Himalayan Journal vol.43
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.43

Publication year:
1987

Editor:
Soli S. Mehta
Index
  1. THE ASCENT OF KULA KANGRI FROM TIBET
    (PROF KAZUMASA HIRAI)
  2. EDITORIAL
  3. KANGCHENJUNGA CLIMBED IN WINTER
    (ANDRZEJ MACHNIK)
  4. GYACHUNGKANG, 1986
    (LT COL JEAN-CLAUDE MARMIER)
  5. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MERA
    (MAL DUFF)
  6. DHAULAGIRI 1984-85
    (ADAM BILCZEWSKI)
  7. DHAULAGIRI I EAST FACE
    (STANE BELAK AND MARJAN KREGAR)
  8. FIRST ASCENT OF SULI TOP
    (RAMAKANT S. MAHADIK)
  9. AN INDO-FRENCH MOUNTAIN ROUND-UP
    (COLONEL BALWANT S. SANDHU)
  10. POLICEMEN IN KEDAR BAMAK
    (P. M. DAS)
  11. INDO -SWEDISH EXPEDITION TO MERU 1986
    (MANDIP SINGH SOIN)
  12. A VERY MODEST MOUNTAIN
    (EMLYN THOMAS)
  13. BASPA AND ROPA, 1986
    (M. H. CONTRACTOR)
  14. A NOTE ON KINNAUR
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  15. MENTHOSA; ALMOST
    (ALOKE SURIN)
  16. SIA KANGRI, 1986
    (MAJOR K. V. CHERIAN)
  17. SASER KANGRI III 1986
    (S. P. CHAMOLI)
  18. THE SOSBUN GLACIER BASIN
    (LINDSAY GRIFFIN)
  19. 1986 BRITISH K2 EXPEDITION
    (DAVE WILKINSON)
  20. AN ATTEMPT ON GASHERBRUM III, 1985
    (GEOFF COHEN)
  21. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  22. IN MEMORIAM
  23. BOOK REVIEWS
  24. CORRESPONDENCE
  25. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1986

GYACHUNGKANG, 1986

LT COL JEAN-CLAUDE MARMIER

GYACHUNGKANG 7952 m is located in the central Himalaya on the border between China and Nepal, thirty kilometers west of Everest, just near Cho Oyu.

Only one previous expedition had climbed the mountain. In 1964 two members of a Japanese team had made the first ascent, climbing a snow-gully on the west flank of the south face and then the NW ridge avoiding the last rock step on the Tibetan side. One member had fallen and died below the summit. Since then nobody has attempted the peak.

The idea of going to Gyachungkang had been in my mind for five years since the day I had crossed the last pass before the Rongbuk monastery during an attempt on the north face of Everest in 1981. That day Gyachungkang looked as majestic as its famous neighbours Makalu, Everest, Lhotse and Cho Oyu.

We received the official authorization only towards the end of February 1986 for a joint expedition with three members of the Royal Nepalese army: Major Prem Bahadur, Captain Ramesh Sahi and Captain Surendra Singh Thapa. Captain Karki was our liaison officer.

The French members were all from the high altitude warfare school in Chamonix (EMHM). I as leader, with Captain A. Esteve (deputy leader), Dr F. Maurel, Adjutant H. Giot, Adjutant P. Royer, Sergeant Major Y. Tedeschi, Sergeant Major G. Tresallet, Sergeant E. Gramond, U. Flematti and D. Semblanet, civilian instructors at the school.

Our small military team was very strong, skilled in climbing the hardest routes in the Alps and well experienced in the Himalaya on Everest, Gasherbrum, Dhaulagiri, Thalay Sagar, Kabru, Kamet and other mountain ranges in Alaska and Greenland.

The selection of a route for the expedition involved a major difficulty because of total lack of past information except a photo of the south face in Shiro Sirahata's book.

The huge spur starting at about 6000 m and finishing on the main summit looked very exciting with ice and rock climbing of a high standard, safe from objective dangers. But we could see on this photograph a bit of the tremendous glacier lying at the foot of Gyachungkang and we could not find out if it was possible to cross It.

