It was during the summer break 1967, while climbing Badrinath 1 Peak (23,420 feet) with the N.D.A. Cadets' Expedition, that I had seen the wondrous mass of mountains of all sizes and shapes around the Nanda Devi sanctuary and had since then nursed a desire to return to this region. Towards mid-February the spark was rekindled by a conversation with Air Vice-Marshal S. N. Goyal, the then Commandant of the Academy, who inspired me to organize an N.D.A. Expedition Team to scale Dunagiri (23,184 feet) during May/June 1968.

After spending a memorable month in Western Sikkim, on my return to Poona, I learnt that in view of the shortage of experienced Sherpas and high-altitude porters and considering the suggestions from Mr. H. C. Sarin, the Chairman I.M.F., coupled with the expert advice from the Principals of H.M.I., Darjeeling, and the N.I.M., Uttarkashi, Dunagiri had been abandoned. And instead, the attention was on Kalanka (22,740 feet) with Changabang Peak (22,520 feet) as an alternate aim, both lying in the Kumaon Himalayas.

The selection of the expedition team comprising of three officers, 10 cadets and one N.C.O. (Physical Training Instructor) was done from about two hundred volunteers during regular treks in the hills around the Academy. The finally selected 15- member team consisted of myself (Leader), Lieut. V. Mohindra, LN. (Deputy Leader), Cadets N. C. Bhasin, A. K. Nanda, K. S. Randhawa, M. S. Shoora, T. S. Roy, H. S. Gill, R. Chaturvedi, B. K. Chowdhary, M. S. Balhara, I. A. Siddiqui and Hav. Prakram Singh from the Academy. The selected officers and cadets from the Academy were given intensive training in trekking and rock-climbing without affecting the normal routine of training at the N.D.A. Kharakvasla.

We were fortunate in having a seasoned mountaineer, Major P. S. P. Cheema, from A.S.P.T. as an adviser to the expedition. But for him I should not have set myself to this exacting though agreeable task.

Capt. R. S. Sangha, A.M.C., on his maiden venture of this kind, was the guardian angel of the expedition who looked after the health of every member with meticulous care.

The Secretary, Sherpa Climbers' Association, Darjeeling, had arranged for five Sherpas and 10 high-altitude porters to accompany the expedition.

From N.D.A. to Advance Base Camp

The I.A.F. Illyushin 1L-14 touched down at Palam Airport at 1.05 p.m. on May 30, 1968, carrying the N.D.A. Mountaineering Expedition on the first stage of its journey. We left the same night for Hardwar where we were joined by the Sherpas and high- altitude porters from Darjeeling. An 88-mile bus journey, through varied panoramaic Himalayan landscape, took us to Rudraprayag (2,000 feet), the confluence of the Mandakini and the Alaknanda, where we spent the night in the Transit Officers' Mess.

Awakening to the chirping of birds in the exhilarating freshness of a perfect dawn, we had a quick breakfast and drove 69 miles to Joshimath (6,150 feet). While collecting the inner-line pass at the Tehasildar's Office, we met Mr. Chaudhuri (Leader) and a few members of the North Garhwal Expedition from Calcutta. They broke the disconcerting news about the landslide that had blocked the road near the village Rini and that the B.R.T.F. operating in that region would take at least three days in erecting a temporary bridge over the Rishi Ganga and a day or two for clearing the debris.

Early next morning Maj. Cheema, Pan Singh—a local porters' contractor—and myself drove to village Rini to assess the situation on the spot and to explore the possibility of transferring both men and material to the other side of the Rishi Ganga. Reaching there, we observed that the fast moving currents of the Rishi had swept away a suspension bridge located two furlongs to the southeast of the confluence of the Rishi and Dhauli. The road, along the base of the cliff, situated eastward of the breach, was under the debris of a recent landslide. The worst was that the path was still much exposed to stone-fall and a large boulder or two rolling occasionally down the rock face gave us a grim warning of the odds involved.

