Himalayan Journal vol.37
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.37

Publication year:
1981

Editor:
Harish Kapadia
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. YUGOSLAV EVEREST EXPEDITION
    (TONE SKARJA)
  3. AUSTRIAN LHOTSE EXPEDITION AULEX, 1979
    (ERICH VANIS)
  4. POLISH LHOTSE EXPEDITION, 1979
    (ADAM BILCZEWSKI)
  5. THE BRITISH-NEPALESE GAURI SHANKAR EXPEDITION, 1979
    (PETER BOARDMAN)
  6. AUSTRALIAN GAURI SHANKAR (TSERINGMA) EXPEDITION
    (P. A. CULLINAN and G. BRAMMER)
  7. MAKALU WEST PILLAR
    (JOHN ROSKELLEY)
  8. TUKUCHE WEST PEAK (6780 m) EXPEDITION
    (RENE COLLET)
  9. ANNAPURNA III, SOUTH FACE
    (RON and LINDA RUTLAND)
  10. SWISS SISNE HIMAL EXPEDITION, 1980
    (RUEDI MEIER)
  11. DHAULAGIRI EAST FACE EXPEDITION
    (ALEX MACINTYRE)
  12. SIKKIM HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION, 1979
    (SAMARENDRA NATH DHAR)
  13. SINIOLCHU*
    (SONAM WANGYAL)
  14. ASCENT OF RATABAN AND CANOEING/ RAFTING THE MANDAKINI AND ALAKNANDA RIVERS
    (COL BALWANT S. SANDHU)
  15. SATOPANTH GLACIER EXPEDITION, 1980
    (SHASHANK KULKARNI and SOUMITRA WADALKAR)
  16. GUERILLAS IN THE GARHWAL
    (JOHN THACKRAY)
  17. CZECHOSLOVAKS OVER THE SOURCES OF THE GANGA
    (ZDENEK LUKES)
  18. VASUKI PARBAT
    (N. G. CLEAVER)
  19. RAKTVARN GLACIER AND ASCENT OF UNNAMED VIRGIN PEAKS
    (RANVIR SINGH)
  20. KINNAUR, 1980
    (SUDHIR SAHI)
  21. EXPEDITION TO THE DHARLANG VALLEY, PANGI AND ZANSKAR
    (N. A. PITTS-TUCKER)
  22. AIRMEN IN LAHUL
    (WING COMMANDER N. M. RIDLEY)
  23. A TREK IN LADAKH AND ZANSKAR
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  24. TERAM KANGRI II EXPEDITION
    (COL N. KUMAR)
  25. LADAKH, 1979
    (AAMIR ALI)
  26. THE FIRST ASCENT OF CHORICHO1
    (GEOFFREY CHILDS)
  27. THE 'OBVIOUS LINE': ULI BIAHO
    (JOHN ROSKELLEY)
  28. THE CHILEAN KARAKORAM EXPEDITION, 1979
    (GASTON OYARZUN)
  29. RISK *
    (MIKE THOMPSON)
  30. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  31. EXPEDITIONS 1978- 1980
  32. IN MEMORIAM
  33. BOOK REVIEWS
  34. CORRESPONDENCE
  35. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1980

VASUKI PARBAT

N. G. CLEAVER

THE WEST GARHWAL region of the Himalaya was chosen for our expedition, as it has only recently been reopened to expeditions and therefore has seen little climbing activity. Several unclimbed peaks are in this area with many mountains awaiting second ascents. Vasuki Parbat 6792 m was chosen as objective after seeing a photograph of this mountain in an article written by Professor Schwarzgruber in 19381, and on hearing from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation that the mountain was unclimbed.2
We intended to continue the current trend of lightweight expeditions by attempting a fast alpine-style ascent, taking as little equipment as possible. No fixed ropes or other bulky expedition items would be used, and also no high-altitude porters would be employed. Due to illness the original team of four climbers was reduced to three, Nigel Cleaver, Mark Evans and Ian Johnson.

On arrival in Delhi we called on the Indian Mountaineering Foundation to inquire about our liaison officer, but were told to come back in a week. Liaison officers are evidently in short supply. The week however was not wasted, the markets and street stalls being scoured for the necessary food and cooking equipment. It would have been better to await our liaison officer's arrival as with his help, much time and frustration could have been saved.

Tuesday II September saw our purchases finished and packed into hessian sacks. Our liaison officer Atul Chatterjee had also arrived, Atul was a Bengali studying Economics at Delhi University. We left late that night for the 141/2 hour bus journey to Uttarkashi nestling in the foothills of Garhwal, and the last major village before the walk-in.

After registration with the district magistrate at Uttarkashi, Atul was left to deal with porter negotiations whilst we completed food purchases. The food and equipment were then repacked into the hessian sacks, arranged so that each sack contained a porter's load of 30 kg.

