Climbing in the Indian Himalaya
(Satopanth, 7075m / 23212 ft)

1-28 Sep 2010 - by Arun Mahajan (view roster page)

The Garhwal region of the northern state of Uttarakhand in India may rightfully lay claim to being the most spectacular section of an already great chain of Himalayan peaks that lie within India. This region includes Nanda Devi, the highest peak that lies completely within India and also peaks such as the Bhagirathi massif, the spear like Shivling and the intimidating Thalay Sagar. Within the Garhwal region lies the sub-region of Gangotri, so named after a holy town and in this region lies the giant peak, Satopanth (7075m), our target.

Landing at the new terminal at New Delhi airport was a pleasure as the terminal has been redesigned for the Commonwealth Games and I was soon able to get a taxi to the modest but comfortable hostel, the Blue Triangle, in Connaught Place. The BT seems to be a magnet for climbers and trekkers from all over the world. The rest of the team, all from the UK, arrived late in the same night. The next day, 2nd September, I met with them all, Martin, the leader with whom I had climbed in the Himalaya three years ago, his son, trainee guide and co-leader, Alex, David Bingham (sales consultant), Steve Foster (anaesthetist), Steve Greenhalgh (Her Majesty's Forces), Andrew Hemingway (environmental consultant) and Stephen Matterson (orthodontist) and all had impressive climbing credentials (Cho Oyu, Alpamayo, Spantik, Ghasherbrum, etc). The bigger problem was off course, how would I keep from not mistaking amongst these three Steves? Then, there was Mr CS Pandey, the owner of Himalayan Run and Trek, a mountaineer of many talents, who now runs this company that organises treks and runs in the Himalaya as well as providing infrastructure support for expeditions to the Indian Himalaya and is based in New Delhi and his assistant and general 'fixer', a man of many resources and skills, Navin. It was a pleasure to re-acquaint myself with Martin, Mr Pandey and Navin. Navin had been the expedition cook (one of his other talents) for our trip in 2007. The hard working and efficient Mansi Pandey, Mr Pandey's neice, was also at hand.

We dutifully made our trip to the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the IMF, to get briefed on our trip and collect permits. We were also introduced to Dhruv Joshi, our liason officer (LO) who was to accompany us on our trip, technically, only till base camp (BC). The care and feeding of the LO is the responsibility of the climbing team. Dhruv was a very pleasant young lad with an impressive resume of hard peaks climbed and we all took an immediate liking to him. These young LOs are not the desk bound bureaucrats who look like retired golfers and are happiest throwing their considerable weight around, ordering tea from their orderlies, as one might be inclined to think, but strong mountaineers, always waiting for the next opportunity to climb a hard technical Himalayan giant.

The rest of the day was spent in sorting common gear for the mountain and base camp, checking out our supplies of food, fuel, stoves, canisters etc. In these trips, everybody is an equal member of the expedition and everybody chips in. This makes one learn and understand a lot more about expeditions and how they work than simply writing a cheque and then showing up for the trip.

We took an early morning deluxe train to the holy town of Haridwar. The sky was looking ominous already and it was raining when we landed there. The monsoons, normally dying out in the plains in early September and almost non-existent in the mountains, were not letting go of their hold and I was filled with a vague sense of foreboding about what this might entail further on.

1-01.jpg

At Haridwar, we loaded gear into a very comfortable tour bus and started the drive to the town of Uttarkashi. We had to make slow and careful progress past Haridwar and the town of Rishikesh as the monsoon rains had caused a lot of flooding and many houses had water in them and the roads were not passable for bidirectional traffic. Despite all this we got to Uttarkashi for the night at the hotel Shivlinga and started off the next day to Gangotri. By this time, we had picked up Thupka Tsering, the Sherpa from Darjeeling who was to be in our climbing staff as an assistant and high altitude porter (HAP). Thupka has an impressive resume (including Everest, Kamet, Satopanth and many others) and we were very glad to have him. Also present were cook's helper, Manish and Saran, the Sherpa cook, also from Darjeeling. Lastly, I was happy to see Govind, another strong HAP, joining us at Uttarkashi. Govind had also been our HAP on Gangstang.

