29 September 2002
Congratulations on the successful volume 58 of the Himalayan Journal. Some of the colour pictures are outstanding; your article about the 'Nanda Devi Juggernaut' is excellent!
Unfortunately I gather from the 'In Memoriam' that a few of my friends of the late thirties and forties have passed away. I am sorry that C.E.J. Crawford whom I frequently met whilst I was living in Calcutta is no more. Another good friend was Robert E. Hotz. We knew each other quite well having spent some years living in the Cecil Hotel in Delhi.
Reading Volume 58 and browsing through some of the former numbers, I can but be struck by the difference between climbing and trekking in the Himalaya now and the rough and ready conditions in the years before and during the second World War, when I did my modest treks in beautiful Sikkim. I sincerely hope, however that the Himalaya will not be spoilt by indiscriminate so-called 'adventures' of which the World Press seems to attach such importance. Everest and a few others have been spoilt by those climbers who only seek personal ambitions; and they have left a dreadful mess behind them! Incidentally and if you have time, it is refreshing to read some of the books written at the beginning of the last century. For example I have enjoyed re-reading Younghusband's Wonders of the Himalaya, with his nearly naive love of the mountains. Does todays urge to perform replace love and respect of mountains?
Taught by a Master Mountaineer
When the Himalayan Club was born, I was one year old. Three years later I made my first climb. Banned from a nearby wood, I decided to venture upwards, hopefully out of sight. With the aid of a chair I was able to climb and stand on a banister rail on the landing of our home. Reaching up to open the skylight was difficult. Once through this the route up the roof to a chimney pot was straight forward. The view was good.
Nineteen years later, stationed in Dehra Dun, Jack Gibson invited me to join his 1950 expedition to Bandarpunch 20,720 ft. Apart from the Chimney Pot (a first ascent) in Cockleshell Walk. Sittingbourne, in the Country of Kent, my climbing had been negligible. Although in the summer of 1949 I had walked the Kuari Pass route and alone into the Rishi Gorge as far as Duranshi.
When a novice is in the company of great mountaineers they become inspired to great things. Latent strengths, natural skills and stamina become unleashed.
Standing with Tenzing and his brother Kim Chok Tsering at the highest point reached by previous attempts to climb Bandarpunch, I was in the company of a master. Reaching a pitch of ice, we stopped. Tenzing sat me on a convenient rock and gave me a lesson in tying on crampons and how to use them. He then demonstrated belaying on ice and snow and gave me strict instructions about safety. He did this thoroughly and with an earnest grin.
Nodding my understanding, we set off for the summit. Tenzing led.
Cloud obscured the final steep pitches to the summit. Tenzing gave confident assurances as we slowly ascended. Nearing the summit he stepped back wanting one of us to tread the virgin peak first. We refused. This was his peak. We embraced him with joy as in his words, 'we grabbed the Monkey's Tail.'
During the descent the weather changed. Sleet and hail drove into us. Our upward tracks becoming indistinct.
Tenzing belayed us down. I was in the middle. We moved with caution on the steepest slope. Tenzing gave a shout suddenly sliding down towards us. The lessons he had taught us earlier came immediately into action. The rope was quickly wound around the shaft of a buried ice axe. Tenzing tried to brake with his ice axe; we threw our weight hard on the heads of our ice axes. We were held secure and safe.
Sloping not far over to our left was an abyss.
Our lives were spared. The hand of God led us into higher things of peaks and spirit.
Note on the expedition to Nanda Kot (6861 m) in Kumaun Himalaya during Sept-Oct 2001 by a team led by Shyamal Sarkar, sponsored by Parvat Abhiyatri Sangha, Kolkata (P.A.S.)
Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) vide their letter No.46 (IE) IMF/2001 dated 15 May 2002 sent me a copy of the leader's report and photographs of the above expedition submitted to them by the sponsors Parvat Abhiyatri Sangh (P.A.S). The expedition has claimed the 'first ever civilian climb of the peak' Nanda Kot by the South face route. The I.M.F. has invited my comments on the expedition report.