Coming back to Tapoban, we were assured by Mr. Narayan, Engineer-in-Charge of the B.R.T.F., that he would put us across to the other side of the River Rishi by lunch time next day. While at Tapoban we met the shiftiest looking man, named Jai Singh, who posed that he had a matchless knowledge of every path and track leading to the foot of Kalanka/Changabang and with a peculiar grin on his broad face he volunteered to be our guide on the mountains. Besides, he assured us that he would arrange for both, the local porters and goats, at nominal wages. Surely, he showed us the way up to the Base Camp without much difficulty but the porter crisis we experienced later was all due to his false promises.

By evening of June 2, we had moved the rear party along with the luggage to Tapoban to spend the night there. Thus a day was lost through our not having been able to cross the Rishi.

There was considerable confusion of climbing gears, bags, crates that crammed every inch of space. It demanded a good deal of energy for dragging, lifting, nailing and lashing the loads into convenient weights for carrying during the approach marches and on the mountains. At 1.45 p.m. we hammered the last nail into our crates and retired for lunch.

After a little over an hour and a half, we were near a suspension bridge, made of wooden slats placed on the two girders which had been reinstalled by the B.R.T.F. workers by working overnight. Soon we were to learn that though the bridge was open for 1-tonners, the 3-tonner could not move through loose earth and stones lying on the patch of slope connecting the improvised bridge. Without wasting time all the members of the two expeditions joined the B.R.T.F. workers to make the track fit for heavy vehicles and our journey by road concluded at the road- head, 800 feet below Lata village. Wherever we looked, dark rock peaks jutted against the blue sky.

Soon Pan Singh's brother, Ajaib Singh, appeared with 30 Dhotiais whom he had brought all the way down from Malari. My prayers were that Jai Singh would be bringing 40 porters and 50 goats to enable us to start next day. Alas, they were not heard, because Jai Singh, 6 the guideappeared only with another Jai Singh and Daman Singh, two shepherds from village Rini, and expressed, with a peculiar laugh, his inability to entice any more porters! Anticipating the odds and Jai Singh's capabilities we had already arranged 10 porters from Lata through Sher Singh.

It was all rather discouraging, but we planned as best we could. It was decided that next day an advance party of cadets and 40 porters along with the kitchen detachment be sent under the command of Lt. Mohindra and that Ajaib Singh be sent to the surrounding villages to recruit at least 30 porters to support the rear party. Till midnight, Lt. Mohindra, Pasang Temba and myself filled 45 packs with dry ration and fresh vegetables to be ferried on goats.

Early on the morning of June 4, 1 awoke to find a bit of activity around. The morning was one of exquisite splendour. From behind the columns of granite supporting the graceful peaks emerged the golden beams of the newly rising sun in wonderful contrast to the sombre, heavily wooded country around us. The chirping of the birds, the impressive close view of the Dhauli River and the numerous streamlets splashing in silver waterfalls down the colossal rock faces—all played their part in this perfect dawn.

Nine a.m. saw the advance party ascending over the rough wooded hillside on the slopes of the Lata Peak. It was quite a bit of a job to raise new porters at such a short notice. By midday Ajaib Singh brought 35 porters with him and after half an hour we were on the trail of the advance party.

After two hours' steep climb, the halts became too frequent with the loaded porters, perhaps due to the scorching sun that sapped the body of all energy. Zigzagging upwards, for another three hours, we emerged from the jungle to find ourselves on a broad grassy saddle of Lata Kharak, almost at right angles to the main ridge above and set between two wide and deep ravines The advance party had pitched tents and had lit a bonfire for our comfort. There was plenty of wood around but not a drop of water. However, an old snow wreath still lingered near our tents and Palden had already boiled it down by the potful.

Our first transport crisis occurred just after dinner when the local porters refused to proceed further unless we met their demand of 2 kg. of rice/atta per head per day along with sugar, ghee and condiments in sufficient quantities. As per our discussion with Pan Singh and Jai Singh, regarding terms and conditions governing engagement of porters, we were prepared to give them 1 kg. of rice/atta per head per day along with other items of ration. It was very provocating to be blackmailed thus; only our helplessness at this juncture compelled us to compromise.