This region is steeped in history, mythology and religion. It is the source of the Ganga (Ganges) and the sister river, Yamuna. The Ganga, more than any river in India, is deeply meshed into the Indian psyche. To the faithful, she is the mother, the cleanser of sins, the giver of life and salvation. She has spawned a civilization that goes back to many centuries before Christ and it is no wonder that her presence is so venerated and the ground she treads is hallowed and we were going into the very source, the Gangotri glacier. The Gangotri glacier's snout, Gaumukh, has receded to about 18km north of the town of Gangotri where this thirty kilometre long glacier terminates and the Ganga begins its wild and tempestuous journey to the plains of northern India. At the starting point, the Ganga is actually named Bhagirathi, in honour of the mythological king Bhagirath. Legend says that Bhagarith, to absolve a curse placed on his ancestors who had been turned to ashes by the anger of a sage whos ashram they had violated, prayed to the heavens to get the Ganga, who lived there, to come to earth. Eventually, she was convinced to do so and she had come crashing down. She would have destroyed the earth by the force of her fall had not the mighty Shiva stepped in-between and caught her in his matted locks and broken her fall. When she landed on earth, she was greeted by King Bhagirath and he had led her to the ashes that represented his ancestors. Thereafter she has been known as the cleanser of sins and so, the Ganga starts her life on the earth as Bhagirathi. Various other glacier streams join it along the way, further below Gangotri and at a major river junction in the town of Devprayag does she really become named as Ganga.

After Uttarkashi, the drive became very scenic with the road going above the gorge of the Bhagirathi but we could also see that many sections of the road were partially washed out but the bus driver skilfully drove us past but as we approached the small town of Gangnani, we had to stop. There was a landslide with boulders the size of small buses blocking the way. Several pilgrims were stopped on either side of the slide, bemused and wondering about their next step.

1-02.jpg

We decided that it would probably take the road clearing work crews at least two days so using the human chain method, we hauled our bags, communal gear, food, fuel etc up and over the slide and arranged for jeeps to pick us up there (here is where Navin showed his worth in getting us fresh transport on the other side of the slide). The next day, we started off for Gangotri but after two breakdowns of the jeep, we decided that while Navin would come up with the luggage via a lorry that he was planning to arrange, we would hoof the 24 miles remaining to Gangotri. This was a long distance but it helped in the acclimatization, so up we went, on a narrow road, surrounded by steep cliffs and the river below and in due course, landed in the town of Gangotri, almost at 10000ft. It rained on us off and on during the entire walk.

It is a cute little town, catering only to pilgrims. A small temple stands at its head, surrounded by steep cliffs on either side and the ever present Ganga, now a raging torrent, passing through it. The next day, we started off on a day hike, towards Kedar Tal (Tal = lake). This long and scenic hike climbs almost 4000 ft to Kedar Tal but after gaining 3600 feet, resting on a verdant cliff side, watching the frisky Bharal, the Himalayan sheep run fearlessly down the steep and loose scree, we decided that this was enough for our first hard day and headed back. Thalay Sagar stood at the head of the valley. This dominant peak, at over 6900m is one of the hardest climbs in the Himalaya and is a much prized target for mountaineers.

1-03.jpg

On the way back, Steve Foster, who was moving the fastest and strongest, unfortunately slipped and fell on a delicate slab traverse that was in the middle of the trail. This fall caused a deep gash to open on his left leg accompanied by a lot of bleeding. If Steve was in pain, he did not show it but with assistance from us and a hasty bandage to stem the blood flow we made the long and slow walk down were back in our rooms. Steve, being a doctor, managed to stitch himself up too, using the extensive medical kit that Martin had brought for the expedition. Later that evening, we attended a very large and well attended puja at the main Gangotri temple. We were feeling the need for a bit of divine help after this somewhat inauspicious start.

The next day started off with loading up porters. Govind and Navin, invaluable in these situations, dealt with the sirdar of the porters. Curiously, all the porters were Nepali but not Sherpa or Gorkha, just young men from the plains of Nepal who had come over to India to make a bit of money, hauling loads, to send back to their families back home. Watching them lift loads on a tump line never ceases to be a humbling experience. Single loads run up to 25kgs and double loads go to 50kgs and some porters lift double loads since they get paid by the load.

