Untitled Document
  1. Breaking Trails in Bhutan (Lakshmi Ranganathan)
  2. Three Climbs in Sikkim (P. Swienton)
  3. Gyan Singh Duktolia (Chinmoy Chakrabarti)
  4. Char Dham (W. M. (Bill) Aitken)
  5. Across the Khimloga Pass (Tapan Pandit)
  6. First Ascent of Ram Chukor Basera (Dr Charles Clarke)
  7. Obra Valley Expedition, 2010 (Jonathan Phillips)
  8. Exploration of the Upper Jiwa Nala (Derek R Buckle)
  9. Irish/British Singekang Exploratory Expedition 2010 (Alan Tees)
  10. CB – 9 (Tarun K. Roy)
  11. Two Climbs in Karcha Nala (Tsuneo Suzuki and Kazuo Hoshi)
  12. Paradise of Hidden Untrodden Peaks in Southern Zanskar (Kimikazu Sakamoto)
  13. In the Footsteps of Fanny (Alison Criscitiello)
  14. The First Ascent of Mari (Masato Oki)
  15. Exploring Lalung (Divyesh Muni)
  16. First Ascent of Barma Kangri (Masato Oki)
  17. Lure of the Yellow Goddess of the Eastern Karakoram (Pradeep Chandra Sahoo)



1 Breaking Trails in Bhutan

Lakshmi Ranganathan

Bhutan was brought into my consciousness by way of its exotic stamps. I used to wonder how this small country could bring out such beautiful 3D, silk, metal and even talking stamps while the Indian ones were so dull and drab. Later, as my passion turned towards trekking it was all about doing trails in Ladakh, Himachal, Uttaranchal, Nepal and Sikkim. Bhutan was never even on the periphery of my thoughts as there was hardly any information available about its mountains or trails. This was not surprising as commercial trekking in Bhutan began only in 1974 and for a brief period during 1983 – 1994, her mountains were opened to outside expeditions. In 1994, after a massive flood, climbing of mountains higher than 6000 m was prohibited out of respect for local spiritual beliefs. However since 2003 mountaineering in Bhutan has been completely prohibited, although some teams do climb the peaks straddling the Bhutan-Tibet border from Tibet. A part of the Great Himalayan range and measuring roughly 300 km west to east and 145 km north to south, Bhutan is full of glaciers and glacial lakes, hills and a dale, ranging in altitude from 240 to 7570 m. Sixty five percent of its area is under forest cover. There are about 31 peaks higher than 6000 m, with Gangkhar Puensum at 7570 m being the highest unclimbed mountain.

Bhutan has some 25 official trekking trails ranging from three to thirty days and new routes are gradually being opened. Some of the unique features of trekking here include the complete absence of porters except on a couple of trails. All gear is carried using pack animals, mainly horses or yaks. LPG cylinders are used as fuel for cooking and use of firewood is not permitted. Regarding accessibility, Bhutan has an international airport at Paro and is easily approachable by road through two border check posts, one at Phuntsholing – Jaigaon (West Bengal) and the other at Samdrup Jhonkar – Darbhanga (Assam). There are no visa hassles for Indians, who only require a valid identification proof. The only huge ‘Himalayan’ barrier is the trekking tariff of 200-250 US dollars per day per person imposed on tourists in order to restrict the number of people stomping through its ecologically sensitive regions. They have perhaps learnt a lesson from Nepal. However, this fee does not apply to Indians, but trekking is nevertheless steep and that is probably why there are very few Indians trekking in Bhutan!

I was fortunate to trek three trails in Bhutan - 1) The Lunana Snowman Trail 2) The Rodang La Red Rice Trail and 3) The Merak-Sakteng Brokpa Highland Trek.

Trek 1: The Lunana Snowman Trail (27 September to 19 October 2007)

The Lunana Snowman trek is listed as one of the best and toughest treks, not because it is technically difficult but because of a combination of factors like unpredictable weather, snow bound high passes, flood damaged trails and bridges, complicated logistics of pack animals, the remoteness of the place which would hinder evacuation if there was a problem, the nature of the trail itself that demanded staying at high altitude for nearly three weeks besides the mandatory physical fitness that was needed to cope with long ascents and descents each day. There are two ways to do this trek. The Lunana Snowman Trek 1 starts at Drukgyel Dzong near Paro and ends at Sephu. The Lunana Snowman Trek 2 which includes the Gangkar Puensum base camp starts at Drukgyel Dzong and ends at Dur. I chose to do the former, saving the Gangkar Puensum circuit for another time. The 23 day trek route, running most of its course in the protected Jigme Dorji National Park almost entirely at an altitude between 4000 and 5000 m, crosses 11 passes and encompasses the whole of northwestern Bhutan close to the Bhutan-Tibet border. The trail goes past the villages of Shana, Jangothang, Lingshi and Laya including the Lunana villages of Woche, Lhedi, Toencha and Thanza and ends at the road head, Sephu. In an emergency, there is also the option of returning to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan from Jangothang, Lingshi or Laya each of which involves another three to four days of trekking. However, past the camp site at Narethang begins the region known as Lunana which is an extremely remote part of Bhutan. Evacuation in case of an emergency is possible only by helicopters of the Indian Army that have to be summoned from the airport at Bagdogra at a prohibitive cost to a helipad at Toencha. For the same reason, at Narethang where it snowed for the first time on the trek my guide asked me many times whether I wished to continue, as we had another 10 days of hard trekking. He had serious doubts about my capabilities. He said that I was the first Indian trekker going beyond Laya and having handled mostly cackling Indian tourists, I could well understand his apprehension!

Descending Rodang la. (Lakshmi Ranganathan)

Descending Rodang la. (Lakshmi Ranganathan)

Subject to clear skies, one can get great views of most of the major peaks of Bhutan on this trek. Chomolhari I, II, Jitchudrake and Tserim Kang are seen between Jangothang (also known as Chomolhari base camp) and Lingshi. On the stretch from Limithang to Laya are great views of Gangchentag (Tiger Mountain), Tseja Kang and Masangang. The most spectacular views are those seen as one descends from the pass Gangla Karchung la into the Tarina valley. An amphitheatre of peaks, glaciers and glacial lakes come into view, prominent among which are Gangla Karchung, Tsenda Kang, Teri Gang and the triple headed Jejekangphu Gang. Between Lhedi and Tsochena are seen Kangphu Gang, the massive Zongophu Gang (Table Mountain) and the lower flanks of Gangkhar Puensum. The 7000 m Table Mountain has an icefield extending 20 km from east to west and 15 km from north to south. Its southern face drops sharply over 3000 m walls into the Lunana region at the base of which are a string of four glacial lakes, one of which burst in 1994 causing a massive flood. It is possible to see these lakes from a cliff above the village of Thanza.

We had five changes of pack animals on this trek with yaks being used in the Lunana region. Nearly every day the trail passed through a range of vegetation zones. At lower altitudes were dense forests of birch, maple, oak and magnolia enveloped eerily with ferns and foliose lichens. Around Lingshi were cultivated patches of medicinal plants. The Thampe chu valley was especially magical in a riot of fluorescent red and yellow autumn colors. The higher slopes were draped with firs and blue pines and rhododendron, the latter known locally as etho metho. In the alpine zone, juniper, moss and heather draped the rocks almost like a velvet glove. On the high passes stunning mountain views were held to ransom by the clouds. The trail crossed many glacial lakes, cascades and rivers and streams over wobbly log bridges. I do not know how the trek came to be known as the ‘Snowman’ trek. It should have been called the ‘Slushman’ trek. Most of the rocky trail was one gooey mess of wet mud mixed with horse and yak dung. I could not take my eyes off it as I had to literally hop with precision on top of these rocks to avoid this slush. Even then, there was this stench of dung hanging about me all the time. Gaiters were a must to protect my pants and socks from slush rather than snow. At some places, the slushy trail had moss coated wooden planks but they only helped me slide better! And how I did!

The trail was not just a scenic visual treat, but offered a delightful window into Bhutan`s rural life, its people of different ethnicity and its culture. The cherubic faces in the remote village schools, the unique mode of threshing of barley using a pivoted whip, the first view of Lingshi Dzong standing aloof on a cliff against waves of rolling hills, the architecturally charming village houses, the graceful dances of the Layap women in their conical pointed hats with beads and the bold guffaws and cockiness of the Lunap herders from Lunana are etched in my memory. I would do this trek a dozen times over, if sponsored!

What took the cake was that when I returned to Bangalore, looking scorched, scruffy and hollow cheeked, I took my battered, dung smelling Woodland shoes to a swanky shop and asked the manager if he could resole it for me. He gave me a stunned look, went inside for quite a while and just when I thought I would be given the boot on suspected charges of having stolen them from somewhere, he returned and said, almost apologetically, ‘Madam, it would cost you Rs 100 and will take two weeks’. I nearly fainted! A roadside cobbler would have charged five times that. And, what a great job they did of it!

Trek 2: The Rodang La Red Rice Trail (1 to 6 November 2010)

Once bitten, but not shy of Bhutan’s trails, I was keen to do this ‘heritage trek’. This ten day trail is part of an ancient 7th century trade route between central (Bumthang), eastern (Lhuentse) Bhutan and Tibet and has not been in use ever since the national highway connecting the two towns was built in the 1960`s. In the past, traders from Bumthang, would travel annually to Lhuentse (also called Kurtoi), where rice was grown abundantly, following the ancient custom of Tho tsui or rice search crossing the high Rodang la using porters, horses or yaks. They would barter their local produce and livestock for red rice and chillies. At the same time the traders of Kurtoi would move either west to Bumthang or cross over to Tibet to trade their rice for salt and wool. The steep descent from Rodang la is legendarily notorious and it is said that even when the King made this journey in the past, he had to dismount from his horse on the steep sections and walk like a common man! My staff jested that they had brought some rope to tie me to a tree while I descended! Kado, my cook from the Snowman trek was on this one too and his calm, guiding presence was a great asset. Horses carried our gear and they did not have to be changed.

This trail is split into two stages with the Lhuentse - Mongar highway separating the two. The first stage lasting six days starts at the Thankabi Gompa which is a short drive from Bumthang (also called Jakar). The campsites include Tsembithang, Gamling village, Phokpey, Pimi, Khaine Lhakhang and Gongar or Tangmachu (road heads). The trail passed through dense thickets of forest including dwarf bamboo and strangely the path was well maintained and not slushy, considering that it was not in use. We did not meet a single villager or trekking group for three days from the stretch between Gamling and Ungar villages. Above Gamling is the 16th century Ugyen Chholing palace which houses an interesting heritage museum. An ancient painting here depicts the rice trade trek. From Phokpey, the trail ascended for a while through forest and then the classic ‘man made steps’ of giant stone slabs began. A small chorten and prayer flags heralded the first pass, Khempa la (4034 m), from where we got a great view of Gangkhar Puensum. A short descent from here past some ruined rest houses and awesome vistas of the surrounding ranges brought us to the very obscure, easy to miss, scratch of a pass, the Rodang la (3769 m) meaning ‘the width of a yak’s horn’ thus implying its narrowness. From here began a very steep descent of over 750 m over narrow stone steps. The horses were really struggling but I did not find it extraordinarily steep and even managed to descend without the aid of a stick. So much for all that hype, but I guess we were lucky that the steps were bone dry. It would have been a nightmare, were they wet and moss covered. At some places, the cliff face was so steep that the trail spilled on to wooden galleries hammered into the sides of the cliff. As traveller’s tales go, the ancient traders have supposedly encountered the mythical migoi (yeti) near Rodang la! However it is also said that the migoi only appear to those who are predestined to see them! And, I’m afraid I was not one of them.

Post the descent we camped on a meadow, Pemi. Later, we passed through many villages like Ungar, Kulaypang and Bulay until we came to one of the oldest monasteries of Bhutan, the Khaine Lhakang. I was touched to see many villagers coming up to us with giant cucumbers, which is exactly what our parched throats needed. I was also mobbed by curious, ruddy cheeked school kids here as trekkers are a rare sight in this part of Bhutan. A farm road to Ungar is being built and hence the original trail from Khaine Lhakang to Tangmachu has seen some changes. We followed a steep descent over trail and the newly cut road to reach the road head at Gongar, where our trek ended. A short drive took us to Autsho where we camped overnight on the banks of the Kuri chu, before heading out to Trashigang.

The second stage of the Rodang la trek takes four days on a wild, rotten trail. I did not do that as I heard that it had ‘triple strength slush’ due to the extended monsoon. This leg starts at Tangmachu village with a new set of horses, with the campsites at Menji, Pemi, and Taupang and ending at the enchanting old dzong of Trashi Yangtse, which is also a road head connecting to Trashigang. Between Pemi and Taupang are nine small passes called Nine Sisters of which the Dong la (4244 m) is the prominent one.

Currently there is a lot of interest among ‘extreme’ trekkers in doing the Great Himalayan Trail in each of the Himalayan countries comprising Tibet, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan, which involves trekking a continuous route in the mountain ranges from one end of the country to another. The combination of the Lunana Snowman Trek 2 and the Rodang la treks can cover most of this in the Bhutan segment.

Trek 3: The Merak - Sakteng Brokpa Highland Trek (8 to 13 November 2010)

This trek which I did right after the Rodang la trek was opened to tourists only in September 2010. It follows a trail in the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary which has been demarcated for the protection of the as yet unsighted, yeti. The route goes through the main Brokpa villages of Merak and Sakteng in far eastern Bhutan, east of Trashigang, bordering Arunachal Pradesh. The Brokpas are an ethnic semi nomadic tribe who are easily identified by their characteristic attire and five spouted yak hair hats called shamo. The men wear a robe like red woolen coat and mostly blue nylon track pants over which they sometimes wear white felt shorts called kanggo which is slit at the sides. A sleeveless overcoat made of animal fur completes their attire. The women wear a pink and white striped pinafore called the shingka, a thick black felt apron worn at the back and a colorfully embroidered maroon jacket, worn most of the time inside out. They are essentially transhumant, i.e. they migrate along with their livestock from one grazing ground to another, from highlands in summer to the lowlands in winter. However they do have permanent houses, where mainly the young children and women folk stay. I was fascinated to see the ‘walking houses’ in these areas wherein three or four herders carry a large bamboo thatched sloping roof like structure on their heads and move in a line across pastures. You can only see their feet. In winter as snow renders the pastures useless, they set out on a grain journey called Drukkor where they migrate from the highlands with their livestock to live with hosts of the lowlands, trading butter and their unique fermented soft cheese product called yitpa for rice, corn and other essentials. The Brokpas from Sakteng also trade with hosts from Tawang, Dirang and Bomdila in India.

A holy lake - Om Tsho. (Lakshmi Ranganathan)

A holy lake - Om Tsho. (Lakshmi Ranganathan)

Chomolhari I and II from Jangothang. (Lakshmi Ranganathan)

Chomolhari I and II from Jangothang. (Lakshmi Ranganathan)

Gangchentag (Tiger Mountain) from Limithang. (Lakshmi Ranganathan)

Gangchentag (Tiger Mountain) from Limithang. (Lakshmi Ranganathan)

Brokpa couple in Merak. (Lakshmi Ranganathan)

Brokpa couple in Merak. (Lakshmi Ranganathan)

The Brokpas arrived in Bhutan from Tibet. According to a legend, a local ruler in Tshona in southern Tibet irrationally ordered his subjects to level a peak that was blocking sunlight reaching his fort. The subjects toiled in vain for many years until one brave woman called Aum Jomo hatched upon a plot to ‘chop the wet head of a man instead of the dry head of unyielding rock’. After the murder, she and some of her fellow folk fled Tshona and finally arrived at Sakteng, (meaning meadow covered with bamboo). As this valley was too exposed, they tried to move further up into the hills, but the mountain which they had to cross over to get to Merak proved too daunting for the older and weaker people who were then forced to remain in Sakteng. The stronger people including Aum Jomo moved to Merak, (meaning ravaged by fire) where they burnt the pine forests and established a settlement. She is now a revered deity.

The six day looped trek starts from the road head at the village of Chaling, which is a short bumpy ride from Trashigang. Our horse herders were a couple from Merak. The campsites were Damnong chu, Merak village, Miksa Teng, Sakteng village, Jyonkhar Teng and finally, Trashigang. From Chaling a seemingly gentle ascent of about 1200 m over rolling pastures and stands of rhododendron over the Mindru la (3316 m) descends into the sprawling Damnong chu valley. Past a short traverse, the trail climbs to the petite village of Merak, where we spent some time at our herder’s home imbibing the ethos of Brokpa bonhomie in the form of butter tea and home brewed ‘ara’ made from corn. This was followed by a tour of the village and its gompas. The newly built campsite here had more than a dozen huge Tibetan mastiffs that had learned to put on a sufficiently pitiful expression that made you part with many scraps from your plate. Two of them were sleeping in the warmest room, the toilet, that night and I discovered that only halfway through my job! I wonder if this qualifies for some ridiculous record!

