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    MAJOR EXPEDITIONS TO THE INDIAN HIMALAYA IN 2006

    Compiled by Harish Kapadia

    Climbing expeditions to the Indian Himalaya appear  to be at a standstill. Overall there were reduced numbers of teams, both from foreign countries and India.  More than that it was reduction in number of peaks being attempted, specially the challenging peaks and routes, that is more evident. One of the main reason is the unrealistic fee structures and rules by the  State governments that has deterred climbers. The climbing activity was at much reduced scale in Uttarakhand (formerly Uttaranchal) and nil in case of Sikkim.

    Trekking in the Himalaya has grown by leaps and bounds and more Indians enjoy the range than ever. This has also brought the concerns of environment protection to the fore. What impact trekkers can make on the environment is rather negligible compared to the damage caused by the pilgrims, security forces and local population as they are now introduced to packaging from the plains replacing simple paper packing with aluminum foils. With the global warming and retreating glaciers many aspects needs to be looked into by the government.

    Foreign Expeditions

    A total of 37 foreign expeditions visited the Indian Himalaya this year. Majority of them were either commercially organised on easy routine peaks or on popular high mountains. In all, six expeditions climbed Stok Kangri, (officially that is!), two went for Dzo Jongo and two for Kang Yissey. The Nun Kun massif was visited by four expeditions; Meru, Shivling and Satopanth received three teams each where as Kedar Dome had two teams. Changabang was also visited by two expeditions out of which one ended in disaster, with the disappearance of two climbers.

    There were 16 expeditions to Jammu & Kashmir including one to Eastern Karakoram. 19 expeditions visited Uttarakhand where the ever-popular Gangotri area drew 13 out of these. Six expeditions operated in the Kumaun Himalaya. Two teams visited Himachal Pradesh. The poor weather pattern was the reason for a lower success ratio this year. This unpredictability in the weather conditions is becoming a major concern on the Himalayan climbing scene.

    Indian Expeditions

    Year after year, the number of Indian mountaineers visiting their own mountain ranges is showing a decrease. The trend of attempting routine peaks such as Kalanag, Rudugaira, Hanuman Tibba, Deo Tibba, Chhamser and Lungser Kangri has been replaced by height, which now seems to be in vogue. Kamet, the third highest mountain was attempted twice and Satopanth, the seven-thousander in the Gangotri area had four expeditions with one attempting Nun. But some climbers also attempted difficult mountains such as Shivling, Dunagiri, Panwali Dwar, Nanda Khat, Manirang and other lesser peaks. 26 expeditions visited Himachal Pradesh ; where as (even after the application of additional peak fees by State government), 20 expeditions visited Uttarakhand. Ladakh and its surroundings received six expeditions but all to routine peaks.

    An army expedition climbed Junction peak in the Siachen glacier. It has been climbed twice before (first by Bullock-Workman team in 1912). However their attempt of challenging Singhi Kangri was aborted. Their plans to take on Saltoro Kangri II (7705 m), one of the highest unclimbed peaks in the world, could not materialize. Hopefully this ascent and attempt by the army is indicative of opening of the area in future.

    It is interesting to note that except one major exploration in the Arunachal Pradesh, not a single expedition visited any peaks or areas east of Kumaun. The otherwise active areas of Sikkim remained unvisited this year. The concentration of mountaineers was restricted to only three Himalayan states, those of J & K, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

    Arunachal Pradesh

    The Dibang valley, in eastern the Arunachal Pradesh (formerly NEFA) is deep and thickly wooded. To its north and east lies Tibet (China) and to its west is the Siang (Tsangpo) valley. On the northern border (the McMahon Line) lies the Yonggyap La. This pass, with the adjoining pass Andra La, leads to the Chimdro area of Tibet. The holy mountain Kundu Potrang lies across these  passes, almost due north of the Andra La. Pandit explorer Kinthup had made a pilgrimage to this mountain during his search for the passage of the Tsangpo into India. Many Tibetan pilgrims visit this place and perform circumambulations now that the Chinese have restored religious freedom. It is also believed that the famous book Lost Horizon  was based on the imaginary Shangrila located near Kundu Potrang.

    F.M.Bailey and H. T. Morshead, two British army officers, made a journey to these passes in 1913. After trying unsuccessfully to cross the Andra La, they crossed the Yonggyap La in May in pouring rain After descending from the la another pass the Pungpung La has to be crossed on the fourth day. Many Tibetans  perished after being caught in storms between these two passes and with their supplies running short. Bailey and  Morshead continued their trek in Tibet westwards, visiting the Tsangpo falls and Takpa Siri. Finally they exited from the  Kameng (Tawang) valley. Based on their survey and report the McMahon line which demarcates the boundaries between India and Tibet (China) was drawn. 

