Capt. N. B. GURUNG and Lt. Col. SURAJ DALAL

(A) The Second Ascent of Panch Chuli II via Northeast Face
By Capt N. B. GURUNG, SM

THE PANCH CHULI MASSIF IN the Kumaon Himalaya lies on the Darma ganga and Gori ganga valleys divide. The pristine beauty of the Chuli attract not only the mountaineers but laymen too. Pyramid shaped Panch Chuli II is considered to be one of the most beautiful peaks in the Himalaya. The Panch Chuli massif has five summits which are numbered from north to south. Legend claims that the five Pandavas had cooked their last meal on the five peaks before ascending to heaven. Peak II at 6904 m is the highest. It was recceed in 1929 and the first attempt was made in 1950. There were attempts during the fifties but none could achieve success. One of the expeditions had rightly named the Dakhini Balati glacier a 'death trap' seeing it's ferociousness.

Towards its east are Sona and Meola glaciers where as Panch Chuli, Uttari and Dakhini Balati glaciers fall in the west. Darma ganga and Gori ganga both the main tributries of Kali drain these glaciers. The peak has an approach in Munsiari Sub Division which is approx 126 km from Pithoragarh (UP). The other approach is through Dharchula (90 kms from Pithoragarh) along the Darma valley.

I had the opportunity to have an aerial view of the massif as well as do the ground recce from both the approaches. Infact, we spent sometime in exploring Uttari and Dakhini Balati glaciers as also the Sona and Meola glaciers before the commencement of the expedition. The western approach from Madkot to the snouts of Balati glaciers takes 3 days through difficult terrain. It is strenuous to walk through the thick jungle beyond Hot Spring. After an arduous climb of 3 hrs., one can reach the snouts of the Balati glaciers. It surprised me to see the glaciers below the tree line at a height of about 3000 m, something which I had not experienced during the Trans-Himalayan expedition also. Dakhini Balati glacier is the direct approach to the Panch Chuli II, 6904 m, whereas Uttar Balati glacier is a lengthy approach curving from the northwest. Finally both the approaches meet at a snow- basin at the, foot of main peak. There are approaches to Rajrambha and Ngalaphu peaks from the Uttari Balati glacier.

Photos 13 to 16

Panch Chuli Gal

Panch Chuli Gal

The eastern approach along the Darma valley is easy going up to base camp (BC) including the moraine walk. There was snow at Nyulpa (BC) when I went for recce in June 1991. The two glaciers, Meola on the south fed by the four peaks of the massif and Sona on the north is divided by a ridge jutting out from the main peak. One can attempt all these peaks, making a base at Nyulpa. The main peak could be attempted either from Meola or from Sona glaciers. Sona route had to go through the glacier, whereas the Meola route could avoid the glacier to sorhe extent. The Sona route seemed to be a challenging one because one has to negotiate the whole glacier and icefall before reaching north col. However, we decided to take this route despite the report of the 1950 Scottish Himalaya Expedition and the problem faced by Graff and Snelson. Both the teams did make it to the top of Sona glacier but were unable to negotiate the difficult icefall to the north col. For me, the second reason was that I had a broad idea of the range which I had explored from all the directions as well by air. I was sure that once you make it to the north col or to any part of the ridge of the main peak from Sona glacier, one is through to the summit.

The expedition was flagged off on 22 July 1991 at Charma by our Colonel of the Regiment, 42 km ahead of Pithoragarh. On the same day the team reached Sobala roadhead via Ogla and Dharchula by vehicles. It takes another three days easy walk to Nyulpa (BC) along a scenic route. The villages which fall enroute are Dar, Bugling, Baling, Sela, Nagling and Dugtu. One can take the mules very near the base camp. Porters are also available in the valley at reasonable rate. One feels happy on reaching Dugtu, seeing the beautiful Darma valley and the majestic Panch Chuli massif. It takes only 3 hours of easy walk to the base camp at Nyulpa from Dugtu.

Route to C3 on Panch Chuli II from Sona glacier.

Route to C3 on Panch Chuli II from Sona glacier.

