Khhang Shiling - Snow Mountain of four ridges

Divyesh Muni

Like the ridges of the mountain we were to climb, our expedition commenced with four disasters. Half of our team withdrew due to various personal reasons and we started as a three member team. Shripad, is a strong climber with a pleasant and even temperament. He has several good climbs to his credit. However, for some unknown reason, he has been nick-named 'Pampya'. I was told that it had nothing to do with pumps or any such instruments but the nickname was so popular that even his mother would find it strange if you asked her about 'Shripad'. Together with Pampya, Vineeta (my wife) and I made an excellent team.

From Harish Kapadia's account of his visit to the region, [1] we felt that it was possible to attempt Shigri Parvat by a new route from the Khamengar valley. It was only in 1993, that the valley had been opened to mountaineers and trekkers. As a result, very few teams had entered deep into the valleys of Khamengar. The thrill of visiting an unknown region was our main attraction. The cold icy winds of Spiti were a constant companion on the entire expedition. Another regular feature were the dust storms in the afternoon.

Next two disasters we faced would be familiar to many a travellers. Our first one was of a novel variety. Doors of the luggage compartment of our train could not be opened at Ambala railway station, where we got off. So our luggage was carried ahead to Amritsar but miraculously reached us back soon! The next in line was a broken jeep which stranded us on the road.

We reached Manali tired, but made purchases and teamed up with our porters. After crossing Rohtang pass and Kunzum la into Spiti, we were to face our last and most serious disaster - food poisoning to all of us. The food at a small dhaba left us vomiting, sick with dysentery and dehydrated. A drunk doctor at local dispensary could not help us much.

After recovery we went to the old and new monastery at Ghungri, near Mikkim. It contained idols of Demchhog (Shiva, the presiding deity of Kailash) and Dorje Phangmo (Parvati, his consort) in close embrace. We hoped that this erotica would bless us against any further calamity!

Approach Trek

The first day's gentle trek on 8 September brought us to Thango on the left bank of the Parahio river. We pitched camp next to the village. We met an old couple (I guess over 70 years) living alone in this remote place at 3800 m. We were amazed to see these two live alone in such harsh conditions, tending to their cattle and growing potatoes in the little land available for cultivation. By afternoon, the dry and dusty winds of Spiti swept across the landscape and saw us scurrying into our tents. The old man was aloof at first, but later started talking of the few expeditions that he could remember that had visited the region and gave us directions. On the next day, we proceeded on the left bank for about an hour and then crossed over a bridge. After about two hours of trekking, we met few local women collecting yak dung and to my surprise, one of them started speaking in English! They however did not know anything about the route ahead since they had never ventured any further than the camp site called 'Chom' which was located nearby.

After Chom we proceeded for an hour until we reached the fast flowing nala coming from the valley where the Khangla Tarbo peaks were located. We could not find any safe crossing but after jumping across boulders, we reached the junction of three valleys at the head of the river. As there was no fresh water around we had to walk back and camp lower. The location was ideal for our BC 4320 m, which we occupied the next day.

Base Camp - Advance Base Camp - Camp 1

After establishing BC, we went further ahead for a reconnaissance, in order to locate a crossing point near the junction of the three valleys. We walked all the way to the snout of the glacier coming from the Dibibokri Pyramid. The force of the water was tremendous and did not allow for a safe crossing and it was decided to fix a rope and we located the ABC at 5160 m. The route went along the lateral moraine on the right of the river coming down from the Shigri Parvat - Khhang Shiling massif. The camp was located a little away from the snout of the glacier. It took us about 4 hours to reach the camp and about 2 hours to return to base camp. We could see herds of bharal (mountain goats). We also spotted droppings of the elusive snow leopard. In the mean time, Vineeta climbed high on the ridge at the junction of the three valleys. She got a superb view of the entire region and of our route ahead all the way to C1. Next day, we ferried loads to ABC. We were now set to occupy the camp.

The route from ABC to C1 went along the medial moraine of the glacier for about two kms and then traversed to the left of the glacier and we had to cross some fast flowing glacial streams. The route climbed steeply at the turn of the glacier. We had to zigzag our way through two major crevasse zones. During our first foray into the glacier, we had to dump our loads at the turn of the glacier since it was very late in the day. Next day, we established camp at 5880 m in a basin formed between a large rock feature and the Shigri Parvat massif. Debris from fresh rock fall littered the slope below Shigri Parvat. We shifted to C1 on 17 September 2004.

The Climb

On 18 September for reconnaissance we climbed along the glacier until we came to a bergschrund below the col between Shigri Parvat and Khhang Shiling. Climbing steeply along the southern slopes of Shigri Parvat we reached the col by afternoon with good views of Shigri Parvat, Khhang Shiling, the Bara Shigri glacier and many of its subsidiary glaciers. We decided not to attempt Shigri Parvat since the entire route to the peak was broken, unstable steep rock with a constant barrage of rock fall down the face. The route on Khhang Shiling looked more promising. We dumped rope and some hardware at the col and returned to C1.

