We had optimistically allowed ourselves five days to reach the base of Deo Tibba, barely 16 miles from Manali in the Kulu Valley, but right from the first day we were thrown off schedule. We had hardly marched a few miles out of Manali when we discovered that our Tibetan porters were very slow, and we took the unusual decision of dismissing them. We recruited a second team of Tibetans the next day and they were a great improvement, but at 11,000 feet they found snow conditions so difficult that they decided to return and no amount of incentives could keep them back. Now the only alternative to abandoning the expedition was to carry the loads ourselves, and in a series of ferrying operations with the help of four Ladakhis and two Sherpas we moved 800 lb. of stores through the Jagatsukh nullah to Base Camp at 15,000 feet in the Chander Tal basin at the foot of Deo Tibba. We left Manali on May 18 and now it was the 29th.

Our next problem was to decide the route by which we were to attempt Deo Tibba. Originally we had planned to go along the watershed ridge which runs in a south to south-west direction. This route would involve two camps, one at 16,000 feet on the cold and inhospitable Duhangan Col on the western side of the watershed ridge, and another at 18,000 feet. An attempt by this route would take at least five days which we could not spare, in addition to an inadequacy of porters to stock the camps.

The second route was along a narrow ice-fall between the vertical south face of Deo Tibba and the watershed ridge. This ice- fall looked a fearsome sight from Base Camp. The left margin consisted of a number of huge broken seracs which peeled off regularly to crash down to the Chander Tal with an enormous roar. However, to the right there appeared an extremely steep ramp comparatively free of hazards. We had heard rather mixed opinions of this route and it was after much deliberation that we decided to attempt Deo Tibba along the ice-fall.

On May 31 at 6 a.m., Adi Mistry, Sherpas Passang Tshering and Ang Chottar, our Ladakhis and myself were busy roping up and attaching on our crampons at the foot of the ice-fall. It was a beautiful morning but a bitterly cold wind was blowing. Though the ground was extremely steep, we were able to make very good progress as our crampons gripped well into the hard early morning snow. We had to cross a number of small crevasses but only one proved to be difficult, and steps had to be cut into the higher wall. Beyond this we traversed to the right under a large dome-shaped serac and climbed up an extremely steep and narrow gangway between the serac and the eastern margin of the ice-fali This led to a small platform at 17,000 feet just below the watershed ridge where we were able to level out a camping-site. After dumping their loads, the three Ladakhis returned, while Chamba, our Sirdar, stayed behind.

South face of Deo Tibba

South face of Deo Tibba



The evening was beautiful and clear and Ali Ratna Tibba and its neighbours were bathed in deep yellow sunshine. After darkness rose we flashed an ' All's well' signal to Base Camp and then crawled into our tents, praying for good weather the following day. The night was punctuated by the deafening roar of ice- avalanches sweeping past us.

June 1 broke bright and blue ; we left our Assault Camp at a leisurely hour of 6 a.m., allowing for the ice-avalanches to subside. As on the previous day, Passang led throughout. His ice- axe ferrule had broken but this in no way hampered his progress. The ground was similar to that of the previous day as we wound our way between seracs and over narrow but deep crevasses. By about 9 a.m. we reached a shelf just beneath the top of the ice-fall at 18,000 feet. Separating us from the top of the ice-fall was an ice-face nearly 15 feet high, which dispelled all the optimism caused by our good progress so far. However, we found a route along the floor of a crevasse which ran parallel to the ice-wall and were able to clamber out of the crevasse at the northern extremity.

From now on we had to climb up a gentle slope which led to a huge snow-field averaging an altitude of 18,500 feet. On the eastern edge of this plateau stood the hump-like summit of Deo Tibba, which looked deceptively easy. The first few hundred feet were quite easy, except for the fact that the altitude was beginning to tell on us. At a height of about 19,200 feet we ran into trouble. Under a six-inch layer of snow was hard ice which we had to first clear and then hack steps into. This operation was excruciatingly exhausting.

Soon we were on safe ground again and plodded our way to the summit along a broad ridge. One snowy hump succeeded another in what seemed a never-ending progression, and finally the summit of another peak appeared over the northern edge. We recognized it as Indrasan. A few more feet and we stepped on to the summit of Deo Tibba, nearly the size of two tennis courts. The time was 12 noon.

The weather was perfect and we had a fantastic view. All around were a multitude of peaks. North-west of us we could recognize the Solang nullah wall near Manali and in the northeast direction stood Indrasan right next to us. South of Deo Tibba and far below us Ali Ratna Tibba stood with the Malana Glacier sweeping past. Beyond the Malana were the foot-hills of the Himalayas and further still, the dark blue expanse of the Punjab plains.

Though the sun shone brilliantly and there was not a breath of wind, it was bitterly cold and our water-bottles were frozen hard.

After spending an hour on the summit we began a painful descent, again led by Passang. Clouds had come up and it was difficult to locate the marker flags we had put up on the ascent. In addition, the snow had become very soft and our crampons were constantly getting balled-up. By 5 p.m. we reached our camp and flopped down on to our air-mattresses, completely exhausted. At 8 p.m. I crawled out of the tent to signal Base Camp and then went back to sleep.

The descent from Assault Camp took nearly five hours as compared to three-and-a-half hours on the ascent. When we reached Base Camp we heard that Lalit and Malvika Chari's attempt on Norbu Peak, 17,100 feet, and part of the watershed ridge had been given up because the Duhangan wall was covered with avalanche debris which made the ground very treacherous. In other words, even if we had had the time, an attempt on Deo Tibba by the watershed ridge would have been out of the question.

I might add that Passang Tshering, a veteran of the 1964 Nanda Devi Expedition, thought that the ice-fall route was quite unsafe and did not recommend it to amateurs.

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