Against All Odds – A traverse across Glaciers and Mountains of the East Karakoram

Expedition team
Team at Khardung La : From Left – Huzefa, Divyesh, Rajesh, Vineeta, Ashish and Sonali

When our six-member team of mountaineers from “The Himalayan Club”, accompanied by a cinematographer, set out from Rongdo, a quaint village in Ladakh, we had no idea of our final destination of where we would eventually land up. We had on a map, an audacious plan to traverse the Eastern Karakoram mountains a remote area of which there is almost no existing information.

Forty-eight days after we left Mumbai on July 5, we returned to our homes, having completed more than a 100 kms of the traverse that took us across pristine glaciers and mountains. We crossed three high passes (two first crossings) and ascended an unclimbed peak.

Karakoram ranges are the most forbidding mountains in the world with a large number of peaks higher than 7000 m. The North-western extension of the Himalaya, this range, spans the borders between Pakistan, India and China. It has some of the largest glaciers outside the polar ice caps, flowing through these immense mountains giving birth to some of the wildest rivers in the world. The topography is characterized by craggy peaks and steep slopes. Owing to its topography, the Karakoram is much less inhabited than other parts of the Himalaya. Rarefied air, intense solar radiation, strong winds, and great diurnal ranges of temperature make it all the more tough to explore these massive mountains.

The exploratory trek started from Rongdo on the South Eastern end of the East Karakoram range and went through the Rongdo valley, up steep and winding paths, along lush green meadows and grazing grounds, through broken glacial moraine until we established Base Camp at an altitude of 5000 meters.

From Base Camp we explored a route to cross a high pass to allow access to the East Phunangma Glacier. Advance Base Camp was setup at 5500 m and a Camp at the high passes (now named as Rongdo La) at 5800 m.

Unfortunately while climbing towards the high camp Divyesh slipped on a loose rock and was knocked unconscious. The resulting internal bleeding on his forehead left a sizable bump. The blood settled towards his left eye and he looked a character from a horror movie. The injury required him to trek back to Rongdo village and travel back to Leh along with some of the team members, to consult a doctor before we continued our expedition. We were back at Base Camp in a week, ready for adventures ahead.

From the Rongdo La Camp, the team made the first ascent of “Nga Kangri” (Ladakhi for “Snow Peak Five”) 6165 m.

A gradual descent from the Rongdo La brought us to the junction of the East Phunangma glacier and the South Argan Glacier. After several hours of searching, we finally found a safe route to access the South Argan Glacier through a huge icefall of the glacier.

We camped below the high pass that would allow us to cross the ridge coming down from Arganglas Peak. Fortunately, we found a safe crossing of the Argan La (5950 m), that involved a 200 m climb, a traverse of a narrow ridge and a 100 m descend into the North Argan Glacier. This was the first crossing of this pass.

The North Argan Glacier started as a gentle glacier from the Argan La but then turned into a highly broken and dangerous icefall. While negotiating the glacier, the snow caved in and Divyesh was dangling over a deep crevasse. Fortunately, he could extricate himself in time. The icefall posed a challenge in route finding. Eventually a tricky but safe route was located and the team made their way to the South Shukpa Kunchang Glacier.

A scenic campsite provided the much-needed rest and recuperation for the night before the team started its upward journey on the giant glacier over skid-prone gravel and loose boulders.

It took us two days to trek up the South Shukpa Kunchang Glacier. The upper section of the glacier was broad and flat and easier to walk on. The landscape was astounding with the formidable Saser Kangri II dominating the horizon.

We now made the first crossing of the high pass we named Zamoriyon La (5860 m) across the Zamoriyon Glacier to enter the Sakang valley.

The Zamoriyon Glacier descended gradually for the first few kilometres and then suddenly turned into a maze of loose rocks and boulders down a steep slope.

After a few days of badly needed rest, the team trekked to the head of the Sakang Lungpa Glacier.

We decided to end the expedition at the high point on the glacier below Plateau Peak.

We descended the Sakang valley which proved to be the sting in the tail. The entire route was broken due to the cloudburst in the previous year and the team had to cross large sections of exposed mountainside on a non-existent trail.

The expedition team had to overcome several hurdles and delays, the theft of our equipment, an injury, erratic stormy weather and extreme cold. We returned satisfied at having pushed our limits – both physical and mental. It was an experience of being out and on the edge amidst the most rugged and breath-taking mountains in the world!

The expedition celebrates 90 years of The Himalayan Club.

Team: Divyesh Muni (Leader), Rajesh Gadgil, Vineeta Muni, Huzefa Electricwala, Ashish Prabhu and Sonali Bhatia.

Cinematographer: Aditya Kulkarni

Support: Pasang Bhote, Pemba Bhutia, Sanjay Thakur, Sunil Thakur, Dinesh Thakur, Ajit Soni and Vipin Sharma.

: Acknowledgements :

Acknowledgement

: Team :

Expedition team

: Expedition gallery :

Rongdo Village
Rongdo Village
The Rongdo Valley
The Rongdo Valley
Advance Base Camp 5500 m
Advance Base Camp 5500 m
Accident above ABC
Divyesh after accident
Team on the summit of Nga Kangri (6165 m)
Team on the summit of Nga Kangri (6165 m)
Nga Kangri (6165 m)
Nga Kangri (6165 m)
Camp at the Junction
Camp at the Junction
Route on S Argan Glacier
Route on S Argan Glacier
Crossing the Argan La
Crossing the Argan La
Crossing the Argan La
Crossing the Argan La
Negociating the N. Argan Glacier
Negociating the N. Argan Glacier
Team finding way in N. Argan Glacier
Team finding way in N. Argan Glacier
Divyesh - Accident #02 - getting in crevasse
Campsite near South Shukpa Kunchang Glacier
A scenic campsite near South Shukpa Kunchang Glacier
Camp of the South Shukpa Kunchang Glacier
Camp of the South Shukpa Kunchang Glacier
Camp at Junction
Camp at Junction
Crossing the Zamoriyon La
Crossing the Zamoriyon La
Rocky slopes of Zamoriyon Glacier
Rocky slopes of Zamoriyon Glacier
The Sakang Lungpa Glacier
The Sakang Lungpa Glacier
Plateau Peak at the head of Sakang Lungpa Glacier
Plateau Peak at the head of Sakang Lungpa Glacier
Exposed traverse on the broken route in Sakang Valley
Exposed traverse on the broken route in Sakang Valley

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