KAGBHUSAND - A LEGENDRY PEAK
WHERE NEARLY THERE. The top is just about W 5 m higher. Can you give me some more rope ?' Depinder said to us. 15 minutes later, at 5 p.m., after 10 hours of climbing, Depinder, Theo and myself reached the top of Kagbhusand, a beautiful peak located at the edge of the Banke Plateau in the Amrit Ganga valley in the Garhwal.
Frozen by a curse, the legendary eagle Kagbhusand stands 5830 m high with its steep sides soaring skywards. The top has a shape of a Garud (eagle). As the legend goes an eagle was listening secretly to the Vedanta being recited by a sage, and was caught and frozen as rock.1
We were ready at Malari on.7 September 1990 with the loads, eager to start off, but we waited endlessly with no sign of the mules. On the following day also there was no sign of the 8 mules we required. However, this time we decided that some of us would move up with four mules to the next halt at Gamsali, and the four mules which were available would come back for a second ferry on the same day. We hired other mules from Niti and Gamsali and the first group moved on to base camp, located between Thur Udiar and Eri Udiar (4000 m) at a place called 'Bada Pathar' (l6 km).
The muleteers dropped our loads at the_ base of a huge boulder just after Thur Udiar and started back. While recceeing the route to the advance base camp on the next day, we found that the actual intended BC was another half hour walk further and we would have to cross a stream in order to reach the camp.
The second group had come up with the balance loads and we tried to convince the muleteers to ferry the loads to the camp ahead. However, the mules were too tired and the terrain was rocky and steep so we could only get a few of the loads to the stream. We began ferrying the loads ourselves.
1 See H.J. Vol. 45, p. 54, for sketch-map and the legends of the area. -Ed.
There are two possible routes from base camp for our peak. The first would be to go up a steep scree-gully which leads to an icefall coming down from the Devban glacier. This is the route normally followed by most expeditions to Devban and Bidhan Parbat peaks. The second route which we took, moves up steep grassy slopes and hugs the south ridge of Kagbhusand for the initial section and subsequently traverses a minor glacier coming down from the Devban glacier to reach the Banke Plateau just above where the first route meets the Plateau. This would be a good route to approach Devban and Bidhan too.
We recceed the route to advance base camp along this route and located it just below the tongue of a minor glacier descending from the Devban glacier. One section of the route had to be fixed. As we moved up this rock patch, we were overjoyed to see some of the most beautiful flowers of the area. Small bell shaped, with traces of purple, they blossomed in small clusters on little ledges and cracks in the rocks. We identified these as Gentiana Stipitata (plate 946 - Flowers of the Himalaya).
We started stocking up ABC. Two load ferries enabled us to take up all the loads required. On 17th, five of us occupied advance base camp (4700 m). A good camping spot with water close by and protected from the wind.
Our route up the valley to base camp and all the way to ABC and Cl offered us a variety of flowers. We identified delphiniums, aconite, potentilla, sausserea, primula, gentiana, saxifraga, leontopodium and a host of other variety. We were surprised to find some of the flowers in the most unexpected places between rocks, in cracks and on small ledges. They were in pleasant contrast to the harsh surroundings of rock, snow and ice.
Four of us moved up to recce a route to Cl with light loads. We moved up the left lateral moraine of the minor glacier coming down from the Banke Plateau. Traversing the icefall, formed by the glacier, from the left, we climbed to the base of ah ice wall of about 80 m of easy gradient. We fixed two rope lengths on this section to facilitate easier movement with loads. At the base of the ice wall we found signs of a previous camp. As the weather packed up, we decided to dump our loads above the ice wall. Our perspective of the mountain changed as we now had a head on view of the NE ridge which we planned to climb. It really excited us with the prospect of a good climb.
The next two days we experienced snowfall and visibility dropped to about 10 m. We started getting apprehensive of our chances to attempt the climb if the weather did not clear up and toyed with the idea of changing our route and attempting the south ridge which also looked possible to attempt from our camp. There was cairn about 200 m from our ABC on the south ridge. A visit to the cairn confirmed the possibility of" a climb up this route.
Since no description of the route has been given in Franke Smyth' s book Valley of Flowers of Eric Shipton' s first ascent of Kagbhusand in 1931, we guessed that they might have climbed the peak from the S ridge. This is on the basis of the fact that they climbed the peak in one day from BC. The NE ridge being longer, more complicated and involving steep rock climbing, it seems more probable that they climbed from the S ridge which looked more straightforward.
Eric Shipton and Holdsworth attempted the peak on 7 July 1931 on their return after the successful climb of Kamet. However they reached within 100 m of the peak after a long and difficult climb involving both ice and rock climbing. Having started from base camp, they had to return but felt that since the route had been worked out it would be possible to climb the 1560 m from BC to top in a day.
'As Shipton was bent on completing the ascent, he and Nima set out again next morning. Unfortunately Holdsworth was experiencing trouble with his frostbitten big toe and was unable to accompany them. This time the summit was reached, after a climb that Shipton described as being equal in difficulty to a Cumberland ' 'Severe''.' (F.S. Smythe in Kamet Conquered p. 218)
The peak was also climbed on 17 May 1971 by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, their route not specified.
