Friday 26 January 2018

The Mallory Legend

GL Mallory second left, back row, with leading members of the 1924 expedition

In 1883 W. W. Graham took Swiss guides to India and the history of climbing in the Himalayas began. Previous explorers had penetrated the region as soldiers on military expeditions, with big game hunting on the side, as officers of the Government' Survey Department, medical missionaries or members of diplomatic missions. During the next 72 years, 62 if the war years are left out, to 1955when the late Professor Kenneth Mason published his classic history of the Himalaya, "The Abode of Snow" (Rupert Hart-Davies, two impressions, though now a quarter of a century out of date, the best book of reference to 1955; fairly expensive in the second hand book market) Mason listed (pp. 346/7) 50 peaks over 25,000 ft., only eight of them had by then been conquered.

Surely this speaks for itself and throws the whole pioneer period into true perspective. On Everest three expeditions were mounted by the British in 1921, 22 and 24, aimed at the N.E. ridge from Tibet. The achievement of these expeditions was extremely impressive. Indeed 1922, the first full attack, was a triumph for George Finch and his primitive oxygen equipment; in spite of bad weather, he had he had made an altitude record and had turned back less than 2,000 feet below the summit. In the official record of the expedition Finch wrote a convincing chapter in support of the use of oxygen in Himalayan climbing. He was right in his assertion that it would be use in the conquest of Everest, though this was not a popular view among climbers at that time. However, it convinced Mallory that it enable him to move faster and thus he was more likely to succeed with it with it than without it. He made the summit bid from which he not return on June 8th 1924.

On June 16th, Colonel Norton, the leader was seated in his tent at the Base Camp writing a letter to Irvine's father. *"In my view, he wrote, they had enough oxygen to enable them to reach the summit: they would have had to descend without oxygen, but this has been proved quite feasible." In 1922 it had been thought that a man using oxygen at high altitudes would soon collapse and die if and when his supply ran out or failed. At home Winthrop Young wrote of Mallory "In all probability the first man to tread the world's highest summit". A number of minor prophets raised a chorus of approval. It was so much nicer to believe that victory had come before the fatal fall. This mood of euphoria did not survive the sequence of failures in the 1930's, and it is easy to see that none of the Everesters present at Tilman's lecture to the R.G.S. in 1939 believed that the summit problem had been solved.

Even Odell, who might have been expected to say something about Mallory's chances, seems to have confined himself to contrasting Tilman's Spartan love of cold porridge with memories of the champagne commissariate of 1924. The scepticism is repeated by Lord Hunt in 1953, when, in the early pages of his book, he stresses the great doubt that he and his team faced over the final thousand feet of the climb. A word was soon in use about Mallory's last climb, which, I submit, should now be used no longer. Mystery. There is no longer any mystery, if we understand by that word, something beyond the compass of the human intellect (e.g. The Mystery of the Incarnation). 

Since 1953 many climbers have stood on Everest and no relic of the 1924 expedition has been found near the summit. On June 8th 1924 the two men were seen at 12.50 p.m. high up on the N.E. ridge, they did not return to Camp VI. At that date the shelter of a snow hole had not been discovered in high mountaineering. Mason stated that no man could survive a night in the open at great altitudes. They must have died on the 8th, almost certainly by a fall due to exhaustion.

Compare the experience of Bourdillon and Evans in 1953 on their ascent of the South summit, a climb of some 3,000 feet, not unlike that which Mallory was attempting. I must leave it to readers of my book (the IRVINE DIARIES) to examine the grounds on which I base my belief that the summit was not reached in 1924. I could add two pointers. In his letters to his wife towards the end of May, Mallory was clearly uneasy about his physical fitness to make an effective summit bid—and there was also the doubt about Irvine’s lack of experience if the route became at all difficult.

It cannot escape notice that in the rescue of the porters from Camp IV,Somervell led the very trying and dangerous snow slope below the col which gave success to the operation,this in spite of his acute suffering from a high altitude cough. Norton and Mallory sat below and watched him. Now in 1981 the climbing of giant mountains has become commonplace: it happens every month, all the year round, year after year, all over the world.It is difficult today to realise how primitive was the equipment, how great the lack of knowledge of those gallant and brave men who were the pioneers of the 1920's. We now know that the whole of the N.E. ridge (Mallory's proposed route) can be climbed in a straightforward manner without encountering any passage more difficult than those normally found on the popular route from Nepal.

