This account describes an excursion to the main Himalayan range near Gangotri and Kedarnath in Tehri Garhwal State. The area is included rather awkwardly at the corners of Survey of India maps 53I, J, M, N, on the scale of 1"= 4 miles.
Dr. D. G. Macdonald, from England, and I left Calcutta on the 30th September 1935. Conditions were not at first propitious to us: to him because of a distressing complaint which made an upright position difficult; to me because of a stiff back, due, apparently, to a rowing strain, which made any position but the upright one very painful. However, the two contrary evils must have neutralized each other, because we were both fit when we left Mussoorie on the 3rd October with three Darjeeling porters—Da Tondrup, Ang Tsering, and Pasang Angju—and twenty-five coolies obtained locally.
Passing over the east shoulder of Nag Tibba (53 J) by the Deosar route, we followed the Bhagirathi river to Harsil (53I), where we intended to dismiss the Mussoorie coolies and take on local men. A Survey of India party was, however, re-mapping many of the neighbouring valleys and had commandeered most of the available porters, and it was only after repeated conferences in various corners of the rest-house that half the Mussoorie men could be persuaded to come on with us together with the remnant from Jhala, who had not been enlisted in the survey parties. We were fortunate to have with us Juin Singh, who had been with Pallis in 1933 and who brought with him a nucleus of reliable friends. One of these, Jagru Singh, was invaluable in a quiet, unostentatious way, and was the only one besides the Darjeeling men and Juin who never complained of the cold or dangers of the unknown.
Wages had to be above the normal rates in order to retain any of the men, and this made the excursion more expensive than we had anticipated.
Pasang Angju, who had been with me up the Sebo La in 1934 and had then pranced with agility up the pass indifferent to the weight of his load, had now to be left behind as he suddenly developed sprue and seemed also badly affected by anaemia.
We left Harsil on the 12th October. Macdonald branched off up the Kedarnath glacier (53J) to explore the approaches to the Kedarnath peaks, and I continued to Gaumukh in order to carry out a plane-table survey of the snout of the Gangotri glacier.1 This glacier is finely situated, with the Satopanth peaks to the south-east and the splendid Matterhorn peak to the south. Captain Wright informs me that the probable name of this peak is Soneroparbat.
1. Telephotograph of Satopanth group from top of old left lateral moraine of Gangotri glacier. View south-east (53 N)
2. Snout of Gangotri glacier and Soneroparbat [Matterhorn peak). View southwards from cairn D on right of old lateral moraine valley. Badrinath group in distance (33 N)
3. View up the ice-fall of the Kedarnath glacier, looking south from about 15,300 feet. The ice-peak on the skyline above the west wall of the valley is possibly Kedarnath peak, 21,380 feet (53 N)
4. View WNW. from about 15,900 feet up the Kedarnath ice-fall towards vertical precipice in jointed granite. The height of the precipice is about 4,000 feet (53 N)
Having completed the survey, I turned back to join Macdonald on the Kedarnath glacier. Our intention was to attempt one of the Kedarnath peaks from the north side. As seen from Landour, the Kedarnath group has steep scarp cliffs facing south and gentle dip slopes towards the north, and our hope was that one of these slopes might reach down to the Kedarnath glacier and permit of a relatively easy ascent. To the north of the bedded metamorphic rocks that form the southern line of peaks of the main Himalayan range lies a zone of granite. This granite weathers along major joint planes into appalling precipices, such as that on the north-west face of Satopanth (Fig. 1) and those bounding the lower part of the Kedarnath glacier (Fig. 4). Macdonald had pitched camp at 15,000 feet on a flat in the middle of the east lateral moraine. A short distance above this camp there is an ice-fall which completely occupies the width of the valley, and which is bounded on either side by impassable granite slabs. The lowest 300 feet of this ice-fall are fairly easy going, but the upper 200 feet proved to be difficult. About another 100 feet were negotiated by Macdonald by means of crampons, but we considered it too dangerous to continue because of the instability of the tumbled blocks of ice, over which the remainder of the ascent would have to be made, as soon as they were touched by the sun (Fig. 4).
