THE MASSIF OF CHAUKHAMBA (4 pillars) lies between the Gangotri glacier in the west, the Bhagirathi glacier in the north and the Satopanth glacier in the east. The four peaks constituting the Chaukhamba massif, situated in the Garhwal Himalaya, are challenging requiring technical skill.

The magnificent, 30 km long ridge has 6 summits Pt. 6763 m, Chaukhamba I, 7318 m, Chaukhamba II 7068 m, Chaukhamba III 6974 m, Chaukhamba IV 6854 m. Pt. 6638 m. The summit of Chaukhamba I was scaled by a French expedition, led by E Frendo in 1952. An Air Force expedition, led by Air Vice Marshal S. N. Goya! put four members on the summit in 1967.1 Our team of the Indian'army Signallers decided to climb from the hazardous northeast approach in May-June 1992. The expedition was flagged off on 11 February from New Delhi to coincide with the 81st anniversary of the Corps of Signals.

After drawing rations and making miscellaneous purchases the team concentrated at the roadhead at Mana on 20 May. Recce and ferry to the base camp commenced on 23 May. The base camp was occupied by the team on 30 May.

After the base camp was occupied at Bhagirath Kharak (4570 m) the recce, route opening and ferry to the advance base camp commenced. The route to the advance base camp was hazardous due to heavy snowfall, bad weather and huge rockfalls en route. The advance base camp, with total stocking of food, gear and stores was occupied on 5 June at 5150 m.

Simultaneously recce to and the establishment of Cl (5490 m) commenced by selected members and was finally occupied on 8 June.

In spite of extremely foul weather on 9 June, the members of rope 1 and 2 moved up through ice-walls, crevasses and avalanche-prone areas by fixing climbing ropes for more than 360 m to locate a suitable place for atleast two climbing tents to be pitched. On 10 June, good progress was made to recce and dump the gear and food-stuff, but a suitable site for C2 could not be found, therefore, we had to dump the items in one tent on the approach to C2. Although the slope was exceedingly steep and the loose waist-deep snow made the going very tough, the team members remained undeterred. C2 was finally occupied by the members of rope 1 and 2 on 11 June at 6250 m.

Studying the prevailing weather situation, I decided that the summit should be attempted from 14 June onwards, since 14 to 18 June would provide the advantage of full moon nights.

The first summit party consisting of 3 officers and 1 other rank (Capts Sanjeev Singh, Nadeem Arshad, Vipin Verma and L/Nk Mohammad Ayoub Sofi) left C2 at 0400 hours on 14 June for the summit. As anticipated they had to undertake 7 to 8 hours of steep climbing. After a gruelling and exhausting technical climb and by negotiating avalanche-cones and crevasse-prone areas by fixing ropes of more than 300 m, these four members reached the summit at 1520 hrs and spoke to us on a walkie-talkie. The climb was witnessed from Cl and C2 with binoculars and it was a truly thrilling experience.

1. See H.J. Vol. XXIII, p. 102. The peak has also been subsequently climbed by Indian expeditions - Ed.

The National flag alongwith the Army and Corps flags were hoisted on the top of Chaukhamba I, 7138 m after 11 hours of dogged determination by these Signallers. The team remained on top for about 30 minutes, took photographs including those of all surrounding peaks from the top of Chaukhamba. 14 June was a clear and sunny day and the weather gods were extremely kind to the expedition.

Following the success of the first summit party, another team lead by Maj S. Kanjilal, deputy leader, alongwith Maj A. K. Mehta, the medical officer, consisting of ropes 2 and 3 (9 members) occupied C2 on 15 June despite an early blizzard, white-out and discouraging reports from the previous summitters that the going was extremely treacherous. 16 June was spent in occupation and acclimatisation at C2 by these members. They left C2 at 0025 hrs on 17 June and after a fifteen hour climb, reached the top of Chaukhamba I at 1540 hrs. The team remained on the top for 20 minutes to take photographs and started descending. While returning to C2 at 1600 hrs., the team was engulfed in a complete white-out and it was impossible for them to descend. The conditions further deteriorated and the team lost the route since the fixed ropes could not be traced. All members had to spend the night by digging snow caves at 6860 m. As a result of the benightment, seven members suffered frostbite (first and second degree), acute chilblains, one member had temporary snow-blindness. The next day, the deputy leader and medical officer evacuated the suffering members to C2 with the help of the members of rope 1, who came as the rescue team from Cl. Subsequently, the team descended to the advance base camp with joy. High morale reigned as all members of the team looked forward to returning to civilisation.

The weather remained hostile for two days. The complete team was withdrawn to the advance base camp. Time was running short as the area had to be cleared by 20 June. Not finding any alternative, it was decided that stores should be retrieved at the earliest. The team returned to roadhead Mana on 21 June without any permanent injury to anyone.

On 14 June 1992: Capt. Sanjeev Singh, Capt. Nadeem Arshad, Capt. Vipin Verma, L/Nk. M. Ayoub Sofi, Nima Norbu, Makalu, Bibhujit Mukhoti and Shyamal Sarkar.

On 17 June 1992: Capt. J. K. Jha, Capt. V. Dogra, Capt. S. P. Sira, Hav. Umed Singh, Hav. R. S. Yadav, L/Hav. Jarnail Singh and Sigmn. C. S. Champawat. Expedition led by Col. Amit C. Roy.

Summary: The ascent of Chaukhamba I (7138 m) by the Indian army Corps of Signals team on 14 and 17 June 1992.