Mountaineering in Kashmir

I keep blogging about my love for mountains. Folks that follow this blog may have figured out that I am an avid reader of mountaineering books. This post is about little known facts about mountain expeditions in Kashmir, highest peaks and first ascents.

The first time that a man climbed a mountain peak was probably the ascent of Mount Haemus by Philip of Macedon (238 BC – 179 BC). He is more famous as the father of Alexander the Great. Eleven centuries later, the Italian poet Petrarch climbed Mont Ventoux in France in 1336. It was the first recorded mountain ascent in history.

Another five centuries would elapse before Dr. Michael-Gabriel Paccard, and Jacques Balmat claimed the first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786. The duo pioneered the modern sport of mountaineering which culminated in Tenzing and Hillary achieving the ultimate prize – the pinnacle of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, in 1953.

Throughout the 19th century, the British Raj conducted the Great Trigonometric Survey primarily to demarcate British territories in India. Another mandate of the survey was to accurately measure the heights of Himalayan peaks.

George Montgomerie of the Royal Engineers conducted the Kashmir series of the Great Trigonometric Survey between 1855 and 1864. In 1856, from the 16,872-foot Station Peak of Harmukh, Montgomerie observed "two fine peaks standing very high above the general range" and recorded them as "K1" and "K2" for Karakoram 1 and Karakoram 2.

K1 was named "Masherbrum" after its local name as per convention but K2 remained unnamed. K2 (/8,611m/28,500ft) was confirmed by the survey as the second highest peak in the world and the highest in undivided Kashmir.

K2

K2

In the pre-war years most expeditions to Nanga Parbat and to K2 and the other giants of the Karakoram would start from Kashmir. In 1909, an Italian expedition under the leadership of Luigi Amadeo Giuseppe (Duke of Abruzzi), the grandson of King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, reached Kashmir to mount an expedition to K2. Vittorio Sella, a photographer with the expedition took a series of mountain photographs that are regarded as some of the finest ever made.

Sella

Vittorio Sella's famous book of Himalayan Photographs

In the pre-war years, Kashmir was the staging point for expeditions, especially by German teams, to Nanga Parbat, the world's ninth highest peak (8,126 meters /26,660 ft), In 1938 a German expedition led by Paul Bauer was innovatively supplied by air by a Junkers Ju 52 stationed in Srinagar. Major Kenneth Hadow of Hadow Mills and Tyndale-Biscoe School fame also accompanied the expedition.

Junkers

The Junkers Ju 52 was a familiar sight in war movies, most memorably the opening scene of "Where Eagles Dare"

Ju

This remarkable photograph shows a Junkers Ju 52 at Srinagar airfield in 1938.The swastika on the tail has been removed in this photograph but can be seen clearly here.

At the outbreak of war in 1939, Heinrich Harrer was in Kashmir as a member of a German expedition planning an attempt on the still unclimbed Nanga Parbat. He was arrested and imprisoned by the British in a concentration camp in Dehradun but managed to escape to Tibet. Harrer recorded the adventure in his classic book, Seven Years in Tibet.

After partition and various wars, the highest point remaining within Kashmir is the Nun Kun massif (Nun 7,135 m /23,409 ft) in the Zanskar Range. An Italian mountaineer, Count Mario Piacenza, made the first ascent of Kun in 1913. The first ascent of Nun was achieved in 1953 by a French-Swiss-Indian-Sherpa team led by Bernard Pierre and Pierre Vittoz. My friend Dr Shoab Omer, a brilliant doctor and a gifted athlete, accompanied overseas teams to the Nun Kun massif and Saser Kangri in the 1980s.

Nun

Nun Kun from the air (late 1980s)

The famous medical missionary Neve brothers explored the Nun Kun massif several times in the early years of the 20th century.

The

The Neve brothers were intrepid explorers and claimed the first ascents of most of the peaks around the Kashmir Valley including Harmukh, Kolahoi, Trathkuti (Tatticooti), Sunset Peak, Rajdain, Sachkach among others.

Harmukh

Harmukh & Gangabal (late 1980s)

Tatticooti

Trath Kuti (Tatticooti)

First Ascents of Peaks in Kashmir:

Himalayas

Harmukh (Western peak) – Arthur Neve & Ernest Neve – 1887

Harmukh (Eastern peak, 18900 ft) – Ernest Neve & Geoffrey Millais – 1899

Kolahoi (17799 ft) – Ernest Neve & Kenneth Mason – 1912

Nun (23,409 ft) – Bernard Pierre and Pierre Vittoz – 1953

Kun (23,218 ft) – Mario Piacenza – 1913

Nanga Parbat (26,660 ft)- Hermann Buhl – 1953

K2 (28,500ft)- Lino Lacedelli & Achille Compagnoni – 1954

Pir Panjal

Tatticooti (15560 ft) – Ernest Neve & C. E. Barton – 1901

Update: On 19th May 2013, Rafiq Malik became the first Kashmiri to summit Mount Everest, after becoming the first to climb an 8000er in 2011. <Mount Manaslu (8163m) the eighth highest peak of the fourteen 8000m peaks in the world>

Update:The 7.9 magnitude earthquake that devastated Nepal in April 2015 claimed 18 lives at the Everest base camp, making the event the deadliest disaster in Everest's history.

Among the victims was 49-year old Renu Fotedar of the Dreamers Destination team who would have become the first Kashmiri-born woman to climb Mount Everest.

R.I.P Ms Fotedar. We salute your bravery.