Trisul - the West Ridge

Brigadier Ashok Abbey

On 27 September 2012, a team of soldier mountaineers commenced moving up the Nandakini valley from Sitel, the road head in the Chamoli district of Uttarkhand. The team was late, in fact too late to be moving up at this time for a post monsoon climbing expedition. Deep frosts on the Bugyals, low temperatures, shorter days in the valley were some ominous signs of an impending early winter. Their destination, Trisul I via the west ridge seemed far and distant, lost in the perpetual low cloud base, which engulfed the horizon. The team established base camp at Hom Kund on 2 October, only to be greeted by the first heavy snowfall of the season on 4 October. Nevertheless, the team forced its way up the lower ramparts of the mountain, through a treacherous couloir and established Camp 1. As the expedition stepped on the Raunthi Bank after Camp 1, they knew that it was time to turn back, but not before they carried out a detailed reconnaissance of the upper Raunthi Bank and the majestic west face of Trisul I, towering above. It was then that the team decided to get back for another attempt on Trisul I for a pre monsoon expedition in May-June 2013, albeit with the objective of making the first Indian traverse of the three great peaks of Trisul.

Trisul I west face, as seen from Camp 1and Raunthi Bank. (Brigadier Ashok Abbey)

Trisul I west face, as seen from Camp 1and Raunthi Bank. (Brigadier Ashok Abbey)

The Trisul massif stands majestically in the Chamoli district of the young Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, as one of the most fascinating mountains of the Garhwal Himalaya. Mired in mythology and deeply revered, the mountain lies in Patti Talla Panikhanda, Pargana Panikhanda and is located on the outer wall to the south of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. The British Garhwal Gazetteer interestingly, describes the massif as follows:-

Trisul is the trident of Siva. The three peaks, which form the trident, lie almost in a straight line running from north-east to south-west. The highest of all is situated at the north-eastern extremity of the ridge and has an elevation of 23,406 feet. The summit is described as a flat-topped dome of snow forming the apex of a huge triangular snow field set at steep angle on the north-east face of the mountain. Between this peak and the middle peak (22,490 feet) lies the Trisul glacier and beyond the latter again lies the third peak, 22,360 feet.

The Shivpurans describe Trisul as ‘Shiva’s might’ or a ‘symbol of power’ used by Lord Shiva, as the ultimate weapon for destruction of evil. It is also regarded as a divine instrument, used to regulate the forces of life and to maintain balance and harmony of all the three worlds. The mountain makes fascinating viewing as it takes different shapes and form, when viewed from Bedini Bugyal, Ranikhet, Kausani, Nandakini valley and other places in Garhwal and Kumaun.

Trisul I standing at a majestic altitude of 7120 m, is the highest and the most dominating peak of the Trisul massif. The geography of Trisul massif is complicated with a series of ridges emanating in virtually all directions. The northeast ridge from Trisul I continues unabated for nearly 10 km culminating at Bethartoli Himal North (6352 m) via Bethartoli South (6318 m). Five km north of Trisul I, from an Unnamed Junction Peak, the ridge swings northwest towards Bethartoli North and South, and finally merges with the valley floor of the Rishi ganga towards the north. After approximately five km from the Unnamed Junction Peak, from where the ridge bifurcates towards Bethartoli South and North, the second half of the ridge continues unabated in a north easterly manner hemmed between the Bethartoli Bank to the north and the vast Trisul Bank to the south. It overlooks the Nanda Devi Sanctuary towards Tridang and the Devasthan1 massif comprising of Devasthan I (6490 m) and II (6465 m). The east ridge of the mountain looses height over a distance of three km and towers above the Trisul Bank.

