(Compiled by Harish Kapadia, Hon. Editor, The Himalayan Journal)
Overall 46 Foreign and 47 Indian expeditions climbed in the Indian Himalaya during the year. This was overall, a lower figure than the normal number of expeditions during ayear. Amongst the foreign expeditions, more that half climbed the usual peaks like Kun, Kedar Dome, Nun and others. Many of the expeditions faced bad weather in mid September and some had to give up due to poor snow and ice conditions in early October. Amongst the high peaks attempted, Changabang and Kamet , now open for foreigners, and Nanda Devi East were important ascents. The leader of the Italian expedition to Nanda Devi East, Marco Dalla Longa lost his life due to high altitude oedema. The team had carried a satellite phone (supposed to be illegal!), which could have saved his life as a helicopter rescue was arranged. However, as the luck would have it, the helicopter took four days to reach due to bad weather and by that time he had lost his life. His body and the entire team were ultimately evacuated to Munsiary and then Delhi .
Many expeditions complained of problems in Uttarakhand State , where the Government has imposed a stiff new climbing fee structure. Apart from paying additional fees, there seems to be much confusion regarding approach routes (only nominated approach routes are allowed), various permits (forest department, Government of Uttarakhand and IMF) and the permit procedures (from various authorities at Dehra Dun , Delhi and locally). This dampened much of the climbing enthusiasm for many.
In a most remarkable self-rescue, a team led by Peter Takeda was trapped high on Nanda Kot in an ice cave in a crevasse following an avalanche and. They survived a few tense hours and drilled a hole in the ice wall to manage a self-rescue. An American two-member team of John Varco and Ms. Sue Nott achieved an excellent climb of Kamet in fine Alpine style. They quickly and safely reached the summit. However they reported much garbage left by the previous expeditions and opined that this high mountain, which is popular, should be attempted by lighter size of expeditions only.
An Indo-American expedition led by Divyesh Muni and Donald J. Goodman enjoyed themselves climbing several unnamed peaks in the Sakti nala in the Eastern Karakoram . This was a successful expedition, which climbed many virgin peaks and demonstrated how a mixed team could climb good and safe routes and come back happily.
Of 47 Indian expeditions, many were to routine peaks. There were attempts on peaks in Spiti, like Khangla Tarbo and Yunam in Lahaul and Sanakdank Jot. And there were attempts on difficult peaks like Papsura. However, the tragic news was the death of several Indian mountaineers on different peaks. In a major accident of its kind, Dr. P. M. Das with Inder Kumar and Ms. Nari Dhami, died on the peak of Chomoyummo with two Sherpas. Five of them lost their lives in an avalanche, each of them an experienced mountaineer with Inder Kumar and Ms. Nari Dhami having climbed Everest in the past. In another expedition where unfortunately no reports are available, five army men are reported to have died on peak Chaukhamba I in an avalanche. They were from the Air Defence Regiment of the Indian Army. An IMF ladies expedition to Papsura, (in the Manali area) was successful. However one of their members, Malabi Das was too exhausted and after reaching the higher camp she collapsed and died. This was a tragic example of loss of human life, due to strong summit ambitions . Along with two porters who died on the Gangotri glacier these brought the total number of deaths in Indian Himalaya this year to 13, which is disproportionately high in number.
Overall though an active year, it was marred by tragedies and quite simply covered by more attempts on easier peaks than on challenging ones. In a seminar towards the end of the year there were suggestions to have some organized rescue facilities, accident insurance and allow satellite phones and GPS and revamp the entire fee structure. But no one know when this will be done !
The IMF elected a new President, Mr. H. P. S. Ahluwalia in November for a term of two years. Maj. Ahluwalia who climbed the summit of Everest in 1965 is an experienced mountaineer and organizer and he leads a newly elected team of Governing Council at the IMF.