You never conquer a mountain. Mountains can’t be conquered; you conquer yourself.
James W. Whittaker
We started evaluating options in Sikkim and we finally decided to go for Jongsong which is a remote mountain tucked away in the Janak section of the eastern Himalaya, and lies in the shadow of the mighty Kangchenjunga (some 20 km away). Jongsong‘s summit forms the highest tri-junction in the world (India, Tibet and Nepal). Being located in army controlled territory, this region has experienced very little mountaineering since first ascent of Jongsong in 1930 by an International expedition team, led by Gunther Dyhrenfurth (during their return from an aborted Kangchenjunga expedition).
On 9 September 2012 we left Kolkata. On 10 September morning, we reached Siliguri, in the foot hill of the eastern Himalaya. We left for Mangan, the district head quarter of north Sikkim. Our trusted Sherpa members from Darjeeling led by Phurba Sherpa, joined us that evening in Mangan. An advance team lead by Kiran had already reached Thangu the previous day to organise yaks for base camp movement.
Thangu is a small town in northwest Sikkim. It works as the transit camp for the army and ITBP personnel guarding Indian frontiers with Tibet (China) and Nepal. The entire team got together at Thangu in the evening of 11 September. We met the headman of Muguthang village, who was a veteran of several trips to the Lhonak valley and the Jongsong glacier with the army and ITBP team during their regular patrols to the international border between India, Nepal and Tibet (China). From the Survey of India map, we located a cluster of glacier lakes called Green Lake (not to be confused with the green lake of Kangchenjunga base near the Zemu glacier). He confirmed that the yaks would arrive at Kalapathar (the roadhead) on the morning of 14 September. A stretch of eight km of road up to Kalapathar has now been made motorable by ITBP, to ease the movement of supplies across the Lungnak la. After spending two nights in Thangu (3904 m) we planned to spend a day at Kalapathar (4417 m), for acclimatisation, before we crossed over the Lungnak la. On 13 September morning, we moved to Kalapathar in an ITBP truck. The monsoon rains were following us from Kolkata and it rained continuously.
On 14September, twenty five yaks arrived at Kalapathar and we started slowly moving up the valley towards Lungnak la. The morning was cloudy, but by mid-day, the weather worsened and it started snowing as we were approaching the pass. The climb was gradual and it took us about four hours to reach the Lungnak la. Thick clouds blocked our view from the pass toward the Lhonak valley and the Jongsong massif. We started descending from the pass towards Muguthang. The descent was very steep and was interspersed with loose rocks and stones. It was difficult for the men and the animals as there was a constant danger of dislodged rock/ stone hitting someone. Later in the afternoon, we arrived at Muguthang (4503 m), drenched to our skin by the snow and rain. We camped on a vast plain ground near the river Naku chu that flowed opposite the small village of Muguthang. It is a cluster of eight to ten houses with a population of forty people.
We made a visit to the ITBP camp located opposite the village to present our credentials and register our presence in the upper Lhonak valley and the Jongsong glacier. We discussed our proposed routes with the Asst Commandant, ITBP. Our northern approach (the 1930 first ascent route) from the Kellas Col between Kellas peak and Jongsong would be exposing us to the Chinese side for a considerable stretch of the ridge. The ITBP personnel voiced their concern in our undertaking this route as it could lead to security objections from the Chinese personnel. The southern approach via the Jongsong glacier however meant that we would be mostly well within Indian territory, exposing ourselves briefly to the Nepalese side during our ascent. Thus, the only option was to take the southern approach along the Jongsong glacier and gain an access to the east ridge of Jongsong. We would now have to gain access to the col between Dome Kang and the Jongsong massif and then climb along the southeast ridge of the Jongsong massif to the east summit (named Domo by Dyhrenfurth), beyond which lay an undulating traverse to the west summit (main summit) which is slightly higher than the eastern summit. We had no prior information on the intricacies of the Jongsong glacier route and the eastern spur that we would need to ascend to gain access to the upper realm of the mountain.
