We decided on a small expedition without wishing it to be too ambitious. We visualized a modest peak in an area offering ample training facilities for non-climbers. These two considerations led us inevitably to Garhwal, where the mountains are close to the road-heads offering an array of unclimbed peaks, ranging from 18,000 ft. to 22,000 ft.
The Jogin group of mountains was a natural choice. There were three peaks with altitudes of 21,210 ft., 20,805 ft., 20,065 ft. respectively. In June 1967, a team led by Dr. G. R. Patwardhan climbed Jogin III. The other two remained virgin till 21 June 1970. On 22 June 1970, the students of 19th Advance Course of NIM led by its Principal Colonel J. C. Joshi of the successful Indian Everest Expedition team climbed Jogin I (21,210 ft.) and also Jogin III (20,065 ft.).
Jogin II (20,805 ft.) the only remaining unclimbed peak drew our attention. It is one thing to dream of an expedition and another to bring it to fruition. From the beginning we were assured of help and encouragement from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and the Himalayan Federation. We received generous grants from the Governments of Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
While we worried about our finances, all types of assistance were pouring in from various business houses and societies. The members of the expedition also made personal contributions towards this venture.
A small group of very young mountaineers roped with Amulya Sen, Leader; Bibhas Das, Deputy Leader; Bankim Mallick, Quartermaster; Ashis Sengupta, Organizing Secretary; Jagan- nath Dutta, Photographer and Manager ; Binit Dasgupta, Transport Officer; Sankar Sengupta, Dilip Paul, Sujit Nath, Ashit Moitra and Dr. Sankar Narayan Chowdhury. Our technical adviser was Biren Sarkar. Most of the members had no experience of an expedition but they made the deficiency up with their enthusiasm.
We left Howrah on 2 September 1970, and followed by rain, we reached Rishikesh on 4 September. Rice, atta, etc., which we did not bring from Calcutta to save railway charges were purchased. We left Rishikesh by bus so kindly supplied by the Uttar Pradesh Government, free of charge. It rained intermittently throughout the bus journey of 96 miles up to the district town, Uttarkashi. Uttarkashi has progressed considerably since I came here last in 1968 during the Satopanth expedition. One can now enjoy almost all the amenities of a town life. Even the State Bank of India has opened branches at Uttarkashi and at Bhatwari, the sub-divisional town further up the road to Gangotri. The usual strict gate system was not in evidence this year. We stayed at the newly constructed ‘Pilgrim Shed’ situated near the bus stand. 5 September was a Saturday, we could not complete all our official formalities at the District Magistrate's Office, such as inner line permit, camera permit, etc. Mr. Gangaram, the D.M. of Uttarkashi, extended all possible help to us. We took most of our equipment from the Dias Memorial Fund. The rest of the items of equipment we got from the Jayal Memorial Fund, Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling. Colonel J. C. Joshi, Principal, and Shri K. P. Sharma, the then Registrar of the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, were not only a great help in our actual planning for the climbing but were a source of inspiration to us all. We are grateful to them for their suggestions and advice.
We left Uttarkashi on 9 September dogged by rain. The route and its hinterland developed considerably within a year, especially Bhatwari. Buses took us to Lanka (9,000 ft.), six miles below Gangotri. Here we unloaded all our luggage for the night halt at Bhaironghati, two furlongs up on the other side of the Jadh Ganga. Next day, we reached Gangotri (10,500 ft.), the last inhabited place on our route. Gangotri is a sacred place. According to the Mahabharata it is the place where Bhagirath, a grandson of the great King Sagar, brought down the river Bhagirathi or the Ganga from heaven to earth. Lakhs of pilgrims visit the Gangotri temple every year. Little hermitages, ashrams of the Yogis and Sanyasis, the wonderful Bhagirathi all joined to crown this holy place with an unparalleled beauty.
