Nagato and I never indulged in a happy and pleasant mood throughout the six days of the ascent. However, I have no memory of having experienced such fulfillment and satisfaction in 30 years of my mountaineering life.
In the summer of 2014 Takashi Nagato, Ryo Masumoto and I attempted a traverse from unclimbed Badal peak (ca. 6100 m) to K7 West (6615 m). Badal peak is located on the right bank of the Charakusa glacier in the eastern part of the Karakoram range in Pakistan. Although we made the first ascent of Badal peak in four climbing days, we could not complete the traverse to K7 West.
In 2017, Yusuke Sato joined us for a second visit to the Charakusa glacier. Masumoto and Sato had an eye on the big wall climbing surrounding the glacier. Nagato and I again challenged the traverse. The team split into two groups.
The climb on K7
Yokoyama following dinosaur-like ridge; pitch 30 of Sun Patch Spur, on day 3 (Nagato)
In July 2017, upon arriving at base camp, we resumed a reconnaissance of surrounding mountains and repeatedly made forays for acclimatization. However because of bad weather, we were unable to go higher than 5800 m.
We had two objectives in mind. One was the southwest ridge of the K7 main peak. This was one of the last major projects left in this area, but since the whole ridge was partially traced by several parties, the unknown factor had reduced so it was no longer very appealing. On the other hand, the traverse from Badal peak to K7 West was alluring as the climbing would be technically more challenging. In addition we thought that if the lower rock wall started from untouched buttress on the left of the route which we had previously attempted, climbing itself would be more attractive.
On 2 August, we departed for rope fixing. The lower rock wall was the most essential part that needed enough time to negotiate. We decided to spend a day fixing ropes – this allowed us to free climb for at least one day. Both lead and follow were free-climbing for the first half of the day. After nine pitches we deposited gears on a small terrace and descended fixing all the ropes.
Nagato climbing on the very top of Badal peak, in the evening of day 3
After two days of rest, we left the base camp at 3:00 a.m. on 5 August and followed the fixed ropes. At the highest point previously reached, we threw down a haul bag with now unnecessary ropes (safely recovered after the descent). For further climbing we decided that Nagato was to lead the pitch on the rock wall parts, beyond which I was to lead all the way. Nagato’s ability was unquestionable while I was more experienced in traverses and accustomed to climb carrying heavy loads. So we divided the tasks to seek maximum efficiency.
Up to 5.10 in free climbing, Nagato led the pitch with a light load and I carried 15 kg loads. As the angle of the wall was not gentle, we had no chance of simul-climbing. On harder pitches, Nagato led with no pack and I followed him with light loads sometimes using jugging. Route finding on the buttress was complicated. The wall was steep in places so we had to rely on aid-climbing at times. In the afternoon of the third day, we finished the lower rock wall by artificial climbing along the single crack running on a 60 m rock face and then we carried on continuous climbing on ice-snow face mixed with rocks. We further continued climbing and complicated rappelling to the summit of Badal peak. We stood atop just at sunset.
The traverse to K7 West
We saw the fourth day’s morning begin on the summit of Badal Peak. The way from here to K7 West is a ridge with rock peaks and ice- snow walls that appear intermittently with caps in between. More importance was placed on complicated route finding than climbing ability. The need of the day was speedy and accurate judgment of tactics needed such as rappelling and continuous climbing.
We changed our route in a hurry, to tackle the buttress waiting for us on the last part of the ridge. We chose to detour it and pass beneath a huge serac on the north side of the ridge. The serac looked awful from afar, but as we approached, it seemed relatively stable. Notwithstanding, we cannot say that there was no danger. However if we had chosen the other way, it would have been riskier and we would have failed to reach the summit.
We went down to an ice wall by rappelling 60 m and traversing it at 60°– 65°. It took some two hours for these pitches. We found a way out through a crevasse inside a 30 m high serac to reach the summit plateau. We decided a bivouac point here. As it was still good light, we resumed our climb for the summit. But the snow was deep as we were forced to make a snowplow to the waist. In ten minutes we gave up going farther and went to our sleeping bags to start before dawn next day. Snow on our tent woke us up at midnight. The snowfall got stronger and powder-snow avalanche incessantly hit the tent. We spent a sleepless night, “Is it possible to reach the summit tomorrow?”
But when we looked out at 4:00 a.m. good luck was with us. There was a blue sky and the new snowfall had not filled the front slope. We got into action preparing a small pack with water, some food, outfit for cold weather and head lights.
We ascended a wide snow ridge for two hours. Being belayed by Nagato I ascended 30 m on the last slope leading to the summit. The slope became gentle and dense fog engulfed us. We crouched, felt our whereabouts and finally concluded that we were right on the summit.
Nagato following up on the knife edge ridge between Badal peak and K7 west, on day 4
We took a few pictures, buried a snow-picket and left the summit after five minutes by rappelling down. We packed the tent and soon descended the northwest face. Rappelling, hooked with only one snow-picket in the air along the first serac was dreadful. However once on the northwest face, we could easily repeat rappelling using angled rocks and V-thread. On the way down a storm came. Being soaked we descended to the glacier and set up a tent. On the morning of the sixth day we again ascended the opposite ridge and then descended the slope on the other side. Before noon were safely at base camp. The six long days were over.
Reminiscences and Sentiments
Nagato and I never indulged in a happy and pleasant mood throughout the six days of the ascent. However, I have no memory of having experienced such fulfillment and satisfaction in 30 years of my mountaineering life. Which was the most interesting, the most difficult among my climbs in the past? None can compare or take precedence. The K7 West Traverse is the most memorable milestone that I have attained through my lifetime in mountaineering.
Nagato (left) and Yokoyama on the summit of K7 west
I have been continuously challenged by climbs in freezing Alaska, Himalayan giants and Bolivian Andes and Patagonia covered with ice and snow. These experiences improved my mixed climbing techniques and also stepped up skills and mental strength to make it possible to continue climbing in the worst and miserable conditions. Successive climbing in Denali in 2008, the first ascent of Logan southeast face in 2010, Fitz Roy massif in Patagonia are good examples of success endorsed by these experiences. But finally our technique and power was not enough for this expedition. The lower rock wall was huge and very difficult to climb. All four members of the expedition were coincidently 38 years old, born in the same year, 1979. We are happy that we could achieve an ideal and remarkable ascent in the greater Himalaya.
The weather was rather unstable during the expedition. The sky was covered with clouds and we were often tossed about by rain and snow. But good weather blessed us when it mattered. The bright sun of Karakoram not only softly warmed us but also scorched us as if we were in hell. Recollecting that we had been at the mercy of sun, we named our ascent route ‘Sun Patch Spur’.
Katsutaka Yokoyama and Takashi Nagato completed the first traverse of the southwest ridge of K7 West (6615 m) via the Sun Patch Spur (ED+ /5.11c R, A2, M5, 90°). They first climbed the southwest face of Badal Peak and then traversed the upper ridge to the summit of K7. They descended the northwest face. The whole climb was completed over six days during August 5–10, 2017.
KATSUTAKA ‘JUMBO’ YOKOYAMA was born in 1979 and began climbing when he was eight years old. He says he lives for two passions; Climbing, and being with family—wife, Chihiro, and three kids.
The next day we woke up before 3:00 a.m. The forecast still maintained that the weather window would soon be closed. We had to touch the summit before the storm came in.
The snow stopped before dawn but started again when we arrived at our tent. It got heavier and heavier as we went down and spindrift then became avalanche, coming down from every direction, making the whole place like hell. It turned out to be a big heavy storm that affected a large part of the Indian Himalaya. Even in Manali, 130 km from where we were, tourist buses were carried away by the flooding river.
En route to BC
We were so wet, I almost cried. But our only option was to keep going to get out of here and see our families again.
One day in March, I got a message from Hiroki. “I’m going to India with Yusuke this fall. I’m wondering if you want to join us”. At the time I’d become a father five months ago and I was on parental leave, spending the whole time with my wife and daughter. It did not seem likely that I would go on an expedition this year. But the photo he sent along with message was too beautiful to refuse.
Hiroki and I had done a new route on Kangnachugo’s south face two years ago. Although I have never done an expedition with Yusuke, I had done some big routes with him in Japanese Alps. I knew that it could not get better—the three of us doing something big in the Himalaya so I immediately replied with a “Yes!”
On 25 August, we landed in Delhi. IMF issued a permit for Cerro Kishtwar only a week earlier and then after a dispute with the Indian embassy, they finally gave us a mountain visa just four days prior to departure. Reaching Manali a day after we arrived, we spent a day to check food and other stuff, then made our way to the small town of Gulabgarh the next day with some exposed driving along the cliff and then took a heli to skip a day and half of travel. We spent time in Machail, eating, drinking and playing with Tenjin and his family while our guide Khemsingh walked with the cook and porters.
After a three-day hike, we set up our base camp at around 3900 m on 2 September.
The seven-day acclimatizing trip was not much fun in the rain, but on the last day we saw the whole northeast face and were able to check the line. There were some climbable lines but one that was hazard free seemed limited. The lower section looked relatively easy but higher up, falling object hazards seemed likely when the sun hit the wall and so speed would be the key. The middle section got steeper with a skinny ice pillar and mixed sections. Finally the head wall consisted of a slab with thin ice on it.
On Sep 19, after six days of watching movies, eating and drinking under a mostly perfect blue sky at BC, we set out for ABC with five days’ worth food and fuel for the wall and some extra for the approach. Weather still looked fine. But when we checked the weather forecast at ABC, it had changed to something we’d never seen before.
“There is an elephant in the room! 40% chance of snow, more than 20 cm per night from day after tomorrow” I said. “Dude, should we pretend we didn’t see it or...” “Try to go to the summit in two days, then...we can make it somehow, plus it is just a forecast, it might be wrong”.
The next morning we saw some clouds for the first time since the last four days. We definitely needed to hurry. We climbed up first 500 m in snow gully without a rope. Then Yusuke led the first pillar, moved up another 250 m in few hours then swapped the lead with Hiroki. Ice got thin and angles got steeper. He tapped and kicked carefully but went first. We climbed simultaneously on one rope and gained 1000 m on day one.
While Yusuke chopped the ledge for a bivvy, I climbed one more pitch with Hiroki and fixed the rope. The bivvy spot was three stars out of five; 70% of the tent floor was on the ledge. We sneaked into the tent around 9:00 p.m., 15 hours after leaving ABC.
NE face with ascent line
The next day we woke up before 3:00 a.m. The forecast still maintained that the weather window would soon be closed. We had to touch the summit before the storm came in.
The skinny ice pillar looked pretty fragile but this was the only way to go higher. I carefully kicked the hanging icicle but it easily shattered into fragments. I put most of my weight on my tools and made another swing. It was short but so steep that I suffocated.
As we got higher the wall got steeper. Another steep ice and tricky mixed pitch led to the head wall which at first looked like solid ice. But soon we learnt of the soft snow and thin ice on the slab. I gave the lead end of the rope to Yusuke and he went for it. He ran it out for more than 10 m without any protection. I was glad that was his turn!
The sun went down and it got dark but we needed to go to the summit before the storm came. We left our tent and sleeping bags behind so we moved light, but slow. Even after negotiating the head wall, climbing was not easy. As I jumared I saw the blink of Yusuke and Hiroki’s headlamp high above, searching the way. I tried to scream “Why don’t we stop and have some tea and sleep!”
He short-fixed the rope and went up fast. Then his headlamp stopped moving on the snow ridge. I jumared up and went over the cornice. Then we walked up knee deep snow for 30 m. We saw the slightly lower south summit between the clouds and knew we were on the true summit. It was already 10:00 p.m. Summiting in the dark is very boring. You see nothing more than darkness but I was also happy to be here.
We immediately started to descend. Summit is only a half-way goal – the final goal is to meet our families. Yusuke and Hiroki had to go the preschool event of their sons right after this expedition. Story tellers usually don’t talk about too much about descending, but it is as important as ascending (especially when you have go down almost non-stop for nearly 40 hours in a heavy storm).
As I stepped toward Yusuke after a few rappels and Hiroki joined us on the tiny ledge, we decided to stop and brew some tea. I leaned against the rock and grabbed the Reactor from the pack. I glimpsed to the left but Yusuke had almost fallen asleep and Hiroki was struggling with spindrift that came down constantly on his knee.
Snow started to fall and it piled up on our laps and shoulders, so we had to clean it up every 20 minutes.
“Hey, we got to go, this is like a Buddhist monk standing under the waterfall rather than bivouacking!” I said. We moved again before dawn. Snow had stopped but it was still foggy.
We arrived at the first camp around noon. Resting an hour, we started rappelling again. I hammered solid two pitons and went down. Hiroki had dropped off his belay device so he had to rappel with a ‘munter hitch’1. Yusuke took off a piece from the anchor and followed us.
Yusuke before the upper wall
The snow got heavier and spindrift turned to avalanche – the whole mountain was roaring. After 20 rappels we reached first snow gully where we had climbed without a rope. But here avalanche was even heavier, there was no way down except to keep on rappelling. As we got lower the rock got looser. We kept on moving almost 36 hours without much sleep. I almost fell asleep while I was on belay, waiting for the others. My daughter then talked to me, saying, “Dad, be very careful, make sure everything is OK”.
It was 30 m to the big terrace, free from avalanche but I couldn’t find anything to put a piece, it was more like mud than rock. I was going to down climb but on second thought I buried an ice axe and tied myself in. Then while we rappelled on it, two big avalanches hit Hiroki and Yusuke. Hiroki was almost swept away—it was the axe that saved his life, or all our lives.
Around 11:00 p.m. on Day 3, we found a flat spot where we could pitch a tent. It was the first time in 41 hours that we lay down to sleep.
The next morning we made another three rappels along the ridge which was relatively safe and we stood on the glacier—only to swim in 60 inches of snow. Hiroki found a part of our tent pole that stuck out a few inches from the snow—ABC had been completely buried under the snow. We cleared the snow and re-pitched the tent. We were wet and tired but our hearts were filled with happiness. It wasn’t over. While we were eating and brewing, avalanche blasts hit the tent a few times. But no one suggested that we should move. Around 8:00 p.m. another blast shook the tent strongly. “Are we OK to be here?” I said. Short silence then,
“Shall we move?” Yusuke replied. “Yes let’s do this” said Hiroki.
Another mission began at midnight. We put on boots and soaked jackets and went out. The snow was already more than waist deep and we could do nothing. The best way was to literary crawl like babies. It took us four hours to move only 200 m but here we found small cave under a rock so we squeezed our tent in there. Yusuke had lost some sight probably from high altitude but we knew we were safe and we could stay here until he felt okay.
Snow finally stopped falling the next day. But Yusuke’s sight wasn’t perfect and the snow was still waist deep so we decided to stay there for a day.