As we marched along, the debilitating effects of altitude and the exhaustion from the long march in the rarified environment coupled with the depressing feeling due to continuous rain became evident. We thought of taking a day’s rest before we moved up the valley towards our base camp. As the yaks belonged to the Muguthang village, we thought it would not be a problem in persuading the yak drivers to allow us to rest for a day to acclimatise better. But to our utter dismay and surprise, they refused to heed to our request, in spite of being promised idle wages for a day. Part of our team was not feeling fit enough to move ahead so we decided to split the team. Kiran, Kedar, Dharmendra, Bikram and two of our local helping hands from Lachen stayed behind for a rest day while Debraj, Biplab, Rajeev, our four Sherpa members and two kitchen staff and I moved ahead with the yaks towards our proposed base camp.
Kellas peak and Lhonak from base camp. (J&DK 2012)
The route from Muguthang goes southwestwards, and the valley narrows down to a pass that opens up to much wider grasslands. Keeping the valley to our left we continued westward till we came across the river coming from the right at Dolma Sampa. ITBP has built a suspension bridge over it. We crossed the bridge while the yaks plodded through the three feet deep fast flowing water. After crossing the bridge, we gained about 70 m in height to a ridge dividing Dolma Sampa and the Janak valley. Goma chu, originating from the Lhonak glacier, winds its way through the valley. Keeping Goma chu on our right, we continued westward. The terrain is largely flat and serves as grazing ground for the yak herd from Muguthang. We came across herds of yak and clusters of stone houses that are used as camping place for the villagers while tending to their herd.
On 16 September, we continued our journey westward, passing through undulating grass lands, gradually gaining height. We passed through Goma Sachen and Janak, keeping the Goma chu on our right, and reached the end of the vast grazing ground from where the terminal moraine of the Jongsong glacier system starts to form. We decided to camp here for the night since our base camp would be merely a three to four hours trek, which would allow the yaks to return to this place for grazing by evening.
On 17 September, we woke up to a chilly morning; the snowfall in the night had now formed a white blanket everywhere. We had a quick breakfast and commenced on the last stretch of our approach march. We crossed one of the many streams that drains from the Jongsong glacier and joins Goma chu. The route beyond the river was through the terminal moraine of mighty Jongsong glacier system which is fed by the east face of Jongsong. Langchung Kang, Langpo and the Fluted peak, formed a fascinating amphitheatre around us. Our base camp was on the north side of the glacier close to a vast lake. We selected an area, between two lakes that still had some water. The lack of communication with the second team was a constant cause of worry to us. Our GPS indicated that we were at 5525 m. The perpetual bone chilling strong wind kept us inside our tents most of the time, even on the brightest of days. We were six km, as crow flies, away from the summit of Jongsong that lay towards the northwest. The summit ridge of Jongsong was not visible from the base camp and to obtain a view of the same, one had to climb up one of the innumerable moraine hills which surrounded the base camp.
18 September was a bright and sunny day. We spent the day setting up the base camp, and sorting out food and equipment for the higher camps. Phurba and Ang left for a couple of hours in the afternoon, walking around the medial moraine maze of Jongsong glacier seeking a possible route towards the Jongsong la (6154 m), below which we would establish our Camp 1. This would be the main logistics depot for the expedition.
On 19 September, seven of us - three climbing members and four Sherpa members, left for the Camp 1 location. We travelled in the direction of the Jongsong la. The route was through the maze of terminal moraines of the northern part of the Jongsong glacier, close to the eastern spur of the Jongsong massif. Several times, we had to make tiring ascents and descents over uneven moraine hills making our load ferrying a rather tedious affair. After climbing for four hours we came across a glacier pool, about couple of kilometres short of the Jongsong la, at c. 5790 m. This was located in the shadows of the huge rock wall and the hanging glaciers of the east spur of Jongsong massif. We had gained about 300 m above the BC. The following day, all seven of us made another ferry to Camp 1. The days had turned sunny by now, with clear skies and light-wind conditions being the order of the day - perfect weather for toiling at this altitude. The site offered a panoramic view of the Lhonak valley towards the east, the peaks of Lhonak, Chorten Nyima towards the north, Langpo and Fluted peak towards the south, Langchung Kang and the Jongsong la towards the west.