Here we got in the Forest Rest House built on the left bank of the river Kedar Ganga. Next morning the real trekking began. The advance party moved up with 25 porters. They first climbed the steep hill behind the Forest Rest House then traversed few yards, crawled through two dangerous areas and marched most of the way through forests. Our first inter- mediate camp was established in a place surrounded by jungle, at a height of 12,300 ft. The place was about 5 km from Gangotri. All porters came back to Gangotri. On 11 September, the rest left Gangotri with the remaining load and reached the camp in a heavy shower.
Next day, the advance party moved up with all porters along the shepherd's track to camp at the head of the jungle, on the west bank of the river Kedar Ganga. The height of this camp site was about 13,600 ft. We could see the challenging peaks of Phating Pithwar or Thalayasagar (22,650 ft.) on the SSE and Bhrigupanth (22,219 ft.) from our camp. We stayed at this camp for two days to prepare for the final stages, and also to acclimatize ourselves.
On 13 September, the advance party went up to recce the pre- Base Camp site. The porters turned out in a soar mood. 1 was told that they refused to move forward unless they were provided with more rations. We were giving them the usual quota that they had agreed upon at the outset. We acceeded to their demand and warned them against wastage of food. Yet, they deserted us, with the solitary exception of Bhaktiram.
We immediately sent Ashish, our organizing secretary, along with our mail-runner Brizender Singh down for new porters. Brizender was a local man, smart, intelligent and young. We got him through Kamaleshji, the secretary of the Gangotri Temple Committee. Meanwhile, five prodigal porters returned to join us.
On 14 September, six porters and members ferried load to the upper camp at Nala junction (as described in Col. Joshi's report on login Expedition on June 1970 of the Advance Course students of NIM). Brizender came back disappointed in the afternoon, drawing a blank. The people of Harsil, Dharali and Mukhwa, the villages below Gangotri, were very busy with the seasonal fair at Mukhwa. He also reported that Kamaleshji, Dewanji, the Gangotri policemen and local sadhus coaxed, rebuked and cajoled twelve of our porters into joining us again. We sent Brizender to Gangotri again to bring them and our left-over bags of rations.
On 15 September, we started ferrying loads with Brizender and his twelve porters.
On 16 September we all left for the Nala Junction Camp. Ihis camp site was just on the left side of the lateral moraine of Kedar Bamak There was a black ridge on the right side of our camp which extended up to the upper ridge of Kedar Bamak and on the NNW of Thalayasagar (22,650 ft.). Our camp site was about 2 km below Kedar Tal. One could see Bhrigupanth (22,218 ft.) on the SE. First half of the way to this camp was covered with landslides and the rest with green grass and big boulders.
Photo: Jagannath Dutta
Jogin II (20,805 ft.) from Pre-base camp
Photo: Jagannath Dutta
Jogin III (extreme left) and Jogin I (centre) as viewed as from advance base camp
On 17 September, Bibhas, Sankar, Jagannath, Brizender, Wanchu and Pemba Norbu set out to recce the site for Base Camp. Other members were busy in sorting out and repacking the luggage. The porters were sent down to bring firewood.
The way from pre-Base Camp to Base Camp is pretty difficult. The Kedar Ganga valley is narrow and steep. In the lower region it is precipitous at many places. The approach up to the higher ridges of Kedar Bamak is tough.
On 18 September, members and porters carried the load to Base Camp and returned to pre-Base Camp.
On 19 September, the party moved towards Base Camp through the lateral moraine of Kedar Bamak and reached Kedar Tal a beautiful lake with blue water. This wonderful lake at the height of 15,400 ft. is about 1 ½ km. long and ¾ km. wide. Dr. G R. Patwardhan had established one of his camps here. We moved further up and followed the moraine ridge which was an extension of the glaciers coming from the Jogin group and Thalayasagar. We established our Base Camp at the head of Kedar Bamak at an altitude of 15,600 ft. near the camp site of NIM. We left Dr. Patwardhans Camp II site one furlong below. We saw Jogin I and III on the west, Thalayasagar on the SE and Bhrigupanth on the east. We encountered a strong wind blended with snow in the afternoon. The weather forecasts provided by All India Radio were never shy to announce about two or three thundershowers everyday!
