Indian Himalaya: Climbing and Other News - 2011

Harish Kapadia

Total foreign expeditions 40.  Out of these 21 expeditions were to easy and routine peaks.  Of 57 Indian expeditions about 1/3 were serious peaks or attempts to be covered here. Not unexpectedly no Indian team, except from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, climbed in Uttarakhand as the local rules demand payment of  fees from the Indian teams also.

The pride of place in climbing world for 2011 would go to the First ascent of Saser Kangri II, led by Mark Richey of USA. It was bold line and done in fine style. Steven Swenson on their team almost lost his life.

After decades peaks in Kishtwar area were climbed. It was closed due to political reasons. Hopefully this is a new beginning for this area with vast potential.

Many  small expeditions made exploratory forays into new valleys and climbed small but challenging peaks in areas near Kang la, in Pangong range  and in the Kullu.  Exploratory treks to the Girthi Ganga valley in Uttarakhand was undertaken. While in the farthest eastern corner of the range a team explored route till the border with Burma.


Arwa Spire (6193 m)

Team: Swiss

Leader (Members): Roger Schaeli (3)

The team attempted the steep Arwa Spire via the north face in May. All four members reached till 5700 m. Due to bad weather they spent much time up to this level but could not proceed further.

Meru (6450 m)

Team: American

Leader (Members): Conrad Anker (2)

A three member American team climbed Meru ‘Shark’s Fin’ in the Gangotri glacier area. They used almost 50 kg of hardware, 30 kg of food on the route. They spent 11 nights in bivouacs on the climb. Summit was reached on 2 October by leader with James Chin and Renan Ozturk.

Shivling (6543 m)

Team: British-Australian

Leader (Members): Simon Yates (4)

The team attempted the traditional route on this sharp peak. They reached 6000 m but many dangerous avalanches    falling on the route forced them to give up the climb in early October.

Rajrambha (6539 m)

Team: Indo-Tibet Border Police, India

Leader (Members): Vishal Anand (18)

This peak stands near the Panch Chuli group of peaks.  After establishing a base and advance base camp they made two more camps. Following the east ridge 8 persons reached on the 13 June and another 10 persons on the 14th.

Bhartekhunta (6578 m)

Team: The Indian Mountaineering Foundation

Leader (Members): Ms Kavita Burathoki  (6)

The team proceeded from the Gangotri glacier, Gaumukh to make a base camp at Khada Pathar on left bank of the glacier. Next two camps took them to the foot of the east face of Kirti Stambh.

Starting  at midnight on 29th May, they climbed the east slopes of Bhartekhunta. Summit was reached in six hours. Leader, Soni Shah, Shanti Rai, Pooja Jangam, Ribanish Rympei reached the top with guides Chandra Bahadur and Pratham Singh Powar.

Nilkanth (6597 m)

Team: The Indian Mountaineering Foundation

Leader (Members): Ram Singh Salthia  (7)

The peak was attempted from the west face, from the Khirao ganga.  They reached 5320 m when a heavy snowfall stopped their progress.

Changuch (6322 m)

Team: The Indian Mountaineering Foundation

Leader (Members): Dhruv Joshi  (7)

The team followed the same route as done by Martin Moran’s team during their first ascent. From the Pindari glacier they made Camp 1 at 5380 m, Camp 2 at 5755 m on col with Chhota Changuch.   Five members reached summit on 11 June. They were  leader, Dr. Andan Vaidhya, K. W. Lynddoh, Bharat Bhushan, Takpa Norboo, Chetan Pandey and Harish Kumar.

Nanda Bhannar (6236 m)

Team: The Indian Mountaineering Foundation

Leader (Members): Dr Anil Gurtoo  (3)

The team made a steady progress climbing from the Kafni glacier. Camp 2 was set up at 5800 m in the upper Kafni icefall. At this camp one member developed high altitude sickness and the team had to carry him down 200 m urgently. The further ascent was given up on 22 June due to the rescue.

Kharcha Kund  (6632 m)

Team: The Indian Mountaineering Foundation

Leader (Members): Ashish Kr. Singh  (6)

The team attempted the peak rather early in the season, in May. They attempted the north ridge which was too steep and snow bound.  Huge avalanche engulfed their camp leading to loss of equipment. Bad weather continued and the climb was given up on 19 May.

Gangotri III (6577 m)

Team: The Indian Mountaineering Foundation

Leader (Members): Debabrata Mukherjee  (3)

Despite some poor weather this team made several attempts to climb the summit. On 16th June the attempt was stopped at about 6370 m, due to bad weather.

