Expedition Note: BHAGIRATHI - III, 2015

Debabrata Mukherjee

Photographs: Author
Category: Expedition, Climbing, Mountaineering
Date of Publication: Nov 26 , 2015Vol-03 Issue-02

* This expedition was jointly organised by IMF and Pathajatra

28th Aug: The Pathajatra Club team left Kolkata for Dehradun in the evening with good wishes from all the relatives and friends. I left for Delhi the same afternoon.

29th Aug: I reached Delhi and met IMF official to get various permission and other papers needed for the expedition. IMF sponsored members started arriving.

30st Aug: Pathajatra team reached Dehradun and did some shopping for the journey ahead like eatables, Butane gas to light stove etc. I finalized the equipment list.

31st Aug: We collected the equipment, re-checked and packed everything by afternoon. After dinner the IMF team started for Uttarkashi by a minibus. Pathajatra team collected the Uttarakhand Forest permission and reached Uttarkashi in late evening.

1st Sept: One part of IMF team reached Uttarkashi by noon after a full 14 hours ride. Full team assembled in Uttarkashi. We finalized the ration list. Team members were given specific duties to collect Kerosene oil, get permission to enter Uttarkashi from the DC office, get groceries suitable for altitude, marketing and packing other essentials.

2nd Sept: There was an Industrial strike and everything was closed. There was nothing much to do. Losing a day in an expedition like this makes lot of difference but we could hardly do anything. We spent the day reorganizing the trek, checking everything and packing. By dinner we were all done and went to bed happy.

3rd Sept: We thought of leaving early. But as it always happens at the last moment the total load of 940 kgs including two gas cylinders, one box of eggs was too much to load in three jeeps with 22 people. So we had to hire a big bus and finally started at 10.00 for Gangotri. After a tea break at Bhatwari and lunch break just after Harshil we reached Gangotri (3048mtr) by 17.00 hours. Soon our cook and helper started working. After some snacks and hot tea we went to the "Ganga-Mandir" - temple of the Mother Goddess Ganges and prayed for the safe and successful return of the team.

4th Sept: Like in most expeditions distributing the load to the porters took some time. The Gangotri Forest check post took 2 hours to count all the porters. So though the first few members started their trek by 08.00 am, I could finally manage to start at 11.15. Our goal, the challenging north ridge of Bhagirathi-III started posing in front of us just after we left Chirbasa. However, the 14 kms smooth trekking didn't take more than 4 hours to reach. Bhojbasa at 3610 m was our night halt. We stayed in the deserted hutments of the Police force.

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5th Sept: With packed lunch we started for the challenging stretch of broken Gangotri glacier to Nandanvan (4387 m) under Bhagirathi-II. The 7.5 kms stretch took about five and half hours to reach for the stronger legs and for the lazier ones up to eight hours. The two big Mess tents and one girls' tent were pitched to accommodate us. Even the cook and the helper were tired so we settled with 'Khichdi' (mixed dal-rice) for dinner.

6th Sept: The easy stretch of 4.3 km to Upper Nandanban took two hours to reach for most of us. We cleaned the bases and pitched all the tents for our next 10 days home. The Base Camp established at 4802 m (30°54'21.3"N/79°09'04.7"E). We laid out food and equipment in the store tent after lunch.

7th Sept: Like the last two days today too was also a bright sunny day. We decided not to waste it. So quickly a small temple was prepared with cardboard box and rock. We placed various photos of Gods and then worshipping the weather and other Gods we started walking up with loads for Camp-I at 5343mtrs. The 2.6 km 30° - 60° scree slope took about 2 hours to reach. Except one climbing member all others took 5-12 kgs load to dump in a tent at Camp-I (30°53'12.2"N/79°09'10.3'E). In the evening a meeting was called for and we decided the next day will be off except for one member and the HAPs.

8th Sept: HAPs had agreed to carry the loads like the fixed ropes and technical equipments straight to Camp-II for one extra day's wages. They left early in the morning and got back after a tiring day at 15.00 hrs. We had a relaxing day at Base Camp. We enjoyed the day by walking up to the brim of Vasuki glacier and taking photos of Shivling and other peaks. Washing and cleaning done. Things were checked, repaired. Gunbala's shoe-sole came out yesterday. That was fixed.

