REO PURGYIL — THE NAME, the mountain, the figurative shroud of myth associated with it, and the literal, almost constant shroud of clouds that brood over this jagged precipice, somehow evokes strong and varied emotion.

'Don't even talk about it!' said Gurdial Singh, that early climber from the Doon who had also climbed in the area, when asked about what kind of climb it might make. Strong words, those, and coming from a seasoned climber.

At about 78 deg. 44' E and 31 deg. 53' N, deep in the district of Kinnaur, Pk. 6816 m lies about 2 km south of Pk. 6791 m, a well known twin brother, who has, as it were, stolen the identity of its lesser known brother with the connivance of the earliest climbers and the colonial Survey of India (SOD. Whatever the circumstances that led to this switch of identities, you now find Pk. 6791 m on all SOI maps, with the distorted name 'Leo Pargial' in a typical display of the phonetic clumsiness and colonial arrogance that marked the day these areas were surveyed. Leo is also the name of a large village by the Spiti river, which you pass and leave behind as you ascend the road towards the last village, Nako. It is possible that the earliest visitors, who were travelling in this very foreign land, and hearing an entirely unfamiliar language, did not distinguish Leo from Reo, and as they left Leo village, they carried its name in a lazy lisp right to the top of the mountain. Not very surprisingly, even the name of the range this mountain lies in, is found on SOI maps by the name 'Zaskar', which is a repetition of an error made by the early surveyors for the word 'Zanskar', over a hundred years ago. And as for the dispossessed mountain who has quite literally been left out in the cold, you will find just a number, 6816 m, the figure that denotes its height in metres above the sea level.1

Let me explain. If it were true that this mountain was not visible from human habitation, one could assume that it had no traditional name. But this mountain stands proud, the tallest in Himachal Pradesh (yes, just taller than Gya, which is 6794 m). It is one of the most dominant features on the skyline from human settlements, both along the lower Spiti river, as well as those beyond the Shipki la in Tibet, along the wild Satluj. Sharing much in common, by way of landscape, language and culture, people on both sides are lashed by the same howling winds, find visited by the same demons and spirits that inhabit their land along with the shy pika, the solitary snow leopard, the edelweiss and the saxifrage. They have a name for each one of these, as they have a name for t'very spirit.


  1. See note at the end about the name and height. — Ed.


Photos 19 to 23

Jorkanden (6473 m.) Kinnaur Kailash range from range Reo Purgyil base camp.

21. Jorkanden (6473 m.) Kinnaur Kailash range from range Reo Purgyil base camp. Article 11

Route on Reo Puryil South (6816 m), final route to the summit.

22. Route on Reo Puryil South (6816 m), final route to the summit. Article11 (Yousuf Zaheer)

Looking to Shipki la where Satluj enters Kinnaur.

23. Looking to Shipki la where Satluj enters Kinnaur. Artile 11 (Yousuf Zaheer)

Every village, we are told, has an associated spirit, that presides over nil who dwell there; the livestock, the people, even the seasons and the pushing spring that sustains their lives. At 3624 m, Nako is a small village of one dog, and of kind and friendly people, who live by a 111 tits emerald lake ringed with ancient willow, and alive with carp. Purgyil l» the name by which the people at Nako know their presiding spirit. And high above Nako, on a clear day one can see, through patient ijllmpses between a strangely omnipresent swirling of clouds, the bold lummlt wedge of Pk. 6816 m, the mountain that people along the Spiti and in Tibet, have forever revered and called by a name. In the English language it could at best be written as 'Reo Purgyil'; the abode of Purgyil. The SOI surrogate, on the other hand, is not even visible from Nako, or from human habitation along the Spiti. It crouches back, almost furtive, nnd is only visible after you reach the unusually high site for the base camp at 5455 m. Of the two, its chances of having a traditional name seem more improbable. In plain decency, we travellers, the SOI and the IMF should stand corrected and restore to Pk. 6816 m its name and Identity. Not for any anthromorphic vindication we may imagine for Reo Purgyil, but as a rejection of careless and arrogant attitudes towards local people and their cultures.

Accounts in the HJ and the American Alpine Journal (AAJ), about climbs in this area, are rife in confusion about twin summits, twin mountains and their identities. It may be appropriate to sort out this mess here.

