THE aim of this expedition was to introduce young officers and gentlemen Cadets to mountaineering and familiarise them to high altitude living—weather permitting we were to climb Gang Chua (20,630 ft.) and Leo Pargial North and South (22,212 ft. and 22,281 ft.) in the Kinnaur district.
The members were Lt.-Col. Jagjit Singh (leader), Maj. V. K. Dwivedi, Maj. F. J. Bahadur, Capt. G. L. Sachdev (doctor), Gentlemen Cadets : V. C. Chiber, M. P. Yadav, R. G. Kadam, D. B. Thapa, Navtaj Singh, M. A. Naik, N. K. Panwar, Mantaj Singh, and A. K. Chaturvedi. We also took along 3 climbers from the I. T. B. P. who knew the area well.
We left Dehra Dun on 30 May and were in Kalpa (9,000 ft.) for the first stage of acclimatisation and some basic training, by 3 June.
On 9 June, Base Camp (10,000 ft.) was established. It was quite low as the mules could not carry any further and a safe route to the mountain had to be reconnoitred. Both recce parties came back with encouraging reports. However, one of the routes to Advance Base Camp (14,500 ft.) though shorter was rejected, being dangerous. The more difficult and longer route was selected.
From the Advance Base Camp another recce party was sent to find a suitable site for Camp 1. Again they returned with the happy news of discovering such a site. Camp 1 (16,500 ft.) was established on 12 June. Above Camp 1 there was a very steep snow gully engulfed with loose stones. In fact, on two occasions the climbers missed being hit by loose rocks.
On 14th June the first party consisting of Capt. Gill, GCs. Thapa, Panwar with Nk. Prem Singh and Gopi Singh of the ITBP set out on two ropes at 2.50 a.m. With the help of a torch light they scaled the difficult snow gully and moved on to the final ridge. From there they ascended the steep loose rocky pitch along the ridge. By 9.00 a.m. they were resting and warming themselves above it. Now it looked all clear and the summit was within, their grasp. They were spotted through binoculars from Camp 1 and above Base Camp, going steadily but strongly. By 10.30 a.m. they were seen to cross the rocky band about 1,000 ft. below the summit. All seemed well. The clouds started appearing from nowhere and by noon they had engulfed the mountain. The wind had also come up by now. The progress became slow and the members started feeling the height, cold and fatigue. They had been climbing for over 9 hours. At 12.40 p.m. a figure was spotted between the rocks on the summit. The whole Camp was jubilant with the success but it was short lived as it turned out to be a false summit. The actual summit lay 200 yards away and 300 ft. higher along an ice ridge covered with snow with a sharp drop on either side of a few thousand feet. This was a tricky and dangerous bit of climb as it was also corniced at places. It required step cutting and careful belaying. Wisely Capt. Gill decided not to attempt it in their wornout state and poor weather conditions. They called the climb off and beat a retreat. By 5.30 p.m. they were back at Camp 1 after a 17 1/2 hour day.
There was a slight despondency around the camps but the members were not deterred by the failure. It was acknowledged that the mountain could only be climbed after establishing Camp 2. Eight porters were got ready to carry the loads. They were adequately fitted up and a route from Camp 1 to 2 was made more safe. On 15 June the second party consisting of Maj. Bahadur, GCs. Naik and Mantaj Singh and Nk. Omkar Chand of I.T.B.P. set out to establish Camp 2 (18,800 ft.). After 41/2 hours of steep and exhausting climb they had found a suitable site. All orters were sent back except the two who were allowed to attempt the summit by me. These two were Chandu Gyatso from village Pooh with Tsering from village Dabling. Both were strong and determined climbers. Chandu Gyatso had a black shepherd dog Kalu who stayed on with him and almost made the summit on the following day though he returned snow blind!
At 5.30 a.m. the summit party of five on the two ropes left Camp. Through the steep loose rocks above Camp 2 they moved slowly and singly not to be hit by rocks displaced by the climbers above. It was an interesting climb which required careful handling. They were above this pitch within an hour. Now the going was easy through hard snow and the previous party's foot¬steps were there to show them their route. By 7.15 a.m. they were on the false rocky summit reached by the first party. The last steep corniced ridge of 300 ft. took them 1 1/4 hrs to negotiate. At 8.30 a.m. the first rope of the two stood on the summit jubilant and triumphant. The two porters with their dog Kalu who were permitted to go on the final attempt stayed on the rock 300 ft. short of the summit as this final ridge required some technical climbing. The clouds had come up but luckily for the climbers rose only upto 19,000 ft. and above that it was all clear.
