A Return to Nepal

Derek R Buckle

After a lot of discussion the consensus was that the real PK 5822 (now called True PK 5822) was in fact our secondary objective on the glacier headwall and that the primary objective (now called False PK 5822) was the peak shown on satellite images as PK 5703.

It has been several years since my last expedition to the Nepalese Himalaya and many of my companions were suggesting that it was time to return. There was just one problem; although fairly familiar with the Indian Himalaya, my knowledge of Nepal was considerably more limited. I was, however, drawn to the remoteness of western Nepal, so one person in particular was the obvious choice from whom to seek advice. Julian Freeman-Attwood has made thirteen or more expeditions to the mountains of west Nepal, which has given him an abundant fount of knowledge and made him an undisputed authority. Following his suggestion we eventually homed in on the southern branch of the Lachama Khola in the Changla Himal. Julian and his team had visited this valley in 2011 for an attempt on Gave Ding from the south; an attempt that was defeated on account of bad weather. Subsequently, Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden succeeded in making the first ascent of Gave Ding via an impressive ascent of the north face in 2015, an achievement for which they were justifiably awarded the Piolet d’Or.

A cold river crossing on the way to ABC with False PK5822 in the background

A cold river crossing

Despite these earlier visits, the Lachama valley still offered a variety of unclimbed peaks and Julian kindly provided a photograph of a mountain identified as PK 5822 that he had seen during his 2011 foray. Moreover, it looked feasible for a team of our ability and Google Earth satellite images suggested other peaks on the southern glacier cirque that we might attempt. With a plan in place, Drew Cook, Lorna Earl, Mike Fletcher, Nick King, Steve Humphries and I flew to Kathmandu to meet our sirdar, Ang Dendi Sherpa and make final arrangements with our in-country agent. Once permits were organized, we flew to Nepalgunj on 30th September from where we took an exciting flight in a 12 seater plane to the hilltop town of Simikot the next day. Never exceeding 3600 m this 45-minute flight afforded impressive views of the valleys and villages of the Himalayan foothills before landing on the short, inclined runway at Simikot. After passport and permit formalities we joined the other members of our support team and the muleteers who were to carry our baggage to the proposed base camp.

We set off in the company of 12 laden mules following a muddy track north and then east from the town before descending steeply to cross the Ghatte Khola. From here a rising traverse led to our first camp overlooking the village of Kharpel at a little over 2800 m. Despite overnight rain we left promptly the following day to descend another 500 m to the fast-flowing Chuwa Khola before continuing uphill past a small village on an exceptionally muddy and uneven track. It was rather unfortunate that our arrival in the valley coincided with a mass exodus of local herders and their livestock from the high pastures, which added to both the slipperiness of the track and the time taken to get to our second camp site at around 2900 m. It rained again almost as soon the tents were erected and continued to do so for most of the night. Climbing steeply from this camp we trekked through an impressive gorge before making our third camp at 3560 m in what was now the Dojam Khola valley. Overnight rain was becoming a regular feature of our trek to base camp but on the morning of 4th October we finally awoke to a much better day. The state of the uneven path did not improve, however, since both animals and herders continued to descend in large numbers as we climbed steeply through extensive woodland. To our relief the valley eventually levelled out and widened as we approached the junction with the Lachama Khola. It was here that we made our fourth camp at a little over 4000 m.

For once it did not rain overnight and we awoke to clear skies. After crossing the Dojam Khola we continued along the true right bank of the Lachama Khola to halt where the valley bifurcated at a height of 4348 m. With the muleteers in advance of the main team it was a fait accompli that this was to be our base camp since the mules were unloaded and several tents erected before we had a chance to encourage them to go further. Our original plan was to continue up the southern branch of the valley, but it was not to be. Disappointed though we were, it was a nice site within view of our target peak. A little under an hour further on we passed the site of Julian’s previous camp but we decided to carry on to the foot of the terminal moraine at 4585 m where we now planned to site our advance base camp. With the help of our Sherpas this camp was fully established on 7th October.