Apart from Pk. 6791 m being officially considered 'Leo Pargial', instead of Pk. 6816 m, all but one previous climbs have been on Pk. 6791 m, and all of them along the relatively straight-forward west ridge. But high up, at the top of the jagged NE ridge, which also forms part of the border between India and Tibet, is more than one high point. The highest two are 6770 m and 6791 m, clarified in the AAJ of 1974, as North and South summits respectively. These are the twin summits of the mountain erroneously called Leo Pargial (6791 m), and are only visible when you get close to the very top of the mountain, or from high on Reo Purgyil that lies quite south of it and has the vantage. Reo Purgyil (6816 m) however is an entirely distinct mountain from Pk. 6791 m, as is Thalay Sagar from Brighupanth, though they do stand out together, head and shoulders above any other around them, and is probably why they are referred to as twin mountains.

The one expedition that did go to Reo Purgyil (6816 m) and that made the first ascent of it was by the l.T.B.P. in 1971, at the beginning of a whole decade of fine exploratory climbs by it. Strangely, the official records of the l.T.B.P. do not even acknowledge this first ascent, on this startling mountain. At Nako, Man Singh and some other old men of the village will tell you that they accompanied the l.T.B.P. to Reo Purgyil (6816 m) as porters in 1971. They may also tell you, with some hesitation, that they have their doubts as to how many got to the top, but that one l.T.B.P. man certainly did, and that he had to be brought down to the gompa at Nako, wild eyed, in delirium, and possessed by the spirit Purgyil. Vol. 45 of the H.J. however, contains an official list of l.T.B.P. climbs between 1970 and 1988. The l.T.B.P. record that five of their men climbed Leo Pargial (and the height they mention is 6791 m) on the 20 and 24 September, 1971. In a list where they have taken care to mention even second ascents by them, they say nothing for this climb. Jagdish Nanavati of the Himalayan Club confirms that he recalls enquiries and discussions as to the identity of this mountain soon after. It is likely that this issue not having been resolved, their climb has somehow gone down on record as of Pk. 6791 m and therefore not a first ascent. You might ask how we are so sure that it was Reo Purgyil (6816 m) that was actually climbed by them? Well, more of that later. Let's now move on to the story of our trip.

This time we were not a very small group. Got together by Yousuf Zaheer, who is a professional river guide himself, there was Vikram Joshi and Jing Den, (J.D.) also river guides who worked the rivers with him. Ganiv Rajkotia and Anant Prakash, both artists and strong women. Ganiv makes films and Anant paints. Paramjit is an architect, and presently working at driving people up walls; the climbing ones. And me, Theo; I grow trees. With us were also Renis and Francis, Yousuf's regular kitchen stuff at the river. At Nako, we were joined by young Chodup from Chango, who has the most disarming smile. He and old Mansingh, both strong ami willing, would help us ferry loads, and teach us the lay of their land.

Yousuf chose the month of July, so Kinnaur was a natural choice. In July comes the monsoon and the mountain rivers swell. It is closed jlensun for river runners; Yousuf and the guides beach their rafts and head for the rain-shadow. The upper reaches of Kinnaur are contiguous tin Tibet, and are climatically identical. The great gravid masses of grey-blue rain clouds amass rank and file, and drift south of this arid moonscape, and it doesn't rain here. But they seem to whip up a wake of chill winds that blast the valleys and ridges. It is however, a good time to climb in Kinnaur.

We all assemble at Delhi and the 2 and 3 July are spent in hectic shoping and packing. Yousuf has everything worked out, from generous sponsorship from the Thapars, to a sleek Mazda mini bus, complete with stereo music and darkened windows that will take us as far as the road will. We leave Delhi on 4 July. The whole of north India seems to be blowing hot and in a haze, but in the cool bus, with beer and the 'Stones' it was different.

First up to Shimla and Sanjauli, and after we get our inner line permits Onto the beautiful rest-house at Narkanda for the night. We are late and there is no food to be had at the rest house, so back to town for dinner. A small dhaba is open and we eat hot rice and dal. Outside, a hill wind blows, the streets are dark and empty except for some friendly dogs and a couple of horny drunks, who lurch about where Ganiv and Anant are standing. I guess one look at the river guides, who were still in T shirts and shorts was enough, and they melted into the night.