Captain Esteve and Dr Maurel arrived in Kathmandu on 27 March, to buy food and gear and tie up all our administrative problems with the Nepalese army and the Ministry of Tourism.

Photo 1
On 6 April the whole team mustered in the 'Sherpa Trekking Service' court yard in Kathmandu to distribute clothing and equipment to our base camp staff and three high altitude porters. Final packing and preparing of loads were done in two short days.

On 8 April the expedition left Kathmandu by road, except Captain Esteve who stayed in Kathmandu working at all the arangements concerning air cargo transport of our loads from Kathmandu to Lukla.

After a ten hour drive we arrived at Jiri, the roadhead. Our good Sirdar Kahchiring had arrived there one day in advance, hiring porters.

On 9 April we started the approach march on the classical route to Everest base camp. The weather was hot and cloudy with scattered showers in the afternoon.

On 15 April just below Lukla we met Captain Esteve with all the expedition stuff. Fortunately he had landed in time, after waiting a week in Kathmandu because of bad weather.

At night we were all at Phakding.

On Hi April a pleasant three hour stroll led us to Namche Bazar. Thai was the end of the forests, we were at last in the mountains,

Namche was a pleasant place even with tourists: typical Sherpa dwellings, funny dealers of everything under the sun, beautiful landscape.

Actually the crux in Namche was the porter problem. Many of our porters were not keen to go on to base camp because of high altitude and we had to hire yaks.

Due to yak shortage our expedition was divided into two parties. It was quite a miracle when all the members started on the 17th morning. The weather was very good with beautiful views of Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam. After one hour we gave up the Everest base camp trek taking the route to Dhole, a hamlet in the Ngozumba valley. It took three hours after Dhole when Cho Oyu and Gyachungkang appeared on the horizon. Two days later we reached Gokyo and its lovely lake, the end of the route for many trekkers.

We had planned to set up base camp as near as possible to the foot of the mountain. We were worried because our yakherds were arguing that they were not able to traverse the Ngozumba glacier and therefore we might have to set up our base camp on the right bank very far from the mountain.

After a recce it seemed quite clear, that there was no way of crossing the glacier with yaks. So on 21 April we set up the base camp on the moraine only half a kilometre from the German base camp for Cho Oyu.

That was a grassy place with little water, very windy and unpleasant. Our first aim now was to find a suitable route through the glacier up to the rimaye of our mountain. We had to find a safe route to proceed on the moraine. It was very steep with unsteady rocks threatening above our heads. We found a not very satisfactory route but thanks to heaven we did not have any accident during the expedition.

On 22 April XL Flematti, P. Royer, Y. Tedeschi, E. Gramond and Ramesh Sahi went for a recce up the glacier.

There were several options to reach the upper ice-plateau under the face. After a long day's walk on unpleasant screes and boulders, they found that the more suitable route was on the left bank of the main glacier.

So on 23 April all the members, high altitude porters ferried to Camp 1 which was set up on the Ngozumba glacier at the foot of the first big icefall.

H. Giot, G. Tresallet and p. Semblanet stayed at Camp 1. On 24 April they found the route was too dangerous and actually impossible above the icefall because of huge crevasses. Subsequently in the afternoon we went with A. Esteve for recce on the right bank of the glacier and a conspicuous rock spur seemed the more suitable route to reach the plateau above the first icefall. After an hour of rock-climbing we reached the foot of a huge chimney leading to grassy slopes and easy couloirs up to the top of the rock spur leading, at 5800 m to a large snow-rib coming down Ngozumba peak. We asked H. Giot's party to join us. On 25 April they fixed ropes in the chimney and on the 26th U. Flematti and E. Gramond reached the site of a new Camp 1 at 5800 m.

Camp X was on snow under the dominating presence of Gyachung-kang and with a good view of the second icefall.

It took six hours from base to Camp 1 and during three days we worked very hard to ferry all possible loads.

After one night spent at Camp 1, on the 29th U. Flematti, Prem Bahadur, Y. Tedeschi, E. Gramond, P. Royer and I went to recce for Camp 2.

