WE WENT to the Chango valley of Kinnaur district in the Himachal Pradesh during July-August 1998 to attempt Leo Pargial (6791 m), the third highest peak in the Himachal Pradesh, and other peaks encircling the Chango glacier.
Chango village on the Hindustan-Tibet road, 325 km from Shimla and at the confluence of the Chango nala with the Spiti river, is the entry point to the Chango valley to its east. At the southeast corner of the Chango glacier stands its highest peak, Leo Pargial (6791m). After the first ascent of this peak from an adjoining valley in 1933, Marco Pallis had remarked, 'The Chango glacier is surrounded by an array of peaks both snowy and of the Chamonix Aiguille type. I can imagine nothing better than a season's climbing with a base camp well up on the glacier. There is an abundance of suitable sites and every variety of climb within easy reach.' Further attempts and climbs of Leo Pargial were also along the Leo Pargial valley above Nako village. The first expedition to explore the Chango glacier and attempt Leo Pargial (6791 m) from this side was led by Romesh Bhattacharjee in 1981. Though the team failed to climb Leo Pargial and another unnamed peak (6228 m) it brought back valuable information. Yousuf Zaheer, who was a member of the 1981 team, led two expeditions to the Chango glacier in 1982 and 1990 and climbed two peaks (6646 m) and (6173 m). They named them Ninjeri and Ningmari respectively. Aloke Surin made two forays in 1993 and 1995 with small teams, which tried to scale Ninjeri, Ningmari, and the unnamed peaks 6585 m and 6180 m. They named the last two 'Granite Peak' and 'Ninja Turtle' respectively, though were thwarted by bad weather.
With plenty of climbing still to be done in the Chango valley we made suitable plans. Aloke Surin, Anil Chavan, Ravi Wadaskar and I travelled by train from Mumbai to Ambala and then by bus along the banks of the Satluj and the Spiti river to Chango via Shimla and Rekong Peo. All this in five days during the first week of July, 1998. Three local boys of Chango village, Chokdup Negi, Ramgopal Negi and C.J. Dorje were recruited to give assistance during the entire period of the expedition. Ten donkeys were engaged to carry loads to the proposed Base Camp site which was three marches away. The first day's march from the Irrigation Department's Rest House was initially a steep climb and later a traverse on the mountain side along the left bank of the Chango nala with a total height gain of about 1200 m. No water was available along the way and in spite of our large water bottles we were totally dehydrated by the end of the day. The second day was much easier and we camped near a small beautiful lake formed by a stream issuing from a large ice-tongue. From the lake camp the route to base camp climbed steeply to the top of the Chango glacier, the surface of which was strewn with large boulders and the debris of undulating moraine. As the donkeys could not tackle the rough moraine the loads were dumped at this point. We had to ferry loads for the next three days to base camp (5150 m) near the right bank of the glacier. By 9 July, 1998, we were fully established at base camp. We had studied in depth photos, of most of the peaks around the Chango glacier which Aloke had brought back from his two earlier expeditions,. After an initial reconnaissance up to the head of the glacier and observing these peaks from close quarters, we decided to stick to our plan of splitting into two teams and climbing peaks independently according to our preferences..
Colour plates 10-11-12
The unclimbed peak (6484 m) seen prominently as one looks up from base camp lies close to it on the ridge above the right bank of the glacier. Aloke and Ravi ferried some loads to a proposed camp-site below this peak on 11 July and occupied it with Ramgopal on 13 July. The route was across moraine and snowslopes and this camp (5800 m) was placed behind a huge boulder to protect it from rockfalls. After ferrying few loads next morning to a snow-shelf higher up, Aloke slipped near the camp cut his right ankle badly and was out of action for the next few days. On 17 July Ravi and Ramgopal started at 6.15 a.m. from the camp for summit attempt and reached the equipment dump on the snow-shelf in one hour. After a rest, they roped up and started climbing up the southwest face of the peak. A rising traverse led them to the steep rocky south ridge with loose rocks, which was followed to the summit. The summit, composed of an 8 m high boulder, was reached at 11.00 a.m. The weather was good and they could see clearly all around. Except for Leo Pargial, Ninjeri and Granite, all the other peaks looked lower. The descent to the summit camp took three hours.
