Indian Himalaya: Climbing and Other News - 1998


Harish Kapadia

One of the major topics that dominated the discussions in the Indian mountaineering circles was the blunder about the ascent of Nyegi Kangsang.

In the Himalayan Journal, Volume 52 (1996), and in some other leading mountaineering journals, articles on the Nyegi Kangsang expedition were published, which claimed the first ascent of this 6983 m high peak situated on the border of Arunachal Pradesh (India) and Tibet (China). It is now agreed upon and proven that the above ascent was wrongly claimed. The main peak was not climbed. The following correction must be noted.

The Nyegi Kangsang expedition was organised by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) in 1995. Col. M. P. Yadav, VSM, FRGS, then the Principal of Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi, was appointed leader of the expedition. The team claimed to have made the first ascent of the peak (6983 m) on 23rd October 1995. This news and articles with accompanying photographs and sketch maps, were published in good faith by many editors.

However after studying the facts through other maps and photos, it was found that the team had reached a point about 600 m (six hundred metres) below the main peak and they were about 1.25 km away from the main summit on the Northeast ridge. Jagdish Nanavati, President of the Himalayan Club, submitted a detailed study to the President of the IMF, Dr M. S. Gill, who immediately appointed a Sub-Committee to examine it. Leader Col. M. P. Yadav and two of the summitters appeared before the Committee. Faced with the facts the summitters admitted before the Committee that they had not actually reached the highest point of their “summit ridge” (see photo no. 2, opposite page 13, H.J. Vol. 52). The Committee concluded that the expedition had failed to reach the main summit and had wrongly claimed an ascent. The findings were accepted unanimously by the Governing Council of the IMF.

The summit of Nyegi Kangsang (6983 m) was not reached by the Indian expedition led by Col. M. P. Yadav in 1995. The peak remains unclimbed. This unsavoury episode has generated much debate and few major points were brought to the fore. All claims of first ascents will henceforth be scrutinised before acceptance.

J. C. Nanavati was thanked for his painstaking efforts, which is available on website (www. indmount.com) and in the Alpine Club library. The openness and firmness shown by Dr M. S. Gill, President of the IMF, in upholding the truth about IMF’s own expedition was also appreciated.

On the mountaineering front a special mention must be made of Martin Moran’s crossing of the watershed between Badrinath and Kedarnath temples. This route, first undertaken by Shipton and Tilman in 1934, had not been attempted since. Martin Moran, Mrs Brede Arkless, John Harvey, Ben Lovett and Sobat Singh Rana were successful in crossing this watershed.

They established an advance camp at 4650m just beyond Surajkunni at the head of the Satopanth Glacier on May 28th with the help of a support team, which included John Shipton (Eric Shipton’s son). An attempt to climb the icefall directly to the col was made on 29th May and the climbers reached 5300m where big crevasses and detached ice towers deterred further progress. They therefore used a safer route up the face to the left of the icefall, which was well covered with snow, and was Scottish grade II in difficulty. Leaving the support team five members climbed this face with loads of 22-24kg early on May 31st. They reached, the col, and climbed a small peak which they named Shipton's Peak (5758 m). On 2nd June they descended the icefall above the Gandharpongi Gad. Proceeding downwards, they crossed several nalas and ridges to follow a high route to the Mandani temple. They went further ahead before descending to Kedarnath. This was an exploration in the fast disappearing traditional style and was one of the highlights of the Indian mountaineering season. Other important climbs, like Mukut Parvat, Changabang and Bhagirathi III were as follows:

MAJOR EXPEDITIONS IN THE INDIAN HIMALAYA IN 1998

GARHWAL AND KUMAON

Mukut Parbat East (7,130 m) This was a fine ascent of a difficult peak by an eleven member Korean team. It was the last 7000 m virgin peak in the Garhwal. They started from Badrinath and approached it from Purvi Kamet glacier, setting up two camps (5900 and 6400 m) on the south face of the mountain. The pilot attempt by four members on 27th August failed due to strong winds. On the second attempt, from Camp 2 they followed the east ridge --- a sustained, steep route on ice -- to the summit at 5.15 p.m. on 30 August 1998. Two members, Park Ki-Sung and Park Dong-shin reached the summit. On the summit pinnacle they left a piton and carabiner. The entire route was covered by fresh snow over rotten ice. It was steep till the northeast col and subsequently to the summit. The leader was Ok Syun Hong and his deputy, Kim-Namil. They named this route : ‘Running Again Korean’.

