TO MOST PEOPLE OF Toongsoong basti, Darjeeling, he is simply Tsering ‘daju’ or grandfather with his deep-tanned mountain face, a kind smile and silver-white hair. For visitors to the hill-resort he is just another of the ‘locals’, nothing worth commenting about. They would be surprised if they knew, for Ang Tsering is a whole era by himself. He was there with Mallory and Irvine when they went on their epic journey to Everest in 1924, the sole remaining survivor in the whole world of mountaineering’s most glorious hour. He was there in 1934 when the Germans retreated from Nanga Parbat, the “killer mountain”, living for nine days by eating only ice – a survival story that ranks among the greatest in history. School boys who throng the hill-station’s many school’s are also perhaps not aware as they pass Ang Tsering in the streets that he is a character out of Tintin. He is there in Tintin in Tibet as the Sherpa who first saw the yeti!
Born in 1904 in Solu Khumbu, Nepal, Ang Tsering ran away to Darjeeling when he was sixteen to earn a living. ‘ ‘There were no lights in Darjeeling then”, he tells me gently, sipping rum from an old mug. Fun and frolic there was aplenty though in the summer capital of Bengal in the heyday of the Raj. There were Maharajas and Nawabs everywhere, all-night live bands at the Gymkhana Club and handbells were rung at two in the morning before hotel rooms for those who wished to see the sunrise from Tiger Hill. “The day’s were cheap”, he tells me, “rice was seven seers to the rupee”.
Ang Tsering was hired as a porter for the 1924 expedition to Everest. All expeditions to the world’s highest mountain had to pass through Darjeeling in those days as Nepal was closed to outsiders and the mountain could only be approached through Sikkim and Tibet. “The porter received twelve annas (three-quarters of a rupee) and free khana then, which was rice and soup”, he tells me. By way of equipment iron nails were hammered to the soles of their military boots so that they did not slip on ice! I think of the modern-day climber with his space-age blankets, Gore-tex tents and Koflach boots. Ang Tsering also remembered Mallory well enough despite the passage of seventy years. Looking at my tall son, he nods approvingly and says, “Mallory saheb yetaee lamba chha” (Mallory was as tall). He also recalls the warning of the lama of Rongbuk monastery that Chomolungma (Everest) should be left alone or there would be danger. The prophecy came Irue tragically when Mallory and Irvine did not return from their summit attempt.
Over the next few years there was nothing much in Ang Tsering’s life. When he had first come from Solu Khumbu, he had stayed at the nearby Ghoom monastery and earned his living as a woodcutter. Now he made do as a rickshaw puller.’ ‘There were a hundred rickshaws in those days”, he tells me and there was glamour in it too! He conjured up a world of yellow livery, pig-tails, steep-caps and flying feet on the picturesque streets of Darjeeling. Then in 1929 came the first big break.
There were two expeditions to Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world in the Sikkim Himalayas. In 1929 and 1930 and Ang Tsering tall and strong was a participant in both. As a high-altitude porter he distinguished himself on the snow and ice of this difficult mountain and as a result was rewarded with the German Red Cross Medal of Honour. He points out the trophy lo me proudly on his wooden shelf. Alongside I see a gleaming brass plaque of the Tenzing Norgay Award given to him for lifetime contribution to mountaineering.
In 1931 Ang Tsering went to the Garhwal Himalaya along with the legendary Frank Smythe. The goal this time was Kamet which was successfully conquered, although Tsering was not part of the (cam that went to the summit. In 1933 Ang Tsering went with Hugh Ruttledge to renew the attack on the North Face of Everest. The weather proved inclement and the expedition had to turn back but increasingly people began to be aware that in Ang Tsering they had a ‘tiger’ of the snows. With Willingson the Englishman the same year, Ang Tsering was to go to Lhasa. The aim was to set up a hospital there for which Willingson was ready to trade guns and bullets. Nothing came of it but in 1934 came the German Nanga Parbat Expedition and the turning point in Ang Tsering’s life.
The Germans under Merkl had planned the assault on Nanga Parbat, at the head of the Indus gorge most meticulously and this included besides seasoned climbers the hiring out of thirty-five porters from Darjeeling with proven mountain credentials. Ang Tsering was included in this lot. The climbers and the Sherpas assembled in Srinagar and by the end of May the team was at grips with the mountain. Then followed a relentless attack on the defences of Nanga Parbat; route-laying, step-cutting and the pitching of camps up the Rakhiot Peak route till by the sixth of July the team was up and over the Silver Saddle at Camp 8 and the summit lay just a day’s climbing away. Then “literally out of the blue” came the storm and the climbers and the Sherpas were suddenly fighting for their lives.
The sixth of July had begun as a bright day for the expedition members up at 24000 feet but by the evening there was a gale and by night this had become a raging hurricane that bent the tents double. By the morning of the seventh, “maddened speed dense clouds of wind-driven snow raged over the plateau and hide the sun, so that it was quite dark at 10 and 11o’ clock in the morning”. The fury of the elements prevented the preparation of any meal for the climbers and Sherpas who were confined to their tents. Then when things did not improve even on the morning of the eighth, the retreat began to Camp 4.
With no food, as the weather had made any cooking impossible and in the intense cold with visibility down to zero the mountain picked up the retreating party one by one. Let alone Camp 4, the main section of the team in fact could not in fact even make it to Camp 7 by the end of the eighth day and had to bivouac completely exhausted on the mountain. The Sherpas were affected by snow-blindness and Merkl and his fellow climbers were struck with frost-bite. Sherpa Nima Norbu died the same night while on the ninth morning climber Uli Wieland died only thirty metres away from Camp 7. By the eleventh night Sherpas Dakshi, Nima Tashi and Nima Dorje II were dead also as the storm raged on blowing snow over the ridges and ruling out any hope of rescue from the lower camps. Another climber Willi Welzenbach died on the night of the thirteenth at Camp 7.
By the morning of the fourteenth, the last survivors, Merkl with two porters Gaylay and Ang Tsering left Camp 7 for Camp 6. This was all that was left of the main group of six Sherpas and ihree Germans who had come together for the descent. But Nanga Parbat had not finished yet. Before reaching Camp 6, Merkl’s strength gave out and in what was a supreme gesture of selflessness, Sherpa Gaylay decided to stay back with the leader while Ang Tsering went down to procure help. What followed is best described in the words of Fritz Bechtold in his account of the expedition in the 1935 issue of the Himalayan Journal: “From down below in Camp 4, a man was seen pressing forward across the level saddle. Now and again the storm bore down a cry for help. The solitary figure reached and came down over the Rakhiot Peak. It was Ang Tsering, Willy Merkl’s second orderly, who at length, completely exhausted and suffering from terrible frost-bite, found refuge in Camp 4. With almost superhuman endurance he had fought his way down through storm and snow, a hero at every step…” Gaylay and Merkl were not heard of again and Ang Tsering remained the sole survivor of that epic descent. Nau din dekhi home hiun khayo (for nine days I ate only ice), Ang Tsering tells me recapitulating the event.
The climbing fraternity the world over hailed Ang Tsering’s feat but the personal price he paid was considerable. He was in hospital for nearly a year where his frost-bitten toes were amputated and his emaciated body nursed back to health. The damage to his spirit was more for when he finally emerged there was in him now a fear of high places. He turned away from mountains and became instead a tourist guide in Darjeeling taking people to Sandakphu and Phalut. Even when he joined expeditions, he went only as a cook Sirdar. It took him two decades to come to terms with himself but by 1960, Ang Tsering was back to the mountains and this time he went to the very summit of Nanda Ghunti with Sukumar Roy’s team. Next year an accident while descending from a peak convinced him to hang up his ice-axe. The Rongbuk Lamas words came back to him that the mountains were the home of the gods.
I meet Ang Tsering on the Mall where he comes every evening for his constitutional. Here he sits on a bench and watches the world go by. It is May and the crowds from the plains are everywhere buying toys and sweaters, munching popcorn or riding ponies, talking, laughing, gesticulating. Tsering is ninety but likes the throb of life around him. I walk back with him to his house. He walks briskly. “This was the old route to Calcutta in the twenties”, he tells me on the way, having seen so much of history in the making himself. With his walking-stick he gestures at a wooden shack where once a fellow Sherpa lived till fame and money came his way. There is no rancour or bitterness. Rough stone-steps bring me to his house. On the minuscule porch flowers grow. Blue, white and yellow. Inside butter lamps burn before Chenrezi, the Sherpa God of Compassion. Alongside is the bed where he sleeps and a small table. A grandson is reading geography. All is for the best in this best of possible worlds for this Old Man of the Mountains.
Summary: A tribute to Ang Tsering Sherpa who lives in Darjeeling.
KUMBHAKARNA NORTH FACE ATTEMPT
OUR EXPEDITION WAS ORGANISED during the 1994 post-monsoon season and was composed of four French mountain guides: Pierre Rizzardo (leader), Robin Molinatti, Xavier Cret and Paul Robach. In 1993, during spring, our team made the second ascent of Ridge of no return in Mount McKinley range, opened solo by Casarotto in 1985. Then we decided to climb together a great wall in Himalaya. Several reasons led us to climb Kumbhakarna (Jannu). First, the north side of this summit looks very impressive, because of its steepness. Only two routes were opened on this gigantic north face: the Japanese route (1976) and the Tomo Cesen Route (1989). Furthermore, Pierre Beghin attempted twice a difficult climb through huge seracs in 1982 and 1987, but he was stopped each time close to the end of the difficulties; Secondly, only few expeditions go on this summit and the Kumbhakarna remains today in an isolated area. Our first project was the completion of Beghin’s route, but on the other hand, we also located the steep northwest buttress on photographs. Starting from a pass, this way was attractive but we did know from pictures if the north side under this pass would allow an ascent.
The trekking began from Basantpur on 8 September 1994 and we reached the base camp at the end of the monsoon period, on 20 September. This one is located on the right side of Kumbhakarna glacier at 4600 m. The path runs along the moraine and crosses steep grass slopes just before the base camp.
We performed the acclimatisation between the base camp and Camp 1, located at 5400 m at the foot of the north face. A 700 m high rock pillar had to be climb to reach Camp 1. Thus we fixed ropes on this route in order to carry loads safely. No altitude porters were hired for this expedition. On 1 October, the Camp 1 was occupied by two climbers, whereas the two others had to recover in base camp, because of altitude sickness.
At this time, our team had decided to attempt the unclimbed route leading to the pass between Jannu and Sobithongie (6670 m), then following the northwest buttress and joining the southwest ridge at 7400 m. Although this itinerary appeared to be difficult, it looked safer than Pierre Beghin’s attempts, where two huge seracs had to be climbed. The 800 m high face under the pass constituted the most difficult part of this route. Three days were necessary to put fixed ropes on the first 500 m. on very steep ice walls (sustained sections up to 80° ice). On a fourth full-day, we completed the ascent until the pass in alpine style, climbing strenuous mixed climbing sections. The last pitches leading to the pass, composed of vertical rock sections and rotten snow ramps, were the crux of our attempt. After this severe climb, we had to recover during 24-hours in bivouac at the pass (6350 m), on 10 October. During almost all the above-base-camp period, the weather remained clear. But unlike the north face, which was protected, the northwest buttress was exposed to stormy winds, and from this point, the temperatures were low. We climbed an entire day on the 1000 m high northwest buttress, meeting harder difficulties (up to 70° ice) than we expected from our observation from the pass. Finally, we reached 6900 m, where we burrowed a snow cave into a steep ice-flute. The difficulties above our heads looked continuous for 400 m until the southwest ridge (opened in 1983). The following morning, on 13 October, we decided to give up, because of the cold and the potential difficulties leading to the ridge. We rappelled almost all the way down, recovering our fixed ropes above and under Camp 1. We left base camp on 17 October and we arrived at our starting point (Basantpur) on 26 October.
Summary: Attempt on the northwest buttress of Kumbhakarna (Jannu) (7710 m) by a team of French guides in October 1994.
A PASSAGE TO MAKALU BY EAST RIDGE
MAKALU (8463 m) the 5th highest peak in the world, is situated on the Nepal-Tibet border. The British Everest expedition team in 1921 was to observe Makalu.
Shipton and Hillary were the first men to go to the Barun glacier, which runs west at the foot of Makalu. Hillary, the first summitter of Everest in 1952, at that time saw Makalu 30 km away in the southeast from Everest.
An American team and New Zealand team took on the challenge of Makalu, but no one was able to reach the summit, as the teams had to withdraw under compulsions due to accidents and bad weather.
In 1955, Jean Franco, the leader of the French team and 11 members, in autumn 1954, achieved the first ascent of Makalu from the final camp on the northwest face of Makalu.
This success was the fruit of France’s high altitude climbing studies, which made remarkable progress after the first ascent of Annapurna. Annapurna was scaled by a French team in 1950 and was the first ascent of an 8000 m peak in human history’.
Next, in 1970 the Tohkai Branch of the Japanese Alpine Club succeeded in climbing Makalu for the second time by the southeast Ridge. Since then Makalu has been climbed by over 8 different routes.
Makalu has become popular amongst expert climbers, but there is one route no one ever goes up. The east ridge is very long, and falls into the Karma valley, which is source of the Arun river.
In 1921 Mallory and his team saw the east ridge in the distance, while they were looking for a route up Everest, from the Karma valley or Kangshung glacier. Since then the east ridge has been hidden in a veil of thick mist for over seventy years.
After their success in climbing Everest in 1970. the Japanese Alpine Club succeeded in traversing Nanda Devi, one of India’s highest mountains.
After that the Alpine Club was lucky enough to get permission to climb the world’s highest mountain. Qomolungma (the Chinese name for Everest), from its Tibetan side during the pre-monsoon season in 1980. It was the first expedition there after the World War II. In that expedition Yasuo Katoh achieved the first ascent of the ‘North Ridge’ (it was called ‘Northeast Ridge” in those days) of Everest. After that Takashi Ozaki and I reached Everest by the North Ridge at 9 p.m. (Beijing local time) on 10 May. The sun had already set far below the horizon and all the Himalayan mountains were becoming dark. In that situation I saw Makalu shining like a piece of burning charcoal. Though I was very tired, I was deeply impressed by the huge and brilliant Makalu.
We successfully managed to traverse Nanda Devi from the east to west in 1976. Moreover we made another super high altitude climb in 1984, successively tackling Kangchenjunga from the south peak to the main peak via the central peak, the 3rd highest mountain in the world. This success awoke the extreme adventurous spirit in us to do more.
We were planning to traverse Everest crossing the top of the mountain from Tibet to Nepal, and from Nepal to Tibet. In 1987 when I flew out from Lhasa (Gonggar) airport to reconnoitre Qomolungma the north face of Makalu dazzled my eyes. I made up my mind to climb to the summit through this east ridge.
In 1973 I joined the Everest Expedition which aimed to climb the mountain by the southwest face. After that expedition. I took part in various epoch-making expeditions, so I could study the way of climbing in the Himalaya and route finding skills and so on.
I also had the chance of making the acquaintance of the climbers who had various experiences and thoughts of the mountains.
And after participating in ‘Japan, China, Nepal friendship mountaineering expeditions in 1988″, I took part in the Namcha Barwa expeditions: then the world’s highest unclimbed mountain, from 1990-1992. Through these experience, I set the next goal, to climb Makalu by that long east ridge.
On 18 December 1993. the first ascent of Sagarmatha’s (Everest in Nepalese: 8848 m) Southeast Face was completed by the Gumma Mountaineering Association. In my opinion. -The Iron Age of the Himalaya” had arrived at its puberty by this great achievement. Now we have reached the stage where we mountaineers are using a mixture of mental and physical skills and techniques as routes become more complicated. Because of this we asked the China-Tibet Mountaineering Association to permit the climb of Makalu by the east ridge.
By October 1993. we received the long-awaited for permission to climb Makalu from the Tibetan side. We started preparing for the first step to reach the summit by a route which had never been climbed. After a long preparation, the former climbing team left Japan on 15 February 1995. The caravan route was covered with deep snow, so team could not take any satisfactory action. After all this they had to descend to Nyalam which is located near the boarder of Nepal. On 15 March they departed from Xegar, the town at the foot of the mountain, and built the base camp at 3920 m on 30 March.
The climbing was challenging as we didn’t know the most difficult point of the route, because no one had ever reached the east ridge of Makalu, and it was much more complicated than we expected. Because of an avalanche, we couldn’t continue on our chosen route. Every day our members began to seriously wonder over the radio whether we should continue climbing or not, because of the dangers we faced. We were worried about our safety on the mountain. Every day we fell into a dilemma.
On 4 April, we built Camp 2 at 5180 m, and on 14 April, we built Camp 3: Advanced Camp at 5650 m. On 28 April after great hardship we built Camp 4. On 13 May we built Camp 5 at 6820 m.
And on 19 May we built Camp 6 (7350 m), and lastly on May 20 we built Camp 7 at 7650 m, and there we made final preparations for the summit.
We were eager to reach the summit. Thanks to good weather conditions and good fortune, eight members successfully climbed the peak, the 5th highest mountain in the world, on 21 and 22 May.
We climbed up avoiding the top ridge. This was a matter of regret for me because we did not achieve the perfect climb, but the success of climbing to the top deeply impressed the other members. We recognise that our success was a fulfilment of one of the challenges we had set ourselves in mountain climbing, and now serves us as a starting point for our continued devotion to mountaineering.
Summary: Ascent of Makalu (8463 m) by the east ridge, by a Japanese team on 21 and 22 May 1995.]
MAKALU — A DREAM COME TRUE
EVER SINCE 1990 when I first looked across to Makalu from the high slopes of Everest I had wanted to venture on to this huge peak. It always stood so imposingly on the skyline as the dawn illuminated its bulky figure. As a young lad I had read the account of Hillary’s expedition and the epic rescue of Peter Mulgrew. In 1995 I finally managed to organise the chance of a climb by tagging a small team comprising of American Ed Viesturs, Finn Veikka Gustafsson and myself on to the permit held by our Basque friend Juanito Urteaga. On 13 May, a couple of days after leaving Everest base camp, the three of us accompanied by Ed’s girl friend Paula, my wife Jan and our Sherpa friend Chhongba flew from Luckla to the mountain by a Russian helicopter. These huge machines have dramatically changed the potential for multiple 8000 m ascents in the Nepalese Himalaya but few climbers have taken advantage of this new development. The MI-17 can land at elevations up to 5500 m and can quickly ferry an expedition group between base camps in the Kingdom. We chose a base camp site just above the traditional Hillary base camp at 5100 m in order to maximise the available payload and landed there with 1000 kgs of people and equipment.
The cloud that surrounded the base camp when we first arrived cleared to reveal the incredibly imposing wall on Makalu’s south face. It was necessary to crane back one’s neck to try to take in the huge vista.
Our climbing plan was quite simple. We would follow the normal route in a single push to the summit using our acclimatisation from Everest. Whoever coined the phrase ‘lightweight alpine style’ must surely not have been a climber because from my experience the rucksacks, laden with even the most rudimentary survival gear, are anything but lightweight. I elected to carry two bottles of oxygen as I had done on K2 the year before which added an extra six kilos to my load. Ed and Veikka are stronger than me at 8000 m and don’t seem to require this “English Air’.
On 15 May we set off to the advanced base camp. Paula and Jan came with us as well as a couple of local porters we had managed to second from a passing team. At a higher base camp we met part of an Australian team who had experienced the death of their leader David Hume. Their sadness was an awful contrast to our newly arrived enthusiasm.
On the first day we reached a camp at around 6500 m after a long traverse around the meandering glacier. The weather looked stable and we were in high spirits as we gazed optimistically up to the Makalu la directly above. The next day we followed sections of rope left by earlier expeditions and by around noon we had reached the saddle at 7300 m. The view of Everest and Lhotse to the northwest was fantastic. The peaks looked very different from their more familiar profiles we had come to know so well from the Khumbu.
On 17 May we continued across the broad slopes of the Makalu la, which led us around an icy buttress to the upper snow basin where we had decided to locate our high camp, just below a small ice wall at 7800 m. A tent left by the Australian expedition saved us the effort of digging a platform and erecting our own. Even the simplest of tasks take twice as long at high altitude. We basked in the warmth of the tent in the last of the afternoon sun melting snow for drinks and preparing ourselves for the summit climb.
We left the tent at around midnight and climbed up the hard blue ice, our headlamps bouncing the light between us. Above the ice cliffs a long traverse led us to the highest snow plateau on the mountain. It was deathly cold at 8000 m and I was thankful for the oxygen I was breathing from the bottles on my back. It was difficult to comprehend how Ed and Veikka were staying warm as they climbed ‘sans oxygen’. We reached the foot of the couloir leading to the summit ridge as dawn broke and in spite of our precarious position in the rock fall alleyway, paused for a few minutes to absorb the radiation. The couloir was choked with small rock steps which required complete concentration as we climbed unroped with crampons scraping at the rock. This was the place where David Hume had fallen to his death 10 days earlier. Veikka happened to find David’s video camera and carefully placed it on a rock ledge for later recovery.
The couloir opened out on to the summit ridge which was initially straight forward to climb until we reached a steep tower guarding the route. In spite of the fact that we had a rope we elected to continue climbing solo and moved cautiously as the view below our crampons grew progressively more exposed. From the top of the tower the true summit lay about 50 m away along a knife edge ridge. Ed and Veikka had already started out along this crest ahead of me so it seemed pointless even raising the question of a rope. At 8.30 a.m. we climbed the final few steps of Makalu and were obliged to ride its summit, sitting straddled over the sharp snow-arete – one leg dangling in Tibet, the other in Nepal.
The radio came to life as we spoke to the folks at the base camp. We had been climbing out of contact on the other side of the mountain for the last 36 hours while they anxiously waited for word. Everyone was very excited as we relayed the summit news. The view through 360 degrees was spectacular and 1 took some mental snap shots as well as clicking away with the camera. It was a very satisfying moment to sit on top of this mountain with Ed and Veikka, climbers of exceptional talent. For myself it was something of a dream. My fifth of the worlds six highest summits in little more than a year. Fortune had smiled on me. I gazed across to Everest where we had stood on the South Summit just eleven days before. What a fantastic planet we live on and how privileged I am to journey across its mountains.