Anil and I had decided to attempt Leo Pargial. We ferried loads on the gently rising consolidated snow slopes along the right bank of the glacier to advance base camp (5500 m), which was close to the head of the glacier on a small scree patch. Two of us and Dorje occupied ABC on 12 July. The next day we opened the route up to a little below the west col (6040 m) of Leo Pargial, which traversed a crevasse-field, climbed up gradually first and steeply later on snow slopes interspersed with narrow crevasses. Then we returned to base camp for a well deserved rest.
Three of us packed food for five days and left base camp on the afternoon of 15 July carrying heavy loads and reoccupied ABC. The next day, we made an early start with plans to reach the west col. However, by mid- afternoon we were overtaken completely by thick, dark clouds forcing us to put up the tent next to the Kuru Topko col (5920 m) and take shelter just before it started snowing heavily. On the third day the camp was wound up. We kicked up the snow slopes on the north face to reach the west col (6040 m) and later the steeper slopes above it. Soon snow turned to ice, the slope became much steeper, deep crevasses made their appearance and we put on our crampons. At 1.00 p.m. we climbed on to a narrow snow shelf with soft snow. After floundering in it for one hour without making any substantial progress we had to call it a day. Cutting a platform for pitching the tent was exhausting work that took two hours. The camp (6300 m) afforded a grand stand view of the peaks around, Leo Pargial and Kuru Topko valleys with many glacial lakes reflecting a glorious sunset. The alarm woke us at midnight. To our delight stars were shining brightly in the sky. Distant thunder and lightning on the horizon towards the south seemed of little consequence. However, by the time we were ready to start at 2.00 a.m. on 18 July we were enveloped by clouds and not a single star could be seen. The snow was in good condition and we climbed up steadily for two hours using head torches till we came to an abrupt halt at the lip of a large crevasse. It was pitch dark and we decided to wait there till visibility improved. Suddenly the moon peeped through a hole in the dark sky for few minutes, revealing a good snow bridge a little distance away on the right and slopes above. The base of the summit pyramid was reached at 6.00 a.m. with the sun rising behind the top. It was very cold and the rising sun brought no warmth at all. We ascended the north face of the west summit ridge and reached the sharp summit ridge at 7.30 a.m. We were greeted immediately by strong winds blowing from the Reo Purgyil and were forced to chart a route a little below the crest of the ridge on the north face to reach the south summit at 10.15 a.m. After a short rest we traversed the corniced ridge to the base of the higher rocky pinnacle to the north and climbed to its top at 11.00 a.m. It was the first peak climbed by Dorje. However, instead of being excited and elated he was extremely dejected. Due to the sea of clouds swirling all around his main desire of looking into Tibet by climbing Leo Pargial was unfulfilled. The return to the summit camp in 2% hours was quite uneventful in spite of the soft snow. On the fifth day, tired but happy, the team descended to the crevasse-field via the west col in three hours. The snow had become very soft rendering the snow bridges across crevasses dangerous. ABC. was just one hour away in good snow conditions but we faltered for the next three hours trying unsuccessfully to find a safe route through the crevasse field. Finally, a new route hugging the extreme left corner of the glacier and zigzagging around open crevasses under the threat of falling rocks led us out of the clutches of this danger zone. ABC was bypassed and we reached base camp at 6.15 p.m. tired, hungry and thirsty, but delighted as the peak had been climbed by a new route and for the first time from the Chango glacier.
Panaroma A. Peaks of the Chango glacier. View from summit of Pk. 6484 m.
Panaroma B. Peaks of the Chango glacier. View from summit of Pk. 6484 m. The Chango glacier on the right.
Ningmari peak (6173 m) rises from the left bank of the glacier south of base camp. We knew that this peak was climbed by Yousuf Zaheer via its west face to a col and then to the summit along the south ridge but very little about its difficulties was known. On 21 July Ravi and Ramgopal went to the base of its west face to have a look and confirmed that the route was feasible and a good camping site was available a little below. Aloke was still nursing his wound, hence Anil, Ravi, Ramgopal and I occupied this camp (5300 m) on the afternoon of 22 July. The route across the glacier from base camp into the side basin below the peak over loose boulders and rocks was very tedious, though it took just 2% hours. Anil, Ravi and started at 3.45 a.m. the next day for our summit attempt. Within one hour we were at the base of the west face, where we roped up and climbed steadily till 8.30 a.m. up to an estimated height of 5600 m. The initial climb up to a bergchrund half way up posed no problems, but higher up the slope became steeper exposing hard icy runnels. As the sun lit the face these runnels started discharging water and snowballs. It became apparent that the face would become a dangerous proposition in the afternoon making our descent extremely hazardous. The face needed to be fixed all the way up and we were not equipped for this. We had no alternative but to climb down the face. During the descent, a buckle of Ravi's crampon broke and he had to be belayed down with utmost care. It took two hours to reach the camp. We had lunch at leisure, wound up the camp and returned to base camp in the evening.
