Peaks & Passes International Climbing Guide - Mountaineering Instruction

Creag Dhu Archive

Creag Dhu Mountaineering Club Himalayan Expedition 1953

Party:- H. MacInnes and John Cunningham.

Early in March before (Everest was climbed) Hamish and I started on a plan to attempt Mount Everest in the post monsoon period. This is the time which we had reason to believe would afford us the best climbing conditions.

In the event of Everest being climbed by the British party (who were already on route for India) our second choice was to be a peak called Pumori 23129ft in height and situated behind Everest's Base Camp.

Hamish joined me in Christchurch N. Z. and we made arrangements to sail for Australia on the 24th of June and form there to India on the 3rd of July.

Next we had to work out our food supply and first aid kit, and after about a week of serious thought we arrived at the following lists.


The rest of our food was to consist solely of native foods.

All the rest of the equipment used was to be our own weekend gear with the exception of a small Yak tent which was gifted to the expedition by an ex Lomand mountaineer Mr. P O'donnel.

Time passed very quickly and the arrival of the 24th of June saw the departure of the C.D.M.C. expedition on the S S Monowai from Aukland bound for Australia.

On arrival at Sydney we immediately set up base camp at Hamish's uncle's place on the outskirts of the city. The next few days were taken up amid the whirl of the Sydney night life, and on the 3rd of July we boarded the S. S. Stratheden enroute for India and the real part of the expedition.

After 3 weeks of luxurious feeding and relaxation the ship docked at Bombay and two very reluctant mountaineers walked down the gangway into the hub of the Bombay dockside. We were met by the Himalayan Club representative, Mr. Cyden, who was quite amazed at the amount of equipment we had with us, and after the usual introductions and handshakes he quickly hustled us through the customs with shouts and threats, which seemed to me just the right way to do it.

At 8.30 that night we set off the city of Patna on board the "Calcutta mail" and after a very tedious journey across the Indian plains, we arrived at the city, which is situated at the side if the river Ganges. At this point we had the choice of two routes; to Namche Bazaar via Kathmandu or via Jaynayar and Okaldhunga, but after making careful enquires we found that the route via Jaynayar was closed due to heavy floods, so we headed for Kathamndu.

The trip up the Ganges was very nice and we passed a pleasant hour and a half watching the funeral pyres blazing merrily on the river. We disembarked at a place called Sonpur Ghat and boarded another train for the village of Ruxaul on the Nepalese border. On arrival at Ruxaul the rain was steadily pouring down reminding us of a certain area at the top of Loch Long so with no other means of transport other than "Shanks Pony", we shouldered our 160lb loads and walked 5 miles into Nepal into the town of Bergunje.

We stayed the night in a rat infested hotel, during the night we had an attack of rats and an attempted burglary and after chasing the rats out and shouting the usual Creagh Curse at the would be burglar, we settled in for the night.

Next morning we boarded one of Nepals few trains and bought tickets for the village of Amlekganj and from there we went by ramshackle bus to the village Bhimphedi. Our route now lay over the mountains for about 20 miles to Kathmandu.

At Bhimphedi we hired a coolie to give us a hand with some of our gear, it was now past mid day and we wanted to press on as far as we could before darkness descended.

All that afternoon we toiled up the mountainside until at last we reached the summit, and to our surprise, right on top was an army post with an armed sentry out to great us. He started to babble something about permits. I was sure he really meant our inoculation certificates and I personally assured him that we had three each before leaving the ship, we then pressed on past him refusing to listen to any more nonsense about inoculations, and about 5 miles further on we camped for the night.

In the morning we awoke to the babble of voices and when we looked out we found we had pitched our tent in the middle of the path thus causing a bit of a traffic jam. We marched on all day until we eventually reached the village of Tan Kot which is 9 miles from Kathmandu, we paid off our coolie and boarded the mail van which took us into the centre of the city.

We were then at a complete loss as we didn't know where we could spend the night but Hamish solved the problem by nipping off and hiring a taxi, just as we were moving off the taxi ran out of petrol making necessary for Hamish to scout around for anther. Meanwhile we were blocking Kathmandu's main road and, by the time Hamish returned, the road was simply blocked with people. We quickly transferred our gear into our new taxi and ordered him to take us to the nearest hotel, which turned out to be the only hotel in Kathmandu.

After a few lemonades we booked in for the night and spent our first comfortable night since leaving the ship.

Next morning we hired a Sherpa porter to guide us to Namche Bazaar and a taxi to tale us to the village of Bidguon we set about trying to hire two coolies to carry our gear but, as they wanted more than 3 rupees per day , we refused to pay and shouldered our loads and pressed on to the village of Binepe where we spent the night.

