Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Kang Yaze - Trekking Peak?

Sunrise on Kang Yaze

It took us some time to realize that we had been outwitted by the owner of the Nezer View Guest House, Leh. We had arrived in the town at 8 pm on 15 June 2001, after a gruelling 13 hour drive from Darcha in our overloaded blue Maruti Gypsy. As we cruised into town in the darkness, driving hesitantly in a place that was new to all of us, a white Gypsy passed us. In a flash, it had made a U turn and was now beside us, driving parallel.

A head poked out of the driver's side window. "Hotel? You looking for hotel?" a young slim lad shouted across at us. I was too tired to debate the point, having been the sole driver since we left Delhi 5 days earlier.

"Yes," I said.

"Follow me," the young man said.

The guest house was okay, but the ethics that its owners lived by was not. We had driven all the way to Choglamsar a day later in search of a man who lived in the Tibetan sector to arrange the mules and ponies we would need for the trek from Martselang to the base of Kang Yaze, the peak we had come to climb. The man in question was not at home, so we left word with his wife that he should see us the next morning in our guest house.

Stok Kangri, a very popular peak with trekkers, seen here from the terrace of the Nezer View Guest House.

The day dawned and there was no sign of the man. The owner had intercepted him and told him that there were no guests matching our description and turned him away.

When we questioned him later regarding this, he feigned ignorance and said that if it was mules and ponies that we needed, he knew just the man. We had already lost a day, so we agreed to meet Sonam, the muleteer that he sent us. If we had known at the time that the guest house owner was taking a  "commission" which amounted to more than 50% of what we were paying Sonam for his services, we would have re-considered the deal.

A view of Leh

A quick round of shopping for supplies in the market, followed by a walk up to the Leh Palace found me gasping for breath. I found this strange, having just spent time in the Bagini Glacier at over 15,000 feet only two weeks earlier ( ). My other two companions, Franklyn Silveira and Ravi Wadaskar, who had joined me at Delhi directly from Mumbai, should have been the ones feeling the altitude of Leh. Franco Linhares whom we had picked up from Solang before driving over the Rohtang Pass seemed unaffected as well! I put it down to the bout of Delhi Belly (diarrhoea) I had suffered from on my return to the capital city from the cool climes of Garhwal.

Leh Palace

The guest house owner had one more ace up his sleeve. He offered to have our Gypsy in "safe" parking in the compound of the Hotel Horizon. He would transport us and our gear, for an appropriate (in his eyes) fee to Martselang in his white Gypsy. Sonam would rendezvous with us at Hemis, load up the ponies, while we would drive another short distance to start our walk.

When we arrived at Hemis on the morning of the 19th, there was no sign of Sonam and his four legged companions. We ate breakfast, toured the monastery, and fortuitously bumped into a ponywallah who told us he had seen someone called Sonam at Martselang, waiting for us. The mystery having been cleared up, we motored onwards to Martselang.

Franco's backpack gets a ride

Sonam strapped our luggage on to his pack animals and then relieved us of our heavy backpacks and threw them onto the poor beasts as well! This mode of trekking - carrying only a small daypack with water, a few snacks and a camera - was new to all of us who had grown up in the old school of You Must Learn To Be Beasts of Burden If You Want To Climb Mountains! We did not argue with Sonam and enjoyed the luxury of a level and leisurely two hour walk along the Shang nala on a road of gravel and stones which led us into the little oasis of Shang Sumdo. We pitched our tents on grass in a "pay and camp" facility in the compound of a house, with a convenient little stream running through it. This was my first trip to Ladakh and already I was beginning to fall in love with it!

Children of Shang Sumdo. The girl in the middle wears a shirt which reads :"Spirit of America. Forever true to our club."

The evening found us walking up to the monastery a short distance away to seek the blessings of the resident lama and as we walked back at dusk we could see a couple of bharal silhouetted against a salmon pink sky, high up on a surrounding ridge. It seemed like a good omen.

