GANESH HIMAL

RICK ALLEN and RONALD GARIN

Ascent of Ganesh II South Face
(Rick Allen)

Historical Review
THE GANESH HIMAL is a knot of peaks of around 7000 m lying close to the Tibetan border in Nepal. On a clear morning the range can be seen from the Kathmandu valley at a distance of about 50 miles to the northwest. A dark nose of rock on Ganesh V resembling an elephant's trunk is quite prominent; hence an association of the massif with the elephant God, Ganesh.

Of seven principal peaks, four of which top 7000 m only Ganesh I (7429 m) was climbed before the late 1970’s and the group enjoyed the obscurity of being off the permitted list and off the beaten track for trekkers.

In 1949 Tilman and Lloyd explored the Sangje glacier and claimed the ascent of Paldor (5928 m). This outlier is now open to trekking parties.

The highest summit in the group, Ganesh I was climbed in 1955 from the Sangje glacier by a Swiss party led by Raymond Lambert. A British party visited the mountain shortly afterwards but in recent years Ganesh I has been closed to foreigners.

In the 1970's Japanese parties took a serious interest in the region but applications were at first refused for the peaks which were listed as open to Nepalese nationals only. In 1978 the ground rules changed and applications for joint Nepali-foreign expeditions were accepted. The Japanese were quick to take advantage of the opportunity and by 1981 all of the peaks above 6900 m had been climbed.

Lapsang Karbo or Ganesh II (7111 m) lies at the centre of the massif and was attempted in 1979 by a Nepali-Japanese expedition. They were repulsed by heavily corniced ice-towers on the long east ridge whereupon they executed a traverse across most of the avalanche prone northeastern flank and reached the summit by the relatively easy north ridge.1
In 1983 a Polish expedition attempted the huge south face but having gained the SE ridge, retreated in the face of major obstacles and poor conditions. One member was killed when an abseil gave way and an epic rescue of one remaining climber was effected from high on the face. The formidable east face has not, to the writer's knowledge, ever been approached.

I, See HJ. Vol. 37, p. .168.-Ed.

Photo 6
The approach to Ganesh III lies to the west of the group but an attempt in 1980 by a Nepali-Japanese team ended with the loss of three members in an avalanche. The following year both Nepali-German and Nepali-Japanese expeditions had permission for the north side of Ganesh III and the first ascent was eventually a joint affair.

Pabil or Ganesh IV presents a fearsome flank of seracs to the south but is the most accessible of the major peaks. First climbed in 1978 by a joint Nepali-Japanese team it was attempted again in 1980 by an Australian Army Expedition with the loss of one member and repeated in the same year via the elegant S{3W ridge by Michel Feuillarde's French team. Phil Trimble from the UjS diplomatic service in Kathmandu failed on the south face during the winter season of 1980/81 and in 1982 a South Korean expedition reached the summit via the south face and east ridge.

Ganesh Himal

Ganesh Himal



Giant slabs terminating in steep rock prows give Ganesh V a disjointed appearance. However its north ridge succumbed in 1980 to one of the ubiquitous joint Nepali-Japanese assaults.

North of Ganesh I on the Tibetan border lies Lampu or Ganesh VI; unclimbed and off the list. Ganesh VII lies wholly within Chinese Tibet and is presumably also inviolate.

In 1980 as a result of border adjustments Nepal conceded the Sangje glacier to China so that the frontier now runs south from Ganesh I to Ganesh II then east to Ganesh V and across the Chilime Khola. The first ascensipnists of Ganesh II encountered Chinese border guards on the glacier and this approach is now closed from the Nepalese side.

Ganesh II: South Face
Nick and I had encountered one another several times in the last few years in a variety of bars, tea houses and bothies and we both entered 1984 with plenty of enthusiasm and no place to go. During a stormy January weekend in Glencoe the decision was made to go somewhere, the rest was just detail.

I was keen to return to Nepal and the recently opened Ganesh range with its relatively short approaches seemed to offer abundant opportunities. However, the few published pictures showed only the wrong facets of the wrong mountains. Picking a line from a hazy telephoto shot in a journal is enough of a pig in a poke without indulging in an outright guess. A chance meeting with John Cleare, one of the few British mountaineers to have visited the area, yielded a magnificent collection of prints of the southern side of the range and an oblique view of the south face of Ganesh II accompanied an application just two weeks before the deadline for the post-monsoon period.

The face is about 2500 m high and curves round in a huge arc to join the tumbling seracs of the south face of Ganesh IV. The right hand half appeared to be relatively free from objective danger, predominantly snow and ice-slopes interrupted by some major rock bands.

