Himalayan Journal vol.49
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.49

Publication year:
1993

Editor:
Harish Kapadia
Index
  1. THE PSYCHOLOGICAL UTILITY OF MOUNTAINEERING*
    (JOHN THACKRAY)
  2. BASINGTHANG PEAKS - EXPLORING IN THE HIDDEN KINGDOM*
    (PETER MOULD)
  3. DORJE LHAKPA, 1992
    (CARLOS BUHLER)
  4. BIG BIRD FLAPPING WINGS
    (DR. ANDREW POLLARD)
  5. KUSUM KANGURU, 1991
    (STEPHEN VENABLES)
  6. PUTHA HIUNCHULI
    (ANDREW KERR)
  7. EVEREST SOLO
    (JONATHAN PRATT)
  8. THE WORKMANS : TRAVELLERS EXTRAORDINARY*
    (MICHAEL PLINT)
  9. FIRES ON THE MOUNTAIN Ascents in the Panch Chuli Group
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  10. RAJRAMBHA AND PANCH CHULI V
    (A. V. SAUNDERS)
  11. AROUND DANU DHURA
    (DIVYESH MUNI)
  12. MANA NORTWEST EXPEDITION, 1992
    (ARUN SAMANT)
  13. A DAWDLE IN THE DIBI
    (ALOKE SURIN)
  14. INDIAN EVEREST EXPEDITION: NORTH FACE, 1991
    (Group Captain A. K. BHATTACHARYYA)
  15. MONGOLIA - THE GREAT ESCAPE
    (LINDSAY GRIFFIN)
  16. THE CLIMBING PARTNER - THE OTHER EXPERIENCE IN THE HIMALAYA
    (CHAMPAK CHATTERJI)
  17. HIMALAYAN JOURNAL VOLUME II (1930)
    (AAMIR ALI)
  18. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES TOWARDS GORICHEN
  19. A SECRET MOUNTAIN Haj Gyala Peri Expedition 1986
    (YOSHIO OGATA)
  20. ON TOP OF THE WORLD!
    (ERIC SIMONSON)
  21. INDIAN (ITBP) EVEREST EXPEDITION, 1992
    (HUKAM SINGH)
  22. TWO SPANISH CLIMBS
    (FRANCISCO SONA CIRUJEDA)
  23. SAGARMATHA SOUTHWEST FACE EXPEDITION, 1991-1992
    (YOSHIO OGATA)
  24. SAIPAL, 1992
    (CHUCK EVANS)
  25. ANNAPURNA SOUTH FACE
    (TONE SKARJA)
  26. ITALIAN RANG GURU EXPEDITION, 1991
    (GIANCARLO CONTALBRIGO)
  27. NILKANTH - THE ENIGMA
    (GRAHAM LITTLE)
  28. ASCENT OF CHAUKHAMBA I
    (Col. AMIT C. ROY)
  29. MANA PEAK
    (Capt. S. P. MALIK)
  30. YOGESHWAR, 1992
    (SIMON YEARSLEY)
  31. MATRU EXPEDITION, 1991
    (SWAPAN KUMAR GHOSH)
  32. ACROSS DHUMDHAR KANDI PASS
    (SANJIB KUMAR MITRA)
  33. SAHASTRA TAL
    (SANDEEP DUTT)
  34. TEMPTATIONS OF KEDAR
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  35. FROM SANGLA TO NETWAR OVER THE RUPIN
    (WILLIAM McKAY AITKEN)
  36. ARUBAL RANG EXPEDITION, 1991
    (APURBA CHAKRABARTI)
  37. KUGTI PASS
    (PRASHANT M. TALE)
  38. KARCHA PARBAT EXPEDITION, 1991
    (SATYAJIT KAR)
  39. MATHO KANGRI, 1992
    (MICHAEL RATTY)
  40. SAM PAKUSH
    (HUBERT BLEICHER)
  41. SHIMSHAL-MALANGUTTI GLACIER EXPEDITION, 1991
    (PAUL HUDSON)
  42. BOOK REVIEWS
  43. IN MEMORIAM
  44. CORRESPONDENCE

