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Monday, February 25, 2013

Vintage Monday

~ An Article from "Sunday World" dated August 12, 1973 ~

" Indian Schoolboys' Expedition '73

Indian mountaineering had it origins in schools, with some adventurous and farsighted schoolmasters taking out parties of boys on climbing vacations in Garhwal and Kumaon. Though the early explorations and pioneering ascents, as also the most sensational climbs. Were undertaken by geologists, surveyors or missionaries, generally foreigners, the foundations of these Himalayan traditions by these school masters led to Indian mountaineers like Nandu Jayal, Gurdial Singh and Tenzing taking to the sport seriously.

Expeditions from the Doon school to Nanda Devi, and the successful training expeditions of large numbers of boys to Jaonli 21,760 feet, in Garhwal, and the final ascent of Jaonli by schoolboys, were the natural sequel to J.T.M. Gibson and John Martyn's expeditions to the Bandarpunch area.

It was only natural, therefore, that when we planned a schoolboy expedition with the unique feature that it should cover every kind of school in India, we should get in touch with Mr. “Jack” Gibson, and plan it in the Bandarpunch and Har-ki-Dun areas beyond Chakrata.

Birth of the Idea

The idea originated at the 32nd Public Schools Conference held in New Delhi in February 1973 when S.R Das and Hari Dang wondered what Public Schools, that much criticized genre of excellent and now democratized and merit-based institutions, could do to help the vast could not do to help the vast constructive effort being made by the nation to improve the standard of education in the country. We approached the Delhi Mountaineering Association to sponsor the expeditions, and rather late in the day, in April, set about organizing the funds and equipment and other details. When one is working with headmasters like S.R. Das and Hari Dang, with the “technical advice” of “Jack” Gibson, certain expectations are held. I was in the position of also being an employee of the school of which one of them is the Headmaster!

With funds and equipment, Sherpas, transport and porterage, all being organized by the Delhi Mountaineering Association's capable joint secretary, Mr. D.P. Pandey, who was also Deputy Leader of the expedition, I had very few worries. Mr. Pandey and his two D.M. A. colleagues, Swadesh Kumar and Mr. Jain, looked after all the details of finance and accounts, quartermaster duties, packaging and purchase, and equipment, while I worked on the training programme for the boys.

Divergent Team

We had one or more boys from Kendriya Vidyalayas, Sainik Schools, Municipal Schools, Government Higher Secondary Schools, and, of course, “Public” and private schools. With 22 schoolboys drawn from such a wide catchment, and an open socio-economic background, one might have expected frequent and intense friction. But grown-up people and our leaders would do well to note that conflicts of class and background, accusations of snobbery and allegations of social ostracism or exclusiveness, are more likely to flourish in the hothouse atmosphere of grown-up parliaments, for they certainly did not flourish in the the open society of the first Indian Schoolboys Garhwal Expedition 1973. I have never been on an expedition, with such a divergent membership, several schoolmasters, three Headmasters and 22 boys, and there was more affection and mutual regard or less friction. Perhaps it was the influence of the mountains and the pristine environment, but the entire expedition was a successful example of national and socio-economic integration effectively and work.

Some 100 miles beyond Chakrata lies the upper Tons watershed, with two rivers, the Jamdar and Ruishar, meeting to form Tons at the confluence; this Tons then meets the Yamuna, below Kalsi. It was to the Kalsi that our party travelled in school buses, aptly named ARALI 1 and 2, after the Delhi ridge where the Air Force Central School is located.

The boys and their headmasters began the trip well, with a night bath in the river, and a quick rock climb up the buttressed pillars of the old bridge, below the rock edict of Ashoka which proclaims the message of Buddha. The pillars are made of hewn stone set in relief, and the climb, though only a few dozen feet was rendered exciting by the inexperience of the boys and the darkness all around.

The next morning we left early for Chakrata, where transport was waiting to convey us to our road-head at Tiuni, beside the Tons, just below its confluence with the Pabbar river which comes down from Himachal Pradesh. Here the road ends, but a forest track continues to Naitwar and on to Taluka, just below the high mountains of Bandarpuch. This truck is not only jeep-able, but can also be persuaded to take one tonners and three tonners, if one can find sufficiently daring drivers, which we happily did.

Visit to Har-ki-Dun

Naitwar is a small but growing hill-town beside the rushing Tons, set amidst vast hill ranges of pine forest, where the road from Chakrata Purola and sub-divisional headquarters, also joins. Pine resin-tapping and despatch is the other major activity after lumbering and the hill trade from high villages. Another 15 miles beyond by jeep, or on foot as we did, lies the rest-house of Taluka, where we next halted, and where our porters from the four villages of Datmir, Gangar, Panwari and Osla joined us, of course, after much persuasion and at very high wages for carrying the 100 odd loads of the expedition in 60-pound packs. The boys and members carried their own rucksacks, not only for the sake for the economy, but also as part of the training program.

One should undertake a fairly long approach march trek to ensure gradually increasing fitness instead of racing into the higher hills, and attempting high mountain climbs without an adequate acclimatization period at lower elevations. The body attunes itself to strenuous days of long marches, and once so adjusted, can take great strains and high altitude climbs without untoward consequences. To prolong our days at moderate elevations, it was decided to first visit Har-ki-Dun, with a picturesque rest-house set atop an old, grass-grown moraine, with huge boulders perched on it. These boulders were to be the introduction of the boys to rick climbing, and Mr. Gibson set about making all the boys climb them after the training tips. Most of the boys climbed most of the boulders within two days, and the party re-united here to take small daytime trips to the Jamdar glacier and the Morinda Gad, which leads up to the Borasu Pass over which lies Chitkul in the Bhapsa valley in Himachal Pradesh.

