American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Nun-Kun

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1954

Nun-Kun

BERNARD PIERRE

The Nun, 23,410 feet high, is the culmination of the Nun-Kun massif about 60 miles as the crow flies from Srinagar, capital of Kashmir. It was first scaled 28 August 1953 by an expedition consisting of Mrs. Claude Kogan, Mr. Michel Désorbay, and Dr. Jean Guillemin, all French, Mr. Pierre Vittoz, a Swiss missionary residing in Leh Ladakh, two Indian Himalayan experts, Flight Lieutenant N. D. Jayal and Captain K. C. Johorey of the Bengali Sappers, and myself as leader. Jayal had taken part in the Indian expedition to Trisul in 1951 and both he and Johorey had been to Kamet in 1952.

The expedition left New Delhi on July 11th and reached Doda on July 13th, the end of the rail and road portion of the route. From Doda, which is south of the Nun-Kun massif, it set forth with a hundred or so porters on the 150-mile journey and, passing through Kishtwar and Yurod, arrived at the foot of the Nun on July 30th. Base Camp was set up at 16,000 feet on the south side of the mountain.

British expeditions had previously attempted the peak (in 1934 and 1946) by way of the east ridge, but the west ridge was selected for our attempt. Both Waller in 1937 and Vittoz in 1952 had reconnoitred this approach and had concluded that it afforded the greater chance of success.

By August 1st Jayal, Vittoz, and Bernard Pierre had established Camp I at 18,000 feet, but bad weather promptly set in and drove us down to Base Camp. Not until August 8th was it possible to set out again, when Claude Kogan and Pierre Vittoz scouted a route onto the west ridge, which is defended by a huge tower of rock and snow. As a result, on August 10th, Désorbay, Guillemin, Bernard Pierre, and Ang Tharkay, sirdar of the six Sherpas, moved up and established Camp II at 19,200 feet. The next day Désorbay, Ang Tharkay, Pemba Norbu, and Bernard Pierre attempted to establish Camp III, but fog and snow intervened so that only a provisional camp was set up at 20,500 feet.

The weather now grew much worse and forced the entire party to withdraw to Base Camp where we were doomed to be held inactive for a full week. The snow eventually stopped falling and, by August 21st, Claude Kogan, Vittoz, Guillemin, Désorbay, Ang Tharkay, and Bernard Pierre were again at Camp III which had been moved up to 21,000 feet. Bad weather, however, once more settled in and, on the morning of August 23rd, I decided upon a second retreat. A thick fog made the descent very risky and as the six climbers, on two ropes, came in sight of Camp II, they were caught in an avalanche. One rope managed to halt itself after a fall of some 50 yards, but my rope, with Ang Tarkay and Désorbay, was carried down approximately a thousand feet. We were fortunate enough to suffer only concussions and bruises, but further climbing was temporarily out of the question and we all continued down to Base Camp on the 24th. With so much bad weather and especially the heavy snow we often looked across toward K2 and speculated on the effect of such conditions on the chances of the American expedition over there. We often thought of them and especially of our friend George I. Bell, with whom we were on Salcantay last year.

Again the weather improved, and again we moved up for a final assault. Claude Kogan and Pierre Vittoz were the only ones in condition for this attempt, but I determined to go as far as Camp III, with Sherpas at Camp II and Guillemin and Désorbay at Camp I, in support. The leaves of the two Indian officers had expired, so they were unfortunately forced to depart.

When we reached Camp III, or rather its site, with Pemba Norbu, we found that it had been wiped out by a tremendous avalanche. Nothing was left. Fortunately enough, we had with us a little two-man tent into which we crowded for a cold, uncomfortable night with no stove to heat our few provisions.

The next day, the 28th, was fine and at 7:30 we left the tent. We were on two ropes, Claude Kogan with Vittoz, and I with Pemba Norbu. At 21,600 feet the effects of my accident made it impossible for me to continue without danger of frostbite, so I turned back to Camp III. The three Sherpas from Camp II came up to join us and we watched the summit party slowly traverse diagonally up some 550 yards of an avalanche-prone face to the final ridge. The rope continued painfully along the ridge until, at last, at 2:50 P.M., the summit was won.

By August 31st all camps were removed and our return march brought us to Srinagar on September 9th. Claude Kogan is thus one of the very few women who have ever reached such heights and, more especially, achieved a first ascent of a major Himalayan peak.

Summary of Statistics

Ascent: Nun, 23,410 ft., Kashmir; first ascent.

Personnel: Leader, Bernard Pierre; Michel Désorbay, Dr. Jean Guillemin, Lt. N. D. Jayal, Capt. K. C. Johorey, Mrs. Claude Kogan, and Pierre Vittoz.

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