S.N. DHAR AND RANATOSH MAJUMDAR
WE LEFT CALCUTTA on 14 May 1989 with 12 members and 2 Sherpas to climb Chaudhara (6510 m). After travel in the hot and sultry weather we reached Munsiari on the 18th. After arranging porters and switching from mules to porters at Paton village we left for Sapa cave on 22nd.
We started early in the morning. We crossed the Pilthi gad through a wooden bridge and then after a steep ascent of about 300 m we reached Sapa cave.
The morning of 23rd dawned less favourably, it was cloudy and chilly wind blowing from the south clearly indicated a rainy day. In the early morning we started our trek for Ralam village. First we crossed Ralam ganga over a wooden bridge and then climbed upto the mountain ridge.
We moved towards north following the right bank of Ralam river. The tree line was already crossed, the stray patches of juniper bushes and dirty ice patches became a regular feature.
We reached Ralam village totally drenched and exhausted. The Ralam village welcomed us as the first visitors of the season. The school building was totally out of shape so we stayed in another house.
24th was crucial day for us as we intended to establish our base camp today. The morning sun flashed over Suitilla once and then went into hiding in clouds hovering around. The dull atmosphere became duller when the porters refused to go to Shivu Gwar on the plea of snow cover and lack of winter garments. Finally we persuaded the porters to go upto the confluence of Shivu stream with Ralam river just 2 km ahead of Ralam village. We started our trek in the morning at 8.30 a.m. and took the right bank of Ralam ganga. It was a gentle ascent. We were passing through the green meadows and grazing lands of sheep and goats. We were moving for about 50 minutes or so and then turned towards the river bed. We crossed the Ralam ganga over a natural ice - bridge and reached its left bank. Then we traversed the thick jungles. The yo-yo climb on a steep slope through a green thick jungle was tiresome. At the end of the jungle we came down to the junction of Shivu nala with Ralam ganga. Approximately 1000 m after the confluence upstream we crossed Shivu nala and reached the vast green field called Galpari. It was then 11 a.m. and we put up our transit camp. Porters were paid off except seven engaged from Paton village.
Soon seven members and 2 Sherpas with their backpacks followed by the rest of the porters and members with ferry loads found themselves moving on an escarpment after Galpari, situated on the right bank of Shivu gad. The initial climb though steep was enchanting through the slopes adorned with blooming rhododendron. At the end of the escarpment the juniper bushes thinned out and the greenery was restricted to grass only. The gushing Shivu gad went into! hiding below the snow and further upstream there was nothing except the frozen reality of Shivu gad. At the place locally known as Shivu Gwar we selected our site about 100 m from the Shivu stream, to its right. The place is situated over the settled ground moraine of Shivu glacier (4140 m). Seven members and two Sherpas occupied BC and rest of the members and porters returned to transit camp after dumping loads.
26th morning was bright at BC (Shivu Gwar) which, true to its name of being a grazing ground spread far and wide on a thick blanket of snow. ('Gwar' = grazing ground) As we stretched our sight to SE, it was dominated by a very high sharp point. The Tihutia ridge continuing parallel with the Shivu gad further extended to SE to meet that sharp point. In between that sharp point and peak Tihutia the Shivu peak emerges on the ridge. The Shivu glacier was not visible from BC as it took an easterly turn but its active moraine was noticed in the SE. The base of Shivu - Tihutia ridge near our BC still contain high settled lateral moraine in sharp contrast to our northern boundary ridge whose base was composed of talus. S.N. Dhar, Beni along with two Sherpas went out for a recce cum load ferry for ABC, others went down to bring loads to BC from transit camp. The trail breaking was easy in the beginning. It became tiresome as we progressed further into moraine heaps covered with fresh snow. In one and half hour we reached the snout of Shivu glacier situated almost north of Shivu peak. We proceeded further following the medial moraine of glacier which slowly curved towards east and finally we reached the head of medial moraine. The entire upper reaches of Shivu glacier with its ice-fall was revealed before us. We selected our ABC there by keeping a safe distance from the icefall.
Our previous assessment on climbing Chaudhara was based on only one available report and now called for rethinking. Considering the icefall route and the distance of peak from ABC the logistic support it demands to climb Chaudhara required both man and material. So we decided to move all men and mateYials to ABC. Accordingly, we ferried loads from the 24th to the 29th.