Base Camp 3700 m

The base camp was established by l August 1991 at Nyulpa which was located in a beautiful tiny meadow flanked by Meola and Sona galciers. From here Panch Chuli III, IV and V present a sight of enchanting beauty I ml only a little of the southeastern face of Panch Chuli II is seen of which we were so eagerly waiting to have a closer look.

Camp I 4650 m

The progress was marred by a daily downpour and low clouds due lo which the track became risky as it was through a vertical rock face, With small protruding projections just bare minimum for only one foot at a time. Beyond the base camp by the side of Meola glacier, the mill.' passed through rocky out crops which were interspersed with high water falls, thereby making it slippery all over. Once you negotiate this Obstacle you reach a beautiful ledge dominating the Darma valley. Earlier We pitched a few tents there and dumped the store but later I visualised the necessity of shifting this camp ahead. Cl was established on 8 August just below the rocky ridge which separates the Meola and Sona glaciers. It was a beautiful camp site and a dominating feature from where one in see the beauties of Darma valley, Api range far in the east in Nepal and the majestic Chulis. Now you overlook the middle of Meola glacier by ihe side and can hear the thundering avalanches sliding down Panch Chuli V.

View of northern summit ridge of Panch Chuli II from C3.

View of northern summit ridge of Panch Chuli II from C3.

I wanted to take a turn to the right towards Sona glacier in the north after negotiating the adjoining glacier on the ridge. On 8 August, Maj Alok Saxena was sent with Lale, Jhalak, Bhakte and the others who did a good job of crossing the ridge and opening a route to the edge of Sona glacier. After two days of struggle we were able to locate a rock island on the middle of Sona glacier.

Camp 2 5600 m

So far we had hardly fixed any rope. There were only four ropes fixed in bits and pieces in difficult patches of rock and ice. After a load ferry by the maximum strength of the team for two days, Alok's party had occupied C2 on 12 August. The strength was boosted again on 13th when I had sent Maj Goth and ND. I myself was located at Cl. C2 was now located in the middle of Sona glacier on a rocky island in a fairly safe place. As viewed from here the ridge which divides Meola and Sona glaciers and Panch Chuli II lies to the south, the ridge of Ngalaphu to the north; north col and ridge of main peak to the west. AH together these present a horse-shoe formation. One can have a beautiful view of the north col, the corniced ridge of main peak and the humped summit from this camp.

We had already opened a route ahead of C2 upto the head of Sona glacier and the bottom of the col on the 12th itself.

The Accident

On 13 August Bala and party took off early in the morning carrying essential loads supported by others. In fact they were told to recce the route on northeast face of the main peak as far as possible and the route was indicated by me in detail. The entire area was avalanche-prone and in danger of breaking of seracs. At places the gradient was 75°-85° and full of crevasses and ice-gullies. Tke three were climbing very slowly and it was obvious that the route was difficult. It was already 2.30 p.m. and we shouted at them to return. I had tried to give a signal by waving my red jacket but the soldier of old school, Bala Ram had kept on qoing ahead of all the others.

Approaching the three-fanged summit of Panch Chuli II.

Approaching the three-fanged summit of Panch Chuli II.

Finally they came down but not walking; they were hit by an avalanche triggered by a breaking serac. They were roped up and soon after sliding for about 120 m, Bala and Jhalak fell Into a small crevasse which was leapt over by Khim Bahadur. Jhalak fell on Bala and his crampons seriously Injured his back. He was evacuated to Cl with great difficulty late in the evening and I had lost a valuable member of my team.

Panchchuli II (6904 m), the route of second ascent. (Aerial picture from the east).

14. Panchchuli II (6904 m), the route of second ascent. (Aerial picture from the east). Article 7 (N.B. Gurung)

View from the northeast ridge of Panch Chuli II, looking north.

15. View from the northeast ridge of Panch Chuli II, looking north. Article 7 (N.B. Gurung)

The Summit Camp

I had been sending parties to the northeast ridge regularly but not much of a result was forthcoming for last four days. The route could mil be found. I knew that apprehension was developing in the team seeing the accident and the gravity of the climb. We were losing momentum. N. D. Sherpa spoke to me that he wanted to recce the approach leading to the lowest portion of the ridge between Sona and Uttari Balati glaciers and I allowed him to do so, however, he too failed to find a route.

