THE ASCENT OF UJA TIRCHE, 1974
UJA Tirche (20,350 ft.) is situated at the north end of a horseshoe created by the Lampak group. Tirsuli and some other unnamed peaks.
No other party except that of the Scots (1950) had been to this Peak, so we had to depend mainly on Murray's account and the Survey of India maps. The team members were Bidyat Sarkar and Ujjal Ganguly as Jt. Dy. Leaders, K. K. Khanna, Manik Banerjee, Manmotha Ray, Probir Lahiry, Sailendra Chakra- borty, Anil Deb Roy and Dr. A. Ahmed. We had only Sherpas from Darjeeling this time, Kami Tchering and Kusang.
We left Calcutta on 23 September and reached Rishikesh on the 25th morning. In Joshimath, we had to waste 7 days, most vital for the expedition due to permit trouble. We apparently needed a clearance not only from the S.D.M. but also from the local army authority who in turn awaited a further clearance from their "higher authorities" in Delhi!!
On 4 October morning we availed ourselves of the regular bus service to Malari which we reached at noon. Malari was the bus terminus and the last village on our route to Base Camp. The approach march starts from here.
The second phase of our expedition started. Here we were handicapped by lack of porters. Those who agreed to come were very fussy about loads, food and warm clothings. Mules cannot ply on our route and we could only manage a handful of porters after agreeing that they would carry less loads than the schedule. We had to arrange for shephards who would carry our food provisions on their goats. Meanwhile six porters from Rini arrived at Malari after getting the news of our expedition. Later they proved to be very useful.
The first day's march was hardly any distance and six of the porters agreed to make a double ferry. Even then about 14 porter loads were still left. The first party with the available porters and goats started marching at about 10 a.m. Manik, Anil Deb Roy, the doctor and myself stayed behind. At 1-30 p.m. and six porters returned for the double ferry. Then all of us moved up, keeping the remaining stores with the veteran porter Jai Singh who was told to meet us as early as possible at Base Camp with the loads with porters to be recruited later.
Our ultimate destination was to reach the base of Uja Tirche on the glacial moraine shown in the map as Siruanch Gal after crossings Surans Ka Dhura and the Lampak grazing ground. Up to Lampak grazing ground there is an old goat track which we followed. We did not know at that time where the exact location of our Base Camp would be. It was cloudy and it started drizzling when we left Malari. The first day's march was about 3\ km. to a place called Tirbuchi where we pitched our first day's camp. As there is no water for the next five or six kilometers, the shepherds did not want to move further.
It was a clear morning on the 6 October. After climbing about a thousand feet we could see a beautiful glimpse of Mana and Kamet to our north-west.
The spine of the Lampak group passed south to north from the Gagini Glacier to the Girthi Ganga. The last major Peak at the northern end is Kunti Bhannar (19,341) from which the ridge slopes down to the Girthi side at 10,000 feet. To reach Lampak we had to cross this northern spur by the pass called Surans Ke Dhura (15,000 feet). Our second day's objective was a place or a grazing ground called Chilkuanch. An unnamed rocky peak of about 18,000 feet stood at the south-west side of the camp site as a sentinel. The ascent up to the pass was exceedingly steep. When we had crossed the Surans Ka Dhura we had the first view of Uja Tirche. What a majestic view.
We studied the north ridge of Uja Tirche - the route followed by the Scots in 1950.
The time came when we had to decide our final route. The summit of Uja Tirche has its typical formation; the two ridges - north and the south-west finally meet and make the summit. There are only sheer drops in other directions (which we found later).
We decided to try the route by the south-west ridge. Firstly, it was an unattempted one; secondly, in the Scot's route, the final two thousand feet on snow was heavily corniced.