Next day, 17th June 2011 leader with Subid Ali and Himadri  Nandi reached about 6560 m on the summit ridge. They stopped there, about 15 m short of the peak as there was a dangerous cornice and it looked threatening to fall down any time.

Exploring Girthi  Ganga

A team led by Ashutosh Mishra made pioneering explorations  in the Girthi Ganga valley, Uttarakhand. Girthi is a tributary of Rishi Ganga (draining Nada Devi glaciers) and joins Alaknanda river.  Girthi forms a narrow and formidable gorge in middle sections and is difficult to trek. Moreover it is near  China border and   it is difficult to obtain permissions.

In last few decades Girthi gorge  was explored by the Scottish Himalayan expedition in 1950 (Bill Murray and three others) and the route was followed in 1986 by a team from Mumbai (Harish Kapadia). The gorge is fed by several streams and valleys from both sides, each leading to small valleys, containing  unknown peaks .

Facing all the administrative and route difficulties the team proceeded slowly to reach head of the valley. It made the head of the valley and visited Unta Dhura pass leading to Milam. Then Jainti dhura pass  and Khingar la (both near the border) we reached by them, possibly the first civilians to reach there after  restrictions were enforced.  This team portrayed all the characteristics and pleasures of the early explorers.


‘Chemma Peak’ (6105 m)

Team: Japanese

Leader (Members): Hoshi Kazuo (4)

A team of seniors from Japan made the first ascent of this peak on 9th July 2011. The peak is situated at head of the Karcha nala, Lahaul and on border with Spiti. They established two camps from base and climbed the northeast face.  Leader with Tanabe Motoyoshi, Ishuii Httoshi, Shinbora Yutaka, Kuze Katsumi and LO D. Gajendra reached the summit,

Deo Tibba (6001)

Team: French

Leader: Jerome Guggisberg and L. Rayssac

Two-member team ascended the east face of this peak situated in near Manali, Himachal Pradesh. They climbed reached the summit on 29th April. With two French members summit was also reached by Konchok Thinless, Sakalzeng Rigzin, Eagan Thakur and Virendra Singh. Peaks in Kang la Area

Team: British

Leader (Members): Jonathan Paul Moodie (6)

A strong British team climbed several peaks in valleys east of Kang la and northeast of Kangle in Reru valley.

a. ‘Lama Jimba Kangri’ (6276 m). This was the highest peak climbed by them by west face  traversing to east gully Summit was reached on 6th September by all members plus LO. Following reached the summit: leader, Dr Kamal Masania, Dominique Southgate, Jonathan Bull, Virgil Scott, Robin Jones, Joe Prinold and Sgt. Anupam Mukherjee (LO)

b. Peak 5405 m via northwest face climbed on 10th September by four members.

c. ‘Mose Kangri’ (5930 m). Three members reached the summit on 11th September.

d. Peak 5985 m climbed via north face. Two members reached the summit on 15th September.

Peaks 6160 m and 6181 m (Himachal Pradesh) , near Parag la, Spiti

Team: Japanese

Leader (members): Kiyoshi Ishii (5)

a. Peak 6160 m was climbed on 7th August via the southwest face. Summit was reached by Yudai Satou with Jay Prakash Rai.

b. Peak 6181 m was climbed on 9th August by east face by nine members. Summiteers; leader, Kiyoshi Ishii, Toshihiko Kawauma, Chikako Kimura, Akira Asakura and Yudai Satou (all Japanese). Jay Prakash Rai, Angfuri Lama, Prakash Chanel and Yaduram Sharma (LO) (all Indians)

Deo Tibba (6001 m)

Team: Travellers’ Guild, West Bengal, INDIA

Leader (Members): Prosenjit Samanta (10)

This dome shaped peak in the Manali area of Kullu Himalaya stands at the head of Jagatsukh nala. This team made two camps and followed the route over the Norbu  peak. Five members reached the summit on 9 June.

Devachan (6000 m)

Team: Himalaya’s Beckon, Kolkata, India

Leader (Members): Arupam Das (10)

The peak stands on the Tos nala, Kullu Himalaya  This large team made three camps and crossed the col with Papsura. They followed the  south ridge to the summit on 3 August. The summit was reached by Dipankar Sen, Sudip Roy and Arupam Das (leader).

Unnamed Peak  6015 m

Team: Mitrapara Youth Mountaineers & Culture Association, W.B., India

Leader (Members): Samir Sengupta (10)

This peak in Lahaul stands near to KR-II(6187 m)  and KR-IV(6340 m), the original aim of this expedition. However the team could not attempt them. Pk 6015 m was climbed on 4 August by the leader, Sandip Roy and Nirmalaya Ghosh.

