THE BIRD FROM HEAVEN
The First Ascent and Exploration of Gorur Peaks in Bagini Bamak Area
BADAL AA RAHA HAI - RUK JAO ( The clouds are coming. Don't go now) - screamed Surinder from his tent.
I came out of the tent and had a look around. The sky was so cloudy that I immediately decided to slip into the tent.
'The mountain is angry with us - it does not like us' - murmured Arka from deep inside his sleeping bag.
We were at a loss and thought all our hard work of the past few days might be in vain. We were in Camp 2 and just an 8-hr climb short of our aim.
That morning at Camp 2 had not dawned clear as all the previous days had. Instead, it was a dark morning with threatening black clouds surrounding us. It was a clear indication of the anger of the mountain goddess Nanda Devi. We had trodden into her forbidden land and were about to climb a virgin peak in her territory. We, after waiting for another six hours, and amidst much confusion and debate, started climbing even under the threatening sky. We reached the summit of the unnamed and virgin peak (6202 m) at 3 p.m.. According to the local people and mythology, this peak is Gorur Dome ( the Bird from Heaven ) and our ascent was made on 9 June, 1998. We were three members of JUNIPERS - an association of nature lovers from Calcutta and one HAS
The Idea - Finding of a Net Surfer
It was a report on an expedition to Trisuli West in Bagini glacier by Roger Payne, downloaded through the Internet from the web site of the Alpine Club, UK, that drew my attention to the unexplored regions of the glacier. That web site (www.alpine-club.org.uk
) is one of my favourites and I found it while surfing the net. The report on Trisuli West (7035 m) describes some of the untrodden valleys to the north of the main glacier and the peaks in them. A few e-mails to Roger Payne for further information and his valuable advice on that area provided us with the basic idea behind the venture.
We studied the maps available and all the reports on that region and ultimately found that if we could follow a river coming from northeast of the main Bagini bamak, we would reach a glacier that was never visited by any team and surrounded by at least three peaks - none ever challenged. We focussed on this particular part of the glacier and decided to reconnoitre for a feasible route to climb the virgin Trisuli West peak.
We sent our proposal to the IMF and it was readily approved. But the necessary inner line permit from the UP State Govt did not come through in time even after having sent several letters and requests. It was indeed a bit risky to start off without knowing anything about the status of the permit, but we decided to go ahead.
Calcutta to Base Camp( 26th July to 2nd June) - A Hurdle Race
The leader writes :
The idea of climbing an unnamed peak seemed jinxed in the beginning.. The proposed ten member team was reduced to a mere 4 member one as all the others had unavoidable personal problems that prevented them from joining up. It was decided that Arnab would lead the climbing team during the expedition.
We got the "ticket" to enter the forbidden land. For the next few days we frantically shopped for food to carry along. We set off at 0600 towards Juma - a village on the Joshimath -Malari road. Some LAS
were waiting to join us at Lata village. The 46-km journey along Dhauli ganga, with a nice view of Nanda Devi from a particular on the road ended in Juma at 9.30 a.m.
We started walking towards Dunagiri village after crossing the Dhauli ganga and followed the track through a deep alpine forest. We saw numerous beautiful flowers, butterflies and got a splendid view of Kuntivanar peak. We reached a small village ,'Ruin', after an hour's walk and then entered the Bagini valley. The route was steep and it took another two and half-hours to reach 'Chacha' where we had our lunch and hot tea. After this stop, the track climbed through a dangerously broken landslide zone to the wonderful green valley of Dunagiri. We reached the village there at about 4.30 p.m. in the evening and stayed in the local school building.
The summer village of Dunagiri, is situated at a height of 3615 m with spectacular views of Hathi Parvat massif to its northeast and a part of Hardeol ridges to its east. The villagers are mostly residents of Chamoli who come here in summer for farming and in search of food for their cattle.
The next morning, I got news from a messenger sent from Joshimath that my mother was not well. I had to return to Calcutta. I decided to stay with the team up to base camp and leave the climbing part of the expedition Arnab. We started moving towards the Bagini bamak and reached the snout before 10.30 a.m. From there, we followed the left branch of the river. We wanted to follow the river as long as it did not bend to the northeast and to establish the base camp there. But the LAPs thought otherwise. First, they dumped their load much before the original river bent and then on our request they agreed to carry the loads for another 1.5 km to dump it again beside a tiny river coming down from the north. They insisted that this was the river we were looking for and there was no camping site after that, etc. So we were forced to establish the base camp (4250 m) there though we guessed that we were well short of our planned site.