Changabang (6,864m)

This climb was another major achievement in the Indian Himalaya climbing in Indian Himalaya for 1998. A light-weight American team, led by Carlos Buhlar climbed this peak, in dangerous pre-monsoon season. All five members, Carlos Buhler, Victor Kolesnichenko, Pavel Shabalin, Andrej N Mariev and Alexander Dosaev reached the summit on 29th May via the North Face.

Bhagirathi III (6,454m)

A French team (Bruzy Alain) successfully climbed two routes here. Thivel Reny, Guillqume Aroavel reached the summit via the South Face on 18th May. Bencist Stephane and Thinicres Jerome climbed to the summit via the SW ridge on 19th May.

The Russians climbed Bhagirathi III by a new route on the west face.

Alexander Odintsov, Igor Potankin, Yuri Koshelenko, Vladimir Kachkov, Andrey Lukin, Ivan Samoilenko, Lioudmila Krestina (doctor) arrived at the base camp in Nandanvan on 25th August. It rained for the next three weeks, till 26th September. But from then until their summit day, 14th October, they had crisp cold days with only localised snowing.

The first problem was the "The Funnel," 230 m of free climbing (most of it mixed) where small avalanches and rockfall from the wall congregated. They hung on three portaleges on 29th September and stayed under “The Trunk”. The bivouac and the upper 300 m of the route were protected by "The Trunk", the 300-meter, overhanging bulge of rock at one-third height in the middle of the amphitheater wall. They climbed with aid and under a cold shadow cast by 'The Trunk'. At this point, the leader Alexander Odintsov, could not stand the acute pain in his stomach and he rappelled down. Above "the Trunk," they climbed 300 m of vertical dihedrals and a huge roof that they called "The White Poker". And then there was "The Black Tower" with very loose rocks. This was the shale band at the top of the amphitheater wall. After 120 m of vertical aided climbing and 180 m of traversing on 55-degree slabs they reached the crest. The next day they reached the summit at 1 p.m.. Then began the descent, which followed the line of ascent. They rappelled the route. That was the beginning of the most dramatic part of the journey. Whilst they were going down a continuos heavy snow storm engulfed them for three days. This storm destroyed 25 kilometers of the road and killed many people in the lower valleys. The members were lucky to have survived. As they were used to severe Russian winters this rain and cold proved mild for them ! The expedition took 12 weeks longer than they had planned !

Thalay Sagar (6904m) This peak near the Gangotri temple is a popular destination. Several teams took on its challenge by different routes. The Japanese team (Hiroshi Doke) reached 6300 m on the NE ridge before a freak storm ended its attempt. A Korean team (Hyung Jin Kim) from Seoul carved a bold new route on the north face. They made several bivouacs on the face and were near about the finish when a cornice broke near the summit plateau on 28th September 1998, killing all the three climbers including the leader.

Kedar Dome (6,830m) This peak remains a popular too, and an easy objective. Italians, Indian and Swiss teams attempted the normal route.

Trisul I (7,120m) Only attempts from the west are allowed on this peak due to closure of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. A Spanish (Eduardo Gomez Telletxea) team reached 6850 m in September. Bad weather forced a retreat.

The Koreans (Yeon Soo Park) were successful in making an ascent. They approached Trisul from Ghat- to BC (4200 m). They next followed the 1976 Yugoslavian route from West Face (west face to south ridge). Four camps were established en route till 6500 m. Two members, Hyung-Yul Kim and Jong-Young Park, reached the summit on 29th August.

