THE Himalayas and the people who inhabit them have from time immemorial lain beneath a veil- of mystery. Their snow¬capped peaks, the valleys and passes look gloriously remote and mysterious, attracting one with that irresistible magnetism which mountaineers cannot define but only accept. Perhaps it was this irresistible magnetism which compelled us to visit the Himalayas again this year. The peak selected by us was Trisul (23,360 ft.) situated in the Garhwal Himalayas, and which we climbed on 4 June.

Our team consisted of four ladies—Dr. Meena Agrawal (Leader), Dr. Rekha Parikh, Miss Pushpa Athavale and Miss Rekha Agrawal—all from Bombay. All of us had done our basic and advance courses in Rock-climbing and Mountaineering at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling. The expedition was sponsored by the Climbers' Club, Bombay, and we were work¬ing in close co-operation with the mens Bethartoli Himal Expedi¬tion.

We had two objectives in mind: (i) the ascent of Trisul (23,360 ft.) this would be the first time an all Indian ladies' team would be attempting this peak) and (ii) the ascent of an unnamed virgin peak in the same region. We left Bombay on 16 May and reached Joshimath on 20 May. After spending a hectic day at Joshimath making local purchases and arranging for the permits necessary to climb any peak in this part of Garhwal, we left for Lata village (7,600 ft.). We spent a day at Lata arranging; for porters and goats, sorting out the food and equipment and repacking them to make adequate porter loads. On 23 May, we left Lata village and civilization behind and reached Lata Kharak (12,100 ft.) late in the afternoon amidst heavy rainfall. The route was all uphill for about 4,000 feet and, though the scenery was beautiful, the trek was very tiring. Next day we crossed the Dharansi Pass and established a camp at 13,600 feet after a long uphill trek. It had started snowing as we approached the camp site and it kept on snowing the whole evening. The next day's trek began by crossing the Malatuni Pass and then descending almost 3,000 feet across slippery grass and snow slopes, made more slippery due to the rains and snow, over boulders and through dense forests till we reached a torrential mountain stream. We crossed this stream and finally reached Dibrugheta (11,480 ft.), a picturesque camp site set among the forests and near the river. Next day we left for Deodi. The route was uphill at first and then it was one long traverse across several mountain ridges and finally a descent of almost 1,000 feet to reach Deodi (11,000 ft.) which was situated along the Rishi Ganga. We had our first glimpse of the mighty Nanda Devi during this trek. The following day we climbed through juniper and rhododendron forests to reach Bethartoli Kharak (12,540 ft.) and the final day's march along the Trisul Nala took us to our Base Camp at Tridang (15,550 ft.).

We spent one day at Base Camp sorting out our loads for Trisul as well as the unnamed peak. It was a very pleasant day made even more enjoyable by a supper of bhel and gulabjamun. One of our members, Rekha Parikh, developed effects of high altitude and she decided to stay back at Base Camp and to join the rest of the team later. Unfortunately, as there was no improvement in her condition, she was unable to go beyond Base Camp.

On 30 May we left for Camp I. We went along the Trisul Nala for a short distance and then turned to the right climbing over rocky and occasionally small snow slopes till we reached Camp I which was situated at a height of 17,500 feet. We were accom¬panied by a Sherpa, four high-altitude porters and two local porters. We pitched only two tents at Camp I, one for the members and the other for the Sherpas. It was a lovely camp site on a flat rocky patch surrounded by snow on almost all sides. There was a gurgling mountain stream running alongside the camp.

Next day, the 31st, we went for recce to find a suitable site for Camp II, and on 1 June we moved up to Camp II. We first crossed a small snow and rocky slope and then traversed across large snow-covered areas. We could see the north-east ridge and we were climbing below but almost parallel to this ridge. It was a long but fairly gradual climb to start with going alongside this ridge on the Trisul massif. Then we climbed a steep slope and established Camp II at a height of about 20,500 feet. Except for occasional rocky boulders, we could see nothing but snow all around us at this camp. In front of us we could see Trisul. To the east we could see Mrigthuni, Devistan and part of Nanda Devi and Nanda Deyi East. To the north-east on a clear day, we could identify Dunagiri, Changabang, Kalanka and a few other peaks. To our right was the continuous north-east ridge which seemed to end in a rock and snow peak. However, as we climbed higher we realized that this was not a peak but only a sharp point on the N ridge with a corniced edge which continued upwards as the north ridge of Trisul.

