American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, India-Garhwal, Nanda Devi East Attempt and Tragedy

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1979

Nanda Devi East Attempt and Tragedy. The British Garhwal Himalayan Expedition to Nanda Devi comprised Alan Kimber, David Challis, William (Ben) Beattie, Andrew Wielochowski, David Nottidge and me as leader. We suffered three major set-backs: (1) severe difficulties due to the last-minute withdrawal for a time of permission by the Indian government, apparently as a result of the public disclosure of the American nuclear device placed on Nanda Devi; (2) an abnormally severe and late monsoon; (3) the death of Ben Beattie. We originally had hoped to attempt a new route on the southwest face of Nanda Devi East, to traverse alpine-style from the east to the main summit and to descend the south face of the main peak. An advance party of Beattie and Kimber established Base Camp in the Nanda Devi Sanctuary on the site of the Indo- Japanese Base Camp on September 1. Though hampered by heavy snowfall, they managed to establish and supply a camp at 19,000 feet on the face on September 9. Two days later Wielochowski and I arrived at Base Camp fresh from bureaucratic triumphs in Delhi; Challis and Not- tidge were further delayed by participation in another expedition and illness respectively. Almost immediately we four made a serious alpine- style attempt on the face. Progress was satisfactory until, descending alone from a bivouac at 22,000 feet, Beattie slipped and fell 2500 feet. This occurred at eight A.M. on September 15. He was buried on September 17 on the southwest face of Nanda Devi East. On the following day Nottidge and I left for Delhi. On the 19th Challis and Wielochowski returned to the face and climbing rapidly, soon reached the 22,000-foot high point on September 22. The following day they followed the obvious curving arête which led them to the south ridge at 23,000 feet. Continuing along the original south ridge route, they were halted by the second step at 23,500 feet, some 800 feet below the summit. Our route up the southwest face of the east peak proved direct, logical and comparatively safe; certainly safer than the ordinary route to Longstaff’s Col, although the technical difficulties were somewhat greater. We learned principally two things. First, do not underestimate the Indian bureaucracy. There will always be delays. Second, we realize that the application of alpine-style techniques to major Himalayan objectives is a difficult, dangerous and committing business, far more so than we had imagined.

David Hopkins, A.A.C. and British Mountain Guide

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