On 20 September, Debraj, Rajeev, Phurba, Ang, Dawa, Nima and I made another trip to Camp 1 ferrying loads. After ten days of continuous work, we sought a well deserved rest at BC on the 21st. There was no sign of the remaining members who were expected to join us at the base camp. We were really concerned about them and considered sending a two member team down to Muguthang. However, we reckoned that the team that would be needed for working above base camp had already been reduced to a smaller unit. We gauged that they would be able to look after themselves and we decided to concentrate on the climb on the upper section of the route.
On 22 September, Debraj, Rajeev, Phurba, Ang, Dawa, Nima, Lila and I made another trip to Camp 1 with loads. Phurba and Ang occupied Camp 1 the same day and went on to reconnoiter the route to Camp 70 CLIMBS IN THE SHADOW OF THE SLEEPING BUDDHA 2. From the study of Google Earth, we had identified a glacier that was gradually descending from the upper icefield of southeast face of Jongsong, which appeared to provide theoretically a feasible access to the east ridge. Our Sherpas moved further westwards from Camp 1 to ascertain possible access to the upper icefield. But to our dismay, there was no such glacier that descended to the Jongsong glacier. In its place there were huge hanging glaciers that covered steep rocky walls which descended to the main glacier bed of the Jongsong glacier. One feeder glacier that comes from the southern flanks of Dome Kang joins the main glacier near the Jongsong la. But the upper portion of this glacier too ends in sheer rocky walls and hanging glacier sections thereby blocking any access to the upper icefield. Now it became clear to us as to why the 1930 International team, which came from Nepal, across the Jongsong la, did not make an attempt on this route, but rather made a long detour to the Lhonak glacier and accessed the northern approach.
On the way to Camp 2. (J&DK 2012)
For us the northern approach was no more an option, both from a security perspective as well as logistical purview. We kept looking for a possible route on the rock wall. Phurba and Ang eventually located a rock gully, or more appropriately a rock channel, that rose steeply at an angle of 70 degrees for about 100 m and then opened to the sky at the head of the channel. They negotiated the tunnel fixing 120 m of rope on the rock. The middle portion of the channel, which also serves as a drainage channel from the hanging glaciers above, was frozen. This dangerous combination of loose rock and thin ice sheets was making the climb difficult and each step was dislodging chunks of ice and pieces of rock. Phurba and Ang however did an excellent job of making a tortuous but safe route on the channel, providing shelter for climbers at every anchor point, while the climbers moved up.
At the head of the channel, they found a 200 m stretch of loose rocks with 40 to 50 degree gradient, which culminated on a rock tower of 200 m leading to the upper icefield. Besides the hazard of falling rock, the route was safe from any avalanche risk coming from the hanging glacier. This was the access we were desperately seeking! Once we were able to tackle this section, we would be on the upper icefield and the climb would then be comparatively easy with lesser technical climbing necessity, sans the last section between the summit camp and the summit.
On 23 September Dawa, Nima and Darpan made another ferry of supplies to Camp 1. Phurba and Ang, who were at Camp 1, carried rope above the channel and worked on the rock tower above the channel and managed to fix the section leading to the upper icefield. This section involved a small patch of snow at an angle of 400 to 450 to the base of the rock wall. The head wall was too unstable to climb on, which made the duo to undertake a traverse of 100 m towards the left and then take on the vertical section of the wall. The section was a vertical pile of slabs, cemented by the ice and snow, each one of which had to be tested for its stability before using it as a foot hold or a hand hold. After climbing about one hundred vertical metres on the wall, they reached a section of mixed rock and ice that ended on a gully of ice, with two huge domes of ice forming the gateway to the upper icefield. They had fortunately completed the rocky section before running out of fixed rope. With the most difficult part of the wall now having been secured, they returned to Camp 1, and then to BC the following day, for a well earned rest.
