Indian Himalaya: Climbing and Other News - 1997


Harish Kapadia

The year 1997 was declared a year of celebration to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Indian Independence. But unfortunately the weather was not in a celebratory mood and several expeditions had to face the wrath of the weather Gods. One expedition, specially organised for the occasion, was the traverse across the entire Himalayan range by a group of ladies.

A walk Across The High Himalaya A team of eight women traversed the entire Himalayan range from Arunachal pradesh to the Eastern Karakoram. The team, led by Bachendri Pal, started from Bombila on 4 February 1997. They trekked through Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, Garhwal, Kinnaur, Spiti, Ladakh and the Karakoram.

Due to major differences which developed after four months on trek, the team split up at Dharchula, Kumaon. Three ladies left the main group and continued on a separate trek. They were Vineeta Muni, Sumita Roy and Malika Virdi. They were sponsored by the Himalayan Club. This group crossed 36 passes above 3000m, covering about 4500km on foot in 198 days (just over 6 months) of trekking. Their trek ended at the Karakoram pass on 20 August 1997. They were accom-panied, in the final stages, by jean Thomas. The other group ended their trek by reaching the Indira Col on the Siachen Glacier on 2 September 1997.

Garhwal Satopanth (7075m) This was a super-fast climb by a very fit party of well-acclimatised instructors from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering and led by their Principal, Col. Ajit Dutt. The expedition was organised as a refresher course for the instructors. Base camp (4680m) was established at Vasuki Tal on 7July and advanced base camp (5200m) at Sundar Bamak the same day. Camp 1(5920m) was set up on 8 July and Camp 2 (6400m) on the N Face five days later. Nine members reached the summit on 14 July following the traditional route on this 7000er. The round trip from ABC took only seven days.

Changabang N Face (6864m) A British team, led by Julie-Ann Clyma and Roger Payne, returned to this peak to complete the route left unfinished in 1996. The team consisted of several leading climbers from the UK and the US. After establishing base camp on 10 May, two separate routes were tried. Finally Brendan Murphy and Andy Cave reached the summit on 1June - by a new route. Mick Fowler and Steve Sustad reached the summit ridge. As Brendan Murphy was setting up an abseil, an avalanche swept down, carrying Murphy away and narrowly missing others. His body was not found. (See articles ‘Changabang: A World Apart’ by Andy Cave, pp3-11, and ‘Mountain of Dreams, Mountain of Sorrows’ by Julie-Ann Clyma, pp12-17.)

Deoban (6855m) This peak is in the Kamet area. An Indian army team led by Maj. Anirudh Negi climbed it this year. Base camp was established on 1 September at Thada Udiar. Four camps were established on the mountain. No 19 September the summit was reached at 9.35am by Naik Subedar Dhanjeet Rai with LNK Topgey Bhutai and RFN Tenzing Sherpa. This difficult peak has not been climbed for a long time.

Changuch (6322) This unclimbed peak near the Pindari Glacier was attmpted by a British team consisting of Gay Murray, Brian James and Stephen Ferris. They attempted the peak from the glacier. Difficulties in crossing seracs and heavy snow on upper snowfields stopped them. (See MEF Reports, ref. 97/26.)

Bhagat Peak (5650m) and The Garhwal Traverse an Indian expedition from Bombay led by Harish Kapadia tried the ancient tracks in the badrinath area of the Garhwal. They were the first to follow the routes picneered by Shipton and Tilman in 1934.

In the first stage of the expedition the five-member team entered the Panpatia Valley and reached the icefall its head. The intention was to cross a high col to madhyamaheshwar to prove an old legend. The icefall proved too difficult and long and the party gave up.

In the second stage Bhagirath Kharak Glacier was traversed and a high camp established on Deo Dekhni plateau. Bhagat Peak was climbed by Harish Kapadia and Nyima Sherpa on 19 June. Two other peaks were climbed the Following day: Deo Dekhni I (5400m) and Deo Dekhni II (5360m), both by Kaivan Mistry and Mingma.

Meanwhile Rajesh Gadgil and Monesh Devjani attempted to reach Chaukhamba Col (6050m) last crossed by C F Meade in 1912. They stopped at 4850m owing to wet snow conditions. The entire party then crossed two high passes (last crossed by Shipton and Tilman in 1936) Shrak La (5700m) and Serga Col (5840m). Finally they returned via the Arwa valley to complete the exploration. (See article ‘In Famous Footsteps’ by Harish Kapadia, pp 53-58.)

Draupadi Ka Danda (5716m) A 10-member Japanese team led by Kazuyoshi Kowdo climbed this small but important peak in the Bhilanga Valley. The summit was reached by the ENE Ridge. The leader and four other members reached the top on 3 August 1997.