Shivling (6,543m) Six teams attempted this shapely peak in the Gangotri glacier.

1: Czech (Vojtech Ocelka) The expedition attempted the West Ridge and attained a maximum height of 5,900m. Continuous rainfall and bad weather forced the team to restrict their movement. Besides, a huge Ice Wall (on the way to the summit) broke and the route became extremely difficult and dangerous. Climbing ahead was almost impossible.

2: British (Simon Yates): Summit was reached by Miles Bright and Graham Frost on 20th September by the west ridge.

3: German (Walter Hadersdorfer) :Too much fresh and loose snow forced the team to abandon their attempt. They reached a maximum height of 5700 m.

4: German (Christian Richard Tremier): Five members reached the summit via the west ridge on 27th and 28th September.

5: American: (Peter M Takeda) : A bad storm did not allow them to scale the main objective Meru Central (6,450m). The team, therefore, concentrated on their alternative objective, Shivling. The leader and David Sheldon reached the summit on 30th September via the west ridge.

Satopanth (7,075m) Though 7000 m peak, it is not too difficult to climb by the normal ridge. Austrians (Dr Lengaver Peter), Spanish (Txetxu Lete Bernardo) and Italian (Giancario Cimmino) teams attempted it. Surprisingly none were successful.

Swachand (6,721m) John Frank Yearsley led a British team which attempted the west face. They reached 6100 m when stonefalls stopped further climbing.

Chandra Parvat (6,728m) The Austrian team had made the first ascent of this peak way back in 1938. Dr Karl Pallasmann led a team this year to repeat the ascent after 60 years. They walked in from Kinnaur, over Lamkhaga pass and climbed the peak. The summit was reached by five members from the SW ridge on 10th September.

Jaonli (6,632m) In September/October, Martin Moran led a British team to this peak. The expedition failed due to heavy snowfall which made the mountain dangerous and the effort strenuous. Three unnamed peaks, 5447m, 5349 and 5450 were climbed and a crossing made from Jaonli Bamak to the Din Gad Valley over a 5100m pass.

Bhagirathi I (6,856m) The highest peak of the Bhagirathi group was climbed by the Austrians (Jochler Josef). The summit was reached via the west ridge by Jochler Josef and Zenz Christian on 7th October.

Meru Northeast (6,660m) Roger Payne and Juli-Ann Clyma (British) again returned to the Indian Himalaya. Originally they had applied to climb the north face of stupendous rock monolith of Reo Pargial, the highest peak of Himachal Pradesh. However after the nuclear tests were conducted by India all permits to the border areas were cancelled for a while and they had to settle for the above peak. Heavy snowfall and avalanches forced the two- member- team to abandon their attempt at 6,350m on 3rd June.

Sudarshan Parvat (6,507m) An Indian team from Calcutta (Arun Roychowdhury) climbed this peak. Arun Roychowdhury and HAS (High Altitude Supporter) Raju reached the summit on 28th May.

Bandarpunch West (6,302m) An Indian team from West Bengal (Sudipta Mitra) reached the summit on 4th September. Taruneshwar Sinha, Sri Ranjit Das and HAS Himalaya the and Gopi Chand Rawat were summitters.

Sri Kailash (6,932m) BC was occupied on 17th May at 4500m, a little below the snout of the Thelu Nala, by an Indian team (Iknus Ahmed). They established 5 camps. Aloke Das and HAS Sarwan climbed the summit on 31st May.

Gorur Dome (6,268m) An Indian team from Calcutta (Prasanta Roy) made the first ascent of an unnamed peak (6268m), locally known as Gorur Dome, on 9th June. It was climbed by Arnab Banerjee, Arka Ghosh, Avijit Das and HAS Surinder Singh Rawat.

Unnamed Peak (6,166m), Unnamed Peak (6,035m) in Chaturangi Glacier An Indian team from Calcutta (Amitabha Roy) climbed both these peaks. Base camp was established at 5030 m on 25th June and two more camps were in place by end of July. Both peaks were climbed by Mainak Das, Raghubir Singh and two HAS Balbir Singh and Lachman Singh on 29th July.