After the load ferry on 22 September, Debraj developed fever and severe body ache. We had two days of rest before we were to move from the base camp to work on the higher camps. Debraj’s condition however aggravated, and he was now experiencing high fever coupled with convulsions. It became soon apparent that he would not be able to go up any further. We were expecting a window of good weather to continue for a week before the full moon emerged, after which the weather was likely to bad.
Phurba had brought back photographs of the rock wall and we studied them in detail. We were now a small team of six members to climb beyond Camp 1. With the most technical portion of the climb secured, we would not be required to carry too many fixed ropes and additional technical hardware with us. We decided to make two teams of three members each and move up in alpine style beyond Camp 1, with Phurba, Ang and Nima making one team while Rajeev, Dawa and myself the other. On 25 September, six of us bade an emotional farewell to the base camp team and left for Camp 1. We had a clear day and we took the pleasure of starting off late. Carrying four days of food and fuel and two tents for the six of us, we left Camp 1 at 7.00 a.m. on 26 September. The stretch on the glacier to the base of the channel took us about an hour and half. We were hardly a km from the historically famous Jongsong la on the Indian-Nepal border. One by one, we moved up on the fixed rope, wary of the risk of rocks being dislodged by us that could hit the lower climber. It took us almost three hours to clear the rock channel. The progress was slow with the heavy load that we were carrying. We crossed the section of loose rock, which is a free climb and reached the bottom of the snow patch. It was half past two by then. The upper section would take another four hours for us to complete. We decided to split into two teams, with Rajeev, Dawa and I making our Camp 2 at 6132 m, on a rocky spur below the snow patch while Phurba, Ang and Nima continued on further on the second rock wall. They laboriously moved across the snow patch and by 3.00 p.m., they started their ascent on the rock wall, and in another half an hour or so they were out of our sight, behind the left side of the rock tower. They fixed the last 100 m of the route on the ice gully below the upper icefield and camped on a fairly flat ground on the icefield, at the base of the east ridge.
Camp 2 was on a rocky spur just below the snow patch. We prepared a ground for pitching one tent as the other team had moved up and started gas burners to melt snow. The weather was clear and cloud free and the afternoon sun burned down hard on us, the temperature inside the tent rising to 36° C. From the position of Camp 2, we could now see the summit of Kangchenjunga across the Jongsong la, basking royally in the afternoon sun. The vast expanse of the Jongsong glacier and the surrounding peaks presented a breathtaking landscape of rock and ice. The Lhonak valley below was soon fading away as the sun began setting behind Kangchenjunga. The mercury plummeted sharply as the sun went down and soon we were shivering in our feather jackets. While Rajeev and I kept ourselves busy melting snow for dinner, Dawa climbed up and left a coil of fixed rope at the head of the rock wall to be picked by Phurba’s team the following day.
27 September brought an absolutely clear blue sky with the morning sun bringing the much needed warmth after a chilly night. We started early to take advantage of hard packed snow on the snow patch immediately above us. It was an hour’s toil to the base of the rock tower, till we got to the fixed rope section. In the first section that runs through a scree gully, one could not avoid dislodging loose pieces of rock while making ones way upwards.
Rock gully on the way to Camp 2. (J&DK 2012)
Phurba‘s team had done an excellent job in finding a safe ground for setting our Camp 3 (6469 m). We could see their red tent on the pristine snowfield, where perhaps no other human had set foot earlier. By one in the afternoon, we reached the camp site. Phurba and Nima had set out that morning for a recce of the east ridge that would take us to the col between Dome Kang and the Jongsong massif. By two p.m.
