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

FOOTPRINTS IN THE RUDRA VALLEY

Lt. Col. A ABBEY

High in the upper regions of the Garhwal Himalaya, lies the sacred land of Patangana. Patangana is also known as the region of the Pandavas. According to the Puranas, the Pandavas performed the Rudrabhishek yajna here to atone for the killing of their kin, in the great war of Mahabharata. This revered region begins at the confluence of the Rudra ganga with the Bhagirathi and engulfs the sacred Gangotri itself.

Through this fascinating land of the gods, flows the mighty Bhagirathi. At Gauri Kund near Gangotri, the river makes an awe inspiring waterfall into a water basin, which is also known as Surya Kund. As per the mythological Puranas, it is here that Raja Bhagirath performed severe austerities for almost 5500 years and sought the boon to bring down the celestial Ganga to earth. At 3012 m Gangotri itself is the hub of this sacred region. Bathed in unmatched natural beauty of the Deodars, even today it mesmerises the mountaineer and the ascetic alike. This sacred mini township, which is a chokeful of temples is located at the confluence of the holy Bhagirathi and the Kedar ganga.

As we move from Bhairon Ghati to Gangotri, the mesmerizing form of this divine land comes into shape. The chiseled gorge of the river so appears, as if guarding the Patangana region and its mystic southern bank, which is abundant with fir trees. Although some old trees have been felled, yet the area is rich in flora and fauna. Many medicinal herbs such as Jeevak and Rishvak grow in this region.

9 kms to the SW of Gangotri, lies the enchanting valley of Rudra. The valley which covers an approximate area of 13.5 x 8 kms is dedicated to Lord Shiva (Rudra means Shiva). It is drained by the Rudra ganga or Rudragairu (gairu means deep) or Rudugaira gad, which cuts a formidable gorge in the Rudra valley. Draining from the Rudugaira bamak (bamak means glacier) the Rudra ganga covers a distance of

Panoramas A-B-F

almost 9 km, before joining the Bhagirathi, 1.5 kms to the west of Gangotri. The valley is bounded by the Miyana bamak to the northwest, Jaonli bamak from south east to south west and Kedar bamak to the east.

Dominating the Rudra valley amphitheatre, are peaks of the Gangotri group. Although not of a very spectacular elevation, the shapely Gangotri group covers the sky line for almost 6.5 km. From Gangotri I (6672 m), the north west ridges continues in the form of a serrated ridge line for almost 7 km to Srikanta (6133 m), which towers above the Dudu bamak. The north east from Gangotri I ridge drops down to a prominent col and then rises on to Rudugaira peak (5819 m), which is a popular landmark in the valley. The ridge further continues unabated for 9 km, as the Rudugaira dhar and merges with the valley floor at the confluence of Bhagirathi and Rudra ganga. To the north west lies the picturesque Miyana valley.

The southeast ridge emanates from Gangotri I and cuts across to Gangotri II (6590 m) and Gangotri III (6577 m). Further the ridge moves east and south east and encloses the valley, merging with Jogin I (6465 m) of the Jogin group. The north ridge emanates very prominently from Jogin I and cuts across to Jogin II (6343 m) and continues onwards as the Patangana dhar. It is the 12 kms long Patangana dhar, which separates the Kedar ganga from the Rudra ganga valley. It also encloses the Rudra ganga from the east and finally peters away at Gangotri between the confluences of Kedar ganga and Rudra ganga with the Bhagirathi.

It is indeed intriguing, that while the Gangotri group towers above the Rudra valley, the Gangotri glacier is almost 20 kms east of the Rudra valley. Undoubtedly, the glacier at one time had its snout to the west of the Rudra valley, which has today receded beyond imagination. According to folklore of the region, for years villagers of the area were regularly crossing from Khatling to the Rudugaira valleys, to pay their obeisance at Gangotri. However no one for generations, recalls a specific crossing in the Bhagirathi or the Bhilangana valleys. Even today some old priests of Mukhba and Dharali villages are aware of a route which exists through the Rudra valley.

In 1935, John Bicknell Auden, a noted geologist of the Geological Survey of India, along with Dr. D. G. Macdonald and Juin Singh, who had been with Marco Pallis in 1933 (1), entered this valley. Auden wrote :-

After descending two miles down the Bhagirathi valley We turned south up the Rudugaira Gad (53J) by a steep ascent through deodar forest from 9,700 feet to 10,900 feet and then by a gentle undulating ascent though maple and birch trees. Camps were made at 11,800, 13,600 and 15,000 feet the last being on an open flat between the lateral moraines of glaciers Nos. 1 and 3 of the accompanying sketch - map. A rough plane table sketch was made of the lower part of the glacier field on a scale of 2,000 feet + I inch.