Meru Central (6361m) British team led by Owain Jones (with three members) made two attempts, twice reaching 6100m, on the E Face. Bad weather, crampon failure and high avalanche risk made them give up. Their route was the same as the Shark’s Fin.

Thalay Sagar (6904m) This peak, which sees many attempts and few successes, was climbed by an Australian team (Athol Whimp with three members), who reached the summit by the N Face on 19 September 1997. The summit was reached by Athol Whimp and Andrew Lindblade.

Several other popular peaks in the Garhwal were attempted, including Shivling, Meru, Kamet, Kedarnath, Kedar Dome, Nanda Devi East and others. Bad weather forced many teams to call off their attempts. On Nandahanar, a peak near the Pindari Glacier, an Indian climber, K V Mohan, was killed when an avalanche hit the party.

Himachal Pradesh Gya (6794m) This unclimbed peak on the tri-junction of Spiti, Ladakh and Tibet has been an attraction to climbers for the past few years. This year no less than three expeditions attempted it from two directions. But the peak did not yield to any of them, though several other peaks near it were climbed.

Gya South-East (6680m) and others (from southern approach, Spiti). A three-member expedition from Bombay approached the unclimbed Gya from the Lingti valley in April-May 1997. Reaching base camp in near winter conditions they attempted the E Face of the SSW spur of Gya. They reached the SE Col. Finding the final ridge of Gya too difficult they turned SE to climb Gya SE. Dividing into different teams the other three peaks around the ridge were climbed. The last peak was near base camp. All the peaks climbed were first ascents and were given names by members of the expedition.

Gya North (6520m) from the northern approach, Ladakh-Spiti. A young team from Delhi with three climbers wanted to climb Gya’s NW face in good style. After an attempt on the face Yousuf and Chaman followed the W Spur to establish three camps, the third on being almost on Gyasumpa peak, the point where the W Spur and N Ridge meet. From here, traversing the N Ridge with difficulties, these two reached the second high point on the ridge, at about 6520m, which they named Gya North. This was a first ascent of the peak.

Gyasumpa (6480m) from northern approach, Ladakh-Spiti.This was a large expedition consisting of climbers from seven countries from Asia and supported by many strong climbers from India. It was led by the experienced mountaineer Col H S Chauhan. They crossed Parang La and reached the base camp in the north. One member was evacuated owing to sickness. Their intention was to make the first ascent of Gya (6794m). Dividing in two large teams they climbed the W spur and N Ridges. In all about 32 climbers reached the summit after fixing many metres of rope. Both the routes were of high technical calibre and required a good deal of care and effort. One party climbed to the W Spur from the N and the other party followed the N Ridge gained from S.

At first the expedition claimed the first ascent of Gya and all concerned were informed of this achievement. However upon scrutiny of their photographs, the leader declared that the team had climbed the much lower Gyasumpa (6480m). Literally meaning thrid peak of Gya, this peak was the one near which the Delhi group had established their Camp 3 a month before, climbing there easily from the S. The present expedition had turned in towards the peak one valley too soon and had mistaken Gyasumpa for Gya. (See article ‘In Pursuit of Gya’ by Arun Samant, pp36-44.)

Phawrarang (6349m), Kinnaur. A japanese team climbed this remote peak. The E face to E Ridge route was climbed on 12 September by two members and on 13 September 1997 by a further two members. The team had excellent weather throughout.

Gepang Goh (6088m), Lahul. This prominent peak can be observed from the popular Rohtang Pass. It is a group of several peaks and though of moderate height each of the peaks is difficult to climb. There are two known ascents in this group. The first was by General Charles Bruce ( with the Swiss guide Heinrich Fuhrer and 2 Gurkhas) in July 1912. 42 Years later N Wallaston and R Platts are known to have climbed a peak here in 1954. The army team from Two JAK Rifles, Indian army, established a base camp near Khoksar on 6 July 1997. They approached the SE Face. A summit camp was established on 12 July 1997. They approached the SE Face. A summit camp was established on 12 July. On 15 July a party left this camp at 5.15am reached the peak at 12.45pm. Summiters were Gautam Thakur (instructor from Manali Mountaineering Institute), Rfn. Prem Chetri and Ffn. Dal Bahadur Gurung. The height of the peak, previously thought to be 5870m, was revised by the present team as above.

Throne (5840m), S Parvati Valley, Kullu. Though small by Himalayan standards, this peak is a prominent feature in the S Parvati Valley. A Scottish expedition climbed it on 12 September 1997 by the NE Face and N Ridge. The summit was reached by Scott Muir (leader), D Proudfoot, G Lennox and K Kelly. The peak is situated near Pandu bridge, Manikaran.

