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

THE ASCENT OF APSARASAS I IN THE KARAKORAM

Brig K. N. THADANI

THE KARAKORAM range has been engaging the attention of mountaineers a.or over a century, as there are a large number of high mountains in the region including K2, the second highest in the world. The lure of the Karakoram has drawn many Indian expeditions in the past; the more recent ones being the successful expeditions to Teram Kangri n1 in 1978 and Saser Kangri in 1979. The Indian Army with its high traditions of valour had encouraged its mountaineers to scale yet another peak in the Karakoram, Apsarasas I, height 7245 m (23,770 ft).2
On 18 September 1980, 16 members of an Indian Army expedition to the Karakoram scaled the summit of Apsarasas I, which lies north of the Siachen glacier. They had endured long spells of hostile weather including blizzards and heavy snow, moved across the crevasses of various shapes and sizes, negotiated fast-moving glacial streams and sojourned on an ice-bed in sub-zero environment. It was indeed a feat of human endurance, man's struggle against nature; and their success was a humble tribute to man's ability to endure, survive and finally overcome the challenges of nature.

The team led by Brigadier K. N. Thadani, VSM, consisted of Majors K. S. Bhardwaj and S. P. Sharma, Captains R. Ranga Rao, A, Ravi Kumar, K. K. Sreenivasan, R. J. S. Dhillon, U. S. Rathore, 2/Lt P. P. Sharma and 59 Jawans drawn from various arms and services of the Army. This team was organized into 'ropes', each consisting of 7-8 members under a rope leader, to ensure smooth functioning, team work and safety.

The expedition set out for Leh on 25 July 1980 moved across the Khardung La, 18,360 ft (which is reputedly the highest pass in the world over which a road has been built), and thereafter descended, to the Shyok river and on to the Nubra valley-one of the prettiest in Ladakh. The lush green juniper trees and stretches of scrub of Hippophae myrcaria species, the golden wheat and barley harvests and a sprinkling of tiny huts with their colourful festoons and prayer- flags silhouetted against the nigged multihued mountains and the deep blue sky were a breath-taking sight. The inhabitants of the valley have Aryan features and fair complexions. The womenfolk wear colourful robes and jewellery of Ladakhi design. They would smile, wave out and shout 'Jule' in greeting the passers-by. They are extremely hospitable and offer the traveller chhang, a local beer, and lassi made of yak milk.

1.See HJ. 37, p. 107.

2.The first ascent of this peak was made in 1975 by a Japanese expedition. They approached from Pakistan, over the JBilafond La and Teram Shehr glacier.-Ed.



The team moved on along the Nubra valley, wading across numerous pralungpas - torrential streams with icy cold water, and sheet rocks where the ponies and mules had to be unloaded, the loads manhandled down to the river bank and the animals loaded again. Four camps were set up in the Nubra valley at convenient stages and the base camp was sited at the snout of the Siachen glacier, in the midst of wild rose bushes and a variety of magnolia type trees. 'Sia-Chen* itself means wild roses.

Siachen glacier
The Siachen glacier lies between two groups of mountains-Chumik to the west and Terong in the east, with a large number of peaks over 6000 m (20,000 ft) height. They have steep gullies full of ice and loose boulders which frequently displace and bring roaring avalanches down on to the glacier. The glacier has a number of bands of moraine of different colours, ranging from light grey to black interspersed with huge ice pinnacles and seracs. Fast glacial streams taking circuitous routes swell as the day becomes warmer and bring down moraine, scree and boulders; one can hear sounds, as if of distant drums, made by the boulders tumbling down the streams.

The glacier is fairly active. For instance, at the snout of the glacier itself, large blocks of ice would crumble periodically causing the glacier to recede by a fair distance. Ropes had to be fixed with pitons on the steep rock face to enable loaded men to get on to the glacier. The changes in the glacier during the expedition necessitated frequent re-routing between camps - in all three camps were established on the glacier at convenient distances so that ferrying of loads between camps could be completed in the hours of daylight. The camps had to be carefully sited so as to avoid avalanches and strong cross winds from the chasmlike gullies. There were a large number of crevasses on the glacier, which perforce entailed our moving on circuitous routes. At places, however, they had to be crossed with the help of ladders made of aluminium and fixed ropes. Ice-pinnacles could generally be avoided; however, a few had to be negotiated by cutting ice-steps and securing the route with ropes.

