Himalayan Journal vol.35
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.35

Publication year:
1979

Editor:
Soli S. Mehta
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. THE STORY OF THE HIMALAYAN CLUB, 1928-1978
    (JOHN MARTYN)
  3. FIFTY YEARS RETROSPECT AND PROSPECT
    (TREVOR BRAHAM)
  4. THE PASSANRAM AND TALUNG VALLEYS, SIKKIM
    (DR EUGEN ALLWEIN)
  5. NANDA DEVI AND THE SOURCES OF THE GANGES
    (H. W. TILMAN)
  6. THE MOUNT EVEREST RECONNAISSANCE, 1935
    (ERIC SHIPTON)
  7. THE SHAKSGAM EXPEDITION, 1937
    (MICHAEL SPENDER)
  8. GANGOTRI TRIANGULATION
    (Major GORDON OSMASTON)
  9. EVEREST, 1976
    (MAJOR M. W. H. DAY, R.E.)
  10. LHOTSE, 1976
    (KANJI KAMEI)
  11. THE SECOND ASCENT OF LHOTSE, 1977
    (DR HERMANN WARTH)
  12. MAKALU, 1976
    (ANDERS BOUNDER & OTHERS)
  13. THE CLEAN-UP TREK, 1976
    (MICHAEL CORDELL)
  14. THE THIRD KOREAN MANASLU EXPEDITION, 1976
    (JUNG SUP KIM)
  15. THE HONGKONG KANJIROBA EXPEDITION, 1976
    (DICK ISHERWOOD)
  16. AVALANCHE ON SISNE, 1977
    (R. A. L. ANDERSON)
  17. DHAULAGIRI IV, 1975
    (KUNIAKI YAGIHARA)
  18. NORTH SIKKIM, 1976
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  19. NANDA DEVI FROM THE NORTH, 1976
    (H. ADAMS CARTER)
  20. NANDA DEVI SANCTUARY - A NATURALIST'S REPORT
    (LAVKUMAR KHACHER)
  21. A BOTANICAL SURVEY IN THE NANDA DEVI SANCTUARY, 1974
    (N. C. SHAH)
  22. AN ATTEMPT ON NITALTHAUR, 1974
    (MANIK BANERJEE)
  23. CHAMRAO GLACIER EXPEDITION-1977
    (M. DEY)
  24. CHIRING WE, 1977
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  25. KINNAUR-1976
    (LIEUTENANT-COLONEL BALWANT SANDHU)
  26. BLACK PEAK, 1976
    (MANDIP SINGH SOIN)
  27. NILAMBAR EXPEDITION, 1977
    (RANVIR SINGH)
  28. POLISH K2 EXPEDITION, 1976
    (JANUSZ KURCZAB)
  29. A CRAWL DOWN THE OGRE
    (DOUG SCOTT)
  30. ISTOR-O-NAL NORTH I, 1976
    (RONALD NAAR)
  31. THE ASCENT OF SHERPI KANGRP 1976
    (PROF. KAZUMASA HIRAI)
  32. AFGHAN DARWAZ, 1975
    (RYSSZARD W. SCHRAMM)
  33. SWISS THUI EXPEDITION, 1975
    (DR ADOLF DIEMBERGER and HANS SCHIBLI)
  34. CLIMBING SHERPAS OF DARJEELING
    (DORJEE LHATOO)
  35. OF MOUNTAINS & MEMORIES
    (SITU MULLICK)
  36. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  37. OBITUARIES
  38. BOOK REVIEWS
  39. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
  40. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1976
  41. EXPEDITIONS 1975-1977

NANDA DEVI FROM THE NORTH, 1976

H. ADAMS CARTER

OUR expedition was born in November of 1974 when Nanda Devi Unsoeld stopped off to visit us on her way home from Nepali where she had been working for the Smithsonian Institution on a project to save the tigers. Devi's father, Dr Willi Unsoeld, had seen the mountain Nanda Devi in 1948 when he was studying in India. He was so impressed with its beauty that he decided to name his first daughter after the peak. He got the opportunity in 1954, when Devi was born. Nanda Devi, the consort of Siva, protector of the Seven Rishis or Saints, is the most important deity of the region. The name means "Bliss-Giving Goddess" in Sanskrit. "I feel a very close relationship to the mountain," Devi said. "There has been something within me about this mountain ever since I was born." Devi had always said too that she felt a special kind of bond to me because I had been on the British-American expedition which had made the first ascent of her mountain in 1936. We studied photographs of the peak, and before the visit ended, we had made a plan to attempt the mountain by a new and difficult route from the north on the 40th anniversary of the first ascent. Devi's father, who was one of the two who had climbed Mount Everest by the West Ridge, would be co-leader with me. It would be an international expedition, with Indian and American members, sponsored jointly by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and the American Alpine Club.

