EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
Polish Mountaineers in the Karakoram
The Early Years
Polish alpinists started to visit the Himalaya even before World War II with the successful, though tragic, four-man expedition which climbed Nanda Devi East in 1939. The post-war period, however was not an occasion for Polish alpinists to go to the Himalaya or Karakoram.
In 1960 the Polish Mountaineering Club sent a strong team that made the second ascent of Noshaq (7492 m). The team led by Bolesta Chwascinski climbed this high peak in the Afghan Hindu Kush a few days after a Japanese team had made the first ascent.
This was the real beginning of mountaineering in the higher ranges by Polish mountaineers.
We began to think about higher mountains and invited Sir John Hunt and Lady Hunt to visit the Polish Tatra mountains in 1964. They returned the following year with friends and young climbers and that was a good learning experience for us. In 1966, we went as an exchange group to Wales, the Lake District and Scotland where we climbed with John Jackson, Alfred Gregory, Trevor Braham, Eric Shipton and Joe Brown. From them we learned how to organise serious Himalayan ventures. Based on this experience we formed a six-man committee under the leadership of Andrzej Zawada, an experienced alpinist and polar researcher. I was the secretary of this group as since I had been a member of the High Mountain Club in Warsaw since 1964. We organised four-week winter camps staying in tents in the high Tatra and climbed in the Austrian Alps and Eastern Turkey between 1964-66.
Due to the Indo-China war of 1962, the Karakoram range was inaccessible for climbing. Finally it was in 1969 that we received a permit from the Govt, of Pakistan for an expedition to Malubiting which was a recce for a stronger party to the Hispar glacier area the next year. We planned to go in two cars as a six-man party, but Zawada could not come and so we finally went as a four-person team in a Polish mini-van 'Nyasa' that was very overloaded. We left Poland on 17 June 1969 and drove overland via Istanbul and Kabul to Islamabad on 5 August. Capt. Imtiaz Ahmed Khan was appointed our liaison officer and we spent wonderful moments with Col. Eric (Buster) Goodwin, the Hon. Local Secretary of the Himalayan Club in Rawalpindi. We wanted to fly over the Indus valley to Skardu. Despite several attempts however, we only managed to fly to Skardu only on 23 August. We hired a tractor with a trailer and after crossing the Indus river, over a bridge at Thorgn, entered the Shigar river valley.
At the village Youno (60 km) we organised a caravan of 30 porters with the help of our LO and Ghulam Rasul, a Sirdar from Skardu. It was difficult to find 30 strong men even from the neighbouring villages. We waited, taking a refreshing bath every day at a sulphur hot water spring nearby. There was also a small mica mine. After four days we reached Arandu, the last village before the Chogolungma glacier (meaning big icy valley). We changed porters here, retaining only three men from Youno. After a few days we reached Balocho, where we said farewell to our porters who had harassed us thoroughly with strikes and bargaining. From here we shifted our loads on our own via the Chogolungma glacier to the base camp at the confluence of Palichor glacier with the Chogolungma. On 17 September we started for Camp 1 with most of the equipment. The moon was full on 25 September and the weather was quite unstable. It was a pleasant icy climb to the pass above on the east ridge between north Malubiting and Spantik. We were glad to have climbed this passage, which was rather difficult.
The weather was very unstable with snow each night and sun every morning. We descended to base camp and carried food and equipment to a higher camp on the Polan la (5840 m) on 4 October. We fixed 150 m of rope with Andrzej Heinrich leading the way. Petrycki Roman carried loads from base camp. On8 Octoberwe left for north Malubiting with Heinrich still leading the way up. Crevasses and hard ice broke the wooden shaft of my ice axe which created trouble for me while climbing. Finally we reached the vast summit plateau of Malubiting and took many photos all around us. The ridge to West Malubiting seemed possible but it was a question of more time and energy. We came down to Camp 4 and shifted it some 400 m higher on the vast plateau of the Miar glacier. There were many huge crevasses on the glacier. The next night which we spent in a storm, was very frosty and we measured temperatures of -34° C. On 10 October we moved from Camp 4 after re-warming our frozen boots but by 10 am it was dark and began to snow intensely. Now autumn was coming into the Karakoram and we had to abandon any further climbing activity. We retreated to base camp and called six porters to come down with our gear but were left with depleting fuel and food. On 2 November we flew back from Skardu to Rawalpindi. Our return journey was long via Punjab, filming and crossing Baluchistan. On the way to Turkey and Poland we had serious problems with freezing weather. However, we reached Warsaw on 10 December in time for Christmas.
The next year, we gathered funds and a fresh team for a major expedition to the Karakoram, this time to climb Kunyang Chhish (7852 m) (Khinyang Chhish), which was then unclimbed and its difficulties known, as it rose above the Hispar glacier.
We made preparations and selected a good team. During a winter camp in February 1971 in the high Tatra, we tested different types of tents, boots and oxygen gear - all made in Poland. The team composed of 12 experienced climbers from different professions, under the safe leadership of Andrzej Zawada. Our lorry 'Star' model A29 left Warsaw with four members and a load of 6000 kgs on 15 May. The other eight members reached Rawalpindi by air via Moscow, Tashkent and Kabul. We all gathered in Rawalpindi on 31 May. There were other expeditions to the Karakoram this year! We met Col. Goodwin and completed all formalities and hired two trucks with Pashtoon drivers, Capt. Rashid was appointed our LO. The Indus valley road to Gilgit was very hot and there were many landslides. However, we finally gathered at the Gilgit rest house on 13 June. Here we met Trevor Braham and his wife who were returning from the mountains. We moved from Gilgit to Nagar on the 20 June will 11 jeeps via a hot, bad and dusty road. We made a visit to the Mir of Nagar and his two sons. We played a volleyball match with his team! After preparing loads and hiring about 200 porters at Rs 11.50 each, our caravan moved in three groups up the Hispar river, reaching the glacier. It was a lovely time of the year with wild roses along the side moraine of the Hispar glacier.
We knew that Kunyang Chhish was a serious target. The mountain had rejected two expeditions, one British-Pakistani and one Japanese, and claimed two lives. After sending two recce parties into side valleys, we decided to locate base camp on the small Pumari Chhish glacier. We wanted to climb the south face direct of the 'ice cake' ridge south of the Kunyang massif. It proved to be the most crucial decision taken by the Zawada -Szafirski team. However, by this route we would avoid stone falls and icefall climbing mostly late in the evening or by moonlight when everything was frozen. We established Camp 1 on the middle of the south face, under a projecting rock and Camp 2 on the top of the 'ice cake'. Further progress was along a ridge that was highly exposed and Ml of treacherous overhanging cornices. We protected ourselves and moved carefully ahead. The 'ice cake' ridge ended under Tent peak with a flat platform of about 50 m. Here on 27 June Camp 3 was erected. But at about 8.50 the next morning, a tragic event occurred. Eugniusz Chrobak was belayed by Jan Strycznski about 40 m from the tent. Jan Franczuk, the youngest member of the team, moved carefully along the rope but was not clipped to it. Suddenly a huge ice cornice of snow and ice broke and crushed Jan Franczuk burying him in a deep crevasse. When he was dug out he was dead due to suffocation. No resuscitation was helpful. Sad days followed. We seriously debated whether to continue or not. We sent a porter, Khurban Ali, off the Hispar down with a report to the Polish Embassy in Islamabad. The sad news was conveyed to his parents in Poland.
