Pune Everest Expedition 2012

Article By - Mr. Rupesh Khopade (Everest Summitter of Pune Everst 2012 )

The ascent of Everest always make a dramatic story; but when the Indian Expedition of 1965 put nine members atop the summit, the event made headlines around the world. Even after that, mountaineering did not take off to the extent it would have been in the Indian civilian society. Indians had to wait till next thirty three years to see Indian civil expedition to be successful on this mountain. In the due course of time Indian military services did lot of achievements in the field of mountaineering but very little came to the civilians’ way. Many mountaineering clubs were formed in various parts of India, but their achievements could not impress the nation to inspire the youth to pursue this as a serious sport.

Mountaineering is such a discipline of adventure sport which brings in lot of values to the human being and helps in character building of the nation. With a vision to bring the glory back to the sport and inspire the youth of our nation Giripremi set off on a two year long mission to repeat the history of 1965. But this time with a civilian expedition! The small team at Pune based mountaineering club under the leadership of Mr. Umesh Zirpe started promoting the expedition though various Medias available to gather the resources required for the expedition. Many joined in the way and offered the efforts to help this venture. Giripremi also took this as an opportunity to promote mountaineering. Slowly this became a movement of the city and the expedition was named after “Pune Everest 2012”.

The campaign was so successful that the entire media across the nation promoted this expedition. Indian government also took a note of it and on 19th March 2012 the honourable President of India Smt. Pratibhatai Patil flagged off the expedition and handed over the Indian tricolour to the team to hoist it at the top of the world. The team reached Kathmandu on 20th March. During the seven day long stay at Kathmandu the team gathered all the equipment and necessary resources for the expedition and carried out essential formalities required by the Nepal government.

On 27th March at dawn the team flied towards mountain. Reached Lukla (2850M). Soon we started our long journey towards base camp. To acclimatize better we had fifteen day plan to reach Everest base camp. Lukla – Phakding(2620m)1 – Namche Bazar(3440m)2 – Thame(3820m)4 –Khumjung(3790m)5 – Tengboche(3870m)6 – Dingboche(4530m)7 – Chukung(4750m)9 – Chukung Ri(5404m) – Island Base Camp11 – Island Summit (6189m)– Dingboche13 – Lobuche(4940m)14 – Gorakhshep(5164m) – Everest BaseCamp(5364m) 15. We reached base camp on 10th April.

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Trek Route to Everest Base Camp

 

Life at Everest Base Camp

Everest south base camp is a small village which come to existence every year at the beginning of April and will exists till first week of June. This is place for many climbers from around the world who come here every year with ambition to step a foot on the top of the world. Everest base camp is located at a stretch of more than 2km on the side of the Khumbu glacier, just below the Khumbu icefall. Our camp was approximately in the middle of this stretch. Here you will find most of the facilities required by the mountaineers to survive for a couple of month’s duration. There is no permanent structure at this base camp and hence everything operates out of the tents. Even a small medical help facility and a small photography exhibition on glacier research were hosted inside tents.

On 13th March we did puja of the mountain goddess. It is very important event in any expedition to this mountain. It was an auspicious beginning of our quest into the mountain. Our team consisted of twelve climbing members Anand Mali, Ashish Mane, Bhushan HarsheChetan KetkarGaneshMore, Krishna Dhokale, Prasad Joshi, Rahul YelangeRupesh KhopadeSachin Deng, Surendra Jalihal, and Tekraj Adhikari. The team of young enthusiastic mountaineers was led by veteran Mr. Umesh Zirpe. We all had completed our mountaineering education from the premier mountaineering institutes in India and with combined experience of more than 36 mountaineering expeditions in Kumao, Garhwal, Sikkim, Himachal and Leh region.

