A Two-man Ascent


FOR A long time we had been thinking to make our Himalayan expeditions compact, light-weight and cheap. On our previous expeditions we had found that the planning and execution had been so cumbersome, that with increasing professional responsibilities we were finding it more and more difficult to go to the mountains as often as we would like to. Finally, this year we put all our weight- and expenditure-reducing ideas to work and the two of us climbed Sri Kailas (6932 m — 22,744 ft) in the Gangotri region of the Garhwal Himalaya starting from Bombay and returning to Bombay within twenty-six days. We carried only the items that we considered a must. This way, we were able to manage with two porter-loads besides our personal gear and our total expenditure was less than two thousand rupees.

Sri Kailas, being the third highest mountain in the Gangntri region and standing only 68 m lower than the critical 7000 m height, has attracted many mountaineers. It was climbed by a German expedition led by R. Schwarzgruber on 16 October 1938 by the west ridge.1 The mountain received its first Indian ascent when an expedition led by D. Pandya climbed it in 1963.2 There were two unsuccessful attempts in 1977,3 one by Parvataroki of Bombay led by Ranvir Singh and the other by Giri-Bhraman of Pune led by Vijay Mahajan. Ranvir Singh has visited this area again in 1979 and 1980. After reading the reports of the previous expeditions and studying the map of the region, one thing immediately realized was that the approach to the mountain was very long and difficult. Previous expeditions had had difficulty in reaching the base of the mountain and we reasoned that being a light-weight two-member party, we would be more flexible and in a better position to handle this approach.

The Approach

On 23 September we left Bhujbas before 8.00 a.m. The sky was a little cloudy, but we hoped it would clear up soon like it had happened the previous day. We soon entered Raktavarn glacier and climbed over the terminal moraine. By now the sky was full of clouds and the wind had picked up speed. We were only about an hour and a half away from the camp site by the side of Thelu nala and were eager to get there before the weather got worse. We went ahead thinking that this would encourage our porters to walk faster. At last we had to walk back for about twenty minutes and still there was no sign of porters. They had found a protected place for themselves under a rock and were comfortably sleeping covered with their blankets while we were shivering in our wet clothes! We had learnt a lesson, never walk in snowfall unless you are returning to your well-established camp. Thus our Camp 1 was much short of its intended place.


  1. See H.J. Vol. XI, p. 145.—Ed.
  2. See H.J. Vol. XXIV, p. 169.
  3. See HJ, Vol, XXXV, p. 234,—Ed,


Next morning the weather was clear but very cold, and it was almost 9.30 a.m. by the time we wound up everything and left for Camp 2. When we reached the normal camp site on the true right bank of Thelu nala, we found a blue tent nicely pitched and a lot of luggage, belonging to a party attempting Thelu peak. We were walking about 500 ft higher than the glacier level and the going was very comfortable for about an hour. But soon we encountered a wide and deep gorge. We were forced to climb up till the gorge allowed us to cross over, climbing was over loose, steep scree and with the load, we were slipping now and then. Finally we reached a place where we could cross over. After crossing the gorge we traversed similar scree on the other side till it became fiat again. By this time we were so tired that we decided to camp.

On 26 September we left this camp early to recce Camp 3 and our porter went back to Camp 1 to' bring the remaining load. We were under the impression that what we had crossed yesterday was Swetvarn Bamak, but as it turned out, that was the scree and multiple nalas coming from the basin leading to Koteshwar. Within twenty minutes after leaving the camp wejwere at Swetvarn Bamak where, we climbed up the terminal moraine and got down on the other side to Swetvarn nala. _We got down on Kaktavarn Bamak and now we were "Torced to walk ion the glacier proper. There were big craters and we had to get down in each one and climb up on the other side and all this over big moraine. We were watching each step and many times almost jumping from one big rock to another. By noon we were tired of these acrobatics and decided to return. We had reached the meeting-point of Shyamvarn Bamak and Kaktavarn Bamak. We had carried some load with us which we dumped at a suitable location and turned back. On the way back we looked for some alternative way to reach Camp 2 so that we could avoid climbing up and down the terminal moraine of Swetvarn Bamak but it was futile. We traced back our path and found that our porter had already returned from Camp 1.