Their team explored the Rudra valley. Auden further recorded :- The highest camp was pitched at 18,400 feet the top of this island in a small depression on the snow which was somewhat sheltered from the wind. Just above this depression there is a snow saddle leading over to the upper snow field of glacier No I. Peak I could only be reached by crossing this glacier and ascending a very steep wall of rotten rock, which formed the western watershed between the Rudugaira and Miani valleys.

Peak 1 (21,911 ft) and peak 6 (21,214 ft), then identified by Auden are today Gangotri I and Jogin I, respectively. The west face of peak 6 or Jogin I drops into the Rudra valley. They observed a number of hanging glaciers on this face which they thought 'was liable to rock falls and might be dangerous'. They also attempted Peak III, along with Sherpa Da Tondrup, but gave up their route along the saddle stating 'that there would have been great difficulties ahead had we persisted with that route'. He also observed :-

At the southern end of the Rudugaira valley there is a low col, situated at 190 degree from the moraine hill near camp at 15,000 feet, and probably not more than 17,000 feet in height. This col leads over into the Bhilangana valley and appears to be one of the few places along this part of the main Himalayan range, where the break is sufficiently low to permit a route being made across it.

In June 1939, J.B Auden again returned to this col, in the Rudra Valley (2). This time he came with the intention of crossing the col observed by him in 1935. He along with two porters crossed a high pass of (5486 m) on the ridge line, dividing the Rudra and the Khatling valleys, which is now known as the Auden's Col. He recorded :-

We left camp at 6.10 a.m. on the 29 June in perfect weather and reached the col at 8.20, by an easy climb zigzagging amongst crevasses. A steep snow gully drops down to the Khatling glacier, and for the first time my light alpine line proved a necessity. After some slips, which were held by ice-axe belaying, we dropped down to the neve field. By 9.45, the recently fallen snow had softened and the trudge down the first 2 miles of the Khatling glacier was extremely tedious.

In his letter to Harish Kapadia, the Hon Editor of the Himalayan Journal in 1990, he in fond nostalgia reminiscenced and revealed

(3) :-

This col was crossed in 1939, by myself and two porters from Harsil hamlet, at the termination of two months travelling light, with tents weighing three kilograms. I had been living rather primitively, and was anxious to make a short cut across the range, thereby saving several days. The north side of this col was relatively easy going, but the south side presented some difficulties in crossing the pinnacled ice.

Auden's Col was subsequently crossed after 44 years, on 28 August 1983, from the Khatling bamak by Ranjit Lahiri and Arun Ghosh along with a guide (4). On 18 September 1983, it was crossed by Bidyut Sarkar and Atanu Chatterjee from Bengal along with a porter from the Rudra valley, following the original Auden's trail. An RAF trekking party in 1985 crossed the pass from the opposite direction. In September 2001, a three member team from Bombay, comprising of K Vishwanath, Pankaj Parekh and Anosh Elavia (5), crossed the pass from the Rudra valley and descended into the Khatling bamak. Auden in 1939 had remarked 'that although the actual col is technically not very difficult, it is not one that could now be crossed by unequipped parties'.

Gangotri I, the highest peak of the valley, was first climbed by an Oxford University Expedition in 1952. Ascent was made by J. B. Tyson, Huggins, Pasang Dawa Lama, Govardan and Annullu on 02 October, from the northeast ridge. Three members of the same expedition namely Lamprey, Tyson and Annullu reached the summit of Gangotri III (6577 m) after a 9 hour gruelling ascent, also from the northeast ridge of the mountain.

In 1969, the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), Uttarkashi moved into the valley and conducted its first Basic and Advance Mountaineering course in the area (6). Ever since then, NIM has been using the Rudugaira bamak, off and on for its training courses. Gangotri III was climbed by the 14 Advance Mountaineering Course (Major Surat Singh) on 27 June 1969. Gangotri II was climbed by 35 Advance Mountaineering Course (Squadron Leader A. K. Bhattacharya) on 23 May 1976. Rudugaira was also climbed by trainees of 52 Basic Mountaineering course on 4 October 1976. Ever since then, over the years these peaks have been reportedly climbed by a number of expeditions of both Indian and foreign origin.

