GIANT SUBDUED - HARDEOL, 1978
S. P. MULASI
FORMIDABLE HARDEOL (7150 m) stands on the border of Chamoli and Pithoragarh districts on a sharply cut vertical rock mass rising from approximately 4420 m to reach its summit at 7150 m. It remained without a name till some 30 years back and was referred to as the south peak of Tirsuli. Locals in the Johar valley call it Hardoli or Hardol and worship it as their presiding mountain diety.
The history of the mountain has been sad. The first ever attempt made by a Polish team in 1939 suffered two casualties. In 1964, Lt. Commander M. S. Kohli also led an expedition on this mountain from the east. His team climbed upto C3 where it lost sizeable mountaineering equipment in an avalanche and the attempt was abandoned.
In 1965, K. P. Sharma, led an expedition to attempt Hardeol but was beaten back by bad weather conditions. In 1966, Chanchal Mitra intended to scale Hardeol and set out on his mission but could not succeed. An Indo-New Zealand ladies team set out to scale the peak in April 1974, and established base camp on 30 April above Milam glacier at Nitwal Thaur. The expedition was overtaken by a grim tragedy on 30 May in which four lady climbers, two each from India and New Zealand, were swept away by an avalanche.
In 1975, I led the I.T.B.P. team comprising 28 climbers. The BC was established on 25 May at around 4570 m on the Bagini glacier, and approached the mountain from the west. It took us fourteen days to establish the base, from the roadhead at Juma. We were hampered by heavy snowfall. Cl was established on a rising moraine 5 km west of BC at 5180 m, C2 at roughly 6100 m was set up on 4 June. After setting up C3 at 6550 m the weather worsened and a blizzard raged, during which the climbers in the higher camps were lucky to descend safely.
I was fortunate enough to get a second chance to lead the I.T.B.P. force to Hardeol in 1978. During the earlier expedition I had carefully weighed the possibilities of an attempt from the east. The approach to the mountain is longer as is the route up it and an earlier recce allowed us partial view of the route I had examined during my previous expedition.
The unprecedented snowfall during March and April of 1978 had caused disruption, and the bad route conditions from the roadhead Munsiary added to our discomfort and administrative problems. Right from Munsiary the team had to ferry loads. Snow conditions in the higher region were expected to be favourable. I, therefore, decided to establish base camp much earlier than scheduled.
We concentrated at Munsiary, a place of matchless Himalayan beauty on 15 April 1978. No sooner we reached Munsiary, it started raining. The idea of starting earlier than schedule from our battalion headquarters, Mirthi was to make the best use of favourable snow conditions in the higher region. It was depressing to think of remaining stuck between Munsiary and Milam. Eventually we reached base site on 25 April. The bridge over Goriganga near Burfu had been washed away. The P.W.D. lost six of the labourers on 14 February, near Martoli in an avalanche that swept off those unfortunate persons. There were only a few P.W.D. men around but who enabled us to cross the Gori by a shaky wooden plank. We halted over-night at Burfu with the kind courtesy of P.W.D. It was they who informed us to take the route for Milam along the right bank of the Gori. It took us seven hours to reach Milam via Pachu and Ghangar villages. Near Milam, we re-crossed the Gori over a snow bridge of a glacier. It was 24 April. I was at Milam with four members. We were in a great hurry. Without rest, members made load of rations and other things which we could get from Milam post of I.T.B.P. and set out with all available men for Nitwal Thaur, our base camp site. It took us 8 hours to reach Nitwal Thaur. I requested the Commander Milam Post to spare as many men as he could. The strength of the post was already meagre but he was of great help to me. We made two groups and on alternate days kept on ferrying loads to BC.
After I had set up base camp on 25 April, built up some stores especially tents and rations, I felt relieved. I had surmounted the first hurdle. From Munsiary side also the speed of pushing up of stores and equipment improved under the able guidance of Sohan, my deputy leader, who worked untiringly with the members and support members. When I felt that position of stores and equipment has considerably improved, I decided to occupy base camp on 5 May.
