Indian Himalaya: Climbing and Other News - 1999

Harish Kapadia

The major event in the Indian Himalaya, without doubt, was the ascent of Gya. It had all the makings of a film-story. Gya ( 6794 m) at the trijunction of Himachal, Jammu & Kashmir and Tibet had received 8 expeditions so far. Yet, this mountain had remained elusive and had had no ascents so far either due to misidentification or bad weather. When I first explored its approaches in 1983 and 1987 little did I realise the formidable opponent it would prove to be for more than 15 years. The Indian Mountaineering Foundation ( IMF) organised a 2nd expedition to Gya in May - June 1999, with Chewang Motup Goba of Ladakh as leader of a small team of 4 members; all from different walks of life: Cyrus Shroff , Nadre Sherpa, Lobzang Tsering and Amrish Jha. They attempted by two different routes and reached the summit by the northeast ridge. On the supposedly virgin summit they found a piton ! Thanks to this team two stranded climbers were rescued from the mountain and the body of their dead companion was brought down. Full details are given below. Major Expeditions In The Indian Himalaya In 1999


Takpashiri (6,635 m)

Expedition Indo- British Leaders: Doug Scott and Col. Balwant S. Sandhu Period: September – October Result: The joint expedition was permitted after a delay of a year by the Government of India to approach this mountain .

The expedition set up a base camp at 4500 m above Dolaing on 15 October but remained tent-bound for another seven days due to a local squall in the wake of the Orissa Cyclone. Because of injuries and sickness (Sherpa Pasang, Greg Child, Doug Scott and Balwant Sandhu were all medically down) the expedition was called off on 22 October 99. Balwant and Doug were taken out by helicopter to the nearest Military Hospital at Durjan.


Abi Gamin (7355 m)

Expedition Himalayan Trekkers And Mountaineers, Garhwal Leader: S S Negi Period: August – September Result: Unsuccessful, expedition reached a height of 6700 m and gave up because of bad weather

Arwa Spire (6,193 m ) and Arwa Tower (6,352 m)


Expedition British Leader: Mick Fowler Period: April – June Result: This was one of the finest climbs in the Garhwal this season. These shapely peaks were noticed by an Indian expedition in 1997 and this expedition was allowed into what was earlier a restricted area .. They found some difficulties in locating the peak. Finally Arwa Tower was climbed by Mick Fowler and Steve Sustad.

Bhagirathi III (6,454 m)

Expedition French Leader: Antoine de Choudens Period: April – June Result: At first this small mobile team climbed a brilliant route on Shivling, and named it ‘Ganesh Ridge’. Later they made a fast ascent of the SW buttress of Bhagirathi III.

Expedition Spanish Leader: Jose Santos Chaverri Period: June – July Result: Unsuccessful. Summit was attempted on 27th July 1999 but bad weather stopped them.

Bhrigupanth (6,772 m)

Expedition Mountaineers Association of Krishna Nagar Leader: Basanta Singha Roy Period: May Result: The party reached Camp 2 when a sever snow-storm reached the area. No further climbing as possible.

Burphu Dhura (6,414 m)

Expedition I.M.F., New Delhi Leader: Lt. Cmdr. Satyabrata Dam Period: September – October Result: This was strong team from the IMFsent to attempt this virgin peak on the Kalabaland glacier in eastern Kumaun. The peak had been attempted twice before. With sustained climbing they reached within 120 m of the summit following the south ridge. Further difficulties of the route, combined with bad weather, stopped them. Earlier they had climbed Burphu Dhura II (5815 m)..

Devachan (6,200 m)

Expedition Indian, from West Bengal Leader: Pradip Mahapatre Period: October Result: Attempted by Pradip Mahapatre and Alam Chand Thakur,. During the final attempt on the summit a crampon broke and the climbers had to return from about 6000 m.