Bethartoli Himal-Trisul Region

Bethartoli Himal-Trisul Region

The next day we decided to climb the ridge near Camp II and reach a point 21,220 feet on that ridge. This was the ridge which separated Trisul from Bethartoli. Our idea was to see what was on the other side of the ridge and to see if we could spot any of the members of the men's expedition on Bethartoli Himal. Sherpa Pasang Lhakpa, Nima Tensing and I reached the top of the ridge at about 2 p.m. and managed to get a brief glimpse of Bethartoli Himal when the weather cleared a bit. However, we were unable to see any of the members.

On 3 June, we left Camp II hoping to establish Camp III. It was an extremely hot day. About 100 yards from the camp, Rekha started feeling giddy and decided to go back to Camp II. A few yards further, Pushpa felt unwell and she also decided to return to Camp II. Hence we decided to rest at Camp II that day, to wake up early next morning and when it would be cooler to try for the summit directly from Camp II, if possible, without establishing Camp III,

On 4 June, we woke up early, got dressed and set off for the summit at about 5 a.m. It was a clear but windy night. About 100 yards from Camp II, Rekha and Pushpa once again started feeling giddy and sick and both went back to Camp II. Hence only Sherpa Pasang Lhakpa and two high-altitude porters, Nima Tensing and Nima Dorji, and I set off on the summit ascent. It was very cold that morning and very windy. On a couple of occasions, the winds were so strong that I thought we would be blown off. We continued climbing slowly but steadily. Around 11 a.m. we saw the men s team on the summit of Bethartoli South peak and we felt very happy about their success. This inspired us to continue climbing even though the weather was not too favourable. The winds became stronger and snowfall became heavier. Visibility was becoming poor as the clouds started collecting. Due to soft snow and winds the going became a little difficult. Normally this is considered a fairly easy climb in good weather as there are very few technical difficulties. We were climbing on the north-east face of Trisul and not along the ridge and, as we approached the summit, we could see the east and north ridges converging towards each other.

At about 2.30 p.m., the summit was reached by myself along with Sherpa Pasang Lhakpa, Nima Tensing and Nima Dorji. Due to heavy snowfall, strong winds and poor visibility, it was impossible to take any photographs on the summit. This was a great disappointment to us, as we had been looking forward to getting a stupendous view of Nanda Devi and the other peaks from the summit. We had also been very keen on seeing if there was a possible route from the summit of Trisul I to the summit of Trisul II.

After spending about 15 minutes on the summit, we started off on the descent. The visibility had become so poor that we had great difficulty in getting our bearings on our way down and almost missed our way twice and had to wait some time for weather clearance. It was a very tiring descent for the snow was knee- deep and also waist-deep in places. However, tired but happy, we reached Camp II at 6.45 p.m. where the other members were anxiously awaiting our return.

That whole night it snowed heavily and continuously and the winds persisted. The bad weather continued the next day, so we decided to return to Base Camp, without waiting for the other members to try for the summit. We reached Base Camp at about 6 p.m. on 5 June.

The bad weather persisted next day and at about 5 p.m. we got the news of the tragedy on Bethartoli Main peak from one of the porters. We all were shocked and grieved to hear that Nitin Patel, Ang Kami and two other porters had been killed in an avalanche. We also heard that one of the porters, Pemba Tshering, was seriously injured and was at Camp I. As the porter Pemba Tshering required urgent medical attention, I along with two high- altitude porters immediately left for Camp I but had to return after climbing through waist-deep snow for two and a half hours, due to strong winds, bad snow conditions and poor visibility.

This unfortunate incident, together with prevailing bad snow conditions, upset our plan and we decided not to attempt the second peak which we had in mind. We returned to Joshimath on 16 June and within a week we were back in Bombay.

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