ASCENTS IN RIMO GROUP OF PEAKS
G. K. SHARMA
THIS WAS for the first time that some team was to venture into Rimo group of Eastern Karakoram, or it can be said that neither an earlier record of some one going into that area is available nor locals have any story to tell. Rimo IV (7169 m-23,520 ft) was the main objective combined with other peaks of Rimo group. A fairly large team of 25 climbers was selected with K. S. Sooch as leader, A good number of novices were taken into the team but the consideration was the performances in the training camp and their physical and mental fitness.
On 6 July we started from Leh and reached roadhead Sasoma. To reach Sasoma which is 130 km north of Leh we had to cross Khardung la 18,380 ft.
Approach march started from Sasoma through the gorge of Tulum Puti Tokpo (nala). At first we had to climb a 1800 ft rock face which looked very ferocious in appearance but on it was a tactfully made mule track. This climb is locally called 'Chhattis Mor' (36 bends) to reach the top of rock face. After the rock face there was a gradual descent along the nala. Six hours of total march took us to a place called Lama Kheti a little ahead of Jingboche.
On 17th we made it to Skyangpoche after crossing turbulent Thangman Lungpa and ford nalas to Tulum Puti Tokpo. At Skyangpoche a stream from Mamostsong glacier joins.
18th was a very short day for us as porters/ponymen refused to go ahead that day after just two hours of march.
On 19th we climbed the Saser la, 16,800 ft, in early hours of morning. It was a cloudy day and at 0800 hours it started snowing. It gave relief from the hot sun but we could not enjoy the view from the la. Saser la perhaps remains snow-bound all the year round. Ponies were facing difficulty to walk on hard snow. They were actually belayed while descending from Saser la. By 1400 hours we reached Saser Brangsa. Going down into Shyok valley and going 2 km upstream along the river took us to a place where a rope-way' is fixed. This is commonly known as Garari. There taking men and material across the river, it became dark and we decided to camp on the other side of the river. Ponies crossed the river next morning when the water level was low.
Next day's march was through a gorge. Ponies went through the water stream and members climbed the flanking rocks and traversed on the slope finally to descend and meet the trail. After crossing the stream and climbing on the other flank of the gorge, we were in a wide open valley. It was 1600 hours when we reached Chungtash (15,000 ft) on 20 July, 21st was our rest day as it was agreed upon with the ponymen and porters.
On 22nd we had to pass through Murgo 'the gateway to heir. It is rightly named because the route further is very difficult and the whole day we had been walking in the river basin, crossing the water streams innumerous times. This took us to Burtsa. Members were tired. Camp area was made on the bank of the main stream. Burtsa has many possibilities for geological research. Fossils are in abundance there.
23rd was also spent marching in cold water which resulted in cold feet. Removing and putting on shoes again and again became time consuming so we stopped this drill and started crossing nalas with shoes on. Next halt was Kazil Langar.
We were happy to see the ascent of Depsang la on 24th for we were bored walking in water. A climb of an hour and half brought us on Depsang la, 17,800 ft. This hardly looks like a la, in fact after the climb we reached a wide open deserted plateau. This is Depsang plains. Bones of yaks and horses were heaped at places to mark the route in the desert. After a few km we were at Track Junction, 17,600 ft. Famous Karakoram Pass is only 25 km north.
We continued north from the Track Junction. Depsang plains are very cold and without vegetation. But at few places we saw blooming plants like a shock and we could photograph them. At places plains are marshy and our mules were sinking and we all had to help them out. Towards north the plain slopes down to the Chip Chap river with breath-taking view of Rimo group. Since we were higher than Rimo glacier we could clearly see the south Rimo glacier and could observe the northern medial moraine was leading to the foot of the mountain. Coming down we crossed Chip Chap river which had crystal clear fast flowing water. After crossing the river at a place where water was widespread but shallow, we camped at Gapshan, a junction of Chip Chap and Shyok,
Basin of Shyok is amazingly wide at its beginning, spreading about 4 km. It was 26 July and we were near our base camp. We trekked along the northern bank of Shyok finally to descend in the basin. We were seeing the icefall of central Rimo glacier while south Rimo glacier had a terminal moraine. At 1400 hours we reached a point in between snouts of south Rimo and central Rimo glaciers and established our base camp at 15,500 ft.
Next day's recce revealed that it was not possible to reach south Rimo glacier crossing over the snout of central Rimo glacier. Route had to be made through more than 100 ft high ice-pinnacles, fear of their falling was constant and this was hazardous. We decided to shift our camp across the river to a place where the river was only 80 ft wide and a traverse was made across the river on 27th,
Next morning two of us crossed the glacier and went for recce of south Rimo glacier. Terminal moraine of south Rimo glacier was more than a kilometre wide and full of crevasses, marsh and ups and downs. Across the moraine started the jungle of ice-pinnacles. Through the pinnacles we were able to find northern medial moraine.
On 30th the full team gathered at base camp. Myself and deputy leader Yadav were to open route to advance base camp. With the help of two others we started working on the glacier. We had to negotiate high pinnacles, deep crevasses and fast flowing glacial streams. Occasionally we had to find our way through 100-150 ft high pinnacles which gave us a feeling of going through a wonderland. At places we fixed rope and aluminium ladders. Every day route appeared different due to falling pinnacles. Members started ferrying the loads to dump camp while we were opening route to ABC. Myself and Yadav were able to occupy the advance base camp on 5 August at 17,600 ft.
