BANDARPUNCH (6,315 m.) lies in the Uttarkashi District of Uttar Pradesh, being located approximately 29 km. north of Uttarkashi town. The mountain gives an imposing view from Mussoorie. This mountain was first attempted in 1946, when it was approached from the Hanuman Ganga, a tributary of the Yamuna on the south-west of the mountain. The valley led to the main ridge coming south-east from the mountain and forming the divide between the Bhagirathi (Ganga) and the Yamuna. The summit was attempted along this ridge, but the attempt proved unsuccessful. The expedition, led by Mr. J. T. M. Gibson, went back and a second attempt was made in 1950, when three climbers including Tenzing Norgay reached the summit.
The Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi, decided to take its men and women's 'Advance Courses' in 1975 to this moun¬tain by a totally different approach, from the south-east. The new approach involved going by road to Gangotri from Uttarkashi for 60 km. or so and then entering the Son Gad gorge up to its junction with Chhaiyyan Gad from here. Chhaiy- yan Gad was to be followed upto Chhaiyyan Bamak (glacier). We planned to establish a Base Camp at about 3,600 m. in Chhaiyyan Gad itself and two or three more camps on the Chhaiyyan Bamak. From the second camp a proper approach to the summit was to be reconnoitred and then the attempt made.
When the first reconnaissance was carried out in April 1975 we discovered that the Son Gad gorge itself could not be approached due to avalanches having damaged the existing cattle track which runs along the bottom of the gorge. We, therefore, approached the gorge from Suki (2,800 m.) by climbing over the Khagi pass (3,420 m.) and then descending to the junction of Son Gad and Chhaiyyan Gad. Proper sites for Base Camp (3,650 m.), Advance Base Camp (4,700 m.) and Camp 1 (5,400 m.) were reconnoitred, and the track along Son Gad was repaired. We also decided to take a spur which was totally covered by hard blue ice to reach the south-east ridge of Bandarpunch at 6,200 m. This would need about 300 m. of rope to be fixed between altitudes of 5,900 m. to 6,200 m.
The men's advance course left for Son Gad on 1 May and established their Base Camp in a wide valley at 3,620 m. on 3 May and occupied it on the 4th. Advance Base Camp was established on the 6th and occupied on the 7th. Three instructors Jamit Singh, Harshmani and Pasang Namgyal were sent to establish Camp 1 after traversing an ice-fall about 400 m. wide. Tliis Camp was first established a little lower, but I had it shifted upto 5,400 m. on the next day. Fixing rope proved to be difficult and tedious on very hard blue ice and progress during the first three days was only 150 m. On the 11th, instructors Nirmal Singh and Dhir Singh were sent to relieve the first party and they fixed another 40 m. of rope and the remaining trainees established another Camp at 5,700 m. to shorten the walking time from the Camp to the fixed rope. Three tents were fixed and this camp was occupied by instructors Dhir Singh, Jamit Singh and Harshmani and trainees Pathania and Jawahar Singh. The remaining trainees and instructors and I remained at Camp 1. As the fixing of rope was taking much longer than I expected, I decided to go up on the 15th and see for myself how it could be expedited.
I left Camp 1 at 5.30 a.m. on the 15th and reached Camp 2 at 6.40 a.m. Instructors Dhir Singh and Harshmani had already left along with Pathania and Jawahar Singh to work on the rope and were working in a gully and dropping big chunks of ice on the slopes below, some of which did find their way to the camp. There was no way of following them until they turned the gully and went above an ice wall at about 6,100 m. This happened at 8.40 a.m. and Jamit and I left Camp 2 immediately and joined the party at about 10.30 a.m. just above the gully. Fortunately there was about one metre of soft snow on ice above the gully and, although walking through very steep soft snow on hard ice was dangerous and very tiring, it was faster. By 12.15 p.m. the south-east ridge of Bandarpunch had been gained and the summit was just about 120 m. above us and could be seen clearly. We were at the base of the summit at 1.20 p.m. and walked through soft snow to about 50 m. below the summit. Then there was a narrow bergschrund which could be crossed easily because of a thin snow bridge on it. Then 40 m. of cramponing upon hard ice, and six of us were on the summit at 2.10 p.m. After staying on the summit for about thirty minutes, we came down and were in Camp 2 at 4.30 p.m. The second summit party consisting of five trainees and instructors Sangbu, Pasang, and Nirmal Singh had come up. I stayed at Camp 2 with this party while the other summiters went down to Camp 1.
On the 16th the second summit party started at 5.30 a.m. and reached the summit at 12.30 p.m. in cloudy weather. They lifted the fixed rope as they were going up for I had found an easier spur for descent. It started snowing when they left the summit and they reached Camp 1 at 4.40 p.m. in very bad weather. Camp 2 had been wound up in the meanwhile.
Camp 1 was wound up on the 17th, Advance Base Camp on the 18th, and the party returned to Uttarkashi on 22 May. On the 17th I had reconnoitred the north-east face of Bandarpunch to see a feasible route for the women's advance course in June.
The women's course commenced on 31 May and Mr. Gurdial Smgh joined us on the 2nd. He had come to lecture to the girls on high-altitude flora and also to make an attempt on Bandarpunch with us in his fifty-second year. This would probably make him one of the oldest men to climb a summit over 6,000 m. Also in the course was my sixteen year-old-daughter Rekha, who would probably be the youngest to attain such a feat.
The course left for the mountains on the 5 June and met with tragedy on that very day. Harshida Swamy, a young trainee from Gujarat, lost her life in a drowning accident. Sad but un-deterred, we continued and established our Base Camp on the 9th and occupied it on the 10th—also reconnoitred a new site for the Advance Base Camp and occupied it on the 13th. After acclimatization for three days, Camp 1 was established at 5,500 m. on the 16th and occupied on the 17th, the trainees made the route upto 5,900 m. on the 18th. On the 19th five trainees, two instructors Nima Chewang and Nirmal Singh, Cook Lachhi, Gurdial and I started off for the summit at 5.40 a.m. The weather was bad and most of the time we climbed in a total white-out. Two bergschrunds were successfully tackled by the trainees at about 6,000m. Nima then led for almost 50 meters up a steep ice slope. The girls then took over and led upto about 100 m. short of the summit. The weather now became very bad and Nirmal led the final 100 m. and reached the summit at 1.05 p.m. We got some clear transparencies in an almost total white-out. Both Guru and Rekha had made it to the summit.
Then it was time to return home. A very fine climbing season had ended.
Summary : Bandarpunch (20,720 ft.—6,315 m.) : climbed :
15 May 1975 by Instructors Jamit Singh, Dhir Singh and Harshmani; trainees R. S. Pathania and Jawahar Singh.
16 May 1975 by Instructors Sonam Sangbu, Nirmal Singh and Pasang Namgyal; trainees Nawal Singh, Balbir Singh, S. Sablok, R. M. Kalon and Vijay Raghavan.
19 June 1975 by Col. L. P. Sharma (leader) and Gurdial Singh ; instructors Nima Chewang and Nirmal Singh; Cook Lachhi; trainees Chandra P. Aitwal, Rekha Sharma, Rama Sen Gupta, Aruna Biswas and Geetha Patrick.