Traill's Pass : An Unsuccessful Attempt
A less Explored pass in Kumaon Himalayas.An inside view of an attempt to cross the infamous Traill’s Pass
Some say it is a high adventure at cloud’s end,
Some say it is an adventure of few madmen,
Some say it is a pass only for the mountaineer.
From my personal experience, I can vouch for everything written above. Yes, it is Traill’s pass also known as Pindari Kanda. Altitude wise it is nothing compared to Himalayan giants we have in Uttarakhand, standing at 5312m.
If anyone starts to visit the history of Traill’s pass they will know how treacherous it was back then, and I will guide you through how treacherous it is now.
It is situated at the end of Pindari Glacier and links the Pindari valley to Milam Valley (Lawan Gad). The pass was reached in 1830 by G.W. Traill, the first British Deputy Commissioner of Kumaon division. In 1926, it was crossed by Hugh Ruttledge. Since 1830 more than 86 teams have attempted but only 14 teams have succeeded to cross this silent beast. Peaks that can be seen from here are Nanda Devi (7816 m), Nanda Devi East (7434 m), Changuch (6322 m), Nanda Kot (6861 m), Nanda khat (6611 m) and Panwali Dwar (6663 m)
After spending long time planning, getting a permit (from IMF) the scheduled date was 20th May. It had 5 members including me. Other members are Viswanath, Solo Sathya, Manju, and Vignesh. All of them have summited six thousanders before and have expertise in high altitude terrain.
After reaching Kathgodam we met each other there and proceeded to Bagheswar, the temple city of Uttarakhand, situated in the confluence of Sarju and Gomti river. We had to divide the gear and sort out ration for the upcoming days.
Next day our lead guide (Sovendra) and 4 high altitude porters joined us with the remaining climbing gears like snow bar, rock piton, harness, carabiners, rope etc. and we proceeded to the last motorable place called Kharkiya. The road is barely constructed and the journey was painful. Midway through it started to pour heavily so we abandoned our plan to reach that village which is a 5 km climb above. We can see snowfall happening to far bugyals / meadows.
The next morning we decided to double-time it to reach a place on the banks of the Pindari river called Dwali. It was a moderate climb through well-made trails but it was completely rocky so, it was tiring our legs quickly. I decided to move ahead of them and in the process, I lost the actual trail and went into another one. Instead of going down the river, I climbed back up top. When I actually found the mistake I had to descend through a rockfall zone. Tired and wet. I reached Dwali ahead of some of our members. The area became a rockfall zone due to the flash flood and other natural disasters that happened in the last 3-4 years.
Again on the next day, we decided to double time and reach Base camp (3500m). After crossing Dwali a steep climb is there for 6km and you reach an open gorge of Pindari river. The landscape changes drastically in a couple of km. It is now harsh with scattered ice and you can see Mt. Changuch looming over the sky in front of you. A breathtaking view that reduces all the fatigue. We crossed the river and made a small climb to the base camp, a small flat area that allows pitching approximately 10 tents there. Crossing the river was a scary experience. We had to cross it over a log that has a width of my Lowa boot. Nice view of Pindari glacier and gorge can be enjoyed from here.
The real challenge started the next morning. We went for the load ferry the next morning. From here to advance base camp has an elevation difference of approximately 700m. It was a very steep climb up and mixed with rock ribs and rock faces. The climbing up was very tiring with a load on the back and some time we had to use free climbing techniques using all our searching for some options about the best possible route to the top, we traversed narrow ridgelines and made to the top of the first ridge. The first surprise hit us there. According to the previous data, there was a glacier that connected the two adjacent ridges. But in recent years that glacier receded back and made the area scree filled rockfall zone and abrupt wild water streams. Storm clouds started to roll in and we were unsure about the route ahead so, we dumped the load there, anchored it securely against brutal wind and descended back in a hailstorm.
The next morning one of our expedition members decided to go back down to civilization as he was injured and not feeling well. After spending some time with him we again pressed to the top and this time with a different route which was more tiring but safer. Upon reaching the place where we dumped the load yesterday we decided to press on towards to C1. Suddenly a huge snowstorm hit us as we started our descent through the rockfall zone towards glacier bed. I thought that climb to the next ridgeline will be easier than the previous one. But astonishing me it was also a near-vertical climb of approx. 300m plus that too in this snowstorm. I looked back to the path which we came from and falling snow made it look that good that for a moment I forgot about the challenge ahead and thought I was in a winter paradise. It started to get pretty demanding as the visibility is getting lower and glasses are getting covered by snow. I pressed on without any word. It was a free climb using all limbs for support. Almost at the top of the ridge, I slipped a little on a rock face as I lost balance but fortunately was able to self arrest myself from falling down from the cliff. Unfortunately, that day was not over for me. Next was a narrow snow ridgeline traverse. I was very much exhausted by this time and one miss-step by me.