High camp at 5120 m

High camp at 5120 m


Panorama of south Lachama glacier and with true False PK 5882 labelled (Nick King)

Having taken longer for the walk-in than planned we now set about exploration with an increased sense of urgency. Our first attempt to reach the 5201 m Lurupaya pass beneath PK 5822 was not encouraging. Scrambling over slippery snow-covered boulders was difficult and we wondered whether this approach would be suitable for laden porters. At a little over 5000 m we returned to ABC for a rethink just as it began to snow quite heavily. The first idea was to investigate approaches to our secondary objectives on the cirque of south Lachama glacier. This too was no easy task as travel on the convoluted moraine was lengthy, awkward and devious. Eventually we all agreed that the true right lateral moraine was the preferable route but a closer look at the headwall indicated that we would need to overcome a significant icefall before we had any hope of placing a high camp within striking distance of any amenable summit. Added to this we were now beginning to question whether the primary target was indeed PK 5822. After a lot of discussion the consensus was that the real PK 5822 (now called True PK 5822) was in fact our secondary objective on the glacier headwall and that the primary objective (now called False PK 5822) was the peak shown on satellite images as PK 5703.

Upper Lachama Khola panorama

Upper Lachama Khola panorama (Mike Fletcher)

After another group discussion we finally decided to place a high camp on the Lurupaya pass with a view to attempting False PK 5822. With the help of our Sherpas once again we established this camp in a snow bowl at 5120 m on 14th October. After a cold, clear night with tent temperatures dropping to -8°C we climbed to the pass from where it was evident that any attempt on False PK 5822 was doomed to failure as the west face was plastered with newly fallen snow and now clearly more technically difficult than we were prepared to undertake.

Towards the west, however, we decided to climb to the prominent ridge from where we hoped that it might be possible to reach one of the smaller summits along its crest. Once again we encountered awkward snow-covered boulder-strewn terrain although we did eventually climb to the ridge. After reaching 5320 m though the final steep 20 m outcrop thwarted our attempts to reach the highest point and we were forced to return to our high camp.

The team (L to R)

The team (L to R), Derek Buckle, Steve Humphries, Lorna Earl, Drew Cook, Nick king, Mike Fletcher (Drew Cook)

Our time was in Nepal was now running short and we needed to return to Kathmandu and thence home. By 17th October we had cleared both the higher camps and were back at base camp enjoying freshly cooked food for the first time in eleven days. It was a welcome delight in preparation for the trek back to Simikot. The track was dry and there were few returning animals. Blue sky added to the beauty of this attractive valley and helped us to forget the unpleasantness of the conditions found during the approach march. All that was left now was to await our flight back to Nepalgunj and then Kathmandu where we would have a day or two of relaxation prior to the flight home.

During 27th September - 27th October 2019 Derek Buckle led a team of six Alpine Club members to the remote Lachama Khola valley in western Nepal where they explored approaches to the unclimbed mountains bordering the southern arm of the valley. Attempts to climb their target peak were unfortunately thwarted by late snows and poor conditions.

References & Notes

J. Freeman-Attwood, Alpine Journal, 45-69, 123, 2019
J. Freeman-Attwood & B. Normand. Alpine Journal, 70-83, 123, 2019
J. Freeman-Attwood, Alpine Journal, 107-116, 117, 2013
M. Fowler, Alpine Journal, 3-12, 120, 2016

Following discussions with Julian Freeman-Attwood on our return to the UK we now both conclude that Google Earth satellite images and the 1:25K Finnish terrestrial maps (not available to us at the time) convincingly show that the peak originally assigned as PK 5822 (now labelled by us as False PK 5822) is, in fact, PK 5703. True PK 5822 lies higher in the glacial system and was originally identified as our secondary objective.

About the Author

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.

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