The southwest ridge of Trisul I continues for nearly over a kilometre, before turning westwards and taking form of the west ridge. The west ridge of Trisul I after breaking from the southwest ridge subsequently turns west and then northwest and cuts across the upper Nandakini valley, overlooking the Hom Kund and the Sili Samudra glacier valleys, to the east and the south. The southwest ridge, after emanating from the peak, breaks off from the west ridge after one and half km and cuts across southeastwards, rising to the summit of Trisul II. The distance between Trisul I to II, as the crow flies is approximately two km. From Trisul II, the south ridge comes down over a complicated broken ridge line of nearly three and half km, riddled with objective dangers before dropping to a col and then rising to the summit of Trisul III. The Trisul massif thus stands as the great divide between the waters of Rishi ganga, Nandakini and the Kali river valleys.

Trisul I (7120 m) was first climbed in 1907 by Dr Tom Longstaff along with his Gurkha assistant, Subedar Karbir Burathok of the 5th Gorkha Rifles and two Swiss guides, the Brocherel brothers. This was then an altitude record and the highest summit to be climbed in the world. In 1951, Roy Greenwood, a physical training instructor at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun along with Gurdial Singh (Guru), climbed2 the mountain from a westerly direction, towards the summit from the north ridge. The headstand on the summit of Trisul I by Guru became legendary, more so as this was the first major climb by an Indian of Independent India, thus heralding the beginning of Indian mountaineering. Interestingly, this is what the then editor of the HJ3 commented post the climb:-

Roy Greenwood and Gurdial Singh were at the time on the staff of the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun. This was the first time that an Indian member of the Himalayan club had ascended one of the greater Himalayan peaks, and it is to be regretted that we are not able to record his own observations and reactions; but we take this opportunity of congratulating him on a very gallant effort.

In 1960, a Yugoslavian expedition (A. Kunaver)4 made the first ascent of Trisul II (6690 m) and III (6609 m), after approaching the massif from the Bidalgwar glacier. In 1978, a Japanese team (Sadashige Inada)5 climbed the mountain from the Trisul Bank, over a twenty- eight-day period. They made an ascent of Trisul I from the south ridge and from the north ridge to Trisul II. In 1987, a strong Yugoslavian team (V. Lado) returned and climbed Trisul I from the west face. They also climbed Trisul II and III from north to south, thus recording the first and the only traverse of the great peaks of Trisul till date. Ever since, a number of expeditions have climbed Trisul I, majority being from the longer but easier traditional approach from the north (now in the Nanda Devi Sanctuary), including a ski descent. In the recent times, a few expeditions have attempted and reportedly climbed the mountain from the challenging west face.

The 16 member Indian Army team from the Central Command, sponsored by the Army Adventure Wing, which attempted a traverse of the Trisul massif in Garhwal Himalaya in 2013, was a blend of experience and youth. Majority of the climbing team members were former instructors and trainees of the High Altitude Warfare School, Gulmarg. The aim of the expedition was to make an ascent of Trisul I (7120 m) from the west and southwest ridge and then traverse south to Trisul II (6690 m) and onwards to Trisul III (6008 m). It is pertinent to mention that porters were only used for stocking up to base camp. No High Altitude Supporters or Sherpas were used by the expedition beyond base camp.

The expedition after congregating at Joshimath on 09 May moved along the Alaknanda river till Nandprayag. From Nandprayag, which is the confluence of Nandakini and Alaknanda rivers, the team moved along the Nandakini river via Ghat, Sitel, Sutol, Tatra, Lata Kopri, Bhujani, Chandnighat and Dudhang. Leaving the Sili Samudra glacier to the southeast, the expedition moved along the upper Nandakini river to Hom Kund, which was the base camp. Subsequently they gained the upper Raunthi Bank to establish Camp 1 and 2 and ascended the west ridge to establish Camp 3, en route to the summit.

