Nanda Devi

Author: Charles S. Houston. Climb Year: 1936. Publication Year: 1937.

ON July 6th, 1936, there assembled at Ranikhet, Garhwal, seven men and a huge amount of baggage. An eighth was hurrying from Shanghai to join the adventure, which, disguised as the British-American Himalaya Expedition, was to attempt the ascent of the highest and most sacred mountain in the United Provinces.

Nanda Devi, 25,660 ft. in altitude, variously called “The Blessed Goddess” or the “Goddess Nanda,” is the highest peak in the British Empire. It lies almost exactly half way along the thousand-mile range of peaks which runs from Kangchenjunga and Everest in the E. to Nanga Parbat in the W. Extremely difficult of access, remote and beautiful, it had early attracted the attention of such men as Graham and Kennedy in 1883, Longstaff in 1905, Longstaff, Bruce and Mumm in 1907, Ruttledge, Wilson and Somervell in 1926, Longstaff and Ruttledge in 1927, and Ruttledge in 1932 ; but all of these attempts had been frustrated by the very forbidding barrier wall, some seventy miles in circumference, which completely surrounds the peak. Across this enclosed basin runs as a diameter a second high wall, the Inner Curtain, final defense of the Sanctuary. The great area, some 250 square miles, enclosed by the rim of 20,000 to 24,000-ft. peaks is called the Basin, while the inner half in which rises Nanda Devi is known as the Sanctuary. A true sanctuary it is, with rolling meadows of flowers and grasses, and herds of sheep and goats making this a perfect heaven for the lucky traveller who successfully penetrates its rugged defenses.

No gap lower than 18,000 ft. breaks the outer wall save in the W. where the Rishi River has gouged itself a fantastic gorge several thousand feet deep, walled with steep and rugged cliffs.

In less than nine miles this raging torrent drops 8000 ft. and all along its course can be seen great scars in the living rock chiseled by its boulder-laden waters.

Dr. Longstaff’s splendid explorations based on Graham’s pioneer work, pointed to the possibility of an exposed route along the S. walls of this gorge, but not for nearly thirty years was this route achieved. Longstaff had looked down on the promised land from a 19,000-ft. pass on the E. rim, but not until 1934 was the Sanctuary reached, when H. W. Tilman and E. Shipton with a few courageous Sherpas forced a passage along a fortunate sequence of ledges and were the first to set foot within its lonely precincts. After a few weeks of exploration in the basin, including a reconnaissance to 19,500 ft. on the southern slopes of Nanda Devi, they left the basin by the high Maiktoli Pass. Though the way had been found, it was an extremely debatable question whether a party of any size could pass the outer dangers to establish a climbing party at the base of the mountain.

This was the aim of our group, planned carefully for many months, and made up of four Americans and four Englishmen. Light equipment and food would enable us to take only forty or fifty porters, a record low for major expeditions in India, which we hoped would make possible our entrance to the Sanctuary. It is now time to introduce the party :

H. A. Carter of Newton, Massachusetts, member of two Alaskan expeditions led by H. B. Washburn, the second of which in 1934 climbed Mt. Crillon (12,700 ft.) in the Fairweather range ; also a member of the National Geographic Expedition which explored and mapped large areas of the Yukon in 1935. Prof. T. Graham Brown of Cardiff, Wales, member of the Mt. Foraker Expedition to Alaska in 1934, and well known for his brilliant work on Mont Blanc as well as in many other regions of the Alps.

A. B. Emmons of Dover, Massachusetts, a member of the 1930 expedition to Mt. Fairweather and with many climbs in the Alps and Canadian Rockies to his credit, as well as the splendid Sikong Expedition to southern Tibet which climbed Minya Konka (24,500 ft.) in 1932.

C. S. Houston of New York, member of the 1933 Crillon Expedition to Alaska, who led the Mt. Foraker Expedition which climbed the 17,000-ft. neighbor of Mt. McKinley in 1934; also with considerable Alpine experience.

P. Lloyd of Surrey, England, with extensive experience in many parts of the Alps and the English Lake district, and candidate for the Everest Expedition, 1936.

W. F. Loomis of Dedham, Massachusetts, member of the 1935 expedition to Mt. Waddington in British Columbia, who had also climbed in the Alps and American Rockies.

N. E. Odell of Cambridge, England, outstanding in his achievements on the 1924 Everest Expedition, experienced in expeditions to Labrador, Greenland and Spitsbergen, with many climbs in the Alps and English Lake district.

H. W. Tilman of Cheshire, England, who made the second ascent of the highest peak of Mt. Kenya, Africa, and who with Ship- ton was the first to enter the Sanctuary of Nanda Devi in 1934. He was a member of the Everest Reconnaissance of 1935 which climbed more peaks of over 22,000 ft. than had ever been climbed before.

In addition, we had six Sherpa porters from Darjeeling: Pasang Kikuli, survivor of the ill-starred Nanga Parbat Expedition in 1934, Da Namgyal, Everest tiger in 1924, Kitar, veteran of three Everest trips, Pasang Futu, Nuri, and Nima Tschering, all members of various Himalayan expeditions. For our transport we relied on thirty-seven Dotials, recruited in Ranikhet, adding later twelve Mana men from the valleys above Badrinath.

