1996 Indo-Tibetan Border Police expedition to Mount Everest

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The May 1996 expedition by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police to reach the summit of Mount Everest happened in the background of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, and resulted in three members of the expedition dying.

The expedition was led by Commandant Mohinder Singh and is credited as being the first Indian ascent of Everest from the North Side.[1]

The expedition[edit]

On 10 May 1996, Subedar Tsewang Samanla, Lance Naik Dorje Morup, and Head Constable Tsewang Paljor were part of a six-man summit attempt from the North Side. The summit team did not have any sherpas to guide them. They were the first team of the season to go up the North Face. It would be their responsibility to fix the ropes during ascent and break the trail to the top. The team was caught in the blizzard above Camp IV. While three of the six members turned down, Samanla, Paljor, and Morup decided to go for the summit.[2] Samanla was an accomplished mountaineer who had summitted Everest in 1984 and Kanchenjunga in 1991.[3] The first group was Paljor, Samanla, Morup, Jodh Singh, and Harbhajan Singh. After the two Singhs were overcome with frostbite, they returned to their base camp and the party now consisted only of Samanla, Morup, and Paljor.

At around 18:00 (15:45 Nepal Time), the three climbers radioed to their expedition leader that they had arrived at the summit.[4] While the Indian camp was jubilant in their celebrations, some of the other mountaineers at Base Camp had already expressed their reservations about the timing, which was quite late in the day to be on the summit. There is also a dispute whether the three had actually reached the summit. Krakauer claims that the climbers were at 8,700 m (28,550 ft), roughly 150 m (500 ft) short of the topmost point. This is based on the interview given by a later Japanese team to Richard Cowpens of the London Financial Express. Due to bad visibility and thick clouds which obscured the summit, the climbers believed they had reached the top. This also explains why the climbers did not run into the teams that summitted from the South Side.[citation needed]

The three climbers left an offering of prayer flags, katas, and pitons. Samanla, the summit team leader, decided to spend extra time for religious ceremonies and instructed the other two climbers to begin their descent. There was no radio contact after that. Back at the camps below, anxious team members saw two headlamps moving just above the second step (8,570 m/28,120 ft). None of the three managed to come back to high camp at 8,320 m (27,300 ft).[citation needed]

Possible sightings by Japanese climbers[edit]

On 11 May 1996, on the morning after Samanla, Paljor, and Morup had made their push for the summit and encountered the blizzard, a Japanese team from the Fukuoka expedition started its final ascent from the north side. The Fukuoka climbers would report seeing other climbers during their summit push—not unexpected given the number of climbers camped or climbing on the final 550 m (1,800 ft) of the mountain that day.

(All Times Beijing Time)

  • 06:15 Hiroshi Hanada and Eisuke Shigekawa (Fukuoka first attack party) departed Camp 6 (8,300 m/27,230 ft). Three Sherpas had left in advance.[5]
  • 08:45 Radio call to Base Camp to report nearing the ridge. Just below the ridge they met two climbers coming down a fixed rope. On the ridge another climber appeared before the first snowfield. They could not be identified, because all were wearing goggles and oxygen masks under hoods. The Fukuoka party, having no knowledge of the missing Indians, thought they were Taiwanese party members.[5]

In Krakauer's account, the lone climber (either Paljor[2] or Morup[6]) was still moaning and frostbitten from exposure over the night. The Japanese climbers ignored him and set out for the summit. After ascending the second step, they ran into the other two climbers, probably Samanla with either Paljor or Morup. Krakauer writes: "No words were passed, no water, food or oxygen exchanged hands. The Japanese moved on ..."

  • 11:39 Radio call to Base Camp to report passing the Second Step (8,600 m/28,220 ft). They then saw two climbers at a distance of about 15 m from the ridge. Again, identification was impossible.[5]
  • 15:07 Hanada, Shigekawa, and three Sherpas reached the summit.
  • 15:30 Start descent. After passing the triangle snowfield they saw some unidentifiable object above the Second Step. Below the First Step, they saw one person on the fixed rope. Shigekawa therefore stopped and radioed Base Camp. As he started moving again he met someone, who had possibly been on the fixed rope, standing nearby. They exchanged greetings, but Shigekawa was still unable to identify him. The Japanese climbers' oxygen was just enough to return to Camp 6.[5]
  • 16:00 (approx) An Indian party member told the Fukuoka ABC that three men were missing. The Fukuoka party attempted to dispatch three Sherpas from Camp 6 to rescue the Indians, but disappearing daylight prevented their departure. Their request to Indian party members at Camp 6 to join a rescue was refused. Also, their offer of a radio so that the Indian party could talk to their leader in ABC was declined.[5]

Initially, the apparent indifference of the Japanese climbers was dumbfounding, as the Indian expedition leader said later, "The Japanese had initially pledged to help the search for the missing Indians. But hours later, they pressed on with their attempt to reach the summit, despite bad weather."[7] The Japanese team reached the summit at 11:45 (Nepal Time). By the time the Japanese climbers descended, one of the two Indians was already dead, and the other near death. They could not find any trace of the third climber further down.

The Japanese team denied that they had ever encountered the dying climbers on the way up.[5]

Captain Kohli, an official of the Indian Mountaineering Federation, who earlier had denounced the Japanese, later retracted his claim that the Japanese had reported meeting the Indians on 10 May.[5]

"The ITBP accepted the Fukuoka party statements that they neither abandoned nor refused to help the Indians."[5] The ITBP's director general "commented that a misunderstanding arose from communication difficulties between Indian attack party members and their Base Camp."[5]

The body of Paljor, nicknamed "Green Boots", has served as a marker for subsequent climbers alongside the limestone alcove where he lies. Since 2014, Green Boots has been missing, presumably removed or buried.[8]

Legacy[edit]

Until 2014, Paljor's body, now known as "Green Boots", served as a landmark for people to use to gauge their distance to the summit.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Singh, Mohinder (2003). Everest: The First Indian Ascent from North. Delhi: Indian Pub. p. xvi. ISBN 978-81-7341-276-9.
  2. ^ a b Krakauer, Jon (1997). Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster (1997 ed.). Doubleday. p. 239. ISBN 978-0-385-49208-9.
  3. ^ "mountains call by ITBP". Archived from the original on 7 May 2006. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  4. ^ American Alpine Journal. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Saso, Hiroo (January 2002). "Misunderstandings Beyond the North Ridge". International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation. Archived from the original on 24 February 2005. Retrieved 19 August 2007.
  6. ^ Das, P. M. (1997). "The Indian Ascent of Qomolungma by the North Ridge". Himalayan Journal. 53.
  7. ^ Reuters. "India probes Everest deaths, questions Japanese team". Reuters. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 19 August 2007.
  8. ^ Nuwer, Rachel (October 9, 2015)