13th ? 14th September
By the 13th Sept 2004 all expedition members had arrived in Dehli, where we stayed at the YWCA. A representative of our agent ?Himalayan Run and Trek? (HR&T) met us on the 13th September, and confirmed our schedule and arrangements for the expedition. On the 14th September Malcolm Bass led our expedition in a meeting with Colonel Bhimwal of the Indian Mountaineering Federation. Colonel Bhimwal confirmed that our expedition had completed all administrative requirements and therefore had IMF approval for an attempt on Janhkuth. At the IMF we were introduced to our liaison officer Chandrashekhar B. Shirsath. That afternoon we were introduced to our cook Hera Singh. HR&T then organised a vehicle and driver to enable us to visit a supermarket in order to buy food and provisions for our time beyond Base Camp.
15th ? 16th September
At 06.00 hrs on the 15th September our expedition (including Chandra and Hera) departed Delhi in a 13-seater van. Our agent had miscalculated the amount of available space in the van, meaning that another vehicle was needed in order to carry some of the expedition equipment to Gangotri. (At a later stage we discovered that HR&T had over-catered for us.) That night we stayed at a hotel in Uttarkashi. On the morning of the 16th September we bought fresh vegetables in Uttarkashi market and visited the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. That afternoon we drove to Gangotri (3,140 m.).
17th – 18th September
Personal loads were organised and the provisions supplied by Himalayan Run and Trek for our time at Base Camp were rationalised. It transpired that HR&T had catered for our expedition for the duration of the trip, and had neglected to follow our instructions that we would self-cater for fourteen days. On the 18th September we took a short ? day walk up-valley towards Thelay Sagar.
19th – 21st September
The expedition begn the move up the Gangotri Valley. A total of 37 porters plus one sirdar were needed to transport the expedition?s equipment. Our first night on the trail was spent in the guest-house accommodation at Bhujbas. On the 20th September we trekked via Gaumukh and Tapovan to the campsite at Karapatta (4,370 m.). On the 21st September we arrived at Sudenbam (4,535 m.) where we erected Base Camp in the form of a cook?s tent, a dining tent, a toilet tent, and personal tents. That night 5 cm snow plus rain fell.
The majority of the porters set off for their return to Gangotri. All five climbers plus Chandra and five ?high-altitude? porters made a carry up the Gangotri Glacier. The loads were left at a site 5.5 km beyond Base Camp at 4,750 m. in the middle of the glacier at the first continuous section of clean white ice. This site was named ?Dump Camp?. The carrying party returned to Base Camp that afternoon. The high-altitude porters continued down-valley, leaving we five climbers and Chandra, Hera, and Jaspal at Sudenbam. From mid-afternoon onwards the weather turned inclement, with rain and 50 cm of snow falling overnight.
That morning the Cooks? tent (used for sleeping and food preparation) collapsed due to the weight of snow. The weather cleared, and the cooking facilities were re-organised.
The climbing members of the expedition (Malcolm, Paul and Andy ? English team, known hereafter as M/P/A; Pat and Marty ? New Zealand team, known hereafter as P/M) began the trek to the upper Gangotri Glacier. Dump Camp was reached by early afternoon, just before the onset of sleet, snow, and driving wind. M/P/A discovered that their Mountain Hardware EV2 tent left in situ at Dump Camp two days prior had collapsed from the weight of snow, with two poles broken in two places each. Repairs were made, and the tent re-erected and used without further problems for the rest of the trip. Both teams stayed overnight at Dump Camp.
25th ? 30th September
Over the next few days an advanced Base Camp (ABC) was established 11 km up-valley from Dump Camp (16.5 km beyond Base Camp). The campsite was situated 800 m. below the junction of the Gangotri Glacier and the Maiandi Bamak at 5000 m. elevation.
M/P/A moved up to the ABC site in one day, and continued to shuttle food from Dump Camp up to ABC over the next week. P/M took two days to reach ABC from Dump Camp, utilising an intermediary camp at the base of the Swachand Bamak (4,800 m.). P/M carried all food and equipment for three weeks in the one trip.
