Indian Himalaya: Climbing and Other News - 1996

Harish Kapadia

Compared to 1995, when many new peaks were climbed, this year was rather quieter in terms of the climbs achieved. The year was particularly noted for poor weather and plenty of rain even in late October which defeated many expeditions.

According to the Hindu customs and calendar, which is based on the phases of moon and has 30 days, an extra month is added every three years to compensate for the difference of 1 day. Whenever this month happens to be in the monsoon there is supposed to be heavy rains. This year was that extra month in the rainy season and it rained like never before. It may be a coincidence but worth a research. The good news is that such an extra month in the rainy season is not to return for next 13 years. So climbers on 2010 beware !

Assam and Sikkim Himalaya

The Assam and Sikkim Himalaya saw three expeditions. The army team from the Gorkhas, climbed Gori Chen (6858 m), which is now becoming popular and most of the teams to this range seems to be approaching it. Another team from Calcutta climbed the Eastern peak of Gori Chen (6422 m) in mid-October.

A British team, led by Doug Scott, operated in the North Sikkim Area. Though some teams have been climbing in the Zemu glacier, the Britishers were first to be allowed towards Chombu (6362 m) and the Donkhya la areas. The team comprising of Doug Scott, Lindsay Griffin, Phil Bartlet, Julian Freeman-Attwood, James Novak and Mark Bowen was accompanied by Col. Balwant Sandhu as the liaison officer. On Gurudongmar (6715 m) and Chombu, they experienced consistent bad weather and thus they were not successful on both the peaks. But they could reach the saddle on Gurudongmar and Sebu la. They climbed Chombu East. Peak fees were paid to the Indian Mountaineering Foundation as well as to Government of Sikkim. The expedition operated in the Sikkim Himalaya during October 1996.


Two seven-thousanders were climbed in this area. A 9-member Korean team climbed Chaukhamba II (7068 m) which is situated at the head of the Gangotri glacier. This peak received it’s first ascent in 1995 when it was climbed by the northeast ridge by the Indian team comprised of the instructors of the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi. The Koreans climbed a new route via the northwest ridge on 14 May. Cho Chul Hee and Lee Byeonju were the summitters. An Malaysian attempt on this peak in October was foiled by bad weather and they could not reach beyond 5300 m.

The other high peak to be climbed was Nanda Devi East (7434 m). The South Korean team climbed the south ridge via the Longstaff Col and reached the summit on 1 September. The summit was reached by Jeong Jeon-Mo, Su-Jin Lee, Nati Sherpa and Mingma Sherpa.

The south ridge route was first climbed by the Polish expedition in 1939. Since then this technically difficult route has been repeated many times. This 4-members Korean team was successful on this high peak at height of the monsoon and their attempt was spread over the months of July to September.

On the Gangotri glacier several other peaks were attempted and climbed. Prominent among them was the first ascent of Chaturangi III (6393 m) on 18 May by Spanish team. Vidal Miguel Angel climbed it solo via the south and the southwest ridge. This peak lies in the Khalipet Bamak. The 10-member team approached the peak via Vasuki Tal.

Mana Parbat II ( 6771 m) was climbed by the Koreans. The ten members team operated in the area during August/September 1996. A high camp was established at 6200 m from where the attempt was made. B.R.Cho and J.K.Lee reached the summit of Mana Parbat II on 12 September 1996 by the west ridge. This was the same route as followed by the Indian team in 1995. On their main aim, Mana Parbat I, conditions were not suitable for an attempt.

Three teams failed on the popular Bhagirathi III west Pillar route. All were snowed out by late October weather. Same was the fate of expeditions to Kamet, Nanda Ghunti, Gangotri II, Trisul I and Thalay Sagar.

The area north of Changabang (6864 m) has been recently opened. After initial difficulties in obtaining clearance a British team attempted the magnificent north face. Roger Payne with Julie Ann-Clyma, Brendan Murphy and Andy Perkins attempted this 1600 m high north face during May / June 1996. The first two nights on the face were spent on precarious and uncomfortable sitting bivouacs. Three nights were then spent perched in small tents in poor weather on the central icefield, before taking a traverse towards the upper icefield. On this traverse, Andy Perkin’s health worsened as he had contracted Salmonella. Thus they had to turn back from 6200 m on 15 June 1996. This area has a lot to offer and they plan to return next year.

Four peaks of the Panch Chuli group had been climbed till 1992. Only Panch Chuli III (6312 m) remained unclimbed. This was tried by an Indian team from Bombay this year. They approached this peak, in the Pyunshani valley in the month of May 1996. Divyesh Muni, Cyrus Shroff, E. Theophilus, Fulton Nazareth and Joe Menenzes made their approach from the true left of the Madkini river. The team attempted to reach the col between Panch Chuli II and III from the Panch Chuli glacier. Advance base camp was established at 4000 m. They fixed 400 m rope to reach Camp 1 (5000 m). Another 500 m rope was fixed towards Camp 2 before an avalanche swept off E. Theophilus, while he was leading a pitch . He had a miraculous escape and survived virtually unhurt after falling almost 800 m. The expedition was called off after the accident.

