Himalayan Journal vol.59
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.59

Publication year:
2003

Editor:
Harish Kapadia
Index
  1. AN ENQUIRY INTO THE REAL NAME OF MT. EVEREST
    (WILLIAM McKAY AITKEN)
  2. THE MAKING OF THE HIMALAYA AND HUMANS
    (RASOUL SORKHABI)
  3. CAMPS AND SUMMITS TO THE LAND OF THE BLUE POPPY
    (A. D. MODDIE)
  4. REFLECTIONS
    (DOUG SCOTT)
  5. SIKKIM, TENZING AND A SACRED VALLEY
    (JOHN A. JACKSON)
  6. A SHORT TOUR OF THE EAST
    (Col. BALWANT S. SANDHU)
  7. TO THE ALPS OF TIBET - PART II
    (TAMOTSU NAKAMURA)
  8. WITH MASLOW TO MANASLU
    (JON GANGDAL)
  9. FOOTPRINTS IN THE RUDRA VALLEY
    (Lt. Col. A ABBEY)
  10. LITTLE KAILASH PILGRIMAGE
    (MARTIN MORAN)
  11. SUJ TILLA
    (GRAHAM LITTLE)
  12. ASCENT OF THE NEEDLE PEAK
    (LT. CDR. SATYABRATA DAM)
  13. THE GOD THAT DID NOT FAIL
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  14. FIRST ASCENT OF PADMANABH
    (HIROSHI SAKAI)
  15. THE ASCENT OF SEPU KANGRI
    (CARLOS BUHLER)
  16. KINGS OF KARAKORAM
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  17. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN
    (WILLIAM McKAY AITKEN)
  18. SUCH A LONG JOURNEY
    (M. H. CONTRACTOR)
  19. EXPEDITION AND NOTES
  20. BOOK REVIEWS
  21. IN MEMORIAM
  22. CORRESPONDENCE
  23. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 2002

FIRST ASCENT OF PADMANABH

HIROSHI SAKAI

It was my desire to climb in the east Karakoram where no Japanese had gone for several years now. I fortunately got an opportunity to go there in 2002 when Harish Kapadia and his friends invited us to join them to go across the Shyok and Nubra valleys. We became the first Japanese to stand on the Karakoram Pass in the last 93 years and we were very proud of this feat. Among my team was Ryuji Hayashibara (Lingen) who had visited the Siachen glacier from west in 1979 and had roamed around it. So for him too, this was the journey, which would complete the exploration of the area.

We started preparations and received the final permission from the Indian Army. I flew to Bombay to finalise all the arrangements with Harish. None of the e-mail business for us because of language problems so we decided it was best to sort it out face to face. Everything fell in place and we all gathered in Mumbai to start off our journey. (This journey is described in the article, 'The God that did not Fail' by Harish Kapadia).

After the long traverse along the Shyok river and reaching Karakoram Pass, we crossed Col Italia. We were delayed because of much luggage and soft snow. So we decided to split in two different teams, with four of us climbers pushing ahead to explore the climbing routes on Padmanabh, which had never been attempted before, while the other team brought up the rear. As we reached the site of our base camp 2, we found a towering peak rising behind which looked like a very complicated and difficult mountain. Towards its north rose the peak of Laxmi1 while towards south was Bhujang, which was climbed by the Indian team in 19982. After close observation and discussions with our friends I decided to attempt the southwest ridge. We were to follow the traditional siege type technique i.e. fixing rope until higher up on the mountain and then making a final push to the summit.

1 First climbed by Fanny Bullock Workman in 1912. She gave this name, in honour of goddess Laxmi (goddess of wealth). Laxmi is wife of Padmanabh (Lord Vishnu).

2 Team from Mumbai, led by Harish Kapadia. See H.J. Vol. 55, page 136. 'Bhujang' is another name of Lord Vishnu.

Photos 37-38, Cover photo Panorama D

Accordingly on 18 June 2002, a team led by Yasushi Tanahashi, with Dr Oe, Lt Cdr Satya Dam and Rushad Nanavatty, established a summit camp at 6250 m, which was on a col on the south ridge of Padmanabh. The team started fixing ropes of 50 m each from 18 June straightaway. On the 19th- bad weather intervened and there was no action. But on the 20th they extended four more pitches of fixed ropes until the bottom of a big pinnacle. The first two pitches were a snow face, with some ice beneath and fresh snow above it. It was very hard ice wherever their crampons could reach. The next two pitches were at an angle of 45° and it was a mixed terrain of ice and rock, which had to be climbed carefully with crampons. The fifth pitch starts actually on the south ridge with a great view of Col Italia and Rimo I, which almost looks like Jannu, very impressive. On the west was the Siachen glacier and a view of peaks K12, Saltoro Kangri and many others. The 'Team A', returned back to the BC on the same day, while 'Team B' led by myself, with Motup Chewang, Huzefa Electricwala and Tadashi Fukuwada (Huku) occupied the summit camp. The dawn of the 22nd was very clear, with no wind or cloud at all. Five more pitches were climbed on this day. We left summit camp at 5 a.m. and reached the bottom of the pinnacle at 6500 m in one hour with fixed ropes. We quickly did pitches no. 7 to 11. I led pitch 7 which was a traverse behind the pinnacle and going up 30 m. The next pitch was rock and snow following the south ridge. We changed leads on the 9th pitch which was a steep rock face with a huge slab with hardly any holds. Crossing this, we reached a sharp snow ridge. A very steep snow face of 70° and a little but steep traverse to the west was negotiated to reach another section on the steep snow ridge. This was the crux of the south ridge and after climbing this, we were very happy and returned back to the camp by 3 p.m. Huzefa decided to return back to the lower camp while three of us continued fixing more ropes.