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The Team alongwith sherpas, enjoying dance at Basecamp after Puja ceremony

 

Into the Khumbu Glacier

Khumbu icefall! Incredible place on the earth. Perfect maze of huge boulders of ice and deep crevasses. Climbers use ladders to cross the crevasses and reach on top of the boulders. They have to mind every step at this place. Any wrong step and you will be at the bottom of crevasses. Nature also has few cards to play at you like avalanches and whiteout. Many climbers and sherpas have lost their lives before in this death zone.

Many of us had an experience of the icefalls before in our earlier expeditions. The hanging icefall after the summit camp of Mt. Shivling or the icefall before the plateau of the Mt. Nun and the icefall at summit camp of Mt. Jaonli are the prominent ones. But the experience of Khumbu is completely different. That too this year the route through the icefall was very close to the Lho-la face making it more exposed to the danger of avalanches roaring from the Everest shoulder. Climbing in the Khumbu icefall start from the base camp (5364m) and goes upto camp1 (6,100m). Almost 800m climb. The route through the Khumbu is different every season and even changes from start of the season towards end of the season. Depending upon the difficulty in the route and the ability of a climber, they can take between 3hrs to 6hrs time to cross the Khumbu.

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A Climber crossing a crevasse in Khumbu Icefall with the help of ladders

Opening and maintaining the route in the Khumbu icefall is mainly responsibility of Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee. There is a dedicated team of experienced climbers who put their efforts from April through end of May to correct the damage to the route due to avalanches and changes in the glacier due to melting. This year the team had put almost 32 ladders enroot.

 

Camp 1

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At 6100M Everest Camp1 is located above Khumbu icefall and at the base of western cwm also called as valley of silence. Camp1 is very unstable and dangerous place and climbers do not prefer to stay here. As part of height gain, we reached camp 1 first on 16th April. We started at 5am in the morning and reached to the camp 1 site at 10am. Many a times the route was very close to the Everest shoulder and hence exposed to the danger of avalanches roaring from there. We spent an hour there and returned to the basecamp.

On 18th April we again started towards camp1. This time we were going to spend a night at camp1 before returning to base camp. This time we started late from the basecamp and reached camp 1 at 12 Noon. We pitched eight tents. No kitchen tent. We cooked only noodles and liquid food using butane burners. On 19th April we went upto Camp 2 and returned to base camp.

 

The Avalanche

Our next effort on the mountain started at 3.00am on 27th April. The objective was to reach camp 3 and spend a night at camp 3 and return to the base camp. Camp 3 was the highest point in our expedition where we were supposed to survive without oxygen. We planned to use bottled oxygen above camp 3. Hence it was necessary to spend a night without bottled oxygen at camp 3 and return to the base camp for recovery, before the summit bid.

The plan was to start from basecamp and reach camp2 in one day, stay two nights at camp2 and then reach camp3. Since base camp to Camp2 is more than eight hours stretch we started early morning. It was very important to pass through Khumbu as early as possible. We were carrying all the camping gears hence we took around five hours to reach camp1. We decided to take break at Camp1 before proceeding for Camp 2. We had some energy bars and drinks.

From camp1 we headed towards Nuptse corner. After crossing a couple of humps Rinji (our Sherpa) was leading the way. Rinji got over another hump. We were half way through and stopped for a breath. Soon we heard a cracking sound from Nupste face. It was an avalanche. We had already witnessed hundreds of avalanches from Lhola face, Pumori and Nuptse face at Base Camp. Hence it was not a new thing for us. We were least bothered by the avalanche at that moment may be also because of the tiredness from past more than five hours climb. 

We saw our sherpa running ahead. He threw his rucksack ahead of a tent and laid himself next to the rucksacks. By then we were surprised to see the avalanche rushing towards us with tremendous pace. We followed the sherpa. In next moment the avalanche reached us. The snow was flowing with tremendous speed which threw off the tent in air. Now we were directly hit by snow blast. Few moments past by… we were like into the clouds, dense cloud of snow and ice particles. We held our breath to protect us from snow getting into our lungs. It lasted for more than a minute. Suddenly the moving mass slowed down and we realized that we survived the biggest avalanche in our lives.

