Maitri in the Karakoram
Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.
'Congratulations, it seems you have had a good trip!' Don Goodman wrote to me after reading our report of Arganglas expedition in 2001. 'How is the region?' he enquired. I had known him during his three year stay in Mumbai in the mid-90's and interacted with him as he is the Hon. Local Secretary for U.S.A. of the Himalayan Club. His question rekindled the memories of our views of the fascinating peaks across the dividing ridge to the south of the Arganglas valley of East Karakoram. This group of peaks of the Lung Tung valley had not been attempted and the valley had remained unexplored. Thus a joint expedition between Indian and American climbers was formed.
'Karakoram Maitri Expedition' was set to leave by end of July 2005. The weather Gods, however, had plans to test us even before we set off. On 26 July, Mumbai had come to a standstill with several parts of the city under several feet of water. My house was flooded. 'Maitri' (friendship) saved the situation. All my friends rallied around and ensured that I could leave in time to sign the papers at the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, New Delhi.
After the mandatory paper work, our 14 - member team and liaison officer finally reached Leh on 1 August 2005. There were 7 Americans and 8 Indians in the age group of 24 to 65 years with varied backgrounds - artist, engineers, veterinary doctor, accountant, businessmen, outdoor expert, soldier etc. Our objective was common - to climb and explore in the Satti valley.
On 4 August, we pitched camp at Satti village (3245 m). From here, our approach march would lead us along the Spangchenmo river to the snout of the Lung Tung glacier where we planned to establish base camp.
1 Maitri in Hindi means friendship.
No climbing team had entered this valley before. The river cut a deep gorge and fell 500 m to the Nubra valley before joining the Shyok. We would therefore have to climb 900 m up the side of the gorge before dropping 400 m into the valley. On 7 August we had an eventful trek with yaks moving at a painfully slow pace carrying our loads. By evening we had reached the Yarlas camping ground (4640 m) but all our loads did not make it. Some of the porters had left the loads half way and run away. We had gained an altitude of 1400 m but with all the ascents and descents, we had actually climbed nearly 2000 m during the day.
On the 8th we recced the area for a base camp. At two places, we came across petroglyphs (etching in the rock of animals and birds). It was fascinating, since there was no record of any habitation in the valley. We passed the junction of the glacier flowing between Satti Kangri (6639 m) and peak 6489 m and moved to the base of the ridge coming down from Satti Kangri.
On 9 August, BC was set up on the lateral moraine at the junction of the Lung Tung glacier with several other smaller unnamed glaciers flowing in from all directions. After a day of settling in the camp, some of us checked out the route towards Satti Kangri from its south side. There was an excellent campsite on the SW flank of Buk Buk peak. We found a route, which avoided negotiating the circuitous broken icefall of the Lung Tung glacier and led us to the base of the peaks on the glacier. With this we were ready to attempt our first objectives- various peaks on the glaciers surrounding us.
Satti Kangri (6639 m)
On 12 August, the four-member team left fully laden towards the south col of Satti Kangri. The initial route was over the lateral moraine of the glacier. They camped on the moraine before they reached the snowfield. Next morning, they left early to reach the col between Satti Kangri and peak 6277 m. They could observe that the initial 400 m would be a steep mixed climb over ice and rock before the summit ridge.
An advance party moved to ABC and on 14 August, six of us walked on a gentle Lung Tung glacier towards site of Camp 1 (5900 m) which was between Karpo Kangri to the north and Gjungma Kangri to the south.
Thongsa Ri (5899 m)
Above the ABC rose a rocky peak of 5899 m., which we thought would give us a clear view of the entire region. Vineeta and Ang Tashi
made a quick ascent of this peak by the east ridge. They were rewarded with grand views. Over the next few days, this peak became a favourite warm up climb for most of the team by the east ridge and the southeast face. The peak was named 'Thongsa Ri' - meaning 'look out'.
