Himalayan Journal vol.44
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.44

Publication year:
1988

Editor:
Soli S. Mehta
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. MOUNTAINS AND RIVERS OF THE HIMALAYA: THEN AND NOW
    (JACK GIBSON)
  3. MEMORIES
    (MAVIS HEATH)
  4. ZHANGZI - AUTUMN, 1987
    (JOSS LYNAM)
  5. BRITISH XIXABANGMA Expedition, 1987
    (LT COL M. W. H. DAY)
  6. MENLUNGTSE, 1987
    (CHRIS BONINGTON)
  7. KINGDOM OF THE THUNDER DRAGON
    (S. K. BERRY)
  8. RATHONG, 1987
    (MAJOR K. V. CHERIAN)
  9. PANDIM - DIARY OF A WAR-TIME ESCAPADE
    (LORD JOHN HUNT)
  10. MAKALU
    (GLENN PORZAK)
  11. CHO OYU, 1987
    (Dr MAURICIO A. PURTO)
  12. KUMAON SECRETS
    (GEOFF HORNBY)
  13. FIRST ASCENT OF CHIRBAS PARBAT, 1986
    (INDRANATH MUKHERJEE)
  14. KALANAG EAST FACE EXPEDITION, 1986
    (W. J. POWELL)
  15. CHURDHAR MORE OF THE LESSER
    (WILLIAM MCKAY AITKEN)
  16. A RETURN TO LINGTI, 1987
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  17. ASCENT OF KARCHA PARBAT, 1986
    (J. K. PAUL and S. N. DHAR)
  18. A TRYST WITH PHABRANG, 1987
    (ANIL KUMAR)
  19. BRITISH KISHTWAR EXPEDITION, 1986
    (BOB REID and EDWARD FARMER)
  20. CANADIAN KASHMIR HIMALAYAN
    (JOHN A. JACKSON)
  21. UNKNOWN SPITI: THE MIDDLE COUNTRY
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  22. PICNIC ON A GLACIER -A KARAKORAM JOURNEY
    (STEPHEN VENABLES)
  23. THE GOLDEN PILLAR
    (A. V. SAUNDERS)
  24. PROBLEMS OF ACCURACY IN REPORTING MOUNTAINEERING
    (ELIZABETH HAWLEY)
  25. HIMALAYA-OUR FRAGILE HERITAGE
    (N. D. JAYAL)
  26. THE CONTINUING STORY OF THE HIMALAYAN CLUB
    (M. H. CONTRACTOR)
  27. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  28. IN MEMORIAM
  29. BOOK REVIEWS
  30. CORRESPONDENCE
  31. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1987

KALANAG EAST FACE EXPEDITION, 1986

W. J. POWELL

KALANAG LIES IN THE Garwhal Himalaya to the west of the well known area of peaks around the Gangotri glacier. We had looked for an accessible peak of at least 6000 m that was in season in October. I had heard tales that the Gangotri area was rather full of expeditions in the autumn period and preferred the idea of visiting an out of the way location. The Bandarpunch massif stood out as a small group of mountains close to the Gangotri road with two or three 6000 m peaks. We had obtained the Swiss Survey Map of the area and picked the highest peak, Bandarpunch I, (Kalanag) 6387 m (20,957 ft).

Our research indicated that the peak had been climbed many times and that the normal route was from the east, from where we intended to approach the mountain. However, we were eventually to learn that the Swiss Survey Map was quite inaccurate in this area and it soon became apparent as our research and correspondence with India gathered pace that the peak was not called Bandarpunch, but Kalanag, the Black Serpent, and that far from being climbed frequently from the east it had in fact never been approached from that direction.

Kalanag was first climbed by J. T. M. Gibson in 1955 via the northwest flank and has subsequently been climbed a number of times by this route.1 However, the eastern aspect of the mountain was unknown and we could find no photographs or sketches of the area. The unexpected prospect of an unknown approach together with the possibility of a. new ascent was thrilling.

Three of us flew into Delhi on 4 October at 7.30 a.m., cashed our travellers' cheques, cleared our plans with the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and caught the bus that afternoon to Rishikesh. The next morning we arrived in Uttarkashi to be greeted by Mike, the fourth member of our team and our liaison officer Norbu.

The long bus ride north from Delhi was exhausting, but there was no time for resting as we rushed about collecting vegetables, other foodstuffs and the last items of equipment for our trip. Early the next morning we caught the bus up the main valley from Uttarkashi and found this to be probably the most hair-raising experience of the trip. The road was cut, in places, into the crumbling cliffs hundreds of feet above the river. Nothing lay between the bus and a nasty fall except a shaky gearbox and wailing brakes.

