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Asia, India—Sikkim, Kangchenjunga Ascent and Tragedy

Kangchenjunga Ascent and Tragedy. A 62-member team from the Indian Army Assam Rifles, including three women, was led by Major General Prem Lal Kukrety. They left Gangtok on March 8, heading for the northeast face of Kangchenjunga, the route previously climbed by Colonel Narinder Kumar’s expedition in 1977. Base Camp was established at Green Lake at 4690 meters on March 15 and Advance Base at 5000 meters on March 24. Camps I, II, III, IV and V were established at 5600, 6000, 6300, 6650 and 7250 meters on March 31, April 2, 20, 30 and May 16. Finally on May 22, loads were dumped at the site of Camp VI at 7750 meters, but during the return to Camp V the climbers were caught in a blizzard. They suffered frostbite, and eventually Havildar Phurba had to be evacuated by helicopter. Despite this setback, Phu Dorje, who had soloed Everest without oxygen, Naik Chorten Tsering and Phu Pu Bhutia occupied Camp VI on May 23. They headed for the summit on May 24. They lost radio contact with Base Camp in –40° weather when their batteries went dead. It is presumed they reached the summit; Phu Dorje’s prayer flag was found eight meters below the summit. They did not return and, despite an extensive search, their bodies were not found. Naik Chander Singh, Lance Naik Bhawan Singh, Rifleman Subhas Limboo, Havildar R.B. Ghale and Norden Lepcha set up Camp VII at 8180 meters and made a summit attempt on May 30, which failed 100 feet from the summit in a severe snowstorm. Norden Lepcha fell and was injured; Ghale had to escort him off the mountain. The first three mentioned above made a second try on May 31 and gained the summit at two P.M. after a grueling 12-hour climb. On the way down, not far from the top, Chander Singh slipped and plunged down the Sikkim side of the mountain to his death.

Kamal K. Guha, Editor, Himavanta, India