First men on Baden-Powell

By Randima Attygalle
‘The little man of iron will’ has conquered the terrain of ‘Yeti’ once again. Ajith Jayasekera whose name is synonymous with that of mountaineering in Sri Lanka, entered the annals of global mountaineering history when he emerged a triumphant explorer of the pioneer eight-member expedition team entrusted with the Herculean task of pronouncing the track to recently declared ‘Lord Baden Powell Peak’, 5890 metres in height in the Himalayan range, to commemorate 100 years of the World Scout Movement.
Exploring the Tiger mountain of Himalayas in 1983 as a 22-year-old youth, Jayasekera led the first Sri Lankan school boy expedition team in 1985- a team of 12 youngsters from Dharmaraja College, Kandy to Annapur mountain of the Himalayas, followed by the second expedition team to Lantang Luring glacier in 1987. Creating headlines once again, a third team of Rajans was successfully led by him to the Everest Base Camp in 1989 and a pioneer team from Ananda College, Colombo in 1993. Since then, Jayasekera, a distinguished old Rajan himself, presently the Warden of Lake View Park International Scouting Centre housed in the premises of Dharmaraja College Kandy, had explored the Himalayas on nearly 15 occasions, leading numerous teams at school, district and national level.
Father of Scouting
Speaking to The Nation on his return from ‘the land of gods’, Jayasekera said, “on request of the Nepal Scout Association, to mark the centenary of the scouting movement, the World Scout Bureau and its Asia Pacific Regional body embarked on a historical event in naming a hitherto unexplored or virgin mountain peak in the Himalayan range after the father of the scouting movement, Lord Baden Powell. Experienced mountaineers from around 12 countries including India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Pakistan were invited for this event of declaration held at Scout Headquarters of Nepal in Katmandu on September 14 and I was privileged to represent Sri Lanka,” adding that he was given the discretion of selecting two more President Scouts from Dharmaraja College to constitute the Sri Lankan team.
“Prior to our departure, the Chief Scout Commissioner, H.S. Weerakoon, International Commissioner, Shantha Madurawa and Assistant Chief Commissioner Shiraz Sali officially handed over the Sri Lankan flag and Sri Lanka Scout Association flag to our team which comprised myself, two President Scouts, Nalaka Hapuhinnna and Chameera Chandrasena on top of ‘Dharmaraja peak’, (where Lake View Park International Scouting Centre is housed) which interestingly was the preferred location of Lord Baden Powell to found the first scout troop in Sri Lanka,” explained Jayasekera who further said that this ‘citadel of scouting’ is soon to be re-baptised as ‘Baden Powell summit’ by the World Scout Bureau after the founder-father.
Baden Powell Tower which will be erected in the same premises promises to be a center of mountaineering viewing, accessible to any scout in the world. “Dhramaraja summit is a unique point from which one could view a range of picturesque mountain peaks in one glimpse, such as Hunnasgiriya, Knuckles, Alagalla, Kikiliyamana, (in Nuwara Eliya) Namunukula, Hantane and Dumbara Mitiyawatha,” stressed Mr. Jayasekera.
Recollecting the grueling yet fulfilling journey, Jayasekera said, “prior to the expedition, all invited teams were briefed on the geographical facets of the virgin peak (now Lord Baden peak) which was identified only by means of maps and photographs taken in the air as well as the risk factors concerned, by the Nepal Mountaineering Association. The objective expected of the expedition team was to ascertain a track to this mountain, best locations for base camps, to determine the number of hours exhausted per day for the exploration and above all, whether this peak is accessible by scouts world over as all scouts are not necessarily seasoned mountaineers.”
Testing mettle
The eight-member team which came forward to put their mettle to test comprised Ajith Jayasekera, President Scouts- Nalaka Hapuheena, Chameera Chandrasena, two Sherpas- Angikita and Dhawa, Director (Training), Kokani International Training Center of Nepal- Bohara Keshar, Rover Scout leader Naresh Maharajan and Assistant Director Eastern and Western Region, Bharatha Scouts and Guides Association- Amar Chenthri. “The rest of the participants preferred to be trackers of Baden Powell track, (a clearly identified route on a lower elevation of the mountain range which is a popular route for camping and sightseeing among mountaineers) as opposed to the explorers of the Baden Powell peak, as they feared the high risks that the pioneer team would obviously encounter,” explained Jayasekera.
Reaching the hamlet of Siabrubesi, on September 15, in the vicinity of the China-Tibet border, the final location accessible by a motorway, the team’s chief objective was to enter the Baden Powell mountain region. “In view of this, we decided to cross the region which runs parallel to Lantang Kola stream and spend the first night in Lama which is a eight-hour journey on foot from Siabrubesi,” recalled Jayasekera. “Upon our arrival in Lantang the following day, we were to take the route via Kianjing Gompa according to the instructions given by the Nepal Mountaineering Association and Nepal Scouting Head Quarters. However, an exhaustive study of maps and other geographical factors revealed that an hour’s journey towards North Lantang would be a wiser course,” explained Jaysekera adding that this required crossing of the Lantang Kola stream.