From Merak as we ascended to a pass, Nyagchung la (4138 m), on the northern horizon appeared the distant peaks of Gorichen -Kangto range. An exhausting descent of 1200 m over a crumbling trail brought us to a wide pasture called Miksa Teng. Little wonder that Aum Jomo and her people found it hard to ascend this stretch. Nyagchung la literally means the pass where men and horses cry. It is a short tame walk to Sakteng, a large village on the banks of the Sakteng chu. It was a poignant moment for me as a year back I had stood on Orka la, a pass above Sakteng that led to Arunachal and had a glimpse of Sakteng deep in the valley. That day, I was staring at the distant Orka la from Sakteng. I had the good fortune of attending the Children’s Day function in the Sakteng school where the whole village had gathered and the kids danced and sang. I was amazed to see them also dancing to the tune of a Hindi song, where they draped their shawls in the dupatta style and imitated the typical jhatkas and matkas of the Bollywood actors. From Sakteng another long, steep descent brought us to a river side meadow, Jyonkar Teng after which the trail switched back to the road head at Phongmey, where our trek ended. We drove back to Trashigang via Radhi, the rice bowl of Bhutan through miles of terraced rice fields.

The Brokpas may still have a lot of catching up to do with the rapid economic development sweeping across Bhutan. What will remain in my memory though is the picture of Rinzin, my Brokpa horse herder in her shamo and shingka chatting excitedly on her mobile phone, whose reach even in the remote forests and villages of Bhutan has left me floored. Imagine my horror as I saw my office calls coming through.


Lonely Planet - Bhutan - Stan Armington, 2nd / 3rd Edition, 2002, 2007
Top Treks of the World - Steve Razzetti (Edited), 2001
Bhutan - A Trekker’s Guide (Cicerone Guide) - Bart Jordans, 1st / 2nd Edition, 2005, 2008
Website of the Tourism Council of Bhutan: http://www.tourism.gov.bt

Three Treks in Bhutan.



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2 Three Climbs in Sikkim

Lama Lamani, P. 5500 m and Jopuno
P. Swienton

Inspired by British mountaineer Roger Payne and his accounts of the mountains of Sikkim, Geoff Cohen, Bob Hamilton, Dick Isherwood, Steve Kennedy, Dave Ritchie (all UK), and I (USA) visited the Thangsing valley from 8 to 22 May 2010.

We first identified an obvious line on the west face of Lama Lamani, going up to a col south of the final elegant snow arête of the north top. We left some gear in the boulders below the face and on 11 May all except Isherwood and Ritchie, both of whom had not yet acclimatised, retrieved the gear and at 6 a.m. began climbing the face in excellent weather. Our route started below and to the right of left-trending ramps leading into a snow couloir that runs up to the col. Steve and Bob followed the highest narrow ramp tucked up against a steep rock wall, while Geoff and I traversed to a ramp below. We all then followed a ridge on the right of the couloir. In the upper part we moved into the couloir, and climbed out left to reach the col. To this point the difficulty had largely been Scottish II, and Steve and Bob soloed (apart from one pitch), while Geoff and I moved together placing runners.

At the col an impressive rock tower to the south lent a dramatic air to our perch and we could look across at the main (south) summit, connected to the north top by a pinnacled rock ridge. Above the col we all started up an interesting mixed ridge at about Scottish grade III but after c. 100 m Geoff and I decided it would be easier to traverse left and join the lower part of the final snow arête. Steve and Bob continued on the ridge to where it joined the snow arête at a level section. Overall, the route was c. 600 m and AD+.

It was noon when we all reached the summit. By this time afternoon cloud had already built and we did not get a clear view to the east. We saw the impressive P. 5833 m (sometimes mistaken for Narsing), and caught a tiny glimpse of the top of the east face of Jopuno, which seemed extremely steep. Although, its unclimbed south ridge appears feasible, there seemed to be technical and time-consuming sections, and the top section, where the rock is black and reportedly much less sound, is pinnacled and looks rather tricky.

Lama Lamani. (Paul Swienton)

Lama Lamani. (Paul Swienton)

We descended towards Jopuno a short way and then began rappelling the northwest face. After c. 120 m we down climbed on snow for about 150 m, then moved northeast and rappelled again. More down climbing on softening snow got us to the last steep section, which we rappelled to the glacier.1

On 14 May Bob and Dave climbed an unnamed peak of 5500 m between Jopuno and Lama Lamani. The pair traversed steep snow and ice for a couple of rope lengths to reach a snow arête on the south face, followed this for a pitch, and then climbed two short pitches up mixed grooves to the summit block, which was gained by exposed moves.

Summit ridge of Lama Lamani. (Paul Swienton)

Summit ridge of Lama Lamani. (Paul Swienton)

At 2.45 a.m. on 18 May Steve, Bob, Geoff, and I left camp to repeat the west ridge of Jopuno. Above c. 5450 m the ridge became icy, and after two time-consuming pitches we got established on the firm brown rock mentioned by the previous American party that first climbed this ridge in 2008.2 The section above was well covered in snow and although broken, gave climbing of about Scottish III. At 11 a.m. Steve and Bob reached the foot of the looser black rock that forms the summit of the mountain; Geoff and I were a pitch behind. We had been climbing quite slowly and it now appeared unlikely that we could reach the summit and descend safely before evening, so we decided to turn around. We reversed the route by down climbing and rappel, regaining the tents at 5.30 p.m. Although disappointed not to have reached the top, we all agreed that it had been 15 hours of very good alpine climbing in a splendid mountain setting.

Together with Tingchenkhang (6010 m), Lama Lamani and Jopuno have been designated ‘Alpine Peaks’ by Sikkim authorities, and it is easy to arrange permits. All three offer good, medium-grade alpine ascents and could become classics of the Eastern Himalaya.

A British American team attempted three climbs in alpine style in the Sikkim Himalaya.


  1. The north top was first reached in 2005 via the northwest face to west spur at AD+ by Julie-Ann Clyma and Roger Payne with two friends from the Sikkim Amateur Mountaineering Association, Kunzang Bhutia and Sagar Rai. The south top is believed to be unclimbed – Lindsay Griffin
  2. American Alpine Journal 2009



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3 Gyan Singh Duktolia

Child of the Himalaya
Chinmoy Chakrabarti

The Panchyat Ghar (village level administrative building) of Duktu, a village on the way to Pancha Chuli base camp, has been built strategically. Perched on a high ground, it looks down upon the whole village, as far as Dantu - the next village across the Dhauli ganga gorge, two kilometres away. Dhauli ganga issues forth from the junction of Sona and Meola glaciers at the foot of the Panch Chuli group of peaks, about five kilometres away from Duktu.

Duktu is a small village in the Darma valley, deep in the Kumaun Himalaya, surrounded by lofty peaks, on which fresh snow has been deposited, a sign of the coming winter when the whole valley will be buried deep under snow and its inhabitants will migrate, within a day or two, to a lower village for the winter.

I was lying flat on my mat in the grassy courtyard of the Panchyat Ghar, looking idly up the deep azure blue cloudless sky and eventually dozing off. High above, a yellow-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) was gliding incessantly in circles using the upward lift of the hot mountain air, calling its mate. The sun was directly above and its fierce rays cut into my skin; but the cool, fragrant and gentle breeze from the surrounding snow peaks compensated for the heat. It was a perfect day.

As I drifted slowly into a technicolour dream, Gyan Singh, the village-head, came rushing in and woke me up from my reverie with an urgent plea, ‘Sir, you must come to my house at once’. I had planned to languish there until the sun went down and was naturally most reluctant to leave my heaven.

We had trekked for the last three days on an average for ten hours per day and therefore certainly, had earned our rest. However, of Gyan Singh’s expression, the matter appears to be serious. I languidly asked him why and he replied, ‘Two foreigners have come to stay in my house. They do not trust me. When going out, they are locking up their room’.

Migration. (Chinmoy Chakrabarti)

Migration. (Chinmoy Chakrabarti)

He continued to pour out his anguish, ‘I am illiterate. You please tell them in English that they can trust me’.

It may seem insignificant to some of us but Gyan Singh was in great pain. These children of the Himalaya are illiterate and poor; their life is tough beyond imagination but they simply cannot bear the thought that somebody can be mistrustful. Mr. Traill, the British Commissioner of Garhwal acknowledged them as, ‘an honest, industrious, orderly race, patient and good-humoured’. I am in Bhotia Mahal – the land of Bhotias – people who do not lock their homes – ever and value their honesty above everything.

Early on an autumn morning we started from Dharchula in a jeep for the road head of Panch Chuli base camp. Dharchula, the sub divisional head quarters on the Indian-Nepal border on the bank of Kali ganga in the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand, is a bustling town. Our jeep ride ended at a village called Sobla - the road head and our trek to the Panch Chuli base camp began. It is a gentle trek of three days.

We were on the road under the blazing sun. Our destination Sela, is a small village, 16 kilometres away. I always enjoy the first day; it gives me a feeling of utter freedom. Free as a bird, all I have to do is walk and walk. We took a short cut through a steep ascent and midway everything went blank for me. I just collapsed on the narrow path and somehow managed to hang on. My companion, friend and porter, Umed Singh, who was a little ahead, came rushing down. Well, it must have been the cold paratha that was doing its trick. After a few drops of homeopathic medicine and water, I could stand again and complete the steep ascent to reach a roadside chatti. By late noon, we reached Bugling village, eight kilometres away and had our lunch in Sher Singhs’ chatti. Sher Singh has red plastic chairs in his dining room. These ubiquitous plastic chairs can be found in even inaccessible villages in the deep Himalaya.

As we started for Sela, the next village, the path became relatively steep but the natural beauty around us was worth the labour. By the time we reached ITBP camp of Sela, the sun has gone behind the mountain and the temperature dropped dramatically. We took shelter in the chatti of Dev Singh and had our dinner. As I drifted in to the slumber that would drive away fatigue, the constant gurgling of the fast moving stream kept me entertained.

We started early next morning for village Duktu, 10 kilometres away but the path became so difficult that by late afternoon we reached Baling, a prosperous village, six kilometres away from Sela, after a frugal lunch at Nagling, a small village on the way. My companion, a youth of 65 years with a recent bypass surgery, was so exhausted that we had to stop at Baling in the local postmaster’s house. Astha, the postmaster’s daughter, a modern young girl with a high-school certificate, took care of us.

Since we had to trek only four kilometres next day, we started late after a leisurely breakfast. Leaving the village, we entered an enormous field and met a procession of humans, cows and horses going down. The residents of village Dantu and Bon were leaving their village with all their earthly belongings – a seasonal winter migration. I was imagining how filled with alpine flowers this field would be during July-August when somebody behind me said, ‘Come in August, you will find lots of flowers’. Astha was also coming with us to visit a relative in Duktu.

We reached Duktu early that morning and lodged in the Panchayat house of the village. I immediately took to the green lawn in front of the house under the blazing sun and started Shavasan on my mat. That is when Gyan Singh came to snap me out of my reverie. I accompanied Gyan Singh to his house where I met Katrina and Christophe, an Austrian couple. They were traveling in India and trekking to Panch Chuli base camp. We chatted until evening and Gyan Singh was suitably impressed by my English!

Early the next morning we were on the rough route to the Panch Chuli base camp. Dawn was breaking slowly behind us. As we reached a strategic point in front of the Panch Chuli group of peaks, I sat down on a big boulder to wait for the sunrise. Cool fragrant breeze, carrying the chill of the snow crested mountain, wafted towards us from the east. Silence reigned all around us.

The five peaks of Panch Chuli were still deathly dark. The darkness started to lift very slowly and my thoughts wandered to the early expeditions of these peaks. The mountaineering history of Pancha Chuli began with Hugh Rutledge. He saw the group at close quarters reaching high up on the Sona glacier. He examined the routes and thought that the north arête was a possibility. After 21 years, two teams examined the eastern approaches again. W.H. Murray and his Scottish team followed the Rutledge route. They intended to reach the north col and follow the northeast ridge but found the terrain too difficult. A long list of climbers followed both from east and west and peaks were climbed over decades.

I was lost in thought and did not notice the moment when the sun came out from behind the mountain. The first tangential rays fell on the icy peaks of Panch Chuli. Slowly, like in a slow motion movie, each of the five peaks came alive one by one. It was as if some unknown giant hand has just poured a ton of molten gold on the crest of those peaks. The reflected light from the peaks lighted the valley in a golden hue; it started to laugh in sheer joy.

A brief visit to Panch Chuli base camp.



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4 Char Dham

The Impact of Policy on Landscape
W. M. (Bill) Aitken

In April 2011, just before the Kedarnath main temple officially opened I went up the pilgrim path from Gaurikund after a gap of more than twenty years to compare notes against earlier visits. For the first time I rode a mule that covered the 14 km climb in four hours. To assure an auspicious ascent (the first of the season for Auntie as I called my lady mule) I contributed a violently coloured plastic halter to her walking wardrobe. Two kilometres before the temple I got off and sent the very well behaved and sure footed Auntie back to base. I preferred to walk down on the return leg but found it to be a bad decision. A year earlier I had a hip replacement and discovered the often steep cement steps provided a jarring accompaniment that made for a most painful descent. On the way I passed my village muleteer coming up with a broad grin on his face. He had made two thousand rupees on this double trip. Auntie however looked less enthusiastic. Harish Kapadia has written well earned tributes to the stout heartedness of mulish assistance on his Himalayan passages and praised their indispensable contribution to human happiness on high ground. Economic wisdom seems to endorse Harish’s findings. I was told some ten thousand mules service the pilgrim trail during the May to October season. For Uttarakhand where employment opportunities are bleak this is an encouraging sign.

In 1997 I had observed in my book (Riding the Ranges) describing a motorbike traverse from Darjeeling to the Khardung la ‘So dreary has been the anticlimax to spiritual expectations of the world’s great pilgrim centres that I now no longer bother to go near their central mystery.’ If anything this disillusionment at witnessing bored priests alongside padlocked collection boxes reciting the ‘aggarum-buggerum’ of sacred formulae has increased over the years. It was for this reason I stopped two kilometres short of the main temple when we reached level ground. Before me radiated the glowing splendour of the snow panorama crowned by the main Kedar peak. How much more uplifting was this unobstructed timeless darshan of the Lord of the Himalaya than that promised by the dutiful queues of resigned pilgrims waiting their turn for a thirty second assembly line obeisance to the substitute deity!

At Gaurikund the hotel bearer had cannily brainwashed us into believing there was three feet of snow surrounding the temple when in fact there was hardly an inch. Blessed are the mythmakers. My old bones were grateful for the deception and groaned their confirmation that they might not have survived the night higher up had the truth been put to the test. Apart from the phenomenal clan gathering of mules Kedarnath now has a helicopter service. According to the local press the mules are a more reliable means of transport by virtue of their all weather vision.

A year earlier in May 2010 I had occasion to visit Gangotri (also just before the official opening of the temple) and there too could compare the impact of the exponential increase of pilgrims on the environment over the last two decades. Both Kedar and Gangotri have one thing in common, the short-changing of the pilgrim in his aesthetic approach to his goal. My first visit to Kedar had seen the motor road reach as far as Son Prayag. The five kilometre gentle walk up to Gaurikund through broad leaved jungle was delightful especially early in the season of new leaf. It really prepared the soul for higher things. Now alas the pilgrim is offloaded in the narrow confines of Gaurikund where the narrow road ends abruptly with no space for turning. Instead of arriving refreshed by the magic of green companionship the pilgrim gets an earful of what sounds like the final of the national championship for choicest Hindi expletives. But at least in the background there is the soothing sound of mules’ harnesses jingling.

My first visit to Gangotri was before the road bridge was constructed over the Jad(h) Ganga and the remains of Raja Wilson’s famous suspension bridge were still visible. Local ingenuity had laid two girders across the legendary void and painstakingly hauled over parts that when assembled constituted a bus. This was an eco-friendly transport loner that offered comfort to the aged pilgrim, saved the last ten kilometre trudge through scented deodar forest to the Gangotri temple. Importantly this arrangement did not shortchange the pilgrim’s aesthetic preparation for darshan of Ganga Maharani. From Lanka to cross the void to Bhaironghati the pilgrim had first to descend to the sheer sculpted gorge of the Jad(h) Ganga’s meeting with the Bhagirathi, an extraordinarily elemental conjunction where nature in displaying her full range of drama and poetry manages to reconcile the savage with the serene.

Now no more for along came nemesis in the form of a road bridge sanctioned by the senior political leader Naryan Dutt Tewari who unthinkingly sacrificed long term aesthetic concern for immediate commercial gratification. Within a matter of years the stampede of bus loads of visitors reduced one of India’s oldest, choicest and unspoiled destinations into an environmental slum. Instead of breathing in the elixir of the salubrious surroundings known to countless generations of pilgrim forefathers, today’s arrival is offloaded unceremoniously amidst the vomit, diesel fumes and honking bedlam of snarled up traffic. In bypassing the beauty of the river sangam the bridge has impoverished the pilgrim experience.