On Day 6 [25th] the sky cleared and the snow firmed up so we could walk back easily to base camp and we celebrated with beer and whisky.
On the wall
We were finally on Delhi airport celebrating our climbing; celebrating that we could make it to our flight, but without any beer. It was a “Dry Day” so of course nobody could have a drop of alcohol in the whole of India.
Yesterday we were still in Dorje—our local guide’s house in Gulabgarh, 600 km north from Delhi, not knowing if we could fly back to Japan. The storm had affected the whole area. The BC was buried with 50 cm of snow – it was impossible for mules to come. Even the pass going to Manali was closed so we had to head to Jammu and finally Delhi just seven hours before our flight.
“What about the name of our route?” Yusuke asked. “Whatever”, I replied.
“How about AAL IZZ WELL?” he said, mentioning the song from Indian movie 3 Idiots that we had watched during acclimatization. “Because we had bad weather during acclimatization then the storm hit us on the wall, climbing was difficult and descending was even harder and dangerous but we were never pessimistic”.
I thought quoting from the movie is kind of silly, but we had stayed at BC watching movies under a perfect blue sky, then climbing in the storm... who could be more idiotic than us?
I said “OK, I don’t know about AAL IZZ WELL, but we are truly three idiots!”
Going light and fast during a short weather window, Japanese climbers Genki Narumi, Yusuke Sato and Hiroki Yamamoto chalked in a new route on the northeast face of Cerro Kishtwar (6173m) in India, between September 20–25, 2018. They named their route All Izz Well (VI WI5 M6, 1500 m).
GENKI NARUMI started mountaineering and climbing when he was a teenager. Since then it is part of his life. When he is not swinging an ice axe, he loves to be in Hakuba for backcountry skiing, or go bouldering with his 18-month old daughter, Yoshino.
Camp 2 was an even smaller ledge that we unsuccessfully managed to enlarge with rocks, sadly these ended up like a bed of nails for Guy to sleep on.
Many people travel to Gangotri to wash in the Ganges, some of them then trek to Bhojbasa and a few carry on to Gaumukh where the Ganges breaks out of the Gangotri glacier. An even smaller number of committed pilgrims and trekkers carry on to Tapovan and spend a couple of days there. Occasionally teams of mountaineers walk even further up the valley to the majestic peak Shivling, even fewer of the climbers go beyond to access peaks like Kedar Dome or the Bhagirathis. Our plan was to carry on up the glacier almost as far as it’s possible to go, beyond Karchakund to the unclimbed peak Janhukot.
The team was made up of climbers Malcolm Bass, Guy Buckingham and Paul Figg, assisted by a support team of our liaison officer Vikram Ghiyal, porters and staff from Rimo Adventures: special mention must be made of our base camp cook Santabir Sherpa whose cooking knew no limits. Without their assistance we wouldn’t have made it out of Gangotri. We also had the company of photographer Hamish Frost who was coming along to make a film and photograph the expedition. Malcolm and Paul had made the trek from Gangotri before on an earlier attempt on Janhukot in 2004 and Malcolm again in 2014 with Simon Yearsley for his 2nd try at Janhukot. This was Guy’s first attempt on Janhukot and we were all hoping not to have to make the long trek up the Gangotri glacier again.
Janhukot was first spotted by an Austrian/German expedition to the Gangotri basin in 1938 but no attempt on the peak was made. The first known attempt was made by Prashanta Roy, Atanu Chatterjee, Sushana Majumder, and Dibya Mukherjee in 1989. In 2002 an Austrian team was unable to reach the mountain due to heavy snowfall. The next attempt was in 2004 by a joint British / New Zealand team attempting two different lines. Malcolm Bass, Paul Figg and Andy Brown attempted the south west buttress, turning round below 6000 m after a snowy bivouac. New Zealanders Pat Deavoll and Marty Beare reached the south ridge via the broad and serac threatened couloir on the West Face, before being turned back by altitude sickness.
Indian Himalaya-Garhwal map
Approaching South ridge (Guy Buckingham)
Bryan Hylenski, Anindya Mukherjee and friends made two attempts between 2010 and 2013 from the basin on the east of the mountain on to the south ridge. In 2014, Malcolm Bass made his second attempt along with Simon Yearsley, climbing the SW buttress onto the south ridge, turning back late in the day on the Castle feature high (over 6600 m) on the south ridge. In 2016, Hylenski and John Miller found the mountain in extremely dry post monsoon condition—with no snow on the SW buttress they attempted the west face couloir turning back before the south ridge.
Formalities completed in Delhi with the Indian Mountaineering Foundation we took another step forward to our goal after a year’s planning and training to get fit—all being around 50 years old we needed to be in as good condition as possible to give us the best chance of success.
Three days drive from Delhi via Uttarkashi and Rishikesh and we were at the end of the road in Gangotri on 18 May. Gangotri is such a wonderful colourful place full of the hustle and bustle of tourists, pilgrims and trekkers all making their own expedition. For the team it was another psychological step closer to the mountain as well as a physical step as we needed to start thinking seriously about getting everyone to base camp in the best possible condition. The day after we arrived in Gangotri, 3100 m, our acclimatization plan moved into gear with a walk up toward Thalay Sagar before turning round at 3900 m. It was wonderful to be stretching the legs and breathing fresh mountain air. However the next day Guy woke feeling unwell and unsure whether to start the trek to base camp. Keen not to delay things early on, with the aid of our team of porters we all moved off Bhojbasa 3800 m along with pilgrims and trekkers. It soon became obvious how much expeditions rely on porters and support staff to make our dreams possible, as without them we’d never have made the three day walk to BC at 4400 m below Shivling.
Once at BC we relaxed with the luxury of ‘bed tea’ and Santabir’s superb cooking and regularly checked the weather from our Delorme InReach, before acclimatizing on Kedar Dome. This 6831 m peak is ideal with easy access from BC, non-technical ground that gives easy height gain. With our first camp at 5000 m and then second camp at 5500 m it snowed overnight presenting the dilemma of wading through fresh snow to gain some valuable altitude at the expense of energy or just heading down, not having managed to get to 6000 m that we were hoping for. We decided to put in another 200 m of ascent for good measure before heading back to BC. At least Hamish managed to get some good photographs and Vikram gained some experience.
Back at base camp it was time to put the feet up and rest for a couple of days knowing that it wouldn’t be long before it was time to move on again. There was however some excellent bouldering nearby to play on and help us all relax and try to maintain a bit of finger strength for rock climbing back home. Evenings were spent eating, chatting, and watching films on a laptop computer. After several attempts at packing sacks, and then re-packing them, we got them down to an acceptable weight. This involved leaving behind our planned breakfasts, much to Guys annoyance, and making do with 1400 calories per day per person for our planned eight day round trip to the head of the glacier, up the mountain, and back. We were as ready to go as we’d ever be.
On 1 June it became obvious why Janhukot hadn’t received many attempts—with the first day of an arduous 18 km trek to get to the peak. Luckily we had the help of Hamish, Vikram, our High Altitude Porter Pemba Sherpa and Sirdar Anoop Tamang to share loads as we battled our way through the energy sapping, ankle snapping, and soul destroying moraine to get onto the glacier proper. At lunchtime on the second day we reached the junction of the Gangotri and Maindani glaciers under the south west buttress of Janhukot (5000 m). The plan was that Hamish and Pemba would stay there to record what they could of our attempt whilst Vikram and Anoop would return to BC. With a few hours to spare we took the opportunity to scout out our planned line of ascent up the south west buttress. Luckily it looked like a snow bridge existed across the bergschrund that would give access to the face.
With only a few hours’ sleep to calm the nerves we were awake at midnight anxiously packing sacks but keen to be moving and free to concentrate on the climb. We all had that mix of the excitement of beginning the climb, and nerves about the conditions on the mountain, the weather, our fitness and the difficulty of what lay ahead.
Leaving Hamish behind as we crossed the bergschrund it was good to be on the climb after over a year of planning that at last everything was coming together. The day was almost exactly as we’d hoped for, taking the line Bass / Yearsley line of 2012, with the exception of a slight accidental detour into a dead end on the wrong ramp line. The climbing was straightforward though consequential if you relaxed too much. Going up a series of snowy ramp lines, moving un-roped on Scottish grade II–III ground we gained 700 m of height. We arrived at Camp 1 at c 5800 m around 9:00 a.m. This offered a good sized ledge once we’d finished chopping, and was protected from stone fall by an overhanging rock above. Despite the early finish it would have been foolhardy to push on as we’d have ended up in the fall line above us in the afternoon, not a good plan on a west face. Satisfied with the day’s climbing we slept well squeezed into our little tent.
The following morning while packing, Malcolm had the misfortune to drop some of his kit down the face, nothing essential but enough to make life awkward especially as he’d lost his ear plugs to drown out my snoring.
Leaving camp it was time to put the rope up. One of the benefits of climbing a team of three meant less time on the sharp end of the rope on the steep calf straining ice. We were also glad of only having 50 m ropes, again less time on the sharp end. As a result we only made 300 m of vertical height gain, certainly not the ‘fast and light’ day we’d hoped for. Camp 2 was an even smaller ledge that we unsuccessfully managed to enlarge with rocks, sadly these ended up like a bed of nails for Guy to sleep on. At least it did have the benefit of being protected by an overhanging rock so we again got a safe sleep. Day 3 and we were still on ground familiar to Malcolm that led to the junction with the south ridge. It was here that we had the first signs of a change in the weather; what had previously been wonderful clear skies now had threatening clouds forming, along with the odd rumble of thunder thrown in. Push on or retreat? We couldn’t stop where we were, on an exposed knife edge snow ridge so we decided to push on along the ridge, not overly technical but certainly consequential as protection was impossible in the soft snow. We carefully balanced our way along hoping a bivouac site would appear. To our great relief Guy spotted a safe haven 50 m below in a large snow bowl; we couldn’t have wished for anything better. A short abseil took us to safety, an opportunity to take off harnesses and walk about at leisure. The biggest bonus was that we’d be able to pitch the tent on flat ground without having to dig out a ledge. Our spirits rose as we tucked into dinner and planned the next day with a 5:00 a.m. alarm for an attempt on the summit 300 m above.
Traversing the summit ridge (Guy Buckingham)
6 June—we woke as planned at 5:00 a.m. only to find wet, heavy snow flakes falling and poor visibility. We closed the tent door, and discussed options; we settled for a 6:00 a.m. alarm. Six o’clock came and went and the snow kept falling and we talked over the choices. Descend, sit it out and try again the following day and get very hungry, or just get on with it as it was only a typical Scottish day of the sort that we were all used to. We moved off around 7:00 a.m. navigating a way through the maze of rock buttresses with the help of a photograph on Guy’s camera taken the evening before. We joined the south ridge again above The Castle that had stopped Malcolm and Simon in 2014. The line was obvious, along the heavily corniced ridge in front of us. Guy led the way as we moved together with the clouds occasionally clearing giving brief glimpses of what might have been the summit in the distance. Suddenly the cornice gave way under Malcolm’s feet and his legs dangled briefly over the huge drop of the east face, luckily his ice tools and most of his body weight stayed on the up slope side of the break, and the rope wasn’t weighted. We crossed several false summits, but eventually one point ahead looked so promising that Guy made a belay and we all gathered there. Thinking that this might be the one, we offered Malcolm the lead and more confidently he moved up, managing to find solid ice under the snow to place screws. After 30 m or so Guy and I watching from below were both overjoyed to see Malcolm waving his arms enthusiastically; at his 3rd attempt he stood on the summit. We soon both joined to hugs and congratulations all round as the cloud cleared offering stunning views in all directions. After enjoying the summit it was time to retrace our steps down the ridge before dropping back down to our welcoming tent. On the way up, at the belays Guy had done a great job putting in Abalakov threads ready for the abseil descent, another advantage of climbing as a three. Other than Paul taking a short fall into a bergschrund close to the tent, the descent, so far had been straightforward. Getting back to the tent in darkness the stove was soon on for a well-deserved feed and sleep.
Malcolm belaying on summit as Paul Figg approaches (Guy Buckingham)
The following day gave clear blue skies as we descended the south ridge before abseiling and down climbing the south east ridge, then down a couloir into the eastern cwm following the same line Malcolm and Simon had used in 2012. We descended the icefall draining the cwm, reached the Gangotri, then began the slow, hot walk back round to our camp where we’d left Hamish and Pemba five days before. We weren’t surprised to find an empty camp, the comfort of base camp had been too much to resist. After another good night’s sleep on flat ground all we had to do now was find the enthusiasm for the struggle back to BC ourselves. None of us were looking forward to this with the truly awful moraine that we’d have to cross on very tired legs. We were hoping that on our way we’d find help coming up glacier to meet us, so we were overjoyed to see Anoop, Hamish and Vikram coming our way. Refueled by roti, potatoes and chocolate we distributed some of our loads and continued downhill. Back at BC we could all at last relax in the sun knowing that we wouldn’t have to make the long walk up the glacier for another attempt on Janhukot ever again.
Everything had come together on this expedition; we worked well as a climbing team, we had a superb base camp and support team, good weather, good conditions on the mountain, Hamish took great photos and was an excellent companion , and our LO Vikram helped the whole expedition run smoothly.
Janhukot is also referred to as Januhut and Jankuth by other authorities. We are making no claim to having chosen the correct name, we have simply chosen the one which we have seen used most recently.
During 3 June to 7 June 2018 climbers Malcolm Bass, Guy Buckingham, Paul Figg made the first ascent of Janhukot, 6805 m in Gangotri region, Garwhal Himalaya. The route was via south west buttress to south ridge. 3000 m, 1700 m vertical. ED1. Scottish IV.
Their descent was via the south ridge to the south east ridge to the couloir into the eastern glacial basin.
The climbers would like to thank their sponsors and supporters without whom such trips would not be possible:
PAUL FIGG is an outdoor all-rounder and has been fell running, rock climbing and winter climbing in the United Kingdom, French, Italian, Slovenian Alps, Pyrenees for over 30 years as well as expeditions to Alaska, Kazakhstan and India. In 2001 along with Malcolm Bass he established a new route on Mount Hunter, Alaska. In 2011 also with Malcolm Bass he was nominated for a Piolet d’or award for their ascent of the West face of Vasuki Parvat 6792 m in India.
Half of the success of the expedition lies in how well you plan it.
Giripremi mountaineering Club from Pune recently undertook exploration of Bara Shigri glacier in Spiti. Seven members summitted Mt. Cathedral (5888 m) in Bara Shigri glacier on 4 Aug 2018.
A team of nine members left Pune on 21 July 2018 reaching Manali en route to Chhatru and then to Batal, the road head for the expedition. The road had been swept away in many places by landslides. Driving on such terrain was nonetheless as adventurous and challenging as any other mountaineering expedition. During the travel, we stayed one night each at Chhatru and then Batal.