Next day we had to send Hav Prakram Singh and Ajaib Singh along with 12 Dhotials to fetch extra rations from Joshimath to meet the fresh demands of the local porters. It was 8.05 a.m. before we were on the move, making for the crest of the Lata ridge. Towering above all the peaks to the south, stood the white, ice-plastered, shining dome of Bethartoli Himal (20,840 feet). We turned left and in the dense mist, traversed over difficult ground and steep snow gullies, at places so hard-frozen that steps had to be cut to allow a passage. The vertical walls of the impassable box canyon, the gloom of clouds around and echoes of roaring torrents of the Rishi below could make most of us falter on the very narrow paths. No wonder a young Dhotial deserted us without even asking for his wages for the previous two days.

After pulling over 2,000 feet of a snow gully we perched on the Dhurashi Pass (14,700 feet). Thereafter we covered a mile and a half on relatively easier ledges till we emerged on a broad grassy gully to a grazing ground used in summer by the shepherds of Tolma and Lata. Locally known as Dhurashi Kharak (12,140 feet), it lies in the gap between the outer and inner curtains of the famous Rishi gorge. In the evening Randhawa, the quartermaster, issued ration as per the promised scale to the local porters which pleased them mightily. Everyone was exhausted and after a quick dinner we slipped into our sleeping-bags.

The morning of June 6 saw us climbing the slope leading to a grassy saddle in the flooding sunlight. Reaching the col our eyes met the most inspiring mountain prospect. There, facing us, only 12 miles distant towering above the rock walls of the Rishi and other peaks of the Basin Rim, was Nanda Devi (25,645 feet), queen among mountains, draped in bottle-green ice, holding her head in a halo of a solitary cloud. While revelling in that enchanting moment, I could vividly recollect the famous lines from ' Grongar Hill' by John Dyer:

‘Now I gain the mountains' brow what a landscape lies below! No clouds, no vapours intervene But the gay, the open scene Does the face of nature show In all the hues of heaven's bow.'

Soon we were climbing down a 3,000-foot steep ‘bhurrel' slope mainly over loose slabs and partly through a grassy gully flanked by birch trees and rhododendrons. After crossing a nullah we climbed the left-hand slope till we emerged on the grassy alp of Dibrugheta (10,000 feet). Descending 150 feet, we crossed another nullah to pitch our tents on a flat spot surrounded by trees and shrubs. The blackened boulders of an old camp- fire clearly marked the trail of the 1964 Nanda Devi Expedition.

Next morning we climbed 1,000 feet over a wooded shoulder to get on to the clearer ground above. We could see Nanda Devi again, over a welter of crag and forest; 1,000 feet below us was the Rishi. Traversing up and down the rocky ground we landed at last on the upper Deodi (11,500 feet) located at the foot of a near-vertical rock face.

June 8 dawned calm and misty. An advance party composed of Major Cheema, Gyalzen, Nima, Jai Singh and I set out to establish the Base Camp. After crossing the forbidding and near-vertical rock face, we took a precarious route along the slopes above the left bank of the Rishi Ganga. We kept along the northern flanks of the valley until we arrived at a point where the Rhamani stream coming from the north flows into the Rishi Ganga, only just visible in the depths below, yet sending up a roar like a great waterfall. The distance covered was only four miles but it seemed interminable. Turning northward in dense mist and rain, we traversed the ridges of the Rhamani Valley, almost 1,000 feet above the left bank of Rhamani stream. At 4 p.m. and in rain we camped hopefully on the right bank of Rhamani Nullah running along the side moraine of a small glacier. The weather cleared temporarily and while on our way a few members and I had the first view of Changabang.

On June 9, we trudged up the rock wall, which was under thick mist. The valley ahead of us became more desolate and dreary and it seemed as if no mortal had ever moved there. Strange hollow sounds rumbled from the Rhamani glacier and the melancholy clatter of falling stones echoed weirdly from the nearby bleak crags. Traversing the ledges and buttresses of six or seven ravines of this dismal valley we came to a beautiful camp site by a running stream, in sight of the peaks of the Basin Rim. That was our Base Camp (15,200 feet), just below the snow line. After retaining a few of them for ferries further up and the return journey, the rest of the local porters were dismissed. We felt greatly relieved to be rid of the unpredictable Dhotials. Towards evening the clouds were lifting and, as the setting sun pierced through, the peaks stood out clearly. We viewed them long through our binoculars and pondered upon our strategy.