In March reports were published describing the Polish attempt on the face in 1983, the first we had heard of it. We suspected that Wielicki and Pawlikowski were not types to give up lightly and they reported unstable snow and loose rock. Correspondence with the editor of a Polish Journal yielded valuable photographs and we knew beyond doubt that we had not picked a cake walk.

Permission was received and the project launched although we were too late to qualify for grants. The budget received a knock as late as August when His Majesty's Government of Nepal doubled the peak fee.

Our arrival in Kathmandu in mid-September was delayed by late rains and major obstacles loomed. The rains had cut the road from India causing paraffin rationing, a Swiss expedition, apparently with permission for the same face, had just left and the air freight was firmly in the hands of the customs officials. However in just three days of frantic activity all problems were solved, circumvented or ignored and we could leave for Trisuli Bazar in a hired bus with a full complement of porters.

The approach route lay across country to the Anku Khola then up the valley of this river to its source below the Ganesh peaks. Few trekkers venture up this cul-de-sac and only a handful of expeditions have passed this way. Little Western influence is apparent in the self-sufficient villages and buying a few potatoes is a major exercise for a Sirdar who speaks no Taniang. Beyond Hindung the trail entered the steep upper gorge of the Anku Khola, rising rapidly and repeatedly crossing the river. The Swiss expedition on their 12 day walk had rebuilt every log bridge, saving us four days. We reached base camp on an exposed vegetated ridge below Ganesh IV to find the Swiss committed to a circuitous icefall route leading to the west ridge of Ganesh II. Entente cordiale was established over a bottle of whisky with Ronald Garin and his team mates, secretly relieved not to be debating who should be climbing where.

Across an intervening glacier the scale of the south face defied appreciation; (Photo 6) with the upper two-thirds foreshortened it was still a monster. We crossed the glacier and established our advance base camp tent on the far bank about 200 m below base camp. This was not much help in acclimatizing so despite streaming head colds we embarked on the face with massive sacks on 3 October. Climbing up the glacier and over rubble strewn ledges at the foot of the face led to a key chimney pitch with an abandoned rope and more traces of the Polish visit at their first bivouac site. The next day a major ice-gully led to the foot of the most prominent rock wall on the face. The sun turned this gully into a bowling alley by midday so we were glad to move leftwards below the sheltering wall. The combined effects of a head cold, diarrhoea and altitude exerted themselves and I reached the second Polish bivouac site utterly spent. Nick was in better shape and managed the tent and the cooking single handed.

We retreated the following morning having had as much acclimatizing as we could take and left a dump of food, gear and gas. The peculiar siting of our advance camp left an uphill slog to base, a nightmare on this occasion as I lost the track in the dark and blundered through streams and dwarf juniper scrub.

After: two days rest the weather persisted fair and there were no excuses left. Repeating the first two days took us to about 5200 m, poised above the next ice-couloir. From here the Poles had continued upwards on to successively more difficult rock to emerge on the pinnacled SE ridge, separated from the summit slopes by major obstacles.

Linking some crucial transverse pitches was required to break out into the centre of the face. In the couloir early next morning we climbed sixty degree glassy ice for several pitches until Nick moved out on to a short wall composed of loose mica flakes. Rock ledges took us left to an excellent natural platform and an early bivouac.

Crossing a short snowfield in the morning we reached a crucial ice-pitch leading through the rock barrier above. Without the sack for once I climbed a full runout of good Scottish IV, revelling in a brief liberation from the oppressive burden. Snow-flutings and another bivouac led to more steep ice through the next rock barrier and on up into a fan-shaped hanging icefield. Climbing the left edge daylight faded without any chance of a site for the tent. My attempt to chop out a ledge struck rock almost immediately and we settled for the Kekus mark one angled snow-ledge with rock fin. Thrashing about with the tent we broke one pole and finally settled for wrapping the fabric around us. Unable to brew up, two bundles were suspended in misery as spindrift trickled into the tent sack. A strong contender in the league table of appalling bivouacs.

In the morning just one rope length led to a site where a tent platform could be dug and the day was spent brewing up. This rest at about 6200 m may have helped acclimatization and partly counteracted the weakening effects of the previous night.

The seventh day on the face began with a sensational traverse across vertical rotten snow on to a steep icicle and so out of a Z shaped ramp system through the last rock barrier. The slopes above were deeply fluted with hard green ice-channels, alternating icing sugar crests. Progress was slow; the steep ground demanded unrelenting concentration and diminishing loads could not compensate for fatigue and the debilitating effects of recurrent diarrhoea. At least we were never both ill on the same day.