Bara Shigri is the largest glacier in Himachal Pradesh. The trek begins from Batal village (4000 m), where one must cross Karcha nala. After crossing the nala, on the 11 km walk till snout camp (3900 m) we faced continuous rainfall that drenched us completely. I had been to Bara Shigri back in 2014. Gazing from camp, I noticed that the snout of the glacier was depleting rapidly. I wondered how it would look after 4–5 years. Or as a matter of fact, whether it would even exist.
The motor road
View from base camp—left is Khang Shilling, right is Kulu Pumori
Approaching the summit camp. Cathedral on the right and the ice wall is at the centre
After a march of around 6–7 hours from snout camp, we reached intermediate camp (4300 m). The views of Papsura in the west and Kulu Pumori in the north were simply mesmerizing.
Our team rested at the intermediate camp for a day as supplies could not reach in time. This loss of a day would prove to be expensive in the days to come.
From intermediate to base camp (4800 m) was the toughest. Apart from moraine and boulders, this trek involved crossing crevasse fields. Careful crevasses negotiation was important as the smallest error could have proved fatal. The trek began with a visible trail by left side of the glacier through moraine field. Soon the marked trail began to disappear and we found ourselves walking through the central part of the glacier. The trail through this labyrinth had to be led by an experienced and knowledgeable person. After a hectic walk of 10 hrs the entire team reached the makeshift base camp situated before Concordia.
The campsite was on moraine but surrounding it were views of magnificent Khang Shilling, Shigri Parvat, Kulu Pumori, etc…Earlier we had faced unexpected continuous rainfall but after intermediate camp, it was mostly sunny.
On 31st, the team rested at base camp and sorted gear and high- altitude food for higher camps. We had come here to climb Cathedral as well as Kulu Pumori. We evaluated the number of days, overall health status of the team members, supplies for the double climbs etc. The possibility of climbing two peaks was becoming remote. We included the guides who felt that it was not possible to do both the peaks one after another and it would have been a risky affair to split the team and climb simultaneously because half of the team members were on their first expedition. Already, one member Anjali Katre could not continue due to ill health. I didn’t want any more members to miss their summit chance. So, after hours of debate, we finally decided to focus entirely on Cathedral.
On 1 August, the team did a load ferry to camp 1 (5100 m) beneath the glacier of Cathedral. On 2 Aug, eight members along with the guides, shifted to Camp 1.
The guides and I went further up to summit camp (5400 m) for load ferry and on the 3rd, the entire team shifted to summit camp. The main crux of this expedition was to negotiate an ice wall of around 150 m, located just behind the summit camp. The wall also involved crossing a bergschrund and two other intermediate crevasses along an almost 70° gradient. Mohor Singh, Umesh Raina and I opened the route fixing a 180 m rope.
That night, at 2:00 a.m., we made a push for the summit. One by one, all members except one, jumared up and cleared the wall in less than two hours. After the wall, the route was through thick snow but still the gradient was never less than 55°–60°. In this situation, we decided to install more fixed ropes. A continuous uphill climb led the team to the summit rock and finally to the summit at 6:15 a.m.
The ice wall
Based on earlier reports, the highest altitude of the peak was 6100 m. However, the GPS reported it as 5888 m.
Throughout the summit push, the sky was clear, and weather was supportive. After the summit, team rappelled back to summit camp and on the same day arrived at base camp. Seven out of nine members, most of them new to mountaineering made it to the summit.
In hindsight, I felt how important the planning process was—the lack of thorough preparation forced us to abandon Kulu Pumori without even attempting it. As Umesh Zirpe told me after the expedition, that half of the expedition success lies in how well you prepare for it at home ground.
Giripremi Mountaineering Club from Pune recently undertook exploration of Bara Shigri glacier in Spiti. Seven members namely Vivek Shivade, Varun Bhagwat, Saiyami Takale, Priyanka Chinchorkar, Krishna Dhokle, Jitendra Gaware, Rohan Desai; Umesh Raina, Mohor Singh, Gangaram Thakur, Balkrishna Thakur summitted Cathedral (5888 m) in Bara Shigri glacier on 4 Aug 2018.
The support team included Chand Thakur, Jeevan Thakur, Prakash Thakur, Chetram Thakur.
VIVEK SHIVADE is an engineer from IIT Bombay but he has made mountaineering and adventure education his full-time profession. After training extensively, he now works as senior instructor & head syllabus & content development in the Guardian Giripremi Institute of Mountaineering. He climbs mainly in the Himalaya and the Sahyadris.
On 5 August, we left base camp at 1:00 a.m., bright stars creating a patchwork of light above. The north side of Latok I stood in total darkness, tall and ominous. As we soloed over the bergschrund, my pack pulling against my shoulders, I was absorbed solely on the white circle of light from my head torch.
Slovenian alpinists have a strong reputation. Straight-talking, quiet and solid climbers, they regularly climb hard alpine routes without any fuss. When Luka Stražar attended a BMC International Winter Meet in Scotland a few years ago, I shared a few beers and belays with him—although we never tied in together. But we crossed climbing paths in Europe and Alaska over the following years, and when he approached me in early 2018 with the idea of a trip to Pakistan, I readily agreed. Along with Aleš Česen, we’d travel to the Choktoi glacier in the Karakoram, with the infamous Latok I (7145 m) in mind. “We think there is a better way than the full north ridge,” was the only clue of the plan.
I travelled to Pakistan in July, meeting Aleš and Luka en route. After four days of walking through the barren, dusty Karakoram mountains, we finally rounded the corner of the glacier and saw our goal: Latok I. “Oh shit, this is the real deal!” I said. These mountains were the biggest objectives I’d ever seen. Luka and Aleš have climbed many times in the Greater Ranges, and I was grateful for their support and advice, since this was my first time in the Himalayas. The scale blew me away. Routes were measured in days, not pitches. I could stack two of the mountains I’d previously climbed into one of these. It was two Grandes Jorasses, or two Cerro Fitzroys. The impressive mountains around our base camp needed little introduction: Latok I, II and III; the Ogre I and II. There were many stories of epics, near misses, and endless days ‘on the wall.’
Latok I’s most famous feature is the north ridge. A huge, rolling spine, it runs from the summit ridge all the way to the glacier, 2400 m below.
Aleš Česen searching for a way on the north ridge, Day 2
Its reputation started in 1978, when four Americans spent 26 days on the ridge, climbing higher and higher, battling storms and mixed weather, only to retreat a few hundred metres below the summit. In the following 40 years, dozens of teams have tried to better their impressive effort, but without success.
In 2017, a team of three Russian climbers had a 15–day epic on the north ridge, enduring several storms and poor conditions. Two of the climbers had digits amputated due to frostbite. I knew my Slovenian friends were tough, but thankfully we all agreed we didn’t want to have any epics. “I think there is a better way than the full north ridge,” Aleš said to me when I climbed with him and Luka in February, as we sampled the Slovenian alpine climbing. “We should plan for seven days on the mountain,” Luka added. I agreed with their ideas, and we instantly developed a strong partnership.
The day we arrived in base camp, two Russian teams started climbing on the north ridge. We wished them luck, but tried not to think about them as we acclimatized. We didn’t want to be pressured into a decision, or launch too early. One team bailed after eight days, but the other team of two (Alexander Gukov from the 2017 expedition, and Sergey Galuzanov) continued for 10 days, battling storms and deep snow—all whilst at nearly 7000 m. By now, we were nervous for their safety. We watched in base camp as, for several days in a row, they made summit attempts. When they began to retreat, Sergey fell to his death, leaving Alexander stranded, at around 6000 m, without means to descend.
Impressively, Alexander survived a six-day storm, finally long- line rescued by a Pakistani Army helicopter on his 19th day on the mountain. When Alexander landed back on the glacier, Aleš said, “I’ve never seen someone so close to death, but still alive.”
After this event, we debated our options. We were still motivated to attempt the route, but via a different style and route to the Russians. “Let’s keep an open mind,” I said. “We can start climbing without too much commitment.” We all agreed, and anxiously watched the weather forecast. A stable window looked to be arriving in a couple of days…
Tom Livingstone weaving past snow mushrooms on the north ridge, Day 2 (Aleš Česen)
On 5 August, we left base camp at 1:00 a.m., bright stars creating a patchwork of light above. The north side of Latok I stood in total darkness, tall and ominous. As we soloed over the bergschrund, my pack pulling against my shoulders, I was absorbed solely on the white circle of light from my head torch. I swung and kicked into chewy, soft ice, trying to be as efficient as possible. An enormous amount of climbing towered above my head, but, as the hours passed, I focussed only on maintaining a steady rhythm and the white light in front of me. We bivied early that day, finding a small flat section in the notch of the north ridge, safe from stone-fall as the sun moved onto the face.
The alarm chimed merrily on the second day, and we collectively started the motions of getting ready. The stove burst into life, then porridge, water, pack our bivy, and then I led us up and right, over ridges of snow and through deep runnels of ice. I made use of our rack (a few ice screws, cams, wires and pitons), often climbing until almost out of rope before placing another screw. We took turns simul- climbing for a hundred metres or more, then quickly pitching harder steps. One section of the ridge required weaving and ducking under cornices and snow mushrooms, and we were always wary of them above our heads. We found a poor bivy that night, barely big enough for the three of us to lie down.
The third day took us higher up the north ridge, until we traversed rightwards, reaching the west col on the fourth day. Luka wordlessly led us over much of the ground, the rope arcing miles before the next screw. As we crested the col between the north and south sides of Latok I, we slumped into the snow, exhausted by the altitude. We’d reached over 6500 m and every step, every swing required more energy. Aleš led us as we side-stepped across easy-angled snow on the southern side, until we all began to bonk, hanging from the single ice screw belays and breathing heavily.
When the fifth day brightened, we’d barely slept. Heavy spindrift and gusts had rocked our single-skin tent all night, and we constantly hit the walls to shed the snow. Luka had nearly been trapped on a mountain in Tibet a few years ago, and was worried we’d have a repeat experience. All thoughts of the summit had gone, and we simply debated, between heavy breaths, about how to get down.
By mid-morning, however, the clouds had thinned and the summit, only 300 m above our bivy, looked to be within our reach again. Again, it was Luka who racked up and began kicking into the snow slope, ignoring the heavy spindrift avalanches which tumbled down runnels either side of him. Aleš and I followed on the other end of the rope, exhausted, hypoxic, but determined. The wind-blown snow and clouds crashing over the summit was more akin to Scotland, I thought grimly. Except - we were crossing 7000 m in the Karakoram…
When I shuffled onto the summit cornice, taking my turn after Luka, I couldn’t see the view because of the racing clouds. But the satisfaction of being here was all I needed, and the relief was absolute. Up until a few hours ago, I hadn’t dared to believe we could climb this mountain—it was such a monumental objective for us, and the biggest route I’d ever tried. I knew this point only marked halfway, and that arriving safely back in base camp was our true goal. But right then, on the summit, I was totally content.
As always, the descent was a long and tiring experience. On the sixth day, we reversed our route back to the west col, and then dropped down towards the north ridge. Only with the safety of colder temperatures at night did we then plunge down into the darkness, abseiling again and again from V-threads in the ice. I weighted each anchor with caution, watching it carefully, before sliding down the ropes, over and over and over again.
Aleš Česen and Luka Stražar on the summit ridge of Latok I—Day 5
Eventually, the sky began to brighten and we reached our first bivy, on the notch of the north ridge, just as the sun began to appear.
We slumped onto our bivy platform from Day 1, the roughly cut ledge still visible in the snow. We lay, facing the imminent sunrise, waiting for warmth and light and relief. Aleš fell straight to sleep, so Luka and I laughed as our brains exaggerated shapes and colours, the snow looking brighter and faces appearing in the lichenous patterns in the granite. After six days and six nights of concentration, hard physical effort, high altitude and abseiling through all of the previous night, it wasn’t surprising we were exhausted.
The morning sun burst over the horizon, flooding us with heat. I felt the sunlight prickle my cheeks and I wriggled my cold toes. We slipped into a deep, satisfied sleep for a few hours. The final 800 m of abseiling back to the glacier could wait for a few hours, but soon we were dreaming of base camp, and home.
On Wednesday 14 November 2018 Scotsman Tom Livingstone and two Slovenian climbers Luka Stražar and Aleš Česen successfully climbed Latok I (7145 m) in the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan. They climbed 3/4 of the way up the coveted ‘impossible ridge’, before deviating. The north ridge of Latok is recognized as one of the last major unclimbed lines in high-altitude mountaineering. This is the second ever successful ascent of the peak and the first ascent starting from the north side.
TOM LIVINGSTONE is a 28-year-old climber and writer based in North Wales, UK. He has a penchant for trad, winter and alpine climbing—the bigger and harder, the better. He works as an outdoor instructor, holding the Mountain Leader and Single Pitch Award, and an IRATA Level 2 Rope Access technician.
This climb won the Piolet d’Or at the Ladek Mountain Festival 2019
So we decided to put our flag on the eastern-most summit. Even this one had a corniced face and a gaping crevasse. Robin placed prayer flags on the summit while Nodup belayed him. The rest of us stopped about 4-5 m below the top lest the corniced face give away under our combined weight.
The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute planned an expedition to Kang Yatse I, 6400 m and II, 6200 m in Ladakh during August 2018. Kang Yatse is the highest peak in Markha valley which is a popular trekking route. I was selected as leader of this expedition, consisting of 20 members, including two cooks and the curator of HMI. All members were HMI staff and all climbing members were mountaineering instructors. The expedition was conducted in alpine style and did not use any Sherpas/HAPs or guides above base camp.
The team reached Leh on 6 August. After a couple of days for acclimatization, procurement and packing, we left for the road head at Chilling. However on 7 August there was a cloud burst in the Markha valley which caused mud slides and the approach to base camp from this side was blocked. We left Chilling on 10 Aug after visiting the site to check if pack animals would be able to cross. We had tied up with Spiritual Trek for transport, pack animals and kitchen utensils. The ever efficient owner promptly sent us vehicles to take us to Chogdoh, the eastern entry to the Markha valley—our route passed through Leh where we replenished our slightly diminished supplies.
Kang Yatse I & II
Markha valley camp set up near Markha river
We found a nice camping ground inside a forested area about a kilometre away from the road head. Members had to conduct load ferries to the camp site. There was a small stream nearby—the continuous sound of running water was soothing to mind, body and soul.
On 11 August, we trekked to Nimaling (5019 m), crossing Kongmarula pass (5200 m), a feat hard to accomplish. The approach to the pass was steep and the day was hot without a wisp of cloud or a little wind. It sapped us of the last ounce of energy. However the view was overwhelming when we reached top. The Kang Yatse massif was standing tall to the south and we could see the glaciers and streams clearly. It gave us a good opportunity to study probable climbing routes.
