The Doon School mountaineering expedition to Mt Kedar Dome(22,410 ft)
This expedition still holds the record for the highest successful students expedition
Down the ages, the Himalayas have attracted people from every corner of the world, irrespective of the age, religion and talent. The Himalayas are deep in our heart, deep in our culture and deep in our values. This great mountain is of great aesthetic values as well. Doscos are lucky to be associated with the greatness and loftiness of the Himalayas.
After going through the issues of ‘The Doon School Weekly’ and the history of adventure in India, I can authentically say that adventure is Doon’s specialty because the systems and traditions of the school, have been designed in such a way that every student comes closer to the environment, spends some time in the wilderness with his tutors or housemasters and learns about the mother nature. The spirit of adventure amongst Doscos had been inculcated by the great teachers like, Mr. Martyn, Mr. Holdsworth and Mr. Gibson which later was generated by Mr. Gurdial Singh, Mr. Hari Dang and many more and the sport became very popular in Doon . These pioneers really dedicated themselves fully, explored every part of Garhwal and found new horizons to achieve. We must not forget that those were the days when roads were not available, facilities were at a bare minimum but the interest and the will to do and carry on with adventure was at its fullest.
Mr JAK Martyn, Mr. JTM Gibson and Mr. Holdworth were the real pioneers to bring mountaineering on the Indian map. They along with Mr. Tenzing, as their guide, scaled many peaks in Garhwal and had many first to their credits. Holdy (Mr. Holdsworth) smoked a pipe on Mount Kamet and came down on skis. Guru (Mr. Gurudial Singh) took over from them and surpassed everyone and even led successfully India’s first Mountaineering expedition to Trishul, when they not only explored the inner Nanda Devi sanctuary but also climbed Trishul (7210M), Devsthan (6678M) and Mrigthuni (6855M) in 1951. “….As the HJ has pointed out on various occasions, it was Holdsworth, Martyn and Gibson who as School masters, introduced generations of Indian boys to mountaineering.” ( The Himalayan Journal, No 51-Aamir Ali). “…… Gibson attempted the Black Peak 20956ft (now known as Kala-nag now-a-days) with the 17year old Cheema and Pemba Sherpa.”
(The Himalayan Journal No. 52…… Aamir Ali)
As far the students were concerned, Nandu Jayal and Ravi Mathai were the first to be introduced to Arwa Glacier in 1942 under the guidance of Mr. Martyn and Mr. Holdsworth. Nalini Jayal, Cheema, Jagjit Singh, Suman Dubey, Sudhir Sahi, Alok Chandola and PM Das maintained this great tradition of the Doon and brought laurels to the sport. One can understand the role played by the Doon School, as its student Nandu Jayal became the first Principal of Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) where Mr. Tenzing , the first man to scale the highest peak of the world-Mount Everest, acted as the Field Training Director. Also Nalini flying over the mighty Himalayas and clicking the historical pictures of all the major peaks regarded as the most important document in the history of mountaineering.