Loomis and Tilman had, a month earlier, taken eleven porters, laden with coolie food, through the gorge to the Sanctuary, finding the route unchanged and greatly simplifying our problem of transport. This trip, so simple to write of, had taken nearly five weeks of hard work which had tested them severely but without which we would have had immense trouble later on.

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For three days the bungalow hummed with frantic activity as we sorted, packed, repacked and weighed our stores. Kits covered the floors and furniture in every room ; lists, maps, books and letters littered tables in hopeless confusion. It seemed we would never be ready, but by some miracle, at five in the morning of July 10th we were ready to start. It was pouring rain.

A fifty-mile drive through strange country in a rickety bus along a suicidal road brought us to Gurrer at noon, where we met our thirty-seven Dotials, enlisted and sent ahead by Tilman a few days before. Gurrer was a filthy village and we were glad to pack up and march seven miles to Gwaldam for the night. This is an old tea plantation on a wooded ridge at 7000 ft. in full viewof the great peaks, which appeared to us for a few minutes dyed the ever lovely rose of sunset. It was a happy night.

During the next ten days we covered ten to fifteen miles daily, usually in the forenoon, carrying light packs ourselves, and fitting our pace to that of the laden porters. Through ever-changing country we wandered, light-hearted with our whole adventure ahead. When the sun was hot, there was usually a cool stream into which to plunge or to pour in a crystal shower over our bodies ; when it rained we got wet. No two days, no two hours, were ever the same ; the country had amazing variety and we were as happy as children in a new and lovely world.

High spots of the trip were the purchase of three dozen eggs (alas, too few elsewhere) on our second evening, and a royal banquet on the village football (!) field watched by twenty assorted urchins. Then, too, there was our first sheep transport, a small one with mangy animals, but they carried all the romance and mystery of Tibet in their ragged saddle bags. The famous leeches were an amusing nuisance ; we wore sneakers with no socks to facilitate their removal every hour or so, but they did no harm. We munched bamboo shoots and decided that Tilman and Shipton had fared royally when their food failed in 1934.

Then at six one morning we topped the 12,000-ft. Kuari Pass and looked for the first time at the entire Badrinath-Kedarnath range. For a short hour the view was clear ; we watched shadows crawl over the snows of Hathi Parbat, Nanda Ghunti, Nilkanta and Rataban. No one has touched these peaks, all over 21,000 ft., and they excited us enormously. Dunagiri and Nanda Devi were hidden to the east in clouds which soon enveloped the others, and we ran down 4500 ft. to camp on a deserted temple site at Tapoban beside the Dhaoli River.

A short distance from camp was a natural hot-spring, watched over by a naked hermit whose reddish hair was braided in an eight- foot rope. There we bathed happily, alternating between the hot pool and an icy brook a few yards distant. Next morning two of us walked seven miles down the lovely valley to Joshimath on the Pilgrim road from central India to Badrinath, most sacred source of the Ganges. A queer village this, its narrow streets colorful with all types of Indians from Bengal and Rajputana, from the frontier and the plains, many sick and some well, but all on pilgrimage to the holy source at Badrinath. Only a few hundred feet above the old temple is a new dispensary, maintained by the government of India, and in the bazaar Singer sewing machines hum next to century-old Buddhas.

We met Emmons here, he having ridden over the Pilgrim road, and here, too, we assembled twelve Mana men recruited above Badrinath for us by the kindly Rawal Sahib of the temple there. As this was our last village of size we regaled ourselves with fruits and sweets before hurrying back to bathe at Tapoban.

On the 21st we left our pleasant campsite and in a short march along gorges cut by the swift Dhaoli River reached Lata, a dry, dusty and very dirty village 1000 ft. above the much travelled road over the Niti-la from Tibet. The next morning was misty and we climbed slowly along sparsely wooded slopes, finally passing the timber line at 12,000 ft. to camp that night on a lovely flower- strewn grazing alp at Lata Kharak (12,700 ft.).

We were now definitely away from the travelled path, and from here on we would follow only shepherds’ tracks for two days before striking into the true wilderness which so few had crossed before. On the morning of the 23rd we climbed the ridge running E. from Lata Peak (actually the outer wall of the Basin) and followed a picturesque rocky trace of a trail down to a natural amphitheater called Durashi, with two tumbled-down stone houses used by the shepherds who brought their flocks across the pass from Lata. Climbing next morning a steep head wall (the curtain of the Basin) we hoped for a first view of our mountain from its top, but heavy clouds thwarted us, and after a long wet wait we slid down steep gravel slopes, crossed a tiny stream, and struggled up through wet muddy forests to reach a second grazing alp called Dibrughita, where we camped in the heaviest rainfall we had yet met. Tilman had aptly called this “a horizontal oasis in a vertical desert,” and the lovely meadows fully deserve his praise. That night after supper the weather cleared and a lovely evening gave us the first grand views of the lesser peaks about us and we talked long around a roaring campfire.

For the next three days we travelled high on the northern banks of the deep gorge of the Rishi from 2000-3000 ft. above the river which we could hear thundering below us, with splendid views behind us of the sheer wall of the curtain and one unforgettable glimpse of Nanda Devi, framed ahead by the forbidding walls of the upper gorge. On the next night we camped in a grandcave directly opposite Trisul (23,260 ft.), climbed by Dr. Long- staff in 1905, and early the next morning had an exquisite view of this fine snow peak, dyed rosy red in the first light of dawn. One section of this route will not be soon forgotten. It led up a steep grassy cliff, at the sight of which one of the older Dotials broke down and wept, swearing that he never had and never would climb such a place, but luckily the Mana men and Sherpas were of stouter stock and shouldering his load as well as their own gave us helping hands over this very slippery and treacherous going.