The south-west ridge of Uja Tirche meets a glacier - shown in the map as Siruanch Gal. As we saw from our vantage point the south ridge was entirely rocky except for a few hundred feet near the summit. It seemed that there was no snow or ice on the ridge. On the south-west ridge at a point near the summit we found a typical formation of two big rock gendarmes reminding one of the two ears of the famous terracotta horses of Ban- kura. There the ridge has a depression for some hundred feet forming a col leading towards the final snowy summit ridge. The immediate thought that filled our mind was whether there was any connecting route from the point of the horse's ear to the snowy summit ridge through that col. This would not be judged until we reached the actual spot.
The south-west ridge is full of rock pinnacles and towers. There is another slater rocky ridge running alongside v/hich also falls into the Siruanch Gal. We decided to establish our Base Camp somewhere in between these two ridges so that we might gain the south-west ridge from the south.
After Surans Ka Dhura we walked level for about half a kilometer. Then after climbing down for about 2000 feet we pitched our second day's camp. The local name of the place is Chilku- anch.
We made our next halt i.e. the 3rd day's halt near the snout of the Siruanch Gal. We camped on a piece of flat stony ground under a cliff. The place was safe from wind. The height was about 13,500 ft.
The sky was clear when we reached there and we could see some of the peaks of the Lampak group, which formed the one side of a vast horse-shoe. They fed a central glacier which had its origin at the north wall of Tirsuli. This glacier flows seven miles north to the Lampak grazing ground, thereafter sending a stream three or four miles down to the Girthi. On the old half inch map, the glacier is termed Siruanch Gal. But Murruy in his account mentions this glacier as Uja Tirche Glacier.
As we dropped down towards the glacier we saw the north wall of Tirsuli - a stupendous face - a wall of snow and ice, three miles long and seven thousand feet high. We moved further up and established our Base Camp, on the moraine of Siruanch Gal on 9 October.
Our Base Camp was at about 13,000 feet height, five hundred feet below the earlier camp. The same day Jai Singh with four other porters joined us with some of the vital loads, which were lying in Malari.
I sent Manik, Kusang and Kami Tchering for recceing a site for Camp I. Meanwhile the rest of the members would organise the Base Camp.
Manik Banerjee, who along with two members and two other Sherpas, went to the summit, now takes over the narrative:
"The morning of 10 October was clear. We came out from our tent at about 8 a.m. The Base Camp was situated almost near the point where the Lampak Glacier meets the Siruanch Gal, on the right hand flank of the horse-shoe facing the Tirsuli wall. Like the lower part of most of the Himalayan glaciers, Siruanch Gal was also invisible under a great depth of scree. There were some crevices also.
We left Base on 10 October at 9-30 a.m. - Kusang Kami Tche- ing and myself. We crossed the glacier and struck up the left flank of the horse-shoe. Then we climbed a steep slope covered with stone for more than one thousand feet and came to the foot of the rocky south ridge of Uja Tirche. The stones were loose and the freshly fallen snow made it all the more difficult to move on it. There we turned rightward and traversed a slope of very loose screes for about a furlong and passed through a small stream coming down from the south ridge. Then our progress came to a halt as we were obstructed by a rock wall of more than 300 feet. Here we had to do some rock climbing. There were plenty of good holds and the gradient was also not too steep, but with loose and verglass snow it appeared to be bit difficult. At two places we fixed rope for about fifty feet each for the convenience of heavily laden porters. After negotiating this and plodding through knee-deep snow for half an hour we reached the centre of a expanse of scree. On our left towards the Girthi rose the south ridge and on our right that is towards Tirsuli rose another rocky ridge which ultimately leads to the glacier that comes down from the south face of the Uja Tirche. Almost at the centre of the scree field in between the two southerly rock ridges we selected the site for Camp I. It had taken almost four hours of continuous climbing to reach this spot. The altitude was 17,000 feet. The return to Base Camp only took 1| hours.
On the 11th Khanna, Kusang, Kami and I occupied Camp I.