Kedar-dome, a 22410ft. high mountain, is a towering peak in the Gangotri area and is almost south of Gomukh-the source of river Bhagirathi. If you happened to be camping at Nandanvan, base camp for peaks lying in Chaturangi glacier, Kedar-dome is the most prominent and fascinating one towards the south. I had seen this huge but beautiful mountain many a time between 1986 and 1991 and thought of its possibilities, which should be an ideal peak with a challenging height for the school boys. So during the
Jaonli expedition in 1996, this was a big question raised by most of the members, what next? Why not Kedar-dome next time, which should become the highest point by the Doscos, if climbed? So Kedar-dome was booked by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) in 1996. It was an ambitious plan, because twenty thousand feet or plus is a
challenging height for the immature climbers- the school boys. Considering the height and prevailing snow conditions on the mountain it was decided to proceed for the expedition on May 27, as we wanted to vacate the area before the monsoon hits this beautiful land of Garhwal, so my Headmaster Mr. JA Mason who remained an inspiration
throughout, readily accepted our request and we were on the move quite early in the morning of May 27, 1997 in a chartered bus to Uttarkashi. Uttarkashi has become a kind of pilgrimage for mountaineers or trekkers, because of the famous NIM (Nehru Institute of Mountaineering) providing every assistance and guidance to the enthusiastic adventurers. As we had already finalized and booked the mountaineering equipment needed for the expedition with the NIM authorities, they were prompt enough to deliver us the appropriate gear. By the time we came down from NIM and settled with the porters, it was taken as a wise decision to spend the night at Uttarkashi, start very early for Gangotri and start our trek. It was comparatively a big group this time. There were eight boys, one girl, two teachers, five high altitude sherpas and a big barat of low altitude porters. Our trust worthy Vasudev and Man Singh were again ready to show another splendid performance during the expedition. After bye-passing Chirwasa, we reached Bhojwasa, enjoyed our stay in the so called police barracks and started moving for Tapovan on the morning of 29th May. Tapovan is a wonderful camping spot scattered from one corner to the other, in the base of the mighty Shiv-ling, and full of huge meadow –an ideal place for the base camp. The beauty of the area lies in the surrounding peaks which attract you always. To name a few Shivling, Meru-Parbat on the west, Kharcha-kund and Kedar-dome on the south, Bhagirathi group on the east and Sudarshan Parvat and Chaturbhuj on the north are there to attract you all the time. Not only this, even presence of ‘Simla baba’s Ashram’ was another attraction. From Bhojwasa we took a little over an hour to reach the left corner of Gangotri snout. We planed to offer our prayers to Gomukh- the only visible source of the great river Bhagirathi (known as the Ganges
after Dev-prayag) which was on our right. We were surprised to see a few saints taking bath right at the entrance of approximate 14000ft high Gomukh in the early hours of the day. We did wash our face, had few sips of the holy water and prayed for the success of the expedition.
Now we started ascending through the moraine of Gangotri glacier in a zig-zag way for almost 40-45 minutes, took a right turn towards the south-west, traversed the glacier and caught the scree wall connecting Tapovan’s meadows. I started recollecting experiences of my previous expeditions to Thelu in Rakt-varn glacier (1986), saife- Koteshwar in
Shwet-varn glacier(1987), Kalindi in Chaturangi glacier(1989), Bhagirathi-2 in Chaturangi glacier( 1991) and was wonder struck to find the changes in Gangotri and surrounding glaciers. It was much different, as the level of the Gangotri glacier has gone down drastically and the scree walls on the edges of the glacier are looking much bigger than ten years before. Might be the impact of excessive tourists on Gomukh, the big number of expeditions coming in this area or the impact caused because of the global worming but the changes were very alarming. I can’t forget 10th June, 1991 when after climbing Bhagirathi-2, while coming down I was standing right in the corner of Gangotri-glacier and watching Gomukh right below which was looking completely different that day, as huge blocks of solid ice played with the lives of big number of pilgrims a day before at the
entrance of Bhagirathi river, putting the environmentalists to think about the changes occurring in the Himalayas and its glaciers. We established Base Camp (BC) on May 30 at Khara Pathar, which was just a kilometer from Tapovan towards the Advance Camp. We didn’t even finish pitching our tents when we encountered the first snow fall,
indirectly the nature welcomed us and the members were delighted. These were the lovely moments enjoyed by the members, right in the first phase of the expedition but later became a routine and hardly gave us any enjoyment.
We were fortunate to meet Maharashtra climbers who had made to the top of Kedar-dome just a few days before. It was quite encouraging news for our members. After two days of load ferrying, Advance Base Camp (ABC) was established right at the lower end of Kirti-bamak (glacier) on 2nd June. The camp was more towards the right flank of medial moraine. From Khara-pathar we moved towards south-east, initially following the ridge, later came down on the Gangotri glacier after which followed the right side moraine till we reached Kirti-bamak. From ABC, Kedar-dome is towards south-east and looked quite accessible. The members were fascinated by its majestic presence. The
evening rays on the surrounding mountains presented a grand treat for all of us.