    An Indian team (Harish Kapadia) followed the route of Bailey-Morshead to  Yonggyap la, the first civil party to follow this trail in this restricted border area.  From  Basam, the difficulties of the trek started and they had to hack a trail  through a thick jungle on a faint track, with many steep ups and downs.. The camps were in  small forest clearings and one had to be careful about Dim Dam flies. Mercifully snakes and leeches were mostly absent as it was autumn. From Chapu the route climbed steeply and  there were many difficult stages, as the Yonggyap chu (river) was left well below. Camping at four other camps the party reached  Pabbow at foot of the Yonggyap La. In deteriorating weather Yonggyap La was reached on 22nd November.

    As the  party returned to the last camp a freak and fierce storm engulfed the area. For the next 5 days it snowed without respite with   heavy accumulation of snow prohibiting any movement. It was dangerous and even impossible to find a way through the thick bamboo growth and rickety log bridges. Rations were running low and soon the last of chapattis was eaten. Four porters decided to desert and make a dash back risking their lives, a sure sign of the grim situation. There was imminent danger of starvation and being overcome by heavy snow. The party was in contact with the army via wireless communication. Luckily on the 27th November there was a break in the weather and clouds lifted for six hours. During this opening two Cheetah helicopters of  the Indian Air Force rescued the trapped party and brought them back to Anini. It was a stunning display of flying in difficult conditions in a narrow valley which saved the trekkers.

    Kumaun

    Nanda Devi East (7434 m)

    This high peak, a twin of the Nanda Devi peak, can be approached from the eastern side only. This is the route by which it was first climbed. This year an eight-member ladies team from Spain (Rosa Maria Real Soriano) failed due to bad snow conditions and avalanches. They reached up to 6000 m (Longstaff col). They were attempting the south ridge (1939 Polish route) where they placed two high camps. This pre monsoon attempt took place in the months of May-June 2006.

    Accident on Changabang (6864 m)

    The leader on a team from Mexico, Andres Delgado Caldernon,  with another member, Alphonso De La Patra, began the attempt on 1st October. They were celebrated climbers from Mexico and had a vast experience in mountain climbing and travel. It appears that they finished the climb on the West face and returned to base. (Their route was a little variation of the Kurtayka route of the west face) They spoke to their family and friends in Mexico via a satellite phone. They were last seen on the col between Changabang and Kalanka by the leader of the Czech expedition attempting Changabang. It is not known what their plans were, after the ascent.

    Both the climbers were missing for several days when an alarm was sounded. Indian Air Force helicopters conducted aerial searches . They could neither locate the climbers nor find any trace. The Indo-Tibet Border Police team on ground also could not make much headway, as they did not have details of exact location - whether the Mexicans had tried to descend into the Northern Sanctuary of the Nanda Devi or had taken some other route was not known.

    Finally the rescue attempts were called off due to bad weather and fresh snow. Search for their remains will resume once summer arrives though there is not much hope of their being alive.

    In September - October 2006, seven Czech climbers, led by Tomas Rinn,  attempted the north face of Changabang. But they could reach only up to 6200 m.

    Nanda Khat (6611 m)

    The 12-member team from West Bengal (Rajsekhar Ghosh) climbed this difficult peak on 15th September.  Arupam Das with Pemba Sherpa and Pasang Sherpa reached the summit.

    The peak is situated on the northern slopes from the Pindari glacier. It is always tricky to cross the icefall and the glacier at its snout to approach the peak. In 1970, two climbers from a Mumbai-based team were killed in an avalanche in the Pindari glacier. Anup Sah from Nainital, Uttarakhand led the first ascent of this peak in 1974.

    Adi Kailash ( 6150 m)

    When the pilgrimage to the main peak of Kailash (in Tibet) was stopped, it was this peak in eastern Kumaun that drew the faithful. It is situated at head of the Kuthi valley in eastern-most Kumaun. A seven-member British team (Martin Moran)  established base camp on 21st September  ahead of the Kuthi village.  They  climbed the peak from its northeastern ridge after establishing two high camps at 4450 m and 5450 m respectively. The leader, with Martin Welch, James Gibb, Mike Freeman, Stephan Rink, John Venier and Mangal Singh reached summit on 30th September.

    Panwali Dwar (6663 m)

    This peak, adjoining Nanda Khat peak and on the rim of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary has a formidable record. It defied several attempts till a Japanese team made the first ascent in 1980. A ten-member team from West Bengal (Debasis Biswas)  made a successful ascent of the difficult peak on 22nd August.  Basant Singha Roy, Debasis Biswas, Pasang Sherpa and Pemba Sherpa reached the summit. They followed the route of the first ascent.

    Garhwal   -  Gangotri glacier area

    Meru (6660 m)         

    This peak was a happy climbing ground for the Australian, Japanese and Czech teams.