Next morning we struggled up an ice corridor in a bid to carry out a reconnaissance of the route and establish Advance Base Camp. After a 15 minutes' march we were brought to a halt by an exceedingly marvellous sight, which was at the same time disheartening from the point of view of climbing. It almost took our breath away. The six and a half thousand feet high rock face of Changabang, towering in the middle, was surrounded by neighbours like Dunagiri, Kalanka and a couple of unnamed peaks. Resembling a camel's hump, the southern face of Kalanka, plastered with ice, tapered upward into a razor-sharp edge in continuation with the east ridge of Changabang. The snow was soft and deep and going up became increasingly difficult, till we established our Advance Base Camp (16,500 feet) on the ridge of the medial moraine. It snowed in the evening and a fierce storm buffeted our tents throughout the night.

Next day, in a mood of hopeful anticipation, Pasang Temba, Nima, Da Dorjey and I carried out a reconnaissance of the peak area. The only feasible route to Kalanka seemed through the south ridge of Changabang as the western and southern routes, due to their extreme verticality, were technically impracticable. The whole key to the ascent was a wide gap, at about 19,700 feet on the serrated south ridge of Changabang. The narrowness of this knife-edged ice-cum-snow ridge demanded skill and a good deal of luck to escape the perpetual artillery of avalanches roaring down its precipitous and treacherous slopes.

Alternatively to Kalanka was the 22,520 feet high white granite tower of Changabang, sharper and more inaccessible looking than anything we had ever seen, a tooth so sheer that its ice could only be a veneer for rock.

Considering the paucity of time, the limitations imposed by our pre-monsoon attempt, and the inexperience of our cadets, the experienced mountaineers Gyalzen and Pasang Temba, whose judgement we valued highly, cautioned us on the dangers and the technical difficulties involved in attempting either peak.

Major Cheema, Lt. Mohindra and I, therefore, abandoned the previous plan of climbing Kalanka/Changabang and came to an agreement that the nearby three unclimbed peaks would be our immediate objectives.

Consequently, that day by lunch time the expedition was divided into three parties:

The first party comprised of Major Cheema, Balhara, Siddiqui, Hav. Prakram Singh, Sherpas Nima, Sarki and four porters.

The second party was led by me with cadets Shoora, Gill, Chowdhary, Sherpa Instructor Gyalzen, Sherpas Da Dorjey, Palden (cook) and three porters.

The third party consisted of Lt. Mohindra, Nanda, Bhasin, Randhawa, Roy, Sherpa Instructor Pasang Temba, Sherpa Mingma Wangdi and four porters.

By 3 p.m. the same day, the first and third party were on their way to Base Camp.

Changabang (22,520 feet), lying at the head of Changabang glacier, is some 60 miles north-east of Joshimath. From the summit, the western ridge of Changabang falls in one unbroken sweep of white granite to a col some 4,000 feet, rises again to a sharp 20,310-foot conical peak, which was earmarked for the assault party led by me.

The south ridge of Changabang tapers down with an equal sweep to a col at a height of 19,700 feet approximate and further rises to a sharp long serrated granite ridge which, nearly 3 miles further on, narrows to an arete, corniced one side, with a little gendarme, abutting on to a 20,460-foot peak (Rishi Kot) which was the objective for Lt. Mohindra's party.

Directly opposite this, across the glacier towards the west, lav another peak (19,730 feet) for Major Cheema's party. This peak was 2 ½ miles away from the Base Camp.

A total of 11 members, one Sherpa instructor with four Sherpas and one high-altitude porter reached three different summits on June 14. The three peaks were christened Dl, D2 and D3 by the expedition team (see sketch map—D3 is already marked on the Survey of India Sheet 53 as Rishi Kot—Editor).