So far the weather had been stable with clear skies every morning but on the eighth day banks of high cloud moved in from the west and enveloped the mountain. The tent platform that night was dug into the crest of a snow-fluting leaving us exposed to the gathering wind. In the morning we faltered, retreating to our bags as snow-flurries circled. Descending the way we had come was not inviting and with one meal left we could not sit still. We would go on until we could dig a snow-hole. A slight improvement in visibility led us on and we decided to go for a descent by the west ridge, which entailed reaching the summit. Heads down against the wicked wind we emerged on to easier angled ground overlooking the east face and reached the level summit crest in a whiteout in the late afternoon.

Dropping below the crest we dug a small snow-hole and began brewing up. My taste for instant noodles had declined to such an extent by this time that half of the last meal remained uneaten.

The wind was unabated in the morning as we stumbled down the upper slopes of the west ridge. A rock gendarme barred the way after a while and it became obvious that the Swiss team had not completed their route. Visions of descending a succession of camps stocked with chocolate were shattered and we embarked on a descent of the south face which was partly sheltered from the wind. This area of the face was capped by steep rock and as we abseiled into the mist, down overhanging walls, the situation seemed close to getting out of hand.

In the evening we reached a broad snow-terrace which was familiar from photographs and would lead diagonally leftward to our line of ascent. We dug a level tent platform and brewed up lemon tea as the sky cleared. Two days later we reached advanced base camp after twelve days on the mountain.

Ganesh Himal II West Ridge
(Ronald Garin)

WE WALKED FROM Trisuli Bazar for five days along the crests (grasslands, forests but few villages) to reach Hindung, the last village overlooking the Ankhu Khola river.

The next four days we followed the gorges of the upper part of the Ankhu Khola. They were narrow and deeply embanked. The vegetation was so thick that many times we could do nothing else but follow the track the people from Hindung were clearing. The river was still swollen and not fordable and we had to ask the inhabitants to build five bridges. This checked our progress and we lost three days.

Once out of the gorges, it took us two days to walk up the highest part of the valley and spot a convenient place for our base camp. The camp was established at an altitude of 4300 m, on top of a small pass, a sort of depression on the grass covered ridge that leads to the south spur of Pabil (Ganesh IV). This place has already been used by the Japanese, during the first ascent of Pabil, by Poles when they tried to climb the SW face of Ganesh II and by a mysterious South Korean team nobody wants to talk about. This place is a real belvedere, facing the austere cirque of Ganesh IV and II and its huge icefall whose upper part stands at roughly 5400 m high.

We planned to follow the ice-slopes up to the pass which opens between Ganesh IV and Ganesh II, This pass called Mlang Yun Pa by the natives, is estimated to be 6200 m and shows as being the lowest dip on the 3.5 km ridge that spans between the two summits. The western part of the ridge is then to be followed up to the top of the Ganesh II, about 2 km away.

The reconnaissance made on 23 September confirmed our choice, at least for the first part of the route, and we could find a way through the icefall. The day after, a party left to inspect the passage and find a place for the Camp 1. They had to stop because one of the members fell (about two meters) and had his shoulder dislocated. Despite numerous attempts and the help of the other members the doctor could not set the shoulder. Our friend was evacuated four days later by a helicopter.

From the base camp we walk northwards on grass slopes and crumbled scree to the glacier that descends from the SE face of Ganesh IV. We cross it horizontally at about 4600 m and keep climbing along a spur oriented NW to W up to some 5000 m. That spur disappears in the east face of Pabil and protects us from the falling blocks of ice. From that point we cross a corridor (on the right hand side) and follow a few rocky and narrow platforms which helps us to get to the glacier. Then we climb that glacier, highly broken and very exposed to falling ice-blocks, towards the north up to a small plateau above the icefall at 5400 m where we fix the Camp 1. A series of big seracs protect the camp from avalanches that fall regularly from the west ridge 1000 m above us.

Our route goes up along steep slopes, crossed by a big icefall, in direction of Ganesh IV. Then another slope, less exposed leads us near the Mlang Yun Pa pass (6200 m). We choose that place to install the Camp 2.

From Camp 2 we climbed more or less along the edge of the snowy crest to 6400 m. This was the highest point reached. Up to now the conditions were good. From here up to the summit no big difficulties were to be seen.

Suddenly, on 8 October, the bad weather is upon us and keeps the climbers in the camps. A late afternoon improvement gives some hope. But during the night the storm gathers momentum and tents of Camp 1 are seriously damaged by an avalanche. The next morning we have no choice but to go down to the base camp. On 14th, we start again the long and exhausting climb to the Camp 2. It had snowed quite a lot during the preceding days and walking is difficult.

The camp did not suffer too much. But during the night the weather changes again and we have to go back to the base canip leaving one tent and some gear buried in the snow. On the 15th in the evening we all meet at the base camp. For us the Ganesh ends here.

South face of Ganesh II.

South face of Ganesh II.