5 July. The morning at Narkanda is classically scenic, and we can only get away after all of us are back from our compulsive individual walk in the forests around. We pass Kotgarh, famous for its crisp early apples. The trees are heavy with fruit, but not quite ready, and the people are priming up with packing boxes. The road descends to the satluj, and we with it. The Satluj is wide, powerful and a turbid grey. further down the road, Yousuf points out some sections he had rafted before They look fearsome. At one place, the valley narrows to a gorge, and the river goes insane. The river-guides read the river (which is in rather bold print) and yell river jargon in rapid-fire — 'look at that “haystack”, that "keeper",' and describe numerical grades, while I look on In river — illiterate awe.

Later at Soling nala, the road has run away with the river. Our bus cannot go further. But Yousuf anticipates this. His friend Deepak Sanan, Is also the District Collector of Kinnaur, so — no problem! A police Bus waits for us and we tranship our equipment, and are at Kalpa well Before dark.

It is really quite amazing. This treacherous old Hindustan-Tibet road which was a dangerous and arduous two week trek, is now a cool one day ride from Shimla to Kalpa along a cleverly sculpted road along the mighty Satluj gorge.

Quick hot baths at the rest house, and we spend the evening with the gentle Deepak and Dhanno Sanan, over Women's Wimbledon finals on TV, and a very welcome local brew made of wild apricots, which we called 'Apricot wild fire'.

6 July dawns clear, jorkanden and Raldang are spectacular peaks opposite Kalpa. The day is spent in acclimatization walks up to the alp above Kalpa, and in sorting loads. The evening, in the gracious hospitality of Dhanno Sanan. The slopes of Kalpa are covered with the unusual and beautiful Chilgoza pine (Pinus gerardiana). They possibly get their name from the earliest European travellers to Kinnaur, the Gerard brothers — as long back as 1818! We were too early in the year for the delicious nuts they yield. It is only beyond Kalpa does one notice the gradual transition from steep rocky slopes covered with Chilgoza pine to just steep rock, with barely noticable xerophytic vegetation. Above Kalpa, however, the alp was lush with familiar Thyme and Potentilla, even the many-headed Snake Plant (Arisaema tortuosum).

On 7 July, we leave Kalpa and wind our way along the strange and wondrous road to Nako. The Satluj is a constantly amazing spectacle. We pass Puh of the fabled apples, and along some unusually beautiful woods, stupendous rock faces, and waterfalls.

We got the first glimpse of our mountain from Khab, where the Spiti and the Satluj meet in thunderous union in a spectacular rock gorge. The mountain lived up to its image, jagged rock ridges east and west, rising into the clouds, but its countenance, mysterious and veiled. I could not help wondering what I was letting myself in for. We pass Leo village and reach Nako as the sun goes low, and settle into the rest house there, quite charmed by this little village. It is high for a permanent human inhabitation, and having stepped off a bus at that height, it was rather high for our lungs. We decide to stay at Nako for two clear days, spending time tripping about, acclimatizing, preparing loads and hiring mules to base camp. The 8th and 9th was spent doing just that.

We walk about the village, being greeted by the friendly people there with a 'Jule' from the heart. We also visit the ancient gompa, and offer money and Tibetan prayers to keep Purgyil in good humour. Deepak had given us permits for a couple of kilos of carp from the Nako lake. Renis, who was adept with a fishing net, got a few young carp for dinner. This clear emerald lake at Nako is like a jewel in the barren rocky land beyond the village. We were told a strange and amusing story about this lake. Many years ago, a 'government officer', in the true tradition of the Sahibs he strove to emulate, came down to Nako with a gun, and a dog to retrieve. Two plump ducks were cruising about on the lake, and being quite unaccustomed to being shot at, fell easily to his gun. The dog, however, was quite unaccustomed to such cold water, and 'his master's voice' even at different frequencies, could not make him jump in. No amount of cajoling, scolding or pleading would do, and the birds were now floating about, dead, but tantalisingly close. The man however, would not be outdone, for he believed in having his bird firmly in hand. He finally stripped and hurled himself into the lake and swam up to one of the ducks and grabbed it. For some reason though (may be the gent just froze) he could not make it back to shore, and just sank to the bottom. It wasn't surprising that nobody in Nako knew how to swim, and they just waited for the officer to float up, so that they could rid their lake of him. After 6 days and nights, our man obliged. He floated up, quite dead, but with the duck still in hand.

Chong Kumdan I (7071 m), route of first ascent via west face to northwest ridge. Chong Col (c. 6500 m) on left.

24. Chong Kumdan I (7071 m), route of first ascent via west face to northwest ridge. Chong Col (c. 6500 m) on left. Article 13 (Paul Nunn)

View from the summit of Chong Kumdan glaciers on right.