We shifted to Camp 3 on the next day after discarding some of our luggage at Camp 2. Same day we made a trip to the junction of Nilambar Bamak and Baktavarn Bamak. We found a suitable camp site on the true right bank of Baktavarn Bamak where there was plenty of water. We dumped the load we had carried and returned to Camp 3. After about one hour distance from Camp 3, Baktavarn Bamak changed its east-west course and turned north. As soon as we turned north, we' saw Sri Kailas for the first time but it still looked far away. Its height did not make any impact on us due to the distance that lay between us. In Bombay we had planned for five camps but after seeing the peak we studied the map again in more detail and realized that we would require a total of six camps from Bhujbas. But this meant that we would have to carry food for six to seven days and equipment all by ourselves.

Sri Kailas from Expedition - 1982.

Sri Kailas from Expedition - 1982.

After Camp 4 the tortuous moraine was over and we were very happy to put on our crampons and walk on the hard glacier snow. Here the slopes coming down from Sri Kailas had broken down into an icefall before meeting the glacier. We knew that we had to climb this icefall from the extreme right. We walked on the glacier for about one hour and then entered the icefall. There were high seracs on both sides but we were able to find a continuous slope to the top. We were under the impression that there was a long fiat ground after this icefall upto the West Col of Sri Kailas but we found that the fiat ground extended only for about half a kilometre. To the loft of this ground there was a moraine ridge leading into a rocky hump and to the right there was a big steep ice-wall. We crossed - the flat ground and climbed up the steep .gully, between the rocky ridge and the tall seracs that were on the right. To the south of Sri Kailas there is another unnamed peak (6587 m-21,605 ft) and the South ridge of this peak is rocky in parts, and ends in the ice- fall. There is another fiat ground at the base of this ridge and above the ice-wall mentioned earlier. We should have gone over this ground hut we saw it only, after reaching the top of the rock hump (marked 0038 m on the map). We hoped to see the west ridge of Sri Kailas and the West Col from this top but they were still hidden behind I he west ridge of the unnamed peak and another snow hump that was straight ahead of us. Disappointed by this discovery we were now fully convinced that a sixth camp was a must. We dumped our food load on top of the rock, chose a site for Camp 5 and returned.

Only now we could really appreciate that we still had a lot of distance to cover in addition to the 2100 m altitude to be climbed. Therefore we opted for another rest day at Camp 4, before moving up. Next day we packed up early, walked to the base of the ice- fall, climbed it and halted for rest. We realized that though we had done this route two days back, we were much slower today due to the load we were carrying. It would have taken us another two to three hours to reach the top of the rock hump where we had dumped our food. We were in no mood to do it

We avoided climbing that clay but more than paid for it next day when we wound up Camp 5 and pitched the summit camp, our sixth ramp from Bhujbas. We reached the top of the rock hump where we had dumped our food by the same route that we had taken three flays back, without any difficulty. We had not taken any water with us because we had found some water on the way earlier. But today there was no water at that place because we had reached the place early in the morning and the ice had not yet melted, we collected the load, reached the top of the snow hump that was just above the rock hump. It was a very flat hump and we walked almost till the other end and were very much disappointed to see what lay ahead. We had to get down about 500' ft to the ground that was at the base of the south ridge of the unnamed peak (6587 m-21,605 ft) and at the head of this ground there was another icefall. We got down to the basin and walked to the base of the icefall through some very soft snow with our heads low7. At the base when we had a. closer look at the icefall we could pick out a line to climb up. Up to almost half way up, we had a comfortable slope of hard snow. Then a deep but narrow crevasse had to be crossed and we gained a steep ice-ridge covered with crevasses on both sides. This continued for about forty feet and then the slope eased again. It took us roughly forty-five minutes to climb the icefall. Only now we could see real long flat ground ahead of us.

Still we could not see the West Col of Sri Kailas because even though the ground ahead looked fiat, there was a gradual climb. Relieved that the icefall was over, we became less cautious but very soon Shashank who .was in the lead that time found himself bridged across a narrow but deep crevasse with his left foot on one side, hands on the other side and the right foot dangling in air. It was a very narrow escape. When we reached the first hump that was just ahead of us we saw another hump far away and the col was still not seen. Now the crevasses were almost over and we were walking on hard snow. If we were to reach the peak next day, we had to go as close to the col as possible and camp. We must reach the top of the hump that was ahead of us. We trod like this for almost one hour and then it was just not possible for us to go any further. We thought to ourselves ! 'So what if we cannot see the col, we are almost on top of the hump. See, the ground is flatter, the snow harder and it is a good site for a camp.' So that was our Camp 6. We saw a panorama of peaks in front of us bathing in evening light.