The weather remained mostly fine during this week, with clear mornings, regular afternoon cloud, and some snow. In the latter half of the week both teams made a reconnaissance of the Maiandi Bamak and observed the West Face of Janhkuth at close quarters. Each team selected a likely climbing route. M/P/A chose a mixed line to the right of the West Face that linked snow couloirs and shorter steep gullies to eventually gain a major spur that ran up to the South Ridge and on to the summit. P/M chose a large couloir that intersected with M/P/A?s line at the point where the spur joined the South Ridge. On the 30th and 31st September both parties deposited their technical gear in the Maiandi Bamak, stashing it in the valley floor opposite the West Face of Janhkuth at 5,230 m.
1st ? 3rd October
On the 1st October both parties moved up to the Maiandi Bamak, hoping to leave that night for an attempt on the mountain. By the afternoon it was snowing heavily, and by late afternoon M/P/A moved back to ABC. P/M stayed put for the night, but moved down to ABC on the 2nd October when it became obvious that the mountain was out of condition. Snow continued to fall the following day, with accompanying strong winds at higher elevations.
4th ? 9th October
The 4th October dawned fine after three days of sustained snowfall. M/P/A made a one-day-return trip to Dump Camp for more supplies. P/M moved up to the Maiandi Bamak. Both teams rested on the 5th October, M/P/A at ABC, and P/A at the Maiandi Bamak camp. At midnight on the 6th October P/M began climbing un-roped on 45?-angled snow-slopes, with arduous travel due to the deep surface snow conditions. After 12 hours a campsite was reached on a small spur to climber?s right of the couloir at 5,700 m. This spur formed the only feasible tent site in the initial 600 metres of the climb. The weather was clear and calm but the face was shaded until 1 pm because of its westerly aspect.
M/P/A moved up from ABC to the Maiandi Bamak camp that afternoon in preparation for their ascent that evening.
On the morning of 7th October P/M re-entered the couloir and climbed steepening ground. Two pitches of ice angled around 80? were encountered. Three more 60 metre pitches led to the junction with the South Ridge of Janhkuth at 6,400 m., where a camp was made in a slight widening in the ridge (?Ridge Camp?). The day?s climbing took 12 hours, with much time being used up in the latter 120 m. of the climb digging for decent ice anchors. An evening thunderstorm surrounded Janhkuth, with the bulk of the snowfall occurring below Ridge Camp.
Meanwhile, 10 pm on the 6th October, M/P/A had left the Maiandi Bamak and climbed for 12 hours to establish their camp on mixed ground on the right-hand-side of the face at approximately the same level as P/M?s initial camp. Their ascent to here involved entering the couloir for 200 metres, and then following right-trending snow ramps with occasional mixed steps. The team used solo, moving together, and pitch-climbing tactics to get to their camp. During the thunderstorm that evening they received much more snow than P/M 600 metres above them. At 6 pm on the 7th they made the decision to descend before the snow collapsed their tent, and before retreat became impossible due to the imminent avalanche danger. The descent involved abseils and soloing. M/P/A returned to ABC that afternoon.
On the morning of 8th October Marty reconnoitred more steep ground above Ridge Camp to gain the horizontal section of the South Ridge at 6,500 m. From here the South Ridge led north for 700 metres to the mixed ground beneath the summit. P/M decided to stay at Ridge Camp for the day as Pat was experiencing headache and nausea. On the morning of the 9th October P/M woke to clear skies but very cold and strong winds. Pat was clearly oedemic by this stage, so P/M decided to descend. Eight rappels off V-threads gave a rapid descent down the upper throat of the ice-gully. From here P/M descended all the way to ABC.
By early morning of the 10th a storm had moved in. M/P/A packed up their ABC, and descended to Base Camp, leaving some equipment en route at Dump Camp. P/M spent a rest day at ABC. By next morning 75 cm new snow had fallen. P/M descended to Base Camp, leaving a cache of equipment four kilometres below ABC.
12th ? 16th October:
The weather from the 12th to 14th October remained inclement, with continual snow-fall and very cold temperatures at Base Camp. During this period both teams retrieved the remainder of food and equipment from up the Gangotri Glacier. Also, a foot-trail was stamped through the snow-covered glacier from Sudenbam to Karapatta. Hera and Jaspal continued on down to Gangotri to encourage the porters to return.