On the night of July 26th we crossed a high shoulder and scrambled down the juniper-covered slope to the Rhamani River, swollen by many rains and truly a forbidding obstacle to our further advance. Though we had planned to cross on the same day, the porters were unanimous in their statement that no human being could survive that rushing torrent and dropped their packs on a boulder-strewn gravel plain on the near bank. All our pleas were of no avail, and we were forced to camp on roughly leveled camp sites with the roar of the river in our ears, hoping that next morning a little sun would raise their spirits. Before most of us were awake next day, Tilman, with a rope, managed to cross the river and secure the rope on the other side. After further pleas and threats had failed to move the Dotials, we ferried our equipment across by an improvised derrick, and waded the waist-high stream. As a last resort we carried the 15-pound bag of rupees across in the baggage, but even this could not persuade the craven porters to brave the flood, and it became apparent that we would be forced to go on without them. We paid them off and watched them struggle homewards up the steep slope in a heavy mist, feeling small and alone, for we realized what their loss would entail.

Now confronting us was the prospect of carrying sixty-two loads through the five-mile gorge which guarded the Sanctuary, and our spirits sank as the twenty-five of us picked up the first packs averaging sixty-five pounds apiece. The rest of the day we spent relaying these cursed loads along the worst going we had yet encountered. Steep slabs covered with a semi-liquid mud gave us heart-failure at nearly every step, but after several hours of hard labor we had made two relays over this quarter mile whichseparated us from the Rishi at its right-angled junction with the Rhamani.

The last part of the day consisted of heart-breaking labor, lowering our packs thirty feet onto a natural stone bridge which is the only way of crossing the Rishi at this point. In the midst of this operation, we were badly startled when a pack containing our oxygen and some kerosene hurtled through the air from above our heads, crashed on to the rock below, and disappeared into the torrent. Expecting any minute to see a hapless porter follow this load, we were greatly relieved when we found that Futu, the Sherpa, who had fallen face forwards at a critical point, had escaped with only a minor cut on his leg. By this time we were wet through. Even the spirits of the porters were considerably dampened, so much so that the Mana men refused to make more than one crossing of the slippery and exposed bridge, but luckily a few of the stouter hearts rallied at the sight of the Sahibs carrying their packs in many relays across the same bridge, and we were able to bring most of our equipment to the dubious shelter of a great overhang a few hundred yards above the bridge on the S. bank of the Rishi.

Ahead of us now was the famous and redoubtable inner gorge which had proved an insuperable obstacle to many parties before us, but in our favor was the reconnaissance which Tilman and Shipton had made in 1934 and the passage which Tilman and Loomis had made a few weeks previous. We spent the morning of the 28th in Bridge Camp (11,800 ft.) disposing what few luxuries remained to us in the way of food in a comparatively dry spot under the overhang. Toward noon the sun came out, cheering the entire party to such an extent that we were able to start out that afternoon with sixty-pound packs on the first stage of our relay through the gorge. A seasoned mountaineer would have laughed to have seen the party struggling up muddy slopes, embracing fallen tree trunks in overhanging bits, clutching tufts of grass with both hands, swearing at microscopic footholds and generally behaving like perfect dubs, but somehow we managed to reach a point slightly less than half way through the gorge where we dumped our loads at the foot of a sheer rock wall over which they would be hauled for the next stage, and returned to Bridge Camp. The next morning we carried a final relay to the halfway point and proceeded to rope all the loads some sixty feet upthis rocky wall and carry them an hour further to Gorge Camp (12,600 ft.) where we pitched our tents on a steep rocky slope, high above the river.

The 30th dawned beautifully clear and we carried camp down nearly to the river and up the fortunate series of ledges to surmount the final rocky wall which was the last defense of the Sanctuary. The final bit leads up a vertical grass step-ladder which gave us the most anxious moments of the passage, but at the top of this we came out on a shattered rib in full view of our mountain. Below us stretched the Sanctuary—eight miles of rolling grassy meadows, headed at the fork of the Rishi by the great mass of Nanda Devi which rose 13,000 ft. from base to snow-capped summit. It was a grand view, this—the first clear view we had had of the peak. No one said much.

We were now safely through the gorge after four days of severe packing over difficult ground. The gorge lived fully up to our expectations, for the route is really grand, a miraculously linked series of airy ledges, now rock, now grass, each one seeming to end blankly in space, and at the last moment offering delicate passage to a higher or lower shelf. One doubts if many alternatives can be found : the route is more or less forced on the party by bad obstacles, and even so it could easily be broken by a falling rock or land-slip. The N. bank is too horribly sheer to consider.

Camp in the Sanctuary, called Pisgah (14,000 ft.) was a make-shift affair, but it was to be our last camp in the juniper and we made full use of this to build a roaring fire that night and watched a new moon rise behind our peak. On the morning of August 1st all of us carried heavy packs for a little rock climbing and later along mile after mile of meadow bathed in sunshine to leave a cache on the upper meadows and return to Pisgah. The next day we repeated the trip, carrying camp with us.

