21st May, 2011. We were descending from the summit of Mt. Everest. We could not take our eyes off Mt. Lhotse. We were spellbound by the grandeur and beauty of the resplendent massif that stood before us.
21st May, 2011. We were descending from the summit of Mt. Everest. We could not take our eyes off Mt. Lhotse. We were spellbound by the grandeur and beauty of the resplendent massif that stood before us. We drank its beauty to the dreg and wondered whether we could make to its top. In fact, that was the beginning of the mental preparation to climb Mt. Lhotse.
A three member team was formed for the expedition to 27,940 feet high Mt. Lhotse - the fourth highest peak in the World. The team comprised of Soma Bhattacharya, Rajib Bhattacharya and I, Dipankar Ghosh – the team leader. The expedition was organized jointly by Beas Sodepore and Angan Chaariye of Srirampore. On 4th of April, 2012, we took our flight for Kathmandu from Kolkata. After paying obeisance to Bodhanath Monastery at Kathmandu and collecting all the paraphernalia we boarded a helicopter and flew for Lukla on 7th. On 8th morning, we started off from Lukla towards the base camp. We spent the night at quite and tranquil Jorshale village and reached the famous Namche Bazaar on the following day. Then, we spent nights at Debuche and Somare in succession and moved towards Thukla. En route we caught sight of Mt. Lhotse.
We moved on towards Lobuche. Eventually, on 14th of April, in the afternoon, we reached our base camp - located at a height of 17,600 feet directly on the Khumbu Glacier. The beautiful yet dangerous Khumbu icefall was not far from our camp-site. At the farthest end of the ice-fall we could spot Mt. Lhotse and it appeared as if it stood just behind the ice-fall. We would have to cross this demon in order to reach Camp-I, we mused. From Camp-I, one has to cross Western cwm to reach Camp-II. From there one has to pitch Camp-III and Camp-IV on the West face of Lhotse and approach the summit. According to the tradition, on 16th of April our base-camp puja was performed by a Buddhist lama.
On 22nd of April, at 2 AM in the night we started forth for Camp-I floundering our way through the dreadful Khumbu icefall - relying entirely on the thin beams of light from our headlamps. Few of the crevasses we jumped over and few we crossed using ladder. One cannot fathom how quickly this Khumbu icefall can turn perilous until one experience it. Just only yesterday, a Sherpa had died after falling from one such ladder. After 6 hours of relentless effort – we crossed the demon and reached Western cwm where at approximately 20,000 feet, Camp-I was established. After spending the night in the tent, we went down to base-camp next day.
On 27th of April, an avalanche had slumped and devastated the Camp-I site. Many had sustained serious injuries. The injured mountaineers were Helicopter rescued to safety from the Camp-I site. The very next day we went up to the ravaged Camp-I site. We were awe-struck at the sight of the camp. However, we didn't stop and moved up to Camp-II. We crossed the huge Western cwm crisscrossed with crevasses and established Camp-II at 22,000 feet.
Having rested for a day at Camp-II and then, on the next day we moved up towards Camp-III. We had to climb the west slope of Mount Lhotse. We encountered non-stop rock fall on the slope which compelled us to return to Camp-II. Next day, we went back to climb the Ice-wall. Even that day, the rock-fall continued. It resulted in the death of a Sherpa. To worsen the matter, strong wind swept the area. Consequently, we had to return to Camp-II and ultimately to the Base Camp. The process of acclimatization was over. Due to bad weather condition and some technical problems we had to confine ourselves in the base camp for a long boring period of 14 days. To get rid of monotony, at a height of 17,600 feet from the sea-level we enjoyed playing cricket on the ice-ground.
At last, on 16th of May, 2012, we went up to Camp-II. On 18th, to avoid the rock-fall, we had to take an alternate route to Camp-III. We had to confront strong wind. At Camp-III on 17th, a tremendous avalanche had flattened many tents including ours to the ground and therefore we had to spend the night in a vacant tent of another team. Next day, we started off for Camp-IV following the steep ice slope. After crossing Yellow Band, those who went on to climb Mt. Everest, crossed Geneva's spur and climbed along south Col up yonder. We, however, directly climbed the west face of Lhotse. At an altitude of approximately 26,000 feet we established Camp - IV. A strong wind continuously blew in the camp area. Leave aside the wind, if one keeps in mind the rock-fall and avalanches that could sweep off the tent, it would be hard to stay there.
Soma Bhattacharya is the first civilian Bengali woman to reach this altitude. We decided, at 8 pm, all of us together would start the summit approach. But, due to unfavourable weather condition that could not be materialized. Next day, we descended to Camp-II. At last, after resting for two days only, on 23rd of May, we ascended to an intermediate camp between Camp-III and Camp- IV. On the next day, unfortunately, Soma felt fatigued and giving priority to the success of the team, decided to return to Camp-II. Rajib, Karma, Tashi and I, reached Camp-IV. On that same date, at 9 PM we started forth towards summit. Weather condition was very good and it was clear and cool. Chilled wind was blowing that penetrated us to the very bones.
At first we had to climb the high gradient ice slope of the west face. After sometimes it was precisely rock climbing that we had to commence. It was high gradient plus high exposure. In the dark, we could feel, if we fall, it would be a fall through a bottomless pit. Few paces ahead, rocky bulges stood before us and as if through two steep walls like rampart - we made our way. That was the couloir of the west face. Our crampons produced a metallic clunk in the dark that reverberated in the trench. Most of the time, we had to make use of the old and withered ropes that lay therein. Slowly, the dawn was breaking. At times, Everest was visible and at times it was hidden from our views. From here onwards, we roped up and climbed. At the end we had to literally crawl.
After a whole night climb, at 6:30 AM in the morning of 25th, we got to the summit wall. There, we spotted the motionless figure of an unfortunate climber. On 19th, Sedlacek, the Chek Republic national had braved the bad weather but had succumbed to it. We saluted him and made our way by the side of his lifeless form to the summit at 7.00 a.m. From the summit we could see numerous named and unnamed peaks. Everest, Makalu, Kanchenjunga, Cho-oyu, Annapurna - all was visible in a bird's eye view. From the top, our base camp at the feet of Pumori was an unparalleled view. We offered puja and took photographs with our National flag and also the club-flags.
A summit attempt of such magnitude was a thrilling experience for me. We started to return back following the same route and reached summit camp at 11-30 AM. After dismantling the summit camp we resumed our journey at 2.00 PM towards Camp-II by the same route and reached there at 7-30 PM. Soma heartily congratulated us and gave us a warm reception. After spending the night at Camp-II, we carefully descended to the base- camp.
We cleaned up all litter and carried all garbage with us. As if in a trance - with our souls drenched in the beautiful yet dreadful memories of the expedition - we moved on to return to the normal rhythm of life of Kolkata on 4th June.