Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Dibibokri Dreaming - Part 2. Icing on the Birthday Cake.

Paradise has its perils, of course, as Adam and Eve found out a long time ago. I held the apple cupped in the palm of my left hand, using my thumb and forefinger to brace it. With my right hand I aimed the point of the Swiss knife squarely in the middle of the fruit and plunged it home. The blade sliced through the crunchy flesh of the apple and the momentum carried it through until it hit my thumb. There was a moment of pain, I winced, the now halved apple dropped to the ground, and a thick, crimson, viscous ooze spurted from my thumb. I held my left hand way up above my head to stop the flow of blood while Harsha picked up the pieces of apple. To take my mind off the painful thumb, I gazed at the wonderful scenery all around us.

Kulu Makalu ( 6349 m ) and Rubal Kang from our first camp on the West Glacier.
Away to the north, at the head of the glacier, the sun glistened off the great hump of snow that was Rubal Kang ( 6150 m / 20,172 ft ), its turtle-head rocky summit almost merging into the rock monolith that was Kulu Makalu - 6349 m / 20,825 ft. Paulo Consiglio ( "Italian Expedition to the Punjab Himalayas, 1961", Himalayan Journal Vol XXIV ) had suggested the name "Lal Kila" (Red Fort, after the famous monument in Delhi ), "because of its bastion-like appearance and the beauty of the red granite". Unfortunately, in all the time that we spent in the West Glacier, not once did the cliffs of Kulu Makalu glow any shade of red!

Sketch map by the late Arun Samant for The Himalayan Journal ( Vol 49 )
My immediate concern was to stem the flow of red fluids from my thumb before attending to other camp chores. Harsha and I had left Franklyn alone at the Advance Base Camp on 22 September, to take up residence in our first camp on the West Glacier. The route wound its way up on the left of the ice fall and was comfortably accomplished in a pair of sneakers; on an earlier foray, my feet shod in plastic climbing boots, the constant boulder hopping had proved to be excruciating. However, the boots came in useful when one day we decided to climb the ice fall as a form of diversion.



Opposite our glacier camp, on the true left bank, rose an attractive summit of 6250 metres, or 20,500 ft. An earlier Italian expedition which climbed Mt. Parvati ( 6633 m ) from the Main Glacier, named it Ice Sail, though from our perspective, it resembled the black sail that a pirate ship might hoist! Perhaps it did have a different appearance from the other side. Black or white, Ice Sail tempted us. It had no previous climbing history, the route we were contemplating seemed well within our modest skills and we reckoned that we might be able to reach its pointed summit in one push from our glacier camp at just under 17,000 ft.

Ice Sail ( 6250 m / 20,500 ft ) from glacier camp
Believing firmly in the benefits of seeing the bigger picture, we decided first to ascend a small peak on our left hand side. We were sure that this little vantage point would give us the perspective needed to attempt Ice Sail which was on the opposite side of the glacier.

Our little lookout peak as seen from Rubal Kang
Leaving the tent in freezing conditions at a little after 5 am with a flask of tea as sustenance, we worked our way up the fourth tributary ice fall on the left of the West Glacier, crossed over a bergschrund to access the summit ridge and clambered up the summit rocks a little after 10:30 in the morning. Though of little consequence as a peak in its own right, it gave us an enjoyable day out with some stupendous views up the glacier. We also got a better perspective of the upper half of Ice Sail. The highlight of the morning, however, was seeing some fresh paw marks on the snow as we walked up the lower part of the mountain. I have always found it fascinating that animals can live at these heights and in these apparently barren landscapes, coming and going without the benefit of all the paraphernalia that we humans have to lug along wherever we go!



The West Glacier curves up towards Rubal Kang and Kulu Makalu



Ice Sail
The alarm went off at 02:30 am and I wriggled myself into a sitting position, my torso and legs still warm in the lower half of my down sleeping bag. I positioned myself at the entrance of the tent and lit the stove under the canopy entrance and began to melt the snow we had collected the evening before. As usual, it took almost 45 minutes to produce two mugs of sweet, milky tea. As I handed over the mug to Harsha, still cocooned in his sleeping bag, he pulled out an envelope and handed it over to me.

"Happy Birthday, Aloke," he said. "Here is a little something......Margaret made me promise that I should wait for your birthday before I gave this to you." Margaret, my wife, and my son Sanal were far away in Mumbai but as I opened the envelope and looked at the birthday card, they were as real as sitting in this warm tent on this frigid glacier. There was a letter enclosed with the card, and it was written as if it came directly from my 19 month old son. My wife had done a wonderful job of tugging at the heart strings : "Darling dada," the letter began, "I cannot figure out where you've gone. Sometimes when I see a plane in the sky, I think of you....."

The lump forming in my throat made it difficult to swallow the tea. There were the details of his daily routine and it ended thus : "....take care dada....11th of October seems very far off - say hi to Franky, Harsha and Aneeta.....have a good trip and you must take me with you the next time.....mama sends you her love and hopes she will hear from you by and by......"

Our route to the north col on Ice Sail. Thereafter the route followed the ridge on the other, eastern side, all the way to the top.
I finished drinking my tea, geared up and stumbled out into the bitter cold outside. It was Friday, 27 Sept. and the stars twinkled frostily from a clear sky. I stamped my feet to keep warm while packing up my rucksack and waiting for Harsha to emerge. At 04:00, we began to walk across the glacier towards the base of Ice Sail which loomed out of the darkness, menacing in its blackness. We walked in complete silence, the only sounds the crunching of ice underfoot and the occasional sound of rocks groaning in the grip of frost. Once at the foot of the mountain, we stopped for another cup of tea from our flask before setting off up the left hand branch of the ice fall descending from the west face of Ice Sail. After four hours of climbing, at 08:00, we broke through into the sunlight on the col at the base of the north ridge. The blinding sunshine and the views took our breath away. Another welcome halt was in order to appreciate the scenery.