Hardeol (7,161 m)

Expedition British Leader: Dr. David Sykes Period: September - October Result: This is a high peak climbed only once from the southern approaches by an I T B P team. The present team approached from the formidable western approach and was unsuccessful. This three member team led by David Sykes, attempted from the west face. Five days of bad weather stopped them.

Kamet (7,756 m)

Expedition Saad Mountaineers, Ambernath Leader: Rajan L Deshmukh Period: July – August Result: A team of Sanjay Mane, Deepak Kale, Vibhu Puri along with Himalaya Sherpa (???)and three sherpas reached the summit of Kamet on 9 Aug 1999 at 2 p.m. Sanjay Mane fell sick and felt uneasy while descending from the summit. Himalaya Sherpa(???) with the other sherpas brought him to Base Camp on 14 Aug 99 and in turn they also suffered from severe frost-bite. Sanjay was brought down to village Shepukarak on 15 Aug by Wankhede, Deepak Kale and Hementh Thete. On 16 Aug they walked down to Niti village. The villagers also joined them in the celebration of the team's success .. Sanjay left Niti village on 17 Aug. A mule was organised for him and he left with Deepak, Vijay & Shashi. After some distance he became unconscious on the mule and expired at 7.25 a.m.

Expedition Vashisht Rishi Sanstha, Manali Leader: Baba Mahindra Pal Period: August Result: Successful, the summit was reached on 3rd. September, 1999 by Ravinder, Jaylal, Dinesh, Gyalzen Sherpa. Baba Mahindra Paul, who climbs with the help of crutches, reached high on the mountain.

Karcha Parvat (6,270 m)

Expedition Himalayan Association, Calcutta Leader: Aloke Basu Period: August Result: Successful, summited via the N.E. ridge on 28th. August. The summit party included Palash Mukharjee, Sarbajit Sadhu, Apu Chatteerjee, Palleram, Fateh Chand.

Kedarnath (6,968 m)

Expedition Australian Leader: Dr. Glean Sharrock Period: August - October Result: Unsuccessful, reached up to 6800 m as bad weather stopped them.

Expedition French Leader: Perin Dominique Period: July - August Result: Unsuccessful. This was a 12 member team which approached from the Gangotri glacier. A heavy storm during this monsoon period stopped them.

Meru East (6,261 m)

Expedition American Leader: Peter Takeda Period: August – September Result: Unsuccessful. It was two member team.. They reached 5900 m. in August, and were stopped due to bad weather.

Meru North (6,450 m)

Expedition Japanese Leader: Taihei Kato Period: May – June Result: Unsuccessful, They attempted from the North West Face and stopped at 5800 m due to poor snow conditions in June.

Mukut Parbat East (7,130 m)

Expedition Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi Leader: Col. Ajit Dutt Period: June - July Result: The expedition consisting of several instructors from the Institute followed the same route as the Koreans in 1998. They found a Korean snow-stake on a dome about 100 m below the actual summit. They proceeded ahead from this Dome and reached a higher point from where they could see Mukut Parvat I . This was the actual summit. The Korean team had stopped at the Dome thinking that the main summit was Peak Mukut Pravat I. After studying photographs and exchange of letters the Koreans agreed that they had, inadvertently, stopped at a lower point. This dome was christened Mukut Parvat East II (7030 m). The Indian team is now credited with the first ascent of Mukut Parvat East (7130 m). Nandadevi East (7,434 m)

Expedition: Junipers, Calcutta Leader: Prasanta Roy Period: May – June Result: This was basically an expedition to reconnoitre the route for the main expedition to the peak in 2000. The team was caught in bad weather and found too much snow on ground. They managed to reach Longstaff Col.

Panchuli III (6,314 m)

Expedition I.M.F. New Delhi Leader: S. Bhattacharya Period: May – June Result: This virgin peak was attempted by a young IMF team selected from all over India. The leader was an experienced mountaineer from Delhi. They attempted the peak from the eastern approaches through Meola glacier. After overcoming the icefall they reached the final ridge directly from the icefall, instead of traversing to the col between Peak II and III. They had to stop about 80 m before the main summit due to steep ice. Second attempt was not made.