Our glacier glasses were covered by thick layer of snow and ice. In fact we were fully covered by the snow. Except few hits of small pieces of ice on our backs we were safe.

We later came to know that the avalanche was so strong that it was been seen from the basecamp as well. Fortunately, everybody was safe except one cook who was on his way to camp2. He was thrown into the deep crevasse by strong blow of the avalanche. Soon rescue operation was launched; he was rescued by the team of Sherpas and evacuated by helicopter.  Later we got to know that the casualty had multiple fractures in his legs.

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Rescue operation after the avalanche

 

Camp 2

After half an hour we were back on our way to camp2. Soon we passed through the core area of the avalanche where we found debris of pieces of ice spread over at least a sq. mile. The ropes fixed on the route were blown miles off. We continued our climb in such an adverse condition.

The camp 2 (6500m) is located in upper western cwm. The central section is cut by massive lateral crevasses which bar entrance into the upper Western Cwm. Many long ladders were used to cross the crevasses. The snow-covered, bowl-shaped slopes surrounding the Western Cwm reflect and amplify solar radiation, warming the valley basin despite its high elevation. Some of the most difficult days on Everest are in the Western Cwm, when on a sunny windless day it is desperately hot, and has been known to reach temperatures up to 35 °C.

It took us almost twelve hours that day to reach camp2 from base camp. We pitched tents at camp2 and had early dinner and went a sleep at 6pm. We were so tired because of the efforts that we decided to take rest at camp2 on 28th April.

 

Camp 3

At 7400M Camp 3 is located on steep slopes of the Lhotse face. Route to the camp3 from camp2 is traverse in the upper western cwm to the base of Lhotse face for couple of hours and then steep climb over the Lhotse face till Camp3. This face rises at 40 and 50 degree pitches with the occasional 80 degree bulges. High altitude climbing Sherpas and the lead climbers fixed ropes up this big wall of ice. Climbers and porters need to establish a good rhythm of foot placement and pulling themselves up the ropes using their ascenders.

On 29th April at 9am we set off towards the Camp3. It was very windy that day. The weather prediction reported winds at summit as high as 50mph. As we reached the base of the Lhotse face we experienced such a heavy wind that we could hardly communicate to each other. Still we continued to move up the mountain. We had to cross a big bergschrund at the base of the Lhotse face. After the bergschrund it was steep climb over hard ice. We ought to do hardship using ascenders and crampons. Soon wind started blowing at much higher speed. Although anchored to the fixed ropes we were thrown few feet away by the rope. Wind posed another difficulty in front of us in form of rock falls. Because of the heavy winds small rocks on the upper Lhotse face dislodged and started coming towards us with rocketing speeds. We had to manoeuvre over the steep slope of hard ice to tackle the falling rocks. Few of our members got hit by the rocks and had serious injuries. Because of the serious injuries one member had to turn back.

As we were moving up, the efforts started cumulating because of the rarefied air and the tiredness. Finally first member reached the Camp 3 at 2pm. We settled inside the tents. The tents were heavily fluttering with the winds. Last member reached Camp 3 at 1700Hrs. Camp 3 was very cramped space especially for a bigger team of twelve members. We adjusted ourselves with four members inside one tent. It was nothing less than hanging tents on big walls of straight rocks.

In the night the winds worsened. They reached 90mph. More often when fluttering of the tents stopped because of the drop of wind at Camp 3, we could hear roaring of the summit winds. And it was like a nightmare. There was always danger of falling rocks hitting our tents. Few small pieces even pierced through tent outer cover. We could hardly sleep that night. In these extreme conditions one satisfying thing was the fact that nobody from our team felt the need of bottled oxygen. Somehow we could survive the night at 7400M without artificial oxygen.

On 30th April, early morning we started to descend towards Camp 2. We had to be very careful because of the winds and falling rocks. It was 12 noon until everyone reached Camp2. It was too late to descent Khumbu icefall and we decided to stay at Camp 2 that day.

