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TRISUL AND NANDA GHUNTI EXPEDITION: SPRING 2001

A party of 7 including guides Martin Moran and Andy Nisbet visited the peaks on the western edge of the Nanda Devi range with the twin aims of climbing a new route on the South Face of 6309m Nanda Ghunti and ascending the West Face of 7120m Trisul.

Having left Britain on May 10th the team made a four and a half day approach trek up the beautiful Nandakini valley starting from Ghat at 1334m and passing through the villages of Sitel and Sutol before taking to the forested upper gorge of the valley. The forest scenery was very fine and the whole area surprisingly untouched by commercial tourism. A 12 yearly pilgrimage in honour of the goddess Nanda Devi called the Raj Jat follows this route. The last had taken place in summer 2000 with some 15,000 people involved in the route, yet there was little evidence of litter or erosion en-route.

The first view of the awesome 3000 metre West wall of Trisul was gained at the forest campground of Lata Kopri. Thereafter, low cloud and drizzle accompanied the trek and base camp was established at 4300m in a snowstorm. The site was around 250m below the holy meltwater tarn of Hom Kund which is cradled close under the massive walls and seracs of Nanda Ghunti and Trisul. The tranquillity of the setting persuaded the expedition leader to take a ritual swim in its icy waters. Others contented themselves with photgraphic homage.

Early days in the trip were blighted by poor weather. Humid airflows from the foothills smothered the mountains in cloud from mid-morning onwards. Nevertheless, reconnoitres were made of Nanda Ghunti and a route established to a Camp 1 at 5300m directly under the twin couloirs which held the key to the South Face route.

On May 24th the whole team was established in Camp 1 ready to make a lightweight summit bid by moonlight. The weather had distinctly different ideas unleashing a furious thunderstorm all evening. The searing lightning strikes had an immediate pyschological effect with certain members hiding in their sleeping bags quivering like jellies. The process was repeated on the 25th with the addition of strong winds and spindrift. On the morning of the 26th a despondent group abandoned the attempt and returned to base to find that the tents had been significantly damaged by gusts during the storms. Torrential rainfall in the valleys also caused dozens of landslides on the jeep track from Ghat to Sitel during this period.

Radio reports of a cyclone off Gujurat explained the unseasonal weather and cautioned against further optimism. With Trisul decidedly out of condition all efforts were again directed towards Nanda Ghunti. The team returned to Camp 1 on the 28th and set off at 10.40pm in partial visibility. The chosen couloir was 500 metres in length, quickly steepening to 50 then 55 degrees. The snow conditions were excellent allowing the team to move together on two ropes of 4 and 3 persons respectively.
On gaining the exit of the couloir Andy led up a slender snow ridge and over an ice bosse to reach a level glacis. Now 3am the party stopped to put on extra clothing and take a break before the summit bid. The altitude was something over 5900m. At this point a wave of lightning spread across the valley and whiteout conditions developed within 20 minutes. After 2 hours spent sitting in bivouac bags the storm showed no sign of clearing and the decision was made to retreat before fresh windslab built up in the blizzard. Andy located the route down only with difficulty and all were relieved to regain the couloir. This was descended in orderly fashion until Mike and Andy decided to glissade the lower third in a massive slough of sticky snow which resulted in the loss of a rope. A rather demoralised and exhausted party returned to base on the afternoon of the 29th.
For Glyn Rowlands time was up. He had to leave for home on the 31st and set off just as a spell of fine weather commenced. The remainder of the party had only 4 days in which to force the issue on Nanda Ghunti. Mike Brennan and Andy somehow had the courage to go up to Camp 1 for a fifth time to complete the South Face route, while Martin, Ian Lee-Bapty, Tom Rankin, Des Winterbone and high altitude porter Heera Singh preferred a longer but more scenic exploration of the north side of the mountain.


Nanda Ghunti from Hom Kund base camp; the summit is on the left and the East Ridge follows the skyline from Right to Left (photo J Preston)
Click on picture for large image

On a glorious morning on June 1st the five crossed the 5200m Ronti Saddle on perfect neve snow, descended 400m into the Ronti basin and climbed up a lonely side-valley to make camp at 5200m, without doubt the most magical day of the trip for them. Leaving at 1.30am on the 2nd a long plod led to the North Col of Nanda Ghunti. The North Ridge began with an abrupt 55 degree step then eased to an achingly long summit pull which was alleviated by majestic dawn views across the Nanda Devi Sanctuary and north the the Kamet and Badrinath ranges. About 200 metres from the top they saw the unmistakable bearded countenance of Andy waving from the summit. He and Mike had swiftly reascended the couloir by night and gained the summit ridge by an icy arete. Even in the hour of victory storm clouds were massing from the south and west emitting repeated shafts of lightning. The North Ridge group reached the top some two hours later at 9.40am and returned to their camp in the Ronti basin at 1.30pm. The weather broke very soon afterwards. Climbing in ultra-lightweight style on a 15 metre length of hawser-laid 7mm rope Andy and Mike were back at Camp 1 before midday and back in base for tea.

On June 3rd the North Ridge team climbed back over the Ronti Saddle in mist and gentle snowfall. An overhanging cornice gave Martin some exciting aid moves on horizontally-driven snow stakes. A delightfully simple walk down the snowfields past Hom Kund regained base at 11.30am.
The return trek to Ghat was made in two long stages from June 5th to 6th and the team returned home on June 9th. Despite continual struggles against the weather the expedition had been made particularly enjoyable by having a small close-knit team, an excellent cook, HAP and Liaison Officer and total solitude for three weeks in a beautiful corner of the Himalaya.
Disappointment at failing to get to grips with Trisul was mitigated by achieving two good climbs on Nanda Ghunti: the new route on the South Face is Alpine AD+, with sustained Scottish grade II climbing and slopes of 50 to 55 degrees. The North Ridge has possibly never been climbed via the Ronti Saddle before; it's overall grade would be Alpine PD+.

These were the first ascents of the mountain for several years.

 

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