Karpo Kangri (6540 m)
The recce party had returned from Satti Kangri and now all attention was on Karpo Kangri and its adjoining peaks. Having sufficiently stocked up C1, a group of us went on to occupy the camp. There was a lot of debate on the route for Karpo Kangri. The west ridge and variations, leading to the west peak had a very thin rock ridge to negotiate in the final section.whereas the eastern approach looked like a very long route and we would have to traverse over a subsidiary peak to get to the east summit. The route considered most feasible was up the large ice slope flowing down from the central summit. The route was steep and interspersed with several icefalls but appeared to be the safest bet. It was decided that Don Beavon, Marlin Geist, Cyrus Shroff and Surendra Chavan would work up a line on this route supported by the Sherpas.
Unfortunately the weather remained bad for a day and plans were reworked. On19 August, Don Beavon (P.J.) and Marlin attempt the peak in one push from C1 without fixing any lines. Cyrus, Surendra and the Sherpas would fix line on the route for a day more and attempt the peak on the following day.
Marlin describes their climb
Peak 6540 m, Karpo Kangri, is our primary objective. Previously photographed from its nearly opposite aspect, we now see it from this southern side. It is beautiful no matter how you look at it. It is at the same time intimidating and inviting.
I am fixated by the steep and varied lines. There are three snow faces, each separated by broad ridges of rock and ice. The central face is a steep glacier with a chute on the left side, heavily channeled from rock and icefall. The central face is in my mind summarily discounted as a viable, safe climbing route due to obvious objective hazards. The snow and ice faces on the left and right, ascending to the west and east ridges respectively, are long, steep, and unrelenting, but are also unbroken and unthreatened from above. The paths to those ridges are apparent. But the obvious question about those unseen ridge routes is this. Do those ridges offer negotiable paths to the summit?
After staring at the route from various angles and discussing our constantly changing plans, different small teams decide on their route of choice. My partner and I decide the best route to attempt is the one I thought least appealing at first, the chute left of the glacier on the central face. After watching the route for two days and after another team ventured low on the route to fix lines, PJ and I agree that it is the most direct line to the central summit. The next morning we climb.
We are already behind schedule and it is only 3:00 a.m. We want to be out of the chute and above the major lines of rock fall by sunrise. We cross the debris field below the glacier icefall looming above, appreciating the cold, which now numbs our fingers. The lower slopes gradually increase in steepness to an angle that is normally very efficient for upward progress. The climbing is wonderful, consisting of variable snow and ice, in and out of polished slide grooves, all at a slope that is perfect, steep travel. But as we climb higher, each step requires significantly more effort.
Between the full moon setting and the dawn breaking, we only have about one hour of traveling by headlamp. The sun is at the same time welcome for its light and cursed for its heat. The early morning sun to our east is initially shadowed by the glacier and the protruding seracs. As the sun rises the shadows are broken into rapidly shrinking islands of cool. The heat of the direct sunlight is instantly like a broiler oven. I
am climbing from freezer to oven and back again with every few meters climbed. I race from shadow to shadow, sometimes overexerting and subsequently panting with tremendous effort at the next rest. With nearly reckless abandon, I struggle up broken and hollow ice at the base of an overhanging serac. Removing layers and drinking water are now my first priority. PJ passes by to establish a secure, level rest spot in the sun. After eating some ice and opening a few zippers, I follow up to sit and get situated for the second half of the climb, the ascent of the glacier to the top.
We drink, adjust clothing, and call down to glacier camp on the radio for a progress report. Then upward, angling across the glacier in a roped solo to the visible narrowing of the upper bergschrund. It is an easy crossing, then a slow, but steady ascent of the longer - than - it looks mound to the central summit. I am elated to have made it safely to this point. I feel a great sense of accomplishment. We quickly survey the scene, then dig a rest stance, eat, drink, and call down to camp.
We carefully begin our way down our previous footsteps. Approximately halfway down, we find the fixed lines, which were placed up to this point by the other climbing team while we were climbing above. The lines are a welcome sight, hopefully allowing us to descend rapidly through the objective hazard areas.