Then it was time to say goodbye to Steve, our amazing companion ("it is only a flesh wound"). His insurance had been contacted and so also Mansi in New Delhi. Navin and Govind had arranged for a jeep to take him to Uttarkashi and then a chopper would take him further to New Delhi. We wished him a safe journey and were hoping that no landslides would block his way as more bad weather was forecast. We counted, I think, 48 loads loaded on the backs of only 23 porters.

We started our walk from Gangotri. The destination for the night was to be Bhojbhasa, about 14km away. The Bhagarathi flowed on the right as we climbed towards its head. It rained off and on. Mountain streams from the cliffs on the left joining the main flow were also fast flowing and the stream crossings on dodgy looking wooden log-bridges that were also wet, had to be done with extreme care. As the trail skirted cliffs, the group of porters and climbers got strung out. At one point, just as Andy and I were rounding a bend, we heard cries of distress from behind. It was Steve M. We rushed back and were aghast to see Steve on the ground, desperately holding on to a porter who had slipped and had fallen off the cliff side at the edge of the trail, his large load dragging him down. Slowly, Steve too was being dragged down but he was still yelling for help. Andy reached the porter first and grabbed him by his shoulders and now, with Steve also pulling, was able to get the shaken porter up on the trail. The porter, completely scared was hardly talking. Andy even climbed down a few feet below the trail to get the porter's head cap. We ministered to the poor kid (Hari Bahadur) who simply folded into a foetal position and sat on the trail clutching his head. We pulled him away from the area as he had been struck by a falling rock from above and it would have surely been a very bad situation had Steve not been alert and grabbed him. Karma points in the bonus for Steve...good man!

We reached Bhojbhasa in almost a whiteout. There seemed to be a small settlement there but it was hard to make out clearly. We found places to pitch tents once we were able to locate the porters carrying our bags.

The next day, we walked four more kilometers and the formal trail ended at Gaumukh (Cow's Mouth, in Sanskrit) at almost 4000m, where the Gangotri glacier terminates and the Bhagirathi, formally starts. It was raining and gloomy. We saw occasional pilgrims who had braved the weather and the distance to pay their respects to the source of the Ganga which was marked by a small shrine and the ever present trident of Shiva. After that began one of the harder portions of the trek as we struggled, in bad weather, on the chaotic moraine of the glacier. After crossing some very sketchy terrain, we landed in Nandanvan, our destination for the day and just as the porters arrived, the rain also eased off a little although it was a bit of a bother to pitch damp tents. Despite all this, just for a short while, the clouds parted and we were finally able to see the beauty of the spot. Nandanvan is a plateau sitting above the Gangotri glacier. It is a meadow of sorts and right behind it is the Bhagarathi massif (the three peaks that make up the massif are Bhagirathi-I, II and III). The interesting point here was that the first ascent of Bhagirathi-I, done in true alpine style, was done by our leader, Martin, almost two decades ago. Even more startling than these peaks was the view of Shivling. Rising to almost 6500m, this spear like pillar of rock, terminated by a snow pyramid is rightfully considered to be one of the most beautiful peaks in the world and can be counted amongst the likes of Ama Dablam, Alpamayo and the Matterhorn.

1-04.jpg

From Nandanvan, it is at its intimidating best. Next morning was an even better day and the sun broke out as we walked the next section towards Vasuki Tal. Various peaks started to come into view including the monstrosity, Vasuki Parbat (Vasuki Peak). In the legends, Vasuki is a multi fanged Cobra god who stands guard over Vishnu, fangs spread out. Vasuki Parbat has a face of many pillars which seem to curve up as they reach the top and it is no wonder that the peak is so named.

1-05.jpg

As we topped a ridge near Vasuki P, the trail dropped down into a glacier and we could see that we would have to go over ice cliffs and then climb a steep face via a right sloping 'channel'. It looked quite horrible from our vantage point but as we approached it, it was not too bad, a bit exposed and slippery but Govind and Thupka had actually set up a fixed line.

1-06.jpg

We huffed and puffed to climb over it but it was most amazing to see porters, weighed down by their loads, making short work of this.