Summary: The ascent of Makalu (8463 m) on 18 May 1995.
1995 MAKAI.U SOUTHEAST RIDGE EXPEDITION
WE CLIMBED the southeast ridge, a classic route which had not been attempted since 1984, and had defied the famous British climber, Doug Scott, and American climbers Renee Jackson and Peter Athens. (Please see history at end).
Our group climbed the route in 4 days from a low camp in total alpine style, using no supplemental oxygen, no climbing Sherpas,
no fixed rope, and no established camps. Luckily, our expedition faced neither fatalities nor injuries. Also, our strong Rai porters removed from the base camp more than 300 kilograms of rubbish left by previous expeditions.
We were fortunate to have leading climbers amongst our members: (Please see list at end)
With experienced alpinists in our midst, it was hoped to climb the mountain in true alpine style, and very quickly, so that we might be relaxing in the southern California sun before 10 October!
Alas, this was not to be, as the weather was horrendous. Rain, snowfall, and high winds continued from the time of our arrival in base camp (4800 m) on 3 September until 3 October during which time we were unable to progress above 6500 m because of nasty deep wind-blown snow.
On the night of 5 October the sky suddenly cleared and we ventured once again out of base camp onto the mountain, knowing that this was our one chance to reach the summit. Climbing rapidly, stopping only for brief rests and to pitch camp at night, we arrived at our high camp on 8 October on the southeast wall of the summit at 8100 m. The climbing conditions, to our surprise, were perfect. Almost all of September’s accumulation of loose snow was blown away leaving mostly firm snow and clean rock. In fact, the huge granite blocks and snow/ice couloirs of the southeast ridge provided inspiring sport conditions. Even the dreaded eastern Cwm was passable, with very little accumulated snow.
During the night of 8 October in the high camp I was unable to sleep, lying awake under the light of the full moon reflecting that this was the place where Doug Scott had turned back in 1980 and Renee Jackson and Pete Athens in 1983. What conditions would the dawn reveal?
Leaving the tents on the morning of 9 October at 5.15 a.m. we found the snow to be hard enough. Proceeding across the southeast face towards the west pillar we were greeted by an outstanding sunrise over Kangchenjunga as we crossed the final bergschrund under the summit wall.
The snow deepened as we followed a natural snow traverse line across the face to avoid some treacherous rock slabs. Finally, we reached a rocky pinnacle at 8300 m and realised that this was the point where Doug Scott and Steve Sustad had been forced to turn back in 1984. Just as Doug Scott before us, we were also unable to find a way through this mess of rock spires, chimneys, Mocks and buttresses. Although we found a few shreds of rope and two pitons from the French 1971 west pillar expedition, we did not have enough rope or hardware to pitch climb this vertical and in places overhanging face.
We considered turning back at this obstacle as our predecessors had in 1984, but decided to traverse out onto the snow face and literally snow plough a track to the summit. After a final push we arrived at the summit at 17.30, just in time for a fabulous sunset. The snow around the summit was very deep but in the golden afternoon light somehow we found the strength to reach the top. On the summit we were greeted by wonderful views of Everest, Lhotse, Kangchenjunga and the lower summits and plateaus of Makalu itself. As the sunset over the snows of Everest, Makalu cast a shadow out across the Himalaya as far as Kangchenjunga, 80 km to the east.
Our friends in base camp had been able to watch our progress through a powerful telescope and when we made the announcement of our arrival at the summit via walkie-talkie, we were greeted by loud cheers and celebrations from base camp 3600 m below. This support gave us the strength we needed to make the treacherous descent to high camp, arriving at 22.45 hrs. at night.
After returning to base camp on 11 October and resting for 4 days we climbed back up the mountain to remove every trace of our passage, including a tent and some rubbish left at 6500 m, which we had been too tired to bring down the week before. Just before the final departure from ‘our home’ at base camp, our porters packed up and carried out 300 kilos of rusty tins left by expeditions in the early 1980s.
During this expedition we were very fortunate in that although we had several doctors among our members there were no injuries or fatalities. In fact, our medical team most frequently attended to patients from a neighbouring expedition which was attempting the normal route but had no physicians amongst their members.
Makalu was a dream for us – it is a special gift when after many years such a dream comes true. I can only attribute the fulfilment of this dream to our sponsors, and the hard work, patience and positive attitudes of our entire team as well as our families and friends, also the efforts of the teams who climbed the mountain in the past. Many thanks to Sir Edmund Hillary. Reinhold Messner, Doug Scott, Steve Sustad, Renee Jackson, and Pete Athens for their superb exploration, written accounts, and photography!
A History of attempts on the southeast face of Makalu
1. 1970: First ascent of the southeast ridge, Japanese
team; Leader: Makoto Hara; 18 members, 25 high altitude porters, 100 bottles of oxygen, 16,500 m of fixed rope. 2 members reached the summit.
- 1973: Czech attempt on the southeast buttress, failedat 8100m
- 1976: Czech ascent of the southeast buttress, Leader: Ivan
Galfy; 18 members, using oxygen and fixed ropes. Summitters Karel Shubert and Spaniard Jorge Camprubi.
4. 1980: Southeast ridge attempt, Leader: Doug Scott, 4 members:
Georges Bettembourg, Ariane Giobellina, Roger Baxter Jones; party used no fixed rope and no oxygen; failed at the top of the eastern cwm (7950 m).
5. 1981: Southeast ridge attempt, Leader: Reinhold Messner;
climbing partner: Doug Scott; never left base camp.
6. 1982: Korean ascent of southeast ridge to east face.
Leader: Ham Tak-Young; 16 members; using oxygen and fixed ropes; 1 Korean and 2 Sherpas climbed to the summit.
7. 1983: Southeast ridge attempt, Leader: Ron Matous; 6
members: Ron Matous, Peter Athens, Renee Jackson, Scott Thorburn, Chas Macquarie, Peter Hollis; using 2500 m of fixed rope and no oxygen; failed in the eastern cwm 7700 m.
8. 1984: Southeast ridge attempt, Leader: Doug Scott; 12
members including: Jean Afanassieff, Arianne Giobellina, and Steven Sustad; no fixed rope and no oxygen; Scott, Affanasieff, and Sustad turned back just below the summit.
9. 1985: Southeast ridge attempt, Leader: Steve Sustad; 4
members, failed in the eastern cwm 7900 m. No attempt were made between 1985 and 1995 on this routes.
Mazur Daniel, USA, (leader), Pratt Jonathan, UK, Collins Andrew, UK, Nikifarov Alex, Russia, Lafferty Andrew, UK, McNab Alex, UK and Lewallen, Scott.
Summary: The ascent of Makalu (8468 m) by the southeast ridge on 9 October 1995.
RUNNING THE HIMALAYA
YOU HAVE TREKKED for sixteen days to reach this moment. I hope that you achieve all that you want and that you have a safe and enjoyable race. Ready, steady, go….” David Blakeney, ambulance for the fourth Everest Marathon, has just said the words that sixty one runners have been waiting days to hear. After a hundred yards of running on the only flat surface for miles, we reach the glacial moraines and the first hill. At 5300 m, there are at least twenty five walkers just before the initial climb. A few minutes ago, what little air there was hovered at – 20 degrees. Most of us hadn’t slept more than a few hours during each of the last few nights; nine runners had become too ill to run. I thought back to our group meeting in a nice hotel in Kathmandu, Nepal nearly three weeks ago….
“You must carry a small daypack with you during the race. Failure to arrive at the finish line with this bag and the requisite items will result in your disqualification.” This is part of an introduction from David Blakeney, who is both the race ambulance and a group leader. A room full of high energy runners quieted a bit when they realized that the world’s highest marathon will require an additional burden, “Inside”, David continued, “you must have a bivy bag, a change of lightweight running warm-ups, a waterproof top and bottom, a whistle and a notebook and pencil.”
I saw quizzical looks being exchanged but I noticed that most of the friendly banter had been replaced by curiosity.
“If you are injured during this race,” he intoned sombrely, “you cannot expect helicopter evacuation. Nepal has only four helicopters and they are not always mechanically able to fly. Sometimes they are involved in other rescues. Afternoon storms almost always obscure the Himalaya. If such a storm is coming in, no planes or helicopters will fly from Kathmandu. The most likely scenario is that you will have to be carried by one of the porters for four or more days to the small airstrip at Luckla.” I looked around as he spoke and realised that nearly every runner here had either suffered a debilitating injury or knew someone who had. David held up a small backpack.
“If you are injured,” he raised the daypack higher for all to see. “you must immediately change into dry clothing.” He removed the lightweight warm-up suit. “Then you must keep yourself warm and waterproof.” The waterproof warm-up top and bottom were taken out. “In the event that you cannot be moved, the bivy bag will keep you warm enough until the ambulance reaches you.” He pointed to himself to emphasise his role in the rescue. The bivy bag was held up for inspection. He paused and then reached into the bag to withdraw a small whistle.
“Many sections of the trail,” he smiled a bit at the attentive faces, “are on cliff edges and the fall is several hundred feet to the river below. No whistle needed. In the event that you fall off a less dramatic portion of the trail but out of sight of others, the whistle will alert them.” It was cathedral quiet as he reached on last time into the bag. “If you are found,” he concludes, “It may be necessary for help to be summoned. If the person who initially treated you must leave, he can write a note with your symptoms, extent of injuries and treatment applied. This, of course, in the event that you lose consciousness.”
I smile a little at that bit of memory as I move through the very rocky path which makes up most of the first three miles of the course. My daypack shifts slightly with lateral rock-dodging moves. The course is marked with cairns, three rocks piled up and placed in the line of sight of a trekker. Runners must look quickly for the marker and immediately look for foot placement among the thousands of rocks. I’m doing that and hoping to avoid having to use any of the contents of the daypack. Just ahead of me is a partially frozen stream. I can see runners trying to cross patches of thick ice. With 50% as much oxygen as they would have at sea level, their efforts look particularly ungainly. Just ahead of me I see the bright yellow warm-up top of Stefan Schlett from Germany. I know that whenever people ask me about the type of person who does something like this, I will always mention Stefan.
Stefan listed his occupation as “adventurist.” It might be a new word; it is not an exaggeration. He has done a 3000 kilometre bike ride though the heat of the Sahara. On another occasion, he had set a German record for a 1000 kilometre run in 8 days, 3 hours and 51 minutes. For those who found the metric system a mystery, he had also done a 1000 mile run in 13 days, 16 hours and 11 minutes.
Most marathons do not require a sixteen hour plane ride just to get to the host country. From the United States, this one does. Most marathons do not require a ten hour bus ride to get to a trailhead for the hike in. From Kathmandu, this one does. And most marathons do not require sixteen days of steep mountain hiking jusUo reach the start line. One of the benefits of the latter is that you know everyone of a first-name basis well before race day. Another benefit is that your fitness level is maintained, and perhaps escalated, on the trek in.
The canyons in Nepal are river-cut and steep. All the rivers flow south but the trek route works its way east. Trails climb to the ridge above each canyon and then descend to the next river. The guidebooks show a map where the trailhead is at 1700 m above sea level. After six days of trekking and five mountain passes, the elevation is 1370 m. That last mountain pass before the descent was higher than Namche Bazaar – the finish line for the Everest Marathon. The map I’ve included indicates both the trek to the start line at Gorakhshep and the course for the marathon.
I’ve reached the first of eight aid stations. Roughly every three miles there will be a smiling doctor, an oxygen bottle, an assistant and astonished trekkers. Purified water and sports drinks line the rock wall of one of the shelters. There is a growing pile of clothing near the doctor and I add some of mine, too; the day is getting warmer and we are starting to move faster. Four of our fellow marathoners had been brought down to this station last night and they are yelling encouragement in their slightly recovered condition. That condition is called Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS. They can descend today, but they cannot go any higher. My next rest stop will be Pheriche – the site of a small medical facility and seven miles into the race. It was at this clinic that AMS had been thoroughly explained.
High altitude, even as unimposing as 3000 m causes changes in the body. Liquids are processed differently – or sometimes, barely processed at all. When excess fluid accumulates in the lungs, it is called HAPE (high altitude pulmonary oedema); when excess fluid accumulates in the brain, it is called HACE (high altitude cerebral oedema). Either can kill within twelve hours of the onset of severe symptoms. Some of our runners had experienced the mild symptoms of tingling fingers, swollen faces and hands, nausea and headache. The cure is to descend to the last point at which there were no symptoms – and to remain there until the symptoms disappear. The affliction is not effected by age, gender, fitness level or prior high altitude experience; it descends on the just and the unjust – alike.
As I run along ‘the long main street’ of Pheriche, I see the doctors at the aid table. This would be the safest place to have a problem. So far, I feel just fine. What has happened to the other runners is, for now, a mystery. During a steep descent a half hour ago, there had been a large rockfall kicked off behind me. I had only taken enough time to quickly glance over my shoulder. One of the British Royal Marines had been sliding on the seat of his pants as a form of short cut. He/had stopped when he had realised that an avalanche doesn’t need to be snow. Now, there is no one in sight behind me. I can’t see anyone ahead of me before the trail disappears over a small mesa. I am running with George Barris, a ‘fell’ runner from the United Kingdom. George is the oldest participant at 59. Two years ago, he had finished 19th on this same course. We run together for a while and he explains ‘fell running’ to me. I know that ahead of us is the twelve mile mark and the first serious ascent of the race.
The Everest Marathon descends for over 2750 m. There is a temptation to conclude that it is all downhill. The Everest Marathon ascends for over 1400 m. There is a temptation to conclude that those last miles are all uphill. The first major ascent climbs from river crossing to the sacred Tengboche monastery. The daughter and son-in-law of Tenzing Norgay operate a smajl lodge here. Tenzing’s Tiger of the Snows is a book which chronicles his climbing partnership with Edmund Hillary on the first ascent of Everest. The Buddhists of Tibet and Nepal regard this area as one of their most sacred shrines.
Monks, support personnel and trekkers are cheering our efforts. This stop is at 22 km and I am starting to feel the effects of not having done any serious running in the last six months. I’ve been travelling around the world and this marathon opportunity came up because I had stopped for lunch at the same trekking hotel as David Blakeney – over a month ago. As I leave the monastery, I promise to quit talking to strangers. My legs are ready for some downhill.
The trail from the monastery drops steeply to the river below. During a training run, Pierre Andre Gobet, a Swiss chemist, had reached the river in seven minutes. On one of my training runs, I had done it in twenty. Gobet would win this race in just over four hours: it would take me almost six and a quarter. Both of us would be severely tested by the long uphill awaiting us on the river’s other side.
This is it. The 32 km mark. Namche Bazaar is such a steep mountain town that it literally has an ‘uptown’ and a ‘downtown’. From where I sip a ‘flatted’ coke, I can look down o the finish line. My watch indicates just over four hours. People crowd the main street below. I still have a 3.1 mile trail to do and I watch George move on ahead of me. I’m just beat. That’s been pretty typical of my twelve previous marathons and three triathlons. I ran this hilly 10 km eight days ago as a training run; it took me 49 minutes. As I start forward, I wonder how long it will take me today?
How long? The trail (out and back) is turning out to be a motivational bonanza. Runners coming back from the small village of Thami, shout encouragement. That matches what I am saying to them. I reach the check point and have absolutely nothing left. Leg muscles are starting to cramp. Hills. My friends think I love to run and bike hills; the steeper the better. Until now, I thought I loved to do hills. Now. I’m only sure that I want to get back to Namche as soon as possible. Soon is two hours and twelve minutes after I last looked down to the finish line. I finish 31st; I finish 6 hours and 14 minutes. My 10 km took over two hours!!!
As I sit on a rock wall and wait for some friends to finish, I see the ambulance pass by above. David Blakeney and one of the medical team are walking behind the last of the runners and carrying heavy medical packs. All of them are walkers at this point. In just over three and a half more hours, the race will be over. All I can think of is that I want to do this again. In 1993 or 1995, my plan is to come back. Amazingly, although I know I’ll train for the next Everest Marathon, I don’t care about placement or time. It is the people of Nepal and the entrants and staff of the race that make the marathon worthwhile. And it is the beauty of the Himalaya that makes any excuse to return the right one.
The training for the 1995 race involves remembering the hills from the last visit. Eden, Utah – in the western United States -is located in the fortunate confluence of five roads leading out and two roads leading to ski resorts. Running the Indian trail in Ogden canyon or the Skyline trail to the North Ogden Divide – or even the precipitous incline to Powder Mountain – all of it is steep and helpful. As a present, friends Jon Contos and Rick Stephenson helped to organise a Rim-to-Rim Grand Canyon run in late September. There was fourteen miles of downhill and six miles of unrelenting uphill. And now. in mid-November, there will be another 16 hour plane ride to the Nepali capital of Kathmandu. And some people I have just met will take part in one of the most meaningful parts of their lives: Nepal and the Everest Marathon.
Summary: ‘Everest Marathon’, in the Nepal Himalaya.
THE SOUTH PILLAR OF NUPTSE
WHEN A TEAM OF CLIMBERS chooses a very technical aim in the Himalaya, it is well aware of the risk of failure. In fact, one does not climb faces of 2700 m without accepting an important commitment. But this same commitment makes all efforts hazardous; and the smallest incident or an unfavourable climatic factor can make the project a failure.
Our expedition, consisting of Patrick Berhault. Christophe Moulin, Gerard Vionnet-Fusset and myself, left for Nepal on 13 September 1994. A few days of formalities and the approach walk led us to base camp at 5200 m on the right bank of the Nuptse-Lhotse glacier on 22 September.
Patrick who had been very sick with high fever having caught a virus at Namche Bazar, had to return to France. Thus it was three of us who started this climb. The first day of climbing enabled us to scale the Square Tower (200 m of granite of difficulty level 6B). Three days of rest at base camp and we left, taking along ropes, tent and food, for two days during which we attained 5900 m. This section of the pillar posed us problems of mixed terrain and very lofty glaciers (very thin bottlenecks of ice, fissures blocked by ice, and inconsistent snow).
A few days of rest and still charged up, we left for three days of climbing. In these three days, we attained 6200 m, clearing a third very steep climb, and followed it by a very short halt. Bottlenecks of ice at 80 degrees and vertical walls of snow were the principle difficulties we encountered. As we set-off for these three days. Gerard who was already sick because of an early morning omelette, leaned against a boulder which was unfortunately unstable. He lost his balance and fell amidst the great boulders of the moraine. Immediately, he felt acute backache. Nevertheless, he spent three more days with us with virtually a dagger in the back! The doctors whom we consulted at the hospital in Pheriche (a day’s walk from base camp) advised him rest. Gerard made one more attempt, but had to abandon a little after base camp, and return to France.
Thus we were only the two of us, two days on the wall, from where we studied the ‘Tower of Diamond’ (thus named by its discoverers because of its shape). The projection comprising this tower is technically the most difficult. Here, we came across passages of difficulty level 6B and A3 for rock climbing, bottlenecks of ice at 80 degrees and inconsistent walls of snow often overhanging; eliciting long hours of effort from us. The summit of this climb marked the end of the difficult phases of the pillar; as also the end of our fixed ropes. We were now at 6400 m.
The weather still being as good as on our arrival at base camp, we once again set off hoping that an equally long period of bad weather does not set in.
In one day, we once again climbed up the fixed ropes, retrieved our material and food from the bivouac. We progressed 100 m to attain the cornice combing the summit of the pillar. We installed our bivouac, sheltered from the wind which blew in gusts, and from the immense bundles of snow above our heads. The day had been full of excitement. A mushroom of snow gave away under me, twisting my support and throwing me down a dozen metres on my back, head-first. Christophe who was supporting me. surprised and uncomfortably placed, was blown away from his platform and hurled into the passage. Luckily the ice-axe held on, and this incident only resulted in a big fright, and the loss of one of my two ice-axes.
The next day we left early. Some metres from the bivouac, we were thrown on the ground by the wind. Having so far progressed on the eastern part of the pillar, we had been well-sheltered from the violent wind blowing from the northwest since a couple of days. But on reaching the shoulder formed by the summit of the pillar, we were on a ridge perpendicular to the wind. Sitting on this ridge like on a horse, I held on to it; and struggled for some moments to regain the hood of my Goretex, which was stuck under my backpack. Finally relatively sheltered, I gauged the ferocity of the wind that was going to confront us henceforth. We continued our forward flight, at times standing upright, at times crawling on all fours. The contour of the last projection separating us from the main face, allowed us to be little protected against the wind. We were still regularly thrown to the ground by gushes of wind, measured by the Americans on a nearby summit at 180 km/h! Completely spent by the constant fight against the elements, we looked for a sheltered place to establish our bivouac. At around 7000 m we discovered a small crevasse which after two hours of efforts was able to shelter our little tent. It was unimaginable to pitch our tent in the open; we would not even have been able to open its packing without having our hands blown away.
We planned on leaving in the middle of the night in order to climb the 300 m of the slope of ice before dawn. We would then use the day to scale 500 m of mixed terrain which separated us from the summit. At midnight, the wind being still violent, made all our attempts to start go in vain. Early in the morning, we felt that the wind had subsided a little. Hence, we left in the direction of the summit.’ Very soon, we realised that the calm was only temporary. We decided to continue knowing that it was impossible to wait for a long period of calm at such altitude. Laboriously, we attained the summits of the various slopes of snow. We realised that our predecessors on the pillars who spoke of the slopes of snow leading to the summit, had omitted these 500 m of mixed terrain. The rock is now of gneiss where the degree of safety is particularly delicate and hazardous. We progressed 200 m in such difficult terrain until we reached the top of a slope where the wind doubled in intensity. It was 5 p.m. We had only one more hour of light ahead of us. We would need at least three hours to reach the summit, assuming that we can progress in a straight line to the summit, which seeing the wind seemed highly unlikely.