Previous expeditions walked the 165 miles from Uttarkashi to base imp on the Gangotri glacier, a trip lasting 10 days. Recently a road had been constructed from Uttarkashi to Gangotri, which would have put base camp 3 days away. Unfortunately a landslide last year com- pletely blocked the Bhagirathi river, which bursting its banks devastated the entire valley, carving great chunks of road away with the flood waters. However sections of the road were still driveable, each complete with its own bus, so we would not have to walk all the way to Gangotri.

1. H.J. Vol. XI, p. 140.

2. Indo-Tibet Border Police, an Indian Military Organization, claims first ascent I11 1073. No details are forthcoming-Ed.

Photos 26 to 31

Much of the northern part of Garhwal is pilgrim country since it contains the three main sources of the sacred Ganges river, each source being sanctified by a temple. The Bhagirathi river, which is considered to be the chief source, issues from the snout of the Gangotri glacier at a place called Gaumukh (the cow's mouth). Pious Hindus from the plains make the pilgrimage to Gaumukh every summer. Many interesting people can be met along this trail, the rich and poor, the youthful and aged, the able-bodied and infirm, each having an interesting tale to tell.

These people, mostly over forty years of age, all have the same desire: to see the source of the Ganges, and to drink and bathe in its waters before they die. For many this pilgrimage is the culmination of a lifetime of saving, so enabling them to make the trip. Several times I was told how lucky we were to make the journey at such a young age. However, for the majority of them it is a punishing experience, their hardships reflected in the expressions on their faces, indeed they must have great faith to start such a journey in old age.

We would also be following the pilgrim route alongside the Bhagirathi river to Gaumukh, sometimes by bus and sometimes on foot, and then over the glacial moraine to our base camp.

Several expeditions had already been through Uttarkashi, all the best porters now being fully employed, leaving only the weaker, less able, men. We had contemplated taking mules for the journey, but were advised against this on the grounds of several sections being impassable to mules. Porters also would be very difficult to obtain higher up and certainly very expensive.

Seventeen porters were engaged by Atul to carry loads up to base camp. They were very poor looking specimens of humanity, most unlike porters depicted in climbing literature. We wondered if they would have the strength to complete the walk-in.

The first stretch of our journey was by bus to a village comprising several huts called Bhukhi. The bus was due to leave at 6 a.m., accordingly we arose at 4.50 a.m. to supervise the loading of the equipment. We found our porters already up and eating breakfast, their faces looking surprisingly cheerful by the light of their fires. Petrol rationing was in force in this outlying district, and a permit from the district magistrate was required before the driver could purchase any fuel for the journey.

It was nearer 8.30 a.m. when we left Uttarkashi crowded into the bus with pilgrims, local farmers and soldiers. The scenery gradually became increasingly spectacular as the bus wound up the valley. Heavily wooded slopes on either side of the ravine came closer together, the gorge deepened and the river became wilder. Bhukhi was reached at midday, our porters declined the offer of a meal, having only a cup of tea before leaving for Dabrani, the end of the first day's march. The heat and the flies were oppressive, sometimes it was difficult to see out of the tea-shack due to the swarms.

We were pleased to leave and quickly left Bhukhi behind. A platoon of soldiers and civil engineers were working furiously to clear the road of a minor landslip, little more than a mile beyond our midday stop. Here our porters were waiting for the soldiers to dynamite a rock. This spectacle over, the landslip was crossed in single file at a run, with stones the size of babies' heads bouncing around us.

Carrying only 20 kg loads we soon outstripped the porters. Deciding not to get too far ahead, we stopped at a temple complete with hot springs. A swim in the hot sulphured water soon restored jaded spirits. Suitably refreshed the remainder of the day's journey passed very quickly.

Next day our porters arose at 5 a.m. to make food, waking us up with a cheerful grin and a cup of char. Relaxing in sleeping-bags, drinking tea and munching chapatis, we talked of the coming day's march. Two bus rides with half-an-hour's walk between would bring us to Gangotri in time for lunch, a walk of several hours would then complete the day. The bus did not leave till 8 a.m., however the rides proved shorter than expected, Gangotri being reached at midday. It is considered a very holy place, the village being built around the many temples overlooking the mighty river. Personally I found the place .1 bit disappointing, dusty, and scruffy, not at all similar to the images projected by the pilgrims.

A bout of overeating at a tea-shack followed. The problem with these hill people is they consider you should eat as they do. No sooner is a large plate of rice and dal cleared than another is thrust in front of you. Feeling bloated we set out in the hot afternoon sun for the walk to Chirbas, our night's stop. The going was flattish along a good track with many streams to quench the thirst. At Chirbas we met an Indian expedition and that night had a camp fire.