Permissions are not always easy. Garhwal, the part of India where Nanda Devi lies, had been closed to foreigners for years and had just been reopened. We were amazed to get permission for just when we wanted to go, during and after the monsoon in 1976. Normally the monsoon is not severe in that part of the Himalaya. In 1936 we generally had good weather until two o'clock in the afternoon and a rain or snow shower late in the day. The summit had been reached, the highest yet climbed by man, on 29 August 1936. Not knowing that the monsoon in 1976 would be the wettest in a hundred years, we decided to folio the same schedule.

After a number of unsuccessful attempts, Nanda Devi, 7816 m and 25th highest mountain in the world, was climbed a second time by an Indian expedition in 1964. A joint French-Indian expedition climbed it again in 1975 but failed to make the pre-planned traverse between the main peak and Nanda Devi East. Both of these climbs were by the original route up the southwest face. A Japanese-Indian expedition did make this remarkable and difficult traverse in the spring of 1976. We had the pleasure of meeting them just after they had made their climb when we arrived in India. Ours would be the fifth ascent, but by a totally new and untouched route.

The American members gathered in New Delhi in the second week of July. In addition to the two Unsoelds and me were Dr Louis Reichardt, John Roskelley, Dr James States, John Evans, Peter Lev, our other female member Marty Hoey, Elliott Fisher and Andrew Harvard. The Indian members were Captain Kiran Kumar and Nirmal Singh.

Our approach through the foothills was done very differently than in 1936, when we had to walk from Ranikhet. It had taken us nearly two weeks to reach the last town, Lata. In 1976 we rode by truck this far, a gain in time but a loss in not seeing the unspoiled villages and their inhabitants. On the other hand, Lata, lying 150 vertical metres above the road, and its people had hanged but little. Most of the ninety porters who would carry our gear to Base Camp came from there. We did not have the complaints so often heard lately about porters in other regions, I am sure that part of the credit goes to Kiran Kumar who managed our porter train so skilfully. But they were hard-working, honest, willing and cheerful. We had no strikes for higher pay. One man even brought me back ten rupees I had overpaid him. The porters' food was loaded into five-kilo pack-saddles and carried on the backs of pack-goats.

Before leaving Lata on 14 July, an old fellow (just my age) rushed up to embrace me. "Bhalu Sahib!" he exclaimed. I had been called that in 1936. It means "Master Bear." "Sher Singh?" I queried. He had been one of our porters forty years ago. His name means "Tiger-Lion." Quite a menagerie !

Nanda Devi lies encircled by a formidable ring of lesser peaks, which range up to over 7400 metres; the lowest col between the peaks is a little less than 6000 metres. This ring is broken only by the mile-deep Rishi Ganga gorge, which drains to the west glaciers above the inner Nanda Devi Sanctuary. This offers the only practical way to Nanda Devi. Much has been written of the approach. Like others, we attached many metres of fixed rope along the steep, rocky slabs and slippery, precipitous grass (and mud) slopes to assist the laden porters. Suffice it to say that on the last three stages, it was too steep for the pack-goats.

The trek to Base Camp was not without incident. Marty Hoey was struck by severe dysentery two days after leaving Lata. She struggled over the first 4300-metre pass. Soon she had to be carried, becoming progressively weaker and finally semi-comatose. The next day she was transported down treacherous, muddy slopes to Dibrugheta at 3500 metres. Under the superb direction of our doctor, Jim Slates, all expedition members nursed her and brought her back from what we feared was inevitable death. On 21 July a helicopter from the Indian Air Force managed to escape from the monsoon-shrouded plains to evacuate her.

Even before we reached Base Camp at 4400 metres in the flower- carpeted meadows of the Inner Sanctuary, we studied our mountain. Our first view of our awesome route was sobering and convinced us to send for "surplus" rope left in New Delhi Photographs had given little hint of the difficulty of the bottom part of the route. The peak rose for 3400 metres from Base Camp to summit. The first 1250 metres were guarded by steep cliffs of foul, rotten rock. The first gully to break the cliffs was a death-trap, down which tons of ice and snow roared day and night off the hanging glacier on the north-west face. The only advantage was that the debris formed a solid bridge of ice across the rushing torrent of the Rishi Ganga. Over it we had easy access to the slopes of the mountain.

A second blind gully just south was climbed in the fog. It ran out after 300 metres, but it gave access to a rock ridge. This in turn led to unexpected catwalks across the imposing cliffs that lead to easier slopes. It was a long, but reasonable carry to Ridge Camp at 5700 metres. Many of the low-altitude porters helped us to this point. We kept only a half-dozen of the best to carry higher. To these Nirmal Singh, a teacher in the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, gave first-class instruction in the use of crampons, jumars and rope. In a single day, his inspired teaching converted those novices, who had expected to carry only to Base Camp, into ardent mountaineers, who jumared and rappelled with gusto. Some later carried as high as 6850 metres.