Shang Sumdo is an oasis of green set in a rugged landscape

Passing Chokdo and the campground of Chukirmo the next day, the trail crisscrossed the riverbed many times, keeping us hopping from stone to stone in an effort to stay dry. The terrain was extremely rugged with the cliffs and rocks painted in intense earth colors, the clarity in the air enhancing the brilliance of the landscape. A couple of healthy looking partridges with extremely attractive feathers and a black ring round their necks scuttled out of the bushes lining the trail, reinforcing our belief that life did somehow flourish in the apparently barren surroundings. Wild rose bushes and clumps of brilliant yellow flowers helped balance the aesthetics.

Child at Chokdo watches us go by....

Wild flowers cling tenaciously to a cliff
Sketch map of area in Himalayan Journal Vol 45

The European girl who was tottering down the sheet of ice which covered the riverbed as it narrowed into a gorge was obviously having a problem maintaining her balance! Sonam found out from the ponywallah who was accompanying her and her companion down from the Kongmaru La that she had had a generous helping of chang the night before at Nimaling and was now still hung over.

Camp below the Kongmaru La

We camped about 500 metres below the Kongmaru La and Ravi took over the cooking. Ravi was a consummate artist and had persuaded his wife Sunita to equip him with a comprehensive range of spices packed neatly into little plastic containers. He would whip these out at the appropriate time and sprinkle the finely powdered ingredients into the pan.

The Kongmaru La. 

Thus well rested and well fortified we climbed up to the Kongmaru La the next morning and were immediately confronted with the object of our desire right before us, across the Nimaling Plains. We eased ourselves down into the broad and welcoming valley and pitched our tents close to a stream where grazing yaks occasionally came down for a drink and to cool off in the water. I guess we could have crossed the next hump and gone directly to camp right below Kang Yaze, but since Sonam was being paid for four stages to Base Camp, we took this opportunity to laze around in the sun reading and dozing and postponed the move to the next day. The weather was perfect and it seemed such a shame to waste it by hurrying along!

Franco reads in the sun at Nimaling camp

FRIDAY, 22 JUNE 2001. KANG YAZE BASE CAMP. 4900 M. 8:41 PM (Excerpt from my diary):

"The musical sounds of the ponies' bells complement the gentle murmur of the stream to our right. We are camped on a flat green patch next to the shallow nala that is fed by Kang Yaze's northern glacier and another glacial valley at the head........ There are lots of big, plump marmots around here and also many "pika" or mouse hare. On our way up this afternoon we even saw a large partridge-like bird walking across the stony slopes. There was some dramatic light in the evening."

There was more drama to come at this idyllic spot - it snowed for three days which forced Sonam to descend with his ponies to more hospitable realms towards the Markha valley. We used the time to indulge ourselves with plenty of food and chai and seized the opportunity in the few clear spells to walk around and hike up the surrounding slopes to get a better idea of the terrain and to dump some loads at about 5100 m where we hoped to spend a night before our climb to the summit.

An umbrella is essential equipment when venturing out to answer nature's call on a snowy day!

The 27th of June dawned bright and clear, the sunlight seeped through the tent fabric at precisely 5:57 am and we knew in our hearts that we had our window of opportunity! Leaving Franklyn behind at Base Camp, the three of us toiled up to our proposed high camp site and by mid day were well settled in on a patch of stony ground we had levelled for the tent. We packed our rucksacks for the climb and Franco and I sheltered in the tent whilst Ravi chose to sleep under the stars in a bivouac sack.

Our camp for the summit climb

Diary excerpt : "The sunset was magnificent this evening, a crescent moon hanging above a golden hued Kang Yaze against a darkening sky. It has been the clearest, most perfect evening so far, the wind too has died down....."

I started brewing up at 2:30 am on Thursday, 28 June after being awake from 11:30 pm the night before. We began to climb at 4 am on a crisp and cold morning. The wind howled out of Tibet as we walked up the broad saddle to the foot of the north west face. A quick gulp of tea from my small flask made the task of attaching my crampons here a little more bearable and soon we were crunching up the snow. After a couple of hours we were on the western side of the mountain where we took another break, perched on some stones jutting out from the face. The Nun Kun massif dominated the horizon and there was a sea of peaks all around. The sun was taking a toll on the snow and it was becoming softer by the minute. Inexplicably, Ravi began to vomit and thereafter he was not his normal self. He became listless and weak and a few vertical meters later I had to ask him to stop and wait for us to come back. He did not argue, just nodded his head and sat down in the snow. We talked to him for some time, made sure that he could look after himself, that he had water and snacks with him. We suggested he start descending as soon as he felt himself capable. The terrain was not very technical and I knew that he could handle it, especially since we had left deep and huge footprints in the snow which he could easily follow and the weather did not pose a threat. I had climbed with Ravi three years earlier ( ) and knew he was a hardy soul and I did not feel guilty as Franco and I kept plunging up to our knees as we soldiered on upwards.

