As everybody knows, a lunar eclipse takes place owing to the ^ interposition of the Earth between the Moon and the Sun under certain conditions. In Indian mythology, instead, it is two demons' job to make it disappear by swallowing it; these two demons are the brothers Rahu and Ketu that are materialized in two neighbouring mountains in Himachal Pradesh: Mukar Beh and Shikar Beh. When these two demons accomplish their 4 misdeed' there is a standstill in the country—every human initiative is postponed, this day being considered an unlucky one.
After this introduction nobody will wonder at the fact that my companions and I were discouraged just on the top of Mukar Beh watching the long, terribly tortuous ridge that led to Shikar Beh, that is the mountain that we meant to climb. But this was nothing but the last of a series of countless sorceries we had run into during our way. First there had been J. W. Banon with his guarantee about permission; then the District Commissioner who gave approbation; lastly the Director of the Mountaineering Institute who compelled everybody to say 6 noIt had been a long chain of drawbacks up to the two drivers of the jeeps— granted to us by Premier Automobiles by Fiat's good offices— who on the last day succeeded in stalling one of the cars without petrol on a steep one-way road continuously scoured by big military motor vehicles.
At that point we were travelling towards a place completely different from the one foreseen in Italy, with three days' delay in our schedule, no documentation about the area in which we meant to operate and, even more serious trouble, the little news we had succeeded in getting came from misinformed source. To exemplify what I have put forth, it is sufficient to quote the reply given to us by our informer on our way back when we protested for his pointing out a 6,200 m. mountain to us as a virgin mountain while, as we learned later, it had been climbed in 1939: 6 Yes, sure, but nobody has climbed it since then!'
However, on 5 October we placed our Base Camp at the end of Solang Valley at 3,560 m. A day of bad weather followed. On the 7th we placed Camp I at 4,550 m. for an attempt on Mukar Beh (6,069 m.). You may be a little astonished at the progression of camps related to the slight difference in height, but here is the explanation: from Camp I we went up a rather steep gully to a snowy ridge at 5,100 m.; from there, after about one kilometre, all ups and downs, we reached the foot of Ladakhi Peak (5,342 m.), but we gained no altitude because we were still at 5,100 m. where we placed Camp II. After climbing Ladakhi Peak's SE. ridge for about 200 m. we crossed its eastern face, then another kilometre to reach the North ridge. On our way towards the south we climbed a slope of 45° leading to the top of Manali Peak (5,670 m.). From here we went towards the west for about 300 m. vertical descent, to place Camp III at 5,370 m. As a matter of fact, on a 6-7 km. route we had gained only 800 metres, compared to Camp I. Since placing the camps and equipping them it had taken six days in all, and we were now ready to climb Mukar Beh on 14 October.
We divided ourselves into two roped parties, the second party leaving one hour later than the first, because while the former reached the top of Mukar Beh (the apparently never climbed mountain!), the latter being heavier—two fellows plus one Sherpa —was to support the former, follow their tracks and settle a provisional camp in a good place, in order to help the former party on their return from Shikar Beh. The plan was well designed, but for the fact that the former party that reached the top of Mukar Beh at 10.30 a.m., had to face a discouraging reality: Shikar Beh was at least 4 km. away from Mukar Beh i (he crow flies, the ridge connecting the two mountains was at least 6 km. long and, what was even more depressing, after a in m ly horizontal part, it fell suddenly on to a col with a loss of height of at least 500 m.!
We were, so to say, 'cheated'! Our only satisfaction was that we were on top of a mountain with a very appropriate name. We had no choice left but to go back.
On 15 October we withdrew all our camps with the help of the two porters who had come to meet us up to Manali Peak and we reached Base Camp late in the evening.
Many times from Base Camp, and especially from Camp II, we had the opportunity of admiring the beautiful Hanuman Tibba pyramid and we were particularly attracted by its North Ridge: we all were unanimous in believing it practicable up to the point where this ridge turns from rock into ice. In fact, at about two-thirds of the ridge—1,000 m. difference in height— the rocky skirting board ends, and a long thin icy ridge starts with imposing cornices on the east face and steep falls that left us rather in doubt. The two sides fall precipitously for 1,500 m. with an angle very near to 65° at the end.
It was then a matter of trying a climb of Alpine type, foreseeing two bivouacs at the most during the ascent.
So we settled that, in case on the first day we had not reached the point where, in our opinion, true problems began, we should come back.
On the 18th we went up to Solang Pass (5,000 m.). Having left Base Camp at 8 a.m. and having taken five hours to climb 1,500 m., at one o'clock we are on the col straining to gaze at each detail of the ridge that was so close to our heart, trying to discern a new possibility of climbing. At about 5 p.m. we begin to prepare for the bivouac ; not long after, bitter cold persuades us to get into our sleeping bags before total darkness.
