Himalayan Journal vol.58
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.58

Publication year:
2002

Editor:
Harish Kapadia
Index
  1. TWO POEMS
    (REV. ROY GREENWOOD)
  2. HIMALAYA: MYTHICAL SHANGRI LA TO GLOBALISING COCKPIT1
    (A. D. MODDIE)
  3. QUEST FOR SOURCE OF THE MEKONG RIVER
    (TAMOTSU NAKAMURA)
  4. FIRST ASCENT OF TIRSULI WEST
    (MAJOR KULWANT SINGH DHAMI, SM)
  5. NANDA GHUNTI FROM BOTH SIDES
    (MARTIN MORAN)
  6. MERU PEAK: THE GATE TO THE SKY
    (VALERI BABANOV)
  7. A CLIMB IN THE CLOUDS
    (ARNAB BANERJEE)
  8. PERMIT ME, SANCTUARY
    (STEVEN BERRY)
  9. NANDA DEVI JUGGERNAUT
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  10. THE TRIDENT OF SHIVA
    (COLIN KNOWLES)
  11. LAST MINUTE JOURNEY
    (ANTONELLA CICOGNA and MARIO MANICA)
  12. A DATE WITH THE TIMELESS MOUNTAINS
    (Lt. Col. A. ABBEY)
  13. IN THE LAND OF ARGANS
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  14. BARBAROSSA
    (MARK RICHEY)
  15. BRITISH SOLU EXPEDITION 2000
    (DAVE WILKINSON)
  16. TRAVELS WITH DONKEYS IN THE KUN LUN
    (COLONEL HENRY DAY)
  17. TO THE ALPS OF TIBET
    (TAMOTSU NAKAMURA)
  18. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  19. BOOK REVIEWS
  20. IN MEMORIAM
  21. CORRESPONDENCE
  22. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 2001
  23. CLUB PROCEEDINGS

A CLIMB IN THE CLOUDS

ARNAB BANERJEE

Expedition to Manda II

A lonely mountain

YOU ARE NEVER GIVEN A WISH without also being given the power to make it come true. You may have to work for it however.' Manda. Majestic. These two words always sounded synonymous to me whenever I walked past Bhujbasa on the way towards Gaumukh. The imposing fortress of rocks and ice on the Manda group expresses a sense of dignity and sheer arrogance to everyone passing them. Despite being so close by its gigantic presence, to such popular pilgrimage trails like Gangotri to Gaumukh, these peaks have been rarely challenged by climbers. For years, mountaineers visited Gangotri region for repeating many of the well-known routes on the neighbouring peaks like Jogin, Kedar Dome, Bhagirathi, Sudarshan or searching for new routes on Shivling or Thalay Sagar. Manda stood alone in her solitary fortress with all her pride and majesty - undisturbed, untouched. (A detail chronicle of climbing history on Manda is attached to this report). All attempts to climb Manda peaks were made either from the west ( Kedar tal) or from the north (Manda bamak - a tiny glacier north of Manda-I). No one ever explored the possibility of climbing them from the east - Bhrigupanth glacier. Two fierce icefalls along with sheer ice and rock walls are what this route offers. New route, virgin peak, unexplored glacier, technical climbing - is there anything else a climber can wish for in a perfect Himalayan summer outing? I guess not. Everyone (in our group) agreed that the proposition had merits and was worth a try but clearly no one saw much chance of success in this venture other than doing an exploration and reconnaissance. Finally, we decided to attempt a new route on Manda group of peaks from the east. The team seemed ambitious about the plan, but all information and logical thinking went against the possibility of achieving a successful summit bid.

The dream started taking shape from then on. I flew back to Calcutta from Boston in May to join the expedition. Viji got transferred to his Calcutta office from New York in April. Arka joined us at the very last moment. Kausik came from Mumbai and Gambhi managed a month's leave from her work. We were a young and energetic team.