Shivling (6,543 m)

Expedition Austrian Leader: Walter Zoerer Period: August - October Result: . On 18th September Walter Zorer (leader), Ralf Teubeiur and Kurt Steinmetz climbed the summit of Shivling by the west ridge at 3 p.m. They were descending down the same ridge, each of them solo and unroped, as the rope was fixed on the slopes. At about 5900 m Kurt Steinmetz fell, unseen by the other two. He fell down the valley on the west side. The other two continued to descend carefully and found a way to reach the body, only to confirm that he had died instantly.

Two of the survivors reached the camp at 9.30 p.m.

Expedition Netherlands Leader: M.C.Schell Period: September – November Result: Successful, a four member team led by M C Schell attempted via the north face. Summit was reached on 12 October, 1999 by three persons. Thalay Sagar (6,904 m)

Expedition Korean Leader: Young Kuk Chai Period: August - September Result: This is a popular peak with the Koreans. The present expedition was unsuccessful in reaching the summit. An avalanche hit Camp 2 and destroyed all equipment.

Expedition Russian Leader: Oslanine Victor Period: May Result: Successful. This was one of the important climbs in the range. This strong team followed the route on the north face followed by the Koreans last, with one variation. They made a very safe ascent in quick time.

Tharkot (6,099 m)

Expedition OSD (Adv. Tourism), Almora Leader: R. C. Bhardwaj Period: June - July Result: Successful, 4 members reached the summit of Tharkot, which is not climbed often. This team also made ascents of Durga Kot, 5869 m, (10 members reaching the summit), and Bhanoti (9 members reaching the summit) Their attempt on Tent Peak (5961m) failed at 5800 m


Gya (6,794 m)

Expedition IMF, New Delhi Leader: Chewang Motup Goba Period: June – July Result: This was one of the most successful Indian expeditions this year. A six member team was led by Motup, himself a Ladakhi. They studied the peak well and reached base camp with sufficient gear for a prolonged stay as this peak had defeated several teams in the past.

First they attempted the peak by the southeast ridge by crossing over to the southern valley and east col. The final climb was very challenging and the team had to return from about 100 m from the summit. After regrouping at the base they mounted an attempt on the peak via the northeast ridge traversing the slopes below the Gya North peak. As he reached the summit, the first summiteer to his surprise found a Stubai piton on the summit and a flag. As it was discovered later, these were from the Indian Army Expedition 1998 which had claimed to have reached the top without producing convincing proof. Apart from the finding of a piton on the top, on studying the photos of the army team again, now in relation to the photos brought by the IMF team, it was concluded that the army climbers had indeed made the first ascent of Gya. Thus the epic of Gya came to a successful end. Thus this virging peaks had two ascents in as many years.

This team also helped in the rescue of two stranded mountaineers from a Bombay team on Gyasumpa peak and finally helped to retrieve the body of A. P. Samant. (see note later)

Kangla Tarbo II (6,120 m)

Expedition: Ordnance Factory Mountaineers & Trekkers, West Bengal Leader: Samir Sengupta Period: September - October Result: Successful. The main peak Khangla Tarbo I was not attempted and remains a major unclimbed peak in the area.


Leo Pargial (6,792 m)

Expedition Himalayas Beckon, Calcutta Leader: ??? Period: June Result: The team attempted Leo Pargial I by the traditional route. They stopped about 100 m below the summit as the rock and snow conditions were dangerous.

Menthosa (6,443 m)

Expedition Santragachi Shailo Sathi, West Bengal Leader: Ashish Paul Period: August Result: Successful, the peak was climbed on 25th August . Summiteers were Ashish Paul (Leader), K. Bhattacharyya and four HAPs.