Jan Franczuk had just finished studying at the Department of Geodesy in Wroctan. We received a reply from Jan's family after nine days that Jan loved the mountains and to let him remain there in the high Karakoram. We arranged a memorial stone at base camp and organised a funeral at Camp 3 at the place of accident.
Proceeding carefully, the expedition concluded successfully with the ascent of Kunyang Chhish by a strong team on 26 August 1971. They climbed the final difficult slopes after a bivouac and reached the summit at 8 am. The summiteers were Zawada, J. Stryczinski, A. Heinrich and R. Szafirski. We dedicated this ascent to the memory of our late friend Jan Franczuk.
We returned to base camp and on 12 September returned to Rawalpindi. Driving via Greece to see the marvellous Mediterranean Sea and the Balkan peninsula, we reached home by the middle of October. This expedition opened the way for more Polish mountaineering expeditions in winter to the Himalaya and Karakoram.
Recollecting early Polish expeditions to the Himalaya and Karakoram.
Booty from a war
Lt. General (Retd.) Baljit Singh
In today's world of a monetised global economy, almost everything carries a measure of economic dividend. But one hundred years ago, when members of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to Lhasa acquired souvenirs as booty (maybe at a nominal price), no one could have visualised their worth in terms of 'intellectual property rights' as we have come to understand them today.
On 18 November 2006 there was an endearing pen drawing of a Lhasa Apso along with two charming photographs in the Saturday extra supplement of The Tribune (Chandigarh, India). The male dog showcased his tawny-golden, fleecy coat at its luxuriant best. No other dog has a pelt to match his pelt. The other photograph was of a puppy, a lovable bundle of mischief. This breed of dog was unknown outside of Lhasa's precincts until 1904, when Lt. F M (Eric) Bailey of the BEF chanced upon a strange looking dog cradled snugly inside the warm woolen robes of a venerable old Tibetan woman.
The British had launched an unethical and totally unprovoked war on Tibet under the guise of establishing bilateral trade. A brigade-sized force comprising three infantry battalions (Sikh Pioneers, Gorkha and Royal Fusiliers) supported by Maxim machine guns (the most lethal killers of the time) and four mountain artillery guns had set out to persuade the Dalai Lama to accept British suzerainty over his country. The ill-equipped Tibetans were no match and the first firelight took place at Chumbi village. In less than half an hour, the BEF recorded 628 Tibetans dead and 222 wounded with no loss to themselves.
The first booty from this war is what we know as shahtoosh. This incredibly warm, smooth and lightweight wool comes from the inner pelt of the chiru, the Tibetan gazelle. In 1903, to begin with, the BEF had laid siege to Khambu Dzong in south western Tibet, hoping to bring the Dalai Lama to the negotiating table. As with Napoleon in Moscow, the Tibetans simply refused to acknowledge the BEF's presence. Tired of waiting, the officers took to hunting. This marked the beginning of the end of this most beautiful of all gazelles. Thus was born the, now infamous, shahtoosh shawl.
The BEF also saw many species of hitherto unknown butterflies and flowers. Both Sir Francis Younghusband, the diplomatic head of the BEF, and Lt. Eric Bailey were avid collectors. Today, an exotic lily from the Chumbi valley bears Younghusband's name. Catalogues in the UK often stated that the more eye-catching blooms in the gardens of England and Europe were a result of the seeds of alpine flowers collected by Bailey in the Himalaya and trans-Himalaya.
As the BEF advanced toward Lhasa, they reached a glacier, just short of Karo la, that the Tibetans called 'the field of milk'. As winter recedes, the melting of glaciers triggers the flowering of plants and shrubs. It was on the fringes of this glacier that Bailey discovered the dainty blue Himalayan poppy, promptly named meconomsis baileyea, though it is now called meconopsis aculeata.
When the BEF reached Lhasa in August 1904, there was no Dalai Lama to confabulate with. So while Younghusband parleyed with the Dalai Lama's Council of Ministers, the officers of the BEF once again spent their days playing polo with the Potala as the backdrop. They visited monasteries and Lhasa proper, as any tourist would. It was on one such idle afternoon that Bailey spotted the lady with the dog, outside the Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama's summer palace. After days of canvassing Lhasa's affluent families, Bailey succeeded in honourably obtaining several of these dogs, later classified as the Lhasa Apso breed.
It would appear that this breed was first introduced to the kennels of the world in October 1929 when Colonel Bailey went on home leave. After lunching with him, Sir Francis Younghusband wrote to his daughter, 'Eric Bailey has brought home thirteen Tibetan dogs and is going to make a fortune by them.'
But the acquisition of booty that required nerve and daring horsemanship was the lassoing of the kyang, the Tibetan wild ass. In due course, two were successfully lassoed. Unfortunately one drowned during the crossing of the Tsangpo river as the BEF retraced its steps back to India.
The one kyang that survived was finally housed in the London zoo. Much to the chagrin of the Mountain Artillery gunners who had lassoed it, and considered it their trophy, it became a custom for the Royal Fusiliers to borrow it from the zoo for their traditional annual parade through the streets of London. The kyang was now paraded as the regimental mascot.
The Tibetan kyang lived happily to a ripe old age, siring many offspring with a female kyang brought from Mongolia. The kyangs seen in the London zoo today are believed to be his bloodline.
With the passage of a hundred years it is possible to consider the booty of flora and fauna acquired by the BEF, with a sense of equanimity. It would be hard to forgive Lt. Col. A. Waddell, the senior medical officer and an amateur anthropologist, for the outright plunder of priceless thangkas and sacred manuscripts from various monasteries. The pity of it all is that nearly half of them were either destroyed or damaged by rain and snow and damp before they even reached the British Museum in London. Waddell published an account justifying his actions in Lhasa and Its Mysteries in 1905.
