Up and about in Spiti Himal

Dream Wanderlust | Jan 3 , 2019


A team from Himalayan Club Bombay, led by Divyesh Muni, successfully climbed two peaks via new route in July-August 2018 and did a documented exploration of the region South of Kharcha Nala.

An interview and detailed report follows

Interview with Divyesh Muni

DW: Congratulations Divyesh, and to your team too, for an accident free exploration and a virgin route summit.

DW: When most amateurs keep doing traditional oft climbed routes on oft climbed peaks, you have concentrated on some great exploratory work and lesser known peaks. Please tell us your philosophy behind this choice.

Divyesh: In the early days of my mountaineering I too started with climbing known and oft climbed peaks (Koteshwar, Kamet). Fortunately I got opportunity to also attempt some routes which were not popular (Brighupanth, Kagbhusand), and some unclimbed peaks (Rangrik Rang), I experienced the joy and wonder of exploration and the challenge of climbing a route of which the team had no previous knowledge. I love the solitude of being in the mountains without crowds around me. I don't want to jostle my way up the mountain in competition with so many other climbers (Everest being a classic example). I enjoy the process of planning an expedition, facing the challenge of unknown territory and standing up to the team decision on route, campsites, logistics etc. This I would not be able to experience on an expedition where the guide and/or the tour operator decides everything for me. Our team philosophy has been that we want to enjoy every minute of our experience in the mountains... the summit is important but not the only factor to decide our success or enjoyment of the expedition.

DW: Trying to guess your interpretation of true alpinism, would we be right if we said that you consider "how you climb more important than how high you climb.

Divyesh: Height is not a major factor in deciding a climb. I have climbed peaks which are not very high (Kagbhusand) but are far more enjoyable and challenging than some of the high peaks. Height does have its own challenge (altitude) and should not be dismissed, but that should not be the only deciding factor. Yes, how you climb is extremely important, but is does not necessarily mean that only an alpine style climb is worthy. You could be climbing with the assistance of support staff or with the use of fixed ropes etc. but the question is... who is in charge? Are you being dragged up a route without any knowledge of where, why, how etc? Is the guide deciding everything? and most important, at the end of the climb, has it just been an "athletic" experience of physically reaching the top of the peak or has it been a learning experience where the climber has grown as a mountaineer as being self reliant. This is a complicated issue and there are no clear cut definitions. I have known of expeditions where the guide decides everything from route, campsites etc. and the climber is just unable to do anything without the guide. That is not something I would appreciate. The pleasure of doing a climb on your own strength and knowledge is far more that being led up a climb without participating in the process.

DW: We are not aware of the composition of your team. Did you have any less experienced climbers with you?

Divyesh: As a team philosophy, we have always been encouraging new and less experienced climbers to join us... I have been fortunate to have been given opportunities when I was a novice and realise the importance of grooming and mentoring inexperienced climbers. On most of our expeditions, including this expedition, we have climbers who are less experienced.

DW: Do you think that expeditions like this will teach them the true value of mountaineering?

Divyesh: As a team we have had a wonderful experience in the mountains. We have enjoyed the entire process... from the planning stage to the wind-up of the expedition. The very fact that we have become better friends and there is a desire to climb together again is an indicator that all of us find great value in what we did... "true value of mountaineering" sounds too grand... the value lies in the experience of the mountains.

DW: Mountaineering is about the 'wilderness experience' and 'self sufficiency'. These expeditions are true to that spirit. As a senior climber in the country, do you think it is important to teach this to the younger climbers that even a 'guided' Everest is never as satisfying as these climbs.

Divyesh: Since I have never attempted Everest nor have experienced a "guided" expedition, I am unable to make any comparison. It boils down to what an individual seeks from the expedition. I am sure climbers who have been on "guided" Everest expeditions have also had great satisfaction from the climb. I personally cherish my time in the mountains exploring and enjoying the solitude. I can only urge young climbers to also try being on their own steam (physical and mental) and experience the feeling of going out into the unknown and maybe they may find it more satisfying.

DW: The "main-stream" media usually report "guided" 8k climbs. Expeditions like yours are rarely if ever noticed by the media. This "mis-placed publicity" could possibly mis-guide the younger generation from relatively difficult but satisfying "self-sufficient climbs" towards easier "guided" climbs.
What do you think should be done to correct this mis-conception?