On the evening of the 16th October Hera and six porters arrived at Sudenbam Base Camp. The rest of the porters were stranded on the Kirti Bamak in the dark with no torches and insufficient clothing, and required our assistance to make Base Camp and be re-warmed.
17th ? 19th October:
All porters and members of the expedition departed Base Camp by 10 am of 17th October. At Tapovan the ground was still covered in deep snow. The expedition stopped overnight in Bhujbas where we used the same quarters as on the walk-in. We arrived back in Gangotri at midday on the 18th October. That afternoon we drove to Uttarkashi where we stayed overnight. The next day we drove to Delhi where our agents Himalayan Run and Trek had organised our accommodation at the YMCA Guest House.
20th ? 23rd October:
The 20th October was spent re-acquainting ourselves with civilisation. On the 21st October we met with Colonel Bhimwal at the Indian Mountaineering Foundation for our end-of-trip de-brief. We were notified that we had completed all requirements.
M/P/A spent one day organising the forwarding of their freighted luggage through Indian customs. This was achieved with the valuable assistance of Chandra, our liaison officer.
Over the next 48 hours all members had departed India from Delhi International Airport.
Going with the flow
?(An account of the Anglo-New Zealand attempt on Janhkuth in the Gangotri Glacier, Garhwal Himalaya, Sept. ? Oct. 2004).
?Old Delhi is a full-on sensory experience. The sights, sounds, smells and contact with the milling press of people, insane traffic, and ever-insistent beggars and street hawkers plucking on our sleeves had us sliding over the top of the stress/performance curve. A barber-shop looked to be a spot of shelter from the storm, so Pommy-Andy and I stepped into this haven for a spruce-up, Indian style. ?Haircut,? I mimed to the dapper barber, thinking of a quick clipper cut before heading back out on the street. I was initially impressed by the dexterity of the scissor work, somewhat surprised by the following head massage, then astonished by the subsequent soap and shave. Too overwhelmed by language and cultural barriers to remonstrate, I sat transfixed while the barber then began to grease and massage my face and neck. It was when he pulled out a Black and Decker drill with a rubber sanding-disc and began pummelling my cheeks that I finally called things to a stop. Employing a mixture of gestures and quizzical vocal intonation I raised the question if this was a necessary part of a typical haircut. My barber-masseur answered with a combination of positive head-wobbles and Hindi. Yes, apparently it was. I sat back and allowed the facial drilling to finish. After all, it was just another typical out-of-one?s-control experience in India, so why not go with the flow?
??Going with the flow? proved simpler when slipstreaming behind the jandal-shod feet of our Nepalese porters as we hiked up the Gangotri Glacier over moraine and snow to our Base Camp. We left the decision making to Hera, our cook, and Chandra, our Liaison Officer, and settled into tourist mode as we rubber-necked our way between Shivling and the Bhagirathi Parbats II, III, and I. We were a mongrel expedition, a mixture of English and New Zealanders. Malcolm Bass, one of the three English members on our trip, was in familiar territory as he had been beyond here on two previous expeditions and across the valley on a third. It was his memories of a large and unclimbed peak near the source of the Gangotri Glacier that had inspired the rest of us to be here. Like me, the other two English members Paul and Andy were Himalayan neophytes. Pat was an ?old hand? at this game with an extensive background of climbing and trekking in Pakistan, Nepal, and northern India. However, the spectacular mountain panorama in this valley was still new to her.
?Once at Base Camp we climbers established some semblance of authority. We organised a quick raid on the next five kilometres of up-glacier travel, dumping the loads at the point where a tongue of clear ice led through and beyond the mounds of granite moraine. That night at Base Camp it snowed heavily, collapsing Hera?s cooking tent and tearing it beyond repair. We stepped in, donating a spare tent and helping to restore order to the chaos of snow-drenched food supplies and cooking paraphernalia. The next morning we five climbers said our goodbyes to Hera and Chandra, and staggered off up the Gangotri equipped for three weeks of adventure. Our plans were simple: climb as two independent teams, but remain in as close proximity as possible throughout.