It was left to Edmund Candler of the Daily Mail, who had accompanied the BEF, to express the deep sorrow at the soiling of Lhasa as it were with the arrival of the BEF, in his 1905 book The
Unveiling of Lhasa thus:
'It was impossible for the least sentimental to avoid a certain regret for the drawing back of that curtain which had meant so much to the imagination of mankind....With the unveiling of Lhasa fell the last stronghold of the older romance
In hindsight, it can now be said that the first decade of the 20th century marked the 'end of living and the beginning of survival' for the Tibetans. These were words uttered in 1854 by the anguished American Indian Chief Seattle, when he and his tribe, as indeed all the other American Indian tribes, were dispossessed of their home and hearth and became refugees in the land of their forefathers. That was the result of the booty of another war, though separated from Tibet by oceans and continents, with the same consequences.
An account of the booty acquired by the British Expeditionary Force when they attacked Tibet a hundred years ago.
Mountains in the Headwaters of Yarlung Tsangpo
The Kubi Tsangpo Headwaters Expedition 2007, led by Toyoji Wade, succeeded in making the first ascent of Kubi Kangri (6721 m), the highest peak in the Kubi Tsangpo headwaters. Climbing leader, Atuslii Senda, and six students, reached the summit from camp 2 via the east ridge and descended to C2 via the north ridge. Besides the main objective of the first ascent, we conducted the following activities:
- Tried to ascend two unclimbed peaks called Absi (6254 m) and Lan g ta-chen (6248 m) in the Kubi Tsangpo headwaters.
- As field research, we surveyed receding of glaciers due to global wanning; and retraced the route of Ekai Kawaguchi, a Japanese Buddhist monk, who travelled through this far-flung borderland in 1900; and studied the relation of cause and effect between psychology and high altitude.
We saw many wild animals in the vicinity of our base camp. In particular, wild yaks, Tibetan wild donkeys, snow leopards. The footprints of a bear attracted attention as some thought they might be of the Yeti.
Headwaters of Yarlung Tsangpo
The Yarlung Tsangpo flows 1200 km eastward from the headwaters in the north of the Himalaya, then turns southward forming the world's largest canyon, the Tsangpo's Great Bend which embraces Namcha Barwa (7782 m) in the easternmost rim of the Himalaya. The main stream flows south and is called the Siang and later Brahmaputra once it enters the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. It turns west, and joins the Ganges river. It finally flows into the Bay of Bengal. The length of the river is approximately 2600 km.
The Yarlung Tsangpo splits into two branches: the Kubi Tsangpo and the Chemayundung river near the headwaters. In 1907, Sven Hedin surveyed the volume of flowing water of each river to decide which river was the true source of Yarlung Tsangpo. On further survey, he concluded that the Chemayundung river must be the true headwaters as it was longer than the Kubi Tsangpo.
The local Tibetans call this mountain range Chang-la Himal or Asja Himal. All peaks surrounding the headwaters of the Kubi Tsangpo are called Kubi Kangri and most of these peaks have no proper names. Access to this mountain range is difficult from both Tibet and Nepal.
The approach from Nepal takes a long time as the closest airport is far away and the march is along a deeply eroded valley. Only the Northwest Nepal Women's Expedition and explorer Tamotsu Ohnishi have visited this area. However, they were unable to climb either Kubi Kangri (6721 m) or Kaqur Kangri (6859 m) because of the long approach and deep valley.
The Tibetan side is easier because the condition of the glacier is more stable. But the Yarlung Tsangpo must be crossed en route. On the way from Lhasa to Kailas, we had a good view of the fascinating Himalayan peaks from Paryang. Crossing the Yarlung Tsangpo was only possible in winter. Recently many bridges have been constructed over the main stream and its tributaries as well, and consequently vehicular traffic has become busier and frequent. The 2002 success on Kaqur Kangri by the Doshisha University expedition (see the Japanese Alpine News, vol. 3, May 2003) was in part due to the easier access to the mountain and possible climbing route on Tibetan side.
Kubi Kangri Mountain Range
In 1983, a team of Japanese Northwest Nepal Women's Expedition led by Kyoko Endo attempted Changla from the Nepalese side. According to local villagers, Changla is not a proper name for the peak but represents the name of the mountain range. The women's party attempted the highest peak of Changla range, which is Kubi Kangri, but failed. Local people are not well acquainted with Kubi Kangri because it is hardly seen from their villages as the other peaks to their side hinder the view. Due to this, Kubi Kangri has no individual name. However, as our Tibetan guides called this peak 'dong dong' or Kubi Kangri, we used the name of Kubi Kangri (6721 m) for the highest peak in the mountain range which we climbed.
There are many unidentified 6000 m to 6500 m high peaks around Kubi Kangri. On the border from north to south, there exist Changla (6563 m), Kubi Kangri (6271 m), Langtachen (6248 m), Asja (6265 m), Absi (6254 m), Ngomodingding (6133 m).
There are beautiful mountains on the Tibet side, including Anro, Cnemayundung, Gaveting, Mukchung. They are all virgin peaks except for Kubi Kangri.
These mountains have glaciers sharing the headwaters of Kubi Tsangpo. Most of the glaciers have many crevasses on a gentle slope. Some of the glaciers have glacial lakes at the terminus. Access to the glacial lakes is easy by four-wheel vehicles or trucks except during early summer. This area has a pasture for grazing yaks and sheep from April to August.
Foreigners are prohibited from entering this region without permission. This year, because of preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games and prevalence of bird flu, the Chinese authorities were more nervous than ever before.
We set up our base camp at 4800 m near the headwaters of the Kubi Tsangpo, where we arrived by vehicle. Rainy and cloudy days had lasted till we got to base camp in late August, while at base camp we enjoyed sunny days.
On the way to Camp 1 (5600 m) from base camp, there are a couple of glacier moraines. To reach the moraines, we walked along the riverbed of Kubi Tsangpo. We repeatedly went up and down on the moraines and reached the glacier that has many crevasses. The route finding was time consuming and exhausting. CI was 12 km from base camp.
On the way to CI from C2, we were forced to negotiate many crevasses. Although the Kubi glacier is not very steep, many large crevasses are visible from far away. Three days were required to open a route using fixed ropes.
On 11 September, we left base camp for our attempt on Kubi Kangri. On 13 September, some of the members reconnoitered the north side of Kubi Kangri hidden from C2. There were few crevasses on the glacier on the north side of Kubi Kangri, while there were many crevasses on the east ridge leading to the north side. They attempted the central peak (6628 m) of Kubi Kangri.
At 6 a. m. on 14 September, we departed from C2 and got to the east ridge. On the previous day route paving of two pitches had already been done. Although we had estimated only two or three pitches of fixed rope would be enough to reach the summit, we had to actually fix ropes for 15 pitches because of steepness. At 12:40 p.m. all seven members stood atop Kubi Kangri in bad weather. Soon after taking pictures, we commenced descending the north ridge. On the way down, though we lost the route in a white-out and descended 50 m on the Nepalese side but managed to find the right route and safely returned to C2.