In 1983, the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (7) conducted it's selection camp on Gangotri I, for the 1984 Indian Everest Expedition under the Leadership of Col. Balwant Sandhu, then Principal of NIM. In October 1983, an IMF Training Camp was also conducted in the valley. Some members of the camp reached Auden's Col from the Rudugaira side. In 2001, an All Women Expedition (Lata Joshi ) sponsored by the IMF, reportedly scaled Gangotri I in inclement weather conditions.

In 2003, the Indian Army selected the Rudra ganga valley, for carrying out it's Pre-Everest expedition training and selection of the Army team for the venture. 60 best probables from over 300, volunteers from the Indian Army were shortlisted, based on their mountaineering experience and climbing profile. The Rudra valley was selected, mainly because of the excellent natural training ground in terms of big walls, glaciers and icefalls, as also because of the relative privacy, which the valley had to offer.

The team, which included members who had climbed Everest and Annapurna reached Uttarkashi on 14 September 2002, to find an epic being enacted on Gangotri III. An expedition team from Bengal attempting Gangotri III had 6 climbers missing. Unprecedented heavy snowfall in the first week of September, had caught the team unawares and had made timely rescue operations very difficult. NIM got frantic messages from the Ministry of Defence, District Administration, friends and relatives to assist. Finally, three climbers were rescued by the Indian Air Force, while in a tragic set of circumstances, the other three perished. Their bodies were finally brought down and cremated at Gangotri. The Indian climbing fraternity had lost two budding climbers and a dedicated HAP of the area.

Moving up the Bhagirathi valley, the team reached Gangotri on 18 September. Roadhead camp was established in this pilgrimage hub, where after seeking blessings of the goddess, the team moved up the Rudra valley.

The Rudra ganga valley lies to the south east of Gangotri. Moving for about 1.5 km along the Bhagirathi, the valley turns in a south westerly direction along the Rudra ganga. As we moved up from the confluence of Rudra ganga and Bhagirathi, this enchanting valley opened its sublime treasures. Over the years the river has cut a majestic gorge, which is indeed a marvel of nature. The route which is initially along the eastern side, after crossing a log bridge ascends on to the western side. Moving through a maze of birch trees, intermediate camp was established on 20 September, at 3725 m.

At Rudugaira kharak (traditional BC site for Rudugaira peak) and beyond, we sited herds of blue sheep. We established our BC on 23 September at 4480 m. Our chosen site was that of the traditional, NIM BC in the valley. The BC was at this time under heavy snow cover, which was very unusual at this time of the year. Next to us, were tents of the BC ill fated Bengal team - only the tips of their tent poles were visible. Our porters were apprehensive. Because of the recent tragedy, the entire valley bore a look of a deserted winter Olympiad !

The route to C1 was through the face of the cul de sac, formed by the two lateral moraines of the Rudugaira bamak. For the first 1300 ft of ascent, the route was along the lower 400 m rung of the face drooping from the Gangotri massif. The route moved along the lateral moraine, parallel to the Gangotri skyline and after a gentle dip rose all the way upto C1, which was sited overlooking the Rudugaira bamak. C1 was established on 27 September at 5100 m. It was occupied on 29 September 2002 by team I under, Major Anand Swaroop and Sub Laxman Singh.

From C1, our route taken continued along the lateral moraine gently for about 30 minutes, before steeply climbing up a disjointed rock face and hit the eastern rib protruding, between Gangotri I and II. To the north of this rib was a big glacial field, ridden with crevasses. The serrated threatening, western face of Gangotri I was now looming large, with an omni present danger of an ice avalanche. An unstable ice crown on the ridge, was menacingly threatening our route, with broken ice slabs already littering the glacier floor. The heavily crevassed glacier was crossed with great care and caution and the base of the col between Rudugaira and Gangotri I, was finally gained. C2 was established on 30 September 2002, at 5620 m on a saddle over looking the Miyana and Rudra valley. Traditionally, expeditions attempting Gangotri I normally establish three camps, however owing to the excellent fitness of the team, it was decided to attempt the summit from C2, itself. On 2 October, team 1 under Major Anand Swaroop and Sub Laxman Singh, comprising of 11 climbers left C2 at 0430 hours. They split up into smaller sub teams and moved up the 2.5 km long west to east ridge of Gangotri I, with the summit still well over thousand meters away.