Climbing into the sunlight on the north col
Mt Parvati ( 6633 m ), left and Dibibokri Pyramid ( 6408 m ) from the col
While it felt great to feel the warmth of the sun on our frozen limbs, we realised that if we lingered too long here, we ran the risk of the snow becoming softer the longer we tarried. The route now forced us to climb on the east side of the mountain, the west being overhung consistently with cornices. The crux of the climb was getting across a bergschrund which split the face higher up. Thereafter we did not experience any more hurdles and, a few hours later, were striding along the summit ridge leading to a very unstable boulder perched at the very top of the mountain. It was three o'clock in the afternoon, eleven hours since we left our camp. Harsha graciously let me be the first to step on to the summit, me being the birthday boy. I could barely conceal my pleasure: this was awesome, a First Ascent of an unclimbed peak of 20,500 ft. in the Kullu Himalaya as a birthday present! The gods had been indulgent, and I felt truly blessed.



Harsha high on Ice Sail.

I stop to admire some of the peaks of the Upper Parvati basin

Harsha with Mt.Parvati in the background

I take the final steps to the summit
We spent perhaps half an hour on the summit before beginning our descent, leaving a token red nylon sling draped round a rock a few feet below the top. We hurried on down as a mist began to envelop us and snow began to fall from the sky. By the time we had regained the glacier it was dark and we had to locate our tent with our headlamps and instinct. It was 7 pm and we were exhausted. I heated up some soup and leftover khichri and we were in our sleeping bags by nine o'clock. I closed my eyes in utter bliss and drifted off to a deep and satisfying slumber.

Heading to the base of Rubal Kang
Rest is for the wicked, they say. Therefore, since we considered ourselves still untainted by evil, we packed up our camp the next day and moved on up the glacier to pitch the tent at the base of Rubal Kang, which we intended to tackle next. Since the mountain seemed to be a fairly simple climb via its normal route, we decided to do a variant by trying to access the upper half of the long snow ridge which drops down from the summit via the gap between two clusters of rock which adorned the south east aspect of the peak.



But first my clothes had to dry! (see http://taccidental.blogspot.ca/2013/09/dibibokri-dreaming-part-1-freedom-of.html ). We spent two extremely cold days as the weather worsened, making use of the time by using the stove to dry our inner boots, our gloves and socks - all of them had taken a severe beating in the relentless snowfall.

We set the alarm for 02:30 am but could not get going for almost three hours as the wind howled outside our tent. Finally, when it subsided around a quarter to six, we threw caution to the (what else!?) winds and headed out. The sky was clear and we were freezing, but made reasonable progress on our intended route, enjoying the exposure and the beauty of the ice.

Harsha heads for the rocks across a bergschrund

The view down the face to the glacier. Harsha is just visible at the bottom of photo.
My turn to head up to the ridge
We were elated when we topped out on the ridge, thinking that the summit was now only a dreary plod away. However, we had not reckoned with our friend the wind. It greeted us with fiendish intensity, sucking every ounce of heat in our bodies and threatening to blow us clean off into the Tichu Nala beyond. By 3 pm we were exhausted, depleted of body warmth and could sense the bitter taste of defeat. It was a classic illustration of the So Near and Yet So Far syndrome. Deeming retreat to be the better part of valour, we took a few last photographs and turned around, descending the ridge all the way down to its end where it met the glacier.

Harsha gazes wistfully at Kulu Makalu (left) while the rocky summit of Rubal Kang juts out tantalisingly close from the final snow slopes in the middle of the picture.

Descending the long whale back ridge of Rubal Kang. The glaciers on the peak behind drain into the Tichu Nala
We had one last desire to fulfil before heading down to Advance Base : a peek into the No.2 Glacier from the saddle below Kulu Makalu. So off we scampered on the first day of October. The visit to the col was worth it in terms of a better understanding of the terrain and some great views.

Mt. Parvati from the saddle between the West and No.2 glaciers.



On the evening of the next day, 2nd October, we staggered into Advance Base heavily laden, exactly 10 days after having left. Franklyn had seen our little dots grow bigger as we came down the final moraine slopes and had a brew of hot coffee waiting when we laid down our loads at the kitchen cave. He had been totally on his own, with no human contact whatsoever, and was overjoyed to see us. The temperamental little transistor radio was all he had if he wanted to listen to voices other than his own! As we sipped the coffee, he had a severe attack of verbal diarrhoea, the words spilling out in an uncontrolled flow, filling us in on how he had passed the time. If something had happened to us up on the glacier, he had no means of knowing, and was not really equipped to find out either. In that sense, we were all gamblers out there, taking our chances and prepared to live with the consequences.

That night we fried some corned beef and added it to our staple fare of khichri and pickles. To celebrate our modest successes and the fact that we were all alive and well and together again, Harsha produced a bottle of cognac from his secret stash. Dibibokri was now a dream come true.






Further Reading :

                     
1) "The Dibibokri Basin....and beyond". By Kenneth Snelson, Himalayan Journal

Vol. XVIII Page 110.


2) "Italian Expedition to the Punjab Himalayas, 1961". By Paulo Consiglio, Himalayan

Journal Vol.XXIV Page 86.


3) "The first ascent of Mt.Parvati." By Tremonti M. Himalayan Journal Vol. XXX

Page 201.