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- Himalayan Journals, V1 - 40/63 -
laid bare by the sudden drainage of the lakes during seasons of unusual warmth. To explain the phenomena of the Yangma valley, it may be necessary to demand larger lakes and deeper accumulations of debris than are now familiar to us, but the proofs of glaciers having once descended to from 8000 to 10,000 feet in every Sikkim and east Nepal valley communicating with mountains above 16,000 feet elevation, are overwhelming, and the glaciers must, in some cases, have been fully forty miles long, and 500 feet in depth. The absence of any remains of a moraine, or of blocks of rock in the valley below the fork, is I believe, the only apparent objection to this theory; but, as I shall elsewhere have occasion to observe, the magnitude of the moraines bears no fixed proportion to that of the glacier, and at Pabuk, the steep ridges of debris, which were heaped up 200 feet high, were far more striking than the more usual form of moraine.
On my way up to Yangma I had rudely plotted the valley, and selected prominent positions for improving my plan on my return: these I now made use of, taking bearings with the azimuth compass, and angles by means of a pocket sextant. The result of my running-survey of the whole valley, from 10,000 to 16,000 feet, I have given along with a sketch-map of my routes in India, which accompanies this volume.
Illustration--SKULLS OF OVIS AMMON.
Ascend to Nango mountain -- Moraines -- Glaciers -- Vegetation -- _Rhododendron Hodgsoni_ -- Rocks -- Honey-combed surface of snow -- Perpetual snow -- Top of pass -- View -- Elevation -- Geology -- Distance of sound -- Plants -- Temperature -- Scenery -- Cliffs of granite and hurled boulders -- Camp -- Descent -- Pheasants -- Larch -- Himalayan pines -- Distribution of Deodar, note on -- Tassichooding temples -- Kambachen village -- Cultivation -- Moraines in valley, distribution of -- Picturesque lake-beds, and their vegetation -- Tibetan sheep and goats -- _Cryptogramma crispa_ -- Ascent to Choonjerma pass -- View of Junnoo -- Rocks of its summit -- Misty ocean -- Nepal peaks -- Top of pass -- Temperature, and observations -- Gorgeous sunset -- Descent to Yalloong valley -- Loose path -- Night scenes -- Musk deer.
We passed the night a few miles below the great moraine, in a pine-wood (alt. 11,000 feet) opposite the gorge which leads to the Kambachen or Nango pass, over the south shoulder of the mountain of that name: it is situated on a ridge dividing the Yangma river from that of Kambachen, which latter falls into the Tambur opposite Lelyp.
The road crosses the Yangma (which is about fifteen feet wide), and immediately ascends steeply to the south-east, over a rocky moraine, clothed with a dense thicket of rhododendrons, mountain-ash, maples, pine, birch, juniper, etc. The ground was covered with silvery flakes of birch bark, and that of _Rhododendron Hodgsoni,_ which is as delicate as tissue-paper, and of a pale flesh-colour. I had never before met with this species, and was astonished at the beauty of its foliage, which was of a beautiful bright green, with leaves sixteen inches long.
Beyond the region of trees and large shrubs the alpine rhododendrons filled the broken surface of the valley, growing with _Potentilla,_ Honeysuckle, _Polygonum,_ and dwarf juniper. The peak of Nango seemed to tower over the gorge, rising behind some black, splintered, rocky cliffs, sprinkled with snow, narrow defiles opened up through these cliffs to blue glaciers, and their mouths were invariably closed by beds of shingly moraines, curving outwards from either, flank in concentric ridges.
Towards the base of the peak, at about 14,000 feet, the scenery is very grand; a great moraine rises suddenly to the north-west, under the principal mass of snow and ice, and barren slopes of gravel descend from it; on either side are rugged precipices; the ground is bare and stony, with patches of brown grass: and, on looking back, the valley appears very steep to the first shrubby vegetation, of dark green rhododendrons, bristling with ugly stunted pines.
We followed a valley to the south-east, so as to turn the flank of the peak; the path lying over beds of October snow at 14,000 feet, and over plashy ground, from its melting. Sometimes our way lay close to the black precipices on our right, under which the snow was deep; and we dragged ourselves along, grasping every prominence of the rock with our numbed fingers. Granite appeared in large veins in the crumpled gneiss at a great elevation, in its most beautiful and loosely-crystallised form, of pearly white prisms of felspar, glassy quartz, and milk-white flat plates of mica, with occasionally large crystals of tourmaline. Garnets were very frequent in the gneiss near the granite veins. Small rushes, grasses, and sedges formed the remaining vegetation, amongst which were the withered stalks of gentians, _Sedum, Arenaria, Silene,_ and many Composite plants.
At a little below 15,000 feet, we reached enormous flat beds of snow, which were said to be perpetual, but covered deeply with the October fall. They were continuous, and like all the snow I saw at this season, the surface was honeycombed into thin plates, dipping north at a high angle; the intervening fissures were about six inches deep. A thick mist here overtook us, and this, with the great difficulty of picking our way, rendered the ascent very fatiguing. Being sanguine about obtaining a good view, I found it almost impossible to keep my temper under the aggravations of pain in the forehead, lassitude, oppression of breathing, a dense drizzling fog, a keen cold wind, a slippery footing, where I was stumbling at every few steps, and icy-cold wet feet, hands, and eyelids; the latter, odd as it sounds, I found a very disagreeable accompaniment of continued raw cold wind.