People argue Tewari was a hill man who knew his Himalaya but actually he hails from Kashipur which is administratively but not territorially part of the range. He seems to have been ignorant of the fact that Gaumukh the source of the Ganga lies north of Kedarnath and crucially across a subsidiary crest of the Great Himalaya and hence situated in a semi-arid zone. The alpine regime of the southern face of the Kedarnath massive is exposed to the full blast of the monsoon while Gaumukh on the other side of the divide receives little precipitation. Living things recover twice as fast where their roots receive moisture and to encourage indiscriminately ‘millions to the mountains’ (which once was the motto of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation) is fraught with peril if the coordinates are not spelt out. Mass trekking is fine if people do it on their own two feet but to transport them to the threshold of fragile areas by bus is suicidal. Hence while Kedar today remains as it has for millennia a vibrant pilgrim destination, Gangotri has been traumatised and Gaumukh declared off limits to safeguard the environment.

Another example of how the unconsidered introduction of motor roads threatens both the local ecology and economy was in the plan of a Sikh governor of Uttarakhand to construct a motor road to Hemkund Sahib. Fortunately the locals who made a living by servicing pilgrim access to the shrine on foot were vociferous enough to have the project shelved. Not only would a 30 kilometre winding road to 13,000 ft ruin the beauty and stability of the mountainside but dilute the inner sense of achievement that is the real reward for the foot slogging pilgrim and the lasting memory of his visit to be handed down to his children.

Another inappropriate decision was to construct the massive pavilion of the new Hemkund gurudwara since it is a risk to the health of pilgrims to spend the night at that altitude. Many years ago I did spend a night and on my misery scale it ranked second only to the cave at Bhojbasa on the Rupkund trek.

The contrast between Gaurikund and Gangotri is palpable. The roadhead for Kedar maintains a healthy pilgrim profile and boasts that rare mood of satisfaction earned honestly by visitors achieving their goal by sweat. Gangotri on the other hand resembles a frustrating corral of seething pilgrims all keyed up but with nowhere to go. Ahead the trail to Gaumukh is open only to the handful who wins permission from the forest department forced to intervene to protect the fragile environment from a load it cannot possibly carry. The culprit is the road bridge or more correctly the ignorance of the populist leader who opened it to pander to commercial interests. As a result the mule count is low in Gangotri and the jam of non-Celestial omnibuses deafening. At least at Gaurikund in the background you hear the soothing sound of harnesses jingling with their promise of Auntie’s heavenly transport. The Lanka bridge obviously has its supporters and it is undeniable that the roadside villages en route to Gangotri now boast modern looking hotels. This enables them to fleece visitors apparently on the principle that the bigger the vehicle you drive the heavier the bill your wallet can withstand.

From the point of view of abandoned aesthetics and crass commercialism Badrinath stands supreme, the ultimate victim of the pilgrim bus which bypasses all the prayags en route a chain of chakras that once gave rise to the steady uncoiling of rare energies. Now the pilgrim bus goes right up to the temple door and the traffic jams are reminiscent of Delhi’s. Every year the road from Rishikesh to Joshimath has being blasted and widened for as long as I can remember so the surface for most of the way is always execrable. What has caught on in recent years is a plethora of river rafting camps which give off the feel of an up to date and most invigorating form of devotion for the Ganga. But for today’s pilgrim to Badri the only physical challenge is to try and keep awake on the bus and then not fall asleep while waiting in line interminably for darshan. In the old days you went to arouse your kundalini: now you become adept at the yoga of yawning. Intriguingly it seems that a fair amount of today’s pilgrims go not for the religious boons but for the social status that attaches to the occasion.

The least visited of the Char Dham is Yamnotri which involves but a seven kilometre well graded path to the hot springs amidst broad leaved forest. Earlier in February this year with ice on the road I found it quite literally touch and go to get a car up to the Janakichatti road head and eventually had to get out and push. Luckily the younger sister of the Ganga does not draw as large a crowd as the other dhams and in many respects Yamnotri still maintains the unfrenetic charm of the old pilgrim trails. It is now possible to get there in one day from Mussoorie. Surprisingly in view of the scalding springs no one has yet set up a sauna. Nor has women’s lib registered a protest against the dubious blessings that accrue to the ladies whose hot water tank is fed from the overflow of male off-scourings.

A comparison based on the author’s personal visits, between current and old conditions of Char Dhams of Uttarakhand. (Four pilgrim centres sacred to the Hindus are: Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri - known as Chardham).



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5 Across the Khimloga Pass

Tapan Pandit

Standing sublime is the radiated long ridge inbetween Kinnaur and Uttaranchal. There are several passes on this ridge. Some of these connect the Baspa valley to the Uttarakhand region. In earlier days, these routes were used by the shepherds, local people and traders.

Chhitkul is the last village of the Baspa valley in Kinnaur. Opposite the bus stand, one can see the Nardung khad coming down from the southern ridge. At its head is the Khimloga pass (5260 m). This is visibly affected by nature’s ravages, global warming and geographical changes. Broken crevasse-ridden glaciers and steep rocky walls have forced the route’s demise.

The spirit of adventure and the will to do something new was the reason that five members of Amtala - Tapan Pandit, Usha Pandit, Pijush Pal, Subrato Barik and Pritjwish Das, reached Sankri on 18 May 2011. Sankri, on the confluence of Tons and Supin looked like a charming and developed village with a rest house for tourists. On 19 May we reached Jakhol, 2200 m. The entire valley was a sea of green with cultivation. At about 9.30 a.m. we started moving along the left bank of the Supin. After about one and half kilometre we crossed Supin by an iron bridge and reached Baincha at the confluence of Supin and Obra gad.

Leaving the confluence we marched along Supin. It was a shaded walk through walnut, after an hour and half we crossed a wooden bridge. After a strenuous climb of a thousand feet, we reached the cultivated fields of Supin’s left bank. The track rose through the paddy and potato fields of the last village. At the end of the day we touched Lewari, the last village on this route, at 2750 m and pushing through a crowd of children, we reached Someshwar temple. There was a wide area in front paved with stones - a lovely place to indulge in idle talks in the soft rays of the setting sun. Here, we stayed at one of our porters, Memorsing Rawat’s house. It was a three storeyed wooden house. The elderly villagers and Memorsing’s father were against our plan of going ahead on this route because a few years ago they had lost a fellow villager to the Khimloga icefield. After a lot of discussion we assured them that we would go ahead only if we found the terrain accessible.

On the morning of 20 May we started northwards. To our left, on the other side of Supin, we could see Sural gad which comes down from Chakuri dhar. A shaded walk of one kilometre through pine, walnut and deodar leads to a wooden bridge over Supin. Trek route was obliterated due to land slide and fallen pine tree.

A hard trek of about 10 km through ice bridges and boulder zone led us to Surmola thach, 3460 m. We could see the Pustari gad coming down from the ridge on the left. There is a lake called Bharadsar on top of the ridge, held pious by the locals.

Next day, 21 May, we started for Vishkhopri about 10 km away. We followed the wide shepherd trail on the right bank of Supin. But the route had been washed by landslides every few metres. So, we often had to climb high to avoid crossing landslides. We crossed pine forests and reached a jungle full of rhododendrons. After a while, we reached the top of the left ridge and came across a grassy patch with multi coloured flowers peeping out of the green pasture. Towards the north we could see Khimloga icefield and then we descended to Supin. At about 1 p.m. we reached Biskhopri at the confluence of Gugui gad and Supin. The vast alps carpeted with flowers could contain quite a few football fields. We pitched our tents amidst that majestic beauty. The ridge to our south was called Baslawa dhar. The Supin flows along the gorge ahead. On the morrow we would move forward along this route.

On 22 May, we started for Thangal thach. We moved east along the boulder zone. On our right Gugui gad came down from Baslawa dhar. If we had followed the nala we could have reached Deokiari ridge and finally Baspa valley. We reached the top of the ridge and the panorama of the vast Khimloga glacier spread out before us. Actually, according to the map, Khimloga glacier is in two parts. The one in front is the main glacier and the north branch is on the left. Our present expedition planned to explore this part.

Khimloga pass. (Tapan Pandit)

Khimloga pass. (Tapan Pandit)

The main glacier encompasses, in its semi-circle, P. 5178 m, P. 5877 m and P. 5480 m peaks. Onwards to the northwest, the ridge has turned a little to merge with P. 5889 m and P. 5440 m peaks. To the north of the joined part of the ridge between P. 5889 m and P. 5440 m, is the North Khimloga glacier. At the end of the northeastern part of this glacier is a 5712 m peak; and to the right is 5260 m Khimloga pass. We moved along the Baslawa thach, amongst ice patches and boulders. At about 11.30 a.m. we reached Nishani thach at 3900 m. From there one could go to Baspa valley through Patagini dhar by following the nala on the left. At a little distance, the porters pitched tents amidst boulders. It was just noon. Our desired target, the left lateral moraine of the Thangal thach was still a kilometre away. But on our left we could see the lateral moraine, the key to Khimloga gorge. Through a Google contour map we were aware that if we moved north along the lateral moraine up to snout of Khimloga in the northern glacier, we would have to move east to avoid the horrible blackish cracked part of the snout. But the porters were unwilling to go ahead. Tents were pitched at the lower Thangal thach at the height of 3960 m. Then it began to snow so we decided not to proceed in this weather. 23 May: the porters adamantly refused to cross the dangerous glacier ahead. Discussing pros and cons, we all agreed to explore the moraine area up to noon. Then we would decide further action. As we moved further, the dangerous, heavily crevassed main glacier was visible on the left. We climbed up the steep wall of the moraine. At 9.30 a.m. we reached the top of steep ridge. Suddenly the frightening sight of the terrible Khimloga glacier was clear in front of us at 180˚ radius. In front of us was the joining wall of the 5889 m and 5440 m ridges. Every few second stones and snow-balls would come tumbling down. The main glacier to the right was so broken and dangerous that it looked as if it would swallow us any minute. It presented a horrible sight. Amidst the maze of boulders on the glacier coupled with rock fall hazards it would be a difficult bargain. Under our feet was the nala coming from the north from Khinloga glacier. To the left was its ugly snout, dangerous black rocks and frozen snow. We were going along the moraine area towards north. The higher we went, the ugly look of the glacier became more prominent. It was now 11.30 a.m. and the porters refused to move on further. Our Google contour map clearly showed that success would come if we would bypass the horrible blackish path and the rock fall zone. We all were determined to reach the target – no question of retreat. So we somehow found a little space to pitch three tents. Two Sherpas, Gyalzen and Lakhpa, packed some climbing gear in two bags and moved on for the recce and rope fixing. When they returned at about 4 p.m., we sat down together to discuss our plans. Gyalzen showed us photographs and said that there was a path to reach the pass safely. We retired so that we could make an early start the next day. But nature apparently had other plans. A violent storm arose. There were lethal cracking sounds and it seemed our outer tent flaps would tear off soon. Helplessly we spent the whole night wide awake with apprehension.

Khimloga Exp. 2011

Khimloga Exp. 2011

On 24 May, it dawned clear and we started at 6 a.m. as we planned to cross the nala before the snow melted. We descended traversing the right wall of the ridge. We had to reach the snout of the glacier by going over boulders and avoiding the falling rocks. The left ridge was about half a kilometre away from this black icefall. This route seemed very steep from afar. But we could walk easily by traversing left and right. We kept facing one ice ridge after another as we walked on. Crossing these ridges, finally we could see the apparently flat Khimloga South glacier at about 9.30 a.m. We could also see the pass at a distance of about four kilometres. The southern wall of the glacier had converted into icefall. The sight was frightening. We walked along the left side of the glacier. As the day proceeded our feet started sinking deeper. At noon we reached the pond created by the glacier. We halted there for some time and picked up the gear left there by the recce team the day before. Then we moved on. Right in front of us was the field full of crevasses. The pass was just one kilometre away. We halted there and setup our last camp on Khimloga glacier. Soon the dark shadows of the night overlapped the clear bright sky. Monstrous crevasses were exposed all around.

It was 7.00 a.m. when we started on that clear, bright morning of 25 May. We had to walk very carefully along the left ridge towards north. Even the slightest diversion towards right would have landed us in the crevasse zone.

At 9.00 a.m. we finally reached the pass which had been untrodden for many decades. At a height of 5260 m the Khimloga pass is very narrow, about 10 m long and three metre wide, this pass has a rocky hanging projection on the northern side which is actually an overhang like a mushroom on the slopes of a peak on the left side. In front, towards northeast we could see Nardung khad glacier going down. According to the map, on the right ridge of this glacier there are peaks of 5889 m and 4405 m. To the right of that ridge is Janapa khad. According to the Survey of India map, the route to descend this glacier is via Janapa khad. But we decided to follow the Google map and go straight down the Nardung khad in front. To the right was an icy overhang. Along this one rope coil was fixed. The ‘Puja’ ceremony on the pass, joyous celebrations and a photo session took about an hour.

At about 11.00 a.m. we started getting down holding the fixed rope. With soft snow under our feet we moved towards the Nardung khad leaving behind the dangerously cracked watershed glacier of Nardung khad and Khimloga glacier. The whole wall had turned into a dangerous icefall. So, we climbed down rapidly. Amidst light snowfall we came down to the ice field at 4.30 p.m. Here the river was still frozen and we could hear water flowing below.

On 26 May 2011 our last day’s trek started at 8.00 a.m. According to the map, we were to be in Chhitkul within two to three hours. At 9.00 a.m. we halted at a broken down two room hut. The area flooded with beautiful flowers, forced us to rest for some time to enjoy the lovely view. Crossing a wooden bridge over Nardung khad we started climbing the ridge towards right side. We walked through Rhododendron forests and met Dr. G. S. Goraya, Chief Conservator of Forest. At last crossing the Baspa through a steel rope, we came up to Chhitkul bus-stand. We thus turned our dream of crossing the Khimloga pass into reality.

Crossing of the Khimloga pass.



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6 First Ascent of Ram Chukor Basera

Sorang valley, Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh
Dr Charles Clarke

Wednesday, 15 June 2011 was a perfect Himalayan night. Chris Bonington and I were snuggled in sleeping bags in a snow camp high in the Sorang valley around 4500 m. We had recceed a fine unclimbed peak, a smidgen over 5000 m; its east ridge looked feasible and fun.

Climbing Ram Chukor Basera. (Dr Charles Clarke)

Climbing Ram Chukor Basera. (Dr Charles Clarke)

Kokshane (5625 m), one of the higher peaks was too distant and looked hard – and we were still acclimatising. The air was still, the stars glistened; the temperature fell well below freezing. I woke to a cheerful shout from the next door tent. ‘Charlie, fine weather’: Raj Kumar already had the stove on. We were all away around 03.00 a.m.

Crampons crunched up gentle nevé leading to the glacier. Chris took the lead followed by two high altitude staff, Konchok from Ladakh and Samgyal from Darjeeling. Raj Kumar, ever the enthusiast left his kitchen chores and came too. We zig-zagged easily upwards, lightly laden, head torches glinting. After an hour or so, a vague col led to the high ground. We roped up as a five, tied in Prussiks, smeared sun-cream, and donned sunglasses as the sun struck our peak – first pink then golden, then blinding bright as we peered across the glacier. ‘You’re heaviest Charlie. Go first’, Chris chipped in – we both detest crevassed glaciers. We walked across without incident in less than an hour to the base of a shallow couloir. ‘Good. I’m first. I’ll lead it’, I decided. The couloir wasn’t hard, but I suppose I could have fallen down it. After a rope length or so, I was on the crest of the east ridge of P. 5084 m, unnamed, unvisited and unknown, about three km east of Kokshane. Soon we all looked along a fine arête leading to the summit, less than a kilometre away.

Zangshu. (Dr. Charles Clarke)

Zangshu. (Dr. Charles Clarke)

How had Chris and I come to be here, in this remote corner of Himachal? We had both been planning ‘another little adventure’ for some years. We could look back on many trips. In 1975 Chris had invited me to be a doctor on the Southwest Face of Everest. We had been to Kongur in Xinjiang in 1981, to Everest Northeast Ridge in 1982, and Menlungste in 1988. But each of these climbs, momentous as they had been, were not endeavours we look back on with utter delight. Our dream lightweight expedition had been a recce we’d made together to eastern Tibet in 1996, to try to find Sepu Kangri.1 At short notice we’d taken a couple of rucksacks and gone off to find an unknown mountain in the eastern Nyenchen Tanglah. This was the sort of ‘little adventure’ we had in mind for 2011 – an unvisited remote valley, and some easy peaks. We consulted Harish Kapadia: Sorang seemed to fit the bill. Harish had walked up the valley in 19932 but the peaks had not been visited, as far as we could judge. Barakamba, the roadhead several kilometres up the valley is a day’s drive from Shimla along the Indo-Tibet highway that winds up along the Satluj gorge. Sorang is the site of a mighty hydro-electric project.3 With an approach march of few days, we would be on snow within a week from England.

Sketch map of Sorang valley.

Sketch map of Sorang valley.

