THE CHANDRA PARBAT (6728 m) expedition 1984 commemorated the decennary year of our club, 'Diganta' (Calcutta) with an attempt to climb Chandra Parbat situated in the Gangotri-Chaturangi glacier area of Garhwal Himalaya.

Three previous expeditions have climbed the mountain. In 1938, a six-member Austrian team led by Prof. R. Schwarzgruber, among many other notable achievements, had made the first ascent of Chandra Parbat.1 Frauenberger and Spannraft reached the top on 11 September 1938 following the west ridge. Their report barely outlined the details of what appeared to be a deceptively easy climb. In 1965, an Indian Air Force team led by Pilot Officer Raju climbed Chandra Parbat.2 Members of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police reached the top on 29 September 1974.3
Chandra Parbat is bounded on its west by Suralaya Bamak and on its east by Seta Bamak. To its north is the Chaturangi Bamak into which the Suralaya and Seta Bamaks flow. Of its ridges, one runs north for a distance and then turns northwest and then west and drops down to the junction of the Suralaya and Chaturangi Bamaks. A second ridge dips southeast and then ascends to Pt 6739 m, the higher neighbour of Chandra Parbat. The third and most accessible ridge is the west ridge which ends to the true right of Suralaya Bamak. This was our proposed route.

The team with 29 porters reached Gangotri on 11 May, Bhujbas on the 12th and Nandanban the next day. The porters refused to make a carry to Vasuki Tal and they were forced to set up base camp at Nandanban. Three high altitude porters stayed with them.

After a load-dump on the 14th, advance base camp was established on the western bank of Vasuki Tal the next day. 16 and 17 May were spent in recce and load-ferrying. Dhar and Pulak established Camp 1 (5100 m) on the 18th. It was situated on the true left lateral moraine of Chaturangi Bamak and below Pt 5801 m. En route they had traversed the snow-covered northern slope of Vasuki Parbat and crossed Sundar Bamak. Camp 2 (5200 m) was sited on the true left lateral moraine of Suralaya Bamak and below the east face of Pt 5801 m, which is the northern-most bastion of the Sundar-Suralaya divide. Dhar and Pulak moved to Camp 2 on 20 May. Chandra Parbat was to the east across the {Suralaya Bamak. (Photo 7)
  1. H.J. Vol. XI, p. 142.
  2. HJ. Vol. XXVI, p. 174.
  3. Himalayan Club Newsletter 33, p. 27.
Photo 7
From the summit, the west ridge drops down to Suralaya Bamak but at its lower reaches it is not clear cut but splays out into a rocky buttress with scattered snow-patches. On the 21st, Dhar and Pulak traversed the crevasse-ridden Suralaya Bamak and negotiated the steep lower part of the west ridge and buttress. They moved south and found a suitable camp site about 150 m above the glacier bed and about 400 m south of the west ridge but the route was too dangerous for a normal ferry. They had to find a safer route. So they descended to the glacier by an ice-gully and moved across to Camp 2 where Rabin, Beni and Chayan joined them.

The morning of 23 May was very cold and a chilly wind and tiredness compelled them to take rest. Later, the wind abated and Dhar and Pulak fixed rope in the ice-gully to make the route safe. Loads were ferried by members and porters to subsequent higher camps. Rabin stayed at Camp 3 (5700 m). The summit of Chandra Parbat could not be seen from this camp. To the southwest Satopanth towered high, its north ridge falling abruptly to about 6100 m and continuing north to Pt 5801 m, thus forming the Sundar-Suralaya divide. Over this ridge, one could see the east face of Vasuki Parbat where numerous avalanches came thundering down. East of Satopanth and connected to it by a rigde is the beautiful Pt 6666 m.

They were not happy about the conditions on the ridge to their east and ruled out a direct approach on the west ridge. However, the route to the summit was by the west ridge and the only recourse was to gain the ridge higher up. Moving to the northern slopes of the west ridge is impossible as this slope is very steep and adorned by many hanging ice-bulges. Their only option was to move south and try the slope.