Looking from the upper west ridge. L to R - Trisul II, III , Unnamed peak and Chandini Kot. (Brigadier Ashok Abbey)

Looking from the upper west ridge. L to R - Trisul II, III , Unnamed peak and Chandini Kot. (Brigadier Ashok Abbey)

Base camp was established on 18 May, after leaving the roadhead camp at Sitel on 11 May. The site overlooked the spectacular, high altitude lake of Hom Kund, which is a deeply revered site and the culmination point of the Great Raj Jat Yatra . Base camp was located at 4110 m, three km south of the Raunthi saddle, under the shadow of a mammoth icefall emanating from the upper Raunthi Bank to the east.

From base camp, the team ascended a couloir to the east. This was a dangerous steep funnel, which fired a volley of shooting stones regularly from its upper ramparts. The couloir, which at the time of induction was covered with snow, soon revealed its loose belly that of a very dangerous scree slope. Three ropes were fixed in the upper parts of the couloir to make it safe for movement. Moving with caution, Camp 1 was established on 23 May, at 5120 m. The camp overlooked the upper Raunthi Bank, under the inspiring west face of Trisul I, with the Bethartoli Himal massif rising to its north.

Camp 2 was established and occupied on 25 June 2013, at nearly 6000 m. The route from Camp 1 to Camp 2, was along the western extremity of the upper Raunthi Bank. Initially, the team moved south close to the ridgeline overlooking the Hom Kund and the upper Nandakini valley. The route then veered southeast wards. After crossing the heavily crevassed ridden snowfield with caution and keeping well away from the west face, the team established Camp 2 in the upper icefield of the Raunthi Bank. Camp 2 was a dangerous location, prone to ice avalanches. On the night of 31 June, one of the ice walls of the west ridge collapsed at 01.00 a.m. The dangerous ice splinters hit three tents at the camp, ripping two of them. The members had a narrow escape and were fortunately unscathed.

The west ridge of Trisul I merges into the upper Raunthi Bank. From Camp 2, the team moved up to gain the last snow field of the glacier. From here, the formidable west ridge which separates the Raunthi Bank from the Sili Samudra glacier nearly 2000 m below, takes shape and form and is clearly visible. The team under Naib Subedar Madan Singh negotiated a series of ice walls (60° and above) including patches of blue ice, to gain the crest of the west ridge. Camp 3 was established on 28 May on the spine of the west ridge. Two tents were pitched after cutting ice platforms, which were secured and anchored firmly. The mountain plunges into an abyss towards the south.

After establishing the camp, the team carried out a reconnaissance of the west ridge and worked on the route above Camp 3. Camp 3 at 6420 m was finally occupied on 29 June 2013, by the first summit team. Approximately 700 m of rope was fixed, between Camp 2 and Camp 3. On 30 May, a team comprising of Naib Subedar Madan Singh, Hav Matwar Singh, Lance Naik Min Bahadur Tamang, Rifleman Yashpal and Paratrooper Ashok Kumar left Camp 3 at 02.30 a.m. This first attempt was supported by Brigadier Ashok Abbey, Subedar Topgey Bhutia, Assistant Leader Kunchok Tempa, Assistant Leader Tenzin Rigden, Naik Bishnu Kumar and Rifleman Birendra Singh at Camp 2, who moved up the same day.

The west ridge of Trisul I is a long, sharp, rising, broken ridge, lined with unstable ice walls. To the north and northwest, the mountain drops towards the Raunthi and Upper Nanda Ghunti Bank. From Camp 3, the team climbed the exposed west ridge with caution. Two ropes were fixed from Camp 3 upwards, as the team negotiated a crevasse and climbed the ice wall near the first prominent rock. It took them nearly 90 minutes to reach this landmark. From here, the team took nearly three hours to the second prominent rock. Just short of the point, where the northwest ridge from Trisul II meets the west ridge of Trisul I, the team decided to rope up. It took over an hour from the rock face to the end of fixed rope. After roping up, they moved for another 70 minutes to reach a small snowfield, at the base of the final summit pyramid. The summit of Trisul I was heavily corniced at this time, with the lip looming menacingly towards the east and southeast. The cornice was dangerous and the team approached the final summit, climbing the summit pyramid from the southwest with great caution. At 09.20 a.m., they stopped short of the summit due to the dangerous cornice and the unstable snow conditions. They subsequently retreated to the base of the summit pyramid. Enroute, despite the diminishing visibility and cloud build up towards the late morning hours, they had good views of Nanda Devi and Nanda Devi East, towards the west. Splendid views of the ridge connecting Trisul II and III as also the peaks of Mrigthuni (6855 m), P. 6310 m and others to the southeast were visible. The team finally descended to Camp 2 and onwards to Camp 1, reaching the site by 06.00 p.m.