Jongsong la from Camp 2. (J&DK 2012)
Dome Kang and Jongsong from Camp 3. (J&DK 2012)
we could see them returning from their reconnaissance. They were happy with their findings. They reported that the snow above was not too soft, and was interspersed with occasional hard and packed snow sections. The only danger that lay ahead would be crevasses, which were wide open. With both the teams together now, we discussed the possibility of making a summit attempt at the earliest. We had about a thousand m of vertical height to cover over totally unknown terrain. We decided it would be too demanding on us in attempting a summit bid from this camp. With the full moon still three days away, we expected good weather conditions to continue for the next three days. Thus, we decided to set up another high camp close to 7000 m, from where we could make the summit attempt. In hindsight, it turned out to be a wise decision. At 6.00 p.m. we contacted BC to monitor the heath condition of Debraj and to tell them about our progress for the day. Lila sounded concerned about Debraj, who was not showing any sign of improvement. We advised him to convince Debraj to move down to Muguthang with them. But Debraj, with his strong resolve to remain at base camp, decided otherwise. As the night slipped in, there was a mild storm raging outside. It gradually gained momentum and by midnight it was bellowing with full strength. We were happy that we decided against a summit attempt from here, as it would have required a midnight start. By 3.00 a.m. in the morning of 28 September, the storm subsided and by daybreak, we were again welcomed by a calm sunny morning. The early morning view was enchanting from our vantage point of Camp 3. We could see the Lhonak glacier as well as the Jongsong glacier and their surrounding peaks like Kellas peak (6680 m), Lhonak (6710 m), Chorten Nyima (6927 m) towards the north, Fluted peak, Langpo (6965 m) and Langchung Kang towards our right. Across the Jongsong la, we perceived grand views of Kangchenjunga (8586 m), Pathibara (7140 m) and Kirat Chuli (7362 m). We could also observe the majestic summit ridge of Jongsong East (7462 m). Towards the distant east, rose the mountain ranges of Chomo Yummo, Dongkya Ri, Pauhunri and Shundu Tsenpa above the clouds.
Since the weather conditions were good, we took it easy as we had to cover only about 400 to 500 m today to our proposed summit camp. We wound up our tents and by 7.00 a.m. we were ready to move on the east ridge towards the col between Jongsong and Dome Kang. We moved in two ropes, with Ang, Dawa and Nima in the front rope and Phurba, Rajeev and I in the second rope. The high altitude and soft snow reduced us to walking 15 to 20 steps at a time before stopping to catch our breath. The east ridge rose steeply to the summit of Dome Kang on the southernmost high point of the Jongsong massif. We avoided the ridge and climbed along the gentle east face of the mountain that leads directly to the col. During the first one hour in the morning, I was feeling numbness in my right leg. I did not worry too much as I thought that it was due to the effects of cold. However, as we moved up, I felt as if I was carrying extra 4 to 5 kg weight on my right leg. I tried hitting my boot with my ice axe to dislodge any snow ball on my boot. But there was no unusual snow buildup which could cause this extra weight. Then I realised that it probably was due to my weak nerves on the left side of my body as a consequence of my spine surgery in 2006. To increase the blood flow, I started hitting my calf muscles at regular intervals. Rajeev, who was behind me on the rope, was amazed to see this. By 11.00 a.m., the sensation improved on the right leg and then it was business as usual for me. By 2.00 p.m., we started looking for a safe camping ground as we did not want to disturb the slope, when the sun would heat up the upper layer and trigger a slab avalanche. We also did not want to be benighted on the col since the winds would be very strong there. The upper portion of the east face was too steep for a safe camping place. We decided to camp on the lower section and by 3.00 p.m. we started carving two ledges for our tents. From Camp 4 (6874 m), we planned to make the summit attempt starting around 4.00 a.m. We had 600 m of vertical height to cover. But we would be without our heavy sacks and planned to make to the summit well before midday, returning back to the camp well before evening. While we were preparing for an early dinner, a storm started blowing outside. It was a repetition of yesterday. But there was no snowfall or even any cloud plume in the sky and we felt that the storm would ease out after midnight.