Her the training programme began in earnest, with the grown-ups, particularly Pandey, Swadesh and Jain, an the two masters from Mayo College, Dwarka and Romesh Mathur, taking over all the admin details and the hard work of messing, planning, packing, re-packing and porterage with the help of Gogi Sandhu, Darshan Singh and Sudhir Singh.

Four boys, who were the fittest and had shown the maximum promise and technique, Pradyuman Mandhata, Mandeep and Bhoom Singh, were taken along by Mr. Das and Mr. Dang, with three porters, to cross the pass which leads over the bristling ridge from Har-ki-Dun into the Tons-Ruishar valley, where lay our Base Camp for the attempt on Black Peak. They spent a memorable night camped below the pass, climbing a 16,500-foot peak, and glissading down 3,000 feet back to the bivouac camp. The next day this party re-united with the rest at the Base Camp over the pass, the main body having come around the ridge through the forest along the river on the goat track.

Lake base Camp

An unbelievable profusion of flowers greeted us at Lake Base Camp, with a whole field of the delicately perfumed Primula Involucrata, the modest Primula Denticulata, anemones and buttercups, iris and potentilla, androsace and fritillaria.

Gogi Sandhu, a farmer and thrice Krishi Panit, Jain, Swadesh, Sudhir Sahi, Timky Daarshan Singh, a business executive and the Sherpas set off and pitched Camps I and II along the true right of the glacier of Bandarpunch and Black Peak, while Mr. Das and Mr. Dang, with the rest of the boys pitched another camp called Camp I Left Bank, where Nima Sherpa gave training in snow and rock climbing techniques to the boys.

Growing schoolboys are generally very strong and tough, but lung development and stamina resistance and durability in the face of long exposure to cold, lack of fresh hot food, and rarefied air of high altitudes, are qualities that develop around the twenties to their maximum.

It is thus imprudent to allow or encourage such adolescent frames, however athletic or tough-looking, to very high elevations for long periods. They also require longer periods of acclimatization at moderately high elevations before they are allowed to go above, say, 17,000 feet, above sea level.

In the case of our party of schoolboys, though they had been well trained by the time they reached Camps I and II in rock and snow climbing and rescue techniques, and in trekking and camping, hill-walking, packing, ice-axe technique, they were not all nutritionally the same background and there was a distinct difference in stamina, endurance and constitutional resistance, which variation had to be kept in mind.

Mr. Das and Mr. Dang decided to select the most durable and technically effective four boys Mandhata, Pradyuman, Mandeep and Bhoom Sigh, to accompany the first party attempt to establish Camp III ridge of Black Peak. Gogi Sandhu and Sudhir Sahi, with two sherpas, were to go with them. Swadesh and Jain were both fit, but had to return to Lake Camp to bring up further supplies and organize equipment with the help of Mr. Pandey Timky and Romesh, Mr. Das and Mr. Dang, were to hold fort at Camp I Left Bank and then to climb the summit and at Camp II respectively, giving support to the summiters. The remaining boys, with Sherpa Lhakpa Tsering, who had climbed Jaonli with the Doon School Expedition in 1966 led by Mr. Dang, moved up along the glacier, training as they went, and four others, Dileep, Sanjay Gandhi, Iqbal Singh and Sukhjit Singh, were selected to make the second ascent of Black Peak.

Black peak is frequently climbed, but remains a strenuous and fairly challenging 21,000-feet mountain. The weather, always unpredictable in the high mountains which generate their own local storms, had been harsh. There was snow almost every day above Camp II.

The first group attempted the long soft-snow and hard-ice summit-ridge of Black Peak from Camp III, at 18,000 feet, but had to turn back from nearly 20,000 feet. This we had expected, as ours was a training expedition, and we were not committed to climbing to the top. Mr. Das and Mr. Dang, with Gogi Sandhu, Romesh, Timky Darshan Singh and some others, had stayed behind at Camp II, below the cliffs over which lies the route to the Dhaundhar Kandi Pass leading to Harsil. When the first party returned from Camp III, the boys had completed all parts of the Basic Course mountaineering syllabus, but for the ice and crampon routine. In those verdant and flower festooned high valleys it is easy to forget aims and objects, and to lose oneself in contemplation, in plant-collection, bird-watching and wildlife photography, so it was natural for everyone to think of descending. Timky Darshan Singh and Sudhir Sahi, who is with a public sector undertaking, both picked another team and set off for Camp III the very next morning. The sherpas were reluctant, but tagged along, and in the end gave valuable help to these and other boys.

On the morning of May 12, the party set off from Camp III and struggled up the ridge to the summit, encountering deep crevasses in the hard ice of the summit ridge. We photographed them from a neighbouring 18,000-foot peak through telephoto lenses, as they, one after another, set foot on the Black Peak crest.

The return was uneventful but instructive. I myself had to return early, but the long days on the way back from the great heights are the most tranquil and the most memorable. Terrain previously difficult and dangerous seems easy. The flowers and the streams are profuse and gentle. The alpine grasslands a blessing, and the Himalaya in a friendly mood.

It was this face of the mountains which our boys most recall, though the training and the exposure to the thrill of this great sport will abide with them and with us much longer as we all grow older."

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