Mallory's family home in Mobberly, Cheshire as it is today. Currently undergoing restoration after years of dereliction, the house sits under the flightpath of runway 2 at Manchester Airport. 

It would seem that the second step had been given rather too fierce a character both by Wyn Harris and Laurence Wager in 1933 and by the Chinese in 1975. But the Chinese rope ladder pitch would have turned Mallory back. We now know,whatever the Times and Sunday Times journalists may have suggested, there are no frozen corpses to be found anywhere on the mountain to "prove" that the summit was reached in 1924. From the start, fate was against the men of the 1924 expedition, but we can now assess their wonderful achievement at its true worth; they were great heroes of an heroic age.

*Norton had never used the oxygen equipment on a climb and there is no record of any discussion on its capacity to give enough gas for a summit bid. It looks as Mallory thought six hours would be adequate. No man at that time had any experience of movement at the highest altitudes on Everest without oxygen after a prolonged use of an artificial supply. HC

** Note: While on the subject of Everest it is interesting to record that in 1974 a Chinese climber, Wang Kow Po, reported finding the body in a desiccated form at 26.7730ft. He buried the body  and the West did not learn of the discovery until 1979, just before Wang Po lost his life in an avalanche. Leading climbers were certain that it was highly unlikely to be the body of either Mallory or Irvine. Another report said that the Chinese had also found a body at 21.000ft on their 1960 expedition. Even more mysterious was the discovery last year (1980) of a woman’s high heel shoe made of fine brown leather. it was found at 25.000ft amongst the remains of a British camp along with Oxygen gear and tent poles. It dated back to the 1920/30‘s. (HC)

*** Mallory’s body was of course discovered by the ‘Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition’,led by Eric Simonson in 1999. Andrew Irvine’s remains have yet to be discovered and confirmed although the discovery of a body in 1960- as mentioned above- at 21.000ft suggests the possibility that it was indeed Irvine who had possibly fallen on his way down the mountain after falling victim to exhaustion or oedema. Leaving the far stronger and more experienced Mallory to attempt a solo summit bid.(JA)

Herbert Carr. First published as 'Some aspects of the Mallory Legend' in the Climbers Club Journal, 1981

Friday 19 January 2018

Stuck on a Life Raft

 'Hole in the Mind with Ysfa Symbolism: John Redhead

Time of mine spent with those of the past that is over? Given to those in the present that live in the past? Or to those who will be there to see the end?
Electric Letterbox', Footless Crow

Friday 14th October 2016 eked no email comments after a comparison request of that climb in 'Bride to the Mountain'. Perhaps it is not the Great Gully, Craig Yr Ysfa and Firbank is off the radar now, or that you choose to read is not what you have seen?

Lean the memories of a Giveen ripe worthy chat with John Redhead at a Pete's Eats book exchange, Martin Crook and Tony Loxton there also amid vague side glances of others less able than them. A life sentence partly served an opportunity for a sketch although limited in viewing numbers, until now. Emails to and fro muster interest in my Footless ‘scribbles’? or lest niggled his understanding of my behest before the postman’s knock and a foreign stamped cardboard tube. Awkwardly, kitchen-knifed partly opened the fingerprinted, smudged back enough of a signature and not fully opened; his original gist of my obsession non-reflectively finished by Dilwyn of Fframia, Llanberis.

Until parole is granted and afterwards my view is to The Gully, The Cave Pitch and Giveen hanging with others in John’s last, best Catalunya interpretation of 'wounded bison, the shaman, who cocked up and always a happy ferryman and of course Giveen and loads of common stuff. Yet is there more and I have some time, unlike others on that day lost on November 20th, 1927; 04:14:28 pm.

8h 26m 20- the sunset and daylight hours, little to crave for, nothing wasted on and vital for the lives of Norman Stott and Arthur Taylor. Time of death uncertain at Llyn Ffynnon Llugwy, Capel Curig, post Great Gully climb, Craig Yr Ysfa, although a father's guess from the hands of a broken watch tried to sway evidence after the inquest. 