From the top of this section, it was a straight forward drop down, a few hundred feet perhaps to beautiful Vasuki Tal (VT), a small lake nestled in a bowl. To the left was the Chaturangi (the four coloured) glacier and beyond it, like a fortress rose Chaturangi Peak, a long multi-summitted peak, on the right was Vasuki Parbat (VP) and behind was Bhagirathi-II and the glacier that we had just crossed. Straight in front was a small hillock beyond which Mana Parbat loomed and to its right, Chandra Parbat. On the hillock fluttered prayer flags and underneath were several tents. We soon learned that this was a unit of the border security force, the so called SSB, of the Indian Army and they too were attempting Satopanth.

On the first day at base camp, it was decided we would have a short acclimatization walk to see the challenge ahead and to dump some gear. Satopanth (7075m) appeared as we rounded the north-east shoulder of Vasuki Parbat (6792m), looking huge in the morning sun. The impressive summit hump, chisel headed at the top, rises over a delicate ridge which was on our route.

2-01.jpg

We could see the Indian SSB border police team climbing the snowfields to Camp II, an encouraging sight. The day was somewhat spoilt by discovery of huge areas of garbage on the glacier, left by previous expeditions in 2008 and 2009. The members of the SSB were exceedingly polite and always very friendly and every time that we passed by their BC, or ABC or even Camp-1 in the days following, they would invite us in and serve us lashings and lashings of coffee and biscuits. Also, when they found out that our leader was Martin, whom they all had heard of, there was no end to the photographs they wanted to have taken with him. As the only Indian climber in a group of British climbers, my presence as a team member of a UK climbing team also attracted curiosity and questions but that fact also helped break the ice and we were soon chatting away in Hindi.

After a rest day, where we sorted food and gear for the upper camps and (with some of the stronger ones doing a load carry to ABC) all of us moved up the mountain, across the complicated glacier, to ABC at 5180m. A snowstorm greeted us but seemed to peter off in the afternoon. The weather still looked ominous in the morning.

2-02.jpg

However, it was important to keep up our momentum and we decided to push on up the glacier to establish a higher camp. Dave, Andy and Martin set off earlier to scope out a route and the rest of us followed with the tents and sundries loading down our packs. Camp I was established on the smaller tributary glacier at 5400m/17,1716 ft. As we settled into our tents persistent snow commenced.

The next day, we had a slow start due to the overnight snows. We split into two teams, mostly based on where our interests lay. The larger group headed out to scope the route from C1 to C2 and along with Andy and Alex, I set out to attempt the unnamed peak that we could see rising above C1. After roping up to over the glacier,

2-03.jpg

we got to the bottom of the climb and passed the SSB C1 but this time they were all in their tents. It was mostly a talus climb and got steeper as we went higher and after traversing a few snow fields, we finally made it to the top (5801m / 19032 ft). We saw no evidence of anybody having been on the top before us and so, convinced ourselves that we had done a first ascent! We had fantastic views of Satopant from this high vantage point. Our C1, almost 400m below, was visible as tiny dots. I thought that if I got the opportunity to name this peak, I would call it 'Satopanth Darshan' to mean 'the place from which Satopanth can be viewed'...a much nicer name than the prosaic, Peak 5801 as it gets named on the maps. Satopanth, in Sanskrit, means 'the path of truth / true path'. We had views of the Chaturangi glacier, the Chaturangi Peaks, Mana Peak, Chandra Parbat and looking back, the Bhagirathis, Vasuki Parbat and a few others that I could not name.

2-04.jpg

The clouds and general bad weather prevented us from getting more extensive views, however. We scooted down and by the time we got back to C1, found out that the other team had also arrived. They had a challenging day as well, trying out the hard section from C1 to C2 and setting up or fortifying the fixed ropes.

A punishingly cold morning greeted us outside the tent and some upward movement was required to stay warm. Roping up to go over the glacier towards the rock wall that would eventually lead us to the col at 6000m, our C2, we set off in 2 teams. This time it was the entire group. We got to the bottom of the wall and traversed a snow bridge over a huge and deep bergschrund. This was a very challenging section because of the angle, the mixed nature of the climb and it was further complicated by the loads we were carrying, the cold and the altitude.