HIMACHAL PRADESH

Gya (6794 m) and Gyasumpa (6480 m)

A team from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (Sqd.Ldr. A. K. Singh) attempted this enigmatic peak in September. They approached it from the north via Chumar. First they made an ascent of, Gyasumpa, which lies to north of the main peak. They carried out a recce of the east ridge and established a high camp. However a prolonged spell of bad weather forced them to retreat. Gya remains unclimbed.

Earlier an army team based in Ladakh made an attempt on Gya. They claimed an ascent which is not substantiated as yet. They followed the same route to the base camp.

Leo Pargial (6,791m) and other peaks

This peak, first climbed by Marco Palls in 1933 is on the Tibetan border. Two teams climbed this peak. First a team from West Bengal (Milan Nag) reached the summit by the route from Nako. They followed the NW face to the west ridge. Shyamal Sarkar and Shaymal Bannerjee along with two Sherpas climbed to the summit on 20 July 1998 and enjoyed an excellent views. They had also established a Medical Camp in the area and several doctors from Bengal devoted same of their time to the villagers. These camps, organised annually by them are generally coupled with climbing and trekking. The participants have covered several areas over the years.

Another Indian team from Bombay (A. P. Samant) climbed this peak by a new approach. A base camp was set up at 5150m after crossing the Chango glacier on 9th July. C-1 was occupied on 13th July. First they climbed other peaks in the area. Unnamed peak (6484m) : A first ascent of this peak was made by ascending a snow-shelf, then climbing up the southwest face, and the steep, rocky south ridge. Leo Pargial (6791m) was climbed via Kuru Topko Col (5920m) and west col (6040m). From there they followed the north face having joined the normal route at West Col. The team also another climbed unnamed peak (6228m) on 1st August, They climbed and attempted Ninjeri Col (6120m), Ningmari (6173m).

South Parvati (6,128 m)

Rob Collister (British team) had always enjoyed the south Parvati area in Kullu. He returned to attempt the above peak this year. Due to heavy snow fall at Camp-I the team could not climb the peak. They retreated from Camp-I (5400m) on 16th September.

Dharamsura (White Sail) (6,445m) A Spanish team (Roman Bascunana Diaz) climbed this peak in July. Leader and Josema Urrestarazu San Roman reached the summit on 18th July via the NE ridge.

KR-5 (6,258m) A Japanese team (Minoru Yanagi) reached the summit via the Koa Rong nala. Leader and a guide Alam Chand Thakur managed to reach the summit via the NE ridge on 15th August.

Gepang Goh (5,870m) A small British team (Ian Ford) attempted this peak in Lahaul. The reached a height of 5500 m. Progress was very slow due to difficult/dangerous crevasses.

Unnamed Peak (6,130m) Andrez Zboinski led a Polish team which climbed this peak in August. Two members, Richard Wrona and Kristofer Gardyna reached the summit on 21st August via NW Ridge. This peak is located between KR 2 and KR 3.

LADAKH

Zanskar and Ladakh are rather popular with commercial teams. Eleven teams climbed/ attempted Nun, Kun and Kang Yissay between them. All attempts were made by normal routes.

Dzo Zongo (6,096m)

A German team (Herrmann Wilhelm) climbed a new peak in Ladakh. All members, except the leader and Wiechert, reached the summit on 28th August via the east ridge. Earlier another German team (Ms Geraldine Westrupp) had also climbed this peak. All members including the LO and a local guide reached the summit on 19th August via the NEridge.

Mentok I (6,340m) The Mentok group consists of several smaller peaks located to the west of Karzog village in Rupshu, Ladakh. A Japanese team ( Susumu Sasaki) climbed this peak. S Sasaki, M Kimura, W Ueno, and Sherpa Palden reached the summit via the east ridge on 12th August.