This part of the route was as entirely different from the gorge as the mountain was to be from our present surroundings. Flowers of all kinds, including edelweiss and cattails covered the slopes. An occasional tahr or barhal skull and thousands of tracks proved that the herds of sheep and goats were no traveller’s tale, though we did not see a living animal. Camp was pitched that night on a fiat meadow across the river from a rotten rock wall which forms the lower slope of the mountain. Avalanches roared all nightshowing that the past weeks of rain had probably powdered the slopes above with deep new snow.

The next morning, we pushed on a final mile to the fork of the S. branch of the river, crossing this to the N. by a snow bridge, remnant of the winter’s great avalanches. Several hours of heavy going along the N. edge of the glacier landed us on a scree outwash plain directly under the wall of rotten rock we had seen for the past two days. We were now camped at 15,000 ft. in full view of the great snow peaks forming the true rim of the inner Sanctuary with two superb peaks of 20,000 ft. across from us. Another day advanced one relay a mile or so further up the moraine while several Mana men went down to the meadow to bring up huge supplies of juniper wood. That night in pouring rain, we christened our camp “Peach Brandy Camp” to the tune of a small pint bottle brought along for such an occasion.

By August 5th, after several days of heavy work, we were nearly moved to our true base camp at 17,000 ft. and that night Carter finally arrived, having been two to three days behind as at each camp we had left. He had sailed from San Francisco to Shanghai and had been hurrying for the past six weeks to catch us before we reached the base. The night of the 7th found us formally established in the true base camp (17,000 ft.) with twelve loads of juniper forming a formidable pile to conserve our small supply of petrol. There we reluctantly said good-bye to the twelve Mana men who were returning the seventy miles to their homes. We were sorry to see them go ; they had been faithful and cheerful additions to the party, very different from the professional Dotials, and we knew that they were sad to leave us whom they openly considered as amusing lunatics.

The party seemed very small now—eight white men and six Sherpas ; we had sent Da Namgyal, coughing, back with the Mana men with orders to return to us with six shepherds around the 1st of September, replacing him with Kaloo, a Mampa man from near Badrinath, who was Carter’s bearer. The following morning we discarded our shorts, for the first time putting on our heavy mountain clothing, and we had need of it that afternoon as we carried forty-pound packs up steep scree slopes to cross a rotten ridge along whose N. flank we traversed to regain it at the foot of our final route. Above this we struggled over wet clay, ice, and loose boulders for several hours in the face ofa piercing wind blowing wet mist across the ridge. It was hopeless to find a camp site. The party was very tired when the loads were dumped on the least inhospitable of the mud slopes, at about 19,000 ft., before returning to the base camp.

August 9th we celebrated Sunday taking our first rest day in a month. It was glorious to sprawl in the almost unbearably hot sun, to dry chronically wet clothes, to write up hopelessly neglected diaries, to air flea-ridden bags and generally to recoup ourselves for the struggle ahead. Toward evening clouds blew in thickly and Monday we woke to a raging snow storm which held us in camp all day. It was not a pleasant time : everything so dry the day before was wet and freezing, making juniper fires for cooking seemed a miserably unnecessary chore, and we were happy enough to lie in our bags until dark.

On the morning of the 11th, we started a small fire in eight inches of new snow, the Sherpas remaining in their tent, but as breakfast was started, Kaloo appeared and we were treated to a good moral example of the evils of smoking. Squatting before the fire, he took out a glowing coal which he placed in a small round hole hollowed in a clear area of mud. With his mouth to a second hole bored to connect at right angles with the first, he inhaled pure wood smoke with tremendous satisfaction. Arising from this curious enjoyment he was positively glassy-eyed and staggered back to his tent for all the world like a drunken man.

Needless to say breakfast was perfunctory, but with considerable encouragement the entire party appeared in time to swallow hot cups of oatmeal and shortly afterwards we succeeded in getting away with light loads carrying enough sleeping bags and tents to enable the white men to stop that night at Camp I if a site could be found. The going was miserable. Higher up the slope we encountered snow nearly to our knees and a trail had to be beaten out before we could move. By changing the lead every hundred paces, we somehow managed to reach our cache of the day before. Thoroughly worn out and disgusted, a state which was not improved by the heavy sultry sun which sapped our strength, we managed to establish two tents on sketchy platforms built up and dug out of the mud slope at 19,000 ft., and turned in that evening after a cup of delicious hot pemmican to sleep the sleep of the dead in our first real camp on the mountain. We all had slight headaches, and Cheyne-Stokes breathing was noticeable all night long, particularly in one unfortunate member with a tendency to snore, but at last we were on the mountain and that was the important thing. The Sherpas had returned to the base with instructions to come up on the following day with the remaining equipment, but to insure their arrival, as they had shown some symptoms of mountain sickness, Carter, Lloyd and Loomis slid down the snow slopes to the base next morning early. Tilman and Odell started off to reconnoitre the ridge above Camp I as far as possible with an eye to a possible site for Camp II, while Graham Brown and I were to stay at I to build a site for the third tent. The day was hot and humid with a slight blowing mist in the afternoon, making any exertion difficult.

