(Reprinted from the Climbers Club Bulletin)


We turned our attention to Kokthang (20,166 feet) when after a long wait we received a telegram from the Sikkim Darbar declining our application for the unclimbed Gocha Peak (20,075 feet). The region of Gocha La was considered sacred and hence our request was turned down. We had fully prepared for an expedition to the Gocha Peak, and were somewhat disappointed, but soon geared ourselves to our alternative objective of Kokthang, also an unclimbed peak on the western border ridge between Nepal and Sikkim.

The composition of our team remained uncertain till the last month. I think it was the first Indian women's expedition to the Himalayas. After the hectic last minute preparations, we left Bombay on March 24. Besides myself, our team finally consisted of Dr. Meena Agrawal (Deputy Leader), Neela Pandit, Praveen Sharma, Gira Shah and Lakhpa Sherpa. Most of us had climbed together during our Basic and Advanced training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling.

A week was spent at Darjeeling to purchase food and stores, checking up climbing equipment, sorting and packing up loads and engaging 52 porters to lift a total of 3,120 lb. of our stores and equipment.

Most of our equipment was loaned by the Jayal Memorial Stores, Darjeeling, Col. Jaswal, the Principal of H.M.I., having given us all the assistance. He deputed the veteran instructor Aug Temba to our expedition. His intimate knowledge of the region and his sound capacity for organization were the greatest asset for our expedition. Sarvashri Newang Gombu, Ang Kami, Tashi and Lahtoo also gave most valuable assistance to us.

We sent away our porters with the loads on April 2 and joined them at Tashiding after a jeep ride up to Legship in tin Kangit Valley. Our five-day trek to Base Camp was most enjoyable. We camped at Yoksam, Bakkim, Churang Chhu bifore setting up the 15,300-foot high Base Camp just near the glider. The trek ran through thick tropical and bamboo forest with colourful orchids and the enchanting upper regions covered with rhododendrons and juniper. Strong winds greeted us at the Base Camp blowing our tents throughout the night of April 9. Yet another day of bad weather kept us tent-bound and ill-at-ease with the effects of high altitude. Finally on April 11, we commenced reconnoitring the region for Camp I towards Kokthang which was now clearly visible from our Base Camp.



Kokthang is situated on the Singalila Range which divides Nepal and Sikkim. Kokthang is the first peak to rise above 20,000 feet on this divide which then continues through Rathong (21,911 feet), Kabru (24,075 feet), Talung (24,112 feet) and Kanchen- junga (28,146 feet)—the third highest mountain in the world. In the breathtaking panorama of the Himalayas seen from Darjeeling, Kokthang is seen as a low snow ridge at the left in front of Janu (25,294 feet), which is situated in Nepal beyond the Singalila Range. We approached Kokthang from the Sikkim side by the Tikipchu Valley and up the southern glacier moraine which gave easy access to the upper snow plateau—18,400 feet to 18,800 feet- above which the steep south-east face of Kokthang rose 1,300 feet. The main south-west ridge of Kokthang rises steeply up to a prominent point just above 19,800 feet from where the general gradient of the ridge reduces noticeably. From this south-west point to the summit of Kokthang (20,166 feet), about 3i furlongs away, the sharp ridge is broken up into numerous points of snow and ice which gives an appearance of a huge inverted saw. The northern and southern sides of Kokthang have^ very steep rocks and ice flutings and the ridge itself is razor thin. Such a long traverse on the ridge is considered impossible with over a dozen points of crumbly ice and snow and thin ridge in between. From the southern approach the problem of Kokthang was in finding a safe route through the many snow gullies and over steep rock ribs leading directly to the summit (20,166 feet). But, like our predecessors to the mountain, we failed to discover this. We succeeded in attaining a point above 20,000 feet on the upper ridge of Kokthang, the highest so far reached.

Kokthang has been attempted previously for quite a number of times. In 1953, Kempe and Lewis had approached the peak from the Yalung Valley in Nepal. Finding the snow conditions on the western face very dangerous, they made their way round the foot of the southern ridges and reached the eastern plateau in Sikkim. They climbed up the north ridge to a point about 200 feet below the summit where they were stopped by a sheer rise in the thin ridge. In May 1962 an army expedition, led by Maj. Rana, approached Kokthang from the Sikkim side and attained the south-western point on the final ridge—a point above 6b 19,800 feet. In October 1963 the H.M.I. Advance Course students, led by Ang Temba, reached a point just above the one attained by the army expedition. Other advanced courses approached Kokthang from the north but could not make much headway.

Our Base Camp was situated on a moraine ridge. To our west was a valley leading to Kangla (16,680 feet) into Nepal. Towards the north the moraine-covered glacier extended towards Kokthang. On April 11 Praveen and Gira along with Sherpas recceed the route to Camp I and returned by lunch time. The wind was as strong as ever and it started snowing late in the afternoon.

