(compiled by Peter O’Neill, 2000)
In 2000, an IMC expedition made the first ascent of Kangla Tarbo 1, in India. This is the expedition report.
(see also the photos)
IRISH MOUNTAINEERING CLUB
HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION 2000
to Kangla Tarbo 1, 6315m., in Spiti, India
Expedition Narrative – by Paddy O’Leary and Brian Geraghty
Mountaineering in Spiti – by Paddy O’Leary
Equipment – by Hugh Reynolds and Conor Burns
Sponsorship and Acknowledgements
Financial Report – by Sé O’Hanlon
- Paddy O’Leary
- Sé O’Hanlon
- Hugh Reynolds
- Conor Burns
- Colm Owens
- Brian Geraghty
- Surab Gandhi ( Liaison Officer)
- The brothers Singh (our two cooks)
The mountains of Spiti were closed to foreigners following the Sino-Indian war of 1962; indeed the peaks east of the Spiti River are still off-limits to foreigners because of their proximity to the Tibetan border. It was not until 1992 that the area west of the river was again opened as the ‘Inner Line’ was moved back some distance. Even before the 1962 conflict the area was a sensitive one, and difficult to reach as there were no roads into the district.
Paddy O’Leary was among the first foreigners to visit the area after a gap of thirty years and he gradually became aware of several climbing possibilities, including virgin peaks, and also of some valleys which were unexplored by mountaineers.
When Michael Scott of the Irish Mountaineering Club proposed an official club expedition to the Himalaya, O’Leary suggested an attempt on Kangla Tarbo 1, a peak of 6315 metres which had been unsuccessfully attempted by an Indian team in 1997, and which lay in a little-visited and poorly mapped area. In the summer of 1999, O’Leary and Scott carried out a reconnaissance of Kangla Tarbo 1 and its neighbour Kangla Tarbo 2 ( which had been climbed by the 1997 Indian team), and also attempted to gain the upper reaches of the Debsa Nallah (river valley), which, so far as they knew, had only once been seen by mountaineers (see the section on Mountaineering in Spiti).
As a result of their visit it was decided to attempt Kangla Tarbo 1 in the year 2000 and afterwards to proceed further up the Debsa than had been possible in 1999 because of a swollen side-stream.
With the encouragement of the I.M.C., club members of suitable experience were invited to join the expedition. Six members responded. Only O’Leary had previous Himalayan experience, the others all having some Alpine and Scottish winter experience. Three of the team, Brian Geraghty, Colm Owens and Conor Burns, were in their twenties, Hugh Reynolds was in his late thirties while O’Leary’s age of sixty five was closely matched by Shay O’Hanlon’s fifty eight years.( Fuller details are given in the section Biographical Details). The team received a bad fright when it was learned that an Indian team had gone to the two Kangla Tarbos shortly after the Irish reconnaissance. However, the Indians concentrated on a repeat ascent of Kangla Tarbo 2, leaving its higher neighbour still unclimbed.
Permission to climb the peak was sought from the Indian government through the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. The usual anxious wait of several months was endured before permission was received and the Irish were assured that no other team was to make the attempt in 2000. Few expeditions escape last-minute problems. The I.M.C team were informed only a week before departure that their entire approach route, via the lovely district of Kinnaur, had been rendered impassable by monsoon floods on the Sutlej river which had swept down from Tibet, washing away twenty bridges, and long sections of the road which clings to the steep-sided Sutlej gorge. A number of people had died. The team’s schedule and small size allowed for flexibility, so an alternative route was hastily arranged which entailed an approach through Manali and across the Rohtang and Kunzum passes.
A bus was hired for the journey from Delhi to the roadhead. Strong emphasis was laid on slow and proper acclimatisation, so a night was spent in Shimla en route to Manali;walks were undertaken in the hills above Manali during a day’s halt there; members walked to about 3,500 m. on the way up to the Rohtang; the journey was again broken at Chota Dara, 3,700m. and a short walk was undertaken at 4,000m.