The advanced base camp was sited near the confluence of three glaciers, the Siachen, Teram Shehr and Lolofond at a height of about 5180 m (12,000 ft), on the only patch of earth in the area with grass, juniper bushes, some edible plants and two freshwater lakes. Surprisingly, ibexes, ramchukors, waterfowl, ravens and a variety of finches and sparrows could be spotted. This 'island of earth' surrounded by glaciers and rugged mountains was indeed a miracle of nature. A few piles of stones and etching on a large rock which read Spedi- zione Dainelli, Campo Base, 26.VI-8.VIII.1930 indicated the presence of earlier expeditions as far back as the dawn of this century.

Apsarasas 1
The Apsarasas group of mountains lies to the north of Teram Shehr glacier and consists of a large massif with the ridge line running from west to east. The highest point is Apsarasas I, height 7245 m with Apsarasas II (7240 m) and Apsarasas III (7230 m) lying further east. These are some of the numerous virgin peaks in this part of the Kara- koram range.

A number of parties were sent out on various approaches to determine a suitable route to Apsarasas I. The western approach along the ridge line was found to be unsuitable as it had a formidable overhanging glacier on the route to the ridge line. Thereafter, further reconnaissance was carried out along the southwest, southern and two southeastern approaches over a period of one week. Finally one of the southeastern approaches was selected and summit Camp 1 was established on 7 September and summit Camp 2 on the next day.

At this stage the expedition was struck by bad weather; heavy snowfall with occasional blizzards prevented further progress on the mountain. The fixed ropes between the two summit camps were buried in the fresh snow and the members had to remain firm in their respective camps. For almost a week, they had to endure extreme privation in the sub-zero environment. The route to these camps was obliterated by avalanches which made a crashing sound as tons of ice and boulders came hurtling down the steep gullies on to the Teram Shehr glacier. It was indeed a trial of man's endurance against the vagaries of nature and our only solace was a silent prayer for God's blessings by way of a few clear days.

On 14 September the sun peeped through the clouds, the winds became calm and thereafter each day the sun shone.

A party of eight moved up to summit Camp 3 having used 15 fixed ropes to secure the route. The following day they reconnoitred the route to the summit and on 18 September, seven of them made an early start and scaled the summit of Apsarasas I at 11.12 a.m. They hoisted the Indian tricolour and the expedition flag. They stood in prayer, expressed their gratitude to the Gods of the mountains for having given them the strength to reach the summit and offered oblation. The second summit party of nine members, seeing that the weather was clear and the route to the summit had already been secured, ventured to climb 3000 ft at that altitude, fully aware that they could at best return to the security of a camp only after nightfall. They reached the summit at 3.30 p.m., took a few photographs and as the clouds were gathering fast, they hurried back and reached the camp at 9 p.m.

Another glorious chapter had been added to the history of mountaineering by these 16 gallant men of the Indian Army and it would be appropriate to record their names - 2/Lt P. P. Sharma, Company Havildar Major Hanu Ram, Havildars Kalom Singh, Shanker Bhota, Phunstok Bhutia, and Yeshe, Naik Bhawan Singh and Lance-Naiks Amar Singh, Tseten Phunstok and Sepoys Sobran Singh, Tundup Chhering, Chhering Tashi, Mohd Shafi, Topgyal, Karma Raptan and Jampa Lodo.

A word about logistics - during this expedition, 68 members assisted by 20 porters ferried over 25 tonnes of equipment and rations across 12 camps. Each man carried Up to 30 kg repeatedly between camps and marched more than 1000 km over some of the most difficult terrain in the Karakoram, in hostile weather and sub-zero temperatures. Our service mules with their devoted mule drivers pitched in to keep the base camp well stocked throughout the expedition