That evening I returned and Arnab took charge.
Arnab Banerjee writes :
On our first evening at BC, Surinder came down from the Changabang base camp high above the glacier, where a Russian-American team were attempting the north face of the peak and told us he was instructed by the agency (who arranged our porters) to join us. According to him, the original BC was one hour's walk ahead beside the main river coming down from the northeast.
BC to Camp2 (3 June to 8 June) - First Human Steps on the Glacier?
The next morning, carrying some load, we reconnoitred the above camp site and reached the bend of the river in about 2 hours. After having a look around and studying the map once again, we were certain that our approach should be along the river to the north west. That would lead us to the glacier from where the river originates and where we had planned to go. We decided to establish the ABC on this green meadow (4450m) just beside the confluence of the two rivers - one coming from the Bagini bamak and other from the nunexplored glacier.
Two more extensive load ferring on the next day and we were comfortably positioned in our ABC. That evening a 4-hour long snowfall turned the place in to a white paradise with a view of the massifs. Saf minal (6547 m) and Rishi Pahar (6992 m) rising ahead of us. Hardeol, Trisuli, Changabang or Kalanka - none of the legendary peaks were fully visible, but the entire scene was dramatic enough with a touch of the mystery of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary.
The next day, on 5 June, we decided to open the route for Camp 1. Carrying little load, we followed the river towards the northeast. The snow slopes were very steep but as we climbed up, we saw some majestic views of the Changabang and Kalanka ranges. Going further upto the glacier, we reached within 1 km of the snout. The river came down from it with an approx 200 m high waterfall and behind it one could see the peak 6504 rising like the spread wing of a hawk. Later we came to know that local people call it Gorur Parbat - after the bird (hawk) companion of God Vishnu in mythology.
We found a moraine to establish Camp 1, which was safe from rockfalls from either side. The site was at 5100 m and was reached by us from ABC in 4.5 hours. We dumped the load and came back to ABC before 3 p.m. to find all the snow of the previous evening vanished under the bright heat of day. We discussed and agreed that at least one more camp (Camp 2) would be required to attempt the peak 6202 m which was not even visible from Camp 1.
The next morning, all of us with full load containing tents, food and equipment, started off early for C1. Surinder and I reached the site by noon. After pitching the tents and preparing some tea, we went ahead to penetrate further into the unknown glacier and to open the route to C2. The route ahead seemed very critical. The superb waterfall was in front of us and the glacier visible beyond it.
We reached the bottom of the waterfall and then studied all the probable routes. The route along the left side of the waterfall climbed through a rockfall zone, but still it looked safer than the steep icy route with the occasional avalanche which was on the top along the other side of the waterfall. We climbed that left route to negotiate the waterfall and the rocky hump to reach the terminal moraines of the glacier. We crossed them and stepped onto the glacier to have a look around.
What we saw was exciting and and majestic. The most prominent peak was undoubtedly Gorur Parbat (6504 m), which had two ridges facing the glacier. The west ridge had a rocky col (beyond which lies Kalla bamak) at one end and a very crevassy climb to the summit. The long and beautiful south ridge came down from the top to form an icy col. The slopes that reached the col from the glacier seemed to offer a hard and serious climb (to which I was attracted at the very first look and decided to have a goat it after our task was done). Due south of this col, a rocky pinnacle rose very steeply to form a forked peak (6268 m). The ridge continued to the south, beyond which a white dome shaped summit was visible. This peak was our aim - 6202 m - Gorur Dome. The obvious route to this peak was up the ice face 520 m straight up from the glacier to reach the south ridge of the forked peak and then approach, the summit which was behind an ice plateau.
We came back happily to Campl, satisfied with the day's climbing. We decided to ferry loads to Camp 2 the next day. We agreed to attempt the peak 6202 m (Gorur Dome) first and then, if time and weather permited, to by our luck on Gorur Parvat (6504 m) via the south col.