In the evening the reconnaissance party returned with bad news. They had found the ridge rather more difficult than expected and were sure that no campsite was available as far as they had gone. Supper cheered the party somewhat, as the Sherpas had brought on most of the remaining equipment in one load and were prepared to stay with us at Camp I.

On August 13th the entire party carried thirty-pound packs up along the route found the day before. It was an interesting track leading in its lower part over very loose boulders and slopes made slippery by new fallen snow and, in its upper part, on steep snow slopes and along a badly corniced ridge for perhaps 300 yards. It took us most of the day, as the porters were going badly, some even showed distinct symptoms of mountain sickness, and toward the middle of the afternoon, we had still not found a good site for Camp II. Accordingly we dumped our packs on a spectacularly narrow and overhanging ledge at about 20,500 ft. and returned to Camp I where we met Emmons who had come up from the base to bid us a final farewell before we moved higher. He was to remain at the base with one porter to complete the fragmentary survey which Tilman and Shipton had started in 1934, but it became evident that evening that instead of one porter he would have the questionable privilege of living with four, as most of them were not at all well.

After a cold but clear awakening on the 14th, it was decided that Graham Brown and I should move to Camp II if possible, while the others fortified our position by bringing further loads. Of all the six porters, Pasang and Nima Tschering were the only ones who showed any interest at all in proceeding and they weredetailed to go with us. In late afternoon after a heavy trip, we decided to make the best of the narrow ledge where we had dumped our loads before, set up a small Everest tent in doubtful security under a sheltering overhang, and watched Tilman and the two porters return along the long corniced ridge down to Camp I. Our plan was to reconnoitre as far as possible ahead and, if we were able, to establish ourselves in camp at 21,500 ft., during which time the rest of the party would relay equipment to Camp II.

The first part of the route next day was over and around uncomfortable rocky corners and diagonally up a steep, snow- covered ice slope which required the greatest care of any part of the route. Above this, having climbed perhaps 300 ft. in two hours, we rested in the sun, which was greeting us for the first time that day, before attempting the sharp snow ridge which was all we could see immediately above. This ridge looked short, and for the next six hours, we kept telling each other that it was short—that a few hundred feet more would put us at its top, but altitude and sweltering sun made going almost unbelievably slow so that we were able only to make a hundred feet of steps between halts. Later the others told us that watching from below they had seen no progress at all for some four hours and wondered whether we were ill. This was the only occasion on which altitude effects were pronounced enough to slow us down, and we all attributed our almost perfect condition to the heavy work which we had done up to the base camp at altitudes at which very few white men had ever carried large packs before. Finally late in the afternoon, almost exhausted, we found a flattening of the ridge where we decided to place Camp III and returned to Camp II that night.

On August 16th, the two of us carried a skeleton camp to 21,200 ft. where we established ourselves toward evening. The steep ridge that had taken us so long we found to be 980 steps, but it seemed like eternity—a dull, dreary trudge through deep soft snow, up, up and up. Not once did we traverse this ridge without counting the steps in an effort to bring camp a few minutes nearer. Toward noon on the 17th we were greeted by the arrival of Odell and Tilman with Nima who carried light packs up to Camp III where we two were resting, returning to Camp II that night. They brought with them the sad news that Pasang was definitely snow blind in Camp II and would be unable to move for several days while Nima, obviously suffering from altitude sickness, wouldprobably be useless above Camp II. To his credit let it be said that he had come up with them that morning, most uncomfortably and most slowly, but still he had come and he was the only one of the porters to get higher than Camp II.

On the 18th, Graham Brown and I descended to Camp II to meet Odell and Tilman and help them bring food and their bedding up to III. The rest were planning to come to II that night. The next day Graham Brown and I again went down to Camp II to find Carter, Lloyd and Loomis waiting there. After some debate it was decided that the latter two would join us at III, while Carter nursed the two sick porters for another day. At the same time Odell and Tilman had advanced from III to reconnoitre the formidable snow face which was above us and seemed to lead to a ridge which finally ran to the summit. Camp that night was not cheerful. The loss of our porters had seriously crippled our carrying power ; Odell and Tilman reported the face above to be excessively difficult and exposed. It was decided, therefore, that before advancing camp, a second party should try for a better route on the face and Lloyd and Loomis were chosen to do this, while the remaining four descended once more to II to bring up Carter and send the two porters down to I. By this time Graham Brown and I were heartily sick of the ridge, it being our sixth (and we swore our last) trip over it. Pasang and Nima at our arrival at Camp II were found to be no better ; accordingly we decided to leave them there one or two days, allowing them to go down to I as soon as they could. Returning to Camp III with Carter, we met Lloyd and Loomis who reported a slightly improved route on the face, but were still pessimistic as to its feasibility for packing.

From camp that night we looked eastward over Tibet and Nepal, with the beautiful Nanda Kot (22,500 ft.) in the foreground. As far as as we could see in this direction lay high snowcapped, unmapped and unnamed peaks, islands in a sea of billowing cumulus clouds and painted with incredible colors from the sunset down the Rishi. It was a night we will always remember. Now we were at last high enough to realize with what sort of mountain we had come to grips, and as we were all in perfect health and condition, spirits were indomitably high.