Photos 18-19
1. See H.J. Vol. 41, p. 61.-Ed.

As I gazed down I was surprised not to find at least one wreck lying in the river below! It was with relief that we left the bus on the road and started in brilliant sunshine up the path at the bottom of the Son gad gorge.

The Son gad valley was steep and we were soon walking up through the various belts of vegetation. We started in the tropical forest that lined the bottom and made our way up through Europeanlike deciduous woods. The dusk found us at a cave just above the confluence with another gorge running in from the right. That night by the firelight we learned that our guide was taking us to the wrong mountain. This was particularly annoying as we had spent some time explaining in both English and Hindi exactly where we wanted to go. It further transpired that he had no idea how to get to the east side of Kalanag from where we sat and had certainly never taken a party up there before. After much argument we decided to settle the porters in the cave and try to recce a route that we all could follow.

We left early the next morning in two parties. Rob and I tried to force our way up the Son gad gorge and Nigel and Mike hiked up the valley side to above the tree line and tried to traverse into our valley at a higher level. The Son gad soon proved to be too difficult for porters and we hauled ourselves up and out on to the open slopes above. There followed an amusing day, trying to piece together a route. Travel over the pastures was easy but we were soon faced with a rocky section covered with rhododendron bushes which we had to descend into the valley. From our vantage point above the rhododendrons we could see that beyond was a large waterfall that seemed to block our way and beyond that, a long curving moraine that curled up around to the left out of sight. This looked as if it would provide a perfect route up onto the glacier and that base camp could easily be sited in a sheltered spot beneath it. We descended this section like monkeys swinging from branch to branch to the open boulders below. Rob and our guide now stayed and searched for a decent path through this stretch and the rest of us moved onward up the valley towards the waterfall that seemed to block our progress.

The waterfall was spectacular. The whole river fell over a vertical step about 50 m high and 15 m broad. Above was a rock gorge,, the cliffs of which had been undercut so that they overhung and shaded the river. To the left was a large knoll where the slopes were more open. We set off up a scrubby gully to the top of this.

Unfortunately as we had feared there were cliffs on the other side. We were now forced to follow, up to the left, a shallow rib, bare of vegetation. I now went on alone and traversed the head of two further gullys until the third was found to have a gentle slope and I slid down.

It was a dramatic spot. To my right giant black crags curled round, shutting off any approach from that side of the valley. To the left were boulder strewn gentler slopes, very Scottish in character. A mist was forming and I felt quite alone and intimidated as J set off over the snow and boulders into the crest of the moraine. I followed this up looking for a likely spot for base camp and I found, tucked behind the moraine a delightful little valley with a flat floor, a stream and slopes of bilberry bushes. In the sun I was sure it would make a pleasant spot.

The problem of the rhododendron ribs fell into place in the most fortunate and unexpected manner; as we lay below summoning the energy necessary to clamber back up we spotted two locals high up coming swiftly down. We hailed them and scrambled up to where they sat on a little path that wound its way up and through the cliffs to exit above the rhododendrons. The path was only some 6 m from the rib that I had swung down earlier and I had missed it! We now had a complete route and were feeling pleased with ourselves as we made our way back to the cave and our porters.

Two days later, having established base camp at about 4070 m we were wandering up the moraine above, hoping to catch our first glimpse of the elusive mountain. We were thwarted again ,and although we sat for an hour or so on the lip of the glacier the mist was down and it did not clear. The next day we set off early and having crossed a short snowfield it was a thrill to see Kalanag and the east face spread out before us for the first time.

Our eyes were first drawn to the south col and the two distinct lines rising from here to the summit. One was the south ridge, a steep, sharp and rocky ridge that had been attempted in the past via an approach over Bandarpunch and the second line being the southeast snow-couloir. This second line could be approached from the south col and lay between the south ridge and the main east face. We agreed that this line looked good but that the main difficulty would be reaching the south col over the snowy glaciated slopes to our left.

The east face itself looked sheer and was overhung by a series of nasty looking ice-cliffs. Further to the right the north ridge and northeast spur formed our horizon. These ridges had a series of steep rock cliffs falling towards us but at the lower end of the northeast spur there looked to be an easier way up on to the ridge. We did not contemplate going near the main east face but thought a route could be found up on to the north ridge via this spur on the right.

As it turned out our progress towards the south col was stopped by a series of long transverse cliffs which were hidden in dead ground from CX and the deep snow that lay over the shallow slopes. The weather was deteriorating gradually and we feared that it would take us at least two days to even reach the couloir. We later discovered that a better route would have been to follow the main glacier in the middle and fork left almost under the south col up a cleft in the ice that was hidden in our earlier views.