We soon realised as we walked up through the forests in the first week of June that this romantic idyll might not turn out quite as we had imagined. Rather than shepherds’ paths we had to hack through jungle for one day and then caught glimpses of some fine, committing peaks from time to time. We noted the remains of heavy winter snowfall – the main Sorang khad and all its tributaries were still covered with snow. From time to time snow bridges had given way to expose fearsome underground glacial torrents. By Day Four we were installed in a grassy base camp at Palit (3835 m), and settled down to a life of relative luxury, amply supported by the cook and Sirdar Raj Kumar, Konchok and Samgyal, Dan Kumar the cook boy and a dozen porters from Kumaun. Our own loads would be light. This was to be an enjoyable expedition. Chris had brought Khartoum to read, the tale of imperial British endeavour and shameless slaughter in the Sudan, while I took up sketching, practised Hindi and read Pablo Neruda. We acclimatised carefully, in unsettled weather, explored the glacial systems at the head of the valley and confirmed that there was plenty for some future young, fit party. Kokshane (5625 m) and Gushu Pishu (5672 m) are the highest peaks, each committing and with long glacial approaches. After a week of indifferent weather and a failed attempt at one peak in cloud, we chose an attractive 5000er, and one we thought we could climb.

Our ridge was picturesque, snow conditions good and the weather perfect. As we neared the top, a Himalayan snow cock4 flew off the summit rocks where he’d been basking in the sun. We were there by 07.15 a.m. We toyed with the idea of a traverse but thought a rope of five would be unwieldy, so headed back down, choosing a steeper, faster and longer couloir to descend to the glacier. We were back at camp by 10.00 a.m. A perfect day! After tea and a snooze, all that remained was a two to three hour stroll on down to base camp, lightly laden: the Kumauni porters would collect the kit from the high camp. We were so content.

It was a warm afternoon. The descent was on familiar ground - dry glacier or easy-angled snow leading down to the grass, with no need for a rope. A lammergeyer idled above and redstarts flitted among the rocks. I walked down one easy snow gully, following vague tracks. Suddenly, I fell. I have no memory of breaking through the snow bridge, but I found myself underground in an icy cavern, a fast flowing stream up to my thighs. A few feet above my head I could see the sky – and the hole in the snow through which I had dropped. Within seconds I realised I had not broken a leg, and whilst soaking wet I was entirely uninjured, and very lucky. A few feet away the underground glacial torrent disappeared into a deeper chasm, from which there would have been no return. And I could get out by standing on a boulder.

Chris let out an anguished bellow: all he could see was the hole. He saw first my hands as they scrabbled around the rim, and then by my head. Gingerly, and not without risk, Chris lay across the snow slope and held out a ski pole for me to grab. I hauled myself out but dared not stretch across the snow to retrieve one precious Pacer walking pole – I was in no mood for a second tryst with destiny. In less than five minutes the emergency was over. We were both frightened but relieved. We met the porters coming up, warned them about the snow and soon dropped down to the meadows.

Oh, these near misses! Whilst they make a good tale in the pub they have a chilling effect too. They make me realise the richness of life, the privileges I have had, to travel and climb, and those who I love and want to see again. They are important life events.

Back in base at Palit, we looked at the mountains and the indifferent weather, consulted diaries and our flights home. Another climb was just possible, but a higher peak would be committing. We were tired and time was running out. We felt we’d had enough. We treated the snow bridges of the lower Sorang khad with caution.

Sorang valley. (Dr Charles Clarke)

Sorang valley. (Dr Charles Clarke)

Ram Chukor Basera summit ridge. (Dr Charles Clarke)

Ram Chukor Basera summit ridge. (Dr Charles Clarke)

Ram Chukor Basera. (Dr Charles Clarke)

Ram Chukor Basera. (Dr Charles Clarke)

Four days later we were in Delhi with our old friends Suman and Manju Dubey. My Hindi did not extend to a perch, but I learnt from Suman and Manju that basera is the word. So we called our virgin peak ‘Ram Chukor Basera’. Our little adventure was over.

Visit to the Sorang valley, Kinnaur in June 2011 and first ascent of Ram Chukor Basera (5084 m).



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7 Obra Valley Expedition, 2010

Jonathan Phillips

On 10 September five members of Imperial College London, Philip Leadbeater, Kunal Masania, Andrew McLellan and Boris Korzh under the leadership of Jonathan Phillips (Alpine Club, UK), departed Heathrow airport bound for Delhi and attempted unclimbed peaks in the Obra valley high in the Garhwal Himalaya. After a full day in Delhi, we departed by train to Dehra Dun before a short car journey took us to the hilltop tourist resort of Mussoorie.

Departing early the next morning we set off for the 6-7 hour journey to the road head Jakhol. Unfortunately the rainfall in the region had been significantly higher than was normal for the time of year and so a number of landslides blocked the roads, both forwards and backwards. A waiting game ensued and after three days we made it Jakhol and rendezvoused with the outfit that was organising our in-country logistics. Very soon after their arrival a camp was established and we could relax.

Our walk in to base camp began the following morning. It was intended that we would take three days to complete the trek, to allow the porters to use the huts located in the valley and as the altitude gain from start to finish is approximately 1700 m. The weather took a turn for the worse towards the end of the trek with persistent rain throughout the last day. This led to the porters becoming disheartened and depositing the loads much further down the valley than we had initially intended (3867 m). For the first two days at base camp we had persistent rain slowly making all our gear bags very wet indeed.

However, on 20 September we woke to nice clear weather and so dried out what we needed and headed off to carry equipment to the site of our planned base camp. We cached some gear and food at this point (4100 m) and proceeded to force a route to 4500 m on a spur of moraine leading up to the glacier from which we could access the peaks. That evening we returned to base camp. On the morning of 21 September we prepared a bigger carry to our lower cache and relocated our mountain tents. In the course of the next two days we ferried equipment, food and tents up the spur to a high cache at 4900 m on the glacier. At this stage the weather was still variable and the snow line fluctuated. Our initial trips had been through snow and slush from 3900 m however this gradually rose to 4300 m, just after we had post-holed and load ferried our way through it!

From our high cache we were intending to complete a single push to the summit of P. 5877 m but because of the altitude we were moving slowly and so changed our objective to a nearby peak which the nearest contour on our map indicated as being slightly above 5480 m. We have therefore used the nomenclature P. 5480 m to describe it, as unfortunately we couldn’t get a good GPS signal on the summit to determine the actual height. We climbed via the southwest ridge (500 m altitude gain, AD-) and descended back to our high cache camp. In the course of this outing we realised that in order to get to P. 5877 m we would need to move our camp as close to the headwall at the top of the glacier as possible, to allow us to get on it whilst the snow was still frozen early in the morning. We descended to base camp for a rest day.

With the weather remaining stable we returned with more supplies on 27 September collecting what remained in our high cache and pushing up to a camp at 5100 m. A very early start the following morning saw Phil lead a route to the col at 5400 m after which we alternated the lead on the northwest ridge to the summit of P. 5877 m (700 m, AD), which afforded excellent views of the surrounding area. From the summit we returned to our camp, packed everything up and descended to base camp (clearing our former high cache en route), getting back well after dark. The following day was taken as a rest day.

Peak 5480 m and Peak 5877 m. (Jonathan Phillips)

Peak 5480 m and Peak 5877 m. (Jonathan Phillips)

Andurko, Ranglana, Dhodu and Peak 5600 m. (Jonathan Phillips)

Andurko, Ranglana, Dhodu and Peak 5600 m. (Jonathan Phillips)

Ranglana from north. (Jonathan Phillips)

Ranglana from north. (Jonathan Phillips)

On 30 September, with consistent stable weather, we decided to make an attempt of Ranglana (5554 m) by placing a camp on its western col as Phil had reconnoitered this as a possible route during a rest day. We performed a carry, with assistance from three porters to the snowline (4300 m), to a high camp at 4687 m on the glacier descending from the col. A chilly night was spent here before departing early the next morning to cross the col (4950 m) and descend slightly into the Maninda valley, before joining the south ridge of Ranglana and following this to the summit (900 m, D-). Descent was made via the same route and we returned to our high camp for a night before taking all our equipment back to base camp. The following day was taken as a rest day.

On 3 October we began to pack our equipment and the porters arrived in the evening. Our departure was earlier than initially planned as we had received reports of further landslides near the road head, and we needed to make it to Delhi for our flights on 9 October.

A five member team from Imperial College, London climbed in Obra gad and achieved three first ascents including Ranglana (5554 m).



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8 Exploration of the Upper Jiwa Nala

Derek R Buckle

Early in 2010 members of the Alpine Club were planning a joint expedition to the Indian Himalaya with the Himalayan Club when Harish Kapadia suggested that we should explore the Jiwa nala region of the Great Himalayan National Park. Unfortunately, long before detailed plans emerged, both Martin Scott, who was actively involved in the early discussions with Harish, and the Himalayan Club found that they were no longer able to participate. It then became exclusively an Alpine Club expedition.

The GHNP, which was established in 1984, and its surrounding eco buffer zone covers a total area of 1171 kms. Yet despite this vast expanse, only the peripheral areas have been visited by mountaineers, primarily on account of difficult access. Thus the steep-sided Jiwa nala valley in particular can be accessed only via the Kandi Galu pass (3627 m) to the south or by the Phangchi Galu pass (4636 m) to the north; both routes involving strenuous four day treks from their respective road heads. Before our visit in September-October 2010, only the valley floor and access routes had been extensively explored. Nowadays the valley is predominantly visited by trekkers and bird watchers, but prior to the Park’s establishment; local villagers exploited the valley for grazing and for medicinal plants, although such activities are no longer permitted.

While detailed maps are not officially available for the Jiwa nala, a free electronic map is available on the GHNP web site1 that clearly details the valley’s eastern glaciated cirque with its complex array of peaks rising to almost 5500 m. Paper copies of this map may also be purchased from the Park’s headquarters at Shamshi, near Kullu. In addition, impressive satellite images recently made available by Google Earth confirmed the existence of a number of interesting mountaineering objectives.

To base camp
After a night in Kullu we drove along the meandering road leading to Neuli on the Sainj river where we joined a forty strong contingent of helpers prior to the four day trek to our base camp (BC) in Jiwa nala. A little after noon we followed a well-defined wooded path leading to Bhagikashahri, the last village in the eco buffer zone south of Jiwa nala. Some four hours and 900 m of ascent later we arrived at the village which nestles high on a steep-sided ravine in an area famed for its wide variety of medicinal plants. One plant in particular, cannabis, grows in abundance to well above head height. Our arrival at Bhagikashahri coincided with an ongoing local puja, complete with colourful gods, drums and wind instruments, all adding to the mystique of this spectacularly luxuriant area.

With level ground at a premium we camped on the school playground but had to dismantle the tents during the daytime so that it could be returned to its normal use. Setting off from Bhagikashahri we climbed steeply along a track through forests of conifers, holly oaks, rhododendrons and deciduous trees before reaching the open ground that led inexorably to the Kandi Galu pass. This involved over 1500 m of strenuous ascent before we could at last get glimpses of the wooded lower regions of the Jiwa nala. From the pass a steep but relatively short descent led to a second camp in an overgrown glade at Sublirari thach (3350 m). Sterling work by our Sherpas soon flattened the three m high vegetation sufficiently to allow us to erect tents, but this was not the most comfortable ground on which to camp. Possibly the porters and Sherpas were better off by spending the night in the primitive wooden hut.

On the steep descent into Jiwa nala the next day the track gradually became less forested and more indistinct as it approached the river so we were fortunate to have the help of a local guide to negotiate its tortuous path. Crossing to the northern side of the river, however, revealed a more prominent path that led to our third camp adjacent to a wooden shack at Dwada thach (3200 m). From here the local porters returned to Neuli while those from Kullu continued upstream past the Surtu glacial pond to the site of our base camp at Raticho thach (3725 m). Most visitors to Jiwa nala evidently go no further than Surtu, but it was clear from their prolific spoor that Himalayan bears frequently do! We, however, saw none of these elusive creatures during our stay in the valley but the porters reported seeing one when they returned to help us leave.

The upper Jiwa Nala
While we had a good view of the icefall and glaciated cirque at the valley head from base camp this did not help to identify which objectives we should tackle first or, indeed, how to get to them. It was necessary therefore to scramble up a steep, grassy couloir on the southern slopes to an undulating plateau at around 4300 m from where we had a better perspective. This vantage point revealed that the long, pronounced lateral moraine (true right), clearly visible on satellite images, led easily past the lower icefall to a point from where we hoped to access the upper glacier and its surrounding peaks. We trekked easily up this moraine on 3 October to exit onto an extensive boulder field. Two days later we sited our first advanced base camp here close to a prominent striated rock buttress at 4623 m.

After a cold, clear night everyone except John climbed up the steep glacier keeping close to the rock buttress in order to avoid a complex crevasse system further right. Ultimately this flattened to an extensive glacial plateau that was hemmed in by an impressive jagged cirque of 5000 m peaks. A southwards traverse then led via a bergschrund to a steep snow slope right of a prominent skyline col. Post-holing extensively up this slope then led to a small airy top (5125 m, Alpine PD) that on account of the effort required to get there we tentatively called Tribulation Point. It was from this summit that we noticed a possible line onto the upper glacier which took a steep snow-filled couloir immediately to the right of the striated buttress rising above our advanced base. Returning to camp by the route of ascent we planned to investigate this couloir the next day.

Following another cold night Mike, Drew and I left camp on the morning of 6 October to gain the first plateau by the route of the previous day. From here we then turned north to climb the prominent 40° couloir that we had seen earlier from Tribulation Point. Relatively easy climbing took us to the left of a second icefall and terminated on a second glacial plateau framed by a continuation of the main cirque. With a choice of possible objectives available to us we eventually chose to go left (southwest) towards a rocky summit that overlooked upper Jiwa nala almost immediately above camp. Taking an exposed upwards traverse past a line of snow leopard prints we reached a short rocky chimney that was climbed to an airy summit (5140 m, PD+). Unfortunately, a change in the weather obscured the panoramic view that should have been possible from this summit but we nevertheless tentatively called this Sentinel Peak on account of its commanding position. We made one short abseil as the weather deteriorated further to regain the path of ascent back to our advanced camp.

Sentinel Peak.

Sentinel Peak.

With Laura and John still suffering from altitude and knee problems respectively, Mike, Drew and I set off in intense cold at 3.00 a.m. the following morning intent on climbing the rocky peak that dominated the skyline to the north (right) of the upper plateau. After re-ascending the couloir climbed the previous day we then turned north to post-hole our way to the bottom of a left-facing ramp line on the south face that we considered was a viable route to the summit. Climbing this mixed line presented no insurmountable difficulties and led to a snowy ridge ending in a fine snow crest. The compact, rocky summit (5365 m, AD) offered extensive views. We tentatively called this Snow Leopard Peak on account of the many new tracks that we encountered while crossing the upper plateau. We returned to camp in brilliant weather by essentially the route of ascent.

Despite the large number of possible objectives still available from the upper plateau we decided to dismantle the advance base camp on 10 October with a view to exploring other parts of upper Jiwa nala. Thus, on returning to base camp we divided into two groups in order to determine whether we should, or could, locate a second advance camp on the northern flanks of the valley. However, both teams found the terrain on this side of the valley both steep and unforgiving, and quite unsuitable for Sherpas carrying significant loads. Moreover, the upper reaches disgorged onto massive, waterless boulder-fields with few compelling climbing objectives immediately available. Undoubtedly some peaks could be reached in a single push from base camp, but alternative objectives seen to the south seemed eminently more worthwhile. One particular option was to explore the glacier that extended to the west of the dominant triangular buttress that was clearly visible from base camp. A significant lateral moraine of this glacier terminated just to the south of Jiwa nala.

As a consequence on 12 October we relocated to a second advanced base camp at 4020 m below the foot of this moraine. From this camp the whole party trekked up the moraine to the glacial plateau above. Leaving Drew and John to admire the view, Mike, Laura and I then continued westwards over the glacier until it was possible to climb steeply to a small col overlooking the Sainj valley. From here a short climb eastwards up a snow-covered arête led to a small rocky summit (4890 m, PD) on which all three of us could comfortably sit à cheval. This peak we tentatively called Snowcock Point on account of the flock of these birds that we disturbed on route. After enjoying the view we returned the way we had ascended before returning to base camp to prepare for our departure from Jiwa nala in a few days time.

Snow Leopard peak from south.

Snow Leopard peak from south.

With the return of our porters on 15 October we left the following morning. Descending first for a night at Dwada thach where we had camped earlier, a very steep grassy ascent then led to our next camp at Lahlibati (3892 m) in an adjacent valley. After a very long and strenuous day crossing the Phangchi Galu pass we camped in a meadow high above Pulga at 2960 m. A relatively short walk then took us via the ongoing hydroelectric power plant construction at Pulga to where we proceeded by car to Manali and Kullu before returning home.