Next day Cyrus, Surendra and two Sherpas continued but as they moved up the fixed lines to their previous high point, they realised that their previous anchors had started popping out due to some movement of the ice slope. Taking these as warning signs of possible icefall, they decided to abandon the attempt and any further climbing on this route. Planning for the the east summit, they picked a straight line up the steep ice slope. On 22 August, Cyrus and Surendra with two Sherpas attempted the summit. By late afternoon they made it to the top of the ridge at 6400 m. The summit was about 140 m above them. For a long time they debated whether they should continue from the east ridge or the south face. Unfortunately, the rock was extremely loose and overhanging at several places. They had to take the hard decision of abandoning the summit.
Gjungma Kangri (6287 m)
While some members were concentrating on Karpo Kangri, others had their eyes on a peak to the south of the camp. It was centrally located between the North Lung Tung col and South Lung Tung col, with glaciers all around it. Hence the name, Gjungma, - 'central'. Two forays were made before Shripad, Ameya and Ang Tashi Sherpa made the first ascent on 20 August by the west ridge. Later every member of the team including the liaison officer and two Sherpas climbed this peak.
Lung Tung Cols (North - 6040 m and South - 6000 m)
Amidst all the climbing activity in progress, we were exploring a possible route to cross into the Rongdu valley.
On 18 August, Don, Natala and Sally trekked to the South Lung Tung col (6000 m) between the Gjungma Kangri massif and the Buk Buk massif. They had found a steep drop to the Tiburchan glacier system leading to the Rongdu valley.
On 19 August, Surendra, Vineeta and myself left C1 by mid afternoon to explore the North Lung Tung Col (6040 m). We moved east from the camp towards the obvious col between the ridgelines from Karpo Kangri and Gjungma Kangri. In about an hour and half we were peering over the col towards the Rongdu valley. However, there was no easy exit from the col to the Tiburchan glacier system below us. On 21 August Don and Sally also attempted to find an easy route across this col. The steep drop from the col to the glacier below would require technical equipment and ropes.
Considering that we would have to move with supplies for several days without any idea of the route ahead, we decided against attempting a crossing of these cols to the Rongdu valley.
Rdung Ring (6082 m)
We now decided to wind up C1 and shift our attention to other peaks in the area. Rdung Ring was a small peak on the dividing ridge between the Arganglas valley and the Lung Tung glacier. From a dump at the foot
of the peak, the route was fairly straightforward with a few patches of steep snow and ice to reach the summit ridge.We were at the top by 3.30 p.m. We hurriedly made our way down to the dump point before dark. By the time we were at ABC, it was late evening. The entire team regrouped at ABC and we experienced the spirit of friendship as we exchanged stories over dinner.
Buk Buk (6289 m)
On 24 August, Don and Natala Goodman, Sally Annis, Marlin, and PJ completed the first ascent of Buk Buk 'dome shaped' by the NW face and west ridge. Don Goodman pieced together an excellent route as he had also done on Gjungma Kangri. They roped up for the steep glacier covered north face, only putting in protection occasionally. It was a good summit providing great views in all directions but in particular to the east where we were looking at possibilities of exiting to the Rongdu valley.
Exploration of the Koyak Glacier and crossing of Koyak Pass (5880 m)
While we were climbing Rdung Ring, Dave and Dan went exploring the glacier system to the east of our ABC. They moved along the glacier to its eastern flank where they found a pass that connected to the Koyak glacier system towards the Rongdu valley. There were many climbing possibilities in the glacier.
After the ascent of Buk Buk, all camps were wound up and the team was at base camp discussing further plans. We could still squeeze in a few days of activity. The possibility of finding a crossing into the Rongdu valley was exciting and there was a unanimous vote for exploration over climbing. While we wound up base camp, an advance team of Don Goodman, Natala, Dan and Dave left for the Koyak pass with four day's supplies.
By afternoon, Don Goodman radioed that they had crossed the Koyak pass and had set up camp below it. They explored a possible route further east towards the Tiburchan glacier but were stopped by steep ice slopes which would require rope work to ensure a safe passage. Further south, they saw a possible exit but it was too late in the day to locate a route.
At base camp we were wondering what to do. It seemed that we could not make radio contact due to the long distance. The rest of the team also moved to the pass next day. At the most, we would have to turn back from the pass if the advance team had not located an exit route.