I then decided to improve the route originally taken along the northeast d fall which leads to the north shoulder of the main peak, just above the north col, on a small black rock projection. The last portion of Ihr climb is 85°-90° and full of seracs. On 19 August, I gave a peptalk lo my boys and told them to follow me. I roped up with ND as we had a very old and comfortable understanding of climbing together. We had fixed ropes and turn by turn belayed each other to the last difficult portion of about 430 m and had succeeded in reaching a ledge at around 2 p.m. I was very happy as I could see the three fanged summit nearby. when I had got my lucky helicopter recce of the mountain over the Balati glaciers in winter I had a mind to come to this place from the Uttar Balati glacier, crossing the ridge which divides the Balati glaciers and walking through the snow-basin into the foot of the main peak. It was a clear day we could see Rajrambha and Ngalaphu peaks very near and the Nanda Devi sanctuary and Tirsuli in the far distance. The basin, the ridge dividing the Balati glacier and the snow-cladded hump south of the basin towards Dakhini Balati glacier were clearly visible as was the Munsiari valley. I gave the good news to Ujjal on radio at C2 of us reaching the summit camp and everyone's spirit rose. 3 p.m. Found us rapelling on the rope after pitching a tent and dumping the ferried loads. 24 ropes had been fixed by us.

I had decided to occupy C3 on the 20th, by nine members including me. I nominated nine of us for the first summit party to go to the summit camp in order to attempt the summit on the 21st and eight members as the second summit party. The first summit party on the way up was helped by the other members from C2 who carried their load half way.

By the time we reached the summit camp the weather deteriorated and any moment white out conditions could lead to disaster. After sometime it started snowing. We could barely pitch our tents and settle down. The tents were pressing with snow from all sides. We were trying to melt some snow in our small pots with the help of tiny gas cylinder but the weather became windy. I recollected the clear day of yesterday when we had sunshine till 3 p.m. and prayed to the weather gods to give us a chance.

The Assault

The whole night passed nearly sleepless, with us huddling together or beating back the snow or grabbing the tents. There was no improvement in the weather. On 21 August 1991, we were ready at 4 a.m. but could not venture out of our tent, in fact we were literally holding the tent from flying off. Finally at around 8.15 a.m. there was a slight change and we started for the summit around 8.30 a.m. Mane had to be left behind as he was not well. Khim Bahadur led the first rope under Krishne while I came alongwith the second.

The climb was on 70° gradient over treacherous ice, covered with freshly fallen snow. To avoid the danger of the corniced ridge, the team walked 6-9 m below the ridge line. The inevitable happened, when the team was nearing the three-fanged summit, slab avalanches were triggered off twice. Through the skin of our teeth Alok and I managed to arrest the fall by flinging down our ice axes as N.D. Sherpa and Goth dangled 1000 m above the basin. At 12.15 p.m. the summit was finally reached. Carefully avoiding the cornice of ice which overhung the peak, the exhausted team grouped round the flags which were proudly planted on the peak. The summiters were Alok, Goth, Krishne, ND, the two Ram Bahadurs, Khim and self. All, except Goth, from the Third Gorkha Rifles.

The return was equally horrendous. The exhausted team had to carefully find its way down, at one stage in near despair I spoke to Ujjal on the radio to pray for us as we feared for our lives. At 3.30 p.m. the bone tired men reached the sanctuary of the camp.

The second summit team was all set to attempt the peak. However, it was not to be. The gods closed the door to the peak, bad weather moved in and white out conditions prevailed; temperatures sinking to extreme levels. Realising the futility of challenging the peak again and now fearful for their lives, the expedition was called off.

Panch Chuli had finally been climbed from a new route after a gap of nearly 18 years. The attempt had added a glorious chapter to our Regimental history. It brought home the valuable lesson that if careful preparation and meticulous planning is done, then anything is achievable; for it is 'Only the brave deserve the fair'.