On 15 September, we descended from C2 to base camp ferrying all gear and equipment.
After Kubi Kangri, we tried to climb Langtachen (6248 m) and Absi (6254 m), both unclimbed peaks soaring near base camp.
Langtachen is far behind the Langta glacier. It seemed likely that climbing would be easy if we followed the glacier reaching to the summit. However, many huge crevasses, both exposed and hidden, lay in the way. In the upper part, icefalls of the size of buildings threatened us. We gave up pushing further up at 5650 m. To reach the summit of this peak fixed ropes and ladders must be used or it can be climbed in the winter when crevasses are not exposed enabling easier climbing.
To climb Absi, we had to cross a river to get to the Absi glacier. Pitching camp on the glacier near the end of northwest ridge, we ascended the ridge comprising of rock and ice. Using fixed ropes we reached 6000 m, but we retreated from there. This peak would suit alpine style climbing.
Shrinkage of glaciers
Due to climate change, Himalayan glaciers are shrinking and receding rapidly. Plenty of information and supporting data is available on glaciers in Nepal, whilst information on the glaciers in Tibet is not widely available. In 1907, Sven Hedin visited and surveyed this area and he recorded invaluable information on his observation of the glaciers. Now in 2007, we appreciate Hedin's work as evidence of glacial retreat over the last 100 years. We measured the terminus of both the Langta and Absi glaciers. The picture that Hedin took in 1907 shows no glacial lake in either glacier. Russian (former Soviet Union) photos from 1946 also show no glacial lakes. A comparison of Hedin's picture and our observation leads to an estimate that the Langta glacier has retreated between 1500 m and 2000 m and the Absi glacier has retreated by 1200 m in the last 100 years.
Many wild animals were seen near base camp. The place was far from any village or highway and unspoilt. The animal most commonly seen was the Tibetan wild donkey (Kyang). We also saw wild yaks which are hardly found in Nepal. One evening in September, a snow leopard appeared just 20 metres from our base camp.
To our utmost surprise, we found footprints like those of Snow Man known as Yeti just near the glacial lake. But scientists would probably say that these must be footprints of a Himalayan Brown Bear.
First ascent of Kubi Kangri (6721 m), in the Kubi Tsangpo headwaters, attempts on Langtachen (6248 m) and Absi (6254 m) and field research on receding of glaciers due to global warming.
Hungchi from the Tibetan side
Hungchi, the 7011 m peak, called Gyuba Tshomotse by the Nepalis, is a steep, fascinating peak, located at the border ridge of the Khumbu massif. Though it was first climbed in 2003 from the Nepalese side by the Osaka Eiho Alpine Club
, it remained unclimbed from the Tibet side. This tempted me to make another attempt on its north face, despite my first failed attempt in the autumn of 2003.
In 2006 I returned with a five-man party and succeeded in the first ascent of the new route and the second ascent on Hungchi. The party, including 21 porters, two Chinese guides, 400 kg of gas and food, started at the Qomolungma BC, trudged along east moraine of the Rongbuck glacier and then onto the West Rongbuck glacier. Everything looked unchanged in this deserted area, in fact, there still remained some guide flags that we had set up in 2003.
We set up ABC at the foot of the Nup la, and then Camp 1 at the base of Hungchi's north wall. Water flows on the lower glacier basin and deep snow on the upper part hampered smooth progress. 300 m of fixed rope was used to cross crevasses on the way to Camp 1.
It took us four days to climb the north wall. On the first day, Momose and I waded through deep snow up to the end of the basin from where we had started to climb the wall in 2003. We had found huge ice blocks scattered there, which increased our exposure to avalanches. This time we needed a line of ascent that would be nothing but a hard direct wall climb free from collapsing seracs.
On the 2nd day, Momose and I fixed about 200 m of rope. This was in addition to the 100m rope fixed the previous day. On the 3rd day Sekiya and I made endless efforts to fix another 180 m of rope. At last on the 4th day, Momose, Sekiya and I finished negotiatng the wall while extending the fixed rope another 100m, and then pitched Camp 2 on the north-west ridge.
The following day, Momose and I left Camp 2 for a summit bid. The north-west ridge was like a wide staircase. In order to climb each step of the staircase, you had to traverse to its right edge (Nepalese side), which meant big, time-consuming detours. The morning's clear sky gradually disappeared and then turned into a harsh blizzard. Strong winds quickly wiped out our footprints on the stair field and our return guideposts would also be wiped away before long. The sooner we retreated, the better. So we decided to descend leaving the climbing gear behind.
As dawn broke on 1 November, the weather was still bad. We were exhausted with all the struggles thus far. We had also almost run out of food. There was only a cup of soup and some coffee left for breakfast. Nevertheless, we were high-spirited enough to catch our last opportunity. Starting at 8:30 am, we somehow reached the gear depot, from where we stretched another 200 m of fixed rope, and climbed the summit rock without rope support. At 15:50,1 stood on the corniced top and soon Momose followed me.
Members: Masakatsu Nakamura (General Director, 62), Toshiya Nakajima (leader, 41), Takayuki Momose (deputy leader, 60), Yukihisa Akada (38) and Yoshikazu Sekiya (54).
Ascent of Hungchi by Japanese team.
Trespassers into the Chumbi Valley
Lt. General (Retd.) Baljit Singh
Tibet, the Roof of the World, and Lhasa, the Forbidden City, have over the past few hundred years, held a special fascination for travellers, adventurers and missionaries. The rugged terrain inhospitable high altitude climate and primitive communications, combined to deter and defeat all clandestine attempts to be the first foreigner in Lhasa.
Till the 1960s, the shortest, and relatively easiest, land route was from Kalimpong/Gangtok over the Nathu la or Jelap la through the Chumbi valley into Gyantse and then Lhasa, the ultimate destination, a week later. The Chumbi valley was thus kept under constant surveillance and all incursions were thwarted at Yatung-Chumbi.
The two trespassers who immediately come to mind are Annie Taylor and Alexandra David-Neal. The former was a Catholic missionary who wanted to live in Lhasa and convert Buddhist monks to Catholicism. She made at least four attempts and each time was intercepted at Yatung itself and escorted back to Kalimpong. Marvelling at her perseverance, the Tibetan authorities finally allowed her to set up a dispensary at Yatung, where she remained until her death in the 1920s.
Alexandra David-Neal, on the other hand, wanted to reach Lhasa because she was a devout Buddhist. An elegant Frenchwoman she was a stage actress with a post-graduate degree in philosophy from the Sorbonne in Paris who was simply fascinated by Buddhism. She had an audience with the Dalai Lama while he was visiting Kalimpong. Though he was very impressed with the depth of her knowledge of Buddhism, he refused her entry into Tibet.
