'AVALANCHE PEAK? That sounds dangerous', everyone opined. So did we. It is but natural to attach apprehension with the word avalanche. And with the phenomena it defines. However, as the planning progressed and we got involved, we would nonchalantly witness these disheartening opinions now disowned by our minds. It was the beginning of a year long love-hate relationship, the very -‘thing' we wanted to climb, but did not want to happen.

The history of the peak is brief. T. H. Tilly and Thompson from England scaled the peak in May, 1952,1 in their second attempt via southhwest face. The first attempt was thwarted by the mountain a lew days ago, when two team members were caught in an avalanche., Hence the name. Since then no one has climbed this peek. The mountain soars 6196 m-20,330 ft, surrounded by a formidable range of peaks, in the Bangneu glacier, which is sand-between Alaknanda and Arwa valleys.

On 25 May we began our approach march. In order to acclimatize better, we decided to add a day in our approach.

We shifted to our intermediate base camp (IBC, 12,500 ft), after one ferry in the morning. Four of us left for a recce of the route upto base camp. We had to enter the Bangneu valley along the Alkapuri stream. Aniruddha and myself took the path on the left bank, while the remaining two went on the snow-tongue, which rose very steeply after some distance, curving between two rocky cliffs.

Our path zigzagged on the steep flanks of Pawegarh (5306 m) whose rocky cliffs above us shrugged off many a stone. The path was tricky at a couple of spots and we wondered if the porters would make it by this route. From the top of this section, we discovered the lower Bangneu valley to be some 500 ft below us, running from NW to SE, befpre it plunged into the southbound steepness. The lower bed seemed 4p consist of dirty snow, melted at many spots, exposing a fair amount of rubble and boulders. The steep sides of the valley were unnerving. There was no option but to descend, which was also risky. Choosing a snow patch, with a low amount of activity, we descended to the central bed of the valley.

Note: 1. There are in fact two peaks named 'Avalanche Peak' in this area, both equally famous and named so evidently because they generated avalanche on their climbers. The peak attempted by the present team is at the head of Bangneu Hank, 6196 m.

T. H. Tilly and John Jackson were involved in an avalanche on this pealc. Jackson received superfluous bruises while Tilly twisted his knee and was carried to base camp in two days. (See H.J. Vol. XVIII, p. 106).

Two climbers David Bryson and Jackson returned to climb the peak on the 13 June 1952, The higher and the northerly, second ‘Avalanche Peak' is 6443 m peak south of Kalindi Khal. It was climbed by Eric Shipton and Frank SmytHe, on 22 July 1931 with two Sherpas. They were caught in two avalanches while returing. Smythe fractured a rib and both celebrities were lucky to have escaped. (H.J. Vol. IV, p. 40).-Ed.
After an hour and a half, we reached a Cwm. Here, two branches of the Bangneu glacier abruptly end in massive icefalls, which in turn are terminated by the huge walls of the rock below. The big heap below the icefall on our right (on Bangneu north glacier) silently witnessed the existence of a ferocious activity above. Surely enough, and far from being silent, a big chunk of ice dislodged itself to be disintegrated and merged on the heap at the bottom.

Still we were below our proposed Base Camp site, by about 500 ft. We were to climb the slopes on our left, towards Pawegarh and then set up the camp on the left of the glacier, Bangneu South. Luckily, the icefall on the left was milder and dirtier, signifying the absence of any major movement.

Considering the length of the route, we decided to have a temporary base camp (TBC, 15,000 ft) at that place. So we pitched a tent at a suitable spot and stored the load we had carried. A short discussion revealed that there was definitely a path up the gully and Subodh had followed it, during their recce, upto a point from where they could see the BC site.

Next morning, while the porters were engaged in making their loads, Subodh and I started at 6.00 a.m. to explore the route, which would be easier for the porters. We entered the snowbound gully and found a relatively easy, though steep, going. Assuming that there should not be any difficulty for the porters on this path, we moved further. The porters route, however, was entirely different; the one on the right, going along a gully leading to Bangneu peak (5706 m), then curving to the left below a grotesque rocky spire. It was longer than the other two routes, but certainly safe from the falling rocks.

It was 29 May, and we were behind our schedule in establishing our BC. In their first ferry, the members carried load up the slopes on the left of the TBC. After climbing gradually through the wide buttress, they turned towards the Bangneu South glacier. They passed by two icefalls, after each of which the glacier had a gradually sloping snowfield. On the second field, they pitched the tents, closer to the base of a rocky peak, 18,100 ft high. We later estimated the height of the camp to be 16,600 ft, from the bearings of the known peaks around. Our objective was still hidden behind a rocky rib, which divided the Bangneu glacier.



Shivering in the cold, --80C inside the tent, we woke up at 4.00 a.m. on 31st It took two full hours to get ready to leave. ! On that day three of us were to recce the route to Camp 1, while others were shifting from TBC to BC.

The further route involved moving upwards along the glacier, climbing the rocky rib, descending to the parallel course of Bangneu north glacier and crossing the snowfield on it. We had to take this circuitous route in order to avoid the dangerous ice-fall, and rockband of the spur and finally, the labyrinth of crevasses, which constituted the straight line route to Camp 1.Traversing towards west, on the snowclad flanks of the rocky peaks marking the southern boundary of the Bangneu valley, we climbed around 1000 ft. After covering three steps in the glacier, we reached a field which levelled with the top of the eastern spur.

