THE AUSTRALIAN GARHWAL EXPEDITION consisted of eight climbers from Melbourne and Hobart. The aim of the expedition was to climb Peak 6739 m which lies up the Suralaya glacier and south of Chandra Parbat (6728 m). It is one of the highest, unclimbed peaks in the Gangotri region of the Indian Himalaya. Two Indian teams had previously attempted this peak, though without success.

After 12 months of negotiation, I was finally given permission to attempt the peak. The team left Melbourne in early September 1994 aiming to reach base camp by mid September in order to miss the last of the monsoon and leave by early October to avoid the extreme cold and snow that this area is renowned for.

After travelling up from Delhi by private bus in three days and encountering landslide affected roads en route to Gangotri, we finally arrived at Vasuki Parbat base camp (where there was good water supply) on 12 September. Advance base camp (ABC) was established at the junction of the Chaturangi and Suralaya glaciers on 16 September, below peak 5801m, there being limited water here this year.

After sorting out the two base camps with the necessary food, fuel, and gear, Glen, James and I felt acclimatised enough to take some of our personal gear from ABC, up the Suralaya to the bottom of the mountain and find out what we were in for. The only information available on the peak was a sketch, some photos of the glacier and a few notes here and there.

The rest of the team were coming up from base camp as the three of us set off up the Suralaya. The horror stories of the glacier proved not to be- true, as once we found a way down the moraine wall through the rubble of rock, we found a ribbon of ice running up the centre of the glacier making for a highway-like appearance. It was easy to understand why this peak was so hard to obtain information on as it is not visible until you are right at the head of the glacier where you find it tucked around a corner. It is also hidden behind Chandra Parbat's ridge.

It took four hours of walking until we had our first glance of Peak 6739 m with its long rocky ridge and following that, its steep ice face and snow ridge. We had decided at this point to attempt the mountain in alpine style. It was bright and sunny as it had been for the past week. Hopefully the weather would hold out for another week.

Back at ABC we informed the others (who had arrived from base camp that day) of the condition of the glacier and the mountain. Within a couple of days, the others would do their load carry and we would then be set to make an attempt.

Glen and James set off first back up the glacier and then Andrew, Peter, Gavin and I went up the following day. Each team was carrying enough food and fuel for seven days. The rest of the team, Grant and Sarah, would follow the day after the second team.

The aim was to set up Cl at the head of the glacier at around 5500 m. It had become bitterly cold by mid afternoon when we arrived at our camp where all the once running water was now frozen.

The next day was spent around camp acclimatising. (Glen and James had already set out on the peak.) The following day we headed up to the base of the peak proper while Peter returned to base camp not fully acclimatised as yet. What lay ahead of us was much scree at first and then loose crumbling rock faces which made for precarious climbing. Finally we found ourselves on the ridge after climbing up a 40 metre gully which took us to the top of the platform. Water was again a problem as there was no snow on the platform. A team member was required to climb down to some snow which then was brought up in stuff bags by rope.

That night I found myself awake at around 2 a.m. as I heard footsteps heading towards the tent I was sharing with Andrew. I thought nothing of it, as I heard the tent zip being unfastened followed by the rustle of the stove and then the zip again. I thought I would get up to see if all was OK and expected to see Gavin. I was surprised to see that he still appeared to be asleep and the stove where I had left it. There must have been something in the pasta the night before, I thought.

The next morning, I had planned to ask Gavin about the stove, but before I could, he recounted a similar strange experience. I wasn't feeling well that morning due to the altitude (not the ghost), so we didn't get away until the afternoon. In this time we saw Glen and James descending the glacier below us having summitted that day. They had, in the end, climbed directly up the face thus making for a technically harder climb, as they were unable to find a suitable way up onto the upper ridge as planned.

Our problem was also trying to find a way up to the ridge proper. There was a large rock face of 50 metres before us that didn't look too safe. We skirted around the side of the ridge hoping to find a weak spot but there didn't seem to be one, the rock being too unsound both from above and below. By 6 p.m. we had come across an area that looked viable and set up camp.

The following morning, Andrew wasn't feeling as well as he would have liked and had not improved by afternoon so he decided to drop down to the glacier and head back to ABC. Both Gavin and I were disappointed that he wouldn't be able to make the summit with us. I was particularly disappointed because this was the third expedition I had been on with Andrew.

Gavin and I would now try for the summit the following day. The weather was still holding and didn't look like doing anything untoward. The' next morning we were up at 4.30 a.m. After the usual breakfast, we started climbing the rock face directly above the camp. The first section was quite enjoyable but then followed loose, rotten rock making progress somewhat hazardous. The next section was another rock band which required the use of ropes. On top of this section we had expected to be able to see the summit ridge but were confronted with more steep rock which we skirted below till we came to the snow line at around 6200 m. Heading up around a snow ramp of around 70 degrees, the 500 m snow face lay before us at an angle varying between 65 and 70 degrees.

After eight pitches we found ourselves finally at the ridge proper at around 4.30 p.m. Climbing up this face I had a strange feeling again. At times when I was belaying or leading, I felt that there was somebody next to me. (Maybe it was Andrew after all! On this occasion there was nothing in the noodles the night before.) I have read about experiences like this before but never believed them. We left our packs at this point on the ridge to enable us to move faster as it was now apparent we would have to descend in the dark.

Travelling roped together, it wasn't long until Gavin fell into a well-hidden crevasse running across the ridge. It was not a real concern as he extracted himself with little effort. Following Glen and James' tracks up the ridge, Gavin thought he could see a third set although I couldn't make it out.

By now we were on 45 to 50 degree snow and skirting below a rock face, coming around a corner, the summit was only 30 minutes away. The view got better and better as we found ourselves higher than most of the peaks around us. The climb up the last section to the summit was quite exposed as it became a true knife edge ridge with a sheer drop down to the Arwa glacier below.

On the top we were both overcome with emotion due to the thrill and the amazing 360 degree view of the peaks nearby as well as the distant peaks of Nanda Devi and Shivling. The wind was ferociously gusty which made standing on quite a small summit difficult. The time was now 5.45 p.m. and after seeing the sun drop down below the distant mountains and the temperature along with it, we started the descent after 6 p.m.

Heading down the ridge to our packs, it was still light, so we made a decision to descend further on in the hope that we would make our tent and bags. After descending 400 m, we were experiencing the effects of a long, strenuous day and thought it safer to bivouac out at around 6200 m. We made ourselves as comfortable as we could under a small rock overhang with our packs on top of us, lying on some ropes on the dirt. We spent the night huddled together shivering at temperatures of about minus 10 C. In the morning, I discovered that our sunscreen had frozen in its tube.

The following day (without sunscreen on) we picked up Glen and James' abseil points and dropped down. At base camp we discovered that the extra prints belonged to Grant. He had managed to find a way up to the ridge, (as Sarah had headed back to base camp) and had continued onto the summit, solo.

On returning to Delhi, we submitted the new name for Peak 6739 — Indradhanush Parbat (Rainbow Mountain).

Summitters: On 22 September: Glenn Tempest and James Serle. On 25 September: Grant Else, Gavin Dunmall and Darren Miller (leader). Other members: Peter Williams, Andrew McNeill and Sarah Boyle.


The first ascent of Indradhanush Parbat (6739 m), Suralaya glacier, Gangotri by an Australian expedition. The summit was reached on 22 and 25 September 1994 by five mountaineers.


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