She next befriended the King of Sikkim, a product of Harrow, who advised her to go on a 'retreat' to further her knowledge of the precepts and practices of Buddhism. David-Neal spent two solitary years in a cave in northwest Sikkim doing just that. It was probably during this period that she met Yongden, a Lepcha (the original Sikkimese tribe) who she adopted as her son. She spoke Sikkimese and Tibetan dialects fluently and attained deep insights on yoga and tantra. She entered the Chumbi valley with a view to reaching the Drepong monastery where she wanted to live with enlightened lamas. But the Government of India and the King of Sikkim would not relent.
Undeterred, in February 1921, she travelled to Peking (modern day Beijing) from where she made four unsuccessful attempts to reach Lhasa, first via Outer Mongolia and then Sichuan. She then entered Yunan province and crossed the Mekong river near the China-Burma - India tri-junction and headed west to Lhasa. As this was not a route that had ever been attempted before, it was not under surveillance. Yongden was disguised as a lama and David-Neal as a Tibetan beggar. At last, in February 1924, three years and 8000 miles (almost all of them on foot) later, the duo entered Lhasa. David-Neal was 54 years old and the first foreign woman to set eyes on the Potala.
Two months later, feeling their disguise was under threat of exposure, David-Neal left for Gyantse. It was here that she revealed her identity to David Macdonald, the British trade agent. For diplomatic reasons, Macdonald had no option but to send the duo back to India. The quickest way was through the Chumbi valley.
Almost 40 years later, in 1962, the Chinese closed the Chumbi valley to the outside world. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) maintained a sizeable presence in the valley, and axiomatically the Indian Army in Sikkim. Both sides believed that not a bird could fly across the ridge separating them without their knowledge. That complacency was shattered one misty day in 1981.
Twenty soldiers of the Indian Army, led by a smart captain, set out on a routine four-day patrol. The first day they went due north, keeping a kilometre away from the international border along the Chumbi-Sikkim crest. The mist turned into a fog so dense that a man five metres ahead was not visible. By afternoon, they reached a rock cliff face about 4500 m high, from where they were to go due east for an hour before stopping for the night. This is exactly what the young captain did, using his prismatic compass. Only the compass was faulty by 180 degrees.
The fog lifted the next morning and they soon hit the track. They expected to reach a tributary of the Teesta river by 3 p.m. Once there, they would turn left and an hour later reach a bridge over the Teesta itself. All this, while walking westward into the sun. But never mind, the compass pointed west.
As they reached a tributary and turned left, they heard cheering and laughter. Surely, that was the Border Roads detachment at the Teesta bridge, making merry? Yes, they were making merry, playing a volleyball match. The patrol marched past them smartly, heading for the bridge.
As the last Indian soldier marched past, the match referee gathered his wits. He blew his whistle and gesticulated excitedly, and all activity stopped. The volleyball ground was in fact the PLA helipad at Yatung in the Chumbi valley. The Indian troops were marching nonchalantly on the road to Lhasa!
A short history of early trespassers into the Forbidden City of Lhasa through the Chumbi valley.
Ata Glacier Reconnaissance
The Alpine Club of Kobe University (ACKU) has continued to climb in unknown and unexplored regions. Our latest target was the Kangri Garpo mountains. It is remarkable that there are more than thirty 6000 m peaks including Ruoni in this range, all have remained unconquered.
In 2002, our reconnaissance found an approach route to the main peak of the Ata glacier, Ruoni (6805 m), the highest point in the 280 km length Kangri Garpo mountains. In 2003, ACKU sent a climbing party led by Kazumasa Hirai, who was the first to summit Chogolisa in 1958, to attempt Ruoni from the Ata glacier, but the party failed at 5900 m on the north-east flank because of bad weather and dangerous conditions of the ice wall. This was the only previous attempt to climb any of the mountains in the whole Kangri Garpo range.
ACKU had a successful first ascent of Que-er Shan (6168 m) in a joint expedition with the Mountaineering Association of the Chinese University of Geosciences, Wuhan (MACUGW) in 1988. Both parties have maintained a good partnership not only in the field of mountaineering but also in academic collaboration. In May 2007, ACKU and MACUGW agreed to have joint expeditions to the unexplored areas of Tibet. Once again they focused on the Kangri Garpo mountains that are very close to the border of India and Myanmar, with border conflicts restricting trips by foreigners to a very limited area.
The objectives of the 2007 reconnaissance party were to find possible climbing routes to the peaks of the Ata 3-Sisters (nick-named KG-1 Ruoni 6805 m, KG-2 6703 m and KG-3 6724 m) that were discovered standing on the divide of the southwest bank of the Ata glacier by past ACKU expeditions; and to survey height of each peak. The heights in this report are not recognised by the mountaineering community for lack of definitive survey evidence. Ruoni (Baigira), for example, is shown to have an altitude of 6805 m on Russian maps and 6610 m and 6882 m on the old rough Chinese maps.
On the morning of 31 October 2007, in unsettled weather, seven members of the joint party, three members led by Takeru Yamada from ACKU and four members led by Niu Xiao Hong from MACUGW, along with ten yaks left Lhagu and headed to the Ata glacier via Kogin and Chutsu. Since the stream flowing from the Ata glacier is blocked by two lakes and a gorge above Chutsu, they detoured and followed a yak trail which crossed over the Hyona flat. The Ata glacier has unique topography that flows southeast from the divide of the Kangri Garpo mountains and splits into two branches. The southern tongue runs down into a tributary of Kangri Garpo Qu and reaches the low altitude of about 2500 m. The northern tongue comes down into a glacial lake, Cuo Cho Hu (4265 m). The base camp was sited on a side moraine on the east bank of the glacier near the lake at 4291 m.
ABC was set up on the glacier under cloudy skies on 3 November at 4391 m. On 5 November, after two days of reconnaissance and route opening, the three Japanese members sited Campl (4588 m) on the upper crevasse area where the route was opened through the crevasse- labyrinth. Hidden crevasses covered with fresh snow prevented them from taking a straight line.
On 8 November, just a half day of fine weather gave them only one chance to take pictures and look for climbing routes on the south flank of the northeast divide of the Ata glacier, the highest point they had reached in this reconnaissance. Three days of snowy weather had erased their tracks in the crevasse-labyrinth and over two feet of fresh snow covered hidden crevasses. Takeru Yamada decided to return to the base camp on 10 November in dense fog. They had only a few metres visibility, but returned to ABC without falling into any of the deep crevasses supported by flags and the GPS track back function.