Derek Buckle (leader), Mike Cocker, Drew Cook, John Hudson, Laura Millichamp

In September - October 2010 five members of the Alpine Club explored the upper reaches of Jiwa Nala region of the Great Himalayan National Park. They made first ascents of four major points on the jagged eastern cirque. These were tentatively named as - Tribulation Point (5125 m, PD), Sentinel Peak (5140 m, PD+), Snow Leopard Peak (5360 m, AD) and Snowcock Point (4890 m, PD).



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9 Irish/British Singekang Exploratory Expedition 2010

Alan Tees

We felt that this expedition was likely to be successful in a number of aspects, in that, the objective was largely non specific, therefore the success or failure was not dependent on achieving a particular top, and people of varying experience, health or acclimatisation could achieve something from the trip. The explorations of Shipton/Tilman in the Indian Himalaya are the stuff of legend, and although we would not have the freedom, under standard holiday entitlement, enjoyed by them, we would have a unique opportunity to go into an unexplored valley, and the heights of the surrounding mountains (5000-6300 m) would make them accessible within our time constraints. In addition, Spiti had the advantage of long periods of settled weather at this time of year.

Singekang from Snaghtkang. (Alan Tees)

Singekang from Snaghtkang. (Alan Tees)

History of Mountaineering and Exploration in Spiti (The Middle Land)
The earliest recorded travellers to visit Spiti were the Gerard Brothers in 1817, followed by George Trebeck, A.H. Franke, and Andrew Wilson, but it wasn’t until 1939 that a mountaineer, in the form of J.O.M Roberts, made the first ascent of Chau Chau Kang Nilda (6303 m). During WWII, two German prisoners Schmaderer and Paidar escaped from a British internment camp at Dehra Dun, and fled to Spiti, but Schmaderer was murdered at Tabo, and this brought some temporary notoriety to the area! P. Holmes and T. H. Braham visited the western valleys in 1956. Manirang (6593 m), the highest peak in the southern valleys had been climbed as far back as 1952 by Dr Graaf and party, due largely to its ease of access from the Manirang pass, a well-known trade route.

Irish interest in the area kicked off in 1958, when Joss Lynam explored and climbed in the Karcha and Suvita valleys, making first ascents of Fluted Peak (6157 m), Conscience Peak (5943 m) and Snow Dome (5639 m), with Gwynn Stephenson and two others. He was back in 1961, and made the first ascent of Shigri Parbat (6526 m), again with Gwynn and two others.

In 1977 an Irish party comprising Mick Curran, John Forsythe, Foster Kelly, J.Kerr, Terry Mooney, P. Lamont and T. Chand, climbed Karcha Parvat (6270 m) and Shiti Dhar (5290 m), both first ascents.

An Irish team led by Paddy O’Leary, including Brian Geraghty, Colm Owens and Hugh Reynolds, climbed Kangla Tarbo I (6315m) in 2000 in the Khamengar valley, and in 2008, another IMC group comprising Gerry Galligan, Darach O’Murchu, Paul Mitchell and Craig Scarlett, made the first ascent of Ramabang (6135 m), in the west upper Debsa valley.

Account of the Expedition
The objective of the expedition was to penetrate the unexplored Singekang valley in Spiti, and to attempt Singekang (Lion Peak), a remote and unclimbed peak at the valley head and on the border with Kinnaur.

We arrived in Delhi, George, Sandra, Martin and myself, all members of Colmcille Climbing Club. Jeremy Windsor, a doctor and UIAA medical advisor, soon joined us from Kathmandu.

An overnight bus took us to Manali and the mountains where it was noticeably cooler. Our last member Andrew Tees who had just flown in from Australia via Delhi soon joined us. There had been unexpectedly heavy early winter snowfall closing the passes to our destination, but the first one, the Rohtang la (3800 m) had just reopened. As we neared the top of the never- ending hairpins, we came to a halt in a traffic jam. Only one lane had been cleared, and our convoy of trucks, jeeps and buses from the south, found itself face to face with a similar convoy coming in the opposite direction. No one was going anywhere! Four hours later we were over the top and descending the other side. Our troubles were far from over, as we had many hours of rocky and snow covered hair raising road to negotiate, before we got to our second major pass, the Kunzum la (4551 m). It was getting dark by that time and our driver was very concerned as the road was icy and deteriorating by the minute as the temperature plummeted. He threw the two-wheel drive Tata into each bend with great skill, skidding and accelerating hard to gain momentum for the next upward stretch. Several times the worn tyres could find no purchase, and we all had to get out and push (hard work at 4000 m!) We made the pass, and by 9.30 p.m. were in Kaja at our dark and rather chilly lodgings. 15 hours in a jeep!

In the morning, spirits rose along with the sun as we saw the magnificence of our surroundings, and while we visited the remarkable Ki monastery, Raja went to check access to our Singekang valley, and our liaison officer went home to Mumbai, the travel, cold, and altitude obviously not agreeing with him. The good news was that there was a bridge across the Spiti river giving convenient access to our valley at Pooh, and an amenable farmer called Nawang who would let us camp beside his house. He would also be our guide up the base camp, three hours up the valley where there used to be some grazing. No one to his knowledge had been beyond this. The bad news was the fact that the valley was more of a gorge, and entirely unsuitable for the mules that we had hoped to hire.

Pomrang camp was established in Nawang’s orchard, and Jeremy was soon ministering to the family’s various ailments. Nawang could not believe his luck having an eminent London physician camped in his garden, and we were duly supplied with apples and firewood, while lots of neighbours turned up just to have a look at us!

Five porters turned up next day, and Nawang guided us up the gorge, on the remnants of an old trail, so three hours and three river crossings later with heavy packs, we had a base camp. We returned to Pomrang, (our porters returned home, complaining that the terrain was too difficult to carry). This meant that we (and the five support guys) had to do two more carries to stock base camp. Having achieved this, the valley beyond was unknown, so we spread out to look at the various options for access to the next camp (advance base camp). A major landslip made the left hand side of the gorge difficult, and the right side was vertical. Various blind alleys were checked (including wading the ice-bound river), before we decided on a steep loose gully, which gave access to more levelled thorny ground above. Three carries on consecutive days had us established at ABC (4200 m), on the river’s edge. It was at the base of a prominent pointy peak, which we proposed to climb for acclimatisation, and named ‘Lynam Peak’. Time was moving on however, and it was decided that we should concentrate on our target peak, Singekang, which was still some distance away, and look at other ascents on the way down. So the next day found us stumbling up the GFH (Gorge from Hell), 3-4 hours of purgatory with a heavy pack, to establish high camp at 4800 m in a broad snowy valley surrounded by magnificent peaks. Unmarked on the map was a substantial frozen lake! Going down the loose rubble and ice of the GFH was just as bad (maybe worse), and the following day we had to do it all again, before we could occupy high camp. The next was the first rest day of our trip, and we enjoyed more hours in the sun that were available in the enclosed gorge below, before it disappeared behind the mountain, and we dived for our duvets. The weather was settled and we experienced no cloud or snow, although it was very cold at night.

At 3.00 a.m. we set off by torch light up into the hidden valley behind a satellite of Singekang (Singekang Minor). By dawn it had become brutally cold, cold as I have ever experienced, and Martin recognising the signs of hypothermia, wisely turned back. Thendrup, Lakhpa, George, Jeremy and Andrew climbed steep snow and moving shale to the col, 5400 m leaving a fixed rope in place for Sandra and myself. By the time Sandra and I got up to the col and the welcome rays of the sun, Thendrup was checking access to the summit ridge, which frankly did not look feasible to me! 400 m of gendarmed, corniced ridge, all covered in fresh snow, Alpine TD at least, led to the summit. It was certainly beyond me in my state of acclimatisation, but Jeremy, George, Andrew, Thendrup and Lakhpa would give it a try.

They did, but as they abseiled off from about 5700 m when reality checked in! Jeremy found that his toes were frostbitten on return to high camp (a legacy of Everest) so the next day we all retreated down the GFH to ABC. Frostbite is serious business, so Jeremy decided to walk out to the road the next day, and was accompanied by Andrew and Raja, who had arrangements for our homeward transport to make. This left Martin, George, Sandra and me with a couple of spare days, so we decided to try a 5500 m peak just above ABC. We established a high camp of three small tents at 4800 m on a platform carved out of a snow slope above a glacier and facing Manirang, the highest peak in Spiti. There were many snow leopard tracks on the ridge above, and we were kept entertained by massive avalanches off the North face of Manirang. The ridge above was interesting, with several traverses to avoid obstacles, and one fixed rope to climb a short steep gully. Soon we traversed around the corner to a spur, and there it was, the summit above, and in between straightforward snow slopes, but our troubles were only beginning! We were immediately into deep powder and sugar, and if that was not enough, more often that not a collapsing crust! With the help of Thendrup, breaking trail, determination overcame exhaustion (only just in my case), and we were on the summit 4.5 hours after leaving camp. We decided to call it Snaght Kang, after my favourite mountain in Inishowen (joke) but it seemed appropriate, the views from the top were magnificent, and it proved the ideal viewpoint to survey the unexplored Singekang area. Photos were taken, and the descent was also initially unpleasant, but three hours later, we were back at ABC feeling well pleased with ourselves.

A six to seven hour big load carry the next day had us back at Pomrang and camping in Nawang’s orchard.

This was always going to be a long shot! To book a peak that no one has ever seen, via a valley that no one has ever been up, may seem optimistic, but that was the main attraction. There are no records within the IMF, the Alpine Club, the Himalayan Club or the AAC of any incursions into this particular valley, and it is an obvious hole in the map, particularly as it is so close to Manirang and the highest peaks in Spiti. We found the Leomann Map no 6 reasonably accurate in the circumstances, and were able to tie it up with Google earth, from a number of viewpoints, most notably Snaght Kang, although there were variances in the heights given. The Singekang valley’s right wall is made up of the precipitous north faces of a number of 6000 m peaks, including Manirang, and there are few areas of weakness, whereas the left, south facing, side tends to be easier angled, is mostly bereft of snow, and mainly covered in stones and thorny scrub. The valley culminates in a huge flat glacial col, to the northeast of Singekang, gradually descending to Yaling Lungpa and the Hangrang valley.

An attempt on Singekang in the Spiti Himalaya. The team made the first ascent of a 5500 m peak, which they named as Snaght Kang.



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10 CB – 9

First Ascent in Alpine Style
Tarun K. Roy

Chandrabhaga mountain range is located in the Lahaul & Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh (popularly known as CB range) encircled by Bhaga river from north to southwest and Chandra river from northeast to south direction. CB range consist about 57 lofty peaks between the height above 5000 m and below 7000 m. CB - 9 stands in isolation in the northeastern part of CB range.

Most of the peaks of CB range have already been climbed and some of them repeatedly but CB - 9 (6108 m) has remained virgin even after several attempts: a Japanese expedition in 1982, the IMF expedition in 2004 and a Cyprus-British expedition in July 2010. I planned to attempt this lofty peak alpine style. No information or earlier expedition reports of CB - 9 were available in the IMF so I thoroughly studied an old edition of the Survey of India contour map, a ridge map and Google Earth search which enabled me to find the physical location of CB - 9.

It was early August and due to continuous heavy rain the road was blocked at several places beyond Manali including Rohthang pass. We left Manali anyway on 08 August but were stuck at several places. We reached Chandra tal in the afternoon and established our camp. Chandra tal is located on the Batal - Baralacha la trekking route, a popular destination for the trekkers and adventure tourists as it is a huge transparent high altitude lake at 4270 m. Weather conditions in Lahaul & Spiti were better than the Kullu valley but it was always cloudy and windy. Initially, we were disappointed to know that crossing the fast flowing two main rivers en route was impossible as water levels had increased due to monsoon rain and there had been no movement of any trekking team either from Chandra tal to Baralacha la or the other way across Tokpo Gongma and Tokpo Yongma river for the last 10 to 12 days. We observed different climate patterns in Lahaul & Spiti area - if there was windy weather during late afternoon then there were clear skies with good weather till next noon otherwise it was usually cloudy and rainy.

CB – 9 massif. (Tanna Roy)

CB – 9 massif. (Tanna Roy)

Due to late arrival of hired mules from Kullu valley we were detained for one day at Chandra tal but made a recce of the approach route. We started our approach march on 10 August along the Chandra valley and en route, on the other side of Chandra river got clear view of other prominent peaks of CB range like CB - 22, CB - 34, CB - 35, CB - 57, Samundar Tapu glacier and once a glance of the rocky south face of CB - 9. For the first day it was a long and strenuous approach for us along scree slope and a total of 11 streams and rivers to cross up to Tokpo Gongma till evening. We camped at approximately 4200 m near the river. Next day we crossed the fast flowing Tokpo Gongma river after two hours’ efforts with the help of ropes while the mules refused to cross the increasing water level with loads. Each mule was forcibly pushed with a rope to cross the river – it was an experience of a lifetime. We went across four other rivers and streams before reaching the other strong river Tokpo Yongma and camped (c. 4300 m) near the river.

The next morning was rainy and windy but later it turned almost clear. Instead of moving we stayed one more day and climbed up the slope about 300 m to see the view of CB - 9 on the other side of Chandra valley but it was difficult to identify the summit and its climbing route. We tried our best to cross the Tokp Yongma river the next morning but failed even after three hours’ continuous effort. The muleteers finally managed to get their mules across and established a camp on the riverbank. We made a bivouac with polythene sheets under a rock for the night.

Next morning, we crossed the river by Tyrolean traverse, climbed the ridge, moved down on other side of Chandra river again and established our 4th camp (c. 4400 m). We had a clear view of CB - 9 with its inner circled snow ridge and a small glacier bowl in the centre. A small stream flowed down the northeast and a higher snow ridge overlapped the inner circled ridge on southwest.

We failed to directly cross the Chandra river but after an hour’s approach along the upstream we crossed the river just opposite Mulkila glacier and then walked downstream along the right bank of the river up to Tokpo Yongma. Further, the mules failed to cross the strong stream flowing down from the glacier and having no other alternative we established our unplanned base camp (approx. 4557 m) much before our originally planned site. Two members Subrata and Ludar managed to cross the river and did a recce of the route for ABC. Approach from Chandra tal to ABC across 19 rivers and streams in eight days was itself a big challenge before climbing CB - 9.

We established Tyrolean traverse over the stream and decided to ferry loads to ABC directly instead of to originally proposed base camp. We hired three porters for load ferry then traversed the grassy outer slopes of the inner circled ridge. We ferried ration and equipment for four days and established unplanned ABC (c. 5110 m) above the glacier bank originating from CB - 53.

On 17 August we occupied ABC and did a recce of the further route by traversing the same ridge up to the lateral moraine (5310 m) of the glacier and found gap between the inner circled snow ridge and overlapped outer snow ridge. We explored two routes for climbing and discussed the selection of climbing routes. One climbing route was opened along the southeast vertical rocky ridge by Sonam, Ludar and Subrata by fixing ropes and the other climbing route was opened by me along a very steep north snow face of the ridge approached from the glacier side accompanied by Goutam. Both the teams reached at the height of 5460 m and established the summit camp. We had an uncomfortable night’s stay with five members squeezed in a two-man tent due to a mistake in packing the correct tent.

Further, weather conditions deteriorated with a thick cloud cover and rain. We had no option but to cancel the day’s climbing and rest. The next morning, 20 August dawned with clear weather. We started climbing the steep snow face. I disagreed with Subrata’s traditional supported climbing with the help of fixed ropes as I wanted to try alpine style climbing. The members were therefore given an opportunity to alternately open the route. As we were nearing the summit the weather condition further turned cloudy and hazy. CB - 53 was closer and looked really ashamed about being invisible. The surrounding peaks, inner circled snowy crested ridge, CB - 53 glacier, CB - 55 and CB - 57 were visible. Ludar and I reached the summit at 12.35 p.m. and soon the weather turned to white-out all around with least visibility and started snowing. We had a glimpse of the surrounding peaks like Mulkila in the west, CB - 53 in the adjacent southwest, CB - 55 nearer southeast, CB - 57 on the far southeast, inner circled snowy ridge in the northeast and even Chandra tal in the far southeast direction. We left a snow bar tied with a National Flag, Buddhist flags and a piece of paper containing the list of the summiteers on the summit as evidence of our successful ascent. We hurriedly descended to the summit camp to avoid being trapped in snowfall and further descended by rappelling along the southeast rocky ridge to ABC. Although we had a plan to attempt the nearby unclimbed CB - 55 too after the ascent of CB - 9, unfavourable weather conditions compelled us to descend. Winding up the ABC, we directly descended to base camp at night. It was very hectic - 14 hours of climbing in one day.

Members: Tarun K. Roy (leader), Goutam Ghosh, Sonam Tshering, Ludar Sain, Subrata Chakraborty

An IMF team made the first ascent of CB – 9 (6108 m) in alpine style.



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11 Two Climbs in Karcha Nala

Tsuneo Suzuki and Kazuo Hoshi

As part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Tokai Section of the Japanese Alpine Club, we decided to send an expedition to the Indian Himalaya. We were attracted by a photo taken by the 2009 expedition members of a beautiful pair of twin peaks covered with snow. Thus we made a plan to climb the unnamed peak (6105 m) near Karcha nala in the summer of 2011. Two peaks are located in the south of Karcha Parvat (6271 m) of which approach is from Karcha nala.