2-05.jpg

After the vertical section there was a traverse and a small snow/ice bulge to be overcome before we topped out on a short level bench. From there, we had to climb over a steep snow field and then we were at the base of a couloir that was steep but narrow and protected. Alex, Andy and I were on a rope team and the rest were much ahead. As our team topped the couloir, we were able to see the upper team skirting the side of a peaklet which was the final obstacle before the col. At this point, I was getting very tired and it was also getting quite socked-in and snow had started to fall. We decided to call it off rather than follow the lead team to the col and to dump our load under a rock and headed back (Andy and Alex were carrying food and I was carrying a 200m static line for use on a section of the ridge above C2.We began by carefully down-climbing the couloirs, then the slope, then the traverse and finally the steep rock band above the bergschrund. I figured that the col upto which the others went towards, was just under 6000m and we were probably 200m below them. They had a very hard grind. When you see Thukpa, our Sherpa, an Everest summitter, bent over and walking at the speed of a crawl, then you know it was hard! But they deposited almost 30kgs of food and kit at C2. It was an exhausted team returned to the tents for a well-earned meal of smash and tuna.

Another cold morning as the team descended to base camp for a rest. The pleasure of being back at base camp and Sharan's cooking was somewhat spoiled by the arrival of a forecast from the UK on our sat phone. It looked as though there would be over 200mm of rain falling as snow in the next 3 days! An 8-person Austrian team from the Naturfreunde Lenzing club arrived at base camp to attempt Satopanth after us. The next day, Alex, Govind, Thukpa and Dhruv headed back up to Camp I in the morning with an urgent mission to clear the high camp tents, batten down the hatches and collect our high mountain boots and snow shovel before the storm closed in. They spotted a camp of an Indian trekking group bound for the Kalindi Khal a couple of kilometres up the glacier near the boulder known as Kala Patthar. The rest of the group prepared our camp for the coming onslaught, collected and burnt our rubbish and rested. The SSB Indian team departed from base camp, having wound up their attempt on the mountain. They left piles of smouldering and unburnt garbage across their base campsite. Full gas cartridges had been left in the burning pile and one of these exploded, the can flying dangerously close to Alex's head. We tried to clear the site but the task was beyond us as afternoon snowfall commenced.

On waking the weather was surprisingly clear and a high altitude race around the lake was undertaken after breakfast. However just as the last competitor Govind came in 10 seconds short of Andy's winning time ominous twisting cirrus clouds were chased away by a pall of grey storm cloud and the first flakes began to fall. The snow increased in strength until we were in the grips of a heavy windless blizzard and tent-clearing operations commenced after lunch.

2-06.jpg

The snowfall continued unabated through the night and the team worked in shifts to keep the tents from collapse. Nearly a metre had accumulated by dawn and there were some tired faces in the mess tent at breakfast after a stressful night. The snow continued relentlessly through its second day, turning wetter as we dug trenches to prevent flooding as the snowpack thawed. By nightfall the storm was easing and the forecast gave hope that the snowfall would stop overnight. We woke up to clear skies and an unrecognisable base camp buried under 5ft of snow.

2-07.jpg

Martin set out on our only set of snow shoes to blaze a trail towards our equipment trapped at Camps I and II. The remainder of the group spent the day digging and organising the kit. As the sun hit the now fragile slopes the hills were alive with the sound of avalanches! Martin returned at 4.30pm having made 2km of progress and having dodged a large swathe of fresh avalanche debris coming off Vasuki Parbat to create a safer route down to the glacier. He scanned the main Chaturangi Glacier for signs of the Indian trekkers but could see no tents or tracks. The Indians had probably moved further up the glacier on the morning that the storm began. The next was spent breaking two trails, one towards our gear at Camp I (Andy, Steve G, Steve M, David, Thukpa and Dhruv) and the second (Alex, Govind and me) back down towards the valley ploughing a trail and fixing more ropes to gain the Nandanban moraine in anticipation of our porters' scheduled arrival on Friday. A good effort was made on both parts and the first dump of equipment at ABC (5180m) was reached by the uphill team who battled in furnace-like heat. The Austrians followed our trail all the way to ABC and set up a camp of their own. So far we had made 6km of pisted track, thanks to having snow shoes. Without them the trail-breaking would have been much slower or else impossible.