25. View from the summit of Chong Kumdan glaciers on right. Article 13 (Neil McAdie)

On the 10th, we did the first leg of our approach to the mountain, and halted at a grass meadow at about 4880 m. It was not a pleasant or scenic walk. There was not a tree after Nako, and the sun was harsh in the thin air. We walked up barren scree and grass slopes, with not even the sight of our mountain to encourage us. The site had water a little distance away, and some prostrate green shrubs that I mistook (or juniper from afar. But they were the Astraliagus condolleanus, with w«ll disguised spikes and pleasant yellow flowers.

The next day we resume our trudge up steep barren scree slopes lo the site of base camp at 5455 m, made interesting only by the exchange of conversation between two coveys of snow cocks (Tetraogallus hlmalayansis) who were surely close by, but difficult to locate unless flushed, because of their obliterative plumage and strangely ventriloquistic chatter.

The height gained in two days from an already high roadhead, was getting to our heads. Except Ganiv and Vikram, all of us had thumping liridaches. The site of base camp was quite idyllic. A flat field of broken rock just below a col, protected from wind, and with water at hand. A couple of wary pikas (Ochotona roylei) watched us from a distance, Pikas or mouse-hare, are from the rabbit family, though they look like Itrge tailless mice. Like rabbits, they are prolific breeders, the young being sexually fertile and able to conceive in the. very summer of their birth. Though shy, pikas are often confiding and will come quite close out el curiosity. This couple kept their distance all through our stay, but they enlivened our camp by their furtive scuttling about.

Paramjit and I decide not to bed down so high that night, and after dumping our loads, we descend over a thousand feet with a tent. We runch a small meadow with a quiet brook, and our headaches subside as the sun paints the sky, and we pitch tent.

We are up early on the 12th, and back up to BC, to wickedly enjoy story of the sleepless, breathless night most of them had at BC. The day is spent in fooling about, screaming down a steep ice slope with a makeshift sledge of a 'parath', the steel vessel we brought to hd dough in for chapatis.

In the afternqon, we are privileged by a visit of a lone bharal (Psuedois nayaur) above base camp. He looks long and hard at us, and then slowly strolls across the scree and snow slopes never turning to look back again. We scan the slopes carefully, for there must be more. Their flocks range from ten to an assembly of even two hundred! But no, this one is alone. It is only the really old rams that go very high, away from the flock and preferring solitude — only to join the ewes and younger rams in September, when they come into rut. This must be one of the old guys on his lay off.

The bharal, or the Himalayan blue-sheep, is an unusual animal. Neither sheep (Ovis) nor goat (Capra), it has clear traits of both, and has, as George Schaller put it, 'straddled the evolutionary fence'. It is perhaps very close to the ancestral goat-like animal, the Rupicaprine, which are thought to have evolved somewhere south of the Himalaya, in the evolutionary yesterday — say twenty million years ago!

The morning of the 13th, dawns spotless. After breakfast, all of us climb up to the ridge above BC and get a stunning view of Reo Purgyil, head-on. It is one of those rare days, and except for a few wisps of cloud that inexorably snag on our thorn-like mountain, it is clear. We return to BC somewhat shocked, but both excited and anxious.

On the 14th, some of us get up, and go for a load ferry and searching for a site for ABC. Chodup and Vikram are unstoppable, their enthusiasm and strength carrying them past many good sites. Mansingh and I stagger up to the high on the moraine below our mountain. We cache our loads on a large rock, and head back, finding better sites on our way back.

The next day, another unusually clear one, Yousuf and I spend in walking up and along the ridge above BC right past a long curve to where we get a view of the south face of Reo Purgyil. We settle down at different points and scan the mountain minutely with binoculars and a telelens, trying to pick out a route. The south face is as spectacular as the north face, with some forbidding overhangs thrown in. The west ridge however, looked feasible for a team like ours. Marco Pallis while describing this ridge said that it 'should make a grand climb.....though one or two passages might prove troublesome.' So the west ridge it would be. I drew a quick sketch of the mountain, for the rest to see at BC, and to compare with the one earlier sketched by Paramjit, from further west.

Looking down towards the glacier I could see the route we had picked through the moraine. There were some striking glacial pools, some of them a clear turquoise, and the more turbid ones, jade-green. One particular one, at the edge of an ice slope caught my eye. It was a small pool in what seemed to be a sheltered spot with some flat place around, and just at the base of the west ridge, the way we intended to go. Seemed worth checking out for the ABC. At sundown, when Reo Purgyil was in rich gold alpenglow, I tore myself away from the spot and headed back to camp.