Don Goodman and Dave left their camp early and moved down towards the snout of the Koyak glacier. Dan and Natala waited for us at the camp to relay progress. By the time we had reached the camp, Don and Dave had succeeded in finding a route to a glacial pool at about 5350 m. They were confident that the following day they could exit to the Rongdu valley by following the Koyak Lungpa. We carefully moved down a gully south of rocky hump of 5800 m. It was steep and at times the gully was only a few metres wide. The route involved some careful climbing down loose rocks, slabs and broken glacier. After about one and half kilometres, we came to the glacial pool. It was late in the day and we decided to pitch camp at the lake. Don and group camped a kilometre further down. The lake camp was scenic with views of the eastern flanks of Satti Kangri, and peak 6277 m.
The next morning we climbed down the left bank of the Koyak glacier to its snout. We kept to the lateral moraine of the glacier to avoid the broken icefall flowing steeply down. After passing the snout, the valley fell steeply with loose rock and gravel slopes on both sides. We stuck to the true left and traversed the flanks of the valley. After a few hours of inching our way down, we exited to the right of the Rongdu valley at the junction of the Koyak Lungpa and the Tara Tokpo with the Sakskyulas
Tokpo. The Rongdu valley was dramatically different from the Satti valley. It was wide and gentle but mostly dry. We spotted a herd of Yaks grazing at the few patches of greenery. We had safely crossed over from the Satti valey!
After a few anxious moments at the crossing of the Rongdu river, we were relieved to be walking down the valley. By late evening, we came to a beautiful spot next to the river with a fresh water stream flowing through the campsite. Nearby, the Rongdu had forged a tunnel through the rock and formed a ferocious waterfall. The campsite appeared to have religious significance to the locals. It was an excellent place to spend the night.
On 30 August, we walked down to a small settlement near the Fatha Gompa. By 4 p.m. we reached the Rongdu village and then proceeded to Satti by jeeps. We partied till late night celebrating the month of climbs and exploration in this beautiful and rugged region. We had achieved our main objective.. .making new friends.Maitri forever!
The Indo - American Karakoram Maitri expedition 2005 climbed in the remote valleys of East Karakoram. Peaks in the Lung Tung valley were climbed and surrounding valleys were explored.
Marlin Geist Don Beavon
Peaks Climbed Peaks Route
Karpo Kangri - Central summit (6535 m)
|W ridge and other route followed N face / W ridge
Gjungma Kangri (6287 m)
Rdung Ring (6082 m)
Date of Ascent
19 August 2005
Shripad Sapkal Ameya
Chandawarkar Ang Tashi Sherpa (Five further ascents by various members) Divyesh Muni Shripad Sapkal Ameya Chandawarkar Rajesh Gadgil Vineeta Muni
NW face/ Don Goodman 24 August 2005 W ridge Natala Goodman
Sally Annis Don Beavon Marlin Geist
Thongsa Ri E ridge and Vineeta Muni Between 14 and
(5889 m) other route Ang Tashi 19 August 2005
SE face Don Beavon
(Three further ascents by various members)
Passes explored / crossed
1) 6000 m col between Satti Kangri and peak 6277 m : Cyrus Shroff, Don Beavon, Marlin Geist and Surendra Chavan on 13 August.
2) North Lung Tung col (6040 m.) : Divyesh Muni, Vineeta Muni and Surendra Chavan on 19 August and Don Goodman, Sally Annis on 21 August.
3) South Lung Tung col (6000 m.) : Don Goodman, Natala Goodman and Sally Annis on 18 August.
4) Koyak pass (5880 m) : All members on 26 and 27 August. Members
Indians : Divyesh Muni (co - leader), Cyrus Shroff, Rajesh Gadgil, Surendra Chavan, Shripad Sapkal, Ameya Chandawarkar, Ms. Vineeta Muni and Major Shamsher Singh (liaison officer).
Americans : Donald Goodman (co - leader), Don Beavon (PJ), Marlin Geist, Danny Sjolseth, Dave Creeden, Sally Annis and Ms. Natala Goodman.
Sponsored by : The Himalayan Club.