Morning of 22nd dawned clear and we decided to move up to Cl (5350 m). Theo and Depinder moved up early with a view to try and recce the route above Cl. The rest of us wound up ABC and moved up a little later.
Coming up to our previous dump point, we were in for a rude shock. Our dump was lying helter skelter. Food packets which we had buried below all the climbing hardware and ropes were scattered around and many precious packets of noodles, biscuits, dates, etc. were missing. The ravens had a great day ! We nearly lost our stove, weighing 350 gms, which we found lying some distance from the dump. The crows must have thought it to be a food packet. This was one of our problems on this expedition as any food left at a dump would be taken away by the choughs or the ravens.
We located Cl on a strip of lateral moraine on the right of the Devban glacier. After the ice wall, we covered about 200 m on a plateau to reach the base of the moraine. Climbing 50 m to the top we pitched camp at a sheltered spot which commanded an excellent view of our climb ahead. We found the remains of a previous camp on the moraine. Someone had carried up a 16 kg oil tin upto Cl ! We also found an iron-stake of about IV2 ft length and 1 inch diameter. Must be weighing at least 2 kg.
The next day three of us went up to fix the lower and more difficult sections of the climb. We skirted the icefall and making a huge arc we crossed over a narrow bergschrund to move onto the rocky NE ridge. We traversed along a narrow but gradual ledge for about 60 m. The going was easy but exposed so we belayed each other across. A small hand traverse was enjoyable. At the end of the traverse two of us left our ice axes and crampons since the route we had decided on involved mainly rock. One pair of crampons and an ice axe was carried in case of need.
The next pitch was a scramble over loose rock which led us to the more vertical sections. Moving up one more pitch of easy ground, brought us below a patch of smooth rock of about 30 m. Although the gradient was 50°, it offered poor protection and the rock was wet and slippery with moss. We traversed left about 10 m and climbed to the top of this section. The climb was more vertical here but it offered good protection of two nut placements and a Friend placement.
The next pitch was another traverse of 15 m. The rock was steep and holds were small. This pitch was difficult to cross either way even after it was fixed as it was difficult to gain purchase on it with double boots on. At this point the route seemed to traverse further left and then go up. We thought it would enable us to by-pass an overhanging open book formation which is very prominent on the mountain and which we anticipated would be difficult to negotiate. Depinder continued on, but at the end of the traverse we found the climb further would be very steep with a long run out. Our only other option was to climb straight up from the end of our last pitch. The route was over loose rock for about 10 m and then we could negotiate the open book after climbing an overhanging pitch of 5 m.
Theo took the lead and having changed to his rock shoes he started on the overhanging pitch. He started on one line but after working out a few moves, felt the adjoining crack would offer better protection and holds. He changed his placement of a Friend and started off on the second crack. A few awkward moves. a few anxious moments and he was at the open book. Rather a difficult pitch. An HVS which I found difficult to follow with my double boots on.
It was getting quite late by now and we had fixed a little over 2 rope lengths. Theo was quite excited with the open book and decided to have a go at it immediately. It looked very feasible from where he was. He was only to be sadly mistaken. As he started off, he realised the rock was smooth and many sections had a fine layer of verglas on them. As this section is overhanging, with the snow-slope starting just above it, it was dripping water which made the rock very slippery. Jamming himself into the crack, he inched his way up huffing and puffing. He managed to put two Friends on the way. A few metres from the top, was a slanting ledge. Having reached the ledge, Theo took a break. As he studied the route ahead, he decided to finish the pitch the next day. He placed a stopper in a thin crack and slowly rappeled off. What an enjoyable lead. Leaving all our extra gear at a safe point we made our way down slowly and reached camp by 7 p.m.
That night however the weather deteriorated and we had heavy snowfall. In the morning Kagbhusand was covered in a veil. We could not move up for further route opening fearing snow slides and rock fall over the smooth and steep rock. The next morning dawned clear but two of us were not feeling fit enough for the summit attempt so we decided to wait for a day more. We were running out of rations so Theo and Depinder went down to ABC and brought up rations and fuel to last us another two to three days.
26 September, we started preparing for our attempt at 3 a.m. Melting Water and preparing something to eat took so long that we could leave only by 6 a.m. Moving over the fixed rope, we reached our high point. We fixed an etrier on the overhanging part to save time. Theo continued his lead up the open book. From the ledge he had reached, the route straight up was overhanging so he put in a Friend and traversed left. The rock being slippery it was difficult to get good holds. He put in a stopper and with some tension from the belay rope, moved across the edge of the rock.
The other side was exposed but there were good holds on which he could traverse up to the top. Graded at El as per British Standards, the open book was the most difficult pitch of the total climb. Theo and Depinder continued up the snow ramp whilst Malika, Vineeta and myself moved up the open book. By 5 p.m. they had moved up the rock above the snow to meet the south ridge of the mountain. It involved 3 pitches of VS climbing. The three of us reached the top of the snow-ramp at the same time. They had to still climb another 40 m to the top. However considering the time and the technicality involved, we decided to move down. Finding good rappel points took us time and we got back to camp at 3 a.m. next morning !