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9th Sept: Team moved up to Camp-I by 12.30 pm. We pitched tents and set up a kitchen. We met a team from West Bengal who had climbed Bhagirathi-II (6512mtr), a popular peak the day before. After an hour I felt that the rate of my hiccups was increasing (I had been suffering from hiccups from Nandanvan Camp for last three days). It was 10-12 hiccups at a time. I was feeling breathlessness for that. After a talk with the doctor over walkie-talkie I came down to Base Camp in 45 minutes escorted by HAPs. After taking two shots and some more medicines I went for some rest. Camp-I team had early dinner and reported me about the cold temperature there before saying good night over RT.

10th Sept: Climbers from Camp-I started load ferry to Camp-II at 08.30 am. In aerial distance it was only 1.2 km. But the 65° boulder and scree zone made the young ones tired very quickly. So four of them left their loads three fourth way to Camp-II and came down. Others placed a tent and left the load there. I had a total rest day with soothing food at Base Camp. I discussed the condition of the team members with the team members who couldn't reach Camp-II and decided to call them back to Base Camp tomorrow.

11th Sept: That morning, Priyanka Singh & Sushanta Mondal wanted to go down for some personal reasons. Two Base Camp members and the returning porters of the Army Bhagirathi-II expedition took them down to Gangotri. I felt fit and went up to Camp-I where HAP Kritam Singh came down after load ferry and stayed with me. The rest of the members whom I though could be the members of the Summit team went up and Occupied Camp-II (5802mtr. 30°52'40.5"N/79°08'30.6"E).

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12th Sept: Another clear and Sunny day. I followed the Bhagirathi-II Summit camp route following the east face between B-II & B-III. The boulder strewn scree-zone was quite unstable. It took a little over two hours to reach Camp-II from Camp-I. The Team at Camp-II went out in the morning with fix ropes and other gadgets to fix the rope till Summit Camp. I could see their progression from Camp-II. They traversed the first 700 m on the SW slopes under Bhagirathi-IV. Then they started fixing the ropes. With the sun climbing up the snow ice started melting and the number of shooting stones and pieces of icicles increased. Lalit and Gunbala came back after lunch but the others continued till late afternoon and finished fixing about 1200 m of ropes on the wall to reach the Summit Camp.

13th Sept: Just before leaving Lalit and HAP Mukesh informed that they are not feeling well and were thinking of going down. Our Summit team got smaller. In a way it was a boon because we have to carry less number of tents and ration. Once we crossed the screezone, the East Face of Bhagirathi-III & IV challenged us. The Pre-monsoon expedition of the IMF Girls team enjoyed the smooth snow walk after the Base camp. But the scorching summer and monsoon melted all the snow and now in front of us lay the bare rock face with a brittle rock wall. The Pitons were driven with care. But still two of them came out with my weight. In another two places I had to reroute the rope as they were not properly aligned with the route. Finally the areal stretch of 446.6 m and height difference of 288 m was crossed to reach the Summit Camp after climbing two chimneys and traversing under the Bhagirathi-IV for about three and half hours. The Summit Camp at 6090 m is just on the col connecting B-III & B-IV at 30°52'29.9"N/79°08'02.3"E. It's an arête. We had to climb up some 7 to 8 meters towards B-IV and then dug out a small section to pitch two 3-men tents. Space was so small that we slept with our legs half dangling outside the tent and to answer nature's call we had to go one step down with the help of fixed rope. In the morning after some hot soup and sweet semolina dish we left for the day.

14th Sept: Naveen, Rajesh and Kritam started after breakfast with ropes and other equipment. I joined them a little later to fix the ropes on the Summit route. Other three members wanted to have some rest. I observed in the last point photos of IMF girls' team that they were having problem with the cornice and the high exposure of the North ridge. So I instructed Naveen not to go above the sharp and corniced north ridge. Instead try to keep just under the cornice which is not even 2 m wide. We planted our anchors just at the junction of the snow and ice and proceeded. The two rock steps especially the second one took more than two hours to negotiate. All my life I would remember the climb on that 2nd step's overhang. Till 14.00 hrs we worked on the route and could fix 450 m of ropes. For the evening dinner was soup & wi-wi noodles.