(B) The Third Ascent of Panch Chuli II, East Face

The Kumaon and Naga Regiment's Panch Chuli II expedition reached Dharchula on 17 August 1991. Dharchula is situated on the banks of Kali river which serves as boundary between Indian and Nepal. It is one of the sub-divisions of Pithoragarh district.

After preparations at Dharchula, our team left for base camp on 24 August 1991. We went upto Sobala by transport and from there started our trek on foot along the western bank of Darma ganga. This river In also known as Dhauli ganga. After a strenuous trek of 19 km, we ftached Sela (2500 m) on 25 August. It is a large village situated On jhl eastern bank. Porters and ponies carried our supplies and equipment (rom Sobala to base camp. At Sela the sun went westward behind the high and pointed hills a little early in the afternoon allowing the shadows lo cast their spell on our caravan. Next morning we left for Duktu. En route we passed through Nagling and Bauling. These two villages are located at very picturesque spots. Fields at this time of year were pink and red with Palthi and Phaper blooming all too bright.

Duktu village is situated at the confluence of Sona gad and Darma anga. Sona gad emanates from Sona and Meola glaciers which lies north End southeast of Panch Chuli II, respectively. This place at 3050 m. is an ideal place for acclimatization. We camped here and selected base cnmp site during our acclimatization training. Meanwhile we started dumping our stores at BC (3660 m) which was established at Nyulpa. After acclimatization, we reached the camp on 30 August. This place is spectacularly brautiful. It is a small flat ground with springs running through it. It has a rich and thick green turf. Panch Chuli V is across the moraine on Meola glacier from here. Right above it lies the east ridge running Uplo Panch Chuli II. This ridge is a divide between Sona and Meola uliw icr. This ridge is totally sedimented and keeps breaking without any provocation. By now stocking of BC was complete. From BC recce for rout to Cl site was undertaken by Ganesh Pathak, Kundan Singh, Chander Singh and Dan Singh. This route was over precipitous cliffs. Four ropes were fixed on this route. Cl (4570 m) was stablised on the debris accumulated till I he southern side of the ridge. It was a precarious site but under the piven conditions it was the only option available. From this place can see the Panch Chuli group clearly. Meola glacier lying on to west and south of this ridge presented a very formidable view. The broken mosaic on the surface of the glacier put fear in the mind of untrained mountaineers. Upto this point we had not been confronted with any major problem. From this point onward, there was no route visible the eye. Over the glacier, no. Then should we cross over the ridge enter Sona glacier, No. We had to keep to the eastern ridge. Going towards Sona would lead to north col. Over the ridge then! Impossible. Singh followed by his rope led the way in search of a route over rough terrain. The approach was over seracs, avalanche-prone slopes and through falling boulders. It was up and down. The slope was slippery dangerous. You fix the rope in the morning and on your way back lie afternoon you found it peeled-off at many places due to stones falling down the slope. 'Could you locate any site for C2?' 'No sir, i very dangerous approach'. 'Not even a small little place to accommodate two tents ?' We will have to make a shelter under a boulder we have seen today'. Next day two tents were pitched there. The site was abandoned to see the effect of night, the next day. Next day the tents were in their places and the camp was occupied.

From C2 we could choose our route to the summit. Should we go along the south column of the east ridge and then take the ridge to the summit? The ridge Is heavily corniced towards east, towards us. It is not possible to go along this ridge. The western side was not visible. Kenneth Snelson in 19501 had tried going along this ridge, but he had to abandon the attempt just about 120 m above the south col. This approach was ruled out. We selected the glaciated south eastern face. It was avalanche-prone. But the rope could be fixed. Ice-sheet was thick enough to hold the pitons in position. We decided to take this approach. On this approach, there is a branch of Meola glacier. Three days of observations assured us that the glacier was firm and calm. We could take the chance, and we did. Going over it along its entire length. C3 was established on the Meola glacier about a km short of the south col (col between Peak II and Peak III) at 5490 m. This site was flanked by crevasses. These crevasses were taking care of falling rocks and ice-blocks from either side.