Porters were arranged through an agency in Manali and the roadhead at Mikkim was reached five days after leaving Delhi. A further day was spent at Mikkim, acclimatising and waiting for the porters. Two days walking brought the team to Base Camp at 4,300m.
The route followed the barren valleys of the Parahio and Khamengar rivers, via the last tiny settlement of Thango where some minor porter problems were experienced during an overnight stop, and by a new footbridge at Thidim which replaced a wire jhula across which O’Leary and Scott had to haul themselves on the previous year’s visit. There were signs that the local people from Thango availed of the new bridge to gather fuel and to graze their herds of sheep, goats and horses near the ponds at Chokum (place of lakes). Near Chokum, a fast-flowing branch of the Khamengar which emanated from a large un-named glacier, led westwards to Base Camp which was pitched on one of the few flatter places on scree slopes overlooking this tributary and about one kilometre down from the glacier snout
The Climbing Phase
In keeping with the team’s policy to get all members to the summit, a slow build-up of supplies was planned in order to allow for full acclimatisation. Following an initial reconnaissance of an approach to the glacier – which for the purposes of this report is called The Long Glacier – a dump was established at a point about three hours tedious walk up the glacier at a point where several possible summit routes could be served. From here it could be seen that the glacier is fed by ice-fields on the peaks on the main Himalayan watershed. Routes previously followed by teams climbing Kangla Tarbo2 were dismissed due to perceived difficulties in reaching K.T. 1, and the possibilities of stone and serac-fall in trying to reach the col between the two peaks. Also dismissed, following a reconnaissance by O’Leary and Burns, was a more direct assault on the SE face.
Finally, following a determined recce by Reynolds and Gandhi and the ferrying of supplies by the entire group, a camp was established at 5300 m. on a scree-covered ledge on the South Face. On the 6th September all members moved up to this Camp1 and a route towards the summit was chosen which led diagonally leftwards through difficult scree and loose rock to snowfields at about 5800m.
The entire group of seven ( six Irish and the L.O.) left camp at 0500hrs. on 7h.Sept. and started to crampon on to the ice at about 0900. It quickly became apparent that the route was steeper and the snow frozen harder than had been anticipated. Progress was slow, those at the rear realising early that they had no chance of reaching the summit and turning back late in the morning. Two pairs, Geraghty and Owens, Reynolds and Burns, continued for some time, the former pair finally turning back at about 1 p.m.
Supplies did not allow of a second attempt by the entire team so it was decided that on the following day Geraghty, Owens and Reynolds, supported by the other four, would move up to a bivouac just below the snowline and make a second attempt from there. To conserve supplies, three of the others would return to Base Camp leaving Burns to look after Camp 1. The move to the bivouac was carried out on the 8th. of September.
By Brian Geraghty
At 0400 on the 9th. September, just before dawn, Geraghty, Owens and Reynolds arose at the bivvy site. A short scramble across loose rocks coated in freshly fallen snow brought us to the base of the ice (5800 m.). By 0500 we were starting up the first slopes. We moved together as a rope of three, front pointing, using ice screws as protection, which was the technique we adopted for most of the summit bid. A hundred metres of steep frozen snow brought us on to a ridge, south facing, offering no view of the summit. A short diagonal traverse across easy ground brought us on to the steep southeast face. We moved upwards and to the right on good quality ice covered by an inch of frozen snow. Crossing a band of loose rock we again arrived on the south ridge. Weather was clear, with little wind. we could see High Camp below at 5,4000m. To avoid more loose rock we pushed out on to the face, then straight up.
We reached the highest point attained by Geraghty and Owens at 6040m. at 0815hrs. The summit remained out of sight. Climbing parallel to five rocky outcrops we reached a flattish area below a pyramid shaped pinnacle. We had high hopes this might be the summit. Proceeding around to the right and up, another ice slope came into view. A few pitches higher, by looking over the ridge to the left we could see the dark, rocky west face rising in a grand triangle to what could only be the summit. Following around to the right, then up and back left we reached a point where we could climbed no higher. 6315m, the summit of Kangla Tarbo I. The time was 1100. We looked down at the rounded summit of Kangla Tarbo II and slightly east of that to the lower second summit of Kangla Tarbo I. Five minutes on the top and then we started down in deteriorating weather.