First we crossed the upper slopes of the first icefall through intricate crevasses and then climbed straight into the second icefall avoiding crevasses on the left bank. We were on the slopes of the upper plateau, the weather was very cloudy and we went up very slowly because of deep snow. Exhausted after a ten hour walk we found a good place for Camp 2 not far from the rimaye of the peak.

I went back to Camp 1 with Prem Bahadur and Tedeschi, the others set up two cubic tents and stayed there for the night.

On the 30th morning the weather was clear with tremendous views of Everest and Lhotse. The Camp 2 party after a three hour walk in deep snow started fixing ropes along the well marked spur reaching the main buttress at 7200 m. The slopes were of 50° to 60° on good ice and snow with good belays in granite rocks.

On 1 May Y. Tedeschi, H. Giot and F. Maurel went to Camp 3 and U. Flematti, P. Royer to base for rest. The remnants of the team and high altitude porters ferried to Camp 2 despite the dangerous pitch under the seracs.

On 3 May I went up with G. Tresallet and Kilu Temba fixing ropes up to the main ridge at 7180 m, we were under a 200 m rock step where the obvious line of ascent was a rock and ice-chimney. Extremely tired we went down to Camp 2 for a day's rest.

On the 5th we were again at the top of the fixed ropes, dug a small terrace in the snow and set up two small bivouac tents. The weather was not cold and partly sunny but on the 6th it turned bad with snow and mist. Despite these conditions we went up fixing ropes in the chimney. Climbing was strenuous but fortunately the rock was strong with good protection. After seven hours we reached the top of the chimney, unfortunately due to poor visibility we did not find out how to reach the upper slopes. Very tired, we gave up and went down, reached the rimaye two hours later and then Camp 2 despite the fog.

On the 7th H. Giot and A. Esteve reached Camp 2; next day they slept at Camp 3 and on the following day ferried up the chimney and fixed a rope because of extremely bad conditions.

They then went down to base camp to rest. The same day U. Flematti and P. Royer reached Camp 3, on 9 May they fixed ropes up to 7700 m and E, Gramond, F. Maurel party joined them at Camp 3. On 10 May they reached 7800 m.

11 May was the day of the first summit attempt; the weather was very clear and cold. U. Flematti and P.. Royer started from Camp 3 at 5.30 a.m. with six 50 m ropes and a movie camera, at 2 p.m. they reach the top of the fixed ropes, it was so windy they were not able to go on and got frostbite on feet and fingers; they returned to Camp 3 exhausted.

On 12 May E. Gramond, F. Maurel started at 6 a.m. with very light bags; all the technical equipment was already at the top of the fixed ropes. At 7850 m, a vertical cliff was the ultimate obstacle before the summit. They avoided it by a 100 m traverse on the right looking like 'the traverse of the gods' on Eigerwand in the Alps. They fought for one hour in a ten meter vertical groove with very poor protection (may be it was one of the hardest pitch ever done at this altitude). Then it became easier - they were in the last snowfield; at 4.30 p.m. they reached the top.

The same day I reached Camp 3 with G. Tresallet, D. Semblanet and Kilu Temba at 10 p.m, We were in our sleeping bags congratulating the summit party. On 13 May we started at 5 a.m., the weather was partly cloudy with little wind and with the fixed ropes we had no problem. At 11.30 a.m. I reached the summit, I was not able to see Everest but the view towards Tibet was terrific, made more pleasant by the lack of wind.

By the time G. Tresallet joined me at 12.30 p.m. there was a lot of mist and snow had started to fall.

We started going down and we came across our companions: they were late and the summit was not for them.

Despite bad weather A. Esteve and H. Giot reached Camp 3 on 14 May. They started at midnight the same day and reached summit at 8 a.m., they were very lucky because a terrible storm began at 10 a.m. which lasted three days.

We had no time for further attempts so we retrieved all our equipment from the mountain and started the return march on 19 May.

In three weeks from base we achieved a difficult ascent by a new route on an unspoiled high mountain. We were lucky with the weather; we were lucky with all the dangers, and to have worked in a friendly spirit throughout the adventure.

GYACHUNGKANG.   (Col.  J.C. Marmier)

GYACHUNGKANG. (Col. J.C. Marmier)