Exploration of Ryong Kharu valley and climbs in Sagtogpa glacier - Brief report

Eastern Karakoram Expedition

The Hidden Paradise: Ryong Kharu Lungpa

(Exploration of Ryong Kharu valley and climbs in Sagtogpa glacier)


The much awaited permission to attempt peak Shahi Kangri finally arrived! And we flew to Leh on 17 July 2015 with great excitement and anticipation. However fate had something else in store for us.

As we were flying towards Leh, ominous clouds covered the entire Himalayan belt. While we were landing, the clouds lifted and the sight of snow covered landscape, though very pretty, alarmed me. This was too much snow for July in Ladakh!

Stok Kangri range seen from Leh

Stok Kangri range seen from Leh


My fears were confirmed by the Army officials and our friends in Leh. This year the snow melt had just started and the water bodies were in spate. There was news of bridges being swept away and trekkers and local villagers getting stranded due to washed off routes.

Since our attempt on Shahi Kangri involved our negotiating a narrow nala for almost 14 km, we reluctantly shelved the idea of attempting Shahi Kangri.

We quickly came up with an alternative plan based on a brief session with Google Earth. The Army officials were most co-operative and we were given the green signal to change plans. With assistance from the Border Roads Organisation, on 23 July, our team of six - Rajesh Gadgil, Vineeta Muni, Sagar Shinde, Nikunj Vora, Kushala Vora and Divyesh Muni found us at Mundra, located on the road from Shyok village to Murgo running along Shyok river in the Eastern Karakoram mountains.

Ryong Kharu Lungpa

Ryong Kharu Lungpa


We were now playing blind. We camped next to the road and then set out on the next day - three teams in different valleys to check out the possibility of where we could safely head for a month of climbing. Out of the three options available to us, we chose Ryong Kharu Lungpa to explore. The valley was very beautiful, safe from objective hazards and did not require us to cross any swollen rivers.

It took us three days to establish Base Camp at 4665 m. Advance Base Camp was located at 5070 m on the junction of the various branches of Sagtogpa glacier that formed the catchment area for Ryong Kharu valley.

Advance Base Camp

Advance Base Camp


Just above our Advance Base Camp was the entrance to the first (Eastern) subsidiary of Sagtogpa glacier that was closest to us. We decided to attempt P. 6195 m at the head of this subsidiary glacier. A few days were spent in acclamatising and locating a route to Camp 1 on the glacier.

On the glacier towards peak 6195 m

On the glacier towards peak 6195 m


The weather remained disturbed. Clouds, snowfall and some rain too kept us on tenterhooks. But we were fortunate and did not loose more than a few days.

On 06 August, we were finally established in our Camp 1 at 5765 m. After recceying the route, our team set off for the summit on 08 August at 6.00 a.m. The initial route was on the gradually ascending glacier. We then traversed to the other (Western) side of the glacier to the base of the south ridge. A steady snow climb of easy gradient followed by a rope length of 60 degree snow and ice brought us on top of the south ridge leading to the summit. An hour of climb along the ridge brought us to the summit by 11.00 a.m.

On the summit of peak 6195 m. Left to Right - Divyesh Muni, Sagar Shinde, Vineeta Muni, Kushala Vora, Rajesh Gadgil

On the summit of peak 6195 m. Left to Right - Divyesh Muni, Sagar Shinde, Vineeta Muni, Kushala Vora, Rajesh Gadgil


We were very fortunate to get excellent views from the summit. This enabled us to study the peaks and glaciers around and decide on our next objective. The adjoining subsidiary glacier 2 (Central) was not of much interest to us, but Glacier 3 (Western), a little further had a host of interesting peaks.

We wound up camp and were at Advance Base Camp on the next day. After some celebrations and much needed rest, we started preparation for the next objective, P. 6305 m at the head of Glacier 3, the main branch of Sagtogpa glacier.