My entire life flashed in front of my eyes. I misjudged a step and slipped from the snow ridgeline into the gully below. I was able to self arrest myself by the ice axe after at least approx. 10 ft slide. Sovendra helped me back up to the traverse line. When I crossed ridge then only I realized what a close call it was. Had it be 25-30 odd ft more, there was a vertical drop into the below rocky glacier bed, a drop into the abyss. We made to the ABC or better call it as C1 (as we crossed the glacier)
When they asked Mallory about Mt.Everest, he just said only one line “because it’s there”.For me, this was very motivating to climb and there are breathtaking views as a reward that itches your heart for a lifetime. After the snowstorm lifted out, C1 looked like a magical land. Series of known and unknown six thousanders looming in the skyline.
The next 2 days were spent by load ferrying from the bottom ridge to upper intermediate camp and opening the route. Weather is miserable constantly. Till now the weather has bombarded us with everything she has in her arsenal, battering hailstorm, snowstorm, eye-blinding whiteout. And the constant sound of massive avalanches in the adjacent Changuch ice fall and West face kept reminding us about the gravity of the situation.
After two days, we started to push towards the C2. It’s a very steep climb in rock faces and snow ridgelines.
Within one hour weather turned her face towards us. Again a snowstorm and whiteout encircled us. Because of constant snowfall for the last couple of days, it was more than my knee height. In this condition climbing up with heavy gear on back at 5000m is too much 10-15 m I had to stop to catch a breath. Under heavy snowfall, we reached the C2 and can see the massive wall just ahead of us, the biggest crux of the route.
After the weather cleared the peaks are now just a touch away from us. Practically you can summit Mount Baeljuri (approx 5800m) within 3-4 hrs by crossing an avalanche-prone wide gully.
Some of our team members decided to go ahead with rope fixing on the wall today itself. I did not join as I was not the most suitable person for the task and my right-hand fingers were exposed to frost for a substantial time during climb towards C1. When we are started sorting out technical gear, rope, bars, and pitons a massive snowstorm rolled in. But these iron man’s pushed ahead. I followed them for some distance and then they vanished from the eye. I took refuge in my tent as fiery snowfall and wind-battered me.
After waiting for some hours for Storm to lift out I was able to see one figure in the gully on the wall and my heart rejoiced. They have done it.
After all of them got back to the camp we heard the alarming news.
It is not possible to camp on top of the wall as the wind force is that high it can kill us within hours by exposure, it can rip the tents and we need at least 7000-grade gears to survive that. It is not possible to navigate the crevasses on a huge ice field and glacier ahead. Even with roping up in a team of five, it is a daunting risk.
So, we decided to give it another try tomorrow. Tomorrow morning weather again engulfed us with whiteout after brief sunshine. We went towards the wall again and came back. After some discussion, we abandoned out expedition attempts to go ahead as we can not wait anymore for a stormy weather window to lift as our rations are diminishing quickly. It is time to go back to C1.
After some hours we made to C1. Another snowstorm rolled in. It snowed for more than 12 hours constantly. We were not able to open our tents as it went under the snow. The world became uni color next morning, only white is color there and it increases the chance of snow blindness.
It is time for the hard task again. Descend down the rock ribs again and in snowfall too. Ropes were fixed on the go again. We made it to the bottom of the rock rib by rappelling down. Then it was time to get down the next ridge after crossing the glacier bed. It was snow on top of wild grass on a rock, a deadly combination. It gets stuck under your boot and gives you literally zero traction. I got down somehow after slipping and falling a couple of times and reached BC. I felt relieved as well as heartbroken here.
Now we are homebound started towards kharkiya and reached there 2 days. Tired, bruised, heartbroken, wet but increased thirst for crossing the pass in the coming years.
As Stated by famous climber Ed Viesturs “Getting to the top is optional. Getting back down is mandatory”. One should always be very aware of the environment he/she is in, the summit will always be there but you may not get another chance depending on the decisions you make now.
Members: Vignesh, Manjunath BS, Abhirup Bose, Vishwanath (Leader & Organiser) & Sathya (Dy. Leader)
Staff : Sovendra Panwar (Guide), Rajbir (HAP), Kritam (HAP), Rajesh ( HAP), Rawat ( HAP), Dev Singh (cook)
I want to extend my gratitude towards all the people who have climbed alongside me in those inhospitable conditions. A special thanks go to Viswanath. He practically single-handedly arranged all the things, from permits to technical gear to logistics. He is a freelance Trekker, climber with numerous achievements in multiple countries and also runs an adventure consultancy organization named Summiters. A top-notch professional in his field.