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

RATHONG, 1987

MAJOR K. V. CHERIAN

HIGH UP IN THE Kangchenjunga range lies the imposing Kabru, The Kabru peaks have been attracting climbers ever since 1880. These five peaks running west to east are Rathong (6679 m), Kabru South (7317 m), Kabru North (7338 m), Kabru Dome (6600 m) and Forked peak (6108 m)s During 1883 William Woodman, an experienced climber visited Sikkim, climbed few mountains, and claimed to have made the first ascent of Kabru. However, his claim remains unsubstantiated. In 1964 an Indian team carried out their pre-Everest training in Sikkim and climbed Rathong from the West Rathong glacier. In 1983 another pre-Everest team under Col D. K. Khullar climbed Kabru Dome. In 1985 an Indo-French Army team led by Lt Col Balwant S. Sandhu again climbed Kabru Dome by a different route.

On 29 April our team comprising twenty climbers left Darjeeling for Yoksum in West Sikkim with four tons of stores. Our aim was to climb Rathong, by a new route. The route planned was to gain the upper plateau of the Kabru range by negotiating a route through the treacherous Kabru Dome icefall as followed by Col Khullar's team in 1983, and traverse to the col between Kabru South and Rathong to the north and then climb the knife-edged northern ridge of Rathong. This was an ambitious plan, with the difficult Rathong icefall on the southeast, the rocky ridge of the west and the steep overhanging southern face. The only route to climb Rathong is via the col between Kabru South and Rathong and the north ridge.

All our twenty climbers belonged to the famous 11 Gorkha Rifles of the Indian Army". It took two days of driving through Siliguri, Tista, Melli, Jorethang, Ligship, Gezing and Pelling in our heavy vehicles to reach Yoksum, the old time capital of Sikkim - a small village with a few Bhotias, Lepchas and Nepali Limbu settlers. This is the roadhead for any climber or trekker entering the Kangchenjunga area from West Sikkim. Our expedition stayed here for two days rearranging the loads and arranging for porters and yaks to carry them to Chaurikiang, our proposed base camp located at 4420 m which would involve four days march. Our team left Yoksum on 1 May and after trekking through forests for about four hours reached Bakhim forest rest house at 2740 m. Since this was the first day for us at high altitude, all of us went up to Chokka the last settlement on this route at 3350 m. The night was spent at Bakhim. Next day we trekked to Dzongri. During the trek, it started snowing ahead of Chokka and the snowing continued till night time. We reached Dzongri in three hours from Chokka. Dzongri, at 3810 m is a beautiful valley with rhododendrons, anthro-pogan and juniper blooming all over. We stayed in the forest rest house here the next day also. During the day the snowing eased and we could explore the area and view the magnificent Kang-chenjunga massif towering above us. Next day we climbed Dzongri la in knee-deep snow and got down to Chaurikiang, our expedition base camp at 4420 m. By 5 May all our loads reached base camp, and we started moving up the East Rathong glacier for training on ice as well as the reconnaissance of our proposed route. The weather remained hostile since the day we reached Dzongri with continuous snowing. After four days of continuous effort we established our ABC near Dudh Pokhri, on the northern slopes of the East Rathong glacier at 4880 m. Even though the distance from BC to ABC was not much, it took us a turn around of five to six hours due to the difficult weather conditions. The sky cleared on 11 May and we could observe Kabru Dome icefall, our immediate obstacle, clearly above our camp. On the same day itself our first rope, which included three {Sherpas, Lakh Bahadur and myself, went up the ridge and located a camp on the western flank of the icefall on a rocky ledge at 5700 m. Since the weather pattern was indicating a change with heavy snow within a week, we had to work double shift to reach our ledge camp (we called it CI). On the next day the second rope continued to maintain our camps lifeline with a ferry of equipment and supplies and the first rope climbed through the steep ice-gullys of the icefall and reached the upper plateau of the Dome to establish one more camp at 5850 m. So far the move was very fast and we were all moving with full zeal towards Kabru Dome. On 15 May at about 3.30 a.m, our camp woke up to move again to cross the Dome and examine the route further. Tashi, Lakpa, Pasang, Lakh Bahadur and myself roped up and left our camp during the morning darkness. The initial climb for the next two hours was on steady blue ice and soon we encountered the steep snow-gully of Kabru Dome. This slope had a few pitons and two ropes which were probably left by the pre-Everesters during their attempt on the Dome in 1983. We were following the same route. Should we climb Kabru Dome and recce the route ahead?1 Could we bypass the Dome and if we did so, would we be able to observe the plateau ahead completely? We took the decision to climb the Dome and then get a better idea cf the plateau. In the snow-gully Pasang took the lead and we kept inching up on all fours. We kept changing the lead and after fixing five ropes reached the initial slopes of Kabru Dome. After a little rest we continued the climb to reach the Dome and then the knee-deep snow confronted us. This soft snow was inescapable. We had to plod through it for about 300 m to reach the top of Dome peak, at 1.30 p.m. We went ahead of the Dome exploring and observing the upper plateau, but soon realised that the route ahead was too dangerous with wide crevasses and a wide berg-schrund which could not be negotiated.