Ravi follows in Franco's footsteps
Friends in high places! Ravi (left) and Franco at our rest spot.

Many hours later, and only 35 vertical meters below the corniced summit, Franco said he was too exhausted to continue. In 1988 Franco had climbed to around 26,000 feet on Kanchenjunga during the first Indian civilian expedition to the third highest peak in the world and I felt sad that he was stopping at under 20,000 ft! I could understand his condition : the deep soft snow and the intense heat of the sun had combined to extract every ounce of energy from our bodies. I looked longingly at the summit and decided that I was not going to let this one slip through my fingers - in a few weeks' time I would be emigrating to Canada and the opportunity to stand on the summit of a Himalayan peak, however modest, was not going to come along in a hurry!

Franco took this photo of me near the summit with the 300 mm lens I had left with him.

We unroped and I continued up the ridge, making sure I was a safe distance from the cornice on my left. A combination of fatigue and deep soft snow made my progress agonizingly slow. I would take 10 to 15 steps at a time and then stop, constantly knocking off the huge clumps of snow that would accumulate around the points of my crampons with my axe. I would stop, gasp for breath like an underwater swimmer just surfacing after a prolonged period, then repeat the process again. It took me almost an hour to cover the distance. Finally, I hoisted myself on to the summit boulder where someone had left some prayer flags. I contributed two Nestle eclair candies to the sacred pile and looked around with a glow of satisfaction.

The horizon was crystal clear in every direction. A sharp connecting ridge led in an intricate ribbon to the top of Kang Yaze's main peak, which had seen very few ascents. I stood on the summit of what can be called Kang Yaze II which is where most trekkers end up.

Kang Yaze I from the summit of KY II

After spending ten minutes on the top I made my way carefully back to where Franco waited patiently. He congratulated me graciously, we sat on the snow and nibbled on some chocolates, sipped a little water and began to descend. It was 4:15 pm. An hour later we caught up with Ravi who was getting a little worried. It was almost 8:30 pm by the time we reached the tent and after a round of chai and soup, we ate some Wai Wai noodles for dinner and I settled down in my bivouac sack to sleep under  a starry sky while Ravi moved into the tent with Franco.

On our return to Base Camp the next day we were welcomed by Franklyn with steaming hot mugs of chai. He had followed our climb with his binoculars the previous day and was glad to see us safe and sound. Eight Austrian trekkers had also arrived with their 15 horses and Thondup, their guide. Thondup later dropped in to say hello and also to ask if he could borrow a pair of crampons from us as one of his group who initially had no intentions of climbing had now changed his mind and they were short of one pair! I loaned him my pair and Thondup said he would return it when they caught up with us at Shang Sumdo.

The walk back to Shang Sumdo was a sheer delight; we were buoyed up by our successful  climb. As we took a break on the Kongmaru La, we could see the Austrians right across the valley on Kang Yaze following the tracks we had stamped out. They had made a 2 am start and climbed the peak from Base Camp. Even allowing for the fact that a ready made trail made their progress faster, I was quite impressed - their group was made up mostly of seniors over 60 years old, except for the thirty something lad who had borrowed my crampons!

Telephoto taken from Kongmaru La of the Austrian group climbing Kang Yaze

We were joined on our return walk by a cute little black puppy who appeared out of nowhere and attached himself to us for two days and then, just as mysteriously, vanished! We fed him and I let him sleep in comfort on top of my down sleeping bag. As if to reward us for our generosity, we were privileged to watch a herd of bharal, numbering 13, cross the Shang river and clamber up the sheer scree slopes on the other side to graze in what appeared to be extremely precarious perches.

Puppy gets a little TLC from me..... while Ravi looks on.

As a Farewell to the Himalaya trip, Kang Yaze and Ladakh will be etched in my memory forever as one of the most enjoyable excursions to the mountains I have ever made and will ensure that I shall return some day.....!