As to what factors determine a track to a mountain, Jayasekera replied, “in case of an already explored track, we consider the waterways, glaciers, mountain peaks indicated in a map, in addition to the route marked by two rocks placed one on top of the other so that when sunrays fall on the snow, the top one appears on the surface. When walking through forest areas, we follow the trees, barks of which are peeled off about four inches deep,” adding that what is noteworthy about this expedition was that all these indicators had to be marked by themselves seeing as how they were the pioneer team to Baden Powell peak.
Emphasising on the importance of being well-equipped and well-versed in mountaineering, Jayasekera said, “unless you are experienced, one can easily get lost, the results of which could be fatal. Especially when glaciers melt and large pools of snow are formed along the track, there is a high risk. There may also be instances where one will go around a mountain under the impression that he is climbing.” A cockroach is essentially what a human mountaineer should be according to Jayasekera! Smiling at this comparison, he said, “cockroach is the most adaptable creature to any environment and a mountaineer should be the same. Within a very short time span, he should be capable of adjusting to environmental pressure, change of temperature etc. The cardinal rule is ‘the survival of the fittest’.”
Recollecting the arduous journey on which the team set off on September 18 from Lantang, 17-year-old Chameera Chandrasena, youngest explorer of the team said, “we were the pioneers to set foot on this virgin mountain, there was no seasoned or clearly defined track, exhausted by countless mountaineers over the years like that to the Everest Base camp for instance. Therefore our task was a challenge by all means. Steep slopes of about 70 degrees, waterways and unexpected rain posed the chief hurdles.” Further qualifying Chameera’s words, Nalaka Hapuheena added, “my colleague Chameera and I were the youngest members of this historical expedition and our efforts were commended by all other senior members. The sheer willpower to hoist the Sri Lankan flag made the gruelling journey endurable and we are indebted to our mentor Jayasekera for giving us such exposure at a tender age.”
The uphill struggle of an eight-hour climb was rewarded by a vicinity suitable for setting up the Base Camp. “Since the probability of natural hazards such as avalanches, gales and earth slips was minimal at this point, we declared it the ideal locality for the Base Camp of Baden Powell peak, (about 3950m above sea level) thereby making history as the pioneers to have set foot on Baden Powell Peak,” Jayasekera recalled the moment of elation. Explaining the significance of a Base Camp in any expedition, Jayasekera said, “this is the hub or an operational-centre in an expedition which provides the climbers with supplies such as medical care, emergency-assistance and communication links. For example, in an Everest expedition, a special team would be stationed at the Base Camp to cater to these needs of the climbers. Since the Base Camp is on a considerable height, it helps the climbers get conditioned to the altitude as several days are spent at that juncture.”
Winning all nature’s obstacles, the victorious team reached the snow bound of Baden Powell peak on September 21 to determine the Second Camp, about 5000 metres above sea level. The ‘Yeti’ was nowhere to greet the fervent explorers, Yaks, wild boars, eagles and hawks were in abundance!
“September is a month in which the sun reaches the North Pole and as a result, the snow bound is visible on the upper terrain of the peak which was an advantage to the climbers,” explained Jayasekera, adding that the setting up of the Second Camp ensured their conquest. “Unity and team spirit made an achievement of this magnitude possible. Each decision taken was a collaborative effort and none of us overestimated ourselves as experienced climbers. Differences of language or ethnicity made no impact and what mattered most was brotherhood,” explained Jayasekera.
Extending his sincere thanks to the Sri Lanka Scouting Association, Chief Scout Commissioner, H.S. Weerakoon, International Commissioner, Shantha Madurawa and M.S.S. Moheed, National Secretary for all their efforts and Principal, Dharmaraja College, S.M. Keerthiratne for his unfailing support, Jayasekera said, “the importance of this expedition is two-fold. As a country, we were honoured to be part of such a pioneering expedition and as far as global scouting is concerned, any scout in the world will have access to the track we discovered in reaching the height named after the father of scouting.”


Renaming a peak

Nepal named one of its new mountain peaks after Lord Baden Powell to honour the father of the world scouts movement. The 5,890 metres high peak in Lamtang region, Rasuwa district, will be named after Baden Powell who founded the scout movement in 1807. The Peak was renamed to honour the memory of the late Powell on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the foundation of the scout’s movement. The renaming has taken place at the special initiatives and request of the Nepal scouts.
The mountain, which was known locally as ‘Urkema peak’, has been formally named as ‘ Baden Powell Scout Peak’ after the decision to this effect was forwarded to the Council of Ministers for official announcement.
This mountain is among the 1,311 Himalayan mountain peaks identified so far by the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation. However, only 327 mountains have been opened by the Government of Nepal for mountaineering activities. Despite this, several mountain peaks are not yet visited due to some reasons related to lack of transport facilities and security.