The summit party got excellent views and clearly saw Kailash Jugarkhandh, Gangcha (a sister peak), Manirang, Leo Pargial, Laguma and many more peaks above THE sea of cloud. They halted on the summit for half an hour hoisting the I.M.A., 2 Para and I.T.B.P. flags ; took photographs ; and offerings of food were made to the mountain gods.
By 10.30 a.m. they were back at Camp 2, where they packed up the Camp. GC Mantaj Singh who had stayed back at Camp 2 not feeling well, was picked up and by 1.15 p.m. they were all safely back at Camp 1.
On 18 June the party wound up all camps on Gang Chua and returned to Pooh.
A 3 days' halt was made at Pooh for rest and reorganization before setting out for Leo Pargial (22,281 ft.)—the second objective of the expedition.
On 22 June the expedition left Pooh and halted below the village of Nako. Here the mules, donkeys and porters were all ready, waiting. After a quick change of loads to mule and porter backs, the climbers ascended steeply to Nako, the last village en route to Leo Pargial. I visited the local monastery and paid respects to the Devta for the success and safety of the members. It is a custom in these parts as the porters are very religious and abide by these beliefs. That night the expedition climbed another 1,500 ft. above Nako and camped near a Dogri shepherd's hut.
Clouds came up during the night and it was snowing in the morning. It was a steep, steady climb to Base Camp through, snow. At 14.30 hrs. Base Camp 16,500 ft.) was established. Leo Pargial could not be seen from there as a ridge above the camp obscured the mountain. As the snowfall was quite heavy the muleteers and donkeys made a quick retreat.
For the next 48 hours there was continuous heavy snowfall with strong winds. All movement came to a standstill.
25 June dawned clear and bright. Movement started around Camp. The Camp 1 party was ready and another 2 members and porters were made to go to village Nako for essential sup¬plies and wood. By 2.30 p.m. that day Camp 1 (18,500 ft.) was established at the base of the mountain. 6 porters returned with minor snow blindness and some members complained of altitude sickness and severe headaches. G. C. Naik and Gopi Singh of the I.T.B.P., the two probable summiters, also fell sick.
Next day was spent on reconnaissance for selecting the Camp 2 site. Due to heavy snowfall and poor snow conditions it was decided to abandon the idea of establishing Camp 2; a direct route was found up a rock face. An old fixed rope of 30 ft. length was located, which enabled the party to find a way up the steep rock face. This led to the southerly snow ridge, go¬ing and meeting the western snow and ice ridge mid way-the traditional route by which the mountain was climbed twice earlier. On the evening of 26 June, it was decided to attempt Leo Pargial, if the weather was good, from Camp 1 direct up the rock face.
The summit party, on 27 June, consisting of Maj. Bahadur, G. C. Thapa, Nk. Shiv Singh and L/Nk Chat.ru Ram of I.T.B.P. left Camp at 5.20 a.m. The day was clear with no wind. They took 2 hours to climb the steep rock face. Here they rested and cramponed as they had a snow and ice ridge ahead. At 9.30 a.m. four black blobs were seen through binoculars slowly but strongly moving along the steep ridge. By 11 a.m. they joined the traditional western ridge midway to the sum- mit. Without break they carried on and by noon they were at the bottom of the last 300 ft. of steep ice slope leading to the snow peak. They climbed this very carefully by balancing themselves on either side of the ridge and at 12.50 p.m. stepped on the snow summit of Leo Pargial. The view was magnificent; over 250 miles of Tibetan territory could be seen all around besides all the peaks within district Kinnaur. One hundred and fifty yards away lay the higher rocky summit of the twin peaks of Leo Pargial. It presented difficult rock climbing and crampons had to be removed to climb it. It took J hour for this operation. One member made it to the top and a rope was fixed for others to climb. There wasn't enough space for more than two members to stand together. It was 1.35 p.m. Photographs were taken and offerings of food were made to the mountain gods before descending.
A slow, careful descent was made as the summit party was tired. By 6.30 p.m. they reached Camp 1—a thirteen-hour day.
It was a satisfactory achievement, climbing over 4,000 ft. in a day over steep and difficult slopes and then descending; besides climbing two twenty-thousanders about 30 km. apart within a short space of 11 days with a 3 day break at Pooli.
The photo entitled "Leo Pargial South" opposite p. 123 in H.J. Vol, 1934 is that of a peak designated as pt. 6816 m. (22,363 ft.) on the latest S.O.I, map (1 : 50,000). It is the highest peak in the area, and lies about a mile south of the twin summits of Leo Pargial.
On the same map the South Peak is given a higher height than the North Peak. Jagjit Singh confirms that this is not so and the rocky North Peak is at east 50 ft. higher than the snowy South Summit.