Polish expeditions to the Lahaul Himalaya in 1973 and 2008

Pawel Krawczyk and Piotr Paprzycki

Lahaul-Spiti in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh consists of the two separate districts of Lahaul and Spiti that have an international boundary with Tibet. The present capital is Keylong in Lahaul. Kunzum la is the entrance to Spiti valley from Lahaul valley. It is at a distance of 9 km from Chandra tal and Batal. This district is connected to Manali through the Rohtang pass. The Chandra-Bhaga massif (CB) with its nameless peaks of more than 6000 m, towers just above the Chandra river in Lahaul. Glacier lines are usually found at 5000 m. Avalanches and poorly tarred roads, strong winds and a wilderness lashed with merciless sun; all together make Lahaul region a wild and unfriendly space in Himachal Pradesh.

The aim of the first Polish expedition in Himalaya, which took place in 1939, was Nanda Devi. Due to the extremely difficult political situation in Poland, the second Polish expedition in these high mountains set out only in 1969. In those days, climbers from Poland climbed the following virgin peaks: Malubiting North (1969) and Kunyang Chhish (1971) in Karakoram. Thirty-five years ago, a Polish expedition did come to Lahaul but this expedition had never been written about. Only the great expeditions of 1974 (on Kangbachen and the winter climbing of Lhotse) were described in world mountain literature.

The Polish expedition in Lahaul region in 1973 was arranged by the Alpine Club from Lublin. It was a provincial organisation established by few enthusiasts. The leader of the expedition, and also the president of Club, was Zbigniew Stepek. The expedition intended to climb Dharamsura (White Sail) above the Bara Shigri glacier. Because of the political conflict between India and China, the expedition was given the permit to climb the virgin peak CB12 (6248 m) in Chandra-Bhaga massif. On 17 August 1973, after climbing the 450 m difficult ice-fall of Batal glacier (‘Stepek’s icefall’), Zbigniew Stepek and Andrzej Grzazek died in the avalanche. In the mean time, Czarnecki, Kucyper and Kubit had reached the virgin peak CB 13A (6240 m) by the rocky eastern ridge. The students of the Western Himalayan Institute climbing course and other members of the Polish Expedition mounted a rescue expedition, but the bodies of Stepek and Grzazek were never found. Their memory is honoured by the dedication engraved in the tombstone located on the Chandra river-bank at our Batal base camp.


Batal valley with Stepek’s icefall.


Batal and Kudu valleys, view from Kunzun la.

Our expedition 2008

The main goal of our expedition was to climb the CB 13A peak. We intended to climb the CB 13A peak by the route of its first climbers - group of Zdzislaw Czarnecki (‘Czarnecki ridge’). Our second goal was to find the traces of the Polish expedition of 1973. Moreover, we wanted to celebrate the 35th anniversary of this expedition.

What did we know about the first Polish route on CB 13A? There was no detailed description available about the Polish route from 1973. Our modest sources depicted the route as a rather easy one to ascend, with a rock and snow mix terrain. From the Batal base camp, the route should follow along the right moraine of the Batal glacier and across the glacier to intermediate camp and then, via a clearly visible pillar on the left valley wall to the eastern CB 13A ridge and finally to the top (co-ordinates - 77° 33’ long., 32° 21’ latt.).

Our expedition arrived at New Delhi on 15 August 2008. On the19th, we left Delhi and went by bus to Manali. After all preparations we arrived by jeep at Batal in Chandra valley on the 22nd and immediately started to establish the base camp. It consisted of two expedition tents, one kitchen tent and one individual tent for our LO.


View to CB13A peak from intermediate camp in the Kudu valley.

The reconnaissance

On the 23rd our group made the first reconnaissance in the Batal valley. We crossed the south moraine of Batal glacier and climbed the glacier near the icefall. The weather was really bad. It was raining all time and visibility was limited. We tried to identify the course of route of 1973. We realised that there was no easy way to reach the eastern ridge of CB 13A peak from the glacier.

