Himalayan Journal vol.43
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.43

Publication year:
1987

Editor:
Soli S. Mehta
Index
  1. THE ASCENT OF KULA KANGRI FROM TIBET
    (PROF KAZUMASA HIRAI)
  2. EDITORIAL
  3. KANGCHENJUNGA CLIMBED IN WINTER
    (ANDRZEJ MACHNIK)
  4. GYACHUNGKANG, 1986
    (LT COL JEAN-CLAUDE MARMIER)
  5. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MERA
    (MAL DUFF)
  6. DHAULAGIRI 1984-85
    (ADAM BILCZEWSKI)
  7. DHAULAGIRI I EAST FACE
    (STANE BELAK AND MARJAN KREGAR)
  8. FIRST ASCENT OF SULI TOP
    (RAMAKANT S. MAHADIK)
  9. AN INDO-FRENCH MOUNTAIN ROUND-UP
    (COLONEL BALWANT S. SANDHU)
  10. POLICEMEN IN KEDAR BAMAK
    (P. M. DAS)
  11. INDO -SWEDISH EXPEDITION TO MERU 1986
    (MANDIP SINGH SOIN)
  12. A VERY MODEST MOUNTAIN
    (EMLYN THOMAS)
  13. BASPA AND ROPA, 1986
    (M. H. CONTRACTOR)
  14. A NOTE ON KINNAUR
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  15. MENTHOSA; ALMOST
    (ALOKE SURIN)
  16. SIA KANGRI, 1986
    (MAJOR K. V. CHERIAN)
  17. SASER KANGRI III 1986
    (S. P. CHAMOLI)
  18. THE SOSBUN GLACIER BASIN
    (LINDSAY GRIFFIN)
  19. 1986 BRITISH K2 EXPEDITION
    (DAVE WILKINSON)
  20. AN ATTEMPT ON GASHERBRUM III, 1985
    (GEOFF COHEN)
  21. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  22. IN MEMORIAM
  23. BOOK REVIEWS
  24. CORRESPONDENCE
  25. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1986

INDO -SWEDISH EXPEDITION TO MERU 1986

MANDIP SINGH SOIN

AS WE SAT on the summit gazing at the peaks yonder with the stillness of body and mind, my thoughts drifted slowly to the earlier days of feverish correspondence, midnight meetings over beer and the confused beginnings. Here was a perfect ending to a shaky beginning, what with the near absence of our administrative work and organisation. Our team members were Ake Nilsson from Sweden, now temporarily based in Trivandrum, Birger And-ren from Sweden, based in Stockholm, Cham Sharma from Hyderabad and Tejvir Singh Khurana, and myself from Delhi.

The idea of Meru North (6450 m) came about after the abortive attempt of Ake's team in autumn the previous year, when they had reached just a pitch under the Meru north col which was the crux. Bad weather and continuous snow made them abandon their route. They had fixed almost 800 m of rope after ABC. So, when Ake suggested that why not do Meru alpine-style, I readily agreed.

By the first quarter of 1986, we had some sort of a team, and we set about trying to see what equipment wre would need and how much funds we would have to raise. A few years ago, my organisation had organised the Austrian Meru expedition, and we had seen their brochure. It looked a very interesting route giving climbing both on rock and snow. One of the common links between us was that all four of us were keen rock climbers. This, in the end was an important factor for the prevailing harmony of our team.

Having realised the kind of terrain we would have on the mountain and having decided on a lightweight attempt, our equipment and food was tailored accordingly. We took one leading-rack of rock climbing gear, and another half as a security. Three basic climbing ropes which included one for hauling. The rack included friends, nuts, hexs and rock pitons, including a few titanium ones. The figure of eight, Sticht plate and the Shunt were important ingredients. We avoided carrying any tents beyond ABC, as we decided to bivouac with sleeping bags and bivvy bags. Food was freeze-dried packets and lots of soup, hot drinks and chocolates. We seemed to prefer the freeze dried fruits the most. Hardly any meat or full-meal freeze dried packets were consumed.

