Nanda Devi is in a National Park Sanctuary, a World Heritage UNESCO Site “of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humankind”. The name means Bliss-Giving Goddess. The peak is regarded as the patron-goddess of the Uttarakhand Himalaya.
“Nanda Devi imposes on her votaries an admission test as yet beyond their skill and endurance” – Hugh Ruttledge, 1930’s
India’s Highest Mountain
Nanda Devi in the highest peak in the Indian Garhwal Himalaya and is the highest mountain wholly in India. The mountain has two summits, the main summit at 7816m (25,643ft) and Nanda Devi East at 7434m (24,389ft). The mountain itself in surrounded by a number of peaks – the lowest being 5,180 m (16,990 ft), thus making it an extremely difficult mountain to access. This circle of peaks forms what is known as the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. The other point of entry to this summit is through the Rishi Ganga Gorge, of which, way back in the 1930’s, Hugh Ruttledge, who had attempted the peak 3 times but failed each time, said “that gaining entry to the Nanda Devi Sanctuary alone was more difficult than reaching the North Pole.” Fifty years of arduous exploration in search of a passage into the Sanctuary was finally achieved through the Rishi Gorge in 1934 by Eric Shipton and H.W.Tilman, with three Sherpa companions, Angtharkay, Pasang, and Kusang.
The mountain was finally summitted in 1936 by a British-American expedition, it became the highest peak climbed by man until the 1950 ascent of Annapurna, 8,091 metres (26,545 ft). Higher non-summit elevations had, however, already been reached by the British on Mount Everest in the 1920s, but the summitting of Nanda Devi also involved steeper and more sustained terrain than had previously been attempted at such a high altitude.
The bad news for us (but good for the state of the Park) is that the normal approach to the main peak through the Rishi Ganga gorge has been closed to climbers and trekkers since 1988 to protect the Nanda Devi Sanctuary and biosphere reserve. It was briefly re-0pened in 1993, when a forty member expedition team from the Indian Army was given special permission to re-enter the park. The aim of the expedition was multifold – to carry out an ecological survey, clean up the garbage left by previous expeditions and to attempt the peak. The expedition carried out a comprehensive ecological survey and removed, by porter and helicopter, over a thousand kilograms of garbage right out of the park.
Reaching the the Summit
It is still possible to attempt Nanda Devi East which remains open from the east side, leading to the standard south ridge route. This peak is 7,434m and was first summitted in 1939 by a four-member Polish expedition led by Adam Karpiński. They climbed the south ridge, from Longstaff Col. This is still the standard route on the peak. The summit party were Jakub Bujak and Janusz Klarner. Karpiński and Stefan Bernadzikiewicz died later in an attempt on Trishuli.
The South Ridge to Nanda Devi East
S.Ridge is a challenging climb rating Alpine Difficile, with exposed rock, snow and mixed terrain, and limited camp-sites. Above 6,100m there are few, if any, fixed ropes. Sherpa Tenzing, of Everest fame, described the ascent of Nanda Devi East as the toughest he ever did – including Everest. However, you will be relieved to hear that there is some excellent climbing on the upper ridge!
You will need about a month to tackle this challenging mountain…