The morning of the 21st, we met in grand council and after an hilarious debate chose Tilman as our leader, giving him the unpleasant task of selecting two teams to try for the summit andin short make all delicate decisions which would be difficult for the party as a whole. After lunch, he and Lloyd and Carter went down to Camp II to bring up a final relay of food, reporting on their return that the two porters were still hors de combat. The rest of us carried light loads a few hundred feet higher to a cache at the foot of the final face. Storm portents were evident in the E. and S., so we were not surprised when at midnight the wind rose and at dawn snow and wind made all thought of advance impossible. We lay snugly in bed all day listening to a gradually increasing blizzard and watching the dark line of snow creep up the back wall of the tent, till toward evening (when some unfortunate thrust in a cup of steaming pemmican for our supper) the drifts were two feet deep about our little home.

We lay that night with our feet pressed against the tent wall expecting any minute to hear the fatal rip of the material and feel blown snow covering us, but to the great credit of the Logan tent, the cloth held and we dozed off toward midnight. A few hours later we woke unpleasantly to find that the weight of the snow had pressed in the walls and roof of the tent to form a most uncomfortable cave about our heads and chests, and by dawn the free cubic space within the tent was scarcely big enough for a cat, let alone three men. One of us bored up several feet through the powdered snow about the buried door and in half an hour succeeded in uncovering the tent wall. The others in the adjoining tent performed the same office.

Again there was no question of our moving higher and we lay silently and glumly in bed all day, but the morning of the 24th was clear, cold and windless, and despite much new snow, we decided to move camp at least as high as the cache above us. Tilman and Loomis descended for a final trip to Camp II, returning and coming on to Camp IV (21,500 ft.), where we assembled for supper. They reported that Pasang and Nima had retreated either before or during the storm to Camp I, thereby relieving us of responsibility for them. That night at supper Odell and I were chosen as the first team and plans were laid for action next day.

We were off at 8 in a clear morning—Odell and myself with our bedding, Tilman, Lloyd and Loomis with food, while Carter and Graham Brown completed the establishment of IV. The next five hours were spent cutting and kicking steps up snow steeper than most of us had seen before. Guesses as to its angle ranged from 50-70° ; it was probably in the neighborhood of 60°. Despite the fact that we were carrying only twenty-pound packs, the blasting sun on our faces and the steepness and depth of the snow up which we were so wearily making a staircase thoroughly wore us out by afternoon.

Still we had not found a campsite. An hour before sunset the rest decided it was imperative that they return to Camp IV, leaving Odell and myself to shift for ourselves in the gathering dusk, finding a camp site, if possible, or if not, following them down. After a desperate struggle up a few hundred feet of broken rock and snow, we finally reached what most campers would consider an impossible campsite, but which, to us, was the promised land— a slightly less steep slope falling away from a smooth vertical boulder at the foot of which we scooped out a tiny platform.

Camp was pitched and baggage assembled as it became dark and we crawled wearily in to the usual supper of pemmican. In spite of a slight airy feeling, for we were perched on a ledge scarcely more than three feet wide, we slept soundly that night, not awakening until after 7 next day (August 26th) to find the weather unsettled. Accordingly, we decided to reconnoitre as high as possible along the ridge above with no serious hopes of reaching the top. The first three hours led up steep slopes similar to those below, finally terminating in a long, gently rising rock ridge plastered with snow, which, in turn, led to a final face— 1000 ft. below the summit. With only two to make the steps, going was heavy. By noon we had covered only a few hundred feet along this ridge and not until 3 in the afternoon, had we reached the junction of the ridge and the final face.

It was a grand day, not spoiled by the fact that we were stopped by the lateness of the day, as well as 5 ft. of soft snow, about 1000 ft. below the summit. We returned to camp lighthearted in a quiet sunset, rejoicing that no obstacle was apparent above us, that we had covered the worst of the route and the way was now clear to the summit. To celebrate we opened a tin of corned beef—the first we had had for several weeks and this proved my undoing, for shortly after supper, I was taken very ill and was sick all night. The tin had been punctured. Luckily next morning was clear and windless. Odell called down to Camp IV, saying over and over “Charlie is ill, come up.” Alas for the differences between English and American usage—the Americansall heard the words “Charlie is killed” and there was pandemonium in camp. Figuring that Odell was probably hurt, while I was dead, Tilman and Lloyd took bandages and morphine and raced ahead, followed by the others with food. But hurrying at 23,000 ft. is at best a slow affair, and it was five hours before they poked their heads into our tent and were greeted with “Have some tea” from Odell. Their relief at our safety was expressed in a peculiar fashion.

Then followed a council of war as to the next move. I was too weak to care what happened, but it was apparent to all that if I could be gotten down safely, it would be wiser than to leave me at 23,500 ft. for another day to recuperate. Accordingly I staggered down to Camp IV with the help of Lloyd, Carter and Graham Brown, while Tilman replaced me in our bivouac camp with Odell. On August 28th those two moved their camp 500 ft. higher to a comfortable pit which we had found on the ridge while we in Camp IV rested in uncomfortably hot tents. The weather had now become an acute problem. Would it hold for two or three more days or would the long-expected storm arise before the summit could fall?

It was an anxious time for all of us. At 6 o’clock in the morning of August 29th Odell and Tilman set off in perfect weather, reaching the point at which we had been stopped by eight and starting the attack on the final face immediately afterwards. Their route ran up steep snow couloirs where deep snow made progress heart breaking. Hours passed and they made slow progress, but toward mid-afternoon they stepped from a small rock rib on to a snow slope which avalanced immediately beneath them, and after this narrow escape, a few minutes later stood on the summit.

