AROUND DANU DHURA
AFTER DISCUSSING VARIOUS ideas, we were keen on a visit to the Shalang gad in the Kumaon Himalaya. The Himalayan Journal XIII, p. 134 carried an article on 'Possible Alternative to Traill's Pass'. We studied this in detail. In August 1926, after an expedition to Kailas in Tibet, H. Ruttledge and Colonel Wilson crossed Traill's pass from the Johar side to Phurkia. They had with them a party of four Bhotias from Martoli village in Johar, headed by Diwan Singh Martolia who was well known as a guide. These four were dismissed at Phurkia to return to their village, and advised to go by the safe Namik route. They had ropes and some equipment with them. Instead they struck up east from Phurkia, slept the first night below the snow-line, and keeping south of Nanda Kot found themselves by midday the next day in the Shalang gad, and were in their village Martoli the same evening. This information was gathered by J. C. Donaldson in June 1945.
Harish Kapadia and his team had attempted to cross over this pass from the Shalang gad in 1988 but bad weather forced them to retreat from a high camp just below the ridge between Nandakhani and Laspa Dhura. We also studied pictures of the Nandakot, Nandakhani, Nandbanhar peaks taken from Shalang Dhura by Vinay Hegde in 1991. It showed a possibility to cross over the connecting ridge between Nandakhani and Laspa Dhura. Geoff Hornby had visited the area in 1987 with an Indo-British expedition in which they had scaled Laspa Dhura, Nandakhani and Nandabhanar from the Pindari valley. His article describes a route from the Pindari which matches with observations of J.C. Donaldson. They had in fact reached the Danu Dhura from the Pindari glacier.
We were very excited with the idea of crossing the Danu Dhura from Shalang gad and attempting peaks Nandabhanar, Nandabhanhar and if time permitted Nanda Kot. Once we reached the Danu Dhura, attempting the first two peaks would not be much of a problem but Nanda Kot was another question. Except for Geoff Hornby's comments on the possibility of attempting the south face of Nanda Kot, discussion with most people who had viewed the face was discouraging. A detailed study of the map however gave us some hope on the possibility of the attempt, ^ith this in mind we set about planning and organising our expedition.
Our final team consisted of Mrs Immai Hu, Ms. Chetna Rana, Mrs Vineeta Muni and myself. We had hired two H.A.P.'s from Manali to assist us. Yograj Thakur and Koylu Ram became two more members of the team.
The three ladies left Bombay on 10 September 1992. They trekked from Munsiari to Lilam, Bugdiar and on the third day to village Martoli. The trek is along the true right of the Ghori ganga through thick forest. The gorge narrows down at many places to a few hundred metres with towering granite walls on both sides. A paradise for the rock climber. As the winter was setting in the shepherds and residents of the valley were moving down with their flocks to the lower regions. At Martoli our team stayed in one of the houses in the village. They now had to move into the Shalang gad.
1. For earlier expeditions see, H.J. Vol. 45, p. 53 (Kapadia), H.J. Vol. 44, p. 76 (Hornby) and H.J. Vol. 48, p. 174 (Hegde). - Ed.
The Shalang gad is formed between two high ridges. From northeast to southwest, on the right lie the peaks Martoli (4586 m), Sheila Dhura (5264 m), Tamkhani (5218 m), Shalang Dhura (5678 m) and Dangthal (6050 m). From southwest to northeast, on the left lie the peaks^Laspa Dhura (5913 m), Nandakhani (6029 m), Nanda Kot (6861m) and Kuchela (6294 m).
As you move up from Martoli, the track stays close to the right of the valley. After about a two hour walk, one has to dimb up steeply to high alps. You come to Talla Shalang (lower Shalang). Two stone shelters have been made by the shepherds where they camped. Further ahead is Malla Shalang (higher Shalang) and Karbaciya. A little after Karbaciya they had to climb down to the glacier and cross over to the left. A short climb up the lateral moraine and they came upto Bhadeli Gwar and the base camp site was below the north-east ridge of Nandakhani at 4800 m on 20 September.
Shalang Dhura (5678 m)
One night was spent at Karbaciya and they moved up the scree and grass slopes for 500 m. They had decided to put up a camp at about 5100 m. Next day they went up deep snow to the top. The dimb was exhausting due to the deep snow. They soon made their way back to the camp and next day down to Karbadya and base camp.
Travelling alone I reached Munsiari in 3 days from Bombay, and two days to base camp. 1 received a great welcome at base camp. Every one was very eager to go ahead to Danu Dhura. Since they had already spotted a good route to the pass, we would go up with loads.
We left early. The cold was biting. We moved southwest from base camp, skirting the Nandakhani massif keeping the glacier on our left. We continued gradually gaining height in a broad gully till we reached a small basin. A small icefall came down from Nandakhani. Crossing it was tricky, since stones came down with the melting. Once across, a short climb of about half an hour brought us level with a plateau which we could skirt to reach the base of Danu Dhura. To reach Danu Dhura would take many more hours, judging from the terrain we decided to pitch Cl (5200 m) on the edge of the plateau at the east end of Nandakhani.