We started off on 22 August from Delhi and carried through to Uttarkashi, reaching late evening on the 23rd, as there were 2 land- slides between Rishikesh and Uttarkashi. The next day's bus ride brought us to three more landslides - load ferrying and shedding off the first kilogram of fat. An expedition from the U.K. was going our way till Gangotri from where they were to go to the Jogin group. This was the British Police team, 20 strong with a lot of private detectives, a dinghy boat, a fishing rod for Kedar Tal, and a computer for studying various medical problems. They got no fish, but got up the two Himalayan peaks and were heard saying 'Elementary, my dear Watson. What's on next?' They also had two sets of T. Shirts, one pre-expedition which said 'I'm going Jogin' and the post-expedition one that said 'I've been Jogin'. From Gangotri to Tapovan is a trek generally done in two days of easy walking. However, we decided to do it in three since the steady gain in altitude would help us later. Also there had been too many cases of oedema and general high altitude sickness in the past with people doing this stretch in two days, and then spending another two getting back in shape. As it turned out this was a good decision as none of us had any problems at or after Tapovan. In fact, most of us had some headaches at Bhujbas itself, but the steady walk upto Tapovan cleared all that. So having spent a night at Gangotri on 24 August, we spent 25th at Chirbas and 26th at Bhujbas. On the 27th, we were at base camp in Tapovan, and the 28th we gave ourselves a rest day to sort out our gear and breathe the crisp mountain air.

Photos 8-0
Assembled at base camp, we were now 2 Swedes - Ake and Birger; 3 Indian climbers - Charu, Teji and myself, 2 Indian doctor trekkers Grover and Pathak from the Safdarjung hospital, 1 French trekker - Jean Phillipe Deauchamps and 1 Indian trekker - John Philipose from Trivandrum. Along with us was our liaison officer Sqn. Ldr. A. K. Srivastava. The two doctors were to conduct some tests and take back the data and samples to the University College of Medical Sciences in Delhi. Jean Phillips was to help in the shooting of the video film whilst Johny (Philipose) and Anil CLO) would be general support in case of emergencies.

On the 29th morning, we made a slow and aching attempt to dump some material at our proposed ABC. Keeping IShivling on our left, we walked up along a grassy rib and crossed the moraine. Further up, under the vast face of Meru was our proposed site on the Meru glacier, which we never reached on our first day of dumping loads.

On the 30th, we made another ferry to ABC, at c. 5000 m this time reaching it. We gave ourselves a rest day on the 31st, and prepared ourselves by lazing about and eating chips which were being sliced diligently by Teji. However, on one of the routine blood pressure checks, it had been discovered that Birger was suffering from abnormally high blood pressure. The doctors all felt that he should not go higher and this was a great disappointment both to Birger and to us as he was a strong climber, and had done a fair share of leading in the 1985 attempt. He opted for caution and started back for Sweden. That whole day was spent discussing the rock pitches and trying to arrive at a judicious balance of how many ropes to take along, what diameter and what lengths. Almost, as if in a class room, the evening saw great discussions on the types of belays and knots, each trying to put the other's system down, though each secure in the knowledge that all knew that all knew. After dinner, we had cheese and snifters as Mugs Stump and Lyle Dean and others from the American camp came over. They were going to Kedar Dome on a practice climb and then attempt Meru and Shivling, We talked of everything under the sun, ranging from climbing equipment to climbing blondes.

On 1 September, we went from BC to ABC. Our trekkers and cook gave us a hand with the final lug up of our gear. The next morning, we saw how much more we needed to prune, since the rucksacks weighed a ton. The sun normally hit the face quite early around 6 a.m. and on the 2nd morning, we geared up and left Jean Phillipe to film us through the large video camera from below. Ake had taken along the small Handy Cam video camera which was the size of 2 Walkmans put together.

We found the old fixed ropes of the 1985 attempt and decided that the first man would lead through being belayed by the second and keep securing one of our ropes wherever there was a doubt. This was not very fast, since at a lot of places the rope was damaged by rock fall. However, we started jumaring up, first Ake, then Teji, followed by Charu and I brought up the rear. The first bivvy we aimed for at 5550 m was in a sort of alcove along a huge rock wall. This we called the 'Swallow's Nest' and the climbing was through shalish rock with a lot of rubble, but luckily there were enough rocky outcrops and boulders where the runners could be put and pitons hammered in. We reached the 'Swallow's Nest' not very happy about our loads and proceeded to go through our stuff once again to offload whatever possible. Charu kept back his toothbrush, pen etc. whilst we all collectively thinned out some of the rock gear.