On 2o September, Bibhas, Binit, Sankar, Ashit, Wangchu, Dawa Rinzing, Pemba Norbu and myself established Advance Base camp at an altitude of 16,500 ft. on the moraines on the junction of the glaciers coming down directly from Jogin II and from the extreme left side of Jogin II. Bhrigupanth was on the east, Jogin II stood on the extreme west. In between these two peaks stood Thalayasagar, an unnamed peak (19,600 ft.), Jogin III and Jogin I. This camp was close to Dr. Patwardhan's Camp III.
Next morning, Binit, Pemba Norbu, Dawa Rinzing and Wanchu went up to recce a camp site. Dilip, Jagannath, Bankim, Sujit and Doctor came up to Advance Base Camp with boiled potatoes, gulabjamun and more loads. Shetiram, the porter sirdar, also came up with four porters who were supposed to ferry load the next day to Camp I.
Members who came up from Base Camp returned to it. On ?\ September, Bibhas, Binit, Sankar, Ashit, myself and three Sherpas left for Camp I with five porters. We moved west, crossed the glacier coming from Jogin II on the left-hand side of the icefall. Then we crossed the glacier in between two black ridges. The route was full of large crevasses—some open and others hidden under the snow. It took considerable time to tackle or to circumvent them. Snowfall began and we pitched camp for the night on a small flat snow-field at a height of 18,500 ft. approximately on the SE of the black ridge.
Heavy snowfall continued till 11 p.m. Sleep bade us farewell. We all came out of the tent at night and cleared the snow off the half-buried tents.
On 22 September, we got up at 7.30 a.m. The sun was smiling above the Bhrigupanth. We went up to find a possible route and reached below the left ridge of Jogin II, at 19,600 ft. I decided to transform the reconnaissance into a final attempt. As the party tried to move up visibility diminished, everything was blurred in the mist, and snow began to fall. It snowed and snowed and snowed. We were beaten back to our camp.
Snow accompanied with terrific wind made us captive in a small tent in a seriously cramped state with wet clothing on. It was quite impossible to come out of the tent. Bibhas and myself were in a small Japanese tent. Its height was lower than others. We shook the tent from inside every few minutes. We could not literally move our legs owing to the heavy load of snow on the lower portion of the tent. Our radio refused to entertain us, but we enjoyed Binit's song, Bibhas's drama, Ashit's recitation and Sankar's short stories accompanied by nature's orchestra played by the raging snowstorm, frequent fall of rocks and occasional avalanches.
We were all praying for fair weather. Ashit promised puja to Mother Ganga. Time crept on slowly, very slowly.
It was now 9 o'clock at night. We could see a few dim stars on the horizon. All were in high spirits. I decided to make an attempt on our virgin peak early at 4 o'clock in the morning. Members were counting the stars and peeping through the tent flap, hoping to find more stars, to indicate weather turning for the better. Nobody had a wink of sleep that memorable night.
Next morning at about 3 o'clock the weather god was angry again. His wrath broke out furiously. The virgin Jogin unleashed all her weapons against us.
At 10 o'clock in the morning, I decided to go down immediately. Pemba Norbu, one of the oldest Sherpas who had been in more than two dozen expeditions, also supported my decision.
I said to my members, 'The mountain will not run away, it will be there for some time to come. We can come back again to achieve our goal.' Frankly speaking, though my arguments were perfectly rational and sensible I had to accept it with a broken heart.
We struck the tents which were almost buried under the snow. We lost some of our provisions beneath the snow. Each one of us carried about 30 kg. of load, in spite of that we had to leave many things behind.