The route to the snout of Glacier 3 involved us traversing a lush green ridge that took us gently all the way to Advance Base Camp 2 (5270 m), which we termed as “Paradise Camp”. The camp was along a stream with beds of flowers all along. Coupled with grand views of the peaks around, the camp literally put us in “Paradise”!

View from the ABC2

View from the ABC2


A few kilometers of moraine and boulders led us to the snout of the glacier. We crossed onto the glacier and climbed gently towards our peak in the north. Since the distance to the base of the peak was long, we had to put an intermediate camp on 15 August at 5500 m.

Summit Camp on Sagtogpa Glacier

Summit Camp on Sagtogpa Glacier


A day of snowfall kept us back, but on 17 August we were at the base of our peak. We established our summit camp at 5860 m on the western slopes of the peak. After another day of bad weather, on 19 August, starting for the summit by 6 a.m. we initially traversed to the northern ridge, only to find that the ridge cumulates into steep rock towers. We skirted the summit pyramid from the western side at its base till we found a snow and ice gully leading to the south ridge. A 70 m climb at 50 degrees angle led us to the top of the south ridge. We roped up and climbed the rest of the route to the summit by 11.30 a.m.

On the summit of Sagtogpa Peak 6305 m

On the summit of Sagtogpa Peak 6305 m


The day was exceptionally clear without even a wisp of cloud in the Horizon. We were rewarded with views all the way from Stok Kangri in the west to Saser Kangri Massif in the north. Many unnamed and unclimbed peaks cluttered the eastern and southern horizons with a few known ones. We were excited to identify most of the peaks in view, many of which we had climbed, since we had explored the area over the last 17 years. We named our peak Sagtogpa Kangri since it is the most prominent peak of the Sagtogpa Glacier.

We now spotted a possible route to cross into the Rongdo valley that can link us up with the Nubra valley on our west. The prospect of finding a new route into the Rongdo excited us more that climbing another peak in the area so Rajesh Gadgil and I visited the high pass, which we named as Sagtogpa col (5915 m) leading to the Rongdo to check the route down.

On Sagtogpa Pass (5915 m)

On Sagtogpa Pass (5915 m)


The crossing of the pass looked easy but the exit towards Rongdo was not visible. It could be a steep drop or an ice fall or a rock face…. We could not judge without actually attempting the crossing. We decided to go for it.

Six of us with three days of rations and minimum gear decided to make an attempt the next day. We were supported by the rest of our team for the initial section of the descent. In case the route proved dangerous or not negotiable, they could have helped us to retrace our steps.

On 20 August, as we walked down the glacier after crossing the pass, we were greeted by a gentle glacier going down towards Rongdo. Our support team returned from that point and the six of us continued down the glacier towards the lush green Rongdo valley.

Glaciers of the Rongdo Valley

Glaciers of the Rongdo Valley


That evening, we camped at 5135 m, next to some high altitude lakes. It took us another two days to exit at Rongdo village. To our horror, we discovered that the devastating cloud burst in Nubra valley had broken the path to Rongdo in several places requiring us to use our climbing skills to negotiate the route. The sting in the tail was the 10 km walk to Tsati village since the road between Tsati and Rongdo was also broken at many places.

Camp in the Rongdo Valley

Camp in the Rongdo Valley


What started as a disappointment of not attempting Shahi Kangri turned to be a blessing in disguise. The weather did not affect us as badly though it had devastated the rest of region. We had the privilege to explore one of the most beautiful valleys... a paradise indeed.

Summary:

A team of six climbers sponsored by The Himalayan Club under the leadership of Divyesh Muni, explored Ryong Kharu valley and Sagtogpa glacier of the eastern Karakoram. They achieved two first ascents (P. 6195 m and Sagtogpa Kangri - 6305 m) and also made the first crossing of Sagtogpa col (5915 m) into Rongdo valley thus linking Shyok and Nubra valleys.

Divyesh Muni

Panorama from Sagtopga Kangri (6305 m)

Panorama from Sagtopga Kangri (6305 m)