In these days of mass adventure tourism, many experiences have been devalued and downgraded due to the proliferation of extensive information and knowledge and their conversion to "soft" adventure. Thus a whole new world has been opened up to millions of people who would otherwise have not even considered the idea of taking the risks involved on their own. Climbs to Island Peak in Nepal and Stok Kangri in Ladakh are good examples of this. For people with deeper pockets and a willingness to devote more time, even some of the highest peaks in the world are now accessible via their normal routes. However, climbing these peaks without guides or fixed ropes and the safety net provided by a good trekking agency, is still fairly challenging for most people.

One should however not belittle these efforts: like all things in life, what is a relatively easy thing to one person may be someone else's personal Everest! A toddler in diapers scrambling to the top of a three foot high boulder perhaps experiences the same euphoria as a seasoned alpinist on a new route on the north face of K2!

More importantly, "trekkking" peaks also have the same ability to dish out death and disability under certain conditions. A wise person never underestimates the power of the mountains, however insignificant or innocuous they might appear to be in the media.

For an interesting discussion on this topic, see :


The main summit of Kang Yaze is almost 300 meters higher than the "trekking" summit. Parties which have climbed it have done so via the north and east ridges - you need to be experienced and competent to take on this climb.

Illustration from Himalayan Journal Vol 52 (1996), Plate 39.

M .Ratty had proposed to add two more summits in the group and call them Kang Yaze III and Kang Yaze IV. (Himalayan Journal Vol 52)

Kang Yaze III from the summit of KY II
A comprehensive history of climbs on Kang Yaze (Kang Yissay) upto 1988 was compiled by Dhiren Pania and can be found on page 205 of Himalayan Journal Vol. 45 (1987-1988).

View north west

Franco (circled) waits 

View west towards the Karakoram

Stok Kangri

Ravi doing what he loves at Shang on the return

Marmot frolics in the snow at Base Camp

Looking towards the Markha Valley from Base Camp

Wild rose

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Burphu Dhura - Part 2. A Fin Too Far

The snow began to fall silently in the night again and visibility was still not very good at around a quarter to six in the morning. The sun finally broke through almost an hour later and with it emerged a positively charged Divyesh - he stomped all around the camp, boisterous and cheerful, and quickly dismissed any ideas that I may have harboured of lazing around another day with Roald Dahl for company. After a quick breakfast of cornflakes and tea we set off to climb Burphu South.

Satya coming up Burphu South. The Kalabaland Glacier flows in a wide arc below.
Reaching the summit of Burphu South
Narinder, Bhupinder and Divyesh led off on one rope while Satya and I followed more sedately, taking photos and looking across at Burphu Dhura's defences, seeking a line of weakness. We reached the top in about two hours, from where we could look at the entire summit area of Burphu Dhura head on. In between scudding, fleeting clouds, we were rewarded with brief glimpses of the mountain. After the usual heroic poses we descended via a different route, thus completing a traverse of this little summit.

Our route on Burphu South
Divyesh on the summit of Burphu South
Our return to Camp 1 coincided with the arrival of Soop Singh and Laloo with two large gas cylinders. After a lunch of macaroni I slid down the the fixed rope in the gully and switched it with a shorter one as we would need all the length we could muster for what lay ahead.

Finding a viable route on Burphu Dhura entailed descending about 40 meters east from our camp into a snow basin to reach the bottom of a snow gully. Over the next couple of days we fixed ten rope lengths up this in indifferent weather and in somewhat trying conditions, to achieve a 350 meter height gain.

After six days at Camp 1, I wrote in my journal for 4th October : "One more involuntary Rest Day! Winds and snow all night put paid to our plans of shifting to our "summit camp" Lunch, tea, soup, dinner flowed in one seamless chronology with lots of dozing in between..... Just finished reading the 3rd Roald Dahl story - The Sound Machine. Satya regaled me with stories of his travels and wanderings in the mountains.... the tent fabric flaps intermittently like a live thing."

Driven more by a need to do something rather than a rational assessment of the conditions, five of us (Jinendra opted to stay back) set out the next day to establish and occupy what we optimistically hoped would be Camp II. The final part of the gully was very steep and by the time we had hacked out a totally inadequate ledge for one tent and a shallow snow cave for Narinder and Satya (they volunteered!) it was close to 8 pm. We were cold, exhausted, dehydrated, hungry.