Mulkila – 4 (6,517 m)

Expedition Japanese Leader: Ziro Mishuno Period: August Result: The team attempted the southeast ridge of this challenging peak. They stopped at 5300 m due to bad weather.

Nainghar Choti (6,094 m)

Expedition Japanese Leader: Atsushi Hayakawa Period: August – September Result: Unsuccessful, they approached the peak from the Kardhing nala, near Keylong, Lahaul. They attempted the summit via the east ridge on 2nSeptember but failed due to bad weather.

Rubal Kang (6,187 m)

Expedition Rocks & Snow, Calcutta Leader: Amulya Sen Period: June - July Result: Successful, the summit was attempted on 10th July. The summit team reached the foot of the south east face early in the morning, and taking advantage of good snow conditions reached the summit at 9.30 a.m.

Unnamed Peak (6,553 m) (Dibibokri Nala)

Expedition British Leader: Anthony Ewan Mecleran Period: September - October Result: This is a high and unclimbed peak at the head of the Dibibokri glacier: The British team of three members was led by Anthony Ewan Mecleran attempted it.. However only the nearby Peak 6222 m was climbed by the west ridge by Bowden on 30th September.

Unnamed Pk. 6118 m (near Yunan Tso, Baralacha Pass)

Expedition Snout Adventurers Association, Calcutta Leader: Ujjal Roy Period: August-September Result: This is an unnamed peak on the Manali-Leh highway and is easy to approach. They established a base camp on 17th August. 7 members climbed the summit on 23 and 24 August. Exact location of the peak (valley) is not known.

Lhakhang (6250 m)

Expedition Japanese Leader: Tsuneo Suzuki Period: July – August Result: This peak was first explored and named by a Bombay team led by Harish Kapadia during an exploration of the Lingti valley. The present expedition approached the peak from the west, from Spiti. Led by the experienced leader T. Suzuki, the summit was climbed on 6 and 8 August by seven members.

LADAKH Chhamser Kangri (6,622 m)

Expedition: Nawabganj Mountain Lovers, West Bengal Leader: Ms Lipika Biswas Period: August - September Result: Successful, 4 members reached the summit on 29th August. Since it was first climbed in 1995 this has proved to be a popular peak with climbers in Ladakh.

Parcha Kangri (6,065 m)

Expedition Kashmir Mountaineering Team, Srinagar Leader: Showkat Hussain Mir Period: August Result: Unsuccessful, they failed due to bad weather.

Umdung Kangri (6,643 m)

Expedition Japanese. Japanese Alpine Club, Tokai Section. Leader: Tatsumi Mizano Period: July - August Result: Successful, nine people reached the summit on 6 , 8 and 9 . August. They followed the west ridge. This is a high peak seen in the south as one descends from Parang La pass. It is near the watershed of the Lingti valley in Spiti and Ladakh.

Unnamed Peak (6,184 m) (Lahaul)

Expedition Japanese Leader: Murakoshi Noboru Period: July – August Result: It is not clear which valley in Lahaul this peak is situated in. However the team was unsuccessful in climbing it as they took a wrong route and stopped at 5600 m.


Miya nala expeditions

In the summer of 1998 and 1999 a small Italian expedition visited the Miyar valley in India. The team composed of Gianluca Bellin and Diego Steffani. In 1998 they climbed a tower christened Thunder Peak (ca. 6100 m) by its east facing evident ridge. The climb, which involved climb up to VII, occasional aid points(???not understood), mix up to M5 and ice up to 85°, was done in purest alpine style without porters, without fixed ropes and in a single push with open air bivouacs. The name was given because of the massive storm they got caught in while abseiling. The team returned again to the same valley the following year with the intention of first doing an easy 5000/6000 metre peak for acclimatisation and then going for the massive south face of an un-named rock tower. They were able to do only the acclimatisation scramble before Diego Steffani hurt his knee and had to return home. Gianluca Bellin is one of the most active of Dolomiti climbers with a dozen or so new routes to his credit, in the Agner/Pale di San Lucano range. Diego Steffani, besides being a certified Alpine guide, climbed the Casarotto route on Pilastro Goretta (Fitz Roy) in an astonishingly short time.