This is where we saw our objective for the first time. Immediate comparison with the only photograph we had seen revealed much less snow on the slopes, ridges as well as the summit rocks. The last section on the southwest face and the mixed patch on the summit pyramid evoked a definite concern and I avoided a longer look, lest more difficulties were unfolded. We crossed the snow-field, keeping a safe distance from the sprawling crevasses. On top of the spur, we were enthralled by a dazzling panorama of the towering peaks of Nanda Devi sanctuary.

The descent from the spur was extremely steep and we could not see the slope beyond twenty ft from the top. After some hesitation, we ventured, to be aided by the soft snow arid Narayan's confidence. Sinking knee deep, we performed cycling motions to find ourselves at the bottom, at an amazing speed. It took us less than ten minutes to cover the height of 400 ft.

The glacier was gradually sloping, but badly lacerated by the crevasses to our right. Again a semi-circular detour on the width of the glacier took us to a point, from where the massive slopes of the peak rose suddenly. Finding it suitable to camp, we set up a tent and dumped our loads.

The more detailed inspection of the slopes of Avalanche Peak, through our binoculars, indicated an ideal spot for Camp 2. It was a gradual looking slope, on a fat bulge of snow, below a bergschrund. Above the bergschrund was a steep wall, estimated to be around 800 ft high. Prompted by the history of this avalanche prone slope, we had resolved to finish our summit bid before sunrise. We determined the time from Camp 2 to the top to be three hours, which was acceptable.

Having fixed the Camp 2 site, at 19,500 ft, we reconsidered the position of Camp 1. We would require to cover nearly 2500 ft, from the current Camp 1 to the proposed Camp 2. This meant that we would be tired and require a rest day at Camp 2, to be fresh for the summit attempt. So, we crossed the snowfield, passed the tent pitched for Camp 1 and climbed up until we reached a suitable spot. Here, we shifted Camp 1 at 17,500 ft.

On 2 June, we set off towards Camp 2, at 5.30 a.m. The snow was firm and progress was quick. The roping up had allayed our fears and there was no difficulty in selecting the route.

We were far to the left of a rocky rib, emanating halfway from the southwest slopes. Back in Bombay, we had decided to go round, from the right side of that ridge, thinking that it was a rock patch. But here, looking at the mountain, the idea was lbgically abandoned, since the left portion seemed less steep and besides, it directly led to the site of the Camp 2. The route on the right was certainly closer to the summit, but its steepness provided a well funnelled path for the nightmarish avalanches; We weaved our path through the snow-bulges, alternating between the steepness of their sides and flatness at their tops.

On coming close to the final snow-bulge, we explored the possibility of going to the left and meeting the west ridge. The option was eliminated immediately, as there was no suitable site for pitching a tent. Also the ridge housed a number of gendarmes, which would have retarded or blocked our progress along the ridge. It was 8.45 a.m., when we reached the proposed site. The summit looked titillatingly close and we managed to resist the temptation of having a quick go at the peak.

We returned at around 11.30 a.m. and waited for the support team to arrive with the load. After a quick lunch, they left. That afternoon, we were continuously reminded of Bombay, not due to homesickness or hallucinations, but due to the extremely hot weather. The temperature had shot up to 38°C, as recorded by our thermometer. Restlessly, we shunted in and out of the tent. I would not have believed that it could be so hot at 17,500 ft. We envied our colleagues at the Base, where the clouds apparently preferred to hover above. For once, we longed for the clouds.

The situation had even more discomforting implications than this. According to Narayan, the presence of this much heat heralded the arrival of rain. Remembering that it had rained on the previous evening, causing a lining of frost inside our tent and around our sleeping bags, we shuddered at the prospect of more. A short debate on pros and cons resulted in a decision of attempting the summit from Camp 1.

At 1 a.m., on the 3rd, I peeped out to witness the clear, starry sky, deciding to myself to make most of the opportunity. We roped up to leave in the darkness. We had to scramble for the first few minutes, which we took to get adjusted to the darkness, all of which was not dispelled by our single torch. Also the hardened snow caused our shoes to slip. Luckily we found our previous footmarks and followed them upto Camp 2. There was a steady wind, chilling our bones-even through our woollen wear and double mittens. Taking short rests to get rid of the bouts of breath-lessness, we reached Camp 2 at 4.40 a.m., faster than expected. We closed in on our first hurdle, the bergschr.und. Around ten feet in width, its two lips were almost in a vertical line. Luckily, we found a snow platform, bridging the two ends, rising at a gradual angle towards the right. From this point, the slope was steep and the face towered like a big wall. Climbing up was tiring but manageable.

After climbing 500 ft, we started traversing to the right, parallel to the ridge. We kept a distance of 100 ft from the ridge, fearing the presence of a cornice. We continued the traverse, through the rock, until we reached a snow-filled couloir. It led us to a protruding rock, forcing us to move to the right. We treaded our way through the loosely held boulders. Soon we reached the base of two horns, into which the summit bifurcated. We climbed the one on the right, as it was a shade taller than the other.

Subodh, Narayan and myself took turns for standing on the small overhanging rock, into which the massive peak culminated, rather stingily. It was 7.02 a.m. when we started descending, the beauty of the panoramic surroundings was permanently recorded in our minds. In that span of thirty minutes, we could see the peaks of Nanda Devi sanctuary, Nilgiri Parbat, Mukut Parbat, Mana, Kamet, Narayan Parbat, Nilkanth, Ekdant, Parbati Parbat, Balakun, Chaukhamba massif and peaks from Gangotri region. It was an unforgettable sight, with all the shiny peaks floating in a sea of grey and brown clouds. We felt humble and insignificant. It was time to return.