Route detail

Traversing across to the base of the final rock gully to C2

Narinder, left, and Satya cheer themselves up with chai in their cave
Divyesh, Bhupinder and I squeezed into the 2 person Hellman bivouac tent. I was the one on the outside and we spent a fairly cramped and gymnastic night listening to the howling storm. That night was one of the very few that I have spent in the mountains absolutely petrified, expecting any moment to be blown clean off the mountain and hurled down unforgiving cliffs of rock, ice and snow. Things were no better in the morning. We tried in a half half hearted manner to push the route up further but by the afternoon the storm came back with renewed vigour. Bhupinder, Narinder and I decided to descend, leaving the more optimistic Satya and Divyesh to spend another storm wracked night in the tent.

I stand outside our partially collapsed Camp 2 tent

Narinder all set to go down
A harrowing descent through deep soft snow in poor visibility was made all the more dramatic when thunder reverberated all around us and the wind carried spindrift through our shell jackets to chill our bones.

My downward progress can best be described as undignified. I would look for a place to plant my feet down the slope, then venture the lower limb into what I hoped would be a firm step, and often collapse in a clumsy heap, thankful for the fixed rope that I was clipped into. Slab avalanches coming off the nearby slopes added to the fear factor. The little snow basin which led up back to the camp was the most difficult to negotiate: the deep and soft snow ensured that movement was agonisingly slow. Thunder, wind, and more snow welcomed us as we reached the safe haven of Camp 1. We did not envy Satya and Divyesh their precarious perch higher up on the mountain.

Balwant braved the storm to deliver a piping hot mug of tea from the kitchen shelter and once again I was grateful that we had our hardy Kumaoni friends as support staff. Our lives would have been ten times more difficult without their presence.

The winds howled all night, driving snow up against the wall of my tent. I stared mesmerised at the logo of the manufacturer (Camp) of the rather flimsy shelter: the picture of the wolf was perhaps quite appropriate to the conditions we were experiencing but this was certainly not a tent suited for mountaineering. I longed for the more robust tents I had used in the past - like the  North Face VE25 or the Wild Country Mountain Quasar. (Please note that this is not a paid endorsement, it is my personal opinion based on my experiences!). I expected the poles to snap and the wind to tear the fabric to shreds any moment.

At the 8 am radio call on 7th October, Divyesh informed us that he and Satya were on their way down after a brutal night which he called "an epic for survival". We played cards in Narinder's tent while we waited for them. Duryodhan spotted them at around 11 am, descending the last of the fixed ropes to the snow basin. Narinder and Balwant immediately set out to relieve them of their loads and help them back to the tents. Both Divyesh and Satya had had a harrowing experience surviving the storm and were really glad to see Balwant and Narinder.

I watched (with a telephoto lens) Satya descend to the snow basin below Camp 1

Divyesh is all smiles as he reaches Camp 1
As if to mock us, the next day dawned clear and spotless, the rising sun in the east tinging the mountain silhouettes across the Kalabaland a tender pink. Perhaps the bad weather phase had come to an end and we were being presented with another opportunity. A thought occurred to me: we could try to climb all the way to the summit from Camp 1 and do away with the necessity of establishing an intermediate camp. The glorious morning encouraged such optimism and I voiced this aloud to Satya. We could wait out the day and if the weather held, make a go for the top on the morrow. He agreed, and so did Narinder and Divyesh.

We became transformed into peak paparazzi as the glorious weather engulfed us!
But we were short on rations, so Jinendra and Bhupinder magnanimously offered to go down. We called Advance Base on the radio to send up some sugar, dal and tea. Laloo and Soop Singh came up with those supplies and Duryodhan descended to organise porters for the return march.

Bhupinder and Jinendra bid farewell as they leave Camp 1
We spent the morning drying out, even managing to play a game of cards out in the open while soaking in the sun. Bhupinder and Jinendra left at 12:30 pm. The rest of us spent the afternoon putting our gear together and retired early for the night, hoping to make an early start.