On 25 July, Ravi, Ramgopal and I left base camp in the afternoon with the necessary loads and occupied ABC in the evening with a plan to reach Ninjeri col (6120 m). Making an early start at 5.00 a.m. we reached the head of the glacier in hours. Then we turned left and gradually climbed up the side glacier between the walls of Ninjeri peak and those of Granite Peak and Ninja Turtle twin peaks. The col between Ninjeri Peak and Ninja Turtle twin peaks appeared close but was in fact quite a distance away. We kept on ascending one plateau after another till we reached the base of the col at 11.30 a.m. and climbed a steeper snow slope to the col at 12.15 a.m. It was a long and tiring climb but we were rewarded with excellent views of the peaks and valleys of Tibet beyond the col. We descended to ABC in four hours, carefully negotiating crevasses, and to base camp the next morning.
After his wound had healed Aloke repeated the ascent of the unnamed peak (6484 m) with Chokdup on 27 July from the same summit camp. Traversing the lower section of the southwest face of the peak to the two prominent rocks as the earlier pair had done, they then climbed six pitches in a direct line up the face, emerging near the summit rocks. They descended to base camp the same evening.
All of us were united at base camp and it was time to take stock of the situation. Anil had developed a huge blister on his left foot and was in no position to wear snowboots. This opened up an opportunity to visit the Raldang ridge with its green meadows and pastures which tempt and beckon visitors to Rekong Peo and Kalpa. Aloke and Ravi were, however, keen to attempt a few more peaks around base camp. So we decided to split once again into two teams. On 28 July Anil, Dorje and I descended with the help of Chokdup and Ramgopal to Chango village on our way to the Raldang ridge. Chokdup and Ramgopal went back to base camp the next day to join Aloke and Ravi to continue with their adventures in the Chango valley.
An unnamed Peak 6228 m is situated at a corner of the Chango glacier around which it turns towards the west col of Leo Pargial. This small but elegant peak lies directly west of Leo Pargial, across from the latter's west col. On 28 July Ravi and Aloke did a load ferry up the moraine from base camp to a dump point directly in front of the small subsidiary glacier, which drops down on to the true left bank of the Chango glacier from the ramparts of this unnamed peak. Two days later, Chokdup, Ramgopal, Ravi and Aloke moved up to camp at 5700 m on the prominent shelf from which this subsidiary glacier of the peak descends. Two tents were pitched and they were just getting ready for a welcome brew of tea when the cable connecting little MSR gas stove to its cylinder broke. In the evening Chokdup and Ramgopal descended to base camp, promising to come back early the next day with the remnants of the kerosene left there and the MSR multi-fuel stove. Ravi and Aloke had nothing hot to drink or eat till next afternoon, when Chokdup turned up alone. The good news was that he had the new stove with him together with fuel, the bad news was that Ramgopal's health was bad. Chordup was going down again, in case Ramgopal needed to be taken down to Chango village. Ravi and Aloke went on a rehydration binge with nonstop intake of tea, water, and soup followed by an early dinner. On 1 August they got up very early for the summit attempt and were ready to go by 4 a.m. They soloed up some steep ice by the light of head lamps and were moving quite well in the clear, starry morning. About an hour later they roped up and tackled a short vertical pitch of ice which led to a small shelf. They worked their way in a devious manner up the icy northwest face which was cleaved with huge bergschrunds and crevasses. Their progress upwards was blocked by a gigantic gash of a bergschrund, dripping with mammoth icicles, and a bottomless abyss. They traversed to the right, crossed over a tenuous ice bridge which led into a shallow cave on the other side and climbed out of the depression on to a ledge. Seventy- five steep metres above the ledge they crested on to the summit ridge. What they had anticipated as a sharp arete turned out to be the lower lip of a huge icefield which swept gently up to twin summits : on the left a rocky prominence which could be seen from down on the Chango glacier; and on the right a corniced, snowy hump. The two were separated by a snow saddle about 200 m across. They proceeded to plod up to the snow summit. Wishing to leave nothing in doubt they trudged across to the rocky summit at 11.15 a.m., which turned out to be slightly higher. They built a cairn here before descending, reaching their tent at 4.30 p.m. having spent almost two hours on the summit.