We quickly realised that continuing would drag us into the realm of the irrational, from where one does not return unharmed. With death in our soul, we began our descent. In the middle of the night, we returned to our shelter harbouring a secret hope that
tomorrow will be a better day; and that perhaps we could make one more attempt! In the early hours of the morning, we were awakened by the roaring wind! We had to descend. We needed two more days to remove all our equipment, fixed rope and other material from the pillar.
Summary: An attempt by two French mountaineers on the south pillar of Nuptse (7855 m) in September 1994.
HIGH TIME IN NEPAL
Summiting Ama Dablam and Imje Tse
Flying across THE Pacific gives a person an enormous amount of time of think about all the fantastic sights and sounds that define Nepal and its rich culture and people. This was my third expedition to Nepal and I was eager to see old friends and lose myself in the mountains and valleys of the Khumbu.
The goal of this trip was to ascend Ama Dablam. 6812 m and Imje Tse, 6188 m. I orginally had a climbing p;ermit for 1985, but the team could not put the required money together in time. Now it was March 1995 and I had a solid team of financially-committed climbers. It was a go!
We were four fclimbers in the team: Dave Bridges. John Cleavery, Joel Koury and myself. We had another five people who wanted to climb the lower peak and also trek to Everest base camp and do the 157-mile Annapurna circumnavigation trek.
We left the U.S. on 30 March. The flight took 21 hours and left us a little out of it when we arrived. Dealing with adminstrative red-tape took us only two days. We then flew by Russian helicopter to the small airstrip at Lukla, 3200 m where we met our Sirdar. Mingma Dorj, and his base camp crew.
We hiked for six hours to Phuckding village (pronounced the same way!), where we spent the night. The next day we completed the hike to Namche Bazar and the comforts of the Panorama Lodge, owned by my good friend Sherpa Jangbu and his wife. After two days acclimatising, we moved up the valley to the Thyangboche monastery – quite an amazing place.
We received the personal blessings and prayer flags from the reincarnated head Lama and went to the Imje Tse base camp, at 4570 m. After a rest day, we moved to advance base camp at 5180 m. What a windy and terrible place, but oh, so beautiful! We had the north face of Ama Dablam looking at us, the full face of Lhotse wall and the border of Tibet defined by Chomo Lonzo.
Getting up at 3.00 a.m. was quite a struggle, as the air temperature was minus 10 degrees (F) and windy… but the mountain called.
At first day’s light we were at the foot of the steep head wall to the summit ridge. The way was blocked by a large opening below an ice schrund. We had to rappel into the crevasse and re-climb the opposite ice wall to gain the slope. After doing this, we ascended a 150 m, 55-degree ice wall to the summit ridge, which had two false summits. Next came the photo session. The summit was glorious! 9.30 a.m. with a blue sky, full view of the Lhotse wall, Everest, Ama Dablam and into Tibet. Wow!
The descent was safe, with the exception that one of the our team got snow blind due to losing her sunglasses. We made it to base camp. The next day, the Sherpas carried our ‘blind’ climber down the mountain to our base camp.
We spent the night and then walked back to Pangboche, where we bid a fond farewell to our trekker friends, and headed on to the Ama Dablam base camp.
What a great walk! We found we were the only team at the base camp. What luck as the entire mountain was literally ours. After a good night’s rest, we climbed to Camp 1 (5800 m). This took nine hours: It was a gain of 1500 m over five miles on a long, long ridge.
Our plan was to climb Ama Dablam alpine style: no load carries, no Sherpa support at altitude and minimum gear. As it turned out the climb was accomplished in five days, base-summit-to-base. Packs were heavy and the climb was steep, steep, steep.
Camp 2 was at 6100 m on a rock/snow ramp. Getting there required climbing a rock ridge covered with technical gendarmes and climbing difficulty up to 5.8. All in plastic double boots! Oh, boy, what fun.
Camp 2 was split into two parts, with half the team at the correct bivy site above the Yellow Tower and two of us at the base of the Yellow Tower, dug into the snow and ice. Morning temperatures were around minus-20 degrees (F). The ascent to Camp 3 was over, through and below a massive number of mushroom snow and ice cornices. It was an all-day operation, but left the team at a fantastic bivy site on the southeast wall, below the hanging glacier (or Dablam).
At this point, the team divided into two assault teams. Joel and I went to assess the identity of a dead climber we had spotted on a ledge 150 m below our camp. The other two climbers continued the climb to the summit. Joel and I rappelled to the body. We were able to determine that it had been a women climber. Dave and John, in the interim, were just below the summit. Joel and I decided to descend to base camp and inform our Nepalese liaison of the body we had found.
As we approached base camp we saw that John and Dave had made, the summit! After informing our liaison officer about the body, we did not have enough time to re-climb to the high camp and go for the summit ourselves. The next day, John and Dave returned to camp at 11.00 p.m., absolutely beat. They told us that the upper part of the final 240 m was hard, blue ice – some of it at an angle of 70 degrees – and that it had been some of the hardest high altitude climbing they had ever done. We had a good party with the Sherpas and left camp two days later for Namche.
Three days later we were back in Kathmandu and hitting the local restaurants and pubs – putting on those lost pounds! Meanwhile, my wife, Linda, and her friends had hiked to Everest base camp and walked around the Annapurna massif and were on their way to ride elephants in southern Nepal.
But that’s another story. Great trip. Our team was successful. No one died, and there is always tomorrow.
Summary: Ascents of Imje Tse (6138 m) and Ama Dablam (6812 m) by an American team in summer 1995.
WE, A GROUP OF EAST GERMAN mountaineers who knew each other from trips in the former Soviet Caucasus and Pamirs, decided on the relatively unknown yet beautiful Manaslu (8163 m) to fulfil our common dream of climbing an 8000 m peak. The usual climb through the north was technically undemanding. However, because of the weather, snow conditions and avalanches this mountains is rarely visited.
After permission was received, a year of intensive preparation followed, including various training expeditions and the necessary organisation.
On 21 March 1995 the last members of our group arrived in Kathmandu. On the 23 March 1995 after organising our last store of equipment and receiving the necessary official permission, we able to commence our 12-day trek to the base camp (BC). We discovered on arrival at BC that the area lay under 80 cm of snow.
Our official liasion officer disappeared without explanation in direction of Kathmandu, a day before we arrived in our BC. He returned twenty days later, without any sense of guilt. After we had established ourselves, we began to familiarise with the route. On 5 April we reached Cl at 4850 m and C2 (5500 m) on the 8 April. From the beginning the weather pattern was stable. Nearly every morning the sun shone. By 2 p.m. the weather changed and snowstorms started. Out of 41 days on the mountain, on 3 9 days we experienced extremely harsh weather conditions. The heaviest snowfall occurred after arrival in C2. In the night from the 10 April, 180 cm of snow fell. Our planned idea to wear modern, light snow shoes from Sherpa/USA for this expedition proved to be correct.
The most difficult part of the ascent was between C2 to C3, around 6100 m. We encountered a dangerous avalanche gully, directly below a hanging glacier and crossed a rugged icefield. To cross this area, we utilised 200 m of fixed rope. The first 50 m had an 80 degree gradient and rest 50-55 degrees.
In C2, we stored plenty of tents, food and fuel. In C3, which was our last fixed camp on the ascent, we deposited an extensive medical store and our oxygen-rescue bag (Certeg-France). After acclimatisation and transport of equipment, we rested in BC for 5 days, before eight of us started the ascent to the summit.
In C3,I suffered acute pneumonia and was accompanied by Mario Bornschein and Franz Felsner to BC, while Steffen Thomas, Hartmut Petter, Michael Zunk, Jorg Bartock and Jorg Starke continued.
They climbed next 4 stages together to C7 (7500 m). At 7500 m, Jorg Starke decided to return to C2, for rest and better acclimatisation. Hartmut Petter accompanied him, as previously decided.
On the 30° ‘Japanese Wall’, with Hartmut Petter in the lead, Jorg Starke fell 300 m. Despite resuscitation attempts by Hartmut Petter, Jorg Starke died at 7000 m. During his attempts to revive Jorg Starke, Hartmut Petter suffered extreme frostbite on his hands, which lead to amputation of 3 finger-tips.
The group Michael Zunk, Steffen Thomas and Jorg Bartock continued to C8 (7800 m) unaware of the tragedy. On the following day, 7 May, they began their final ascent and reached the top (8163 m) at 1.10 p.m.
As they descended, the weather deteriorated. Around 4 p.m. they reached C8. On arrival, Jorg Bartock went into the tent at C8. Outside the tent Steffen Thomas prepared cooking equipment. Suddenly the wind increased almost to storm force and as he looked around and for Michael Zunk, he saw him at a distance of 30 m north from the tent, disappear over the ‘Japanese Wall’. Despite the storm conditions, they searched the area around the tent again on the following day, but could not find Michael Zunk.
They continued their descent, while the remaining members of the team climbed from BC to 6200 m, to ensure a safe descent through the huge ice gully. The team that had reached the summit returned safely to base camp.
A few days earlier, the liasion officer had returned – only after the threat of a possible fine from the Ministry of Tourism. He sent a ill-informed first accident report from the police station at Namru (about 8 hours away) to the Ministry of Tourism in Kathmandu.
While the rest of our team continued their return, four of us (myself included) hurried for 4 days to Kathmandu. One reason was that we wanted to inform the relatives directly and in person. The other reason was that Hartmut Petter urgently needed medical treatment of his 3rd and 4th degree frostbite on his hands, which occurred during his resuscitation attempts of Jorg Starke.
When we arrived at Kathmandu, we discovered that the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism and Mountaineering had provided the press with incorrect information. They had not used the official path via the German Embassy – this was not in accordance with their own rules. Due the inaccurate and false descriptions from the Ministry of Tourism and the sensationalism of the German media, a totally wrong impression was created.
Summary: An ascent of Manaslu (8163 m) on 7 May 1995 by an East German team. Two members died on the expedition.
PANCH CHULI IV, 1995
EAST OF NANDA DEVI lies the Panch Chuli massif. It is predominant from the end-of-road town of Munsiari and a landmark of the Kumaon Himalaya. The highest peak of the massif, Panch Chuli II (6904 m), is a smooth flanked pyramid. It is flanked on the northwest by Panch Chuli I (6335 m) and on the southeast by Panch Chuli III (6312 m), Panch Chuli IV (6334 m) and Panch Chuli V(6437 m).
Perhaps because of its alluring beauty and deceptive accessibility, the Panch Chuli, massif has attracted climbers from the early years. Hugh Ruttledge visited in 1929, and Bill Murray and Heinrich Harrar in the early fifties. Most recently, in 1992, Harish Kapadia and Chris Bonington organised a substantial expedition to the area. They climbed II and V (as well as some attractive smaller peaks) pre-monsoon, with Stephen Venables taking a terrible fall on the descent of V.
Early in 1995, John Nankervis (Nank) was reviewing prospective areas for a mind to late year expedition. India would be new, so he wrote to Harish for recommendations on where to go, and received a generous response. The Kumaon would be his choice. After perusing his references and various Himalayan Journal articles, the Panch Chuli beckoned – wild, recently opened to foreign expeditions, and unclimbed peaks. Nank phoned Bonington and Venables, both sang praise. We also spoke to fellow New Zealanders, Margaret Clark and Barbara Chinn, who know the area well. They were enthusiastic about its wilderness character and the friendly locals. We decided on our quest…. Panch Chuli IV.
A significant part of our preparation work was lodging an application for a permit to climb the mountain with the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. We had made our decision only two months before the date we planned to leave for India. This left only the minimum time for our application to be processed by the authorities.
On 14 September we were ensconced in the Munsiari abode of G. S. Pangty negotiating rates for porters and seeking advice about how to approach the massif. We had arrived unheralded, our letter of introduction and explanation still had not arrived.
The next day we set off from Munsiari. There were 30 of us expedition members John Nankervis (leader), Peter Cammell, Peter Platts, Nick Shearer and John Cocks, liaison officer Nalin Gautam from Chamba. cook Bahadur and 23 porters. Our planned route lay up the true right side of the Balati river valley to its junction with the Pyunshani river, across the Balati river, and up the Pyunshani river valley to set up base camp near the snout of the Panch Chuli glacier.
We reached the junction on the third day after a laborious trek through post-monsoon jungles and along precarious gorge-side paths. A demoniac Balati River barred our way, yet one of our porters, the energetic and incorrigible Gobind Singh, insisted that he would construct a bridge. He almost did, but before anyone could venture upon it, a rising river swept it away.
Although this was loss of hope enough, twelve of our porters, young lads from Munsiari who had shown the whites of their eyes during the previous days, said that really they would have to return.
The 1992 Indian-British expedition had crossed into the Pyunshani from higher up the Balati. This, we decided, was our only opportunity. Yet barely had we passed by the hot springs below Balati when eight more of our porters retired, despondent with the constant labour of slashing through the thick undergrowth with heavy loads and following a fickle path. This left only the five of us, together with our stalwart porter companions, Gobind, Kundan Singh and Ram.
On 19 September we made base camp beneath giant conifer trees at Balati. Since the departure of most of our porters we had all double or triple-packed our gear to here. If we were to have a chance at our objective, Panch Chuli IV, we had no option but to rationalise our approach. Our holiday was disintegrating, no more base camp luxuries and no more cook with his morning cups of tea, multi-course meals and other tasty treats.
After a day’s reconnaissance, we had determined a route over a high pass to Shyama Gwar. We all set off. We would work in relays, one party forging a route ahead whilst another party would retrace and pack a second load. The weather was persistently bad, living up to its Panch Chuli reputation, with heavy rain each afternoon.
On the fourth day out from Balati we finally made our Pyunshani advance base camp, tumbling down vertical rhododendron scrub to the valley floor. We were sodden, bruised and thankful. At last we could start towards the mountain. Yet we had taken three weeks to get here, leaving us two weeks to pack up the glacier, suss out a route on this unclimbed mountain, and return to Delhi.
We had not a moment to pause. Two of our three porters had to return – we did not have sufficient food for all. The two Peters and Nick returned to our last camp to pack down our remaining gear. Nank and John packed up the glacier, following the lateral moraine valley on the true right of the glacier. The next day we all packed heavy loads up the glacier, making camp beneath a huge boulder, an hour or two short of the first icefall.
The first, or lower, icefall was attempted the next day. It looked straightforward from a distance but as we approached closer we could see the obvious path through was severely threatened by seracs. Fresh debris of broken ice lay around silently and swiftly we climbed on through and over a huge ice bridge which led to safety on the true right margin of the glacier. By dusk we had made camp in a glacial basin below the peak of Bainti.
Although the next day dawned clearly, mist soon swirled in. The two Peters and Nick returned once again to pack up second loads. Nank and I set off to carry loads up a predetermined path up the upper icefall. Again the route was menaced by seracs, and before long snow started falling. Still, the route taken proved successful, and by mid afternoon the worst was over and we were looking for our next camp site. The mist obscured our position relative to the icefalls and avalanche gullies above us, which all lead into this basin we were in. Aware of the precariousness of our situation, we chose to site a camp beneath a rock bluff between two avalanche gullies, and then set off down to the previous camp site to meet the others and help them pack up the upper icefall. Late that evening four of us were nestled in two tents, and snow was still falling. Peter Platts, who had joined us not as a climber but for the adventure, had decided to return to the rock bivvy camp and then to advance base camp.
Rocks fell that night. Miraculously, we weren’t harmed. Two smashed through one tent to lie harmlessly on one side of my sleeping mat and another lay between the entrances of the two tents. Later in the morning the snows of the previous day and night came pouring down the two gullies we sheltered between, like roaring steam trains, to pass harmlessly on either side of us. Our nerves had been tensioned beyond song, we abandoned this camp and sought another, in the centre of the icefall, beneath a giant wall of a crevasse which offered, we were sure, absolute protection from whatever should fall. There we breathed peacefully again, and repaired our shredded tent. Fortunately it was perfectly clear all day. And fortuitously, we could see clearly a route up the eastern flank of Panch Chuli IV to the crest of a prominent spur that leads down to the Panch Chuli glacier. The route we would attempt was now all clear.
I do note that, on the clear morning we arrived at Munsiari, we had gazed critically at Panch Chuli IV and, with binoculars, spied what we thought would prove a feasible route – up the spur out of the Panch Chuli glacier to the summit ridge and then on to the summit. Then the only obstacle appeared to be getting on to the spur from the glacier.
We were excited now. The weather seemed settled and the route surmountable. Pre-dawn on the morning of 30 September we set off up the flank of the spur with heavy packs, carrying three to four days’ food. Our aim was to establish our final camp on the crest of the spur and, if necessary, wait until a settled day came. Travel was secure – hard back, frozen snow, steep, but manageable with heavy loads. By noon, and before the heat of the day caused the surface snow to slough off, we had arrived at the crest and began whittling out a meagre platform upon which to erect the four man tent. Our position, 5500 m up on the side of the mountain, was spectacular, and the lights of Munsiari glistened as darkness fell.
At 1 a.m. on 1 October the sky was clear, we prepared and left. Through the darkness we climbed. It was steep, front pointing up smooth snow and ice. The horizon glowed strongly as we approached the summit ridge. There was not a cloud to be seen, and the ridge was steeper than we had anticipated. Still we continued unroped until the snow and ice gave way to mixed rock and loose snow. I did the first lead – straightforward, but it was exhausting without having had a day’s break since we had set out. A second rope length brought us to the top of the mixed section. From there the angle of the ridge eased. Finally, at noon Nank led the way to the summit – sweet success.
About us all the mountains lay. To the north Kailash was clearly visible, distinctive with its black tooth-like shape. We rested at the top on this perfect day, before descending to our high camp.
Our journey out proved considerably less of an ordeal than our journey in. Following our enigmatic guide, Gobind, we travelled down the true left bank of the Pyunshani river to a place directly below Shyama Gwar. From there we followed a well-formed trail to high up on a ridge which, when we arrived at the top amongst grand conifer tree, overlooked the lower Madkani river. The trail continued down to the river were there was a temporary bridge of logs spanning a narrow gap between two huge boulders. In a day and a half from our camp at the snout of the Pyunshani glacier we arrived at Madkot, and from there hitched a ride on a truck to Munsiari.
Summary: The first ascent of Panch Chuli IV (6334 m) by a team from New Zealand, on 1 October 1995.
ASCENT OF MANA
P. M. DAS
HAVING PROPOSED TO LAUNCH an expedition to Everest by the north side in spring 1996, the Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP) called for nominations from all police organisations of the country. They planned to run a training camp-cum-expedition to Mana peak by the northern approach up the East Kamet glacier, in August-September 1995. I, therefore, found myself on this expedition.
After a few days of acclimatisation at Auli during a period of rainy weather and land slides, we left for the mountain on 12 August 1995, leaving behind this beautiful ski resort, where there were now slopes of alpine flowers (primulae, potentillas, anemones, gentians, asters, and rosace, bistortas, etc.) imprinted in my memory during a walk upto Gorsam Top (3960 m). From Malari, the road is motorable for 7 km, after which there is a walk to village Gamsali at 3050 m. The area north of Malari is well known for its fossils and the ‘Lapthal’ ammonites. I collected a beautiful specimen from Malari too. The next day found us at Niti (3600 m) which is above the Dhauliganga. A walk upto Shepuk Kharak at 3940 m for 11 km got us to our intermediary camp. The same day I was able to do some bouldering with the younger officers, on the excellent granite rock above the camp.
15 August saw us moving up and establishing the base camp at Vasudhara Tal (4460 m). This entailed an interesting river crossing by a Tyrolean crawl on a rope. North of the base camp is the Raikana glacier and, in fact, the camp is located on the medial moraine beside a huge lake and surrounded by beautiful tarns. The East Kamet glacier swings down from the left but walking on its terminal moraine is a most tiring experience. F. S. Smythe had recorded for posterity,’ about the east Kamet glacier: ‘Providence must provide Himalayan terminal moraines for the express purpose of humbling presumptuous mountaineers’ and we sympathised with him. From base camp to Camp 1 at 5100 m was a walk of 10 km on the moraine. Camp 1 to Camp 2 established at 5600 m was another walk on the moraine and on the same location as used by earlier expeditions to Kamet, Abi Gamin, and Mana (ITBP first ascent by north route in 1988).
The geology of this region is peculiar to the Zaskar range and I collected rock samples from the glacier, which were of a rich yellow colour and sedimentary in texture. Similar samples were also collected by me later from the summit. On the sides of the glacier, the walls of the peaks to the east of Mana and east of Kamet were streaked with black stains as though of coal-tar. It was as though hot lava had melted over these walls and had frozen while dripping down. At the head of the East Kamet glacier was the spectacular eastern precipice of Kamet which rose for 2100 m Symthe also refers to its awe-inspiring effect.2
With the weather still packed, the route was opened to Camp 3 (6520 m) on the northern ice fall of Mana. This involved front-pointing over a section of vertical ice and therefore some good piece of route-opening. Camp 4 was set up above a snow field at 6600 m and the climbing so far could be described as moderate-to-difficult with 5 ice pitches which were severe. Rope was fixed (in all 1150 m) upto the summit.
1. F. S. Symthe, Kamet Conquered.
2. How much the topography of a mountain changes seasonally and over the years.
I made a mental comparison of this rocky ridge with a beautiful photograph of the same taken in June 1953 from above Camp 4 of Kamet by Gurdial Singh which shows this in snow, now all blown away! Frank Symthe’s photograph from the summit of Kamet in his book, shows this northwestern ridge of Mana with ever whiter shroud.
An attempt on the summit was made on 26 August from Camp 4 but this group of climbers, accompanied by 3 Assistant Commandants including Kanhayalal, turned back from the steep ice slopes below a col on the summit ridge. They had faced bad weather and were defeated by the soft snow on the approach to ice slopes. On the same day with Mohinder Singh. Deputy Commandant and 14 others, I moved up direct from Camp 2 to Camp 4 with a brief halt at Camp 3 for some hot food. Camp 3 was located at the base of a crevasse and had to be reached after a pitch of steep ice which took the breath out of you. That night there were 16 members (Kanhaya of the first group stayed back while the rest descended to Camp 3) at Camp 4 and despite a shortage of tents, we slept well. I was surprised that I was not suffering from any headache despite the 1100 m height gained in a day and had a good appetite instead. To the eastern side of this camp was a sharp drop through a couloir on to the East Kamet glacier below and it was found convenient to construct a camp toilet in this region with blocks of snow barricading it. At times in the evening we were favoured with fleeting glimpses through the clouds of ‘Bidhan’ (christened by a group from Bengal) and Devban peaks beyond.