INDIAN EVEREST EXPEDITION: NORTH FACE, 1991

Group Captain A. K. BHATTACHARYYA

AN INDIAN EXPEDITION TO EVEREST (8848 m) from the north face was launched by the West Bengal Mountaineering and Adventure Foundation alongwith the Bhoruka Mountaineering Trust. Initially, the expedition was planned for three months from June 1991 to August 1991. However the schedule was revised to 60 days only from base camp to the mountain and back to base camp. Pranesh Chakraborty of West Bengal was the leader of the expedition and Samir Roy was the manager of the team. The team left Calcutta on 1 August 1991 and after an abortive attempt returned on 8 October 1991.

In December 1990. I was asked by the organising committee to conduct a selection camp in Sikkim and recommend names of probable candidates to the committee for final selection of the team. However, one of the members succumbed to high altitude sickness (pulmonary oedema) at the base camp and the selection camp had to be called off. The organising committee announced the team on 26 July 1991 and I was to be the climbing leader. In all, there were 21 members including the manager and two doctors.

The team left Calcutta on 1 August 1991 and picked up equipment purchased earlier from Kathmandu. On 3 August, we crossed over to Tibet from Kodari village. The Chinese Mountaineering Association (C.M.A.) detailed a liaison officer and an interpreter to be with us till the expedition was over. The first halt was a forced one at Zangmu hotel due to landslides enroute. After employing nearly 200 porters the loads were transhipped to the waiting trucks across the landslide area. The next halt was at Xegar (4375 m) on 4 August where the team spent two nights acclimatising. The CMA does not allow enroute camping and all expedition parties have to stay in the so called five star hotels in Tibet which can be compared to a most ordinary hotel in India. Since the tariff rate was $ 68 US dollars per head per day, it was rather difficult for the team to stay en route any longer and we moved to the base camp (5780 m) on 6 August using two trucks and a land cruiser. Three members stayed back at Xegar for one extra day for* better acclimatisation.

At the base camp, we took about two hours to establish camp and get organised for the first night. The weather was windy with partial cloud. The following day while some members stayed back organising and sorting out loads, some of us went up to reconnoitre our route and advanced base camp (ABC). The Belgian team had earlier gone ahead and they were planning to climb Everest along the Hornbein Couloir. Thus our camp sites were destined to be almost at the same locations.

On 8 August, we climbed a small rocky knob at 5940 m on the west bank of Rongbuk glacier. In the afternoon, Subhas was unwell and his condition deteriorated at night. The two doctors diagnosed a pulmonary oedema and Subhash had to be evacuated the very next morning to safer height at Zangmu. Earlier, it was planned to hire high altitude porters from Rongbuk village. But on arrival at Rongbuk we discovered that we could not hire porters directly and we had to go through the CMA and pay $ 26 US dollars per head per day to the CMA. This factor was never brought out by the CMA and thus there was no mention of high altitude porters in the contract. We could manage only four porters for about 5 days and that too these porters were not willing to go beyond the moraine level into snow and ice covered areas.

Now that we were stuck with such a problem, I had to reschedule my overall plan. The yaks arrived at base camp a day late and our first load ferry to ABC started on 11 August alongwith the yaks and by the 12th we established our ABC at 5600 m on the eastern lateral moraine of Rongbuk glacier. The yaks ferried loads to a dumping point 2 km away from the ABC on the glacier and we pitched tents to keep the stores inside.

On 15 August after ferrying most of the loads to ABC, we moved to occupy ABC while Pranesh Chakraborty and doctor Indranil Sen remained at base camp. From ABC, we started ferrying loads to Cl which was planned at 6100 m between Changtse and Lhola peak. The 4 HAPs ferried LPG and Oxygen cylinders to Cl and left after 5 days. Thereafter, we all had to switch over to the roles of porters cum climbers.