Base Camp

We started the trek that morning from Gangotri on 8 June and reached Bhujbasa (14 Km from Gangotri) by afternoon. We hiked on the left side of the gorge of Bhagirathi river. As we came close to Bhujbasa, the entrance to Bhrigupanth glacier came out of the clouds with a few glimpses of Manda peaks behind it. We stopped for a while to appreciate the view. All our eyes were on the gap to enter the Bhrigupanth glacier, high above the other side of the gorge. It was just kilometres away as the crow flies, but the river was flowing with a vengeance deep down the gorge and there was no bridge to cross it! The only way we could go was to keep walking by the left bank of the river, reach the snout (Gaumukh), 4 kilometres ahead, cross it by climbing up the glacier and then, come back by the other side. We decided to camp at Gaumukh that evening. As the sun prepared to set for the day, clouds decided to leave the Bhagirathi, Shivling and Manda peaks alone. The orangish-yellow rays of the setting sun seemed to lighten up a beautiful evening. Next morning (9 June), we started early. We crossed the glacier over the snout and then started walking back by the other side of the river. We decided to stay high up the slopes instead of coming down to the bank. There were no trails at all, but we were walking like an army - breaking trails with our huge team of porters. I was walking in front of the team so that I could choose the campsite. I reached the gap of the Bhrigupanth glacier by noon. As we curved our way into the gap, we found a wonderful green meadow but decided to continue ahead in search of a higher campground. After another half an hour, we reached another meadow between a vertical rock wall and a very high moraine ridge. I estimated the height of that site approximately 4200 m. This was going to be our BC.

The call of the Icefall - Camp 1

The peace of the BC was temporary, however. The very next day, I went for a recce while others arranged the high altitude loads. I moved forward with Dil and Thapa. We climbed a long slope to reach the top of a moraine ridge and then followed the ridge to move deep into the glacier. The amazing faces of Manda I and Manda II with a rocky pinnacle in between dominated the view. We climbed down to the glacier from the moraine ridge and traversed the glacier to have a closer look at the north face of Manda II. The prospect, of climbing by any line on this side, looked extremely dangerous and beyond our reach. Steep faces of rocks, avalanche prone ice slopes and continuous rock fall - probably the scariest and most gorgeous scene I have ever

seen in my life. Looking south along the glacier, we could see a 250 m icefall. I decided to climb that icefall and try to approach Manda II from behind. We moved towards the icefall. As we came closer, we realised that climbing the icefall was not going to be an easy task. It had vertical rock walls on both sides with broken and hanging pillars of ice formation all over it. The only line of weakness was a tiny line to its left where it met the rock wall. But it seemed that the crazy crevasses and rock falls would be our constant companion while we fixed ropes over those steep ice walls. We decided to establish C 1 just before the icefall. A safe rocky moraine besides the glacier at around 4600 m was chosen as the campsite. The icefall between Camp1 and C 2 was bad. We could not imagine opening a route through the middle of the icefall. We had to look at the sides of the icefall where it met the rock faces. But there were vertical rock faces on both sides with rocks falling from above in regular intervals. After a lot of inspection, we chose the route on the left, as it looked less steep and safer than one on the right. The first day of rope fixing, Thapa and I started opening route on the icefall.

I led the first two pitches while Thapa followed me carrying most of the equipment. Then, Thapa led a traverse. Though a few rocks did fall from high above but they missed us by a considerable margin. It was then my turn to lead. I climbed a pitch to reach the bottom of an overhanging ice with vertical rock faces to its left. We stopped there for a while and agreed that the next pitch was going to be the crux of the climb. As we were not carrying any rock gear and were exhausted, we decided to call it a day. But, pretty much satisfied with our effort, we came back to C 1.

Next day, after fixing two more ropes, we were on the top of the icefall. The icefall consumed 400 m of our fixed ropes. By the time, we were opening route above Camp 1 towards C 2, the rest of the team did an amazing job ferrying all the loads to C 1.