27 August dawned overcast after a light snowfall in the early hours of the morning. None of the neighbouring peaks could be seen and it appeared that we would have to go down. However, miraculously by 7 a.m. the snowing had stopped, though visibility had not yet become satisfactory. We decided to give it a go. Five climbers set out, followed by ten of us a little later in three groups. Part of the route had been fixed the earlier day but the portion to a col and along the summit ridge was fixed today with 300 m of manila rope and 140 m of nylon rope. At places we spotted the yellow nylon rope fixed by the ITBP team on its first ascent, but there was little scope of jumaring up manila! There was nothing left to do but front-point up, using it as a hand-rail for support only.
The climbing to the point reached by the group yesterday was. slowed down by the soft snow and Mohinder Singh who was climbing
with me had to be coaxed to try and reach the col after which we were to decide on his returning to camp. However, after surmounting the last slope of steep ice which had been fixed by the group ahead, he began to go better. From the col began an interesting rock climb on the southern side of the sharp rock ridge. Even on this stretch there was no roping up. Nearly an hour later, after a tricky traverse on the rock, a short passage through a tunnel, and a 5 m chimney, we reached the summit which was slightly corniced to the northern side. I looked at my watch and found that it was 1.15 p.m. and the views around were hidden by the clouds. However, the neighbouring Peak 6977 m towards the east and the southern slopes of Mana could be made out. Photographs were taken with me holding aloft the Punjab Police flag andjaikaras rang loud. 15 of us had reached the summit and this included 3 officers (Kanhaya, Mohinder and myself) and 12 others ranks including a lady. On the way down, I could not help but marvel at the difficult route opened by the lead climbers (mainly from SGMI and the ITBP) but it certainly helped knowing the route prior to our ascent, since Kanhaya had been on the first ascent by this route in 1988. Ours was therefore the second ascent by this route. While descending from the col, I was able to make out Mana Northwest (7092 m) lying northwest of Mana and leading to Kamet beyond. (This peak had received its first ascent a few days earlier by a team of the ITBP-HAJ from the south). Thereafter we descended to Camp 4 which was wound up, and got down to Camp 2 the same day. It had been a long and hard 40 hours work done. The next day I descended to base camp and the team eventually reached Auli on 31 August, in barely 20 days.
Summary: Ascent of Mana (7273 m) by the north route by the pre-Everest ITBP expedition with the author. The expedition coordinator was T. S. Bhangu, Commandant of the Mountaineering & Skiing Institute. Auli. Those made the ascent were: P. M. Das, IPS, Mohinder Singh, Kanhaya Lai. Nima Wangchuk, Nadre Sherpa, Jyotka Negi, Hira Ram, Sange Sherpa, Wangchuk Sherpa. Sardari Lai. Sonam Palzore. Yashwant Singh. Sonam Narphele, Dorje Murup and Sonam Punchok.
CHAUKHAMBA – THE MOUNTAIN DIVINE
Major A. ABBEY
DEEP IN THE MOUNTAINS of the western Garhwal lies the holy shrine of Badrinath. A sacred Mecca of the Hindus, the shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is thronged each year by thousands of pilgrims from all over the country. 20 km to the west of this shrine lies a mountain massif of immense proportions. It’s razor sharp ridge dominating the horizon. Its awesome mammoth shape distinct and its sheer faces assuming a near, fearful divine form. Standing as an impregnable ‘fortress’ wedge with the Gangotri glacier to its west, Bhagirath Kharak to its north and Satopanth Bank to its east, with its mighty summits jutting heavenwards – this is the almighty peaks formerly known as Badrinath, now Chaukhamba.
The mighty Chaukhamba massif, is one of the most dominating massifs of the western Garhwal. Chaukhamba which literally means ‘four pillars’ is a mountain of great religious significance. The mountain finds particular reference in the Skanda Purana and is also mentioned in other religious scriptures. The colossal Gangotri glacier, takes birth at the foot of this great massif. It is this great mountain divide, which subsequently gives birth to the perennial, life giving waters of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda.
The Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in June/July 1995, under the stewardship of Colonel M. P. Yadav, Principal, decided to take on Chaukhamba II, with the aim of exercising its instructional staff on this formidable mountain. The time slotted was between the pre and post-monsoon series of courses, which more or less ‘perfectly’ coincided with the monsoons in the region. This perforce could not be helped, as the pre-monsoon series of course terminated only on 20 June and the instructional staff of the Institute foobvious reasons were not available earlier.
Chaukhamba II was indeed a viable proposition. The massif considered a very formidable objective from the west (the Gangotri glacier) had seldom been attempted till the recent times. The mountain was presently one of the highest unclimbed peaks of the Indian Himalaya (a seven thousander at that). The peak standing majestically and towering above the Gangotri glacier, had in the recent times drawn attention, as technically and somewhat logistically, the mountain called for the best.
The 10 km long, serrated ridge line of Chaukhamba has four prominent peaks namely Chaukhamba I (7138 m). Chaukhamba II (7068 m), Chaukhamba III (6974 m) and Chaukhamba IV (6854 m). Chaukhamba I was first attempted from the north in 1938 by an Austrian team led by R. Schwarzgruber.1 A year later the attempt was repeated by a Swiss team led by A. Roch.2 The first ascent of the mountain, was recorded from the north, by a French team led by V. Russenberger in 1952. Chaukhamba I since then has been climbed from the north and is the only much climbed peak of the massif. The Austrians in 1938, were also perhaps the first to attempt the mountain from the west. However, finding no way up the west face, they crossed over to the north via the Kalindi Khal and attempted the mountain from the north and the east. Chaukhamba II, the only other peak of the massif to be attempted, was first attempted from the Gangotri glacier by a Korean team in 1993, followed by an unfortunate Italian attempt in 1994. The mysteries of this great mountain were thus still to be unveiled.
- Refer HJ. Vol. XI, p. 140.
- Refer HJ. Vol. XII, p. 30.
Chaukhamba massif, from the west, lies at the head of Gangotri glacier. An attempt from the west implies, that the complete glacier from Gaumukh to the base of this mountain had to be traversed – a mini expedition by itself, as apart from traversing, the expedition also had to sustain itself for the duration. An advance party comprising of Rattan Singh, Ranveer Singh and HavLaxman Singh left Uttarkashi on 18 June to facilitate induction on the Gangotri glacier. Expedition loads which were tailor cut for a light-weight expedition, greatly speeded up movement on the glacier.
The team started on 26 June 1995 from Uttarkashi. Moving rapidly up the famous pilgrim trail of Gangotri and Gaumukh, the expedition set up an intermediate camp at upper Tapovan on 27 June (4360 m). The route from upper Tapovan descended to the Gangotri glacier and crossed the junction of Kirti and Gangotri glaciers. Further, skirting the Bhagirathi group of peaks and the northeast shoulder of Kedar Dome (Sunderban) the route moved on the medial moraine of the glacier, before finally establishing base camp on 28 July (4760 m). This was slightly to the north of the junction of Ghanohim Bamak and Gangotri glaciers, with the impressive Kharchakund massif towering above.
Advance base camp was established on 29 June at the junction of Swachand and Gangotri glaciers (4900 m). From here spectacular views of Mandani Parbat, Yeonbuk, Sumeru, Kharchakund, Shivling, Meru and Satopanth, could be had. Further to the east, the southwestern rim of the Chaukhamba massif loomed large.
On 30 June a team comprising of Ranveer, Jagmohan, Laxman Singh and M. S. Gurung carried out reconnaissance of Camp 1. The route from ABC moved along the Gangotri glacier and skirted the junction of Maiandi Bamak and Gangotri glaciers, before finally moving northeast wards, almost parallel to the western flank of the massif. Camp 1 (5400 m) was established and occupied on 1 July. The camp afforded a full view of the complete western face of Chaukhamba II.
The western flank of the Chaukhamba massif forms a huge amphitheatre of rock and ice. The mountain as seen from different folds of the Gangotri glacier soon becomes a stark, imposing reality from the Maiandi Bamak bend. As the massif unveils further, one is wonderstruck by the sheer enormity of this great mountain. The western flank rises to 1600 m of a generous mix of rock and ice. The long, sickle moon shaped ridge line from Chaukhamba IV to I seldom dips below 6800 m.
Chaukhamba II has a formidable array of defences. The mountain is guarded by two formidable icefalls, one on its southwest face and the other to it’s northwest. The icefalls are further dominated by a two-tier rim of hanging glaciers and threatening serac barriers, resulting often in massive ice-avalanches. This is true of almost the entire west flank. On the west face of the mountain is a near 1500 m high rock face culminating in what we called ‘Shark tooth’ formation. A direct route up this face or along any of the two icefalls was ruled out, as the complete face is threatened by great objective dangers of avalanches and frequent rockfalls. The mountain itself is composed of very loose, infirm rock resulting very often in ‘bombardment’ of rockfall. Thus finding a safe line of ascent up the west flank was a predicament.
Our line of ascent up this face was finally a combination of a ridge and a face climb, exposed tremendously at sections. The route from Camp 1 was along the southwestern flank of the icefall (nicknamed as the ‘death alley’) directly under the western shoulder of Pt. 6736 m. From top of the icefall, the route moved directly to the southwest ridge and then along the rock arete to a point from where the route traversed to a prominent avalanche gully, with massive seracs of the snow plateau threatening above. The entire stretch from the beginning of the icefall to the southwest ridge was a funnel (death alley). From the gully we moved straight up negotiating two prominent rock bands interspersed with a number of steep ice-pitches, before finally hitting the beginning of the southern-most tip of the snow plateau, where Camp 2 was established.
Route opening on the ‘death alley’ commenced on 2 July. 15 ropes were fixed by team 1 comprising of instructors Ranveer, Jagmohan, Laxman and Gurung. The key to successfully negotiating the death alley lay in negotiating it very early in the morning, for it virtually became a death trap in the late hours of the day. On 3 July as the team was negotiating the gully, a massive ice-avalanche from the hanging glacier, let loose from the face above. All seemed lost as the avalanche came enveloping the entire gully. However the instructors who were directly in the line of the avalanche, with their quick reflexes and an ominous sixth sense were quick to avert, what could have been a near disaster. Undaunted they resumed route opening and pushed the route to the end of the first rock band, fixing a total of 16 ropes that day. On 4 July the second team comprising of instructors C. Norbu, D. Norbu, Digamber Singh and Surat Singh fixed another 3 ropes on mixed pitches of rock and ice. On 5 July team 1 commencing their move from camp 1 at 4.00 hrs, fixed there 9 ropes lengths and finally hit the fringe of the snow-plateau at 1730 hrs, after negotiating last of the twelve severe pitches, which required steep climbing on this precarious ice-face.
Camp 2 was finally established on 6 July (6600 m). Such was the exposure, that there was no place on the face where a camp could be established between Camp 1 and 2. Initially we planned to establish a bivouac between camps, but owing to the high degree of fitness of the members, the idea was dispensed in favour of Camp 2 on the tip of the snow-plateau, though with a longer turn around distance. Thus the altitude difference between the Camp 1 and 2 was 1200 m and it took anything from 8 to 12 hours of an exhausting ascent, fraught with objective dangers.
On 6 July radio announced the arrival of the southwest monsoon over Delhi. This implied that the distant monsoon in about 4 days time would become a reality. A quick attempt had to be made. Accordingly it was decided that the first summit team under Colonel Yadav comprising of Major Joshi, Rattan Singh, Ranveer, Jagmohan, Laxman, Gurung and Sanjay Pun (a casual employee of the Institute) would attempt the peak on 8 and 9 July, while the second team would support the attempt. The second team under Major Abbey, who had joined the expedition late and was still acclimatising, comprising of C. Norbu, D. Norbu, Digamber Singh, Surat Singh and Hav Pun, after supporting the first teams attempt, would subsequently occupy and attempt on 11 and 12 July.
On 7 July, team I moved up and occupied Camp 2, after a gruelling ascent of almost 18 hours in inclement weather conditions. On 8 July, the team carried out a detailed reconnaissance of the route from Camp 2 to Chaukhamba II. Col. Yadav, also decided to attempt Chaukhamba I and accordingly the team was split into two sub groups. On 8 July, first of the monsoons hit the mountain and we recorded fresh snow at Camp 1.
The northern-most peak of the massif is Pt. 6736 m. Southeast of Pt. 6736 m lies the summit of Chaukhamba I and to its northwest lies the ‘Bhagirath Col’,3 which separates the massif from other peaks of the upper Gangotri glacier. About 2 km southwest of Chaukhamba I, lies the summit of Chaukhamba II. A huge snow plateau of almost 2 km by 1 km engulfs this area and it is at its broadest, between Pt. 6736 m and Chaukhamba I.
On 9 July all eight members commenced move from Camp 2 at 4 hrs. At 0830 hrs. reached the snow plateau. The team for Chaukhamba II comprising of Ranveer, Laxman, Gurung and Jagmohan branched off southeast towards Chaukhamba II. The mountain was still a long way off. The team being in good physical shape made rapid progress. At 1000 hrs. after traversing the snow plateau, they hit the northeast ridge joining Chaukhamba I and II. The razor sharp ridge at places was heavily corniced with the mountain plunging into an abyss towards the east. Towards the west, the ridge dominates the entire amphitheatre of the west flank. At 1010 hrs they reached the first rocky out crop on the razor sharp ridge. It took them almost 50 minutes to surmount the technicalities of this obstacle. At 1140 hrs. they reached the second rocky out crop. Finding the line of ascent carefully along the heavily corniced ridge, they reached the summit of Chaukhamba II at 1325 hrs. The weather all around was packing up and they could only get a fleeting glimpse of the ridge leading to Chaukhamba III and IV. The summit of Chaukhamba II is further northeast of the entire west flank of the massif. The summit is where the ridge from this pillar meets the northeast ridge joining Chaukhamba I and II. The last 30 minutes below the summit the slope eased to an angle of almost 35°. The summit itself was generally flattish, ending in a snow-bump, with room for no more than one to stand on the top. There was a sheer drop towards the east. The ridge connecting Chaukhamba II and III plunged abruptly from the summit towards the south.
3. Reached by C. F. Meade in 1919.
After spending almost 1 hour on the summit, waiting for the weather to clear up, which unfortunately turned for the worse, they started their descent. They reached the snowfield at 1700 hrs. and finally Camp 2 at 1900 hrs. The team from Chaukhamba I, comprising of Colonel Yadav, Major Joshi, Rattan Singh and Sanjay Pun after branching-off from the other team, had cut across the snow-plateau and headed for the ‘Pyramid’ base of Chaukhamba I. After crossing the snow-plateau and moving up the southwest face they reached the summit of Chaukhamba I at 1330 hrs., on 9 July. Bhagirath Kharak and the Satopanth valleys were almost overcast and only for a few seconds, the weather parted to give them a full view of the team on the distant Chaukhamba II. Both summit parties, have left engraved snow stakes on the summit for the mountain gods.
On 10 July the second team under Major Abbey commenced move at 0400 hrs. to occupy Camp 2 for a second attempt on the mountain. The team comprised of Major Abbey, C. Norbu, D. Norbu, Digamber, Surat and Pun. However unknown to the team a massive ice-avalanche in the death alley and above had, washed away the lower portion of the entire route between Camp 1 and 2. Moreover with team I descending from Camp 2, it was imperative to realign the route for their safe descent. The team got down to refixing the route and thus in process got considerably delayed. Much later in the day as Major Abbey, C. Norbu, Pun and Digamber were moving up towards Camp 2 they met the leader en route, where the prevailing weather and ground conditions were reviewed. It was finally decided to call off further attempts. C. Norbu and Pun were sent up to Camp 2 to help in winding of the camp and if the weather conditions permitted, to attempt the nearby Pt. 6736 m.
On 11 July C. Norbu and Pun left Camp 2 at 0600 hrs. Moving fast and at absolute ease with the altitude, they moved for 300 m on the snow-plateau and then traversed towards the col between Chaukhamba I and Pt. 6736 m. Moving up the southeast ridge for another 200 m they reached the summit of Pt. 6736 m at 0700 hrs. The weather gods had held out for them.
Winding up commenced the same day. A team of instructors moved up and Camp 2 was wound up on 11 July. The mountain conditions were getting worse. On 13 July another team moved up and fixed ropes were removed. The mountain was stripped clear and the expedition reached Gangotri on 20 July.
Members: Colonel M. P. Yadav, Principal (leader), Major A. Abbey, Vice-Principal (deputy leader), Major V. S. Joshi (MO), Rattan Singh, S. I. Ranveer Singh, Jagmohan Singh, C. Norbu, D. Norbu, Surat Singh, Hav. Laxman Singh, Hav. M. S. Gurung, Hav. D. B. Pun, Digamber Singh, Godyal, S. S. Megi and Sanjay Pun.
Summary: The first ascent of Chaukhamba II (7068 m) and Pt. 6736 m. and an ascent of Chaukhamba I (7138 m) from the west face, and southeast ridge by a team from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi, in June-July 1995.
MANA PARBAT II
MANA PARBAT II (6771 m) is remotely situated at the head of the Kalindi glacier in the central Garhwal Himalaya (Gangotri glacier region). This peak located in the company of its twin Mana Parbat I (6771 m) and requiring long and difficult approach over the moraines of the lengthy Chaturangi glacier was first attempted by a team from Bombay in the year 1979. Thereafter, number of attempts were made both by teams from Bombay and West Bengal but without any success. A team from Bombay made an attempt in May-June 1988 reaching 6000 m of the slopes of Mana Parbat II.
In 1995 May-June three members of our club, Vinay Hegde, V. Shankar and Rajesh Gadgil embarked on an expedition to this peak. The team left Bombay on 13 May 1995 reaching Uttarkashi on the 16th and after obtaining the inner line permits, proceeded to Gangotri. On 20 May with 14 porters, cook Balwant Singh and a local friend Bacchan Singh Gusain we started for the mountain. The first camp was placed at Gaumukh (4050 m), the snout of Gangotri glacier on the 22nd. Thereafter, on the 23rd the high plateau of Nandanban (4540 m) situated at the junction of Chaturangi glacier and Gangotri glacier, was reached. On the 24th we reached Vasuki tal (4720 m) after a treacherous crossing of Sunder Bamak. Base camp (5150 m) was established on the 27th. The route till B.C. followed the edge of the plateau skirting the Vasuki Parbat (again rising above the left bank of Chaturangi glacier) till the Suralaya Bamak. which was crossed with ease, to reach the level ground below the rocky tower of Khada Pathar peak. Descending from here into the complicated moraine of the Chaturangi glacier and keeping to its medial moraine, Cl (5270 m) we established on the 30 May. It was situated on the medial moraine between the NW slopes of Chandra Parbat and the SW slope of Chaturangi peak. C2 (5550 m) was established on the terminal moraine opposite Avalanche peak of the Kalindi glacier on 1 June. C3 (5700 m), situated in the cwm formed by Chaturangi, Mana Parbat II and an unnamed peak was established on the 2nd. It was from here that we had our first glimpse of the Mana twins. C4 (5850 m) was to be our summit camp and was located in the basin formed between Mana Parbat I and II peaks. We established the summit camp on the 4th. Everybody by now was well acclimatised and ready for the attempt on Mana Parbat II.
The Climb to the Summit
5th June, 1995: we were ready to leave by 5.30 a.m. The temperature was close to -10°C. Initially we had decided to try the SW ridge which although lengthier was more easy angled compared to the NNW edge. We climbed the easy angled slopes leading to the SW ridge. However, it became obvious within one hour that we could not continue till the sun reached us, as it was extremely windy, lowering the temperature tremendously due to the wind-chill. We dumped our sacs at the high point and turned back to the camp. At 7.30 a.m. we started again. However, due to the day light we got a clear perspective of the intended route and we found it more steep than hoped and moreover compounded by numerous crevasses. We opted for the NNW ridge, which although steep was straight forward. We retrieved our sacs from the high point and traversed till the base of the NNW ridge. Our first major obstacle was a bergschrund below the actual climb. I was leading and crossed the schrund at its narrowest point. Immediately above the lip the ice was brittle and would not take ice screw runner. The angle was upto 75 degrees here. I ran out 100 m of rope without any runner to reach a rocky outcrop which was actually a rock rib falling from the ridge proper to lower slopes. I took up Shankar and I ran out another 100 m of rope. For anchors I used half driven snow stakes as the ice would not take any thing else. We were still 100 m short from the ridge proper. Since it was late in the day and we could not have reached the summit that day, we rappelled off and returned to camp. Bacchan Singh had suffered from twisted ankle and he went down with Balwant leaving us three. The wind started by evening and during the night gained such momentum that we just managed to keep the tent pinned to the ground. The wind continued unabated till 10.00 p.m. On the 6th morning it lost force and was tolerable. We anchored our tent the best we cou!d and set off at 10.30 a.m. I gained the high point of the previous day by 12.30 p.m. and by the time I could continue the climb it was nearly 1.00 p.m. We continued slowly for eight pitches fixing ropes. The overall gradient of the climb was between 65 to 75 degrees. We reached the summit by 6.20 p.m. It was an exhilarating moment also a special summit for me and Shankar. The summit was a high point of the ridge and very sharp. Unfortunately we could spend not more than 15 minutes on top taking photographs as we had to reach the fixed ropes before dark or else face benightment. In the descent the other two to rappelled off 50 m, while I climbed down. This we did for two lengths, thereafter Rajesh and I alternated being the last man. Fortunately we located the top of fixed ropes just as the last light was fading. At the rocky outcrop we had to fix 45 m of rope to cross the schrund. We reached the camp at 9.30 p.m. absolutely dehydrated.
