American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, India, Himachal Pradesh (Punjab), Mikar Beh, Kulu

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1969

Mukar Beh, Kulu. John Ashburner, Liam Carver and I arrived in Manali at the head of the Kulu valley on May 26 and left to set up Base Camp in the Solang Nullah on June 1 with twelve coolies and one high-altitude porter, an old and trusted friend Sonam Wangyal of Manali. He proved the strong man of our party. Makar Beh is close to Manali and for that reason has been attempted many times. Something of a legend had built up over the mountain, which is by no means the highest in the district (19,910 feet). At least two previous parties had claimed to have reached the summit, only later to retract their stories. The mountain gained further notoriety as the scene of a grim tragedy in October, 1967. Geoffrey Hill, Suresh Kumar and the Sherpa Pemba all perished in a blizzard in most unusual circumstances. They had established camp at 15.000 feet under the lee of a knife-edged ridge. During the storm, this ridge formed a giant cornice and by the time the storm abated several days later, they had literally been buried alive. (A.A.J., 1968, 16:1, p. 215.) For most of our expedition the weather was superb. The march to Base was accomplished in two days and camp was established at Beas Kund at 11,000 feet on June 2 on a flat snowfield. From there Camp I at 15,000 feet was easy. We then placed our Camp II on the other side of the Beas watershed ridge at 16,500 feet. Again the climbing was straightforward up an easy-angled gully and then steepening snow slopes. From this point the route could lie either over the summit of Ladak Peak (17,525 feet; 1st ascent by Pettigrew. See A.A.J. 1964, 14:1, p. 230.) or a traverse under this peak’s northeast face to land on the ridge leading from Ladak Peak to Claim Peak (18,900 feet). We placed Camp III on a level platform on the ridge and ascended Claim Peak. It was necessary to go over this peak and then descend 1000 feet to reach Mukar Beh. This descent was the start of the climbing difficulties on Mukar Beh and necessitated fixed rope all the way. The rock was indescribably loose and only rope and Jümar clamps made the climb safe and feasible. Despite the distance, we decided to climb Mukar Beh from Camp III, thinking to bivouac on the descent. The attempt was held up first by the weather and then trouble with our only stove at Camp III. Finally on June 23 Sonam Wangyal and John Ashburner reached the top in a day which lasted 16 hours. They managed to keep climbing and to return to Camp III the same night just as the weather broke. The climbing was difficult throughout, the summit rocks being the crux: 500 feet of steep, loose rocks. Descent next morning was rapid; all camps and personnel were back in Base that night, a descent of 7000 feet in thirteen hours.

Dennis Gray, Alpine Club

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