The next morning we attempted to reach the col at c. 5850 m. However, the going got tougher and steeper and after a strenuous ascent we came to the crux, and indeed the high point of the 1985 attempt. The overall rock climbing was of Hard Severe Standard (British). However, the second last pitch was a VS Standard and the last pitch a Mild Severe. We had taken turns leading and by the time Ake started on the 2nd last pitch, it was getting late in the afternoon. The pitch was very strenuous probably made more so by appearing at the end of the day. Ice had formed in the gully and water was dripping. The angle was 80° and some amount of loose rock flew about. We all wore helmets and I had two direct hits. Had I been wearing a turban it would have caused some headache.

By the time I had got up the 2nd last pitch, darkness completely enveloped us. Ake and I rappelled down and then we all decided to rappel one more pitch down to a sloping ledge. This was decidedly our most uncomfortably bivvy as we hammered in pitons and secured ourselves and sat on this sloping place. We wore our harnesses and as one dozed off and slid taut on the rope, there was a rude pressure with which we would wake up - we called this the 'Ge Nital Bivvy' at 5750 m.

The next morning, 4 September, we woke early as the sun hit us and started up. We lost a fair bit of time as we decided to haul our rucksacks. We went up the gully pitch and I led off the last pitch to the col. There were some old pitons at the anchor point. I put in some new ones and after what seemed an age} we were all up at the col after having got all our rucksacks up. We then dumped all our rock climbing gear very thankfully and with mainly snow gear such as Dead Man and limited ice gear, we started our walk on soft snow, sinking to our ankles. We did not follow the ridge along the skyline since the snow was soft and giving belays wouldn't be very safe, and the exposure seemed great at places. We chose to follow a route more or less up the centre of the face, weaving our way initially through seracs. We made our next bivvy as soon as the plain walking merged with the slope of the face. We had intended to make a cave but lack of time, energy and the fact that it wasn't so cold had us cut out a sort of platform wide enough for four. This was at 8000 m and we called it the 'Platform Bivvy'.

Next morning, we hurried about making a hot drink and pretended it was a pre-dawn start. An early start was something we never managed throughout the expedition.

There was a certain amount of route finding to be done and though we thought we would make it to the summit and back, we carried our bivvy bags. The route was long and we had to cross one major and two minor crevasses. The going was slow as the sun shone overhead and the snow was soft. Alternating leads, we reached 6250 m in the late evening and decided to bivvy - we found a covered crevasse along a snow wall. This place was quite cold at night and though we piled up snow-blocks on one side as a wind breaker it was difficult to cook. We had one burner and a gas cylinder (Husch). If anything frustrated Ake it was the non-opening of knots when he would utter 'Sautan' in Swedish. We named our bivvy the 'Sautan Bivvy' - in Swedish in meant the Satan Bivvy. It was indeed a Satanic night of shivering as we lay and sat up alternatively without our sleeping bags with the coils of our ropes and rucksacks spread under us.

The morning of 6 September saw us pushing on towards the summit. The angle of the snow slope was about 50°, and at places 60°. Two pitches below the summit it became 70° and Teji led in fine style upto the crest from where Ake took over. The walk on the summit ridge was beautiful and exhilarating. We sat on the summit crest with legs on either side and looked around, elevated.

We descended the same day via the 'Sautan Bivvy' down to our Platform Bivvy' add it got dark en route. We had on headlamps and managed to reach safely. The next morning on the 7th, we came to the col and started rappeling down. We spent the night at the 'Swallow's Nest'. The next day, we went down to the ABC and along with Jean Phillipe who was waiting for us, we walked down to base. It had taken us 8 days from BC to summit and back to BC.

Meru group, Gangotri glacier. I  to  r : South, Central and North.  (M.S. Soin)

Meru group, Gangotri glacier. I to r : South, Central and North. (M.S. Soin)



Route  on Meru North.  (M.S. Soin)

Route on Meru North. (M.S. Soin)