We reached back to Base Camp by the 10th having destroyed all our garbage enroute. The porters came as pre-arranged on 12th and we all reached Uttarkashi by 14th.
Summary: An ascent of Mana Parbat II (6771 m) by a team from ANSA Trekkers and Mountaineers, Bombay. The summit was climbed on 6 June 1995.
GERMAN TRISUL EXPEDITION
INTHE AFTERNOON OF 27th September 1994 Markus Schnizler and me finally set our feet on the summit of Trisul, 7120 m.
Some days before we felt almost hopeless about reaching our aim. Two members of our team had become ill. So it took much more time than we had planned to carry our equipment to camp I and to place sticks on Ronti glacier above Camp 1 – not to mention that the most difficult part of our ascent was still far ahead: the west ridge between 5900 and 6400 m. Due to steep ice on the ridge, which is mostly 50° to 60° steep, another German expedition had failed in 1993. Before 1982 most of the expeditions who wanted to climb Trisul went by the eastern side as Tom Longstaff ‘s first ascent in 1907. The top could be reached via a flat glacier. In 1982 the area around Nanda Devi became a sanctuary and was closed for expeditions. Since then the summit could be reached from the western side only. In 1976 a Yugoslavian team led by Tone Sazonov had made the first ascent via the west ridge, and in 1987 a line through the difficult and dangerous west face was found, also by a Yugoslavian expedition (Vlasta Kunaver and Sandi Marinic).
Our expedition started from Delhi on 10 September. After two days by coach we reached Ghat. Now we had to follow the Nandakini river, two days with horses, then another three days with 28 porters. We met several groups of pilgrims, who were trekking to the holy lake Rupkund above the base camp (4300 m). Some of them reached up to Ronti saddle (5350 m), but higher on we were all alone since there was no other expedition in this season.
Below Ronti saddle we had to branch off and climb up a couloir of loose scree in order to get access to Ronti glacier. Next to a little lake we established Camp 1. Some 100 m away we found a lot of rubbish left by several former expeditions in their first camp. To avoid this in our camps we tried to produce as little rubbish as possible so that we could take it all down again.
Two of us then did the shuttle service between BC and Cl, and the other two searched for a way through the crevasses of Ronti glacier. When we finally reached C2 in delay time we had only one week left and thus changed our tactics.
Instead of fixing ropes between C2 and C3 (6400 m) and pitching up another camp at 6800 m we decided to try it without ropes in one single ascent from C2 and to forgo C4. So did we, and we were lucky: there was almost no ice on the ridge, but mostly good snow. Anyway it was very hard to reach the only flat part of the ridge at about 6450 m where we could pitch up our tent.
The next day we kept on climbing up the ridge which remained steep up to 6800 m. Then we reached the ridge that led to the summit and followed it for another endless time till we arrived at the top and enjoyed the great view to Nanda Devi just in front of us, Nanda Ghunti far below and all the other peaks around. Now we just had to go down again, but this was a stiff piece of work, too….
Summary: An ascent of Trisul (7120 m) from west by a German team on 27 September 1994.
BASPA VALLEY EXPEDITION
KEDAR NATH PATRA
BASPA VALLEY is in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. The Baspa glacier originating at about 5300 m is stretched to its snout at c.4700 m in 14 km arc. The Baspa commences its downward journey in a clean sweep to NNW till Arsomang nala joins from its right. There onwards the Baspa has settled down on a northwesterly course to finally drain in the Satluj at Karchham (1899 m).
Marco Pallis was the first visitor to this valley via Lamkhaga Pass in 1933. In 1948 J. T. M. Gibson followed through Nela or Chhotkhaga pass. He came back to the Baspa valley again in 1956. He is probably the only one to have traversed up along several tributaries joining the Baspa river from left. On the way to Leo Pargial in 1966 Soli Mehta and Major A. B. Jungalwala repeated the feats of Marco Pallis by dropping down into the Baspa valley via Lamkhaga pass. So far the only organised mountaineering venture in Baspa valley was in 1976 when Lieutenant-Colonel B. S. Sandhu, Parachute Regiment expedition climbed an unnamed peak of 6215 m North of Suithi Tathang. Baspa valley had also seen occasional trekkers coming over Charang and Mangshu passes from the north and even a few attempts to reach Borasu pass.
The team started from Calcutta by Delhi-Kalka Mail on 17th September, 1994 to reach Shimla on 19th. Spending a day at Shimla for arranging provisions and gathering two High Altitude Porters coming down from Manali the team moved out for Sangla by bus. A ten hour bus journey took us up along the Satluj valley to Karchham. Leaving National Highway No. 22, the old Hindustan-Tibet Road, at Karchham the bus turned South-east for Sangla (2680 m) where we were deposited in a local hotel at 8 in the evening.
On 22 September 1994 reached we Chhitkul by road via Sangla. Chhitkul (3450 m), the roadhead, is the highest village in the Baspa valley. The valley appeared to be fairly wide and terraced. The glacial terraces were made prominent by the Baspa river which flows all along the left side of the valley. Vegetation was confined to coniferous trees, shrubs and grass.
On the 23 rd with mules, we started. Roughly a kilometre after Chhitkul we came across a stream coming down from the north through a relatively wide valley which led to Charang pass (5247 m), 3 kilometres further and were at Nagasti. En route we spotted Raksi gad coming down from Kimlay pass to meet the Baspa river from south. At Doaria (3800 m), a camping site, Zupkia nala merges with the Baspa. The Zupkia nala and the glacier above gives access to Borasu pass which was crossed by J. T. M. Gibson from the north in 1948.
On the 24th we started at 9 a.m. Beyond Suithi Tathang the valley took its final upward turn to southeast and widened more than ever. 3 km further and we were on the right bank of Arsomang nala joining the Baspa from the east. More than a kilometre up from the confluence at Nithal Tathang on the northern side of Arsomang Nala ITBP is having an outpost. We were cordially welcomed there. We crossed the Arsomang nala. advanced to the south and pitched our base “camp at c. 4500 m.
Northwest, so far we could see, was very wide, flat and Arsomang nala meandered as an insignificant stream to meet the Baspa river south of our base<:amp. On the Baspa-Tidong divide, to our northwest we located no less than three peaks which must be well above 6000 m. One of them was 6215 m peak climbed by the Parachute Regiment expedition in 1976. The mountains between the Baspa and the Arsomang valleys to our east, comprised of three small glacial valleys, two of which were facing northwest while out of the third a small rivulet was draining directly in the Baspa river. This third valley was close to our camp therein were at least three unnamed peaks of 6193 m, 6154 m, and 6100 m forming the head wall of the valley. We opted to peep inside that valley first. The Baspa river valley leading upto Baspa glacier was to our southeast.
On the 26th we started to establish a camp inside southern of the three valleys to our east. Going was easy till we reached entrance of the valley. Both sides of the valley were covered with glacial debris and the stream had cut deep through it leaving high, steep moraine banks on both sides. We took right side of the valley and slowly gained altitude. The valley was bifurcated in its upper part by a rocky spur shooting out to the west from below the unnamed peak 6193 m which was in the centre of the wall at the valley head. The peaks 6154 m and 6100 m were at the head of the northern section of the glacier guarded by a formidable rock wall rising right from the glacier floor. At the end of the dividing spur at c. 5000 m we dumped provisions and returned.
We moved further up on the southern section of the glacier in search of a better camp site. At c. 5100 m on the right lateral moraine of the glacier we established Camp 1. On 28th I proceeded to establish Camp 2. Going was not difficult on the gently rising glacier. Camp 2 was established on the glacier at c. 5450 m below the north col of peak 6193 m.
At base camp rest of the party set out for Baspa glacier. They crossed the stream emanating from the glacier I was on and plodded along the true right bank of Baspa river. As they gradually turned east valley-sides became steeper. They finally descended to the valley floor where trekking was much easier. More than a kilometre short of the snout of Baspa glacier the stream coming down from the glacier below Lamkhaga and Nela passes met the Baspa river on left. The snout was reached at 12.30 p.m. and they returned.
On 29th at Camp 2 we started at 5.45 a.m. and started climbing towards the col to our northeast over the rocky slope. The climbing demanded no technical expertise. The only thing we had to be cautious about were the loose stones hurtling down from under our boots. The col, which we estimated to be at c. 5850 m, was gained at 8.30 a.m. We stopped on the col to take rest. From the col peak 6193 m was directly to our south gaining 350 m. It was connected by a fairly negotiable rocky ridge. The peak 6154 m. was to our northeast connected with peak 6193 m by a ridge, farther part of which upto the summit was icy. The peak 6100 m was to our NNE across northern section of the glacier and its rocky south face looked difficult. I proposed to give the peak 6193 m a try. The way up was largely over loose rocks with occasional patches of ice very near to the summit which we reached at 10.15 a.m. The peaks on Baspa-Tidong watershed were glittering to our northwest but their climbing feasibility appeared to be discouraging.1 Peak 6100 m and peak 6154 m were to our NNE and northeast respectively. Peak 6132 m was mostly obscured from the col. The ridge connecting the peak 6154 m with our peak 6193 m particularly allured me. After 15 minutes on the summit we started descending towards peak 6154 m. Without much difficulty the ridge was gained. Initial rocky part of the ridge was carefully covered. Once on the ridge much caution was not required as crest of the ridge was wider and ensured faster movement. Monchand felt fatigued and had stopped in the rocky zone. I carried on with Alamchand. The summit of peak 6154 m was reached at 1.30 p.m. From the summit we had a grandstand view of the glacier lying at our foot to the north. Arsomang nala emerges from that glacier but the snout was not in sight. It was at once clear to me that peaks 6100 m, 6154 m and 6132 m can be conveniently climbed from a common camp on that glacier. Enjoying 10 minutes on the summit we hurried back to Monchand. Reaching below peak 6193 m we went on traversing keeping the summit to our left. This minimised the time required to reach the rocky slope above our camp”. Wearily we moved downwards and reached the camp safely a little before 6 p.m. Next day the return journey to base camp was uneventful.
The same morning some members at base camp went out to explore Arsomang valley. They pushed in along the left bank of Arsomang nala for 2 hours. The valley was wide. flat, arid, with rock outcrops here and there. They faced no particular obstacle in negotiating the valley. They returned to base camp at 2 p.m. We returned the same way to Chhitkul by 3 October.
Members: KedarNath Patra (leader), Tarit Das (deputy leader), Kalachand Chattopadhyay, Ajit Kumar Dal, Dipak Mukhopadhyay and Subha Manna.
Summary: First ascent of 6193 m and 6154 m, peaks at the head of the Baspa valley, Kinnaur. Peaks were climbed on 29 September, 1994.
1. These are peaks of Rangrik group. Highest of them, Rangrik Rang (6553 m) was climbed in 1994. See H.J. Vol. 51, p. 83, – Ed.
PUSHPENDRA NATH GHOSH
SINCE 1992, members of Howrah Mountain Lovers have been trying to open a shorter and easier trekking route between Kullu and Spiti. Due to the presence of the Bara Shigri glacier system impeding an easy crossing, this area had to be avoided. The idea of crossing from valley to valley is nothing new. K. E. Snelson1 explored the head of the Dibibokri nala and reached two cols at its head. Looking down on the Spiti side, he probably saw the glaciers at the head of the Parahio or Khamengar systems. Later, Peter Holmes2 had crossed from Spiti to Kullu over a difficult col at the head of the Ratang/Parahio. Later, ‘Holmes’ col, (c. 5500 m) was referred after him. But this route is quite formidable and by no means easy for laden porters and has never been reported as repeated because Holmes had difficulty in climbing down from the col on the Dibibokri side and eventually got lost. With difficulty and some luck his team survived that ordeal. South of Holmes’ col, is the Ratiruni col, situated at the head of the Ratiruni glacier between peaks marked 6243 m and 6262 m. It gets enormous snow drifts from these two peaks as they catch the full blast of the monsoon, making the passage at least equally difficult and conditions on the Ratirurni render passage not only difficult but dangerous. As both these cols are near the Bara Shigri system where there are many peaks above 6000 m, the Spiti side slopes get less snow, causing formation of hanging glaciers and/or dangerous icefalls. From the Ratiruni col one can descend at the head of the Bauli khad. The head of the Bauli could not be seen from the Debsa as there is an intervening ridge, but from the gradient it could be assumed that there would be an icefall or a wall impeding any easy exit even if one gains the col from the Parvati side.
The choice of the Pin Parvati pass (Kullu Khango) for a crossing is ideal as it is far alorg the Pin river and of gentler gradient, affording easier passage than the Parahio. From maps it appeared that an alternative easy route might lie at the head of the Debsa glaciers. This aspect led to our trying to cross the high dividing ridge on the true right bank of the Parvati river and walk into the Debsa glacier in Spiti.
1. Himalayan Journal, Vol. XVIII, p. 110.
2. Himalayan Journal, Vol. XX, p. 79.
After an abortive trip in 1992. Pushpendra Nath Ghosh (Gupi) finally reached the pass in October 1993 and we had finally found an apparently feasible route. In 1993 the team returned to Calcutta without having actually crossed into Spiti. By this time it became known that restrictions on Indians visiting Spiti had been removed. It was necessary to find out about present conditions in Spiti as the area had been opened after more than 30 years, so in 1994, Gupi and Amit Mookerjee visited Kaja and Gulling to find out what lay ahead on that side of the pass.
In 1995, a team consisting of 3 members, Gupi, Sanjib Mitra and Joydeep Sircar reached Manikaran on 14 September. They started to trek immediately reaching Barseni by 4 p.m. During the next three days, they proceeded up the Parvati valley in easy stages making Nakhtan, Tundabhuj and Thakurkuan. After a day’s rest they proceeded to a camp site at Dwari thach (above the Jauli thach plains) where there is a double storied rock hut. The passage upto Dwari thach is easy and being on the Pin Parvati route, has been documented several times by Prabhat Ganguli3 and Harish Kapadia4.
After another day’s scrambling up the side towards the ridge to a small muddy lake above a hump, they pitched camp. The next day they slogged further upwards and pitched camp little below a steep snow slope. Next morning they zigzagged up the snowfields to avoid crevasses and traversed below a rock outcrop near the top of the dividing ridge. From here a short but steep snow slope led to the pass where they reached at 4 p.m. and named it ‘Debsa pass’ (5360 m).
The Debsa pass is at the head of the west Debsa glacier, lying a little southwest of a ridge dividing the west and east Debsa glaciers. A snow slope lay from the pass to the glacier on the Spiti.
3.Indian Mountaineer, No. 18, p. 58.
4. HJ. Vol. 50,. 111.
At a vertical distance of about 100 m, a bergschrund lay directly below the pass but was easily crossed over a snow bridge by traversing a little distance to the right (NE). They pitched camp on the glacier about 150 m beyond the bergschrund. From this point onward, the snow on the glacier was quite thick and firm, without any blemishes, crevasses or moraine.
Next day they started late and marched down the glacier and presently met the left lateral moraine and followed it to the snout at about (4260 m). At a small alp a few hundred metres below the snout, they made camp, whilst still above Thewak Debsa, marked in maps as an alp at the meeting point of the west and east Debsa streams. The following day it was a tedious journey over boulders, scree and the occasional ravine. Presently they were upon the Khamengar nala which they crossed. Hereafter the ensuing stream is called the Parahio. They plodded on to the small hamlet of Thango opposite the confluence of the Killung nala and the Parahio. Starting from Thango after a night’s rest here, by evening they walked into Gulling, the bus head for Kaja.
Summary: Exploring a new pass from the Parvati valley (Kullu) to the Debsa valley (Spiti) in September 1995.
WE WERE A SEVEN MEMBER Indian team that made the first attempt to climb the elusive and elegant mountain Gya (6794 m) in July 1994.
The peak defines the tri-junction of the three borders of Ladakh (in Jammu & Kashmir), Spiti (in Himachal Pradesh) and Tibet.
Earlier attempts to reach the mountain from Spiti (the southern approach) had been abandoned due to the impenetrable nature of the Lingti gorge. This left us with the only option of approaching the mountain from Ladakh in the north. No exploration of the northern approaches to the mountain had been carried out earlier.
We left Leh (district headquarters of Ladakh), on 3 July 1994 driving approximately 300 km along the Changthang plains (geographically, a part of the Tibetan plateau) to Chumar (4400 m). Chumar is the last Indian border outpost in the southeast corner of Ladakh bordering Tibet. From here the Gya massif is clearly visible to the southwest. The Changpas or nomads of the Changthang plains refer to the mountain as ‘Kang Cham Gyalmo’ or ‘Fair Princess of the snows’. They were quite indifferent to the name Gya.
On 8 July with a few horses hired from the locals (mostly Tibetan refugees) of Chumar we crossed the Pare chu river and began our approach up the mostly unexplored Hurrung gorge which is a major tributary of the Pare chu and main drainage of the western and northern glaciers of the Gya group. With several crossings of the Hurrung and a two day march in, we established base camp on 10 July at the exit point of what we called the ‘Kang Cham Gyalmo nala’ draining the western aspect of our mountain where it met with the Hurrung at 4950 m. The horses returned back to Chumar at this point.
In ascertaining our position we relied almost entirely on our Survey of India (SOI) maps which were fairly accurate. The locals of Chumar had very little knowledge of the mountain or its approaches.
We spent a week recconnoitring, ferrying and finally establishing advanced base camp (ABC) on 15 July at 5380 m on the right lateral moraine of the Kang Cham Gyalmo glacier under the northwest buttress of our mountain. On the 16th we walked along the moraine and under the northwest buttress and finally got our first view of the mountain and its entire west face. Camp 1 (CI) was sited near the head of the glacier below the face at 5685 m.
The bad weather spell started on the 17th and continued till (he 23rd. In spite of this and because of limited time on our hands, Yousuf, Paramjit and Ganeve occupied Cl on 20th hoping for a hrcak in the weather to establish their route of ascent. The weather finally cleared on 23 July. Our original plan to climb the 1200 in west pillar direct were shelved because of the shortage of time. Also the inactivity of being holed up in our tents waiting out the weather hadn’t done much for our fitness or acclimatisation. Instead we finalised our plan to climb the west face above Cl via a rock buttress followed by mixed ground to a col on the northeast ridge between the main and the north subsidiary summit. From here a final bid would be made to get to the top.
From 24th to 26th Yousuf and Paramjit fixed eight rope lengths up the buttress to facilitate ferrying to C2 (6115 m). With time running short (we had to be back in Delhi by 4 August) Yousuf and Paramjit set off on 28 July climbing alpine style hoping to cover 460 m of exposed mixed terrain above C2 to the col, and summitting the following day. While tackling a rock section Yousuf’s crampons dropped from his peak leaving us no option but to continue on rock instead of taking some straight forward ice gullies. This resulted in slow going and by the end of the day we were forced into an uncomfortable bivouac 120 m short of the col. While setting up the bivouac in fading light Paramjit dropped the only pan we had for melting snow. With the odds against us and oncoming bad weather yet again the attempt was given up and we descended to C2 on the 29th.
In hindsight our comedy of errors was probably a blessing in disguise as the weather was horrendous all through our descent and evacuation of the lower camps. The entire team were back in Chumar on 1 August, our horses being nearly swept away by the now swollen Hurrung and Pare chu rivers.
Members: Yousuf Zaheer (leader), Paramjit Singh, Vaibhav Kala, Cianeve Rajkotia, Solil Paul, Chaman Singh and Krishen Singh
1. The northern approaches from Ladakh to Gya are restricted areas for both foreign mountaineering expeditions and tourism. Even for Indians, government clearance and permits are required. Recently the Tso Moriri lake has been opened to tourism, as also the trek across the Parang la on the Pare chu – Spiti divide.Gya is clearly visible to the south from Tso Moriri lake. (Refer to Himalayan Journal Vol. 50, article by R. Bhattacharjee).
2. Although Harish Kapadia in H.J. Vol. 40 refers to Gya (6794 m) as the highest peak in Himachal Pradesh, it is actually Reo Purgyil (6816 m) which is the highest peak in Himachal (refer to HJ Vol. 48 article by Emmanuel Theophilis). Yousuf Zaheer and Paramjit Singh climbed Reo Purgyil in 1991.
3. Lingti gorge: refer to:
(a) The Himalayan Journal Vol. 40, p. 96 and Vol. 44 p. 96.
(b) Exploring the Hidden Himalaya (Soli Mehta and Harish Kapadia)
(c)High Himalaya Unknown Valleys (Harish Kapadia)
(d) Spiti Adventures in the Trans-Himalaya (Harish Kapadia)
Summary: An attempt on Gya (6794 m), Spiti.
KANG YISSAY : A CLOSER LOOK
KANG YISSAY IS THE MOUNTAIN that the numerous trekkers in the Markha valley of Ladakh see as they leave the village of Hankar, heading upstream. Here the valley is briefly broad and green, before the climb up to the Nimaling plain. It was here in August 1992, that I stopped to admire the view. Comparing what I could see with my map, I was struck by an inconsistency: (wo peaks were clearly visible, but the map showed only one: Kang Yis’say 6400 m. And when, next day, we emerged from the river’s gorge onto the Nimaling plain, that was the only mountain to be seen. It is a handsome peak, with a long ridge separating two snowy shoulders, each with a summit, and a steep, icy north face. We returned to Nimaling in August 1995, to climb the mountain and solve the mystery of its disappearing twin: We found not one other peak, but many: Kang Yissay is just one of a compact and complex range of good looking snow and ice peaks, some over 6000 m.
There were five in our team, three (myself, Trevor Willis and John Shelley) from the trek through Markha in 1992, and two others (John Lovett and Nick Fellowes) new to the Himalaya. From Leh, where we were based, the Markha valley is certainly the most attractive approach and acclimatisation trek, but since most of us had been there before, we came over the Stok la, at first on the well-used trail to Stok Kangri base camp, but then continuing east. The route finds a way through the complex range of mountains (the Matho Kangri range) that lie between the Indus valley and the Nimaling plain. Two passes lead through some fine mountain scenery to the extensive village of Shang and then Shang Sumdo, a cross-roads of trails at the foot of the Kongmaru la. On the steep trail up to this pass there was plenty of evidence of bad weather. In 1992 we had descended the valley with dry feet, but now bridges and paths had been washed away, and we crossed and recrossed the river, over and over, by wading. The next morning, we crossed the pass. From here Kang Yissay dominates the view south, but an intervening ridge blocks sight of the bottom of the mountain and its glacier. The base camp for Kang Yissay is over this ridge, in the valley formed by the Kang Yissay glaciers and their outflow streams.