On the old Survey of India map, No. 53N, there is marked a barometric height of 15,900 feet at a point on the glacier three miles up from the Bhagirathi valley. Our aneroid gave a height of about 14,800 feet for this locality. Though sometimes suddenly and abnormally erratic, the behaviour of the aneroid was on the whole consistent enough to be accurate to within a few hundred feet, and we doubt if the figure of 15,900 feet given on the map can really be correct. The point is stressed, because if the surveyors had reached a height of 15,900 feet, they should, according to our aneroid, have almost reached the top of the ice-fall. This is unlikely, unless the character of the glacier has changed within the last seventy years. Further, the point shown on the map is below the amphitheatre of granite walls where the glacier is at its maximum width, while the ice-fall lies above the amphitheatre where the valley is narrow.
The view southwards beyond the ice-fall is not extensive. The Kedarnath glacier appears to bend round to the south-west rather than to the south-east, as is shown on the map accompanying Pallis's account.10 Overlooking the upper part of the glacier is a rock peak with slabs dipping at an awkward angle to the north-east, and beyond this is a peak which we assume to be Kedarnath, 21,580 feet. It is covered with ice and snow and looks climbable (Fig. 3). Beyond the col separating these two peaks was seen the summit of another mountain which may be Kedarnath (22,770 feet). This summit is not visible in Fig. 3.
Sketch of Kedarnath Glacier
Looking northwards from the Kedarnath glacier across the Bha- girathi valley is seen a range of seven peaks (53M), all of the order of 20,000 to 21,000 feet. Some of these appear to offer attractive climbing. They are probably best approached from the south by ascending the lateral hanging valley which joins the Bhagirathi about six miles below Gaumukh. There is a delightful camping-ground on the right bank set in deodar trees and approached from the normal route along the left (south-west) bank by a rickety bridge. An alternative route is from the Jadh Ganga, which flows from Nilang and joins the Bhagirathi at Bhairongathi (53I).
We spent a wet afternoon and night at Gangotri, where the Mussoorie men fulfilled their devotional duties with the help of the resident priest. This man, in spite of his dourness, was a master of the illusionary alteration of space dimensions by skilful variation in the lighting, and we stood for some time enthralled at the transformation of the temple interior, which, so disappointing by daylight, had by night become activated in the mobile interplay of image and shadow.
The Mussoorie men were paid off and we now relied entirely on Juin's men and the Jhala villagers. After descending two miles down the Bhagirathi valley we turned south up the Rudagaira Gad (53J) by a steep ascent through deodar forest from 9,700 feet to 10,900 feet and then by a gentle undulating ascent through maple and birch trees. Camps were made at 1 18,000, 13,600, and 15,000 feet, the last being on an open flat between the lateral moraines of glaciers Nos. 1 and 3 of the accompanying sketch-map. A rough plane-table sketch was made of the lower part of the glacier field on a scale of 2,000 feet = 1 inch. While we were unable definitely to identify any of the peaks with those shown on map No. 53J, it seems clear that the existing map requires considerable revision. In our opinion, peak 21,9111 belongs partly to the Rudagaira drainage basin and not entirely to the Miani, which lies to the west. The approximate position of the peaks and glaciers is shown on the accompanying sketch-map. The interrupted line joining the peaks represents the watershed of the Rudagaira basin.
SKETCH MAP OF PART OF RUDRAGAIRA BASIN, October 1935
A number of peaks appeared to be climbable, but three attracted our attention. Peak 6 (? 21,214) could be approached by a hanging glacier (No. 4 on sketch-map: see also Fig. 5) but an inspection by field-glasses suggested that this glacier was liable to rock falls and might be dangerous. We therefore turned west up glacier No. 1, following the south lateral moraine up to a camp at 16,800 feet, with the intention of looking at the approaches to peaks 1 (? 21,911) and 3.
Birch does not grow well above 12,500 feet, so for our 13,600-foot camp and succeeding camps we used juniper bushes, which grew in profusion at 13,300 feet on the north bank of a nala flowing east from the 19,000-foot hill.