Visitors to Helyg near the time of the incident, including Raymond Greene, were mostly experienced Climbers, aware of the dangerous weather conditions in the dank, dark aspects of the Gully shadows and the perils available of certain climbing conditions. J M A Thompson in his first ascent described the hardest part of the climb, the Great cave in 1900 '.... unquestionably the finest in any gully of the district. Rocks fallen from above and jammed between the vertical side-walls of the gully, form both the roof and two bridges...removal of debris necessitated single climbing...with strange gymnastics indulged in here, before the top of the rock was reached, for the right wall was streaming at the time with cold water from the snow melting above, and daylight had ceased to penetrate the recesses of the cave. 

The next move was across the bridge to a slippery ledge on the south wall; sidling across this string-course by the light of faith, we reached the outer bridge, where a hole afforded a convenient exit. A faint glimmer on the western horizon sufficed for the ascent of the little pitch above, and we reached the summit ridge soon after eight o'clock. Of the four hours spent in the gully, probably the major part was occupied in pioneering, for while the bed rock was found to be very sound and satisfactory, the obstacles were decorated with so exceptional quantity of loose turf and moss, that we might claim to have found them of grass and left them of granite.' On the first ascent, four hours spent in the Gully.

So, another 'whatever' and to that otiose, beerly wise Saturday night decision to safe haven some Giveen laden scrolls. Prior to departure, a chance moment to read my 1930 Oxford Mail article and another Giveen secret.... A 'prominent member' of the Oxford University Climbing Club as was Raymond Greene....a pairing belayed fleetingly at Oxford University in the early 1920's. Quite different characters, Greene the dependable medical student and would be stalwart of the Climbers' Club. Giveen, the rake, a reprobate who climbed the Martyrs' Memorial, 'sent down' from Wadham College and Oxford for an unknown misdemeanor and worse, he sold Greene a car then ‘retrieved’ it, without his consent. Also, an accusation by Greene of Giveen attempting to shoot him after blackballing him from membership of the club. One cannot be true without the others and for Giveen the truth is recorded in handwritten accounts of meetings available in the coffers of the Climbers' Club Minute Book secluded to Gwynedd Archives. 

Also, they include membership details of the four men concerned, initial support for Giveen and pressures laid upon decisions made after the night of the accident, and verdicts made by the Climbers’ Club hierarchy. There is discreet involvement from Cambridge University, an Oxford University Climbers Club member at a relevant meeting and although unconfirmed, communication from Mr. James Stott, father of Norman Stott, undoubtedly a factor in the proceedings, one of the ‘several others’.

A Committee Meeting held at 110, Cannon Street with the President (in the Chair) and Messrs. Benson, Bradley, Coventry, Green, Marler, Marples and Poole (Mr. Balfour was also present by permission of the Committee). The meeting was closed with the 'New members' area and Norman Stott elected as member 600 under rule 14a proposed by Messrs. Longland and Sinker. The first of the membership issues confirmed of one the four involved in the accident.
To page 212, the Meeting, same venue, Friday 20th May, 1927. The President there with Messrs. Balfour, Benson, Coventry, Lowen, Marler, Marples, Pitcher and Poole. The agenda followed the actions taken of minutes of the meeting held on the 12th April 1927 followed by: 'The following 14 gentlemen were elected members of the Club, including F. W. Giveen (632 pencil marked in margin) proposed by M. S. Gotch and C. W. Marshall', contrary to Raymond Greene's account of his blackballing account in his book, ‘Moments of Being’.
Arthur M. Taylor was elected on the 13th September 1927 and recorded in the minutes of the meeting held at The Rendezvous Restaurant, Dean Street, W1, proposed by C. W. Marshall; seconded by Norman Stott.

The first meeting after the accident of the 20th November 1927, recorded in Pages 222-223, dated Tuesday 29th November 1927 again at the same venue. The President and Messrs. Balfour, Bradley, Carr, Coventry, Donkin, Lowen, Marler (?), Pitcher, Poole and Valentine-Richard present. The 'Accident in North Wales' was on the agenda and 'reference was made to the events of the 20th/21st instant when a party consisting of F. W. Giveen, W.H.T. Tayleur, N. Stott and A. Taylor had set off from Helyg Cottage to climb the Great Gully on Craig yr Ysfa and on the return journey the two-last named had lost their lives. All but one (Tayleur) were members of the Club, and Tayleur's application for membership was in the Hon. Secretary's hands.' The Hon. Secretary read papers sent from C W Marshall, Custodian of Helyg, which included an undated letter from Giveen to Marshall written a few days after the accident. Also, there were copies of the statements made on oath to the Coroner by Giveen and Tayleur and a letter dated 28th from Marshall addressed to the Hon.Secretary.