Ruoni (6805 m). Dome peak, extreme right is 6703 m. (Takeru Yamada)
‘Three Sisters’ peaks of Ata glacier from Camp 1. (Takeru Yamada)
They tried to measure the height of 3-Sisters in the Ata glacier. They used a simple level, scale and a GPS to get a vertical view angle of each peak. The calculated result of each height of the 3-Sisters by using measured data and Google Earth peak position are; KG-1 Ruoni 6900 m, KG-2 6650 m and KG-3 6700 m.
While they were in the mountains, a large cyclone hit Bangladesh and a week later, an unusual snow storm ravaged eastern Tibet and Shangri-La (Zhong Dian). They had expected the best weather during the first week of November, but this year it was not the case. However, they found possible routes to the summits of the 3-Sisters, and two well-trained students from the ACKU were the fruits of this reconnaissance.
The Alpine Club of Kobe University and the Mountaineering Association of the Chinese University of Geosciences (MACUGW) joint expedition to the Ata 3-Sisters peaks (Tibet).
Dobzebo and the Battle of Mountains
Somewhere near the centre of the Trans-Himalaya are two mountains who legend relates, had a battle. One of these, Dobzebo, fired an arrow at the other, striking Targo's knee; the scar on the lower slopes of the mountain is clearly visible today. In retaliation, Targo returned an arrow, which hit Dobzebo in the stomach; though where that is on the mountain today is not obvious; unless it is the cirque that makes up the north face.
There are very many unclimbed peaks in the central Trans- Himalaya and the four of us had been researching the area. After studying maps, satellite photos and books, we focused on an area south of lake Dangra Yutso that seemed to have been rarely visited. After further study and advice from Julian Atwood, who has climbed in the area, we chose Dobzebo as our primary target with some peaks to the north, collectively called Lungmari, as a secondary objective. There was the additional attraction of visiting a Bon monastery, which was shown on our map on the shores of lake Dangra Yutso.
Having entered Tibet via Kathmandu and the Friendship Highway on our last trip, we chose this time to fly to Lhasa via Beijing, mainly to save time and to avoid complications caused by the ongoing Maoist problems in Nepal. In Lhasa, as well as acclimatising, we again experienced the mysterious world of the Tibetan Mountaineering Association and the process of getting the necessary permits. We took this seriously as last year more than one party had been refused access at the last moment. We also stocked up on food, gas canisters and like items. Thanks to Mig Ma, our excellent support organiser, we left after two days with the appropriate seven permits, which should, and did, get us past all bureaucratic and army check points.
The main road west being under re-construction, we took the alternative dirt road to Shigatse, which in fact was more attractive and interesting. We met up there with our Dong Feng truck, transferred our supplies and were at full complement with Lotta, our truck driver, Dawa, our interpreter, Kusang, our cook and Quangming, our Land Cruiser driver, a Tibetan despite his Chinese name (meaning 'the light'). As we arrived earlier than expected we had time to visit the interesting Tashilhumpo monastery, one of the very few to weather the stormy seas of the Cultural Revolution. We spent the night in a comfortable Chinese style tourist hotel.
After that we headed further west along a dirt road to the small town of Sangsang, where we spent the night in a traditional Tibetan guesthouse. It had a typical, very cold room with an unlighted yak dung stove and the yard as the toilet. The owners were delightful, friendly Tibetans.
The following morning we turned north off the main east-west road along tracks leading to Dobzebo. It was here that our earlier research, particularly satellite photos available from the internet, and Julian Atwood's advice paid off. We were now in typical Tibetan countryside with nomads in yak skin tents tending large herds of sheep. However, as we went higher and the land became more arid the sheep gave way to yaks and we increasingly saw kyang (wild asses), gazelles and other wild animals.
The weather continued to be fine, with frequently cloudless skies. We jostled in the Land Cruiser for the best photo positions, especially of the wild animals and the mountains. From the first major col at 5300 m we could see right back to the Nepali frontier and pick out Everest in the distance. Travelling further north, then west over a higher col at 5540 m we caught our first glimpse of Dobzebo in the distance before carrying on down to Tsha-tse, the village just under its north face.
After some discussion we headed back south past the old village then some hot springs, which we thought might be useful for bathing later. Beyond a small monastery, we entered the valley south-east of Dobzebo where the track petered out, forcing us to drive either up the river bed or over an uneven boulder field. Neither option was particularly attractive but Lotta seemed oblivious to the problems while Quangming was more cautious with the Land Cruiser. Unfortunately even his caution could not prevent the inevitable and eventually, at 5120 m, we ground to an ignominious halt with ominous noises emanating from the rear axle. Diagnosed as a broken rear half-shaft, things were not looking too good. While the non-mechanically minded, camped, the ever inventive Quangming and Lotta devised a number of plans. One of which was to hoist the stricken Land Cruiser onto the lorry, but by disconnecting the rear axle it was possible to limp along on front wheel drive alone. So this was base camp, as far as normal vehicles were likely to get, and further than most were likely to venture. We were close to the river, at a reasonable height, but unfortunately a long way from where we wanted to be.
The first thing that we noticed about Dobzebo, apart from what a fine mountain it looked, was how much higher the snowline was than we had expected from earlier trips to Tibet. Indeed it was a lot higher than when we passed some 80 km to the west at a similar time last year. At first sight there seemed to be no water between BC and the snowline around 6000 m.
The next day was spent on a reconnaissance to the west of BC. This showed a possible route up the south glacier but no easy route round to the SW ridge, our preferred means of ascent. Further reconnaissance the following day to the south confirmed this initial impression and also that the two major tops identified from maps and satellite pictures seemed to be of similar height.
So the following day loads were carried up to a sandy campsite (Camp 1) on the complex moraine beneath the south face at 5690 m. We were very fortunate that Dawa, Lotta and Kusang helped carry the loads, as it was far beyond their duties. This camp was ideal except for one small problem - water. We knew that there were several glacial pools nearby, but finding them among the undulations of the moraine was not at all obvious. Moreover, we needed an ice axe to get at it and plenty of containers to bring sufficient volume back to camp.
The next day was spent looking for a way onto the glacier. Having found a straightforward route, we made a carry the next day before moving up to Camp 2 on the glacier at 6100 m. Unfortunately Bill was not yet acclimatised and was rather unwell. For a while it looked as though we might have to take him down quickly, however he rallied but was not able to come with us the following day when we set off for the north summit. We climbed up an easy slope, which gradually steepened below a rock outcrop on the ridge. Following westwards along a heavily corniced ridge we arrived at a steep wall immediately beneath the summit. A short climb and we were there, at 6412 m.
The views were superb. To the north, we could see across the plain past Tsha-tse and beyond to the beautiful blue lake of Zuru Tso, with high mountains on its west bank. Further north we could see Dobzebo's enemy, Targo Ri. Towards the west and south, the crenulated ridge continued upwards towards the dominant snow covered SW summit. The presence of a double cornice on the ridge before the main summit denied access from the north summit but, more importantly, meant that even climbing the snow couloir, left of our ascent route, would provide no easy access from Camp 2. We needed to relocate our BC nearer to the SW ridge to have a realistic hope of reaching the main summit.