On 31 June 2013, a team comprising of Brigadier Ashok Abbey, Subedar Topgay Bhutia, Assistant Leader Kunchok Tempa, Assistant Leader Tenzin Rigden, Naik Bishnu Bahadur and Rilfeman Birendra Singh occupied Camp 2, for a direct attempt on Trisul II. The team reached Camp 3 after a gruelling ascent in poor visibility at 03.30 p.m. on 30 June. Towards evening, low clouds engulfed the entire valley.

As per the original plan, the team would move on the fixed ropes up to junction of the northwest ridge emanating from Trisul II, with the west ridge going to Trisul I. Thereafter the team was to move roped up in two sub teams, to make a direct attempt on Trisul II, from the northwest ridge of the mountain. Owing to unstable snow conditions, the traverse from Trisul II to III was ruled out.

In the late hours of 31 May and the early hours of 01 June, Nk Bishnu Bahadur, a strong member of the team started to show major symptoms of altitude sickness, which was later diagnosed as ‘High Fever with Altered Sensorium’, a very dangerous condition. He was delirious and fast slipping into a state of semi coma. As he became critical, the leader decided to abort the attempt on Trisul II and to evacuate Bishnu to Camp 2, at first light on 01 June. It was a crisis situation!

As Camp 2 was located on a sharp ridgeline, evacuation by air was not an option. Evacuation commenced at 07.00 a.m. on 1 June and was carried out with precision, over the exposed west ridge of Trisul I. The critically ill member was brought down over 700 m on a steep ridge, including pitches of blue ice of 60o slope by a team comprising of Subedar Topgay Bhutia, Assistant Leader Kunchok Tempa and Assistant Leader Tenzin Rigden supported by Brigadier Ashok Abbey and Rifleman Birendra Singh. The patient was successfully brought down to Camp 2 by 12.50 p.m. Subsequently, Captain Basant Pathak, the young expedition doctor, moved up to Camp 1 and evacuated the patient to base camp and below. The outstanding team work at Camp 3 ensured that the critically ill Bishnu Bahadur survived. This was in the finest traditions of mountaineering and the Indian Army.

Looking east from the summit ridge, L to R - Nanda Devi, Nanda Devi East, Devisthan I and II, Devi Mukut and Devtoli. In the foreground (right) Mrigthuni. (Brigadier Ashok Abbey)

Looking east from the summit ridge, L to R - Nanda Devi, Nanda Devi East, Devisthan I and II, Devi Mukut and Devtoli. In the foreground (right) Mrigthuni. (Brigadier Ashok Abbey)

Looking west - Nanda Ghunti in the foreground, with Kamet towering above. Hathi Parvat is prominently visible to the right. (Brigadier Ashok Abbey)

Looking west - Nanda Ghunti in the foreground, with Kamet towering above. Hathi Parvat is prominently visible to the right. (Brigadier Ashok Abbey)

Despite the setback of a critical evacuation, but with the weather holding out, the leader decided on another summit bid to Trisul I. Accordingly, Team C comprising of Subedar Kunwar Singh, Capt Brijesh Kumar, Rifleman Pratap Singh and Rifleman Sunil Rai occupied Camp 3 on 2 June, for a second attempt on Trisul I. They were supported by Hav Matwar, Rifleman Yashpal Singh and Rifleman Min Bahadur Tamang at Camp 2.