Other peaks attempted or climbed in the area were Chau Chau Kang Nilda (Spiti), two unnamed 6000ers in the Baspa valley (Kinnaur), Chandra Bhaga and Koa Rong, both in Lahul.

Ladakh

Ladakh continues to be popular destination. The high peaks of Nun and Kun were climbed and attempted by several teams. Kang Yissey was another popular destination.

But the real exploratory climbs were achieved in the Rupshu. The area has only been opened and known since 1995. I was a member of one of the early parties to climb in the area. We climbed Lungser Kangri (6666m) and Chhamser Kangri (6622m). These were the highest peaks in Ladakh. But as they can be approached easily, they have been climbed at least three times each year since my first ascent. I do not know whether the mountain is blessing me or cursing me for opening up this onslaught! This year the remaining two major peaks in the area were climbed and one was attempted.

Kula (Chalung) (6546m) Rupshu, Ladakh. The peak is situated in Rupshu above Namshang La. It is known by both names. A Japanese team led by Tsuneo Suzuki (11 members) climbed it on 11, 13 and 15 July 1997 by the NW Ridge. This was the first ascent of the peak.

Pologongka (6632m), Rupshu, Ladakh. A British Expedition achieved some pioneering work in the area. It was led by M Rathy with T willis, R Law, A Allcock. They climbed Pologongka, rising above the motorable pass of the same name, by the S Face (Rathy and Law with the Liaison Officer N singh) on 20 August 1997. This was a first ascent. The expedition also attempted the S Face main buttress on Chakura, reaching 6000 m. This peak rises from the road near Chumathang. No wonder they gave the title ‘Roadside Rupshu’ to their article about this climb! (See MEF Reports, ref, 97/34.)

Sara Shua (6250m) Rupshu, Ladakh. The N Ridge was climbed by three members of an Italian expedition on 14 August, and repeated by three members on 17 August 1997. This is the peak on the western shores of Tso Moriri and was climbed by the Japanese in 1996 for the first time.

Lungser Kangri (6666m) and (Chhamser Kangri (6622m), Rupshu, Ladakh. This year it was a German team led by Dr Hans Dietrich Engel Hardt (three members) that took its turn on these peaks. Both the peaks were climbed.

Chhamser Kangri was climbed on 31 August from SW to NE by all members. Lungser Kangri was climbed from the SE by all members on 5 September 1997. Both these peaks are situated on the eastern shores to Tso Moriri Lake, Rupshu. We have not heard the last of them for sure.

Literature Like every year many reprints of old classics were available. But of the original publications. Exploring Kinnaur and Spiti by Deepak Sanan and Dhanu Swadi fills a void of information about these areas. Sanan was a District Commissioner in both these areas and knows it first hand. The second edition of exploring the Hidden Himalaya (Mehta and Kapadia) was issued as a paperback. It has an updated history of the range (to the end of 1997) and a set of new pictures.

Deaths Though Lt. Col. J O M Roberts lived and died in Nepal he was an explorer well known in India. In fact he was the first visitor to Spiti and later to the Saser kangri area. His climbs in the Dhaula Dhar were models of inspiration. Stationed in the Dalhousie Cantonment, he would turn mountaineer on Friday evenings, climb rocky above Dharamsala and then report for the Monday morning parade. He was also a pioneer of what is now known as commercial trekking.

Two Himalayan scholars from Bengal also passed away. Uma Prasad Mukherjee (Hon. Member of the Himalaya Club) was a well-known writer and inspired a generation of Himalayan lovers. S N Das was also a scholar of Bengali lores about the range.

Freedom Walk As India celebrated its 50th year of Independence on 15 August 1997 we discovered that there were several extra holidays to celebrate the event. Many politicians were descending on Bombay, many events were planned and the celebrations would lead for certain to traffic jams and noise. So what could be a better way than to spend a week in the mountains? With friends I set off on a trek to the high Kush Kalyan plateau which contains several lakes. That prolific Himalayan writer Bill Aitken aptly called it ‘the Lake District of the Garhwal’.

One evening we camped near a shepherd couple with their old father. I could not resist asking these nomads what they thought of Indian Independence today and that historic day exactly fifty years ago.

‘I Came to Kush Kalyan then, ’the old man replied. ‘We used to travel on foot from the plains, and even today we do the same. We have our flock with us.’

‘What about the future?’ I asked.

The young shepherd interjected, ‘As long as I am alive I will be here and the yearly migration will continue in the same style.’

‘But what is the effect of fifty years of Independence?’ I persisted. ‘What about freedom?’

He thought for a while and replied with a smile, as if it was a state of mind, ‘We were always free.’