The weather was mixed with bad spells of 2-3 days coming in between. From 16 to 24 August we ferried most of our loads to Cl. We had to follow a zigzag route along the glacier avoiding crevasses to reach the snowfield 1.5 km short of the camp site. The route along the lateral moraine was unsafe due to continuous rock fall. We had to rope up at the snowfield due to covered crevasses. The Australian team in 1984 had camped short of the snowfield and used skis to reach the base of north face.

The first group to occupy Cl on 26 August were Sonam Sangbu, Gautam, Bibhujit and Shyamal. They were to open the route on the north face for two days and to be replaced subsequently by the other members. On 27 August, the team could open the route beyond the bergschrund and fix a length of rope on the north face. The second group comprising of Pasang, Ranveer, Sushante and Raj Shekhar moved to Cl for support and replacement. But, from the early hours of 28 August, it started snowing and continued throughout the day and I recalled the team to ABC since the north face would be avalanche-prone for the next couple of days. It continued snowing till 30 August. The cloud started breaking up only by late afternoon.

On 31 August the weather turned foul again and it snowed throughout the day and I had to postpone our move again by a day. Finally on 1 September, I moved to Cl with Sangbu, Pasang, Rattan, Ranveer, Utpal and Shyamal with other members ferrying loads to Cl and back to ABC.

On 2 September, I went to the base of the north face alongwith Sangbu and Rattan for a recce of the slope and noticed that the ropes fixed earlier from the lower lip of the bergshrund to the north face were not traceable and buried under snow. These ropes could not be retrieved for use and we had to start all over again. Meanwhile the technical equipment was dumped at the Cwm. This equipment was kept in a nylon bivvy sack sheet and anchored there.

On 4 September, Rattan, Sangbu, Pasang and Ranveer were on the slope opening route. Rattan was in the lead from the bergschrund and in four hours he fixed nine lengths of ropes. The slope was of 45°-50Q gradient with a layer of rotten snow on ice. By 1600 hrs the weather started packing up and the team withdrew from the slope and returned to Cl at 2000 hrs. While ferrying loads to the lead party, I sustained an injury on my spinal cord and could not lift loads thereafter. On the way back it started snowing heavily and by 2230 hrs. there was more than 18" of snow. The wind was strong and huge avalanches started rolling down the Changtse face and the north face. Our campsite was shaken up by the air blast of these avalanches. On the 5th and 6th no work was possible due to avalanches and deep snow condition and we sorted out tentage and other stores for higher camps.

The Belgians lost some stores in the avalanches and after making 3 attempts on the Hornbein Couloir and spending one night on the slope at 7000 m without shelter, called off their expedition on 7 September. Fortunately our store's were intact, though scattered by the avalanches and we could retrieve most of them.

On 8 September, at about 0430 hrs there was a huge avalanche which rolled down the great couloir. The noise was deafening and the entire Cwm was vibrating for about 10 minutes. A strong air blast brought in a snow cloud and covered the campsite. It was dark and the visibility was poor. For some time there was no sense of orientation. As the day broke and the weather cleared, I noticed that a huge portion of ice-shelf was dislodged from the hanging ice above the great couloir and had avalanched down. I was worried about our stores dumped at the Cwm.

After breakfast, Rattan, Utpal and myself, went up to survey the area and the condition of stores while others got busy in clearing the camp site. At the Cwm, there lay the massive debris of avalanched ice mass and our orange bivvy sack with the equipment in it was missing! We started scanning the area and noticed the tip of the bivvy sack about 35 ft. down the line of avalanche. We dug 3V2 ft. into the ice mass and after nearly 272 hrs. managed to retrieve the stores.

Fortunately for us, we found all the stores except one pair of crampons belonging to Rattan and one pair of ski sticks. The bivvy sack was shred into pieces yet held on to the stores. We ferried the stores 50 m down the slope towards the Changtse face and returned to Cl at 1730 hrs. It started snowing at dusk and continued through the night till about 0030 hrs in the morning.