Thugje (6,148m) In the Rupshu area across Pologongka la rise several peaks overlooking the Tso Kar lake. The highest amongst them is Thugje, which was climbed by a Japanese team (Masato Oki) this year. A group consisting of M Oki, M Muto, A Ito, T Nomura, K Hishida, N Namada, Sorab Gandhi (LO) and Climbing Guide C G Chowdhury reached the summit on 14th August via the south face and the east ridge. The other group of six members: G Ozaki, S Taieda, Soji Harada, Arun Roychowdhury and Lakpa Sange Sherpa reached the summit on 15th August.

EAST KARAKORAM

Indira Col (5840 m), India Saddle (6000 m), Turkestan La (5810 m) and Bhujang (6560m) on Teram Shehr plateau (Siachen Glacier)

The Siachen Glacier is one of the longest glaciers in the Himalaya and Karakoram. It contains several high peaks. It was first visited in 1821. Since 1984, the glacier is always in the news because of an ongoing conflict between the Indian and Pakistani armies on its heights. This ‘Glacier War’ has changed many concepts of high altitude mountaineering. Since the beginning of the war a only few expeditions have been permitted to visit the glacier.

In 1998 an Indian team from Bombay (Harish Kapadia) , was one of the few teams permitted in decades to trek and climb on the glacier. Four members of the team traversed the entire 76 km glacier. Passing through the war-zone, the expedition reached Indira Col and India Saddle, at the head of the glacier. These are the northern-most points of India at present. The four stood on the Indira Ridge and on the great divide between South and Central Asia overlooking the Karakorams in the south and the Chinese Turkestan in the north. Two of the team, with Sherpas, made the first ascent of a virgin peak Bhujang (6560 m ) on the Teram Shehr plateau.

Deaths

Hukam Singh, who passed away during the year, was one of the leading mountaineers in India. He had climbed Shivling (first ascent) and many other peaks. Later he led many expeditions, including one each to Everest and Kangchenjunga and organised several joint expeditions with the Japanese. His story makes interesting reading. He hailed from the village of Milam and lost his father when he was four. He studied in a small village school. All the villagers, along with the “school” migrated during the winter and summer months through the valleys. He faced extreme hardships, both economic and physical. He joined the army and later moved to the newly created Indo-Tibet Border Police in 1962. He rose to be its Deputy Inspector General. He was a father figure to many young mountaineers in the force and received several national awards. His untimely death was mourned by many mountaineers.

If this was a rags to riches story, at the other extreme was Navnit Parekh, who died at a ripe age. He was of a different genre. Born in a wealthy family, the call of the Himalaya came to him early. He entrusted the family business to his brothers and roamed the range for several years. He finally settled in the sprawling Khali Estate near Almora and married a simple village girl from there. He was a pioneer in Indian mountaineering having organised the first ever Indian expedition to Pumori and Cho Oyu in the 1950s. Later his interests turned to the lower ranges and the spiritual aspects of the Himalaya. His estate is now converted to a resort overlooking the Nanda Devi range, and stands as a testimony to his knowledge and interests. Every visitor to the estate or his flat in Bombay was regaled with stories of his travels, meetings with spiritual personalities in the Himalaya and his personal contact with present day mountaineers. This baba (uncle) as he was called by many, was a link between the past and present of the Indian mountaineering scene. He introduced trekking and spiritual aspects of the Himalaya to many city-folk

Malipa Tragedy

Indian pilgrims visit the Manasarovar lake in Tibet in large numbers. Groups and visits are organised by the government. In August this year, one such group of 60 pilgrims, was camping at village Malipa en route to Lipu Lekh pass. Amidst heavy rain a huge landslide occurred above their valley which discharged a mud-slide with boulders in the middle of the night. It swept away everything in its way. All the pilgrims and the entire village of Malipa were gone. More than 200 persons died that night.

Around the same time heavy rains caused another slide in the Garhwal which blocked Madhyamaheshwar Ganga, a river valley visited by several pilgrims, where Shipton-Tilman had descended in 1934. There were several casualties there too, and roads were blocked for the next few months.