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15th Sept: Naveen woke us up with tea at 03.00 hours. After quick breakfast of cornflakes we left the camp with the light of the dawn on the horizon. We were lucky to be received by another crystal clear morning with quite warm weather and no wind. The first 50 m walk on the open arête just on the Col was enough to chill the bones and warm up the blood. On the right hand it's going down 1500 m straight to Gangotri glacier. On the other hand it's only 600 m to the foot of the East face. After 10 minutes the 2nd overhanging rock step had to be negotiated. I was happy to see that it was not only me even the young HAPs got total breathless to cross that. The next 250 m of the 70° ice-snow climb following the fixed rope wasn't that difficult except for the hanging icicles from the overhanging cornice. It was difficult to walk straight. At about 9.30 am we reached the tri-junction of North ridge and North-West ridge above the NE face. Naveen was trying to cut the cornice to climb up. But later took my decision to traverse some 25 m over 85° NW face to reach the corner of the final summit hump. Some of our members misunderstood and wanted to stop and celebrate the climb. But I had to point them out the last sentinel, a 7 mtrs high rock wall some 40 mtrs away. We climbed that for the next 30 minutes and then traversed the final 60 m 40° arête to reach the summit at 11.15 hrs. We were atop Bhagirathi-III crossing at 257.3 aerial m and climbing 365 m height. (6454 m, 30°52'16.5"N/79°07'56.1"E.) Photos, puja, GPS reading and walkie-talkie chats were done for next 40 minutes. The view from the top was astounding. Towards the west the peaks standing on the western bank of Gangotri glacier were majestic. We could see from there the top of Kharcha Kund, Sumeru, Kedardome, Kedarnath, Kirtistambh, Meru group of peaks and Shivling East & West. Thalaysagar, Bhartekunta and Bhrigupanth were peeping behind them. In the North Bhagirathi-II was looming large partially blocking the view of Sudarshan group. But we could see Srikailash, Nila-Pila, Radhanath Parvat above Chaturangi glacier. The NE and north is half covered by the Vasuki Parvat. But behind the flat summit of Satopanth and behind it far away Kamet and some distant peaks could be seen. The SE & South is covered by the highest sister of Bhagirathi group, the Sheer walls of Bhagirathi-I was the closest to us. The members at Base camps were overjoyed after hearing our voice from the summit. It took two hours to come down to summit camp. We tried to keep the mountain out of equipment. But couldn't manage and left one ice-screw and two rock pitons. One length of polypropylene rope got stuck in the anchor. We couldn't pull it down too. After dismantling the summit camp we came down to Camp-II by 17.00 hrs. Mukesh was sent up with roti and 'Sabji' for our dinner. Everybody relished the dinner.

bhagirathi-iii

16th Sept: After a good night sleep and cleaning the camp area we started for Camp-II and Camp-I. Manita and I had two extra packets of garbage which got swollen on the way near Camp-I with small old leftovers from other teams. We had breakfast at Camp-I sent from the Base camp. The Army team welcomed us with hot tea. We came down to Base Camp before lunch. We were welcomed by the BC members with Bengali sweets and Tea. After lunch we started packing for next day's downward journey. Members at BC collected 4 extra sacks of old garbage left by previous expeditions.

17th Sept: Everything worked well. Porters arrived after a bit initial confusion. It took four hours to reach Bhojbasa and had our night halt in a small dhaba or hotel run by one of my old porter friend. After a long time the bed was a luxury for us.

18th Sept: The 14 km long walk to Gangotri took more than four hours. We were lucky to have twelve clear days of weather window at a stretch. The weather god was smiling all the time. But as soon as we reached Gangotri the weather turned bad and started raining. We hired one minibus and one minitruck to come back to Uttarkashi.

19th Sept: Porters were paid. All Equipment were separated and packed. Kolkata Pathajatra team members took a jeep to Dehradun at noon. They took the night train to Kolkata. IMF members stayed the night. The same coach from Delhi came at night for us.

20th Sept: We started early in the morning and reached IMF, Delhi at 19.20 hours. Stayed at IMF.

21st Sept: Equipment returned to IMF store. We were flagged in by the President Col Chauhan and vice President Wg. Cdr Chaudhury. Some members left in the evening.

22nd Sept: I was confirmed over phone that Pathajatra team arrived in Kolkata by train in time. Rest of the IMF team members were relieved after breakfast.

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