On 23rd we left at 5 a.m. in little westerly wind and reached the top of the 11th pitch by 7.30 a.m. We extended another 5 pitches over steep snow and along the snow ridge with some rocky faces in between. It was a mixed climb all along. The summit looked very near but we could not observe it because it looked very deceptive. Hence we returned back to the BC.

At the base camp we had discussions and formed two summit teams to make the attempt on two different days. The first team would consist of, Yasushi Tanahashi, Lt. Cdr. Satya Dam and myself. We were to reach the summit camp by noon, on the 24th. Team B was to attempt the summit next day, and it consisted of Motup Chewang, Rushad Nanavatty, Tadashi Fukuwada, and Dr. Oe. 25 June became our summit day.

Three of us got up at around 2 a.m. and by 3.50 a.m. we were out on to the fixed ropes, climbing in the dark with head torches. Sunlight reached us by 5.15 a.m. when we were at the pinnacle. Tanahashi and I reached the pinnacle within one hour while Satya was moving slowly, taking almost double the time. We waited for him and over the walkie- talkie we checked with our leader Harish whether we should wait further. However, Satya reached us then himself said that he was slow and would like to go down to BC.

By 8.00 a.m. we reached the top of the 16th pitch at 6750 m, till the point where the fixed rope ended. Now we had to fix fresh ropes or climb free, on our own. Weather was windy and cloudy. Tanahashi led the 17th pitch on snow and rock face and he reached a little flat area where we changed leads. Ahead was a steep rock band, 5 m vertical and then verglas covered rock on which we had to zigzag. This was very complicated and one slip could have landed us right into the Siachen glacier. We fixed up some screws on the top, fixed ropes and reached 6800 m. Next pitch was climbed free over steep snow, which was now getting powdery and was almost 1m deep. Slowly as we climbed towards a rock pinnacle, snow conditions improved a little. We went past this pinnacle towards the west and entered a steep gully where we had to climb with double ice axes. Hard snow and steep face was led by Sakai and though it was not too difficult it was always very exposed. By 2.00 p.m. we reached a small snow ridge at 6900 m. Now we had reached the crux of this entire climb.

I was in the lead. Snow was almost 2 m deep and powdery. No trail or grips could ever be obtained. I kept on climbing with two ice axes with almost swimming motions in the snow. If such critical conditions had continued for even five minutes, I would have made a decision to give up the climb. Finally we reached the end of the tunnel, which led us to the junction of the east ridge joining the south ridge. We were now at 7000 m but because of complete cloud cover, we could not see ahead to make out where the real peak lay. With walkie-talkie we were in constant touch with base camp and asked them to locate the exact position through binoculars. That was also not too helpful. It was nearly 3.00 p.m. and when we decided to continue, it was cold, windy and tiring and we did not know the route ahead. The final pitch and the moment of truth arrived very soon. Finally there was a little gap in the weather and behind it we could see the snowy and floppy pinnacle and the northwest ridge falling on the other side. On the northeast was the face and on the west was the steep rocky drop. We walked across and by 3.10 p. m. we were standing on the summit of Padmanabh (7030 m). We talked on the walkie-talkie with base camp and there was jubilation all around.

We could see the Siachen glacier and all other surrounding peaks between small openings in the clouds. We stayed 40 minutes on the summit, talking and taking pictures as far as we could. Though it was a very happy moment we felt sad that no Indians had reached the summit with us on this historic point. But we were carrying the picture of Lt. Nawang Kapadia, Harish's son who had died in Kashmir fighting Pakistan based terrorists. The expedition was dedicated to him and we very proudly took out his picture and hoisted it along with the Japanese and Indian flags on the summit. Though no Indian had reached the summit with us physically, by this gesture and photographs they were always with us in spirit. Many thoughts crossed my mind. The early training, the train ride, local hills around Mumbai where we discussed plans, the terrorists attack of 9/11, the Indo Pak war and other thoughts came to me. We were very lucky that the Lord Padmanabh had allowed us to reach his abode. Some of the pitches on this route were more difficult than anything done by me on the ascent of Nanga Parbat in 1995. The route was certainly that difficult.

After giving thanks to the Lord we decided to come down quickly. First 5 pitches were little difficult for descent. The rope was stuck at one place so we had to cut it. After reaching the starting point of the fixed rope in 2 hours, the speed of descent improved considerably. The weather was cloudy and constantly hampering our movements en route. We reached camp at 7.30 and 8.00 p.m. respectively. We were exhausted. Tadashi Fukuwada and Dr. Oe were waiting for us with hot tea. It had been a 16-hour day.

The peak required speed, technique and stamina. Looking at the difficulties I advised my other members that no more attempts should be made as the terrain and weather was not co-operative. However as others were very keen on going to the summit, as a climbing leader, I offered to stay at the summit camp and await their arrival. But, as the Sherpas believe, whenever a virgin peak is climbed, the weather weeps and next day, 26 June, it was snowing heavily right from early morning and further attempts had to be called off. I came down very tired and in very bold big letters wrote my wife's name on the snow. We are Christians and I knew her promise that as long as I am in the Karakoram, she would go to Church everyday. I am sure she had prayed for me while I was climbing these difficult pitches. Lord had been good to us in all ways and in all forms.

SUMMARY:

First ascent of Padmanabh (7030 m) was made by Hiroshi Sakai and Yasushi Tanahashi on 25 June 2002. The peak stands on the western edge of the Teram Shehr Plateau to the east of the Siachen glacier. They were part of the Indo-Japanese East Karakoram Expedition 2002 led by Harish Kapadia. (See article 'God That Did Not Fail' for full details of the expedition).