The mountain rises above a compact north facing glacier, with a long summit ridge running from east to west, separating two tops. Its two northeast and northwest shoulders form a cirque that enclose the flanks of the glacier. The main summit (6400 m) is at the top of the northeast shoulder, which is steep, with seracs, and continuous with the glacier and the steep, ice covered north face below the connecting ridge. The northwest shoulder, below the lower summit (6100 m) is much gentler. It is separated from the glacier by a lateral moraine, and the inner wall is made up of loose rock. Above 5300 m, most of it is snow covered, with some crevasses but no seracs.
We set up base camp on 15 August, and on the same day set up an advanced base well upstream, immediately below the glacier, on the right hand side. We wanted to climb the main summit via the northeast shoulder. It appeared to be possible to gain the ridge fairly directly, starting from the glacier, and then to avoid the seracs on the left, which would give access to a step looking snow (ice?) slope leading to the summit. Trevor and I set out from ABC at 4.00 a.m. The glacier proved easy enough, and the snow slope above comprised eighteen inches of good snow overlying ice: in places it steepened to about 50° or more. However the slope was longer than expected, and where it joined the ridge there were awkward crevasses to negotiate. By this time, it was past midday and we were tired. After some food we pressed on. The northeast ridge leading up to the serac barrier was simply a snow slope, but was soft and hard going, and it was obvious that we would not pass the seracs that day. We had reached 5400 m, and Trevor was keen to bivouac, but the weather was conspiring against us. Our ration of sunny days was over, and to the north the Indus valley was under heavy cloud. This swept down over the Kongmaru la, and we were soon deluged with hail. Time to go down! Rather than attempt the snow descent, we followed a direct line down the shoulder. Below the snowline it was a steep boulder scree slope, and we were very grateful to find our friends waiting at the bottom to relieve us of our sacs.
Whilst we had been on the mountain, Nick and John (Shelley) had gone further up the valley to explore the far (eastern) side of the northeast shoulder. A snow gully led from here all the way up the shoulder to the main summit: (it was the topmost section of this line that we had hoped to reach from the ridge), but the lower section was an avalanche channel, and in poor condition. From that side it was also possible to see that a ridge ran down (southwards) from the main summit and then rose steeply to a third summit.
At base camp we worked out that to repeat the attempt on the main summit by our route would require at least one camp, somewhere near our high point, and a minimum of two days’ good weather if we were to succeed. However, the weather continued to be poor, with the mountain hidden in cloud, and enough snowfall one night to collapse some of the tents. Time was beginning to run out. We decided that if an opportunity presented itself, we should try the lower summit, which would not take more than a day. Well before dawn on 19 August we all started up the easy slopes behind base camp that led up the northwest shoulder. This levels off at about 5200 m, where there is a small col below the snow line. Here we also found the remains of rock bivouac shelters. Illness and low spirits had taken their toll, and John Lovett and Nick Fellowes turned back. It was a rope of four – myself, Trevor, John Shelley and Pun (HAP) – that set off up the snow. The route proved straightforward, with good deep snow all the way to the top (although soft conditions on the descent revealed one or two hidden crevasses low down the slope). The bergshrund was well bridged, and Trevor led a zig zag line up the endless convex snow slope. As we gained height, the cloud that had been with us all morning began to lift, and by the time we had reached the corniced lip of the summit pyramid, the cloud had gone.
The view from the summit was remarkable. To the north was cloud that hid the Eastern Karakoram. Westwards was the main Karakoram with K2 and Trango Tower clearly discernible, whilst much closer were Nun and Kun, and the Markha valley flanked by the Stok Kangri peaks. To the south lay the numerous peaks of Zanskar and Kishtwar. However, it was the adjoining peaks that demanded attention. Leading to the main summit 300 m higher was the summit ridge, a mixture of snow ice and rock that looked formidable. The guidebook (1) compares this to the Aiguille de Chardonnay-presumably the Forbes arete – but it looks much harder. Due south lies the second mountain that we had seen from Hankar. This comprises a long steadily sloping ridge rising from west to east. The summit appeared slightly lower than ours. The ridge dips to a col and rises to a second, lower, top before curving round to another snow peak, which is connected by a narrow ridge to the main summit. (This last peak is the one that could be seen from the NE). Kang Yissay forms an elongate ‘U’ shape; one arm of the U is the main peak itself, with our lower summit at the open end. The other arm is made up of the southern mountain, with the various tops, and enclosing a small southern glacier in the middle. Immediately beyond the U are other connected peaks both td the east and south.
In his summary of climbing of Kang Yissay Dhiren Pania refers to its two summits as Kang Yissay I and II. I suggest that the other summits directly connected by ridges to Kang Yissay be added. The peak joined to the main summit by the SE ridge would therefore be Kang Yissay III, and the main summit of the southern arm would be Kang Yissay IV
There were just two days left before we had to walk out. On our last day, Trevor and I explored access to the south glacier. A narrow trail connects Nimaling to the Langtang chu valley (which leads south over the Zalung Karpo la) via Konka Wangpo. This is not a village but a camping place. From here we climbed to the mouth of the valley leading to the south glacier. There is no trail as such, and no obvious site for a large camp. Nor did we find the outfall stream from the glacier. Nevertheless, this would be the best site for an ABC for anyone attempting Kang Yissay’s southern twin (Kang Yissay IV), and there is a clearly visible rock ridge, not too steep, that appears to give a line of ascent to the summit ridge of the main peak. That same day. one of our party, explored a gully that led from the north glacier up on to the northwest shoulder, just above the snowline. The rock is poor, but the gully provides a confident scrambler with a direct and interesting line of ascent from the glacial moraine.
We walked out over the Lalung la, which connects Nimaling and Markha to the Leh-Manali road at Lato by a walk of three short days. The route is little used, since the Kongmaru la gives access to the Indus valley in one long day, but the pass gives the best view of Kang Yissay and its neighbours. The Kang Yissay peaks form the westernmost group, with two other major tops (6000 m plus) visible to the east. One is at the head of the Nimaling plain (in fact a valley) which curves round to a glacier with a steep north face above it. A second group of peaks lies between the latter and Kang Yissay.
1. Genoud, C. (Ed.) (1984), Aitou Guidebook; Ladakh Zanskar
Editions Olizane, Geneva
2.Dhiven Pania (1991) Himalayan Journal, Vol. 45, p. 202 and Indian Mountaineer,
No. 27, p. 40.
Summary: An ascent of Kang Yissay II (6100 m) by a British team on 19 August 1995.
TANAK, KASHMIR, 1994
NESTLED IN THE SNOWY heights of eastern Kargil, flanked by Nun Kun range lies an unclimbed and unknown peak Tanak (5810 m). Being familiar with the area and the people of the region, organising an expedition to this peak was on our list of priority objectives.
On 21 August 1994, after two hectic days of arrangement a 6-member expedition under the leadership of Showkat Hussian left for Kargil by bus. The porters Gafar Mir and Sultan Shah were already there at Sonmarg waiting to carry the expedition baggage.
As the day-long journey proceeded from Srinagar to Kargil, tantalising glimpses of the eastern Baltal mountains were seen as the road swung northwards at Zoji la (3530 m).
Completing our build-up of further supplies at Kargil, our contingent of 6 walked up the barren Suru valley after setting up two camps on the way.
Pannikhar from where commercial or guided treks are popular, is a junction of various routes. A historical and traditional summer trade route between Kashmir and Central Asia in the past as it connects Kashmir valley with Leh and Zanskar.
The whole Suru appears like a green field with its scattered villages. It lies in the inner Himalayan range where the winds saturated with moisture do not reach. This region has scanty rainfall and vegetation is also poor. Buckwheat, peas, beans, barley and wheat are grown here. The people are badly off as there are little avenues of employment. The staple food of the people is rice and wheat. The people are Baltis. The houses are mostly one storied with walls of mud and round stones.
We invariably avoided camping at village Anti to keep ourselves away from habitation. We proceeded gradually ahead, savouring the barren beauty of Suru valley and set up camp near the stream.
We set forth on 25th for B.C., ferrying all our tentage and gear. After 6 hrs of climbing, we arrived at a small level portion on the crest of SW ridge above 4800 m. The evening saw the weather clearing and we had a view of the peaks around. The high ridge of the peak which we were to attempt stood towards the south while towards the distant east there was a beautiful range of unnamed peaks with a magnificent awe-inspiring view of Nun Kun peaks.
On the morning of the 26th the advance party (Amin, Hafiz and myself) left for the summit with the wind threatening to blow hard leaving other members at B.C. We climbed the rocks above Camp 1 and a steep snow arete which led to crevasse-field. Our plan was to climb the peak by the southwest face. The SW ridges rises gradually till 5000 m to a rock band where it gets steeper till we reached the junction of the SW ridges. We climbed up in mixed snow and ice avoiding the cornices at the bottom of the rock band. Breathing difficulty began as the height became considerable.
The clouds which were now coming across the Nun Kun in the east had us worried. We continued slowly towards the summit. After a spell of 4 hrs of climbing we reached the top of the ridge from where the summit was only 180 m away. But the clouds by then had risen quite high with wind speed rising steadily. This made our further movement impossible. The thick fog had curtailed the view of the whole surrounding, and a violent thunderstorm quickly followed. It was all misty and cloudy. There was no chance of clear weather so we decided to retreat as gale force winds, snow blizzards and zero visibility meant that any attempt to move ahead would be futile. With a heavy heart we retreated and made our way back to BC. In a dizzy and shaken condition we reached B.C. by dusk.
The following day our return was through traditional route of Kanital. At Dunera the scattered treeline disappears fast, giving place to glacial landscapes. Dotted with shrubs, limited fire-wood and fodder is available on this, a short cut route to Kashmir.
From Sagar Nor, the route ascends gradually over glacier. At Kanital we crossed a crevasse-field, negotiated an ice-traverse of 30 m ascending the base of Yourangshan pass (4390 m). The river Bhotkol rises out of this glacier. All stones contain either mica, lead or some other mineral as they are glittering in the sun. The surface of the glacier is full of crevasses, hence it is dangerous to cross it without rope. In the past many lives have been lose in these hidden crevasses. Night at Kanital.
From Kanital high mountains are seen on both sides of the path and in these mountains, at every depression, at every- cliff, at every ravine there is a small or a large glacier from which rills, streamlet and torrents gush out to join Bhotkol river. We came to a plateau and descended to terraces. The flow of the river gets slow and here it has carved out a small valley with flat embankments on other side. In the way different species of wild flowers and herbs.
We also observed some marmots (aretomysum hemachalanus) hooting at us, popping out of their holes to look after the intruder in fright and excitement. This animal is found all over the alpine valleys of Kashmir at the height from 3300 m to 4400 m. Halt at Sukhniz.
Wardwon is a valley of 7 isolated hamlets. Passing through these villages one can see a veritable jumble of rock faces and alpine ridges rising out of this deep wooded valley. The people are simple. The produce of the area is barley and buckwheat. Pambhahak (rheum webbianum) potatoes are main vegetation. The birds observed are brown hopper, dipper and jungle crow etc.
During our halt at Inshin, the main hamlet of the Wardwon valley, located at its extreme to south, we saw 15th century architectural shrines, surmounted by pyramidal roof. The area is thinly populated. Their customs, myths, conventions, beliefs and taboos are worthy of a study.
We left Inshin on 2 September. Moving southwards, we were confronted with Margan pass (the death pass) . The pass is 4470 m but the weather in this area deteriorates abruptly within hours so we have to cross the pass before afternoon. The route of ascent was strewn with boulders and fragmented rocks. At first the rock gradient was tolerable but the last 50 m of the pass was steep and tiresome. Leaving the pass behind the vegetation become more luxuriant we saw many species of bunium persieum, rumex acetosa, polygonum alpinum, fagopyrum cymosum, portulaca oleracea etc. upto Gauran, the roadhead. Reached Srinagar by bus on the 4th.
Although we could not achieve the complete success due to bad weather it was still a strong effort against hard, dangerous ice climb and we hope that our dream to scale Tanak would be fulfilled next year.
Members: Showkat Hussain (leader), M. Amin, A. Kumar, Autar Krishen, Gulzar Ahmed and Hafiz-ulla.
Summary: An attempt on Tanak (5810 m), Kashmir. The party returned via little known Yourangshan pass (4390 m), in September 1994.
THE PARTY STARTED from Delhi on 5 August 1995 by two coaches and after five days journey via Manali, Sarchu, Pang, Leh, and Mahe through several high altitude passes, more than 5000 m, they reached Karzok village on 10 August. The party was sponsored by Ashikaga Institute of Technology, in Ashikaga-city which was situated about 100 km northwest of Tokyo.
Karzok village is situated to west of Tso Moriri. Base camp (4500 m) was established a little to the north, ahead of the Karzok Phu river.
On 12th, three members, Oki, Takezawa, Takase and Arun Roy Chowdhury (liaison officer), started for reconnaissance to ABC (5100 m) and Camp 1 (5600 m). They crossed the Karzok Phu and after about 5 hours reached a small flat place. The leader decided to make advance base camp there. Further reconnaissance was done to upper route and then they climbed down to the base camp.
Next day some luggage was carried to ABC by the leader, Amma and Matsuzaki, and two local porters and two ponies.
The ABC was established on 14 August and next day place of Camp 1 was decided and a climbing route from Camp 1 was surveyed and about 300 m rope was fixed on the northwest ridge of Sara Shuwa.
Snow covered Sara Shuwa towered in front of Camp 1. The main peak Sara Shuwa (6238 m) is beautiful, left side of the peak is rocky with little few snow and right side of the peak is snow covered with few rocks from top to bottom.
16 August was a fine day. Takezawa, Takase and Roy started from Camp 1 at 5.30 a.m. and climbed a snow face. After about 4 hours they reached a snow ridge. From there they climbed under the ridge on the east side and finally reached the top at 10.55 a.m. This was the first ascent of Sara Shuwa.
Next day was not as good weather as the previous day. The sky was covered by cloud. We expected bad weather in the evening. Therefore Oki, Amma and Matsuzaki started from Camp 1 early morning at 3.00 a.m. After about 6 hours climbing they reached the top 9.30 a.m. by the same route of the first party.
On 18 August Camp 1 was removed and all members all luggage including garbage was carried down to base camp. After few days rest party reached Delhi on 24 August.
Members: Prof. Masato Oki (leader), Yuzo Takezawa (deputy leader), Hiroki Takase (climbing leader), Yoshiyuki Amma and Takashi Matsuzaki.
Summary: First ascent of Sara Shuwa (6238 “m) on 16 and 17
August 1995 by a Japanese team.
An idea was born
IN SPRING 1992 on Kangchenjunga in Nepal I met two Polish climbers, Arek Gasienca Jozkowy and Wanda Rutkiewicz. They told me, that they had heard from some of their Polish friends something about a wonderful granite pyramid in India called Arjuna. This mountain should have had only few ascents and many first ascents on difficult rock routes could be done.
As I am always interested in expeditions to such mountains, I took up the idea to climb Arjuna. In some mountain magazines, which I found in the library of the German Alpine Club in Munich,
Having seen some photographs of Arjuna I was full with enthusiasm to try climbing this marvellous mountain, perhaps even on a new route. After coming home from Patagonia, Argentine, I asked some friends, if they were interested in climbing Arjuna.
It took some time to find good expedition members and over all to find some friends having time and money. Finally the team members were, Horst Heller from Kirchseeon, Berthold Schmidt from Munich, Christian Schneewei from Wolfratshausen, Thomas Tivadar from Munich and me, Walter Hadersdorfer from Erding as expedition leader, all from Germany.
First I wondered, whether I would get a permit for climbing Arjuna, as this mountain lies in Kishtwar area, Kashmir, a region with enormous political disturbances especially in the last few years. But with help of the very friendly team of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation I received the permit to climb Arjuna and Brahma II from the Government of India by March 1994.
By 20 August 1994 we were all assembled in Delhi. It took us about 12 hours to drive from New Delhi to Jammu. Next day it took us about 10 hours to drive to Kishtwar, where we stayed overnight in tourist bungalow. While crossing Doda and Kishtwar areas we could see many soldier patrols, but no military activities neither by Indian soldiers nor by terrorists or anybody else. Everything seemed to be calm and peaceful.
On the last day of our drive we had to leave the system of good and mostly paved roads up to Kishtwar and had to drive on a very small unpaved road through the canyon of the Chenab river up to a place between the villages of Shasho and Atholi. It was a rise of about four hours including some short stops for sightseeing.
March to base camp
Access to base camp is by a valley called Kijai valley. On the road we asked people about this valley and how and where to cross the rapid Chenab river.
One can cross Chenab river in a direct way to Kijai valley by a single rope. This rope – made out of steel – is fixed half the way up from Shasho to Atholi.
But porters first refused to use this single rope for crossing the river. They told us that the only safe way of crossing the river is by a double rope – made of steel – with help of a small pulleys nearby Atholi, opposite a village called Lai.
The direct way to base camp by the single rope takes 2 to 3 days, the way by the double rope takes 4 to 5 days.
As none of us had ever been to this area, we had to agree with the porter guides and had to decide for the longer way. The real reason for the porters to decide only for the longer way was, that the longer way would bring them more money. Afterwards, on the way down they took the short way by the single rope with a smile in their faces.
Recruiting porters was not to easy. Many porters were interested to get a job. As they came from three different villages Lai, Atholi and Gulab Garh and also had different religious professions, they fought against each other about quotas for each villages and Hindu or Muslims.
It took almost 2 days to recruit 45 porters. They were promised wages of Rs. 100 per day per porter up to base camp and wages of Rs. 200 further on.
On 25 August 1994 we started the march to base camp.
On the first day of this march to base camp we had to climb a ridge from Lai on upwards to about 2500 m and go down again to a valley called Sungla nala to about 2300 m with an overnight stop nearby a shepherd’s hut. The next day we had to climb a ridge again to about 2800 m and had to go down again to about 2500 m, half the way down to the Kijai valley. Overnight stop again nearby a shepherd’s hut.
The path was very steep and strenuous on the first two days. It was the same on the first section of the path on the third day until we reached Kijai nala, valley at about 2300 m, where we camped at a place called Kudab (2360 m). From the Kijai valley on the path was easier.
On the next day we reached a place called Basti (3200 m). On 29 August 1994 we reached base camp (3500 m). Porters told us, that this was the base camp of all previous expeditions and so we pitched up base camp at the same place, although altitude was very low for a base camp and it was quite far away from Arjuna.
Exploring access to Arjuna
At base camp porters demanded much more money than the promised. So we said, that we would carry loads by ourselves now.
After a long discussion most of the porters went home, only a few of them from the village of Lai were willing to go on for a few days for the promised Rs. 200 per day per porter.
We really had no problems with porters. But nearly every day we had long discussions about porter wages, gifts etc. with the porter guides, who were corrupt and unscrupulous.
The next days we explored the path up to the glacier leading to Arjuna. There are some very steep sections even with a few meters of climbing up to this glacier. The glacier itself was quite flat and with hard ice.
By help of 10 porters and their guide we carried up some loads to a place called Naq tal, one of the last meadows with a small lake on the western moraine of the glacier with a good view on Arjuna.
On 1 September we pitched up an advanced base camp at Naq tal (4400 m).
Days at Base camp
On 2 September we explored a route on the glacier to the base of Arjuna’s south and west face.
On 3 September we needed one day for rest and packing at advanced base camp.
On our way to base camp we had quite good weather. It was warm and we had only a few showers mostly in the afternoons. On our way to advanced base camp we had good weather with only a few clouds in the afternoon and evening.
On 4 September, we climbed some slopes above advanced base camp up to 5000 m for acclimatisation and for taking photographs.
From 5 to 11 September it was raining and snowing every day almost without any interruption. On these days we carried some loads up and down from advanced base camp to base camp and vice versa and established some deposits of equipment and food on the way to Arjuna. Some of this equipment was stolen by people, who came up the valley.
On 12 September rain stopped in the morning. So we started for advanced base camp in the morning. Here we could see again Arjuna after so many days of rain and snowfall.
All the rock on Arjuna was full with fresh snow. In the evening of this day the sun came out for almost an hour and we should at least take some good photographs.
But by nightfall rain and snowfall returned. On the next day we had frost and snowfall down to base camp.
Now more than half o# our time was over and Arjuna’s rock faces were full with snow. So we decided to give up the plan to climb a new route on Arjuna’s south or west face. We decided to make an attempt on the east ridge, the route, by which it had been climbed during the first ascent of Arjuna’s south summit.
But we still had to wait for good or at least better weather.
On 14 September good weather was coming in the evening.
On 15 September we started from advanced base camp early in the morning. Because of much fresh snow even on the flat sections of the glacier, it took us the whole day to reach the base of Arjuna’s south and west faces and climb about 200 m of a couloir leading to the steep glacier below the south face of Arjuna.
We found a good bivouac site, sheltered by some overhanging rocks. The night was clear and not too cold.
The next morning was clear and we made good progress in climbing the rest of the couloir leading to the glacier below. Arjuna’s south face.
Berthold and Thomas returned, because they were not in good shape. Christian, Horst and I went on and climbed the steep glacier (50o-60o with some short steps of almost vertical ice and snow). By the late afternoon it was cloudy together with strong wind. In the evening we climbed a steep glacier and found a very good bivouac-site at the beginning of the east ridge. During the night the weather began deteriorating again. The next day brought us almost a total white-out. So we decided to descend immediately, fearing the storm, snowfall and avalanches.
It took us the whole day to climb down and rappel the steep glacier down to.the lower bivouac site, next to the mentioned couloir. Meanwhile another 50 to 60 cm of fresh snow covered the mountains and the danger of avalanches was increasing.