Jongsong from Camp 4. (J&DK 2012)
29 September: By 3.00 a.m., we got ready for the climb, though the situation outside was not encouraging. The storm was blowing with the same ferocity as in the night making it impossible for us to venture out. We waited anxiously and hoped that day break would harbinger calmer weather conditions. To our great relief, the storm abated by 6.00 a.m. as the morning sun rays struck the east face of Jongsong. Without wasting any further time, we moved out of our tents for our attempt on the summit. Nima was indisposed and decided to rest at the summit camp. Five of us, Phurba, Dawa, Rajeev, Ang and I left for the summit attempt at 6.30 a.m. Dawa and Ang were in the front on one rope, breaking trail, followed by Phurba, Rajeev and I. We made swift progress on the east face, reaching the col by 9.30 a.m. The day was clear on Jongsong though the peaks on the Nepal side were covered with clouds. Our southern horizon was now fully covered by the majestic Kangchenjunga massif. Rajeev was feeling some numbness on his frost bitten feet and was moving slower than usual. The memories of Saser – IV were still on my mind, where Rajeev had to return midway from the summit attempt. But compared to the condition on Saser Kangri, we were better off in the sense that we had started climbing with the sun up in the sky whereas on Saser, the climb had been through the night. However, I did not want to take any chances at 7000 m. As Rajeev was approaching the col, I conferred with Phurba and Dawa (our most experienced and trusted fellow Sherpa climbers). From the col, the summit of Dome Kang seemed tantalisingly close. But it was too late in the morning for all of us to attempt Dome Kang, and thereafter Jongsong and be able to return back before dusk. Furthermore, the steep southeast ridge of Jongsong appeared too dangerous to support five climbers on a moving line, in the absence of a fixed rope. We therefore decided to split the team into two and attempt both the objectives together. Thus, while Phurba, Ang and I took on Jongsong East, Rajeev and Dawa attempted Dome Kang.
We left Rajeev with Dawa, and the three of us headed for the steep southeast ridge. The traverse on the col to the start of the ridge exposed many hidden crevasses. Ang, the lightest in our team was leading and opening the route. As we closed in to the base of the ridge, I suddenly found myself buried waist deep in a hidden crevasse. The layer of snow that withstood the weight of Ang gave way under my weight. I crawled out of the gaping hole to sink into yet another one. After some excruciating moments with hidden crevasses, I eventually found myself on solid ground.
We kept our route close to the knife edge ridge, avoiding stepping on any cornices, yet not going too deep onto the face which could put us at risk of an avalanche from the face above. Phurba was leading in the front and Ang brought up the rear while I was the middle man. We were climbing above 7300 m and the rarified air was making us stop after every five to six steps to gain our breath. The snow was very loose and the entire shaft of the ice axe was sinking deep in and thus provided very little support or assurance. By 11.30 a.m., we had ascended more than 60% of the ridge, when suddenly I came out of my reverie of mechanical climbing when I heard a short but deafening sound. I looked up and was shaken by the sight unfolding above. There was a crack starting from the point where Phurba had reached and the entire slope was sliding down in the form of a slab avalanche. Phurba was sliding on it desperately trying to arrest himself, with little success. I was six feet short of a temporary anchor point that Phurba has placed. Reflexively, I sunk my ice axe deep into the snow and kept my eyes on Phurba. The avalanche was gaining momentum, but I could discern that Phurba was somehow able to arrest his fall by digging both his ice axes deep into the snow. After sliding for about 20 m he managed to arrest himself securely and we all sighed in relief. We could hear the distant cries of Rajeev and Dawa from the summit of Dome Kang, who were monitoring our progress after they had successfully climbed Dome Kang along its east face (New route, overall the second ascent). They were still on the summit and were shouting at us to turn back.