Now, it was the day I was dreading. My turn, along with Alex, Martin and the tireless Thukpa, Govind and Dhruv, to go to C-1. We knew that at least up to ABC, it would be a bit easier because of the tracks set earlier by Andy, the Steves, David, Thukpa and Dhruv. After that, we would be breaking trail. Leaving at 2.30am in full moonlight with Alex, Martin, Govind and Thukpa, I also headed up to ABC (followed a couple of hours later by Dhruv) and finished the trail-breaking to Camp I arriving at 8.30am. It was surreal....walking under headlamps, over a glacier, now unrecognizable with all that new snow. Just as dawn broke, we got to ABC and past the sleeping Austrians and then the hard work of ploughing up and up and up under thick, breakable crust, plunging into the snow.....finally, Govind who had scooted off ahead, miraculously without breaking through the crust, found a few centimetres of our marker wand still showing at Camp I. After 30 minutes digging the tent and haul bag containing 130kg of our kit were excavated. Snow depth at 5400m was almost 6 feet.

2-08.jpg

Originally, Martin was planning to stay over at C1 with Govind and Thukpa and then make a dash to C2 in the dead of night, try to locate C2 and retrieve it but looking at the situation (the route from C1 to C2 was in an avalanche path, a tough decision had to be made on the kit still left at Camp II. Snow conditions were desperately difficult with a thin crust overlying bottomless powder and there was a large swathe of avalanche debris across the route. We also had a huge quantity of kit at Camp I - enough for 6 huge loads; so regretfully we had to abandon the Camp II mission. This disappointment aside, a superhuman effort had been made by all members and we did not return empty handed. Off course, Thukpa, Alex, Martin, Dhruv and Govind carried the heaviest of loads but I also did my bit. It was very hard trudging back to BC from C1 with those loads and then it started to snow again. The Austrians were also heading back to BC to rest and we chatted with some of them. All tiredness was washed away when we got to BC and were treated like returning heroes as if we had just done the summit...not to mention the piping hot Bhajiyas (deep fried and spicy Indian fritters) that Saran had cooked up!

Damp snowy weather in the afternoon cleared at nightfall. The absence of any sign of the Indian trekkers was leading us to suspect that they may have perished somewhere on the upper glacier. Certainly, there was now sufficient crust on the snow at 5000m to allow some movement at night, had they survived the storm.

The next day was an eventful day. While drying and sorting our kit at base, a huge section of ice cliff broke away from the summit ridge of Chaturangi Parbat and created an enormous airborne avalanche.

2-09.jpg

Even though we were a mile away on the other side of the valley we were covered in ice needles and felt the residual breeze from the blast. Govind went off down towards Gangotri to organise porters. To our surprise he returned within 2 hours with 17 who had just dropped the British Vasuki Parbat team on the other side of the glacier. With this good luck our return to Gangotri was assured, but the porters reported that the valley roads were still badly broken after the storm, so it was decided we would leave the next day to give ourselves a spare day for the return. Three members of the Austrian team came over for coffee and brought some delicious schnapps with them. They agreed to try to recover our kit from Camp II in return for our assurance that they could use the gear to help in their own summit bid. We spent the afternoon burning rubbish and sorting gear. The weather remained splendid.

The bittersweet task of packing up base camp took up most of our morning

2-10.jpg

and we set off at about 10am down the fixed rope. The sun was strong as we made our way down to Nandanvan and this turned to a cold wind as we set off across the Gangotri Glacier moraine to Gaumukh. Large areas of side-cliff had collapsed during the storm. Much of the glacier route was unrecognisable from two weeks earlier. We arrived at Bhojbhasa as it was getting dark after a tough 14km day but we had been rewarded for our efforts with fantastic views of the Bhagirathi peaks as their granite walls glowed in the evening light.

This time, we had a few spectacular views of Shivling as well. A truly splendid peak.

The next day, our last, was an absolutely great day. I am sure that there is some sort of irony in all this! Fantastic views of the beautiful Bhagirathi valley filled with autumn colours and grazing bharal.