Descent on southern side of the pass was gradual and after an initial 200 m or so it became almost flat. There was a sprawling meadow for about two km where marmots were aplenty. We reached Nimaling where a trekking company has set up tents and other facilities for wandering trekkers. We set up our tents nearby and rested for the night alongside the river originating from a glacier north of Kang Yatse massif.
Our trek to base camp from Nimaling was only a couple of hours. There were few other teams at BC attempting Kang Yatse II which is actually the western shoulder of Kang Yatse I. There is a gentle ridge leading to it from above the BC. I didn’t like the location of BC as it appeared too far from the base of the ridge which leads to the summit pyramid of Kang Yatse I. So I walked till the base of the ridge to check the possibility of establishing BC near it but it was too wet and rocky for comfort. Finally we pitched our tents at the traditional BC. The next day was for rest and organizing loads for higher camps.
We had tied up with Indian Meteorological Department for weather forecasts. We also had a satellite phone to communicate with HMI on a daily basis. Authorizations for helicopter rescue had been obtained from Air HQ and the helicopter unit at Leh was on standby for any Search and Rescue requirement during the expedition.
The team was divided into two groups for both the peaks. The plan was that we would establish high camps as near the summit as possible. After reaching respective summits both teams would try to traverse between the peaks and would descend down on the other side. Each team had nine members so that there would not be a problem of sleeping bags on either side.
We did a recce cum load ferry for Kang Yatse I on 14 August. Our approach to the peak was from the NE ridge which joins another ridge towards the east. The point where these ridges joined was the location of camp 1. After reaching base of the northern ridge, we started climbing, clinging to the precarious slate stones. After labouring for about 2.5 hours we reached a slope with hard ice. Luckily an earlier team had left their fixed rope. We checked the condition and started jumaring up. There was a rock wall at the end of the ice pitch with three options to negotiate it: climb straight up the rock wall; circumvent to the east side on loose slate stone and scree or circumvent to the west side on hard blue ice without any fixed rope. After a little deliberation, we decided to try the second option as it appeared easier. However it was not as we literally tried out all kinds of rock climbing holds to haul ourselves up the slope. A final short pitch of rock climbing led us to the location of camp I. (33° 45’ 08” N 077° 33’ 47.6” E, Elev: 5908 m).
We pitched a tent at the junction of the ridges where sufficient flat ground was available and dumped our entire load. There was another team of four Sherpas and two Germans who had just reached the camp after a successful summit attempt. They confirmed that they would leave their fixed rope for us. We saw signs of bad weather with ominous black clouds covering the whole sky and made a hasty descent on the same route. We were back at base camp before evening and voraciously polished off an entire vat of chicken biryani.
As per our original itinerary we were to summit both peaks on Independence Day but the cloud burst delayed us. We postponed the plan by two days—Independence Day was at base camp.
On 16 August, we left BC for C 1 at 8:00 a.m. as we were aware of the route and had lesser loads to carry. We had planned to start our summit attempt at 2:00 a.m. on 17 August and so we tried to get some rest. Team 2 also left BC on 16 August at 1:00 p.m. with loads for high camp. They reached the high camp, 300 m above BC after climbing for two hours on a ridge filled with slate stone and loose rocks. I had instructed the curator CN Das not to climb beyond high camp as he was not a qualified climber. Another member N K Deepak was showing symptoms of snow blindness, therefore he did not accompany the team beyond base camp.
Team 1 was ready for the summit at 2:30 a.m. Team 2 also left for the summit at about the same time. The gentle slope and adequate snow did not necessitate use of fixed rope. Members climbed roped- up on the ridge towards Kang Yatse II. Climbers attempting Kang Yatse II must leave early for the summit as the snow gets soft with the heat which makes the climb and the subsequent descend very cumbersome.
Team 1 started roped up and the climb appeared steep. The surface was hard blue ice and there was barely any snow. After about half an hour, the gradient got even steeper and we could see the beginning of the fixed rope. The ropes had been fixed about five days ago—we were not sure whether the tubular pitons were still in place. Therefore Nodup went ahead and checked the rope and tightened the pitons. Thereafter, the others jumared up until the end of the rope. We had to repeat this procedure throughout. The route consisted of a series of ice walls and slabs. The entire summit pyramid seemed to consist of pure hard ice and nothing else. In the absence of snow, it was tiring to climb the steep slope with front points.
In all there were about seven pitches with no gentle section even to rest for a moment or to pull out the thermos flask for a cup of warm water. It was only when day broke that we realized the actual magnitude of the climb. One had to look up 90° to be able to climb as the slope was always steeper than 75°. The sky was completely overcast and there was a gentle wind. Continuous negotiation of the tough pitches finally brought us to the summit ridge at 9:30 a.m. There are three peaks on the summit ridge, each about 10 m high. The entire area was filled with crevasse and cornices. The middle peak was a metre or two higher than the others with hanging glaciers and was heavily corniced. So we decided to put our flag on the eastern-most summit. Even this one had a corniced face and a gaping crevasse. Robin placed prayer flags on the summit while Nodup belayed him. The rest of us stopped about 4–5 m below the top lest the corniced face give away under our combined weight. There was now a complete whiteout with light snowfall and we could barely see each other. Further we had underestimated the climb to the summit; the steep ascent had exhausted us completely and we had no energy left even to think of attempting a traverse towards Kang Yatse II.
In the meanwhile Team 2 had reached summit at 6:30 a.m. and three of them i.e. Tenzing, Pawel and Girish left to recce the possibility of a traverse. As the weather had turned so bad, the others decided not to try the unknown traverse. The three members got on the 1.5 km ridge between the two peaks which was a mixture of loose slate rock, scree, ice and snow. For most part of the route they stayed on the southern side. It took six hours to complete the traverse and they reached summit of Kang Yatse I at 1:00 p.m. This was the first traverse between the peaks; though many attempted the traverse in past, none had been successful.
Team I stayed on the summit for about an hour waiting for the three traversing members but then retreated as the weather deteriorated. Descending down the steep slope seemed more difficult than climbing it
Throughout the expedition we followed the principle of ‘leave no trace’ scrupulously. We carried non-biodegradable garbage and buried all biodegradable garbage. Apart from our own, we also cleared some of the garbage left by others. By the time we reached Leh, we had five big sacks overflowing with bottles, tins, plastic, discarded shoes, clothing etc. The expedition was successful on all counts and was conducted with minimum expenditure. No member suffered any injury/illness and all but two members successfully reached the summits of respective peaks. The team made history by traversing the ridge between Kang Yatse II and Kang Yatse I in true alpine style. The expedition has been incorporated into the Advance Mountaineering Course of HMI as a case study for expedition planning.
Summit KY I
The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute mounted an expedition to Kang Yatse I, 6400 m and II, 6200 m in Ladakh during August 2018. Kang Yatse is the highest peak in Markha valley. 18 members successfully reached the summits of the respective peaks The team traversed the ridge between Kang Yatse II and Kang Yatse I as well.
Commissioned into Indian Air Force in 2000, Wing Commander DEVIDUTTA PANDA started mountaineering in 2002 with a basic mountaineering course from NIM. He has continued climbing in India and abroad on an average one peak per year and led few expeditions climbing alpine style such as Satopanth, Papsura, a virgin peak in Arunachal Pradesh and Kang Yatse. He has successfully led a five member team to the top of the world. This air force officer has flown three different types of aircraft in the IAF including Sukhoi-30 MKI multirole fighter aircraft.
Two eagle-like birds (possibly Himalayan Griffons) flew overhead as we began our descent so we chose to call this Chilh Point (Eagle in Hindi).
My last two expeditions to India have involved successful exploratory visits to the Nubra valley in Ladakh1,2, but in 2018 I wanted to avoid the anxiety associated with permits for this sensitive area of the East Karakoram since they tended to arrive just as we were preparing to leave for India and left little time to arrange appropriate visas. I therefore looked once again at the Zanskar range, an open area that I had visited twice previously. On this occasion we chose to explore the upper reaches of the Mulung Tokpo, a valley that Kimikazu Sakamoto had visited in 2016 in order to photograph and catalogue the prominent peaks visible from the snout of the Mulung glacier3. After a detailed review of Google Earth satellite images, and subsequent discussions with Kimikazu Sakamoto, we eventually selected the previously unclimbed Pk 5871 (M15) as a primary target.
Aari Dont in centre (Mike Fletcher)
ABC on lateral moraine at 4525 m with South Mulung glacier behind (Tony Westcott)
Crossing the crevassed region en route to high camp. Pk 5631 in centre behind (Mike Fletcher)
Following our arrival in Delhi on 31 August we duly visited the Indian Mountaineering Foundation where we met up with Manmohit (Manu) Verma, the liaison officer assigned to our team. We then flew to Leh (3500 m) to meet with Rimo Expeditions, our in-country logistics company, in order to complete the arrangements for our onward journey to Zanskar and join our Sirdar, Anup Tamang. Anup had been our Sirdar in 2017 where he had coped exceptionally well with the problems that had arisen while establishing our base camp in the Sumur valley and we were delighted that he was joining our team once again. Two days later we were on our way, making the journey to the hamlet of Ating at the head of the Mulung Tokpo via an overnight stop in Kargil.
Derek on the NE face of Chilh Point (Mike Fletcher)
Mike, Drew & Adele descending from Aari Dont
At Ating we joined the rest of our support team; Santabir Sherpa, our cook, Tsedung Bhotia, his assistant, and Pemba Nubu Sherpa and Tshering Bhotia, who were to assist Anup in helping us to establish higher camps in the Mulung Tokpo. It was an excellent team without which we would have achieved little. Accompanied by two horsemen and their horses we began the two day trek to the junction with the Nabil Tokpo on 6 September. With only eleven horses, however, it was more difficult to get all of our equipment transferred than we had hoped, but eventually we set up base camp at 4188 m within easy reach of the Mulung glacier snout on 8 September. It was fully operational the following day when the horses carried up the remaining equipment from the intermediate camp at Sampuk (4000 m)
Peaks on the northern rim of the South Mulung glacier
PK 5631 annotated (Mike Fletcher)
The team from L to R. Mike Fletcher, Gus Morton, Drew Cook, Adele Long, Derek Buckle, Tony Westcott
Establishing access to the glacier proper was not as simple as we had at first hoped and it took several days of exploration before we finally opted for the true right lateral moraine as the lesser of two evils. Having way-marked the route to link various sandy wash-out areas through the unstable moraine, we eventually established an advance base camp (ABC) high on the lateral moraine at 4525 m several days later. At ABC we were now in a good position to explore the unvisited southern arm of the Mulung glacier together with the possibility of routes to M15 and other objectives. After several forays from ABC we identified a viable route into the southern glacial basin from which we hoped to access the plateau leading to M15. A period of heavy snowfall, however, confined us to camp over the next few days, although by this time we had decided that rather than M15 we would attempt one or other of several attractive looking peaks forming the southern rim of the southern glacial cirque.
By 17 September an improvement in the weather encouraged the team to relocate to a high camp on the south glacier at 5085 m although deep new snow now made progress considerably more arduous. Nevertheless, the following day two of us beat out a trail to the foot of our newly selected peak (Pk 5631; height estimated from Google Earth satellite images) in the hope of extending the route on the north face the day after. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Extreme cold and deep post-holing on steep ground with the threat of possible avalanche eventually forced Mike, Drew and I to retreat somewhere around a height of 5328 m. Walking back to camp we could see Gus and Tony making better progress on Pk 5557 (which we called Aari Dont or Saw Tooth in Hindi). They later reported that after reaching the col (now called Aari Dont col, 5480 m) via the north couloir Gus had continued to make the first ascent of Aari Dont (5557 m) itself via its NW ridge at Alpine Grade PD.
On 20 September Adele, Drew, Mike and I successfully made the second ascent of Aari Dont via the same route. While the other two descended to high camp, Mike and I were attracted to the mixed NE ridge of the point just beyond Aari Dont col. This we climbed at Alpine Grade AD to reach the compact rocky summit at 5537 m and complete its first ascent. Two eagle-like birds (possibly Himalayan Griffons) flew overhead as we began our descent so we chose to call this Chilh Point (Eagle in Hindi). Two 25 m abseils took as back to the col from where we too descended to high camp.
After the visit by bears (Rimo collection)
Annotated Google Earth image of the Mulung glacier
By now we all wanted to recuperate at base camp so on 21 September we descended in one long, single push. With time (and energy) beginning to ebb, the high altitude porters cleared the upper camps the next day with what turned out to be remarkably good timing. Heavy snow set in as they returned to camp and continued unabated overnight. Some 40–50 cm snow fell, as a result of which three of the BC tents suffered extensive damage and became unusable. With weather forecasts predicting more heavy snow we could envisage no way that the horses would come up the next day so we made the unanimous decision to abandon camp and return to the valley while we still could. Taking only what was considered essential, both the team and our support staff then endured an arduous 13–16 h, 25 km descent to Ating in what can only be described as trying conditions. It was a relief to reach the first occupied house where we were immediately offered shelter for the remainder of the night.The following day we managed to arrange transport to Padum only to find that a vast area had been affected by the unseasonal conditions and that many trekking parties were trapped and requiring rescue. Moreover, the local police informed us that the Pensi la was closed so there was no way yet that we could return to Leh. The road from Manali to Kullu was similarly affected by deep snow, so we were not alone in our plight.
The following day we managed to arrange transport to Padum only to find that a vast area had been affected by the unseasonal conditions and that many trekking parties were trapped and requiring rescue. Moreover, the local police informed us that the Pensi la was closed so there was no way yet that we could return to Leh. The road from Manali to Kullu was similarly affected by deep snow, so we were not alone in our plight.
Two days later the road over the Pensi la was cleared and we were able to continue our journey, arriving in Leh just in time to catch our return flight to Delhi and thence home. Our equipment was not so lucky. We subsequently learned that bears had ravaged the camp in our absence, destroying our bags and some of the more fragile equipment in their search for food. At the time of writing the extent of the damage is still unclear, but hopefully the less digestible items of hardware will have remained intact.
Derek Buckle (leader), Drew Cook, Mike Fletcher, Adele Long, Gus Morton and Tony Westcott
Between 30 August and 29 September 2018 six members of the Alpine Club explored the previously unvisited southern arm of the Mulung glacier in Zanskar. They made the first ascent of Aari Dont col (5480 m) on 19 September before Morton continued to complete a solo first ascent of Aari Dont itself (5557 m) via its NW ridge at Alpine Grade PD. They also went on to climb the adjacent mixed top of Chilh Point (5537 m) via its NE ridge at Alpine Grade AD.