The salient points of the expedition are as under:
Base camp, 3800 m. at 'O' point of Pindari glacier, Advance base camp, 4350 m, Camp 1, 4900 m, Ropes Fixed, Camp 2, 5400 m, at base of Laspa Dhura (5913 m), 5 ropes fixed.
Camp 3, c.5900 m, On the east face of Nanda Bhanar (6234 m), ropes fixed of 45 m each, ropes fixed of 45 m each, Gradient encountered 70° to 75°. Camp 4, 6250 m.
Summit climb: 3 members and 3 Sherpas - climbers left summit camp at 3 a.m.; but turned back due to fierce wind and inadequate visibility. Restarted at 5 a.m. Rope fixed to cross crevasses.
The summit route on the 'middle section of the south face'. There was clear weather. Gradient encountered 60° to 70°, on hard ice. Only one Rope finally left for use of six climbers. It became dark. 500 feet were left for the summit. Climbers chose to spend the night in open at 22,000 feet (6706 m)
Next morning at 7.00 party recommenced the climb direct towards the north on the face through hard packed ice and passing 4 more length of running fixed ropes. Summit reached at 10.50 a.m., there were clouds on both the south and on the east, though the overall weather was bright sunny.
Summit described as 12 to 14 feet wide in north-south and about 30 feet long in east-west direction. There was ankle deep snow. North end was corniced. No extra rope was with the climbers. They were unroped on the summit as the only rope was fixed below on the upper part. They took panoramic photographs from the summit.
At noon the climbers commenced the descent. They had run out of food and water. It was a slow descent due to exhaustion. They were benighted again.
Recommenced the descent at about 6.30 a.m. and reached Camp 4 at 9.40 a.m. Later in the day they reached Camp 3, when they discovered that two members had preliminary signs of frost bite on their toes. They were rushed down to Delhi by car and then flown to Kolkata where their toes had to be amputated.
Route marking on the photographs indicates that the summiteers had approached the 900 m south face from the middle and had accordingly reached the middle of the top summit ridge. They had not traversed further on the top ridge. It may be observed that the south face of Nanda Kot is rectangular shaped, with its eastern and western edges ultimately meet an apparently gently sloped top ridge line which forms the north south divide. The true summit of Nanda Kot is on the extreme east end of this top line.
Martin Moran, whose team climbed the south face, has published his article in the Himalayan Journal Vol. 52, 1996 (pages 65-72). He describes Nanda Kot in the following words:
The South Face of Nanda Kot is one of the most obvious and appealing lines in the Kumaun Himalaya.... Seen from (Chakodi) its trapezoidal final snow face rises imperiously above the lower massifs of Dangthal and Lamchir.
There is an upper plateau at 5900 m from which both Nanda Bhanar and Nanda Khani are easily accessible. The 6861 m summit of Nanda Kot lies a further 900 m above, and the final 500 m form a regular but steep face of 50 to 55 degrees in angle.
From the west, in 1993, I had seen the upper south face in profile and was encouraged that its angle nowhere exceeded 60 degrees... ....That final face of Nanda Kot is a geometrist's delight, a perfect level-topped trapezium... the sight of a symmetrical straight edged mountain top is sure to stop us dead in our tracks.
After reaching the summit crest which formed a large cornice overhanging the mountain's north face. In fact the ridge rose very gently towards its right hand end... After 15 minutes rest I wandered along but could stand abreast of the highest point which was itself the tip of a cornice.
The route taken by Martin Moran's expedition is marked on a sketch of the mountain on p.70 of H.J. Vol. 52, which shows that the British climbers took to the 'right hand edge of the face' to reach its highest point.
Several photographs of Nanda Kot from the southern side have clearly shown that the top edge of the crest which forms the trapezium, is sloping towards the west and its summit or the highest point is to the east end of the top line. It is estimated that this top line is about 450 to 500 meters in length and sloping at about 5° on an average.