On 18 September we descended to advanced base camp.
From 19 to 23 September bad weather with rain and snowfall brought snow down to base camp.
By 24 September though weather was good we had to go home. Porters were waiting at base camp. It was a pity to go home now in good weather, which should last for almost three weeks. But jobs were waiting….
I was sad, but not disappointed. I said to myself: That’s life, you will get your chances on your next expeditions….
Summary: An attempt by a German team on Arjuna , Kishtwar in September 1994.
COLD WEATHER CLIMBS
The Pangong Range of Ladakh, 1995
P. M. DAS
AS PART OF THE HARD training schedule laid out for Everest, 1996 from the north, I joined the ITBP group at Leh on 27 October.1
After a brief period of compulsory acclimatisation spent in walks to the Buddhist monasteries of Hemis and Spituk and to the Sikh shrine of Pathar Sahib where Guru Nanak is believed to have meditated, we left the comfort of messes and ‘bukharis’. The day long drive involved the crossing of the Chang la (17,340 ft), already with a veneer of snow, and a descent into Darbuk and Tangse where the Darbuk river drains the valley west to east. An angler’s delight when the snows melt?
As we reached our roadhead camp at Monbar at the end of the day, I felt the cold and dryness in the air. The terrain was reminiscent of the Tibetan plateau of North Sikkim, very akin to the Cholamo region. Despite the cold there is an abundance of wild life in this valley: flocks of mallard and Brahmany duck on the iced waters, red-billed choughs, Ram chakor, a family of Black-necked crane, scores of rabbits – the Bugs Bunny variety! On the Leh side of the Chang la we saw the Large Pied Wagtail, locally know as “Jathao”.
The valley is rimmed by the Pangong range, beyond which is the 135 km long lake with the same name. 95 km of this lake is within Chinese territory while 45 km is in India now. Base camp took a couple of days to set up at 5560 m and I took the opportunity to get fitter. On 2 November, with Tashi Paljor, an instructor of M&SI Auli, I made an ascent of a rock-and-snow peak of c. 5800 m. opposite our road-head camp in six hours. Somehow its sugary textured snow over loose rock and two rock pinnacles reminded me of the problems – though much more gigantic – posed on the north side of Everest. Yet the strain of the climb was softened by our rabbit-chasing session, for the camera, during our descent into the Darbuk valley.
- 1. See ‘Ascent of Mana’ in this volume.
- 2. Bukhari. Kerosene stove.
Base was set up beside a huge frozen lake which provided ample opportunity for jogging in our Koflach boots! It was also one of the coldest places on earth. Some climbers slept in full down clothing, inside ‘Mountain Equipment’ sleeping bags. This was at barely 5560 m ft. At noon, the winds would add to human discomfort and send us into the tents when there was no activity otherwise. Most climbers were seasoned in the Himalaya but the majority felt the lack of oxygen compared to other mountains, which was erroneously or otherwise attributed to the sparse vegetation in these parts.
Above base camp, another camp was placed up the glacier at c. 6000 m. past the labyrinth of seracs and a small ice-fall. The latter ice fall was ideal for brushing up ice-craft techniques and I was on it on 5 November, front pointing, hammering in pitons, abseiling, jumaring and testing out gear.
The camp on the glacier was more like an advance base camp, servicing 34 climbers. The most comfortable in it were those who took up residence in the ‘Medium Arctics’ which are the pride of Indian tentage. The great advantage of these tents is that while at least nine climbers can sleep in them, it is possible to also run the cook-house for the whole camp inside it and thus draw warmth from fuel and human coexistence. Besides, it is also possible to stand erect inside – a great bonus for early morning preparations. Naturally I abandoned my solitary confinement of a two-person tent and moved in where food, laughter and the only two women of the team (both NCO’s) were residents.
Advance base was located in the centre of an amphitheatre of peaks, dominated by Pk 6725 metres which is the highest in the Pangong range though having been climbed earlier. Being the main ‘assigned target’, devoted our attention to its southern slopes. Several attractive lines existed such as one by a rock rib on the left and another by a right-hand ridge. The pundits of the expedition ruled in favour of the straight-line ascent by the 50 to 60 degree hard snow slope. Latent in the decision I think was the Indian climber’s preference for snow to rock. In the event, all 700 metres of it, part of which was fixed with snow bars, proved to be a safe route without fear of avalanches and the snow conditions were good. In three days, all 34 members and some of the support party, including the cook boy reached the immaculate summit in clear weather the star climber, T. Smanla,1 climbing solo, did the climb in 3 1/2 hours while on the average the others took 4 1/2 hours. Mine was the third of the three groups. It consisted of 16 climbers which included Nima Wanchuk, an old climbing partner, and one of the lady climbers. The day was made memorable by superb views all around – of the Pangong lake, Phobrang, Lukung, the Karakorams. The distant purple, dark blue landscape and deep blue-green lakes lit up by sparkling winter sunshine and bright skies made me forget the discomfort of the biting cold, wind, fumbling with crampon straps and numb feet. The summit itself ran in a squat cornice towards the lee-ward side providing temporary respite from the wind while cold fingers adjusted cameras for shots all round. Down the ridge to the east, nearer the Pangong Lake is the known but lower peak of Kakstet, 6461 metres, while northwest of our summit, along the watershed of our basin was the rocky Pk 6670 metres. The latter peak had also been planned to be climbed but was abandoned mainly owing to the severe cold. From the summit, I made a rapid descent, reaching the camp within an hour for a hot brew.
1. Smanla was unfortunately killed on Everest in May 1996, with two others.-Ed.
Across the glacier to the southwest, almost opposite Pk 6725 m was a peak marked 6489 m in the map. This had twin summits. Reaching the lower of the two at 6449 m was a straightforward snow climb without any difficulty and the entire team climbed this in three groups on 8 and 9 November. Only one climber, Girdhari, made an inglorious entry into a bergschrund – fortunately in this season, most crevasses were covered and safe – but was quickly rescued by Nima and me before any damage was caused to him. Smanla and his group was able to ascend the second summit as a bonus, barely 40 metres higher but this involved manoeuvering on rotten, crumbling rock on which they narrowly escaped disaster. Prudence on the part of Harbhajan Singh, Dy. Cmdt of the ITBP who was also the expedition leader, made him call off any further movement on that section.
The next few days were spent in further ice-craft practice on the ice-cliffs at the far end of the lake at Base and in drinking in beautiful winter sunsets. So moved was I after seeing the colours on the rock around the basin and in the skies toward Chushul that I write:
‘The Hush of Sunset – On a Ladakhi Canvas’
In the growing evening
Distant white peaks of the south
Shine like teeth, mulled
Into the dark blue cauldron
Some parts violet, some indigo
Above the Pangong Tso,
Merging into deeper shades
All the while our peaks
Above the lake throw -
A golden salute. Climax
Gets weaker every second
As a hushed silence -
The silence from the West -
Is thrown upon the East.
Creeping but dancing
Play a whispered sonata
And the darkness envelops all -
The spectacle is over.
A walk down the moraine from base towards Shimdi la to look at Kakstet (6461 m) reveals how bowl-shaped is the valley and how deceptive distances appear to the naked eye in these areas. With the climbing over, I am then able to complete a round-trip for the return to Leh, driving through Chushul over the Kajukanta la and paying homage to the gallant dead of the Battle of Sirijyap and the Battle of Chushul, both fought in 1962. Photography was luckier than usual for me and I was able to get satisfactory shots of Kyang (wild asses) near the LAC with China, pintail ducks on the frozen Indus near Dumpti, some landscape shots of the yellow valley etched by the colourful rolling hills of the mountains cape which runs southeast in the form of the Ladakh Range.
Back to Officers’ Messes and the warmth of bukharis – both the ‘silent’ and ‘noisy’ ones run on kerosene! I am able to appreciate that a visit to a rare mountain area is over. Au revoir!
Summary: Climbing peaks in the Pangong range in November 1995.
TRANGO TOWER NORTH FACE EXPEDITION, 1995
THE TEAM ARRIVED in Rawalpindi on 30 June and after meeting our L.O., Captain Ahmed Jamal and having our briefing we headed off to Skardu by plane (sending all our equipment by bus) and arrived on 3 July. We travelled by jeep to arrive at Askole on 5 July.
We were travelling and sharing many expenses with the British Womens’ Trango expedition such as cook. L.O., kitchen and peak fees; so we left Askole with 60 porters. It was a 2 day walk to Paiju, one day up the Baltoro past the Trango glacier to a camp at the bottom of the Dunge glacier and then a fourth 2 1/2 hour day up than the usual Dunge base camp on the opposite side of the glacier, much nearer to the Towers with much better views and with its own lake.
Unfortunately, a Spanish team had just completed one of our prospective new lines and an American team were deeply involved with the other. The rest of the rock on the north face was pretty blank and we couldn’t justify the amount of drilling needed. Adam and Andy went off to attempt the Slovene route on the south face whilst Noel and myself continued to explore the north side.
By 22 July we had carried loads up the gully to ‘Col Curran’ (5400 m) thereby being the first to make this approach. We slept high in the gully and next morning the weather had deteriorated badly. To avoid being avalanched we decided to descend immediately. On the descent Craine fell into a crevasse cracking three ribs and damaging a lung. Craine got down to base camp safely with help from Pritchard. Meanwhile Cave and Waiwright had fixed 200 m of rope to the shoulder at 5600 m on the south face and had been stormed off. Cave agreed to escort Crain back home to the UK.
After so much snow, the approaches above the Dunge glacier had become very dangerous, so at the beginning of August we decided to attempt the Slovene route from the Trango glacier. On the 2 August we jumared to the shoulder camp and on the 3rd and 4th fixed rope on four pitches. The climbing was technical (A2, E2) and on a perfect sheet of granite. Then the weather broke again and a five day storm ensured which we sat out at an American team’s base camp on the Trango glacier. The weather cleared and on the 10 August we jumared to the shoulder camp. On the 11th we set off on the lines at 6 a.m. freed our top two ropes for climbing and began grappling with severely iced up rock. We had come prepared for a super fast lightweight rock climb – two sets of nuts, two sets of friends, slings and twelve quick draws. We brought one set of crampons, one lightweight ice axe and one pair of plastic boots. We hauled one bag with two sleeping bags, mats, two gas bottles, a stove and four meals. We planned two days for the sixteen remaining pitches but with so much ice we realised things would be a bit slower. The climbing was always difficult and sometimes we doubted whether we could climb the pitches which required a lot of ingenuity and sculpting of ice. Two further days of climbing saw us on the summit (6259 m) at 4.30 p.m. on 13 August -the same day as the K2 tragedy – in a terrible wind.
After the summit photos, only three hours were required to rappel eighteen pitches to the shoulder camp. On the rappels I began to feel very odd and on arrival at the shoulder my lungs began to gurgle. After a bad night I felt worse on the fourteenth and gurgling more. It was definitely pulmonary oedema in very strange circumstances – in an acclimatised person, descending. The remaining rappels were very difficult for me but we had help from the Women’s expedition in getting our equipment and fixed rope down.
After a few days at base camp my lungs had recovered enough for us to beat a hasty descent to Skardu. We left on the 23 August (although Wainwright had gone on the 17th) arriving in Skardu on the 26th. We employed 28 porters for the descent. Debriefing ;it the Ministry of Tourism was on the 1st September.
Members: Paul Pritchard, Noel Craine, Adam Wainwright and Andy Cave.
Summary: The British expedition to Trango Tower, Karakoram. They made one of only a few lightweight ascents of the mountain, the first British ascent of the Slovene route and the second British ascent of the Tower, (6259 m) on 13 August 1995.
SKILBRUM PEAK IS A MOUNTAIN of 7360 m which is mainly ice-clad. It is located in the Karakoram (Pakistan), within the Baltoro Mustagh group, at the head of the Praqpa glacier which flows in the Savoia glacier near the usual K2 base camp.
Although being next to famous mountains like K2 and Broad Peak, from where it is clearly visible. Praqpa valley is not visited at all. The only known climb of Skilbrum was made in 19571 Marcus Smuck and Fritz Wintersteller, members of the famous expedition of Hermann Buhl and Kurt Diemberger to Broad Peak, after having successfully climbed the latter, in only two days from their base camp on Abruzzi glacier, walked along the Praqpa glacier, put a camp at 6100 m and reached the top by climbing directly the SE ice wall. In the following 38 years the mountain was completely forgotten and nobody entered the valley. Apart from Skilbrum, all other summits of the Praqpa valley are still unclimbed, and this is quite amazing in an area where the fame of the ‘eight thousanders’ recall more than ten expeditions every year.
Only a very short brief exists about the 1957 expedition, and it was even difficult to have pictures of the mountain, which apparently does not capture the attention of expeditions frequenting the area. On the place, we only had some indication that one Pakistani mountain guide acting as high altitude porter for a climb on K2 west face made an exploration in the Praqpa valley, but no climb was made.
Our expedition was organised by a group of members of the Varese Section of the Italian Alpine Club and other friends, belonging to other Sections of the Club. Most of the members had previous experience in mountaineering in the Himalaya and in the Andes. The number of climbers was 7. The duration of the journey was very short, with a total of 35 days available, from 26 July to 31 August. The time at base camp was only 9 days, thus giving to us only time for one attempt to the summit, to be made in true alpine style without any preparation of the route, nor any high altitude porters. This limited choice was due to the engagements of all members with their jobs at home, but this was also a precise choice and climbing style which was used successfully in many previous cases.
1. See H.J. Vol. XXI, p. 10. – Ed.
From the photographs we could get before leaving, which were confirmed on the route, the original route of Schmuck and Winter-steller today appears quite steep, difficult and dangerous because of the changes in the ice wall in the last 40 years. Thus from the start our goal was to reach the glacier cwm below the top and try to get to the large saddle which closes the Praqpa valley, called Skilbrum Saddle (6650 m), which was never climbed before. From the saddle a snow ridge or face reaches the top, with a slope not greater then 40°-50°.
After three days in Rawalpindi, two days for the road trip along the Karakoram Highway to Skardu, and one day in Skardu. the approach march to the mountain took 8 days. The route was the classical one along Baltoro glacier, with some extra difficulties due to landslides blocking the road to Askole about 40 km before its end and frequent bad weather.
The weather cleared on 9 August one day before reaching base camp.
Our base camp was set up at 5200 m on the left moraine of Savoia glacier, at the foot of the rock wall of Angel Peak. It was located near K2 base camp. Being on ground and gravel, it was definitely more comfortable then the latter, which is placed on the ice.
After two more days for aclimatisation and some exploration, we started up on 13 August with fine weather. From base camp we managed route through the crevasses and reached the centre of Savoia glacier. We reached the large and flat plateau at the
confluence of Savoia and Praqpa glaciers. We kept to the left and climbed the left side of Praqpa glacier, following the foot of the NE wall of Praqpa Ri. One stretch is definitely exposed to avalanche danger from the wall. Camp 1 was set after this dangerous stretch at 5800 m, after 6 hours.
On the following day, we continued up contouring a huge icefall to the right and reaching the centre of the glacier, where a large steep passage opens up the way to the upper slopes. Skirting some crevasses we reached the upper cwm at the foot of the SE wall of Skilbrum and of the icefall from Skilbrum Saddle. We set our Camp 2 in this wide plateau (6200 m), approximately in the same location of Camp 1 of Schmuck and Wintersteller.
The direct ascent of Skilbrum SE wall, which is the reported route of the first ascent, appears very difficult and dangerous. The slope is an average 50° with big overhanging seracs in the lower part. We think that such seracs did not exist in 1957.
The access to Skilbrum Saddle appears blocked by a vast icefall, with a height of about 400 m. We spent one day in finding a route through this icefall. To the left of the icefall, at the bottom of a large couloir which collects avalanches from the Praqpa Ri NE wall, we found the way to get to the top of the first ice-step. This was a short traverse to the right, followed by about 70 m of steep climb. We thus reached a wide snow ledge from where we continued to the right in a moderate climb. Where this path was interrupted, we could climb to the left and reach a break in the next ice wall which allowed us to reach the next ice plateau and one steep and wide couloir which can be followed to the Skilbrum Saddle, after some more crevasses and ice pitches. The couloir reaches the saddle at its extreme left. (5 hours from Camp 2). We returned to Camp 2 and set Camp 3 on Skilbrum Saddle on the following day (16 August). We continued our exploration to some hundred meters beyond the camp, finding that the ridge connecting the col to Skilbrum S face has a very thin corniced stretch, made by wet snow. The route to the top also appeared somewhat avalanche-prone because of the large amount of fresh snow fallen in the previous week.
On the following morning, at the time of making our attempt to the top, we saw clear indications of changing weather. Due to the dangers of being blocked at such altitude with very scarce food and fuel, we decided to give up and retreat. Due to the short time at our disposal, we had no possibility for a second attempt.
We left base camp on 20 August and returned to Skardu through Vigne glacier, Gondoghoro pass, to Hushe.
After a long period of bad weather in the second half of July (which caused floods and damage throughout Pakistan) the conditions of the mountain above 6000 m were quite bad, with a lot of fresh snow. The four days needed for getting to Skilbrum Saddle were quite exhausting. We also decided to have a very wise attitude towards the dangers of our climb. Although we had to give up near the summit, we were satisfied of having reached Skilbrum Saddle for the first time and having opened up the route to it.
Our expedition also had a very sad moment. In the last two days at base camp, we visited the survivors of the unlucky Spanish expedition to K2, which had lost three out of its seven members after reaching the top of K2 on 13 August. After spending some time with them, waiting for their rescue helicopter, we made a walk to the base of the Abruzzi ridge. About 2 hours from K2 camp on the lowest slopes of the mountain, we noticed from far away and found the body of one of the Spanish climbers, which was probably carried down by an avalanche through the 3000 + meters of K2 SE wall. With the help of the cook and some porters of the Spanish expedition, we buried him in a nearby crevasse.
Our view of pollution problems in Baltoro
Given the short duration of the attempt and our style, the problem of climbing or camping materials being abandoned at high altitude did not exist. We climbed in alpine style, carrying all materials on our shoulders, we had only one tent and one rope for every two climbers. All garbage was collected and carried back to base camp.
In our view m major problem of pollution exists for the campsites along the approach march and for base camps. The main sources of pollution are not the climbers and trekkers but mainly porters and the Pakistani army camps.
For climbers and trekkers, and specially for small groups and self-organised expeditions, we believe that environmental consciousness is high enough. It is very easy to have a very small amount of waste and dispose it properly along the track. Each camp has a trash pit where most wastes can be burnt. We took care, every day, of burning our containers. We had no more than 30 tin boxes, which we crushed and buried. But the greatest care had to be taken in doing this personally giving this task to a porter or cook meant seeing the trash being simply thrown in the river or in a crevasse.
The true problem of pollution is due to porters. Firstly because the present style of expeditions and trekkings organised by local travel agencies makes use of as much as 7 to 9 porters per tourist, so that the number of porters is almost ten times the number of tourists. Porters never make use of stoves, but use wood for cooking. The oasis of Paiju. where porters cook their food for the following days on Baltoro and collect wood, is going to be quickly destroyed. And the whole surroundings are covered with shit, which makes use of water quite dangerous.
In our view the effort in the next years should aim to reducing the number of porters which need to enter Baltoro (by giving up some comfort, or by building some fixed structures. A large number of porters is only there for carrying back and forth chairs, tables, tents and cooking equipment!) and convince them to use stoves and fuel instead of wood.
Another major source of pollution are army camps. The amount of rubbish surrounding such camps is simply appalling. Even worse then that, the army makes use of horses and mules to carry food and materials along Baltoro. The animals use the little grass existing at camp places, making water unsafe and again dispersing shit everywhere.
We spent much time in discussing about these topics with our liaison officer, and made specific reference to these sources of pollution in our de-briefing report to the Ministry of Tourism.
Summary: An attempt on Skilbrum (7360 m) by an Italian team in August 1995.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED AT K2
OUR EXPEDITION WAS MOVING UP the mountain quite rapidly. Everyone was getting on well, which to me is incredibly important – not only because it allows you to enjoy the whole experience, but also because it means you are a group which cooperates well and can get on with the job.
Apart from two big storms which had delayed our ascent for a couple of weeks, the weather was looking pretty good.
The five members of our expedition, together with Rob Slater and Alison Hargreaves, were climbing on the Abruzzi spur. On the Cesen route, which goes up the right hand side of the south face, was a Spanish expedition of six climbers led by Pepe Garces.
We went up to Camp 2, spent the night, and went up the Black Pyramid to Camp 3.
Matt Comeskey hadn’t been well, so he stayed at Camp 3 -he had a stomach upset and had been bringing up a lot of bile. People vomit a lot at altitude, I’m afraid, and the main problem is that you’re trying to drink to stay hydrated.
The rest of us, including Rob and Alison, brewed up, had something to eat and then climbed on through the night up to the Camp 4 site. It was the middle of the night (a beautiful, moonlit night) and intensely cold. I’d say it was -40 degree3.
The snow was very heavy and deep just below the shoulder, and we put a camp in there. We had two tents and there were six people and only three sleeping bags, so it was a pretty rugged night. It got even more rugged the following night when Matt came up and there were three of us – Jeff (Lakes), Matt and I – in one of those little Fairydown Assault tents with one sleeping bag over the top. We all had to agree to lie on our tight sides and then turn over at the same time – it was very tight and no-one slept much.
About four or five o’clock next morning, on 12 August, we decided to head on up. It was a lovely morning and we ploughed up very heavy snow and got onto the shoulder where we could see the Spanish setting up their tents.
It was intensely hot, and we decided because we were so tired and hot that we wouldn’t go any further as that stage. The Spanish said they were going to try for the summit at midnight (the 12th/ 13th August) and we thought we would join them.
Ours was a small expedition of five very experienced people, so although Kim (Logan) and I were the overall leaders, we weren’t marching around giving orders. Each of us had put a lot of our own money into the expedition, whereas a lot of the old style expeditions were funded by the leader or through sponsorship and that gave the leader a lot more authority. Consensus was very important and, I think, one of the successes of our expedition.
