A DAWDLE IN THE DIBI
Prologue, or The Death of an Expedition
IT ALL STARTED very respectably: five climbers to ••attempt a second ascent of Kulu Makalu (6350 m) in the Dibibokri basin of the Parvati valley. Our confidence, however, was shaken when three of them pulled out for various reasons. Which left only Harsha and me to climb while Franklyn said he would be happy to mind the base camp, thank you very much. So we scaled down our ambitions to a suitably vague concept of 'looking around,' without fixing any objective.
Franklyn and I were outmanoeuvred in the opening set which saw us travel overland with all the expedition gear to Manali, which we reached on 30 August. Harsha, with Anita in tow, would fly in directly to Bhuntar and the two would rendezvous with us in Kullu. To recover from the joys of bus travel, we went up to (or at least that was the intention!) Bhrigu lake the next day from Vashisht. Our sea-level systems collapsed a little below the nearly 4300 m where the tarn was located, so we camped on lush green meadows. After a night of rain, which threatened to create a lake all around us, it cleared in the morning and we tasted sweet trekker's revenge when the peaks above Beas Kund and near Rohtang pass appeared freshly laundered. Later, shepherd Tarachand Thakur led us in ninety minutes to Bhrigu Lake, which was so exquisite that we did not grudge our friends their air tickets.
To the Dibi
After another foray up the Alaini nala and two commuter shuttles to Kullu for our permits, the four of us set off at last on 9 September from Manikaran for the Dibi nala. Night halts at Rudra Nag, Tunda Bhuj and a shepherd's stone shelter in the Dibi, saw us reach the base camp 4020 m on the 12th, just in time to bid farewell to a large contingent from Bengal which had been in the area. Which left us the sole inhabitants in an area of 200 sq kms drained by four glaciers. All the porters left us here, except for Ramlal, who helped us with two loads to an advance base camp (4630 m) at the snout of the west glacier. When, four days later, he and Anita left, Franklyn, Harsha and I moved up to this camp, arriving in a snow-shower.
After two days of ferrying loads up this glacier, Harsha and I decided to climb the icefall at our doorstep (it took ten minutes from the tent to reach its bottom!) as a diversion.
Diverting and devious it certainly proved to be, providing us with about seven hours of very enjoyable ice-dimbing, well within our humble powers, and some grand views of the peaks above the main Dibi glacier.
Having run out of excuses to remain at ABC, the two of us camped up on the glacier, below the fourth tributary icefall on the right bank. On 24 September we dimbed a minor peak above the icefall. It was a very easy and simple climb and roping up was necessary only when we came to cross the bergschrund giving access to the ridge. The summit was a rocky jumble of boulders with fabulous views all around. On the way down we visited the col leading into the Tichu glacier which Snelson had crossed in 1952, and were rewarded with good views of the peaks in the Tichu nala.
However, the highlight of the day were some tracks in the snowfield below the peak which we hoped in our excitement to have been made by a snow leopard, but had to reconcile ourselves to the view that they probably belonged to some other animal.
In all our to-ing and fro-ing up and down the glacier, an elegant pyramid, shown as Ice Sail in Tremonti's excellent sketch, had always drawn our eyes upwards to its summit and we had harboured a secret hope to dimb it. The obvious line up its north ridge, accessed via an icefall on the opposite (left) side of the glacier from where we were camped, seemed to be within our capability.
On the 27th having set the alarm for 0230 hrs, we were out of the tent at four o'clock and crunching across on the hard glacier ice to the foot of the icefall, a large moon illuminating the way. The lower part was fairly simple and the rope came out only an hour below the ridge when crevasses loomed beneath the undulating snowfields. The rocky triangle of the west face was in shadow even as we crested on to the sunlight at the foot of the north ridge at about 8 o'clock. A tea break was called here and then we started up the ridge. At first the snow was quite firm, but became deeper and softer the higher we dimbed. A deep bergschrund, deverly camouflaged, split the face below the summit block and after a couple of futile attempts, I managed to cross over from the extreme left, which brought us directly over the no. 2 glacier. An hour and a half of some very enjoyable dimbing with the splendid backdrop of Parvati and the Dibibokri Pyramid behind us and the glistening tangle of the Parahio system ahead, brought us to the rocky summit at 3 p.m. just as a fine mist began to creep up the mountain. Our timing, and, more important, our luck, had been perfect - and there was a bonus: a first ascent on my birthday! What better icing on a cake could one hope for?