Photo 10
  1. The ascents of Kabru Dome and Forked peak were presumably undertaken as pure ascents. One finds it difficult to justify reaching the top of either peak to find n route (or even recce a route) to the summit of Rathong. See account of Cooke in H.J. Vol. VIII, p. 107, where he describes his ascent of Kabru.-Ed.
On reaching the camp, I rolled into my tent and pulled my sack over me and relaxed but kept thinking as to what should we do next. All our efforts to go through the Kabru Dome upper plateau to reach the Rathong col had been wiped out. Weather was also indicating heavy wind and snow fairly soon. Ultimately after a lot of deliberations and discussions we decided to send one party towards Forked peak to view the upper plateau from that side (as well as climb Forked peak).

Capt A. K. Singh and party left the camp next day (16th) around 4.30 a.m. The team had to cross a crevassed area to reach the slopes of Forked peak and took the right hand gully. It took them eight hours to reach the summit at 1 p.m. and returned to camp by 5 p.m.

Our expedition at this time had come to somewhat of a standstill and near to failure. The aim of climbing Rathong from the east had been shattered. It was a miserable night when the snow and blizzard was beating us, we sat in the camp high in the mountain, patting off the snow at times and refixing the tent hooks, thinking deep in our heart about the fate of our expedition, and our dreams. We had already stayed two weeks in the upper altitude and due to the stress of the climb we were exhausted.

There was a slight hope in my mind to try Rathong from the ^western route which the pre-Everesters of 1964 had followed. Tashi and myself discussed this. We had enough food and we had so far retrieved almost all of our climbing equipment. The western route is very long and we would have to change our camp to the opposite -direction. We decided to give it a try. Col Mall, our oldest member who was staying at ABC was called on the radio and was brief-<ed about the new plans of attempting Rathong from the western direction and I asked him to recce a new camp site across Rathong la. Next day our team members who were staying in the upper •camp rushed down with as much load as possible and the climbers Irom the lower camp climbed to the high camp and retrieved the loads. One party went out from Dudh Pokhri camp under Col Mall towards Rathong la to locate a camp across it. Somehow it was a <Hiick reshuffle that day, while the sky remained cloudy.

Within two days we established a camp at 5180 m across Rathong la, on the West Rathong glacier. Due to the long approach this time our route-opening party was doubled. We moved further to the junction of the Yalung and West Rathong glaciers, turned north and reached just below the overhang of the Rathong icefall. We camped just close to this overhang on the Yalung glacier at 5500 m. Magnificent Jannu was clearly visible towards the northwest. Our route-opening party inched its way up to a camp at 6400 m, just below the col between Kabru South and Rathong. We got down to our 5500 m camp planning for the summit bid. Weather indications were not good and the route that we had cut was semi-permanent in nature due to the frequent avalanches and fragile ice conditions. We had fixed six ropes en route which we knew would fall off within two days or so. It was a cruel effort to go up these ropes prussiking. Due to the steepness of the route and its temporary nature, we could not in any way carry any loads across. It was decided to put in an effort as fast as possible and that too in strength to avoid any fatal accident.

Next day fourteen of us left our high camp with four tents and very light food and few ropes. It took us seven hours to reach the middle of the icefall front-pointing and prussiking up the ropes. We took a little rest and again continued. After few metres of climb we came across the corniced ridge on a steep face where we had fixed two ropes previously. The first group belayed each other and got through to the plateau. Next was my group's turn, Dendi Sherpa got through and fixed his ice-axe belaying Tek-nath. From the rear Basudev also belayed Teknath. It happened all of sudden. I got pulled by Basudev's rope and I could not do anything but dig in my ice-axe and arrest the rope. Lakh Bahadur who was behind me also did a self arrest and crawled to me for help. What had happened? Our rope was stretching down into a crevasse down which Basudev had fallen. There was no time to waste because the ice chamber can freeze a man within fifteen minutes. Lakh unhooked himself, fixed a self belay for me and himself. We got down a few metres and saw Basudev dangling on his rope inside the crevasse about forty metres below. It was an anxious moment, more help was required and we did not know as to whether he was hurt or not. Certainly he was not speaking. The last group also reached us. Lakh Bahadur and myself went down front pointing, belayed from the top. Thank God! Basudev was not that badly hurt, he was breathing and could move. It took us another twenty minutes to get him out, semi-conscious and exhausted due to the shock and chill, We had no option but to carry him all the way up to our summit camp at 6400 m.

The next morning was chilly, around - 30°C or so. We climbed slowly roped up to the col and crawled onto the corniced knife ridge fixing three more ropes. By about 10 a.m. we were on the upper slopes of Rathong and another two hours steep climb got us to the summit. Wind was blowing high on the ridge and on the summit. The magnificent view of Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and other peaks on the west and Kangchenjunga on the east kept us on the summit for another fifteen minutes. After taking a few photographs and offering prayers, we descended to our camp. Clutching the ropes and carefully taking each step in that high wind and blizzard, we reached our camp at about 6 p.m.

We spent the night in our high camp almost hungry and holding onto the ropes of our tents. The wind was very strong that night. The next morning we got down to our camp at 5500 m. Here we spent the night and finally returned to base camp.

Rathong. 									(Maj. K.V. Cherian)

Rathong. (Maj. K.V. Cherian)