?Sixteen kilometres and two days of load carrying later, we established Advanced Base Camp. Our snow-shoes were proving indispensable in the late monsoon crust, and helped counteract the debilitating effect of altitude, even at only 5000 m. From our tent sites at ABC we were able to get the first tantalising glimpses of our mountain. Janhkuth stood 6,805 m. high, and appeared to offer challenging climbing on all fronts. Our climbing permit declared our intentions of scaling the West Face of Janhkuth, and on closer inspection this fortunately proved to be a realistic proposition. Reconnaissance was a basic affair; merely a matter of trooping four kilometres up the tributary glacier that flowed beneath the West Face spy on the mass of rock and ice looming above. Let?s see now, four days minimum for the round trip top-to-toe, and five days to be sure. The Poms stuck true to their local recreational heritage and selected a route that had a Scottish flavour, being a mix of snow ramps linked by icy corners wending through rock bands. Pat and I settled on the large central couloir that narrowed and twisted into a steep gully before exiting onto the South Ridge where it intersected the line proposed by the English team. To one side of the top of our couloir was a set of enormous ice cliffs. Directly above the narrowing gully were flutes and runnels arching up and out to perched 50? slopes. The whole thing had the appearance of a sinister digestive tract. We knew that from the moment we committed ourselves to the lower intestine of the couloir until the time that we exited it?s mouth onto the ridge above there was the possibility of being dumped on. The advantage of climbing the couloir was that it was direct. Pat and I knew from experience that the loads that we would need to carry were our biggest obstacles to success. The English team had the advantage of sharing one small tent, stove, and fuel between all three of them, giving them the option of a leader?s pack that was small and compact. Pat and I had to shoulder the burden between us. We were aware that technical climbing would result in pack-hauling, and so were keen to trade off steep for deep if necessary. Also, our line looked great. It was the type of classic feature that epitomised ?big? mountaineering, and since we were in the home of big mountains, we just had to go with the flow.?
?Six days after arriving at ABC we launched our first attempt on the West Face of Janhkuth. We moved up to a jump-off camp in the Maiandi Bamak and erected our assault tents in a spot that we optimistically declared to be clear of serac fall. By the afternoon it was snowing heavily, and by evening it was game over. The clouds were slipping back into the night but the Face was a tightly wound alarm clock, and the first hint of warmth was going to set it off. Even as Pat and I watched, a sluff of snow dropped off the high band of ice cliffs, triggered the slope below, and sent a roiling mass of snow and powder down our couloir and across the n?v? to billow over our tent site. We slept fitfully and next morning slunk back to ABC, where it again began to snow.
?We had been beset by unsettled weather throughout the trip. Malcolm confidently assured us that it was simply the lingering effects of a late monsoon that was soon to dissipate with the imminent arrival of a long fine spell. However he had already let the cat out of the bag somewhat with tales of stiff-upper-lip fortitude during foul weather on his previous trips to this valley. Our concern was that on this mountain there was always going to be a minimal weather-window of opportunity between the departure of the monsoon and the onset of winter snows. With our ABC situated four days further up-valley than the Bhagirathi?s or Shivling, we had already used up a sizeable proportion of available climbing days. We also had to manage getting all our equipment back down the glacier before the arrival of our porters. In the meantime we occupied ourselves with reading, eating our tuna and freeze-dried meals (thank you Heinz-Watties and Backcountry!), and shovelling the tents clear of snow.
?As soon as it turned fine Pat and I returned to the foot of the West Face and once more began convincing ourselves that the couloir was in settled condition. This time we were on our own as the Poms had headed down-glacier to the dump-camp to pick up more supplies. At midnight we began climbing. The avalanche debris that had swept the lower portion of the couloir made for delightfully firm travel, but beyond this our route-finding was determined by searching out a passage that was only knee-deep. Any hopes that we had of slinking off sideways into adjacent gullies were stymied by bottomless snow that immediately rang alarm bells. At midday we eventually completed a short section of dry-tooling to gain a rounded spur that bordered the main couloir. This was the only feasible and safe opportunity for a tent site in the initial 600 m. of the climb, and so we dropped our packs and began shaping a bench for our little tent. By early afternoon we had joyfully settled into our bags, and were able to look down smugly on Malcolm, Paul and Andy below. They were moving up from ABC to the jump-off camp in preparation for their attempt that coming evening.