It was dank and cold next morning after a night of drizzle. To keep warm we moved fast, and made short work of the next section, Gaumukh at the snout of the glacier, amidst a jumble of moraine is a very bleak place indeed. Later as the mists cleared we had views of the three Bhagirathi north faces glistening in the morning sunlight.

Our porters were walking slowly that morning and no amount of hustling by Atul could induce them to increase their pace. It was late afternoon when they arrived, too late to go on towards base camp; they looked pleased with themselves, having won an extra day's pay. We decided to dispense with five porters, as porters' food would no longer have to be carried, and accordingly reshuffled the loads. The porters, who were a shifty lot, chose this moment to go on strike, demanding a load reduction of 10 kg plus an extra Rs.10 for the carry up to base camp. Rather than surrender to their demands, they were told we would carry the loads ourselves, as base camp at Nandanban was now in striking distance.

Early next morning on 17 September, our porters arose, shouldered their loads and moved off over the terminal moraine on to the glacier. They had realized the strike was too late for us to concede their demands, and quickly agreed to complete the carry when told their pay would be withheld. The glacier was completely covered with rock debris to a considerable depth, making the going tough. On reaching base camp our porters gave us a cheery handshake and a goodbye wave, all thoughts of the previous night's animosity forgotten.

The weather, which was fine and sunny to start with, soon turned off, snowflakes of a fast approaching storm hitting us as we reached Nandanban. Tents were hurriedly erected and a meal prepared. Outside the storm rose in intensity, buffeting us continuously for the next three days. Both Mark and Ian suffered during this time from altitude sickness, leaving Atul and myself taking turns with cooking and water- carrying. The storm eventually blew itself out, Ian had recovered sufficiently to help erect a cooking shelter, although Mark was still ill, remaining so for the next week.

Our base camp was sited near a moraine ridge at 4335 m, on a broad coarse-grassed pasture between the junction of the Gangotri and Chaturangi glaciers. There were no running streams, all the water having to be carried from several stagnant pools about a mile away. The size of the glaciers was impressive, the Gangotri being nearly 18 miles long and 2 miles broad, whilst the Chaturangi was 9 miles long and over a mile wide. A distinguishing feature of the Chaturangi (four-coloured) glacier, is its moraine composed of white, grey, black and red coloured rock. Base camp provided us with views in three directions, the most striking being towards the east face of Shivling. Pre-war expeditions called Shivling the Gangotri Matterhorn. Certainly from this direction it is one of the most beautiful mountains in the world.

The route to advance base lay several miles along the moraine ridge at the side of the Chaturangi glacier. Due to the distances and loads involved, too far in one go, we decided to make an equipment cache at the side of the Vasuki glacier. A few days were spent in acclimatization and checking out equipment to be taken to our advance base. We still felt the effects of altitude during that first carry, and needed a day's rest to recuperate. Meanwhile a Czechoslovak expedition had arrived to attempt Bhagirathi I, installing their base camp close to ours.

After several days of load-carrying, enough equipment had been accumulated at the cache for us to move up and establish advance base. It was in a depression between the north and west ridges on a level patch of ground close to a small mountain tarn (Llyn Vasuki).

A reconnaissance of the mountain proved it would present considerable difficulties; the north face was a high-angle ice slope scoured by rockfall and debris from the summit ridge, whilst both the east and west faces were composed of steep, rapidly decomposing rock almost devoid of snow. The rock of Vasuki Parbat is a shattered brown limestone, unlike the solid white granite peaks to the south of the mountain. Rockfall from .the faces was continuously heard during the day, finally reaching a silence when darkness approached.

Previously we had seen a photograph of the north ridge, and decided on this as a possible route. A slim snow/ice gully split the left side of the buttress, we hoped to use this to surmount the rock. A long steep knife-edged snow arete led to the summit ridge. Our reconnaissance showed very little snow on the mountain, and the gully looked empty. This part of Garhwal is an area of low snow precipitation. With the failure of the Indian monsoon, this left the surrounding peaks looking very bare of snow.

On 27 September, Mark and I set out to establish an equipment dump on a level-looking platform at about 5540 m on the north ridge. Ian was suffering from altitude, and remained behind stretched out in his sleeping-bag. The snow slope up to the platform was a knee- twisting, ankle-turning boulder slog over loose scree and large debris. It was eventually reached, just in time to admire the rapidly disappearing view as a storm drifted in from the south. No time to look for a prospective spot for the tent, but dump the paraphernalia and go down. Advance base was reached with a mug of hot tea from Ian amidst the enveloping gloom.

Clearer weather during the next few days, saw a pile of equipment and food deposited on the rock platform. We intended leap-frogging the tents above each other from camp to camp, using only the two tents. However, with Ian ill, one of the tents had to remain at advance base. We elected to use the remaining tent as high as possible, and bivouac on the platform.