The resolution made at the lengthy meeting was to convey an expression in severe sympathy to the relatives of the dead members with them in their bereavement. The Hon. Secretary was instructed to thank Giveen for the information supplied and to express to him The Committee's opinion that what he did was right, in the circumstance.

Pages 228-230, a Committee meeting held at the Rendezvous Restaurant on Thursday 12th January 1928 with The President (in the chair) and Messrs. Carr, Coventry, Graham, Lowen, Marler, Marbles, Pitcher, Poole, and from the Oxford University Mountaineering Club, Mr. Wager, with apologies submitted for inability to attend from Mr. Donkin (Vice-President) and Messrs. Balfour and Valentine-Richards. On this occasion the matter of W. H. Tayleur's enquiries for his application for membership of the Climbers' Club was reported by the Hon. Secretary and deferred.

Regarding the accident, the President read a letter received by him from Mr. G. W. Young and Mr. J. S. Dodd. The Hon. Secretary reported that he had received letters from several other people; importantly including the President and ex-President of the Cambridge University Mountaineering Club disassociating that Club from the decision reached by the Climbers’ Club Committee at the last meeting. This first mention of any question of the decisions made following the inquest and from the University where Stott and Taylor had studied.

The Hon. Secretary reported he had written to the parents of the two men who had died and to Mr. F. W. Giveen in the terms instructed by the Committee and he had read replies received. A letter from Mr Giveen asked the Committee to hold an enquiry into the matter and the question was 'very fully discussed' with a resolution that the request be acceded to. Also, it was decided 'that the following gentlemen, viz. The President, Mr.. Winthrop Young and Mr. Roderick Williams (whom failing, Mr. Claude Elliott ) be and they are hereby constituted a Subcommittee to enquire into all the circumstances of and relating to the expedition under the leadership of Mr. Giveen on the 20th November 1927 and to report to the Committee therein'.

On Page 238, 16th March 1928 at the Meeting at the Rendezvous Restaurant, Dean Street. There present the The President (in the Chair) with Messrs. Balfour, Bowman, Coventry, Donkin, Gotch, Lowen, Marples, Pearson, Pitcher Poole and Mr. Wager again present. A question was raised regarding the climbing incident inquiry, which led the Hon. Sec. to read a letter dated 14th March 1928 from Mr. C. M Mathews, stating that the Report of the Sub Committee had been drafted, approved by all its members; sent for signatures, and be in his hands early in the following week. It was resolved that a further meeting of the Committee be held on the 23rd inst. to consider this Sub-Committees Report.

On Page 242, the meeting on the 28th March 1928 attended by the President and Messrs. Balfour, Bowman, Coventry, Donkin, Gotch, Lowen, Mailer, Marples, Pearson, Pitcher, Poole. The Hon. Secretary read to the Meeting the Sub-Committee's Report on the matter of the accident, which he had received from Mr. Mathews, signed by him and by the other three members of the Sub-Committee. After a long discussion upon the Report it was resolved:

(1) That the Hon. Sec. write to Mr. Giveen a letter embodying the following words: "The Committee having read the Report of its Sub-Committee, inform Mr. Giveen that they are prepared to accept his resignation from the Club."
(2) That the thanks of the Committee be tendered to the members of the Sub-Committee for their most efficient performance of what must have been a very distasteful task. (signed) S. Donkin Vice President 16.5.28
The final meeting to discuss the ‘Accident in North Wales’ was held on the May 16th 1928 and the Hon. Sec laid before the Committee Mr. F.W. Giveen's tender of resignation from the Club and it was resolved it be accepted with instructions to inform Mr. Taylor of this resolution.