We had been studying the map and the mountain and observed that if we attempt the peak from west chances of success were more though west face was not visible. On the bright morning of 7 August I left the ABC with Yadav to make an attempt on Rimo IV. While at ABC we had selected a possible bivouac point on the Icefall, so we proceeded on that line. We crossed the glacier diagonally and reached the glacier coming from west face of Rimo. Surface of glacier was melted and sharp edges of ice were projecting like long grass. Balancing over them made our progress slow. Crossing this glacier we descended down in the neve finally to climb in the icefall between the two peaks of Rimo group. We had been climbing for eight hours and had reached 19,800 ft Ahead of that we did not visualise any safe point for our bivouac within reach. So we decided to spent the night there. Our bivouac site was at the bottom of north face of the peak.
On 8th we left at 0600 hours in order to negotiate the icefall and by 11,00 hours we had climbed it and were at a point from where we could see the west face of our objective. We started towards the west cwm which was formed by another flanking peak of Rimo group and col in between. At first glance my idea was to climb up to the col and to attempt the peak through northwest ridge. Later I found that reaching up the col was impossible due to wide open crevasses and broken ice-blocks which were hanging dangerously. We had reached up to 21,500 ft and decided to spent the night there. More than 2 hours of daylight remained so we spent that time reconnoitering the southwest ridge through its western aspect.
Night was very uncomfortable for us though there was no wind but temperature went down to -30°C, At 0200 hours Yadav started lighting the stove and it took us 2 hours to get ready and move.
It was dark but ice was shining. We started slowly towards the iced-up west face with our head torches. 9th dawned fine, sky above us was clear and atmosphere without strong wind. We were front-pointing up the slope of the face and were exerting too much. This in turn made our body warm. There were two big crevasses on the slope. Negotiating them took us quite some time. At 0730 hours we reached the southwest ridge to see the sun shining bright and clear in the eastern sky. The ridge was mixture of rock and ice. At two places climb was steep but with loose rock projections. Belaying each other and climbing for two hours on the ridge we found a good flat place. Summit was looking very near but just above our heads. We did not see the possibility of ice ahead and removed our crampons. Leaving my rucksack and ice-axe we started towards the goal. Yadav took his ice-axe with him to hoist the flag at the top. Climbing on rock without crampons we made fast progress, and at about 1000 hours we were under the final dome of the summit which had a crack on the eastern side, I jammed my hand in the crack and was able to climb. At 1005 hours we both were on the summit. Our goal had been reached. Northern sky was full of low clouds and we were fortunate enough to have clear weather around. We spent about 20 minutes on the top and started descending which proved more difficult than climbing. We came down belaying each other and reached our bivouac site where we rested and at 1700 hours we reached our first bivouac which had by now been turned into Camp 1.
As the peak was too hazardous to be attempted by novices, it, was decided that there would be only one more attempt by Chhibbar and leader and no more.
It was 11 August, a momentous day. At 0500 hours leader and Chhibbar set out from Camp 2 for the second attempt on Rimo. Almost simultaneously three ropes comprising Vajra, Ranu Ram, Baran, Hardev, Raut, A. K. Singh and Sattar set out to scale four more peaks above 20,000 ft. These peaks were in Rimo and Shelkar groups, A. K. Singh and Sattar were attempting two unnamed peaks of 20,100 and 20,300 ft in Shelkar group whereas the rest were attempting two other peaks of 21,300 and 20,600 ft in Rimo group. A. K. Singh and Sattar were back at 1230 hours after having successfully scaled both their peaks, but Vajra's team was nowhere in the sight. At about 1130 hours they had been spotted atop their peak 21,200 ft and thereafter they disappeared in the clouds. Anxiously Yadav and myself sat at ABC with eyes towards the peaks. They came in view at 1400 hours. They were traversing to the next peak and by the time they had returned it was 1730 hours. Just then news was received from Camp 1 that Sooch and Chhibbar had also climbed Rimo IV. There was jubilation in camp. We had scaled five virgin peaks in one day.
On 12th Murthy Arumugam, Maharana and Rajnish left to scale twin peaks of 20,200 and 20,150 ft. Mittal Dubey and Mohan set out for second attempt on 21,300 ft and 20,800 ft peaks. Weather gods were now unkind. Visibility was down to 20 ft and the cold was numbing. By 1700 hours Mittal team returned and by 1800 hours Murthy returned with his party. They narrated that fresh snowfall had made their movement extremely difficult. With every step member would sink down upto their thighs but success had been theirs. Today we had a total of seven peaks to our credit. On 13th Gora, Makhan and Tashi again successfully attempted 21,300 ft and Mohanti Shetty and Jamplal scaled 21,100 and 20,300 ft peaks. By 14th all camps had been closed and whole team concentrated at base camp. The ponymen went off to collect the mules and we set off for our long trek to road-head Sasoma on 16 August.
Rimo IV (23,520 ft). The route of first ascent followed the SW ridge (left hand sky-line). (Photo: G. K. Sharma)