    An  Australian team (Dr. Glenn Singleman) climbed Meru Central (a.k.a. Shark’s Fin) 6550 m, via the west face. After reaching base camp at Tapovan on 3rd May 2006, they put up four more camps before reaching the summit. Michael Geoffrey Hill, Malcolm Haskins, reached the top on 18th May followed by Tove Petterson on 20th May . Two members of this team achieved new world record for altitude base-jumping. The leader with Heather Swan flew wing-suits from a ledge at 6604 m. For more details : www.baseclimb.com

    A four-member team Japanese team established base camp at Tapovan on 1st September and ABC at 4800 m, C1 at 5300 m as well as two bivouacs at 5800 m and 6200 m. They climbed via the northeast face. The leader with Makoto Kuroda, Okada Yasushi and Hanatani Yasuhiro reached summit on 26th September. This two-member team, Jan Kreisinger and Marek Holecek,  after establishing advanced base camp at 5400 m, climbed the northeast face in alpine style. On 6th October, both the members reached the summit.

    Shivling (6543 m)   

    As usual Shivling had a number of attempts.

    The eight-member Korean team ( Bae Hyo Soon) attempted the northeast face (new route) but could not reach the summit. They reached up to 6000 m and were stopped due to a very steep route, heavy rock fall and some avalanches. The attempt took place in the months of August / September. 

    The Spaniards  with Alberto Inurrategui Iriarte leader and Jon Beloqui Iceta and Eneko Guenechea Sasiain reached the summit on 11th May.  This three-member team climbed the west face after establishing base camp on 26th April and Camp 1 at 5600 m.  All four members of the team from Poland  (Pawel Garwolinski)  reached the summit via the west ridge on 18th September after establishing three high camps.

    The eight-member Indian team (Debasish Kanji)  climbed via the west ridge. However they had to stop 150 m short of the summit as weather turned bad. They had to give up the attempt.

    Satopanth (7075 m)

    Italians, British and Indian teams reached the summit between July to September. All ascents were by normal route the northeast ridge. A Swiss-German team stopped at 6950 m. The liaison officer reported garbage and pollution at the base camp of this peak, which is a rather common problem with commercial expeditions on such easy and popular peaks.  On the positive side the team sighted a snow fox - Ibex.

    Kedar Dome (6830 m)      

    The twelve-member French team (Villard Emmanuel)  established a base camp at Khada Patthar (4470 m). Three high camps were established before they reached 6470 m. The attempt was given up due to the possibility of avalanches after fresh snowfall.  At the same time a  two-member British team of Ian Parnell and Tim Emmett climbed the southeast pillar route. They reached the summit on 8th October.

    Thalay Sagar (6904 m)     

    A Korean team  (Hee Young Park)  established the base camp at Kedar Tal (4700 m) on 1st August. Two high camps at 5100 m and 5400 m were established on the north face. After one bivi at 6600 m Sang Bem You reached the summit on 9th September. 

    Central Garhwal

    Kamet (7756 m)

    An Indian expedition to Kamet (7756 m) was organised (AVM(Retd.)A.K.Bhattacharyya)  in May-June. The team planned to retrace the footsteps of the first successful team lead by Frank S Smythe in 1931 and hence the traditional Meade Col route was selected for the climb, with an intended summit date close to 21st June in line with that of the 1931 ascent. The summit team comprised of 4 members and 6 support climbers (Sherpas) reached the summit on 24th June, after establishing five camps between the base and summit. All the members of the summit team reached the top, thus representing a satisfying commemorative expedition.

    Arwa Tower (6352 m)

    The four member Dutch team (Michael van Geemen) chose the northwest pillar route on this challenging rocky peak. However as they reached higher, bad weather forced them to stop. As there was no hope of improvement, they gave up the climb at 6150 m. Their attempt was in May – June.

    Arwa Spire (6193 m)         

    It was not the mountain but human factors that defeated this team. The four-member Spanish team (Ruben De Francisco)  wasted a week at the road head due to non-availability of porters administrative problems. Finally, once on the mountain, they could reach up to 6000 m on the north face before their time and supplies ran out.

    Himachal Pradesh

    Kullu Pumori (6553 m)

    This peak is situated in centre of the Bara Shigri glacier in the Lahaul. It is a challenging peak and was first climbed by Bob Pettigrew’s British team in 1964.

    The French / American expedition (Remy Lecluse)  was organised in the months of May-June.  They could not climb the peak due early monsoon. However the main objective of the team was to ski down and that was achieved by various routes. The seven member team reached up to 6400 m. While on 30th August, 2 members and 3 high altitude supporters on an Indian team from Bengal (Samir Sengupta) reached the summit of this peak by the same route. More details are awaited.

