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Nanda Devi East: What Makes it so Difficult to Climb?

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Considered by many mountaineers to be among the most difficult to climb, Nanda Devi East is also known as Sunanda Devi.

It is the lower of the two adjacent peaks of the highest mountain in Uttarakhand and the second highest mountain in India; Nanda Devi is its higher twin peak.

A recent unfortunate event where 8 climbers, four from Great Britain, two from the US, while one each from India and Australia went missing from a group of 12 and later their dead bodies were found has again brought attention to its dangerous climb.

 The elevation of Nanda Devi East is 7,434 m (24,390 ft) and its prominence is 260 m (850 ft). However, only the elevation does not tell you the complete story, it is one of the most difficult peaks to ascend.

The peak has seen a high number of casualties ever since it was first sumitted in 1939 by a four-member Polish expedition

What makes the climb so difficult

Nanda Devi East
Nanda Devi East- Sunanda Devi

Hundreds of climbers from across the world visit India to scale mountains across the Himalayan chain, and the peaks in Nanda Devi sanctuary are considered the toughest to scale.

The first successful ascent of the Nanda Devi summit was in 1936. The ascent of Nanda Devi required fifty years of difficult exploration in search of passage into the Sanctuary.

The trail used by mountaineers to climb the peak has numerous avalanche prone areas due to absolute vertical rock formations that make it very dangerous for climbers.

The outlet is the Rishi Gorge, a deep, narrow canyon which is very difficult to traverse safely and is the biggest obstacle to entering the Sanctuary.

Taking any other route involves difficult passes, the lowest of which is 5,180 m (16,990 ft).

Hugh Ruttledge attempted to reach the peak three times in the 1930s and failed each time. In a letter to The Times, he wrote that ‘Nanda Devi imposes on her votaries an admission test as yet beyond their skill and endurance’, adding that gaining entry to the Nanda Devi Sanctuary alone was more difficult than reaching the North Pole.

In 1934, the British explorers Eric Shipton and H. W. Tilman, with three Sherpa companions, Angtharkay, Pasang, and Kusang, finally discovered a way through the Rishi Gorge into the Sanctuary.

When the mountain was later climbed in 1936 by a British-American expedition, it became the highest peak climbed by man until the 1950 ascent of Annapurna, 8,091 meters (26,545 ft).

It also involved steeper and more sustained terrain than had been previously attempted at such a high altitude. The expedition climbed the south ridge, also known as the Coxcomb Ridge, which leads relatively directly to the main summit.

After abortive attempts by Indian expeditions in 1957 and 1961, the second ascent of Nanda Devi was accomplished by an Indian team led by N. Kumar in 1964, following the Coxcomb route.

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