In worsening conditions, a combination of down climbing and abseiling saw us back at the rocks close to our bivvy site at 16.30. We descended to High Camp, picking our way down verglas coated rocks, arriving at the tents as darkness fell. Burns prepared much needed drinks and food. A comfortable night preceded the evacuation of high Camp and our descent to Base Camp next day.
On the day of the summit attempt – 9th. Sept.- O’Leary and O’Hanlon went to the extreme upper reaches of the glacier, probably the first mountaineers to have done so, and satisfied themselves that it would be dauntingly difficult for local people without mountaineering gear or expertise to negotiate the col which lies between Kangla Tarbo and the main Himalayan watershed. Harish Kapadia was told that a pilgrimage circuit, or Kora, of the two Kangla Tarbos is sometimes undertaken ( Kapadia H., Adventures in the trans-Himalaya, 1999, P.139).
On the 11th. of September the team moved to a camp in the lower Debsa Nallah and next day attempted to reach the upper reaches of that valley. A glacially-fed tributary of the Debsa (the same one which had stopped O’Leary and Scott in 1999 and whose name , we think, is Bauli Khad) was uncrossable for laden porters so it was decided to camp beside the swollen stream and make an attempt while the water level was still low early in the following morning. The stream was safely negotiated shortly after first light and a Base Camp was established about forty five minutes walk up the valley, at the junction of of the two upper arms of the Debsa Nallah. Our twenty one porters left immediately in order to get back across the stream before the water level rose. From this base it was intended to explore both branches and to ascertain if cols led from either to the Parbati or Pin valleys.
In 1952, Snelson and Graaf had crossed a col from the Ratiruni glacier in Kullu to reach a glacier in what was then called the Parahio and which is now known as the Debsa. It is clear from Snelson’s description that the glacier lies in the left or western branch of the upper Debsa.They trudged up this glacier and on the following day used another col to re-cross the Himalayan watershed and reach the Parbati valley which they followed back to their base in the Ratiruni. This was the only recorded visit by mountaineers to the Debsa Nallah until an Indian group also crossed from the Parbati to the Debsa in 1995. The crossing of the divide by the Indian team became known to the I.M.C. expedition for the first time when they visited the library of the IMF in Delhi and caused them to change their focus from the western branch to the southern branch of the Debsa.
The southern Debsa
From the I.M.C. Base Camp, access to the southern Debsa entailed the crossing of the river which flows from the western Debsa. On the 14th. of September, O’Hanlon, Burns and O’Leary crossed this river with some difficulty at a point about 1.5 Kms. upstream, made their way on the far bank back past Base Camp and then turned up the southern branch. Some 4 kms from Base they reached the snout of a long, boulder-and rubble-covered glacier along which they advanced a short distance. From their furthest point they could see that the end of the valley, at the main Himalayan wall, was blocked by difficult precipices of rock and snow, except at the eastern end where a col leading to the upper reaches of the southern Debsa would require several days to reach and cross. They took many photographs as they believed that they were the first mountaineers to see what they were now looking at.
Back at Base it was decided that O’Hanlon and Reynolds would try to reach the Parbati by using Snelson’s Col, and then continue down to Manikaran in Kullu, while O’Leary and Burns would explore a side-valley( a hanging valley it seemed) which ran eastwards from the southern Debsa. The Snelson’s Col party were helped in their planning by the fortuitous arrival at Base of an Indian team – members of the same club which had completed the 1995 crossing- who had crossed from the Parbati on the previous day.