Environs of Karcha nala
Karcha nala is in the to Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, but the route to go there is from Batal in the Lahaul district. Karcha nala is a small river about 17 km long. It joins Chandra river at the point of 1.5 km south of Batal. Karcha Parvat (6271 m) and Fluted peak (6139 m) are dominant on the north side of the river. Four glaciers fan out to the south of the river having length of four to ten kilometres. We tentatively named these glaciers as A, B, C and D starting from the east. The volume of water of Karcha nala is maintained by the streams of these glaciers.

There are 6060 m and 5968 m peaks at the end of A glacier, 6105 m peak at the end of B glacier, 6066 m and 5945 m peaks at the end of C glacier, and 6010 m peak at the end of D glacier. These peaks range from northeast to southwest. Steep rocky ridges of east side ridge line descend straight to Gyundi river. D glacier is the largest and its south head borders on lower Bara Shigri glacier.

The Ascent of 6066 m Unnamed peak in 2009 as narrated by Tsuneo Suzuki
Our plans were based on the ascent record of an Indian party of 1991. We departed from Manali on 30 June 2009 and reached Batal (4000 m) on 2 July. We went up to a spot at a height of 4600 m of South Dakka glacier for acclimatisation and returned to Batal.

Arche (6066 m).

Arche (6066 m).

Chemma (6105 m).

Chemma (6105 m).

The expedition started from Batal for base camp on 6 July. We went along a dry riverbed on the north side of Karcha nala. Then we traversed a fragile cliff and passed big snow bridges going to the south side. After crossing the small river twice, we established base camp on level ground at 4400 m.

Karcha nala.

Karcha nala.

From the base camp we found no snow on the ridge toward peak Karcha Parvat. And we realised how difficult it is to attain the top of Karcha Parvat because of lack of water. We changed our goal from Karcha Parvat to another peak upriver of Karcha nala.

We established Camp 1 on the level site at 4700 m on 13 July. We progressed further into the craggy glacier of south side of Camp 1 and found a beautiful snow–covered peak behind a snowfield. We temporarily named this C glacier and set this peak as our target. Camp 2 was established on the C glacier at an altitude of 5200 m on 17 July.

Three Japanese members and four high altitude supporters started from Camp 2 an 18 July at 5.30 a.m. Suzuki, Adachi and one high altitude supporter gave up climbing at the height of 5400 m because of a deep snow. Matsubara and three high altitude supporters pushed ahead on the steep slope and finally reached the top of the snow-covered peak (6066 m) at 2.30 p.m. They were unable to get a good panoramic photograph because of mist. We gathered at base camp on 20 July and returned to Manali. The adventure of three elderly persons in summer ended. We suggest that this beautiful snow peak can be called ‘Ache’ which means ‘the daughter’ in Lahaul language.

Leader: Tsuneo Suzuki (74)

Members: Ritsuyu Matsubara (75), Naoyuki Adachi (66)

First Ascent of Chemma Peak (6105 m) in 2011 as narrated by Kazuo Hoshi
Our expedition was organised by five elderly members of the club who still wish to pursue the pleasures of exploration despite limited physical abilities. The expedition was fixed for 40 days, from 15 July to 23 August 2011. The main objective of our expedition was that all members, who are an average of 65 years old, climb a beautiful dome shaped mountain located at the headwaters of Karcha nala.

On 26 July, although it rained heavily and there was a landslide at Rohtang pass (3978 m), we left Manali at 3.00 p.m.and arrived at Chhatru (3330 m) at about 8.00 p.m. On 27 July we reached Batal (3980 m) in the afternoon.

Base camp/ Camp 1/ Camp 2/ Camp 3
30 July: We started with a caravan of horses to base camp via Karcha nala. Travelling along same route as that of 2009 expedition, we set up base bamp (4400 m) in the afternoon, on a dry riverbed located near the headstream originating from Karcha Parvat.

3 August: We set up Camp 1 at 4700 m. We advanced deep into the craggy glacier of north side of Camp 1 and found a beautiful snow-crested peak behind a snowfield which we set as our target. Camp 2 was set up at the snout of glacier B (5250 m) on 6 August.

6 August: We looked for the location of Camp 3 (5550 m) and decided that the route of the northeast face was the best one.

7 August: All Japanese members who stayed in Camp 2 decided to set up Camp 3 (5550 m) on the glacier B. That was a dangerous zone as high altitude could cause sickness so we prepared the oxygen cylinders to keep in good health. We carefully escaped falling rocks and hidden crevasses but at night, it began to snow continuously making us all a bit depressed.

Approach to the northeast ridge
9 August: We woke up at 4 a.m., but the top of the mountain could not be seen from Camp 3 as it was covered with clouds. The snow conditions however seemed good. At 7:30 a.m., we started climbing the steep slope with deep snow and one hour later, we reached the snowfield. There were many crevasses in some places. Our oldest member, Shinohara (72) went up with slow but certain steps. On the way, the sky cleared and the strong sunshine bothered us.

After many difficulties, we finally reached the top of the snow-covered peak (6105 m) at 11.25 a.m. It was narrower than I thought from the image of Google. Moreover, it was dangerous, because of the soft snow covering the ridge. Unfortunately, we were not able to take panoramic photographs, because the narrow space didn’t allow us to do so. We returned to Camp 2 at 2 p.m.

15 August: We reached Batal in 4 days. Unexpected heavy snow and rain stopped our road passage along Chandra river. Finally, we decided to travel via to Kaja (3550 m) through Kunzum la (4550 m) on 17 August.

Leader: Kazuo Hoshi (60)

Members: Yutaka Shinohara (72), Hitoshi Ishii (68) and Katsumi Kuze (63)

Two ascents were made by elderly mountaineers from Japan in the Karcha nala. One team climbed an unnamed peak (6066 m) in 2009 and the other team made a first ascent of another unnamed peak (6105 m) in 2011.



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12 Paradise of Hidden Untrodden Peaks in Southern Zanskar

Exploration of Lenak Nala and Giabul Nala in 2011
Kimikazu Sakamoto

In 2009, we explored Reru valley in Zanskar and found many unknown virgin peaks in this area. We presumed that there might be other hidden valleys in southern Zanskar of Indian Himalaya, which no mountaineers had ever explored.

I contacted Harish Kapadia, a leading explorer to understand whether any exploration record about Lenak nala and Giabul nala had been reported or not. He kindly replied that he had never heard any exploration record in these valleys.

We went to Lenak nala and Giabul nala during 4 August to 15 September 2011, to explore the unknown and untrodden peaks with five members, Akira Taniguchi, Toshio Ito, Sachiyuki Hatta, Mitsuhiko Okabe and me, the leader, Kimikazu Sakamoto. Our team consisted of members between 70 to 73 years of age.

There are many mountains in Lenak nala and Giabul nala, 15 peaks over 6000 m, 10 peaks of 5900 m, eight peaks of 5800 m and 15 peaks of 5700 m. We tentatively named mountains as L1, L2 and L3 for mountains of Lenak nala and G1, G2 and G3 for Giabul nala mountains on our Outline Map, in order to avoid confusion in our identification of the mountains.

In order to identify unknown mountains we got Google Earth 3D photographs and put the identification labels on the photos.

After a six-day journey by flight and car from Delhi and Leh, we reached Padum on 11 August. In Padum, we enjoyed Sani Gompa Festival on 12 August and started trekking on 13 August to Shanka, the entrance for Lenak nala.

Padam - Shanka
13 August: We left Padam before noon. The BRO (Border Road Organisation) road construction between Padam and Darcha via Shingo la has progressed in these years. In 2007 when we explored Reru valley, the road was opened only up to Reru village. But now, we could reach Dorzong by mini bus.

14 August: We reached Tsetan(3800 m) with horses.

15 August: We reached Testa (3968 m) via Zamthang. We saw the wonderful rock paintings at Zamthang which reminded me of Africa’s rock paintings by Bushmen in Drakensberg area.

17 August: We finally arrived at Shanka (4234 m) which is the entrance village to Lenak nala. Shanka is a small village with only four houses and about 20 people. Lenak nala was a river with rapid stream water. There was a good bridge to cross leading to Yak pastures.

Exploration of Lenak nala
18 August: We could see the open and wide Lenak nala from Shanka village. We crossed the bridge to the left side of Lenak nala from the village and enjoyed a pleasant walk on the green meadows. We found many nice grazing grounds where Yaks were enjoying their lives. Looking at the attractive rock mountain P. 5665 m (L1) on our right side, we came to a wonderful place with small pond in the pasture. We found a yak hut on the big and flat grazing ground, but there was no clean water. We decided to set up our camping site (4519 m) at the next pasture which had a good clear water stream. From this camping site, we could see a colourful mountain P. 5837 m (L2).

From left, P. 6070m (L15) and P. 6180 m (L14) in the left branch of Lenak nala. (Kimikazu Sakamo)

From left, P. 6070m (L15) and P. 6180 m (L14) in the left branch of Lenak nala. (Kimikazu Sakamo)

19 August: We took a short walk to the junction (4620 m) of Lenak nala to check the available route to the right branch. There was a waterfall on the right branch about 300 m above the junction. But, we judged that it was possible for horses to carry our baggage on the right side grassy slope to the higher plateau. There were beautiful flowers between the camping site and the junction, including blue poppies. For acclimatisation, we stayed at the same camping site on this day. I climbed up to 4780 m to see the right branch of Lenak nala. P. 6020 m (L8) and Skilma Kangri (5970 m) which had been climbed by a British expedition in the autumn of 2009.

20 August: We intended to set up our Lenak nala base camp around 4830 m. But, our horsemen unloaded our baggage at a lower altitude (4718 m), insisting that there was no green grass higher up for feeding horses. I should have ordered our horsemen to carry our baggage up to about 4800 m just before the glacier tongue, allowing them to return after the task.

21 August: Today we would explore several untrodden peaks over 6000 m in Lenak nala glacier. Soon after leaving our base camp, we could see the beautiful snow peak mountain P. 6070 m(L15) and the big rock wall mountain P. 6180 m (L14) on our left side. The beautiful elegant mountain P. 6070 m (L15) can be called the Prince of Lenak or Lenak Kangri. The big rocky mountain could be the King of Lenak.

We climbed up the moraine and saw the pyramidal peak P. 5975 m (G3) in the glacier of P. 6070 m (L15). We climbed up several moraine hills with unstable stones and reached the glacier. We walked on the glacier roped up for safety. On our right side, we could see the rocky front of P. 6080 m (L13) and the snowy main peak of P. 6080 m (L13) over the moraine.

When we passed the west end of P. 6180 m (L14), we could see P. 6128 m (R33) which is the mountain on the border between Reru valley and Lenak nala. Just before P. 6180 m (R33), there was another rock mountain P. 6054 m (R32) which looks like a tough mountain to climb.

It was already 2.00 p.m. We decided to go down to base camp, as we are elderly, slow walkers needing to reach there before sunset. We struggled while walking down the unstable moraine and reached base camp at 7.00 p.m., exhausted.

On this day, we had identified five unknown 6000 m peaks, P. 6070 m (L15), P. 6180 m (L14),

P. 6080 m (L13), P. 6128 m (R33) and P. 6054 m (R32).

23 August: After a day of rest we walked on the right side of Lenak nala and reached the junction of the left and right branch. It was an easy walk up the grassy slope on the right side of the river, looking at the water fall on our left. Then, we went up on the right side of several moraines in the right branch of Lenak nala. After crossing the stream of the right branch to the left, we reached our camp site (5040 m) near a glacial lake.

24 August: We went to the first glacier of Lenak nala right branch. Over the glacier lake, we could see P. 6020 m (L8)and P. 6165 m (L10) which was protected by steep icy wall. After walking on the moraine, we saw the rocky mountain P. 6140 m (L9) on the right side of the first glacier. On our left side, there was P. 6045 m (L11) which had icy steep walls. We could see four unknown 6000 m peaks as we went down to our camp because the weather was getting worse.

Exploration of Giabul nala
26 August: As there are many branches in Giabul nala, we tentatively named two big branches.

We decided to name the longest branch Namkha Tokpo, which has three 6000 m peaks, P. 6005 m (G18), P. 6060 m (G20) and P. 6165 m (G22). Sachi Tokpo was the name given to the next big branch which has two 6000 m peaks, P. 6078 m (G14) and P. 6005 m (G18).

We walked down to the bridge at Shanka village and crossed over the small hill to enter Giabul nala. This river is bigger and wider than Lenak nala and was very rapid with much water. It seemed impossible for us to cross Giabul nala. We proceeded on the right bank of Giabul nala and saw several yak huts with yaks on the grazing grounds. At one place, we could not walk alongside the river so we climbed up a steep cliff for about 300 m on the right slope. The rocky mountain P. 5865 m (G21) was located at the junction of Namkha Tokpo. We pitched our tent (4254 m) on the other side of Namkha Tokpo.

P. 6115 m (G22) in Namkha Tokpo. (Kimikazu Sakamoto)

P. 6115 m (G22) in Namkha Tokpo. (Kimikazu Sakamoto)

27 August: We walked on the right side of Giabul nala, saying Namaste to many Yaks. We saw the challenging peak P. 5935 m (G19) on the left side of the river. This peak is sharp with rock and ice and looks difficult to climb. We set up Giabul nala base camp (4409 m) just opposite P. 5935 m (G19).

At the junction of the left glacier and right glacier of Giabul nala, there was the rock mountain P. 5686 m (G8). Two high snow mountains were seen beyond P. 5686 m (G8). According to the map, there should be P. 5700 m (G7) and P. 5754 m (G6), but these mountains looked too high, maybe over 6000 m.

In the afternoon, Ito and Okabe made a reconnaissance up to the glacier tongue and found a possible route to climb the rocky hill on the right side of the water fall.

28 August: We wanted to get into the left glacier of Giabul nala to see two unknown peaks P. 6014 m (G11) and P. 6078 m (G14). As it was impossible for us to cross over the rapid stream before the glacier tongue, we tried to climb up the icy moraine cliff with many unstable small stones and then to traverse to the left glacier. I climbed up this moraine cliff and thought we could reach the top without much difficulty. But our guide and horsemen insisted that I go down, saying that it was too risky and dangerous because of falling stones on the unstable moraine cliff. As the weather was not so good, with black clouds looming, I decided to follow their advice and give up exploration of the left glacier. It was with regret that we lost our chance to see the unknown peaks P. 6014 m (G11) and P. 6078 m (G14) in the left glacier.

30 August: Only five expedition members would go to explore Sachi Tokpo to identify P. 6078 m (G14) and P. 6005 m (G18). Our support team went down Giabul nala to set up our camping site near grazing grounds.

We crossed the hand-made stone bridge. We walked down on the left bank of Giabul nala. Sachi Tokpo had many waves of the steep moraines with unstable stones. We could see P. 5720 m (G15) and P. 5895 m (G16) at the T-junction of Sachi Tokpo. After climbing up one steep moraine hill, there was another big moraine waiting for us. P. 6078 m (G14) and P. 6005 m (G18) can be observed only from the T-junction which was still very far. It was already 12.20 p.m. As we had to walk another 400 to 500 m to reach the T-junction, we decided to go down in order to reach our camp site before sunset.

We thus regretfully missed these two unknown 6000 m peaks in Sachi Tokpo. And, we realised how our walking pace was slow because of our old age.

We had to cross over Sachi Tokpo at the junction with Giabul nala. Even branch rivers like Sachi Tokpo had rapid streams with much water. We crossed Sachi Tokpo with a rope to avoid any risk.

31 August: We visited the yak hut near the junction with Namkha Tokpo. A kind woman explained that there was a good yak trail on the left side of Namkha Tokpo.

1 September: We crossed Namkha Tokpo on horses, as the stream was very rapid even in the early morning. There was a good and clear yak trail on the left side of Namkha Tokpo. After passing the first small branch from the left side, Namkha Tokpo became very wide. Our guide and horsemen decided to set up Namkha Tokpo base camp (4620 m) on the right side at the foot of a grassy cliff. We agreed to their decision though we wished to go up higher, but they insisted there was no good spot for camping. In the afternoon, Ito, Okabe and I had a short hike up to 4750 m, just before another branch under P. 5840 m (G25) which is a very attractive mountain.

2 September: From the foot of P. 5840 m (G25), we could see the overwhelming mountain P. 6115 m (G22) at the T-junction. But, the switch back moraines were very strenuous. Though exhausted, we finally reached the T-junction just under big rock wall of P. 6115 m (G22). From that point, P. 6005 m (G18) became visible. And, we could see P. 6060 m (G20) on the right side corner of Namkha Tokpo. All of us were very happy to see these three hidden peaks over 6000 m in Giabul nala area, in addition to nine unknown peaks over 6000 m in Lenak nala area, a total of 12 peaks, all of which maybe virgin peaks. We shook hands and hugged each other, celebrating our successful exploration in southern Zanskar.

