Himalayan Journal vol.38
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.38

Publication year:
1982

Editor:
Harish Kapadia
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. THE BRITISH KONGUR EXPEDITION TO CHINA
    (CHRISTIAN BONINGTON)
  3. KAILASH-MANASAROVAR
    (ROMESH BATTACHARJI)
  4. KABRU DOME EXPEDITION - 1981
    (VASANT LIMAYE and SHASHANK KULKARNI)
  5. YALUNGKANG: A TWO-PERSON ATTEMPT
    (CHRIS CHANDLER and CHERIE BREMERKAMP)
  6. UP AND DOWN THE PEAR ROUTE ON DHAULAGIRI I
    (VERA KOMARKOVA)
  7. BRITISH LANGTANG EXPEDITION
    (MIKE SEARLE)
  8. WOMEN ON ANNAPURNA
    (ARLENE BLUM)
  9. EAGLES' NEST ATOP KAMET AND ABI GAMIN
    (Maj J. K. BAJAJ)
  10. MEN AND WOMEN'S ASCENT OF NANDA DEVI
    (Col BALWANT SANDHU)
  11. THE SHEPHERDS OF NANDA DEVI SANCTUARY
    (WILLIAM McKAY AITKEN)
  12. THE GANGOTRI EXPEDITION
    (DOUG SCOTT AND MERVYN ENGLISH)
  13. LIVING WITH AN ANGRY MOUNTAIN
    (PARASH MONI DAS)
  14. SUDARSHAN PARBAT - UNE BELLE MONTAGUE
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  15. CHANGO '81
    (ROMESH BHATTACHARJI)
  16. HIMALAYAN TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY
    (DAVE NICHOLLS)
  17. THE UMASI LA - SOUTHERN ENTRANCE TO ZANSKAR
    (LUKE HUGHES)
  18. THE LURE OF NUN
    (B. BARRY NEEDLE)
  19. THE ASCENT OF APSARASAS I IN THE KARAKORAM
    (Brig K. N. THADANI)
  20. SKIING THE KARAKORAM HIGH ROUTE1
    (GALEN A. HOWELL)
  21. TWO ALPINISTS ON THE RUPAL WALL
    (LUIS FRAGA)
  22. GEOLOGICAL NOTES ON THE K2 (CHOGO-RI) MASSIF IN THE KARAKORAM
    (ARDITO DESIO)
  23. THE HIMALAYAN INSPIRATION
    (R. N. PASRICHA)
  24. HIMALAYAN TOURISM AND ENVIRONMENT
    (CAPTAIN M. S. KOHLI, IN (Retd.), AVSM, F.R.G.S.)
  25. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  26. EXPEDITIONS 1980- 1981
  27. IN MEMORIAM
  28. BOOK REVIEWS
  29. CORRESPONDENCE
  30. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1981

MEN AND WOMEN'S ASCENT OF NANDA DEVI

Col BALWANT SANDHU

A TEAM of five men and six women led by Colonel Balwant Sandhu left the road-end at Lata (ahead of Joshimath), on 12 August. We walked in the rain for a week and reached Nanda Devi base camp, at 5000 m, on 22 August. The team consisted of Balwant Sandhu (leader), Miss Chandraprabha Aitwal, Miss Sushama Mahajan, Miss Rekha Sharma, Mrs Bharati Das, Dr Miss Kumkum Saluja, Rattan Singh, Lhatoo Dorjee, Nandlal Purohit, Sonam Paljor, Miss Harsha Bisht and Capt (Dr) R. S. Sandhu.