We spent a very comfortable night in one of the Nepalese houses, time and time again our sleep was disturbed by attacking bugs. At the first shaft of daylight, we were up and out of the house. Nima, our Sherpa, had meanwhile hired a couple of sturdy looking porters to carry some of our equipment, and we set out quite happily with more than 40lbs on our backs.

Our destination was the village of Hukse which was about 14 miles distant but it wasn't until 12 hours later we staggered into the village parched with thirst and gurgled down about ½ a gallon of water each. Then to our horror we discovered that there was an outbreak of cholera in the area, but luckily we felt no ill effects whatsoever.

The route took us over some very rough country and some of the passes we climbed were over 15000ft. The most strenuous part of our trek in was when we decided to take a short cut over an area called the Phud Khund, and in one day we went for fourteen hours covering 16 miles and 3 16000ft passes and twelve days after leaving Kathmandu we marched into Namche Bazaar. At Namche Bazaar we were met by the frontier police who insisted that we have dinner with them, and that night we set a Nepalese roti eating record, of course to gain this record I had to leave the police post with half a dozen in my pocket.

Next morning we sacked our Sherpa porter and with our two coolies we set off for the Buddist monastery of Thyang Boche which was 5 miles distant and at a height of 12000ft. This journey took us about 3 hours and I was now beginning to feel the effects of the long march over the mountains.

We decided to stay a few days at the monastery and recuperate. During our stay there we were frequently invited into the Lamas quarters for boiled potatoes and butter tea, the potatoes were excellent but I am afraid we found the butter rather sickly. It was from Thyang Boche we had our first view of Mt Everest its topmost point peeping over the shoulder of one of the lesser peaks. After we were thoroughly rested we hired 3 coolies to carry all of our gear and set off for the village of Palongkharpo which is situated about 10 miles from Mt Everest.

After a leisurely stroll we reached the village shortly after mid day. We were now at an altitude of 14000ft and planned to stay here for a few days to acclimatise. We selected one of the cleaner Nepalese houses and pitched our tent inside. Next day while Hamish was photographing the surrounding peaks I decided to go up to the Everest Base camp and have a look around. I hired a local coolie and with packs weighing 60lbs we set off. The coolie set up a very fast pace and soon we were walking up the most delightful valley I have ever been in. The whole area was carpeted in Alpine Flora of many different shades.

By about 12.30pm we reached the edge of the Solu Khumbu glacier moraine. The mountains around us were covered in monsoon clouds and it wasn't until two days later I was able to get a decent view of the peaks surrounding Base camp. After about an hour and a half of scrambling up and down small valley of scree we reached Base camp it was quite a dismal location with a small greyish looking lake at one end.

We quickly disposed of our loads and after a brief rest we set off at a trot to the village. The gradually gave way to a race. I had the advantage over my companion when it came to scree runs as he was running them in his bare feet.

It was after dark when we got to the village where Hamish awaited with a huge feed of fried liver, potatoes and roast pigeon.

Next day we had a marvellous view of the surrounding peaks which included Tawache, Pingero, Ama Dablam and a few unnamed ones. After breakfast we packed up all our remaining gear with extras which included a small sack of rice, 1½ct of potatoes and a large sheep and with the help of two coolies we set off for Base camp. The camp is situated at approximately 18500ft and after four and a half hours of toiling over rough country we reached our destination.

We paid off our coolies and set off making camp under a large overhanging rock, and after arranging an intricate trelliswork of ropes and pitons to hold our plastic fly sheet we settled in for the night. Next morning we awoke with the sun beating down on our camp and on looking out of the tent we had our first complete view of the massif of Mount Everest and surrounding peaks.

We decided to stay around base camp for about a week to acclimatise, at the end of the week we were feeling pretty fit and with our pulse beats back to normal, (Hamish's 56, myself 62) we decided to pack up and go to camp one on Mount Everest.

At this point, although Mount Everest had been climbed we were still undecided as to whether we should attempt it or not. We had far too much equipment to be able to transport it in one journey, we made up four loads of about 130lbs each and set off for camp 1. After 2 hours of marching over seracs and edging our way round ice pinnacles we realised that we were hopelessly lost, so we decided to leave our loads beneath one of the largest pinnacles and return to base camp for the remainder of our equipment, and to our surprise, it only took us about one hour to get back. We seemed to have travelled in a semicircle on our first journey.