We hope young climbers will come to Lenak nala or Giabul nala to try their first ascents of the attractive virgin peaks which we found during this exploration.

Explorations in Lenak nala and Giabul nala of Zanskar Himalaya by an elderly Japanese team.



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13 In the Footsteps of Fanny

Canadian/American All-Women Pinnacle Peak Expedition
Alison Criscitiello

There is a moment on almost every climb when you know whether you are going to make it or not. Sometimes it comes three steps away from the summit, and sometimes it comes weeks before. The moment when I knew we would look across a frozen high sky at the Karakoram in the rising sun, down on the Nun Kun massif, on White Needle and the Shafat valley below from the summit of Pinnacle Peak, was when we climbed over the last curve of the Swiss face at 6130 m. A communal sigh of relief between the three of us! The hardest part was behind us. A final hard push and some patience, and we would be there.

But let’s start at the beginning. Rebecca Haspel and Kate Harris of Canada met up with me in Delhi. We chose this peak because the first recorded ascent was in 1906 was by Fanny Bullock Workman, one of the earliest American female explorers and mountaineers. With her ascent of Pinnacle Peak with her husband, she claimed the women’s altitude record for her time. No all-women’s team had ever attempted Pinnacle Peak. We decided a climb ‘in the footsteps of Fanny’ was in order. While we didn’t climb in the early 1900s style of woolen skirts and hob-nailed boots, we climbed in our own style: no high altitude porters, just us three women.

Summit Ridge

Summit Ridge

In Delhi, Rebecca, Kate and I met with the wonderful and inspiring folks at the IMF and finalised our permit. We met Brijesh Hatwal, our liason officer and soon-to-be dear friend. We travelled from Delhi to Leh where we acclimatised for a few days, exploring the markets and stupas. On 1 August, we drove in a truck from Leh to Kargil. After Brijesh received the final permissions for our expedition in Kargil the following day, we drove the rest of the ‘road’ to the head of the Shafat valley where we would access the Nun Kun massif. The police stop there was our last hoop to jump through before we would set off into to the mountains. The police officer told us that there was no way three women could go climbing there without a man. We were told we were not allowed to set off on foot up the valley until he received a radio call from his commanding officer who signed our permit, confirming that he gave us permission to climb.

We camped that night on the edge of the Suru river within sight of the police stop feeling frustrated and powerless. Thanks to Brijesh, after three days of negotiation they let us go. As we began our hike into the base camp, the police officer’s words rang in my head – ‘They are three women, what can they do? Do they realise there is snow and ice up there?’ While we were hiking into the base camp, Brijesh said when the IMF requested him to be the liaison officer on our trip, he originally refused as we were three women with no men, and we wanted to climb without porters. He said he changed his mind after he saw our resumes and experience. ‘I could learn a lot from these women.’

For two days, with the help of three horsemen and seven horses, we hiked with all our gear up the verdant valley and ancient lateral moraine to the base camp. Our base camp at 4420 m is used by most climbers trying to gain access to Nun and Kun. Rock walls and a large cairn with prayer flags sit in the quiet centre of the surrounding peaks. Avalanches all around are constant. The morning after we arrived, Kate awoke with whatever nasty bug I had just gotten over. Rebecca and I carried a load of our gear and fuel to a spot just below where we would put our Camp 1, following moraine cairns until we hit the snow and ascended toward Rabbit Rock. We left the gear load and returned to the base camp. The following day the three of us moved to Camp 1 just below Rabbit Rock (5486 m). Brijesh came up with us, and it was here we said goodbye as he descended back to the base camp. We would check in with him over radio in the days to come. Every day at noon when we called to check in, he’d ask how ‘the Angels’ were doing. ‘We’re doing well, Charlie.’

After reaching Camp 1 we rested and acclimatised, taking a short trip up to 5791 m on Rabbit Rock and then returned to our tent. The next day Rebecca and I climbed over Rabbit Rock and headed out on the standard route to Nun and Kun. Just below Rabbit Rock was heavily crevassed and open. After some walking on air, we traversed to the base of White Needle. We got up close to 5943 m and through a clearing in the hail storm that day could see there was way too much un-avalanched snow on the upper step to safely gain the massif from this route. We returned to Camp 1, and discussed our one option which had most recently denied a British/Austrian team attempting Kun a couple weeks earlier. After one more rest/acclimatisation day at Camp 1, we left for the Swiss face.

Climbing the Swiss face. (Rebecca Haspel)

Climbing the Swiss face. (Rebecca Haspel)

We began the move at 2.30 a.m. with all of our gear. From Camp 1, we headed straight up toward the large rock to the right of Rabbit Rock. We traversed closely below the rock as a big crevasse was open below it. Once around the rock, we ascended the snow straight up on a running belay using pickets. By 9.00 a.m. the snow was getting very soft and we were at the only slope break on the face, so we made a bivvy spot on the flattest rock perch we could find (5842 m). We moved rocks on the ridge for an hour and made a small bivy nest after dinner. We ascended two pitches of the Swiss face and left a bag of gear ice screwed onto the wall for the next day, returning to our bivvy spot to sleep. What could have been an awful, uncomfortable night was still, calm, and full of stars above and clouds below. We watched a lightning storm over Pakistan. The mountains looked like they were on fire. We could see serious storms around us in the distance, but had no idea of the flooding going on in Leh and Pakistan. It would be a few weeks before we knew.

The following day was for me the toughest day of the climb. We climbed from our bivvy spot up the Swiss face (6 pitches) in a single carry with all gear except the duffel left behind on the wall which we would retrieve later. We fixed lines on the Swiss face as follows: (1) Pitch 1, very steep, 2 pickets and a v-thread, (2) Pitch 2, very steep, ice screw directional, (3) Pitch 3, very steep, picket and v-thread, (4) Pitch 4, very crevassed and open, 2 pickets, (5) Pitch 5, rising traverse, 2 pickets, (6) Pitch 6, rising traverse, 2 pickets. We made our Camp 2 about 25 m from the top of the Swiss face, on the broad flat massif (6131 m). Standing atop the Swiss face, I knew we had everything we needed to make it to the top. The hardest part was over.

In the morning Rebecca and I left at 3.00 a.m. from Camp 2 and down-climbed the top four pitches of the Swiss face to retrieve our bag of gear on the wall. We ascended again and reached Camp 2 around 8.00 a.m. The three of us acclimatised, fueled up and rested the remainder of the day and that night at Camp 2. While we could have made a summit attempt from there, we decided to find a high camp spot closer to the base of Pinnacle Peak to shorten our summit day. We left at 3.00 a.m. and wound our way across the massif on the broad glacier. Something I can’t put into words that makes mountaineering so addictive, I could feel in every step I took that day. Navigating the glacier in the dark, the entire world is reduced to what falls in your headlamp beam. The rest of the world falls away. It forces you to be present, and to focus only and literally on your next step. One foot plunged into snow, one mind plunged into now. As the sun rose, we chose a great flat spot on the glacier about a half hour from the base of the Kun/Pinnacle col for our high camp (6273 m).

The three of us left at midnight for the summit. We ascended to the col, and continued for around 70 m further up the ridge above the col before we decided to turn around. At about 400 m below the summit, very bad weather was moving in bringing with it snow, wind, poor visibility and softening snow conditions. We returned to the high camp, spirits a little low although we all knew we made the smart, safe decision. By the evening, Rebecca and I were feeling very strong for another attempt. To give the team the best chance at summiting the next morning, Kate decided to return to the high camp from the base of the col while Rebecca and I climbed on, fast and light to the summit. We had left high camp at midnight, and in a half hour were at the bottom of the steep face between Pinnacle Peak and Kun. We ascended the face directly to the col and traversed the ridgeline toward Pinnacle Peak. Once the ridgeline steepened for the final 250 m or so, we crossed the upper face of Pinnacle on a rising traverse. At 6.30 a.m. on 16 August, we were standing on the summit as the sun rose. We looked out at the Himalayan peaks I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. At the Karakoram, at Pakistan, at India and Kashmir. Our speck of a high camp far below. We took it in quickly and came down fast, boot-skiing and glissading down from the col. We arrived back to the high camp around 8.30a.m. It was so good to be back with Kate again. She had taken some amazing photos of the two of us on top, which would prove to be needed in convincing some people we did indeed make the summit.

We rested and slept at the high camp, and descended to Camp 2 the following day. We left Camp 2 at midnight descending with all gear to the base camp, arriving around 10 a.m. The top three pitches of the Swiss face took extra time to descend because our fixed lines had been buried beneath snow and ice. When we took our first step off snow and ice and onto rocky moraine, Brijesh and Dilli Ram were there to greet us. Reluctantly, we hiked out the stunning Shafat valley, back to the Suru valley that would take us back to Leh.

While the success of a climb can be measured in many ways, on this particular climb there was incentive to stand on top. Standing on top of something is not my normal measure of success. But there was a feeling of importance to doing so on this climb that was hard to shake because of the difficulties and skepticism we met on the way from Leh through Kargil to the police post at the head of the Shafat valley. It was quite a feeling, to return to the IMF in Delhi and be able to report to the men who work there and were rooting for us that we made it. We stood on top. And we can’t wait to return to India.

Harish Kapadia adds: The historic first ascent of Pinnacle Peak was made in 1906 via the southeast ridge by American Fanny Bullock Workman with Savoye (her guide), and a porter. At the time it was the highest summit reached by a woman, and close to human altitude record. The ascent is well recorded in the Workmans’ 1909 book, Peaks and Glaciers of Nun Kun. The first editor of the Himalayan Journal, Kenneth Mason, created doubts about this ascent through his writings, although he never wrote explicitly that he doubted the ascent; “Mrs. Bullock Workman claimed to have ascended to 23,300’, to the summit of a peak which she named Pinnacle Peak, and which she persistently referred to as the second highest peak of the group. Her heights and this statement were at variance with previously triangulated values”.

This was published in A note on the topography of the Nun Kun Massif in Ladakh, and later repeated in Mason’s scholarly work, Abode of Snow. The use of the word ‘claimed’ fuelled a certain controversy, though it is not clear whether Mason doubted Workman’s ascent, or whether he, as a surveyor, was only discussing the height she gave to the peak.

Bivy spot on the Swiss face. (Alison Criscitiello)

Bivy spot on the Swiss face. (Alison Criscitiello)

Bivy spot on the Swiss face. (Alison Criscitiello)

Bivy spot on the Swiss face. (Alison Criscitiello)

Kun Pinnacle Peak col. (Rebecca Haspel)

Kun Pinnacle Peak col. (Rebecca Haspel)

Over the years, other teams have also climbed this summit, particularly in the 1980s, and referred to it as Pinnacle Peak. These ascents have been well-recorded in various journals, and photos taken of the summit show it to be the same as that which appears on the front cover of the Workmans’ book, confirming Fanny Bullock Workman’s claim. Modern maps have renamed it Lingsarmo, and quote both Nun and Kun as 7135 m, making Workman’s peak the third highest in the group. It appears on the official list of new peaks opened for climbing in 2009.

An ascent of Pinnacle Peak (also known as Lingsarmo) by an all women team.



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14 The First Ascent of Mari

Pangong Range in Ladakh, India
Masato Oki

The Tochigi Indian Himalayan Expedition was organised by Tochigi Kennan Alpine Association. Three Japanese members and the climbing guide climbed Mari East, 6585 m, (‘Red mountain’ in Ladakhi language) on 11 July 2011 at 10.50 a.m. It was the first ascent of Mari East in the Pangong range of Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir.

Mari mountain massif is locally known as the Marama Ri mountain massif. There are several peaks above 6000 m in this massif. Amongst those peaks, Mari East is the highest. It is actually a twin peak. Two prominent points - the East 6585 m and the West 6560 m are joined by a suspended ridge.

Mari West (6560 m) was first climbed by an Indian Navy team in 2004 via Nlyunguk Lungpa as named Konchuk Tso (‘Water God’ in Ladakhi language). In the past the East peak (6585 m) was also attempted by two Japanese expeditions, it continued to remain the highest unclimbed peak in the Pangong range. It is a sharp ridged and pyramid shaped mountain with rock and snow - a very interesting possibility for any mountaineer.

After several days preparation/acclimatisation in Leh city, on 1 July 2011, the team started its journey towards Pangong range via Chang la (5360 m) and ended at Tangtse for the night.

Establishment of base camp/ Camp 1/ Camp 2
The party moved to Kaungsi phu from Parma village with all members, staff and logistics and established base camp at an altitude of 4600 m on that day. The Kaungsi phu is on the east side of Pangong range located in grass fields. From next day the party climbed Kaungsi phu which has no water, two kilometres wide and gradually went up on sandy and rocky hillocks searching for the proper route. On 03 July 2011 on the moraine of the Mari southeast glacier we decided to establish Camp 1 at 5600 m. There was a small stream for drinking water. We started to ferry loads from base camp on 05 July and on the upper part of the Mari southeast glacier at 5800 m Camp 2 was established. The snowy peak of Mari East was seen from Camp 2 on the left and on the right the unnamed peak 6531 m (tentatively named ‘Rock Headwear’ by the Japanese Alpine Club, Ishikawa Section expedition in 2007) could be seen along with the rock face/wall of the unnamed peak.

Mari East, first ascent
The first summit party started from Camp 2 at 3 a.m. on 11 July 2011 and reached the top at 10.50 a.m. The temperature at 3 a.m. was minus 8 degrees with slightly windy and cloudy weather. Kazunari Ouchi with Dawa Sherpa and Norio Katayanagi with Isamu Kezuka made two rope parties. They started on the snow covered area of the rocky wall and moved towards the col between the unnamed peak 6531 m and Mari. The top snow was unstable because of concrete-like hard ice beneath it. Mari southeast glacier is just adjacent to the Mari East snow face. At 4.40 a.m. they reached the col. The dawn made the sky a little brighter and nearby peaks were visible. But cloudy weather stopped the morning sunshine from reaching the area. They climbed up the snow and ice ridge of Mari East continuously. The ridge was wide but the faces of the ridge were sharp on the both sides towards the Mari southeast glacier and the Nimelhok glacier. The ridge fell sharply at about 70 degrees on both sides and the surface was covered with unstable powder snow covering hard ice.

The party continued their climb for about two hours for three pitches of 40 m each. Then they traversed towards the Mari southeast glacier. They had to negotiate some open L-shaped crevasses on the route. After another three continuous pitches of climbing they were threatened by a snow cornice hanging towards the Kaungsi phu side. After an hour they reached another large crevasse. Dawa fell down into it but Ouchi arrested his fall by holding the climbing rope in time.

From C 2 (5800 m) to the col (6000 m).

From C 2 (5800 m) to the col (6000 m).

At 10.25 a.m., exhausted, they reached the snowy peak that was visible from the col. But the summit was still a short distance ahead. With a last surge of power, they were on the Mari East summit at 10.50 a.m. It had taken about eight hours from Camp 2. The summit area was only two m x two m space so only one member could stand up on it. North of Mari East is a sharp 1000 m snow and ice wall to the Nnimelhok Lungpa glacier, a dangerous sight. A little north to it, was Maan (6342 m) which was climbed in August 2007 by the Japanese Alpine Club, Ishikawa Section. A sharp, long, very difficult and dangerous ridge extended to the col of Mari East and the unnamed peak 6537 m.

At the top of Mari East, it was cold but not windy and slightly cloudy. So they could watch surrounding peaks and take many photos of these peaks. Then they started the descent to the col. At 2.10 p.m. they reached the col and rested. Part of the Pangong Tso (4305 m), one of the largest salt lake in inland Asia could be seen from there.

The snow face on the way to Camp 2 had become soft by strong sun and difficult to walk down. At 3.25 p.m. they reached Camp 2 and continued to camp 1 (5600 m).

The team: Leader - Masato Oki (76), climbing leader - Akira Kumekawa (60), members - Kazunari Ouchi (70), Norio Katayanagi (63) and Isamu Kezuka (61).

Liaison officer - Ratnesh S.Gurjar

First ascent of Mari East (6585 m) in the Pangong range by a team from Japan.



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15 Exploring Lalung

Divyesh Muni

The view from the flight to Leh on 1 August 2011 was awe-inspiring. After three consecutive years of troubled weather during our expeditions this was a good beginning. Our destination – the Lalung valley, Zanskar.

  Not much was known of the valley. The Indian Mountaineering Foundation had listed one of the peaks in the valley, Z2 (6152 m) as an unclimbed peak in the ‘open’ list. Harish Kapadia wrote in his article ‘Zanskar Anyone’, ‘Until you reach Pensi la, views in each of the valleys contain challenging peaks – a veritable climber’s playground if height is not the only consideration to climb peaks.’

Our team of five – Rajesh Gadgil, Ajit Bam, Anju Pannikulam, Vineeta Muni and I, decided on an exploratory trip to the valley. We would select our peak depending on the climbing conditions and technicality of the routes on the peaks.

