Report of the 1995 Gahrwal Himalayan Expedition.

Photo: The unclimbed face of Bhagaratti IV (left), and Bhagaratti III .

Our trip did not go according to plan. Silvo Karo and I arrived in Delhi on August 28 and proceeded to deal with the paperwork and preparation for our trip into the Gahrwal Himalaya, where we intended to attempt a big wall route on the west face of Bhagirathi IV and the Shark's Fin on Meru.

We had hired an agency, Rucksack Tours, to handle our expedition for US$900 per person. After 11 days in Delhi, we came to the realization that we had been taken by Rani Puri, the proprietor of Rucksack Tours. To make a long story short, Silvo had been blacklisted from climbing in India the year before due to misinformation Rani Puri had given him concerning his permit from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation which had caused a report to be filed to the Ministry of Home Affairs (with whom one must have approval before the IMF will issue a mountaineering permit) against Silvo. Even though Rani Puri was well aware that Silvo had been blacklisted (a letter dated April, 1995 had been sent from the IMF to Rucksack Tours stating such), she repeatedly told us that there would be no problem with the permit this year, it was only a matter of time. We finally realized that the main kickback to Rani Puri's corrupt scheme was to keep us put up in an expensive hotel for as long as possible. In final desperation I had it out with the Director of the IMF and the final answer was a unquestionable NO, I asked him, "What can we do without a permit, then?". He responded with a curt, "Go home." and walked away.

During the ensuing rickshaw ride in heavy monsoon rains with our morale quite subdued, we made the decision to get our money back from Rucksack Tours (they refused to return $200) and sneak into the mountains regardless of the consequences. After traveling to Uttar-Kashi, buying provisions, and hiring porters, we made our way to Gangotri where we began our trek into the mountains and set up Basecamp at Nandanban ("Place of Heaven") at 14,500' on September 12. During the next week we acclimatized and carried 3 -4 loads each to our advanced base camp at the foot of Bhagirathi IV at 16,000'.

During this time, several other expeditions were attempting peaks from Nandanban. There was a Korean team who had a member die in an avalanche on Bhagirathi II. Two Indian teams were there, including a Bengali team who were eventually successful in both summiting Bhagirathi II and making a huge mess at basecamp. On September 15 or 16 a Canadian team showed up whose goal was to climb the Scottish Pillar on Bhagirathi III, a route which shared the same advanced basecamp (ABC) as ours. Each of these teams were official and had a bona-fide permit from the IMF, and therefore, had a Liaison Officer camping with them. The L.O.'s job is to maintain law and order in the mountains.

Our presence was questioned frequently. We explained that we were trekking. By and by, various liaison officers who came by our camp recognized us as the two who spent days and days in the IMF office trying unsuccessfully to get a permit. India has strict penalties for disregard of the law and since we were obviously did not have a permit to climb, what were we doing there day after day? Trekkers generally moved camp more frequently. In India, if the answer is no, people are expected to take it as that and not ask further questions.

So it became clear to us that our intentions were obvious. In addition, I had hurt my lower back while building a rock wall of our kitchen at basecamp and was having trouble carrying 20 kg loads from our ABC to the base of the wall. On September 20 we were ready to commit to the wall and began our final approach to our ABC. As we left Nandanban we passed the Bengali team who became suspicious and followed us.

I then made the call not to go for it. Silvo agreed, as if we had continued past ABC we would surely have seen trouble with the Indian authorities. We spent the next few days bringing our 150 kg of equipment and food down from ABC. We then cleaned up our basecamp at Nandanban, hired 3 porters, and crossed the Gangotri glacier with our gear and set up a new basecamp at Topovan ("Place of meditation), right next to our American friends, Steve Quinlan and Dave Anderson, who were getting poised for their ascent of B.IV. We gave them some of our extra equipment. We now planned to climb a 500 meter rock buttress at the base of the south side of Shivling. We believed it to be within the rules of trekking, and it seemed like a worthy project. We also considered sneaking up the Meru glacier for a crack at the Shark's Fin.

After a few days at Topovan, a group of 4 military men came to our site and demanded papers. It then became very clear that we were not receiving a very warm welcome to the area, so we left, frustrated, on September 26. Silvo left for Delhi immediately, but I spent 4 days in Uttar-Kashi, cragging with the local chaps at Mt Support.

In Delhi, I spent 12 hours at the airport and luckily found and excellent Nepali chess player to pass the time with (he beat me soundly 2 out of 3 games). On October 2 I returned to my house in Hurricane, Utah at 3:00 am after 30 hours of traveling 1/2 way around the world. Though we were denied a climbing adventure, the trip was a once-in-a- lifetime experience and is etched upon my mind. Many thanks to my sponsors who made it possible.

-John Middendorf