On the 16th we made a light ferry to the clear blue pool, and established ABC. Back at BC, after tea and pakoras, we all went crazy throwing stones at cardboard targets, all feeling quite acclimatized, and possibly venting nervous energy.

On the 17th, all of us move up to ABC, and settle in. In the evening some of us trip down to look at The spectacular north face of our mountain. The lower western parts are active with rockfall, but further down, towards the centre of this face, the rock and ice seem to rise clean and solid, up 1000 odd metres and would provide one of the most classic mixed climbs I had ever seen. Big-wall stuff that should be climbed only by a very small fast moving, and strong team. Certainly not for us this time.

On the 18th we load up and set off up on the west ridge, to a place for Cl. It turns out to be an unpleasant treadmill up some very loose scree. We traverse right over a snow slope, which provided some excitement, because in places the snow was thin over ice and we had no crampons on that day. A good 300 m up, we find a site that Is reasonably good for Cl. We dump our loads and head down. The period of clear weather seems to have passed. There is now the usual shroud of clouds on the mountain, and short bursts of bright sunlight between clouds.

On the 19th Chodup, Mansingh, Renis and Francis ferry another set of loads to Cl, while the rest of us plan and sort out hardware and food. In the afternoon we hang around, bouldering and looking for crystals, hoping to strike fabulous gems. We find a fairly large garnet, and convince ourselves it is nothing less than a priceless ruby. I find some bluish crystals deeply embedded in granite, and go after it with a fever and mangle my ice hammer. It turns out to be fractured aqua-marine. Good fun though. Late at night, we wake to something that sounds like a war movie coming closer and closer. It was tons of rock crashing down Inwards our camp in great sparks and flashes of fire. JD hopped out, still in his sleeping bag, and sped away into the night sack-race style, but the rocks stopped short of our camp.

On the 20th, we move up and occupy Cl with all our gear. The weather seemed to be closing-in as we moved higher, and there was .i numbing wind that blasted the ridge we were on not less than 9 on the Beaufort scale. We have to struggle to prepare the site, and pitch our tents without them being snatched away by the wind into Tibet.

Chodup struggles for hours with a primus in his tent to give us hot noodles. We soon conk out listening to the harmonics of the wind.

We wake the next day to the flutter of our tents in the still strong wind. Zipping open a tent flap, we find ourselves in thick mist. Visibility is practically nil, and all the rocks are coated in rime. We lie about like reluctant caterpillars in our sleeping bags, waiting for the rime on Ihe rock to melt, so that we can go up. We are finally up and off up the ridge at 11.30 a.m. to recce and dump gear. It is an easy walk up prostrate granite slabs and some scree till a huge rock pillar that looks just like a fat hen facing south.

It is from here that the route gets exposed and interesting, and the n'.il climbing begins. We climb up to where the brood patches on our lien would be, and check out the route. There is a good traverse line on the south aspect of the ridge — severely exposed, but easy climbing with good protection. We dump our loads on a good flat site just below the hen (our C2 site) and head back to Cl. To our surprise, Ganiv and Anant have come up. It's Yousuf's birthday and we celebrate with lavish helpings of some of our high altitude goodies, and some sweets that they especially had made at BC, and of course some liquid to buzz our heads. We plan to move up the next day, should the weather allow it.

The 22nd dawns white, thick mists in the air, and very thick rime on the rock. The thin guy-ropes of our tents had turned to wide tape. The night had been one of violent winds, and a closer look showed inches long spicules of rime on the guy ropes in the direction of the wind. I wondered what my beard would have looked like, had I been out at night. The wind still blows furiously and nobody wants to move out of horizontal position. We tell each other that we have to wait till the frost and verglas melt. Our conversation has, as we have come higher, gone increasingly visceral. Commensurate to the altitude, we have all become, 'frank farters' and conversations are 'from both side now'. Taking our pants off "for a 'dump' in the searing wind and numbing cold was resorted to at the last moment, only in time to avert untold disaster.

