PEMA LEYDA SHANGDERPA
Gangtok, Nov. 12: Sonam Gyatso Mountaineering Institute here will lead its first independent expedition to Mount Everest in spring 2008 .
While members and instructors of the institute have scaled the peak with other teams, this is the first time the 43-year-old school is organising an independent expedition to tame the 8848m (29,028ft) peak.
The second round of selection began today at the institute here in Baluakhani. The team will be sent on Thursday for the final selection to be held under Alpine conditions in North Sikkim.
The expedition that will be flagged off sometime in April-May next year will include 15 members and five additional climbing support staff. The team will be led by G.T. Bhutia, the principal of the institute.
“Members of the institute have scaled so many summits and broken so many records. So we thought why not an independent expedition,” Bhutia told The Telegraph.
The team is expected to scale the peak from the North Col ridge, which is considered to be a difficult climb. The ascent to the top from the North Col begins in Tibet, unlike the easier approach from the Southeast ridge in Nepal.
The institute has already made their bookings for the climb through an agency in Nepal and have paid $5,500 for necessary permits.
The first round of selection for the expedition was carried out in July-August this year. Four members from the Jammu and Kashmir police, Uttarakhand and Gujarat are part of the expedition.
The team will also include two women climbers — Phulmaya Tamang and Yangdi Sherpa — both of whom are instructors at the institute. Phulmaya and Yangdi both have climbing stints including those on Everest. D.D. Bhutia and Kunzang Dorjee are the other instructors who will be part of the team.
In the past, instructors and members from the institute have summitted Mount Everest regularly. Sonam Gyatso, after whom the institute is named, was the first Everester from Sikkim and was also the 18th person to have scaled the peak. He was part of the first successful Indian expedition to Everest led by Captain M.S. Kohli in 1965. He was also the first principal of the institute, which was set up in 1964.
Other members from the institute to have scaled the peak are Nadre Sherpa who climbed it twice — first in the 1996 ITBP expedition from the North Col and again in 2003 during the golden jubilee climb of Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. In 2003, Phulmaya Tamang was also part of the expedition. In 1984, another Sikkimese, Phu Dorji created a record by climbing Everest without oxygen. He repeated the feat later.
The North face route to be used by the Sikkim team begins from Rongbuk Glacier in Tingri county of Tibet. The team will have to first set up a base camp at 5,180m (17,000ft) on a gravel plain just below the glacier. The base camp will be followed by at least six other camps before the team launches its final summit push.
The first independent expedition for the institute is also turning out to be an expensive affair with the entire cost of the expedition likely to shoot up to more than Rs 2 crore. The total amount includes royalty, climbing gear and all other travel and support accessories.
At present the Chinese are paving a 130-km (66-mile) dirt road from Tingri to the base camp in order to accommodate the growing number of climbers on their side of the mountain. Once completed, it will become the highest asphalt-paved road in the world. Construction began on June 18, 2007, at a cost of $19.7 million.