By this time it was starting to get dark, so, with all possible haste, we set off for the large ice pinnacle, and it was after dark when we set up camp. As we settled in for the night the usual snow storm started, and the rest of the night we listened to the snow battering down on our small Yak Tent.

The next morning was perfect and while I was pattering around one of the ice pinnacles Hamish went off in search of camp 1. After 3 hours he returned with the news that he had found a splendid little valley directly below Pumori, and, if I was in agreement, we could go there and make an attempt on the mountain.

I readily agreed so we packed up and started relaying our equipment to our new camp and 6 hours later, we were settled down under a large overhanging rock near Eric Shipton's old Reconnaissance Camp. We were then at an altitude of 19,000ft.

We decided to stay here a while and make a survey of Pumori. There were a number of ridges on the peak which looked possible. In fact they looked simple to my inexperienced eye. Up at this altitude I was having difficulty in calculating heights and distances.

The next week was taken up with photography and examining the faces and ridges of Pumori.

We eventually chose a rock ridge which we named Central ridge it was situated approximately in the centre of Pumori's main face, as far as we could see the rock ridge led up to a point about 22,000ft in height. Our route would then follow a couloir to the summit ridge and from there follow a ridge to the summit.

We had decided that we would need two more camps for our attempt. One on the rock ridge at a point about 20,000ft and another on the summit ridge. This was to be a snow cave as we had only one tent. The next few days were taken up arranging our food supply for the attempt on the peak. Our food list was as follows:

We set off with light loads up the valley in the direction of Central Ridge our purpose was to find a small secure ledge on which to make camp one.

On reaching the bottom of the ridge, the situation looked very rosy indeed. The ridge that swept above us looked very easy indeed. We pressed on directly up the ridge with little difficulty and found a platform which would accommodate our tent.

After dumping our loads, we wandered around our camp site taking a few photographs and trying to catch glimpses of the rest of the rock ridge through the monsoon clouds. From this point we had a splendid view of the easy gradient of the Western Cwm of Mt Everest. A snow storm started and we made a hasty retreat to our lower camp and by the time we arrived there, the snow was driving horizontally through our little valley.

Next morning was perfect and we set off with the remainder of our equipment our packs this time weighed about 1cwt each, and we made our way slowly up the valley to the bottom of the rock ridge where we lay and sunned ourselves for a couple of hours. We had to wear our snow goggles constantly due to the tremendous glare coming from the light coloured rocks.

We then plodded on up the ridge which even at its most difficult points barely reached the standard of very difficult. By the time we reached our rocky shelf, the usual afternoon snow storm was in progress, so with numbed fingers we set about pitching our tent and an hour later we thankfully crawled into our sleeping bags.

Later that night we found that our high altitude stove wouldn't vaporise, and after a poorly cooked meal we settled in for the night. All that night and all the next day the storm raged. We lay in our tent listening to the avalanches thundering down both sides of the ridge. On the following day the storm broke and we emerged from the tent covered in soot from our high altitude stove. We decided to spend the day drying off our gear and if the weather held, make an attempt the next day.

Next morning proved to be pretty reasonable and, despite the dark clouds, rolling up from India, we decided to make an attempt to reach the summit ridge where we intended to snow cave.

With packs weighing about 35lbs, we set off up the ridge. After going for about 500ft, we found that, due to the difficulty, we were being forced to the right into a broad and dangerous gully. We followed the left hand edge of the gully for a few hundred feet to a point where everything steepened considerably. Here we had the choice of traversing back on to the rather forbidding looking ridge we had just left or making a very dangerous traverse across the snow gully to an easier rock ridge.

We chose the latter and I hastened across the snow slope which was in danger of avalanching and I kicked out a platform 150ft across. Hamish followed and led past me and quickly secured himself on the ridge where I joined him a few minutes later. We followed the rock ridge to the couloirs previously mentioned.

Up to now, we had been so interested in the climb we hadn't noticed that the clouds sweeping up from India were almost on us, and within a few minutes, it had started to snow.

On reaching the couloirs which was in reality a small hanging glacier which led to the summit, we stopped for lunch at the bottom of a rather dangerous looking rock buttress. By now it was snowing quite hard and getting bitterly cold, so zipping up our anoraks and adjusting our caps we set off up the right hand side of the hanging glacier. Visibility was now down to about 20ft and we were getting rather worried due to the increasing number of avalanches thundering down all around us.

We were now waist deep in soft powder snow and it was very heavy going, and after ploughing upwards for about 500ft, at this point the conditions were so bad that we decided to retreat and make another attempt on the following day.