The most characteristic feature of this mountain, is the ponderous play of wild winds on it. Rising from the Tibetan plateau, Rao Purgyil and its twin provide the first bluff to the winds, catching them and tossing them up in a vortex around it. While on the ridge, Yousuf once exclaimed seeing clouds converge on us from opposite directions! It is this strange play of winds that probably accounts for the almost omnipresent brooding of clouds on this mountain, and that gives it an aura of mystery, and fuels myth. The most pronounced vortex of wind is near the hen rock, and when it catches a cloud, I noticed that like all vortices in the northern hemisphere, this one is anti-clockwise too.

Finally, at 11.30 a.m. Yousuf, Paramjit and I go ahead beyond the 'hen' to open route. Anant goes back to ABC and then all the way to Nako village to wait for us. JD decides that he has had enough of the mountain, and goes back to Nako with Anant. Ganiv, full of beans and doing very well, decided to come up as high as she can. Though she had never been up to the high mountains before, she was doing better than most of us with the altitude.

So while Ganiv, Vikram and Chodup ferry a load and occupy C2 Yousuf, Paramjit and I sidle part our hen and fix about six lengths of rope, switching leads on a long traverse. It is enjoyable, easy climbing, nothing harder than an HS, but the exposure is thrilling; many thousands of feet down to the Satluj, and on very solid granite. We have our rock boots on and it is fun. We open route back on the ridge, past a very narrow section of the ridge to where it is wide enough to stand on. A peer down the north face of our mountain makes a certain part of our anatomy pucker up. All during the day, gossamer clouds come and snag on our mountain. Sometimes a cloud would tear free and between wild eddies of wind, we would get a glimpse of our summit. We were .lire to have some exciting climbing ahead.

We dump some of our hardware, and return to C2, and tell Ganiv, Vikram and Chodup what we had seen. Vikram is excited, but Chodup decides that he would rather not go up higher. Ganiv who never climbed before, agreed reluctantly to stay back at C2 with Chodup, since the mute was very exposed, and required regular climbing.

On the 23rd again there is poor weather. Vikram, Yousuf, Paramjit and I move up with all our gear, and move as high as we can on the very narrow ridge, till we reach a precipitous drop.

There is a very narrow flat strip on the ridge which would barely acommodate one tent, never mind the toilet spot. We check a little further ahead, but realise that we are on a rock pinnacle, which first iwrows down to a sculpted granite razor edge (yes, you could actually i ul your vegetables on it) and then drops down dead for some hundred feet, and carries on up to the final headwall and summit block. We divide to set C3 on this precarious eyrie. We stare and exclaim at the splendid rock wall ahead of us that was teasingly revealed to us between drills of cloud. It looks near vertical, but is solid granite with abundant crncklines running right up, with only short stretches of ice, which could he avoided without straying very far. We finally pitch our Dunlop dome tent, and jam in, the four of us, and settle down to hot brews and done-up biscuits, while the weather closed in well and proper.

The 24th continues to be closed-in with thick clouds and strong winds. It takes upto the afternoon for the hoar-frost and verglas to melt, but visibility continues to remain very poor. Paramjit and I pick up some pope and hardware and open about three ropelengths of route. The first is the descent from our pinnacle, and the second and third an airy traverse wards the head-wall. We fix the rope with pitons, dump some hardware, and returned to camp. We are surprised to hear that Chodup had nipped Up to C3 just to see if we were OK, and, to replenish our depleted food stock. He had returned to C2 where Ganiv was.

During the night I stagger out of our tent with a tortured bladder, fhr sky seems to be clearing and a big moon is about. The white fenlte summit block and head-wall stand out luminous and almost alive, suddenly, the story of the possessed I.T.B.P. soldier does not seem so Improbable, and a thrill runs up my spine. I tell myself it is only the cold, find squeeze myself back into the tent.

On the 25th we wake up eagerly hoping to see clear weather, but no luck. It has closed-in again, as bad as ever. Our food is running low and we are out of cooking gas. We have now to depend on our MSR stove, which had a already given us trouble when we tested it at Nako and we have only one one pin to clear it's nozzle.

We debate whether it is reasonable to continue to wait for clear weather or whether we should just go for it now. We finally decide to wait another day, because we had already been in bad weather for four days, and it was bound to improve. We also have survival rations for a day. Paramjit and I go ahead again and fix four rope lengths on the ridge that day. Three on the traverse, and a rappel down a classic rock dihedral to the final notch below the head-wall. As we sit at the notch the clouds clear for a few moments, enough to show us a very feasible line up the craefc systems. The summit block looks daunting, and with the play of shadows, even over-hanging a little. We return to camp eager and excited.