On 19 September we woke up at 3.30 a.m. to attempt Khhang Shiling. However, the weather was packed so we could start at around 7 a.m. when the weather cleared and we decided to go ahead with our attempt. Three of us with Lakhpa left for the summit and by 9.30 a.m., we were at the col. Although the route ahead was not very steep, we had to fix three rope lengths due to the hard ice below the thin layer of snow. A strong wind increased the wind chill. We carefully belayed each other to the top by 1.30 p.m. We spent an hour on the top of Khhang Shiling, taking pictures and enjoying the view. Clockwise the Dibibokri Pyramid rose above the dividing ridge with the adjoining valley; the summit of Parvati Peak was covered in clouds; Kullu Pumori and Snow Cone on two sides of Bara Shigri glacier and its various subsidiaries; Shigri Parvat dominated the skyline. By 4.30 p.m. we were back to C1.

On our way back to BC on the 21st, we met Paddy O'Leary on a trek to the Parahio col. Unfortunately, he had tried to find a way up from the left of the river after Thango. Due to this, he had lost a few days and was very low on rations. He crossed the river and made his way up.

We spent a day at BC packing and started our return journey on 23 September. We moved down to Thango. We met the same old man and asked whether he had any idea of the name of the mountain we had climbed. After a lot of coaxing and cajoling his memory, he remembered that in his younger days they used to call the mountain 'Khhang Shiling - the snow mountain with four ridges'

Paddy O'Leary had also returned from his foray on the glacier. The group had faced a small storm at the high camp and we gathered that they had to return from a point little beyond our ABC. We spent the afternoon exchanging notes and listening to his experiences of the first ascent of Khangla Tarbo I in the valley. [2]
Since we did not attempt Shigri Parvat, we had a few days to spare and hence we decided to trek across the Pin Parvati pass into the Kullu. We took two days to trek to Mud via Sagnam and with two guides started for the pass on 25 September.

Across the Pin Parvati Pass

Our first day's trek was on a rough road towards the Bhaba pass. A road is being constructed across the Bhaba pass to Shimla. It was a strenuous 20 km trek to the junction of the valley of the Bhaba pass. I was wondering what would happen to this beautiful place after the road is completed and vehicles would be plying on the route we had trekked that day. I suppose the conflict between development and conservation would always remain unresolved. On the next day, we trekked about 10 km to the base of the Pin Parvati pass and camped on the left of the river.

On 27 September we started early for the pass. A white dog decided to accompany us from the camp. I thought he would be dissuaded by the freezing cold river water. However, he was persistent and swam his way across. After crossing the river, we climbed steeply for 900 m on a well- marked track and reached the pass after negotiating a glacier. The snow level was low, so we were on ice most of the time. The clear weather offered a spectacular views of the peaks all around. After an hour at the pass we started the tricky descent. The descent was steep, over a scree patch for about 150 m on to the glacier. A slippery trek brought us to a shelf. Even our guides could not locate the exact point of descent which took an hour of searching. The route went down over an exposed rocky slope. After a plateau walk we negotiated a scree and boulder filled slope to the main glacier below. A kilometre further was the campsite. Unfortunately, there was not a single fresh water stream nearby and we were forced to take water from the main river coming down the glacier which was saturated with silt.

On 28 September, we climbed down slowly and steeply a sheer cliff with patches of exposed scree. Once we were on the main glacier, the path eased out over moraine and we skirted several glacial pools on the true right until we came to Mantalai lake. An open Shiva temple has been built on the shores of the lake. We proceeded further to Bara Thach to camp for the night at a small gaddi hut.

On 29 September we trekked along the right of the Parvati river for some time and crossed over to the left at the Pando bridge and crossed back to the right near the Dibibokri nala in a jhula (cage). Our dog, whom we called 'Snow White', had stuck faithfully to us for the entire trek. He managed all the difficult sections of the trek without any problems, but the jhula was different. The roar of the water below and the swinging action of the cage was too much for him. Vineeta had to hold him firmly and took him across in the cage. Further down one has to cross back onto the left on a wooden bridge. We were at Tundabhuj by late evening.

The next day, after an hour's walk we were at Khirganga enjoying a hot bath in the sulphur springs, and proceeded to Barshani, the roadhead. We were horrified at the sight of Barshani. The first stage of the Hydro Electric Project was under construction and had devastated the entire area. This quaint village had been transformed into a bustling township with hundreds of trucks and construction vehicles moving around. The air smelt of cement and grime. Like every person in sight, we were soon covered in a layer of sand and cement.

We safely reached Bhuntar and Kullu on our way home avoiding any mishaps - which would have been our fifth!


Divyesh Muni, Vineeta Muni, Shripad Sapkal and Lakhpa Sherpa made the first ascent of Khhang Shiling (6360 m) on 19 September 2004, Khamengar valley, Spiti. The team then trekked across the Pin Parvati pass (5400 m) to Kullu.

Dates: 31 August 2004 to 4 October 2004.

[1] See books Spiti Adventures in Trans-Himalaya and Across Peaks and Passes in Spiti by Harish Kapadia. Refer to article 'Cross-roads in Spiti, The Himalayan Journal Vol. 50, p. 116.

[2] See O'Leary, P.: 'Spiti: The Debsa Nala, HJ, Vol. 56, p. 193 and 'Irish Expedition to Khangla Tarbo I and Debsa Nala', HJ, Vol. 57, p.186.