Cold and good weather the morning after. At 8 a.m. we were divided into two parties wrestling with the first passages. Campiglia is with me, China and Wangyal and Re follow. Few technical difficulties, much powdery snow. While the ridge gets steeper the first IV° passages appear: crampons are obligatory. Everything is covered with a thick flimsy stratum of snow, the exposure to the north makes itself felt. Our thought often runs to the conditions of the final ridge. We advance with great expenditure of energy, always taking the greatest care. Towards 10 a.m. we pass on the left of the 6 clepsydra', as we had called the little snow fields set in the rocks of the ridge at about one- third of its length. After a while we are at the passage ; still powdery snow, groping, weariness. Finally the first snowy ridge on the west face, it bears our weight, only from time to time we sink up to our hips ; at the end of this ridge I change Campiglia for China.
We have arrived at the foot of the last important rocky passage, then the last icy ridges follows.
Perceiving the possibility of getting to the top that very day we force the pace, overcome the rocks, the first snowy spine is fearfully steep. On this sharp ridge lit by the setting sun, I feel infinite liberty rising in me: going on dizzy slopes for the pure pleasure of doing so, not knowing where we will possibly sleep, the simple action of axing... no word breaks the enchantment; these are the unrepeatable moments of every climbing, however small or big. And I think that this wonderful moment which has a meaning hasn't escaped my fellow climbers as well.
But now we must consider that it is bitter cold and that we haven't the least chance of reaching the top that day.
Thus I get nearer the edge of the ridge, drilling the route with my axe till I succeed in piercing its cornice. At the first attempt, just under it, a low terrace appears; a little fortune won't do any harm! I enlarge the hole and get inside it, soon the others come. At first, staying so close together provokes some discomfort, some quarrel arises especially about safety pitons. We gulp down something hot, very little really, then everybody enter their own bags. It is impossible to sleep. We are at 5,750 m., it is 7 p.m.; a long wait begins. But for the uncomfortable position and the cold, one could even compose poetry on this magnificent starry night full of enchantment, but not in these conditions! At 6 a.m. we cannot stand them any longer; we drink a strengthening cup of milk-honey-ovaltine and we are ready to go.
We overcome the major part of the final ridge by about 10 a.m. The last bit is tiring but not difficult. We proceed, seizing the axe at the two ends and, using the handle as a shearing machine. I remove about one metre of the top of the ridge. One step after the other, at 11.30 a.m. I set foot on the last slope and at 12 noon we are all on top gathered in a single embrace.
On that very day we go down the south-east face and, after a long bit, we reach a bivouac place under the west face at the edge of a glacial lake ; in front of us 6 our' ridge runs into the wonderful night. We are still cold and a bit hungry. Wangyal administers some ' tsampa' kneaded with water, half a chap- patti each and the usual hot beverage.
The following day we embrace Agnolotti who has been waiting for us two days at the Solang Pass with much anxiety.
Together we get down towards Base Camp while the weather, that had been still beautiful during the night, is now becoming cloudy. The first snow-flakes flutter in the air when we reach our tents.
The following day it snows heavily while we go down the valley with the whole party of porters. But this, now, is tourism.
Corradino Rabbi, leader; Bruno China, dy. leader ; Annabella Bastrenta, interpreter; Ottavio Bastrenta, Giuseppe Agnolotti, G. Battista Campiglia, Alberto Re, Paolo Strani.
At about 8 km. from Manali a long and beautiful valley starts westwards, leading to a wide plateau surrounded by imposing mountains. The last village is Dhundi and consists of a nearly crumbling hut situated on a high ground safe from the floods of the river. There are numerous shepherds with their flocks, useful for meat supplies.
From the mountaineering point of view the area is well explored by now, however some beautiful minor peaks are still to be climbed, minor for their height, not for their beauty surely.
Besides no permit is required. You can reach Bhuntar from New Delhi by aeroplane, whence there is a good road to Manali (40 km.).
Manali Peak—5,670 m,
It is a beautiful rocky spire in front of Mukar Beh. On the South Ridge of the latter an only icy slope, easy, about 45° leads from the foot of the Ladakhi Peak to Manali top. There is a magnificent view over the river Chandra and over the whole ranges of Shigri, Parahio and Parbati.
Climbers: Corradino Rabbi, Alberto Re, Giuseppe Agnolotti, Bruno China on Sunday, 11 October, 1970; G. Battista Campiglia, Paolo Strani on Thursday, 15 October, 1970.
Mukar Beh—6,069 m.
It's an imposing mountain so far climbed only by its South Ridge starting from the col after Manali Peak. From col after easy ridge pass right (east) round suspended icefall. Then proceed along ridge for mixed stretch up to the final spire blocked by compact rocky gap (IV ° crampons), then to top by snowy and icy conveyors.
Climbers: C. Rabbi, B. China, A. Re, G. Agnolotti, Wangyal on Wednesday, 14 October, 1970. 3rd ascent.
Hanuman Tibba—5,928 m.
This beautiful pyramid—that Gen. Bruce named Solang Weiss- horn—entirely dominates the valley. Up to now it has been climbed eight times by its South Face. It has been climbed by us for the first time by the impressive North Ridge, originating from Solang or Brace's Pass. Difference in height of the Ridge about 1,000 m. IV° difficulties always on mixed ground (crampons) for about one-third. The rest is formed by succeeding aerial icy ridges that are uncommonly steep.
Climbers: Rabbi, Re, China, Campiglia, Wangyal; 19/20 October. 9th ascent and first ascent by the North Ridge.