The Cambridge Himalayan Expedition aimed to make the first ascent of Manda III (6529m). This British expedition comprised six members of Clare College, Cambridge University. After more than a year of planning, the expedition left for India on 19th August 1992. Despite plans to leave New Delhi for the mountains as quickly as possible, a week was spent there collecting air freight and completing the formalities at the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF).
Late on 27th August the expedition arrived in Gangotri, a road-head in the centre of the Garhwal Himalaya. The following day marked the start of the walk-in to the Kedar Valley. Three days later base-camp was established beside Kedar Tal lake (4800m) in brilliant sunshine. We expected such post-monsoon weather to continue and even improve. In reality, this was virtually the last time we saw the mountains without a thick shroud of cloud.
Our first tentative venture onto the mountains was a reconnaissance of Jogin I and III, two of the most frequented peaks in the range. After a two-day wait for clear weather at the foot of the mountain, we began tackling the large ice fall to the right of the rock spur. This looked as if it would give access to shallower snow slopes above. It was the route mentioned in the Polish guide book, but obviously things had significantly changed. After a steep ice pitch up an ice flake, it was clear that further progress would be extremely difficult. The way was blocked by dozens of enormous crevasses in between giant ice flakes. We retreated from this point as bad weather started to draw in. Jim and John stayed on another night and investigated a ramp to the left of the central rock spur. They reached an estimated height of 5800m before returning to base-camp.
On 8th September we attempted our main objective: the north-west face of Manda III. This consists of a 1000m ice face which gradually steepens to 70 degrees. We hoped the face would be in reasonable condition after two days in which little snow fell on the peaks. After pitching camp at the bottom of the face the day before, we set off at 3am. All too quickly we found the slope covered in deep soft snow with an unstable crust, making it extremely avalanche-prone. We returned to base-camp, leaving a large supply of food and equipment, planning to return when the face was more consolidated.
A second attempt on Jogin was planned in the interim using the left-hand line. Progress was hampered by deep, wet snow, but by the end of a long first day we had climbed to around 5700m. We sat the next day out rather than flounder in the new snow which fell overnight. An early start on 12th September saw us within 50m of the summit of Jogin III by mid-morning, though visibility was down to 20m and it was snowing heavily. As we tackled the final short slope our party was hit by a deep slab avalanche burying Jim. Unable to see anything, we could not retrace our steps down the ice fall and were forced to camp on the slope. The white-out continued all that day and the next two nights. It snowed continuously burying the tent. With no food left and the snow getting ever deeper, we decided we had to get down. We packed everything up except the tent and waited for a break in the cloud. Eventually it cleared for a few minutes, enabling us to see our way down. As we descended the cloud closed in again but, fortunately, only after we had descended the worst section.
We returned to a base-camp dusted with snow. For the next few days, instead of constant rain and drizzle, more snow fell. Overnight temperatures started falling to below minus 12 degrees celsius. With the present conditions, we felt that no attempt would be safe on Jogin or Manda for at least a week. Rather than sit it out Tony, Tig and Will returned to Delhi, and sent the porters up.
The following day Jim climbed a high point (approx. 6050m) on the ridge between Jogin II and peak 6014 by the 1000m south face with two Australians, Mick and George. After a forced bivouac on the ridge, they descended the next day before returning to Gangotri the day after.
We had had high hopes yet achieved so little. Frustratingly, the principle player in this, the weather, was beyond our control. Yet we were all so pleased just to arrive at base-camp with our kit and take in the amazing views that, despite our lack of mountaineering achievement, we judged the expedition a success and all hope to return to the greater ranges. Perhaps the most disappointing occurrence was the betrayal of our trust by the liaison officer when he attempted to blackmail us in Delhi. Throughout the trip he had been very helpful, and we had come to regard him as an expedition member.