We regularly had to climb rock and scree along the route
That afternoon, we discussed the next phase and found that there was no away ahead. The sheer rock wall continued for 300 m on both side of the river—only technical climbing with proper gear would make the traverse possible.
Last year, when we explored the Rong Tong river gorge, after a four- day walk we crossed a nala coming from north through a sharp gorge. I assumed, when reconciling the map drawn by Harish Kapadia, that perhaps this was the nala, where, after crossing the ridge, the Himalayan Club team planned to enter the Gyundi gorge in 1993. But they had failed to do so.
After another two days, we reached the cluster of Rong Tong glacier. Sandeep and I climbed to a high point to observe the structure of the three contributory glaciers of Rong Tong and the patterns of the ridges that outlined this gorge. I noticed a depression to our north and thought it would be an easier connector to South Gyundi nala. I did not know how the other side was! I tucked it away in my mind’s wish list – this chance to connect these two gorges in future.
In January 2018, I met Harish Kapadia who encouraged me to go to Gyundi nala. He mentioned that there had been no exploration—finally Kankan Ray, mountain chronologist, advised me to find a crossing to Bara Shigri glacier.
That’s how we decided this project.
Gyundi nala is a major tributary of Spiti river flowing from west to east, originating from a glacier located east of Bara Shigri glacier. It meets Spiti river near at Hal village—30 km north of Kaja—the head quarter of Spiti division, H.P.
Gyundi nala has north and south tributaries, which meet at Fu, around five km from the bridge over Gyundi nala near Hal village. Another important segment of Gyundi gorge is the central Gyundi glacier. This glacier cluster is spilt by a sharp ridge of 5700 m.
Majenta—Spiti Division / Green—Lahul Division / Yellow—Rong Tong Gorge No Colour—Kulu District
Our objective was to explore south Gyundi nala to its head (yellow zone) and then to cross over via an unnamed col to the upper Bara Shigri glacier. We also wished to recce the Gyundi-Rong Tong connector located at the left flank of the south Gyundi glacier.
I knew that south Gyundi is an almost unexplored area. As the gorge is a sharp chasm there is no grassland and thus there is no shepherd route.
Our extended plan, time permitting, was to cross Gunther’s col to Tichu glacier from Bara Shigri and thus complete a long traverse to Tosh village, Kullu. On the other hand if the going was impossible, plan B was escape through the Losar pass into Losar.
History of Exploration
In 1955, Peter Holmes and Trevor Braham made a foray into Gyundi gorge from Hal village and advanced for two days but gave up the attempt due to difficulties. After that they tried to enter Rong Tong (Ratang) gorge but failed.
In 1956, an expedition led by Joyce Danseith climbed over the water divider of Gyundi from Bara Shigri side. They observed a large unexplored area but did not cross to the Gyundi side.
In 1958, led by J.J.G. Stephanson , Joss Lynam and team embarked on an ambitious venture to climb peaks of northern Spiti. As a part of their plan, Joss Lynam entered north Gyundi gorge crossing Losar. Their main intention was, “to fill in the gaps in P. F. Holmes’ map and to clear the discrepancies between his map, the Abinger expedition map, and Survey of India Sheet 52H.”1 Lynam climbed over the Gyundi ridge, after finding a possible route but he had to return to Losar as they ran out of food.
Our six man team – Debasish Bardhan, Sandeep Thakurta, Subhadeep Mukherjee, Bhaskar Mukherjee, Ranadhir Roy and Sasthi Jana reached the bridge over Gyundi nala (30 km from Kaja) on the way to Hal village on 25 May, 2018. After moving one km into the gorge, we saw a faint suggestion of a trail which had been made for preparation of a drain by the irrigation department. Three of us followed the trail beside the drain and rest moved through Gyundi nala for 5.5 km – up to the junction of south Gyundi and north Gyundi nala. South Gyundi nala is more forceful, flowing through a narrow chasm. The map marked this place as ‘Fu’.
We entered a deep chasm full of water at the end of the May, with several waterfalls. We had to cross this turbulent flow over 20 times and sometimes we had to walk through the river in high water levels. In fact we adopted the technique of walking through the water to advance in the gorge. On both sides of the river were high rock walls. After 1:00 p.m. it was really hard walk through the torrent. We were able to move four km that day.
The next day we found that the river cut the rock wall for 200 yards. It seemed like the river was hidden beneath the rock. It was an inaccessible path. So we climbed 250 m and descended, covering barely two km to establish our second camp. Our afternoons were spent planning for the next phase.
