An Indian expedition from the Kolkata section of the Himalayan Club has made the long awaited first ascent of Plateau Peak (7,287m) in the East Karakoram. Later, a second team, which originally had the same peak as its goal, was involved in an avalanche incident, resulting in air evacuation for Andy Parkin.
Formerly one of India's few remaining unclimbed 7,000m mountains, Plateau Peak is part of the Saser Group, relatively close to the disputed territory of the Siachen Glacier.
In common with the various summits of Saser Kangri, a permit for Plateau Peak will only be granted to foreign climbers if they form a joint expedition with an equal number of Indian mountaineers.
Lying immediately south of 7,673m Saser Kangri I, Plateau Peak has been attempted by a number of all-Indian expeditions, and at least two joint teams; Indo-Italian and Indo-American.
Nearly all have tried the west ridge, approaching from the South Pukpoche Glacier. However, the 2009 Indo-American team reached 6,600m on the right side of the south face above the Sakang Lungpa Glacier.
In early July a nine-member team from Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) reached a 4,750m base camp on the South Pukpoche Glacier and established four camps on the west ridge before reaching the top on the 31st.
The summiteers were Debraj Datta (leader), Subrate De, Pradeep Ch Sahoo, Prasanta Gorai, Dawa Sherpa, Lakpa Norbu Sherpa, Lakpa Tenzing Sherpa, Mingma Sherpa and Phurba Sherpa.
Other members were Biplab Banerjee, Parag Kr Mitra, Aadrito Paul, Ganesh Saha, Chetna Sahoo, Gyaltzen Sherpa, Karma Thimle Sherpa and Pasang Gyaltzen.
The Kolkata section has climbed several impressive 7,000ers in the last few years: Mamostong Kangri in 2010; Saser Kangri IV in 2011, and perhaps most impressively second ascents of Domo Kang (7,264m) and Domo (7,447m), subsidiary summits of Jongsang on the Nepal-Sikkim frontier, in 2012.
A small Indo-British expedition (Susan Jensen, Divyesh and Vineeta Muni, Victor Saunders and Andy Parkin, partly sponsored by the Himalayan Club and Mount Everest Foundation) reached the Sakang Lungpa Glacier at the end of the July and crossed the Sakang Col (6,100m) at its head (just southeast of Plateau Peak) to the North Shukpa Kunchang Glacier.
They made a high camp on this glacier, which flows in an easterly direction towards the Shyok River, and were attempting various peaks.
Currently, exact details are lacking, but in the early hours of 15 August an avalanche struck the vicinity of the camp and the blast uprooted Parkin's tent, carrying it, with him inside, into a crevasse, which according to the Indian report on the incident was 30m deep.
Parkin was able to extract himself and sound the alarm, but injuries to his back made it impossible for him to move.
Crossing back over the Sakang Col was out of the question so the rest of the team brought him down to a campsite at 5,600m, having already called for a rescue.
Unfortunately the 15th was a national holiday and it wasn't until the following day that all necessary formalities were completed. The weather then turned bad preventing two Indian Air Force helicopters from Leh until the 17th.
These reached the glacier campsite and airlifted the casualty to safety, but a return of poor weather meant the helicopter could not reach Leh, instead landing at an Army HQ, where Parkin was given medical treatment.
In the afternoon of the 18th Parkin was flown to hospital in Leh, and the following day was allowed to shift to a hotel, from where he could make daily visits for check ups and medical treatment. He is expected to remain there until the whole expedition flies out at the end of the month.
Surprisingly, there were not two, but three expeditions with initial designs on Plateau Peak. The third is a military team from the Indian Army's Ladakhi Scouts Division. The last word is that they are believed to be about half way up the southwest ridge.
Thanks to Rajesh Gadgil and Priyadarshi Gupta for providing help and information for this report.