We hastened back to our camp following almost the same route as we had ascended. The only difference in our route down was when we came to the gully mentioned earlier we did a roped glissade down the centre until we reached the same level as our camp.

Later that night we had a delicious feed of mutton soup, fried potatoes and, of course, homemade bread and tea. All that night the storm raged and we were constantly awakened by noises of huge rocks crashing down the ridge.

When morning came we found that there was too much fresh snow to make another attempt and, as our food supply was getting rather low, we decided to go back to our base camp to recuperate and make up a new plan of action.

On arrival at our lower camp, we pitched our tent and finished off the remainder of our mutton and settled in for the night. Next morning Pumori looked terrific with it's new coating of snow glistening in the morning. Hamish and I decided to give up our attempt on Pumori and go further down the valley to the village of Palongkarpo, and from there we would attempt the 20,000ft rock peak called Pinjuro. We packed up the remainder of our gear and at about 2pm we started off for Palongkarpo which was 15 miles distant, we were reasonably refreshed after our night's sleep at a lower altitude and an hour and a half later we marched into Everest's base camp. Here we collected our rigle, shaving gear and a few other oddments and started back over the moraine in the direction of Palongkarpo. After toiling up and down for about 3 hours we realised that we were completely lost, and just as we were about to bed down for the night, the clouds suddenly parted, giving us a view of the 21,000ft Tawoche, which is situated quite near our destination. We set off with renewed vigour and soon reached the pleasant little valley which led down to the Chola Chola river and once there all we had to do was follow the river to the village. By this time it was almost total darkness and Hamish and I stumbled on our way cursing every little rock we encountered, until at last we decided to camp where we were until morning.

Next morning we awoke with the sun streaming into our battered tent. On looking out we found to our surprise that we were camped directly under Tawoche which was a mile from our destination. Looking further to the left we saw Pinjuro. We had a good hour in which to study it before the monsoon clouds moved in.

We then packed up and an hour later we arrived at Pinjaro. We pitched our tent near a small stream and started to build up our supplies which were mainly potatoes, rice and flour. Next day was a rest day and we just lazed around the camp studying the approaches to Pinjaro. There were 3 possible routes, the first being the left hand ridge which was very steep and reminding one of Crowberry Ridge on the Buachaille Etive Mhor in the Glencoe area. The second was a gully which ran diagonally up the main face of the peak. This gully looked rather forbidding. It seemed to be pretty slimy. The third was the right hand ridge which looked pretty easy except for the last thousand feet which steepened considerably. We chose the latter and we were quite confident we would manage it if we could only get some decent weather.

The next was pretty wet and we just lay in our sleeping bags eating potatoe fritters fried in delicious rancid Yak butter.

On the following morning I looked out of the tent only to see the dark clouds swirling round Pinjaro. So i just turned over and went back to sleep. At about 8am I was awakened with the sun beating down on us, so quickly getting the tea on, I roused the slumber king. For breakfast we had fried potatoes and pancakes.

At about 10am we set off. Our mountain food consisted of 2 small turnips, 4 bars of chocolate and 1 small tin of meat paste. After a two mile walk over rough country, we reached the ridge we were going to attempt. We followed the side of the ridge for about 1,500ft. At this point we had a rest and greedily devoured our turnips. We were now forced onto the ridge as everything around us was steepening. It was now past mid day and to save time we decided not to rope up until the ridge started to get difficult. We climbed up over moderately easy rocks for about another 1,500ft until we came to a large easy angled slab with huge boulders balanced on it. Hamish was climbing about 5ft above me, when suddenly I heard the sound of a rock being dislodged and when I looked to my right, Hamish was in the act of taking the quick way down to the screes below. I grabbed him anorack as he slipped past and stopped his fall.

We then decided to rope up as the situation was getting rather dangerous due to loose rocks. We climbed up walls, gullies and slabs for the next 2,000ft with difficulties ranging from easy to about severe. It had started to snow and was getting rather cold. We were now below the main obstacle of the climb. It was a steep wall broken here and there by cracks and chimneys. We chose a steep looking chimney which was by this time plastered with fresh snow. Without wasting much time I took the lead and started up, the chimney was much easier than it looked and in about 10 minutes I was sitting rather relieved on the top of a huge chock stone 120ft up. Hamish soon joined me and after another run out the angle eased considerably so we began to climb together only stopping now and again to safeguard a move over a steep section, then moving on quickly again. It was now almost 5pm and as we had only about 1½ hours of daylight left we pressed on with all possible speed, and at 5.15pm we reached the summit. There was a small gale blowing by now and we were both soaked to the skin. We waited on the summit on the summit until 5.30pm and after a few snaps, we started back down. We made very good progress down the steep section by doubling the rope over projections and sliding down. On the way up we had noticed a large gully filled with scree and only a few small pitches and once we were level with the top of it we traversed across and descended into it.

