American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, India, Ladakh (Rupshu), Bhagirathi IV Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996

Bhagirathi IV Attempt. My expedition to India with Silvo Karo was foiled by paperwork. We arrived in Delhi on August 28 and proceeded to make preparations for our trip into the Garhwal Himalaya, where we intended to attempt a big wall route on the west face of Bhagirathi IV. We had hired an agency, Rucksack Tours, to handle our expedition. After 11 days in Delhi, we came to the realization that we were being ripped off by Rani Puri, the proprietor of Rucksack Tours. Unbeknownst to us, the previous year Silvo had been blacklisted from climbing in India due to an assurance from Rani Puri that his permit was granted (it was not, apparently, as there is no record of it at the Indian Mountaineering Foundation). His resulting appearance in the mountains without a permit had caused a report to be filed to the Ministry of Home Affairs against Silvo. Even though Rani Puri was well aware that Silvo had been blacklisted (a letter dated April, 1995 had been sent from the IMF to Rucksack Tours stating such), she repeatedly told us that there would be no problem with the permit this year, that it was only a matter of time. We finally realized that the main kickback to Rani Puri's corrupt scheme was to keep us put up in an expensive hotel for as long as possible. In final desperation I had it out with the Director of the IMF and the final answer was an unquestionable, "No." "What can we do without a permit, then?" I asked him. He responded with a curt, "Go home," and walked away.

We decided to explore the region regardless. After traveling to Uttar-Kashi, buying provisions, and hiring porters, we made our way to Gangotri where we began our trek into the mountains and set up Base Camp at Nandanban ("Place of Heaven") at 14,500 feet on September 12. During the next week we acclimatized and carried three to four loads each to our Advanced Base Camp at the foot of Bhagirathi IV at 16,000 feet. After being tempted by the lure of the awesome wall, we were faced with a decision about crossing over the line between trekking and climbing. We had met several other groups who were sharing the same meadow in Nandanban, including a few Indian expeditions, and we felt as though we were being watched. To go further was to risk being reported, which meant big trouble with the Indian authorities. We spent the next few days bringing our 150 kilos of equipment and food down from ABC. We then cleaned up our Base Camp at Nandanban, and crossed the Gangotri Glacier with our gear and set up a new Base Camp at Topovan ("Place of Meditation") next to our American friends, Steve Quinlan and Dave Anderson, who were getting poised for their ascent of Bhagirathi IV. We now planned to climb a 500-meter rock buttress at the base of the south side of Shivling. We believed it to be within the rules of trekking, and it seemed like a worthy project. After a few days at Topovan, a group of four military men came to our site and demanded papers. It then became very clear that we were not receiving a very warm welcome to the area, so we left, frustrated, on September 26. Silvo left for Delhi immediately, but I spent four days in Uttar-Kashi, cragging with the local chaps at Mount Support.

John Middendorf

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