The Ascent of Peak D2

Next day, my party shifted the Advance Base Camp to a higher and more open camp on the southern rib of the new objective.

 After lunch we dried our sodden loads, sorted out and packed our equipment and foodstuff for Camp I and the summit. The evening was rather cloudy and windy and soon it started snowing.

June 13 dawned bright and clear. A steep climb up loose scree led us into a wilderness of stones and rocks, frowned upon by the snowy wastes of neighbouring peaks. From Camp I (19,000 feet) our target peak depicted its classic profile with three distinct ridges rising abruptly from the ice-fields at 19,500 feet, each expressing their individual character in a combination of rock and ice features and finally converging into a fluted ice summit ridge.

On June 14 morning Gyalzen was taken ill and as a consequence we had to face his inability to accompany us to the summit. At 6 a.m. we departed on two ropes. On the first rope, behind Sherpa Da Dorjey were Gill and Shoora, while I led the second rope with Chowdhary and porter Nowang Thundu behind me. Soon we got into the jumble of the southern ridge and spent nearly three hours ascending over snow, then a rocky rib and then snow again. Finally we won clear to reach the crest of the spur which abutted directly against an extremely steep 800-foot slope forming the way of access to the main summit. Considering the condition of snow and the steepness of the slope, porter Thundu, who was without crampons, was asked to stay behind. Soon we were forcing a track through knee-deep snow that lay lightly on the hard frozen lower strata. Steps had to be cut and energy was hard to find. The sweat fogging our glasses and increasing short* ness of breath necessitated frequent halts. Higher up, a biting cold wind rose and soon dark clouds enveloped the peak. It seemed as if our limbs were immersed in fast running icy-water. Perhaps the worst of all was the searing cold of the surrounding air inhaled into our overworked lungs. We ascended very slowly and cautionsly, making a little more than 200 feet an hour.

While I was just 10 feet short of the summit I saw Da Dorjey toppling down from the summit and slipping along the southern slope. The drop below looked far from reassuring. Clouds hung low and soon blotted out Da Dorjey's puny figure in the steep gully. Chowdhary and myself joined Gill and Shoora at 1.45 p.m. on the summit. Our satisfaction was marred by our anxiety for Da Dorjey—how could he have slipped out of sight so quickly ? The face of the mountain was continually blotted from our view in the racing mist.

As visibility was poor and a blizzard was blowing fiercely, we stayed only for four minutes on the summit and then hurried down in a bid to help Da Dorjey. Our progress was painfully slow and we were soon to discover that beating the retreat was definitely more difficult than climbing up the overhanging part of the summit ridge. Chowdhary, who had lost one of his ice-mittens while climbing up, was genuinely worried about frost-bite. As such he showed an extraordinary lack of control in his movements, slipping many a time so that it was a job for me to belay him. Soon, due to numbness of his limbs, he gave me an ultimatum that he could walk no more. A little later Shoora announced that he had lost one of his crampons. The wind was blowing with great spite and ice crusted on our eyebrows and lips. I felt thoroughly shaken. All I could do was to encourage Gill and Shoora to climb down slowly but cautiously and to drive Chowdhary on in front of me till porter Thundu took over the lead and with great difficulty we came to a little rock.

We banged and rubbed Chowdhary's limbs till Gill and Shoora joined us. Still we could not see any trace of either Da Dorjey or his belongings. With a heavy heart we cautiously descended and just when darkness set in, we met porter Chumbi who had brought tea in the same Thermos which Da Dorjey had carried in his rucksack for the summit. Chumbi merely uttered, Woh Thik Hai' (He is well). His uttering ‘Thik' carried a wealth of meaning for me. This sudden change from hopelessness to certainty of Da Dorjey being well was one of the most thrilling experiences I have ever known. After this there followed a joyous scramble with lightning speed and we were in the tent in which Da Dorjey squated, fomenting himself. We were besides ourselves with joy to see him in one piece. Our first reaction was one of profound thankfulness to God that we had not lost Da Dorjey and that our aim had been achieved too. He had lost his balance while attempting to remove his rucksack on the summit. He fell a good 1,000 feet and luck presented a soft landing on his rucksack. He escaped with a mild battering of his body and severe bruising.