After an hour and a half's toilsome ascent, during which we made but little progress, we reached the crest, crossing a broad shelf of snow between two rocky eminences; the ridge was unsnowed a little way down the east flank; this was, in a great measure, due to the eastern exposure being the more sunny, to the prevalence of the warm and melting south-east winds that blow up the deep Kambachen valley, and to the fact that the great snow-beds on the west side are drifted accumulations.* [Such enormous beds of snow in depressions, or on gentle slopes, are generally adopted as indicating the lower limit of perpetual snow. They are, however, winter accumulations, due mainly to eddies of wind, of far more snow than can be melted in the following summer, being hence perennial in the ordinary sense of the word. They pass into the state of glacier ice, and, obeying the laws that govern the motions of a viscous fluid, so admirably elucidated by Forbes ("Travels in the Alps"), they flow downwards. A careful examination of those great beds of snow in the Alps, from whose position the mean lower level of perpetual snow, in that latitude, is deduced, has convinced me that these are mainly due to accumulations of this kind, and that the true limit of perpetual snow, or that point where all that falls melts, is much higher than it is usually supposed to be.] The mist cleared off, and I had a partial, though limited, view. To the north the blue ice-clad peak of Nango was still 2000 feet above us, its snowy mantle falling in great sweeps and curves into glacier-bound valleys, over which the ice streamed out of sight, bounded by black aiguilles of gneiss. The Yangma valley was quite hidden, but to the eastward the view across the stupendous gorge of the Kambachen, 5000 feet below, to the waste of snow, ice, and rock, piled in confusion along the top of the range of Junnoo and Choonjerma, parallel to this but higher, was very grand indeed: this we were to cross in two days, and its appearance was such, that our guide doubted the possibility of our doing it. A third and fourth mountain mass (unseen) lay beyond this, between us and Sikkim, divided by valleys as deep as those of Yangma and Kambachen.
Having hung up my instruments, I ascended a few hundred feet to some naked rocks, to the northward; they were of much-crumpled and dislocated gneiss, thrown up at a very high angle, and striking north-west. Chlorite, schist, and quartz, in thin beds, alternated with the gneiss, and veins of granite and quartz, were injected through them.
It fell calm; when the distance to which the voice was carried was very remarkable; I could distinctly hear every word spoken 300 to 400 yards off, and did not raise my voice when I asked one of the men to bring me a hammer.
The few plants about were generally small tufted _Arenarias_ and woolly _Compositae,_ with a thick-rooted Umbellifer that spread its short, fleshy leaves and branches flat on the ground; the root was very aromatic, but wedged close in the rock. The temperature at 4 p.m. was 23 degrees, and bitterly cold; the elevation, 15,770 feet; dew-point, 16 degrees. The air was not very dry; saturation-point, 0.670°, whereas at Calcutta it was 0.498° at the same hour.
The descent was to a broad, open valley, into which the flank of Nango dipped in tremendous precipices, which reared their heads in splintered snowy peaks. At their bases were shoots of debris fully 700 feet high, sloping at a steep angle. Enormous masses of rock, detached by the action of the frost and ice from the crags, were scattered over the bottom of the valley; they had been precipitated from above, and gaining impetus in their descent, bad been hurled to almost inconceivable distances from the parent cliff. All were of a very white, fine-grained crystallised granite, full of small veins of the same rock still more finely crystallised. The weathered surface of each block was black, and covered with moss and lichens; the others beautifully white, with clean, sharp-fractured edges. The material of which they were composed was so hard that I found it difficult to detach a specimen.
Darkness had already come on, and the coolies being far behind, we encamped by the light of the moon, shining through a thin fog, where we first found dwarf-juniper for fuel, at 13,500 feet. A little sleet fell during the night, which was tolerably fine, and not very cold; the minimum thermometer indicating 14.5 degrees.
Having no tent-poles, I had some difficulty in getting my blankets arranged as a shelter, which was done by making them slant from the side of a boulder, on the top of which one end was kept by heavy stones; under this roof I laid my bed, on a mass of rhododendron and juniper-twigs. The men did the same against other boulders, and lighting a huge fire opposite the mouth of my ground-nest, I sat cross-legged on the bed to eat my supper; my face scorching, and my back freezing. Rice, boiled with a few ounces of greasy _dindon aux truffes_ was now my daily dinner, with chili-vinegar and tea, and I used to relish it keenly: this finished, I smoked a cigar, and wrote up my journal (in short intervals between warming myself) by the light of the fire; took observations by means of a dark-lantern; and when all this was accomplished, I went to roost.
_December_ 5.--On looking out this morning, it was with a feeling of awe that I gazed at the stupendous ice-crowned precipices that shot up to the summit of Nango, their flanks spotted white at the places whence the gigantic masses with which I was surrounded had fallen; thence my eye wandered down their black faces to the slope of debris at the bottom, thus tracing the course which had probably been taken by that rock under whose shelter I had passed the previous night.
Meepo, the Lepcha sent by the rajah, had snared a couple of beautiful
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