After photographing the Alpine Club banner that Peter Malalieu had commissioned from John Dugger, and insisted we take with us, we went down to Camp 2 where Bill was up and about and feeling considerably better. The following day we returned to BC.
Our next task was to find a way round to attempt the SW peak. Since the direct route from BC looked long and unpleasant we went down to Tsha-tse to ask advice from the villagers. They confirmed that there was no way for our truck round either side, but there was a good walking track that gave access from the north. We then inquired about horses and were taken into the headman's house. Sitting on carpet- covered boxes around the standard issue yak dung stove we were offered yak butter tea while discussions took place. The headman had a magnificent gnarled and wrinkled face and a quiet dignity as he sat cross-legged at the end of the room with the rest of us in audience. Negotiations were undertaken for the hire of three horses and we paid what was probably a generous price by the very poor local standards. It was not a great sum for westerners, however.
After relocating our BC to the valley north of Dobzebo we duly set out the day after with the horses and their minders. We travelled past the north summit and under some spectacular granite cliffs that would make a fine objective for those more accomplished than ourselves. Further on the track, we crossed a windy col before dropping below the prominent SW ridge to a lake at 5503 m where we located Camp 3.
It was very clear and sunny but the sun had little warmth and it was cold and dusty and windy. Since there was no apparent water until the snowline, we decided to make an early start and go for the top in one go; a height gain of over 900 m. Waking some four hours before dawn it was still very cold, but fortunately the wind of the previous days had died down. We plodded up steep, boulder-strewn slopes in the dark but apart from the effort at this altitude there was no technical difficulty and shortly after daybreak we reached the broad ridge crest with its fantastic views south towards the Himalaya. It was -15°C but felt a lot colder; thankfully there was not much wind. As we walked and scrambled higher, the ridge narrowed considerably before reaching the final ice field, some 200 m below the summit.
From here a heavily corniced arete led easily to an airy summit. This was not as broad as we had anticipated, but at 6429 m it afforded tremendous views. To the south Cho Oyu, Shisha Pangma and Everest were silhouetted on the horizon, while to the west was the prominent peak of Loimbo Kangri and to the north the extensive Lungmari range. Closer to hand the complex ridge leading to the rocky middle top and then to the more distant north summit that we had climbed earlier could be seen in detail. Prior analysis suggested that we were indeed at Dobzebo's highest point, but the middle top was certainly a close contender.
After this second ascent, we still had some time to explore northwards. First we drove past the village of Tsha-tse to the shores of lake Zuru Tso. Here we took the good track round the east shore which led under the impressive south face of Targo Ri with its famous scar, and then round to the east side. From here it was possible to see the full extent of the Lungmari range running northwards. These are an impressive range with climbing of all standards from relatively easy to extreme granite walls and interesting ridges; all in all well worth another visit.
Our next objective was the Bon monastery, supposedly on the shores of lake Dangra Yutso. It was, however, some 15 km south of the lake on the west side of the valley nestling on the lower slopes of the principal peak of Lungmari.
Bon has its roots in the earliest religious beliefs of the Tibetan people. These centred on an animist and shamanistic faith shared by all Central Asian people with an emphasis on the spirit world, exorcism and the cult of dead kings. Bon was supplanted by Buddhism in the 8th and 9th centuries though Tibetan Buddhism is influenced by it rather as Christianity shows signs of Mithraism. A notable feature of Bon adherents is that they circumambulate lakes, monuments and mountains in an anti-clockwise direction even today, in contrast to the clockwise circumambulation of Buddhists.
We camped at a very pleasant, though cold, grassy campsite by a river on the valley floor and the next day made our way up to the Tershi monastery. As with most monasteries it is in a beautiful setting and as we arrived, the chanting of the monks at their service was uplifting. We visited the monks at prayer and were even allowed to take photos. Outside the remoteness, poverty and location felt more spiritual than the more prosperous larger monasteries.
In conversation with the abbot it transpired that despite its remoteness even this monastery had been sacked during the Cultural Revolution. Pleasingly it had now been fully repaired by the monks and local nomads but now had far fewer monks than before. He told us that they do have a few visitors from afar in Tibet, but that there were none from elsewhere.
On our journey back we intended camping before Sangsang, but the temperature dropped and threatening clouds clustered overhead. We therefore pushed on to Sangsang and its welcoming guest house. Later we learned that this was part of a prolonged storm that covered the whole Himalayan region, causing havoc and sadly killing 18 people on Annapurna.
Potala palace, Lhasa. (Martin Scott)
Wild gazelles on the Tibetan plateau.(Martin Scott)
Dobzebo from the north. (Al Scott)
Dobzebo N from Dobzebo SW. Targo in distance. (Al Scott)
We stuck to the main track east for our return, deviating only for a tourist trip to Everest base camp to photograph its north face; then on to Lhasa, Beijing and home.
An account of the first ascent of Dobzebo North (6412 m) by the south face on 8 October 2005 and of Dobzebo SW (6429 m) by the SW ridge on 14 October 2005. This was followed by a short exploration of the Lungmari range to the north which yielded a number of promising peaks of about 6000 m height.
Members: Alasdair Scott, Bill Thurston Martin Scott and Derek Buckle.
Cdr Satyabrata Dam
During September - October 2007,1 led a joint IMF - Indian Navy team of ten members to Changuch. We also had four experienced Sherpas and three high altitude supporters (HAS). I had a good team of experienced climbers. But in the end, Changuch remained unclimbed and we lost two of our Sherpas in a bizarre accident, with another critically injured. This is the story.
We left Delhi by bus on 20 September 2007. At Bageshwar we purchased all our fresh rations and also got a letter of clearance from the District Forest Officer (DFO) and informed the Sub District Magistrate' s (SDM) office. The bus dropped us at Song, where we picked up our kerosene. Hiring three pickup vans, we rattled to Loharkhet where we met our muleteer Sher Singh. On the 24th we set up our base camp on a grassy meadow on the right bank of the Pindari river. The next three days were washed out due to very heavy rain. On the 28th, we had a brief load ferry to a midpoint. We could only move again on the 30th. As we had lost several days, we packed our sacks with double loads and headed straight for the next campsite. A steep and slippery climb along grass and rock covered faces took us to our previous dump-site from where we hit the snow line. We descended to the Budia nala. Crossing the rushing stream, we climbed literally clawing into the wet snow covered ground to another flat top and from there a steep, nearly 60 degree, snow covered slope of 300 m took us to ABC. Changuch, Nanda Kot and Nanda Bhanar opened to our east while Panwali Dwar and Nanda Khat were to the west. We had made the journey in about six hours. We dumped our loads and returned to BC.
