AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Asia, India, Uttar Pradesh, Central Garhwal, Badrinath to Kedarnath, Second Mortal Traverse, and Ascent of Pt. 5758

Badrinath to Kedarnath, Second Mortal Traverse, and Ascent of Pt. 5758. The crossing of the Satopanth Col and across the Markanda Ganga valley involves a mixture of mountaineering and bushwhacking to negotiate three 15,000-foot ridges through some of the wildest bits of the Indian Himalaya. In 1934, after hearing the legend of a Hindu priest who had preached at both temples on the same day, Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman attempted what they thought would be a two-day crossing, and found themselves involved in a two-week epic hacking their way through dense forest and competing with bears for a diet of bamboo shoots when their food ran out. Two Bengalis who attempted to repeat the route in 1986 disappeared without a trace. In 1997, a team from Bombay led by Harish Kapadia attempted to repeat the route but via the Panpatia Valley. They were stopped lower in the valley and did not reach the Panpatia Col.

Between May 25 and June 7, an Indo-British team (Brede Arkless, John Harvey, Ben Lovett, Martin Moran, and Sobat Singh Rana) repeated the watershed crossing from the Badrinath to Kedarnath valleys which had remained unvisited since Shipton and Tilman’s 1934 traverse. The route commenced at Badrinath, crossed the Inner Line at Mana village, then ascended the Satopanth Glacier to a col at its head at ca. 5450 meters. The icefall beneath the col was badly broken and objectively dangerous, so the team climbed a mixed face on the left, assisted by excellent pre-monsoon snow conditions. While camped at 5100 meters on the far side of the col, Arkless and Moran were able to ascend the unclimbed peak (Pt. 5758m) immediately south of the col, which they propose to name Shipton’s Peak. The ascent (AD) was made by the south ridge and face, with descent down the north slope back to the col. The climb enabled a thorough inspection of the upper Panpatia Glacier, where there are numerous unclimbed summits between 5500 and 6000 meters, and of the big south wall of Chaukhamba. The south buttress of Chaukhamba II (7068m) looked most appealing, with some impressive granite walls in an extremely remote situation.

From the col, the team descended left of the icefall that had ensnared the 1934 party. With one traverse under a serac and two abseils, easy ground was gained and the descent continued to the Gandharpongi Gad, where the infamous bamboo valley, vividly described by Eric Shipton in his book Nanda Devi, commenced. The 1934 party was trapped in this valley for a week, fighting swollen monsoon rivers and competing with black bears for their diet. The 1998 party found evidence of occasional visits by trappers and root gatherers in the forest, and the crucial crossing of the big side stream at Pt. 2685m was bridged by a temporary log bridge. However, apart from the odd sawn branch, trails were non-existent and the party was fortunate that the main growing season for bamboo and brambles had only just begun.

From Pt. 2685m, the 1934 party had followed the Markanda Ganga Valley southward and eventually escaped at Kalimath. The 1998 team chose instead to strike directly uphill out of the jungle and over two days made a 1700-meter climb to cross the Dobri Khal ridge and reach Mandani. The Mandani Valley was similarly deserted and unspoiled, and trails marked on the map were overgrown. From Mandani, the party crossed the Simtoll ridge at 4500 meters, crossed the Kali Ganga Valley and finished direct at Kedarnath Temple on June 7, thus making the first proven direct crossing between the two Hindu shrines.

Eric Shipton’s son, John, accompanied the expedition to 5150 meters on the Satopanth Glacier and then traveled around the south edge of the massif and trekked in from Kalimath to view the bamboo valley. As a child, he had often heard his father talk of his epic in the great valley.

Martin Moran, Alpine Climbing Group