From the 16,8oo-foot camp a route was followed up to the base of the 1,000-foot ice-fall, where we turned left, or south-west, keeping the conspicuous rock island on our right. The highest camp was pitched at 18,400 feet at the top of this island in a small depression on the snow which was somewhat sheltered from the wind. Just above this depression there is a snow saddle leading over to the upper snow-field of glacier No. 1. Peak 1 could only be reached by crossing this glacier and ascending a very steep wall of rotten rock which formed the western watershed between the Rudagaira and Miani valleys. The most hopeful approach to this peak would be from the west side (Fig. 6), from either the Miani or Sipri valleys. We decided to try peak 3, which appeared to be continuous with the saddle overlooking the top camp. Ang Tsering was not well and remained behind, so that we had only one Sherpa left. This saddle proved to be made of highly crevassed ice which was covered with wind-swept snow. At 19,000 feet Da Tondrup and ourselves agreed that conditions were too dangerous to proceed, so we returned, the ropes saving the somewhat clumsy men from descent into unadvertised crevasses. On looking back again at the mountain from near camp at 15,000 feet, we realized that the saddle which had been followed was not in reality continuous with peak 3, and that there would have been great difficulties ahead had we persisted along that route. We were both rather distressed that this had not been realized before, but, by way of extenuation, it may be said that, until encamped at 16,800 feet on the 23rd October, the views clouded over very early. To judge the changing perspective of mountains according to different angles and distances of vision is a lesson learnt with difficulty, a fact which G. B. Gourlay had impressed upon me in Sikkim, where twice my incredulity had proved unfounded.
5. peak, 21,214 feet (?), seen from the north-west from above camp at 16,800 feet, Rudagaira basin (53 J)
6. Telephotograph of part of Gangotri group from the north-west at about 11,300 feet in the Nela (Lamkaga) valley. The small peak on the extreme left centre of the photograph and the ice peak adjacent to it are shown in the sketch-map accompanying this paper as peak '19,000 approx.’ and peak ? 21,911’, respectively. The plane-table survey was carried out from the east, while this view is of the opposite profile of the mountains. The peak in shadow may be Srikanta (53 I and J)
At the southern end of the Rudagaira valley there is a low col, situated at 190° from the moraine hill near camp at 15,000 feet, and probably not more than 17,000 feet in height. This col leads over into the Bheling valley and appears to be one of the few places along this part of the main Himalayan range where the break is sufficiently low to permit of a route being made across it.
We returned to Harsil on the 29th October, and on the 30th snow fell down to about 10,500 feet. Money was running short, so Mac- donald left on the 31st for a short exploration of Bandarpunch, while I went up the Nela (Lamkaga) valley for a night to do some geology. A camp was made at 11,300 feet, from where the next morning there was a splendid view of the Gangotri peaks to the south-east (Fig. 6). There is some uncertainty as to what peaks constitute the Gangotri group and what is represented by Srikanta.
The return journey was by Nakuri, Singot, and the Khurmola valley to Dharasu. Instead of taking the quickest route to Mussoorie via Deosar, the Nagon-Kanatal-Dhanaulti track was followed. The last day's march from Dhanaulti to Mussoorie, with its views of the greater Himalaya on the right and of the Dun, Siwaliks, and plains on the left, is a fitting ending to any excursion made in these splendid hills.
Pasang Angju, who had been left at Harsil for three weeks in a Jadh encampment, was too weak to walk and had to be brought back to Mussoorie on a pony. Macdonald returned a few days later with Da Tondrup and Ang Tsering. Both porters were consistently cheerful and were a great help to us throughout the trip.
The weather was not on the whole unkind, as we were in houses on two out of the three occasions when storms occurred. There is a rough cycle of one or two days' stormy weather, followed by clear days, which in turn are succeeded by days when clouds develop early. During the fine days at the 16,8oo-foot and 18,400-foot camps in the Rudagaira valley, the night temperature must have been well below o° F., but we were fortunate in being spared strong winds.
Harsil is not shown on the old Survey maps. It is situated at the confluence of the Nela and Bhagirathi valleys in sheet 53I at lat. 310 02' N., long. 78° 45' E.
From Mussoorie to Harsil via Deosar is 8 days' march, comfortable going. The journey could be done easily in 7 days.
From Harsil to Gaumukh is days' march.
The 15,000-foot camp up the Rudagaira valley was reached from Gangotri in 24 days. The journey could certainly be done in 2 days.
The Nela or Lamkaga pass is 17,334 feet according to the revised and as yet unpublished survey made by the Survey of India in 1935. The camping- ground shown as Karkuti on the old unrevised map has moved at least four miles up the valley since the original survey was made.