There were two small peaks just above the lake camp, which we thought would give some excellent climbing. On 3 August, Ravi and Aloke, went up the boulder slope immediately above the lake camp, hoping to attempt one of these peaks. It was a very steep boulder and scree slope which deposited them 400 m higher at the foot of a steep icefall which guarded the upper slopes of their intended unnamed peak (5900 m). The route to this peak was threatened by stonefall, though they thought they had spotted a safe line up the left side of the icefall. They pitched a tent here at 5200 m. On 4 August, they began their climb at 5 a.m. and went swiftly up the lower sections. After about 200 m the ice steepened considerably, requiring belays and frequent dodging of missiles zooming past. By 7.15 a.m. they had made a vertical progress of about 300 m when Ravi was hit on the small of his back by a fist sized stone. Fortunately, his various layers of clothing softened the blow; but the decision was made for them. It would have been foolhardy to continue under these circumstances, so choosing discretion as the better part of valour, they descended with a couple of rappels to easier ground below and to their tent. Their high point was estimated at 5500 m.
While Aloke's team was engrossed in climbing peaks around the Chango glacier, Anil, Dorje and I travelled to Rekong Peo from Chango by bus, made purchases and set off in the afternoon of 31 July in a jeep to Powari and then across the Satluj river to Shongthung. Engaging two donkeys to carry loads we climbed up to Warang village in 1% hrs. We climbed up steeply in the morning with three local porters above the village through thick forest to reach Warang Kanda in about 5 hours. Warang Kanda is a beautiful meadow below Raldang peak. Next day Dorje and I climbed up with some loads on grassy slopes to the Khanej pass (4800 m) west of Raldang peak and descended at leisure to Warang Kanda. The views of Sangla and the Baspa valley on the other side from the pass were breathtaking. Engaging one Nepali porter, who was working in the fields, the three of us climbed up towards the pass and pitched our tents about 50 m below it on 4 August. The next day, we climbed up to the pass and continued along the ridge to the west of it to reach the base of Khanej peak (5200 m), a rocky pyramid. A scramble on the scree slopes took us to its shoulder. We roped up and climbed four interesting and enjoyable pitches on good rock to reach the summit at 10.30 a.m. On 6 August we wound up the camp, crossed the pass and descended into Baspa valley to camp on a huge green meadow in about 2% hrs above Sangla. The multi- storeyed fort of Kamaru village stood below. After descent to Sangla we became part of a maddening crowd of visitors and travelled to Chhitkul.
On our way home we met at Ambala from different routes. Anil and I travelled from Chitkul to Rekong Peo and then to Ambala; whereas Aloke and Ravi had to take a circuitous route from Chango village due to a road block near Yangthang via Kaja, Kunzum la, Rohtang pass and Manali. Thus ended a very happy and enjoyable adventure, memories of which will remain etched in our minds for a long time.
Members : Arun Samant (leader), Aloke Surin, Anil Chavan and Ravi Wadaskar
Climbed Unnamed Peak (6484 m) : by the southwest face and later along the south ridge. First Ascent. Summiters: Ravi Wadaskar, Ramgopal on 17 July 1998 and Aloke Surin, Chokdup on 27 July 1998.
Climbed Leo Pargial (6791 m) : via Kuru Topko col (5920 m), west col (6040 m) of Leo Pargial by the north face below the west ridge on 18 July 1998. Ascent from the Chango valley by a variation of normal route. Summiters: Arun Samant, Anil Chavan, C.J. Dorje.
Attempted Ningmari (6173 m) : by the west face up to 5600 m on 23 July 1998 by Arun Samant Anil Chavan, Ravi Wadaskar.
Climbed Unnamed peak (6228 m) : by the northwest face on 1 August 1998. First Ascent. Summiters: Aloke Surin, Ravi Wadaskar.
Attempted Unnamed peak (5900 m) : up to 5500 m on 4 August 1998 by Ravi Wadaskar, Aloke Surin.
Climbed Khanej Peak (5200 m) : via Khanej pass (4800 m) on 5 August 1998 by Anil Chavan, Arun Samant, C.J. Dorje.
Sponsored by : The Climbers, Mumbai
Except for Leo Pargial group heights of peaks and cols mentioned here are approximate. See note about revised heights of Leo Pargial peaks in Notes Section in this volume. - Ed.