O’Leary and Burns returned to the southern Debsa on the 16th. of September, avoided a crossing of the fast-flowing river fed by its glacier by going on to the glacier itself, and then followed the left bank of a waterfall to reach the mouth of the side-valley about 300 m. above the main valley floor. It had seemed to them that the side-valley might provide easy access to the Pin Valley, but a reconnaissance on the following day brought them on to difficult glaciated terrain and showed them that the side and back walls of the valley would require the kind of mountaineering equipment which they had decided to leave at Base Camp.(As the aim was to establish whether a herders’ route existed there seemed little point in bringing gear which would not be available to the nomads). There was no evidence that humans had ever penetrated this side-valley, and indeed they saw no animal life other than a spider. From their campsite there were splendid views of the massif between the two branches of the Debsa, including a fine peak of perhaps 6,000m.
They made their way back down to the southern Debsa, camped there, and after a difficult river crossing reached Base Camp three days after their departure. Porters arrived on the 19th. of September and the party, less O’Hanlon and Reynolds, reached Mikkim two days later and Manali on the next day.
The western Branch – crossing of Snelson’s Col
O’Hanlon and Reynolds left Debsa base during the afternoon of 16th. of Sept. and camped at the foot of the glacier which fills the upper part of the western Debsa. Next day, a series of minor misadventures caused them to postpone the crossing to the Parbati, so it was on the 18th. that they made their way up the easy glacier to find the pass recommended by the Indians. The slopes up to the col were more difficult than expected so they were obliged to take to the scree and rocks on the left. On reaching the col they descended to a campsite on the Parbati side. It was not clear that this col was the one originally used by Snelson. It would probably be necessary to compare photographs taken by the Irish and Indians with those ( if any) taken by Snelson to confirm the Indians’ claim to have made a new crossing from Parbati to Debsa. At any rate it seems that O’Hanlon and Reynolds were the first to complete a crossing from the main Spiti valley to the Parbati and Kullu valleys via the Debsa.
Three further days trekking brought the pair to Manikaran. The contrasts between arid Spiti and verdant Parbati were striking as they descended through green meadows and woods, past numerous waterfalls. They had the unnerving experience of walking past the spot where, only a few days previously, a Spanish woman and her child were murdered and their English companion left for dead. From Manikaran they caught a public bus to Manali.
|Arrive Delhi. 2215hrs.
|Delhi. Briefing at I.M.F.; shopping.
|Base Camp. Carry loads to glacier snout.
|Base Camp. Carry loads to glacier dump.
|Base Camp. Carry loads.
|Base Camp. Carry loads.
|Base Camp. Carry loads.
|Reconnaissance of possible routes.
|Loads to Camp 1
|Occupy Camp 1
|Failed summit attempt.
|Move to bivouac at 5,800m.
|Geraghty, Owens Reynolds reach summit.
|All return to Base Camp. Porters arrive.
|Move to camp in Lower Debsa.
|Camp at stream barring access to Upper Debsa.
|Establish Base in Upper Debsa.
|Reconnaissance of both arms of Upper Debsa.
|O’Leary and Burns to S. branch of Debsa; O’Hanlon and Reynolds to W.branch.
|O’Leary and Burns recce. side valley of S. branch.
|O’Hanlon and Reynolds cross Snelson’s Col; O’Leary and Burns return to base.
|Porters arrive at Base Camp. O’Hanlon and Reynolds continue down Parbati valley.
|Main party leave upper Debsa, reach Thango.
|Main party reach Mikkim, drive to Losar.
|O’Hanlon and Reynolds reach Manikaran, then Manali; main party reach Manali.
|Delhi. De-brief at I.M.F.
|Depart Delhi 0055 on 27th.
Spiti, the ‘Middle Kingdom’, is isolated from the rest of India by the Himalaya, and from Tibet by the high and rugged Zanskar range. The area lies at high altitude, most of it above 4,000 metres, is sparsely inhabited and, because of its trans-Himalayan position away from the full effects of the monsoon, it is arid and almost devoid of vegetation. Its people are of Mongoloid origin, practise Buddhism and derive much of their culture from Tibet.