2-11.jpg

It was a perfect day on which to end our trek out and everyone reached Gangotri in good spirits to be greeted by a freshly shaved Govind. As we passed by Bhagirathi-1 and Bhrigu Patthar, i gazed in awe at the line Martin had done on these peaks for his first ascent on these peaks many years ago and thanked my starts that I have had the opportunity to now climb with him, two times. The first time was in 2007 when we were successful in doing a new route (AD or D- standard) on the west face of Gangstang (6162m) and this time around. Jeeps had been organised to take us down to Uttarkashi. The road had just been reopened to small vehicles. After a tenuous passage surmounting two landslides at Sukhi (at the second blockage we witnessed a collapse of rocks which fell fortuitously so as to allow a narrow passage) the jeeps made a dash for Uttarkashi in the dark. We enjoyed some welcome beers at the resthouse and toasted our staff for their efforts in getting us back safely. The road to Rishikesh had been blocked 60km south of Uttarkashi for over a week. Our bus from Delhi was stuck on the far side. The jeeps took us away at 10am. There was a continuous trail of destruction down the valley road. Long sections of road had been ravaged by the heavy rainfall. At the landslide bulldozers were just completing the clearance and after an hour the jeeps got through and we finally met the bus to take us to Haridwar. We arrived in the town centre close on midnight and checked into the Alpana Hotel. A day in the bustling pilgrim metropolis that is Haridwar, some shopping, temple visits and holy baths passed the time here well before we boarded the evening Shatabdi Express, taking us back to the hustle and bustle of Delhi as it prepared for the upcoming Commonwealth Games. The last day of our adventure, spent packing, shopping and relaxing. Our agent Mr Pandey took us out for a meal in the evening in East Delhi. My flight out by American Airlines was a bit earlier than the British Airways flight of the rest of the UK team, so I bade a fond farewell to my new friends. I suspect that after I left, sufficient beer was consumed!

POSTSCRIPTS (from Martin):

  1. The Bengali trekking group (3 trekkers, guide and 4 porters) were reported overdue at Badrinath on Sept 22nd. Search helicopters were sent to scan the glacier on Sept 24th and foot parties made a brief sortie as far as Vasuki Tal. Search efforts were called off on Sept 29th and they are presumed dead. On our brief meeting with them on Sept 16th we noted that they were badly equipped with lightweight trekking boots and they were carrying only 5 litres of kerosene. We might ask ourselves if we could have done more to look for them, but without tracks it would have required a large party, all equipped with snow-shoes or skis, to make any meaningful search up a 10 km stretch of glacier covered in a metre and a half of fresh snow.

  2. One of the female members of the Austrian team, Gabrielle Holzer, fell during a summit attempt on Sept 29th and is presumed dead.

RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS (from Martin)

  1. Although the weather was exceptionally bad - the monsoon was one of the worst in living memory - a later itinerary running from mid-September to mid-October would have given a slightly better chance of settled weather. In our case we were unable to get a permit after Set 24th so had to go 10 days earlier than we would have preferred

  2. Communications equipment - GPS, Satellite Phone and short-range Walkie-Talkies - are indispensable to party safety. Without an accurate weather forecast relayed from the UK we would not have known of the coming storm on Sept 18th/19th and could have been stranded either high on the mountain in extreme avalanche danger or else stranded at base camp without the plastic boots and shovel that were indispensable to our survival during and after the storm. I would boldly conclude that the weather forecast saved lives in our team. The GPS was vital to locate campsites and equipment dumps buried under a metre and a half of snow. The ambiguous position of the Indian authorities on the carrying of these devices has become increasingly absurd.

  3. Snow- shoes can become a vital piece of equipment after heavy snow. We would have benefited from having two or three pairs

  4. Our medical resources and abilities were tested during Steve's accident. Even in a small team it is an excellent insurance to have a doctor. However, it is vital that large medical kits are broken down into portable modules and that these are given to several team members. Steve's accident occurred on the first day of trekking. It is vital that modules are prepared and distributed as soon as the team leaves Delhi. In the event we had "just" enough bandaging to dress Steve's wound.


To file a trip report, please fill in the
Report Entry form or contact the webmaster.