On 12 October, Kami Tchering, Kusang and I set out from Camp I to find a suitable place for Camp II. First we moved straight up on the scree field, and then cut across to our left at a point in the middle of the south ridge where a steep slope of loose boulders from the south ridge meets the scree field. We decided to establish our Camp II. It was about hours journey from the Camp I. The altitude was around 18,000 feet. The altitude in many places is mentioned as approximate because of a little error in the altimeter wr
We came back to Camp I at about 1-30 p.m. Bidyut, Prabir and Ujal had, meanwhile, come up to stay with us along with two porters Khem Singh and Meherban Singh. Unlike the Malari porters, these two porters from Rini were exceptionally tough and always ready to do their best.
The very next day Bidyut, Kusang, Kami Tchering and myself occupied Camp II and the following day we went to recce further. We started to gain the rocky ridge on our left which ultimately joins the summit ridge of the peak through a col. From Camp II we cut straight across the steep slope coming down from the south-west ridge. After moving through loose boulders for about an hour, our progress was halted by a big rock tower. There were quite a few of these gendarmes on the route we followed. After crossing about a dozen of these we reached the top of the ridge at the point of the "ears of the horse head". We reached that spot after two and half hours journey from Camp II. We moved further down and traversed for about half an hour. To our great relief we found that the "ears of the horse head" was connected with the col, which ultimately led to the summit ridge. At this point it started snowing and the visibility was coming to almost nil. We decided to return to Camp II. Recalling the view of this ridge up to the summit during our approach march, it appeared that the actual summit ridge would not be very far from this point. If we started early next morning there would not be any need to establish more camps, if the route ahead was at all negotiable of course.
On our return to Camp II we were delighted to see Khanna. At the same time we were very disturbed when we received a note from Shyamal. He said that the porters were almost deserting us. He had somehow persuaded them to stay for two more days, that is upto 16th. If we were to make the summit, we were to make it within these two days. Otherwise, if the porters deserted us we would be in a difficult position. The shepherds had also gone down. We decided then and there to make a bid for the summit on 15th. We had planned to have a days rest at Camp II by which time Prabir and Ujjal would join us here. Then in two groups we would attempt the summit on two different days. But in view of the peculiar situation that arose out of the porter trouble, Ujjal and Prabir decided to forge their chance for the summit bid. They went down to Base Camp that day and sent us all the rations they had, which ultimately helped us a lot.
The 15th was a clear morning. We started at 7-30 a.m. We reached the 'horse head' point by 10-30 a.m. Here we took some rest and then traversed down to the rocky col. We roped ourselves. Kami and I on one rope, Bidyut, Kusang and Khanna on the other. There was still about 1,000 feet more to climb and quarter of a kilometer to go. We found large boulders loosely strewn around the route. After moving for more than two hours, to our satisfaction, we found the long steep slope of snow leading to the summit. Here we put our crampons and started moving through the steep snow ridge. The summit was now clearly visible at some 300 feet higher and about 300 yards away, but when we reached there we found to our utter dismay that the actual summit was lying some 250 yards ahead and another 100 feet higher. The ridge leading to the summit crest was also quite sharp. We fixed a rope at this place for full two hundred feet and plodded along the ridge slowly one by one while belaying each other. At 1-30 p.m. we reached the summit. The summit of Uja Tirche. The summit rises diagonally by the meeting of the two ridges - the north and the south-west. There was hardly any place for live of us at the crest. It was quite windy and by this time there were thick blankets of cloud coming from all the sides except Tibet. We had a full view of the dry and brown Tibean plateau. We took some photographs. We looked towards Girthi. Except for some of the high ridges of Tirsuli and Lampak the rest was covered by clouds. We spent about half an hour on the top. We had a close view of the Scot's north ridge route. We returned to Camp II by 5-30 p.m. The porters received us with a broad grin and hot flasks of tea. Again we felt the life was, indeed, beautiful".
Uja Tirche- the ascent route lay along the ridge to the right, by passing the prominent rock tower.