CB  12 (6248 m)

Team: Pimpri Chinchwad Mountaineering Association, Pune, India

Leader (Members): Arjun Pethkar (9)

This is the high peak in the Chandra Bhaga group of the Lahaul Himalaya. They have been [popular due to easier access. They established an advanced base camp and camp 1. Starting from the last camp at 2 a.m. reached the summit at 6 a.m. Peak was climbed on 6 August by the leader and five members with two Sherpas.

KR-V (6258 m)

Team: Summiter, Kolkata, India

Leader (Members): Aloke Kr Das (10)

The   Koa Rong nala in  Lahaul contains several peaks, including this high peak.  The team made a camp on the west of the peak, at 6225 m. On 22 August six members and two Sherpas reached the summit in 40 minutes. They found a cairn on the summit.

Dawa Kangri  (6140 m) and  Lagbhorche (6000 m)

Team: Rifle Factory Sports Council, Kolkata, India

Leader (Members): Ashim Ghosh (10)

These peaks stands on the Loser nala, on border between Lahaul and Spiti. It does not receive many teams.  After setting up two   camps  Lagbhorche was climbed by four persons with two high altitude supporters.

Later Dawa Kangri was climbed by the leader with Tapas Dey, Radheshyam Halder, Paramesh Chatterjee with two high altitude supporters.  The summit was reached on 27 August.


Mari (6585 m)

Team: Japanese

Leader (Members): Masato Oki (4)

This was team of seniors from Japan. Leader is aged 77 and other members were between 60 to 69 years. They climbed this high peak situated in the Pangong Range of Ladakh area. They followed the south face to southeast ridge to make the ascent. The summit was reached by K. Ouchi, Norio Katayanagi, Isamu Kezuka and Dawa Sherpa.

Peaks in Ladakh-Kishtwar

Team: Swiss

Leader (Members): Stephan Schaffer (10)

This large team climbed in the Kishtwar area. This beautiful area with many peaks has not been visited for several years due to political troubles.  Climbed in smaller groups and alpine-style. Following peaks were climbed by them:

a. Red Apple peak (6070 m) on 17th August by six members: Leader, Fred Duraz, Gregory Triollet, Jiri Minar, Laurence Marie-Gabrielle Di Florio and Oliver Messerli.

b. Gocook peak (6050 m) was climbed on 21st August. They followed the northwest ridge. Summit was reached by leader with Marc Roullier and Sebastian Colsonet.

c. Unnamed Peak 6050 m was climbed by the south face to southeast ridge to the summit.  Four  persons reached top; Fred Duraz, Oliver Messerli, Passang Lama and Golkal Chontel (cook).

Cerro Kishtwar (6155 m) –White Sapphire (6040 m)

Team: Swiss-Austrian-USA

Leader (Members): Siegrist Stephan (3)

A small experienced team made two first ascents in the Kishtwar area. No bolts were used and both the summits were climbed in alpine-style.

a. Cerro Kishtwar. (6155 m) The first ascent of its south summit was made by northwest face and south ridge to the main summit. Then they followed the east ridge to the north summit (second ascent). They named this route as ‘Yoniverse’. Summits were reached in climb from 25th to 29th September. Route was 1200 m and they made 26 abseils on return. Summits were   reached by leader, David Lama, Denis Burdet and Robert Frost.

b. ‘White Sapphire’ (6040 m). The first ascent of this shapely peak near to Cerro Kishtwar was made by leader and Denis Burdet in a two-day climb on 4-5th October. They climbed the west face to north summit (5080 m) to the main south summit at 6040 m.  It was 850 m climb and 11 rappels were made to return. They named the route as ‘la viree des Contemporains’.


Saser Kangri II (7518 m)  and other peaks

Team: Indo-American (11)

Leaders:  Mark Richey and Motup Goba

Steve Swenson, Mark Richey, and Freddie Wilkinson made the first ascent of Saser Kangri II, the second-highest unclimbed mountain in the world, 7518 m (24,665 ft). The team began their ascent from an advance base camp at 5800 m on the South Shukpa Kunchang  glacier on 21 August  and summited on 24 August, and returned to ABC the next day.  Their five-day, continuous-push ascent and descent of the mountain's southwest face, without pre-established camps or fixed ropes, is one of history's highest first ascents to be accomplished in alpine style.