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.
Tragedy turned to comedy when members participated in a daylong circus searching for donkeys in Nako, and capturing them anyhow. We succeeded with 14 donkeys, failed with even more!
A three-member team from South Calcutta Trekkers Association made a successful ascent of Reo Purgyil (6816 m), the highest peak in Himachal Pradesh, during July–August 2018, 27 years after the previous recorded ascent. It is the third known ascent on this mountain (the first (unrecorded) in 1971 by ITBP, and the second in 1991 by a small group of alpinists from Mumbai).
Initially an eight member team set off for Reo Purgyil (6816 m) and its twin Leo Pargial (6791 m) (a.k.a. Leo Pargial I and II respectively, as per IMF records), located on Indo-Tibet border of Eastern Himachal. Three members from the team attempted the more technical and difficult Reo Purgyil through the west ridge, the only possible approach found till date. Eventually on 6 August, Pradip K Bar with Phurba Sherpa and two other Sherpas Dawa Chongba Sherpa and Mohan Singh Tamang reached the top of Reo Purgyil.
Reo Purgyil, 6816 m (right) and Leo Pargial, 6791m (left)
Confusion and Mystery must have to be the two most apt terms in describing this mountain. Reo may not have an aura like other greater known peaks but it has enigma. This peak’s history puts up more questions than answers. For over a hundred years, while the big brother of the twins seen from as far away as Nako or Khab was always referred to as Reo by the locals, it was in fact known to old mountaineers or map enthusiasts as a mere number, 6816. The younger brother, hidden from eye-sight other than from nearby glaciers, was placed in SOI maps with a proper name, i.e. Leo Purgial. To add to the name game, IMF took another stand, by naming them both as Leo.
Interestingly Reo (or Leo 1, 6816 m), the highest peak in Himachal Pradesh, was never given due credit. It was always Shila (6132 m) and later Gya (6794 m) that took the title for decades.
Reo has seen very few attempts so far, in contrast with the frequented attempts and successes on its twin Leo Pargial, first scaled by Marco Pallis in 1933. The sharp contrast in terrain may have been the reason for this. While Leo offers mostly a medium gradient snow covered slope till the relatively sharper summit ridge, Reo has only one approachable way along a jagged, broken, unstable rocky ridge, quite steep and exposed, with a great drop of around 3657 m towards the Tibetan part of Sutlej valley in the south and nearly 1219 m towards the north.
Members on the west ridge of Reo Purgyil, between camp 1 and 2
Traversing from the South flank. Sutlej river and Shipki-La seen below
The first ever ascent of Reo was by an lTBP team in 1971, and strangely, the official records of the lTBP do not even acknowledge their achievement—they only claimed success on 6791 m Leo. Mystery again! This feat remained undocumented until a small group of Mumbai climbers reached the summit in 1991 and, to their astonishment, found a cane pole placed at the top with a scribbling ‘I.T.B.P. EXP. 71’ etched on a metal plate attached to it. It was evident that theirs was the second ascent. But what a climb it was! Yousouf Zaheer, Paramjit Singh and E. Theophilus climbed with super finesse and wrote an article in The Himalayan Journal with an equal amount of flair1. None of the subsequent attempts was successful on this peak, as per the IMF records at least.
With miniscule data we took our chances with the 1991 team and found them more than willing to help. Yousouf and Theophilus supported us with information, photographs and their climbing stories. Also we took help from Himalaya’s Beacon of Kolkata who had made an attempt in 1998 but returned from a point near the summit.
Last rock tower before the summit head wall. Summit camp was set atop this tower
An eight member team left Kolkata on 20 July 2018. Reaching Nako, we learned that our local contact person had failed to acquire mules for carrying loads as all were taken by ITBP and BRO. Tragedy turned to comedy when members participated in a daylong circus searching for donkeys in Nako, and capturing them anyhow. We succeeded with 14 donkeys, failed with even more! Later in the evening the procession of these mischievous creatures through the village to find their owners was even more hilarious. Eventually, a three day trek brought us to base camp (5436 m) on 27 July.
A bad spell of weather with heavy snowfall and thick fog, lasting two days, left us confined to our tents. After a full day of load ferry we left for ABC on 31 July. Along the left lateral moraine of Leo Pargial glacier we set ABC (5518 m) at the foot of the west ridge of Reo peak. Then again, another unfortunate day with heavy white out left us no option at ABC. We took it as an opportunity for some ice climbing and anchoring practice on an ice wall of the adjacent glacier. The weather so far was mostly unfavorable with occasional snowfall and a never- ending spell of whiteouts. The veterans of Nako village had warned us of adverse weather because we were disturbing their ‘devil’ god Reo. By then, we almost started believing in that myth!
From ABC we deviated from the previously used track of going round the peak and following a relatively easier but lengthier scree slope to reach the west ridge. Instead, we took a direct approach towards the west ridge. After seven gruelling hours of unpleasant scrambling up 500 m of loose scree, a team of three members and three Sherpas gained the main west ridge at 5875 m and set up camp 1.
The route next day was more or less over a flat ridge of medium slope with occasional vertical pitches of small height in between. Vertical blocks of the rocks were mainly granite but the rest was loose and unstable slabs. Few of the sections were fixed with rope for fast and safe movement. We were unsure of a location for an interim camp other than the only possible location for the summit camp, which was on the top of a huge rock tower, but that was quite far from camp 1. We continued for few more hours and found one small flat space at 6311 m that could accommodate two tents comfortably after few adjustments.
Last stretch on the summit camp tower
Summit camp of Reo Purgyil at 6557 m. Summit block and headwall in the background
From there the actual climb began. The next section on the ridge had quite a number of rock pinnacles and rock towers made of solid and huge blocks of granites. Most of them were negotiated by direct climbing or with fixed ropes. In risky sections we negotiated the pinnacles by traversing through the south flank. Once on the south face, the straight drop to the Satluj valley, 3000 m below, looked spine-chilling. And on the ridge the most challenging were the wild winds rising from the Tibetan plateau and rushing eastward towards the twin peaks. It was so far a technical but less risky stretch until we reached the narrowest section of the ridge. It was a 25 m razor- sharp section, serrated, full of loosely placed unstable rock slabs and a sheer drop on both sides. We saw a cairn at the start of the section where all previously fixed old and rotten ropes ended, indicating it as the last point reached by some of the earlier teams.
Next was the last isolated rock tower of about 30 m, on which we put our final camp (6557 m) on 5 August. We were welcomed by a burst of strong wind. The summit block was in front of us. The ridge continued a little to become very sharp and then went down a notch before rising again straight up the headwall. Since we had few hours at hand that day, Phurba, the Sherpa team leader went up to open the route to the summit wall. We were still awestruck by the location of our camp. It was a narrow flat strip where two tents could be accommodated with precipitous drops in all directions, extremely exposed and wind-swept. Without doubt it was the most thrilling spot for a camp ever seen in my mountaineering life so far!
Recent snowfall made it trickier on the summit day. Pradip Bar on a narrow ledge
Our delight didn’t last long as waves of cloud rushed from the Tibetan plateau and soon placed a thick blanket around us. It started to snow heavily with frequent lightning. The lightning was so vigorous that the entire surrounding became a static electric field; whoever stepped out of the tent felt a current through his body. Eventually the lightning subdued but heavier snowfall continued resulting in almost a foot of snow deposition in a matter few hours. It was a grave situation as we had already wasted three days due to poor weather, leaving only two days before the mules arrived at base camp. If the situation had continued for another day we wouldn’t have any option other than abandoning the attempt, and in that case, retreat through the rock walls covered with fresh soft snow would be a nightmare. To worsen the situation, we hadn’t carried crampons as the entire route was devoid of snow.
Mohan Singh Tamang, Pradip K Bar and Chongba Dawa Sherpa on the summit of Reo Purgyil (6816m), with the cane pole placed during 1st ascent by ITBP in 1971
At least one thing was in our favour, that the route to summit was mostly fixed. We waited patiently and it worked. Suddenly at 9:30 a.m. the snowfall seized and the light increased a little. We waited for 30 minutes and seeing no deterioration we decided to take the bait. It had to be a good three four hour window and the fastest member along with the Sherpas might be able to make it. Following this plan, Pradip set out at 10:30 a.m. with Phurba and Dawa Chongba Sherpa and Mohan Singh Tawang.
From the summit camp the ridge further narrowed down to a razor sharp section and converged to a point which then dropped for about 30 m and then carried on up to the final headwall and summit block. The narrowest section of the ridge was negotiated by moving towards the south wall which, other than its exposed verticality, became trickier due to the fresh snow and thick fog. Traversing through wet ledges hardly wide enough to put a step, we reached at the foot of the headwall, from where the summit would be another 300 m. It was steep, a nearly 80° gradient, but was relatively simple with fixed rope. The moment we started on the summit block the fog became denser and visibility reduced sharply. We took a vertical crack covered with snow to gain the south-bound ridge of the final summit pyramid. Once there it was relatively easier to climb the final few metres. At about 2:30 p.m. we stepped on the summit. We were delighted to see the pole erected by 1971 ITBP team, still standing intact at the very same point even after 47 years. Our Sherpas tied few strips of prayer flags around it. The summit was a few feet wide space with vertical walls falling away sharply on all directions except the south-bound ridge. We finally got a five-hour window for the climb, but no views of the surrounding peaks. Nevertheless, we took a 360° video of the surroundings, covered with thick cloud and fog, spent few minutes on the top and started down when weather began deteriorating.
The rest of the story is relatively short. Seeing further desolation in weather conditions we made a fast retreat. The next day, we were back at Nako.
At home, we couldn’t help reminiscing what we had achieved on this hazardous and difficult mountain, more complex due to adverse weather and how we reached the summit 27 years after the last success on it. The climb was challenging, very risky, but was fun from start to end, no doubt.
Four members from South Calcutta Trekkers Association made a successful ascent of Reo Purgyil (6816 m), the highest peak in Himachal Pradesh, during July–August 2018, 27 years after the previous recorded ascent. Initially an eight member team set off for Reo Purgyil (6816 m) and its twin Leo Pargial (6791 m). Pradip K Bar, Phurba Sherpa, Dawa Chongba Sherpa and Mohan Singh Tamang reached the top of Reo Purgyil.
RAJSEKHAR MAITY is a data scientist by profession. He manages one or two mountaineering expeditions along with treks, short hikes and rock climbs, spread across different seasons each year. His successful climbs include Shivling, Thalaysagar, Sudarshan and Saife, and he has attempted several others. Major treks in the Himalaya include Auden’s Col and Ronti Saddle.
Tamotsu (Tom) Nakamura
The road once crosses the Tong Tien He (Upper Yangtze river, the source of three rivers—Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow rivers.
After attending the Mt. Siguniang Second International Mountains and Outdoor Forum in October, Mr. Tsuyoshi Nagai and I flew to Yushu of Qinghai Province on 22 October 2018. Although we spent a week, we gained positive yields. Nangchen is a Tibetan kingdom with over 90 monasteries and has countless rock peaks of 5000 m which inspire visitors, particularly climbers.
After searching peaks and monasteries in Nangchen, we headed north Yushu to locate the veiled and less know mountain massif ‘Mt. Gadojuewu 5470 m’ (Chinese name—Mt. Katojowo).
On 23 October we drove from Yushu town to Nangchen, first crossing a high pass and then going through a gorge with rock peaks and a monastery.
A monastery nestled in rocky peaks
Mt. Gadojuewu 5470 m
Nangchen County is the political, economic, and cultural centre of Yushu for over 600 years.
In the Han Dynasty – early Tang Dynasty, the county belonged to the Sumba Kingdom of Women.
Upper Mekong river Zachu (Lancang Jiang) flows through Nangchen town
Nangchen County is in the southeast of Yushu Prefecture, which is part of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). The Nangchen County has nine townships and one town with a total population of 105,800.
The county seat Shamda town is located in the river valley of Upper Mekong area; agriculture is its major economy supplemented by animal husbandry. The average elevation is 3644 m and average temperature is 3.8°C.
Baizha ancient salt fields
5000 m peak west face
Travel through Nangchen kingdom 23 – 25 October
Breeding house of Tibetan mastiffs
Our objectives in Nangchen were to view rock peaks and veiled mountains and to visit monasteries. We searched for prominently towering rock peaks en route west to Zadoi County. The weather however was getting worse and it started to snow when we passed through a breathtaking deep gorge and crossed a high pass of 4700 m.
We then went to the Khar Grand Canyon and stood in awe of shining Khar monastery at 4230 m hanging on the cliff.
Our Tibetan guide Awang filled us in about the current situation in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) / Qinghai Province.
We visited the famous Gadin monastery in Rechu bend at 3600 m. Then we drove up the beautiful stream of Rechu to north for returning to Yushu. On the way back, we saw snow-capped 5000 m peaks north of Yushu.
Searching for unknown mountains
On 26 October we left Yushu town for Mt. Gdojuewu located west of Zodoi and Gado towns some 140 km NNW of Yushu. The road once crosses the Tong Tien He (Upper Yangtze river, the source of three rivers—Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow rivers.
Highway from Yushu to Xinning (800 km)
Mt. Gadojuewu 5470 m main peak east face seen from a high pass 4600 m
The highway runs to NEE through grasslands in an altitude of 4200– 4700 m. Yaks often cross the road despite fences. We left the highway and located our peak.
Finally we returned to Yushu and then enjoyed aerial views on flight from Yushu to Chengdu, after having achieved our objectives.
Mt. Gadojuewu 5470 m
Mt. Gadojuewu 5470 m
Tom Nakamura and Tsuyoshi Nagai, both elderly explorers, continued explorations in the Tibetan Autonomous Region in October 2018. This time they flew to Yushu in Qinghai Province. They visited Nangchen, a Tibetan kingdom with over 90 monasteries and countless rock peaks. They also located the veiled mountain massif Mt. Gadojuewu, 5470 m.
With the advent of GIS, satellite images and other advanced cartographic applications, it seems the world is growing smaller by the minute. But long-time Alpinist contributor TAMOTSU NAKAMURA—though he began his explorations after the Golden Age of Mountaineering ended—begs to differ.
“Some convince themselves that veiled mountains in the greater ranges are an experience of the past,” Nakamura says. “But Tibet has an incredibly vast and complex topography that holds countless unclimbed summits, and beckons a lifetime’s search. The many peaks there will remain enigmas for generations.” Nakamura is now 85 years old (born in 1934 in Tokyo). After living and working around the world in Pakistan, Mexico, New Zealand and Hong Kong, he has made at least 40 expeditions to the borderlands and continues to do so. Nakamura is Honorary Member of HC, AC, AAC, JAC and NZAC, and Fellow of RGS.