Call of Death The most sad and strange of death was that of A. P. Samant, a member of the Alpine Club and a senior Indian mountaineer. It was in 1983, that he saw Gya for the first time as a member of the exploratory expedition to the Lingti valley led by me. He could not join my second expedition in 1987 but continued his affair with Gya by returning there twice before the fateful final expedition in 1999.

When the Indian Mountaineering Foundation organised the second expedition to Gya in 1999, it was a strong team that was to attempt the peak. Samant decided to climb the mountain before this team arrived on the scene. Such was the pull of the mountain that he went there without the knowledge of the authorities the peak is on an international border), friends or even the family. With two companions, and little equipment, he was on the mountain much before it was released from the grip of a severe winter. Even the Tso Moriri lake far below was still frozen. As the IMF team arrived at the base camp, this three member team rushed up to the peak with one rope and one muleteer in support. They climbed in a hurry what they thought was the summit .,. They climbed Gyasumpa, which had been climbed a few times before. While returning from the peak Samant was too exhausted to reach the camp and his companions were neither strong nor experienced enough to cajole him to reach safety. Spending two nights in the open, Samant died on the slopes and the other two were lucky to be rescued by the IMF team which was at hand to organise a rescue, and finally bring down the body of Samant. Though one grieves for any death on the mountain, specially for an experienced mountaineer like Samant, what is unfortunate is that he fell prey to an obsession, put his life at risk, fatally. Commitment is understandable but such competition was uncalled for. To understand one’s limits is the key to good judgement and it appears that this was a casualty in the heat of being a “first“. One hopes that the mountaineering fraternity has learnt its lesson. One also hopes that his family takes it as an inevitable part of life that every one of us at some time , in some way , must complete our tenure here.. The Indian mountaineering community has lost an old member and our condolences go to his family.


During the year Janet Rizvi’s Trans-Himalayan Caravans (OUP) was published. She is the Hon. Librarian of the Himalayan Club and a research scholar. Here, in what she calls' ‘research in oral history’ she talked to several old hands who had journeyed across the Karakoram Pass to Central Asia and other places in Tibet for trade. This important publication records their travels and difficulties.

A Slender Thread by Stephen Venables recalls his accident on Panch Chuli V in the Kumaun Himalaya in 1992. It is a story of a joint Indo-British expedition and of his personal grit and survival.


Jagdish Nanavati, President of the Himalayan Club had also served as the Honorary Secretary of the Club for 21 years, a record not many are likely to beat anywhere in the world. He retired after being the President for 9 years. No tribute is enough for his yeoman selfless service of three decades to the cause of mountaineering. His meticulous study of the Himalaya, starting with the exposure of the false claim of the success on Nilkanth, earned him the goodwill of those interested in the search of truth. In fact, recently, at a gathering, a speaker made uncharitable biased remarks about his studies and he was seriously taken to task. Such is the impact he has made, to support the right and expose the wrong. He was elected President Emeritus, an elder statesman of the Club.

Dr. M. S. Gill, who took over as the President of the Club this Millennium is someone with very steadfast values, and he brings them to fore particularly when they concern mountaineering affairs. His interest in the mountains began when he was a government official in Lahaul and Spiti. . For the last six years he was the President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and was responsible for establishing many good traditions, specially in upholding the truth when it came to mountaineering claims. Dr. Gill is the Chief Election Commissioner of India and brings with him vast administrative experience . The Himalayan Club is in good hands. .

At the IMF, N. N. Vohra, an experienced bureaucrat, has taken over as the new President. He has served in the government in several capacities like Home secretary and in the Prime Minister’s Secretariate.