Sangbu, Rattan, Pasang and Ranveer left Cl at 0230 and after picking up equipment from the Cwm-started climbing by 0500 hrs. Ranveer took the lead today and using head lamps, the climbers inched their way up the north face clearing the fixed ropes which were again buried under one foot of snow. Sangbu took over from Ranveer at the last anchor point. Sangbu opened the route upto the western edge of the Great Couloir skirting the rocky knob from the west. The gradient became shallower thereafter for the next 300 m or so and the snow was soft and knee deep. The first ray of sunlight hits the north face only at about 0930 hrs. It was cold and windy, but the weather was clear and the first ray of sunlight hit Lhola at 0910 hrs. From this point Ranveer was in the lead again with Rattan in the belay. While the 1984 Australian team followed the route dose to the Couloir, Ranveer moved away from the Couloir and took a mid course. After about IV2 hrs., Pasang took over from Ranveer and fixed one length of rope. Ranveer took over lead for the third time and fixed a couple of ropes upto the base of the rock gully at 6900 m. Atanu and Bibhu went up the slope carrying stores and dumped stores at the base of the gully. By 1600 hrs clouds appeared from Lhola and covered the north face and it started snowing dropping the visibility. The team had to withdraw and return tq-Cl at 1930 hrs. It was a long day of nearly 17 hours on the mountain but good progress was made.

Bad weather continued through the night accompanied by strong winds which persisted throughout the next day.

At 1500 hrs, a huge avalanche rolled down the Hornbien Couloir and went past 500 m short of the camp site. We were forced to stay back in the tents. There was no sign of any let up in the weather. It snowed through the night of 10 September till the early hours of the 11th. The snowfall stopped by 0900 hrs but the weather was dull. With 40 hours of nonstop snowfall, we couldn't move on the north face for at least the next two days. By afternoon it started avalanching from all sides.

On 14 September, all of us except Utpal and Sushanta moved to Cl again. Meanwhile I was given 5 more days to remain on the mountain. But we had already lost valuable days. The same evening I worked out the programme for the next day and decided that Chandra Prabha, Atanu, Bibhu and Raj Sekhar were to ferry loads moving behind the lead team.

On 15 September, the lead team of 4 members left as planned but after an hour I received a message over the radio that the bivvy sack had been swept away again and this time equipment was scattered and buried all over. The sack was probably blown away by the avalanche of 10th or 11th.

The next day, Rattan and Ranveer were in the lead and they were on the rock gully by 1300 hrs. After negotiating the rock gully, Rattan appeared on the steep snow slope at 1400 hrs followed by Ranveer, Sangbu and Pasang. This patch of 200 m of slope was of 70° gradient with knee deep soft snow. Rattan traversed to the west and hit the ridge and moved east-southeast followed by a right turn along the sharp arete. Beyond the arete the slope was not considered safe for camping as avalanches could come down along the path which the Australians had experienced. It was, therefore, decided to make a snow bivouac at the end of the arete. The height of the spot was 7200 m. it was indeed a tough climb and the lead group did a commendable job as this portion of the north face along the Great Couloir was the technically most difficult stretch. While Atanu and Gautam could reach upto the last point, Bibhu, Shyamal and Raj Shekhar left their loads half way up the slope. Meanwhile Utpal and Sushanta reached Cl from base camp and they brought some rice and fresh meat alongwith them?

On 17 September, Utpal, Sushanta and Soumitra left Cl for load ferry to C2 location and Shyamal and Raj Shekhar had to be sent back to ABC since they were not keeping well. By late afternoon the ferry party returned to Cl after dumping loads. On the 18th, Rattan, Sangbu and Ranveer and Pasang reached C2 site by 1230 hrs and tunnelled a snow cave in about 3 hours time while others including Chandra Prabha ferried loads upto the snow tunnel and returned to Cl by 1800 hrs. Utpal, Soumitra and Sushanta did not go up.

