A mountaineering expedition comprising 15 members was organized in September 1961 with the object of climbing the north Himalayan peak Kangchenjau (22,603 feet). The organizers assigned the task of leading the expedition to me.
Our party assembled at Gangtok on September 7th, 1961, and remained busy in making preparations, such as collection and packing of material and provisions, hiring of porters, etc. We left Gangtok on September 13th, 1961, on our march to the Base Camp. The road was blocked at a number of places due to landslides, and several bridges on the way had been washed away as a result of heavy rain and floods in that region. We had to cross many risky points where a slight slip of the foot might result in a disastrous fall. The members had to transport heavy loads at such points. On our way, we invoked the blessings of the local village priests and requested them to pray for fine weather and success to the party.
After an arduous march through difficult terrain, we reached the Base Camp on September 25th, 1961. We soon faced the fury of the first snow-fall on the night of September 26th, 1961, followed by bad weather. In spite of incessant snow-fall, the site for the advance Base Camp was selected at 19,000 feet on September 28th, 1961. Yet we could not move to the advance Base Camp till October 4th, 1961, due to continuous snow-fall and very bad weather.
On October 7th, 1961, we divided the party into three groups for reconnoitring the area for further camp-sites and approach routes to the main peak. Our first success came on October 10th, 1961, when Lekpa Tenzing and I reached the top of a peak Yulhekhang (21,090 feet). From this place, we found that any attempt on the main peak from the south was almost impossible as the way was barred by steep rocks and ice-walls.
Another group of three members, namely Devi Singh, Pemba Gyaltzen and Nima Tsering, were also successful in climbing another unsealed peak Chombu (21,000 feet) on October 13th, 1961. This peak was unsuccessfully attempted in 1948 by Col. Cook and Mr. Morris who were accompanied by Sherpa Sardar Ang Thargey.
The weather continued to be bad and we had to face incessant snow-fall. As it was clear that there was no route from the south, we decided to attempt the peak from the northern side. While finding this route from the north, we lost our way and had to wander about in knee-deep snow for a full day before we could get our bearings. We had to cross a number of hazardous passes with the help of climbing ropes. In spite of very bad weather, an advance party of four reached the col on October 20th, 1961. This party spent the night in a small rock cave which providentially did not collapse under the heavy pressure of a big boulder which fell on it from the top. Fortunately, no one was injured.
Thus, the stage was set for the final attempt on the peak on October 21st, 1961. A party of three comprising Jaswant Singh, Lekpa Tenzing and I started for the peak at 6 a.m. in fine weather. We had to face high velocity wind which was hurling stones and ice- flakes on our faces as we were plodding our way to the peak. Our hard struggle was, however, well rewarded when we succeeded in reaching the top at 13.00 hours. We planted the Indian and Sik- kimese flags at the top, and after spending five minutes there in taking photographs, we started on our return journey. In the excitement of having achieved our goal, I missed a big crevasse (about 300 feet deep) and nearly slipped into it. Fortunately, other members pulled me back in time. We reached the advance Base Camp in the evening and arrived at the Base Camp on October 23rd, 1961, where we were warmly greeted by our colleagues. Thus, with perfect cooperation and team-work, the party succeeded in reaching the top in the face of great difficulties and adverse weather conditions.
A VIEW OF CONNECTING PEAK
Main peak kangchenjau (22,603 ft.)