Cl was pitched over the moraine running right in the middle of the Milam glacier that branches off to the right at the base of Hardeol. The eastern slopes of the peak is visible from Cl, as are seen its southern precipitous rocky concave slopes from the base camp. The awe-inspiring and dreaded Hardeol has a formation which can neither be attempted from the front nor from the sides, but only from its rear. From the sides, it is precipitous from left but from the right it is full of icefalls which keep hurling down tonnes of snow. I believe, this seemingly easy approach tempted the 1974 climbers to take this route. They possibly thought of climbing up the icy re-entrant and get straight to the field where we established our C6 during the course of this expedition at a later stage. The western approach, which was tried by us in 1975 is short, but extremely risky. A chain of giant crevasses had to be negotiated, but we made sure that we were not engulfed by the avalanche. Careful and short distance between camp sites did save us from these avalanches. It was a pleasant surprise that avalanches rolled down all over except where we had our camp sited. Even at C3 where the 1964 expedition had lost sizeable stores, we were safe. I personally camped there for eight nights.
In order to make'the description of the climb tangible for readers, Tirsuli and its ridges need a bit of elaboration. Tirsuli is 7074 m, and lies opposite Hardeol to the north. T'irsuli's southern slopes are of snow and ice but to the north and southeast, precipitous rocks hold its towering height. The rocks extend extensively to Chalab and Khpli peaks and form a strong impregnable barrier. The snows that fall on the north and southeast ridges form the beginning of Milam glacier, which is the route adopted by us right from the base camp to C4. C4 was almost below Tirsuli peak. The Tirsuli ridge is about 3.5 km long and tapers down southeast ward losing heights successively from 7074 m to 6700 m, from 6700 m to 6300 m and 6300 m to 5700 m. Thus it makes a zigzag system of the snowy and rocky mountain and losses itself in the Milam glacier. To the southern side, nearer the peak, the slopes are negotiable and rise from a huge ice-field composed of mammoth icefalls. The icefield is approximately little larger than a kilometre, and half of its falls in district Chamoli and gets lost in the western slopes.
South of Tirsuli is Hardeol. As mentioned it cannot be attempted from its south and southeastern slopes. Its southern portion is like a raised mass of rocks. Southeastern and eastern slopes of this mountain are highly avalanche-prone.
The Tirsuli ridge to the southeast has undergone glaciological changes since the map was last prepared. Climbing over Tirsuli is possible only from near the point 6701 m to reach where one would need five camps. The height of the place on Tirsuli ridge, which has to be ascended first to get into the snowfleld is approximately 6550 m. Then one has to descend roughly 3700 m to find suitable place for C6 which would be more or less equal to C5's height. Having done it, from C6 one can scan the vast expanse of the icefield, and west peak running towards Bagini glacier. Tirsuli raises its head to touch the sky in the north. Right in front, facing west, one sees a subsidiary peak about 300 m away towards north-west. One feels as if a dwarf is subdued by a big and powerful giant. A col is formed between Hardeol and its subsidiary peak before a rise of about 300 m culminates in the apex of Hardeol. From C6 site it appears as if one may reach the top in four hours time.
On 12 May Cl was occupied. The height was 4720 m on a moraine near the start of Ikualari glacier. On gradually rising glacier steep ice-wall was reconnoitered by Kanhiya, Nima Dorje Sr., Prahlad, Dawa Tsering and Rajiv. Soon after they had reached Cl. Fixed rope was laid wherever it was required. The route through the ice-wall was half opened and secured. The party returned after four hours hard labour since melting snow conditions did not favour working any longer. The climbers assessed and hoped to reach C2 site the next day. At dawn, four climbers roped up, and climbed up the steep ice-wall which took an hour and a half to be surmounted. Their previous day's labour facilitated the move. Now they walked up a gentle snowfield and established C2 at 5180 m on a raised snow-bump. The snowy ridge that forms part of the massive Tirsuli ridge on the west of C2 lay opposite. The party unloaded the stores and without losing time set out to reconnoiter a route to C3. They made their way up through a narrow gap in ice-pinnacles. It took the party little more than an hour to get onto, an edge where the ice-pinnacles ended and a wide crevasse separated them from a large snowfield that rose gently till Kholi peak raised sharply its snow covered rocky structure on to the northeast side and a giant ice-wall to the north. They had, however, surveyed a likely site for C3 on a huge snowfield under the ice-wall but safe from avalanches. The party returned to Cl for lunch.
On 14 May, Rajiv Sawal stayed at Cl while four members went to C2 with provision and stores. I was glad that C2 was stocked and could be occupied now.
