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

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MERA

MAL DUFF

The first ascent of the SW Pillar
I'D NEVER previously contemplated an underground pitch whilst wandering up a glacier. This was different. We were both severely scared. What we had thought would be a reasonable glacier approach was turning out to be as full a test of our mountaineering abilities as we would ever wish to find. The huge threatening seracs tumbling from icefields way up right of the pillar were obvious. These were acceptable - nasty but unless we were unduly unlucky we would blast through the impact area in an hour or so. With a prudently early start this had gone like clockwork. Ruefully I recalled our premature elation.

The crevasse pitch which Tat had led, and afterwards had confessed to being the wildest climbing he'd ever undertaken, 'No way would J have tried that normally except it was the first time we had climbed together and I didn't want you to think I was a wimp.' Wowr. Front-pointing down vertically to bridge to a central tower, axe into this just as the jumbled blocks collapsed into a hole so deep that the bottom was invisible. My tight rope reaction in the confusion of whirling snowdust. The relief when I realised that Tat was somehow still alive, my horror when craning over the edge I could see him, a knee hooked over a block, his axe in and everything else dangling, nowhere obvious to go, and going a definite requirement. This 20 ft down and 20 ft out and a further 20 ft to the other side, a gap he crossed on support impossibly tenuous. Much mental debate when it came to my turn, weighing the chances of jumping in (40 ft down, 40 ft pendulum and jumar up). Aye, it was that bad. I climbed it instead. The groove where the glacier abutted the overhanging buttress, the groove where the grit-impregnated ice glowed and sparkled as we blitzed our axes in.

We were now facing a cul-de-sac with an underground crevasse the only way out, 150 ft away a light glowed at the end of the tunnel. With little option we prepared to proceed. Much as the ball bearing in a pinball machine has little control, we the players (in this rather more serious game) were bouncing from place to place, our sole intention being the preservation of our fragile existences. Gaining height, although desirable, was less of a priority. Tat moved off into the gloom, jumped as if shocked, (his foot having gone through the floor) reappeared, looked up, around, muttered a bit, gathered his cloak of courage around himself and once more re-entered the darkness. Tat first bridged horizontally, then front-pointed on the side wall to reach a tiny ridge of snow which appeared from the depths below. Edging up this he gradually disappeared from view, as he crept crablike around a corner. Without visual contact my nerves shuddered with every tremor or jerk on the rope.

I followed, concentration wound to the limit, ticking towards Tat with hope of better things above. Turning the corner the view ahead was revealed. Tat was sitting on a snowbridge, it seemed unwise for me to climb up to and onto this until he had departed. Beyond, our canyon was blocked by a tangle of collapsed or collapsing seracs. Both side walls overhung considerably. Below was of course unimportant but in any event all was velvet black. The utter chaos, the manifest impossibility seemed insurmountable, but eventually years of spying the way, of seeing lines of possibility revealed a minor weakness. Nevertheless it was very obvious that climbing with a rucksac was out of the question. Unencumbered Tat overcame a leaning serac, a steep wall, an icy groove and finally a cornice-like headwall. As our rucksacks were gradually hauled skyward I reflected that I had never heard of this being required in a glacier approach before. Nevertheless with that pitch we thankfully reached the foot of our route. The huge unclimbed SW Pillar of Mera.

It was 2 p.m., the glacier difficulties had been unexpected, beyond our powers of imagination, mentally drained we opted for an early bivouac. At 4 p.m. our casual brewing was rudely interrupted. The glacier shuddered - our line of approach slowly and then with awesome momentum collapsed below us.

In the cold light of dawn, the steep compact buttress above displayed all the aspects of nastiness associated with this particular time of day. My Scottish origins came to the fore and being my turn to lead I opted for a lacework of icy grooves on the west face. The ice was consistently good, belays of impeccable security appeared every 160 ft, and if on occasion this was stretched to 200 or 300 ft no matter, we were cruising. The vastness of the Himalaya enveloped us as our view expanded, conical and serrated the peaks and ridges around us reverbrated in pink, blue and golden light. The air was still, the sky blue and all was well with the world. Nothing moved, except us, the choughs and the sun (with its attendants the sharp dark blue shadows, delineating every undulation on the mountains and slopes around us). The ridge was gained, we sat and smoked, drinking our precious water; warmed and made lazy by the heat until eventually we continued, coaxing a few more rock pitches out of our tiring bodies.