The entrance to Great Gully:Mark Hughes
The reports and letters mentioned above are no longer available, at least not in the Archive collection of the Climbers’ Club or Gwynedd County Council offices, Caernarfon. Unswerving, initial support for the action taken by Francis Giveen soon diluted by a stream of local gossip, pressure from Cambridge University Climbers’ Club and Mr. Stott, Norman Stott’s father who not only sent a letter to the Club, but also the local Press and Francis Giveen, pleading answers. It is understood no legal action against Giveen was sought, not that any guilt was proved, although his story continues.

Mark Hughes: 2018 

Friday 12 January 2018

Karakorum Matters....

If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite   William Blake.
Two books recently published are focussing a new interest in the Karakoram Mountain Range; ‘‘The Ogre’ by Doug Scott and ‘Karakoram’ by Steve Swenson, the first by Vertebrate and the latter by The Mountaineers; (published in the USA-available in the UK via Cordee). The ‘Ogre’ has been well reviewed in the UK, but ‘Karakoram’ less so. It is a first person story of the authors 15 visits to the range, during which he amassed an outstanding record of ascents, plus the inevitable failures and epic retreats. Set against  the cultural and political background of Pakistan during the almost three decades in which these climbs took place; a period of ever increasing tension caused by the Kashmir conflict with India, and the growing threat of Islamic fundamentalism and terror. It is in explaining and detailing the history of these events, and their affect on the local peoples of the Karakoram, that I found this book to be above the common place of such expedition fare.

I cannot compete with Swenson’s fifteen journeys to the Karakoram, for I have only been there on four occasions, but like him my own experiences in these incomparable mountains, can still bring from my memory bank, days (and nights) spent amongst peaks with magic names like The Trango Towers, The Gasherbrum’s, and Masherbrum.

My own experience in the range began when leading a trek to K2 Base Camp in 1989. The recalls from this are still raw, for by the time we reached Concordia (at approx 4600m), the famous glacier basin with its almost unbelievable dramatic mountain setting, and its iconic view of K2 and the surrounding peaks, I was almost bushed out. One of our Party, had become ill, and from about a section of the trek on the Baltoro glacier beneath the Mustagh Tower, two of the Balti porters and I had to take it in turns to support him physically. Fortunately after a couple of days rest on reaching Concordia he made a good recovery. I was feeling much the same, until scoping from our camp, scanning the slopes of Broad Peak (8051m) looming almost directly above us, something caught my eye which could only be human movement. Watching this for some time I realised it was a party in distress, and they needed help, and fortunately as our Sirdar Hussein had previously been with an expedition to this mountain and knew a safe route through its ice fall, we quickly readied and set forth to climb up the flanks of the peak to render what help we were able.

Some hours later we were within shouting distance of the stricken party, initially believing them to be Spanish but as we reached them, we found they were three Mexican’s; two females who were supporting a male climber held between them. They had descended from high on the mountain, from whence their team member had developed pulmonary oedema in a high camp 1600m above our heads. The women had more or less carried their companion for most of that distance, down some dangerous and difficult terrain. A truly impressive feat!

Hussein had along with him another Hunza, and they took over supporting the sick man to give the Mexican ladies a rest. However they soon tired and Marguerite the strongest of them and I then moved in to replace the others. I found this exhausting, but as we quickly lost height, it became somewhat easier. The Hunzas took over again to get the patient through the ice fall as I went on ahead to reach our camp, and to alert our Doctor, an American Peter Stone to be ready as soon as the patient arrived. Fortunately he had all that was needed, a comprehensive medical chest and some emergency oxygen. By the next morning the sick man was sitting up on a bed of sleeping bags, in our Base tent, and quaffing the hot drinks we prepared for him.

I have often wondered why so many climbers suffer altitude problems on Broad Peak? One such was a friend Pete Thexton, a Doctor himself who also developed oedema but unfortunately in a period of bad weather, was unable to descend and who died in a high camp. It seems that because of its reputation as a technically easy peak, climbers tend to move very quickly into the so called ‘death zone’. And I found that moving up so quickly helping the Mexican’s in their need, to a height well over 5000m was totally shattering physically.

So many memories remain from my four Karakoran visits, including meeting Mark Millar near Hushe, retreating after an attempt via a new route on the flanks of Masherbrum, as he was heading back to Islamabad to catch a plane to Kathmandu, to meet up with team mates for an attempt on Makalu ll. We said our goodbyes, but sad to report a few days later, he and his party perished in a PIA plane crash in the hills above Nepal’s capital. However most of my Karakoram memories are happy ones and an instance of this is the day we organised on a green sward, under Masherbrum, the ‘Hushe Olympics’. Climbers/Trekkers versus team Balti. The tug of war event became larger and larger in participation using a 60m rope. In the end the sheer number of locals prevailed, leaving team Climber spread-eagled on the ground.