Himachal Pradesh

The same storm that had caused problems in the Garhwal, troubled the teams in the areas of Kinnaur, Spiti and Lahaul also. A teams of bureaucrats climbed Kullu Pumori (6553 m) at the head of the Bara Shigri glacier. Seven persons reached the summit in two groups on 20 and 22 July. A peculiar accident claimed life of their deputy leader while returning. Deputy leader Premlal, who had climbed the summit with the second group, was crossing the Karcha nala with Alka Sharma on 25 July 1996. It was late in the evening when they were crossing the nala with the help of 6 m long fixed wire rope, Sharma was stuck. Premlal tried to help her but in the process fell in the river and was almost swept away. Sharma caught him and tied him to wire rope. But he still remained in the water upto his shoulders. After few hours he was dead. After hanging on the rope for the night, the next day at 8.30 a.m., Sharma was rescued by other team members.

Elsewhere in the Himachal Pradesh, there were some notable ascents and attempts. Dharamsura was climbed by the Japanese, a team from Bengal climbed Dongrimo in the Losar nala, Manirang and Gya was attempted by a team from Bombay and popular peaks like CB 13, CB 14, KR 4, Gangstang and Karcha Parbat were climbed by the Indian and foreign teams.

Gya (6794 m) situated on the international border was attempted by three teams. A Bombay and Delhi team followed the southwestern and northern routes respectively. Both failed on the rocky route. An army team, from the Dogra regiment claimed a first ascent. Upon scrutiny of their photos and report, it was clear that they had climbed another peak and had not even approached Gya. Such mis-identification was surprising -- with helicopters, latest maps and all the resources at their command. The matter was studied by ‘mountain-inquisitor from Bombay (as he is popularly known), J.C.Nanavati and it took some convincing before their claim was rejected.

But the best climbs in the area came from the Parvati valley. An Indo-American team, led by Aloke Surin and Don Goodman enormously enjoyed themselves in the south of the valley, climbing 5 peaks upto 5805 m. They also attempted the monarch of the area, South Parvati peak (6127 m) which has not received many attempts. This Himalayan Club sponsored expedition covered the area through their slides and their explorations of the side valleys should be a useful reference to all future teams. The Parvati valley is now free of any restrictions.

After being denied permission at the last moment, a British team decided to taken on small but challenging Kullu Eiger (5646 m) in the Parvati valley. The team consisting of Graham Little, Jim Lowther, and S. Muir was operating in the area in the month of September 1996. The north face was climbed alpine style between 19 and 21 September. During their earlier attempt between 12 and 14 September 300 m rope was fixed on the first rock band. Total height of this face of rock and ice is 1900 m. The team named the route as ‘ The Mask ‘ and the estimated grade is alpine TD. This was the first ascent of the peak and illustrates how much fun awaits on smaller peaks.

In the Himachal, later in winter, a two-member team of Rajesh Gadgil and Harish Kapadia approached peak Hansbeshan (5240 m). This peak, almost ‘Matterhorn-like’ in appearance, was attractive but too difficult in the prevailing conditions. They approached the mountain from Nachar, their roadhead, and entered the Dagar Ghatang nala. The peak is at the head of the valley and is a technically difficult preposition. This is the highest peak of the Gangdari dhar of the middle Himalaya. In the cold winter conditions they laboured to the base of the peak. The steep rocky massif was very impressive from close quarters. They reached a high point of 4270 m and explored the approaches thoroughly before retreating.

With prevailing cloudless sky for more than a week, they could observe several small but sharp and difficult peaks. This area of the Kinnaur valley could be a major playground for climbers if height is not the only consideration. It is completely like the Alps in character -- easy to approach, no restrictions, base villages and rest houses available and most challenging climbs. Any takers ?

Ladakh and Zanskar


Apart from popular and routine climbs of Nun and Kun only two other expeditions of note were on unnamed peaks in Zanskar. The first was a British team, on Pk. 6026 m, Durung Drung glacier. They were caught up in the bad weather in August and returned from 5600 m.

There was a peculiar tragedy on an Unnamed Peak 6318 m, near Shingo la, Zanskar. This beautiful peak ,situated south of Shingo la is sometimes referred as Ramjak Peak. The 4 members team attempted this mountain during July / August 1996. The base camp was established at Chuminakpo (4660 m) where they spent 15 days acclimatising by climbing many times above 5000 m. Camp 1 was established on a small level ground on the eastern slopes of the peak. On 20 August Makarand and Rajesh reached 5600 m which was the high point of the attempt.

