expedition so a new area was selected instead, which we reckoned was less likely to have been visited and the peaks less likely to have been climbed. The distance of 6 days march was the same but the new route lay to the west of the point where the track reached the plateau at 5000 metres, rather than continuing south as previously planned. Our Uighurs had not visited this part of the plateau so we could expect no help from them as to where fresh water might be found.

Two days after we set off with our four Uighurs and their ten donkeys, news reached us of the terrorist attacks in New York. The radio carried much speculation of possible consequences in Central Asia, not least that borders might be closed to surface traffic and flights cancelled which was most unsettling. It took over 4 days to traverse the Aksu Gorge and it was not until the middle of the 5th day that the Art-dawan pass (4950 m) was crossed and the edge of the high plateau was at last reached. The new objective Peak 6544 m on the Chinese map, was now clearly visible and we pressed on hard towards it until darkness and then a storm overtook the caravan. We had not reached the water course shown on the map and it was a thirsty night for men and beasts. As there was no certainty of finding any water the next day either if the team pressed on, we decided to retrace our route to where we had found a brackish source of water the day before.

Base camp was subsequently sited back in the Aksu Gorge at an altitude of only 4050 m. All was not lost as Aurel Stein's survey map showed 3 peaks of about 6000 m up a tributary valley named Kar- yagdi down which flowed our source of beautiful fresh water, unadulterated by the pervasive loses silt that polluted the main Aksu river. The mountain with a spot height of 6061 m was chosen as a worthy objective and was subsequently climbed. Setting out from the Aksu Gorge, an intermediate camp was carried up the valley of Kar- yagdi almost to a col at 5000 m. From there the north ridge of Peak 6061 m was followed by HD (to 5600 m) and to the summit by PB on 20 Sep 01. The climbing was straightforward on poor snow covering even poorer rock.

Expedition Diary July-November 2001

18 July HD departs from UK by Land Rover with expedition food and equipment. Route: Europe, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, China.

3 Sep HD & PB enter China at Huogus Pass from Kazakhstan. Met by Chinese.

J F-A arrives at Urumchi by air.

5 Sep Full Team departs from Urumchi for Taklamakan Desert route to Hotan.

10 Sep Expedition departs from road head at Polu (9800 miles from

UK) with 4 Uighurs and their 14 donkeys.

11 Sep Hears BBC news of terrorist attacks on New York on SW

radio.

15 Sep Arrives at Base Camp 20 Sep First ascent of Peak 6061 m.

23 Sep Expedition returns to Polu; starts return drive by Land Rover.

28 Sep Air and road parties depart from Kashgar. Road party refused passage of Torugart Pass and starts return drive to Urumchi (1000 miles).

5 Oct HD flies to Bishkek to arrange reception of Land Rover. 7 Oct HD flies to UK (and bombing of Taleban targets in Afghanistan begins)

30 Oct Land Rover leaves Bishkek 9 Nov Land Rover arrives in Cambridge. 6200 miles in 10 days, 19,005 miles in all. Climbers: Philip Bartlett; Henry Day and Julian Freeman-Attwood Chinese Liaison Officer Wang; Interpreter Kej-jash (Peter)

SUMMARY

British expedition to Kun Lun, China. First ascent of Peak 6061 m.


[1] The Pundits. British Exploration of Tibet and Central Asia. By Derek Waller.

[2] Alpine Journal 1921 p34 "Johnson's 'Suppressed Ascent' of E61". By Major

Kenneth Mason RE.

[3] op cit p62 "Johnson's Map and the Topography of the Kun Lun, South of

Khotan". A supplementary note by Sir Aurel Stein.

[4] Sand-buried Ruins of Khotan By M. Aurel Stein. Pub: London 1903 T. Fisher Unwin.

[5] "Memoir on maps of Chinese Turkestan and Kansu from the surveys made during Sir Aurel Stein's explorations 1900-1, 1906-8, 1913-5" By Aurel Stein KCIE Pub: Dehra Dun 1923 Trigonometrical Survey Office.

[6] American Alpine Journal 1997 p129 "Ultima Thule. A short walk through China's Kun Lun Shan" by Mark Newcomb.