Not carrying any sort of flag or banner, we showed our gratitude by donating a red rope sling to the summit rocks, clicked a few pictures, washed down a few almonds with some powder-juice and carefully made our way down. At 7 p.m. we located our tent by the light of our headlamps.
Rubal Kang and the Col
Twenty four hours later I was drying my boot inners over the stove at our camp two, around 5370 m, at the head of the west glacier. We had arrived there the previous evening, and in my enthusiasm to get water from a deep ice-runnel near camp, had slipped and fallen upto my waist. Anyway, this seemed as good a way as any to kill time as the next day was dull and wintry.
On 30 September we again woke up early but could move only at 0545 hrs because it was cold and windy; in fact so windy that our jaws thawed only when the sun came out from behind Parvati and we could speak the first words of the day. The lower slopes leading to Rubal Kang were icy but easy. Soon we began to enjoy the cold, sunny day, especially as we crossed the bergschrund at the foot of the middle of the south face and began to climb its steepening ice. A protrusion of rocks halfway up the face provided some aesthetically satisfying runner and belay ledges. After about 300 m, the face sloped onto the gentle west ridge. However, the wind which slammed into us as we crested onto it was far from gentle. For an hour or so we struggled up towards the summit before deciding that the whole thing about reaching the top (which now lay a few hundred metres away and maybe 90 to 150 metres higher) was quite futile under these conditions. Crouched in the wind, with the windblown snow stinging our faces, we shouted our decision to go down.
To complete our stay in the area, the next day we visited the 5550 m col leading into the No. 2 glacier and revelled in the fabulous views of Parvati, Corner Peak, Kulu Makalu, the Dru and another formidable rock monolith next to it. On 2 October, we staggered into advance base with heavy loads to be received by a visibly overjoyed Franklyn who had been alone for eleven days. He told us the dismal news of the civil war in Yugoslavia (we had left the radio behind with him) but this hardly dampened our spirits. That evening we celebrated our reunion and our modest success with a feast: corned beef fried up with a few remaining onions and a bewildering array of seasoning, including garlic paste, veg puree, tomato puree, a few dried herbs, pepper and chilli powder; a big helping of 'khichri', mugs of hot chocolate; and everything topped off with Harsha's private hoard of cognac!
1. 'The Dibibokri Basin...and beyond'. By Kenneth Snelson, H.J. Vol. XVIII p. 110.
2. 'Italian expedition to the Punjab Himalayas, 1961'. By Paolo Consiglio, H.J. Vol. XXIV p. 86.
3. 'Expeditions to the Ratang and Parbati regions, 1955 and 1956'. By P. F. Holmes, H.J. Vol. XX p .78.
4. 'The first ascent of Mt. Parvati'. By Tremonti M., H.J. Vol. XXX p. 201.
5. 'South Parbati 1970'. By Charles Ainger. H.J. Vol. XXX p. 228.
6. 'South Parbati 1973'. By R. Collister, H.J. Vol. XXXIII p. 151.
7. 'The first ascent of Dibibokri Pyramid, Kulu, 1978'. By Nick Hewitt Alpine Journal 1979, p. 115.
8. Mountains and a Monastery, P. F. Holmes, London 1958.
A Note on Pt. 5836 m
This peak on the Tichu/West Glacier divides often mistaken been climbed as Rubal Kang by many Indian teams in the past. HAPs, who have guided climbs on this false 'Rubal Kang' confirm this. However, in Snelson's article (H.J., Vol. XVIII, p. 110), it is clearly evident that Rubal Kang (Tibetan for Turtle)*, 6150 m, is the peak which is adjacent to the unmistakable tower of (Kulu Makaluo Lai Qila) 6350 m, shown in P. Conciglio's article (H.J. Vol. XXIV, photo opposite p. 88) and also in the photo accompaning this article.
Small climbs in the west glacier of the Dibibokri basin, Parvati valley-Kullu Himalaya, in September 1991, including the first ascent of 'Ice Sail' (estimated at 6250 m) via north ridge. The Indian team was from Bombay.
Members: Harshavardhan Subba Rao, Franklyn Silveira and Aloke Surin.