But a Nanga Parbat trip (8125m), the 9th highest mountain in the world dominates at present my thinking from those days. This, the western bastion of the Karakoram boasts the largest mountain faces in the Himalaya, its southern aspect holds four kilometres of height above base. Its four deep and previously inaccessible valleys set around the Peak meant that the villagers residing in them all spoke different languages and even today are suspicious of outsiders. My visit to the northern, Rakhiot side of the peak in 1990, when I led a trek/climb to Julipar peak on the eastern flank of this huge face bears this out. Failing to reach the summit of this mountain, due to bad weather, we crossed over by a pass of that name into the upper environs of the Diamir, descending down into the shelter of the Patro valley. 

Waiting for us as we did so were a group of rifle toting locals, they would not allow us to proceed, unless we sacked our porters from the Tato village in the Rakhiot and employed them instead at a hugely inflated rate; they were very aggressive and left us with little choice but to follow their demands. Fortunately Hussein our Sirdar could speak their language Shina, and after parleying with their Head Man, and paying off our Tato men, they allowed us to move on down, but only after a number of rupees had changed hands. I detail this experience of my own for I believe they give some insight into the future terrible events of June 2013 which occurred at a Base Camp under the Diamir Face.

Although what happened there on the night of 22nd June was widely reported, there has been little follow up and understanding of the disparate cultural and political forces at work in that area of the Karakoram. The Diamir Face, particularly the Kinshofer route has become the most popular way to access the summit of Nanga Parbat, and fortunately as the weather had been settled in that period most of the climbers, were in the High Camps. But 12 people remained in the Base that night when 16 armed militants, dressed in the uniform of the Gilgit Baltistan Scouts, arrived in the camp guided there by a local. This irregular military unit was formed by the British in the latter part of the 19th century and was based in Gilgit, hence its original name, Gilgit Scouts. On Independence it was merged with The Pakistan Army, but later it included Baltistan into its title, and it was charged with policing and keeping the peace in this highly volatile district.

The militants forced the inhabitants of the Base Camp out of their tents, made them hand over their money, valuables and mobile phones. All of which they then smashed to pieces, and they then tied their hands behind their backs, made them kneel and shot each one in turn. One Chinese climber, Zhang Chuan from Yunnan managed to escape. He ran blindly into the night, zig zagging as he did so followed by a hail of bullets one of which cut his scalp and the bleeding from this was nearly blinding him; fortunately near the camp was a ravine and he dived into this to reach safety. But the remaining ten climbers and a local camp worker all died. Three were from the Ukraine, one from China, two from Slovakia, two from Lithuania, and two from Nepal. One Base worker was allowed to survive by the killers, for he persuaded them he was a ‘good Muslim’. In the early hours of the morning the militants left the camp, and gingerly the Chinese climber returned to his tent where he had hidden a mobile phone. Climbing up towards Camp One, he managed to make contact with those in residence there and let them know what had happened. They summoned help and later that day the Pakistan military arrived in helicopters. The climbers in the high camps then all retreated and assembled at the Base. Initially the idea was to walk out, but worried that the militants would still be in the area they refused, and eventually they were flown to safety.

Subsequently the Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for this attack, but unlike the climbers who reported they believed this had been carried out to avenge the death of Bin Laden; they stated it had been in retaliation for a USA drone strike, which had killed a local Taliban leader, Waliur Rehman. The whole area around Nanga Parbat is fraught with tribal loyalties and long standing disputes, but this attack on the climbers was seen by the Pakistan authorities as truly serious, and almost the very next day it was the subject of debate in the countries legislature. An enquiry was set up and an Army Colonel, Captain and Police officer were despatched to investigate.  But they too met a bloody end, gunned down in a hail of bullets in their car at Chilas, a nearby town on the Karakoram Highway, again being the victims of the Taliban; however they had managed to establish that the militants were mainly local before their demise.