Camp two and Danu Dhura
From Cl we had to skirt the plateau and dimb up to the depression between Nandakhani and Laspa Dhura. The terrain was broken with crevasses. We made our way close to the slopes of Nandakhani and started climbing the snow slopes diagonally towards Danu Dhura. Rope had to be fixed at one point to cross the slope along a crevasse line. We fixed markers throughout. The last traverse was below the corniced ridge of Nandakhani. We reached the depression on the ridge with mixed feelings. We were happy to be there, but across, things didn't look too good. We would have to traverse down a steep gully to reach the plateau on the other side. The route towards Pindari was badly broken and we would have to dimb down an icefall. There was no suitable spot for a camp at the pass and the route to the camp between Nandakhani and Nandabhanhar was not dear. Since the weather was packing up we found a suitable spot to dump our loads and made our way down.
Next day we reached the pass in clear weather. We had a good look at the terrain now. To attempt Nandakhani from the south ridge which connects Laspa Dhura would be difficult since it was badly broken and huge gendarmes blocked the way. We would have to find some other way towards our summit camp.
We decided to shift camp now. From the pass we traversed down a steep gully and reached a plateau. A little ahead we set up camp. It was evening by the time we pitched out tents and brought down the loads from the dump. Sunset was a riot of colours. The tiredness of the day wa£ forgotten.
A snow ramp climbed towards an icefall coming down from Nandabhanar. We hoped that we would be able to skirt the icefall and find a way to put up C3, which we had planned to locate between Nandakhani and Nandabhanar. Our attempt to find a way proved futile since huge seracs blocked the way. We looked for an alternative route. There is a rock ridge coming down to the southwest. From a distance this looked reasonable. Only, we were not sure how it ended. It was our best bet so we went to the base of it and dumped our loads. We would come up next day and go up the ridge. We would take up seven day's rations to the last camp, to attempt all three peaks.
Next day we started off early. From the base of the ridge we had to fix a rope since the rock was very steep. At the end of the first rope length we roped up to climb the rest of the ridge. I suggested that we fix two more rope lengths, though we may take some more time, but movement would be much safer. After that the angle of the slope eased and we roped up and belayed each other to the top of the ridge. The last pitch was steep but with firm snow. The most wonderful sight greeted us as we crossed the last slope to the plateau. Straigh? ahead stood Nanda Kot. The south face dominating the view. On the left was Nandabhanar and to the right was Nandakhani. We dumped our loads near the base of Nandakhani. We were sure the next few days would be very rewarding. However the Gods had something else in store for us a storm. We all had to withdraw to base camp.
Our fortunes had taken an unfortunate turn. We would have to wait for the snow to settle before moving up. This would mean another two days at base camp. It was 13th October. We were nearly into the beginning of winter and it was time to start winding up. We came to a consensus that if the weather remained settled, Yograj, Koylu and I would go up to retrieve the equipment and if possible attempt the peaks. It would have to be a quick attempt.
We waited" for two days. On 15 October, Yograj, Koylu and I left for C2. The slopes below the Danu Dhura had avalanched. We had come down in time. On the 16th we left early for C3, reaching by 12.30 p.m.
Nandakhani (6029 m)
We pitched camp and had a hot drink. Considering the unstable weather and shortage of time, we decided to attempt Nandakhani that evening. We left by 1.45 p.m. The route went through deep powder snow. The snow slope meets a rock patch below the summit ridge. The snow was so unstable that I felt as if I was swimming in the snow. The rock was steep but with good holds. A short overhang was negotiated before reaching the rocky summit ridge. By 3.20 p.m. we were at the top. Due to clouds the view was obscured. We were back at the camp by 4.30 p.m.
Nandabhanar ($236 m)
That night we spent cramped in a single tent. The cold was intense. We had planned to leave very early so we were up by 4 a.m. but it was so cold that we decided to leave after sunrise. At 7.30 a.m. we came out of the tent shivering. We started walking across the plateau quickly in order to generate some warmth. We went to the southeast face of Nandabhanar. The snow was deep so we felt no need to put on our crampons. Higher up the slope, the snow was harder. We came to a point where we had to put on our crampons. We made our way diagonally from here till we reached the southwest ridge of the peak. We front pointed our way to the summit by 10.45 a.m. From the top we were rewarded with views of Nanda Devi peaks. The lower altitudes were covered in clouds but we could see the peaks of the Pindari and Sunderdhunga valleys. To the north of us was Nanda Kot. Unfortunately we could not attempt the peak now. We discussed possible routes to attempt Narida Kot from the south. It would be possible to put up a camp or bivi at 6400 m below the south ridge of the peak. From here it would be a 400 m climb to the peak. To our south we had a look at the south ridge of Nandabhanar. To get across to Pindari valley one would have to cross this lower down at about 5600 m from where Geoff Hornby and his team had come up in 1987.
We came down the east ridge and were back at our camp by 12.30 p.m. It had started snowing by the time we were in camp. Fearing another spell of bad weather we decided to move down immediately. It took us four hours to make our way down the ridge and remove the ropes fixed earlier. It was the fourth day since we had left base camp. Moving two camps at a time we had managed to scale Nandakhani and Nandabhanar and retrieve all the equipment from the mountain. This was the second ascent of the peaks. We were satisfied with the climb. It was unfortunate we could not attempt Nanda Kot. It would have been a good climb. Maybe some time in future. Maybe we could try to come up from Kafni glacier or Pindari glacier. Maybe!
An Indian team from Bombay reached the elusive Danu Dhura (5560 m) from the east. Shalang Dhura, Nandakhani and Nandabhanar peaks were climbed in October 1993.