In the cold and clear morning of the 30th we stood spellbound, in front of the frozen chaos of Shivu icefall. The west facing icefall remained in an amphitheatre and Chaudhara in its far two extremeties along its south and north. The dominant sharp point viewed from BC at the extremity, of Tihutia-Shivu ridge, now lost its dominance to Rajrambha through its eastern ridge. The west ridge of Chaudhara dropped sharply, to a col and joined the peak 6154 m situated west of Chaudhara. The ridge in further continuation from peak 6154 m towards SSW dropped gradually to touch a point about 150 m north of our ABC and from there the ridge extended towards the NW to form the true right boundary of Shivu gorge. In fact that ridge'via peak 6154 m and the northern ridge of Rajrambha culminated at peak Chaudhara. The major flow of Shivu icefall was coming down from the west face of Chaudhara and its adjoining area in between west face of Chaudhara and peak 6154 m. The lower portion of Shivu icefall had a sharp drop from about 5640 m which resulted into a barrier of hanging seracs on that level and was always rattling with ice avalanches. There were two rocky ribbed outcrops along the flow of icefall. The icefall was really horrible and was unpredictable so climbing it to gain the ridge in between Rajrambha and Chaudhara and then to traverse towards north to climb Chaudhara as reported by previous team was ruled out. Moreover our observations in the icefall for last 3 days during recce revealed that the apparent safe portion of icefall adjoining Shivu ridge was not safe because the surface was sinking fast to turn into yawning crevasses. There was a safe ground below the ice hump north of Rajrambha but in case of any eventuality it would be difficult to move logistics. The prospect through the icefall became possible provided we could manage to bypass the lower icefall upto serac barrier of 5640 m.
Accordingly Lakhpa and Dhar moved towards the Shivu slope to detect a possible route. The only possibility appeared to us to climb upto SE ridge of peak 6154 m and then to land at the top of the serac barrier and that was possible either by climbing through the left rock rib or to climb through the zone between left rock rib and north boundary wall of icefall. The rock rib was horribly broken and was not safe for climbing. So we decided to follow the next alternative.
We decided to make a recce cum ferry to Cl site. We traversed the glacier following north to reach the beginning of the right lateral moraine and gradually gained about 150 m. Then a climb of 25 m vertical rock face brought us into an ice-chute in between north boundary wall and a rocky ledge running parallel and close to the north boundary wall. The ice-chute hardly 15 m wide and of moderate gradient was a potential dangerous zone and turned out to be the drainage line of rock debris from side wall and debris from melting glacier at its head. We turned little towards south through a steep ice-gully and reached near to the rock rib. It started snowing and as further movement was risky because of icefall zone, we dumped our load and called it a day.
On 1 June S. N. Dhar, Beni, Rabin and Lakhpa set out to establish Cl. Following last day's route we reached our dumping spot and picked up the loads and then bypassing the small icefall we reached at the top of icefall adjacent to the rock rib. We set up our Cl there (5240 m).
2 June: we came out of our tent in a clear dawn. We could see our entire route right from moraine to Cl and the small icefall just below our camp. Our tent position was nearer to rock rib and was in a safe distance from the breaking zone of icefall. The lower portion of Shivu icefall was too dangerous than our assessment from ABC. Chaudhara was not visible from Cl as our view was obstructed by a rock rib but from its gap we could see it almost to the east.
It was a crucial day for us as we would try today to find out the possible route to Chaudhara after reaching the top of serac barrier and as well as select C2 site. Accordingly Lakhpa and Beni in one rope and Rabin - Dhar in the other rope went out for a recce cum load ferry to proposed C2, likely to be on the SW ridge of peak 6154 m. We moved over the neve-like icefield infested with hidden crevasses. After one hour of movement through moderate snow slope we turned east and started climbing a steep snow slope. The slope was dangerous as it was covered with hardcrust snow over hard ice. The tiring tip-toeing continued for another one and half hour and we reached the top of the ridge to witness the awesorrfe view of the upper Shivu icefall upto Chaudhara. No doubt we had succeeded in bypassing lower icefall and reached over the hanging seracs barrier but the route beyond over the upper icefall was horribly crumbled and shattered.
Dhar was a bit disappointed but decided to put C2 there and dumped loads on the spot. It was then 10 a.m. and it being the west face we took extra care during descent.
5th morning was windless. We decided to occupy C2 and accordingly Ranatosh, Rabin, Dhar along with 2 Sherpas after recovering from initial dilemma about the weather set out at 9 a.m. The weather deteriorated later. The prospect of climbing Chaudhara from C2 seemed remote so we decided to make a recce which was done on the 6th. The only way to succeed was to put up another camp at the neve provided we could get logistic support and manpower. The support from Cl was ruled out.
