Brigadier Ashok Abbey
The sun was high, beating mercilessly. With ambient temperatures rising with every step, it was like walking through an open inferno. Slowly Vijay, Trijan and I, trudged over the vast crevasse ridden snowfield, roped up. It was 08.30 a.m. and we still had some ground to cover. Up on the distant ice face, we could see two Sherpas guiding their clients. Their instructions were precise and clearly audible, for a mistake on that face could be fatal. After a patient wait at the base, we recommenced climbing. By 10.30 a.m., we had negotiated the bergschrund at the head of the snowfield and were moving up the southwestern face. After fixing three more ropes and negotiating another six at 11.10 a.m., we hit the southwest ridge. Finally at 11.35 a.m. on 21 May 2012, after carefully traversing the lightly laden corniced ridge, we stood in silence on the summit of the 6189 m high Imja Tse, amidst a vast sea of gigantic mountains, as if marooned on the tip of a tiny island!
The Imja valley lies in the remote upper Solu Khumbu district of Nepal and covers an area of nearly 220 km2. Tucked away to the northeast corner of the Sagarmatha National Park, a vast amphitheatre of mountains, it is dominated by the imposing Mahalangur Himal to the north and the jagged heights of the Hinku Himal, which separate it from the Makalu Barun National Park, to the south and the east. To the west, the valley is dominated by the imposing ridge line of Tabuche (6495 m), Cholatse (6335 m) and the Arakam Tse (6423 m). The gateway itself is guarded by the majestic Ama Dablam (6814 m) to the south and the Pokalde – Mera peak and Kongma Tse (5820 m) group to the north. The valley is drained by the gushing Imja khola which flows into the Dudh Kosi and is ultimately joined by the Bhote Kosi river below Namche Bazar. Devoid of trees, with little vegetation yet sublime in character, the Imja valley is a much sought after destination by many climbers and trekkers. Rising silently from this valley floor and resting in solitary splendour in its eastern flank is Imja Tse, the reigning ‘little’ monarch of the valley.
Imja Tse (6189 m) southwest face. (Brig. Ashok Abbey)
Imja Tse is technically an extension of the south face of the Lhotse massif. From Lhotse Shar, the southeast ridge from an altitude of 7800 m breaks into two. While the southeast spur drops directly into the Lhotse Shar glacier, the southwest spur drops to a high col between the Lhotse and the Lhotse Shar glacier and then continues to rise unabated for approximately 1200 m, before culminating at a high point of 6189 m. After this, the ridge loses height, but continues for another nearly two km in a southwesterly manner, before merging with the main valley floor. A series of off shoot ridges and spurs from this mother ridge divide a wedge between the Lhotse and the Imja glaciers, giving shape to the beautiful Imja Tse peak.
Imja Tse was first climbed in 1953 by the British Everest Expedition led by then Colonel John Hunt, during their acclimatisation phase. They named this mountain at the head of the Imja valley, as Island Peak. The name Island Peak has ever since been synonymous with Imja Tse. In 1983, after nearly three decades the Government of Nepal renamed the mountain as Imja Tse, but the popular Island Peak tag continues to stay and till date is mentioned in the climbing permits issued by the Government of Nepal. The climb of Imja Tse was then a landmark climb, for it was for the first time that open circuit oxygen sets were tried out. Charles Wylie1 in his preparatory account of the expedition said:-
Evans, Gregory, Wylie, and Tensing with seven Sherpas specially selected for work above the South Col, camped at the head of the Imja glacier beside a lake. Putting a further camp at about 18,000 feet, they climbed a 20,000-foot peak, which they named the Island Peak because it rose in the middle of the enormous area of ice formed by the glaciers flowing from Lhotse and the Imja-Barun watershed. Tensing led very competently, most of the way. The high-altitude Sherpas were trained in the use of the open-circuit oxygen set. Most of them said that it made going uphill seem like going along the flat; Ang Temba, however, not to be outdone, claimed that it made uphill seem like downhill.
While I had heard of the Imja valley earlier and had also briefly acclimatised in the valley prior to my 2003 and 2008 Everest expeditions, I first heard the name Island Peak in the buzzing streets of Thamel in Kathmandu in 2002. The name ‘Island’ was peculiar, in the Himalayan context. It was quite unusual for a mountain in the Himalaya to be nick named as an Island. The fancy memorabilia of the mountain which littered the streets of Thamel was eye catching, which further stroked my curiosity. Earlier, en route to the Everest Base Camp (EBC) in 2003, I distinctly remember meeting a strong German couple from Hamburg at Tengboche who were running the Everest Marathon that year. Over a cup of hot coffee, the husband fondly reminisced, that it was the hardest thing that he had ever done!
After finishing a long professional sojourn in Kashmir, I was yearning to get back to the lap of the Himalaya for some recreational climbing, primarily to unwind. The southwest ridge of Ama Dablam (6814 m) was an interesting proposition which had been enticing me and my dear friend Vijay for quite a while. We decided to check this ridge out for a possible attempt in 2013-14. We also decided to visit the Imja valley and attempt Imja Tse. May 2012 was to be the month and it was to be a quick trip, owing both to our professional and personal commitments.
On 14 May 2012, Vijay and I flew into Lukla from Kathmandu. This was my sixth flight to the ‘Gateway’ to the Everest region and the heart of Sherpa hinterland. At the ‘Tenzing Hillary Airport’ we met up with Trijan who had climbed with me in the 20032 and 20083 Indian Everest expeditions. Three of us thus moved up, this legendary trail to Everest. As we walked past, Lukla town seemed much bigger and more prosperous than my earlier trips to the area. Indeed, this was true for all the settlements we crossed en route in the Dudh Kosi valley. Nostalgic memories of 2003 and 2008 Everest expeditions came flooding back. While, little by way of nature had changed over the years, what hit me was the economic prosperity and development. I must confess that construction of many new hotels and lodges and consequent felling of trees was disturbing. Regretfully, indicators only show that more construction is in the offing.
Nowhere was the change more glaring than at Namche Bazar (3440 m) the Sherpa heartland and the centre of the region. The grounds and the open areas of this mini township have virtually vanished and given way to more lodges and hotels, so much so that even the original finishing ground of the annual Everest Marathon race has almost vanished. It is interesting to note what Charles Houston4 recorded in his visit to Namche Bazar in 1950:-
Up the rugged Kosi valley we walked for three more days, and finally reached the village of Namche Bazar on 14th November, the fifteenth day of our march. Here we were well received by every one of the 400 inhabitants, and camped on terrace outside the home of the village headman, who served us tea. Privacy as usual was a luxury we did not have, and there were dozens of friendly faces peering at us far into the night and again next morning when we awakened to the first bad weather of the trip, a light snow-fall.
On 18 May, we reached the historic monastery of Tengboche, which is a landmark in the region. Established in 1923, it belongs to the Nyingmapa sect of Vajrayana Buddhism and controls the religion of Khumbu. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1934 and again by fire in 1989, the Gompa today stands proud and restored. We prayed at the Everest Chorten and also sought blessings of the mighty protector Kumbi Yul Lha (5761 m), the mighty protector towering behind. Charles Houston5 who was member of the 1950 Everest expedition, then observed :-
Here, too, we saw beautifully wrought silver prayer-wheels, teacups, ceremonial vases, incense burners, and beautifully painted silk scrolls (tankas). We were given a solemn reception by the head lama, a young man of sixteen elected when a baby, after portents and auguries had indicated that he was a reincarnation of the previous lama who had died at the moment of his birth. This system of succession seemed strange to occidental minds but is inherent in the Buddhist faith, and we were greatly impressed by the appearance and bearing of this young lama, though he spoke only a few words to us.
Charles Wylie6 in the 1953 expedition recorded his teams interaction with the Abbot and their observation of the Yeti, the abominable snowman at Tengboche as follows :-
Our Sherpas were specially blessed, and we were all treated to tea while the acting Abbot described how a yeti had visited the alp two winters before. Looking out of the window he pointed out where it had rooted about, looking for grubs in the ground and where it had sat sunning itself on a rock.
This time Vijay and I didn’t have the time to meet the Rimpoche, Ngawang Tenzing Zangpo. After a quick meeting with some of the young lamas, we moved up to Pangboche (3930 m) where we prayed at the oldest Buddhist monastery of the region. En route we got our first clear glimpse of Ama Dablam, a mountain which openly invites you to climb. Undoubtedly, to my mind this is the fiery climbing ‘Queen’ of the region. Climbed first in 1961 (Barry Bishop), Charles Wylie in 1953 described Ama Dablam ‘To the right, standing alone, rose Ama Dablam, a fantastic leaning tower of near-vertical precipices, which looked as nearly inaccessible as any mountain can be’, hopefully our objective in 2013-14. Ahead of Shomare (4010 m) and short of the Pheriche pass (4270 m), we traversed east, crossed the Khumbu khola and entered the Imja valley. The Imja khola which was flowing to our south, was now to be our constant companion. The apparently desolate looking, dusty valley was in stark contrast to the lush green Dudh Kosi valley, yet the Imja valley seemed to welcome us in its own natural way to Dingboche (4410 m), the gateway to the valley.
Makalu towering above the Makalu-Barun watershed. (Brig. Ashok Abbey)
South face of Nuptse and Lhotse. (Brig. Ashok Abbey)
As one approaches Island peak from the floor of the Imja valley, the impressive rocky southwest face comes to light. One look at Imja Tse and you know why the mountain is named Island peak. A small island nestled amidst a monstrous sea of ice and rock, was my first impression.
At Chhukhung (4730 m) we left last of the civilised huts and moved up leaving the Imja khola to the south. The route is to the south of the Lhotse Nup and the Lhotse glacier, under the shadow of the Lhotse massif. After meandering through a series of recessional moraines, the route finally cuts across a dried lake bed to the north to reach Pareysha Gyab, the base camp, to the west. The base camp itself is located on the lateral moraine, overlooking the tri junction of the Ambulapcha, Imja and the Lhotse Shar glaciers.
The base camp site of Imja Tse, is blessed with a spectacular panorama all around. From a glacial lake to melting glaciers, legendary Himalayan peaks and passes, the view has it all. As we walked into the camp, the Tibetan snow cock, with their loud tweets, greeted us.
To the south of the base camp is the famous glacial melt water lake of Imja Tso (5010 m). The lake which was reportedly a series of small ponds in the 1960s, is today occupying a staggering area of nearly 1.3 km2. It is nearly 91 m at its deepest and is naturally dammed as a result of a series of terminal moraines that have blocked the natural out flow of water. Scientists have termed it as one of the fastest growing water bodies in the Himalaya. Environmentalists are deeply concerned of the catastrophic consequences, in the event of a glacier outburst especially for those living downstream. The lake, which is fed primarily from the melt waters of the Imja and the Lhotse Shar glaciers, continues to grow leading to great concern.
Seeing the weather pattern, we decided to attempt the mountain the same evening after resting for a few hours directly from the base camp, although many teams establish a high camp at 5630 m on the south face. We set off on 23 May at 01.30 a.m. Three of us reached the crampon point after a four hour climb from the base camp, which involved some scrambling. We then roped up and moved on the snowfield coming directly under southwest ridge of the mountain. As we approached daylight, faint outlines of Lhotse, Baruntse, Makalu and Nuptse became distinct. At the base of the southwest ridge, we rested, waited patiently and watched with some amusement Sherpas guiding their clients on the descent. After a long wait we ascended to gain the southwest ridge and then traversed to the summit to reach the top at 11.30 a.m. With the clouds fast closing in on us, temperature plummeting and the winds picking up it, was soon time to get off the Island. We moved down and finally a laborious descent brought us down to the base camp at 05.30 p.m. Subsequently, we moved down to Ama Dablam base camp to complete our reconnaissance of the southwest ridge as planned.
Imja Tse today is a popular mountain and is attempted regularly from the southwest face and the southwest ridge. From the north and the northwest face, the mountain is seldom attempted. In 1958, the mountain was reportedly climbed from the north ridge, after accessing a high col at 5700 m from the Lhotse Shar glacier. The challenging west face and the rocky southwest face is a difficult proposition and yet to be climbed.
Ama Dablam (6856 m) northeast face. (Brig. Ashok Abbey)
The ascent was but a little toast to our deep friendship and a culmination of the great camaraderie that we had shared throughout this venture. Most importantly, it had been a happy climb and only reinforced the old climbing adage that, mountaineering is an activity between friends. We absorbed those stunning moments of sheer delight from the little summit and felt refreshed to meet the challenges of our civilised world, waiting below!
Team: Vijay Jaini, Trijan and Brigadier Ashok Abbey.
A foray into the Imja valley and ascent of Imja Tse in May 2012.
Exploration of Deotoli col (5400 m): a short report
In September-October 2011, Thendup Sherpa, Nandan Singh Negi, Anindya Mukherjee, Lhakpa Sherpa and Pemba Sherpa explored the Trisul/Nanda Ghunti basin. This basin was first surveyed by the legendary Himalayan explorer Eric Shipton in 1936. In October 1936, he along with Sen Tensing and Ang Tharkay crossed a saddle (Ronti Saddle) located at the head of Ronti glacier and descended down the Nandakini. In Shipton’s words:
...only one section of the Outer Basin remained; this was the valley running north from glaciers between Trisul and Nanda Ghunti. ...Dr Longstaff has referred to this valley as the Rinti Nala, though the name used by the people of this district is more like Ronti.
(Survey in the Nanda Devi District,-A.J. 49 pp.27-40, Eric Shipton)
Our objective was to explore the northern spurs of Bethartoli Himal (North Summit 6352 m, South Summit 6318 m) with an eye to find an alternative passage on the barrier wall of Nanda Devi sanctuary. Bethartoli Himal is located due north of Trisul I. We were looking for a couple of low and accessible points on Bethartoli’s two northerly spurs. Bethartoli North has a satellite peak on its north ridge. From this satellite peak two spurs originate and descend towards Rishi ganga due north. Since we would approach from Ronti glacier side; the one next to Ronti glacier was referred to as ‘frontal spur’ and the one that lay beyond was called ‘distal spur’. Respecting the law of the land we had no intentions to enter the sanctuary and we maintained that principle throughout the expedition.
On 20 September 2011, starting from Joshimath we drove up to Saldhar, five km beyond Tapovan by the left bank of Dhauli ganga. From Saldhar we hiked up to the village of Subhoi and camped for the first night. In this village is a temple dedicated to Bhavisya Badri (literally, future Badri). It is believed that in the distant future, the idol of the present day Badrinath shrine will shift to this temple.
L to r: Purbi Dunagiri (6489 m), Bagini col, Changabang (6964 m), Kalanka (6931 m), Rishi Kot (6236 m) and Rishi Pahar (6957 m). (Anindya Mukherjee)
Over the next two days we crossed Chattri dhar and Ghaniyal dhar passes to enter the Ronti valley. These two passes have been traditionally used by villagers and shepherds of Subhoi and Reni. In another two days from Subhoi we reached below the north face of Ronti. Our porters abandoned us here before reaching the snout of Ronti glacier forcing us into double load ferries, extra days and shortage of food. We managed to keep our spirits high and continued up the moraines of Ronti glacier. On 26 September 2011, we reached a high point (4800 m) below the frontal spur and col C (5350 m) and camped.
We climbed to ‘col C’ located on the frontal spur on 27 September 2011 and crossed into the small, boulder strewn basin to its east. This high ground with its nearly dead small glacier has its own narrow valley system and gives rise to a small and insignificant tributary of Rishi ganga. This river, called Dudh ganga meets Rishi ganga on its true left directly south of Dharansi pass and Malathuni in the Rishi gorge. We decided to call this little valley Dudh ganga valley and the ‘col C’ as Dudh ganga col. We also located an accessible point on the distal spur of Bethartoli main.
On 28 September 2011, we climbed up the distal spur and reached ‘col D’ at an approximate altitude of 5400 m. We were blessed by great views of the peaks located on northern and eastern rims of Nanda Devi sanctuary. Below us to the east lay a small unnamed glacier. Its gentle slope looked very inviting. From our maps and taking bearings with our compass; we knew this would lead us to the camping grounds of Deotoli by the Trisul nala. We thus called ‘col D’ as Deotoli col (5400 m).
Trisul I (7120 m) from upper Ronti glacier. (Anindya Mukherjee)
Deotoli col (5400 m) from ‘Cold camp’. (Anindya Mukherjee)
We crossed the Deotoli col again the next day to spend a night on the unnamed glacier. We were rewarded with magnificent views next morning. Over four days we retraced our steps back to Subhoi and Joshimath and thus ended our exploration.
We were the first party to locate two feasible cols on the northerly spurs of Bethartoli Himal and climb them. These two cols do not require any climbing skills – they can be visited by any seasoned Himalayan trekker. Obeying the law of the land, we did not set foot on the valley floor or enter the Nanda Devi sanctuary. We stood on its barrier rim and retraced our trail back. From an explorer’s point of view we hope our explored cols will join the list of previously known passes and cols of the Nanda Devi sanctuary.
Team members: Thendup Sherpa, Nandan Singh Negi, Anindya Mukherjee, Lhakpa Sherpa, Pemba Sherpa
Exploration of two previously unknown passes on the northern spurs of the Bethartoli Himal in September 2011.
The last move was merely a mantle: hands on the edge of a sharp granite ledge, a heel hook, and a press. When I pulled over the lip, I looked around, momentarily confused that there was nothing more to climb. I was sure there had to be one more obstacle, one more aid seam, one more mixed pitch, but there was only sky and swirling clouds. I stared in disbelief.
October 2 is Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, an auspicious day in India. In 2011, it was the day that Conrad Anker, Renan Ozturk, and I finally reached the 6310 m summit of the Shark’s Fin, otherwise known as Meru Central. This was Conrad’s third attempt on the Shark’s Fin’s infamous northeast buttress, and Renan’s and my second.
Three years earlier the three of us battled for 19 days on the same route. The iconic mountain seemed intent to haze us. We were constantly humbled by the sustained nature and the diversity of its hard climbing. We also grossly underestimated how cold it would be on the northeast- facing wall. Despite weathering a weeklong storm low on the route and rationing eight days of food into 19, we pushed to within two pitches of the summit. We could see it, yet it felt far away. To push on would have required us to spend the night out, and we had already stepped far over the line. We knew that in our state we would not make it. We felt shattered, physically and emotionally, as we rappelled through the night to our hanging high camp.
Meru as seen from Tapovan. The Shark’s Fin is the central pillar in the formation. (Jimmy Chin)
Renan Ozturk leading pitch 13 on the ridge above the ‘Funnel’. (Jimmy Chin)
Conrad’s personal history with the Shark’s Fin - the climber’s nickname for Meru Central’s blade of granite, deep in the Indian Garhwal - goes back decades. Of the peak’s 25-plus attempts over the last 25 years, two were by Conrad’s mentor, Mugs Stump. Mugs showed Conrad the ropes, literally and metaphorically, and this was his dream climb. Mugs died in a crevasse fall in 1992 in Alaska. Conrad wanted nothing more than to finish the route for his friend.
The Russian soloist Valery Babanov became the first to summit, in September 2001. Babanov estimated that 15 attempts had failed before his success, including one of his own the previous spring. During his aborted attempt he’d been following the same line we climbed, up the prominent northeastern prow, but he turned back at 5800 m. In September he chose a completely different line, far to the right on the ice face.
Conrad’s first attempt on the northeast prow came in 2003, with Doug Chabot and Bruce Miller. They attempted it in alpine style, climbing the bottom portion of the prow proper before exiting into ice flutings right of the main wall. Unconsolidated snow turned them back halfway up.
Five years later Conrad recruited Renan and me for his next attempt. The main formation, he told me, featured a long alpine climb capped by an overhanging big wall that was steep enough to BASE jump. The route was perversely stacked against alpinists, since the most technical climbing, which required the heaviest gear, was near the top. All alpine style attempts on this line up the main face had failed at nearly the same spot, the base of the overhanging headwall that starts at roughly 5900 m. Conrad knew the climb would require the skills of a big wall climber as well as those of an alpinist.
After failing in 2008, we returned to our normal lives haunted by those two unclimbed pitches. Yet they were a blessing. They provided motivation, and despite telling ourselves that climbing 98 percent of the route should be good enough, we obsessed privately about the unfinished pitches.In 2009 Silvo Karo contacted Conrad about the climb. Conrad shared everything he knew, including the best style to climb it in. We hoped
In 2009 Silvo Karo contacted Conrad about the climb. Conrad shared everything he knew, including the best style to climb it in. We hoped Silvo’s team would succeed. But when Silvo didn’t make it, it was clear that we all wanted to return.
Conrad Anker climbing near the team’s highest portaledge camp. (Jimmy Chin)
Renan Ozturk contemplating the long descent. (Jimmy Chin)
Conrad, the consummate professional, had really good notes from his first two attempts. We pored over them in preparation for the next expedition, strategising every detail down to who would lead what pitches, how we could do it faster, lighter, and in better style. In the end we chose a hybrid alpine/capsule style. We took four ropes (two lead, two static); two haul bags; a portaledge; one stove; alpine, mixed, and aid gear; sleeping bags; and food for eight days.
Back on the route, we climbed in 48 hours what had taken us six days in 2008. Over the following few days we took advantage of an ideal cold- and-dry high pressure system. At the overhanging wall (we dubbed it the Indian Ocean Wall), which we reached after four more days of climbing, we saved time by linking aid pitches we’d done separately on our first attempt. We had a fright when one of the portaledge’s bars snapped in half, but creative splinting with ice screws saved the day. Reflecting on how prior knowledge had helped our planning, we joked about our alpine redpoint attempt, how we’d fallen right at the chains but were going to send on this go. Despite the humour, doubt clouded us every day as we re-climbed tenuous A4 and hard mixed.
On the eve of our summit bid, our charmed weather broke, and it blew hard and snowed. The wind bounced our portaledge against the wall, reminding us of the days we spent stuck on the wall in 2008. We hunkered down hoping for the best. At midnight we looked out and saw stars. It was time. Launching at 2 a.m., we flew up our two fixed lines, from which Conrad led the poorly protected mixed pitch below the summit ridgeline. The force of Conrad’s will had carried us in 2008, and it carried us again in 2011.
When we pulled over the ridge, we were blessed by the sun. At last we could face the final two pitches. The Gangotri glacier shone far below. It was my lead, and I scrapped my way up, literally humping the knife- edge ridge to gain ground. After mixed climbing and 50 feet of aid, I built an anchor. Conrad came up and belayed me as Renan jugged the line below. Another 5.8 pitch, a simple mantle, and we were there.
We embraced on the summit, humbly accepting that this time Meru had allowed us passage. Our dream, Mugs’ dream, had been realised.
Ascent of Meru Shark’s Fin (6310 m), Garhwal Himalaya in the month of October 2011.
Conrad Anker rappelling from the summit of Meru. (Jimmy Chin)
It is Friday, 28 September, 2012. Simon and I are standing on the top of Arwa Spire. Only ten days ago we had taken the long exhausting path from the last villages up to the base of Arwa Spire. For me it was the third time after 2002 and 2011.
In 2002 we made the first ascent of the north face of Arwa Spire (800 m) in a team of three (Hasler, Harvey, Schali).
In 2011 Simon Gietl and I had the idea to transfer our vision of alpine style climbing to the massive rock faces of the Himalaya. Our goal was a free ascent of the route on Arwa Spire. We trained, both mentally and physically and felt ready. But after that fatal accident of Daniel Ahnen, our cameraman, we immediately cancelled the expedition.
Arwa Spire Topo. (Archiv Schäli)
Arwa Spire from advance base camp. (Frank Kretschmann)
Now in 2012, ten years after the first ascent, we are back once again. The pitches are challenging, way-finding is extremely difficult, placing solid nuts and cams is often impossible. It is a cruel fight against cold fingers and cold toes. With every breath we feel the high altitude. We reach the summit in the afternoon of 28 September. I carry a medallion on me, and fix it on a sling on top of Arwa Spire in memory of Daniel. Five days we had abseiled into the crevasses, trying to find and rescue him by taking enormous risks. Finally we had to accept that we would not be able to rescue him.
It’s shortly after three in the afternoon. Wind is picking up and clouds are moving in. Our vision has become reality. It’s time to abseil down. Time to go home.
Facts of the expedition
Team: Roger Schäli (alpinist), Simon Gietl (alpinist), Frank Kretschmann (cameraman and photographer), Andrea di Donato (mountain guide), Yuri Kato.
Details of the route: ‘Fior die Vite’ at Arwa Spire (6193 m), 800 m (90°, M5, 7a)
An ascent of Arwa Spire (6193 m), Garhwal Himalaya in September 2012.
My trek ended before it began, well almost. My companion Ashwin Popat hit his knee against a railing at Taluka rest house and had to return home. Thus I was left alone, with my faithful porters and mules. This was a first for me - walking alone in the Himalaya. It was a different experience, spending many hours by oneself in a tent and on the walk.
Jairai Rocks. (Harish Kapadia)
We started from Taluka (via Dehradun-Sankhri) and a well-made forest trail climbed steeply all along for next two days. But there was nothing to complain about as the forest was exquisite. Throughout I had two contrasting personalities for company. Jeet Singh, our guide, was ahead and had never taken a vow of silence. He poured out information about the trek, the villages and his personal woes. If there was nothing to say he would sing to himself. Walking behind me was Harsinh, who never uttered a word during the day, unless spoken to.
Traverse to Kedar Kantha. (Harish Kapadia)
On maps of almost all scales and for many decades, you will find Kedar Kantha peak marked. Since several years, I had wondered why so? With its height of 3812 m (12,506 ft) it is quite low by Himalayan standards. Moreover it is named after Shiva, ‘Kedar’, while his abode, the pilgrim centre of Kedarnath, was a few valleys across. We were in the Yamuna watershed and pilgrim centre of Yamnotri was near to us. Then why was this little ridge important enough to be on every map and why it was named after Kedar?
An evening in autumn. (Harish Kapadia)
The answers were found in local folklore. They were mystifying to me but the people living in these regions believe them. The simplest explanation was geographical. Shiva descended from heaven on Swargarohini peak (‘ladder to heaven’), seen clearly from here. He assumed the form of a bull, and intended to settle on top of Kedar Kantha ridge. But he heard the groan of a cow calling her calf from Sirka village, across the Tons river. He decided that the place was not secluded enough and hence he went to what is today known as the Kedarnath temple.
The other legend gets a little complicated. Shiva descended from heaven to earth on the peak Swargarohini. Unknown to him one rung of the ladder he descended broke. Many aeons later, the Pandavas of the mythological text Mahabharat, were believed to have climbed up to heaven from Swargarohini, via the same ladder. Bhim, the strongest of Pandava brothers, fell because of that broken rung. In anger, he went looking for Shiva. Afraid of Bhim’s wrath, Shiva turned himself into a bull and ran away. Bhim chased the bull, but it buried itself in the earth. Bhim dug him out and that was right on top of the Kedar Kantha peak. He dismembered the bull in five parts and flung different parts in different directions. A temple was erected at each of the places where the parts had fallen. Five temples of Shiva exist at these places and it is a holy pilgrimage to visit each of them (the Panch Kedar).
Soon we were on the upper bugial of Pustara (3440 m). Several routes bifurcated from here: to Saru tal (lake), to Yamnotri temple and one to Kedar Kantha. Each place was at least two days away. Saru tal is known for profusion of brahma kamal1, a rare high altitude flower but seen during rainy months of July and August. As we started to traverse towards Kedar Kantha on a ridge, the beauty of the entire region opened up. Above the meadows (bugiyals) were peaks of the western Garhwal. To north and northeast were peaks of Har ki Doon and Swargarohini. To north was high Kinnaur range led by an old companion, Rangrik Rang (6593 m) which we had climbed in 1994.2 To the west rose Hansbeshan (‘where sun touches first’) on a ridge. Though only 5240 m, it rose sharply into the sky. It was my old friend too, I having been to this legendary peak in the winter of 1996. Now with play of autumn light every aspect of these mountains looked beautiful.3
R to l: Swargarohini I, II and III. (Harish Kapadia)
The traverse to Kedar Kantha was long. But on the first night camping on a small bugiyal I was treated to a rainbow, changing autumn colours and distant thunders. On the second day we started climbing above to a ridge. Soon, and to my surprise, we were on top of Kedar Kantha with our mules and crossed over to descend on the other side. This is not a peak but a long ridge. There were some old stones of a broken temple. But the summit offered a priceless view.
Rangrik Rang (left). (Harish Kapadia)
From the top, seven river valleys were seen - each a major river system of western Garhwal and eastern Himachal, from the Yamuna to Satluj watersheds.
First to my east was the Ruinsara valley with a lake of the same name and well known peaks of Bandarpunch and Kalanag.4 It drains into the Ruinsara gad which soon joins the Tons at Osla. Flowing from Har ki Doon and from north of Swargarohini massif, the Tons contains waters of Jamdar gad, Hatta gad and Maninda gad.
The next valley was the Obra gad, bordered by peaks of Dhodu, Ranglana, Jairai rocks with Devkyari ground in centre. At Bhancha, Obra meets the Supin river which starts from the watershed of Kinnaur. At Netwar the Rupin river, flowing below the villages of Dodra and Kwar merges with the Supin. And finally the Pabar river joins the flow at Tiuni. All these rivers - Tons, Ruinsara, Obra, Supin, Rupin and Pabar flow into the Yamuna in the plains.
Far in the distance ridge of Chanshil Ghati was at the head of the Pabar valley. Hansbeshan (5240 m) with peaks of similar heights is on the divide with the Satluj valley. This was certainly the playground of the future when climbers are tired of just going high and wish to enjoy another ‘high’.
Judwa Tal. (Harish Kapadia)
To south-southwest were the lower hills of Mussoorie from where the Survey of Himalayan mountains (and of India) had started. Possibly Kedar Kantha is an important location as a major observation point in the survey of these areas and beyond.
Ranglana. (Harish Kapadia)
After a night at Baiya bugyal, at the foot of Kedar Kantha, we descended steeply to Judwa tal, a small tarn in the midst of forests, with its beauty and peace. When I thought I had seen all I wanted and heard all that was to hear about Kedar Kantha, came the final edict from an old shepherd who added a philosophical twist to the tale.
Obra Shivling. (Harish Kapadia)
In Garhwal the traditional method for extracting oil from seeds was to grind them in a stone mill known as a ‘kohlu’. The ‘kohlu’ comprised two round stone slabs placed one on top of the other. The upper stone had a hole into which the seeds were fed. The upper stone was rotated continuously by bullocks which were tied to it by a rope. To prevent the bull from getting dizzy, they were blindfolded.
Dhodu, Obra valley. (Harish Kapadia)
The pilgrimage to Kedar Kantha is compared to the working of the ‘kohlu’. You go round and round in life blindfolded, tied to your desires. When you are here, going around Kedar liberates you and enables you to see the great beauty around you. The sight you behold opens your eyes and you are freed from the burden of your desires - you cut the rope and you are free.
A trek to Kadar Kantha (3812 m) in western Garhwal, in October 2012.
Partha Pratim Mitra
“This Hill, though high, I covet to ascend; The difficulty will not me offend;
For I perceive the way to life lies here:
Come, pluck up, Heart, let’s neither faint nor fear; Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Then wrong though easy, where the end is woe.”
The legendary grand old man of Indian mountaineering, J.T.M. Gibson introduced Indian boys of the Doon School to beauties of Har ki Doon he described as ‘a veritable fairy – land’, and instilled into them the delights of climbing and skiing in Bandarpunch – Swargarohini region. Gibson drew our attention to the Har ki Doon and Ruinsara region of the upper Tons valley which he visited first in 1948 and subsequently during fifties. This charming vale is ideal for trekkers and mountaineers where hidden passes, unclimbed ridges and virgin peaks still offer challenges.
The majestic Swargarohini I (6252 m) is the highest peak in the range that stretches out from west to east at the northern flank and the formidable Dhumdhar kandi pass (5608 m) on the Tons/Bhagirathi watershed at the eastern rim of the valley. The route from Ruinsara valley to Har ki Doon valley across a virgin pass is a logical shortcut. But it did not reach its potential popularity because of its intractable terrain.
After going through the report of J.B. Fraser’s Journal of Himalayan Travel in 1815 we came to learn that Sian gad (a tributary, which meets Bhagirathi from north – west near Harsil village) seems to be a very lofty range to the north of Bandarpunch and along which there is a road leading to remote parts of Rawaeen. The upper part of the Tons valley is known as Rawaeen. The Ruinsara gad, the main source of Tons river originates from the Bandarpunch glacier below this sprawling range and flows northwest through a narrow valley separating the two principal ranges of Swargarohini and Bandarpunch to the north and south respectively.
Ruinsara tal. (Partha Pratim Mitra)
Gibson’s ‘Veritable fairyland’ – the Har ki Doon exists beyond the Swargarohini range. Har ki Doon valley is drained by three turbulent streams which combine to form Har ki Doon nala. The nala then meets Ruinsara gad a few kilometres above Osla, the last village of the upper valley. These combined streams form the Tons river which continues its journey to join the Yamuna far below near Kalsi.
Inspired by Jack Gibson’s pioneering efforts to explore the region and lured by his luscious account in the Himalayan Journal Vol. XVIII, I had longed to visit the valleys for many years. Finally I could visit the valley in October 2011.
I left Kolkata along with five other members of Himangan Club on 2 October and reached Sankhri via Dehradun on 4 October. Our trek commenced next morning with two high altitude supporters and seven porters. We followed the left bank of Tons and within a few hours were at the camp of forest rest house campus of Taluka (1981 m).
View from Ranglana pass. (Partha Pratim Mitra)
Next day we moved to Osla F.R.H.1 (2560 m) at Seema. Osla is situated a few hundred feet above, on the opposite bank. This village is famous for the Duryodhan temple.
We planned to visit Har ki Doon to identify Gibson’s probable route to Ruinsara valley before entering the Ruinsara terrain. So on 7 October, we crossed the river Tons over a permanent bridge and followed the track along the right bank. After some time we could see the Ruinsara gad gushing down from southeast to meet Har ki Doon nala far below on the opposite bank. We continued our climb. There were plenty of pine and silver birch trees.
We reached Kalkatti dhar, very windy narrow ridge, and crossed the Har ki Doon nala over a natural boulder bridge. We camped at the F.R.H. at Har ki Doon (3416 m) amidst snowfall and gusty winds.
This shelter is located in idyllic surroundings. In front of the bungalow lies a vast valley to the east through which flows the Jamdar nala coming from the distant Jamdar glacier. The occasional glimpse of Swargarohini group through the veil of afternoon clouds was added attraction to the entire setting.
Mysore Singh and I recrossed the natural boulder bridge on 8 October and turned left to climb up a steep slope leading along the left bank of Har ki Doon nala. Rest of the team moved towards Jamdar glacier. From the top of the slope we could see a depression on the ridge floor. After the initial climb, the approach was easy. We mutually agreed that this was the ‘weakest part’ of the ridge (as referred by Gibson).
We descended to the F.R.H. in the afternoon. Mysore Singh proposed that we could find a virgin route from Har ki Doon to Ruinsara tal by negotiating two dense Alpine forests – Ginddoli and Tippri.
After crossing the rivulet we entered in the forest the next morning. But it was increasingly difficult as there was insufficient sunlight and several poisonous shrubs. Few members’ skin got infected. Mysore Singh was lost, porters were panicking but we decided to move forward. Four hours and an enormous struggle later we crossed Ginddoli and after two hours the team came out of the terrible Tippri.
We were overjoyed that we had made it through this thrilling trail. We turned left to climb up a steep slope leading to the Ruinsara valley. From the top of the slope we could see the distant snow capped mountains on the Maldaru lake terrain. After the initial climb the going was easy, proceeding along the stream of Ruinsara gad. By early afternoon we reached at Harena thatch, our campsite for the day.
We crossed the Ruinsara gad early morning of 10 October and ascended the left ridge of Ruinsara gad. The ridge was strewn with endless boulders. About 3 p.m. we reached an alluvial meadow to the right of which gurgled Ruinsara gad. We set up base camp about one kilometre short of Ruinsara tal.
We started very early next morning and moved towards Dhumdhar kandi pass (5608 m). We traversed the southern slopes of the Swargarohini range for some hours and crossed an area strewn with boulders and drained by a number of streamlets. We left upper Kiarkoti (4115 m) and moved towards Deobasa. As we were moving beneath the steep walls of Swargarohini, we could see Swargarohini IV (5966 m) with its unnamed neighbouring peak 5785 m. We could also see Don’s peak (5875 m) at the eastern end from where the ridge turns south towards Kalanag. Facing south we could observe for the first time the entire Bandarpunch range.
We also observed Gibson’s hanging valleys like Toothache valley, Ski valley I and Ski valley II or Bali pass. Then we rapidly descended towards BC (3658 m).
We started our trek at 7.30 a.m on 12 October and crossed Ruinsara gad. After an hour we reached the gully that lies just behind the ridge of 4815 m. Next we ascended a slope and entered a tricky long meadow with its own hanging valley system - like the others, would be great for skiing. We also observed a distant depression on the ridge which would be usable as a pass. I thought of naming the valley as Ski valley III as a tribute to Gibson. His nomenclature of these valleys was remarkable and quite perfect. We descended quickly after photographing, tired but jubilant. By five in the afternoon the team returned to BC.
Our main objective was to explore a virgin pass for connecting a link between Ruinsara valley and Har ki Doon valley which lies northwest part of the Swargarohini III, V, VI peaks. The exact location of this pass has been a subject of mystery as it is not located on the Survey of India maps. Kenneth Mason, in his celebrated book Abode of Snow observed ‘another region still awaiting detailed mapping is at the head of the Tons river in Tehri Garhwal, particularly on the north side of Swargarohini group of peaks – III, V & VI and also on the north side of Bandarpunch.’
J.T.M. Gibson after exploring the Har ki Doon region remarked, ‘The area is included in S.O.I. map sheet 53 1/SE but has not been properly surveyed until 1952 and the results of that survey have not been published.” In his article ‘Harkidun’(HJ Vol. XVIII, p. 95), Gibson had written casually about his cross over from Har ki Doon to Ruinsara valley but did not record any details of ascent and descent on both sides of the valley. In previous volumes of the Himalayan Journal, we found two splendid sketch maps.
Considering different reports, maps and photographs of this terrain we decided to concentrate on the ascent along the flow of the Swargarohini glacier.
Mysore Singh, Ramlal, Jitendar, Narendar and four of us left base camp on 13 October at 6.30 a.m. Two injured team mates rested along with other porters at base camp. We initially crossed the torrent and climbed for three hours to reach a green grassy slope and establish ABC (4420 m).
Leaving camp we started to climb up a steep gradient followed by a sharply rising arête of rock which ends below a rock gendarme of a severe grade. After one hour, we traversed towards right and reached the scree zone. This zone was used as ABC for the climbing of Swargarohini V and VI.
We climbed steeply, made a traverse to reach the lateral moraine and pushed on over boulders. We moved to the left and within a short time found ourselves just below the final slope. We started scanning a portion of the ridge to the northwest. All of a sudden we discerned a faint trace of a beaten track. Rising steadily from our left, it semi circled under a dome shaped projected rock. The track looked really promising. Mysore Singh studied the track and agreed.
We immediately started climbing the steep slope to our left. Half an hour of grueling climbing took us to the ledge below the overhang where the gradient eased, we could now look through a treacherous gully and immediately negotiated it. Then we started ascending the cliff and again climbed up the steeply inclined ridge. At 2.30 p.m. we were atop the pass which is at approx. 4900 m. We felt proud to place our national flag where perhaps no human had set foot before.
I had visualised this pass throughout the year - now I was standing on it. We were blessed by majestic view of the peaks located on our south – Kalanag (6387 m), Chotanag (5220 m), Bandarpunch (6316 m), White peak (6102 m), Twins (5749 m), Ruinsara (5487 m). To our northeast were snow giants like Swargarohini VI, V, and III. To our extreme northwest was Ranglana (5554 m), a secluded mountain. We also observed Ski Valley I and II. I decided to propose the name of the pass as Ranglana pass.
From here we saw the route to descend, which lured us towards a medial grassy and moraine zone leading to Har ki Doon valley. But I was responsible for the injured team mate who was resting at base camp. Not only that - our rations also would be insufficient. So obeying the mountain rule we retraced our trail back.
The Himalayan Journal: Vol. XVIII, p. 93; Vol. XXV, p. 85; Vol. 41, p. 61; Vol. 39, p. 193; Vol. 51, p. 270;
The Trek: Vol. X, p. 37
Himavanta: March 1974, May 1974, December 1984, March 1985.
As I Saw It : J.T.M. Gibson
Durjodhan Draupadir Deshe: A Bengali Travelogue By Sambhu Nath Das.
This article is a tribute to J.T.M. Gibson (1908-1994), the President of the Himalayan Club (1970-1973).
An exploration of a pass linking Har ki Doon and Ruinsara valleys in October 2011.
Takling La and Parang La
I had read the 1983 and 1987 articles on Lingti valley by Harish Kapadia. This exploration was historical as the team explored and climbed different peaks to study the east side of Spiti river area. The Lingti river starts near Yangzi Diwan col and flows northwest and to the south and meets with Chaksachan Lungpa on a sharp bend, finally meeting Spiti river at the Lingti village - It flows in almost parallel to the Spiti river. I decided to search for a possible shorter route between the two parallel upper arms of the Spiti and Lingti rivers. One possibility was access through Shila nala. Another possibility was to traverse Syarma la.
In July 2012, my three friends - Pranab Majumder, Diptendu Pal, Radha Ballav Das and I arrived at Langja village to walk through Shila nala and access Shila col (5730 m), to reach Lakhang nala and the Lingti river. While studying the area, we observed that there is a col (c. 5795 m), between Shila nala gorge and Pakshi Lumpur glacier. We had a plan to recce this col with the idea of finding a route between Spiti and Rupshu. Observing the amount of water in the Shila nala, we realised that it would not be possible for us to cross the river frequently. At some places there were hardly fifty feet between the walls of the ravine.
We then decided to move towards the east from Langja village to cross Shila jot with a plan to cross Syarma la or to find another accessible col to reach Syarma nala. It seemed possible that moving along Shila ridge would take us to Syarma nala’s upper terrain from where Lingti nala could be reached easily.
We established our first camp at Jiri which was a basin in a marshy land just below Shila jot. We then crossed Shila jot, 5600 m. We observed the pug marks of a snow leopard on the way. The Public Works Department of HP has developed a remarkable water supply system. There is a long narrow canal that brings water from different streams to the villages. Crossing Shila jot and keeping Chau Chau Kang Nilda peaks to our left, we moved southwards. This was an area filled with steep scree slopes, grassy meadows and yaks grazing on them. After descending a thousand feet we started the walk by an unnamed nala. I guessed that since this nala was flowing east, subsequently it might meet up with Syarma nala. Water levels were low at the early sections of the nala. After trekking for two hours from the snout we found a col like formation on our left i.e towards the north. I had a few Satellite images but could not recognise this feature in any image. I felt that this was possibly the exit we were looking for. On the other hand, this nala (described here as Sanglung nala) was flowing east which also created an interest. So we moved forward. Snow patches were seen where the sun could not reach. We saw a cave in a rock wall which is supposed to be a temporary stay for gaddis.
In local parlance, this place was known as ‘Fuksomolang‘ meaning ‘a cave to stay’. After Fuksomolang, we found a rarely used trail on our right, bound to Demul village, used by local people to enter this little used valley for grazing. In the late afternoon we found a powerful stream meeting the Sanglung nala from the northeast through a narrow gorge. We establish our second camp after the confluence of two streams, below a rocky cliff at about 5200 m.
Dark Cerulian butterfly. (Debasish Bardhan)
Up to this point our navigation was accurate. It was later that we erred as I tried to figure out the possible way to Lingti nala, mainly depending upon Google Earth, I could not guess the possible gap to take us over Syarma la ridge. More over we had the help of a local person who had worked with a herb collector and who assured us that he knew the route which would be a bit hard but take us to Lingti nala in four days. He only spoke the local Spiti dialect and could not understand where in Lingti we wanted to go. I had no contour map or GPS to help us. Later I realised that if we had followed the last stream that came from the north, reaching Syarma ridge was easy. To the right of our camp a gully moved south. On the third day after a four-hour walk we reached some kind of a fort. We came upon some automatic cameras installed in a boulder possibly to collect data on snow leopards. I realised that it was not possible to climb through this route in search of an easy route to Lingti river. Besides, it was not fruitful as it would bring us near Lingti river’s lower part. It was a disheartening situation as I had had an ambitious plan for exploration. I realised that my research was insufficient and without a proper map and GPS, this sort of plan was worthless. We had crossed an excellent valley and gorge over tough terrain, but I was sad that my plan to touch Yangzi Diwan col was unsuccessful. This had been used in ancient times by Tibetans as the Spiti-Rupshu connector. We reached Sanglung and then Rama village (3700 m) on the banks of the Lingti river. Our guide insisted that he had kept his word after all!
Parang la from Borogen. (Debasish Bardhan)
Parang la from Rupshu. (Debasish Bardhan)
Takling La – The second phase of our trek.
Parang la (5580 m) is the most popular Spiti-Rupshu connector. Several villagers, horse traders, trekkers crossed Takling la for several years after which it was less frequently used. The people of Kyoto, Losar etc reject the Takling la route to Rupshu valley because this route has become harder over the years as a result of natural changes in the terrain. People prefer Parang la though it is higher than Takling la. The GREF is planning a road from Takling bridge to Karzog.
Four members came to Kiber village on 26 July to cross Puri Lungpa by cable bridge. Construction of a foot bridge over this gorge has been on for the last five years and hardly 50% is complete! Here we met a person from Chicham village named Tashi, who tried to cross Takling la from Spiti seven years ago with horse traders and an army team consisting of 25 members. The effort failed. He had only a faint idea about the Rupshu side but I decided to take him along anyway. The Kyoto-Chicham motor road is complete but one sees only the rare four wheeler passing with 25 passengers on the roof. We moved to Thaltak via Dumla village. Next day we camped at Boregen. The following day we crossed the Parang la and camped after the snout point of Pare chu. Our porters mistakenly moved to the east side of Pare chu so we had to fix a rope to bring them back to the west bank of the river.
Our camp site was beautiful but the water source was inadequate. The next morning we moved towards Kharsa gompa. We walked through the middle of the river because there is a very miniscule flow in the morning until Pakshi Lumpur nala meets with Pare chu. We crossed another nala coming from our right (east) and camped at Datung Yongma (4500 m). Here Takling nala meets with Pare chu. On 30 July, we moved through Takling nala in the southwest direction. We had to cross different channels of the Takling nala 22 times. As the day proceeded the water rises and the current gets stronger. It began to rain at 11.00 a.m. We were very tired of rain and river crossings. At 4.00 p.m. it began to pour heavily and dark clouds surrounded us. By mistake we entered a left gap from where a big stream was descending. I thought this was the Takling nala’s source but moving for half an hour, Tashi and I realised that we were mistaken. A huge wall covered the gully and the gully curved towards west. So we returned and camped at the side of the river (4600 m), a bad spot for camping. But we were compelled to camp here because the water levels were high in the evening after profuse rain. This place is called Takling Sumdo.
Takling maidan. (Debasish Bardhan)
The next day Tashi moved earlier than the team to look out for the col formation along with a big stream and glacier after the long meadow called Takling Maidan. After six km of flat walk we found this feature. We could see several similar gullies but there was no table top valley and the main course of river moved northwest in a curve. So we entered the gorge and camped at the medial moraine zone. I had not seen any photographs of Talking la prior to this although Romesh Bhattacharji1 had crossed this col in 1993. Some of the features gave me confidence that we had come the right way as I studied the Google Earth image. As it was still early afternoon and the weather was fine, I asked Tashi and two other porters to survey the route for one hour. They found that at the end of medial moraine was a fine place for camping at 4700 m, because two moraine humps protected the place from tremendous wind.
Near Takling la. (Debasish Bardhan)
Final phase of our endeavour
On 1 August 2012, we crossed the Takling nala and followed a comparatively easy gradient of the west wall of the glacier. Tashi estimated that it would be a long journey up to the pass, so we started early to cover the route. On our left (east side), were Takling peak and two other unnamed peaks. The Takling glacier continues up to the pass. Only one narrow deep stream crossed our route. Our route was mostly through a lot of moraine humps, with a few snow patches. We found the going fairly simple and reached the Takling la (5274 m) at around 11.00 a.m. On our left was an ice wall of Takling peak and on the right was a rocky cliff looking like the Sydney Opera house. To the south in the direction of Kaja, we saw a range of peaks. I tried to identify Kangla Tarbo or Manirang peak among them but failed. We found a summit sign of a Russian team who had crossed over to Spiti in 2010.
We began to descend along a high gradient scree zone. We finally reached near the south ridge of Takling peak. It was not a proper place for camping at all but Tashi insisted that they needed time to find and make the route ahead. Takling nala flowed at least 500 m below the ridge. I felt that we should go further toward the river bed, but Tashi pointed out that there were insufficient camping places and constant rock fall from both sides of the river. While we set up camp at 3.00 p.m., a storm with winds at the speed of 100 km per hour with torrential rain continued for three hours. We descended to the river bed the next morning. Tashi and his team made the route by cutting steps over the glacier. We came to a snow bridge over the Takling nala. This problematic area is hardly about one and half kilometre but perhaps this hard part has made Takling la unpopular. After that Takling nala creates a deep gorge. We crossed the nala again and move upwards. It was a constant upward movement for two hours and we reached almost the same height that we had descended earlier in the day. We walked through scree and loose moraine for the whole day. At 2.00 p.m. we came across a nala coming from the east and found marks of camping. Tashi knew that the army team had reached this point where a horse had died. He was happy to be on familiar ground again and we were happy to be on a trail.
At 4.00 p.m. we camped at a place from where a stream flowed from the east. We could see the Spiti river and the metal road from there. We crossed the stream next day and later crossed grazing grounds and the ravine of Lagurdasi nala. Walking down by the left bank of Takling nala, we crossed the eroded mountain section which is visible from the Kaja highway. We were overwhelmed by the rough beauty of eroded mountains, natural caves, intricate erosions of the rock wall enroute. We reached Kyoto at 3.30 p.m.
Explorations in the Lingti and crossing of Takling la in July-August 2012.
In the hot and humid summer of June 2012, I was chosen to lead an expedition team to Papsura (6451 m) in the Parvati valley area comprising of young climbers of West Bengal, a maiden mountaineering venture of Government of West Bengal (Department of Youth Services). I was a bit doubtful about the expedition, as I had been a member of the Papsura expedition team organised by the Himalayan Club Kolkata Section in 2005 under the leadership of AVM (retd.) A.K. Bhattacharya, we had to return just 40 m from the summit. During an Indian Mountaineering Foundation all ladies expedition to Papsura, Ms. Malabi Das, a Himalayan Club member, lost her life.
This peak had been climbed in 1967 under the leadership of Robert Pettigrew and in 1977 under the leadership of Paul Beon.
Papsura (6451 m). (Subrata Chakraborty)
After leaving Kolkata on 10 July the team reached Bhunter on 12 July.
After a night halt at Barseni we moved towards our next destination ‘Kutla’ a hamlet with four bungalows, four km away from Tos village, the last village on this route. On 16 July we started for ‘Sharam thatch’, an excellent journey through a shady jungle of pine, cedar, fir, occasional rhododendrons and a galaxy of unknown mighty trees beside the rushing Tos nala. We made our camp at the end of the valley among giant boulders. 17 July morning the team started from ‘Sharam thatch’ to the next camp at Shari, the route was beautiful along gently rising bugials.
Summit camp. (Subrata Chakraborty)
The tree line ended in Shamsi. On 19 July the team’s doctor and a member set out to place two markers on the snout and study the recession of the glacier.
We also started for the base camp, the narrow trail passed along the slow rising bugial.
We reached base camp at about 2.30 p.m. and pitched our tents. Here we met some people from the ‘Negi search and rescue’ organisation jointly operated by Himachal Pradesh and Israel Governments. They were carrying a body of a climber from another expedition. We took a rest day to acclimatise and sort out food and equipment.
On the way to the summit, Devachen in the background. (Subrata Chakraborty)
Looking at Bara Shigri glacier from the summit. (Subrata Chakraborty)
I took a close view of the Dharamsura glacier (HC Kolkata expedition route in 2005) and noticed countless rocks at the base of the glacier, evidently the rock gully over there had become more dangerous to climb due to rock fall and started switching my plan to go via Sara Umga la, so that after reaching the top of the pass we could have a closer view of Papsura and probably find an alternative route.
Next morning (20 July) we started ferrying loads to Camp 1 (4847 m) below the Sara Umga la (4914 m).
It took five hours to reach Camp 1. The load ferrying continued over the next two days. Sherpas and some members continued load ferry by crossing Sara Umga la for Camp 2.
At the Camp 1 it was decided that some members would occupy Camp 2 (5213 m) and the other members would carry load to Camp 2 and return to Camp 1. At night I noticed a red sky. It snowed all night.
Next morning some members waded their way to Camp 3 (5457 m), which would be our summit camp. The Sherpas struggled on the west face to open the route to summit. It was snowing and through the haze of snowfall, we noticed the Sherpas on the wall of Papsura. They literally tumbled down to summit camp after a hard day.
On 28 July, at exactly 2.00 a.m., we started for the summit. It was a dark night but amazingly the climbers did not feel the numbing cold. Crossing a bergschrund at the base of the precipice we started climbing up along the steep west wall of Papsura.
Towards dawn a soft light touched the walls of Papsura, we switched our line of ascent from west wall to northwest ridge joining with Devachen, bypassing a couple of hanging glaciers on the ridge. At 8.30 a.m. Jena, Pemba, Nima and I touched the crest of the peak. Rudra, Dorjee and Norbu stepped on the summit at 9.30 a.m.
We were jubilant, the weather was crystal clear and we captured the panoramic view of the surroundings. I was able to identify Indrasan, Deo Tibba, Dharamsura, Devachen, Makarbeh, Shikarbeh, view of Rohtang pass, Bara Shigri glacier, Batal area and Ali Ratni Tibba, our base camp, Animal pass, Sentinel, Sara lake, Chota Shigri glacier and East Tos glacier.
We started climbing down at 10.00 a.m. and reached summit camp at 12.30 p.m.
We returned to Kolkata on 5 August.
Summitters: Biswajit Jena, Rudraprasad Halder, Subrata Chakraborty, Pemba Sherpa, Mingma Sherpa, Nima Sherpa, Dorjee Sherpa.
Other Team Members: Dr. Susanta Bhattacharya, Jyotilal Soren, Biswajit Saha, Debashish Ghosal, Sourav Banerjee, Sumit Mukherjee, Sangrami Samanta and Goutam Saha.
Papsura (6451 m) was climbed on 28 July 2012 through its north- northwest ridge, a new route. The access was through Parvati and Tos valleys and negotiating Sara Umga la.
In the 2011 Himalayan Journal (Vol. 67, p. 246) Kimikazu Sakamoto described, among other explorations, a visit to the Namkha Tokpo branch of the Giabul nala in southern Zanskar, where there are many unclimbed peaks of around 6000 m. In 2012, with extensive advice from him, a group of Scottish climbers decided to visit this area. Although an approach from the south via Manali and the Shingo la would be feasible, it was decided to fly to Leh and then approach by road via Kargil and Padam. We were very ably supported by the staff, and by our excellent liaison officer, Chetan Pandey.
After an acclimatisation day in Leh and two gruelling days of bus riding we started walking from Dorzong at mid morning on 7 August, accompanied by 16 horses and horsemen. The excellent path up the true left bank of the Tsarap Lingti gorge took us through extremely arid country for a few hours to our first stop at Tsetan. A long second day saw us follow the Kargiakh chu through some pretty villages as the higher valley opened out, and then we crossed into the Giabul nala and camped at Thangso. On the third day we climbed up the Namkha Tokpo tributary of the Giabul nala and established a base camp at a suitable flat area at 4400 m on the east bank of the river. Yaks grazed on the west side of the river at this point, there being a cluster of yak herders’ huts below, at the junction of the Giabul and Namkha Tokpo streams. There is a semblance of a path from these huts up the east side of the river, but in places it was stony and barely possible for laden horses. The river at base camp was glacial and only fordable early in the morning.
Base camp was dominated by the north face of P. 5840 m (G25). However our initial objective was P. 6115 m (G22)1. We hoped to ascend the easy glacier on the left and then find a way up the southeast ridge, over the subsidiary top P. 5750 m to the summit of G22. Unaccountably the sketch map in Sakamoto’s article, and the various carefully labelled views taken from Google Earth that he very kindly sent us, had omitted the highest peak in the area. This was surprising as the trekking map of Ladakh2 clearly shows two peaks: P. 6100 m (corresponding to Sakamoto’s G22) and P. 6150 m about a mile further west. Both mountains are also shown on the Olizane map3 and are clearly visible using Google Earth.
Ascending southeast ridge of P. 5750 m. (Susan Jensen)
The tedious moraines extending for some miles south and southwest from base camp lead towards dry ice glaciers below the north face of G22. With considerable assistance from our high altitude porters, and the liaison officer we established a well stocked advance base camp near the top of the moraines at about 4900 m. At this point we split into two teams. Susan Jensen, Steve Kennedy, Bob Hamilton and Andy Nisbet elected to try the G22 route while Geoff Cohen and Des Rubens decided to explore the west bank of the glacier and attempt P. 6150 m.
The G22 party ascended the glacier east of G22 and pitched Camp 1 at about 5400 m just below the col between G22 and G23. The south- facing slopes of G22 were largely steep rubble so they were constrained to attempt the southeast ridge. On 17 August they climbed this ridge as far as the subsidiary snow peak P. 5750 m. Beyond this point the technical difficulties appeared considerable so they did not continue to the main peak. However, having descended to the col they climbed eastwards along the ridge to the rock peak P. 5850 m (G23), which required rock climbing of about Alpine III standard to surmount the summit cone.
North face and northwest ridge of P. 6150 m. (Des Rubens)
The climb of P. 5750 m may have been the first human ascent, but this party found fresh tracks indicating a suspected previous ascent by a snow leopard. It is not known whether this animal continued along the more formidable ground towards G22!
The west glacier party pitched Camp 1 (5200 m) at a point where the glacier curves around southwards towards the col between P. 6150 m and G18. Following a reconnaissance they moved their camp to 5300 m at a bergschrund about 50 m below the col. On 17 August the weather was fine and they climbed to the summit of P. 6150 m by its northwest ridge. The route from the col started with several pitches of steep snow interspersed with rock on the exposed right hand flank of the ridge. After joining the ridge at a rocky section they followed a narrow arête of loose rock and soft snow to attain the prominent level shoulder. Thereafter excellent snow conditions led up the easier angled upper ridge to the summit. The same route was followed in descent.
Although there were significant cloud formations there was enough clarity at the summit to confirm that the southwest face of G22 was also virtually snow free. Numerous attractive sharp and snowy peaks could be seen further west and southwest, but to the north the mountains were as arid as expected in much of the Zaskar range. The height given for G18 on Sakamoto’s map (6005 m) seemed to us an overestimate; we estimated it as between 5800 and 5900 m.
The north face of P. 6150 m offers a uniformly steep but attractive snow route. This would have been attempted by the G22 party following a respite at base camp, but for an unfortunate incident when a high altitude porter fell into a crevasse and sustained a facial cut.
The rocky north face of G224, looks difficult and may be threatened by ice and rock fall. The ridge joining P. 6100 m (G22) to P. 6150 m comprises a very steep fall from G22 and an extremely sharp rock fang; the complete traverse would be quite a formidable challenge.
One member, Andy Nisbet, climbed almost to the top of P.5800 m (G26) on 21 August. Unfortunately he could not climb the last 50 m as his mountain boots had been left at ABC in the course of the crevasse rescue. Four others explored the glacier east of G25 to a height of about 5000 m. A route climbing up to join the south ridge of this mountain looked feasible but they were foiled by a severe thunderstorm.
P. 6100 m (G22) and P. 5750 m. (Susan Jensen)
The expedition left base camp on 23 August, walked back to Dorzong and reached Leh on 27 August. While crossing the Pensi la Des Rubens and I were able to recall the visit we made to the Durung Drung glacier in 1977 with Rob Collister. At that time Zanskar had only been open to foreigners for about a year, so we had a real sense of exploration; we had walked from Panikhar to Pensi la, climbed a couple of peaks5 then walked out very hungry to Padam.
Now we were able to look at the changes wrought in the last 35 years. While the road is still in a perilous state it is clearly being improved. The military and police presence at Ringdom was quite oppressive compared with the peace of our first visit and Padam had grown enormously from a little Buddhist village to a rather scruffy town. It was hard to gauge the changes in the Durung Drung glacier but our impression was that the snout had receded quite a distance. Perhaps most surprising (and welcome!) to mountaineers is that though Zanskar is such a popular tourist destination, with a proliferation of fascinating treks to be done, the potential for exploratory climbing remains vast6.
The expedition was led by Susan Jensen and comprised Geoff Cohen, Bob Hamilton, Steve Kennedy, Andy Nisbet and Des Rubens, all members of the Scottish Mountaineering Club. Nancy Kennedy also accompanied us to base camp. Chetan Pandey was LO, Naveen Chandra was base camp manager and Heera Singh, Govind Singh and Mangal Singh were the high altitude supporters.
A team of Scottish mountaineers made first ascents of three peaks, P. 5750 m, P. 5850 m and P. 6150 m in the Namkha Tokpo branch of Giabul nala in southern Zanskar in August 2012.
Due to unrest and heated conflict in the disputed border areas between India and Pakistan, India’s Kashmir region has lain silent for the mountaineering community for almost two decades. Locked within these Himalayan valleys are an aesthetic and endless successions of summits, most unnamed and many unclimbed.
Eighteen years after the last documented expedition in the region, my good friends Denis Burdet, David Lama and I set our sights on Cerro Kishtwar: a mountain named after it’s uncanny similarities to Patagonia’s renowned Cerro Torre.
The expedition got off to a tough start with delay and complication arising when we realised we had to move our base camp closer to the mountain. Limited information and outdated maps of the region made accurate planning difficult, and once on site, we improvised to make an alpine style ascent possible.
New route on Cerro Kishtwar (6155 m) named as Yoniverse. (Visualimpact.ch /David Lama)
North summit (6150 m) of Cerro Kishtwar seen from the main summit. (Visualimpact.ch / Rob Frost)
Once both base camp and ABC were well established, American filmmaker/photographer Robert Frost, Denis, David and I didn’t lose time and were on the mountain negotiating our way up the wall.
On the second day we saw a logical line which had not been visible from below: a thin, hidden line of ice that curved 200 m below the south ridge. After a rest day in Camp 1, equipped with light packs carrying only the essentials, Denis, David, Rob and myself made a one-push alpine style attempt for the summit.
The first six pitches were of ice and ‘styrofoam’ snow. These conditions allowed for quick progress but were less than ideal for placing protection. Trying to use ice screws was pointless in the steep snow and soft ice. Long run-outs were characteristic on the route and we had to rely on the rare possibility of securing ourselves in the rock.
The ice couloir steepened up to 85° until it eventually flattened out. From this point the climbing was on vertical rock reaching up to Grade 6 in difficulty. The persistent spindrift showers complicated the ascent until we finally reached the south ridge. At one point David sarcastically commented how truly beautiful it was being up here at minus 25° Celsius! When we arrived on the ridge we were welcomed by the warm rays of the sun and took the opportunity to warm up our feet. After a difficult climb over the main ridge, the route travels over a few easier rock sections on a snow covered section of the ridge.
On the hidden line of ice 200 m below the south ridge. (Visualimpact.ch / David Lama)
That afternoon at 1.15 p.m., in perfect weather Denis, David, Rob and I reached the South summit, while the second photographer/filmmaker in our team, Stefan Schlumpf followed the expedition from our ABC below. On the South summit our altimeters read 6155 m – not the 6200 m which up until then was the recorded summit height. We looked to the North summit and thought it must be lower.
Before beginning our descent, we traversed the saddle between the twin peaks and climbed the North summit. Our measurements read 6150 m confirming the Northern peak is lower than the main summit by a mere five metres. It took a hefty 26 rappels to abseil down the face before finally reaching Camp 1 just before dark. The next morning we finished abseiling down to ABC with all our equipment.
A climber’s Jackpot
With a week‘s time to spare and savouring the feeling of calm and contentment after having successfully summited Cerro Kishtwar, Denis and I spotted another project on the horizon of breathtaking mountains that decorate Kashmir!
We arrived at the foot of the unknown, unnamed mountain on the first day and opted for a direct line up the north-northwest face. At 3.30 the next morning we woke up to the persitent ringing of the alarm clock.
Denis and I were well acclimatised and are a good team. Being just the the two of us, we were also fast. We led in turns following an ice channel, and after making an avalanche prone traverse, we found ourselves in another deep gully. From this point on the climbing became more delicate: Chimney climbing ( like the ‘Exocet’ on ‘Cerro Standarth’), dry-tooling, ice up to 90° steep, a roof to get over and generally very tricky to protect. To top it off we arrived at the end of the route and found the mountain also had a double summit! So we left one backpack and climbed on horrible, loose rock on the north side of the ridge. After two pitches I saw a hole in the ridge, just big enough to slip through. The hole led to the south side of the mountain, and to our surprise the quality of the rock was much better. We climbed a couple more pitches and stood on the summit! It was amazing.
White Saphire (6040 m). (Visualimpact.ch / Denis Burdet)
The GPS read 6040 m above sea level. Denis and I built a small cairn before starting our descent down the presumably easier south ridge. It wasn’t until we had reached the end of our descent that we were able to cross over to the icy slope and after abseiling four rope lengths made it back to the camp at 7.00 p.m. that evening after an inncredible day.
We used every rope, piton and piece of webbing on the ascent and descent of the new route! The weather was perfect! A climber’s jackpot!
In the early 90’s, Andy Perkins and Brendan Murphy made an incredible 15 day effort for the northwest face of Cerro Kishtwar, finally having to turn around less than 100 m below the summit. We are grateful to Andy Perkins, who kindly helped us in preparing for our expedition by sharing his valuable knowledge about the area. Later in 1993, Mike Fowler and Steve Sustad successfully made the first ascent1 of Cerro Kishtwar.
New route on Cerro Kishtwar:
Route: ‘Yoniverse’, 1200 m, WI 5, 6a, Alpine style, no bolts.
Northwest face and south ridge to main (South) summit (6155 m). 25 – 29 September 2011
Climbers: Stephan Siegrist (Switzerland), Denis Burdet (Switzerland), David Lama (Austria) and Rob Frost (USA) In addition: Photographer / Filmmaker: Stefan Schlumpf (up to ABC)
First ascent of White Sapphire:
Route: Ascent, ‘la virée des contemporains’, which loosely translated means ‘stroll of the contemporaries’.
850 m, WI 5 (Crux: 2 rope lengths WI 6), M6, A2.
Descent on the south ridge, ‘Eagles Ridge’, Alpine style, no bolts.Over the southwest face to main (North) summit (6040 m). 4 – 5 October 2011.
Climbers: Stephan Siegrist (Switzerland), Denis Burdet (Switzerland)
Ascent of Cerro Kishtwar (6155 m) in pure alpine style by a new route. Two climbers also achieved a first ascent on an Unnamed Peak (6040 m) which they named ‘White Sapphire’ in September-October 2011.
A shy virgin of Ladakh
It should be a shy virgin in some unknown area, not so easy – not so difficult, above 6100 m, no long approach till base camp and not much permission & paperwork.
After two not-so-successful attempts in last two years the expedition committee of Pathfinder Bhadreswar got very choosy while planning for 2012. Therefore the requirement list for a probable peak looked more like an advertisement of the Sunday newspaper’s matrimonial column. But the IMF list of the 104 newly opened peaks in Ladakh is just like an Indian platter. So we had no problem finalising our goal fulfilling all those criteria within just one hour with the help of that list and Google Earth. Soon we sent an application to IMF to book Peak no. 65 (Pt 6120 / 33°36’36”-77°35’54”) and started our basic preparation for the coming expedition.
On 15 August, I arrived at Sasoma village from Leh to arrange mules for the expedition. Within half an hour we could manage to sign up the agreement with Sonam Namgyal to transport our load by his mules. Sasoma (4016 m)1, a small hamlet on the Manali – Leh highway after Tanglang la is situated in between Rumtse and Gya. The place is well accessible as it is only some 80 km from Leh. But it is so small and unimportant that there is not even a tea shop in that village. So after finishing our job with the muleteer we went up to the bigger village of Rumtse. As planned before, the rest of the nine members of the expedition team arrived from Manali after an overnight stay at Jispa. We pitched our tent in an enclosure by the side of the rivulet Kundanma just below Sonam’s house. Soon we found that we were the intruders, as at dusk cows, mules and goats poured into the enclosure and didn’t like our tents in their sleeping place. However we made truce by offering vegetable peels etc. and soon everything was peaceful.
Though we planned to move forward the next day, Sonam’s mules were away grazing. It’s a common practice here to leave the mules to find grass or any kind of food in this arid land. Sonam promised us to find his mules so that we could leave the next morning. We had a late morning wakeup call with curious children peeping into the tents. We talked to villagers and shepherds but no one seemed to know about the peak or the route we were talking about. So after breakfast we went out for a reconnaissance. We didn’t follow the rivulet as it seems a longer proposition - instead we walked up the steps of pea fields until the topmost building of Sasoma, which is the Buddhist monastery. The Kundanma river couldn’t be seen from this upper plateau. We walked for fifty minutes to get down to the river and crossed it at a narrow point over the boulders. A steep scree section of 150 m was the next obstacle. We continued for an hour to reach a place from where the river could be seen again. A clear view gave us an idea of the terrain ahead towards the west. We got back to Sasoma after three and half hours.
We woke up on 17 August with tea brought by Sonam’s wife even before our cook from Manali could light kerosene stove. We were touched by the family’s hospitality. It also proved that this village was yet to be influenced by the tourists who generally start their popular trek from Rumtse to Tso Moriri. Like every expedition’s first trekking day we too were a bit clumsy when loading the pack animals and starting the trek. We followed the same trail till the point we had reached then crossed a dry stream after a semi-flat ground of over a kilometre. It was very warm with a scorching sun but by the end of the day the sky was suddenly overcast. The first group of people reached the transit camp in three and half hours from Sasoma. It drizzled a little while we hastily pitched our tents on the right bank of Kundanma river. While we were having our pack lunch we witnessed a beautiful natural phenomenon. A huge rainbow started to rise slowly from Sasoma village. One by one the seven colours appeared. The broad band of each colour was so vivid and close that the known area looked completely different and unknown. None of us had ever witnessed such a sight before. The photographers got into a complete frenzy. In the evening Partha and myself crossed the Kundanma river and walked up to a higher place on the ridge to get a glimpse of our peak. But even after going up as high as 300 m we didn’t find any such peak and returned to camp, crossing a swollen river by the evening. Our Transit camp was at 4888 m.
Kundanma Ri. (Basudeb Sarkar)
18 August: We started at 08.00 a.m. with confusion in our mind. First we thought we would follow the direction according to the GPS. So we walked about an hour or so before we realised from the view over the ridge in front of us that we were on wrong course. According to the Google Earth satellite image we should cross the river and then follow the left side of the stream. But the GPS with us was fixed with IMF co-ordinates and showed the direction more towards our left – this left us confused. So we walked back half an hour, crossed the river and walked up along a stream coming from the left of the main river. We reached base camp at 5166 m at around 11.00 a.m. Tailless rats (Pika), rabbits and marmots were in plenty around our campsite. At first they were a little shy and scared, but soon they became more curious and bold. At night they even tried to enter some of the tents. In the afternoon Anath, Basu, Partha and I walked up the nearest ridge again to search for our goal but only to return fruitless. The only hope was Sonam’s word that snow-capped peaks would appear after the turning of the ridge which was an hour away along the river – this was also supported by the Google Earth satellite image.
We crossed the river the next morning and continued following its right bank for one and half hours then turned left with the course of the river to reach a small lake. We mistook a smaller peak straight ahead of us as our destination. But soon after climbing two boulder strewn humps of 100 m each, our GPS indicated that our objective was more towards the right. Through a small opening on the right side terminal moraine ridge of a small glacier we could finally see our goal. We dumped some loads and got back to base camp by 2.00 p.m.
Early in the morning of 20 August, everybody crossed the Kundanma river and shifted the base camp to the lake at 5320 m. As decided five members continued the trek crossing the two boulder fields and in two and half hours dumped our loads. We changed to snow-boots and started along the ridge (east) between two small glaciers. After an hour of wobbly upward movement on a slope of steep slates and boulders we were at the upper part of the small glacier (two km long; 700 m wide) which separated us from our destined peak. From that point Anath and Basu went down to ABC. We set up our summit camp after one and half hours, crossing the small crevassed glacier with rope fastened to our harness and traversing up a steep ice-snow mixed slope reaching at 5797 m.
Though we planned to start before dawn on 21 August, a very uncomfortable night in a crowded small tent ruined our plan. We could catch a short nap only in the wee hours of the morning. We started at 07.50 a.m. after breakfast for the summit bid from the southeast face. Initially it was mixed climbing with snow and ice up a wall of 100 m which went up diagonally to reach the broken rocky part. Unstable boulders on a steep slope tested our balancing prowess. Often we had to climb slowly to avoid the verglass on boulders. There were two possible routes to the peak from there. First was to continue diagonally on this broken rock wall and then cross the snow-ice mixed patches in between. The second was to directly hit the east ridge climbing a steeper line. Then we would continue on the sharp and forked east ridge and just below the summit cone climb an exposed ice-wall of 40 m to reach the summit. After a quick thought we took the second line as we then would not need to take our crampons on and off too many times. We continued on the direct line of ascent of the east ridge. The weather was sunny and windless. We were moving quite fast and reached the top of the east ridge at 5960 m in one and half hours. The view on the side of the ridge was breathtaking. The northeast face went down directly for about 800 m to a beautiful glacial lake. After a 10 minute break we continued to climb the rocky fork like arête of east ridge. The warm weather started getting some clouds. We moved fast to reach the last ice patch. Putting on our crampons, we started climbing the last 40 m of almost vertical icy section following the ridgeline. The northwest face portion is more exposed so we kept close to the skyline. I tiptoed to the top of the patch with the rope. The ice at places was crystalline and would not hold the crampons. Another 40 m of steep rotten rock wall and Kalyan and I were atop the highest point of that area at 10.05 a.m. Partha also reached the summit.
Reaching the summit. (Debabrata Mukherjee)
The summit of Kundanma Ri (6140 m)2 was a rocky knob with a cornice towards the north face. The west ridge continues about 70 / 80 m to another hump slightly lower than this summit which I presume is marked as the Pt. 6120 m in the IMF list. It provides a very beautiful view from the top especially of the glacial lake below the north face. The north ridge is a very steep one with hanging snow/rock buttress. We offered our prayers quickly and took photos of the surroundings. We started climbing down by the east ridge because we didn’t fix any rope on that ice wall. So it took us some good effort to climb down that last part. A small mistake could have swept us straight to the icefield some 400 m below. We were back to summit camp by 2.00 p.m. and then to ABC at 5.30 p.m. through a blizzard. We left ABC the next morning for Sasoma.
First ascent of Kundanma Ri (6120 m) near Sasoma in Ladakh, on Manali-Leh road in August 2012.
Indian Army Expedition in the Siachen Glacier
Colonel Anil Goth
The Karakorams, of which Siachen is an important and most well- known glacier comprise of the largest mass of snow and ice outside the Polar regions, incomparable to any other mountainous area in the world. The area has a large number of peaks guarding the glacier from east and west making it an almost watertight area, accessible along a few passes and the glacier snout. The Saltoro ridge which lies to the west is a little more porous with Bilafond la, Lolofond la and Sia la passes which range from 5647 m to 6156 m. The ridges to the east of the glacier comprising mainly of Teram and Rimo groups are more impregnable with difficult passes like Col Italia at 6096 m and Turkestan la at 5810 m. The area on both sides of the glacier is so harsh, rugged and elevated that no human settlements exist in the area.
Apsarasas I from advance base camp.
1930 Italian Expedition’s inscription.
Apsarasas I (7245 m), which is located along the eastern range to the Siachen glacier was to be attempted by an Indian army mountaineering team in Jun/July 2012. P. 7130 m which lies on the south ridge emanating from Apsarasas I blocks the view of the main peak from Kumar Camp and ‘Forward Logistic Base’ (FLB) and being a very dominating feature can easily be mistaken as the main peak.
The expedition team comprised of four officers, four JCOs and 22 other ranks drawn from various regiments of the army with major participation from the Ladakh Scouts. I was given the responsibility of leading the venture. The team concentrated at the Army Mountaineering Institute on 3 May 2012. An advance party under Capt Bakul Joshi moved on 2 June from Siachen base camp and reached FLB with the task of opening routes to ABC and Camp 1 before the arrival of the main team. Due to the length of Siachen glacier, the logistic chain for expeditions tends to become extremely long and untenable, therefore dry rations and K-oil for the expedition were air-dropped by helicopters while stores of more fragile nature were airlifted to the expedition base at FLB in three shuttles.
The main team met up with the advance party on 12 June. A few of us located the inscription made by the 1930 Italian expedition on a boulder in FLB area. The name of the Italian expedition was etched into the rock on brown Patina layer used for petroglyphs (carving of hunting scenes by ancient humans). It was remarkably preserved as any carving on Patina layer lasts for centuries. No signs of the fabled ruins of the destroyed Yarkandi village could be seen but a few signs of scattered rocks probably used by the 1930 Italian expedition could be seen in the immediate vicinity of the boulder.
Route of ascent.
Move to Camp 2.
The FLB area around the lake had a herd of 30-35 ibex that became friendly with the soldiers and would frequent the camp in the mornings and evenings. The herd would even share rations with soldiers eating off their palms. One ibex got stranded from its herd and appeared to be ill. Next day, Col Saurav Schimer, a helicopter test pilot, went with a few of our Ladakhi team members and porters to bring the ibex to the lake to make it drink water with the hope of reviving the animal. The ibex was however beyond help and died before it could be brought down to the lake. The Ladakhi team members and porters prayed for the animal’s survival while it was in its death throes, but once it died, in accordance with the Buddhist religious beliefs, accepted the animal as a offering from God. The ibex was slaughtered for a feast.
During the aerial recces carried out to select the route to the peak, the western approach was selected for attempting the peak along the south ridge. A brief but informative account of the first climb to the peak by the 1976 Japanese expedition led by Hideo Misawa was obtained from the Japanese Alpine Journal (1977). The ABC was established on 15 June 2012 at 5200 m on the Apsarasas glacier after crossing arduous and long route along Teram Shehr glacier from FLB. The ABC was located in approximately the same location as the 1976 Japanese Camp 1. From FLB, the route involved climbing a 200 m slope to the Teram Shehr glacier, traversing it to the junction of Teram and Apsarasas glaciers and then following a line to the right edge of the glacier to the opening of the first Apsarasas glacier separated from the second Apsarasas glacier by the western spur which divides the two glaciers and rises steeply to meet the Apsarasas south ridge at nearly 6900 m. 500 kg of expedition load were ferried to the ABC by the team members and porters while 1.2 tons of the loads were airlifted and lowered at ABC.
Crossing Teram Shehr glacier.
From P. 7130 m to summit.
The route to Camp 1 (5300 m) was opened and the camp was occupied on 20 June. It was an hour away from the ABC. Our route followed the base of the western spur some 500 m of the slopes of the south ridge. Due to the steep slopes of the south ridge, there were continuous avalanches sliding down onto the glacier. From Camp 1, we had the option to follow the tried western spur taken by the 1976 Japanese expedition or to find a variation. After 2-3 days at ABC and Camp 1, observing the pattern and paths of the avalanches, we decided to push the route to the saddle on the south ridge between the western spur and the prominent, inviting but dangerous ice bulge below the saddle. Our selected route followed a line on a spur of mixed rock and snow with the rock portion resembling a crocodile with its mouth, two legs and a tail. We aptly named the spur as the Crocodile Spur. No fixed ropes were used up to Camp 1 but due to steepness of the slopes and to give protection against small avalanches and also to enable the less-experienced climbers to climb the route from Camp 1 onwards was mostly secured by fixed ropes.
Route to Camp 2 was opened on 22 June and stocking of the camp was completed the next day. Sonam Gurmey and Limbu with six other climbers occupied Camp 2. The time taken for move between Camp 1 and 2 once the ropes were in place was three – four hours. From Camp 2, the route followed the south ridge. On 25 June the team at Camp 2 commenced work on opening the route to Camp 3 that would be established at 6900 m at the base of P. 7130 m. However, due to weather forecast indicating western disturbance and bad weather for the next few days the team was called back to Camp 1. The subsequent plan involved the attempt of the main peak by three teams comprising of seven – eight soldiers each between 30 June and 2 July as well as an attempt on Apsarasas II by the second team after the climb of Apsarasas I. This would give an opportunity to maximum members to reach the summit. On 28 June, the first team, led by Sonam Gurmey and Limbu along with six men reoccupied Camp 2. A team of seven climbers under Naib Subedar Morup Dorjai tasked with the support of establishment of Camp 3 moved along with the first team. The next day however turned out to be another bad-weather day contrary to the forecasts of fair weather. A very strong effort was made by Sonam Gurmey and Limbu’s team to push the route to Camp 3. They had set out at 04.00 a.m. while Morup Dorjai’s team followed with tents and rucksacks of the first team. The weather conditions worsened and developed into a whiteout, therefore Camp 3 had to be established at the base of a prominent rocky outcrop on the south ridge at 6900 m, much short of the intended camp site at the base of P. 7130 m. The support team returned to Camp 2 after dropping the loads and the weather cleared a bit by 05.00 p.m. This opportunity was utilised by Sonam Gurmey to recce the route ahead and fix ropes in the available daylight for the summit push the next day.
30 June, the day planned for the first summit attempt however did not emerge promising. Nevertheless, the stout-hearted eight climbers left their camp at 03.00 a.m. and commenced making progress towards the objective. The base of P. 7130 could be reached only by 07.00 a.m. and the movement was greatly hindered by the weather conditions.
Camp 3 (6900 m).
White-out soon developed but the team managed to gain the ridge between P. 7130 m and Apsarasas I by skirting P. 7130 m from the right which was an achievement taking into account the weather conditions. The team sat at 7000 m, totally blinded in the white-out, waiting for an opening in the weather. As weather conditions only worsened, the team was called back from the high point at 11.40 a.m. Nearly eighteen ropes had been fixed between Camp 3 and the high point reached that day. The fixed rope was a lifeline for return to Camp 3 after calling off the summit attempt.
Sonam Gurmey and Limbu with their team spent an uncomfortable night at Camp 3 and were out again at 03.15 a.m. with a dogged determination to push their way to the summit that day. However, by first light, the weather had again deteriorated and developed into white-out. The team could move only till the fixed ropes installed the previous day. Throughout the expedition the I-Com walkie-talkies with Li-ion batteries specially made to stand cold climatic conditions provided us with reliable communications making it possible for me to keep in constant contact with all the camps and teams on the mountain. In the past few days, it had been observed by the team that evenings rather than mornings were clearer on the mountain. Therefore, Limbu was asked to wait and settle at the high point reached till visibility conditions improved in the later part of the day.
Limbu and Gurmey enthusiastically accepted the advice. The expected opening in the weather occurred at 02.00 p.m. and the saddle leading to Apsarasas I could be seen faintly through the mist. It was also very encouraging for the team to see that the saddle ridge was mostly flat and 25-50 m wide between P. 7130 m and Apsarasas I. By now, the team could smell the summit and in very marginal weather conditions it reached the base of the Apsarasas I by 05.00 p.m. The summit pyramid, being nearly 200 m from the base however tested the grit and determination of the team in the final moments. Five ropes needed to be fixed to reach the top along a snow gully. Govind Chand and Pitamber who were bringing up the rear were sent back to retrieve two ropes that had been fixed at the base of the summit pyramid as Sonam Gurmey, who was leading had exhausted the ropes carried by the team and the difficulties just below the top required removal of the ropes fixed at the base for them to be used on the final pitches to the summit. At 07.40 p.m., on 1 July 2012, Sonam Gurmey, Tempa, Limbu and Angchok stood on the summit. Govind Chand, Damji Sherpa, Min Bahadur Tamang and Pitamber Lal followed soon after. The summit had been achieved after an epic effort by the team. The sun had already set and the team quickly organised itself to take still and video photographs in all directions in the fading daylight along with the important photographs of the GPS readings. The GPS recorded elevation of 7269 m on the summit. The summit top was flat, snowbound with a clear view all around. The summit team left a two- and-a-half-feet aluminium snow-bar with prayer flags and markings etched on the snow-bar with the help of a nail and a rock hammer. The team also left a coil of 6 mm black nylon rope on the top besides five fixed ropes below the summit. A few snow-bars and rock pitons used for fixed ropes were also left for posterity.
When one enters a new valley or gains a new summit, there is generally an expectation of seeing something strange which does not recur commonly. A strong desire is also felt to ascertain whether any tell- tale sign of previous visits having frequented the area can be found. However, no sign of ropes, equipment or any other item was found by the expedition on the summit or along the route taken by the team ahead of FLB, probably because of the long gap between previous expeditions and our expedition to the area. The summit team returned safely to Camp 3 well after midnight, during which I was in constant communication with Limbu through the I-Com radio set.
Siachen glacier with Saltoro Kangri in the centre.
The weather being bright and clear, it was decided to shift Camp 3 on the saddle between P. 7130 m and Apsarasas I to reduce the time and distance to the summit. The weather held on 3 July and Morup’s team of six members gained the summit at 08.00 a.m. after making the start at 06.00 a.m. As per plan, Morup had commandeered six ropes and after a short halt at Apsarasas I was on the move again on the main Apsarasas ridge towards Apsarasas II (7239 m), some 700-800 m to the east. The team covered about one-third of the distance to Apsarasas II but due to the route requiring more ropes and pitons than were available and my communications with Col Schimer and Nb Sub Morup regarding the condition of the ridge, I decided to call off the attempt on Apsarasas II. While Morup’s team was advancing towards Apsarasas II, a group of eight climbers under Col Schimer and Tashi Dorjai from Camp 3 reached the summit of Apsarasas I at 10.00 a.m. and could watch progress of Morup’s party.
The two teams had excellent visibility to take pictures from the summit and were back at the new Camp 3 by 12.30 p.m. Due to clear weather, rising temperatures and the danger of slab avalanches en route, the group stayed on at Camp 3, closing down the high camps and descending to Camp 1 on 4 July.
Route - Western approach. New route between Camp 1 and Camp 2.
1 Jul 12 - DL Sonam Gurmey, Nb Sub MK Limbu, SM, Hav Tsering Angchok, ASL Konchok Tempa, LNk Govind Chand, LNk Min Bahadur Tamang, LNk Damji Sherpa and Rfn Pitamber Lal
3 Jul 12 – Col Saurav Schimer, Sub Tashi Gyalpo, Nb Sub Morup Dorjai, Hav Tsering Sangroop, SM, Hav Lobzang Norboo, Hav Angchok Dorji, VSM, L Hav Tsewang Tondup, LNk Tsewang Chonjor, Sep Kulwant Singh, LNk Hem Kumar Limbu, Rfn Rigzin Tsewang, PTR Dabbal Singh, Rfn Jigmeth Dorjay, LNk Tashi Namgail and Rfn Jigmeth Tonyot
Members – Col. Anil Goth (leader), Capt Bakul Joshi, Capt B Chaki, Nk/NA Kate, Yogesh Vinayak, Hav P Khoken Singh, Rfn Thinlesh Gaipo, Sep KN Vishnu.
Ascent of Apsarasas I (7245 m) by an Indian army team in June-July 2012.
Our target was the unclimbed southwest face of Rimo III (7233 m) in the rarely explored Terong glacier area of the eastern Karakoram. Despite the area having a large number of unclimbed peaks foreign expeditions have been few and far between. A tributary of the Siachen, the Terong glacier was discovered in 1909 by Dr Longstaff and explored by Dutch explorer Visser in 1929, and the first climbing expedition wasn’t until 1985 when Harish Kapadia formed an expedition to the area. Their expedition made the first ascent of Rimo III by Dave Wilkinson and Jim Fotheringham by the north ridge with Victor Saunders and Stephen Venables making an attempt on Rimo I, during which Venables dropped his rucksack down the west face forcing a retreat. Doug Scott visited the area the following year as part of a joint British / Indian expedition, making an ascent of Rimo II, his main aim however had been the south face of Rimo III. In 1988 the Japanese made an ascent of the south face Rimo I. It was a photograph from Doug that inspired us to choose to make an attempt on the southwest face of Rimo III.
Dunglung Khangri southwest face. (Simon Yearsley)
Rimo III southwest face. (Rachel Antill)
Our joint British / Indian expedition team was to be made up of expedition leader Satyabrata Dam, with Malcolm Bass, Simon Yearsley and Paul Figg as climbing members along with Indian members Tashi Phunchok, Konchok Thinless and Dan Singh Harkotiya. Rachel Antill would accompany the team as expedition artist to create paintings and film footage based on the environment. Our liaison officer was Raj Kumar. One condition of getting a permit was that we would also have two soldiers from the Indian army accompanying us for the duration of the trip.
The reason for the lack of mountain activity is the proximity of the area to the Pakistan border and the army base at the snout of the Siachen glacier. At 76 km long, the Siachen glacier is the second longest glacier in the world outside the Polar regions.
Leaving Leh on 16 August our route to the mountains lay over the Khardung la, the second highest motorable road reaching a height of over 5000 m, beyond this lay our first view of the Karakoram mountains. The view was just so vast none of us had seen anything on quite this scale before. From here we continued along the Shyok and Nubra valleys spending a night in the small village of Sasoma before reaching the edge of the Siachen base camp. It was here we met up with our army escort on the outskirts of the army base amongst a fabulous bouldering field that kept us amused for many hours.
The army were friendly and offered us tea and biscuits before we headed onto the glacier. It was a great moment to be moving under our own steam at last. Directions for the first days walk in were to turn right at the first glacier on the right onto the Terong glacier. A fantastic new view appeared and an oasis of greenery that was to be our camp with just enough boulders to keep us busy. The following day would be crucial as we would be faced with having to cross the Terong river. This could have been the end of the trip before we’d even seen Rimo III - luckily we had the Indian army to thank again, unknown to us they had a joint expedition with the IMF to Rimo I and had fixed a rope across the river. Without this I don’t know what we would have done as there was no way we could cross the river in these conditions - if the cold didn’t get you, the chunks of ice floating down the river would. After a couple of hours all the porters, kit and climbers were safely across the river. After another camp and along a maze of moraine covered glacier we turned up the North Terong glacier, a long day brought us to our base camp at 4950 m, arriving on 22 August, next to the army Rimo I camp. Fantastic views up to the head of the valley and an array of unclimbed peaks met our eyes. Our eyes were however drawn to the top of Rimo III and its south face, our face.
Rimo area sketch map.
Climbing loose mixed ground between icefields. (Malcolm Bass)
First of all we would need to establish advance base camp further up the valley at a height of 5350 m. that would allow easier access to the face. Access was never easy though, again another maze of frustrating moraine would lead to a plateau below the face. From advance base camp at 5350 m our plan was to acclimatise by climbing up to the col between Rimo II and Rimo III, this would allow us to get a good view of the face and decide on a safe route on the face. We were unable to get good views of our original route and weren’t even sure if we would be able to cross the large bergschrund at the bottom of the face. Simon, Malcolm and I decided on a route to the left of the prominent buttress that would zig zag its way up the face linking prominent icefields by a series of gullies then mixed climbing which would have us top out on the summit.
The approach to the base of the face had changed hugely from the photographs of the face in Doug Scott’s book Himalayan Climber - what had looked a straight forward glacier was now a maze of crevasses and moraine. A trail of cairns would eventually make the arduous walk much easier as we acclimatised to the altitude. Four days acclimatisation would see us reach a height of 6400 m before returning to ABC. After a couple of days rest, we set off back up to the bottom of the face to establish a camp. Deciding to travel light without sleeping bags our plan was to climb during the night and rest during the day in the sunshine, we set off at around 6.30 p.m. and made good progress through the night reaching 6400 m. By 2.00 a.m. snow clouds had been building through the night and so without the kit to sit out long periods of bad weather, Malcolm, Simon and I decided to descend and were back on the glacier by 7.00 a.m. and then continued back down to ABC, leaving most of our kit below the face ready for another attempt. In our absence Rachel and Satya had made exploratory forays from ABC to the head of the Terong glacier in search of a way onto the Teram Shehr plateau and up towards the Ibex col. Rachel had also been busy painting, drawing and filming.
After sitting it out for a week at ABC wondering what to do with almost constant snowfall it was obvious the face wouldn’t be coming back into condition, all around us you could see and hear avalanches coming down the nearby peaks. Once again we trudged back up to our high camp to retrieve our now buried tent and gear and then back down to the luxuries of BC. With time running out we decided to try and make an ascent of a nearby unnamed and unclimbed peak we could see from BC that looked objectively safe from avalanches. So it was back up to ABC to retrieve our kit and an attempt on our new objective, an attractive peak at the west end of the ridge linking Sondhi and Sundbrar, marked as 6330 m on Harish Kapadia’s sketch maps.1
On 13 September we set off climbing up through boulder fields then a great exposed rocky ridge to 5600 m where we found a great bivi spot for the night. The following morning climbing solo, we made a series of rising traverses across wide snow slopes separated by loose rocky spurs to reach a gendarme ridge of good quality rock. An easier angled snow bowl lead us to the base of the summit pyramid as the weather started to close in, snow falling and the wind starting to pick up. Roped up by this point, Malcolm set off up the steeper angled slopes battling with the unconsolidated snow, which would hopefully reveal solid ice beneath to allow ice screw placements. With the summit still looking some way off Simon and I were considering whether we should be carrying on in the now 40 mph winds, luckily Malcolm had a much better view to the summit and two pitches of more battling and we reached the summit at 4.00 p.m. on 14 September 2012. A few quick photos and it was time to make an abseil descent in fading light.
Painting of Dunglung Khangri. (Rachel Antill)
Back in the col it was time to add more warm layers before retracing our steps along the ridge to our abseil point that we hoped would take us out of the wind. What had looked straight forward route finding on the way up now became much more complicated in the dark, although with Simon doing a great job of rigging abalakov threads none of us could remember exactly how many ridges and snow slopes we had to cross nor at what height we should cross them. Eventually at 6.00 a.m. as daylight appeared we recognised where we were and the welcoming sight of our bivi spot. Several cups of tea and recovery drinks later we carried on with our descent with much cursing and swearing from Malcolm and I as we stumbled about in the boulder field. Luckily as we crossed back onto the glacier, Satya, Rachel and one of the army officers were there to meet us with warm fruit juice and fresh pakora, all very gratefully received.
Back at base camp after discussion with our Ladakhi expedition members (Tashi Phunchok and Konchok Thinless) we decided on the name Dunglung Kangri. In Ladakhi this means ‘sharp windy mountain.’
After an unsuccessful attempt on Rimo III Malcolm Bass, Simon Yearsley and Paul Figg made the first ascent of ‘Dunglung Kangri’ (6365 m) on 14 September 2012.
Paintings and photos of the expedition by Rachel Antill can be found at www.lightmove. co.uk - Ed.
An expedition by young Geneva pioneers
Yannick Flugi and Stéphane Schaffter
Walking along the left river bank of the Reru nala, we hoped to reach the second valley on the right, which would allow us to set up base camp at the foot of our objective. This was without considering the yaks and horses which carried everything we needed to be self-sufficient for 17 days. Blocked by rivers without a bridge, our four footed friends fled completely terrified, shedding their loads. A quick assessment and discussion with the porters who accompanied our caravan resulted in a change of plan. We returned the way we had come to a Japanese camp installed at the meeting point of the rivers in a magnificent field. Friends of the first explorers of 2009, they had just come back from a first ascent in the Nateo valley having carried everything on their backs!
Two days later, following the tracks of the yaks seeking pastures at altitude, we arrived at a place where we could set up our base camp, at 4470 m, on an unnamed glacier lake. Based on the name of the river that flows from the lake, the glacier can be called Katkar.
Red Apple Peak (6070 m)
On 9 August, the morning after our arrival at base camp (BC), Fred, Greg and Olivier undertook a first reconnaissance of the Katkar glacier, looking for a camp site at a higher altitude. Pushed by the enthusiasm of our three most persistent climbers and loaded like mules, we decided to go up immediately with some supplies and tents to establish our more advanced camp and to spend a first night at altitude.
On 11 August, at 4983 m, we were happy to see snowfall: this allowed us to rest and acclimatise, finishing the establishment of our tents on the moraine on the edge of the glacier. The scale of our surroundings was impressive and our barren environment surprised the less familiar, however all of that did not concern the first three adventurers at all who proposed an attempt at the summit for the next day. It was correct that we should not lose time: the 17 days initially planned at base camp had been reduced to 13 by our approach walk.
Crossing a crevasse on the way to Red Apple peak. (Frédéric Dupraz)
Leaving our tented shelter of Camp 1 at 5.00 a.m., we progressed rapidly towards the start of the glacier where we could finally put on our skis and skins, an additional security in the maze of crevasses, fortunately plainly visible before us. In approaching the summits enclosing the glacial basin we discovered our objective for the first time. Motivated by the absolute conviction of success, Laurence, Fred, Greg, Jiri, Olivier and Stephane progressed rapidly, hoping not to be surprised by the monsoon which was approaching from the south. Film sessions slowed down the momentum, but Stephane insisted on immortalising our isolation and so, under the summit nearly within reach by its east face, the decision was taken to turn back in order to return another day with better conditions for photos! Nobody said anything, however, as someone experienced could sense, it is possible that we missed the summit by hoping to get better images for our sponsor. An exemplary solidarity, combined with a lack of acclimatisation, certainly helped us to swallow this bitter pill!
Between filming, eating and clearing away the snow, time passed quickly and in the evening of 14 August our team mates re-ascended with Yannick, in order to take photos during the ascension of the summit on skis. To avoid the approaching monsoon, we decided to wake up at 2.00 a.m. Unfortunately the bad weather persisted throughout the day of 15 August, which ended with a quick descent by Yannick to take care of Pauline who informed us by radio of worrying symptoms. By good luck and with the help of a decompression chamber her beginnings of an oedema stabilised, but she was forced to stay at BC.
It was finally on 17 August that when we woke up we were rewarded by blue sky on the horizon under the still cloudy ceiling. We decided to take our chances. Covered in fresh snow, the glacier was like a mine field if we think of the crevasses which were only lightly covered. Olivier, roped together with Laurence and Stephane, revealed to us his natural skill in navigating through this risky environment to direct us towards the summit with the hand of a master. The sky cleared as we approached, still roped together, the place of return from the last attempt. This time the east face, under the effect of the sun, had become dangerous and we had to change our route to reach the summit by the south face. Reaching 5600 m, we joined a rocky crest which led us without much difficulty to the summit of Red Apple at 6070 m after eight hours of intense effort. Made of an enormous cornice this snowy rump gave us an exceptional panorama to our greatest joy. The fresh snow on the descent, completely destroyed by the sun, still left us with some memories of a few good turns on the summit slopes. The snow in the last few days allowed us to reach Camp 1 on skis.
Gocook Peak. (Yannick Flugi)
Gocook Peak (6050 m)
Due to the threat of the monsoon, approaching from the south, the second part of the team was stuck impatiently at BC. We took advantage of the time to do a number of outings in the neighbouring valleys and noticed that there was an enormous amount of choice! But for that it was necessary to have a break in the weather. Finally, the wind turned to the west on 16 August which was a good sign. The BC team decided to attempt a summit identified by Yannick Flugi and Marc. The departure was fixed for 3.00 a.m. With the rainfall of the preceding days, we could certainly count on a lot of fresh snow above 5000 m. In addition, the slope which gave access to the east ridge was relatively steep. Our team, composed of the two Yannicks, Sebastien and Marc, would also include Pekma and Gokul, our cook. Two additional pairs of legs with hearts of gold, would be helpful in clearing a trail through the snow. In addition, Yannick Flugi had shared several expeditions and treks with Pekma and so it went without saying that if he wanted to, he was welcome to join this future ‘first ascent’.
With hail and fog when we woke up, there was nothing very inspiring for our departure and we just had to believe it would work. The night must have been clear nevertheless as the rocks along the river bank were iced over. As we progressed, the snow appeared, well below the 5000 m we had calculated. The glacier, in contrast to that which gave access to Red Apple Peak, was not too crevassed; the previous outings had enabled us to observe this. This was good news because we could proceed straight ahead on the glacier.
The amount of snow steadily increased. On the glacier 30 cm of fresh but sticky snow awaited us. This made making the trail difficult and obliged us to frequently change the leader. Even our Nepalese friends found this ascent exhausting! The disadvantage in these wild locations is the lack of orientation points: no altitude is guaranteed and what seems like it should take an hour often takes two. Going up the glacier took us three hours in the end!
We reached the bergschrund. The sun was already high but had not yet had time to heat the slope that was just above us. The snow was still stable. 45-50 degrees over 100 m is not extreme, but with fresh snow it is not insignificant either. Pekma started ahead, followed by Yannick Flugi right behind him on the slope. Only stopping to place an ice screw to fix a rope to, the two continued.
The summit could be reached by an elegant ridge, relatively wide, that could have been skied (however these were unfortunately on the other summit!). The south side was made up of couloirs and blocks of rock that gave access to a huge glacial basin totally unexplored. The situation was clear, we had to make a trail and that was not going to get easier. The sun was rising rapidly which made Yannick F. unhappy: the good news, the good weather continued meaning there was no concern with the weather, however on the other hand, it was getting hot, it was past 10.00 a.m. and the summit was still far away.
In making the trail each one took their turn, approximately every 100 steps. Progress was difficult. When we were not on rocks the snow was above our knees. The key passage was a section at 40 degrees that we had to cross before the summit slope, the difficulty being the quantity of snow accumulated. It was a bit exposed according to Yannick F. One by one we crossed the slope as quickly as possible. Afterwards the interminable summit slope, that gives the flavour to an ascent.
To our surprise, having imagined from below a dome of snow, the summit was rocky. On the east, the face was vertical and dropped down to another glacier with endless possibilities for a mountaineer. The ridge continued northeast to another summit slightly lower than ours. We were saved! It would not be necessary to climb this one, which had looked higher from the glacier.
Rocks mean cairns: we erected one and baptised the summit Gocook Peak in honour of our cook who was the last of our team to arrive on the top (as usual, he shone with his huge smile). The descent was by the same route. A bright idea by Yannick to fix a rope on the way up proved justified: on descending, he was the last to rappel, but after 15 m the slope broke apart right in front of him. He only had time to jump and the plate of snow was already far below. 100 m wide by 40 m long, with a thickness of 30 cm…. it was time to go home.
Katkar glacier. (Stéphane Schaffter)
Tong’a Miduk Ri (6040 m)
A few days after the Red Apple Peak, with calf muscles rested, the desire to climb and above all the good weather gave Fred and Olivier the motivation to try a new summit, identified during a walk.
It was during the night of 20 and 21 August, lit by a wonderfully bright moon, that we progressed on the moraine leading to Gocook peak. The objective was to go up this valley to join a thin branch that would lead us to a glacier giving access to the hidden mountain. By sunrise we had already advanced well and it was after three hours of walking that we finally reached the glacier with its ring of peaks which included the target summit at its extreme south. Under a glacial face with suspended seracs, we had to reassess our route in order to avoid potential risks on the route towards the crest that we hoped to reach. We identified a couloir that should give access to the crest. As the night had been very bright, the snow was hard and kept the broken rocks solidly in place in the sides of the couloir in which we were progressing. It faced southwest and its shadow protected us for another two to three hours. The conditions improved bit by bit as we progressed on slopes of 45 to 50 degrees.
After approximately 400 m we reached a difficult face of broken rocks that we avoided by crossing on the left. A second couloir opened up before us and we were soon rewarded at the opening onto a passage, at 5850 m, of the much hoped for crest. The summit was at last visible but its northeast side was totally rocky. Happily, there was also a good path in snow in this final part. The ascent involved another long ridge that separated us from the lower summit. With the impression that we were almost at our goal we were reenergised and we crossed the last ridge facing northeast to reach the summit at 6040 m. It was 9.10 a.m. when we marked our passage by building a symbolic cairn on this new peak that we named ‘Summit that is difficult to see’, or in Ladakhi ‘Tong’a Miduk Ri’.
It was already time to think of the descent and to cross the couloir we had climbed up before the sun had too much of an impact. Luckily the descent was quicker. Even so, with our legs tired from the last few weeks the return to camp was still long and tedious.
A team from Switzerland climbed in the Reru nala and achieved first ascents of Red Apple Peak (6070 m), Gocook Peak (6050 m) and Tong’a Miduk Ri (6040 m) in August 2011.
Tamotsu (Tom) Nakamura
The long highlighted Yangmolong main summit 6060 m, was scaled by an American– Chinese party in October 2011. One of the last problems in Sichuan was finally solved.
Only a few unclimbed 6000 m peaks remain in the West Sichuan Highlands, China. However there are many alluring peaks not exceeding 6000 m which inspire and attract ambitious climbers. I have updated area-wise information on notable unclimbed peaks and describe an overview thereof from northwest to southeast for the readers having an interest in these mountain regions.
1. Chola Shan North
The Chola Shan is divided into north and south at the Chola Shan pass (4910 m). The northern part is a massif of Sejong I & II (5816 m), Nobuyugya (5594 m) and Polujabu (5472 m) not far to south from a historical monastery, Zhogcheng Gompa. The highest peak Chola Shan I (6168 m, climbed) is located south of the Lake Xinlujhai in the southern part, where several expeditions already accomplished ascents.
The northern part of the Chola Shan pass has been reconnoitered by Tom Nakamura in the fall of 2000 and a Japanese party from the Hengduan Mountains Club in the summer of 2011. However no one has attempted the ascent yet and therefore all the peaks remain untrodden. In addition an outstanding rock peak (5654 m) south of the Chola Shan pass is taken up as a peak worthy to introduce.
2. Gangga Massif – Shaluli Shan
The massif stretches southeastwards from the Chola Shan to Garze town south of the Yalong Jiang, a large tributary of the River of Golden Sand (the upper Yangtze).
Gangga massif (5591 m) east face. (Tamotsu Nakamura)
The highest peak is Gangga (5688 m) which was attempted by a Japanese party from Nagano Prefecture. Several attractive rock peaks of some 5500 m are clustered in the vicinity of Gangga. All the peaks remain unclimbed. Eric Teickman admired the grandeur of mountain range in his travel as a consular in 1918.
A Chinese map shows that the Shaluli Shan range covers a vast area upto the Genyen massif and further Kongga Xueshan crossing the Litang plateau but there would presumably be no definite boundary between the Shaluli Shan range and the other ranges.
3. Gongkara Shan – Kawarani
L to r: Kawarani I (5992 m) and II (5928 m), southwest face. (Takao Ohe)
The two principal peaks Kawarani I (5992 m) and II (5928 m) soar 30 km east of Ganzi town and the Yalong Jiang. Two Japanese parties and a British party tried to set up a base camp for r econnaissance and climbing, but hostile monks of a lamasery in the vicinity hindered their approach and have never allowed foreign visitors to climb the peaks because they believe that Kawarani are sacred mountains. Even in 2011 the situation did not change. The Ganzi Mountaineering Association did not issue a climbing permit to foreign expeditions.
4. Jarjinjabo Massif – Unclimbed P. 5725 m
Jarjinjabo (5725 m) south face from Zhopu pasture. (Tamotsu Nakamura)
To my best knowledge almost all the prominent peaks except for the second highest peak 5725 m are already climbed. A Japanese party first climbed a rock tower soaring north of the Zhopu pasture in 2001 and then adjacent rock peaks in the vicinity west of the Lake Zhopu were climbed by American parties. The highest peak, Garrapunsum (5812 m) was scaled by an Anglo-American party in October 2007. The party had an original plan to attempt Kawarani of Gongkara Shan but was unable to access to the mountain.
5. Xiangqiu- qieke Massif
This completely unknown massif is located south of the Sichuan - Tibet highway and northeast of Yangmolong massif. It stretches west to east in about 20 km and has 5863 m (called as Xiangqiuqieke), 5870 m, 5767 m, 5702 m, 5595 m and 5562 m summits.
In October 2005, a Japanese party from Yamanashi Prefecture first approached the northern side for reconnaissance. In July 2010 Tom Nakamura tried an access also from north, that is, the Sichuan- Tibet highway.
In September 2011, Tim Church and Yvonne Pfluger from New Zealand Alpine Club attempted Xiangqiuqieke from the south side. Unfortunately, they were forced to retreat because the villagers refused support to the NZ party after the base camp had been set up. As such, all the peaks remain unclimbed.
6. Yangmolong Massif
This massif is situated about 16 km east of Batang town. There are three principal peaks of Dangchechengla, 5833 m climbed by a Japanese party in 2002, Yangmolong Central 6033 m (Makara) and the highest peak of Yangmolong, 6060 m. The main summit was scaled by an American-Chinese party led by Jon Otto and filmed by Tim Boelter in October 2011 after repeated attempts by Japanese, British and American-Chinese parties. It is felt that the Yangmolong main summit is one of the toughest peaks in Sichuan.
L to r: Yangmolong Main 6060 m and Central 6033 m. (Tim Boelter)
There was information that the central summit was climbed by a Korean party in 2002, but no records or evidence are available, and those who have visited Yangmolong raise questions on the Korean ascent. In this article, therefore, the Central Peak is presumed unclimbed. The other outstanding 5850 m peak also remains unclimbed.
7. Genyen Massif – Future Alpine Paradise
The Genyen massif covers a wide area in the Litang plateau south of the Sichuan-Tibet highway and in near future will be an Alpine paradise as it has now begun to draw climbers’ attention.
Genyen massif, Cameron (5873 m) east face. (T. Obtulovic)
The main summit, Genyen (6204 m), was first climbed by a Japanese party in 1988 and then an Italian party made the second ascent via a new route on the east face. The second highest peak 5964 m and P. 5716 m (Sachun) seen from a historical lamasery, Rengo Gompa were also already scaled by American parties. Charlie Fowler and Christin Boskoff were lost in Genyen. However many challenging rock peaks of 5500-5900 m peaks north and northeast of the Genyen remain untouched.
(1) Asa (5800 m) and Ashagongge (5783 m), seen from the Sichaun- Tibet highway passing through the Lintang plateau.
(2) Fantastic peaks of a granite castle Cameron (5873 m), Xiaozha (5807 m) and other challenging peaks viewed from a high pass, Three Smith Brothers (4800 m), between Litang and Lamaya.
(3) Rock peaks clustered just north of the Genyen and further north attractive peaks (5838 m) and (5784 m) and several other 5700 – 5900 m peaks.
8. Kongga Xueshan (Kongkaling) Massif
The Kongga Xueshan with three fascinating famous snowy peaks is located in Daocheng County. The mountains are considered holy by local Tibetans and the area is now a tourist place, attracting hundreds of trekkers. However all of three peaks remain unclimbed.
(1) Xiannariri (6032 m), the highest peak, was attempted by a Japanese party in 1989.
(2) Charlie Fowler and Christine Boskoff reached 500 m below the summit of the stunningly beautiful pyramid of Yangmaiyong, Joseph Rock’s Jambeyang, (5958 m).
(3) Xiaruduo (5958 m) was once attempted by an American party.
Kongga Xueshan-Yangmaiyong (5958 m) northwest face. (Tamotsu Nakamura)
At present climbing of these peaks is not allowed by the local government of Daocheng County on account of the sacred status of the mountains.
9. Lamoshe Massif – Daxue Shan
Lamoshe massif, Baihaizishan (5924 m) west face. (Tamotsu Nakamura)
Early explorers called Lamoshe ‘Mountain of Tatsienlu’, which is located east of Kangding (Tibetan name: Tatsienlu) town. The highest peak is Lamoshe and was first climbed by an American party in 1993. The second was a solo ascent by a Czech climber in 2010. The other 5800 m peaks were already climbed by New Zealand, American, Canadian and Chinese parties, but the second highest peak, Baihaizishan (5924 m) still remains unclimbed.
10. Minya Konka Massif – Daxue Shan
Not many peaks over 6000 m now remain unclimbed in this huge and largest mountain range of Daxue Shan in Sichuan. The outstanding unclimbed peaks among them are as follows from south to north.
(1) Nyambo Konka (6114 m); an American party attempted this peak but was unsuccessful.
(2) San Lian (6684 m) (called as Longshan) / 6468 m / 6368 m - three peaks which look hard to climb.
(3) The highest unclimbed peak (6858 m) in the massif closely southwest of the main summit of Minya Konka (7556 m).
(4) P. 5962 m between P. 5960 m (Donogomba) and Daddomain (6380 m).
(5) Unnamed peaks of 6206 m on the ridge between Edgar / E-Kongga (6618 m) and Grosvenor (6376 m). This peak is not alluring.
11. Qonglai Mountains
Qonglai mountains, Goromity (5609 m) south face. (Tamotsu Nakamura)
Almost all the peaks in the Qonglai mountains including Siguniang (6250 m) and surrounding 5200 – 5900 m peaks have already been ascended and new routes have been opened on difficult rock peaks, as many climbers have been rushing to this mountain area in the last decade. According to information of Kenzo Okawa, a Japanese photographer, who works in the Mt. Siguniang National Park, the only unclimbed peak is Goromity (5609 m), which was attempted by a Chinese party a couple of years ago and by a Japanese party in the summer of 2011.
12. Dadu He (River) Basin
Many 5300 – 5700 m peaks range along both sides of Dadu He river basin between Danba and Luding. However no climbing record is available. The highest peak is 5712 m on the left bank of the river valley, but details of the mountains in this area are unavailable.
A brief overview of the unclimbed summits of Sichuan, China.