I was awake at 12:40 am. The sky was clear and it was around -10 deg C inside my tent. That boded well for the day. After tossing and turning for about an hour I called out to Balwant (I could hear him talking to Soop Singh in their tent) to begin brewing the tea. This drink materialised around 2:10 am and was actually lightly flavoured coffee. At around 3 am they brought breakfast of "dalia". After wolfing this down I began to get dressed and I could hear the others moving around in their tents as well.

Himalayan climbing can be summarised as a series of embarrassing situations punctuated by brief moments of sheer ecstasy. As if to prove this theory, my bowels sent out excruciatingly painful signals just when I had completed zipping up my salopettes. I fumbled with the zips, swore under my breath, and dived out of the tent with partly laced boots and ran clumsily as far as I could in the freezing cold to find a spot where I  could safely stamp out a hole and deliver the contents of my stomach safely without contaminating the campsite! When I returned to the tent, I felt exhausted with the ordeal of dealing with my sudden loose motions. After regaining my breath, I continued the business of suiting up when Satya called out from the other tent. "Hey, Aloke, are you ready yet?"

"Give me another couple of minutes," I yelled back, struggling to strap on my crampons with fingers that felt like wood.

We left the camp at 4:45 am, Satya and I on one rope while Divyesh and Narinder shared the other. In spite of my down clothing and the Goretex jacket over it, I felt unreasonably cold. My headlamp kept slipping off my head and this made me increasingly irritated and frustrated with myself. We had barely begun ascending the first fixed rope above the basin when Satya began experiencing bile problems. He began to wretch and kept throwing up. After a while he said he thought that it was prudent of him to descend. I soldiered on upwards, still not finding a rhythm and still cold even an hour after the sun had risen. Divyesh and Narinder were moving well and fast and when I saw them becoming dots on the landscape I consoled myself by focusing on the gorgeous mountain views that were unfolding. If ever God had created the perfect day for climbing, this was surely one of them; I felt blessed just being able to soak in the magnificence.

The tents at Camp 1 looked like little dots as I climbed higher

When I arrived at our intended Camp 2 site, I could see the tracks that Divyesh and Narinder had left. I followed and found myself sitting on a corniced ridge in a spectacular position, my feet dangling over the sheer drop into the Burphu Gad on the western side. The sharp ridge continued north towards the feature we had dubbed The Shark's Fin. I could see Divyesh and Narinder approaching its bottom. Once over the Shark's Fin, they would be in a fairly good position to continue on to the summit, as there did not seem to be any more significant obstacles. At least this is how it appeared from my perspective.

The upper section of Burphu Dhura as we had seen it from Burphu South

This is Divyesh's account :

"The route above the campsite required us to traverse the south ridge along its east face for 15m. We then broke through the cornice to get on top of the ridge till we reached a prominent shelf on the south ridge. This section was very tricky and Narinder did a fine lead. We fixed our last available rope on this section. The rope fell short of the shelf and we carefully belayed each other on the knife edged south ridge. The section took a long time to negotiate. We waited for Aloke at this point, hoping he would catch up with us soon. However he was not yet in sight and we had to make the decision to continue since we were now running out of time."

This same knife edge section now stopped me in my tracks. The snow stake that anchored the last rope to the ridge was now below me. From here onwards I would be on my own. I toyed with the idea of anchoring the rope that I carried in my rucksack to the stake and moving gingerly up the knife edged ridge. Then I ran a possible scenario through my mind: if I were to slip and plunge down the Burphu Gad side I would dangle helplessly, suspended by 50 metres of nylon and probably not be able to climb back up the overhanging face, assuming that I had not suffered any bodily harm during my fall. The thought sent shivers up my already cold spine. No, I told myself, that was not an option worth contemplating for a married man with a nine year old son. As far as I was concerned, The Shark's Fin was a Fin Too Far!

From my perch on the south ridge, I had this fantastic view of the Nanda Devi peaks (left) and the Hardeol group of peaks (centre)
Nanda Kot (left) and Nanda Devi (centre)
From left to right, Suitilla, Panch Chuli II, Chaudhara and Rajrambha were a feast for my eyes.