A Gathering to Honour the Himalayan Club Tigers

The Himalayan Club, fulfilling its historic role, awarded the “Tiger’s Badge” to those sherpas who had achieved outstanding success. The badge was awarded to a select few, who were judged by many criteria. The following excerpt from a letter by Mr. T H Braham recalls the history of the award: ------ HC records of the Sherpas, which were instituted by H.W. Tobin with the founding of the Club in 1928, were maintained as one of the chief occupations of Tobin’s successors as Hon Local Secretary in Darjeeling. When Tobin left in 1934, George Wood-Johnson took over, then J.W. Kydd in 1936-7. Between 1938-40 Mrs. H.P.V. Townend, as Secretary of what was then the Eastern section of the HC at Calcutta, did sterling work looking after the interests of the Sherpas and keeping their records up to date. In 1950, when the HC got going again properly, Ludwig Krenek as HLS Darjeeling in 1949-50 compiled a Sherpa Porters Register containing 175 names (including Ang Tsering b. 1910) which, for the first time, was published in the HJ (XVI 1950-1 pp. 121-133). From 1951-55, Jill Henderson as the Club’s local Secretary, ‘mothered’ the Sherpa community in Darjeeling, and fought tooth and nail to ensure that their interests were protected. But by then a big change was on the way with the opening up of Nepal, the migration of Sherpas to the new centre for expeditions in Kathmandu, and the dissolution of the Club’s activities in Darjeeling as a recruiting agency for Sherpas. Of course a few Sherpas never left Darjeeling, such as Tensing, Pasang Dawa, even Angtharkay who stayed until the end of the 1950s; and many others, encouraged by the establishment of the HMI. It would indeed be interesting for the HJ to publish a current review of the size of the Sherpa community who still reside in Darjeeling, providing a picture of their present activities; and whether any of the older men have passed on their profession to their descendants, as many well-known families of Alpine guides have done in Switzerland. ---- At the turn of the new Millennium the Himalayan Club organised a special gathering to honour the last three living recipients of the Himalayan Club Tiger Badge. They were Ang Tsering, Nawang Gombu and Tobgay Sherpa. The gathering was held in the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute on 6th January 2000. Many climbing Sherpas of Darjeeling and other guests were invited to be present. A special register was signed by all present. This will be a historic document in the Club records. The Sherpas and Sherpanis, both young and old joined for lunch on a sunny day in clear view of Kangchenjunga. It was day of memories as katas and other gifts were exchanged. A special reference was made to Ms Jill Henderson, the spirited Himalayan Club local Secretary who was instrumental in looking after the welfare of the Sherpas. The Sherpa lunch at Darjeeling was filled with nostalgia of the Himalayan climbs of that ‘Golden era’ of mountaineering history. It was another historic day in the annals of the Indian mountaineering as it entered the new Millennium by honouring these giants of the past mountaineering traditions. Incidentally Ang Tsering Sherpa, now aged 97 years, is the only person alive (members or Sherpas) from the 1924 Irvine- Mallory expedition. In the brouhaha after the find of he Mallor’s body no one sadly remembered Ang Tsering.

Millennium Meet

Towards the end of the year the Indian Mountaineering Foundation organised a gathering of many Indian and foreign mountaineers in New Delhi. Ian Macnaught-Davis (President, UIAA), George Band, (President, BMC), Dr Masuyama (Japanese Alpine Club), Bae Seung Youl (Korean Alpine Federation), Steven Berry (Himalayan Kingdoms) were some of the guests who attended and spoke at the gathering with several Indian speakers. It was a unique gathering which considered past happenings in the Indian Himalaya and looked at the possibilities of the future.

In a novel experiment all the participants at the Millennium Meet were asked to vote to select the - "Indian Himalayan Millennium Person". The final list included several leading mountaineers, explorers, administrators and others who had made major contribution to the progress of mountaineering in the Indian Himalaya in the last 100 years, in various ways. Happily, being remembered for his pioneering explorations and writing, the person voted to this coveted honour was: Eric Shipton (1907 - 1977).