The route from C2 was along the north east ridge of Gangotri I. Two ropes were fixed to negotiate the ridge immediately after the camp. The complete northeastern face of Gangotri I, overlooking the Miyana and the Rudra valleys was heavily laden with serac barriers and hanging glaciers. The snow conditions were dangerous, as under our feet the snow creaked. Enroute, a small flattish heavily corniced top was crossed - a good camp site, perhaps used as a summit camp by earlier expeditions. Two more ropes were fixed and a number of crevasses were negotiated on the main ridge. Members moved roped up, along the spine of the ridge. The ridge was heavily corniced. Fresh snow made the going laborious and false summits made the objective look deceptively close. Finally at 1235 hours, team 1 reached the summit.

The summit of Gangotri I was fully corniced, akin to a mushroom top with rotten packed snow leading to it's very base. Placement of protection was virtually impossible due to loose, unconsolidated snow. From where we stood, the cornice top was still 2 meters higher. The cornice though not difficult, was unstable and dangerous, as the mountain plunged down to the Jaonli bamak, in the Lodgad valley. Members took turns to reach the high point and were belayed, one by one. Behind Gangotri I, away to the west of the summit was a shapely ice pinnacle, which though lower, looked enticingly inviting. Sepctacular views on all three days of the summit attempts, were seen from the top - Bandarpunch, Swargarohini, the Tibetan Plateau, Chirbas Parvat, Srikanta, Kamet, Satopanth, Chaukhamba, Kedarnath and Gangotri II were all baked in silver splendour.

11 members of team 2 under Lt. Col. A Abbey and Major R. S. Thind repeated the ascent at 0950 hours on 3 October. The mountain gods relented yet again and 10 more climbers, under Major SP Malik and Major Abhijeet Singh reached the summit at 0900 hours on 04 October.

A unique aspect of this expedition was in the conduct and execution of the climb, which was totally environment friendly. The expedition managed to cart back everything, excepting foot prints and memories! The camp sites were thoroughly cleaned. All nonbio- degradables including glass, metal cans, polythene, foils etc were brought down to Rishikesh. Nothing was burnt in the fragile environment. Perhaps this is the reason that the mountain gods were kind and blessed 40 soldiers to intrude into their divine domain. The mountain was stripped clean and the complete team congregated at Gangotri on 17 October, taking only 17 days to and fro from the roadhead. The team after the climb of Gangotri I, also carried out extensive physical conditioning, testing, technical workouts etc on the big walls of Rudugaira bamak.

The Rudra ganga valley today is frequented by climbers and trekkers, from all over the world. While a member of ascents have been claimed in the recent times, there have been fatal accidents too. As the sacred waters of the Rudra ganga flow in a timeless ebb through this pristine valley, we pray that Lord Shiva's divine blessings always remain bestowed on it indeed forever on the Himalaya!

SUMMARY

Expedition : Indian Army Pre Everest Expedition cum Selection Camp

Leader : Lt Col A Abbey

Route : Ascent made from the northeast ridge of Gangotri I.

Summiteers and

ascent dates :

2 October 2002 Maj A Swaroop, Sub Laxman Singh Negi, Nb Sub Bansi Lal , Hav PR Gurjiyal, Hav Ajay Ale, Hav Dinesh Singh, Hav Gokul Pradhan, NK Harpal Singh, NK Hira Singh, LNK BB Lakshamba, LNK S Gourmey, LNK SG Ghale and S/M IP Swamy.

3 October 2002 Lt Col A Abbey, Maj R S Thind, Sub Lalit Negi, NK B Singh, LNK Rakesh, NK RB Gurung, LHav Nim Bahadur Khatri, Nb Sub N Sonam, Hav Pratap Singh Hav Tajbar, ASL Champa, NK T Bhutia, NK Khatri B, LNK Pradeep Prasad and NK S B Gurung.

4 October 2002 Major S P Malik, Major Abhijeet Singh, Sub C Angchuk, Nb Sub Mohinder Singh, Hav Surjeet Singh, Hav M Gurung, Hav Satpal Singh, Hav Dalbir Singh, Hav D Kumar, Hav Tashi Gyapo, Hav Lal Singh and Hav Kunwar Singh.

Sponsored by : Army Adventure Wing, Directorate General of Military Training.

References :-
  1. Himalayan Journal, Vol VIII, page 96.
  2. Himalayan Journal, Vol XII, page 17.
  3. Peaks and Passes in the Garhwal Himalaya, by Harish Kapadia page 210.
  4. Himalayan Journal, Vol 40, page 40.
  5. Nehru Mountaineering Journal, Vol VII, page 5.
  6. Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Archives.
  7. Himalayan Journal, Vol 39, page 180.