From the narrations of the 2001 P.A.S. expedition, it is clear that the climbers had reached near the centre point of the top line. However this point is not the true summit, which would be at 200/ 250 meters away to the east on the gently rising line of the top crest. Admittedly the climbers had not traversed this distance and the remaining climb.
The 2001 P.A.S. expedition climbers had indeed made a tremendous effort to climb the south face, despite being benighted in open for two nights on the face, and time spent without food and water. However two climbers had to pay a heavy price in amputating their toes following frostbite. The effort was admirable, though foolhardy in retrospect. They had crossed a point of no return (for the day) and still continued. They decided to spend a night at 22,000 ft (6706 m) in open without tent or sleeping bags. Next day they continued to reach the summit crest ridge at 10.30 a.m., and against were benighted on the way down. When they reached the crest ridge the climbers did not have any rope. It was somewhat cloudy on the south and east side. It is not stated whether the climbers noticed the gently rising crest toward the east end and whether if they had noticed, would they have ventured without rope to traverse the remaining length and climb of the crest ridge to the final summit at the east end? The leader's report also does not anywhere mention the recognition of where the actual summit of Nanda Kot was situated on the top line.
Attention may be drawn to the summit panoramic photographs taken by climbers which clearly show that the summit crest was rising towards the east from the point reached by the climbers.
There has been some debate as to when a summit of a mountain is supposed to have been climbed. Whether reaching any hump close to the summit is good enough when there may not be any further difficulty left to the higher point, and which may be relatively close? The conventional view is, when the highest point of a massif is reached and stepped on the mountain is said to have been climbed. There may be an exception when a small final corniced feature, which could be unstable, is left out and still the ascent of the mountain may be accepted.
In the case of 2001 P.A.S. Nanda Kot expedition, the summit was far away and somewhat higher above the point reached. Martin Moran has sent two of his summit photos, These photos are towards the western direction, which shows in the foreground the gently down sloping 'summit crest ridge', estimated at 5°. The 2001 P.A.S. expedition's photographs may be compared to Martin Moran's photographs. One observes that camera location for Martin Moran's summit photos is higher than the camera location of P.A.S. climbers.
In view of the above consideration although the 2001 P.A.S. expedition had overcome the main hurdle of the south face of Nanda Kot they cannot be considered to have reached the summit which was at the east end at 6861 m.
In his report the leader of the 2001 expedition has, in the first para, cast a doubt on the successful first ascent of the south face of Nanda Kot by the team of Martin Moran, reported in Himalayan Journal Vol. 52 of 1996, by stating that Moran had 'claimed to have climbed the south face'.
Photographs of Martin Moran from the top of the south face are self-explanatory. It is unfortunate that P.A.S. leader's report contains such comments and the same be circulated or published without him apparently seeking and obtaining objective evidence in support of his contentions.
14 November 2002
J. C. Nanavati
Advisor- Mountaineering Commission-IMF
Note : Full accounts of the earlier expeditions are available as under;
To study original photographs, Sketch-maps and any other documents of the expedition please contact the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, New Delhi. — Ed.
110 00 Praha 1
Prague, 27 Nov., 2002
Dear Mr. Harish Kapadia!
Many thanks! Yesterday I received your beautiful Himalayan Journal Vol. 58. I am very happy and also sorry for causing such troubles to you. I found there many exciting articles including your fine account of explorations in the Land of Argans and surprisingly enough also my letter. Of course it will take some time to read it all.