20 September was a clear day with a sharp drop in temperature and strong western upper winds at 6500 m and above. Chandra Prabha was the first one to leave for load ferry to C2 at 0230 hrs. Rattan, Ranveer, Atanu and Gautam left to occupy C2 and Sangbu, Pasang, Soumitra, and Ang Nima followed with loads for ferry. Soumitra returned with cold hands from the bergschrund. Sangbu and Pasang were the first to reach C2 snow tunnel at 1340 hrs. followed by Rattan, Ranveer, Chandra Prabha and Ang Nima at 1400 hrs. C2 was thus established at 7200 m in a snow bivouac on the exposed north face.

Ranveer took the lead in opening route beyond C2 a patch of which the Australians named as 'White Limbo'. The initial patch was good for crampon walk with easy gradient and the team made a satisfactory progress on 'White Limbo' and returned to the snow tunnel by 1945 hrs.

On 22 September the wind velocity .attained the proportion of a severe storm exceeding 100 km/per hour, blowing in from the west on the north face. But the weather was clear and extremely cold. The 4 members on C2 carried tents and 10 lengths of rope with a view to establish C3 at 7800 m. Rattan was in the lead followed by Ranveer, Atanu, and Gautam. As they crossed the half way mark on the 'White Limbo', Rattan came across dry powdery snow which was loose and the snow started sliding down under slight pressure. Rattan tried a snow stake anchor but it wouldn't stay. He placed the stake horizontally, deep into the snow, but the stake would not hold. A desperate Rattan then dug a six feet deep hole and discovered that the entire mass of snow was loose, dry and powdery. He attempted to place an anchor 2 m deep and asked Ranveer to pull the rope to test. With a slight pull, the stake was dislodged! As Rattan tried in vain to fix rope on the snow patch, a huge powder snow-avalanche was released from the western side of 'White Limbo' barely 300 m away from the four members. The avalanche rolled down the north face and over Hornbien Couloir to the Cwm and shot up the Changtse face upto the North Col.

Without a fixed rope it was not feasible to move up the remaining portion of 'White Limbo' and there was no way to fix an anchor on the surface. To the east lay the Great Couloir with a huge hanging ice-shelf above and to the west was the exposed and highly avalanche-prone face of the 'White Limbo'. The wind velocity was strong as ever and it was difficult for a person to stand upright on the face. The team had to return to the snow-tunnel at C2. The tunnel entrance was filled with snow-drift.

The howling wind swept the north face throughout the night and the following morning. By day break avalanches were released frequently from the northeast ridge and the west ridge. It was not possible to move through the Cwm or up the north face. The four members at C2 spent the third difficult night inside the tunnel and confirmed in the morning that the condition of the slope remained unchanged and at such high wind velocity it was not possible to move up the avalanche-prone slope without fixed ropes. Further stay in the tunnel was also becoming difficult.

Thus with barely 8 days in hand and- with very little support due to non availability of HAPs, it was realised that it was not possible to make any further progress in such wind condition on the face. 1 decided to call off the expedition and informed Pranesh Chakraborty at the base camp about my decision and asked the four members to return to Cl.

The expedition thus abruptly ended by the afternoon of 23 September. The team returned to the base camp on 3 October after winding up Cl and the ABC and left for Kathmandu on 5 October. The Canadians also abandoned their expedition due to high wind which swept their stores away at 7700 m.

Members: Pranesh Chakraborty (leader), Gp. Capt. A. K. Bhattacharyya (climbing leader), Ms. Chandra Prabha Aitwal, Ms. Rita Chakraborty, Sonam Sangbu, Rattan Singh Chauhan, Pasang Namgyal, Ranveer Singh Negi, Gautam Datta, Atanu Chatterjee, Sushanta Majumdar, Bibhujit Behary Mukhoty, Shyamal Sarkar, Subhas Das, Rajshekhar Ghose, Soumitra Ganguly, Utpal Sarkar (photographer), Capt Dr. Niloy Sinha Roy and Dr. Indranil Sen.

----------------------------------------SUMMARY-----------------------------------------

The attempt on Everest (8848 m) from the north by an Indian expedition from Calcutta, in August-September 1991.