Porter Chumbi who had heard my shouts from the top had already begun to climb towards the ridge and having luckily located Da Dorjey helped him down to Camp I—rubbed him down and tucked him into bed with hot drinks.

The first and third parties spent June 12 at the Base Camp in drying their sodden loads and packing equipment and foodstuff for their respective peaks. The same day cadet Chaturvedi had to be returned to Joshimath due to the deteriorating condition of the crush injury which he had sustained on his left thumb during the approach marches. Next day, the two parties departed from here for their target peaks D1 and D3.

D2 (20,310 feet) summit route

D2 (20,310 feet)summit route

The northern faces of Kalanka (left) and Changabang (right) as viewed from D2

The northern faces of Kalanka (left) and Changabang (right) as viewed from D2

Close view of D2

Close view of D2

D3 (Rishi Kot) (20,460 feet) as viewed from the base camp for can be seen in the extreme right background

D3 (Rishi Kot) (20,460 feet) as viewed from the base camp for can be seen in the extreme right background


The Ascent of Peak D1 (19,730 feet)

Cadet M. S. Balhara reports thus about the ascent of Dl:

The date was June 13 when Major Cheema roused us at 5.30 a.m. for we were to have a long day before us. We breakfasted lightly and enlisted the aid of porters in packing the loads. At 7 a.m. Major Cheema, Siddiqui, Hav. Prakram Singh, Sherpas Nima, Sarki and four porters and myself were heading towards the saddle of the SE ridge. It took us half an hour of hard going over rough ground, scored by numerous stream-furrows before we reached the crest. The weather cleared somewhat, and en route we were greeted by a gleam of sunshine and the images of many sparkling ice pinnacles danced in crystal clear water of a streamlet. We sat for a while to bask in the sun and to revel in that enchanting moment of natural grandeur. Very slowly, the view unfolded. A group of peaks which had remained hidden from us in the valley now rose majestically in the west.

Two hours of exhausting and difficult plodding through a maze of ice corridors brought us within sight of the head of the glacial moraine. The condition of the snow on the slope was in a truly shocking state. Just beneath the soft snow was a hard crust of ice. Our immediate objective was to force a track through and though we carried our rucksacks containing spare socks and gloves and down jacket, it was only after two hours of the most arduous work that we succeeded in establishing Camp I (18,500 feet). A cold wind and low cloud cheated us of the exceptionally fine panorama of the Kumaon Himalayas.

After an early dinner we crawled into the tent and with a sigh of sheer delight collapsed into our sleeping-bags. The perpetual westerly gale buffetted our tents. The bitter cold made any deep and restful sleep well nigh impossible. It snowed throughout the night.

June 14 dawned perfect with a bright sun and a mild wind blowing. And for the first time we had a full and close view of the uppermost slopes of our peak. Starting at 6.20 a.m. we were tilled with the joy of battle and confident that we would reach the summit.

During the subsequent ascent over snow, then rocky ridge and then snow again the occasional tinkle of a stone put our nerves on edge. The slope continued to be steep and ascent became difficult for about two and a half hours and just as we were about to give up hope, we gained the summit. We felt very excited and shook hands with each other. The bird's-eye view of the surroundings from the summit compensated for all the beastly hours of scree-slogging. We stayed on the summit for half an hour, the Sherpas planting prayer flags and we taking photographs with the flags in our hands.

After a four-hour toilsome descent through snow in horrible condition, we returned to the Base Camp by lunch time. Soon we heard the exciting news of the successful ascent of the third party on Peak D3.

The Ascent of Peak D3 (Rishi Kot) (20,460 feet)

Cadet T. S. Roy writes about the ascent of D3 (Rishi Kot):

June 13 dawned bright and clear and it was 8 a.m. when cadets Bhasin, Nanda, Randhawa, Sherpa Instructor Pasang Temba, Sherpa Mingma Wangdi, four porters and myself started from the Base Camp after wishing each other a good and safe climbing. Unfortunately, due to indisposition Lt. Mohindra, leader of our party, had to remain behind at the Base Camp.