The team left Camp 3 at 03.30 a.m. on 3 June 2013. Due to high winds, the team could not start earlier. Being extremely well acclimatised and hyper fit, the members moved swiftly. They reached the roping up point by 08.10 a.m. By 09.45 a.m. they reached the high point of the first summit party, but exercising caution they too did not tread on the heavily corniced summit top. The summit team under Subedar Kunwar Singh descended to Camp 2 at 02.00 p.m. on 3 June 2013, after winding up Camp 3. In a remarkable display of fitness and grit, the team descended, directly reaching the base camp by 07.10 p.m. the same day. The team had been on their feet for nearly fourteen and a half hours. Meanwhile, the support team at Camp 2 wound up the camp./p>

On 4 June, Camp 1 was also wound and the entire team finally concentrated at base camp the same day. They descended just in time, as there was heavy snowfall in the upper reaches from 5 June onwards. The expedition team finally reached Sitel on 10 June.

The team ensured that no non biodegradable waste generated by the expedition was left on the mountain. All returning members from Camp 1 and above and porters returning from base camp and subsequently ponies from Bhujani, were used for bringing down the non bio degradable waste generated from high camps to the base camp and then on to the road head. All members used a ‘Kiwi Bag’, which ensured that the mountain was not unduly littered.

In order to assist the civil population living in this remote area, two voluntary medical camps were held by the expedition team on their return, in the upper Nandakini valley. Approximately, 150 families of this far flung valley were given medical aid. The locals were extremely grateful to mountaineers and the Indian Army for this gesture.

The expedition team which reached Joshimath on 13 June, was coincidently present and thus naturally poised, when an unprecedented ‘Cloud Burst’ hit Uttarakhand on 16 June 2013. As most of the team members were former instructors and students of the High Altitude Warfare School, they immediately joined the rescue operations of the Indian Army. Thus the expedition team members not only spear- headed some these rescue operations, but rendered life saving aid, in which hundreds of stranded civilians were rescued.

The expedition to the Trisul massif in 2013 was a challenging and an eventful experience. While Trisul I had been climbed, the Trisul traverse could not be accomplished by the team as planned. However, the mountain environment had been left clean and pristine; medical aid was provided to inhabitants living in the remote, upper Nandakini valley; a fellow climber’s life was saved by critical evacuation from summit camp on the west ridge. Most importantly, the expedition was on the forefront of rescue operations launched by the Indian Army, in arguably one of the worst natural disasters to hit the country.

Somewhere, perhaps Trisul, Lord Shiva’s omnipresent trident, had once again been the saviour!

Nomenclature in the Nandakini Valley

Trisul (Trishul) - Trident. It also reflects three humps on the summit Bhujani - The place of Bhojpatra or the Himalyan birch Bank - Glacier or body of ice
Dang - Big stone
Dudhang - Two big stones
Hom Kund - The place where ‘havan’ is performed in the memory of forefathers
Kund - Pond
Lata Kopri - Dead body
Nandakini - Water from the feet of Goddess Nanda Nanda Ghunti - Face of Nanda Devi/ Face in a veil Nanda - Golden Bhagwati
Nanda Ghunti - Face of Nanda Devi/ Face in a veil - Golden Bhagwati
Nanda - Golden Bhagwati
Kini - Water
Sili Samudra - Sea of stones
Tatra - Village of those who speak Tatri language

An attempt to traverse three summits of Trisul massif by an Indian Army team in May-June 2013. Trisul I was climbed on 30 May and 3 June, via the west ridge, by two teams.


  1. The Survey of India records the name of this massif as Devasthan and not Devisthan as mentioned elsewhere.
  2. HJ Vol. XVII, p. 110
  3. HJ Vol. XVII, p. 112
  4. HJ Vol. XXII, p. 70
  5. This yatra (pilgrimage) is held every twelve years.

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