Mission Possible

C 2 promised to be worse. There were massive vertical walls on both sides from which avalanches were coming down at regular intervals. Added to this was a nagging white-out and for the first time during the expedition, it started snowing. The initial flurries turned into heavy snowfall as we slipped into the relative warmth of our sleeping bags. The weather did not improve on the next day either. The next morning dawned clear, however. We could see the massive peak of Bhrigupanth and Meru for the first time. On the other side, a royal panorama of high Himalayan peaks - Chaturbhuj, Chirbas Parvat, Sudarshan, Matri, Thelu, Yogeshwar, Kalidhang - was so exquisite that it looked almost unreal. Inspired by the excellent weather, we went ahead to find our route.

We had to follow the glacier for a kilometre and then turn right to enter the gap between the east ridges of Manda II and Manda III. Looking up after turning, I saw two huge icefalls separated by a rugged and broad rock gully with rock fall zones on the both sides - the route looked unbelievably steep and unsafe. Viji stayed on the glacier so that he could monitor our progress and take any action if something happened to us! Dil, Thapa and myself moved up fast following the rock gully. As we climbed high, we realised that the route was not that steep and dangerous as it looked from beneath but the fear of rock fall was very much there. We stayed in the middle of the rock gully and enjoyed watching the rocks speeding down from a safe distance. Climbing was tiring but enjoyable in the bright sunshine. We fixed one rope on a steep rock face to reach a relatively safe ground. We moved further up to find that the rock gully concluded in front of a sheer icefall.

The col between Manda II and III was surely situated behind that icefall, but it was out of our sight. We could see both the summits from there. As Dil pointed to the right, I saw a spot for our C 3 - a little rocky moraine between two icefields. High up in the sky, a cirrus was hanging pretty with sunshine silvering its edges. Just beneath it, the beautiful summit ridge of Manda II continued to its destination. The ridge was 300 m higher than where we stood and the wall from the ridge descended to the icefield in front of us. We noticed at least two lines on that face that might lead us to the summit ridge. One was to the right, an ice gully between two rocky buttresses - a long route but climbable. The other one was straight up - starting with an ice pitch and then through steep rocks, traversing left as it went up. The summit ridge above was inviting and looked friendly. We went for the straight route first.

I led on the ice wall and fixed ropes to reach the rock wall. Dil and Thapa followed me. Then, we rested for a while before they went forward to fix rope on the rocks. I stayed back, exhausted, and watching their progress. But, they were out of luck. After only one pitch, the rock hammer broke. They had to come down. We came back to C 2. 'We are close. We can make it!'. I jubilantly told others in C 2. On that same day, Arka, Kaushik and Gambhi came up to C 2. They said that many of the ropes that we had fixed on the icefall had snapped and the route was collapsing fast. They had to open new routes on some ugly portions of it to climb up.

The thrust for summit

We decided not to waste any more days as the weather was again showing all signs of getting worse. No wonder, as the monsoon was at the doorway to enter the western Himalaya. We quickly chalked out a plan and determined to work our best for the final push. The next day, we carried a full load to C 3 and four of us stayed back up there. C 3 was at 5500 m with a breathtaking view of Meru to the east. We needed to climb towards north next morning to tackle the final obstacles to the summit of Manda II -a long-cherished dream! After a discussion, we decided that if we could climb the gully quickly enough and reach the summit ridge by noon, we would attempt the peak on the same day. We slipped into our sleeping bags early to have enough rest for the long day ahead. But the sound of cracking crevasses and rolling rocks all around kept us awake till our tired bodies surrendered themselves to the peace of sleep.