Soon after this the authorities arrested 16 men who were claimed to be the attackers, 10 were from the Diamir region, 3 Mansehera and 3 from Kohistan.  This latter is surprising to me, unless they were members of the Gilgit Baltistan Scouts and that is how they knew each other. Kohistan is quite some distance from Nanga Parbat, away in Swat. Steve Swenson has a short Chapter about this ‘Attack’ in his Karakoram book, but even today almost five years on from this event there are serious questions about what really happened that night. How about the fate of the local guide who led the militants to the Base Camp?

Over recent decades thousands of trekkers and climbers have visited the Karakoram Mountains, and there had never, until the killings on Nanga Parbat been any such attacks on them. This had a major effect on the economy of the region for many of the locals had come to rely on these visitors for their financial well being.  It meant hardship for many families in towns like Hushe as fewer and fewer visitors continued arriving, but as at 2017 recovery is under away, and once again many climbers and trekkers are heading for the Karakoram. Even parties were on the south side of Nanga Parbat last year, bolstered by the presence of a new, local Mountain police unit of the Gilgit Baltistan Scouts whose members now accompany each expedition.

The culture, make up and politics of Pakistan are ever more complicated and Steve Swenson does inform on these from a mountaineers viewpoint, and how it affects climbers in their planning to visit the Karakoram, but he also has feeling and friendship for such locals as his long standing cook Ghulam Rasool from Hushe, who he has materially helped over the years. Few climbers of my experience understand how the territorial and tribal conflicts in the region affect the locals besides the international visitors. The whole region was restive at the time of the British, and though popular images of this era in film and literature seem to concentrate on the North West Frontier, the Khyber Pass and the Pathans, equally such areas as Swat/Kohistan, Gilgit Agency and the Indus valley were difficult areas to govern. 

K2-Image Dennis Gray
In recent times the Taliban have fought the Pakistan army in the Swat Valley, parts of the Karakoram Highway have been too dangerous to travel, and the Shi’a/Sunni divide has led to many terrorist outbreaks. Hunza is a stronghold of the Ismaili (Shi’a), and south of Gilgit around Chilas are to be found Pashtun Sunni militants, and so one needs to be aware whilst travelling in these areas. Nonetheless the Karakoram remain a most magnificent range of mountains, it is almost as if the forces of nature have conspired to construct Peaks that are of a design to challenge the climber, some of which such as the Latok’s, the Gasherbrum’s and K2 are almost without equal. Steve Swenson does justice to these in his ‘Karakoram’ volume and for anyone interested in visiting these mountains I recommend getting hold of a copy.   

Dennis Gray: 2018


Friday 5 January 2018

Run Fast..Run Free!

Image: Cicerone
I SHALL be pilloried for this piece, I know it, but I have set it down; come out into the open about what it is in the hills that really fascinates me. This piece is all about travelling fast over whatever terrain you choose; up rocks, scrambles, ridges, over moorland and mountain, or even through caves. I have noticed that whenever a person mentions speeding or racing through the hills or caves they are set upon by the self appointed 'real' purists of the hills. One loses, they say, the whole raison d' etre for being there; to be able to stop, tarry a while, and soak up the aesthetics of the situation. I remember one poor soul misguided enough to claim that he had travelled very quickly from one end of a particular cave system, to the other was this a record? Well he never found out about the record, but was torn limb from limb in print for destroying the essence of caving — how can one 'be' in a strange and wonderful environment if one races through it?

I for one, and I suspect I am by no means alone, disagree with the protestor's argument. The aesthetic in wild country is not just about being there and looking at it, but it's also about the interaction of the person with that environment as he or she travels through it. That interaction is based mostly on the intrinsic satisfaction of experiencing an ever open skill in an ever changing challenge. Surely the satisfaction of some peak or other is not to be found in 'one is there' but in 'one got there'? How one got there, the nature of the challenge, is a choice that the individual makes — one that is supposed to be a key element of all wild country challenges — that the individual carefully assesses what level and type of challenge to undertake and satisfaction is gained by the meeting of that challenge.