There are two dirt roads into the area. One of these, across the 4,500m. Kunzum pass, is closed by snow for seven months of the year and its approaches are also affected by monsoon flooding. The other road, through the lovely district of Kinnaur, is frequently blocked by mudslides, flooding and avalanches. It takes a minimum of three days from Delhi to reach the Spiti capital, Kaza. Most of the area east of the Spiti river is closed to foreigners because of the proximity of the Tibetan border. In the west, a number of glacially-fed rivers pose major difficulties in reaching uninhabited valleys and high peaks. There are a number of high trekking passes leading to Kullu, Kinnaur and Ladakh.
Some of the more notable peaks in the area include Gya, the highest in Spiti at 6794m., Manirang 6593m. and Shigri Parbat 6526m., first climbed by Joss Lynam in the 1950s. One peak with a remarkable history is Shilla, 6132m., which was first climbed in 1860 by a native helper of the Survey of India who carried a survey pole to the top. When the results of the survey were compiled a height of over 23,000ft. was allocated to Shilla, making it the highest peak in what was to become Himachal Pradesh. It was not until Jim Roberts ( of Mountain Travel fame) climbed a nearby peak in 1939 that doubts were expressed as to its height and, even now, some maps still show this modest peak at its original given height of over 23,000ft.
A number of unclimbed 6,000m. peaks remain to be climbed, some in the eastern area but many also rising above the western valleys of Khamengar, Debsa, Gyundi and Ratang.
There are no local professional mountaineering porters and it can be difficult to hire reliable villagers at a reasonable rate. It is therefore advisable to bring porters from outside, principally from Manali.
The best book on the area is Harish Kapadia’s Spiti, Adventures in the Trans-Himalaya ISBN 81-7387-093-4, which quotes most of the relevant sources.
Leader: Paddy O’Leary, 65.
Forty seven years mountaineering experience. Alpine experience in France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. Over thirty winter weeks in Scotland. Led first Irish Himalayan Expedition (also an IMC expedition) in 1964 to Rakaposhi; led expedition to Peru in 1968 and was on summit team to make first ascent of Chainapuerto, 18990ft. In 1970’s climbed in Kenya and Ruwenzori in Zaire.
Led climbing/trekking trips to Nepal (Rolwaling region) in early 1980s which climbed Parchamo, 21,000 ft. and Ramdung19,000ft besides two crossing of Tasi Lapcha. Two expeditions to Garwhal (1989 ,1991) which made unsuccessful attempts on Jaonli c.21,000ft. Bogda Ola range in Xinkiang in 1995 where a number of first ascents were achieved.
Climbed c.18,500 ft. peak in Garwhal in 1993.
Trekked extensively throughout Himachal Pradesh, crossing many passes of 4000 and 5000 metres. Has also trekked elsewhere in Nepal, in Tibet, Australia and United States besides rock climbing in latter two countries. Former Director, Tiglin National Adventure Centre.
Séamus O’Hanlon, 58.
Hillwalking for many years in Ireland and U.K. Rock climbing for ten years . Has engaged in winter climbing in Scotland. Has made a number of alpine ascents including that of the Matterhorn. Reached 6,500 metres on attempt to reach summit of Aconcagua. One of Ireland’s best-known cyclists, Se was the winner of the Ras Tailteann on four occasions. He runs his own cycle wholesale business.
Conor Burns, 27.
Twelve years climbing experience in Ireland and U.K. Alpine experience in France and Switzerland. Currently engaged in the development of crags in the west of Ireland. Conor is a surveyor.
Brian Geraghty, 26.
Brian has had two alpine trips to the Ailefroide area of France. Three Scottish winter weeks to Glencoe and Ben Nevis.. Extensive rock climbing and hill walking in Ireland. He is a broadcast engineer.
Colm Owens, 27
Extensive rock climbing and hillwalking in Ireland. Three alpine trips to the ailefroide area of France. Three Scottish winter weeks. Colm is an accountant.
Hugh Reynolds, 36.
Mountaineering in Ireland and U.K. for six years. Has climbed in French and Swiss alps where he made a number of ascents including ordinary route on the Eiger. He also has Scottish winter experience. Hugh is a mechanical engineer.