On 2 October, we moved up and occupied ABC at 4480 m. The ABC was on an open ridge with a rock-sheltered kitchen area, built by some previous expedition, and a temple in the opposite corner. We had a magnificent view of Changuch and the Pindari icefall. Soon the clouds came in and it started snowing with howling winds. It was a chilly night at -13° C. On the 3rd, we explored the route ahead. We aimed to set our Camp 1 ahead and above the Pindari icefall at around 5100 m, where it met the ridge leading to the summit. We did not intend to go up to Traill's pass. We first climbed onto the front ridge and then descended to the base of the icefall. On the way down we saw three bodies embedded in the icefall. I guessed they were members of the ill-fated Japanese team who had perished on Panwali Dwar decades ago. The climb into the icefall seemed rather hazardous and I decided to climb towards the upper plateau, towards the base of Nanda Khat to find a safer route. The day was clear and we climbed steeply without roping up through good ice conditions. At around 5020 m, we topped the ridge. The sight on the other side was not encouraging at all. The ridge fell sharply into a jumble of crevasses and seracs, bombarded by avalanches. We needed to go back on the face and vertically climb nearly 200 m more and then head above the icefall to aim for Traill's pass. This seemed to be a very long and winding route. So I opted for the earlier route that would take us directly through the second tier of the dreaded Pindari icefall.
It was a chilly -18° C when we woke on the 4th. The Sherpas, up long before us, were busy cooking. We loaded heavily and from our previous dump point, descended steeply to the ice shelf, from where we would start negotiating the icefall. We fixed ropes en route. Several big and medium sized avalanches and rock showers missed us narrowly. It was an extremely dangerous place with the ice and rock moving almost every hour. While we dumped loads on the shelf (4470 m), some team members went ahead and started opening a route in the icefall, reaching about 4800 m but then had to retreat as bad weather came in from the Changuch ridge.
We spent the first part of the next day opening a route up to about 5000 m while the rest of the group ferried loads from BC to ABC. The weather deteriorated again around noon and it raged and howled for the rest of the day. The snow poured so thick that I could not see the adjacent tent, a mere four metres away. Our doctor radioed me from BC that evening to say that an Army team had lost five members on Nanda Devi East. That night temperatures fell below -20 deg C. On 6 October half the team went to establish Camp 1 while the others rested. The day was very cold and windy and the going was extremely tough. Snow fell incessantly. The upper team radioed me to say that the upper ice field was full of crevasses and they were unable to make progress as visibility was very low. I decided to place Camp 1 at around 5050 m and asked them to return to ABC.
On the 7th, one group of five members and four Sherpas occupied Camp 1. I remained at ABC along with the deputy leader, Goutam. The weather continued to remain hostile. Two HAPs who went to ferry loads to Camp 1 returned just before dark. One of them had been badly injured. Things were getting rather dangerous. We had had bad weather for several days and all the slopes and ridges were tottering with huge loads of unstable ice and rock. We prayed for a good weather window of three days, within which we hoped to summit. On the 8th, two members and four Sherpas went to open route and ferry loads to Camp 2, which would also be our summit camp. I wanted to place it around 5800 m, just beneath a knob shaped projection on the summit ridge. Beyond this knob, a straight wall of ice and rock reared ominously before the final summit ridge. It seemed possible. While the upper group climbed, Goutam and I ferried loads from ABC to Camp 1. Unknown to those above, we were soon engulfed in thick dark cloud that came swirling up from the valley below. The storm hit us first blinding and then pinning us to the sheer ice walls. By 11 am the upper party had reached around 5650 m but was unable to proceed further due to poor visibility. I told them to stay together, switch on their headlamps and get back slowly. We clung to the mountain as countless wind slab avalanches swept over us. Our tracks were buried under fresh snow and retreat was nearly cut off. We returned very slowly and carefully to ABC.
By now the blizzard was so blinding that the entire landscape had literally disappeared. I could not see any of the contours or shapes or even the sheer drops that gaped only inches from our shoes. I was stepping into the whiteout on sheer instinct. A slip would be fatal. I was glad that only Goutam and I had stepped out that day. I could only guess at the plight of the upper team. We groped and descended in slow motion. It was nearly impossible to stand and the roaring snow hit us like a runaway train. Finally we reached ABC. The upper party reached the safety of Camp 1 around 3 p.m. They had had an extremely narrow escape.
The nightmare started the next morning with first call. At 6 a.m., I spoke with Rakesh who was at Camp 1. He reported all was okay. Six minutes later, Subroto screamed into the radio, 'Huge avalanche, ice seracs have fallen, three dead...'. From then on, everything happened at lightening speed. Rakesh came on the line briefly and said that a huge serac had crashed on to the campsite soon after we had spoken. The Sherpa tent had been buried and Ang Nima Sherpa and Mingma Sherpa had been killed instantly and Pemba was critically injured. All the others were safe, but all the equipment and most of the food and all except one tent, were lost. The previous day's heavy snow had obliterated the route from ABC to Camp 1 and also to the upper slopes. They were stuck with no escape route. The IAF was immediately contacted from the Delhi office. A pair of Cheetah helicopters appeared at BC at around 1:20 p.m. They picked up the doctor and headed for Camp 1. By 3 p.m. the helicopters had managed to get Pemba and all, but three naval members and the bodies of the Sherpas, out. Further flights were suspended as the weather had closed in and despite his best efforts, the flight commander, Wing Commander Sandhu, had to retreat. Pemba and one member, as his escort were flown back to the Bareilly hospital.
On 10 October, the helicopters arrived early. Despite all efforts, even risking the lives of the helicopter crew and those at the upper camp, we were unable to recover the two bodies. It was an extremely dangerous place and the weather was very unstable. Right in front of us, a huge avalanche swept one half of Changuch's southwest face. The after shock wave that hit the helicopter could have thrown it against the rock wall like a toy. Though Wing Cdr Sandhu was insistent, I decided to abandon further attempts to recover the bodies. We got the three out from there, while the others closed down ABC and returned to BC. Around 2:15 p.m. we regrouped at BC. The two most cheerful members of the team had not returned. They were up there and will remain there forever, in the shadow of the mighty mountain they had come to climb. We prayed for their souls and erected a memorial at BC. Two days later as we headed back to civilisation I took one last look at Changuch, rearing its head majestically into the azure sky. Everything looked supremely serene and joyful.
An attempt of Changuch, by a joint IMF-Indian Navy team during Sep-Oct 07. The team climbed to 5650 m, higher than any previous attempts on the peak and followed a new route through the Pindari icefall. Two sherpas died in an avalanche.
Changuch showing the route of attempt. (Cdr Satyabrata Dam)