Accordingly on the 24th Rabin, Dhar and Pulak traversed south at about the same level of Camp 3. After moving for an hour in ankle deep snow they reached a platform. To the east was a difficult steep slope with mixed pitches of rock and snow. Loads were dumped and Dhar and Rabin went for a recce of the slope. Pulak returned to Camp 3 where he met Debabrata, Chayan, Pronab, Jiban and Beni who had come up with loads. The latter two returned to Camp 2. Dhar and Rabin returned to Camp 3 at 5 p.m. and reported that they had climbed up the slope and then traversed south and found a small ice-free zone where Camp 4 (6050 m) could be established. Their route was dangerous and they descended by a moderate 300 m ice-slope situated further south

On 25th May Dhar, Pulak, Rabin, Pronab, Debabrata and Chayan, all heavily laden, started from Camp 3 at 8 a.m. Dumped materials were picked up and in another two hours they reached the base of the gully used by Rabin and Dhar the previous day. After a very tiring ascent Camp 4 was established at about 2 p.m. just below the ice-slopes. This camp was above the bend in the Suralaya Bamak. Camp 4 afforded a good view of ISuralaya Bamak.

Two ropes with three members each set out on 26 May. The first obstacle was of about 150 m either hard ice or on mixed rock and ice and then the northeast traverse to the west ridge. After some anxious moments on very difficult ground they retraced their path to Camp 4. Fixed ropes and more time was required. Rabin, Chayan and Pronab continued down to Camp 3 to bring up more supplies.

On 27 May, Dhar, Debabrata and Pulak were engaged in finding an alternative route protected from high winds. They traversed northeast and climbed up. A route appeared feasible; it was longer but perhaps it offered a reasonable chance of reaching the west ridge. They reached Camp 4 in deteriorating weather where Jiban, Chayan, Pronab and Susanta had come up.

Chandra Parbat Expedition 1984

Chandra Parbat Expedition 1984

The next day Dhar, Debabrata, Chayan, Pronab and Pulak started for the summit. On the traverse Chayan's crampon came loose and with great difficulty they retreated to a safer position. Valuable time was lost and the summit had to wait for another day. Chayan went down to Camp 3. Dhar and Debabrata left camp to fix rope. Around 2 p.m. high wind turned into a blizzard. They had come down part of the way but then lay anchored to the surface. A fibre-glass tent pole at Camp 4 snapped into two and the tent collapsed. Pronab and Pulak dismantled the tent and sat huddled over it with the tent outer wrapped around them. At 5 p.m. the snowfall stopped and the blizzard subsided. Half an hour later Debabrata and Dhar reached Camp 4, cold and utterly exhausted. The good news was that they had fixed ropes on the difficult sections.

Exhaustion ruled out any meaningful attempt on the 29th. Moreover, a direct route to the west ridge would be welcome. Debabrata and Pulak went north but could not find a route. Dhar and Pronab found a direct but more difficult route. A falling stone inflicted a small cut on Dhar's scalp.

The members started on 30 May with a plan to set up a higher camp and attempt the summit the next day. Unfortunately, first Pronab and then Debabrata had a fall in separate incidents. Both were held on the rope but were visibly shaken. They decided not to go up and spent another night at Camp 4.