The wind was deadly cold. The visibility was almost nil, even to make out the members of the same rope. We trod up and down in the waist-deep snows like blind men. Open crevasses lay hidden, concealing their treacherous death traps.
We reached our Base Camp in the late afternoon. There were no signs of improvement of the weather. We retired into our sleeping bags.
On 24 September, the weather brightened. I pondered over the problem of climbing the virgin Jogin with my young and courageous members. But there was a huge crevasse between the dream and its realization. The problems of finances, time, and the extension of leave of the members conspired against us. Our keen desire to achieve the goal set aside all problems. I decided to send again a small party consisting of Ashit, Binit, Peniba Norbu, Dawa Rinzing and Wanchu.
At dawn on 25 September the second party left the camp. The weather greeted them with smiles. We were hopeful but the weather god again turned furious after midday. It seemed that all the snow-covered mountains were flying over us on wings. I hr entire day was made up of millions of anxious moments, we weir eagerly waiting and forcing our eyes through the heavy snowfall to find out any sign of our members.
We heard a shout from above and responded by blowing whistles. At last the second summit party came down. They panted and faltered at every step. The attempt to scale the peak had failed. Weather and mountains were both hostile. Our attempt was a grim struggle, fought like a battle inch by inch against elemental forces and the cold fury of nature. But I would not say it was a defeat. By itself it was a great achievement. It would remain an exalting, exciting and inspiring experience to all. We returned to Calcutta on 5 October.
About the members who made up our expedition, it is difficult to write for fear of praising one too much and another too little. Bankim Chandra Mallick, our oldest member, cooked our food up to Advance Base Camp at 16,500 ft. Sometimes members were in a bad mood when he woke them up at four in the morning for bed tea. He had to do some transporting himself by climbing to higher camps with ration. Bankim Mallick was popular with all members of the expedition—always ready to serve us with delicious dishes. His affection for the team played an important role in boosting the morale so essential at times. Ashit Moitra (21), the youngest member, was in the first and second summit party. Looking after food and provisions were Sujit Nath and Dilip Paul, who considering our slender purse and not-too- abundant supplies did an excellent job. Jagannath Dutt—our manager and photographer—did his job magnificently under the most trying conditions. Sankar Sengupta—our equipment officer— equipped the whole party against snow and cold very efficiently and because of him we could take five porters at the height of 18,500 ft. Dr. Sankar Narayan Chowdhury—a young research scholar of medicine—not only kept the expedition in splendid health, but also helped us to ferry load at camps. He was never tired to examine the patients of Gangotri and nearby villages. He also did some high-altitude research on the members. Ashis Sengupta, one of the main organizers of the expedition, did an invaluable job of liaison between Gangotri and Base Camp. Binit Dasgupta, the only experienced member of the expedition, and a good climber, was the transport officer. He showed considerable patience in dealing with the porters and managed to keep up our progress. My Deputy Leader, Bibhas Das, performed his job perfectly. His knowledge about topography and mountains was a great asset to the team. He was worthy of the position given to him.
Of our members I can only say that they did remarkably well under extraordinarily difficult conditions. Our fine Sherpas Dawa Rinzing and Wanchu under the leadership of old Pemba Norbu—a famous and experienced Sherpa—gave his best. Pemba Norbu is a real lion of a man. And all praise is due to him. There is no dearth of employment now in the Garhwal hills. As a result there's no longer the same eagerness to go on expeditions. Porters are getting more wages and comforts engaging themselves in P.W.D. work. The area is also developing in rapid strides.
Our porter trouble might have been avoided if we had the suitable equipment to offer to our high-altitude porters. In spite of this we will not forget the zeal and courage of Shetiram, Surbahadur, Bhaktiram, Dalbahadur and Joybahadur who carried loads up to the height of 18,500 ft. and spent nights under the worst snowfall and blizzard conditions. We are indebted to them. These porters gave us service beyond the call of their duty.