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Adventures of Anindya Mukherjee

Mountaineering in Indian Himalaya



Mount Manirang: The Jewel Within

Mount Manirang the Highest peak in Spiti, Himachal Pradesh

Success brings satisfaction to some but for some it is an appetizer! An appetizer for more adventure!


After our success in Dharamsura (2004) and Mana NW (2005), our climbers were looking for another mountaineering challenge. The ecstasy experienced on top of Dharamsura was tested harshly on Mana NW. But we succeeded nevertheless. And as success brings confidence and positive motivation; there we were planning to climb Mount Manirang (6593m), the highest mountain in the Western Catchments of Spiti-Sutlej, Himachal Pradesh in 2006. We were a group of 12 from our mountaineering club “Summiters”. 


Looking Back: Attempts and Ascents


As we browsed through old magazines and mountaineering journals, we came across several accounts of attempts and ascents on Mount Manirang over the past 5 decades. In 1952, the mountain was first climbed by a party led by Dr. In 1986, Arun Samant and M.H.Contractor approached from Ropa valley and climbed peak 5888 (also called Manirang South). In 1988(May-June), a team led by Ashwin Jogelkar attempted the mountain. The expedition suffered terrible weather conditions; but they managed to reach up to 6200m. Later in the same year of 1988(July), A Paratroopers Expedition led by Lt Col B.S.Sandhu climbed Manirang by its SW ridge. In July, 1994, the mountain was climbed again by its SW ridge by Paul Nunn and D.Muni.


In July, 2006, when we decided to go for this prized peak, we were eager to do a new route on the mountain. The idea of climbing by the South Ridge roused our interest. Climbing Manirang by its South ridge for the very first time seemed a worthy challenge. But we always wondered about the conditions of the final rock pyramid of 200m waiting at the top. All the previous accounts lacked pictures and/or description of the summit rock pyramid. By climbing SW ridge they could avoid the rock pyramid partly. But our route by the South Ridge will lead us straight to its foot! We were ready and so was the mountain! 


To Kaza from Kolkata


July 1, 2006.The train ride to Chandigarh was not pleasant. The horrible heat was killing us. But soon as we drove the winding roads up the mountains; our agonies eased with lush greenery and cool comfort. July 3, 2006, after a long and tiring drive we reached Manali. The following day was a busy day for all the 11 team members. It was day for procuring expedition ration, hiring some climbing gears and so many last minute odd jobs like packing and repacking! We also hired Kishore Gurung, our kitchen helper for this Expedition. July 5, 2006, another long bus ride across Rohtang La and Kunzom La brought us to Kaza. 


Kaza to Base Camp


Next morning we drove to the village Mane (3500m). We were greeted by the villagers with the expression “Juley!” This reminded us of the influence of Tibetan language in the local dialect. We were welcomed to stay at one of the village houses and our host was a real gentleman. With great help from our host we managed to hire 10 donkeys to drop our loads in Sopana (4580m).Enriched by information gathered from the villagers we decided to establish our base camp in Sopana, instead of Yong Lake (4100m).On July 7, 2006, we started trekking towards Yong Lake and made a Transit Camp there. It was a glorious afternoon in Transit Camp. We had a grand view of our mountain Manirang with Yong Lake in the fore ground. July 8, 2006, we moved onwards and upwards and after a 4 hour hike we reached Sopana, our Base Camp at 4580m.


Toiling up to the Pass: Base to Camp 2


After two days of load ferries, on July 11, 2006, we could occupy Camp 1.The place is called Sojana by the locals and is at an altitude of 5150m.Next day we all carried heavy loads and we were on top of Manirang Pass (5580m).Camp 2 was established on Manirang Pass. A ferry to the Camp 3 (summit Camp) was made on the same day by our climbing Sherpas.


July 12, 2006, Rabin, Arupam, Anindya (Raja), Aloke, Achintya, Amitava, Pasang, and Nima Sherpa settled themselves in a very windy Camp 2.The sunset was vibrantly colorful. All night long violent wind raged outside giving us an uneasy feeling even as we tried to sleep. Harish Kapadia had called Manirang “a mountain of surprises”. We wondered what surprise it had in store for us! 


Manirang by the South Ridge


The route to camp 3 from the camp at Manirang Pass was a trudge up loose reddish scree. It looked all so different from what I have seen in the pictures taken by Arun Samant from Peak 5888m (Indian Mountaineer Number 18/Autumn 1986). Our mountain was devoid of any of the soft, modest snow covered exterior look. Instead it looked barren, naked and desolate. A typical Spiti feature indeed!


Within about an hour of uphill struggle from the Pass Camp (camp 2) we covered about 200m and reached a shelf where Pasang Phutar, our climbing Sherpa had dumped some food and gears the previous day. The place looked sheltered enough from the falling debris from the rock step above us; and we decided to pitch tents for our summit camp there. The Altimeter reading was 5736m.It was July 13, 2006.


We had a brilliant sunset from camp 3 that day. Great views of the Spiti river valley, peaks beyond Kaza towards NW. Shigri Parvat and other peaks of the Bara Shigri Glacier complex were dominating the Western Horizon. To our SW were Manirang Pass and Peak 5888 and other lesser peaks. To our South and SE were the Ropa Valley peaks. To our dismay and sometimes irritation the Ropa Valley always managed to cook up with bad weather for us for the following night and next couple of days.