We were very dehydrated after the long day on the mountain. 27 September we spent resting and rehydrating ourselves. We had only one more chance to attempt the peak and that was on the 28th. We had already overstayed our planned date. Also all our gear from the route had to be taken off.
On 28th, Depinder, Theo and myself started off at 7 a.m. and moved up the fixed ropes. We were at the top of the snow ramp by 11.30 a.m. We left behind two rucksacks in order to climb faster and changed into our rock shoes. To avoid the extra weight, we left behind our double boots at this point. The initial two rope-lengths were on a smooth slab of rock with a patch of snow at its edge. Wearing rock shoes, we could move up quite easily. At the end of this section the rock was vertical. We moved up the next three pitches carefully avoiding loose rock on the way. We reached the south ridge by 2 p.m.
Quite confident of reaching the top in a short time, we moved up another 25 m only to be disappointed. The last summit block was overhanging above us without any scope of free climbing it. We had hoped to find a route somewhere on the east face but it was sheer and smooth. Looking down the southwest face, we saw a possibility to traverse north along the southwest face about 25 m below us. We rappeled off and traversed north 50 m till we spotted a line up the face. Three pitches of Very Severe (VS) grade were climbed to reach the north ridge. Hopes of reaching the top were renewed as the route further up looked feasible. We started traversing the north ridge. Covering 20 m we reached a rock step of about 10 m. Depinder led up and broke the news of our proximity to the summit. At 5 p.m. the three of us reached the summit. Very satisfied with the good climb, but very cold, we hastily took photographs. Unfortunately there were a lot of clouds and the light was quickly fading, so we could not get a very good view of the peaks around us. However as if it was timed for us, the clouds started clearing and as the minutes ticked by. the horizon gave us glimpses of the glowing peaks around, bathed in the evening light.
Most of the route above Cl was climbed using rock shoes and the rock climbing was mostly Very Severe (VS) and Hard Very Severe with one pitch of Extreme 1 (El) as per British standards. The route was climbed using chocks and Friends. Pitons were used only for rope fixing and rappeling.
We started our descent and rappeled off down the southwest face. Soon we were on the south ridge. We fixed up two successive rappels hoping to reach the slabs of rock below the vertical sections. Unfortunately, the rope just fell short and we were 10 m higher than the slab. Secured to two pitons, the three of us prepared for the last rappel before our dump. As we pulled down one end of the rope, it got stuck somewhere. We jerked the rope and .....
It was like going down on a giant wheel. The'same tightening of the stomach as we fell through the air. Then came the impact of hitting the ground 10 m below and everything was chaos. Entangled with each other, we slid down the slab gaining momentum in spite of trying to grab the rock. We could see the ground rushing up at us. We realised our only chance was to get into the snow adjoining the slab so we all lunged for the snow and suddenly came to a halt.
'It's all right, we'll get down,' Theo was saying. We checked out our injuries. Theo had sprained both his ankles, Depinder had lost some skin near his hip bone and I had injured my left hand. We sat clinging to the rock for some time to recover from the shock and then put in a piton to rappel off to our dump, which was quite close now.
It is difficult to know exactly what happened but we guess that while jerking the rope above us, one of the pitons came off and with the jerk of the first piton coming off, the second one also came off. We were lucky to survive the fall as this was the only place on the route where the rock was of gradual gradient.
We reached our dump and changed into our double boots. With the help of our headlamps, we slowly made our way down. By about 8.45 p.m. we were at the last of the fixed ropes. On reaching the bottom of the last rope. I just sat down, still a bit dazed after the accident. I forgot that I was to show Theo the light as he descended in the dark. A criminal error. He came down the smooth rock and shouted to me for the light. I looked up towards him but too late. On the beam of my headlamp, I saw him take flight off the rock, as he tripped on a projection. With a thud he landed on his back. I clambered upto him and was relieved to find that his rucksack and helmet had saved him from any injury. We came down the traverse and made our way to camp by 9.45.
We felt no jubiliation of the successful climb because of the two accidents. We only felt thankful to be alive after a narrow escape. At times like this the question does come up whether it is all worth it. Just that little chance that things might go wrong is always at the back of the mind.
‘The mystery and thrill of travel is always upon one in the Himalaya, but the mystery is awful and the thrill is sometime a shudder.' (C.F. Meade)
Divyesh Muni (leader) E. Theophilus, Praful Mistry, Depinder Kapur, Malika Virdi, Vineeta Muni and Anila Jadhav.
7 September to 5 October 1990.
The Himalayan Club.
The third ascent of Kagbhusand (5830 m) in the Garhwal, on 28 September 1990 by an Indian team from Bombay.
Kagbhusand (5830 m) — route of 1990 ascent. Article 9 (Divyesh Muni)
Mana (7272 m) from Kangbhusand. Article 9
Unnamed Peak 6245 m from Kagbhusand. (Divyesh Muni)