    KR 2 (6194 m)

    Though their intended peak KR 3 (6157 m) was not climbed, this eight-member Belgium team (Stijn Vandendriessche) climbed KR 2 (6194 m) on 14th and 19th August. The leader with six members reached the summit via the  southeast ridge. They had established their base camp at 4800 m and Camp 1 at 5600 m.

    Manirang (6593 m)

    Manirang was one of the earliest peaks climbed in this part of the Himalaya. Dr J. de V. Graff, Mrs C. Graff,   the legendary Sherpa Pasang Dawa Lama, and  Tashi climbed it in 1952.

    The 12-member Indian team (Kajal Dasgupta)  followed Manali - Kaja - Mane - Yang Lake route towards this high peak which is situated on the borders of Kinnaur and Spiti. From there, they followed the south ridge climbing the peak from a new route. On 16th July, five climbers reached the summit.

    Eastern Karakoram

    Plateau Peak (7287 m)     

    Situated in the same basin as the Saser Kangri group, this peak was named as such by J.O.M. Roberts. With strong defences it has remained one of the few climbed 7000er peaks in India.

    Bad weather interrupted the attempt of this 15-member Indian-Italian (M.S. Gomase and Marco Meazzini) attempt at 5800 m. The base camp was established at the snout of the Phukpoche glacier at 4700 m, approached from the Nubra valley to its west. They established Camp 1 at 5400 m on central Phukpoche glacier. From there, slopes leading to west ridge of the peak were equipped with ropes and dumps of food. The expedition took place in the month of August.

    Siachen Glacier

    The Indian army organized  its own expedition (31 August  to 07 October) to peaks in the Siachen glacier, led by Col. Ashok Abbey.

    The expedition was conducted in four phases. The team commenced moving up the Siachen glacier on 1 September and made rapid progress. Traversing the glacier, base camp at 4900 m at the ‘Oasis’, the junction of the Siachen and Teram Shehr glaciers on 12 September.

    Junction Peak (6350 m) : The 12  member team established Camp 1 at 5320 m on14 September approaching it from the west face. The highly avalanche prone mountain, was climbed by the team on18 September, at 1305hrs after an 8½ hrs ascent from the final camp. This peak was first climbed and named by Mrs Fanny Bullock-Workman in 1912 and is a most central point on this long glacier.

    Singhi Kangri (7202 m) : This was the second attempt in the history of the mountain, a new route from an unclimbed face was attempted. The Japanese team which had made the first ascent in 1976,  had crossed the wall dividing the Siachen from the Staghar glacier where they sited there Camp 2, and climbed along the northwest ridge to the summit. 

    The army team  established a base camp (at 5100 m) on 16 September on the upper Siachen glacier. Camp 1 was established after negotiating the difficult west face of the mountain at  6325 m, on 21 September. This was the crux of the climb. Only one more camp was needed to be set up, prior to attempting the summit of Singhi Kangri and Pt. 6850 m. Further attempt on the mountain was unfortunately called off on 29 September after a long wait, due to very inclement weather and dangerous snow conditions.

    Siachen glacier : was traversed from the snout to Sia la, the western most tip of the Siachen glacier. Peak 36 glacier : was traversed. A ground recce of the northeast face of Saltoro Kangri 7742 m (I), 7705 m (II) was also carried out for a future attempt.

    Other events

    The 70th  anniversary on the first ascent of Nanda Devi in 1936 was celebrated at many centres. “The Himalayan Club Centre”, the main office of the historic Himalayan Club, was inaugurated in Mumbai at a central location. It contains a library, displays and  the ‘Lt Nawang Kapadia Himalayan Collection’under which large number of  Himalayan maps, video and DVD films and recordings of Oral Histories from leading mountaineers are stored. All these are available for use by anyone from India or abroad at cost. Henry Osmaston, a British researchers and trekker passed away this year leaving many admirers in India for his pioneering work in the Indian Himalayan glaciers, specially the Siachen. Amongst the important publications in India covering the  Himalaya were: India Through Its Birds (edited by Zafar Futehally), Birds of Pray of the Indian Subcontinent (Rishad Naoroji) and  Exploring the Highlands of the Himalaya (Harish Kapadia). The most noteworthy publication was the Diaries of Nain Singh Rawat, the great Pandit explorer, which were recently located at his home in the Milam village. Though in Hindi it is a valuable original record.

    And finally about a quiet revolution in the Himalaya. Instead of laying telephone wires for landline connections in the remote Himalayan villages, as a policy mobile towers are erected  in different valleys, giving a  coverage till a good height.  Suddenly these villagers, who had never used or seen a telephone, saw a paradigm shift in their lives and were straight into the mobile age, so much so that children have not heard of a land line telephone at all !

    I was  asked for my phone number by a girl at a village, which I wrote down. ‘What is this number, it looks weird’. She could not understand that it was  landline number in Mumbai. Looking seriously at me she asked, ‘Don’t  you have mobiles in the city. We have plenty here.’ 

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