And so I went back down to the tent where I could be warm and comfortable and everyone else made their own decisions.
Soon after midday, cloud built up over the mountain and we started getting little snow flurries and spindrift being blown around. The plan remained that we would try to be up with the Spanish around midnight.
The weather had been like this for the past two days. It would build up during the afternoon with snow showers and spindrift whizzing around and it would get cold and dark. Then, at 10 o’clock or so. it would clear up and be a beautiful night. I really think that was one of the reasons why the final summit group continued to go on. I think they hoped the weather would clear, as it had on previous nights, whereas I personally felt it was compounding – building up and looking very ominous.
I thought it was all over that night, because of the weather, but around 10 o’clock it started to clear up. It was claustrophobic in the tent and uncomfortable. You can’t sleep and you’re anxious about the morning – in the end you just want to go and get on with it. Jeff and I left camp around midnight and re-broke the trail up onto the shoulder. We then started following the Spanish up easy, undulating, terrain from their camp towards the bottleneck.
Around the same time, Kim, Bruce (Grant), Rob and Alison . left our Camp 4. Matt didn’t go because he was still sick, and not far from the camp Kim threw up as well, losing all the liquids he had painstakingly put into himself during the night, so he returned to Camp 4 at that point. Jeff and I followed the Spanish and frankly I was really getting cold and didn’t like the look of what I saw on the northern horizon – it worried me. We decided to go back and warm up down at the Spanish tents.
On the way down, I passed Bruce who was looking really happy – out in front of the other two and really going well. I gave him a piece of our fixed line, and said we’d warm up a bit then follow him up. I then came across Alison and Rob who were on the shoulder. Rob was looking really tired and was doubled over and coughing a bit. Alison was standing beside him. I told her our plans and she said “I’m going on”. And that was Alison, really – a very driven, very ambitious climber. She was also an outstanding alpinist of course.
The thing is that on these super-high peaks you are so physically extended that there’s nothing left. You’re hyperventilating with deep breaths just to stay upright and take pathetic, staggering paces. It’s enormously debilitating.
At seven o’clock I borrowed the Spanish radio and spoke to Bruce who had just got to the bottom of the bottleneck gully. I could see him on this little bit of rock with the Spanish climbers (Javier Escartin, Javier Olivar and Lorenzo Ortiz Monzon) and they were moving quite slowly, considering the conditions were very good. I could also just make out Rob and Alison coming up very slowly below them.
Bruce said conditions were really great and they were feeling pretty good and were about to head on up the gully. I said we felt the same and would start on up, And that was the last time I actually spoke to Bruce.
Jeff and I got going, and climbed to the bottom of the bottleneck gully, which is about 8200 m. You look straight up this gully and there’s a huge ice cliff right our above you. There’s a very exposed traverse above a rock band right above the South Face which is nearly 3600 m high – it’s a radically exposed area.
I just wasn’t happy about it. The weather had started coming in again, and a thick, boiling layer of cloud had backed up behind the Karakoram range. Great towering pillows of cloud were washing over the top of K2, drifting from the north. It was really cold.
As it got on from 11-12 o’clock you couldn’t see anything. It was snowing and we were in cloud and I could only intermittently see the others at the top of the bottleneck as they started the traverse.
It looked very ominous to me, and I felt I should go down -and I did, at midday.
Jeff agonised over whether he would come with me or go on, and eventually he said he would try to go a little further. So I gave him my radio and he headed up.
I had a very tough time going down. I got lost even trying to get back onto the shoulder and I fell in a crevasse. I went right up to my knees and just managed to throw myself forward and skidded on my chest down the slope.
When I got back to Camp 4 I brewed up, waited a while to see if Jeff came down and when he didn’t appear I thought “I’m out of here”. It was all whiteout by then and getting down to Camp 3 was terrifying. I couldn’t see a thing. I could just make out little lumps of snow in front of my boots and I would kick them ahead of me, knowing if they didn’t drop away I could take another step. At one stage I kicked the snow and it did disappear. You’d look down these big drops, knowing what was below and yet unable to see anything and it was really terrifying. I went down one steepish area and it broke away and started a small avalanche.
I got down to Camp 3 about 5 o’clock. I grabbed a couple of things, clipped into the line and started abseiling off over the ice cliff down the Black Pyramid. And that’s when the storm hit, with incredible ferocity. I was on the abseil line below the ice cliff and was repeatedly blown into the face. I remember thinking I could break my hip as I was slammed into the green ice. I concentrated on making sure I was on the right rope – if you clip into one of the tatty old ropes hanging around there you’ll fly forever -and I made sure the figure eight was on properly. That’s all I remember of it – rope, figure eight. I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t look up – the spindrift was blasting down on me – and I just hoped a rock didn’t fall on my head.
Eventually I got to the ledge at Camp 2. Kim and Matt were there and they said they’d just heard from base camp that Bruce had got to the top an hour before, at 6.30. I can tell you it was not with jubilation that we received that news. We left very down to earth upset about it, because we knew that in these conditions their chances of getting down were very low, and if they did get down they’d have severe frostbite.
That night we slept with all our clothes on and with packs ready and all the gear laid out, as the chances of the tents being shredded during the night was very high.
We were extremely pessimistic, but we continued hoping there’d be a clanking on the ropes above the camp and Bruce would shout down to us “Get the brew on, you buggers!”, but it was only hope.
Next morning the storm blew over and it was a beautiful day. We managed to make contract with Jeff, who had descended to Camp 4. The story of Jeff’s descent is a litany of the most shocking bad luck. He got to Camp 4 and a small avalanche dumped on the tent, crushing it with him inside. He managed to wriggle out of two metres of snow and spent a night outside with just his boots and down suit on. He had no crampons, ice axe or descending equipment, figure eight or harness or any of that gear. He tried in vain to dig gear out and was unable to locate the tent. We kept pleading with him to start down and gather up some of the bamboo marker poles we had around the camp to use as a self-arrest device. We talked him down. Matt did most of the talking and did an incredible job. We hoped that when he got to Camp 3 where there was a sleeping bag and stove, he’d be able to get himself together again but he arrived at Camp 3 to find the camp had been crushed by a serac.
We didn’t know what to do. If Matt, Kim and I went up in our condition what was normally a five hour climb would take us eight hours and I’ll be honest with you, we were scared stiff. We were tired, and we knew there was a chance we could die. The Black Pyramid is intimidating and together with the emotional overburden of knowing we had lost Bruce – it was a horrible prospect.
Anyway, Jeff said “I’m going to start coming down”. He cut a piece of fixed line and put it around his waist with a bowline and made a little rope sling. Then he tied this from the bowline around each rope – that was all he had. And without crampons, without abseil device, exhausted and dehydrated, Jeff came down the Black Pyramid, I think it was heroic.
Matt and I climbed up above the camp to meet him and he just threw himself at us. He delivered himself, physically and psychologically, to us and we hugged him and got him down into the tent. He had looked after himself – he had no frostbite – but he was totally exhausted. We tried to rehydrate him, but he couldn’t drink much.
After a few hours, I went back to my tent. Matt stayed awake with Jeff for a long time and he said he’d only been asleep for an hour or two when he woke and leaned across to check Jeff, put his hand on his throat and couldn’t feel anything. Kim and Matt tried to resuscitate him, but it didn’t work. And so a big howl went out. It was terrible.
We cut a little grave on the South Face and buried Jeff. We said a few words, shed a few tears and then abseiled off – we couldn’t get out of Camp 2 fast enough, frankly.
When you’ve been on that sort of very steep terrain you start to forget how exposed it is. Camp 2 had seemed like a haven, but then suddenly you go “wow”, there’s still 1500 m of very steep terrain below and you have to click straight back into security.
When I got to advanced base camp (ABC) at the bottom, I wouldn’t call base to say we were down until Matt and Kim were down too – I just wanted them totally down, I remember that.
People went to Broad Peak and searched K2 with telescopes, and they were searching the mountain from our base camp with telescopes too, but by then two nights had passed and there was no chance really.
Everything gets wrecked in those storms. There could have been 300 knot winds up there and I believe the summit party were blasted off by the wind.
All the Spanish tents of the shoulder were shredded, and Pepc and Lorenzo spent a night out and got bad frostbite. As they descended, one of them found Alison’s harness and one of her boots so we know Alison fell. As to whether or not we could see Alison’s body, we really don’t know. The Spanish said the thing we could see was her down jacket which would have popped off with the force of the fall.
We got to base camp and sent the emergency messages out to family and then packed up – we couldn’t get out fast enough.
I haven’t really thought about whether or not I’ll go back. K2 is a magnificent mountain. I’ve been right up to the bottom of the bottleneck and although it’s a difficult climb from there, the summit is so close at that stage. So I feel I’ve been there but .couldn’t quite touch the top. In a way, I’d love to complete that, but to have lost two really special people – it’s very heavy going.
It certainly makes you question everything. I think however that it’s the intensity of the relationships that occur in mountaineering situations that is one of the best things about it. I sometimes think the mountain is just the stage where you can experience these fantastic, powerful feelings. Maybe when these tragedies occur, it highlights how important life is. I really value life, I can tell you.
Summary: An ascent of K2 (8611 m) by the New Zealand team on 13 August 1995. Both the summitters died while descending.
Gasherbrum I (8068 m)
THE IDEA OF OUR PROJECT NAMED ‘SKI 8000′ was to climb on the highest mountains in the world and ski from theirs summits. The first expedition of our team ‘SKI 8000′ was the ascent on Shisha Pangma in 1993, when two climbers (Kranjc and Tomazin) reached the summit. But because of bad weather we (Dr. Tomazin) succeed to ski from 7500 m. In 1995 the team went to Pakistan to climb Gasherbrum I and to make a ski and snow board descent over the North face of the mountain, down the Japanese couloir.
On the approach march everything went well, except injury of Urban Golob, who had a broken ankle and he had to stay in the base camp till the end of expedition. On 12 June started the work on the mountain. We had many troubles because of very crevassed glacier below Gl and G2, anyway on 16 June we built Camp 2 on Gasherbrum la (6300 m). Two days later with snow board Marko Car and Iztok Tomazin reached 6750 m on Japanese couloir but due the stormy weather they had to go back all the way to base camp. The bad weather lasted one week and on 27 June Car. Copi and Tomazin reached Camp 2 and again because of bad weather next day they came down to base camp. The final push started on 1 July. Next day Jost and Copi reached only 6700 m and where they had to stop due the deep snow. On 3 July Car and Tomazin after 13 hours of climbing in deep snow built up Camp 3. They rested next day and at 6 p.m. in the evening (4-7-96) they began with their summit push.
Car and Tomazin climbed all night carrying theirs skis and snow board and at 5.53 a.m. they reached the summit of Gasherbrum I (8068 m). Both climbers were on the summit for about one hour in very strong wind and very low temperature. After the rest on the top they began to ski and snowboard (Car) down to their Camp 3. The most difficult part of skiing on the first day was the 150 meter slope (50 degrees) just below the summit. After the slope the skiing was a little easier (35-50 degrees). Because they were very tired, they stayed in Camp 3 through the night and continued the ski descent the next day in the morning. The part through the couloir was the most difficult. The average angle of the 600 metres high couloir was 50 degrees and sometimes it reached 55 degrees. In the most narrow part of the couloir Car and Tomazin had to descend on the rope for 40 meters. After that there were no difficulties and in the evening they came to base camp. After that Copi and Jost tried to reached the summit, but unfortunately they had to turn back at 7500 m, because of the bad weather. After some days we left the base camp.
We were very happy to realised our plans. Car and Tomazin reached the summit climbing the Japanese couloir and skied down the same route. This was the first ski descent from the top of any 8000 meters peak, which was done not by the normal route. This was also the second snowboard descent from eight thousanders. Only Bruno Gouvy succeeded on Cho Oyu, but snowboarding from Gl along the Japanese couloir was definitively more difficult.
Members: Janez Golob (leader), Dr. Iztok Tomazin, Simon Cop, Marko Car, Urban Golob and Matija Jost.
Summary: The ski-descent of Gasherbrum I (8068 m) by a Spanish team in July 1995.
HINDU KUSH 1994 : TIRICH MIR
FROM THE MID 1960s until the late 1970s the peaks of the Hindu Kush were very popular with European mountaineers. During this period it was a common occurrence for climbers to drive an old van full of equipment overland to the Himalaya. The mountains of Afghanistan and NW Pakistan were the cheapest and easiest to reach from Europe. Minimal bureaucracy and lower permit fees combined to make the Hindu Kush an attractive destination for climbers lacking the experience or finances to attempt the giant peaks of the main Himalayan and Karakoram ranges. In some years during this period there were more expeditions climbing in the relatively small area of the Hindu Kush than in the whole of the neighbouring Karakoram. Many of today’s leading European mountaineers who are at the forefront of modern developments on the 8000 m peaks made their first forays into the ‘greater ranges’ by visiting the Hindu Kush at this time.
The larger part of the Hindu Kush lies in the NE corner of Afghanistan but the highest peaks are in NW of Pakistan. Of the four peaks higher than 7000 m, three are entirely in Pakistan. Tirich Mir (7708 m), Istor-O-Nal (7403 m), Saraghrar (7349 m). Only Noshaq (7492 m) sits astride the Pakistan – Afghanistan border at the SW corner of the Wakhan corridor. Tirich Mir, the highest peak in the range, was first climbed by a Norwegian team in 1950 via a route on the south face, from a base camp in the South Barum glacier. This route reportedly suffers from a high avalanche risk and has seldom been repeated. In 1967 a Czech expedition succeeded in establishing a safer route on the north side of the mountain. From a base camp in the Upper Tirich glacier they reached the summit via the NW ridge.
Within a few years the other 7000 m peaks had all been climbed. The route up Noshaq from the Afghan side even gained a reputation for being one of the ‘easiest’ big mountain climbs in the ‘greater ranges’, reinforced by having an early winter ascent and a ski ascent. By the late 1970′s the Hindu Kush was enjoying a growing reputation with European climbers. Then in 1978/79 the political situation in Afghanistan deteriorated rapidly. Overnight access to the Afghan side of the range was closed and the Pakistan authorities placed new restrictions on travel on their side of the border. At this time access to other parts of the Karakoram and Himalaya was becoming easier and within a few years the Hindu Kush became a forgotten backwater as the world’s climbers switched their attention to the mountains of Nepal, India and NE Pakistan.
In the late summer of 1993, after leading an expedition to Chogo-lisa (my fifth expedition in Pakistan), I found myself with some free time. Along with two friends I resolved to visit the Hindu Kush in order to investigate the climbing potential. I had learnt that the recent internal stabilisation in Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal had led to the Pakistan authorities relaxing restrictions on travel in the area around the 7000 m peaks. My vague plan was to have a good look at Tirich Mir as a possible future objective. However I was looking forward to some uncomplicated trekking and perhaps some simple ascents after the traumas of guiding three commercial trips in Baltistan throughout the summer.
In complete contrast to my Chogolisa expedition which had been plagued by constant snowfall, the three week journey to the Hindu Kush was blessed with near perfect weather. We failed in our first aim to find a simple trekking route from the Upper Tirich glacier into the Akari valley to the west. Overall the trip was very enjoyable despite the burden of heavy rucksacks caused by our ‘lightweight’ porterless style. On 2 October John Kentish and I climbed the straightforward snow slopes of Gul Lasht Zom East (6611 m). This peak was one of many in the region first climbed by Kurt Diemberger during his visits in 1965 and 1967. From the top we had an excellent view over the six principle summits of Tirich Mir. The photograph which I took that day became the postcard which I used to advertise the ’1995 International Tirich Mir Expedition’.
The life of a ‘professional mountaineer’ is not as easy or desirable as many people assume to take out a precarious livelihood organising expeditions to the world’s great peaks. Over the years. I have discovered that actually getting up the mountains is considerably easier than finding enough paying climbers to finance the project. After many moments of anguish and sleepless nights I finally assembled a group of seven climbers in Islamabad on 17 June 1995. The preparations which I had made worked perfectly. Our liaison officer was friendly, the officials of the Tourism Ministry were helpful, and five days after landing in Pakistan we started the approach march to base camp. As we left the village of Shangrom I felt the anxieties associated with ‘leading’ such a large undertaking being mitigated by the feelings of being back in familiar surroundings. On the third day of walking, our band of 54 porters reached the site at 4800 m locally known as Babu camp. The scene had changed a lot since my previous visit. In late September I had camped on dry grass and stones. Now the ground was covered by a foot of spring snow.
This was excellent news. The route towards Tirich Mir would involve a 15 km journey up a gently angled glacier rising to 6600 m. The thick covering of snow meant that we would be able to use our mountain skis on this section of the climb. Anticipation of this scenario had been one of the factors which had led me to plan the expedition to start in mid-June. Reading reports of previous expeditions had also led me to believe that the weather was likely to be more stable in the early part of the summer.
For the next four weeks the weather was as perfect as we could have wished. The expedition members worked well together as a team. From 27 June we spent 12 days ferrying loads up the southern arm of the Upper Tirich glacier, establishing Camp 1 at 5400 m. Camp 2 at 6100 m, and Camp 3 at 6600 m. By 8 July we were all back in base camp resting and feeling confident about our progress. With apparently stable weather there did not seem to be any justification for unnecessary haste. Instead we chose to ascend at a leisurely pace in order to give everyone enough time for proper acclimatisation.
9 July proved to be an eventful day. We received news that the small Japanese team camping on the other side of the glacier had succeeded in reaching the summit of Tirich Mir. An hour later a large group of South Korean climbers also aiming for Tirich Mir arrived to set up base camp next to ours. Encouraged by the success of the Japanese we formulated a plan for our summit bid. There was now sixty man-days of food and fuel in camps, enough to last six climbers for ten days. We decided to advance to Camp 3 in three pairs, spaced one day apart. Thus the lead pair would have time to fix some rope on the difficult sections above Camp 3 before the others arrived. I think that this plan would have worked well had illness not intervened. Two days after leaving base camp Neil, one of the ‘middle pair” had to descend suffering from the effects of altitude. The other “well’ climbers on the mountain descended to assist Neil. Grant and I pushed on to Camp 3 and then moved upwards to prepare the route to Camp 4.
Below 6600 m the climbing had been very easy. Above this the technical difficulties started. A steepening couloir led from Camp 3 to the site for Camp 4 at 7200 m on the col between Tirich Mir and TM West I peak. Reports from previous expeditions had all stated that the crux of the route was a steep 60 m chimney at 6950 m. Some reports had suggested that this section was overhanging and very difficult, other expeditions had found the climbing to be quite easy. It came as quite a relief to us when we discovered the latter of these descriptions to be more accurate Grant led the steep narrow pitch, occasionally disappearing under .torrents of spindrift which poured down from the slopes above. The climbing was never harder than Alpine AD. However it was not until 8.00 p.m. fourteen hours after setting out, that we reached the exposed site of Camp 4 swept by an icy wind. After this exertion a rest day was deemed necessary before we mounted our summit bid.
Assuming that the final 500 m would involve little, more than a steep walk Grant, Stephan and I left Camp 4 at 6.00 a.m. on 17 July with a single 50 m length of 7 mm rope, little technical equipment and no helmets. Two hours later Stephan turned back suffering from the effects of altitude and cold. Grant and 1 pushed on up the steadily steepening face. It was not easy to identify the correct route, which followed a series of gullies and sections of open face climbing over steep loose rocks. We were grateful for evidence of human passage left by the descending Japanese party which made our route finding much easier. Snow conditions were far from ideal and the rock was of poor quality. We regretted leaving the bulk of our equipment behind in Camp 4. We seemed to climb quickly and efficiently yet it took eight and a half hours to cover the 500 m from Camp 4 to the summit. From the top we jubilantly made a radio call to our friends down in base camp. The views were fantastic. Under clear blue skies we could see a great distance in every direction. To the east we could see the distant peaks’ of the Karakoram. Looking south the green valleys of Chitral spread their tentacles among a sea of lesser peaks. The bulk of the Afghan Hindu Kush lay to the west dominated by the 6843 m peak Koh-i-Bandaka, 80 km distant. In the near distance to the north we surveyed the upper slopes of Noshaq, Istor-O-Nal and Saraghrar. Beyond them lay the narrow strip of the Wakhan corridor with the Pamir peaks of Tadjikistan and Chinese Xingjiang visible on the far side. After the obligatory summit photographs we began our descent, taking just over four hours to reach Camp 4.
The next day our party of three descended to Camp 3, half way down the couloir we met Phil and Gerry who were ascending to Camp 4 where we had left some supplies for them. They made their summit bid on 2 July, reaching 7350 m before turning back. On 22 July all six climbers were on the mountain collecting equipment from Camps 3 & 1 and carrying it back to base camp. Three days later as we prepared to leave, we learnt of a disaster which had befallen the South Korean Tirich Mir expedition. In our opinion their entire expedition had been ill-conceived and badly led. The accident did not come as a surprise to us. With no other supporting climbers high on the mountain two young men had made a late start for the summit from Camp 4 in cloudy conditions on 2 July. They made a radio call from the top at 7.30 p.m. as darkness fell. Nothing further was heard from them and it is assumed that they must have fallen or perished in the night as they descended in the dark. We were dismayed that the other members of their expedition made no effort to send a search or rescue party to Camp 4 to look for the missing men. Instead they packed up base camp and left the area only two days after the last contact with the missing men. This regrettable incident served as a graphic reminder of the serious nature of climbing on big mountains. It also made us realise how lucky we where to be part of a close knit team who had all worked together to ensure a successful ascent with good back up and large safety margins.
Summary: An ascent of Tirich Mir (7708 m) the highest peak in the Hindu Kush, by the 1967 Czech NW ridge route. The international team were David Hamilton (leader) U.K., Phil Wickins, UK, Ms Gerry Goldsmith, UK., Neil Goldsmith, UK, Stephan Fuller, Canada, Ron Levy, Australia, Grant Dixon, Australia, Maj Nayer Abassi (liaison officer), Pakistan. Summit reached by D. Hamilton and G. Dixon on 17 July 1995.