 

Preparing for the summit

On 1st May, we were off the mountain. Everybody reached base camp safely. We were very delighted that we could reach safely till Camp 3 without bottled oxygen and returned back. We had spent lot of energy to reach there and now it was the time to rest and regain. We embarked upon the recovery plan.

We decided to move down at lower altitudes below base camp. On 3rd May we started descending and reached Pheriche. On 4th May we continued and reached a beautiful place called Deboche. It was a soothing experience when we saw green trees after so long time. We stayed at Deboche for next four days to rest. The main focus was to hydrate and regain energy. The weather was very pleasant. We again stated our way back to Basecamp on 8th May. Pheriche – Lobuche and finally reached Basecamp on 10th May.

Waiting for the clear window

When we reached base camp again we started tracking all the weather reports from all over globe. Because of the casualities in the season many expedition teams had turned back till then. It was very confusing to interprete the weather reports from different countries showing different weather forecasts. Finally we decided to start our summit assault on 16th May.

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Climbers at base camp taking rest and waiting for clear weather window

 

Summit Assault

Finally as decided we started our summit assault from the base camp on 16th May 2012 at 3.30am. The same day we reached to Camp 2 on 12.30pm. It was already mid-summer and very hot in the western cwm. We almost pulled off all the extra layers on our body. That day one of our membersBhushan Harshe suffered from chest pain. After consulting with the doctors at Base camp, he decided to go back. It was very tough decision on part of him.

Everyone in the team was very eager to reach the top of the mountain. On 17th May 2012 at 9am we started from the camp 2. After lot of injuries to the climbers on the route to the Camp3 (Lhotse face) finally an alternative and more safe traditional route was chosen to climb to the Camp3. This route proved not only safe for the climbing but also less tiring because of the low gradient. Only disadvantage was, it added 1.5 Hrs extra to the climbing effort. Everyone reached Camp 3 before 3pm. We all were in good spirit to climb further. Respecting the efforts in next couple of days we decided to use bottled oxygen during night sleep. It was very calm and safe as compared to our earlier night at this place. Using bottled oxygen we had very good sleep that night.

 

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Tents at Camp 3 - Looking down the Lhotse face towards western cwm

 

South Col

On 18th May we got ready and set off for the summit camp (Camp 4) at 6.30am. It was very tough climb up the Lhotse face from here. And the traffic in the route made it even tiring. Since the route was not opened till 18th May, this year there was heavy rush on top of the mountain on the first summit window i. e. 18th and 19th May. We had to wait several minutes before we could move few steps up the mountain. In true sense we scaled it. With slow progress we reached yellow band.

Yellow band is a feature on the Lhotse face with approximately fifty feet of sheer rock exposed out of the hard ice. Because of the colour of the rock this section is named yellow band. Climbing on the hard rock with crampon on, made this portion tricky and hard to tackle. After yellow band the slopes were easier but you lose so much of energy on the way that it makes difficult to deal with.

After a traverse on Lhotse face above the yellow band we reached to the foot of Geneva spur. It was a large rock buttress between us and South Col. We had to traverse this spur to reach the South Col. After reaching to the edge of the Geneva spur it was comparatively comfortable walk with little downslope to the South Col.

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Climbers traversing Geneva Spur - Behind summit pyramid of Mt. Everest

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South Col - as seen from Geneva Spur Behind Summit Pyramid

 

At 7906M south col is yet another incredible place. The South col is between world’s highest and fourth highest mountain. Once on the South Col, climbers have entered the death zone — Altitude sickness is a significant threat at this elevation and can easily prove fatal. It is also difficult to sleep, and most climbers' digestive systems have significantly slowed or completely stopped. This is because it is more efficient at this altitude for the body to use stored energy sources than to digest new food. Most climbers will begin using supplemental oxygen here and have a maximum of only two or three days for making summit bids. Clear weather and low winds are critical factors in deciding whether to make a summit attempt. If weather does not cooperate within these short few days, climbers are forced to descend, all the way back down to Base Camp. Climbers rarely get a second chance to return to the South Col in a specific expedition.