By Hugh Reynolds
The team brought practically all the climbing and high mountain equipment they thought they would need from Ireland. This included ropes, climbing gear and three high altitude 2 man tents. A full list of the gear brought by the team is given below. Additional equipment was hired from the IMF and from an agency in Delhi. The team purchased twenty gas cylinders and hired snow stakes and spare crampons from the IMF. Two army style ridge tents were hired from the agency, one acted as the mess and storage tent and the second the cook tent, three two man tents were also hired for base camp. For the most part the team had judged the type and quantity of gear required for the expedition reasonably well. In the event neither the snow stakes or crampons hired from the IMF were required. The team had brought twelve ice screws in total whereas a total of about thirty or ten per climbing party would have been better.
|IRISH MOUNTAINEERING CLUB
HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION 2000 TO KANGLA TARBO
|High Altitude Tents – 2 Man
Base Camp Tents – 2 Man
Heavy duty kit bag with locks
Table (Lightweight plastic)
Collapsable lge water bottle
Lightweight cooking sets
Cooking spoon & ladle
Containers for water
Containers for fuel
Matches & disposable lighters
Miscellaneous cooking equipment
|First aid kit
Harness with ice axe holster
50m (9mm) Rope
50m (11mm) Rope
Dead mans belay
Technical Axes (pairs)
|Ripstop fabric tape
Extra tent poles or splices
Patch kit for inflatable mats
|Spare ice axe
Spare crampons (pair)
|Shell jacket – wind & waterproof
Shell pants – wind & waterproof
Gaiters – Yeti Type
Warm Hat – Wool/fleece
Thermal Underwear – expedition weight
4 season sleeping bag
Good mattress – full length
Goretex bivvy bag
Head torch with spare batteries
"mug, plate, cutlery, penknife, lighters "
Personal first aid kit
Sum cream & lip balsm
Pair of telescopic ski sticks
|* Indicates items purchased or hired in India. All other items were brought from Ireland.
Each member brought from Ireland four packaged meals (Knorr, Wayfarer) as high altitude rations. All other food was bought in India; some in Delhi where chocolate and various western delicacies are available in some shops and the rest was purchased, with advice from our two cooks, in Manali and Kaza. The cooks and Liaison Officer were very helpful in the purchase of such things as flour, lentils, rice, paraffin for stoves etc. The cooks prepared all meals at Base Camp on paraffin stoves of local make. Above base cooking was done mainly on gas stoves ( butane cylinders – but not propane -buthane available from IMF) and on one MSR stove. Gas is more convenient but unless IMF obtain propane/buthane then it is probably better to use MSR stoves or somehow bring suitable gas from home ( a little difficult on most airlines).
If we had brought more packaged meals it might have been possible for all six members to stay longer at high camp and thus reach summit.
|Admin. in Ireland
|Gear and hire
|Porters and buses
|Tips, taxis etc.
|To Expedition Fund for IMC members.
- Indian Mountaineering Foundation
6 Benito Juarez Rd. New Delhi 110-021, India
- Quest Trekking and Travel Agency.
- Rashpan Adventure Tours (Trekking Agency)
P.O.Box 106, Manali, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India.
Tel. Manali 175131.
- Mike Westmacott, Alpine Club Library
55 Charlotte Rd. London EC2A 3QT, U.K.
(For list of Himalayan peaks and their status)
- Harish Kapadia
72 Vijay Apts. 16 Carmichael Rd. Mumbai 400026, India.
(For general information on Indian peaks, expeditions up-dates)
- Paddy O’Leary
- Sé O’Hanlon
- Irish Embassy, Delhi
The team would like to thank the following individuals, organisations and firms who donated cash or equipment or who helped us in our preparation.
- John Bourke
- Liam and Hazel Convery
- Sinead Geraghty
- Harish Kapadia
- Jim Leonard
- Joss Lynam
- Michael Mulally
- Mike Scott
- Mike Westmacott( Alpine Club)
- Bord na Mona
- Great Outdoors
- Lowe Alpine
- J.S. Tobin Engineeing
- Irish Mountaineering Club
- Mountaineering Council of Ireland
- Irish Himalayan Trust