The next morning, 21 June, we started early. The slopes up the gully climbed steadily at an angle around 60 degrees to begin with but then got steeper for another 10-20 degrees. Dil and Thapa were carrying almost 500 m of ropes. With each pitch I led, the load on their back lightened fast. We fixed 400 m of ropes on the Pinnacle Gully to reach the summit ridge by 10 a.m. The clouds had moved in by this time. Through the breaks between the clouds, we could see glimpses of the summit ridge ahead - it looked much longer than we expected. Climbing roped up on the loose rocks, icy patches and snowfields along the ridge, we steadily gained height to the summit, which was still behind the cloud. Dil stayed in front of the line while I was the last man on the rope. The ridge seemed to rise infinitely as we struggled for each oxygen molecule in the rarified atmosphere.

Then, at about 3 p.m., Dil shouted, 'We are almost there.' I looked up to see that we were approaching a huge rock stuck to a tiny ice summit, beyond which the ridge again started climbing down steadily towards west. A cold breeze started blowing and cleaned up the surrounding a little. For a while, I could see the rocky pinnacle between Mandal and Manda II to the north, Manda III to the south and the col between Manda II and Manda III down to the left. The celebration on the summit was brief. Deprived of any summit panorama, we took a few shots of the summit and of ourselves with the national flag. In fact, it was the first Indian ascent of the peak; that too by a completely new route. We missed the typical summit panorama that is usually seen from such a high Himalayan summit. The ocean of the majestic peaks spreading all over towards the horizon remained invisible. We took nine hours of climbing to reach the summit and stayed there for only half an hour.

Climbing down was fast and without any event. The next day, Arka, Kaushik and Gambhi climbed, following the route we had opened and reached the summit. We waited in C 3, relishing the success.

The retreat

The retreat became another major expedition just like climbing up. As we reached the top of the fixed rope between C 1 and C 2 (the icefall route), we found that the geography and formation of the icefall had been changed in the last few days while we were climbing the routes higher up! Almost all our ropes had snapped, the ice slabs collapsed into each other, the tiny crevasses became huge and the sign of destruction was all over. But we had no other option than to descend through it. Dil and I led the way opening the routes again down the icefall. A few scary rappelles into crevasses and climbing up and down through broken and unstable ice slopes - quite a retreat this was! We were trying to remove all our ropes and protections from the icefall, which was not an easy task. Viji was the first to be hit on his leg by a huge rock while rappeles down a pitch, but fortunately came down without a scratch. I was not that lucky though. On the last pitch, only 10 m before the danger zone, I heard a sound from the slope above and saw a mass of ice and rock break and come down straight at me. The rocks struck me on my helmet and sack and while I was trying to protect myself from falling down, something hit me on my nose. When it stopped, I found my nose was bleeding badly. As I was removing my carabiner from the rope, the second lot of rocks came down. Small pieces of rocks hammered all over my body while the big ones fortunately ignored me. I literally ran to C 1, happy to be back in one piece. It took us another two days to clean up C 1 and carry all the loads down to base camp. We still had a leisurely day before porters arrived. Next day, we started walking down the trail back to Gangotri with a content heart.

SUMMARY

An ascent of Manda II (6568 m) by a new route by five member climbing team from Junipers, Calcutta. This was first Indian ascent of the peak, second overall ascent, first climb from the east and through Bhrigupanth glacier to the peak.

Members: Avijit Das, (leader) Arnab Banerjee, (climbing leader), Arka Ghosh, RK Gambhisana, Kaushik Pal

Climbing history of Manda Group Manda II (6568 m)

From west (Kedar tal/ Kedar glacier):

One ascent by Mark Udall and his team (American) in 1981 by climbing the col between Manda II and Manda III and then following the south ridge of Manda II

From east (Bhrigupanth glacier):

First ascent made by this expedition by climbing the east ridge of Manda II

Manda I (6529 m)

From west (Kedar tal/ Kedar glacier):

First ascent by Minoo Mehta and team in 1980 Second ascent by Ehime University of Japan in 1981

From East (Bhrigupanth glacier): No reported ascent

From North (Manda glacier):

A few attempts with no success

Manda III (6511 m)

Still believed to be unclimbed