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Asia, India, Garhwal, Peaks Near Ralam Pass, Kumaon

Peaks near Ralam Pass, Kumaon. In the third week of May, St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, sent an expedition to the Ralam valley in the Pithorogarh district, in erstwhile Kumaon. The valley was chosen because very few travellers have visited it in the past few years, notable exceptions being the Scots in 1950 and Hari Dang. The expedition consisted of Sandeep Bagchi, Bharat Merchant, Ashok Chakravarty, Major Balwant Sandhu, Bilbir Singh and me, as well as three Sherpa porters, Lakhpa, Sona and Pemba. Since the primary intention was to explore, we set up a permanent base in Ralam village at 11,970 feet, two arduous days of walking from Lilam village on the main trade routes to Tibet via Milam along the Goriganga River. The village of 25 stone houses hidden high up on an alp is occupied for only three months in the summer. However, owing to the increased accessibility of the inner Himalayan regions and the resultant prosperity, few people are forced into the higher valleys in summer and many villages are becoming deserted. After a short acclimatization we headed up the valley to the Shunkalpa Glacier, whose snout at 12,400 feet was only 45 minutes from the village. The old grazing route followed the ablation valleys on the true right lateral moraine, but landslides had destroyed the route here. So we launched ourselves onto the tricky and often dangerous glacier. We pitched Base Camp on a flat bit of rubble-covered glacier at 13,600 feet. After a few days rest we moved upward toward the confluence of the Kalabaland and Yangchar glaciers, which join to form the Shunkalpa at 14,100 feet. We turned northward up the Kalabaland and travelled four miles up it to the foot of a series of half connected icefalls. Here at 15,500 feet we established Camp I. After winding our way through crevasses, séracs and up icefalls, we finally emerged into a very large cwm at the head of which, just under 18,000 feet, we set up Camp II. All members and the Sherpas occupied this the next day and we selected an unnamed peak of 20,030 feet, west of Chhiring We, to ascend. The following day brought foul weather and, finding ourselves short of kerosene, the Sherpa Lakhpa, Bharat Merchant and I returned to Base. The next day, June 4, after a trying detour around yet another icefall, the remaining six reached the summit after a thrilling few hundred feet up a thin snow arête. This was a first ascent and also the first complete penetration of the Kalabaland. We decided to use the remaining time to explore the other glaciers of the Ralam complex and returned to Ralam. Here we split into two groups. One climbed up the Shunkalpa again, ascended the Yangchar Pass (16,000 feet) and pitched camp just below the pass. The next day they descended onto the glacier of that name and reached within a few hundred feet of the Ralam Pass (18,470 feet) before poor visibility drove them back. The remaining three of us, Major Sandu, Lakhpa and I plus the porter Hayat Singh, climbed up an unnamed nullah to the Shivu Glacier due east of the main valley. From a 13,500-foot camp on June 11 we climbed Shivu Peak (17,240 feet), another first ascent. From the summit we had the finest view of the whole trip. We could see from Nanda Kot and Nanda Devi East in the west all along the northern Sanctuary peaks, the Tirsuli group, our Kalabaland peaks, and rising close enough to touch above the Shivu Glacier east and north of us, Choudhara (21,360 feet) and Rajramba (21,400 feet). Our fears about the latter two were confirmed—both would take weeks to ascend, if it were possible! Although our time had not quite run out, our Inner-Line permits had and so we reluctantly bade farewell to an enchanting valley.

Suman Dubey, Himalayan Club