The team followed the original south ridge route until it met the west ridge route. Rattan, Lhatoo and the leader were familiar with the mountain and right away the team began its acclimatization with a 'carry' up the south ridge to the possible site of Camp 1. Our route lay along the south ridge until its junction with the west ridge and then up the west ridge. Our plan to have two lead groups, each of two climbers, was modified to a lead group of four climbers because of the vast quantities of gear to be carried for opening and fixing the route. Thus Lhatoo and Rattan supported by Rekha and Chandra Prabha and the three HAPs opened the route to Camp 2 : while the lead group returned to base camp for rest the leader and Sonam Paljor with two of the other woman climbers moved up to the lead; most of the route opening was done by Lhatoo and Rattan Singh while the leader and Sonam Paljor had the task of straightening the route, refixing ropes and selecting sites, pitching tents and stocking them so that the lead group on return to the mountain could start route-opening to the next camp. About 3000 m of rope was fixed from Camp 1 to above Camp 4. The members at the base camp continued ferrying; above Camp 2, only two HAPs and two local porters ferried and above Camp 3 only one HAP helped the leader and Sonam Paljor stock Camp 4 (the summit camp). The camps were established as under:

Base camp at 5000 m - 22 August

Camp 1 at 5600 m- 24 August

Camp 2 at 6200 m - 27 August

Camp 3 at 6800 m - 31 August: evacuated due to high winds and reoccupied on 2 September

Camp 4 at 7400 m - 09 September : evacuated due to high winds and reoccupied on 14 September.

During the stocking of the above camps, Kumkum Saluja was hurt by rock-fall descending from Camp 2 and had a minor cut on her head. She was back climbing after a day's rest. On another occasion Bharati Das sustained a minor contusion on her forearm due to stone-fall between Camp 1 and Camp 2. She too was back climbing after a day's rest. Chandra Prabha had a severe attack of amoebiasis at Canlp 2 and had to recover at the base camp and came up in time to be part of the second summit bid. The leader and Bharati Das had been also injured during the approach but had recovered for full participation in the ascent.

The route climbed south straight to the col above base camp and then contoured parallel and above the glacier to Camp 1. It continued along the left flank and above the glacier until it met the high rock buttress of the south ridge. The fixed rope started here along the bergschrund for about four rope-lengths, crossed over to the ridge and combed up the bouldered face (coxcomb ridge) - to reach Camp 2 on the south ridge. This part of the route was prone to rock- fall and members moved helmeted.

Route to Camp 3 followed the crest of south ridge and was exposed to high winds. The route was under snow and we used a large number of snow stakes. On more than one occasion, ice-axes were used until snow stakes of earlier expeditions could be dug out.

Movement above Camp 3 was up the iced rock face where the south ridge espaliers against the west ridge and then along the west ridge. The iced rock combined with high winds offered the most difficult climbing: winds were usually above 60 km - they went up to 160 km - and movement on the mountain was interrupted. On two occasions persistent high winds forced us to evacuate the front camps.

On 13 September Paljor and the leader ferried to the site of Camp 4. On 14 September Rattan Singh, Sonam, Kumkum, Bharati, Sushama, Harsha and Nandlal Purohit were at Camp 4 for a summit bid the next day. However, most of the woman climbers were under the weather the morning of 15 September and Rattan Singh descended to Camp 3 (to carry up food) where he met with Lhatoo and Rekha who had come up that morning after their rest. We went over the details of the climb again. From the summit camp the climbers had to climb about 400 m, descend the same and not lose their way. The climb had been done by Gombu and Sherpa Dawa Norbu in 16 hours in 1964; Premchand and I had done the same climb in 8 hours on 16 June 1975; therefore, the men and women climbers could take about 12-16 hours for the climbing. The summit plan, therefore, envisaged (a) the climbers leaving early so as to return in daylight, (b) to suitably mark the route on their way up so as not to lose their way during the return. In case the members would be late, they could take advantage of the full moon, and (c) the male members will carry bivouac gear should a pair be benighted and, lastly there should be one woman and one man on each rope for speed and safety

The members were up at 3 a.m. on 16 September but left camp only by 8 a.m. By midday they had climbed about 100 m and were not too sure if they should go on-particularly as one of the ropes had two women and one man. By midday they turned back.

Next morning on 17 September once again the climbers were up early but could not leave the camp because of the cold. Bharati had inflamed lips because of dehydration and during the night Kumkum had developed suspected pleurisy. To keep the maximum number of men in the summit camp was not only desirable but essential in case of a mishap and Sushma now escorted the two girls down, sacrificing her own chance of the summit. They descended to Camp 3 by afternoon and were down at Camp 2 by evening to be attended by the doctor. One of the HAPs escorted Bharati and Kumkum down to base while Sushama stayed back at Camp 2 to act as a link between the base and higher camps as none of the radios worked above Camp 2. Leaving Sushama to handle ferrying, Capt Sandhu and Chandra Prabha came up to Camp 3 on the 17th.