The 26th morning dawns clear! We are up and out, across the fixed traverse, and soon at the final notch below the head-wall. Paramjit and I haggle for the sharp end of the rope. We grin wickedly and bargain, and finally decide that 1 get the first pitch, Paramjit gets the second and third pitches (they look really exciting) and I again get whatever comes higher up.

I change from snow to rock boots and start up. The rock is firm and has superb friction. The climbing is steep but simple and I don't need to spend time with putting in protection.

I bring up Yousuf, Vikram and Paramjit who leads on up the next two pitches. They are also straight-forward but more interesting, up some neat cracks.

Not being used to climbing four together, we spend too much ti belaying each other and disentangling heaps of rope. By the time decide it would be better to climb two on a rope independently, have reached a gradual slab section, which we just scramble up. are over the head-wall and now take the gradual approach to the summit block, over a tangled mass of broken rock. The wind has picked up considerably, clouds move in, and the summit block begins playing hide-and-seek. As we move up close, we can see a beautiful diagonal crack running up the summit block, which is vertical but not hung over. There are easier routes right and left, but we are hungry for good climbing. I greedily declare that I would like to lead this pitch and tie on. Looking north over the ridge, we can see surrogate Leo in the evening sun, slowly drowning in a rising tide of clouds. We can clearly see the jagged north ridge rise and meet the summit in a series of pinnacles, the highest two being the south and north summits.

The entire pitch was around 18 m, and was thoroughly enjoyable. 1 put in a no. 1 size friend and a no. 3 size friend at a reasonable run out till the final section. Fist jamming and abundant holds in tha crack make the going good, and I get casual about putting in protection, till I pull on a loose flake. I get myself together, and jug my way to the wind-whipped top with a 12 m runout. Before going over I can not help stick up a fist and let out a whoop into the wind. It must have been a mild VS and I really enjoyed that.

The mountain fell away sharply on all sides, and on the very top, was a large cairn of rocks with a bamboo pole in the centre, with a tin strip nailed on. Etched on it were the words ‘ITBP EXP 1971'. Sd the I.T.B.P. had been up after all. I shout down to the guys, but my words are snatched away by the wind. 1 get in an anchor, and belay Yousuf, then Vikram, and Paramjit. While belaying Yousuf I sit crouching behind a rock, sheltering myself from the cruel wind, and get the most incredible view into Tibet, which is in pastel hues of brown, pink and grey. At places there are what seem like vast deep purple lakes, which are really shadows of clouds. Somehow the colour of Tibet seems different, almost as if one were watching a photograph in a different film format.

By the time Yousuf is up, the clouds swirl onto us, and the entire view is blotted out. When we are all up, there is back-slapping and photographs. We all in rock boots at 6816 m, and I do not even wear goggles. Yousuf ties on the large Tibetan prayer flag onto the I.T.B.P. pole on behalf on Nako village. The small prayer flag, a piece of paper with all our names on it, and my wrist band, are put into a plastic film canister and left near the cairn. I do not remember what time it is, but it is late afternoon. The wind is fierce, and it is time to head back.

We rap off a peg, and off slings and spikes all the way down to the notch below the head-wall. Yousuf and Paramjit head straight back to our eyrie camp, to get some snow going on the stove, while Vikram and I take off all the fixed rope and gear. The weather has slowly cleared again, and the traverse is sheltered from the wind. It gets dark, our sacks get heavier and we get careless, doing some stupid un-roped traverses in the fading light. Suddenly a big bright moon lights up the south face. As Vikram climbs ahead to C3, I sit a while savouring the day gone by, the astounding beauty of the place, and just being alive. Then back to the tent, and to the warmth of the candle light and friends.

We vacate the mountain really fast, three camps at a time. C3 to ABC on the 27th, and ABC to Nako village on the 28th. From Nako, it was a day to Kalpa in an open truck, another day to Shimla, and then straight down to Delhi in cabs.

We reached Delhi feeling like what deep sea divers must feel when they surface too fast. Quite 'bent'.

Editor's note

The name and the height of Leo Pargial has always been under discussion. It would be fruitful to recall the past literature here to trace the nomenclature.

This massif consists of three peaks. Two peaks to the north are Peaks 6791 m and 6770 m and the southern peak is marked as 6816 m on the last available map (1966). Marco Pallis who was first to record Ihese peaks called it 'North peak' and 'South peak' and gives a photo of both peaks. He clearly identifies Peak 6816 m as 'South Peak' in his book Peaks and Lamas, p. 83. He calls both the peaks 'Riwo Pargyul' quoting a legend.