Kedar-dome lies on the left flank of Kirti glacier. One has to cross long ridge on the right side till one comes closer to the south side approach of the mighty Shiv-ling, negotiate Kirti bamak moraine diagonally for half an hour, after which negotiate long snow field till one comes closer to the base of Kedar-dome’s main ridge. We established our camp-1 on snow which the student members enjoyed a lot. Otherwise even this camp was ideally located from every angle. There was a decent snow slope towards the east and looked most suitable for training the members. After lunch almost two hours were dedicated to ‘front point climbing’, sliding and arresting one’s fall. Members loved sliding through carimats and controlling their speeds with the help of their ice-axes on snow. It was a real thrill and enjoyment of the highest order… waah… ! The competition of sliding amongst the members carried on for some time. Dr Shukla, Aparajita, Gaurav, Ashish, Siddharth, Ankan and Saurabh looked fit and full of confidence. Vamiq and Abhimanyu did have some acclimatization problems which we thought must be a temporary phase but surely they were improving gradually. It was encouraging that every member was busy thinking of Kedar-dome all the time, which looked easy and not very far, though we knew it wasn’t very close and even not easy to manage.
Camp-2 was established at a little higher point after the base of the main ridge of Kedar-dome, going down towards Bharte-kunde on 7th June which was roughly at an altitude of 18000ft. There was an arc of beautiful peaks all around- Kedar-dome and Kedarnath on the east, Bharte-kunde and Kirti-stambh on the south, Thalay Sagar and Brigu-panth were visible far away towards west presenting a fabulous scene. Bhagirathi group was giving ever green presence towards north. From this camp, Kedar-dome looked easy because of its long mild ridge but was tough considering the amount of heavy snow its main ridge had which would be the real test of our endurance. Considering the snow
conditions and the treacherous look of the mountain, most of the student members thought of climbing the mountain today itself but were advised to watch and see for another two days, as knee deep snow started showing its impact which is the specialty of this mountain. Camp-3 was established on 9th June. We could hardly reach our camp
site when ‘white out’ followed by heavy snow fall greeted us and forced us to lock ourselves into the tents till 5pm when the weather cleared up. It was just great to watch not only Kedar-dome but all other peaks ranging from north-east to north, north-west, west and south, as their tops were bathed with golden rays presenting a grand
scene which cannot be forgotten. Kedar-dome being our ultimate goal and its majestic look was always source of attraction. By 5pm Dr Shukla and Vasudev were sent to explore the next part of our climb. They went up to a considerable distance/altituded on the ridge. Their good work done paid us a big dividend the next morning, as we
followed their footsteps for almost forty to forty five minutes which saved our energy.
Leader’s tent hardly had any space as all the members were busy in a long discussion which carried on for quite sometime. Almost every body voted against putting up another camp. Vasudev strongly felt that the next camp, which can be named as Summit Camp, is not more than an hour from here and as per the reports of the previous expeditions we shouldn’t take more than 5-6hours from there. If we start very early from camp-3 and the weather favourable, we should manage summit within 8hours at the maximum. So why to establish another camp? Also we need to keep in mind the unpredictable weather which is always a challenge on this altitude. We must not also forget the remarkable physical conditioning of almost all the leading members. Let’s have a final trial from camp-3 itself. 10th June: We decided to start for the summit at 3am. Every member was fully ready with almost every gear, except the climbing shoes before retiring for the sleep. Dhan Bahadur, our high altitude cook, listened to our instructions carefully and he was on his job at 1.30am. Bed tea was served at 2am, breakfast of porridge was ready, a packet of dry fruits and chocolates was handed over to every
individual, hot water was filled in the water bottles and every item of the technical gear was properly checked before 3am. O God, the wind outside is playing a havoc and too risky to move. Considering the immature climbers- the school students, we planned to wait and there was a silent pause for quite some time which was broken around 3.30am
and we were on the move before 4am. We simply followed the foot prints left by Dr Shukla and Vasudev for forty to forty five minutes. There was a thin visibility all around.