The Summit Climb

On 5 October we got up before 4.00 a.m. and finally left at 7.30 a.m. We walked a few steps and the West Col of Sri Kailas was there in front of us. How much we wanted to see it the previous day but today our eyes were fixed on the peak and we simply felt a little comfort that our summit camp wasn't far from where we wanted it to be. The southwest face of Sri Kailas looked very steep and broken at places. The south ridge was gradual but we would have to climb part of the southwest face to gain it and that looked difficult. So we decided to stick to our plan to gain the West Col and reach the peak via the west ridge, as had been done by our predecessors. The snow was crisp and we reached the bottom of the face leading to the West Col within half an hour. On the slope the snow was initially soft. We may have reached about half-way up and we, found that there was a bergschrund separating us from the upper part of the slope. Now we roped up. Shashank took the lead and crossed the bergschrund at a convenient place. Once on the other side, he found himself standing on hard ice. But when he looked up towards the col and then towards the peak he was not sure whether he should continue. The col was not seen due to the steepness of the wall ahead of him and the entire wall to the right, left and up, was covered with hard, blue ice and was brightly shining in the morning sunlight. It would have taken a long time. So we retreated and looked for an easier slope to our left. We traversed the slope exactly in the direction opposite to the peak for about 100 ft and we did find a gentler slope with hard snow on it. Reaching the top of the slope was just a matter of time and once on the ridge we had to climb down to the col before we started climbing up the west ridge of Sri "Kailas. We were on the col by about 11 a.m.

The peak looked very close from here but we were aware that the ridge was very foreshortened now and from the map we had estimated, looking at the height difference and the distance to be covered, that it would take us about three hours to reach the peak from the col. We left the col without wasting time. We did not see any high peaks towards the north, the side we were able to see after reaching the col. We were now very much aware of the cornice on the ridge. The north face of Sri Kailas was completely rocky and flanked by west and east ridges, both of which were heavily corniced. We stayed as much away from the cornice as the slopes on the south allowed us. Both of us walked simultaneously, concentrating on a rock that was seen at the top of the ridge. We were not able to see the summit itself, but we had marked from the summit camp that the rock was very close to the summit. We did not want to see the time but couldn't help noticing that another hour had passed and we were feeling the tiredness. The rock still looked as far. Now the slope of the ridge increased but it still offered comfortable climbing because the snow was hard. The increased steepness reduced our speed but at the same time, the rock had started getting bigger and bigger.

Once we passed the rock we could see the south ridge and we knew that we were not far. As the south ridge got closer we noticed that even that ridge was corniced. When we were about five feet away from the meeting point of the south and the west ridges, we knew we were on top but did not dare to go any further because of the cornices on both ridges. The peak is conical and there is no flat ground at all. With Chandrashekhar firmly anchored, Shashank went close to the edge and confirmed that they were on top. It was 1.10 p.m. We were amazed to see the number of peaks towards west, south and east. To the northeast the terrain was almost devoid of snow and did not rise into any high peaks. In the foreground there were so many peaks that we had a difficult time to locate Sudarshan Pnrbat, but once located its east ridge looked formidable, We kept looking at this panorama absolutely spell-bound. By, then we had spent almost half an hour on top. We shook hands, and started down. Initially we were worried that we may have to belay each other but we found that the snow was still very hard and we did not have any problems descending. After the col we again climbed up a little towards the dome on the other side and traced back our footprints. Once on the other side of the bergschrund we glissaded down to the bottom of the slope in no time. But the snow in the basin had become very soft by now and in that tired condition we really cursed it. We reached our tent by about 4 p.m. We were' very happy and relaxed.

Sponsored by: The Himalayan Club.

Looking back along the final ridge on Agyasol.

24. Looking back along the final ridge on Agyasol. Photo: S. Richardson Article 12

Agyasol (left) and Spear peak (right) from the north.

25. Agyasol (left) and Spear peak (right) from the north. Photo: L. Griffin Article 12

Agyasol (left) and Spear peak (right) from the north.

2G. East Pillar of Nanga Parbat. The route of ascent, 1982. Photo: H. Herrligkoffer Article 17

Sri Kailas from Raktavarn glacier. Route of two-man ascent, 1982.

Sri Kailas from Raktavarn glacier. Route of two-man ascent, 1982. (Photo: S. Kulkarni)


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