It was very bright and sunny next morning and we carried all remaining loads and started for Camp 2. Though the load was very heavy for all of us, we were well acclimatised and physically fit we could pitch the tents of Camp 2 by 1 p.m. Without wasting any time, Surinder and I were on the way to open the route further ahead. We wondered whether we would need another camp on the snow plateau above the ice face to reach the summit safely. But as we started climbing the ice wall, it seemed so easy and safe on the hard-packed snow slopes with the gradient varying from degrees 45 to 70, that we felt even rope fixing was not necessary. We thought we could make the summit bid from Camp 2 directly. I led the way on an ice ramp slope of more than 80 degrees but did not fix the rope as Surinder found an easy way up by negotiating that ramp. Ultimately, we reached more than half way up the 520 m high face within two hours and then decided to return to Camp 2. We estimated that the total time required to reach the summit from C2 would be around 8 - 9 hours.
Summit Attempt and Survival - The Angry Mountain
The next day, 9 June, I came out of the tent at 4 a.m. and was shocked to find the clear and bright weather of the last 10 days gone. The sky was covered by black, thick clouds. We weren't sure whether we should go for the summit then. We slipped back into the tent and waited for the weather to improve. As the day advanced, the weather neither improved back nor deteriorated. The clouds were well above the surrounding peaks and visibility was not too bad, but the risk that the weather could turn bad any time and that we might be caught in a severe snowfall or blizzard or white out in the middle of the wall made us anxious.
Ultimately, we decided to have a go at 10.45 a.m.. As we knew that we didn't have much time to spare, we started climbing as fast as we could. We roped up but did not fix rope anywhere. The climbing was exceptionally smooth, without a single fall on the hard ice slopes. We reached the top of the wall within an incredible 3 hours. We stopped there for a while and judged our position. There was a nice panorama around us in spite of the clouds here and there and the Lampak group of peaks was clearly visible to the northeast. We were on one side of the large ice plateau, on the other side of which the summit ridge of the Gorur Dome rose gradually and elegantly.
It was an easy but long and tiring walk up the plateau and the summit ridge. Then I took the lead and reached the summit at 3 p.m. The rest of the team joined me within 15 minutes. From the clouded summit we saw Nanda Devi east, Bethartoli Himal, Dunagiri, Purvi Dunagiri, Changabang, Kalanka and Lampak peaks. The weather was showing signs of deteriorating and we quickly unfurled the national flag and started descending after a stay of only twenty minutes at the top.
The descent was not at all easy on those graded slopes and highly exposed faces with the chilly wind blowing hard and the black clouds coming down on us. There were two falls but they were quickly arrested. We reached Camp 2 safely.
Meanwhile the snowfall became vigorous. It continued through the night, and the next day and it seemed that it would never stop. Next night, it turned into a blizzard. At times the wind was so strong that we thought the tents would be torn away. The sound of avalanches coming down from different parts of the snow slopes around us added to our anxiety. When that horrible night was over and snowfall seemed to have reduced a lot, we came out of the tents to find the area covered with at least 1 m of fresh snow and outer of one of our tents had vanished.
Our stock of kerosene was over and so there was no way to melt snow to get some drinking water. We packed our gear and started descending. But again, we were trapped on the glacier in a complete white-out and almost zero visibility. We lost our way and plodded all day long through the deep snow to find the route down. Exhausted and frustrated, we rested several times and hoped the weather would clear up to some extent so we would find our way. But it never happened. At last we found the river source on the glacier and heard the sound of the water-fall, at the bottom of which was our C 1. We followed the river, then climbed down the slope beside the waterfall to reach C1. The weather was still bad and the white- out continued. So we decided to continue our climb down towards ABC. This time we didn't make any mistakes finding the route and carefully followed the river through the mist. We were relieved to reach ABC by 6 p.m.
The anger of the mountain goddess on us - probably for entering the glacier for the first time and climbing a virgin peak tested us severely, but in the end, let us survive. The porters arrived on the next day and we, after a night halt in Dunagiri, reached Joshimath in the evening, 13 June.
Members : Prasanta Roy - leader, Arnab Banerjee - climbing leader, Arka Ghosh, Avijit Das and Surinder Singh Rawat - HAS.
The first exploration of Gorur glacier, a tributary of the main Bagini Bamak. The first ascent on Gorur Dome (6202 m) and reconnaissance of Gorur Parvat (6504 m) and Gorur forked peak (6268 m - approx.) were made.
Photos 12 to 16
HAS : 'High Altitude Supporters'
LAS : 'Low Altitude Supporters'.