Fifty years in the past, three girls 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 suggests ‘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 crew, Shefali Chakraborty, was fortunate – she acquired caught on a boulder and managed to stroll away. Ms Guha’s physique was finally discovered however Kamala was misplaced eternally.
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 getting ready to return residence. We have been headed to Batal to ship the primary telegram to let the world know that we had achieved this.” The crew 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 following day after packing up the bottom camp,” says Ms Sengupta. “We have been sitting exterior in the dead of night, hoping for the mules to return. Abruptly 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 shocked.”
50 years later, nobody has managed to summit ‘Lalana’. The final try, in 2018, needed to be referred to 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 referred to 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 toes due to the crevasses. They stated they needed to return 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 they’d spent practically per week finding out their gear, rations and equipment. They crossed the Rohtang Move, trekked as much as 10,800 toes to achieve Chhota Dara at 12,100 toes. After crossing the Chandra River, they arrange base camp at 12,700 toes, positioned Northeast of the Bara Shigri glacier.
Regardless of climate turning worse, the crew determined to maneuver on to their Advance Base Camps with the ultimate camp positioned at an altitude of 13,700 toes.
“Due to the poor climate and excessive winds, we discovered ourselves in a state of affairs 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 top of 16,100 toes 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.
On August 18, as they set out from Camp 1 to ascertain Camp 2, the six climbers discovered the route forward of them criss-crossed with crevasses, the smaller ones lined with snow and intensely treacherous.
“If snow falls on the broader crevasses, it goes in and we are able to detect their presence. Nevertheless, the small ones are all the time lined by layers of sentimental snow, notably if the climate is unhealthy. Typically, it’s unimaginable to know the place they’re. These could be deadly.”
Establishing Camp 2 at a top of 17,000 toes proved to be daunting. Discovering no appropriate cease, the crew arrange the camp in between two massive crevasses, inside a hall which was barely satisfactory for the width of a two-person tent. The positioning itself was on the fringe of a rock wall. “We pitched two tents dealing with 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 grew to become clear resolution wanted to be taken. Decided to succeed regardless of the overwhelming odds, the crew got down to arrange Camp three at 18,000 toes by the aspect of a giant ice scarp.
August 19 was additionally Ms Sengupta’s second of reality – dying appeared a definite risk. “I broke right into a snow-covered crevasse,” she wrote within the mountaineering journal, Himavanta. “Dangling on the rope I may guess somewhat than see the bottomless pit, darkish and menacing, staring up at me.” However Ms Sengupta was fortunate. “Luckily, my rucksack acquired caught and I used to be pulled up by Sujayadi and Gyalchhen (one of many porters).”
On August 20, 1970, the ultimate camp website 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 phases. “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 toes, 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 skilled on the Himalayan Institute of Mountaineering in Darjeeling and the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi. Yearly, we have been going above 18,000 toes however we have been acclimatised however undoubtedly we had issues.”
The climate, thankfully, was good – neither too sunny nor very cloudy.
With barely 500 toes 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 effectively inside attain?
“We had 5 ropes. Each was 200 toes 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 assist. And we one way or the other saved 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 can see 360 levels. It was stunning. We may see all of the glaciers coming down as frozen rivers, blue skies,” says Ms Sengupta. “It’s a pity I’ve no color photos. We sat there for one-and-a-half hours. We simply checked out all the things, shocked as we have been and taking in all the things round us.”
After 90 momentous minutes on the summit of the height that they’d 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.” Luckily 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 crew 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 crew chief, determined to go forward, main from the entrance.
“Hand-in-hand, they stepped into the water, Sujayadi main as traditional, 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 toes from the place she had slipped. She pulled herself out of the water, looking desperately for the opposite two girls.
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 crew 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 fast heart-failure, probably as a result of shock of falling into the frigid waters.
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 good friend 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 grew to become a structural geologist and was among the many first two girls scientists to affix the third Indian Antarctic Expedition in 1983. Her Bengali e-book ‘Antarctic’ stays a bestseller.