Both these tragedies have focused attention on the effects of the cutting of trees, the degradation of the environment in the hills and fragile nature of the Himalayan foothills.

Literature and Honours

Indian publishers continue to print several reprints from old classics. This has developed into a huge reference market with several excellently printed titles now available. Exploring Pangi Himalaya (Minakshi Chaudry) is a new publication about a small district in Lahaul. The author is the wife of a district administrator and has known the area well having lived there for years. There are several peaks and passes in this little known district and this book should kindle an interest in the area. The other noteworthy book to be published during the year was Meeting The Mountains (Harish Kapadia). I have covered treks and travels between 1960 and 1969 and then from 1992 to 1998 (the years in between are covered in the earlier book High Himalaya Unknown Valleys). This gives a readers a glimpse of the climbing and trekking scene in India then and now. The latter half of the book covers meetings with several mountaineers and the experience of working for the Himalayan Club.

The Alpine Club, London, elected Nawang Gombu as an Honorary Member. In its history only three Indians have been bestowed with this honour. Gombu started as a High Altitude Supporter and carried maximum loads to South Col. He was the first to climb Everest twice, with the Americans in 1963 and with the Indians in 1965. He had a long tenure as instructor at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute Darjeeling and retired as its Director recently. The honour was a fitting tribute to this elderly Sherpa statesman.

Anniversaries / Conferences

The Himalayan Club celebrated its 70th year of existence in February 1998. Talks, slide-shows and exhibitions of photographs were held in Bombay and Delhi. Swami Sunderanand, a sadhu living in Gangotri was the chief guest.He showed slides on his travels.

The Indian Mountaineering Foundation completed 40 years and celebrations were held in New Delhi in November. The National Wall Rock Climbing competition was held to coincide with the event. A two day “Climbers Meet” was organised where Indian climbers from all over India participated. Their suggestions, criticisms and plans were noted for the future. At a special dinner to celebrate the event Bob Pettigrew from the UK was chief guest.

A conference to consider environmental issues relating to the Himalaya was held in Bangalore. It was organised jointly with the British Mountaineering Council. The meeting suggested various means to save the damage.

Meeting of the Himalayan Countries

On the invitation of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, a meeting of the IMF, the Chinese Mountaineering Association, Nepal Mountaineering Association, and the Alpine Club of Pakistan, was held at the IMF Headquarters in New Delhi on the 4th and 5th of December, 1998. Dr. M.S. Gill, the President of the IMF, chaired the meeting. It was felt that the mountaineering organisations from the four Himalayan countries that were present, had common interests, as this region had the world’s highest mountains and the largest climbing areas. These countries host a large number of climbing expeditions, both foreign and domestic, annually. They, therefore, all faced similar problems of granting permissions, visas, environmental destruction and pollution, of security of the local Sherpas/ porters/guides, fees and charges etc. All the Associations try to deal with these issues in their own way. It would be beneficial to all to have an annual meeting of these host countries, to know each others’ policies, in order to achieve improvement and co-ordination. This was the rationale on which the IMF had taken the initiative.

The points discussed included common linking of Web sites, exchange of information and documentation, the possibility of joint expeditions and training, and any other issues that might emerge in the years to come. It was agreed that for the facility of expeditions wanting to climb in this region, the climbing regulations of each of the four countries should, be produced in a single booklet. It was also agreed that if action is taken by anyone of them against any expedition/individual mountaineer, for unethical conduct, the other three members will take due note. It was hoped that this beginning would lead to more and more effective co-operation in the interest of their respective mountains and mountaineers.

And finally

The year was rounded-off by a visit from the editor of the Alpine Journal Ed Douglas to India. He addressed the Himalayan Club in Bombay and read from his book. What he said was perhaps rather relevant. “It is the trekkers and tourists that have changed and not so much the local people. The present day trekkers and climber are in hurry and has no time to know history of an area, understand its culture or interact with the locals”, he said. It reminded many of us the title of the book by Galen Rowell, Many People Come Looking Looking, Nobody See.