On the 24th we decided to carry on two simultaneous explorations. One group including P Krawczyk, R. Dmowski and M. Gryglicki, explored the Kunzum la from the South Kunzum peak. The other group of P. Paprzycki, E. Klimek and M. Baskurzynski, attempted to search the Kudu valley beyond eastern ridge. The weather was good and the sun was shining brightly. Finally, we found the way to Kudu valley along the Chandra river and next to the left side moraine of Batal glacier to lead to the central part of Kudu glacier. We also found two ice fields appropriate to pitch the last camp. The route to the ridge from the north side looked easy, but during this access we had to pass strenuous scree.

Summit Attempt

During the following three days (from the 26th to 28th) we moved necessary equipment to the dump in the Kudu valley and then set up our intermediate camp. On the 29th P. Krawczyk and R. Dmowski passed the glacier below the CB 13A wall and they tried to climb the ridge via glacier wall. Because of increasing steepness, they had to give up after three hours of climbing. On the same day, E. Klimek, M. Gryglicki and M. Baskurzynski had recced the ridge through the scree just above the intermediate camp. They judged this route as very long but lacking serious difficulties. We made a decision to reach the CB 13A peak on another day by this route.


The final part of the route from the ridge.

On the 30th, at 5 a.m., P. Krawczyk, M. Gryglicki, M. Baskurzynski, R. Dmowski and E. Klimek started for the summit. Only P. Paprzycki from our group, stayed back at the intermediate camp. We had been communicating with each other by walkie-talkie. The weather was good, windless and calm. We did not have to use special security on this route; however there were steep scree slopes and it was difficult to navigate due to crumbly rocks of slate. At about 10 a.m., M. Gryglicki, P. Krawczyk and R. Dmowski stopped climbing because of fragile slate and returned to the intermediate camp. One hour later, after crossing the most difficult part of the rocky ridge, E. Klimek also decided to retreat. M. Baskurzynski continued climbing the ice field and at about 3 p.m. he reported reaching the junction of ridges at over 6000 m. After overcoming all difficulties of the ridge, Baskurzynski was just one hour below the peak CB 13A, which was accessible by a snow ridge. It was the main ridge of Chandra-Bhaga massif. He was very tired and the weather worsened so he decided not to climb to the rest of the route to the summit.

During his descent, M. Baskurzynski was forced by darkness to bivouac on the ridge. The support team (M. Gryglicki and D. Kapoor) went half way and established vocal and visual contact with him on the ridge. However, Baskurzynski came down to intermediate camp the next day at 10 a.m.

On the 31st, amidst snowfall and fog and after some rest, we wound up intermediate camp and went down. On 2 September 2008, our base camp was packed on the jeep and we returned to Manali via Spiti valley. We left India on 17 September 2008.


CB12, CB13 and CB13A from Kunzum la.

To our knowledge, this was the third ascent of the eastern ridge of CB 13A. The article in the HJ (Himalayan Journal 1962-1963, Vol. XXIV: Pp.81-85) recorded Dr. Walter Hamberger and Rudi Weber from Austria as the first climbers attempting the eastern ridge of CB 13A. In 1960, they had reached the same point on the eastern ridge as a member of our team - Mariusz Baskurzynski. Czarnecki’s party was the second on the eastern ridge and the first which climbed CB 13A. We estimated this route at PD+ with pitches of III- and much sustained climbing of II. These difficulties are mainly because of loose rocks on the ridge and a lack of belay points. All later expeditions started from South Dakka glacier on the route marked out by Tampopo Japanese party in 1981, which had climbed the virgin CB 13 peak.

Members: Pawel Krawczyk (leader), Piotr Paprzycki (deputy leader and doctor), Mariusz Baskurzynski, Emilian Klimek, Michal Gryglicki, Rafal Dmowski and LO Dharmender Kapoor.

Summary : Attempts on CB 13 and CB 13A in Lahaul, Chandrabhaga valley, by an expedition from the Medical Touristic Club of Lublin, Poland in 2008 and an earlier Polish expedition in 1973.