All four set out at 6 a.m. on the cold, windy but clear dawn of 31 May. They traversed first and then climbed up the next three pitches to reach the lower end of the fixed rope. It had taken an hour and fifteen minutes. The 100 m fixed rope was covered. Then a precarious traverse of about 70 m over a sharp ice-rib and they were below a huge cornice. Dhar tackled it first and they reached a fairly easy ice-buttress. They moved north. The first four pitches were on good cramponable-snow, but later the hard ice-slope became dangerous with surface melt. Dhar led and they moved on belays. At around noon they completed the traverse to the north and were at a point more or less vertically above Camp 3. Then with extreme caution they tackled a 60° slope to the northeast. It was a long route and movement was slow. At about 3 p.m. they negotiated a crevasse and then gained the west ridge. However, the summit was still barred from their view and much hard work remained. The climb was difficult on the windswept hard ice. After some distance the slope eased out as they went over a bulge. They stood on a huge cornice and to their east the gigantic white summit pyramid soared up into the azure blue sky. It was a breathtaking sight. 150 m of a narrow, serrated ridge heavily corniced to the north now separated them from the base of the summit pyramid. An abdominal pain forced Pronab to take rest and Pulak stayed with him. It was 5 p.m. Dhar and Debabrata moved on very slowly and cautiously and by the time they were halfway across, Pronab and Pulak followed. At 5.45 p.m. Dhar started on the steep summit pyramid belayed by Debabrata. The climb seemed to be endless and the limits of endurance had nearly been reached. The eastern horizon was gradually opening up to the view on either side of the summit pyramid. The climb continued and then Dhar was seen against the back-drop of the sky. He went down on his knees. It was 6.55 p.m. Dhar slowly got up and showed the victory sign with a loud cheer. At the twilight hours of sunset all four stood on the summit of Chandra Parbat. Thirteen hours of agony were over but the ecstasy had to wait - until after the climb down.

The summit was very small in area and it was very difficult for all four to stand together. Of the three ridges, the narrow and corniced west ridge by which they made the final climb appeared to be the safest. This ridge took a slight curve towards the northeast near the summit pyramid. The sharp and icy southeast ridge had a quick descent from the summit, became rocky and with an abrupt rise culminated in Pt 6739 m. Another ice-ridge from the summit sharply descended towards north and then turned west to end near the confluence of Suralaya and Chaturangi Bamaks. Its turning point had highly serrated ice-portions. The western face in between the west and north ridges had a vertical drop of about 250 m ending on a huge ice-projection and far below was the huge tangled debris of ice to be discharged into the Suralaya Bamak. The eastern face in between the north and southeast ridges plunged out of sight after a highly inclined slope of about 30 m from the summit, suggesting its sharp drop to the Seta Bamak. The icy south face had a minimum slant of 60° and appeared like a single ice-sheet in a 'mirror-finish' by wind. A mild breeze blowing from the northwest carried mist from below. The sun was setting to the right of Vasuki Parbat. They could identify some peaks around.

At 7.20 p.m. they started descending. By the time they reached the base of the summit pyramid, it was dark. The night was windless. Around 9 p.m. they were on the big cornice from where they had first seen the summit pyramid. They descended in two ropes and with two torches on. The surface melt and slushy snow over hard ice were frozen by the night's cold and the possibility of slipping was reduced. After crossing the crevasse they abseiled a small hard ice-pitch and reached the traversing point. Pulak dropped his torch and lost the trail. Dhar started searching and finally found the mark over the cornice (which they had crossed early in their ascent). It was midnight and they stood 200 m from the safety of Camp 4. Dhar and Pronab went over the cornice with a belay and the other two followed. After the nerve-shattering traverse over the knife-edge ice-rib, they reached the top of the fixed rope. They abseiled down and almost dashed into the tent at Camp 4 after being on their feet for more than nineteen hours. It was 1-30 a.m.

Around noon on 1 June, they continued their descent. An anxious Jiban, greeted them at Camp 3. The next day they went down to the Suralaya Bamak which had changed beyond recognition. The nightmare continued on 3 June. Somehow the retreat ended as they tottered into base camp late at night.

Members: Pulak Mazumdar (leader), Rabin Banerjee (deputy leader), Samarendra Nath Dhar, Jiban Krishna Paul, Samir Banerjee, Tapas Sarkar, Pronab Kumar Saha, Chayan Chakroborty, Benimadhab Bhattacharya, Debabrata Seal. Sachin Karati and Dr Sanatan Bhattacharya.

Chandra Parbat: N ridge on left, W ridge on right. (S. N. Dhar)

Chandra Parbat: N ridge on left, W ridge on right. (S. N. Dhar)