Aerial view of the Kolahoi Glacier snipped from Google Maps
43,000 words typed and I am left with just six hours more to do. It began as a dutiful task by a son in honour of his father but as it has progressed I have become enamoured with the story. Two young RAF men in the middle of a war, finding themselves on leave in the Western Himalayas and having the time of their lives - creating special memories that they would bring back to England, memories that would help to sustain them in the years ahead.
At one point my father mentions donning his balaclava. I remember that balaclava. It was a dusty pink colour and had a bobble on the top. I found it in a drawer in the early 1960's and I asked my father about it. He said he had worn it in The Himalayas - some faraway mountains in India and he mentioned a walk across a glacier though I had no real conception of what a glacier might be.
Arnold and Dad took seven hours to reach the summit of Doodh Nag - a sister mountain to the more famous Mount Kolahoi. Then they took five hours to return to their encampment below the glacier, next to a surging glacial stream. What a day that was!
The next day, gloom descended as they prepared to head back to Delhi - almost a thousand miles away. Eighteen months later the war would be over and Dad would marry Mum in New Delhi before returning to England where they would begin a happy postwar life together, being good British citizens and raising four sons.
On the summit of Doodh Nag:-
So with Kolahoi always in our view, we started off on the last lap to the summit. It was comparatively easy going up well-worn and rather sharply serrated rock but after the struggle of the climb from the couloir it felt rather restful. When we at last reached the head of the slope we found what we had half-expected – namely that we had not yet reached the highest point for from where we now stood there was a very gradual rising slope which led to the highest point. The peak itself was crowned with a gigantic rock about twelve feet high. Travelling faster than we had travelled all morning we arrived at the base of this great rock together. This saved argument as to who reached the top first. We did not stop but surveyed the rock for a way to the top of it. A convenient little rising edge not more than an inch wide at any point presented a means by which we could scale this last obstacle. There was sufficient roughness to provide all the finger holds we needed. So Arnold started up in a monkey-like manner.
Quickly and with agility he reached the top and stood up tall shaking his clasped hands above his head much in the same manner of a boxer who has just won a prize fight. Following his example and in his foot and hand holds I was soon standing beside him and together we sat down on the weather-polished crown of the rock and stared about ourselves in wonderment. Arnold was particularly ecstatic about the day’s work for it was his highest ever mountain and I too was jubilant though it was my second highest climb.
Returning from the summit:-
From the col we scanned what lay below it for we hoped to leave the saddle on which we had stood and traverse diagonally down. About fifty feet below the saddle and away to the right, the steep slope seemed to be scarred with gullies of small dimensions but all snow-filled. Each of these, assuming that it finished safely at the bottom, provided a quick and easy downward path. So among the rocks below the saddle we struck own down and to the right. It was rather rough work on the ankles and except for the necessity of exercising a little caution there was no difficult obstacle to bar our way into the first gully. In this the slope of the snow was at an angle of around forty degrees and it sloped away down to the depths about a thousand feet below before it ended at a broad ledge, almost like the little plateau of Chhota Nag.
There was absolutely nothing to prevent us revelling in the exhilarating exercise of glissading, elegantly or otherwise, down this slope. Independently, we started off and a few seconds later the wind was whistling in a cold, mad rush past our ears as we gathered speed down the snow. With conservative care I decided to try and find how quickly I could stop. The only possible method seemed to be to lift up one foot and drive one heel into the snow as a brake. Perhaps the word should have been “break” for no sooner had I attempted this than I turned at least two somersaults and finished at a very full stop several feet below. The experiment had been a success though not a comfortable one. Arnold was by this time way down below me. Gathering confidence from his descent, I continued my downward flight and soon I was sitting on my rump amidst the soft slush and rocks on the ledge, having followed Arnold’s example faithfully and down to the finest detail. For some time after this I felt very uncomfortable for the seat of my trousers was saturated.
Back at the camp:-
After what seemed like an age we eventually came within sight of our little camp and our steps were given a new vigour with the sight of a large and cheery fire crackling away merrily before our tent. Shortly after this, at seven thirty precisely, we slumped into our camp chairs with sighs of deep satisfaction. We had been away twelve and a half hours and the majority of this time had been devoted to walking or climbing. There was no wonder that we both swore that we had never felt so physically exhausted in all our lives. We sat there a while and drank cups of the most wonderful tea that has ever been brewed. Thus regaled and strengthened we removed most of our clothes and had a thorough wash in the waters of the stream which had ironically just cost us an additional two hours of walking. Arnold splashed and puffed during his ablutions as though he and cold water were the greatest of pals.
Some time shortly after this we were both sitting, warmly clad by our dancing bonfire with a feast of roast leg of mutton and various choice vegetables before us. All the trials and tribulations of the day were behind us and we felt like joint kings of the Earth. This is one of the things that I can never understand about physical exercise of any description. The enjoyment of the period immediately following a time of physical exertion seems to vary in proportion to the amount of energy expended. One can return, as we did, utterly worn out and after a bath and a meal and a change of clothing one feels fresh and fit and in the best of spirits. So we were and after dinner we even sang songs between jokes and swapped tales of past experiences. All memories of the harder and least appealing parts of the day were forgotten and we focused on the most enjoyable parts, the best climbs, the superb scenery and feelings of freedom that will never die.