Our attention now focussed on the northern route. Bob and I left our camp early one morning when it was bitterly cold and made our way down across the main glacier and moraines towards the broken rib that fell towards us from the snowfields on the north ridge above. Crossing an unknown glacier on a black night with no moon or stars is an eerie experience. However things ran smoothly and by midday we were standing on the northeast spur looking down to the other side and across to the Yellow Tooth, a prominent gendarme on the north ridge. We now set off up the endless rounded snow slopes above in an attempt to reach the north ridge proper and prospect the routes to the summit. The new snow was knee deep and the going painfully slow. We reached a point just below the junction with the north ridge, about level with the top of the Yellow Tooth and turned back. I guess about 5640 m.

The next day four of us set off with four days of food for the summit. The weather looked distinctly suspect and it was again very cold with a strange build up of misty cloud playing about at all levels in the sky. It started to snow as we started up the broken rib on the far side of the glacier and was snowing and blowing hard by the time we reached the snowfields above. We dug out platforms and pitched our tents at the top of the rocky spur where the rocks merged with the snow.

I don't think any of us had a particularly comfortable night with the flapping tents and spindrift, so that it was with relief that dawn arrived. Unfortunately, although calm again, the misty air and high cloud heralded a coming storm. We debated taking the tents higher but in the end decided to go on light and see how far we could get up the north ridge before the weather broke. I think that secretly we all recognised that this was likely to be our last day and that we should try to get as high as possible. It didn't take long for the cloud to come down and the snow to fall again. Four hours later we were standing under a small crag on the ridge in a beautiful ice-cave, I guessed at somewhere over 5790 m. It was a tremendous spot for the tents, sheltered from the wind and any objective dangers. Once back on the slopes it was obvious that we had to go down. It was snowing hard, the visibility was very poor and our tracks had now been covered. It was with a little difficulty in navigation that we made our way back down the broad ridge to our tents. The slopes were ava-lanching gently as we ploughed down and the tents were buried. We reasoned that this was not a particularly good place to sit out a storm as any large avalanche would knock us off. It was depressing to pack up and set off back down. The trip back was exhausting with a foot of new snow covering the rocks and crevasses, however, we all arrived back at base camp safely by 10 p.m. or so.

For the next two days and nights it snowed continuously. Laxman, our wonderful cook fed us with an unstinting supply of onion omelettes and goodwill. I was so exhausted that it took me 18 hours before I could move from my sleeping bag! We took it in turns in digging up our tents and propping up the cook tent. Half way through the second night an avalanche from the steep slopes above worried us and so we moved ourselves and our tents to an uncomfortable but safer position tucked beneath a huge boulder in the centre of the valley. Just as I was wondering how we were going to cope with any more snow we awoke to a brilliant blue dawn. At least 1.25 m of snow had fallen and the tents were hidden by high ramparts of snow. The landscape had been transformed.

The weather now remained settled and clear which was rather irritating as we couldn't move, sinking up to our crutch at each step. We spent two days ploughing up to CI, a 3J hour walk a few days earlier and evacuated our remaining equipment. Two days after that we tried again with an attempt on the mountain. but didn't even reach CI, I had hoped that the snow would consolidate in the sunny weather but as I feared, although it was melting at base camp, higher up the temperatures were now rising above freezing and no crust was forming to make the going possible. It was with regret that we set off down to arrange for porters. The snow was down to about 2750 m and covered most of the walk out. We had been worried that further snow might cut us off completely at the bottle neck in the valley approach. The waterfall and the open pastures beyond were susceptible to avalanche danger. In the event no more snow fell and although the lower slopes were scarred by recent falls they had settled by the time we passed them. The overhanging cliffs above the waterfall did provide some excitement as they were capped by huge icicles which fell as they thawed, crashing into the river below. We had to negotiate this section in order to avoid re-ascending the gully that we had used on the approach to bypass the waterfall.

At the end of the trip two of us walked up to the source of the Ganges and took a day or two to wander about gazing at the tremendous mountain scenery. It was the end of October and no one was about, no locals, no expeditions, a sprinkling of snow, short days and cold blue skies. I could see why this was a place of pilgrimage and why Shivling represents the source of creation and Meru the home of the Hindu Gods.

View from C 1 of Kalanag east face expendition.

View from C 1 of Kalanag east face expendition.



Kalanag east face.

Kalanag east face.



The eastern aspect of Kalanag Garhwal Himalaya

The eastern aspect of Kalanag Garhwal Himalaya