On 18th morning the cold killed yet another attempt by the summit party.

Front climbers had now been at Camp 4 for five days of stress, cold, lost sleep, lost appetite and thirst. We had two alternatives : to make an immediate attempt next day if the party felt up to it or to once again beat it to Camp 2 for recuperation and return for a summit trial after 3 days. The leader and the members had a long huddle in the evening. Climbers opted for a summit attempt the following morning provided they could be got ready to leave early and there would be no wind. Dr Sandhu and Nandlal would stay back and make an attempt the following day. The doctor and the leader, who shared the windiest tent, were to rouse the climbers at 1 a.m. and see them off by 3 a.m. The wind had been shifting lately to northwest and was not expected to return to its beastly east- west axis, following its current mode, for about three/four days. There was a three-quarter moon.

It was a windless arctic morning of stunning cold when the climbers left in three pairs - Rattan and Harsha were the first off to tackle ropes above the camp, followed at 30 minutes' intervals, to reduce waiting at the ropes, by Paljor and Chandra and, last, Rekha and Lhatoo. It was hard climbing for the girls up the frozen ropes and harder for the men who had to lead and beat the ice off the ropes. Pairs moved independently, now roped; the front pair marking the route for the return and the last pair leaving ropes at dicey places for their return.

The climbers made slow progress until the sun warmed them about 9 am. Drifting cloud and gusts of wind and snow made it a tricky kind of a day to be climbing a high mountain. By 3 p.m. the party was near the summit to make it foolish to ton back and yet late to be continuing climbing. The party, though feeling the altitude, was going well, were kitted for a night out and if they turned back, most of them will not be making another attempt, at least for a week. Lhatoo definitely was not coming back to Nanda Devi a fourth time (1975, 1976) ! Slow and determined plodded the girls. After a bout of doubt and argument, the climbers decided to press on. Uhatoo and Rekha reached the summit flat at about 5 p.m. Rattan and Harsha followed. At 6.30 p.m. Baljor and Chandra left the summit after scattering their offering and forgot to take pictures! By 7.30 p.m. the light had gone, They descended in the dark, following their trail in the snow and marked and remembered boulders and gullies. The mountain was lit by a smuggler's moon by 10 p.m. and it was easier now to walk down. Occasional gusts of wind and flurries of snow hit the climbers; one of these bringing a ball-sized stone on Rekha's head. She passed out for a while and Lhatoo had to revive her.

Later a gush of snow swept Harsha and Rattan off until with superb skill Rattan stopped and needed all his skill to persuade a delirious Harsha that she could not lie down and sleep. Near the ropes above Camp 4, Chandra rolled down with Pal j or, giving everyone a fright. At 1 a.m. the climbers could see the signals of Camp 4 where Nandu and Dr Sandhu had heard them and got a brew going: for the climbers drank much and were in their digs from 5 a.m. until pulled out at 1 p.m. for the descent. Lhatoo and Rekha reached Camp 2 at 6.30 p.m. and the others after 9 p.m. It had been a fantastic effort - fitness, skill and determination - the climbers had been on their feet for over 25 hours; without knowing they were stepping into mountaineering history.

The Doctor had had to accompany the climbers and administer their chilblains and Rattan's frostbite. This left Nandu alone at Camp 4. He had discussed his summit plan and now left alone, set out at sundown, climbed until 5 a.m. and waited for sunrise on top of Nanda Devi on 21 September-to become the first man to do so. He had no camera and gathered knick-knacks and a flag left by the climbers on 19 September. He descended to Camp 4 by 11 a.m., and after winding up all the camps, reached base camp on 22 September.

It was perhaps the fastest ever classic climb - 30 days - and all 12 members climbed above 7500 m and seven reached the summit; a neat and tidy expedition to a great mountain.