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City team first to summit peak lower but tougher than Everest

A four-member team from Calcutta has scaled Plateau peak in the Eastern Karakoram range, which climbers regard as one of the toughest mountaineering challenges in the world.

None of the city mountaineers Metro spoke to could recall a successful expedition to Ladakh’s Plateau peak, which at 7,287 metres is 1,500-odd metres lower than Mt Everest but said to be more difficult to conquer because of its physical characteristics and unpredictable weather.

The team from the Calcutta wing of the Himalayan Club — leader Debraj Dutta, 32, deputy leader Subrata De, 45, Pradeep Chandra Sahoo, 47, and Prasanta Gorai, 27 — summitted at 1.30pm on July 31, having begun their journey at 11.30pm the previous day from their final camp at 6366 metres. Five sherpas assisted the team, which approached the mountain from the South Pukpoche glacier and climbed its west ridge.

“It was sheer joy to reach the top after 14 hours of climbing, but at the back of our minds was apprehension about descending safely 900-odd metres without food and water. The descent eventually took eight hours,” recounted Sahoo, the only one from the team to have since returned to the city.

Sahoo is an engineer working in Zimbabwe.

“I heartily congratulate Debraj and his team members for this wonderful feat. It’s a world record. The Plateau was virgin territory till the Himalayan Club reached the top,” said Everester Basanta Singha Roy.

“The Plateau has long traverses on rock slabs and loose mud. It is almost too rough to negotiate. Two years ago, a team from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation had made an attempt to climb it but failed. The peak can easily be bracketed with the very tough-to-climb Saser Kangri I (7,672 metres) and Rimo (7,385 metres),” said Singha Roy, advisor to the West Bengal Mountaineering & Adventure Sports Foundation.

Ladakh has several peaks over 7,000 metres but Plateau was among the unconquered ones in the Karakoram region. The Karakoram is home to the highest concentration of peaks over 8,000 metres, including K2, the second highest peak in the world at 8,611 metres.

“There had been attempts at climbing the Plateau by teams from the UK, US and the Indian Army. The previous unsuccessful attempts spurred us on,” Sahoo said.

Sumit Day, who has been mountaineering since 1988 and has led over 10 expeditions, said there were no shortcuts in climbing Plateau peak. “I know of an Indo-American expedition to the Plateau in August 2009 that failed because the selected route had huge rock fall and unstable snow conditions.”

Kankan Roy, president of the West Bengal Mountaineers and Trekkers’ Confederation, said unpredictable weather was one of main hurdles for climbers venturing into the Eastern Karakoram range. “The entire Karakoram range is almost out of bounds for mountaineers from Bengal. There are fewer attempts made to scale the Karakoram peaks than the ones in the Himalayas. The Himalayan Club’s success is undoubtedly an occasion to rejoice,” he added.