Their comments to us later were not very illuminating: they were there ; they were tired. A slight haze hid the lower peaks so that the view was not inspiring, nor were they able to take many photographs, for below on the plains a storm was raging. To the disappointment of many natives, who inquired later, they met no goddess there, nor, as was locally believed, were they able to see Bombay and England from the top! But the job was well done, and any one who has trod a summit will understand what was in their minds. Soon they turned homewards, reaching the bivouac after six. Nanda Devi had been won.

In the meantime Graham Brown and I had started for the base, while Lloyd, Loomis and Carter remained in support at Camp IV. We spent the night at Camp II, for the ridge was in execrable condition and our steps had vanished. Late next day we reached the base, while Odell and Tilman descended to Camp IV.

It was three weeks since we had left Emmons at the base and there was much news to tell. He had done some interesting exploration in the course of his survey, venturing far up the great valley leading southward to the rim, and occupying many stations in the Basin. Best of all he and Kaloo had made a splendid two- day reconnaissance of Longstaff’s col on the E. rim. Dr. Long- staff had reached this pass from the Milam Valley in 1905, but had been unable to descend into the Basin from lack of food, and we hoped to return home by this pass if possible. Emmons’ fine work established a good route to within 300 ft. of the top, which last bit he believed would go. During our entire absence he had been greatly worried over the porters, for Nuri did not improve, while Kitar wasted away daily in spite of all his efforts. He was glad to have us down to share his burdens.

Just before we arrived the faithful Da Namgyal returned with six Lata shepherds bringing quantities of mail and, surprise of surprises, a huge basket of fresh fruit and vegetables sent some eighty miles by the kindly Rawal of Badrinath who had prayed for us all summer. Next morning we found that Kitar had died of dysentery during the night. We buried him in a deep grave near camp, in full view of the superb peaks of the rim, leaving his ice- axe to mark the resting place of a mountaineer.

Late in the afternoon two shouts from above told Art and me the good news, elaborated later as one by one the others staggered in, having come from Camp IV with heavy packs that day. A wet and dismal night could not suppress the joy, shared by Sahibs and Sherpas alike.

* *

A brief note must suffice to outline our return. After a needed day of rest, three heavily laden parties left on September 2nd to retrace our ascent of the gorge ; Odell, Lloyd and Graham Brown would travel fast, hoping to catch a steamer from Bombay two weeks later ; Loomis and Carter were supervising the baggage and would follow more slowly, while Emmons with two porters plannedto remain a few days to complete his survey. Their passage of the gorge was uneventful ; the slow freight overtook the express and all arrived in Ranikhet nearly together.

Tilman and I planned to attempt Longstaff’s Col, returning along the eastern side of the range and taking with us Pasang who tearfully requested to be given a chance to make up for his untimely blindness. Following Emmons’ detailed advice, we camped that night 1000 ft. below the pass in a snowstorm that brought avalanches down on all sides, threatening to defeat us at the beginning. But before dawn conditions improved, and we broke camp at 3, alternately cutting steps and wallowing in waist-deep snow up the lower slopes to an ice-glazed rock buttress which yielded to prolonged siege, permitting a delicate traverse to its head. There we met more and worse snow, so bad indeed that the last steep 400 ft., after threatening several times to defeat us, took many hours to overcome. Early morning views of our mountain were superb, though the outline of our climbing ridge was so horribly steep as to make us gasp. Procrastination deprived us of pictures, for at the top, where we planned to use our camera, clouds came in thickly, effectively preventing even a glimpse ahead of our route. An hour’s wait decided us to change plans, descending to the Milam Valley to circle Nanda Kot to the E. instead of attempting the much shorter, unexplored traverse to the W. of this peak. The descent was a nightmare of slushy snow and mud with no possible campsite for hour after hour. Toward dusk, when we were ready to drop with fatigue, we reached a grassy moraine at about 15,500 ft. where we dropped our packs, voting it the longest, hardest day of the entire summer. Fifty-pound packs over a 19,000 ft. pass is not an easy day.

Next morning we scrapped much of our mountain gear and set off down the lovely flower-strewn Llwanl Valley towards its junction with the Milam. Any one who has spent any length of time above the snow line will appreciate our feelings at the first sight and smell of grass and flowers for many weeks. At noon we met some of the coolies for the Japanese expedition to Nanda Kot (22,530 ft.) who told us that the climbers were in base camp a few miles to the S. At dusk Tilman was royally received by the village of Martoli, while Pasang and I, unfortunately on the wrong side of a bridgeless torrent, bivouaced in thorn bushes. Early on the 5th a shepherd guided us over an awesome cliff to join thetrade route from the Janti-la, over which come great herds of goats and sheep and shaggy yaks bringing salt and borax from Tibet, and on this path we soon joined Tilman to devour a delicious breakfast of two dozen eggs. Martoli is an interesting stone summer village at about 14,000 ft., living on the caravan trade. We were regally entertained and left at noon with regret.