Phurba gradually regained his composure and reached a safe place on the ridge. We discovered that the slope had given way only a few feet from where we were standing. Rattled by the avalanche, we discussed our future course of action. We were tantalisingly close to the summit of the eastern dome of the Jongsong massif; yet we were apprehensive of another slab avalanche sweeping down on us. Phurba was in two minds about continuing ahead while Ang was not too perturbed by the avalanche, and was insisting that we complete the climb. I had to resolve the dilemma. We had enough time, food and fuel in Camp
1. I suggested, either we go down to Camp 4 and come for a second attempt the following day or we go back to Camp 1 to make a fresh attempt after gaining some rest. Ang alternatively suggested that we go down to col and attempt Dome Kang. I was not in agreement to this suggestion as Dome Kang had already been climbed by our team. But, we all agreed that it would be too dangerous to move on the ridge any further today. Thus, without wasting any time on dangerous slopes, we descended cautiously back to the col. On our way down we could see our successful team from Dome Kang returning to the col.
Rajeev Mondal reminisces ‘We started at 10.15 a.m. from the col. We were not carrying any rope and Dawa was not feeling too well either. I followed Dawa closely to bolster his morale on the east face of Dome Kang. The gradient was approx 40o. We reached the Dome Kang summit at 10.50 a.m. The northern side of the summit was a steep cliff which we felt was cornice ridden. We used our ice axes to discover that the cornices were at least two feet deep! Langchung Kang, Langpo and Fluted peak appeared in our view. Towards the west, the Jongsong peak rose majestically. Cloud had begun accumulating. However, the Jongsong and Lhonak glaciers were clearly visible below. The endless Tibetan plateau stretched for miles towards the north. We hoisted the National and our Club flags and started taking photographs. Dawa was using the video camera. He suddenly shouted out aloud –‘Avalanche’. Both of us were petrified as we watched the three climbers on Jongsong being encircled by a slab of avalanche. We could merely shout ourselves hoarse and frantically wave our hands to warn them of the imminent danger that was about to engulf them, but they seemed too far away to hear us. After some anxious moments, we were finally relieved to observe that the climbers survived the avalanche and then began descending.’
By 1.00 p.m. Phurba and I were around the midpoint of the col between Dome Kang and the Jongsong massif i.e. the point where both the teams had separated out for their respective objectives. Ang, Dawa and Rajeev had by then gone down the east face towards Camp 4, and were out of our sight. There were no dark clouds on the horizon on either side, indicating a calm afternoon. Phurba volunteered to go down to Camp 4, then come back up with a tent, food and fuel with the help of Ang, while I would await them at the col (c.7260 m). If I had gone down to Camp 4, it would surely have been difficult for me to return to the col by evening as I was tired after the day’s adventures. But Phurba, who has climbed Everest four times, was confident of being able to return by late afternoon. I rested sitting on a coil of rope with the ice axe and my camera bag at my side. By 4.00 p.m. the sun started going down making it chilly. To my great relief however, I spied the head of Phurba emerging out of the mist and clouds. Ang joined him shortly. Both of them were carrying two coils of fixed rope in addition to their back packs that contained the survival essentials for the night.
View from summit: Jongsong glacier, Fluted Peak and Langpo. (J&DK 2012)
View from summit towards west: Makalu, Lhotse, Everest, and Cho Oyu. (J&DK 2012)
View from summit towards southeast: Siniolchu, Tent Peak and Pyramid Peak. (J&DK 2012)
View from summit towards south: Kangchenjunga, Kangbachen and Kumbhakarna. (J&DK 2012)
I woke Phurba and Ang by 4.00 a.m. and asked them to get ready for the final attempt on Jongsong. Phurba brewed some tea. We chewed on some biscuits and soon embarked on our tryst with destiny. On 30 September, by 5.30 a.m., we were moving on the trail that we had created the previous day. We carried the fixed ropes along with us to use on the ridge during the ascent and descent. Ang was in the front today, with belay from Phurba, while I was bringing the rear. We made quick progress on the ridge over our old trail as we did not have to break any fresh snow. It took us three grueling hours to climb the ridge. Ang was leading the climb and the three of us finally reached the top of the ridge where the steep gradient eased into a flat piece of ground.