One of the strange things about bivvy ledges, is that they always appear more attractive initially, than they in fact, by midnight, turn out to be. This one was, not surprisingly, no exception. As we dozed and brewed, wriggling to accomplish the impossibility of comfort, the wind increased at first imperceptibly and then with vigour, great buffeting lumps of wind keeled over the ridge above, suctioning on our bivi tent. Whirling snowcrust snapped from the higher icefields spun past. Very exciting, but we'd been cunning and were tightly notched into the lee and could enjoy the rising crescendo, appreciate that glorious tension where security is absolute and the elements hammer and crash outside. In darkness, pierced only by the red hot coal of cigarettes we lay expectantly as the storm climaxed.

Dawn arrived with that sparkling clarity which signifies extreme cold. Above, a cracked overhanging prow barred our way and although we had brought rock boots with us for this eventuality we decided to go west. This was shaded and my feet rapidly numbed so with Tat belaying I contorted and struggled removing crampons and boots, warmed the offending digits, changed into new socks and reversed the procedure before stiffly making my way to the stance. Above was harder stuff, steep ice and creaking granite which led ultimately back to the crest. This was awful so we climbed diagonally down the south face for a pitch on appallingly rotten rock and gained a bay. Tat, when I arrived, was sunbathing, looking relaxed and grinning. The next pitch, mine, was not the sort of stuff to climb casually, so I wound up the nerves and elevated on rattling flakes scaring myself rather well in the process. Fortunately by gaining an icy groove we were then able to regain the crest where tired once more we prepared to bivouac We hacked and cut and cut and hacked and got more tired until eventually by pinning up the tent we were able to ignore the severely sloping floor. Enjoying the first brew my comfortable contemplations were rudely disturbed when Tat sat up tensely and asked 'Hey Mai, do you think the anchors are Ok?' 'Hell, you placed them'. Tat leant outside and tugged vigorously on his tape. I declined to do likewise just in case; but did slip a nut into a poor crack nearby as a sop to my conscious. During these manoeuvres we'd both noticed away out west a huge dark swirling bank of clouds, 'What do you reckon on the weather'. 'Not too bright, I think that lot will be over here sometime tomorrow'. 'Aye better plan to go early and blast for the top.' With that cheerless thought we dozed, slipping and sliding into the night. Up early we cleared the ledge in fast time. Urgency had entered the game. We fairly motored up a snow arete but this gradually pettered out onto an icefield and the perfect neve ribbon we were following narrowed and diminished finally blanking into sun and wind-polished 70° glassy ice. Tat up ahead placed one of our two ice-screws but the ice was rockhard and the head snapped off; the other, choked from previous use, he hammered into a fracture crack and thereafter for 500 ft we carried our nerves as, moving together we crept towards the security of the tower above. Tat climbed faultlessly until finally reaching the rock he slumped exhausted in a flurry of belaying. Our energy drain had been enormous but we knew that only 5 or 6 pitches lay ahead, and these, the key, were over left. The storm was gradually building. Above looked desperately hard, we knew we had to go left to reach a notch in the roofs above but in diminishing visibility the way was less than obvious.

As I crept up the hail trickle became a flood masking the holds. Carelessly dislodged rocks added unrequired drama. A concert of discord. We climbed to survive, individual moves no longer fun, just a necessity. Slowly we reeled in a couple of pitches until on a small sloping ledge everything blanked out - or seemed to - but up and left possibly within reach a tiny smear of glassy ice trickled over a bulge. Tat eyed this warily. 'You're the winter buttress specialist so I designate this pitch as yours'. This forceful invitation wras hard to ignore and as time was pressing I ventured forth. I picked and hooked and leant this way and that finding that progress was possible. Occasionally upwards. By dint of luck and forcing a few dicey moves a groove with a rich seam of quality ice was reached.

In the cloud, through the cloud, we spyed the illusive gap and better still a rock ledge whispering off towards it. Tat wasted no time, within minutes we were zeroing onto the summit. The route was finished. Only effort was required as we cruised down the standard route into the twilight and the embrace of friends below.

Summary: The first ascent of SW Pillar of Mera in Hinku valley (Eastern Nepal). The official revised height of Mera is 6654 m. Peak was climbed in 4 days; 27 to 30 March 1986.