Two days’ march down the deep canyons of the Gori River, some twenty miles of beetling cliffs, was very interesting, for the path, though its edgewise paving was torture to our tender feet, led under great slabs, along airy traverses, and over hopeful bridges in an ever-changing scenic route. The rest of our eighty- mile march was fraught with excitement and disappointments always relieved at the most hopeless moment. There were rivers that could not be forded (but were), bungalows that never materialized, supplies of fresh food that could not be bought, and always lovely country. From Mansiari we looked twenty to forty miles eastward to three unmapped snow giants, all over 22,000 ft., within march of the village, tempting us sorely, but we resolutely hurried on. Near the end of our trip, at Bageswar, we were entertained by the old Rawal of the temple there, a picturesque figure with a famous book of chits from well-known travellers, and spent a delightful evening with seven young Englishmen bound for the Pindari Glacier who were most interested in our expedition and not too horrified by our barbaric appearance. Finally, on September 12th, we reached Ranikhet days ahead of the others, having completed Dr. Longstaff’s ideal of the perfect summer : to penetrate the Rishi Gorge, climb Nanda Devi, and return by the pass that bears his name.

In retrospect one may summarize certain noteworthy points: (1) Not one of us but felt fast friends with the Sherpa porters who had had bad luck in failing at the test. They were grand, willing chaps, and, as they were necessarily on a much poorer diet than we, their failure to work well on the mountain is perhaps understandable. Pasang and Nima did very well indeed as far as they went; the former’s snow-blindness at Camp II was as much a blow to him as to us. On Longstaff’s Col he proved himself an able and powerful climber.

The Mana men were cheery companions and willing workers as far as the snow line where we sent them home. The Dotials, although they deserted us in a crisis, served well for a hard march, and poorly clothed and unshod as they were, are not to be too highly censured.

Due to the heavy packing (sixty pounds to 16,000 ft., forty pounds to 21,000 ft.) forced on us by the failure of our transport, we were all in tip-top shape and perfectly acclaimed, in refutation of the prevailing theory that conservation of strength low down is essential for success higher up. It is noteworthy that of a party ranging in age from twenty-two tofifty-five, not one showed any mountain sickness, and other than a few transient headaches there were no noticeable symptoms of distress.

Our system of skeleton outfitting was sufficient to carry us through several storms as well as a prolonged (twenty-two day) siege on the mountain with reserves left at the end, and despite disparaging remarks by the Indian press, we survived without elaborate radio outfits to bring us weather reports. Our food on the mountain was simple : a cup of oatmeal for breakfast, a bar (I/4 pound) of chocolate and roll of fruit drops for lunch, and a cup of hot pemmican for supper, which last was always welcome and satisfying even at 24,000 ft.

Despite an extremely severe monsoon we carried out our plans as outlined in advance. The weather could not be considered good : it snowed part of nearly every day above 17,000 ft., producing bad snow conditions, but while the average temperature was about 22° F., it was never very cold. Only occasionally did we meet severe wind. On the whole, we feel that the expedition demonstrated that monsoon climbing, in Garwhal at least, is quite possible and not too uncomfortable.

In general, our entire route was of good Alpine standard, in several places of very high quality, and these bits were done with heavy packs. There is little choice of routes, in fact ours appears to be the only feasible approach.

One may mention only a few of the outstanding satisfactory items of equipment: Everest Model Sleeping Bags (five pounds)—Burns Co., Ltd., Manchester, England. Arctic Sleeping Bag, especially made (ten pounds)—Woods Co., Ltd., Ottawa, Canada. Meade Tent (eleven pounds)— Silver & Edgington, London. Logan Tents (thirteen pounds without poles)— Woods Co., Ltd., Ottawa, Canada. Windproof Parka Suits—Flint & Co., London. Shetland Sweaters and Socks—Mrs. Duncan, The Shetland Isles. Everest Goggles—Theodore Hamblin, London. Lightweight Tarpaulins— David Abercrombie, New York. Compact First Aid Case—Burroughs Wellcome, New York, javatex Chocolate (specially made)—Baker Chocolate Co. Twenty-four-Hour-Ration Tins of Malted Milk—Horlick’s, Racine, Wisconsin. Danish Pemmican—de Danske Vin et Konserves Fabriken, Denmark. Cheddar Cheese, Ship’s Biscuit and Butter—Burnyeat, Dalzelle & Co., Liverpool. Dried Vegetables—Mrs. H. F. Kelly, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

In conclusion, we should thank among the many who helped us Mrs. Brown of Ranikhet, Dr. Ladd of New York, Eric Shipton of England, E. O. Shebbeare of Darjeeling, and especially Dr. T. G. Longstaff of London, whose advice and encouragement were largely responsible for our success.


Graham, W. W, Good Words, January, 1885.

Graham, W. W. ‘Travel and Ascents in the Himalaya,’ A.J., 12, 25.

Longstaff, T, G. ‘Six Months’ Wandering in the Himalaya,’ A.J., 23, 302.

Longstaff, T. G. (Bruce and Mumm). ‘Mountaineering in Garhwal,’ A.J., 24, 107.

Ruttledge, H. ‘Wanderings in the Kumaun Himalaya 1925-26,’ A. J., 39, 71.

Longstaff, T, G, ‘Twenty Years After,’ A. J., 40, 281.

Ruttledge, H. The Times, August 22nd, 1932.

Shipton, E. Nanda Devi (Hodder and Stoughton; 1936).

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