Back at base camp we decided to climb Shivling via the west ridge because of lack of time and the difficult conditions on the south.
An expedition from the German Alpine Club aimed to climb Shivling in the Garhwal Himalaya from the south during 21 September–20 October 2018.
The weather was stable for most of the time – there was only a little rainfall and snow during this period. However there had been some snowfall earlier so conditions were not perfect. We established ABC on a cosy meadow and started on 4 October in separate teams—Bernhard Ertel and Benedigt Saller in one and Michael Wärthl, Johannes Kirsten and Bernhard Bliemsrieder in another, to climb the south ridge. Both teams spent a night at 5500 m just at the beginning of the difficulties on the ridge. Because of inadequate acclimatization, hard climbing and bad snow conditions both teams turned around. Another team with Finn Koch and Martin Feistl established a new line to the right of south ridge. Following couloirs and they reached their highpoint, where they also turned around.
Just before the west ridge
Michael on the west ridge
Camp 2, 5900 m
The Serac crux 6000 m
Back at base camp we decided to climb Shivling via the west ridge because of lack of time and the difficult conditions on the south. On 10 October we carried equipment to a place between Camp 1 (5200 m) and Camp 2 (5500 m). After a rest day we all started on 12 October.
On 14 October Benedigt Saller, Martin Feistl, Johannes Kirsten and Michael Wärthl reached the summit and descended back to BC after another night in Camp 3 (5900 m).
A team from the German Alpine Club climbed Shivling in the Garhwal Himalaya via the west ridge during 21 September–20 October 2018.
MICHI, born in 1970, lives in the south of Munich with his family. At 24, he was the youngest mountaineer to climb K2 (8611m) without oxygen. Since then he has been travelling around the world as a professional mountaineer. Among several other mountains he has climbed Ama Dablam and Nanga Parbat He is a professional mountain guide but what he likes best is to be on vacation with his family—of course to do some climbing and mountaineering.
We spent the first two weeks searching for a way through the icefall, sitting out bad weather and shuttling gear to a cave below the upper icefall.
In September, Josie McKee, Caro North and I travelled to the Kishtwar region of the Indian Himalaya with the intention of climbing the west face of Arjuna. We spent 28 days in the mountains and encountered mostly bad weather, which led to difficult conditions in the mountains.
After travelling for almost a week up and over mountain passes and along windy and precarious dirt roads, we arrived in the small village of Gulabgarh where we would meet our porters and get the last remaining supplies before starting our trek. It took us four days to reach base camp at 4000 m up the Kijai nala. One of those days was spent rigging a tyrolean across the river and helping porters build a bridge so we could all get across. In past years, teams used an ice bridge to cross but unbeknownst to us, it had collapsed forcing us to figure out another way. Once on the west side of the Kijai nala, a few hours of hiking up steep trails brought us to our base camp. We set up our tents in a grassy area above the moraine and near a glacier-fed stream. From here, we had great views of Arjuna and the icefall we would have to navigate to reach the base of our objective.
We spent the first two weeks searching for a way through the icefall, sitting out bad weather and shuttling gear to a cave below the upper icefall. Finally, four days of good forecast arrived on the horizon and we headed out on 17 September loaded down with massive packs filled with ice and rock climbing gear, a sizeable aid rack and food and supplies for five days. The icefall was an extremely complex maze of steep ice walls and crevasses. We ended up traversing to the east side of the glacier and weaving our way up and down grassy ledges until we were forced to move onto the moraine. We generally stayed on the right side of the glacier but at times pushed further towards the middle to avoid serac danger from above.
Since the weather had been so poor, we hadn’t been able to move our gear up the glacier to the base of the peak nor scope a line. We climbed a 60 m vertical section of ice with the leader hauling her pack and the followers climbing with 50-pound backpacks. For seven hours, we traversed steep ice and climbed up, down, and over crevasses until we finally reached the base of Arjuna and set up camp in a flat area between crevasses.
After deliberation, we decided that Arjuna was not possible for us to climb in its current condition. The west face was covered in snow and cracks caked in ice. We would have wanted a six-day weather window (instead of the four we had been forecasted) in order to attempt the 1400 m line. We instead set our sights on an unclimbed possible 6000 m peak to the north. It was less complex, smaller, and there was a line on the southwest facing aspect that would allow us to climb more in the sun and offer drier conditions.
We began climbing at 4900 m up a couloir, which deposited us at the base of the rock. Our packs were heavy with supplies but the climbing was relatively moderate. We moved efficiently and climbed seven long pitches encountering terrain up to 5.10-. There were some pitches of incredible quality and the face was peppered with solid black knobs. Just before dark, we reached a good place to dig out a tent platform at around 5500 m. I unfortunately, got quite sick from the altitude but was able to recover overnight with rest.
We slept in a bit the next morning, waiting for the sun to warm our fingers and toes for the first section of steep climbing. After a couple technical pitches, the terrain became lower angle and more complex causing our pace to slow. Patches of snow required us to switch in between boots and climbing shoes. After pitch six and just as we were nearing steeper terrain, an unexpected snowstorm came in from the west. Snow began falling quite heavily and we knew our chance of reaching the summit was over. We started rappelling in the late afternoon. A few stuck ropes, an incredible sunset, and many hours later, we made it back to our camp at 5500 m where we spent a second night. The storm was luckily short lived, but four inches of snow now plastered the peak.
We finished the rappels on the third day and made it back to the glacier under blue sky. Knowing that a bigger storm was supposed to come in 24 hours, we descended the icefall all the way back to base camp. The tempest came a day later, depositing a foot of snow and ending any other possibilities of climbing. We were lucky to have made it back when we did, as the glacier would have been extremely dangerous with that much fresh snow.
In September 2018, Josie McKee, Caro North and Whitney Clark travelled to the Kishtwar region to climb the west face of Arjuna. They spent 28 days in the mountains and encountered mostly bad weather, which led to difficult conditions and finally retreat.
WHITNEY CLARK is a professional climber who has established several alpine routes around the globe. She also spends a lot of time thinking about how to balance risk and ambition in the mountains.
Failures were gathered as pearls on a string in 2013.
This project was initiated by a legendary duo of Polish Himalayan climbers Jerzy Kukuczka and Voytek Kurtyka more than thirty years ago but they were not successful in climbing the central south west face of Gasherbrum I in the Western Karakoram mountains of Pakistan. We followed their idea and started to chase this project back in 2009 and chose the left hand ice couloir in central wall to start our climb.
At that time the only unanswered question was an unclear passage from the couloir to the col through the rock bottleneck in 7400 m that led to the snow plateau just below the headwall. Together with my climbing partner Zdeněk Hrubý we solved this first crux of mixed terrain after the second bivy. The next day we continued on up to 7500 m below the rock barrier. Unfortunately we were forced to make an epic escape from this place which meant 2000 m of rappelling and downclimbing. My climbing partner Zdeněk Hrubý suffered from perforated ulcers—miraculously we reached the base camp safely after all.
Rock barrier and climbing at 7900 m
Beautiful fifth bivy
Two totally shattered at the top of Gasherbrum I
The first key of the wall. Go to the saddle at 7400 m (2016)
Sea of peaks from 7100 m above the Japanese couloir
Panorama of Abruzzi glacier and mountains behind GI
Gasherbrum wall from BC
Failures were gathered as pearls on a string in 2013. During this attempt my frequent climbing partner Zdeněk Hrubý found his death after a 1000 m fall through the couloir. He fell, taking all of our gear with him including the rope. So my descent became a pure lottery between staying alive or joining Zdeněk on his final journey.
Next followed the 2015 attempt together with Tomáš Petreček, when we reached 7400 m and descended together with avalanches due to horrible weather. We reached 7700 m together with Ondřej Mandula the following year, but fate played a tough game as we were captured at 7500 m in a white trap with no obvious escape for eight days. Minimal visibility, heavy snowfall and strong wind made our descent really dreadful. After returning, my final account included massive frostbites on my feet resulting in over six months of recovery.
It was a breakthrough this year when we scaled the tricky rock passages above 7700 m and reached the summit after huge endeavour. It was a combination of thin layers of loose snow and rotten granite. A terrible combination! In some sections climbing was so thin that we had to take off our gloves to look for unstable holds and make slow progress upwards. Climbing the headwall took us three whole days. We had six bivouacs in total since the beginning of the climb, four days at a critical height between 7400 and 8000 m. The last bivy found us at 8000 m right below the summit. Despite the heavy snowfall and strong wind on the north-eastern side of the mountain our descent started in the direction of the Japanese couloir and towards the plateau at 7100 m. The weather turned better the next day so our descent continued through the Japanese coulouir with sections of snow reaching our waists. Despite the acute avalanche danger we had no choice but to continue. Our last bivouac was at the plateau at 6000 m, from where we crossed the glacier to the base camp the next morning. Interestingly we were the only ones to reach the summit this year so far!
A short account of the drive to climb one mountain. Climbers Marek Holeček, aka Mara, 43 and Zdeněk Hák, aka Háček, 37, finally climbed central south west face of Gasherbrum I in July 2017, alpine style. They named the route Satisfaction! (in memory of Zdeněk Hrubý)
Difficulty: ED+ (M7,WI5+) total inclination 70°; Height: 3000 m
Dates: July 25 to August 1, 2017
Duration of the climb: eight days including the descent, six days to reach the summit
Summit time: around 13 hours
MAREK “MÁRA” HOLEČEK (born November 5, 1974, in Prague) is a Czech mountaineer, explorer, author and documentary filmmaker. He received the 2018 Piolet d’Or award for his successful full ascent on the southwest face of Gasherbrum with Zdeněk Hák.
Basanta Singha Roy
Finally we collected the missing certificate from Panamik Police Post and left leaving our beloved Pemba in the Phokpoche glacier.
The mountains in eastern Karakoram are relatively new for climbers and are thus becoming the mountains of choice because of the number and the technical challenges they offer. The Saser Kangri group are among these. They are a cluster of five 7000 m peaks situated in the Nubra valley of Leh district with the road head at Phukpoche, Panamik, 60 km before Siachen glacier.
The members of Mountaineers’ Association of Krishnanagar (MAK) and Pune Ventures planned to climb Saser Kangri IV via the west side during June–July, 2018 as a joint expedition for better logistic and economic support. A total of sixteen members with six support staff reached Leh on 23rd June. After completing administrative and legal formalities, we reached Phukpoche, our road head on 25th June evening.
The route to base camp was through the true left bank of Phukpoche nala. It was a ten hour rigorous trek with steep rock climbing and bouldering on scree slopes. Thus the following day, members and Sherpas ferried loads to an intermediate camp en route to base camp. We fixed 400 m of rope. After climbing about 300 m we traversed the scree zone with the help of fixed ropes. We had to then descend into the nala, a risky move as it was in spate. We established an intermediate camp four hours later, dumped our loads there and returned back to Phukpoche.
Pemba Sherpa and Biswanath on summit of Saser Kangri IV
Bad weather and porter problems delayed us by two days. On 30th June, we finally established base camp (4730 m) on a grassy field just beside Phukpoche nala. An earlier group had left a kitchen and a mandir in base camp – small streams flowing from the eastern side of the camp were our water sources. Blue sheep were seen frequently grazing there.
On 1st July, we began ferrying loads to camp 1. Proceeding through the boulder zone, we got down to the base of the Phukpoche glacier from which a stream flows down to Phukpoche nala. Then we climbed 200 m and continued along the right lateral moraine ridge of south Phukpoche glacier which took us to camp 1 (5500 m) in five hours.
Heavy snowfall interrupted our expedition movement for the next two days. Meanwhile, Tashi, one of our Sherpas fell ill and had to return. Finally Members and Sherpas occupied camp 1. The sky was crystal clear and Plateau peak was visible on the southeast. In the late afternoon Saser Kangri IV, our targeted peak wore a crown of white cloud turned golden with the last rays of setting sun. The following day members and Sherpas ferried loads to camp 2.
From camp 1 we proceeded through the moraine zone for half an hour and then entered south Phukpoche glacier snow field. The snowfield was full of crevasses but snow conditions were good. While climbing on upper part of the glacier with a gradient of 55o-60o we had to fix ropes. We established camp 2 at 6049 m on a snow field.
On 8 July, our Sherpas led by Pemba Sherpa started route opening and fixing ropes. Moving up from camp 2 towards north and thereafter traversing through the steep snow wall towards east they reached at the foot of the rock tower, just 300 m below the summit camp. The gradient was of 650–700 and there were vertical rock pitches and four to five thousand feet of sheer vertical fall on both sides. An overhanging rock tower was negotiated as well. We fixed 1700 m ropes from camp 2 to summit camp.
On 10th morning, Pemba declared that considering the route, it was very risky to proceed in a big team. I agreed and decided that the summit team would be three members—Biswanath and Pemba of MAK and Anil of Pune and two Sherpas. The summit team would move forward to summit camp and the rest would go down to base camp the next day.
Plateau peak, 7287 m from summit of Saser Kangri IV
Saser Kangri I, 7612 m from summit of Saser Kangri IV
On 11 July, the summit team set out at 7:30 a.m. and after nine hours of strenuous climbing they reached summit camp at 5:00 p.m. They started the summit march at 2:40 a.m. on 12th July. They fixed some ropes for safety in this section. They took five hours to reach the summit of Saser Kangri IV, 7416 m. Later the weather worsened so after spending 20 minutes on the top they started to come down reaching summit camp at 10:00 a.m.
On the same day they rappelled 1400 m to reach camp 2. On 13th they started to return to base camp. After descending 200 m on snow slopes they entered the south Phukpoche glacier. Suddenly Pemba Sherpa fell into a hidden crevasse as he was leading the team. Pasang Phutar Sherpa, Pemba’s older brother and others tried to rescue Pemba. Pasang entered the crevasse but could not trace Pemba. The crevasse was deep with water flowing at the bottom.
On 15 July at 3:30 a.m. our Sherpas left base camp with full gear to look for Pemba but again there was no sign. It was a sad end to a successful expedition as we lost one of the finest – one of the famous Ghoom brothers and a great friend, Pemba Sherpa. Finally we collected the missing certificate from Panamik Police Post and left leaving our beloved Pemba in the Phukpoche glacier.
Sixteen members of Mountaineers’ Association of Krishnanagar (MAK) led by Basanta Singh Roy and Pune Ventures climbed Saser Kangri IV via the west side during June–July, 2018 as a joint expedition. Although they climbed the mountain, Pemba Sherpa fell into a crevasse on the descent. His body could not be retrieved.
Sherpas: Pemba Sherpa Pasang Phutar Sherpa, Pemba Chhiring Sherpa, Tashi Shkerpa, Lakpa Sherpa, Pasang Sherpa (cook) and Balwant Singh (cook).