  1. See H.J. Vol. XVII p. 97 Ed.


From C3 every inch upto the peak was to be fixed with the rope. It took us three days to fix the rope upto a height of 6100 m. On 13 September Capt. Pathak, Lt. Tiwari, Nb Sub Dan Singh, Chander and Rajender alongwith Lok Pal, Bhawan Vishimdatt, Kundan and Jagat Singh moved up for C4. Out of this party of 10, only six members reached C4 site after a gruelling climb of 9 hours. Four of them stayed there and the remaining came back to C3. Capt. Pathak reached 04 at 8 p.m. C4 was established. Recce beyond C4 was hampered due to bad weather. However, as the day wore on, Dan Singh along with Chander Singh ventured out to fix three ropes towards the peak. Bad weather forced them to return early. At C3 party comprising Lok Pal, Rajender Singh and Jagat Singh left with ropes, pitons and food for C4. On 15 September Kashmir Singh alongwith Kundan, Bhawan, Rajendra Singh left for C4, with more equipment and gear the sun was playing hide and seek. By 10 a.m. weather packed up and mercury started dipping down. However, Rajendra Singh was first to reach C4. He delivered his stores and came down. En-route they met Kundan and Bhawan going up. These two climbers were benighted and had to stay up in C4, which comprised of only one tent. Already there were four members staying up in that tent. Two additional members inside the tent had made the living for the night miserable. Kundan had fallen ill. He was to be evacuated next morning. Assault party was contemplating the attempt on the peak on the coming day. They had fixed rope to a point about 150 m short of the peak. They needed some more ropes to fix next day. There was no rope in C4. Bhawan Singh volunteered to come down from C4 at 4 p.m. to a place where the ropes, pitons and ice-bars were anchored by Kashmir's party. He displayed tremendous strength of physique and character in this act. Bhawan Singh had gone up from C3 to C4 and he came down to the place where the equipment was anchored and returned to C4 before 8 p.m. the same evening. Weather was not improving.

16th morning was worst day weather wise. Members in all camps were instructed to remain indoors. The assault party in C4 was waiting for the weather to improve. At 11 a.m. when the weather further worsened, C4 was told to await for the day. Kundan and Bhawan were told to come down to C3. That evening we conferred with the assault party on radio set. It was for the past four nights that the assault party of four members was staying in one tent at C4. The weather had been bad forcing these men to stay indoor even during day time. Speculation, anxiety and lack of rest could tell very heavily on them. It may even dwindle their resolve if such weather conditions persist for couple of more days.

Next day broke. It was 17 September. It was a clear morning. No winds. Warm and gentle sun smiled on us.

Ganesh spoke to me from C4. He was in a jubilant mood. C4 was situated in a depression and was not visible from C3 where I had positioned myself. It was after half an hour's climb from C4 towards the peak that we could see them on the eastern face of Panch Chuli II. We picked up their movement through the zoom of video camera. By 8.30 a.m. Ihey had reached the point upto which the rope was fixed earlier on. Trom this point onward, they had to fix the rope. Further movement was slow. Our hearts were beating faster as we were monitoring the progress being made steadily by each member. At 10 a.m. the summit party reached a little short of the cornice on top of Panch Chuli II. We could see Dan Singh, Rajendra Singh moving up and down to discover ,1 slot to reach up to the top. It took them one hour doing this kind (if recce. Finally they broke through the cornice and at 11 a.m. Dan Singh and Rajender Singh hoisted the flag on top of Panch Chuli II. Chander Singh and Capt. Ganesh Pathak' joined them soon. The peak Was climbed from the eastern face and eastern direction for the first lime. History was made by the Kumaon and Naga regiment team.

  1. The second ascent of Panch Chuli II (6904 m) by the Indian Army Team (413 Gorkha Rifles) via the Sona glacier, northeast to north ridge route, on 21 August 1991.
  2. The ascent of Panch Chuli II (6904 m) by the Indian Army Team (Kumaon and Naga regiments) by the east ridge. This was the thir ascent of the peak on 17 September 1991. Both were new routes on the peak.


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