So I made myself comfortable on the ridge, took a couple of pictures and began my descent. My prayers went up for Divyesh and Narinder to reach the summit safely and return. But it was not to be. Divyesh takes up the story once again :

"Our next obstacle was the Shark's Fin, a steep icy feature on the ridge of about 150m. It dominated the route ahead. We soloed up the first 50m. The angle got steeper and the ice harder. We belayed each other up the next 100m till we were at the crest of the Shark's Fin. What lay ahead kept us gaping. A thin corniced ridge of about 150m snaked up towards the summit dome. This connecting ridge consisted of a shredded rock ridge covered by a few feet of snow and ice, plunging at several places and corniced alarmingly towards the east. To negotiate this patch would be a delicate affair and take considerable time. Since we had no fixed rope with us, it would also mean that we would have to spend as much time or perhaps more on our way back. We confronted the "mountaineer's dilemma". To advance or to withdraw, to overstep the fine boundary delineating courage from foolishness or to plunge forward heedless...... The summit was within touching distance, yet the time it would take to reach the top and come back to the safety of the fixed ropes might not be sufficient...... Finally I decided to be graceful in defeat and we retreated with reluctant steps.... We had missed our objective by a hair's breath..... Only 100m of vertical and about 200m of horizontal distance separated us from the summit."

Divyesh and Narinder on the Shark's Fin
The IMF launched another two expeditions the following year to woo the Burphu bride. They followed the same route that we had pioneered. The team that went to Burphu Dhura in Sept 2000 finally managed to climb the mountain.

Overall view of our route
On 27 September 2000, the summit was reached by Loveraj Dharmashaktu, Balwant Singh Kapkoti (the same Balwant who had accompanied us to Camp 1, his last name denotes the village of Kapkot where he hails from) and Ramesh. I sought a little comfort in the thought that they had reached the top on my 45th birthday!

Balwant Singh Kapkoti 
As we retraced our steps back down the valley, an autumn chill was in the air, the stream near Base Camp froze overnight and a solitary pika nibbled on the grass among the deserted stone houses of Ralam. Burphu Dhura and the Kalabaland would soon drape themselves in their winter garments and only privileged residents like the snow leopard and the lammergeier would have access to their splendour.

Pika at Ralam
Useful References:

1. "Mountain of Long Life" by Harish Kapadia. Himalayan Journal Vol. 36. Pg. 68. An account of the first    ascent of Chiring We.

2. "Breathless on Burphu" by Lt.Cmdr. Satyabrata Dam. Himalayan Journal Vol. 56. Pg. 81. The official account of the 1999 expedition to Burphu Dhura.

3. "The Kalabaland Expedition, 1982" by Amit Bhargava. Himalayan Journal Vol. 39 Pg. 177.

4. "Two IMF expeditions to peak Burphu Dhura in 2000". The Alpine Journal 2001. Pg. 250.

5. The Scottish Himalayan Expedition by W. H. Murray (published in 1951 by J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd. London). Pages 225 - 238 recount the crossing of the Yankchar pass and the Ralam Dhura from Ralam to the Lassar Yankti and down into the Darma valley. Murray is one of the finest writers in mountaineering literature and the book is a classic of almost unfettered exploration of parts of the Garhwal and Kumaon almost sixty five years ago - decades before Google Earth, GPS and satellite imagery took the wonder out of discovering new worlds!

Harsingh Sr. A veteran of countless Himalayan expeditions, he made sure we never went hungry. He was equally at home churning out dal bhat or dishing out delicacies like gulab jamun at Advance Base!

Duryodhan. He organised our porters.


Postscript :

Satya and Divyesh returned in 2002 to climb Suitilla. For Satya, Burphu Dhura was merely a minor bump in his quest for bigger challenges. He has since climbed Everest four times, skied both to the North and South poles, climbed on every continent on the planet, is part of the community of TED Fellows, and continues to inspire and regale audiences throughout the world with his talks. And yes, he did autograph for me a copy of his first collection of detective stories (Eyewitness), published in 2000.

For more on his exploits go to :

For one of his more entertaining talks, see :

For a rather tame outing with him 13 years later see :

Suitilla from the Kalabaland Glacier
L to R : Divyesh Muni, Aloke Surin, Jinendra Maibam, Bhupinder Pant, Satyabrata Dam, Narinder Chouhan

She spins wool.....
.... while he gets to smoke!