It was at Camp 1 that one member, Dinesh Shertate died on 22 August 1996, without showing any prominent symptoms. He was fit, experienced and as seen above, had acclimatised for almost two weeks to above the height where he died. The team was not able to give him any medication because of the sudden death. According to the post-mortem report, it was found that he died because of cerebral and pulmonary oedema. His death baffled and saddened many.

Dr. Charles Clarke, the renowned neurologist, was consulted on return and he gave some important observations as follows - ‘Brain oedema, that is very sudden swelling of the brain, does sometimes occur at altitude without any previous acute mountain sickness and at relatively modest altitude such as in this case. If the oedema occurs in a relatively robust part of the brain nothing very much happens, but in particularly sensitive areas, i.e. the central part of the brain, which controls respiration, this can precipitate a coma and relatively sudden death. There is nothing much one can do to prevent it, and treatment would probably not be very useful, although the steroid drug Dexamethasone could be given in this situation.’

Eastern Karakoram

The final tragedy, in a far different sense, occurred in the Siachen glacier area, eastern Karakoram. The expedition of five Indian mountaineers from Bombay was organised to climb in the Siachen glacier area under my leadership. . The area, at present, is a scene of conflict between the armies of India and Pakistan.. We had applied to the Government of India almost a year in advance and obtained permission from them, the Indian army and the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. After delays the team entered the Terong glacier valleys, one of the subsidiary glaciers of the Siachen. To our great surprise, halfway through the expedition schedule someone in the army hierarchy decided to cancel the permission and the team was called back and asked to vacate the area. Angry, fuming but helpless we rushed down to the army base camp. Faced with many questions, loss of international credibility, heavy expenses and puzzled at the army’s behaviour, we returned to Bombay. Protests were lodged but no one has bothered to reply even !

Upto now Pakistan has allowed more than 18 expeditions to climb on this glacier, which is an disputed area under a military conflict for the past 12 years.. India has managed to allow only one expedition (American, joint with the Indian army) on the upper glacier (Teram Shehr and nearby). One expedition jointly led by Doug Scott, (with Commandant Sonam Paljor of the ITBP), was diverted to the Terong glacier from the Base Camp by the army. This expedition had many critical things to write about their experience. Now, an expedition consisting of only Indian mountaineers has been turned back unceremoniously. It is a sad commentary that after 12 years of being on the glacier at such an expense, even Indian mountaineers could not be allowed there.

The military commitment has not solved the dispute to India’s advantage, causing untold misery, expense and loss of lives. More civilian (Indian and foreign) expeditions to this range must be encouraged which will go a long way to reinforce peace over the area and in the entire East Karakoram belt. The Government of India has exactly decided on this policy which is thwarted by the Indian army. Those intending to climb in the area in future should take these factors into consideration, the permission by the I.M.F. is almost useless here.

If nothing else, at least for the sake of preventing an environmental disaster that the glacier-war must be looked at. The Siachen glacier snout has receded by about 800 m in last 11 years. The glacier looked more barren and without snow cover. The Terong glaciers, particularly the North Terong glacier seemed to be receding fast and most of the ice-penitents and lakes have disappeared during the last decade.

With so many humans living on the glacier the accumulation of garbage is in abundance. Much of garbage is put into crevasses or dumped on rocks and snows. Worst offenders are tetrapacks in which fruit juices are delivered on the glacier. These aluminium foils, which cannot be burnt or destroyed, line the routes which are traversed and are a major eye-sore. Some serious thinking needs to be done about the environment concerns on the Siachen glacier.


Peak fees for climbing in India were revised steeply towards end of the year. A special environment fee and deposit has been enforced. As per the report of the Mount Everest Foundation, only 13% of applicant to them were climbing in the Indian Himalaya (compared to almost 30% in Pakistan).


Books on the Indian Himalaya are few but relevant. This year three major publications were available. Mountain of Happiness by Brig. D.K. Khullar describes the Indo-British army expedition to Saser Kangri group in 1988. Spiti Adventures in the Trans-Himalaya by Harish Kapadia narrates his experiences in this remote area, spanning a decade and almost all the valleys. The second edition of Ladakh Cross-roads of Asia by Janet Rizvi is also rather useful.

Sport Climbing

India has entered the world of rock sport. Several Climbing Walls have been built and this year a National Championship was held at Delhi.


During the year Brigadier Gyan Singh (retd) passed away. He was responsible for establishing two of the India’s premier mountaineering training Institutes at Darjeeling and Uttarkashi. He was leader of the first Indian Everest expedition in 1960 and later, did a lot to promote the sport. Ms. Leela Dayal, who passed away in her nineties was an collector and lover of the Himalaya arts. Her knowledge will be sorely missed but her house continues to display the art-effects collected by her in a museum.

Mention must be made of several mountaineers of the older generation who passed away in England and had contributed to the early exploration of the Indian Himalaya. W.H.Murray (Garhwal-Kumaon, 1950) and C.R. Cooke (Sikkim) passed away this year. V.S. Risoe was an old India hand and was Hon. Secretary of the Himalayan Club in England for many years.