On 23 May I decided to move up though my injuries after a crevasse-fall had not fully healed. My left arm was still swollen. Thandup and Pemba Tharkey were asked to go direct to C3 from Cl and join Rajiv and party there on 2 May 1978, I was happy that out of nine members at C3, seven were potential summitters, strong and reliable climbers. A letter written to Rajiv was given to Thandup in which I had asked him to send Nima Tenzing, Kanhiya, Thandup and Pemba Tharkey to occupy C4 on 23 May. It was accordingly done. On 23 May four climbers supported by Dawa Rin-zing, Prahlad, Dawa Tshering and Nima Dorjee occupied C4 st 0645 hrs. and the route to C5 was partially opened by Nima Tenzing, Thandup and Pemba Tharkey that very day. Nima Tenzing was confident that by 24 May they would be able to open the complete route to C5 and partially for C6, upto the Tirsuli ridge.
After I was assured that sufficient supplies had been dumped at C3, I decided to move up with Negi to it and co-ordinate things from there. It was one of the most fascinating camp sites I had ever seen. I remained outside with my feather coat on. I looked around C3. Visibility had become dim and restricted. By 1430 hrs it cleared up and the sun brightly appeared in the sky.
On 26 May all occupants of C3 had rest. Sohan, with a party of six climbers came to C3 from C2.
On 29 May I climbed up to C4. We encountered huge crevasses after each snowy bump. Two small avalanches rolled down from the rocky portion above an icefield which we were plodding. We were safe as the velocity of the avalanches was checked by flat terrain. Now we faced an eighty meter steep snow wall. Tara and Surendra led. After that we got into a re-entrant below which lay a measureless crevasse. It was a horrifying route. The fixed rope was further tightened up and after Tara managed to cross over avoiding a horizontal crevasse, each one of us was carefully belayed by him. It took us three hours to reach C4 located at 5880 m under the shadow of Tirsuli. I saw five climbers climbing up the Tirsuli ridge in order to break its virgin rim to go across and establish C6 (at 6250 m) which was established that day, and C7 on 30 May at 6550 rn.
The restless climbers woke up at 0200 hours, on 31 May and by 0400 hours they were ready to complete the last bit of their journey climbing up the northwestern ridge of Hardeol. The weather gods were kind. Nima Tenzing led the first rope with Nima Dorjee (senior) and Thandup following behind. They shunned the idea of fixing rope at every step to secure the route. It was only at certain places, where they were confronted by an overhang or corniced portion that they used ice-stakes to tie manila rope. At 0530 hours, the sun appeared on the horizon. They moved up. There was a huge bump right above, concealing the mighty Hardeol. Would it act as a shield to safeguard the invincibility of Hardeol? Nima Tenzing was now replaced by Nima Dorjee. Loose snow rose up like powder due to the violent winds. Nima Dorjee stopped to look for a small detour to avoid a patch that looked like an overhang. He looked to his right. Little more right and the corniced edge might get detached. He hacked away with his ice-axe. It made metallic sound without any result. Nima watched but kept quiet, preferred to get on to the left with an idea to avoid the fall from the right. Nima again led the rope and it worked. The overhang was by-passed. The three stopped and watched for few seconds the other four of the team steadily following the trail. Nearer they reached, the stronger the winds they faced. Eyes wide open, heart beating faster than ever before in any previous expedition, Nima Tenzing, the unsung hero of many classic climbs that included Saser Kangri in 1973, which I.T.B.P. had scaled, felt sure to reach the goal. Incidentally, Thandup was also a summiter of Saser Kangri. These two climbers were to create history by scaling Hardeol in another few minutes time. A passing wave of fog came and went off the peak in lightning fashion. Nima Dorjee tightened his rope and gave a characteristic Sherpa smile to Nima Tenzing and pointed towards the dazzling slopes of Tirsuli and the Tirsuli ridge, to indicate their arduous return journey. Climbing up and climb down. Ascending and descending. The trio got up. A lew minutes more and they would be standing on Hardeol, the first to do so. Lo and behold they found themselves hugging each other merrily on the peak. The humility of these men made them kneel down and bow their head to the reverent seat of the lord of the mountains Shiva, offer prayers to the mysterious and mighty nature. It was to strike 8 a.m. when Dawa Rinzing, Prahlad and Kanhiya were to step on the summit. Bang on 8 o'clock, and the second rope had joined the first one on the top. They took photographs of surrounding areas. After spending approximately an hour on the peak they retraced their steps and reached C6 at 1500 hours to prepare themselves for their return journey.
Hardeol (7151 m) from C6. Article 10