The wind turned in to gale on the July 14.One of the two tents that we had managed to pitch the earlier day; had given up. Its occupants had a sleepless night holding on to the frail fibre poles that gave away to Ropa Valley wind. They looked tortured, twisted and the tent had to be “retired hurt” (as they say in Cricket)!


A bit of strategy meeting was done and a new tent was brought up from the Pass Camp later that afternoon. But it was a smaller 2 person tent. As a consequence Achintya and Aloke had to sacrifice their summit attempt. Lack of space, the acute problem in the metro cities prevailed in this high altitude and dictated win over our plans. Achintya and Aloke went down to the Pass Camp, and moved further down to Camp 1 along with Rabin the same day.


However, this new tent survived the trying winds of Ropa and so did our chances of summiting Mount Manirang!


A bid for the summit had yet to be abandoned on July 15 as the wind was getting ever stronger. We had to be patient in order to have a calmer summit day.


July 16, 2006.  We woke up to a cold, but calm morning. It was now or never! We all got dressed and started for the summit at 6.30 A.M. Pasang, Nima, Arupam, Amitava and Anindya (Raja); all five of us silently pressed along the initial scree slope and soon hit the first rock step.


The Wet Rock Step


The first impression of the rock step was its dampness. And soon it revealed its dangerously exfoliating character. Loose, shooting stones and pebbles soon complicated the uphill affair. The dodgy verglass section of the rock step was avoidable though.90 long minutes later we were on the crest of the damp, brittle rock step. The first glimpse of snow on ice was welcome! We were glad to strap on our crampons.


The Ice Field


The snow and ice slope was in perfect condition for a comfortable crampon movement upwards. Though Pasang had fixed some ropes on some exposed sections of this Ice field; it was not yet necessary to clip our jumars on to the relative safety of the rope. We moved confidently upwards towards our right and gradually gained the South ridge of Manirang. The horizon to the East opened up and we had the first glimpse of the mountain ranges stretching far and beyond. We could identify Leo Pargial (6791m) distinctly.


The summit pyramid looked very close. “It should not take us more than 5 hours to reach the top”, we thought. The rock structure that formed the summit of Manirang did not agree with us though! 3 hours passed and we were still not able to reach the foot of the rock pyramid! Looks can really be deceptive! The edge of the South ridge posed a big cornice towards Ropa. We traversed a bit toward our left, more to centre of the slope.


11 A.M. we were now looking straight up at the rock pyramid from its foot. We crossed three crevasses and then up the final ice chute. Ceaseless panting and front pointing brought us to the world of treacherous wet rocks again. Only this time this is the summit pyramid. Altimeter read 6450m.Which meant we still had almost 200m of rotten rock tower to overcome and come back in one piece!


The final struggle: the tower of torment


Climbing the rotten rocks soon became struggle. The tricky verglass, the sudden gasp for air, the canon-balling rocks all became our foes. We felt naked and helpless sometimes without a climbing helmet! (Yes, we were climbing without helmets. Not because we could not afford them; but because we underestimated the mountain!)


 But we managed to overcome our worst nightmares and continued upwards. Then we noticed traces of a manila rope; weathered and torn under cracks and corners of the rock tower. So…we are not the first to go through this tower of torment! The manila rope looked really old. It must have been left by the 1952 South African Expedition.


3.30P.M. we reached the top of the rock tower feeling knackered but satisfied having made the much coveted summit of Manirang. Clouds crowded the horizon, mist hugged us. We still could see some of the mountains though. Looking North over the Lingti valley from right to left we could see Gya (6794m) peeping over Gyagar (6400m) in the foreground. A bit to the left we could see CCKN (6380m) and Shilla (6132m) range. To our NW spread the great river valley of Spiti and the green fields of Kaza were unmistakable. Further WNW was the Shigri Parvat and other peaks of the Kullu-Spiti divide; peaks above Parahio Nala and Pin Valley. The South ridge descended towards Manirang la. Peak 5888 and other lesser peaks seemed insignificant but in perfect harmony with the surroundings. To the East were so many peaks; Leo Pargial and Reo Pargial being the most distinctive of them.


We offered Puja to Manirang summit and decided to retrace our steps down almost 3000ft of fixed rope. While going up we had to fix some of our dynamic ropes along with static ropes that we had carried up. We removed and kept recovering the climbing ropes from the mountain.  Another 4 hours of patient agony and we were back in Camp 3.



The Journey Back Home


Returning Base Camp we learnt that on our summit day (July 16, 2006) Subrata and Manas had came up to Manirang Pass from Camp1 and had spotted us climbing down the South Ridge. July 18, 2006, we brought down the loads left in camp 1. All the loads were rearranged at Base. Next morning, donkeys arrived from Mane. By afternoon the whole team was down in Mane village. July, 20, 2006, we reached Kaza. A relaxed afternoon and a gala dinner followed. Spending the next two days at Manali, we boarded the train to Kolkata from Kalka on July 23, 2006 and were back in the heat and dust of our city on the morning of July 25. Monsoon rains welcomed us. Not a very nice way to welcome you home though!



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