The first climber from our team reached the South Col at 1.30pm. It was 4.30pm when the last member reached the summit camp.

 

Summit Bid

We had chocolates and high energy food inside our tents and had lot of water in an attempt to keep ourselves fit for the summit. We were expecting rest till 10pm since we all were doing well.  But because of the rush on the mountain we decided to start 8.30pm. Few of our members were already on their way as early as 7.30pm. At 7pm heavy wind started blowing, making the tents to flutter heavily. We were bit worried about the weather prediction. But we were determined to move up that night.

The climb was very steep and we had to wait for every step. At 3.30am we reached the place called balcony. Most of us changed oxygen bottles, had a sip of water from the thermos and continued. As expected with early lights of the day we were already in heaven.

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Mesmerising view from south East Ridge of Mt. Everest

Above the balcony we faced the challenge of tricky steps of mixed terrain rocks and ice. It was very toll taking at that altitude to deal with such portion. It was pretty morning until we reached the south summit.

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Climber approaching south summit of the Mt. Everest

After the south Col we traversed a knife edge ridge to reach the Hillary step. It is the most exposed section of the climb. At 8760M the Hillary step poses a serious challenge in front of the climbers. It is just terrible to tackle this portion with all the climbing gear on you. After the Hillary step it was comparatively easy walk with the help of fixed ropes.

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Knife edge ridge and Hillary step as seen from the South Summit

 

THE SUMMIT!

Our hearts were ponding faster; our adrenalin was pushing forward as we were reaching every step close to our dream. The dream together we saw years back. The dream, every fellow back home that supported us was waiting for. In the roaring blow of wind we heard them clearly… go, get it! The dream every mountaineer dies for! The dream was about to come true…

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A climber waving national flag at the top of the Mt. Everest

Finally at 8.30am first member from our team stood a top of the mountain – The Mt. Everest! One by one eight members from our team waved our national flag on top of the mountain. It was a dream of 25000 people back home who participated and supported us for this expedition. This is the fact that will make this expedition noticeable in the history of mountaineering. Thanks to all our supporters without their contribution we could not think of the success.

Unfortunately two members of our team Ganesh More and Anand Mali could not reach to the top because of the failure of the oxygen mask on the way to summit. They were fortunate enough to survive those extreme conditions in such a disaster and to reach summit camp safely. Anand almost survived from hypoxia and hallucination.

 

Back to Home

As climbing on the mountain is important, getting back safely is more important. Most of the accidents happen while getting back. On 6pm we came back safely to the summit camp. The next day we reached camp 2 and finally on 21st May we reached Base Camp. Few of our members had to evacuate from the base camp for the emergency treatment of frost nip of fingers. Others stayed back. Cleaned the basecamp and returned on 23rdMay.

 

Expedition at a glance

Expedition Name: Pune Everest 2012

Expedition peak attempted: Mt. Everest (8848M)

Expedition result: Successful

Leader: Mr. Umesh Zirpe

Climbing Members: Anand Mali, Ashish Mane, Bhushan HarsheChetan KetkarGanesh More, Krishna Dhokale, Prasad Joshi, Rahul YelangeRupeshKhopadeSachin Deng, Surendra Jalihal, and Tekraj Adhikari

Summit: Ashish Mane, Chetan Ketkar, Krishna Dhokale, Prasad Joshi, Rahul YelangeRupesh KhopadeSurendra Jalihal, and Tekraj Adhikari

Support Members: Avinash FoujdarAvinash KandekarParesh Naik, Mahesh KalbhorAjit Tate, Sanjay Doiphode and Niranjan Palsule

Photography: Milind Bhanage

Expedition duration BC to BC: 50 days

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