Manda II, second ascent and new route. The climbing history of the Manda group is surprisingly short. Until 2001 Manda II (the highest summit, 6568m) had been climbed only once; from the west (Kedar Glacier) in 1982 by an American expedition, which followed the South Ridge from the col between Manda III and II. Manda I (6510m) has seen a few ascents from the west (Editor’s note: Manda III has been climbed once; in 1992 by a predominately British expedition.). A group of climbers from Junipers (a Calcutta-based climbing club) decided to attempt the peaks from the east. The team comprised Arnab Banerjee, Avijit Das, Arka Ghosh, Kaushik Pal, RK Gambhisana, Thapa (HAP), Dil (HAP), and Dharmi (cook).
We established our base camp on June 9 at 4200m beside the terminal moraine of the Bhrigupanth glacier. After an initial reconnaissance, we realized that Manda II and I would be very difficult to climb by a direct route. Instead, we decided to attempt Manda II and III from the glacier between them. We established Camp 1 at an altitude of 4600m.
Our first major obstacle was a ca 300-meter icefall just above Camp 1. We spent two days serious ice climbing on very dangerous terrain, fixing rope and opening the route to Camp 2. The route was over steep ice faces and broken ice pillars, which were bombarded by rocks falling from high above. We had a few narrow escapes but decided to continue.
The weather closed down as we occupied Camp 2 (5000m), forcing us to take a rest day. After a night of heavy snowfall, the morning dawned clear, so we went ahead with opening the route to Camp 3 (5500m). This route required only one fixed rope on a rock face but demanded tricky navigation through deceptive terrain comprising ice falls and rock fall zones.
From Camp 3 we decided to concentrate on Manda II as it seamed more feasible. Early on the morning of June 21 I started fixing rope below the summit ridge, while the three other members in the summit team followed me. We fixed 360 meters of rope in a tiny ice gully running through sheer rock faces. Then we continued our climb toward the summit, hoping to make the ascent on the same day. Though the weather worsened, we fixed another rope (a total of 760 meters was fixed) just before the main summit and stood on top at around 4: 00 p.m. We celebrated for a while before rushing down to the top camp.
The next day our second team repeated the route to the summit. Climbing down the mountain was another saga. The icefall between Camps 2 and 1 had collapsed, forcing us to reopen the route. Two of us were hit by rock fall but ultimately the team managed to reach base camp without any major casualty. Climbing a new route on a high Himalayan giant is always a very satisfying experience but the joy of exploring rarely visited terrain added more fun.
Arnab Banerjee, India, Junipers.