There need be no reference to others, or rather one's rank in relation to others. The challenge for one person is as meaningful, as difficult and as close to the limit as any other person's challenge. The nature of that challenge in wild country is normally a combination of the mental and the physical. It is the latter that offers most scope for manipulation. One can choose a sustained strenuous route, one with a desperate bouldering move or a route of technical finesse. A day in the hills can be long, remote but with little technical difficulty or it can be short, sharp and requiring great technique. Why not, then, have fast days or trips — the speed at which one moves through this wilderness challenge is of great consequence in the level of difficulty of that challenge: it usually makes the challenge more difficult but not always so.

I have found, and I'm sure many others have also, that the challenge that suits me is not one of the maximum technical difficulty (a relative concept) but of travelling at speed through a hostile environment of lesser technical difficulty. There is great pleasure to be obtained from 'flowing quickly' through difficult terrain; there is great beauty in travelling fast along Crib Goch, the Skye Ridge or the West Ridge of the Salbit. One must plan the route ahead while travelling at speed over concentration demanding terrain, develop the ability to scramble blind over rock while searching out the footholds three or four moves ahead. In caves the art is all about working out rapidly and in advance the best way of tackling any obstacle or passage shape ahead; lots of different approaches will work of course but there is only one perfect solution and that is the one that guarantees speed, for there has to be great efficiency of movement if speed is to be maintaned. 

There must also be a much more applied and searching attitude to the route as a whole; where to go fast, where to take it easy before a strenuous section, for it is the overall speed that counts as well as any short burst. Now the detractors will say, OK, but look at what you are missing —the stopping and absorbing the great views, the ability to look around while ambling along. That may be true up to a point, but there are other ways of appreciating the environmental display- the great concentration required when moving fast means that all around is absorbed with great depth — the shape ahead takes on other meanings for it is the obstacle to be traversed efficiently and the route itself is a thing of great beauty if it is  a 'good' one. 

On rough moorland, where to walk slowly is such a drag that the situation is demoted from one's immediate thoughts, the art of travelling fast includes the intense scanning of the area ahead for shorter heather, burnt off patches,sheep tracklets or patches of easier going.A close assessment of the area ahead. It is also apparent toanyone who has tried it that moving fast over nasty rough ground is actually a lot easier and more efficient, than plodding slowly through it,and its over more quickly as well!

Cornwall's Commando Ridge.
One doesn’t have to be a fell runner or speed climbing competitor to get enjoyment from moving fast. You don’t even have to be fit,though undoubtably you will be in time. One needs to be able to jog over hilly country,develop some agility,have a keen eye for route choice and navigation and think carefully about equipment. There is little more pleasurable experience on rock than to solo long easy routes without stopping. To flow from hold to hold up Troutdale Pinnacle or Commando Ridge. To arrive at the top of the Gervasutti Pillar one and a half hours after leaving the glacier, unencumbered by a heavy sac, is pleasurable, satisfying and an eminently suitable way to tackle such a climb.

In the Peak District the route of Tanky's Trog, probably the best moorland race of all, is an absolute delight in its challenging simplicity; get from Marsden to Edale as fast as possible passing by Torside and the Snake Inn — a great, almost straight, point to point route with a multiplicity of major and minor navigational and route choice variations. Every second a fresh micro problem is presented.Whether the heather or the peat is fastest, whether the wet winding grough or the up and down of the straightline peat hag route is better. At the same time major decisions are calculated; does one take the route over Black Hill or contour it to the west, and all the time every stride must be smooth, efficient and flowing. 

Great complicated bumpy areas make ideal go faster challenges- try the ridge between Ennerdale and Wasdale, either going over the lumps such as Pillar and Kirk Fell, or traversing them. The best (i.e. fastest) route is tremendously complex and rarely obvious. Routes through the Howgills from east to west, (or vice versa), or on a smaller scale the lumpy rocky areas of the Lakes like that around Watendlath provide superb moving fast challenges through enticing bumpy country with constant decision making.

In caves many of the great sporting trips lend themselves to moving fast and fluently. Simpson's Pot, an arduous eight hour journey of the past can now be done by an agile pair with fluent pitch rigging in half an hour, and to do it like that is a superb experience of technical movement. Similarly the world's finest cave, the Gouffre Berger, scene of dreadful ten day epics of the last generation is now 'flashed' (as the hot shots would call it) in under ten hours; an unimaginable experience to concentrate into a day,but surely the best way to experience such a cave.

Pete Livesey: First published as 'Moving Fast' in Climber and Hillwalker. January 1989.