We descended on a glacier and soon lost ourselves among the rocks and boulders covered with ice and snow. The progress was rather slow and after an hour s clambering in and out of great hollows from where the snow had melted away, we won clear to find ourselves at the foot of a vertical rock face. Pasang Temba found a rock chimney which afforded numerous handholds and foot-rests ; but on a closer look, the rocks turned out to be insecure due to constant erosion. Left with no choice, we hazarded this chimney and inched our way upwards. The going was extremely difficult and the local porters grumbled and threatened to leave us stranded. Thanks to Pasang Temba, who very tactfully handled them, everybody was pulled up safely on a small platform.

After the rock face we were confronted by a ridge which continues for a further 200 feet to merge with the foot of a narrow ledge. At places we had to climb slopes ranging between 50° and 70°. Finally we chipped our way to an ice-plateau (19,000 feet) to establish our Camp I there.

Randhawa was in a bad shape due to his injury he got in his leg while going up the chimney. The view was magnificent but we could hardly contemplate it because of the fact that the low clouds and the cold westerly gale forced us to take shelter in our sleeping-bags. We were not feeling hungry at all but we took hot cocoa and went to sleep.

Lady luck smiled on us, for June 14 was brilliant. It aroused our spirits and we were all set for the move. We left Randhawa behind and at 6.30 a.m. headed towards the ridge to the north. Pasang Temba was leading the two ropes we were on. Soon we were plodding through knee-deep snow at almost 60°. After two hours of an arduous and agonizing climb we reached the highest point of the ridge which we had thought to be our target. To our dismay we found that the real summit lay even further beyond.

Soon a bitterly cold westerly gale rose until the ridge in front of us was smoking like a volcano. After a time we came across some cornices. At one place, the overhang was a few inches wide and a few yards further on it increased to many feet in width without any perceptible deviation in the crest of the ridge. Apparently the course lay in traversing the eastern slope which was very steep and consisted of ice overlaid with more than a foot of snow.

Pasang Temba was cutting steps for everybody's convenience and was in the lead. A chill went down my spine when, all of a sudden and without a sound, the cornice peeled off beneath him and went down the ice face. Luckily, with his presence of mind he could save himself from this disaster. Frequent creaks and groans seemed to portend still another cornice about to peel off. Everybody was shaken by the treacherous nature of the ridge.

It took us half an hour to climb the final 50 feet. And it was not till 1.30 p.m. that we, at last, threw ourselves flat on the summit, utterly exhausted. We shook hands ardently and wildly clapped each other on the back. We were surrounded by a panoramic view of Nanda Devi, Changabang, Kalanka, Dunagiri, Trisul and numerous other snow-clad peaks. The clouds were closing in fast and the westerly gale was threatening to blow us off the peak, so we started our descent after 20 minutes. The descent during the following four hours was a mixture of agony and pleasure till we reached Camp I and crawled into the tent and happily collapsed into our sleeping-bags while the tents flapped and shook under the fierce gale.

'Early on June 15, we were all very weak and made slow but determined effort to reach the Base Camp by 10 a.m. We were beside ourselves with joy when we heard the news of the success of the other two parties.'

The way back

The morning of June 16 was cloudy. The loads were distributed to the porters and after a light breakfast we moved on our way to the Upper Deodi camp. The snow on the way had almost melted away leaving beautiful greenery all around. It took us eight hours' stumbling and falling over boulders before we established ourselves at the Upper Deodi camp.

The next day was rather stuffy, and it was a tiresome job negotiating a tough climb beyond Dibrugheta Nullah. Our loaded porters, panting up the debris of the landslide, sweating profusely in the heat, turned skyward with an accusing look. Lord Varuna must have heard us grumble about the heat, for, all of a sudden, starting with a drizzle, the clouds opened up with all they had. It was past 6 o'clock and the soft early summer twilight was just beginning to wrap its arms about the Rishi gorge before we reached Durashi camp site.

It was after two days' toilsome descent that we returned to Joshimath and, on June 26, we said au revoir to the mighty Himalayas.

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