Divyesh: Its a hard battle to correct mis-conceptions of the media on mountaineering. Most media professionals have no knowledge of mountaineering so are impressed by well worded press notes which high-light only comparative achievements... and height is an easy comparative to understand for them... so they favour the 8K climbs and the younger climbers think that is the only way to go... If the climber is attracted by the publicity of a climb, nothing can change their thought process... since they will only seek challenges that will attract publicity. Maybe some exposure on main-stream media on small, self-organised expeditions highlighting the experience of exploration, solitude and self-reliance would bring to the knowledge of young climbers that there is also another way to do things.

DW: The very best of wishes to you and your team.

DW: May you keep on breaking new paths for many more years to come.

Divyesh: Many Thanks.

Karcha Map 2018

Expedition Report

As reported by the leader, Divyesh Muni

Our six member team from The Himalayan Club climbed two peaks in the Karcha Nalla of Spiti in July-August 2018. This year unprecedented heavy rainfall continued through the duration of the expedition. Our team consisted of Rajesh Gadgil, Vineeta Muni, Ashish Prabhu, Ratnesh Javeri, Imran Pathan and yours truly. We had with us Pemba Norboo Sherpa (aka King Kong), Sangbu Sherpa, Vipin Sharma, Rakesh Kumar (Keshu), Devinder Kumar (Shiva) and Ajeet.

We were in Manali by 10th July. After a short acclamatisation walk up Patalsu, and re-packing of our rations and equipment, we hit the Manali-Batal road. The usual jams on the road due to the floods added to the excitement of travelling on a non-existent road that ensured you reach Batal having shaken up every possible joint and bone in the body. We spend the night at the Chandratal campsite and visit the lake early morning to enjoy an hour photographing the reflections on the landscape in the lake. We trekked a day into the Karcha Nalla to set up Base Camp at 4500m.

Chandratal - Divyesh Muni

Base Camp in Karcha Nalla - Ashish Prabhu

The Karcha Nalla has five major subsidiary valleys/glaciers. For our convenience we will name them 1 to 5 starting from East to West.

Valley 1 leads towards Karcha Parvat and Fluted Peak. At the head of Valley 2 is a beautiful peak with twin summits. The Tokai section of the Japanese Alpine Club named this peak Chemma after they made the first ascent of the East summit (6105m) in 2011. Chemma means twin. They followed Valley 2 to the base of the peak and climbed the East summit from its North Ridge.

At the head of Valley 3 lies the Chemma Peak on the East and a beautiful dome shaped peak on the West. Holmes climbed the dome shaped peak in 1956 from the Col between the peak and Chemma Peak. The Tokai Section of the Japanese Alpine Club climbed the peak in 2009 and named it Ache meaning daughter.

Valley 4 goes towards the Bara Sigri Glacier and Valley 5 leads to Gunther Peak and a possible exit to Spiti valley from the Karcha Nalla.

We were keen to visit the Holmes Col and locate a route into the Gyundi (or Gyuindi) Nala that lay to the South of the Col. We decided to head up Valley 3.

Panorama from Ache Peak - Rajesh Gadgil

Advance Base Camp was established at 4900m. Camp-1 was at 5400m.

We got an opportunity on the 27th to recce the route to Camp-1. We found a way along the true left of the glacier. The glacier takes a sharp bend at its head before it merges with the ridgeline that divides the Karcha valley with the Gyundi valley. We stashed our loads just before the bend on a strip of medial moraine which appeared to be the safest spot for the camp.

On 30th July, we shifted to Camp-1 at 5400m with the rest of our loads. The lead party found an excellent spot to camp on the true right of the glacier on a fairly even slope of lateral moraine. With a good source of water, it was at a reasonable distance from the rock and scree slopes.

The head of the glacier was hidden behind the sharp turn behind the ridge of Chemma Peak (6130m). We walked up the glacier for a good look at what lay ahead of us, so we could plan our adventures ahead. We saw promising routes to the high Col between Chemma Peak and Ache peak (6075m) and a possible route to approach the West Ridge of Chemma Peak. Both would need closer inspection later.

