With camera in hand, I hopped around from boulder to boulder like an excited rabbit, trying to avoid the deep snow drifts in between, in pursuit of the perfect picture. All it took was a split second of inattention - my right foot slipped, a sharp edge sliced through the inside edge of my ankle, missing the vein by a couple of millimetres. The blood stained the snow red where the heel had landed.
| I rest my injured foot on a boulder at the camp below Pt.6484m.|
Leo Pargial (left) and Corner Peak form the backdrop
Three years had gone by since my last visit to the Chango Glacier (see http://taccidental.blogspot.ca/2014/01/the-chango-chronicles-1995-grip-on.html ), three years in which I had certainly grown older but not necessarily wiser, as the above incident amply illustrates. With the defeat at the hands of Granite Peak in 1995 still vivid in my mind, I decided that a scaling down of ambition was in order. I now had my sights set on a peak with no name which was suspected to be 6484 metres high. It is the very first summit that comes into view as one labours up the Chango nala towards Lake Camp and is the first prominent peak on the true right bank of the glacier.
|Pt. 6484 m from Base Camp (Photo by late Arun Samant)|
In 1997, Hrishikesh Jadhav was planning a civilian expedition from Maharashtra to climb Mount Everest in May of the following year. The climb would be funded largely by a corporate sponsor. Arun convinced me to try for a spot on the team, together with himself, Anil and Ravi Wadaskar. The funds needed for the expedition amounted to at least ten million rupees, a sum which could easily have paid for ten apartments of the size that I was living in! Who could resist the temptation of an opportunity to climb the highest peak in the world by having to spend only a token personal amount? In 1996, individual clients from the western countries were already forking out as much as US$ 60,000/- to commercial operators for the opportunity to climb Everest. Like everything else, mountain climbing had been packaged, promoted and sold as one more product the consumer might like to buy!
|Map by late Arun Samant for The Himalayan Journal|
But the monsoon has other perils lurking to waylay the unwary traveller. Our original plan to arrive at Chango from Spiti (via Kullu and Kaza) had to be jettisoned when the road to Kullu was blocked by a landslide. This resulted in the four of us being dropped off at Shimla's "Lakkad (literally Wood) Bazaar" bus stand by the two vans we had hired in Ambala. It was close to 1 am and raining. With a plastic sheet covering our 30 pieces of baggage, we stood shivering in the cold under our umbrellas, waiting for the bus.
The bus to Thangi pulled in at 4:30 am and by the time we had loaded our luggage we were thoroughly soaked. Two days later it was a relief to finally check into the now familiar Rest House in Chango. However, we still had a few hiccups to overcome : Chokdup Negi, Our Man in Chango, was away in Tibet on a trading trip and had not returned home. This gave us time to thoroughly dry out all our equipment on the sunny compound of the Rest House.
|Drying Day in the compound of the Chango Rest House|
|Dorji and Ramgopal shelling the justly famous Chango peas at Lake Camp|
|Base Camp. L to R : Ramgopal, Aloke, Ravi, Anil, Dorji, Arun|
|Chokdup makes fresh rotis at Base Camp|
|Ravi (left) and Ramgopal at the camp below 6484m|
However, that was not to be. On 17th July, Ramgopal and Ravi set off at just after 6 am and reached the top in five hours. Traversing the slopes of the south west face, they came to the bottom of the rocky south ridge which they followed all the way to the summit. We were thrilled that the expedition had achieved its first success, and that too a First Ascent. It was time to head back to Base Camp.
|Ramgopal on the summit of 6484m|
While I had been feeling sorry for myself and reaping the harvest of my folly, the others had been busy. Arun, Anil and Dorji had set off to climb Leo Pargial. Dorji had been helping Chokdup do some building work around his house when he was persuaded to join our motley group. Packing enough food and fuel for five days, they had gone to the head of the glacier, made a right turn and camped below the mountain. From another camp at 6300 metres above the west col, they reached the summit on 18th July, a day after Ramgopal and Ravi's ascent of Pt.6484m. It had been a magnificent effort under very trying conditions and a wicked wind chilled them to the bone at the top. Dorji, instead of being elated at having climbed his first Himalayan summit, was dejected because the view into Tibet that he had been promised by Arun was snatched away by clouds, robbing them of the splendid panorama that they might have otherwise enjoyed from the top of Chango's highest peak.
|Anil Chavan high on Leo Pargial (Photo by late Arun Samant)|
|The view north from Leo Pargial (Photo by late Arun Samant)|
|Anil (left), Arun (centre) and Dorji are all smiles after climbing Leo Pargial|
|The stars leave their tracks over Ningmari|
|The snow at this campsite had melted away|
|Chokdup making chai on the col|
|Chokdup waves from the top of the pinnacle|
|The Cholo Tokpo glacier from the col|
|The view across the SW face to Granite Peak and Leo Pargial|
|Chokdup near the exit gully|
|The mountains of Tibet form the horizon behind Granite Peak|
|Ninjeri as seen from the summit of Pt.6484m|
|Chokdup and I took the blue route whilst Ravi and Ramgopal had taken the red route|
|I hold on to the Indian flag on top of Pt.6484m|
However, the gods appeared not too pleased with these plans, for as soon as I lit the gas stove to brew some chai for the four of us the whole contraption exploded in a ball of flame and I just about managed to pitch it out of harm's way into the snow. In spite of the "Fire Retardant" label on our tent, I knew that the nylon fabric could easily have been reduced to a small pile of fused polyester fibers, rendering us homeless. When the stove had cooled, I examined the unit. An irreparable leak in the sheathed metal cable connecting the cylinder to the burner was the cause of the near disaster.
We dispatched Chokdup and Ramgopal to fetch the robust MSR XGK II from Base Camp while Ravi and I settled in for a frugal dinner consisting of some theplas (a sort of long-life paratha) and dal, topped up with a mango candy. Our only stock of water was what little we had left in our bottles and we rationed out the sips.
Waiting for the other two to return the next day, we had to escape the intense heat build up inside the tent as the little cirque turned the snow into a giant reflector. We lay on our mats outside being simultaneously broiled and frozen. The heat only served to increase our thirst.We stuffed our water bottles with snow and wrapped them in black polythene bags and placed them in the sun. Even so it would be a long time before we were rewarded with a few sips of snow melt.
|Ravi sunbathes while we wait for Chokdup to turn up with the stove|
The end result was that Chokdup planned to go down immediately and chaperon Ramgopal all the way to the more conducive altitude of Lake Camp where he could convalesce before returning to Chango. We said goodbye to Chokdup and immediately began a prolonged session of hydration. It was the last day of July.
My addiction to tea generally works in favour of my climbing partners as they can slumber on a bit longer while the Chai Demon drives me to start the brew. I began the process at 2:20 am and took 45 minutes to make 6 mugs. Four mugs went into the flask for the climb while I roused Ravi with his wake-up cuppa.
|A couple of soccer fields could have easily fitted on the summit ice field|
|The view of Granite Peak from the summit was stunning|
|Ravi on the slightly lower snowy summit|
This post is dedicated to the memory of Arun Samant
For the official report on this expedition, please refer to "Chango 1998" by Arun Samant - Himalayan Journal 55 (1999). Page 120.
For more references please see the end of the article "Tango in Chango" by Aloke Surin - Himalayan Journal 52 (1996). Page 73.
|The apricot harvest had begun as we returned to the village|