Taking only light loads next day we set out for a look at the buttress. Deciding not to rope up yet, I soon established a lead when one of Mark's crampons fell off. The snow slope looked deceptively easy- .mgled from below, but was surprisingly steep with some 6o° sections. Initially knee-deep powder snow hindered progress, this thinned down to a veneer over the hard brittle ice underneath. Patches of deep avalanche-prone wind slab were gingerly passed, until eventually the loose shattered buttress was reached. It got very cold up there in the hadows out of the sun, and I was glad when Mark arrived. The buttress was difficult looking and we shortly turned back.

If the gully was not climbable higher up another route would have to be found, as we did not have enough equipment or food for a protracted struggle. Next morning our fears proved well-founded, for after an initial steep section on rotten ice the groove steepened for a few hundred feet, with no ice or decent rock to be seen. With stones whistling past from above we gave up the futile struggle and descended dejectedly to our bivouac spot. (This height of 6320 m was the highest point reached on the expedition.) It surprised us to find Ian there after making a carry, as we had not expected to see him today.

We decided to have a look at the north face as it was possible to bypass the buttress. The top however was very steep and the whole face raked by stonefall. The bivouac that night turned into a miserable 14-hour ordeal as temperatures plummeted below -26°C. Equipped with lightweight alpine clothes not providing much protection against such temperatures, we huddled together inside a bivi tent to await dawn. The pleasure of a brew in the night was denied, when our thermos shattered with a loud pop, the boiling tea inside freezing within an hour. Weak rays from the sun warmed us in the early morning, but it was nearer midday before we moved. My left foot, rigid with cold and without feeling, took over 5 hours to painfully bring back to life.

The debris falling down the face was particularly heavy, especially in the area we were now traversing below the rock buttress. The ice was extremely brittle and good placements for axe and crampons were hard to find with the ice shattering. Progress was slow and stress high with stones whistling around our heads, an approaching storm from the south suddenly hit, driving us down in a flurry of whiteout.

We were in need of a rest and our food supplies almost exhausted, yet a last-ditch attempt by the west ridge was planned. Relaxing, eating our remaining food, we looked at the route through binoculars, two problems immediately arose. The foremost was broaching the rock cliffs to gain the snow slopes above, these looked uneventful until the final steepening joining the summit ridge.

Still feeling the effects from the bivouac and food shortages we managed to reach a height of about 5850 m on the west ridge. A link passage through the final cliffs to the snow slopes above could not be found, and forced to climb the dangerously loose shattered rock of the cliffs themselves we shortly .turned back.

Following our defeat on the mountain we felt an urgent desire for civilization as soon as possible, and next day made a forced march down to base camp, to be reunited with Atul. The Czechoslovaks had also failed on Bhagirathi I. A joint party was held that night to celebrate everyone's safe return. Next morning, shouldering overweight packs, we bade farewell to the Czechoslovaks and a recently arrived Polish expedition, then staggered down towards Gaumukh. The return journey was uneventful but much more pleasant with the lower temperatures caused by the approaching winter.

N Face of Vasuki Parbat. N ridge on left and W ridge on right. 								(Photo: N. G. Cleave)

N Face of Vasuki Parbat. N ridge on left and W ridge on right. (Photo: N. G. Cleave)



Corniced W ridge of Vasuki Parbat. Beyond is summit ridge.  								(Photos: N. G. Cleaver)

Corniced W ridge of Vasuki Parbat. Beyond is summit ridge. (Photos: N. G. Cleaver)



Unclimbed peak 6702 m. Right ridge joins Bhagirathi I,left joins Vasuki Parbat. In foreground; lower part of W ridge of Vasuki.

Unclimbed peak 6702 m. Right ridge joins Bhagirathi I,left joins Vasuki Parbat. In foreground; lower part of W ridge of Vasuki.



Unclimbed E. Face of Shivling 									(Photos: N. G. Cleaver)

Unclimbed E. Face of Shivling (Photos: N. G. Cleaver)



Peak 6395 m and 6401 m (left), Mana Parbat (centre bachground) and Peak 6443 m (right). Looking across from Vasuki Parbat towards Chaturangi glacier and Kalindi Bamak (right).

Peak 6395 m and 6401 m (left), Mana Parbat (centre bachground) and Peak 6443 m (right). Looking across from Vasuki Parbat towards Chaturangi glacier and Kalindi Bamak (right).



Vasuki Parbat from West. N. ridge__life skyline, W ridge__ falls in centre On right 2000 m West Face. 									(Photo: N. G. Cleaver0

Vasuki Parbat from West. N. ridge__life skyline, W ridge__ falls in centre On right 2000 m West Face. (Photo: N. G. Cleaver0