Many legends connected with Riwo Pargyul exist, for in common with all permanent snow its twin peaks are regarded as sacred by the Tibetans. One of the chapels in the temple at Nako is dedicated to the' genius of the mountain; but it is now derelict, devoid of an altar and all furniture. On a rock near by, the imprint of the god's huge foot is pointed out.

There are even tales of early ascents: a pious lama, so it is rumoured, had actually climbed to the summit long ago. In more recent times a party of four villagers ascended the mountain on a quest for sapphires. When they reached the highest pinnacle, they found it to be formed out of a huge sapphire about a foot across and worth millions of rupees. They managed to dislodge it and were already well on the way down with their booty when a terrible storm arose and overwhelmed them all. The story sounds most credible to judge from our own experience on what we must, therefore, reluctantly claim to be no more than the third ascent. Exactly how the accident to the second party came to be reported with all its details is unexplained! There are other legends too; at Poo we witnessed a folk-dance performed to the strains of a ballad in which Riwo Pargyul figured prominently; but we were unable to secure a copy of these verses.

Kenneth Mason in Abode of Snow (p. 13) writes:

The Zasker range in this region is highest at its south-eastern end. Leo Pargial (22,280) rising immediately north of the Sutlej opposite Shipki, a neighbour (21,680) seven miles to the north, and Shilla (23,050) appears to be highest.

From this it appears that he had no doubt that the peak 'rises from the Sutlej', thus he meant the present day peak 6816 m. But he gave the height as 22,280 ft, that is 6791 m the height of the north peak.

The origin of this name and its confirmation was recorded in the editorial footnotes in the Himalayan Journals.

Kenneth Mason wrote in H.J. Vol. VI, p. 106, as footnote to Marco Pallis's article:

Leo Pargial is spelt Leo Purguil on the old quarter-inch atlas map of India, though it is spelt Leo Pargial in the Great Trigonometrical Survey Records, and on the Survey of India map of the Himalaya. The late Colonel Morshead used the form Riwo Phargyul, which is probably the correct form. According to Sir Sidney Burrard, the natives on both sides of the Bashahr border call the peak Rio Porgiul, but he recommends that the better-known form should be retained. The author of this paper spelt the words Liu Purgyal. There are several other variants. — Ed.

The same position was noted by Soli Mehta in his footnote in H.J. Vol. XXVIII, p. 55, under his own article:

The mountain has apparently several names — combinations of LEO, RIO, REO, RIWO and REWO with PARGIAL, PURGUIL, PURGYOL, PHURGYOL, PHARGYUL. The controversy can, therefore, assume alarming proportions if allowed to go out of hand (Ref. H.J., Vol. VI, p. 106, and Vol. XXVII, pp. 128 and 182).

The Survey of India ¼ inch sheet 531 (latest edition) establishes it as REO PARGIAL and we consider it best to stick to this authority. The height has been officially re-established at 22,280 feet instead of the original 22,210 feet.

Incidentally, on the Spiti River, just below Nako village is another village Leo — this may be a coincidence! — Editor.

But whatever the official version or name on the maps, the climbers and the travellers had always doubted it. It was noted in the H.J. Vol. XXVII, p. 182.

Note on the Name of the Mountain

The Survey of India call this mountain LEO PARGIAL on their ¼ inch sheet 53 I. Marco Pallis uses the same name in the H.J. Vol. VI 1934. We found that the local name is REO PURGYOL and this fact and the spelling is confirmed by Mr. N. D. Jayal, who has been Deputy Commissioner of Kinnaur for seven years (1960-67)

The Gerrard brothers in reporting on their travels in the area in the early nineteenth century used RIWO for the first name and a variation with a very similar pronunciation for PURGYOL. (I forget the exact spelling.)

The position is evidently quite confusing. But it appears fairly certain 1 hat the correct name of the massif is 'REO PURGYOL or PURGYIL'. As per the classification on the present maps, the peaks could be called North Peak I' at 6791 m and 'North Peak II' at 6770 m and the South Peak at 6816 m.

We have written to the Survey of India to clarify the present position based on the recent surveys, as regards the name and heights of these three peaks. Based on their information, the correct classification and nomenclature can be arrived at.


The second ascent of Reo Purgyil (6816 m) by an Indian team on 26 July 1991.


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