Our movement in the narrow gorge
That afternoon, we discussed the next phase and found that there was no way ahead. The sheer rock wall continued for 300 m on both side of the river—only technical climbing with proper gear would make the traverse possible. Later the gorge widened but the turbulent river made it impossible. The rock fall was continuous. We had thought, after studying Google Earth imagery, that if we could reach the first contributory nala from the right – we could proceed further but in reality, we could not.
So our exploration of south Gyundi nala stopped here2. We came back to ‘Fu’ the next day and prepared to follow north Gyundi.
North Gyundi nala
Though we could not traverse south Gyundi nala, I was happy to gather some information about this gorge which will be valuable for future exploration.
From 29 May we started to move along north Gyundi nala. The first kilometre was gentle. We had numerous river crossings, switchbacks in as we continued to make trail. We were compelled to camp in an awkward place because crossing the deep pond created by the nala at noon is a risky business.
Another scree section
Later the going was hard and the river was rough so we resorted to three point rock climbing at regular intervals to avoid the water.
Besides we had to finish around 3:00 pm as river crossing was not possible after that. Four days went past.
Finally we made our route up the higher reaches of the rocky wall. After that the gorge became wider and easy.
In the afternoon we saw a rivulet coming from the north through a sharp gorge. Joss Lynam accessed Gyundi nala by crossing Losar pass using this nala. We found signs of shepherds, who may have come from Kangra valley.
As there are several dried nalas, Gyundi nala can be accessed from Karcha nala as well.
We reached the conjunction of the central Gyundi glacier, 5.96 km, snout point.
The glacier is smaller but the average height of the wall of watershed between Bara Shigri is 6000 m and difficult. We observed on the map that the gradient on the Bara Shigri side was too steep to descend. So we discarded this idea.
Opening of the fifth contributing glacier to Gyundi glacier
We chose the north Gyundi gorge instead.
We camped over the snout of west Gyundi glacier A south to north ridge divided Gyundi glacier. Two peaks – 5600 m and 5926 m seemed moderately accessible.
If time and fuel stocks were on our side, we would have attempted them. We were still in search of an accessible route to cross the ridge. At 2:00 p.m. we were blocked by the surrounding wall of the glacier. The glacier was full of crevasses covered with soft melted snow. We were bound to camp over the glacier again – our seventh camp in north Gyundi nala.
Observing the west wall, I saw two possibilities – a 300 m ice wall and a 200 m rock – ice mixed wall. I chose the rock wall, though insufficient rope length exposed us to continuous rock fall.
On 5 June, at 5:00 a.m., part of our team went ahead to open the route. Four hours later we were atop Gyundi ridge with all load and jummaring inexperienced porters. We fixed about 200 m of rope. 3
From Bara Shigri glacier the peaks we viewed were Kulu Pumori, Kulu Makalu and Cathedral. Concordia is in the west and Chau Chau Kang Nilda (CCKN) is in the south-east. In the north-west visibility of Central peak is blocked by the ridge of the neighbouring 5808 m. Peak 6080 m is in the watershed wall of central glacier and Gyundi glacier is visible in east. Shigri is visible south.
We descended through a comfortable snow packed zone from the Gyundi col and camped at South Lion glacier that evening and the next day we camped at Concordia on Bara Shigri glacier.
We had a plan to cross Gunthers col to connect Tichu glacier in Kullu but since our fuel stocks had depleted, we were compelled to follow Bara Shigri glacier to reach the road head.
On 8 June, we were compelled to bivouac on the glacier as our porters were away and on 9th we crossed Shigri nala. From this snout point to Batal is 12 km.
Gyundi river is a major tributary of Spiti river, flowing west to east, located in Spiti. It has two major contributors, i.e. south and north Gyundi nala that emerge from east and west Gyundi glacier respectively. There is also the central Gyundi glacier between west and east.
This team explored the region in May 2018. They crossed over from Spiti to Lahul and also crossed over from Gyundi to Bara Shigri.
DEBASHISH BARDHAN works with the Indian railways. He began mountaineering in 1991 and ever since has participated in 11 expedition and 20 treks. He is especially interested in exploratory expeditions in lesser known gorges and mountains. These include Itchu col in Fulangpa valley, Zanskar, Takling la from the north side (HJ Vol 68) and Shilla nala—Gyundi gorge—which are pioneering explorations.