50 Years Ago, 3 Women Summited A 20,000-Foot Peak. 2 Never Returned

The three younger mountaineers from Kolkata summited the height on August 21, 1970

New Delhi:

Fifty years in the past, three ladies from Kolkata – Sujaya Guha, Sudipta Sengupta and Kamala Saha – reached the summit of a 20,130-foot peak within the Lahaul area of Himachal Pradesh. This had by no means been climbed earlier than.

They named the height ‘Lalana’, which implies ‘lady’ in Bengali.

On August 26, 1970, 5 days after they summited ‘Lalana’, Ms Guha and Ms Saha have been lifeless, swept away by the frigid, fast-flowing waters of a high-altitude stream fed by 5 glaciers. One other member of the staff, Shefali Chakraborty, was fortunate – she bought caught on a boulder and managed to stroll away. Ms Guha’s physique was finally discovered however Kamala was misplaced endlessly.

Triumph had given approach to tragedy.

“It was a nightmarish expertise,” says 74 year-old Sudipta Sengupta, the one surviving summiteer from the expedition. “We have been all making ready to return dwelling. We have been headed to Batal to ship the primary telegram to let the world know that we had achieved this.” The staff had damaged into two. “We had hoped that the 2 would attain Batal. I used to be given the cost of becoming a member of them the subsequent day after packing up the bottom camp,” says Ms Sengupta. “We have been sitting outdoors in the dead of night, hoping for the mules to come back. Immediately one of many porters arrived and advised us, ‘Chief didi mar gayi‘. He was breathless and stated he could not discover the others. We have been surprised.” 

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‘Lalana’ has by no means been efficiently summited since

50 years later, nobody has managed to summit ‘Lalana’. The final try, in 2018, needed to be known as off. A number of crevasses alongside the route, a prolonged route requiring rope-fixing and heavy shops meant that this try needed to be known as off with the climbers returning to the Base Camp.

“In 2018, an try was made,” says Ms Sengupta. “They could not cross past 18,000 ft due to the crevasses. They stated they needed to come back again to make one other try.”

On August 5, 1970, the all-women expedition with six climbers and high-altitude porters set off from Manali the place that they had spent practically every week checking out their tools, rations and equipment. They crossed the Rohtang Go, trekked as much as 10,800 ft to achieve Chhota Dara at 12,100 ft. After crossing the Chandra River, they arrange base camp at 12,700 ft, positioned Northeast of the Bara Shigri glacier. 

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All the expedition staff that tried to climb ‘Lalana’ in 1970

Regardless of climate turning worse, the staff determined to maneuver on to their Advance Base Camps with the ultimate camp positioned at an altitude of 13,700 ft. 

“Due to the poor climate and excessive winds, we discovered ourselves in a scenario the place boulders appeared to be falling all night time.”

On Independence Day, 1970, the porters managed to hold up provides to Camp 1 at a peak of 16,100 ft following which the stage was set for the ultimate try, one that might see the climbers encounter close to vertical partitions of ice which they needed to traverse alongside a 70 diploma slope by slicing steps into the ice.

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The crevasses main as much as ‘Lalana’ peak

On August 18, as they set out from Camp 1 to determine Camp 2, the six climbers discovered the route forward of them criss-crossed with crevasses, the smaller ones coated with snow and very treacherous.

“If snow falls on the broader crevasses, it goes in and we will detect their presence. Nonetheless, the small ones are at all times coated by layers of sentimental snow, significantly if the climate is unhealthy. Typically, it’s unimaginable to know the place they’re. These will be deadly.” 

Organising Camp 2 at a peak of 17,000 ft proved to be daunting. Discovering no appropriate cease, the staff arrange the camp in between two massive crevasses, inside a hall which was barely enough for the width of a two-person tent. The location itself was on the fringe of a rock wall. “We pitched two tents going through one another and dared no emerge out of them with out tying up ourselves,” wrote Ms Sengupta in her report of the expedition.

By August 19, it turned clear {that a} determination wanted to be taken. Decided to succeed regardless of the overwhelming odds, the staff got down to arrange Camp three at 18,000 ft by the aspect of a giant ice scarp.

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Troublesome, close to vertical icy-walls needed to be climbed to get to ‘Lalana’

August 19 was additionally Ms Sengupta’s second of fact – loss of life appeared a definite risk. “I broke right into a snow-covered crevasse,” she wrote within the mountaineering journal, Himavanta. “Dangling on the rope I might guess quite than see the bottomless pit, darkish and menacing, staring up at me.” However Ms Sengupta was fortunate. “Happily, my rucksack bought caught and I used to be pulled up by Sujayadi and Gyalchhen (one of many porters).”