Man Singh was leading the first phase of the climb which carried on till the first ray hit the mighty Kedar-dome and the surrounding peaks. It was the prettiest scene one can ever imagine when nature quietly pasted a message of hope all around through morning rays. We had our first rest for almost ten minutes at the point we thought of
establishing our summit camp. Till this point we never even felt like ‘roping up’ because it was completely a safe climb and the snow little hard.
Considering safety, members were roped up and the progress slowed down a bit because there needed a perfect rhythm of movement between everyone. Anyone taking a step slow means putting a big question on other’s speed, but this was the safest to move on the mountain. We were neither moving on the extreme left nor the right because on both the sides there was a cliff, pour over which might have put us into a difficult position. The middle path was the safest and the best to follow in life too. The climb looked easy and enjoyable till around 9am, as the snow conditions were not posing a big threat. By 11am, conditions changed drastically because of the heat and even clouds started coming from all around. We thought of not very far from our final goal but were mistaken. Now we started sinking in snow and the progress became just very slow but it didn’t make us lose confidence at any stage. Of course we were getting tired. Resting after every half an hour or so was inevitable. Around 11.30am we were forced to have a long break because of a strict warning given by white out. We had no option except to wait which is the safest way to encounter the unpredictable weather. We crossed over one dome, another dome and another big one but still the real dome was a dreamland. After the second white out, we found the peak not very far and quite within our reach. Members were a little dejected before the second white out but were full of enthusiasm after the clearance as we were moving in the right direction. Now there was an ice wall visible towards the left side and a little towards the left of this ice-wall, was a ridge rising towards the main peak Kedar-dome. We planned to go closer to the right side of the wall which wasn’t very high, go straight and hit the ridge rising from almost north to the south and the summit.
Vasudev and Ashish were in the leading group. The slope eased out after catching the ridge. The weather wasn’t very encouraging but we were clear in our direction and the ultimate goal. We took around 50minutes with a slow but steady pace to the peak. The white out still carried on though it wasn’t very thick. It was 3.25pm when the members
had happiest moments of their wonderful journey. They were on Kedar-dome after almost eleven hours of continuous stress and hard work.
It was great to watch Aparajita’s maiden attempt at such a young age. She was just 15years and ten months old gutsy girl of the Doon School. Gaurav, Ashish, Chandra Shekhar and Siddharth( boys of the Doon School) also had the credit of climbing their first big mountain and accomplishing such a great feat. It was also a great achievement for
Arvind, Vasu, Man Singh, Dhan Bahadur, Dr Shukla and me. We spent almost 20minutes on the peak worshipping the Almighty who provided us enough strength today. The record was created- a Doon School girl (15 years and 10 months of age, may be the youngest in the world) and the highest peak climbed by the students of the Doon School. Well done and keep the Doon flag flying. It took us a little more than three and a half hours to be back safely in camp-3. The coming down was also full of adventure, because for almost an hour we were moving in complete suspense, following faded foot-prints in another dense white-out. We even encountered a few crevasses safely and successfully and reached Camp-3. Return journey started the next day which carried on till Gangotri. At Gangotri every body was staring at us as we were unable to move our
steps steady. They thought we were drunk. Dr Shukla’s neighbor in the bus tried hard to change his seat, assuming that this gentleman had some serious infectious skin disease. He actually had sun burn for which the face’s skin was peeling off. The same was with other members who had to go through the similar agony but we were not bothered about this all, rather we were in a different world- the world of adventure, will power, aesthetic beauty and many more unknown worlds before us.
We cannot forget you Kedar-dome. You are great and greater is to think about you always in years to come.