BASANTA SINGHA ROY is a member of Mountaineers’ Association of Krishnanagar and has participated 31 expeditions since 1990; he has led 25 expeditions and climbed 22 peaks. In 2012 he received the prestigious Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award. He is also recipient of the Radhanath Sikdar – Tenzing Norgay Adventure Award from the Govt. of West Bengal. He organizes rock climbing courses for youth regularly on behalf of his club.
Kazuya Hiraide and Kenro Nakajima
I decided that I needed to settle with Shispare. If I could only climb the mountain that started it all, I could forge a new path for myself.
The Quest—Kazuya Hiraide
Shispare was always there, living in the back of my head. A mountain worth spending my life upon.
In 2002, I went to Pakistan alone with a map of Karakoram on which I had marked routes ascended by previous parties. The objective was to find out what treasures—mountains without ascents, unclimbed routes—I could find in the blank spots on the map. In one of those places, I met with Shispare. I remember it as if it were yesterday: falling in love with this pyramid-shaped, 7611m mountain, with its grand, unclimbed northeast face. However, I also realized I did not have the experience to attempt Shispare anytime soon.
Gradually building up my skills and waiting for a chance, I finally made an attempt five years later, in 2007, with Yuka Komatsu.
Kenro Nakajima nearing camp 1 on the north east face of Shispare
Day 2. Camp 2 would be amid rocks on the upper left
The intent was to draw a new line up the middle of the northeast face. Unfortunately, we retreated at 6000 m due to unstable snow conditions. I thought afterward, “There’s no mountain I couldn’t climb if only I would throw everything at it.” My young and immature self couldn’t accept defeat as defeat.
My climbing from then on had good moments and bad moments. On the plus side, I won many prizes in the alpine community. On the negative, one of our expeditions ended in the death of people who came to rescue us1. During those years, I didn’t give a second go at any mountain I bailed from. But somehow Shispare was different. I wanted to return to the beginning. I had a hunch that this mountain could teach me what I was lacking, both as an alpinist and as a person.
Thus I returned, in 2012, with Takuya Mitoro. This time we attempted the southwest face. It is also a grand unclimbed face, and it too called me. We were thrown back by bad weather at 5350 m. But by then, I had learned to accept defeat a little — “Even if I throw everything I have at them, some mountains I may not be able to climb.”
I couldn’t give up the thought of climbing Shispare, though, so I came back the next year with Kei Taniguchi. She was the ultimate partner—I had climbed the southeast face of Kamet in India with her five years earlier (an ascent that won a Piolet d’Or), and I had high hopes of finally standing on Shispare’s summit. We attempted the southwest face again, having seen its promise the year before. However, a serac high on the route terrified us, so we retreated at 5700 m. I was despairing and pretty sure I would not return to Shispare. “Perhaps,” I thought, “it’s alright to have one mountain I can’t climb in my life.” In 2015, my longtime partner Kei died in a mountaineering accident in Japan. The sudden tragedy made me question my motivation for mountaineering. At the end of much pondering, I decided to continue climbing, she climbed alongside in spirit. The following year, I partnered up with Kenro Nakajima and we succeeded on the first ascent of the north face of Loinbo Kangri (7095 m) in Tibet in a clean, fast, direct line. But my heart was still restless. I decided that I needed to settle with Shispare. If I could only climb the mountain that started it all, I could forge a new path for myself. Luckily, my new partner understood my relationship with Shispare, and I knew I could rely on him. The stage was set for the final showdown.
We started preparing for the expedition in January, but back-to-back photography assignments on Everest and Denali saw the summer arriving in a rush. Still, the knowledge that I’d be warmly welcomed in Hunza, which by now had become a second home, allowed me to relax. This year’s harvest of Tibetan apricots was plentiful, and meeting old friends brought smiles to our faces. Thus we found ourselves arriving at base camp in high spirits.
A Pakistani expedition aiming for Pasu peak was also at the base camp. They didn’t like the conditions of the glacier and left for home more than a month ahead of schedule. In the suddenly quiet camp, we could finally get down to business. The weather was predominantly bad, as usual, and we ended up spending long stretches in camp. Maintaining motivation was tough.
Once we began climbing, we were constantly threatened by avalanches and covered by spindrift. But one thing was different this time. In the past, during moments of danger and duress, I had sought excuses to quit and, having found one, chose to retreat. This time, every time such a decision was required, even if there was only a one percent chance of success, we would go on. I feel that this was because my old partner Kei had passed away without fulfilling all her goals, while I was still alive, and, since I had the motivation, the opportunity, and the capability to go on, giving up too easily would be unfair. Making countless decisions of this kind is what led to our success.
Day 3. A 60 degree wall of thin ice gave access to the upper slopes
I wonder if I will ever find another mountain as fulfilling as Shispare.
The Climb—Kenro Nakajima
On July 26, after two days of light trekking, we climb steeply to Patundas, on top of a ridge, and Shispare stands in front of us, with a carpet of wildflowers at our feet. We descend a gentle slope to base camp on the bank of the Pasu glacier.
Two days later we head to Shispare’s east ridge, the first and only prior route up the mountain, to acclimatize, to check out conditions and examine our descent route2. The glacier is a complete maze of crevasses. The northern spur used to access the main ridge is difficult to reach; we finally end up ascending snow slopes on the west side of the spur. The next day, we follow the spur to 5600 m, not far below the east ridge. Having checked the descent route to our satisfaction, we return to base camp.
After resting for two days, we leave camp on 1 August to attempt Pasu peak (7478 m), eight kilometres to the northwest of Shispare. Unfortunately, bad weather shuts us down and we can’t summit, but after camping for two nights at 6400 m and climbing up to 6750 m, we do at least manage to acclimatize.
We intend to climb Shispare in the next weather window, but as the forecast is hideous for several days to come, we decide to return to Hunza for three days of rest before further attempts. Back at base camp, the weather still isn’t agreeable, and we pass time in the tent with cloudy skies and snowfall outside.
Nine days after our acclimatization on Pasu peak, we decide to stretch our legs and give it a go. Perhaps the bad weather won’t affect the lower route too much. We leave base camp under overcast skies, and it starts to snow in the afternoon—we can’t find our way forward in the whiteout. We camp at 5000 m to see if conditions will improve, but with 40 to 50 cm of fresh snow, getting on the wall would be a fool’s errand. Humbled, we return to base camp again on 14 August.
We decide to stay in camp until the snow on the wall stabilizes and it’s safer to climb. The waiting is making us anxious and wearing us down. Even when the forecast calls for clear skies, the summit stays shrouded in clouds.
On 17 August morning, the sky clears for a few hours and we see Shispare’s face gleaming in the sun. On the next day, the weather isn’t all that convincing, but we still decide to go for it. The maze of the glacier is familiar by now, and finally we start to climb the northeast face.
We had worried about the seracs hanging over our approach gully, and our worries prove to be well founded. First, a small serac fall causes us to be covered in a bit of snow, but this isn’t too much of a problem. Soon, however, we hear a thunderous bang and see a cloud of snow above us—clearly something we can’t ignore. In a rush, we scurry out of the fall line, but one of my feet gets stuck in a crevasse, the rope goes tight, and neither of us gets into proper cover. When the avalanche reaches us, we endure a deluge of snow and crushing wind for a full minute. It’s difficult to breathe, but luckily neither of us is buried or injured. Paradoxically, enduring such a big serac fall without a scratch boosts our spirits—we pretend there won’t be a new one anytime soon. Thus we pass through the gully successfully. Since we had started a bit later than intended, we set up camp earlier than planned by flattening part of a snow ridge at 5450 m.
Next morning we cross over a ridge and reach a 60–70° degree ice wall. It has a thin cover of snow, but it’s possible to use ice screws for runners. To maintain speed, we simul-climb with one piece of protection between us. My calves start screaming, but that’s the price to pay for speed. After finishing up the S-shaped wall of ice and snow, we encounter a rock wall. Traversing to the left for four pitches, we arrive at a gully. The weather turns worse and continuous spindrift slides down the wall. We had intended to bivy at the base of the rock, but there are no suitable spots. It’s a choice of either climbing in bad weather or returning to our previous bivy site. We steady our resolve and start climbing.
The ice is shallow, but with some difficulty we manage to find screw placements. Occasionally a big snow slide tries to rip us off the wall, but we manage to hold on and clear the rock face in two pitches. Still no sign of a bivy spot. We climb a steep snow wall for three more pitches, up and right, off our intended route, and get onto a snow ridge that should be safe from avalanches. It’s narrow, but we manage to cut a ledge at about 6500 m, just big enough for both of us to lie down. We’ve climbed over 1000 m that day.
Shispare 2017 route
On 20 August we wait until the sun hits the wall in hopes of the snow consolidating a little, and then do two rappels to get back onto our intended route. After traversing steep snow and ice for a further three pitches, we reach the second rock band. The rock isn’t too steep, only 60°, but it’s a slab without a covering of solid snow or ice. I leave my pack with Hiraide and head up.
For the first half of the pitch, I can get ice screws halfway in, but they feel really suspect. Then the ice and snow disappear and there’s no protection whatsoever on the smooth slab. My legs and arms feel like they’re approaching the limit, so there’s no time to waste. I commit to climbing without pro. Suddenly both feet come off, but an axe catches on something solid higher up. For the first time ever at an altitude like this, I let out a victory yell. I manage to get in another half screw and feel a bit better. Then one of my tools slips at the next move and I fall. I imagine all the runners zippering out below me, but by some miracle they hold. Shaken but determined, I finish the pitch to the top of the rock band.
Above, we simul-climb ice for three pitches. Then it starts snowing again and we are attacked by spindrift, so we start belaying. We cut a campsite on the ridge at the top of the ice wall at about 6860 m.
During the night, the snowfall continues and our tent is assaulted by spindrift. In the morning, the tent is more than half buried. The visibility is bad. We stay in the tent for the whole day. It’s above our acclimatization altitude, and I’m feeling it. I’ve lost my appetite.
The next day, 22 August, we wake early, hoping to reach the summit. However, it keeps snowing so we stay in the tent for a while. Around 6:00 a.m. the visibility improves and we pack up and leave. In all the new snow, we are faced with arduous post-holing. We try to keep motivation high. Forcing a way through the deep snow is reminiscent of winter mountaineering back in Japan. However, at this altitude the body refuses to perform, and it feels like it’s taking forever. After a pitch of steep snow, a three-pitch traverse to the right brings us to a snow ridge that we follow for another four pitches, finally reaching the east ridge at about 7200 m.
It’s already past 11:00 a.m. We manage to get a signal on the satellite phone and make a call to Japan for a weather update. It seems we should be standing under clear skies, which is a bit hard to believe with the blizzard raging around us. The weather for the next day is supposed to be similar. It’s hard to know what to think. The visibility isn’t terrible, though, despite the snowfall, so we cache everything we can and hurry toward the summit, about 400 m above us, with one rope and a bit of food.
The wind is strong, but we see glimpses of Rakaposhi to the south between the clouds. Then we are completely engulfed by clouds, and we take care to note the way back as we proceed, crossing over countless false summits. At 2:00 p.m. we suddenly find ourselves on the real summit. There’s no view, and we’re worried about the way down. Hiraide’s frozen beard makes him look like Santa Claus. We make a quick phone call, and he scrapes a hole in the snow and places a photo of Kei Taniguchi inside it, and then we start down right away.
Our path has already mostly disappeared, so we use a compass to navigate and somehow reach our cache just before dark. We would have liked to descend further, but there is no visibility, so we cut a ledge and bivy. During the night, snow showers assault our tent again.
We wake up to a blizzard. Rather than being happy about having summited, we are worried about getting down alive. We had chosen the east ridge for our descent due to fewer dangers from avalanches and seracs, but in no way is it an easy route. The plateau is broad and it is necessary to climb over three minor peaks along the way. Finding the way down in zero visibility would be impossible. We wait in the tent, praying for the weather to improve.
At around 6:30 a.m. the visibility is ever so slightly better, though the wind is as strong as ever. We catch a glimpse of the route toward the northern spur and head that way, but our scouting had only covered the lower part of the descent, and this area is unknown to us. We end up having to traverse around some big seracs, rappelling off the tops of others. But gradually the visibility improves and the wind quietens.
When we finally reach the high point of our scouting climb, we stop for a final night on the mountain. For the first time in six days, we sleep at a safe, flat spot without snow sliding onto us. Arriving at base camp the next day is much, much more emotional than reaching the summit had been. We are off the mountain—alive.
First alpine-style ascent of Shispare (7611 m) in the Batura Muztagh of Pakistan via the first ascent of the northeast face (2700 m, WI5 M6), by Kazuya Hiraide and Kenro Nakashima from Japan, August 18–24, 2017. The climbers descended the east ridge and north spur. They called their route Shukriya (Thanks in Urdu). Shispare had been climbed only twice before, by a Polish-German expedition in 1974 and a Japanese team in 1994. Both previous ascents followed the east ridge and climbed expedition-style, using fixed ropes.
Sherpas: Pemba Sherpa Pasang Phutar Sherpa, Pemba Chhiring Sherpa, Tashi Shkerpa, Lakpa Sherpa, Pasang Sherpa (cook) and Balwant Singh (cook).
KAZUYA HIRAIDE, 38, lives in Yokohama, Japan. He is a professional mountaineer and mountain cameraman. KENRO NAKAJIMA, 33, is self-employed and lives in Kawasaki, Japan.
Translated from Japanese by Heikki Ruuska
Note Courtesy—The American Alpine Journal
Our expedition was organized specifically for the five elderly members of the club who, despite their age and limited physical capabilities, still felt passionately about mountaineering and exploration.
The Japanese Alpine Club, Tokai Section (JAC Tokai) conducted 13 expeditions to the India Himalayas since 1988, mainly in Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti, and ascended 17 summits over 6000 m. Among them, nine summits were first climbs.
In 2018, we organized an expedition to attempt the Peak 6105 m in Karcha nala. It was the 4th attempt since 2009. Our expedition was organized specifically for the five elderly members of the club who, despite their age and limited physical capabilities, still felt passionately about mountaineering and exploration.
Karcha nala, 17 km long at nearly N32°20′ belongs to Kullu administrative district in Himachal Pradesh, but the access route is from Batal in Spiti. It joins Chandra river at a point of 1.5 km south of Batal. Karcha parvat (6271 m) and Fluted peak (6139 m) are dominant on the north side of the river. Four glaciers separated by ridges, fan out to the south of the river 10 km in length. We tentatively named these glaciers east to west as A, B, C and D. Slopes of both sides of the ridges are pastures for grazing sheep. The side moraine is covered with gravel.