We spent 4 days in Leh, acclimatising, checking our gear and generally having fun. On 5 August, we travelled to Mulbek, just before Kargil. A long and arduous journey over a very broken road brought us to Penjung via Kargil and Ringdom monastery. It was a scenic route with views of the Nun-Khun massif en route. We spent a day at the road head and walked to the Pensi la for acclimatisation.

Laung Valley. (Rajesh Gadgil)

Laung Valley. (Rajesh Gadgil)

An early morning river crossing, followed by a long gradual trek brought us to base camp with half our loads. A mix of men, yak and horses carried our loads in two ferries from the road head to base camp. On the same day, we recceed the route for ABC to get a feel of what lay ahead for us. We were relieved to find a grassy shelf on the true right of the glacier that avoided the main glacial moraine for most of the way. We reached the snout of the glacier and retreated.

On 9 August, we located our ABC on the medial moraine of the glacier at about 4465 m. At the end of the grassy shelf, we crossed onto the centre of the glacier and continued till we found a suitable site for the camp that was protected from the constant winds that swept the glacier.

The next two days were spent in re-packing and checking our equipment and rations and stocking ABC. We shifted camp on 12 August.

On the following day, we enthusiastically explored a route to Camp 1 on the glacier. As the peaks opened up around us, we experienced mixed emotions. The peaks were beautiful, exciting and challenging. However, the glacier had opened up and we could see the crevasse lines all along. Huge bergschrunds separated the peaks from the glacier. It would be a challenge to gain access to the peaks. We kept pushing the route further up the glacier, hoping to gain access to some of the peaks at the head of the glacier. By afternoon the weather packed up and we could no longer see the terrain around us. We hoped the terrain would improve further up.

We started stocking Camp 1. The weather remained unstable and kept us in our tents for a day. Finally on 17 August, we shifted to Camp 1 despite the weather, hoping it would settle. That evening the snow dampened our moods.

With great excitement, we started off early next morning to survey the peaks at the head of the glacier. Within a few hundred metres of the camp, we were faced with a maze of crevasses. We slowly made our way across the glacier to the true right, where it appeared to be less broken. We gained about 300 m in height after a few hours of weaving around crevasses till we reached a vantage point from which we could study the peaks around. The glacier was so badly broken that it would take us days to gain access to any of the peaks. Also the bottom 300 m of the peaks were exposed to heavy rock fall from above. The climbing conditions were not safe for us to attempt the peaks. Reluctantly, we decided to turn back and wind up Camp 1.

On 19 August, we moved back to ABC. On our way down, we explored a possible route to peaks 6349 m and 6253 m. A huge crevasse had cut off access to the higher snow and ice field leading to the summit ridge. A study of peak 5404 m on the left of the glacier, gave us hope to attempt at least one climb. We were back to ABC excited at the renewed prospect of attempting a climb.

We shifted to our high camp on 22 August. The campsite was dramatic. It was perched on a rocky shelf with the glacier draining on both sides of the camp. The views around of the peaks were stupendous. We decided on an early start for the climb.

We were off by 4 a.m. The terrain was over rock ... a series of scrambles zigzagging up for about 300 m. We stopped for some breath-taking views of sunrise. The changing shades of colours as the sun lit up the peaks and glaciers all around us made the moment magical. We reached the ice wall by about 6 a.m. and put on our harness and crampons. The angle was not too steep, but the ice was hard. We took nearly 3 hours to negotiate the 300 m of ice. The sun was out and the heat was getting unbearable. We roped up and slowly made out way to the base of the summit pyramid. By the time we reached the base of the climb it was about 11.30 a.m. and we had another 200 m to negotiate. The route was over steep and loose rock, covered in a thin layer of ice. The climb had become technical now with a lot of loose rock and boulders stacked up on the final summit block. It would be a time consuming climb with us five members and two Sherpas. Under the circumstances, we decided to turn back after a quick photo-session. We had underestimated the climb and were not adequately prepared for the technicality of the last summit bit.

Our retreat from the mountain and to the roadhead was quick. On our way back the river was in spate. We nearly lost a support staff, who surprisingly underestimated the force of the water. The fury of the river forced us to camp and wait for an early morning crossing that saw us shivering all the way back to the road to our waiting vehicles.

It was an amazing experience exploring the valley and glacier from its snout to its head and working out the possible routes on the peaks around us.

Explorations of the Lalung valley in the Zanskar Himalaya, in August 2011.



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16 First Ascent of Barma Kangri

Masato Oki

The highest peak in the Pangong range is Kangju Kangri (6725 m) which was first climbed in 1983 by an Indian army party, and then by at least four Indian parties who reached the summit in 1984 (ITBP), 1987, 1995 and 2001 (Indian army). The Chukyo Alpine Club in Nagoya-shi in Japan entered Kangju Kangri mountain massif as the first foreign party. On 12 and 17 July, the leader Masato Oki (75), member Rentaro Nishijima (67), climbing guide K. Thinles (35) and high altitude supporter Pemba Norbu (50) made the first ascent of the unnamed peak (c. 6500 m) which is located on the main ridge of the Pangong range and about two kilometres east of Kangju Kangri. We tentatively named it ‘Barma Kangri’, after the name of the area near the base camp. It is said that ‘Barma Kangri’ means ‘intermediate peak’ in Ladakhi language.

Kangju Kangri and Barma Kangri

Kangju Kangri and Barma Kangri

We left Leh on 1 July in three vehicles and reached the right bank of the Loi Yongma river stream north east of the village of Parma (4500 m) via Chang la (5360 m) and Tangtse (3795 m) and on 2 July, the base camp (4800 m) was established near roadside of the Tangtse-Chushul military road, jeepable in fair weather.

On 5 July, we established first camp (5400 m) on the rock and grassy plateau in the valley of Tastra Lungpa facing to the south of Kangju Kangri mountain massif. We trekked about four kilometres on the plateau towards the north and Camp 2 (6000 m) was established on the rock of the moraine which is located at the Tastra Lungpa source level on 9 July.

The first ascent of Barma Kangri

An Unnamed glacier and Pangong Tso from Barma Kangri (R. Nishijima)

An Unnamed glacier and Pangong Tso from Barma Kangri (R. Nishijima)

On 12 July, the first party started for Camp 2 at 6.00 a.m. and then climbed up the rock and the snowy slope and reached the col (c. 6200 m) on the main ridge of the Pangong range. The col is located southeast from Kangju Kangri. R.Nishijima, the climbing guide K.Thinles, the high altitude supporter P.Norbu made the first ascent of the huge rock summit along the main ridge of Barma Kangri at 9.00 a.m. About 200 m of ropes were fixed on the snow wall right under the top. The steep rocky ridge continued from Barma Kangri to Kangju Kangri and this route seemed to be very difficult and long for us but I think strong young climbers could attempt this. Over the following five days, leader M. Oki, the climbing guide and the high altitude supporter made the second ascent from camp 2 on 17 July 2010.

Kangju Kangri Attempt
The third camp (6100 m) was established on an ice and rock moraine just under the east peak (c. 6600 m) of Kangju Kangri on 18 July and it was one step higher than Camp 2 along the left bank of the source level of Keunglung Lungpa. Then the party tried to climb the main peak of Kangju Kangri through the east peak.

Kangju glacier and the route from BC. (R. Nishijima)

Kangju glacier and the route from BC. (R. Nishijima)

On 21 July, R. Nishijima, K. Thinles and the high altitude supporter P. Norbu reached 6420 m along a one and half kilometre long summit ridge in order to climb the summit of Kangju Kangri, the highest peak, from Camp 3. However, as the progress was difficult and terribly dangerous, the attempt was called off. In addition, an attempt from the other route was also difficult due to the lack of the climbing gear and members. On the same day, M. Oki discussed the situation with R. Nishijima and finally decided to withdraw.

The party left the base camp on 24 July and went back to Leh via Tangtse and Chang la, about two weeks before schedule.

P.M.Das: ‘Cold Weather Climbs, The Pagong Range of Ladakh, 1995’, The Himalayan Journal, Vol. 52, 1996, pp.266-27.

Abbey, Lt.Col.Ashok: ‘A Date with the Timeless Mountains, Exploration and Climbs in the Pangong Range’, The Himalayan Journal, Vol. 58, 2002, pp.89-96.

Masato Oki: ‘The First Ascent of Maan, Climb in the Mari mountain massif,

Pangong Range, Ladakh’, The Himalayan Journal, Vol. 64, 2008, pp.253-256,

In July 2010, two senior Japanese mountaineers made the first ascent of an unnamed peak (c. 6500 m) of the Kangju Kangri mountain massif in the Pangong range. The peak was named Barma Kangri based on suggestions from local people and the height was estimated by the Google image map.



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17 Lure of the Yellow Goddess of the Eastern Karakoram

The Himalayan Club Expedition to Saser Kangri I (7672 m) and Saser Kangri IV (7416 m)
Pradeep Chandra Sahoo

Encouraged by our successful climb on Mamostong Kangri (7516 m) on our maiden foray into the eastern Karakoram in 2010, we turned our sights to the imposing Saser Kangri group, a mere 34 km to the south-southeast of Mamostong Kangri. Protected by large glaciers and endowed with precipitous rock and ice faces, Saser Kangri I (7672 m) looms majestically above all her consorts in the Saser Muztagh. The view of the west face of Saser Kangri I from the South Phukpoche glacier is truly awe inspiring, one that would baulk even the most intrepid of alpinists.

We planned to take the direct approach from the South Phukpoche glacier, on the deeply crevassed and corniced west ridge of Saser Kangri I which had been first bridged during the exceptional climbs of the 1987 Indian-British Army expedition. The same expedition had also gained the summit of Saser Kangri IV (7410 m) from a common col. Saser Kangri IV is also known as Cloud Peak. It was our additional peak of choice. The Himalayan Club President Brig. Ashok Abbey gave us pragmatic but encouraging support. Since he had been on 1987 team, his first hand information of the Saser Mountains was of great help towards the expedition planning. The book The Mountain of Happiness by Brig. D K Khullar, leader of the 1987 Indian-British army expedition, gave us finer details of their epic ascent from the western approach on this mountain.

Starting on 10 July 2011 from Kolkata we reached Leh and the Nubra valley. It took us four days to shift loads from Pukpoche to base camp. Members ferried load for two days to an intermediate base camp (c. 4182 m) and spent a night there for proper acclimatisation, before shifting to the base camp (c. 4734 m) on 20 July. The site for base camp was a green pasture, on the left bank of Phukpoche nala. The advance team established Camp 1 (c. 5391 m) on 21 July on the flat glacier basin of South Phukpoche glacier that overlooked the daunting west face of Saser Kangri I. The site was littered with debris left behind by previous expeditions. On 26 July the main team occupied Camp 1. Camp 2 (5632 m) was set up on 26 July, in the shadows of a triangular peak that marked the beginning of the west ridge leading to the upper snow field of Saser Kangri IV. Over the next two days we ferried loads across the glacier. The advance team could only occupy Camp 2 on 30 July, followed by the main team the on the following day.

Plateau Peak on the walk in. (SK 2011)

Plateau Peak on the walk in. (SK 2011)

The crux of the climb for Saser Kangri IV and Saser Kangri I lay beyond Camp 2. On 31 July, the advance team made progress on establishing the route to the col and setting up of two tents that served as an advance staging camp, for working on the Saser Kangri IV ridge. The route to Camp 3 was riddled with deep crevasses, followed by a steep ice slope that led to the upper accumulation zone of South Phukpoche glacier. Both the glacier bed and the ice slope needed fixed roping. Debraj Dutta recounts -‘We stepped onto a field of gigantic crevasses. Icicles on the wide open crevasses resembled the jaws of the most ferocious sharks. In all my previous expeditions, I have never come across such frightening and complex crevasses and tumbling ice seracs. We had to move over unstable snow bridges that hung loosely over deep crevasses, carefully belaying each other. In spite of our utmost care on two occasions Pradeep and Rajeev went waist deep into a crevasse, but were safe because of the fixed rope’. We established our Camp 3 (6025 m) on a steep ice slope, cutting ledges to accommodate two four-man tents.

On 2 August, four Sherpas led by Phurba occupied Camp 3 for opening the route on the west ridge. The weather turned foul in the afternoon and it aggravated by the evening due to heavy snow fall and jet stream winds that continued till early morning. Phurba’s team kept moving up on 3 and 4 August fixing eight coils of rope on the ridge and finally established Camp 4 (6946 m) at the head of the ridge. On 5 August, Vinita, Meghalal, Rajeev, Subrata, Debraj and I occupied Camp 3. Phurba with three other Sherpas occupied Camp 4 the same evening, leaving Pasang Phudar and Pasang Gyalzen stationed in Camp 3 for support.

The direct traverse route beyond Camp 4 at the head of the ridge, taken by Brig. Khullar’s team leading to the col between Saser IV and Saser I is now deeply crevassed and broken, and accessing the common col on this direct route would make it heavily demanding, as well as resource sapping in terms of time and rope. The reason the Indian Navy team of 2003 had failed to repeat the 1987 route on Saser Kangri I became evident to us. The topography had considerably changed since 1987. Opening of the route to the col would take substantially longer than anticipated, and would involve wading through knee deep snow on rather treacherous terrain. The only possible route to the col seemed to be climbing half the way up on the Saser IV and then descending to the col, making one more camp on the col, before attempting the Saser I’s long summit ridge. We estimated that making a possible attempt on Saser I would require an additional week’s work beyond our Camp 4. We were already stretched on time and resources. Thus, we reluctantly decided to restrict our attempt to Saser Kangri IV first - we would decide on Saser I thereafter.

Saser Kangri IV and west ridge of Saser Kangri I. (SK 2011)

Saser Kangri IV and west ridge of Saser Kangri I. (SK 2011)

On 6 August, around 7.00 a.m., in the shadows of Saser I and Saser IV, we started moving up from Camp 3. After a small traverse of few hundred metres, we took to the steep ice slope to the col. At the same time our team of Sherpas at Camp 4, moved up towards the summit ridge of Saser IV and fixed two coils of rope on it. Veteran climber Purba Sherpa reached the summit of Saser Kangri IV climbing solo. For us, moving up from Camp 3, the initial gradient of the wall was around 40 degrees but became steeper as we gained height. We sighted old ropes used by previous expeditions on the rocky outcrops of the ridge. The steep ridge coupled with cold wind bellowing in from Tibet chilled and exhausted us with each upward step. The route became technically difficult as we moved through the rock band that had an average gradient of 65/70 degrees. Climbing mostly on our toes using crampons on the weathered rock and hard ice, we encountered mixed climbing grades. Ascending past loose slabs of rock, we crossed sharp rocky pinnacles, and a corniced snow ridge leading to the final rock tower. The ascent from Camp 3 to Camp 4 was nearly a vertical thousand metres and stretched climbers to the limits. By 4.30 p.m. in the afternoon, we reached the base of the final rock tower of about 200 m, the toughest portion of the ridge. Debraj and Rajeev were half an hour ahead of the remaining team and had already made their way into the rock tower. We estimated that our slow progress in the final rock patch would take us well beyond the failing light of the evening as we had to take turns, pitch by pitch on the rock tower to avoid getting hit by the falling rock from the climber above. Thus, we decided to have only one more member, Meghlal to proceed beyond this point to join Debraj and Rajeev, while Subrata, Vinita and I decided to descend to Camp 3. It was 8.30 p.m. in the evening, when our last member Meghlal reached Camp 4, while we reached the safety of camp 3 around the same time.

View towards southeast from summit of Saser Kangri IV. (SK 2011)

View towards southeast from summit of Saser Kangri IV. (SK 2011)

A blizzard started on 6 August night and it continued for the whole of next day freezing the summit team at Camp 4. However, the weather fortunately settled down by 3 a.m. on the morning of 8 August. Setting out at around 3.30 a.m., and climbing in the back drop of a brilliant crimson dawn, Debraj Dutta and Ang Dorjay Sherpa summitted Saser Kangri IV at 9.00 a.m. on a glorious Karakoram morning, followed by Meghlal Mahato and Mingma Thendu Sherpa who reached by 9.30 a.m. Rajeev Mondal had to unfortunately turn back c. 7200 m due to development of chilblain on his fingers, accompanied by Dawa Sherpa. By eight in the evening, the successful summit team reached back the safety of Camp 3 at the col, after winding up the summit camp. Soon we were safely back to the base.What do the climbers leave behind on mountains? Timeless loops of invisible nylon that binds them to the sacred summits for eternity. And, what else did our team leave being at the top in addition to a small depression? A sacred trident offered in humble obeisance to the Yellow Goddess seeking sanctification of their intrusion on the abode of the Saser Gods.

Members: P.C. Sahoo (leader), Debraj Dutta (deputy leader), Kakali Ghosh, Subrata Dey, Biplab Banerjee, Debabrata Ghosh, and Rajeev Kr Mondal, from the Himalayan Club Kolkata Section, while Meghlal Mahato, Binita Soren, and Sheelarani Mahato were from the Tata Steel Adventure Foundation.

An ascent of Saser Kangri IV (7410 m) by a Himalayan Club, Kolkata section team.

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