We inspected the summit ridge closely. Before us loomed the summit dome of the east summit (named Domo by the 1930 team). From the point where we were resting, we viewed a gentle slope that descended some twenty odd feet from Domo, and then again rose onto another slope that was connected to another dome. Beyond this would lie another undulating slope leading on to another hump. In terms of difference in heights, we could not discern much difference between the domes located on the undulating and curvilinear ridge (corroborated by the summit ridge photographs taken by us from our lower camps). This gives the summit ridge a flattened perspective like Satopanth peak’s summit ridge when seen from a distance. This fact is also confirmed by Google Earth. Gunther Dyhrenfurth had appropriately christened the east summit as Domo possibly due to its enormous Dome shape. He writes in his article in the AJ 1961 (‘Narrow Escapes’) ‘The others had embarked on the descent, but I still wanted to go over to the slightly lower East Summit called Domo (24,416 feet).´ He further records his solo traverse from the main summit to Domo and back in about an hour after ascending the Jongsong main summit along the northeast ridge. In this traverse he had fallen into a nasty summit-crevasse but was lucky enough to be able to extricate himself. I therefore reflected that traversing the undulating and corniced summit ridge would be dangerous and exposed us to possibilities of avalanche prone conditions, as well as the dangers of hidden crevasse traps. We therefore decided to culminate our climb at the east summit. We stood up and dragged our tired limbs for the final few feet and by 9.20 a.m. we were on the top of east summit of Jongsong. ‘No more distances to cover and no more heights to gain’, my tired body gratefully screamed! We had now reached a location that had been trodden only once earlier in the history of mountaineering!
After an initial short introspective moment, we regained our composure and celebrated our success and communicated with the team back at the base camp on the walkie-talkie. Towards our west we could see the high and expansive summits of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu. Towards the south we beheld the majestic Kangchenjunga and Jannu, in one of their most rarely photographed perspectives. Looking down towards the col, the summits of Dome Kang, Langpo, Kirat Chuli and the Fluted peak now appeared dwarfed by the height of Jongsong. Towards the north and the northeast we viewed the peaks of Kellas and Chorten Niyma, which too appeared as small mountains. Towards the far east the mountain ranges of Chomo Yummo, Dongkhya Ri, Pauhunri and Shundu Tsenpa showed their lofty summits above the clouds. In the foreground we saw the vast plain of the Janak valley and the Goma chu meandering its way down the valley. Towards the north lay the brown plains of the Tibetan Plateau.
We spent about 40 odd minutes on the summit, before making our way down to the col. By 12.00 noon we had already wound up our summit camp and were ready to descend the east ridge. By the time we hit the glacier bed it was 5.30 in the evening. We dragged ourselves on medial moraine ridges that lead to our Camp 1 location that we reached in partial darkness. I slipped into my sleeping bag in my tent, dead tired but satisfied and contemplated the events that took place over the last five days after we had left Camp 1. All the objective hazards were behind us now. We had climbed two peaks above 7000 m, making two ascents on new routes, all within twenty days of leaving Kolkata and within twelve days of climbing above our base camp. We wound up Camp 1 on 01 October and descended to BC. We finally returned to Kolkata on 12 October, thereby completing a most memorable expedition.
Ascents by new routes of Dome Kang (7260 m) and Jongsong East summit (7462 m) in northwest Sikkim by a team from Kolkata Section of the Himalayan Club in September 2012. The main summit of Jongsong (7483 m) was not attempted.