We were now only halfway down and it was quite dark. After a while the snow had stopped and with the sky a bit clearer we now had a bit of light to go by, and at 8pm we reached the bottom of the ridge we had ascended by.

The next 2 hours were taken stumbling across huge piles of moraine and back to our camp where we had a huge feed of fried potatoes before turning on for the night. Next day was perfect so we packed up and left for the monastery of Thyangboche where we were going to spend a few days before deciding what peak we were going to attempt next. After a very pleasant stroll we arrived at the monastery and quickly made our way to the old quarters in the slum area, where we stayed for four days, during which we inspected every inch of the Gompam, we had decided to attempt one of the unnamed 21,000 footers in the area below Namche Bazaar.

We then headed for Namche Bazaar, where we stayed a few days as guests at the police post there. It was there that we proved our record eating roti tittles weren't gained by flukes. During our stay there the policemen held a sports meeting and of course we were invited to compete. We were by this time very fit and defeated them in everything from the long jump to putting the stone. Hamish had been telling them that I had done a bit of wrestling in my time and in no time at all I was surrounded and an opponent picked to wrestle me. I tried to back out explaining that I didn't want to hurt the chap but this made them all the keener and my 4'0" opponent could hardly restrain himself from attacking me. There was no way out but to wrestle him so I waited until he rushed me and then I sidestepped and caught him in a standing three quarter nelson and smashed him to the ground and quickly pinned him. He didn't seemed to relish the idea of another bout so he left the sports ground refusing to speak to anyone.

After four days of resting around Namche, we packed up and headed down to the village of Monjo and stayed under a huge boulder for a couple of days, while we surveyed the surrounding peaks, and as none of them appealed to us, we went further down the valley to the village of Ghat, where we scouted around for a suitable peak to attempt.

The peak we chose stood at the top of a very narrow valley. It was 21,000ft in height and unnamed and according to our map the area was unexplored.

At Ghat we purchased enough food to last us about a week and set off up the valley. The valley was thick with scrub and bamboo and, after going for ¼ of a mile, we were forced down to the bed of the river which flows down the centre of the valley. We followed the river bed for the rest of the day and in many ways, it resembled the notorious Clachaig gully in the Glencoe area in Scotland. Climbing up this river bed was very slow work and some of the pitches we climbed approached the standard of very severe. Time and again we were forced back into the jungle to avoid some very smooth sections of rock. We climbed on until darkness descended and stayed the night under a huge overhanging rock.

Next day was perfect and we pressed on upwards. By now the river bed was easier and we were making good progress until we reached a point where the valley split into two. We decided to follow the right hand branch. Our pace was now very slow and it was taking us four hours to cover a mile. This was due to the scrub and bamboo which was very thick. All the rest of the day we forced our way upwards through the jungle and about 8 hours later, we reached the ridge above the valley, and, stretching as far as the eye could see, was dense jungle which would take at least 3 days to force a way through. We slept the night here and in the morning we decided to head back down the valley to Ghat. We realised that if we didn't go back now we probably wouldn't have enough food to make it later on.

We made our way back to the huge overhanging rock where we spent our first night and, after building a huge fire, we settled down for the night. Next morning we forced our way back to Ghat and spent the night under another overhanging rock. On awakening the next morning the usual group of puzzled natives stood watching our preparations to make breakfast, but I hastened them on their way with a few Creagh Dhu curses plus jildy jow. Anyway my motions were plain enough and they scattered like pigeons.

We decided to go back out to India as our funds were starting to get low. After dumping all excess climbing gear, we started off down Dhud Khosi river to the village of Jubing, where to our horror we discovered that during the previous heavy rain both the bridges over the river had been washed away. We were at a complete loss as to what to do until one of the natives to us that there was a rope arrangement which could be fixed up to get us across, but it would be very expensive and would cost 3 rupees each. It was highway robbery but, as we had no other alternative, we grudgingly accepted.

Our route took us over some 12,000ft passes and through some very rugged country, which included a very interesting crossing of the Sun Khosi river by dug out canoe.

Eleven days after leaving Ghat we marched into the rail head town of Jaynagar, where we were entertained to a free movie show at the expense of the Idian C. I. D.

From there we travelled to Bombay and after a fortnight's delay, we boarded the S. S. Strathnaver for Australia, and form there back to Christchurch, New Zealand.