Peak 6060 m (Tashi Rang) is in the headwaters of the A glacier, Peak 6105 m (Chemma) in B glacier, Peak 6066 m (Ache) in C glacier, and Peak 6090 (Pyagski) in D glacier respectively. Steep rocky ridges descend straight down to the Gyundi river. The D glacier is the largest and its south headwaters borders on the lower Bara Shigri glacier1.
Ascent line, Ache peak
Ascent of Peak 6066 m (Ache), 2009
JAC Tokai 10th expedition first planned to attempt Karcha parvat 6271 m after studying the account of the Indian ascent in 1991. We departed from Manali on 30 June and reached Batal (3980 m) on 2 July. We went up to 4600 m of South Dakka glacier for acclimatization and returned to Batal. The walk to base camp was along a dry riverbed on the north side of Karcha nala. After traversing a fragile cliff, big snow bridges and crossing a small river twice, we established base camp at 4400 m.
We noticed that there was no snow on the ridge toward the summit of Karcha parvat thus making it difficult to reach the top because of lack of water. The target was changed to another peak in the upper Karcha nala. Camp 1 was set up at 4700 m on 13 July. We ascended a craggy glacier (C glacier) on the south side of Camp 1 and found a beautiful snowy peak beyond a snowfield. Camp 2 was established at 5200 m.
Three Japanese members and four high altitude porters started from Camp 2 at 5:30 a.m. on 18 July. Tsuneo Suzuki (leader, 74 years), Naoyuki Adachi (66) and one HAP retired at 5400 m because of deep snow. Ritsuo Matsubara (75) and three HAPs carried on along a steep snowed slope and finally stood atop the 6066 m peak at 2:30 p.m. Fog prevented a panoramic view. We gathered at the base camp on July 20 and returned to Manali. We named this beautiful peak ‘Ache’ which means daughter in Lahaul language.
First Ascent of Peak 6105 m (Chemma) 2011
JAC TOKAI’s 11th expedition members were an elderly group with an average age of 65 years. The duration of the expedition was 40 days, from 15 July to 23 August. The main objective was to climb a stunning dome-shaped peak in the headwaters of Karcha nala.
19 July: Five members and a liaison officer moved to Manali.
22 July: All staff members gathered in Manali and made necessary preparations such as purchasing foods and checking gear and equipment.
26 July: Although it rained heavily and there was a landslide at the Rohtang pass (3978 m), they departed by three 4WDs at 3:00 p.m. and arrived at Chhatru (3330 m) at 8:00 p.m.
27 July: They reached Batal (3980 m) in the afternoon and set up tents.
30 July: Horse caravan headed to base camp along Karcha nala. After having crossed the dangerous stream five times, base camp was set up on a dry riverbed at 4400 m.
3 August: Camp 1 was set up at 4700 m.
6 August: Camp 2 was set up at snout of B glacier (5250 m). We went further up looking for a possible location for camp 3 (5550 m). A route on the north east face was chosen as the best bet.
7–8 August: We carefully avoided falling rocks and detoured hidden crevasses.
9 August: Snow conditions seemed good though it was clouded and there was no visibility. At 7:30 a.m., we started climbing a steep and deeply snowed slope. After an hour, we reached a crevassed snowfield. The oldest member, Shinohara (72) was slow but steady. The sky cleared and then a strong sunshine annoyed us! We stood atop the summit at 11:45 a.m. The top was narrower than the Google Earth image. Panorama pictures could not be taken as the narrow space did not allow it.
Crossing the Karcha nala
22 August: The Indian Mountaineering Federation officially recognized the first ascent of summit which the 2011 Expedition succeeded in climbing and named it as Chemma Peak. Chemma means twin peaks in the local language.
First Ascent of Peak 6090 m (Pyagski) 2014
Commemorating the 110th Anniversary of Japanese Alpine Club (JAC), Tokai Section organized a summer expedition to Peak 6090 m. The expedition period was planned over 33 days, 15 June–16 July.
The first objective of the 12th expedition was to climb a virgin peak in the D glacier headwaters of Karcha nala. The second objective was to include the club’s young members in the expedition.
18 June: Three members and Liaison Officer moved to Manali
23 June: Starting from Manali to Batal at 3:00 am., the team crossed Rohtang pass (3978 m) at 8:00 a.m. Three jeeps ran smoothly along Chandra river, but, at 9:30 a.m., heavy snow prevented the jeeps from going further. We walked three days from here to Batal (3980 m), and the baggage was carried on horseback.
25 June: We reached Batal in the afternoon and set up tents. All members were in good health.
27 June: The horse caravan headed to base camp along Karcha nala. We marched on the riverbed of the west side of Karcha nala, and then passed a fragile cliff and snow bridges to the east side of Karcha nala. We set up a tent on a dry riverbed at 4300 m.
1 July: Camp 1 was set up at 4800 m.
2 July: Camp 2 was set up at the snout of D glacier at 5100 m.
4 July: We awoke at 2:00 a.m. Snow conditions seemed good though it was snowing and there was no visibility. At 3:00 a.m., we reached the point where climbing started and at 5:00 a.m., resumed climbing a snowed slope. The sky soon cleared and the hot sun annoyed us. We climbed up the snow face to an unstable band.
After rest we continued climbing and reached the top of the snow-covered peak (6090 m) at 8:30 a.m. We returned to camp 2 at 2:00 p.m.
This was the first ascent and we named this peak as ‘Pyagski’.
Ascending snow wall and mix zone
First Ascent of Peak 6060 m (Tashi Rang) 2018
JAC Tokai 13th expedition was organized in 2018 to Peak 6060 m. The expedition period was planned for 26 days from 2 August to 27 August.
This expedition planned to attempt an unnamed peak in the A glacier, but it was different from the time when we made the first ascent of Chemma in 2011. Is global warming the cause? We found a dangerous river, rocky collapse and a receding glacier.
5 August: Five members and liaison officer in Delhi moved to Manali
9 August: Starting from Manali to Batal at 7:30 a.m., we crossed Rohtang pass (3978 m) and reached Batal in the afternoon and set up tents.
11 August: The horses headed to base camp along Karcha nala. We marched on the riverbed and then crossed the swollen river. We set up a tent on a dry riverbed at 4500 m in the afternoon.
13 August: Camp 1 was set up at 4900 m.
16 August: Camp 2 was set up at the snout of A glacier at 5500 m and we searched for our peak.
18 August: We woke up at 3:00 a.m. Snow conditions seemed good, though it was snowing and there was no visibility. At 5:30 a.m., we moved to headwaters of A glacier and at 5:00 a.m., resumed climbing a snowed slope. We reached the top at 2:08 p.m.
This was the first ascent and we named this peak as ‘Tashi Rang’.
The leader of these expeditions was Kazuo Hoshi (67) and the members were elderly members of the JAC Tokai Section, with ages ranging from 40 to 75.
This is a consolidated note on four expeditions to Karcha nala area in Lahaul by The JAC Tokai section. All ascents were first ascents and members consisted of senior climbers from the club led by Kazuo Hoshi (68).
KAZUO HOSHI is a retired engineer who has climbed several peaks in the Himalaya as described in the article. He lives with his wife in the Aichi Prefecture of Japan.
This is the Rang region—Garbyang and Chhangru are in two countries but they are one society
Whenever I happened to be in Kali valley beyond Dharchula, either going to Jolingkong (Adi Kailas) in Kuthi valley or to Kailas-Manasarovar region in Western Tibet through Kali valley, Chhangru always attracted me when I saw it from different points between Chhiyalekh and Garbyang. But I was not able to visit the village. In 2015 also when our KSL (Kailas Sacred Landscape) Study Team was visiting the Indian villages along Kailas route, we saw the village from the other side of river Kali.
Why did Chhangru seem so attractive? There are three reasons that I think of—1. Chhangru was part of Byans region of pre British Kumaun. As Kali river became the international border between British India and Nepal so all the villages left side of the river became part of Nepal. Chhangru and Tinker villages became part of Nepal though they were not connected with mainland Nepal due to high mountains on the eastern side. For going to mainland Nepal you have either to cross over the Tinker pass and follow river Karnali to enter into Nepal at Hilsa or you have to cross the Kali river below Chhangru and reach Garbyang, come down to Dharchula, cross over the river again and reach Dharchula in Nepal. 2. Chhangru village and its ‘cave of dead’ were visited by geographer Swami Pranavanand and geologists Arnold Heim and Augusto Gansser in the fourth decade of 20th century. I always wanted to compare the scene today with the description given by them. 3. 10 km beyond Chhangru is located the last village Tinker above river of the same name and a pass of same name 10 km from the village.
In 2016 once we knew that the Annual General Meeting of Rang Kalyan Sanstha (RKS) would be organized in Chhangru on 28–29 August, we decided to be there at that time and also try to visit Tinkar, the second and last village of that valley. Actually I was keen on going close to the Tinker pass. I started my journey on 24th from Nainital. I reached Dharchula with my friend Dr. Lalit Pant from Pithoragarh, who I invited to join as he had taught in Dharchula for many years and had worked on Rang-Shauka (Bhotia) and Banraji communities of the region.
These days there is a helicopter facility between Dharchula and Garbyang/Gunji, although its feasibility greatly depends on the weather conditions. Thankfully, we got the afternoon flight to Garbyang on 26th August and within 18 minutes we reached. We were also witness to a wonderful view of the main valley, the different tributaries of Kali, and all the roads, settlements and mountains on both sides. Unfortunately at Garbyang, Dr. Pant fell and injured his ankle bone and thus had to return.
After staying in sinking, deserted but still lively Garbyang village for an hour, where RKS volunteers and villagers had managed tea/ lunch for the delegates, we started our journey to Chhangru. As we crossed the Sita bridge over Kali river we started getting a feel of the preparation for the meeting with welcome posters, banners and a clear path leading to the village. When we reached, we were either escorted to tents or to homes of people.
Today Chhangru is a village with 101 families and the total population is 586 (286 women and 300 men). Some of the families are settled in Kathmandu and elsewhere. Some inhabitants are engaged in Nepal-Tibet border trade and are based in Taklakot for 5–6 months. The meeting had a festival like atmosphere with delegates arriving, cultural groups performed traditional dances and songs while the proceedings continued. The total number of people present at the venue was roughly between 1500 and 1800 and it crossed 2000 for the cultural programmes conducted in the evening and night. All arrangements were made by local volunteers. This was the sign of great traditional community management.
The unique thing with this AGM was that for the first time it was decided that the whole proceedings would be conducted in Rang Lvu language, a language which will be now taught in the schools of Uttarakhand with Kumauni, Garhwali and Jaunsari languages. Rang Lvu is one of the 13 languages of Uttarakhand recently surveyed by the People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI).
During this time a group of us climbed to Chhangru Rakhu, the cave of the dead located on a cliff at 3657 m where we saw bones and other remains of Chhangru ancestors. The view of the Tinkar and Kali valleys from the cave was awe-inspiring but past tragedy made for an interesting story. The cause of the tragedy could have been an epidemic like cholera or cruel suppression by Gorkha rulers in around 1795 or even the myth of slaying a ‘little miracle child’ by villagers in the blind hope of more miracles (It would be worthwhile to undertake carbon dating and DNA tests of these remains to estimate the precise time of the tragedy). Whatever the true story may be, for the Chhangru people, the mountain path to Marma village is closed forever as the Api-Nampha mountains do not have a pass connecting Chhangru and Tinkar with mainland Nepal. There are two passes to Tibet, an open valley to India but no direct way to the rest of Nepal.
On the morning of the third day our 12 member group started the walk to Tinkar (12 km), the last village in the valley. We walked along the Tinkar river and by evening we reached our destination. This valley has terrain similar to upper Byans valley (Gunji to Kuthi and Jolingkong), upper Darma valley above Dantu-Dugtu and upper Vishnuganga/Saraswati valley beyond Badrinath. Most of the trek was in a closed valley but when we reached Tinkar village we suddenly found ourselves in a wide valley with large agricultural fields. Here were shining snow peaks, flower-lit bugyals (alpine pastures) and the meandering Nampha gad. Here was also the last Nepali police post and the Tinkar-Lipu pass just five km from this point. People from Tinkar can reach Taklakot on the same day. That is why all necessities come to these villages from Taklakot. Similarly, several items are taken to Taklakot from this side also.
Tinkar is a remote Himalayan village of 66 families and half of the families have not returned to the village this time. They are in Dharchula. Many families are involved in the Nepal-Tibet trade and are based in Taklakot for 5–6 months. Till date, pilgrims to Kailas and Manasarovar have not been allowed on this route. The local villagers of Chhangru and Tinkar have been demanding to open this pass like Hilsa and Kodari for the pilgrimage to Kailas-Manasarovar region.
Surprisingly Tinkar village has the remains of an old Buddhist Gompa (monastery) and caves meant for monks (including separate ones for men and women). I was able to visit a local home where Buddhist paintings on the walls are still visible and Mani stones are placed at many places between Chhangru and the police post beyond Tinkar. There was also a temple of folk god Lohasur in the village. After a community lunch we started our return journey. The whole village came to the village temple and bid us goodbye with songs and flowers.
We all were moved by the way we were received, cared for and bid farewell by the villagers.
These last Nepali villages have had micro-hydel projects (of 15–20 kw) for several years and also use their water-mills. They have two schools (not functional due to a lack of children) and a hospital. On the Indian side of the border, the villagers still await small community run hydel projects, even though we have engineers unlike the Nepalese side. The motor road being built on the Indian side will also minimize distances as most of the trade items they take to Tibet come from India. The people in Chhangru and Tinkar do not have any constitutional cover like the community in the Indian Rang region since 1967. They are hopeful that they will be included in the new Nepali Constitution.
It is important to know that the British could not understand the oneness of Tinkar and Chhangru with Garbyang and Budi as the four villages of lower Byans when they declared Kali river as the international border between India and Nepal. This is the Rang region—Garbyang and Chhangru are in two countries but they are one society. The RKS has connected the extended community, that was divided by the Kali River.
Recently Shekhar Pathak visited two villages in Nepal—Chhangru and Tinker. They were interesting because they were a part of Nepal although they were not connected with mainland Nepal due to high mountains on the eastern side. Therefore, to go to ‘mainland’ Nepal, one has to go through Dharchula in India.
PROFESSOR SHEKHAR PATHAK has been teaching Kumaun university for three decades; he has been Fellow of I.I.A.S., Shimla and N.M.M.L., New Delhi; worked on social movements, history of explorations, Pundit Nain Singh’s definitive biography, Himalayan history and languages. He is associated with PAHAR and edits the journal of same name. He has been travelling in Himalaya for last four decades. Apart from dozens of journeys he has done in Himalaya and Tibet, the five Askot Arakot Abhiyans between 1974 and 2014; three Kailas-Manasarovar Yatras and trekking on different sides of Mt. Chomolungma (Everest) in Nepal, Tibet and Sikkim are worth mentioning.