The next problem was to make the nearly horizontal, kilometer - long carry to the north to Advanced Base. The scree slopes were easy enough. The problem was the hanging glacier that descends the north-west face. Colossal avalanches would start a thousand metres higher, sweep the glacier clean of monsoon snows and cross our route on the way to the Rishi gorge. The weather was not behaving normally. We had little sunshine and much precipitation. There were daily avalanches, usually in the afternoon, but unpredictable enough to make the carry across the debris a spine-tingling adventure. Both Ridge Camp and Advanced Base were well to the side of the glacier, but hurricane winds from the thundering slides knocked our tents down more than once.

The route up the north-west face to the foot of the north buttress was consistently steep, averaging perhaps 50°. Much of the time unstable snow covered ice. It was imperative to keep on the far left side of the hanging glacier, in part under overhanging and protecting cliffs. Lines were fixed and two camps were perched on tiny shelves under beetling cliffs. The next 600 metres had no spot safe enough for another camp. Since there was no natural protection from avalanches on this upper section, it could be climbed only in ideal weather, but the doubtful weather turned even worse. From 13 to 20 August a second severe storm raged and avalanches swept the face. All activity was brought to a halt. With only two weeks of food left, no climbers had been above 6300 metres. Prospects looked dim and the mood turned sour. It was a time when climbing in the monsoon seemed very foolish.

Once the storm broke however, we were in excellent position to climb in warm, windless weather. In only three days Camp 3 was occupied on 25 August at 6850 metres. This was placed on the flat ridge top above the north-west face and below the steep north buttress. It was actually the fifth high camp; we started numbering only above Advanced Base. The buttress was the crux of the climb. The first 200 metres were nearly perpendicular quartzite. Cracks were few and down-sloping holds were covered with ice. For two days, Roskelley, States and Reichardt inched their way up this bottom half and prepared the route. Rosekelley did most of the difficult leading, which was of XIIAA VI, A2 difficulty. They took a rest day. Meanwhile Kiran Kumar, Nirmal Singh, both Unsoelds and Lev made a very arduous carry to camp 3, bringing enough with them for everyone to have a summit shot. On 29 August States, Roskelley and Reichardt jumared up the fixed ropes and with Peter Lev replaced those which were frayed by the sharp rock. They traversed right on a small, steep snowfield into a steep ice-gully that gained them another 100 metres. At the top of the gully, 70° ice and more precipitous rock brought them to the top of the buttress. Another rest day followed before the same three left their companions in camp 3 early in the morning to climb, heavily laden, to establish Camp 4 at 7300 metres at the top of the buttress. This was just below the final summit ridge. It took them, all day with their loads to climb the 500 metres up the buttress.

The morning of 1 September was clear and windless. The trio in Camp 4 followed the sharp, steep ridge in ever deepening snow, They put behind them a short rock pitch. They waded up the ridge through bottomless, unstable snow. Suddenly the whole surface peeled off one side in an avalanche beside their tracks. Finally the slope slackened. They were on the summit, just three days after the 40th anniversary of the first ascent. That they slept again at Camp 4.

On september 3 the second summit team, Devi Unsoeld, Peter Lev and Andy Harvard, headed up the fixed ropes for Camp 4. It was a difficult struggle and they reached camp late at night. Devi fell ill with dysentery, which left her weak. Bad weather pinned them down again. Eventually on the 6th, Willi Unsoeld ascended the buttress alone. Devi's condition worsened during the night but she seemed somewhat better by morning. She assured her father that she was strong enough to descend on her own. In any case, no one could be carried down the buttress. Willi went out the tent for a few minutes to ready his pack. By the time he came back, she had taken a turn for the worse. She sank rapidly and died ten minutes later. The exact medical cause can of course, never be determined. It could well have been an embolism caused by severe dehydration. After a simple and moving ceremony, her body was committed to the snows of the mountain, whose name she bore.

For the porters, Devi had never been just another climber. They had felt all along that she was something divine. How else was it that she could so nearly speak their language? (Devi spoke Nepali, similar to their Garhwali, having lived a third of her life in Nepal.) How else could her hair have been so blond? How else could she have been so quick to see what they needed and to look out for their health and welfare? She was their most sacred goddess, Nanda Devi, who was returning to her own mountain home. They had known their goddess. And because of her, this mountain will always have a special significance for all of us.

Namda Devi from MW, showing route.  (Photo: H. Adams Carter)

Namda Devi from MW, showing route. (Photo: H. Adams Carter)



Nanda Devi from the West.    (Photo: H. Adams Carter)

Nanda Devi from the West. (Photo: H. Adams Carter)



Camp 3 at 6850 m below the North Buttress. (Photo:  Louis Reichardt)

Camp 3 at 6850 m below the North Buttress. (Photo: Louis Reichardt)



(Photo : John Evans) North Buttress. The route ascends the corner to the snow patch before going right into the ice-gully

(Photo : John Evans) North Buttress. The route ascends the corner to the snow patch before going right into the ice-gully