Although the technical difficulties on the 1700 m face went smoothly, the team confronted an unexpected medical emergency when a sinus infection suffered by Swenson worsened into a serious respiratory problem just after reaching ABC.  Steve’s condition was serious as he coughed up large, glue-like clumps of phlegm that would block his airway periodically, preventing him from breathing. We all feared for his life. Using our SAT phone we initiated a rescue effort through Global Rescue, the American Alpine Club, the American Embassy in Delhi, and their agent.  In addition, my wife Teresa had just arrived in Leh and spent the entire day on the phone tirelessly urging the State Department, the Embassy, and everyone involved to cut through red tape and approve clearance for the Lama helicopters.

The Indian Air Force alone has helicopters capable of landing and taking off at high altitudes. Without Teresa’s persistence we are sure we would have waited another full day for the chopper and that may have proved fatal for Steve.  Finally at around 4 p.m., as worsening weather threatened to cancel the rescue, clouds lifted and two Lama helicopters, flying low over the mountains, appeared above the  glacier.  We heard the rotors first as we had taken shelter inside the tents.  I remember waking an exhausted Swenson and announcing ‘your Limo is here!’ Swenson was evacuated from ABC on 26 August  to a hospital in Leh where he recovered quickly in a few days. Richey and Wilkinson remained on the glacier and cleared off our camp with our Sherpa staff, rejoining Swenson in Leh on 30 August.

Despite the scare, the team is ecstatic about the quality of our adventure.

Other First Ascents

Additionally, the team, which included Emilie Drinkwater, Kirstin Kramer, and Janet Bergman, made the first ascents of four other unclimbed 6000 m mountains in the region.

Tsok Kangri, 6585 m. First ascent,  via the north face, WI4+, 680 meters.  31 July by  Richey, Swenson, Wilkinson.

Our route on Tsok Kangri was the best pure-ice climb I’ve done in the Karakoram or Himalaya.  It  reminded me of the Black dike, a classic New England Ice Climb, only 4 to 5 times as long and finishing at over 22,000 ft.!  We climbed it in one long 22-hour day.

Saserling (6100 m) First Ascent, via the south face.  5.9+, 8 pitches, 350 m, 6 August, by  Bergman and Wilkinson and Pumo Kangri (6250 m) . First ascent, via west face, WI3, 450 m. 5 August by  Drinkwater and Kremer.

Janet and Freddie’s route on Saserling was another classic climb, 8 pitches of stellar rock climbing with excellent rock quality and challenging climbing on every pitch.  Pumo Kangri, which means ‘Ladies mountain’ in Ladakhi looked like a giant snow plod at first but turned out to be sustained low-angle ice for the entire climb.  Emilie and Kirsten carried only one ice screw but nonetheless pushed on to the summit climbing mainly without belays.  The descent however required rappelling and with only one screw to cut v-threads and belay the process took them all night!  They arrived at ABC the next morning after a 29-hour continuous push, passing Janet and Freddie on their way up to climb Saserling!

Stegasaurus (6660 m) First Ascent,  via the south glacier to south ridge.  Steep snow climbing and ridge traverse. 9 August by  Bergman, Drinkwater, Kremer, Richey, and Wilkinson.

We named this peak ‘Stegasaurus’ since the line of rock towers leading up the ridge                            reminded us of the dinosaur.   Although not a difficult climb technically, we had a lot of fun and it was great to do a climb altogether (only Steve was absent).  Also, the return to ABC from our high camp made for the best skiing of the trip.

Indian team members

Chewang Motup, Co-leader , Raj Kumar, liaison officer , Konchok Thinlese, Sirdar

Pemba Sherpa (aka King Kong), Dan Singh Harkotia, Jangla Tashi Phunchok, and

Tshering Sherpa.

Expedition Summary

First Ascent, Saser Kangri II, 7518 m via the southwest face, ‘The Old Breed’. WI 4 M3, 1,700

m.  24 August.  By  Richey, Swenson, Wilkinson.  Four other peaks were climbed, all first ascents.

The expedition was awarded the prestigious  2012 Piolet d'Or as the best expedition of 2011.

Mark Richey


Peak 6130 m (Arganglas valley)

Team: Indian-British

Leaders (members): Skalzang Rigzin (Indian) and Guillaume Francois (French)

A large expedition visited the remote Arganglas valley in the Nubra valley. However due to weather, (in July) logistics and illness they could not make much headway and the attempt was given up early.

Peak 6017 m (near Mamostong Kangri)

Team: Indian-Spanish

Leaders (members): Kusang Sherpa (Indian) and Jonas Fernandez Cruces (Spanish)

The team had permission to attempt the high Mamostong Kangri (7516 m). After two camps they reached the Mamostong Col (5807 m) but weather (in mid- August) was deemed not suitable to attempt the summit.