On August 20, 1970, the ultimate camp web site earlier than the assault on the height was struck by heavy winds. It began snowing closely. The climbers stayed of their tents getting set for his or her now or by no means second.

On August 21, tea and cashew nuts have been served at 2 am. “At four am, we left Camp three on two ropes for the ultimate assault.”

The climb was arduous – nearly unimaginable at levels. “At 5:30 am, we have been confronted with a steep ice face with uncovered arduous ice, which was additionally an avalanche level.” The climbers have been now at 18,373 ft, negotiating rocks and ice on a close to vertical rock-face. 

Each step appeared an accomplishment within the rarified ambiance. “For the 5 years earlier than 1970, I began to going to mountains. I used to be educated on the Himalayan Institute of Mountaineering in Darjeeling and the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi. Yearly, we have been going above 18,000 ft however we have been acclimatised however undoubtedly we had issues.”

The climate, luckily, was good – neither too sunny nor very cloudy. 

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The climbers had 5 set of 200-feet-long ropes on them

With barely 500 ft left for the summit, catastrophe nearly struck, as soon as once more. The climbers had used up all 5 lengths of fastened rope with them. Would this imply the top of the expedition, with victory seeming nicely inside attain?

“We had 5 ropes. Every one was 200 ft lengthy. The trail was so steep and the route was so unhealthy, that we could not go with out fastened rope. We needed to finally depend upon the rope that was linked to the three of us for help. And we by some means stored progressing.”

Lastly, at 10:30 am on August 21, 1970, the three summiteers together with three Sherpas made it to the highest.

“It was out of the world. From the highest, you would see 360 levels. It was lovely. We might see all of the glaciers coming down as frozen rivers, blue skies,” says Ms Sengupta. “It’s a pity I’ve no color footage. We sat there for one-and-a-half hours. We simply checked out the whole lot, surprised as we have been and taking in the whole lot round us.”

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The journey down from ‘Lalana’ was as robust because the climb

After 90 momentous minutes on the summit of the height that that they had named, it was time to get again – the journey down can be as robust because the climb to the highest. 

“On 22 August, Sujayadi sank right into a crevasse whereas on her approach to Camp 2.” Happily she was connected by a rope and was promptly rescued. Little did any members of the expedition think about, for a second, that Ms Guha can be lifeless only a day later.

Simply seven miles from their base camp on August 23, the staff members who have been to proceed to Batal after splitting up had a option to make – would they danger crossing a high-altitude rivulet. The 2 porters had managed with nice issue. Ms Guha, the staff chief, determined to go forward, main from the entrance.

“Hand-in-hand, they stepped into the water, Sujayadi main as typical, Kamala behind her and Shefali on the finish.” 

Then catastrophe struck.

“The one ice-axe which Shefali was carrying slipped from her palms. She herself slipped instantly thereafter and was carried away by the swirling waters.” Ms Chakraborty recovered, discovering herself caught between boulders near the financial institution about 50 ft from the place she had slipped. She pulled herself out of the water, looking out desperately for the opposite two ladies.

They have been nowhere to be discovered. 

The high-altitude porters, who had crossed, noticed a windproof jacket on the floor of the water. They rushed to the spot the place, tragically, they discovered the physique of Sujaya Guha, the team-leader.

The remainder of the staff was nonetheless on the base camp and phrase of the catastrophe reached them within the night. 

5 porters searched all night time. Kamala Saha was misplaced, her physique by no means recovered.

Sujaya Guha was cremated in her beloved mountains at Stindri, about three kilometres past Keylang. Her autopsy report stated she died of quick heart-failure, probably because of the shock of falling into the frigid waters.

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Sudipta Sengupta is the one surviving summiteer from the expedition

Requested how she determined to turn into a mountaineer greater than 50 years again, Ms Sengupta says, “These days, we by no means heard of rock-climbing.” The uncle of a pal headed the Himalayan affiliation and the primary rock-climbing programs began in Purulia.” 

Ms Sengupta, the deputy chief of the expedition, is the one surviving summiteer. She finally turned a structural geologist and was among the many first two ladies scientists to hitch the third Indian Antarctic Expedition in 1983. Her Bengali e-book ‘Antarctic’ stays a bestseller. 

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