On 1st August, one team went for a look at the Holmes Col and the other towards Chemma Peak. The route to Holmes Col involved negotiating a 100m ice wall to reach the Col. We fixed rope on the Col and were rewarded with good views towards Gyundi as well as Ache Peak. The route to the peak looked straightforward. The route down towards Gyundi looked horrific. The snow had receded from the Southern slope of the Col towards Gyundi. The entire slope below the Col was exposed to rockfall. The second team found an easy route to the West Ridge of Chemma. They came back very happy with the location of the proposed summit camp and the route to the summit.

Holmes Col and Ache Peak

Ice Wall to Holmes Col - Rajesh Gadgil

We decided to attempt the West Chemma Peak immediately. On 2nd August, we climbed to the summit camp. Initially the route followed the glacier. After the sharp left bend on the glacier, we climbed on the lateral moraine on its true right. We then traversed on the steep scree slope to top-out on the West Ridge of Chemma. A short distance along the broad ridge brought us to the summit camp.

We started off for the summit at 7:00am along the West Ridge of Chemma Peak. The initial route was over steep scree and then on snow and ice slopes. The ridge has several steep sections followed by easy angled slopes. The longest steep section was 100m. We reached the summit by 11:00am in clear weather with gorgeous views in all directions. For more than an hour we were lost in the scenery around us, taking photographs and identifying the peaks around. This was the first ascent of the West summit of the peak.

On 6th August, the weather took a turn for the worse with rain battering our tents through the day and night. Sometimes it would snow and sometimes rain. We were all set to shift to Holmes Col but decided to wait till the weather settled. The rain and snow continued for the next three days relentlessly, showing no sign of abating. The cloud layer was thick and the rain would come down with gusts of wind. It did not look good. After several days of being confined to our tents, we ran out of patience. We decided that going across Holmes Col was not advisable considering the time on hand, nature of terrain and the weather. It now appeared that we would have to abandon our attempt on Ache Peak also.

Finally, on the 9th we decided to wind up the expedition. Our support staff went to bring down the equipment we had dumped for the summit attempt. But around early afternoon we were happy to see a few patches of blue sky. It raised our hopes for a last-minute attempt. We decided to take a chance from Camp-1 itself, if the weather was clear early next morning.

And luck favoured us. At 2:00am on 10th August, we woke to a starry sky and quickly prepared ourselves. A couple of hours later we were off, making quick progress to Holmes Col. The 100m ice wall slowed us down but shortly we were on the summit ridge that led up from the Col. Most of the ridge was easy angled with a few sections of steep ground. We negotiated a steep step just before reaching the summit by 11:00am.

On the summit ridge of Chemma Peak - Rajesh Gadgil

Rajesh Gadgil, Vineeta Muni, Divyesh Muni and Ashish Prabhu on the summit of Chemma Peak (L to R)

This was a wonderful end to our expedition. Over the next three days we made our way down to Batal. It rained heavily. We just managed to reach Manali and all hell broke loose. There were landslides in many places of Himachal and most roads were blocked. We were out just in time. It took a few days for the weather to clear and the roads to open. But our time was well spent, relaxing in a Manali hotel.

Crossing river from Valley 4 to Base Camp - Ashish Prabhu

Crossing the Karcha Nalla - Ashish Prabhu

Crossing the river from Valley 5 - Ashish Prabhu

Holmes Col - Left is Karcha Nalla - Right is Gyundi Valley - Ashish Prabhu

Chemma Peak, Holmes Col and Ache Peak (L to R) - Ashish Prabhu

Climbing to Camp 2 on Chemma Peak - Ashish Prabhu

Chemma Peak - Rajesh Gadgil

Climbing Chemma Peak - Rajesh Gadgil

Climbing the Ice wall to Holmes Col - Rajesh Gadgil

Climbing the summit ridge of Ache Peak - Ashish Prabhu

Climbing the wall to Holmes Col - Ashish Prabhu

Climbing to the summit of Chemma Peak - Ashish Prabhu

Summit ridge of Chemma - Ashish Prabhu

Summit ridge of Chemma Peak - Rajesh Gadgil

Ashish Prabhu, Divyesh Muni, Vineeta Muni and Rajesh Gadgil on the summit of Chemma Peak

View from the summit of Chemma Peak - Divyesh Muni

View from the summit of Chemma Peak, Ache Peak seen in foreground - Ashish Prabhu

View from the summit of Ache Peak - Rajesh Gadgil

Photo Courtesy: Divyesh Muni

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