The team then climbed a nearby peak of 6017 m through a central couloir of the west face. They named the peak as ‘Junai Kangri’.

Saser Kangri IV (7416 m)

Team: Indian, The Himalayan Club Kolkata Section

Leader: P. C. Sahoo (10)

The team travelled to the Nubra valley in Ladakh and established a base camp on the South Phukpoche glacier. After the initial ferries to establish two camps bad weather stopped their progress to attempt Saser  Kangri I.

On the 6 August, six climbers started moving up from C3, traversing the icefield that led steeply to the col, while a team of Sherpas who had already opened C4, moved up the upper face of SK IV and fixed two coils of rope on it.

On 6 August, Purba Sherpa reached the summit of SK IV, climbing solo.  On 9 August, after setting up C4,  Debraj Dutta and Ang Dorjay Sherpa, Meghlal Mahato and Mingma Thendu Sherpa summitted  Saser IV in two parties. Rajiv Mondal    reached till 7200 m but returned du to chilblains.

Members: Pradeep Sahoo, (leader), Debraj Dutta (deputy leader), Meghlal Mahato, Kakali Ghosh, Binita Soren, Sheelarani Mahato, Subrata Dey, Biplab Banerjee, Debabrata Ghosh, and Rajeev Kr Mondal.

Exploring Lapti Valley near  Burma

In October-November 2011, we (Dinesh, Nandini and Uttara Purandare, Atul Rawal and myself)  trekked to the eastern most part of India in the Lapti valley, the Arunachal Pradesh. We reached within 5 km of the India- Burma border when heavy snowfall stopped us. The trail is  located in the Anjaw District (on the  Lohit river)  and is near the Rima-Kahao  border with  China.  Hawai is the new District Headquarters.  If the sea and local  dances grace the well known Hawaii (USA) in the Pacific, here at  the Hawai, mountain scenery matched the beauty of sea and traditional people and their dances were no less attractive.

This area, along with the plateau above Walong, is the ‘Burma Hump’. During the World War  II several planes crashed on this plateau as old aircrafts could not gain height and malfunctioned at the altitude. Remains of many planes lie scattered but now any parts are taken out by search parties and locals.

Ours was a beautiful exploratory  trek. We turned into the Lati river valley from Hawai and bifurcated to its tributary, the Lapti from village Kamlat. Trek was  strenuous and the route  always climbed  steeply- and as a result was descending steeply on the way back,  on wet – slippery ground.  But  the forest and being on an remote trail to Burma was an inspiration. Beauty of forest in autumn colours made camping grounds of Tafam and Kushok almost a paradise.  The trail  led us to the foot of Hoot pass which crosses into Burma and in few days would have lead us to Fort Hertz in the Myanmar (Burma). F. Kingdon Ward has written about the Lohit valley and the book The Icy Mountains of Burma, cover these mountains on the border.  A few of these peaks we observed on our way back. We came across two villages and they  were almost a generation behind  and what we call progress has not reached them as yet. No trekkers seems to have come here though we heard some rumours of a party trekking here before. People of the Burmese origin cross the Hoot Pass (3570 m)  into India to collect herbal plants every year. Overall communities across the borders interact peacefully even today.

On the way back I fell almost  150 feet,  on loose wet gravel  covered by shrubs/bushes. I just could not hold on to the bushes falling head first, and gathered speed, passed over  one slab after the other- all were downward sloping luckily. Then came to a halt on a small grassy patch and finally rolled over gently on a crop of  huge rocks. It would have been different ending if I had reached these rocks even at a little speed! Though I was bleeding profusely through nose and was covered with many scratches all over the body, except one sharp hit on my right hip I was saved.  Dinesh Purandare reached me in a flash with other porters, and I could get up on my feet in about half an hour. I climbed up the steep slope to reach the main trail and then with help of sturdy Mishmi porters walked down to the camp in a painful four hour trek. Medicines reduced the pain and next  day I walked  down  to the roadhead from where a taxi took me to the Hawai Rest House. A day of rest, two days of rough car journey, a night in train and a five hour flight followed and  I was  home !

These areas  are wonderful, not visited by trekkers and has some of the  finest virgin rain forest, leading to the Alpine forest full with pines in the upper reaches. The high altitudes lakes are an attraction. It offers most exhilarating experience and—not everyone has to have a fall!

(Harish Kapadia)

(I am grateful to the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, Lindsay Griffin, Rajesh Gadgil  and several  individual contributors, as mentioned,  for the information)