I am just finishing my chronological list of 923 virgin peaks above 6400 m. It will be of course difficult to find some publisher for it. As a sample I am enclosing a summary of mountaineering activities of this kind with in all 40 countries participating in this effort. I think you can be pleased to see India on the third and second rank among all countries of the world from this point of view.1
Concerning the last HJ Vol. 58:
I have had a short look to the article No. 16 about British Lun Kun Shan expedition and accidentally I found on page 127 message about an 'unsettled business to interest the mountaineers' concerning the confused survey of William Henry Johnson during his journey from Leh to Hotan and back from 24 July 1865 till 1 December 1865. This journey has been always of enormous interest to me. I made a modest research in libraries and found a fundamental article in Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, year 1867. It is the report of W. H. Johnson from 22 April 1866, Dehra Dun, long and very detailed with a confused map of Edward Weller. I am enclosing a copy containing unfortunately only short mentions about his climbs of three peaks in Kun Lun, — E 57, E 58, E 61 in August 1865. But one thing is remarkable and of fundamental importance:
The positions of E 57 is the only one position in the report with precise coordinates - 35°53'36'' and 79°28'32'' and E 58 on the map attached — together with position of Karakash Johnson's B.C. corresponds almost precisely with positions of these features on modern Chinese maps:
Karakash = Haji Langar, # 57 (Johnson's height 6635 m) is clearly Chinese Peak 6599 m (south of Yangi diwan or Yangji Shankou pass) and # 58 (Johnson's height 6697 m) is the peak called Hanyaikik, 6744 m, attempted in 1995 and climbed in 1996 by Japanese, 11 km from the Peak 6599 m. Notice about the identity of E 58 with Hanyailik can be found in the Japanese Journal Sangaku 2001, List of climbs in China. On the contrary — the position of E 61 is completely wrong as are almost all mountain ridges and rivers in the northern part of this map — of course except the small area around E 57! Remarkable. Johnson was a honest surveyor but he conceded that on this journey he had determined badly especially the longitude (see the completely wrong position of cities Hotan, Qira etc, on this attached map.)
Unfortunately all criticisms of Johnson's claims by K. Mason and A. Stein has been concentrated on his reported ascent of E 61 (its height is not mentioned either in report nor in the Map) which is too far from Karakash and which should be identical with K5 (Much Muztag) climbed also by Japanese in 1990 (because its height was estimated in 19th century as 7310 m. later 7282, after that 6710, but on new Chinese map is only 6638 m). 7310 m would be in 1865 a wonderful achievement, 6697 m (E 58) may be not so interesting. (Now E 58 is higher than K5). Anyway Johnson (according to my meaning) could not climb K5, could not climb also any mountain with coordinates of E 61 on the attached map (because there is flowing river Yurunkash). He could make ascent of another third peak to the east or southeast of E 58, but to try guess its position would be pure fiction.
But what he could — and I am rather convinced that he really did it — is doing first ascents of Peaks 6599 (I would suggest for it the name Yangji Tag — because of the pass near it) and Hanyailik 6744.
Two facts are supporting this hypothesis:
And why not believe him that he really climbed these two high peaks. This small part of the map around them is perfectly all right.
And concerning the route from Leh to Hotan:
Of course the map is confused — but knowing the names of places mentioned in report and using new maps is still possible to draw his route also on new maps.
More difficult would be to draw precisely the route of his return to Leh, but even this task is possible.
To the end of my considerations about this puzzling journey allow me to mention one more thing:
It is quite well possible that W. H. Johnson did not make solo ascents of these peaks. He could be accompanied also by some Indians — as he refers to 'natives of Hindostan'. He is praising three of them for excellent service: Nur Bux and Emam Alli, barkandazes (what is it?), and Matadin, lampman. But he is not speaking about the climb.
If the community of mountaineers will recognise Johnson's merits and climbs, his ascent of Hanyailik (6744 m) will be the highest climb in High Asia in the period of 1865 — 1906 and highest climb in Kun Lun Shan till the year 1956.
With warm greetings,
A study of ascents of the Himalayan peaks till end of 2001: of 923 virgin summits higher than 6400 m, including subsidiary summits.
These climbs were achieved by mountaineers from 40 countries.
The summary of their efforts is as under.
Column 1: Number of peaks climbed by expeditions organized by the country. In the name of joint expedition with other country the number is halved.
Column 2: Total number of peaks climbed by summitters of the country. Second or further ascents of the same expedition are not included.
|2 Great Britain
|12 New Zealand
|17 Czech Republic
|19 South Korea
|not identified nationality ......
P.S. The citizenship of leaders and summitters from former Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia was changed in conformity with their well known nationality to the citizenship of successors to these abolished states : Russia, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakstan, Kirgizstan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia.