A challenge to Jack Longland’s 1933 record
Harvey V. Langford, MD
The 1933 British Everest Expedition included leader Hugh Ruttledge, famed explorer Eric Shipton, climber-writer Frank Smythe, and almost included a young Tenzing Norgay who had to wait until 1935. One 1933 member less well-known to today’s readers was John (Jack) Longland. This article will examine his high altitude pole-vaulting record in the Himalaya at an informal sports event in Tibet, and a modern day challenge.
Jack Longland came to the 1933 expedition as the 28-year-old president of the Cambridge University Mountaineering Club and a rock climber of unparalleled reputation. On Everest he became known for leading porters down in severe conditions. Off the mountain, Longland lectured at Durham University and became an influential figure in education, local government, and mountaineering circles. In 1983, Sir Jack was one of three judges for the very first year of the prestigious The Boardman-Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature.
Longland’s climbing skills
Hugh Ruttledge in Everest 1933 praises Longland in a style more like the clever mountaineer-author Frank Smythe, ‘To him anything steep was a challenge...[he] shares with lizards the faculty of adhering to perfectly smooth walls.’ Eric Shipton, writing many years later in his historical Men Against Everest, could not have paid any higher compliment than comparing Longland’s skills to that of the immortalized legend of Everest : ‘Mallory had favored the ridge route, and his views were strongly supported by the rock-climbing experts of our party, of whom Longland was the recognized ace.’
Longland’s athleticism on and off the mountain
For the first time in history, Ruttledge tied together the unusual skill combination of climbing and pole vaulting that we will hear more about in this essay. The combination was echoed many years later by Jim Perrin in a 1993 Climbers Club Journal Longland obituary: “He was an Athletic Blue at Cambridge, his event being the pole-vault. The strength, commitment and explosive power this required served him well in what was perhaps the great love of his life - mountaineering.”
Far more poignant for the British psyche was this vignette about WWII in the obituary, but by John Disley, ‘One of his protégés was a young man by the name of Henry Yielder, who specialized in Jack’s favoured discipline, the pole-vault. Jack got him on to the School of Athletics course at Loughborough College, and Harry was sent to vault for Britain at the last pre-war international event held in Cologne just ten days before the German invasion of Poland. Yielder won with a height of 12 feet 6 inches – the second best ever by a British vaulter at that date. Like most of the athletes at that meeting – which but for Jack’s influence he would never had attended - Harry was to lose his life in the war that followed.’
There have been only a few track and field terms or stories about Longland or any other mountaineer. Pole vaulting movements might be compared to gymnastics or technical rock climbing, just as ‘high-jumping over a peak’ might be some writer’s hyperbole.
Acclimatization to high altitude spares no one
It is known from 1968 Olympic history that even the 2240 m (7350 ft) moderately-thin altitude of Mexico City was enough to hinder endurance track performances. Much higher up, all of the seven British pre-WWII Everest expeditions had followed an approach march from Darjeeling through Sikkim into Tibet to the north side of Everest. This by itself was a marathon of sorts, five weeks long. Nearing the Rongbuk monastery 4980 m (16340 ft) base camp, Ruttledge noted that, ‘no amount of organization or thought will make a party acclimatize at a uniform rate...Longland and Brocklebank also gave cause for anxiety; they were clearly feeling the altitude.’ In the Everest section of his 1943 book, Upon That Mountain, Eric Shipton observed that, ‘Longland was slow in adjusting himself, which made his subsequent performance all the more remarkable.’
They did not know if Longland was to be another Noel Odell and acclimatize late. Smythe noted that, ‘Nothing could be more weakening at a high altitude, but as before he gallantly insisted on accompanying the party. We know today that ‘gallantly insisted on accompanying the party’ may be the wrong thing to do medically-speaking, and risks a worsening of high altitude illness or even death, yet Longland and others got away with it. They did not have much choice, stuck out there on the high plateau.
This completes the introduction of Longland. It also sets the tone for a lighthearted pole vault scene. To do this, we must go back to the approach march leading up to Everest.
Pole vaulting on the Tibetan plateau
Long before reaching the base camp mentioned above, the party had passed Kampa Dzong, a Tibetan fort that guards the entrance to a valley, admired the long-distance view of Everest, then left headed to Tengkye (or Tinki) Dzong. Frank Smythe in Camp Six complained about the ‘the Plain of the Dust Devils’, and that at the village of Linnga he could not imagine a more dismal situation.
Things were looking better after Linnga, but surely they did not carry a vaulting pole. What could they use in that tree-less area? And where in mountainous Tibet could one find a level area to go pole vaulting? In 1921, First British Everest Expedition leader Charles Howard-Bury had described a location at Tinki (or Tengke) used by his expedition, and the ones to follow, ‘We were encamped in a very picturesque spot beside a large pond that was full of bar-headed geese, Brahminy ducks and terns. On the opposite side of this pond rose the walls and towers of the fort of Tinki.…half a mile above us was a large village’. This was exactly the campsite scene of the 1924 expedition, and where the 1933 group also stopped.
Something strange happened there in 1933. Smythe and Ruttledge agree on the important date of April 4 as a unique day in sports history when a sporting event was held by the visiting British with the native Tibetans. First Smythe as sportscaster: ‘That afternoon the first Olympiad in the history of Tengye Dzong was held amidst the utmost enthusiasm. It included some spectacular pole vaults by Jack Longland, an expert performer, the “pole” being a section of a wireless mast.’ Ruttledge gives the lengthy colour commentary, ending with the pole vaulting : ‘A great afternoon’s sport ended with an exhibition of pole-jumping by Longland, using a long bamboo [as the bar]. This took on at once, and as neither Sherpa or Tibetan is content with the role of passive spectator, some very remarkable jumping, or rather falling, was observed.’
Jack Longland performed pole vaulting on the Tibetan plateau while travelling to the Himalaya in 1933. He used a section of a wireless mast as his pole and appeared to clear by a large margin the bamboo bar held at about 7 ft (2.13 m). Proper stanchions, or for that matter any long poles, were hard to come by above the treeline in high, barren Tibet. A Tengye/Tinki town altitude of 13800 feet is shown on the map entitled ‘The Route of the Mount Everest Expedition, 1922’. This paper will use a Google Earth measurement of 14400 ft (4389 m) for Longland’s field to be consistent with the methodology used for another pole vaulting event in the Himalaya, described next.
A Modern Challenge to Jack Longland’s 1933 Himalayan record
Nothing has ever been published about the highest altitude field from which pole vaulting has been attempted. Jack Longland gets credit for that feat, at least as of 1933. His vaulting was performed on the Tibetan plateau at about 14400 ft (4389 m) and, estimating from pictures, he cleared the bar with a height of about 7 ft (2.13 m). He was disadvantaged by his impromptu gear. Proper equipment helped the contemporary world record holder in 1931, United States’ William Graber, to vault twice as high to 14 ft-2 in (4.32 m) near sea level in Palo Alto, California. Longland’s vault was not a world record for the bar, but it certainly was for the high ground from which he took off.
The highest known official track and field facility in the world today may still be the 7349 ft (2240 m) Olympic facility in Mexico City. The May 2008 Tibetan Olympics were held in exile in Dharamsala, northern India, but at only 4780 ft (1457 m), and separate from the 2008 World Olympics in Beijing, China. However, no pole vaulting was performed. (www.Tibetanolympics.com [accessed 20 Nov 2013]). Where could one go in the Himalaya to jump higher than Jack Longland did in Tibet in 1933 and ‘top’ that story from historical days?
The following account will illustrate a new world record, of sorts, for high-altitude pole vaulting. This author has had experience in high altitude mountaineering and an interest in pole vaulting. His two sons were school pole vault champions. The use of composite material poles rather than wood, bamboo, or wireless antennas make it possible for today’s schoolboys to vault higher than world record holder Graber of 1933. The author here could not compete with his sons, Graber, or Longland, but he could change the playing field to the Himalaya.
Longland pole vaulting in Tibet 1933 (Frank Smythe, 1933 courtesy RGS archive S0000091)
The author pole vaulting in Nepal in 2000 (Remi Sojka)
Photograph 2 shows the author pole vaulting on the Mera glacier in 2000. In the background centre is the pyramid of Everest peeking over the wispy south face of Lhotse. From Virginia, two sections of thin bamboo tomato stakes were carried intact in the author’s backpack to the Himalaya. They were taped together, laid across two ice axes jammed into the snow, and vaulted over using a hiking pole. The following day Mera Peak was summited. Over the subsequent days the Amphulabsa la was crossed, Imjatse summited, and once back to Kathmandu these events repeated by email to the outside world: ‘11/17/2000, 11:04:07 GMT. New world record – world’s highest altitude pole vault. New record of 19272 plus one foot.’
The photo suggests the bamboo bar was actually at about two feet (.60 m). However, it is not the jump that matters here, but it is the playing field itself that is the new record. Pole vaulting was performed just west and above Mera High Camp on flatter glacial terrain at an altitude of 19060 ft (5809 m), also by the Google Earth method. This figure is far higher, nearly a mile, than the earlier estimate of Jack Longland’s site at 14400 ft (4389 m),
On the basis of the witnessed and photographed event, the authors diary, the email later, and this analysis, this highest-ever pole vault playing field in 2000 was well documented.
Conclusion on Himalayan pole vaulting
In 1933 Jack Longland pole vaulted about seven feet from a base height of 14400 ft (4389 m) in Tibet on the way to the north side of Everest. In 2000 the author of this paper pole vaulted about two feet (0.6 m), far less than Longland, but from a far higher base height of 19060 ft (5809 m) in Nepal on the south side of Everest. Either of these ways of measuring the jump awaits other mountaineer-sportsmen to answer the challenge, as George Mallory famously declared, ‘Because it is there.’
I am grateful for the pole vaulting prowess of Seth and Reid Lankford and the mountaineering and photographic and mountaineering expertise of Remi Sojka.
Harvey Lankford is an endocrinologist from Richmond, Virginia, USA. He became interested in mountaineering history and high altitude medicine after climbs in places like Argentina , New Zealand, and Nepal. In a previous volume of the Himalayan Journal, he wrote about the term Glacier Lassitude, tracing its origin back to George Mallory. In this issue, he tells a story from the 1933 British Expedition, and a modern day challenge.
An Indian explorer in northwest Yunnan
I’ve always been fascinated by the region at the eastern edge of the Himalaya where three great rivers (Salween, Mekong and Jinsha) flow parallel and very close to each other for a considerable distance. This region is in northwest Yunnan and I wanted to contribute in a modest way to the ongoing exploration of the mountain ranges there. People often ask if there are any mountain ranges left to be explored, particularly in China.Based on my research, there are still blanks on the maps! People are amazed that in this age of satellite imagery and GPS navigation, blanks on the map still exist. This did not make any sense and so my friends asked if it was a possible for an Indian to fill in those blanks? Well, there was only one way to find out. Go there.
While I was looking for a suitable objective, rock climber Mike Dobie suggested I check out the smaller peaks that are north and east of the Yulong and Haba massifs. In his email he mentioned a standalone 4500 m peak ‘that would actually be quite an adventure to get to’. Then, sharing Google Earth co-ordinates he claimed that it was still unclimbed. Thus began my Yunnan adventure. I had two weeks and US$600 to meet my mountain and return home.
Locating the goal
By plugging in the coordinates (27°34’34.92” N and 100°18’37.75” E) given to me by Dobie, I noticed a small mountain range — not just a ‘standalone’ summit — stretching more or less north to south. The suggested peak stood at the very north of this mountain range. I also noted that the Jidege range, as it is called, is actually part of the watershed ridge located in the middle of the loop created by the second bend of the Jinsha river.
While the first great bend of the Jinsha is a popular tourist destination from Lijiang these days, the second bend somehow remains unnoticed. Further magnification of the Google Maps image revealed a tiny village located on the western aspect of the southern end of this mountain range. It was marked ‘Jidege’ and I realized the remote village could serve as my base.
L to R - Mr Lu my host in Jidege, Li Shifu, my driver and interpreter and I in Jidege
I reached Kunming from Kolkata by a two-hour flight and took an overnight train to Lijiang the following day. I spent three nights in Lijiang, first to gather authentic information on my proposed route and then to organize the logistics. During this time, my concern was to reach Jidege, which I thought to be far from being a tourist destination.
How wrong I was! With the help of the guest house manager, who spoke some English, I could make inquiries on the curious names that I had in my Google Earth printouts. Many of the villages or settlements marked on the Google Earth image were either incorrect or unrecognizable. Finally, we spoke to someone in Baoshan who recognized the name Gaohan (27°28’17.06”N - 100°17’47.92”E, 3261 m) and stated that it could be reached by car from the Lijiang- Lugu Lake road.
Mr Lu showing me what they do with the foxes
Gaohan is a bigger village — at least when viewed on Google Maps — located due south of Jidege and is an approximately 130 km drive north from Lijiang. If we could reach the town, we would find a way to reach Jidege, or so we thought.
I managed to hire a local man from Lijiang who agreed to double as my driver and interpreter. The manager of the hostel I was staying in expressed his desire to accompany me. On 13 April 2015 we drove to Gaohan village via Ming Yin. The village had an elementary school and upon our arrival we were told to go back immediately. We were warned that we could be attacked at night as some villagers thought we could be drug traffickers and strangers were not welcome anyway.
We were left with no choice but to backtrack to Ming Yin and spend the night there. Next morning, with renewed hope, we drove to Gaohan again. This time we were lucky to meet a teacher who helped us get in direct contact with a farmer in Jidege village . Lu, a farmer, agreed to host us in his house and we suddenly felt welcome in this beautiful land. We took our bags and started hiking uphill on an unpaved road. It took us about two hours to walk to Jidege (27°31’18.21”N - 100°17’44.54”E, 3578 m) from Gaohan Shan and Mr Lu came down to meet us halfway.
Jidege is a Yi minority village and very Himalayan in appearance. I was told that I was the first foreigner in their village. A rare reward for a modern day explorer! Thus, for the next two days, Mr Lu’s abode became my base camp. In the afternoon, I took out my maps and had interesting discussions with Mr Lu and his brother, who was also the village headman.
Peak II and its approach
For the next two days we explored Jidege Shan. On 15 April, we hiked up north, keeping the main range to our east. After crossing two beautiful meadows we reached a locked u-shaped valley with a series of rocky summits forming its head. We climbed a pass (Pass I: 27°32’59.08”N - 100°18’19.56”E, 4074 m) from this valley and a rocky projection (Peak I: 27°32’58.70”N - 100°18’14.28”E, 4248 m) to the immediate south.
This pass and the adjacent summit are located on a ridge emanating due southwest from the main Jidege range and gave me a good opportunity to photograph the mountains. A series of unclimbed peaks were waiting for their first ascents and many of them I am sure will offer excellent rock climbing. I decided to come back the following day to climb at least one crest on the main range further up north and retraced our steps back to Jidege.
Next morning, we crossed Pass I and reached the small valley to its west. We noticed very old, settled-moraine-like features in this valley. After traversing this valley, we climbed up another pass (Pass II : 27°33’21.81”N - 100°18’33.73”E, 4269 m). We were now on the main range. This gave us direct access further up north to another col. We were soon on top of it (Pass III : 27°33’29.82”N - 100°18’46.93”E, 4357 m). It was a moderate to steep uphill walk on scree for the last stretch.
Reaching Pass III, we saw Jidege Shan dropping down north into the deep gorges of the Jinsha. We had just one glimpse of the mighty river to our northeast; the rest of the course of the second bend of the Jinsha was well hidden from us as the gorge system is simply too deep. The wind was picking up and cirrus clouds quickly gathering to form an ominous grey blanket. I decided to climb the peak to the immediate east of Pass III. In half an hour we were on top of the rocky summit.
Nearing the head of the Jidege range
From top of the rocky peak (Peak II: 27°33’23.23”N -100°18’50.13”E, 14421 m) our vision opened up 360 degrees. To our south we saw Yulong Xueshan and Haba Xueshan. The missing horizon between Yulong and Haba indicated the obvious depths of Tiger Leaping gorge. To our west we saw the mountain ranges of Diqin and Shangri-la near the border of Tibet. To our north and east we saw the mountains of Sichuan. We could see roads on the northern slopes of Jidege, winding down to the river, probably to one of the hydro-electric stations nearby.
After climbing Peak II, noticing that we still had a good amount of daylight in hand, I decided to go down to another pass-like feature located due north of Pass III. There were patches of snow on scree which we had to descend to reach this pass. Once there, I could see a faint trail winding down towards the motorable road further down the valley. I decided to stop moving further at this fourth pass (Pass IV: 27°33’36.19”N - 100°18’57.42”E, 4318 m) as it was evident that we had reached the northern end of the Jidege ridge.
Mrs Lu and her daughter - a lovely Yi family
A sense of satisfaction engulfed me. I did not reach the exact coordinate point as suggested earlier by Mike Dobie, but I was very close. I tried and in the process I have explored a largely unknown mountain range and made a first ascent of one of its many peaks. I was standing on the mountain range that I once longed to see and explore. The quest that began on a computer screen a few months ago was now suddenly over. It was time to head back.
Author’s note : All coordinates are based on Google Maps and hence may not be accurate. We found a forest trail used by locals from Jidege to Pass III. This trail is used for hunting and the collection of caterpillar fungus, and other herbs used in Chinese traditional medicine.
All photographs are from The Anindya Mukherjee Collection.
Exploration of an unknown mountain range on the second bend of the Jinsha river in northwest Yunnan, China in April 2015
Read about Anindya Mukherjee on Page 71
In 2014, Nepal opened more than 100 new peaks. During this time, the Japanese Alpine Club (JAC) organized a female students’ expedition to the Nepal Himalaya in commemoration of its 110th anniversary. Three newly opened peaks in Mustang area, Mansail, Mansail South and Mustang Himal were targeted for the expedition, and I joined the members as adviser.
It was a new challenge for me to go on an expedition with students who had less experience of mountaineering, and also Mustang was a new area for me. Since Mustang has long been an isolated kingdom and protected Tibetan Buddhism till 1991, little information about this area was available.
With Google Earth satellite photos and maps, we imaged our peaks. We wondered what the way to those peaks was like, what their faces looked like and how difficult they would be to climb ...
After Lo Mantang, the centre of Mustang, while looking for the peaks, we crossed several streams and rivers, with yaks, and got higher through the gorge on loose boulders which may have never been stepped on before. Putting many cairns with rocks so as to not to lose our way back, we reached the edge of untouched glacier after 20 days of crawling since we left Japan.
We pitched the last camp, C2 (5685 m) by the stream at the end of the glacier. After getting on the glacier and crossing several narrow crevasses, we finally could see the face of Mansail, our peak. The south face was a smooth steep slab, so we crossed over the col of the eastern ridge and got around to the north side. There was more glacier high up to the north face, which had cracks and a little easier angle. What was more exciting to me, was that it started snowing heavily, rare in the Mustang area; the face turned into a snow covered mixed one. We made full use of our gear snow pickets, ice screws, cams and nuts, to climb up. That must have added to the girls’ experience of adventure. We would reach a high point only to find that we needed to climb further. In this manner we scaled the virgin Mansail.
It snowed heavily, as if it was the last storm of the monsoon season. There was no choice but to traverse to the next peak, Mansail South or Mustang Himal. We had to safely return to our camp. There was no visibility on the widely stretched glacier covered with deep snow. I felt happy when we found our camp covered with a white curtain.
Though I had visited the Himalaya several times before, this time I experienced the well-protected, authentic Tibetan Buddhism culture and life style, a colourful stupa in Mustang, a peculiar edelweiss at 4000 m, strange plants at 5000 m, a mummy-like dead body of a small animal (maybe snow leopard) at 6000 m, and the migratory flight of a flock of demoiselle cranes heading south (to India) just after the monsoons had finished.
Expedition members : Yukiko Inoue, Eri Hasegawa, Mariko Nakamura, Kaho Mishima, and Kei Taniguchi
Expedition duration : 5 September – 13 October 2014
First ascent of Mansail in Mustang valley by a Japanese women’s team.
Kei Taniguchi died at age 43 in December 2015 while climbing in her native Japan. She was one of the top female alpinists of her generation, and helped to change the rest of the world’s perception of Japanese mountaineering. One highlight of her climbing career was the first ascent, in 2008, of the south-east face of Kamet, in Garhwal.
Route to Mansail, Mustang 2014
Anne Gilbert Chase
I recently returned to the U.S. from my first trip to the Indian Himalaya. Jason Thompson and I received a Mugs Stump Award and a Lyman Spitzer Grant to attempt the unclimbed south face of Hathi Parvat. Unfortunately because of its proximity to the China border our permit was denied. With only a week last spring to regroup and pick another objective, we decided to try the southeast ridge on Nilkantha (6596 m). The SE ridge had been attempted six times between 1937 and 1992 but had never seen an ascent due to its ‘long and tortuous nature’. The ridge is 2.7 km long and has seven pinnacles and a 100 m granite slab that must be overcome before one can reach the summit ridge. Despite the many obstacles presented, if conditions and the weather were good, we felt we had a good shot at climbing this impressive ridge.
In late September 2015, Jason Thompson and I met up with Caro North in New Delhi and after a day of last minute shopping and meeting with the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, we started our journey north toward Nilkantha. Our trek began a few kilometres south of the town of Badrinath, and after three days of trekking we reached our base camp (4100 m) on the Panpatia glacier. We quickly got to work acclimatizing and putting ourselves in place for the SE ridge. From our base camp we could not see the lower half of the SE ridge so in order to see the route and conditions we had to hike five hours up grassy slopes and loose talus fields. The weather was quite unstable for the first 10 days and almost every day clouds would rise from the valley below and engulf the mountain, oftentimes producing precipitation. The temperatures were unseasonably warm, so the precipitation was typically wet snow and would melt off quickly in a few hours of sun. After 10 days or so of acclimatizing and carrying loads up to our advanced base camp at 5000 m, we got a clear weather window and were ready to start climbing on the SE ridge.
The first 300 m of climbing was on very loose rock and faceted snow, making for slow moving and tough conditions. Unfortunately the conditions did not improve the higher we climbed and after spending a full day climbing on the ridge, we decided that the conditions were too dry and the route was not in shape for us to safely continue climbing.
Chase climbs low on the southeast ridge of Nilkantha before the team decided to turn around due to poor route conditions and warm weather (Jason Thompson)
Chase and Caro North climbing on the summit ridge of Nilkantha before an electrical storm forced the team to turn around 200 m from the summit (Jason Thompson)
Although, it was a tough decision to make, it was a decision that all three of us agreed upon and knew was the right call. At this point we decided to regroup and attempt the southwest face, which Marko Prezelj had hoped to climb in 2001, but could not, due to poor conditions and weather.
Chase climbing through mixed terrain on the classic west ridge route on Nilkantha (Jason Thompson)
Chase and Caro North approaching the base of the west Ridge (skyline ridge) route on Nilkantha (Jason Thompson)
After a few days of rest in BC, the weather was still good, so we decided to climb the west ridge, which would be our descent route from the SW face. On 7 October we established our ABC at 5100 m below the SW face and started to climb early on the morning of the 8th. Conditions were not easy due to the dry season. With lots of loose rock and no ice, the climbing was more demanding than we had originally thought. There were a lot of tattered fixed ropes left behind from the 2007 Kolkata expedition, which we did not use. At about 5600 m we established an uncomfortable bivvy and continued to climb the next day. Around 4:00 a.m. and 6400 m on the summit ridge after 13 hours of climbing, a strong storm came in producing grapple and snow, as well as static electricity. With all three of us feeling the electrical shocks in our bodies from the storm we knew that continuing to the summit was not an option. We began our long descent back down the west ridge, reaching our bivvy around 5:00 a.m. We brewed up and slept for a few hours, after which we packed everything up and continued to rappel the lower half of the mountain reaching our ABC at 5:00 p.m. on 10 October. Despite a large amount of falling rocks, stuck ropes, and a crushed helmet we safely made it back down to our BC the following day. Despite our disappoint in not summiting via the west ridge, our mission of scouting the descent route was a success and now we were ready to attempt the main objective of climbing the SW face. We rested back in BC for a few days and began the reorganizing and repacking process to head back up to our ABC. Unfortunately the weather began to shift at this point and our window of opportunity was growing smaller. The snow continued in BC for a few days and the small glimpses of the upper mountain we could see showed a thick layer of snow accumulating on all aspects. We remained hopeful that the snow would stop and we would be awarded another attempt on the mountain. However, after a few more days of continued snow and a grim weather forecast we knew our trip was over. On 18 October we packed up our BC and along with our cook and porters, we made a two-day trek back to the road head.
I want to thank the American Alpine Club for this amazing opportunity. Without the support of these grants this trip would not have been a possibility. Of course we would’ve loved to have climbed Nilkantha via a new route, but failure is part of climbing in the mountains. We still climbed an amazing route in the Himalaya and learned a lot about our personal abilities at altitude. Most importantly we all made it home safely from this climbing trip, and for that I am grateful.
An alpine style attempt of the southwest face Nilkantha by an American team.
Anne Gilbert Chase is a professional climber who spends her time travelling around the world in search of wild adventure in remote mountains and within diverse communities. Alpine climbing has taught her the joy of being fully present in the moment, the importance of being intimate with fear, and the gift of climbing partnerships. When she is not climbing, she works as a registered nurse in her home base of Bozeman, MT, where she lives with her husband and finds time to make banana bread and catch up on reading.
We began our quest for a Himalayan peak two to three months earlier when our leader Anil Retawade introduced us to Papsura. We then started looking for information regarding the peak. Earlier expedition reports from the IMF site, The Himalayan Journals and few other websites were not very motivating. Most were of unsuccessful attempts including accidents or deaths in some of the attempts.
Climbing History of Dharamsura and Papsura
Dharamsura is a mountain in the Himachal Pradesh region, India, near Manali. It is approximately 6446 m high. Dharamsura is connected to the higher 6451 m Papsura, by a ridge of 1.9 km at 6000 m. Papsura is often referred to as the peak of evil while Dharamsura as the peak of good. These peaks divide the Tos glacier in the south and the Bara Shigri glacier in Lahaul, in the north. Because of the little available topographic material, these peaks are often confused with each other. The first ascent was of Dharamsura in 1941. Papsura was only climbed in 1967. The highlights of the climbing history are :
1941 : Dharamsura was climbed by a British expedition led by James Owen Merion Roberts. From the east Tos glacier they climbed to the col south of the peak and from there they followed the ridge to the top.
1961 : Twenty years after the first ascent, Dharamsura was climbed a second time, by the same route, again by a British team.
1967 : The British climbed Papsura with Doffrey Hill, Colin Pritchard, Mike Payne, and Robert Pettigrew. They took a longer approach by the ‘Animals’ Pass. Their expedition almost ended in tragedy when a party of three was dragged down the ‘avalanche couloir’ in a terrifying 500 m drop which ended in the bergschrund. Two of them remained unharmed while Robert suffered a dislocated hip. Three days later, the peak was climbed via a couloir west of the initial route.
1970 and ’75 : Dharamsura was climbed by an Indian expedition.
1971 : Papsura was climbed by the same Indian expedition as the previous Dharamsura expedition.
1977 : Both Dharamsura and Papsura were climbed by a British team led by Sean Bean in an impressive alpine-style fashion. With minimal porters and only bivouacs as resting places, they succeeded not only in climbing Dharamsura but also in climbing Papsura by two new routes. Their minimal equipment and climbing style exhibited an impressive climbing talent.
1989 : Dharamsura was climbed by both the southwest as the southeast ridge by two teams from the same expedition.
1991 : An Indian team climbed Dharamsura.
1991 : A New-Zealand expedition did multiple climbs in the region. One person died during the climb of the west face of Papsura. At 6000 m he lost his footing and fell 400 m to his death. Sixteen days later, three teams of the same expedition made another attempt on Papsura, one of them made it to the top.
1997 : Dharamsura was climbed by a Japanese team.
2005 : Papsura was climbed by a ladies’ team via the route of 1967. Malabi Das, one of the climbers, reached the last camp on the return but eventually died of exhaustion.
2008-’12 : Several attempts were made on Papsura and Dharamsura. In this period Dharamsura was climbed once. Papsura was climbed by a big team of young West Bengal climbers in their second attempt. Seven team members, including four Sherpas reached the top by previously unclimbed northwest ridge.
2013 : An international team of top-notch skiers was flown in by helicopter. Their goal was the ascent of Papsura followed by a ski-descent. Bad snow conditions forced them to abort their plan.
Until now the ridge between Papsura and Dharamsura had remained unclimbed.
We reached Raskat (1854 m) via Kullu and Bhunter and followed two different routes via Kutla and a mule trail. Both the routes joined near some small idols and the Budhaban rock site.
The route from there till Sharam thatch camp was good and the camp site (3851 m) well located. Two hours of steep climbing, keeping Tosh nala to the left, and we reached Shamsi thatch (3870 m). En route we got first views of Papsura, Dharamsura and Sara Umga pass. The base camp at Saura thatch was also visible and we could see tents of the Indian Air Force team. The route to base camp had an initial steep climb through small and big rocks and then through big snowy patches. Local porters told us that there was a lot of snow that year. The Saura thatch (4267 m) base camp was fully covered by snow with one stream flowing furiously. We camped near the IAF team who were attempting Papsura as well.
Sara Ungma pass
Route from BC to Papsura
C2 to C3
The route to Camp 1 (4752 m) was initially a descent till the Tosh glacier through rocks and moraine. The route from there till the base of Camp 1 was through snow and was mixed. On reaching the base of Camp 1 we had first sight of the wall of 50 m. The 70-800 steep climb was a mixed route with ice, snow and mud. There was continuous rock fall along the route. Some of the IAF team members had injured themselves on this lethal face. After climbing continuously for an hour we reached Camp 1. We returned to BC in worsening weather and snowfall. The bad weather continued for another two days. On 16 June the weather cleared and the IAF team told us that the weather would be clear till 20 June and would then deteriorate again. We decided not to waste any time and so occupied camp 1. To reach Camp 2 we had to pass the Sara Umga pass (4850 m). After climbing a steep face we reached the Sara Umga pass and from there in an hour and a half we reached below Camp 2. We kept our loads and returned back to Camp 1. On reaching Camp 1 two members were not too well so they descended to base camp. We lifted our loads and climbed the steep 70 m face and reached Camp 2 (5381 m). Papsura was visible en route but was not seen from Camp 2. A steep climb and hump was in between us and the peak. The next day we were to occupy Camp 3 (5742 m) and attempt the peak on 19 June. We carried only one tent as we would be spending only one night. The Sherpas fixed rope until 6200 m and returned back to Camp 3. From there we would have to climb the last 700 m to reach the top. We were to start our climb at 1.00 a.m.
Three Peaks l to r Devachan, Papsura and Dharamsura
On the final ascent
The climb till the top was an angle of 60°-80°. To add to the difficulty was an ice wall. We left our tents at 1:30 a.m. on 19 June. Patch by patch we gained height and gasped for air. Negotiating the ice wall consumed all our energy. We had to force our crampons and kick two or three times in order to gain a better grip on the ice wall. The route after the ice wall was a mixed climb. The route shifted to the right through the snowy-rocky face.
C3 to summit
At times the snow was knee deep and sometimes hip deep. But we were on top of Papsura (6451 m) at around 7:00 a.m. We were overjoyed. The view from the top was just fabulous. Dharamsura, Devachen, Hanuman Tibba and Indrasan were prominently visible. The Bara Shigri glacier and the Tosh glacier also caught our attention. After taking panoramic pictures we started our descent.
Safely and cautiously we descended back to Camp 3 and Camp 2. The IAF team members who would attempt the peak the next day, greeted us. The next day we descended to base camp.
An ascent of Papsura (6451 m) in Himachal Pradesh.
Members : Anil Retawade (leader), Jamir Shaikh (dy. leader), Abhijit Lokhande (Lolo), Ganesh Bhambure, Ameet Prabhu, Abhishek Khirid (Abhi), Namita Chavan and Pranita Dhaphal. Sherpas : P. Norbu, Mingma Dorje and Mingma Tenzing,
Period : (3 Jun to 28 Jun 2015)
Ameet Prabhu works as a lecturer at Chandrashekhar Agashe College of Physical Education in Pune. He is a keen trekker, who for most of his life has wandered in the mountains. In fact his parents who were hikers and wanderers had nobody to baby- sit Ameet and his brother so they went along to the mountains from a young age! He has wandered the Sahyadris and is now a trained mountaineer and rock climber, venturing into the Himalaya.
On 10 August 2015 I made an ascent of Kang Yatze III in central Ladakh with William Newsom and Simon Ridout. Our expedition was hampered by heavy rain and flash-floods in the Markha valley during the approach trek. Many bridges were washed away and most trekking groups turned back. We were lucky to have a knowledgeable and determined horseman from Markha village, who took his mule-train through several dicey river crossings to get us to base camp. We camped one km downstream from the usual Kang Yatze base on open grassy flats at 4980 m.
We climbed Kang Yatze II in deep fresh snow then decided to explore the glacier beyond Kang Yatze I. We left base at 1:30 a.m. on the 9th and found our way up the right side of the glacier moraines to gain open ice at dawn. The glacier was coated with an icy crust from the recent snowfall and we made rapid progress for three km. We made camp at 5700 m in the upper cirque between Dzo Jongo, the unnamed peak of 6300 m at the valley head and Kang Yatze III.
Kang Yatze III (Martin Moran)
Kang Yatze III NE ridge (Martin Moran)
At 5:30 a.m. on 10 August we left camp, traversed the glacier and gained steep loose scree slopes leading to the ridge crest between KY III and KY I. The terrain was arduous and in places dangerous, and would be rather more pleasant with a covering of spring snow. The crest was reached at 6115 m. Here the climb markedly improved in quality. A beautiful curving snow arête - the NE ridge of the mountain - led to the summit tower.
The final rocks were steep loose shales and the top tower was climbed on the right side to gain the summit at 1:30 p.m. The GPS height was 6310 m and there were no scratches or cairns to evidence previous ascents. We reversed the route and regained our camp at 5:50 pm, then walked back to base camp the following morning. The overall route grade was alpine AD, or grade III.
Our team walked out a day later by the normal trekking route over the Konmaru la to the roadhead at Shang Sumdo.
Ascent of Kang Yatze in central Ladakh
Read about Martin Moran on Page 53
A Slovenian climbing expedition report
Anastasija Davidova and Matija Jošt
The Raru valley is located in the Ladakh region, in Jammu and Kashmir, in northern India. Named after Raru village (3800 m), it is the starting point for expeditions visiting the area.
Raru village lies some 25 km south of Padam (capital of Zanskar) and can be reached by car. The Raru mountain massif comprises three bigger valleys - from east to west Katkar nala, Nateo nala and Tetleh nala. South of the massif is the Miyar glacier.
Our expedition was focused on the Tetleh nala. This valley is surrounded by numerous peaks between 5700 and 6250 m high, some with walls up to 1000 m high, which are difficult to access; the others seem more accessible and attractive, with their snowy and icy slopes and walls. We planned the expedition as a three-member team, but Aljaž Tratnik seriously injured his knee a week before we set off and had to abandon his participation. We were accompanied by L.O. Chetan Pandey.
The Tetleh nala has had only one expedition and from their account it seemed like there were good mountaineering challenges. The aim of our expedition was to discover new routes and ascend unclimbed mountains as well as to help with mapping of the valley.
During our expedition, the weather was unstable until 24 August. It rained a little almost every day, and then, it cleared very quickly. Temperatures were mild for the time of the year with freezing nights near 5500 m. After 24 August, the weather was super clear but colder and windier.
On 29 July 2015, we set up base camp. For the next 35 days we spent some excellent time climbing and exploring.
Ascent of Khumchu Ri (6064 m)
This was our acclimatization climb. After a morning shower, we were skeptical about how the weather would be for the rest of the day.
A sketch map of the Tetleh nala with expedition activity
Anyway we set off and the weather improved. After a short approach from our tent we reached a snow flank leading to the southeast ridge from the north. At first we climbed some 400 m on a rocky southeast ridge and then 600 m on a snowy east ridge, which did not exceed 50° to the summit. It took us eight hours to ascend and five to descend. We think the overall grade of climb is D+. The shape of the summit looks like a bird’s beak so we named the peak Khumchu Ri (Khumchu means’ beak’ and Ri means ‘peak’ in Ladakhi). We thought that Sakamoto had marked this peak R7. We believe we made the first ascent of that peak on 5 August 2015.
Khumchu Ri (marked with A, 6064 m) as seen from east face of Kun Long Ri. View towards west. The red line marks our ascent route. AK C1 and AK C2 indicate bivvy sites during our climb. B marks P 5830 m, D marks P 5850 m, E marks P 5910 m, F marks P 5885 m. It is believed that all these summits are still unclimbed and can be approached via Tetleh nala. The heights of the peaks are approximate. It is possible that the peaks are higher. C marks pass (5720 m), to Miyar glacier (Matija Jošt)
Anastasija on rocky southeast ridge of Khumchu Ri (Matija Jošt).
Matija heading towards the summit of Khumchu Ri (Anastasija Davidova)
Ascent of Kun Long Ri (6058 m)
An attractive peak on the east side of the Tetleh valley seemed an appropriate goal for us after we felt acclimatized enough. Our first try ended at the foot of the west face. We approached, made a bivvy, but rain next morning forced us back to base camp. We were luckier the next time. We climbed some 200 m of good quality granite up the west face (up to grade 4 UIAA) and set our first bivvy at 5533 m. It was uncomfortable and we were without water. It rained in the morning but the bivvy sack gave us enough protection. Later the weather improved, and we continued our ascent to reach the north ridge at 5700 m. The ridge itself was rocky, narrow and with gendarmes. We tried to climb forward just to reach more snowy terrain some 300 m ahead, but the ridge turned out to be tricky so we returned to a good ledge where we spent the night. The next day we climbed some 300 m distance avoiding difficult ridge gendarmes on the east side of the crest. The rock quality on the east side was not so good and we rappelled twice down the east face. The climbing was rock up to grade 5 UIAA and ice (max 60°). We needed five hours to reach the beginning of snowy part of the ridge and set our third bivvy at 5689 m on really nice flat spot.
Kun Long Ri (6058 m, marked with G) as seen from Khumchu Ri. View towards east, showing the west face of Kun Long Ri. The red line indicates our ascent route. B0, B1 and B3 indicate our bivvy sites. H marks P 5756 m and I (see lower right corner of photo) marks P 5350 m
Entry to the beginning of snow part of north ridge, Kun Long Ri (Anastasija Davidova)
Second day of climbing, west face of Kun Long Ri (Matija Jošt)
The clear night ended with clouds coming in from the south. But we didn’t give up after three days of ascending as the summit seemed close. From our bivvy we climbed up the snow slopes of the north ridge (max 65°) to the notch 100 m below the summit. From the notch we traversed in to the west face and climbed mix ground (rock up to 4 UIAA, and ice up to 70°) to the summit, reaching the top at 2:00 p.m. The weather got better with more and more sunny spells during the afternoon. We descended along the route of ascent but on some occasions we rappelled to reach B3. Then we descended to the neighbourhood valley. We headed eastwards via the northern snow slopes to reach a glacier for which we have suggested the name ‘Slovenian glacier’. We continued to descend via the broken moraine to Raru nala and we reached Onkar (4000 m) just before midnight. On the next day we regained our base camp. A very common question in India, when you communicate with locals, is ‘did you have a happy journey?’ Indeed we had a happy journey so we named the route ‘Happy Journey’. We believed we had made the first ascent of the peak. The ascent took place between 13 and 17 August 2015.
Inspired by Dalai Lama’s book, Ethics for the New Millennium we named the peak Kun Long Ri (Kun Long is the term for what is considered to be of the greatest significance in determining the ethical value of a given action). Translated literally, kun means ‘thoroughly’ or ‘from the depths’ and long (wa) denotes the act of causing something to stand up, to arise, or to awaken.
Ascent of Ri Pok Te (6210 m)
After Anastasija’s troubles with toothache and her return to base camp, we still had plenty of time to try another objective. Ri Pok Te (Sakamoto mark this peak R4) attracted us with its east face - the luxury of the early morning sun proved too strong a magnet. The British team (Prinold-Scott) attempted that nice-looking pillar in 2011, but they retreated due to bad weather from around 6000 m. We thought that their line was safe and suitable despite the fact that the pillar itself didn’t lead directly to the true summit. Our first push ended very quickly because some snow showers rolled in before we managed to reach the foot of the face. We left our equipment at the foot of the couloir and returned to base camp. Next day at 5:00 a.m. we started from base camp up the eastern slopes of Ri Pok Te. The approach to the face was short, we picked our equipment and at 7:00 a.m. started scrambling up the couloir. Higher, we moved left (south) out from the couloir to the prominent pillar, following quite the same line as the British pair (Prinold-Scott) did. We put on our rock shoes but continued climbing unroped. Later we started belaying and we climbed 10 pitches before we reached a nice bivvy site. Despite four more hours of daylight remaining, we decided to stop. Climbing was on excellent granite on really nice slabs never exceeding grade 4+ UIAA. As long we moved with the sun, it was enjoyable and warm, but in the afternoons, it got shady and cold.
Ri Pok Te (6210 m, marked with J), east face. View towards west. The red line indicates our ascent route. We climbed east face to southwest ridge, then traversed into west face to avoid difficult ridge section and regain southwest ridge and continued to summit. Descent was made more or less via route of ascent mostly by rappelling and some down climbing. At the foot of the face we followed prominent ramp (green line), ‘bivvy’ marks the site of two bivouacs. The same line was attempted in 2011 by British Imperial College Expedition (Prinold-Scott). K marks summit of unclimbed R3 (6036 m) (Matija Jošt)
The night was perfectly clear and cold with no wind. We started our second day of ascent at 9:00 a.m. when it became warm enough for climbing in rock shoes and without gloves. Six pitches of great climbing on excellent rock brought us to the southwest ridge. We tried to continue via the ridge, but it looked complicated so we traversed some 100 m diagonally to the west face. We climbed it to regain the southwest ridge and continued along the ridge to the summit. In perfectly nice weather, we reached the highest point of Ri Pok Te at 3:30 p.m. The summit ridge is almost horizontal and it widens to plateau towards the north. We descended more or less via our route of ascent mostly by rappelling and some down climbing to reach our bivvy spot late at night (where we spent a short but cold night). Next day we continued our descent. We believe we made the first ascent of the peak. We think that the overall grade of the climb is TD+/ED-. Local people at Raru village know the mountain as Ri Pok Te. You can see the summit from some part of the village and it means something like the mountain that hides other mountains.
Every expedition pollutes; we all need to realize that. One of possible ways to minimize pollution is to operate in small teams with modest comfort.
View from Khumchu Ri towards east (Anastasija Davidova)
For more detailed information about our expedition you can follow these links:
Slovenian alpinists Anastasija Davidova – Nastja (36 years old) and Matija Jošt – Matic (44 years old) travelled to Raru mountains in Zanskar between 20 July and 9 September 2015. During their 35 days stay they made first ascents of three previously unclimbed peaks, Khumchu Ri (6064 m), Kun Long Ri (6058 m) and Ri Pok Te (6210 m).
A Short Mountaineering History of Raru Mountains
2009. Japanese senior Kyoto Zanskar expedition (leader Kimikazu Sakamoto) visited Raru mountains massif. They made an exploratory trek to the Katkar nala and Nateo nala and named the peaks from R1 to R35. Their report in AAJ 2010 suggested that the 21 peaks in Raru mountain range were virgin. Their report also included a sketch map of the Raru mountains. It is believed that this was the first mountaineering visit to the Raru mountains.
2009. The British expedition to Katkar nala made ascents of Skilma Kangri (5979 m) and Jules (5800 m). They reported their activity in AAJ 2010.
2011. A Swiss expedition made ascents of Red Apple peak (6,070 m), GoCook Peak (6,050 m) and Tong’a Miduk Ri (Hidden Peak in Ladakhi, 6,040 m) above the Katkar glacier. Their report can be found in AAJ 2012.
2011. The Imperial College Raru Valley 2011 Mountaineering Expedition visited theTetleh nala. They made ascents of Lama Jimsa Kangri (6276 m), Moel Kangri (5930 m), Bhaio Aur Bheno Ki Khushi (5985 m) and base camp Big Wall (5385 m). They also made some attempts on other peaks. They published a report in AAJ 2012, and they put their excellent report on the website of their college and an article on http://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=4209
2012. A Greek expedition to Katkar nala made ascents of Katkar Kangri (6148 m), Mutik Skal (6243 m), Skilma Kangri (6020 m), and Lama Soo (5947 m). They operated without IMF permission and reported their expedition in AAJ 2013 and on http://nikolas.kroupi.gr/in12/index.html
2014. A Swiss skiing expedition made an ascent and a ski descent of Sonam Ri (6060 m) above Katkar nala. They reported it in AAJ 2015.
2015. The local people at Raru village told us about large a Swiss team in Katkar nala or in Nateo nala. They left the area just before our arrival. We were sorry to hear that one member drowned when crossing the river on their trek out from the valley.1
Born in 1971, Matija Jošt (Matic) began alpine climbing at the age of six with his parents in Slovenian Alps. Since then, he is passionate mountaineer and climber. Between expeditions he works as self employed civil engineer.
Anastasija Davidova – Nastja was born in Kiev (Ukraine) in 1979 and lives in Slovenia since her childhood. She is excellent rock climber and alpinist, always smiling when in the mountains.
Mahmood Ahmad Shah
2015 has been the most gratifying year for me. I was able to trek to my 100th high altitude lake this summer. It has been a long, long walk in and around the mountains of Kashmir, and every time, treks have brought much happiness. While people count years during their lives, it has been the other way round for me counting the lakes I trekked each year.
Kashmir has seen more than two decades of turmoil and strife, but it has left me undeterred in my mad pursuit around the mountains of Kashmir. For an ordinary countryman, Kashmir epitomizes as a place of conflict where venturing out invites trouble and going into the mountains is considered scary, sending shivers down the spine. Mountains are often equated with those of Tora Bora and Panjshir in Afghanistan. But for me, these mountains, however misunderstood they might be, are where I have always found solace.
Ancient texts, such as the Nilmat Puran, define Kashmir as a huge lake which was drained. Geologists have their own scientific arguments, including the tectonic theory of ‘draining of the valley’. Whatever the reality, the fact remains that this erstwhile Satisar, the Mega lake, disappeared only to leave behind a huge number of little progeny scattered across the mountains of Kashmir.
National Wetland Atlas figures indicate that the state of Jammu & Kashmir has about 2107 high altitude lakes, which aggregates to about 110317 hectares of water surface. Arunachal Pradesh comes second, with 1610 high altitude water-bodies.
While some of the huge water-bodies like Pangong and Tso Moriri, in Ladakh, can be accessed by road, none of the high altitude lakes of the Kashmir valley can be approached by an SUV. Like rare gemstones, they lie hidden in the deep, inhospitable recesses of the challenging Kashmir mountains. Unlike the full moon, which appears regularly every fortnight, these lakes remain snowbound for about seven to eight months of the year. Even during the other months, the weather remains hostile and unfriendly for photography.
Choona sar can be trekked in five hours from Aru-Pahalgam
So every year it requires careful planning to trek to each lake. Still, glitches crop up : malfunction of GPS, camera, batteries, hostile weather, misleading trails, communication gaps with local guides and lack of terrain knowledge, are some unforeseen things which spoil the effort.
Despite odds, I was to keep my rendezvous with the elusive figure. 2015 became a watershed year in the annals of my memory. I was able to trek upto seven lakes that year to complete a century. Just as every batsman gets the shivers, I also experienced the ‘Nervous Nineties Syndrome’.
Purani Ganga is a lake located east of Gangabal, the largest lake in Kashmir with an area of 167 hectares. It is an important way point of the seven-lake-trek, also famous as the great-lake-trek. The trek to Purani Ganga starts four kilometres short of Naranag from a village known as Martahoi and a zig-zag trail leads over to the lake. But as always, there was a twist in the tale.
The altitude of Martahoi is 2000 m; it required a climb of 1900 m to the lake. While we have been doing 1300 to 1500 m of ups-and-downs regularly, doing this one required utmost fitness. So, I started to concentrate on my fitness and began to feel confident to do it in one go.
It was 11 September when I started on the trail with a few friends. As a thumb-rule in Kashmir, the trail starts from a village, and then goes through a forest up to the alpine zone. Most of the trails in Kashmir start in the 2000-m-zone and then extend into forest from 2000 m to 3500 m. Thereafter, the alpine zone ascends up to the permanent snowline.
The trail, as it went up, offered amazing vistas of the lower Sind valley. Harwar and Haramukh gradually began to unveil themselves as we trudged up through the thick canopy. No sooner did we enter a huge alpine meadow with a gradual incline, the true grandeur of the Kashmir Himalaya was on full display. The last stretch to the lake was over a rock, some boulders and moraine deposits. Careful manoeuvring is required over these glacial deposits, which litter the alpine zone of Kashmir.
Legend has it that an annual yatra used to take place to the Purani Ganga lake but it was decimated by a rock slide truncating its area considerably forcing the pilgrims abandon it for its sibling sitting at the foot of the Haramukh mountain, the mighty Gangabal. That’s how the lake became known as the Purani Ganga. In Kashmir, legends are as strong as the mountain they are born in.
Chumni sar is one of the feeders of Lidder stream
The 1900 m uphill trek up to the lake took six hours. Clear weather, a brief breather and a rapid burst of the camera is the most pleasing aspect of the trek. These are moments that make or mar a trek. I consider myself lucky that on most occasions, I have been blessed with such moments of joy. The camera is such a wonderful invention. It enables you to relive the moment.
One of the most conspicuous mountainscapes of Kashmir is the Haramukh (5145 m). It is visible from most parts of the valley. Haramukh has been climbed in 1856 by Gen. Montgomery, the Surveyor General of British India. He is credited for having discovered K2 from Haramukh, while marking the peaks of Karakoram during survey, in the order K1, K2, K3, K4. Later, it was proved that he had discovered the second highest peak in the world from Haramukh.
After its first ascent, it has been climbed a number of times, However, since 1990, very few people have ventured the cliffs and the crags the mountain offers. Reports have it that a para-regiment of the Indian Army made a successful climb in 2010. However, a purely civilian attempt on the peak was launched by the Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering and Hiking Club in May 2015, which was able to summit the station peak, 300 m below the main peak. The Club was able to summit the main or the eastern peak in the month of September this year, marking a new beginning for mountaineering in Kashmir.
The head waters of Sind river draining Sonmarg has some impressive lakes. Durinar lake being one of them
The skyline of the Purani Ganga trail is dominated by Haramukh, provided the sky is cloud-free. The weather in the mountains is the same as everywhere - clear mornings with clouds building up as the day sets in. The forests of Kashmir are evergreen with the lower altitude Kail a predominant species which is interspersed by spruce. As the altitude increases, fir becomes the predominate species. Fir gives way to rhododendron and juniper. Finally, the alpine zone covers the mountain faces above 3800 m.
High altitude lakes have been classified to have certain attributes
Water-bodies which exist above 3000 m, are a perennial source of water and do not freeze to the bottom are classified as true high altitude lakes. I could get hold of this classification only when my mark had reached 68.
High altitude lakes have further been sub-categorized on the basis of their altitude : Lakes between 3000 and 4000 m; between 4000 and 5000 m; and between 5000 and 6000 m. While the last two sub-categories occur in Leh and Kargil, it is the first sub-category that is found in Kashmir.
Gangabal is the largest high altitude lake of Kashmir with an area of 167 hectares. It is located at 3570 m and can be reached by a hike of five hours from Naranag. Just below is its sibling, Nandkol, at 3507 m, about 60 m lower. Almost all other high altitude lakes in Kashmir are located on higher altitudes than these twin lakes.
Gangabal is surrounded by a host of high altitude lakes. It’s part of the world-renowned Seven Lakes’ Trek. An alternate route to Bandipora goes over the Lalgul pass, leading to the Madumati river catchment and one can trek to about seven more lakes in close vicinity; truly, a treasure trove of high altitude lakes.
We sat around Purani Ganga enjoying our lunch, intent upon crossing the pass. Gumbergali is at 4210 m, which meant an additional 300 m of hiking across, then a descent to find a camping ground. The short duration of September daylight was at the back of my mind as I ate. Then I heard a thundering sound - the weather seemed to be closing in and we were short on time. Hurriedly, we saddled up the horses, loaded them and started a tiresome hike up the Gumbergali. One hour later, the pass seemed to have come in sight and a distant view of Haramukh, shrouded partially in cloud,with the blue expanse of Gangabal at its foot, looked phenomenal - a rare sight indeed.
Baraf sar is the higest high altitude lake in Kashmir perched at 4290 m in the Sind valley
The view at the pass was panoramic, with Sagput making an impressive ridge line. Sagput separates the Gad Sar valley from Kashmir. These unclimbed ridges could prove to be an impressive climbing ground in days to come. The walk down the pass provided ample camping ground around Gumbersar. I felt elated about reaching my 99th high altitude lake and I eagerly awaited the next morning to complete my century, as there was another lake located nearby.
Late that night, it began to snow heavily and our tent buckled down under the weight of the snow. Later in the night, it stopped. The next morning, was cloudy with a foot of snow covering the ground. But a pleasant surprise awaited us - we began to hear a whistling sound from the surrounding ridges as we started to scout the slopes. Finally we found a dozen snow partridges on the rocks around the pass. It was my first encounter with this elusive bird. As our guides packed up the horses with wet baggage for the descent down valley we took a slight detour up the ridge to make the rendezvous with my 100th lake, Salma sar, an enigmatic name for a small lake that drains into Martchoinala.Later, Salma sar meets the Gangabal waters at Dumail, some 10 km upstream of Nara Nag.
Bramsar is situated at the foot of Bram Shakri peak in Pir Panjal
As I settled on the ridge overlooking Salma sar, I was filled with a sense of accomplishment as it had been a long, long walk in and around the mountains of Kashmir.
Bhag sar is one of the largest high altitude lakes of Pir Panjal with an area of 76 hectares
Years back, when I embarked upon my wanderlust in the mountains, never did it cross my mind that I would achieve the milestone of visiting a hundred high altitude lakes. I don’t know how much further I will go and what my final count will be but for now it seems that my appetite for the lakes of Kashmir remains insatiated. I yearn to achieve more. Mountains make you stubborn in the most humble manner.
Chandan sar is located at 3912 m
An account of treks to three high altitude lakes in Jammu and Kashmir, bringing the total to a hundred lakes that the author has visited.
Mahmood Ahmad Shah, Director, Tourism, Kashmir was born in Srinagar in 1970. He always loved the outdoors but could not do much as Kashmir’s mountains were very unsafe for trekking. As militancy began to wane, he started serious trekking in 2002. He has trekked to 100 high altitude lakes in Kashmir all located higher than 3400 m.
In September and October 2015 Andreas Abegglen, Thomas Senf and Stephan Siegrist made the first ascents of Spear 5900 m, Tupendo 5700 m and Mardi Phabrang 5900 m and its famous Te tower, three hitherto unclimbed mountains in the Kashmir region of India’s Himalaya.1
A year after visiting the Kishtwar region in Northern India, Swiss alpinists Dres Abegglen, Thomas Senf and I returned to the Himalaya this September and October where we pulled off another three notable first ascents.
Our trio had seen a photo of a 5900 m high summit called Spear that strikingly resembled the world-famous Matterhorn and the call of this beautiful mountain was simply too strong to ignore. Located to the south of the Kishtwar area in the Kashmir region, Spear had previously been off-limits due to the territorial conflict between India and Pakistan and was therefore unclimbed.
Two rope lengths on Tupendeo (Thomas Senf)
Spear (Ranjit Jakli)
Maps of the area are famously imprecise, but thanks to excellent local connections we managed to reach the town of Kaban and then quickly establish base camp at the foot of Spear, which was named as such by a previous expedition to the region due to its form. Weather conditions played in our favour and after bivvying on the east col on 12 September, the next morning we climbed an obvious ramp line up the 700 m high northeast face. Despite its beauty the rock quality on Spear was extremely poor and we negotiated loose and dangerous rock to summit at 15:00 that day. We descended to the col where we bivied for a second time, and returned to base camp on 14 September.
Stephan Siegrist on the climbing start of the Pillar climb (Thomas Senf)
Despite the now unstable weather with regular spills in the afternoon we set our sights on another‚ perfect peak nearby called Tupendo. In the early afternoon of 18 September we reached a bivvy point at the base of the mountain, fixed a couple of pitches and then snuggled up for the night. The next morning we climbed an 800 m line and summited at 13:30, before returning to base camp at 21:30 that same day. In stark comparison to Spear, on Tupendo we dealt with some of the best rock climbing we had ever had ever encountered at altitude.
Poor weather set in and pinned our team down in base camp for a week, after which we then climbed another peak in the same valley : Mardi Phabrang. A characteristic 200 m crystal tower called Te (Crystal) juts out above 5500 m and we opted for the more difficult, but certainly more beautiful line that took them straight to the top of this feature. After bivvying on the ridge on 1 October, the next day we climbed four pitches with difficulties up to 6a/b and topped out on this pre-summit at 14:00. With time to spare we then abseiled off and continued on to the mountain’s main summit which was reached at 15:30 before returning safely to BC at 21:00. The biggest superlatives don’t even begin to explain the conditions we had on this mountain : quite simply unique.
It is interesting to note that while the Indian military maps mark Spear as 6100 m and Te as 6163 m, according to the recent GPS readings both mountains are 5900 m high.
Spear (Bhala) 5900 m, NE Face | Route : Copa-Kaban
Start : 12/09/2015
Summit : 13/09/2015, Base Camp Return : 14/09/2015
Difficulty : mid-grade alpine climbing, loose rock
Tupendo 5700 m, SE Pillar | Route : Deokhal
Start : 18/09/2015
Summit : 19/09/2015, Base Camp Return : 19/09/2015
Difficulty : 6a/b, 21 pitches, 800 m
Notes : on some maps marked as Tupendo 1 or Druid
Te (Kristall) 5900 m | Route : Chaprasi
Start : 01/10/2015
Summit : 02/10/2015, Base Camp Return: 02/10/2015
Difficulty : 5c/6a, 4 pitches, 200 m, excellent rock quality
Notes : alpine climbing 60° to main summit
First ascents of three peaks - Spear, Tupendo and Mardi Phabrang by three Swiss alpinists
Stephan Siegrist was born 1972 in Meikirch, Switzerland. Upon completing school, Stephan pursued an apprenticeship as a carpenter. Shortly after, the mountains would win Stephan over after his first ski tour awoke the passion that would later become his career. Since the age of 26, Stephan has earned his living as a professional alpinist and mountain guide. He now lives in Ringgenberg with his wife and family. Stephan Siegrist repeatedly awes with his impressive and creative range of climbing projects. He excels not only in bouldering and sport climbing, but has also proven his talent in big wall, ice and mixed climbing. One of his unique talents is walking the high line and base jumping.
He made first ascents on all seven continents including the great north faces of the Alps (Eiger Nordwand approx. 30 times), expeditions and projects in Northern India and Nepal, North America, Antarctica, South Africa and Patagonia.
Derek R Buckle
It is always a pleasure to visit a new area, and in 2015 we were not disappointed with our decision to go to a little-known region to the south of Padam in Zanskar. I was broadly familiar with Zanskar through an earlier successful trip to the Pensilungpa in 2013, but then time constraints only allowed us to travel a short distance beyond the Pensi la in order to admire the impressive Durung Drung glacier and its surrounding peaks.1 The temptation to return to this dramatic landscape lingered, but it was an article by Kimikazu Sakamoto in the Himalayan Journal2 that subsequently inspired another expedition. In 2012, this senior Japanese team visited the region of the Temasa nala and its tributary valleys where they recorded, and photographed, 21 hitherto unclimbed peaks. This party were the first outsiders to explore the lower Korlomshe Tokpo valley and to show that a number of interesting climbing opportunities existed. Subsequent correspondence confirmed our interest and Kimikazu Sakamoto generously supplied us with both photographs and information. Our eventual plan was to investigate the mountains at the head of the Korlomshe glacier in the hope that one or more would be climbable.
The Korlomshe Tokpo from high on Kusyabla (Drew Cook)
Panorama from Kusyabla (Derek Buckle)
Our party comprised four British climbers : Drew Cook, Stuart Worsfold, Gus Morton and myself (as leader), together with Knut Tønsberg, a Norwegian. All were long-standing friends of mine. As both Gus (who lived in France) and Knut were travelling to India independently, we finally assembled as a team in Delhi on 21 August for the start of our month long expedition. Before we could transfer to Leh, however, we first had to visit the Indian Mountaineering Foundation to complete the official formalities and meet our Liaison Officer, Malkeet (Maly) Singh. With paperwork in order we flew to Leh the next day to meet our in-country agent and acclimatize before continuing to Padam and beyond.
The journey to Padam and approach to base camp
The relatively small town of Padam nestles between Leh to the north and Manali to the south and is only directly accessible from either by way of high passes. All motorized transport, and presumably most of Padam’s outside commerce, must use the 236 km rough, un-metalled and bone-rattling track from Kargil. This involves a lengthy 12-hour journey, compensated largely by the impressive scenery passed en route. On leaving Kargil the road winds its way along the Suru River past the two 7000 m giants, Nun and Kun, before lower, but similarly spectacular, mountains of the Great Himalayan Range command the view. Large numbers of marmots inhabit the route, but few other wild animals can be seen.
Beyond Rangdum Gompa the road continues to the Pensi la (4485 m). Here it leaves the Suru river, as it winds to its source in the Pensilungpa, to follow the broad valley of the Doda river into Padam where it then joins the Zanskar river. In contrast to Muslim Kargil, Padam is predominantly Buddhist and is home to a monastery and a large contingent of monks. Evidence of new build is everywhere in Padam, presumably in anticipation of the impending new road leading directly from Leh, although the likely date for its completion is not known. Undoubtedly the town will see a significant influx of visitors when its accessibility from Leh is shortened to less than a day using a smooth metalled road.
Kargil itself can be reached from either Srinagar or Leh, but we chose the latter option. The 225 km smooth road from Leh first follows the Indus Valley, past the ancient monastery of Alchi, before leaving it at Khasi for Lamayuru with its attractive hilltop monastery. Crossing the Fotu la (4094 m) the route then runs alongside the Sangeluma chu before rising to the Namika la (3720 m) where it joins the Wakh river on its way to Kargil. The immense rock-carved statue of the Future Buddha at Mulbeck can be seen en route.
After meeting up with our support in Padam we camped overnight prior to the short drive via Bardan Gompa to the road head near the hamlet of Pibchu. Pibchu is the starting point for a number of treks and we found difficulty getting adequate animal transport for our journey up the Temasa nala. Eventually we acquired eleven small donkeys (rather than the horses that we had requested) and were fortunate to add five horses that were coincidentally returning from delivering another party elsewhere. We progressed very slowly over the Kong La (4060 m) to join the Temasa nala, covering only six km before being forced to camp by the Chokmetsik springs, some way short of our intended site. On 27 August we only managed to travel a further 1.5 km along the valley and were eventually obliged to establish our base camp near the confluence of the Temasa nala and Korlomshe Tokpo at 4135 m. It was far from ideal, but it was evident that we would be unable to use animals to reach our intended base camp some 500 m higher in the Korlomshe Tokpo. This camp did, however, offer superb views of the mountains bordering the Temasa nala and the first glimpses of the Korlomshe Tokpo peaks.
Sketch map of the Korlomshe Tokpo with routes followed marked in red
Exploration and climbing in the Korlomshe Tokpo
It took another three days to establish what was now designated as our advance base camp (ABC) at 5130 m close to a small freshwater pool fed by glacial melt-water. This was undoubtedly the same location as that used by Kimikazu Sakamoto during his visit in 2012 and was well-sited for further exploration of the upper Korlomshe Tokpo. After our earlier delays we were now anxious to start climbing and we first chose to investigate the glacial spur leading westwards from ABC. On 1 September, therefore, Drew, Gus and I crossed the broad, icy Korlomshe outflow to scramble over the lateral moraine and reach the spur. Climbing west then northwest up the 35-40° rough, glacial ice beneath the impending north face of T10 (5957 m) led to the final 40-45° southeast ridge of Pk 59163, which we front-pointed to make the first ascent (Alpine AD). The small rocky summit, which we chose to call ‘Kusyabla’4 offered a fantastic 360° panorama dominated to the west by the east face of T9 (6107 m). Initially T9 had been our primary objective, but armchair planning is a wonderful thing and it was now evident that it would no longer be on our list! Immediately to the northwest, however, was a much more amenable peak that we hoped to attempt later from a higher camp. Three days later Knut and Maly made the second ascent of Kusyabla following the same route.
DB, GM & KT on the east face of the ‘Matterhorn’ (Drew Cook)
Derek Buckle with Temple (centre) and Kusyabla (left) (Knut Tonsberg)
After a few exploratory forays from ABC we now felt ready to relocate further up the valley to allow access to the more distant peaks. Thus, on 7 September we established a high camp at 5500 m beneath the imposing east face of the ‘Matterhorn-like’ peak at the head of the Korlomshe glacier. Unfortunately, by this time Stuart had returned home, and Drew was not feeling his best, so that only Gus, Knut and I set out on 8 September to attempt the east face of the mountain that we now referred to as the ‘Matterhorn’. Leaving camp, we first followed a prominent glacial spur running across the foot of the face until this terminated at a steep ice fan on the face proper. At this point we roped up to climb the icy 45-50° east face (Alpine D) until just below the rocky south ridge at 5900 m. By now it was becoming clear that there was still a substantial amount of technical ground to cover before reaching the summit and it was doubtful whether this could be achieved safely in the time available. Reluctantly we took the decision to retreat and four full-length abseils later we were back on easy ground.
Near to base camp, Gus had earlier noticed some short rock climbing opportunities that he was keen to investigate, so the next day he descended to look at them more closely. We later learnt that he, Maly and some of the support team had thoroughly enjoyed their cragging experience. Meanwhile, Knut and I had set our sights on the attractive peak that we had seen northwest of Kusyabla. On 10 September we set off across the Korlomshe glacier to the steep (40-45°) east-northeast face which we solo climbed to a prominent col at 5774 m to the right of a significant cornice. From this col the 45° southeast ridge of PK 5947 (Alpine AD) was climbed to make the first ascent of a peak that we subsequently named ‘Temple’. Like those from Kusyabla, the views from Temple were extensive and magnificent. Especially impressive was the northwest ridge of Kusyabla itself, but understandably the east face of T9 dominated the near horizon. Once the obligatory photographs had been taken we returned to high camp by the route of ascent.
Drew Cook and Gus Morton descending Kusyabla following the first ascent. T10 is behind (Derek Buckle)
East face of T9 from Kusyabla (Derek Buckle)
With our time in India now running short we decamped the following day to join the rest of the team at base camp. Initially it was hard work carrying the tents and all of our equipment from high camp, but fortunately we had earlier agreed to deposit some of the load at ABC to be collected the next day by our high altitude porters. As it happens this would have been a gargantuan task had it not been for the assistance given by Maly, who had once again proved to be one of the team and not just a Liaison Officer.
Knut Tonsberg on the first ascent of Temple (Derek Buckle)
Temple (left) from the summit of Kusyabla (Knut Tonsberg)
Over one month between August and September 2015 Derek Buckle, Drew Cook, Gus Morton, Knut Tønsberg and Stuart Worsfold explored the Korlomshe Tokpo valley in the Zanskar region of India. From an advance base camp at 5130 m DB, DC & GM succeeded in making the first ascent of Pk 5916 (Kusyabla) via its SE ridge (AD) on 1 September. Three days later KT and the Liaison Officer, Malkeet (Maly) Singh, made a second ascent by the same route. After subsequently establishing a high camp at 5500 m on the Korlomshe Glacier, DB & KT then successfully made the 1st ascent of Pk 5947 (Temple) via its ENE face and SE ridge (AD) on 10 September. From the same high camp DB, GM & KT also climbed to 5900 m on the east face (D) of the >6000 m Matterhorn-like peak due west of the camp before time pressures dictated a retreat.
Derek Buckle, is a retired medicinal chemist now acting part-time as a consultant to the pharmaceutical industry. With plenty of free time he spends much of this rock climbing, ski-touring and mountaineering in various parts of the world. Despite climbing, his greatest challenges are finding time to accompany his wife on more traditional holidays and filling of his passport with exotic and expensive visas.
In 2009 the Indian Government opened 104 new peaks for climbing. All 104 open peaks were in the Zanskar and Ladakh areas. P 6070 (L15) was one of those open peaks, and listed as No. 45. The application for climbing the 104 open peaks has been simplified, compared to those of the other peaks. When the Indian Mountaineering Foundation receives a mountaineer’s application for climbing a listed open peak, IMF is authorized by the Indian Government to issue climbing permission. Four members of the Gakushuin Alpine Club (GAC) Indian Himalaya Expedition to Zanskar led by Shuhei Yoshida made the first ascent of P 6070 (L15) in the Lenak valley of Zanskar. The team consisted of three university students and one senior member of the Gakushuin University Alpine Club.
Kimikazu Sakamoto, a senior member of the Academic Alpine Club of Kyoto (AACK), has led several explorations in the south of Zanskar.
Gyalmo Kangri (left) (K. Sakamoto)
He has introduced many unknown virgin peaks in this area to climbers over the world through his expedition reports.
We found P 6070 (L15) in his report and were fascinated by its elegant shape. We could see a beautiful snow ridge on the left side and we thought it could be a good route for the summit.
Approach to the BC
On 31 July, we visited the Japanese embassy and the IMF office in Delhi. We met Chandrashekhar, our liaison officer, at the IMF office. After a two-day stay in Leh, we moved to Anmu, a village opposite Tsetan and the end of the motor road.
On 9 August when we were walking to Testa, two horses fell from a narrow path under the cliff. The rapid current of the river carried away our baggage and we couldn’t do anything. The horses luckily were not seriously hurt. We lost the LO’s equipment, eight ice axes, forty snow bars, twenty ice screw pitons, sixty plain carabineers, one bottle of fuel and more.
Route on peak 6070 m
The next day, we went down to the river to try and locate the lost baggage but finally gave up. On 11 August, Masayuki Harada, senior member of our expedition, and our LO returned to Delhi to purchase climbing equipment. The student members, Shuhei Yoshida, Kazu Ghalamkari, Mizuho Kajita, and local staff began the trek to Lenak valley to set up the BC.
Climbing to P 6070 (L15)
On 12 August, student members and local staff set up the base camp (4830 m) in the left branch of the Lenak valley (N33-05-44.7, E77-02-54.8). After setting up the BC, the students made a reconnaissance of the east face of P 6070 (L15). The lower face, covered with loose rocks and scree, was hard to climb. We had to pay careful attention to falling rocks throughout the lower face. We climbed up to 5100 m and returned to BC, leaving cairns on our climbing route. On 14 August, we made a reconnaissance of the west face of P 6070. The west face had a dangerous hanging serac and we judged that the east face was the best route.
We went up the loose scree slowly and reached 5300 m on 15 August carrying tents and ropes up to the spot at 5400 m on 17 August.
On 20 August, four Japanese members went up the loose scree and reached 5600 m. The slope was covered with hard snow from 5400 m. We used new ice axes and fixed a 50 m rope on the difficult part. As our physical condition was good, we decided to push to the summit in one day.
To the summit of P 6070 (L15)
We left BC at 5:00 a.m. on 22 August and reached the deposit point at 8:30 a.m. Around 11:00 a.m., the slope became steep and we started to climb up safely, one at a time. It was very difficult to use snow bars because the snow was very hard. We ascended six pitches on the knife edged snow ridge. Then we were on a loose rock plateau. It was the summit of P 6070 (L15)! From the summit, we saw many fascinating virgin peaks that would need good climbing skill. We took photos and belayed eight pitches of down-climbing to our lovely base camp, reaching at 7:30 p.m. It was the most exciting 14 hours in our mountaineering life.
We named this peak ‘Gyalmo Kangri’. Gyalmo means queen in Ladakhi. In the words of Sakamoto ‘We could see the beautiful snow peak mountain P 6070 (L15) and big rock wall mountain P 6180 (L14) on our left. The beautiful elegant mountain P 6070 (L15) can be called as Princess of Lenak or Lenak Kangri. The big rocky mountains maybe is King of Lenak’1. We were impressed with his idea and named this peak Gyalmo Kangri, consulting with our Zanskari guide, Tsewang Ynagphel.
There still are many attractive virgin peaks in this area. We hope many expedition teams will attempt the beautiful mountains in Zanskar.
First ascent of P 6070 (L15) named Gyalmo Kangri by a team from the Gakushuin Alpine Club (GAC) in Japan.
Shuhei Yoshida was an excellent student climber in Japan. Unfortunately, he lost his life in February 2015 in a mountaineering accident while climbing Mt Yatsugatake in Japan. He was training and mentoring younger girl students of the Gakushuin University Alpine Club when this happened.
A British expedition into the unknown
After 18 months in the planning, on 21 June 2015, a seven-man team departed London, United Kingdom destined for the Rongdo valley in the Eastern Karakoram. The aim of the expedition was to summit a 6000 m+ unclimbed peak via the largely unexplored upper SE Shukpa Kunchang and Sagtogpa glaciers. Permits to this part of the Karakoram are very difficult to obtain, often being issued at the last moment. We received our permits four weeks prior to our departure, leaving us just enough time to get everything sorted.
The Rongdo valley is a subsidiary branch of the larger Shyok valley situated in the Ladakh region of the Eastern Karakoram, India. The idea for the expedition originally came about when Ed, our expedition leader, visited Leh whilst leading a youth expedition in 2013. During Ed’s trip the potential for unclimbed peaks in the area became apparent after discussions with porters working with trekking agents. 18 months later we were in Delhi being assigned our liaison officer at the Indian Mountaineering Foundation - Munesh Kumar Kulshrestha was to accompany us for the next 28 days.
Departing Delhi the next morning we journeyed to Leh, 3400 m above sea level, where we spent five days acclimatizing and making final preparations for the expedition, as well as finding time to visit the many stupas and beautiful temples that overlook the city. After our five day acclimatization period we made the long journey by jeep over to the Rongdo valley, travelling over the Khardung la – claimed to be the world’s highest motorable road.
The first half of the Rongdo valley is surrounded by jagged peaks that rise up from the valley floor, connected by complex ridges. Further up the valley the geology seems to change, marked by the presence of hot springs where dome topped mountains are knitted together by sweeping glaciers which become ever more present as you ascend.
We trekked for six days to reach base camp (4800 m) from the village of Rongdo (3200 m). Unfortunately one team member was suffering with the altitude and had to spend a further two nights in Rongdo to recover, catching up with the rest of the team at Fatha (4250 m). From our camp at Fatha we finally set eyes on our main objective, a peak referred to by the 2013 Indian Air Force Expedition as Pyramid Peak, for the purposes of our expedition we had denoted this as Peak X3. This peak distinctively guards the upper Rongdo valley and being almost symmetrical in shape, was very aesthetic. Despite the peak’s prominence, our extensive research prior to the expedition had confirmed that it was still unclimbed.
We arrived at base camp on 4 July and promptly established an initial advanced base camp at 5200 m the following day. This camp was then moved to a higher position of 5430 m, just below the SE Shukpa Kunchang glacier, after a recce of the Sagtogpa glacier the next day. Once advance base camp had been established, we all returned to base camp to allow for a rest day before our first summit attempt.
Above base camp the terrain consisted mainly of moraine. There was a considerable amount of snow on the mountains and glaciers covering any potential crevasse hazards. On our first foray above base camp the snow line was initially around 5100 m, this had risen to 5400 m by the time we departed 13 days later. There was evidence of large avalanches occurring through visible crown walls high up on the mountains.
On 7 July, five members of the team set off from base camp. On the way up to advanced base camp we discovered fresh snow leopard tracks but unfortunately no sightings of the elusive leopard were made. After a few hours’ sleep we left the tents at midnight. With one member staying behind, as he was not feeling well, the remaining four-man team set off up the initial snow slope and onto the virgin Sagtogpa glacier towards an obvious col. Poor snow conditions slowed progress initially, however, as we made our way across the glacier, snow conditions improved considerably. Route finding was straightforward with good visibility and no crevasses and as we approached the col we could see there was no bergschrund.
All four members arrived at the col between Peak X3 and Ngapo Kangri (Rongdo I) at 4:00 a.m. and started up the southeast ridge, however, from our vantage point we could see that the ridge was corniced and looked steeper than we expected. Good progress was made up short snow ramps of 50/60 degrees, the climbing was very absorbing with incredible views to the surrounding 6000 m and 7000 m peaks. The team reached a height of 6050 m before turning around due to poor weather approaching and concerns that the cornices would weaken in the sun. After a short discussion we headed back down to advanced base camp and after a few hours rest in the tents, we set off back to base camp with the intention of recovering and planning another summit attempt in the next few days. On returning to base camp, we noticed a marked change in the clear, settled weather we had been experiencing, with rain, snow and poor visibility.
After plenty of rest and good base camp food all seven team members made their way up to advanced base on 11 July. Unfortunately, the weather deteriorated further with additional snowfall. We stayed at advanced base camp for two nights waiting for a break in the weather to launch our summit bid, however conditions remained poor. By now time was against us and we reluctantly packed up the tents and returned to base camp.
The trek down to Rongdo took two days, frustratingly the weather improved considerably on our descent back down the valley. With plenty of fresh snowfall from the previous weeks’ bad weather the warmer conditions were causing significant snow melt, swelling the rivers that carved through the valley. The higher river levels required early morning crossings to ensure our safe passage. The team arrived back in Leh on 16 July and returned back to the UK, via Delhi, two days later.
A foray into the Rongdo valley in the Eastern Karakoram and an attempt on a 6000+ m peak by a British team
Ed Poulter (expedition leader), Andrew Basford, Katie Farrell, Mathew Fuller, Steve Hutton, Katie Mckay, Dan Slome and Munesh Kumar Kulshrestha (LO).
Yorkshire-based outdoor instructor Ed loves to spend his free time getting out mountaineering, fell running, climbing and caving, meeting all the amazing people that make these sports so much fun. He takes every opportunity he can to get away and explore new places in the UK and further afield, and finally planned an Indian Himalaya expedition in 2015 into a previously unexplored area.
A joint expedition to Nyainqentanglha West
Tim (Tatsuo) Inoue
1) Attempt to Bada Ri (Pata Kangri 6516 m) and the first ascent of Ta Ri (6330 m)
The joint expedition was organized to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Alpine Club of Kobe University established in 1915. This is the third joint expedition held by Kobe university and Chinese University of Geosciences. Que-er Shan 6168 m (Sichuan) in 1986 and Lopchin Feng 6805 m (Kangri Garpo) in 2009 were successful first ascents.
The name Bada Ri comes from Tibetan ‘Pa’ and ‘Ta’ which means pig or boar and tiger or snow leopard. ‘Ri’ means mountain, but a snow and ice covered mountain is called ‘Kangri’ in Tibetan. When we returned to base camp ‘Ta Ri’ was the name given by local people after they knew of our first ascent of that peak.
Bada Ri is the last unclimbed above 6500 m peak in the Nyainqentanglha west mountains located in the middle of the range. The peak is hidden by other peaks and stands in the deep north end of Bada Qu valley. No explorer and climber had been entered in the valley until we came in 2015.
On October 23, the base camp (5250 m) was set up on the brown meadow near the confluence of two glacier valleys in the Bada Qu. Seven Japanese (two students) led by leader Tim Inoue and climbing leader Takeru Yamada, two Tibetan climbers and seven Chinese (five students) led by co-leader Prof. Dong Fan were assembled. It took three days to carry loads to BC by 14 yaks from the temporary base camp (4800 m) at the road end in the Bada Qu upper valley of Natsu village.
Bada Qu and the route to Ta Ri and Bada Ri
On October 27, after three days of route finding and load carrying to camp1 (5700 m on the southwest Bada glacier), six members made a summit push. At 4:18 a.m., they went up on the left flank of the glacier to the south-west ridge of Bada Ri. The steep slope of the route was covered by hard ice. 30 m and 100 m ropes were fixed on the wall.
At 9:02, they reached the snow covered shoulder peak on the southwest ridge of Bada Ri. The GPS indicated 6330 m. This peak was christened Ta Ri.
Ta Ri 6330 m and Bada Ri 6516 m
To the summit of Ta Ri. Chagla and Qungmo Kangri in the distance
From the shoulder peak, a sharp snow covered ridge goes down 10 to 20 m to a col and again rises to the summit. Three members tried to climb the ridge, but they could not make the summit of Bada Ri because of piles of loose rocks on the summit ridge. Packed thin snow melting in the sun made the stacked rocks unstable.
The icy steep slopes both sides of the ridge were avalanche washed. They understood that climbing to the summit meant suicide.
The weather was perfect during our expedition, blue sky every day, a little snow fall sometimes, but no piled up snow.
On October 29, we returned to Lhasa. The Chinese TibetMountaineering Association (CTMA)invited us to a celebratory dinner party.
The first ascent of Ta Ri was officially certified by CTMA.
After the Nepal earthquake in April, all Himalayan expeditions were cancelled thus ours was the only expedition to Tibet in the autumn of 2015.
Map1 Nyainqentanglha West & View Points research tours in 2014 and 2015.jpg
On the summit of Ta Ri 6330 m
2) Field research of peaks in the Nyainqentanglha west mountains
The Nyainqentanglha West mountains run from the northeast to the southwest, about 280 km in length. The Nam Tso (4729 m), the highest salty lake in the world, lies on the northern sides of the mountains. The mountain range is relatively popular in Tibet. Two 7000 m peaks, Nyainqentanglha Shan (7162 m) and Qungmo Kangri (7048 m), have already been climbed.
However, over 200 peaks captured by Google Earth and ASTER GDEM which are over 6000 m are located in the range and most of these are unclimbed. Golden Dragon (6614 m) and Samdain Kang Sang (6590 m) are well known and already climbed. There is only one unclimbed peak over 6500 m, Bada Ri (6516 m). According to our research, around 30 peaks have been climbed but there are many unclimbed peaks in the range.
The author’s parties have been studying peaks and have identified peaks from View Point 1 to 6 (Map1) through research tours in 2014 and 2015.
View Point 1 : Yangbajain & northeast, outside city
Golden Dragon 6614 m
Kyizi 6150 m and Luzi 6206 m - S.E.
NW100 6360 m
Nyainqentanglha Shan 7216 m from View Point 2
Looking forward to the north, at Yangbajain over the open field of the dale, a white dome Kyizi (6150 m) on the left and a rocky three spears type pinnacle Luzi (6206 m) on the right stand in front of the Nyainqentanglha mountains. Turning to the left, Qungmo Kangri (7048 m) stands on the far west hill.
Going to the outskirts of the town, to the northeast on G109, Golden Dragon, Chaggar Ri (6432 m) and a mysterious pyramidal peak NW100 (6360 m) are spectacular. However, many peaks in the deep valleys cannot be seen.
View Point 2 : 30-19-40.77 N 90-53-45.60 E , 4664 m
The research party in 2014 climbed to the View Point 2 on the south hill of the dale. They could get pictures of Samdain Kangsang group to the far north-east, Zhana Rizi –Tunzi Qubu group and Nyainqentanglha main peak group on the opposite side of the valley. Furthermore, Kyizi-Luzi group was visible and they took good pictures of the peaks lying behind Luzi.
The south face of Samdain Kangsang group
View Point 3 : Nam Tso
When we visited Nam Tso in November 2015, the water surface seemed lower than its normal level.
The sacred Buddhist point on a small peninsula on the southeast shore of the lake was a good view point for our research of the northern part of the mountains. The scenery of peaks from the View Point 3 is the most popular in the Nyainqentanglha mountains. It was cloudy when we visited in October 2015 and could not see any peaks in the Samdain Kangsang group, but in 2014, we had gotten good pictures.
Qungmo Kangri 7048 m
Suoge 6366 m
Xabu 6340 m
View Point 4, 4A, 4B : Xoggu La (5290 m) and Xoggula Peak (5800 m)
View Point 4 (Xoggu La (5290 m) and Xoggula Peak (5800 m) is the best place to watch Qungmo Kangri and other northern peaks such as NW-140 (6400 m), Suoge (6366 m) and Xabu (6340 m).
Five peaks of Bada Ri group
View Point 5 : The summit of Ta Ri 6330 m
The 360 degree panorama picture taken on the top of Ta Ri (6330 m) , View Point 5, where the ACKU 2015 expedition party climbed provides good profiles of many hidden peak in the middle area of Nyainqentanglha west mountains. Five peaks of Bada Ri were unveiled. NW100 (6360 m), Boring (6384 m) and Chagla (6428 m) on the Ridge of Gurin Qu / Gilha Qu divide, opened their faces to us.
Panorama from the summit of Ta Ri South-western view
NW100 has a 6428 m elevation on Google Earth. We thought it was incorrect because a few pictures taken from the View Point 1 and 2 shows that the peak looks much higher than the nearest two peaks, NW101 and NW102. The ASTER GDEM data provided us 6360 m. Its height is more likely 6360 m.
View Point 6 : Kyizi ridge
Another good place is View Point 6 that is on the ridge between NW108 and NW160 just west of Kyizi. Tibet Mountaineering School (TMS) often has its training on Kyizi. Deqing Ouzhu, our expedition member, who graduated from TMS and is a student of CUGW took pictures from View Point6 in October 2015. NW100, NW101 (6251 m) and NW102 (6144 m) in the deep valley of Gilha Qu are viewed. Both pictures from Ta Ri and the View Point 6 give us clear identification of the peaks.
From View Point 6
A joint expedition of Kobe university and Chinese University of Geosciences was organized to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Alpine Club of Kobe University established in 1915. They made the first ascent of Ta Ri 6330 m and attempted Bada Ri (Pata Kangri 6516 m) in the Nyainqentanglha West mountains in Tibet. A survey of peaks in the area was made.
Tim (Tatsuo) Inoue is a 68 years old mechanical engineer who has been climbing mountains since the ‘60s! In 1974 he attempted Sherpi Kangri (Western Karakorams) and made the first ascent in 1976. In 2009 he made the first ascent of Lopchin Feng in the Kangri Garpo mountains and in 2015, of Ta Ri. He is the President of the Alpine Club of Kobe university.