Next morning the Sherpas carried more loads to Camp I. They were accompanied by Meena and Lakhpa. By noon it again started snowing.

The morning of 13th was bright. We had decided to occupy Camp I. We were sorry that Neela Pandit who was not keeping fit had to return to Darjeeling with two porters. The rest of us moved over to Camp I which was reached by lunch time.

Camp I was situated at a height of 16,800 feet on a small ridge above the glacier. This was less windy and a better place than the Base Camp. Above Camp I an ice-fall led up to the eastern plateau. The ice-fall was bounded by loose rock ribs protruding on its sides.

On the 14th, the day was clear and Ang Temba left Camp I to recce the route with Lobsang, Dorje and Pemba. Next day they set up Camp II (18,800 feet) at the foot of Kokthang. They were unable to sleep the whole night due to wind and spent it in holding the tent from flying away. Next day they prepared the higher route to the final ridge and fixed several ropes along the steep way. Ang Temba returned to Camp I on the 16th evening and informed us that an attempt on the main summit was not possible due to fresh snow on the very steep rocks and gullies, Instead, he had worked out a possible route to another point on the ridge which was accessible.

On April 15 the weather remained windy—with continuous snow-fall in the afternoon. For two days at Camp I we had kept ourselves busy climbing in the vicinity. Once when Meena and Lakhpa were going over the glacier Meena fell into a pond of ice-cold water which was covered by a thin layer of ice which gave way. Fortunately the water was only thigh-deep and Lakhpa could pull her out!

On the 17th all of us left Camp II early in the morning. We climbed over a ridge composed of rocks and scree and higher up covered with some snow. Soon we reached the lower parts of the eastern snow plateau. Kokthang soared majestically to our left. Frey Peak was in front of us. In the distance, far beyond the snow plateau, was Rathong and Kabru. We crossed the snow-field and reached close to the south-east face of Kokthang where Camp II was established. Again it started snowing with high winds. It kept snowing the whole night and we could not sleep. We could have only a frugal dinner consisting of soup, macaroni-wafers and Bournvita. To keep our spirits high we kept on singing for hours!

April 18 was the D-Day. It was a cold morning. We left Camp II at 6.30 a.m. in two ropes. Ang Temba led the first rope with Meena and Praveen, and Lopsang, Pushpa, Gira, Lakhpa and Dorjee were on the second rope. The second rope led the route at first. We reached the base of Kokthang and climbed up a snow gully. After climbing for an hour or so we came across the fixed ropes. Ang Temba had taken over the lead. The route previously prepared by Ang Temba and Sherpas was completely spoilt by the fresh snow-fall. New steps had to be cut most of the way. The face became steeper as we inched our way up with the help of the fixed ropes, which were often buried in fresh snow. After a while we came by a huge rock which we had marked from below. We traversed to our right and followed yet another gully which took us to the final ridge. We climbed a short distance on the ridge to attain a point over 20,000 feet. But it was not possible to go any further on the narrow ridge. The time was 11.45 a.m. The second rope followed us in half an hour. The weather had remained calm and bright. We saw down the Yalung glacier in Nepal. We also saw Everest, Makalu and numerous ranges of eastern Nepal, janu dominated the view. The peaks around the eastern Rathong glacier presented a glorious sight. Our complete route from the Camp II onward could be seen and everything appeared tiny. We took numerous photographs from this point on the ridge which was the highest attained so far by any expedition to Kokthang. We were sorry that we could not proceed along the ridge to the summit as the ridge was too sharp. The snow condition was also not very safe to go along the iced ridge. Moreover, a long traverse was necessary below the various ice points on the steep ridge, fixing ropes along the way and finally attain the 20,166-foot summit. This appeared to be the only practical route to this difficult summit.

Soon the weather also changed. Clouds gathered around us. We left the ridge in an hour. We left a few mementos at the point reached by us. All of us were now on one rope. Weather deteriorated fast, the visibility became poor. The fixed ropes helped us to move fast. It started snowing. Lumps of fresh snow dislodged from above kept on slipping down the climbers in the front. They were pelted by snowballs. Everyone was anxious to reach the camp early. After the fixed ropes were over, Praveen, who was leading, slipped suddenly dragging Meena after her, but Dorjee quickly belayed the rope and stopped the fall. The rope was all mixed up and entangled in the confusion. By the time the mess was cleaned up, the weather became still worse. The snow-goggles were useless as the film of moisture on them was blinding. We finally reached the camp at 4.20 p.m. where our cook Lakhpa Tsering had kept the welcome-cup of hot tea waiting for us. That night was a real nightmare with a thunderstorm and a heavy snow.

It was still snowing on the morning of 19th when we folded up the camp and descended to Camp I. We reached our Base Camp the next day. Our porters from the valley had not yet arrived.

Finally on 24th the porters arrived. We had already got to a lower camp, Tseram Khola. The porters went up the Base Camp to bring down the loads. We were happy to return to Darjeeling on the 28th after a most memorable expedition to Kokthang.

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