?By 6 am next morning Pat and I had packed up and were climbing steep ground that reared into a broad, fluted ice gully. In the lower reaches of the couloir the snow remained deep and unconsolidated despite the 50? angle. By now the effects of altitude and the weight of the climbing packs were telling. As the angle of the couloir increased the surface conditions changed from snow to hard ice. We hauled the leader?s pack on two delightful pitches of 80?-angled ice. It was a thrill to do steep climbing in such an outstanding situation. An upward-traversing pitch of black ice covered in loose snow led to a steep ar?te that required digging through an arms-length of crusty snow-ice to find belay anchors. We were fired up for the future, and so dispensed with running anchors until we finally topped out onto a small, sloping shoulder on the South Ridge of Janhkuth. This coincided with the simultaneous arrival of dusk and the evening snowstorm. We chopped a footstep big enough for our little tent?s footprint, and ducked for cover as the thunder began to rumble around us. We didn?t know it, but 600 metres below us the English trio were being swamped by snowfall and spindrift. They were in danger of being swept off their perch cocooned in their tent, and so made the difficult decision to bale into the night and reverse all of their day?s hard won progress. We began having our trials, too. That night Pat developed a headache that medication would not budge. It was obviously caused by a too rapid ascent in altitude. There was nothing to be done about it except wait until tomorrow
?The next morning dawned fine but the relief was tempered by Pat?s continuing travails with acute mountain sickness. Descent so early after the latest snowfall was not appealing, and instead we decided to stay up high. I cut a line of steps through more steep ground above our camp and up to the horizontal ridge at 6,500 m. From here I could see that it led to the final slope of mixed ground beneath the summit. We dropped the tent and packed our bags, hoping to put in one more camp beyond the horizontal ridge. It was soon apparent that in Pat?s condition going upwards was unwise, so we re-erected our tent and settled back down to enjoying our spectacular eyrie. Pat endured another night without relief from the altitude demons, despite her unwitting attempts to exorcise them through violent purging. On our last morning on the mountain the wind speed racked up more than a few notches, making getting out of bed a challenge. No decisions needed to be made. We stuffed our packs and stepped back over the edge. Twelve rappels off V-threads allowed a rapid descent down the upper throat of the ice-gully. Pat?s condition improved immeasurably with the advent of more air, so we continued our descent to the bottom of the Face and all the way to ABC. Here we basked in the friendship and assistance provided by our Pommy mates as we shared stories, hot drinks, and re-erected our base tent.
?That night a storm characterised by unseasonably heavy snowfall and cold temperatures moved in. We realised how fortunate we were to be off the mountain. The whole West Face, and in particular the couloir, would now be an active avalanche path. Malcolm et al decided to make a dash down-glacier before too much snow accumulated. Pat and I preferred to lie in, sleep and eat. Next morning we began our own descent back to the flesh-pots of Base Camp. After approximately four kilometres it was obvious that our packs were bigger than our aspirations, and so we stashed our technical equipment and continued into the continuing storm. That evening we stumbled into Base Camp. It was great to see Chandra after three weeks and to have the luxury of Hera cook our meals once more.
?All that was left was to retrieve our gear from its various stashes up-glacier, and then await the arrival of our porters. The weather remained diabolical, making it questionable which of these would be achieved first. Hera was also concerned that the porters might not be able to reach us at all. His FM transistor radio had announced heavy early winter snowfalls throughout the Indian Himalaya, and the death of a porter and trekker on a nearby pass. With perfect timing all came to pass. We made the necessary journeys to and fro just in time to be on hand to rescue our porters from a benightment on their staunch attempt to reach us in one day through knee-deep snow.
?And that was that. All in all, it was an immensely satisfying experience despite the lack of a summit to crow about. Climbing in such unique surroundings is a privilege and leaves memories that can?t be beaten. Pat and I did demonstrate that there is at least one line on the West Face of Janhkuth that takes you to within the last 300 metres of mixed climbing before the summit. The Poms demonstrated that eight months of planning can be reduced to 12 hours of climbing and six hours of fright. Most of all, India demonstrated that there is no point in battling the tide. Just let it happen, and go with the flow.?