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A Survey of the Ghondokoro and Chogolisa Glacier Area in the Karakoram Range

A Survey of the Ghondokoro and Chogolisa Glacier Area in the Karakoram Range

John F. Noxon

A mong several objectives of the 1955 Harvard Karakoram Expedition was that of exploring and possibly mapping two glacier systems, the Ghondokoro and Chogolisa, which lie immediately to the south of the central portion of the well known Baltoro Glacier. The expedition itself has been described by the leader, Henry S. Francis, Jr. (A.A.J., 1956 pp. 60-65).

Before 1955 this region had been little visited; in 1911 the Workmans paid a short visit described in their book Two Summers in the Ice Wilds of Eastern Karakoram, and in 1938 Waller’s expedition to Masherbrum explored the lower Ghondokoro for a possible access route to the mountain. Following our expedition a group from the Royal Air Force visited the area in 1961; according to reports in the most recent issue of the Himalayan Journal, 1961, pp. 80-88 and in A.A.J. 1962, p. 279, their activities also included both climbing and surveying. Although nothing approaching a triangulated survey of this area appeared to exist at the time of our visit, it was only when we found that the Workmans’ sketch map contained serious errors that we decided to attempt a complete and reasonably accurate survey. After a number of years of intermittent activity the accompanying map has been completed. We offer it not only because it represents the first serious survey of several hundred square miles in the Karakoram but also because this area has constantly been viewed, often with curiosity, by the numerous expeditions attempting the great peaks of the Karakoram which surround the Baltoro just to the north.

The surveying instruments consisted of a plane table and precision alidade kindly loaned to us by the American Geographical Society together with a steel measuring tape. With the alidade, elevation angles could be measured to better than one minute but azimuth angles had to be traced on a sheet of paper and referred to magnetic north. Accuracy in the final map requires many survey stations together with many overlapping shots on the same peak or other geographical points in order to reduce the errors in a survey such as this. Each triangulated peak shown on the map was measured from at least two stations and in some cases from five or more. The overall scale of the survey was determined by several 1500-foot baselines and the stations were linked by common observation of several prominent peaks. The precise position of secondary peaks was then determined by minimizing the scatter in their calculated altitudes. With 19 stations and over 50 surveyed peaks the redundancy has turned out to be sufficient to ensure that the altitudes given are correct to better than 150 feet and that the positions are correct to within a quarter of a mile.

By tying the survey to the known position of Masherbrum it was then possible to see that our position of the high peak K6 (23,890 feet), shown near the bottom, agreed well with the position and altitude given by the Survey of India (GTS) as quoted by Mason in his article in the 1938 Himalayan Journal. We were finally able to take advantage of the fact that during the eight years since 1955 most of the great peaks on the Baltoro have been climbed and that photographs from their summits exist and show portions of our region. Some of the map has been filled in using photographs taken from the summit of Masherbrum as indicated by the dotted area. No great accuracy is claimed in the representation of the ridges and glacier outlines except where a survey station happens to fall at the edge of a glacier. Yet on the whole such detail should be correct since it was determined by careful examination of many photographs. The extreme northern portion of the map has been largely copied from the survey map made by the expedition led in 1929 by the Duke of Spoleto; this includes the Baltoro, Yermanendu, Biarchedi and Vigne glaciers and their immediate surroundings. However, with the exception of Masherbrum, Mitre, Chogolisa and the two peaks north of Chogolisa, all other peaks shown have altitudes determined uniquely from the present survey. When brought together the Spoleto map and our survey join nicely.

Interesting geographical points emerge from a study of the accompanying map.

1. The rather large tributary coming in from the southwest to the upper Chogolisa had not previously been suspected. The 1955 expedition spent some time at the head of this tributary in an attempt to climb the 21,150 foot peak called by us “Thanda Parbat”.

2. Quite surprising was the realization that although the peak K6 (23,890 feet) near the head of the Chogolisa seems to be just where the GTS says it ought to be, the other peak designated by them as K7 (22,750 feet) does not correspond within the limits of our error to any peak. It may be that the peak just northwest of the GTS position of K7 (see map) is the one they saw. On the other hand, nowhere at all do previous surveys mention two peaks (22,750 feet, 35° 27'N and 70° 35.4'E; 23,100 feet, 35° 27'N and 70° 36'E) which do appear on our survey at the head of the Chogolisa. It seems probable that these peaks were screened from the GTS survey point, 100 miles to the southwest, by the higher K6. It is interesting to note that these peaks, mislabelled as 27/52A, (i.e. as K7), appear in panorama D in the book Baltoro by G. O. Dyhrenfurth, and also just to the right of the tentpole in his photograph 174 looking southwest from the Conway saddle. The peak he labels 26/52A (K7) is in fact K6; at the time his designations seemed of course the natural ones. The new peaks are also shown in the photograph opposite page 216 in the Workman book, again labelled as K7.

3. In the older literature some discussion arose concerning the existence of a pass linking the Ghondokoro area with the Baltoro. The Workmans concluded that no such pass existed and, indeed, our own explorations confirmed that there is no pass out of the upper Ghondokoro. But halfway up the Ghondokoro there does in fact exist a break in the wall separating this glacier from the Yermanendu and the two do appear to join each other at a point just east of the 19,300-foot peak at 35° 38.3'N and 70° 22.5'E. The high point of the ice is probably about 17,000 feet. Some idea of the Ghondokoro side may be gained from the first photograph accompanying the Francis article. The 19,300-foot peak is the prominent and near rock peak above the tent. The more distant peak just to the right is the one marked 22,000 feet on the map and it is between these two that one might descend on the upper Yermanendu. From photographs taken at the summit of Masherbrum the upper Yermanendu does not look too bad, but no doubt the crevassing makes this pass more one of principle than practice.

4. An interesting article by E. Sternbach in the June, 1961 Osterreichische Alpenzeitung calls attention to a peak designated as “Trinity”. This prominent unclimbed peak (21,700 feet, 35° 37'N and 70° 28'E) is particularly evident in many photographs taken from high on K2, for example in the summit photograph with Compagnoni on page 213 in Desio’s book Victory over K2.

I am most grateful to John Humphreys, a member of the expedition, for his help in preparing the final version of the map, and also to George Bell for the loan of photographs taken from the summit of Masherbrum. It is our wish that the publication of this map be in honor and memory of our companion, the late Arthur Read.