On 7 June we all had a late morning and found that Rabin and Ranatosh were unable to sleep whole night because of cold and wet sleeping bags. All remained quiet and then we discussed our next course of action. We decided to establish C3 by Lakhpa, Rabin and Dhar whereas Ranatosh would be escorted to Cl by Tarchen and if possible Tarchen would occupy C2 with a fresh member.
At 11 a.m. Lakhpa, Rabin and Dhar with two days food set out to establish C3. At about 2.30 p.m. we reached a place about 6040 m high and decided to establish our C3. We pitched our tent and settled for the night. None of us was able to sleep comfortably because of altitude, extreme cold and anxiety about the next day's climb.
On 8 June we went into action at 4 a.m. for preparing tea and then got ready by 5 a.m. Unfortunately the crampon's laces were so frozen that we had to melt it in the stove and were ready for the climb by 5.30 a.m. We came out of the tent. The steep west face looked promising but we had to vacate the face before 11 a.m. as it would start melting from that time. We roped up and moved towards the southern portion of west face through the cramponable hard crust snow and slowly reached the base of the summit. The first four rope lengths we climbed through a gradient of 40° then we took a straight diversion towards north toby-pass the big ice bulges. The summit of Chaudhara, lies to the extreme north of the face in line with the west ridge from the col. By this time we reached last day's altitude (on recce) and started traversing diagonally pointing towards summit. The gradient in some places became so steep that we had to restrict our movement to almost horizontal traverse for two rope lengths. Then we had shifted to the middle of the west face and Rajrambha went out of our sight covered by the face. The only nearest references became Suitilla and peak 6154 m. Almost 21/2
had hours gone and the climbing then restricted to front pointing only. It was too tiresome and risky in a 65° slope but we were hopeful. The sun was yet to shine its rays on the face but the horizon widened out in our west, the entire peaks of Milam and Kalabaland joined the afpepa. The fast climbing made'us tired but we were slowly advancing towards the summit. The sun was on the verge of breaking into the face and at that moment we could realise that the summit was hardly 150 m away. Suddenly the face became almost 80° and it was wet with exposed conglomerate type structure. Two rope lengths, were climbed on that structure and we had to cut a few steps to secure firm stances for belay. Over that face the slope eased out to 65° but surface melt made it horrible. We negotiated it by another two rope lengths and reached a small flattish place with moderate gradient and good snow in between two ice humps about 30 m apart. The left one being the higher (to the north) was the summit of Chaudhara (6510 m). Then Rabin being the junior most members slowly went to the summit secured by Lakhpa and Dhar then joined them. Our objective was reached after a gruelling struggle against the odds and finally Chaudhara allowed us to touch its crown. It was then 10a.m.; three of us could hardly stand on the summit and the summit was overhanging towards east. We unfurled flags. We offered some sweets as our prayer and Rabin built a snow cairn.
The return was difficult and with extreme caution on the basis of one man one move. We got down to C3 at 2 p. m. The descent almost took the same line as on the ascent. The weather was exceptionally good and it was the first time we observed northern wind.
We dismantled C3 and headed for C2 which we reached in 2 hours. We found no one there but a food packet especially kept for us was traced. Without any further delay we went down to Cl and found that the old route was totally broken and a new route was opened. No doubt an excellent job performed by our members. At 5.30 p.m. we reached Cl and were received by Mridul, Chayan and Tarchen. We decided to go further down just 1 1/2 hours to our ABC.
Next day we packed up and on 12 June we reached Munsiari in the evening.
S.N. Dhar (leader), Ranatosh Majumdar (deputy leader), R.S. Bhowmick, J.K. Paul, Chayan Chakraborty, Rabin Paul, Mridul Bose, Beni M. Bhattacharyya, Susanta Mukherjee, Purnendu Bej, Achintya Mukherji, Uttam Sarkar with Lakhpa Tshering and Tarchen (Sherpas).
The second ascent of Chaudhara (6510 m) on 8 June 1989 by an Indian
Rajrambha (centre) and Shivu glacier icefall. Looking south from C2 on Chaudhara Article 8 (S. N./Dhar)
Kalaband glacier and Chiring We (right from summit of Chaudhara.
Rajrambha seen from C3 (S.N. Dhar)