Saturday, November 1, 2014

Autumn 2014 | First Ascents and New Routes in Indian Himalayas

Post monsoon is the season when quite a few alpinists head towards Himalayas to attempt virgin peaks and fresh routes on lower peaks. Separate teams of Slovenian, Swiss and British climbers have achieved first ascents and opened some new routes in a less-climbed region of Indian Himalayas, this autumn.

New Routes on Hagshu

Hagshu (6451m) is located near the division of Zanskar and Kishtwar regions. The peak was first climbed in 1989; by Polish climbers without permit and a British team with official permission. No further summits are reported on the mountain (until this year), majorly because of climbing ban from 1993 to 2012 due to political unrest.

This season Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) issued multiple Hagshu permits, due to some bureaucratic blunder, though. This resulted in serious inconvenience for climbing parties. Nonetheless, the ending has been quite smooth for everyone.

Hagshu (6,515m), Kishtwar, Himalaya
Hagshu (6451m); Photo: Mick Fowler;  Source

British Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden have been regular climbing partners and are known for several first ascents in China, Tibet and India; the recent one being first ascent of Kishtwar Kailash (6451m) in autumn 2013. This year, along with Steve Burns and Ian Cartwright, the duo intended to open a new route on North Face of Hagshu.

Three Slovenian climbers Ales Cesen, Luka Lindic and Marko Prezelj were planning to attempt Rimo III, but they were instructed (by IMF) to find another objective. Their agency proposed Hagshu. During the trek to BC, the Slovenians met a three-member American team who also had a permit to climb the Hagshu.

However, at the end, the Americans abandoned the climb because of health issue with one member (the remaining two members attempted Barnaj), the Brits switched to Northeast Face, whereas Slovenians climbed the North Face.

North Face

The Slovenians set up BC at 4400m on west side of Hagshu Glacier. They started the acclimatization by climbing Lagan (5750m), a peak with decent altitude and difficulty, in two days. After a couple of rest days, they established ABC at 4660m. During second rotation, the team summited a 6300m peak named Hana's Men.

After acclimatization and three days of rest, the summit push on Hagshu North Face began on Sept 29th. They left ABC at around 3am.

“We headed towards the wall with a small tent, two sleeping bags and food for two bivouacs. After a little more than two hours of access, we waded into deep powder snow, drifted from the north face by winds and powder snow avalanches. After almost an hour of wading, the conditions began to allow for rapid advancement again. We climbed up a snow cone to the central part of the north face.

We climbed unroped and quickly reached the steepest part of the wall with steep icy passages. Then followed a very steep ice, which surprised us with its hardness. The ice was polished completely smooth from minor powder avalanches and brittle as glass because of the cold. These conditions made the upper part of the wall surprisingly difficult, and slowed us down.”

Ales Cesen on North face of Hagshu. (Photo by Marko Prezelj)

The trio climbed for 23 hours that day, before bivouacking on a narrow ridge at 6320m.  Next day, they resumed the climb, late in the morning. The weather remained nice and the team reached the top at around 5PM. “The late hour and nice weather persuaded us into bivouacking just a few meters below the summit.” The entire climb was graded as ED, 70°-90°, III.

Instead of descending the line of ascent, the Slovenians decided to come down via Polish route on Southeast ridge. “During steep rappelling we all agreed that the Poles had done an excellent job in 1989,” the climbers concluded.

Slovenian Hagshu North Face route; Source

Northeast Face

Precise details about Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden’s climb aren’t available, yet. However, the Slovenians mention that, “They (Fowler and Ramsden) climbed the pronounced couloir in the left-most part of the northern wall, and on the third day of climbing at an altitude of 6320m they joined to the route that had been outlined by us, at the location of our first bivouac. They continued in our trail for the remainder of their ascent and the entire descent.”

Paul Ramsden and Mick Fowler on the summit of Hagshu (6,515m) after having made the first ascent of the NE Face, Kishtwar, Himalaya
Paul Ramsden and Mick Fowler on the summit of Hagshu (6,515m) 

Other two members of British team, Ian and Steve, didn’t participate in Hagshu NE Face climb. They attempted a less-demanding six-thousander near Base Camp. The American team made two unsuccessful attempts on Barnaj from Northeast and South side. They were very close to the top during latter attempt.

Swis First Ascents of Unnamed Peaks, New line to Kishtwar Shivling's east summit

After remaining devoid of any mountaineering activity for almost two decades, the climbers are returning to the playground of Kishtwar region. Apart from the teams around Hagshu BC, three Swiss climbers scaled two unnamed peaks and opened a new route to Kishtwar Shivling's east summit.

Just before mid-September, Andreas Abegglen, Thomas Senf and Stephan Siegrist established the Base Camp near a 5885m peak, which they later named Shiepra. The climbers reached the summit on September 16th, from South side, after bivouacking a night at 5100m. They graded the route as IV WI3 75 degrees.

Stephan Siegrist climbing Shiepra; Source

Next, they moved to a peak, 40m lower than Shiepra. It was named as Kharagosa (5840m). Team started the climb from east face to approach southeast face and go further to the summit. “We were into the second rope length on the pillar when we arrived at a steep and very beautiful section of rock with great friction," Siegrist told, "It was such a bummer we had our alpine boots on and no soft climbing shoes with us!" The route was marked as 6a [5.10] M4, 1000m.

Kharagosa; Source

Next, the Swiss alpinists headed to Kishtwar Shivling, a 6000m peak first climbed by Dick Renshaw and Stephen Venables in 1983. “It was a superb face climb of very difficult, varied climbing: snow aretes, a vertical sérac barrier, difficult mixed climbing, granite pitches and a very steep fluted summit icefield, reminiscent of the Andes.” Stephen Venables wrote in his expedition report to AAJ. He further noted that “like its Garhwal namesake, this Shivling has no obvious easy routes. The same is true for most of the Kishtwar peaks. There is an enormous scope for demanding technical climbing at comparatively low altitude.”

The Swiss climbers approached Kishtwar Shivling via a 50 degree slope. From 5400m onwards, ten pitches of WI5 led them through a hidden couloir which, in his interview to, Siegrist compared to the famous Supercanaleta on Fitz Roy. The team’s progress was halted by a dead-ended at 5895m.

Kishtwar Shivling; Source

Telthop First Ascent

At 6185m, Telthop is amongst the highest peaks in the north of Leh, the largest town of Ladakh. Because of political tensions between India and Pakistan, the area is not well explored and permits are hard to come by. British Matt Barnsley, Roland Chuter, Chris Horobin and Bob Shiels, American Chuck Boyd, Indians Dawa Narbu Sherpa, Tashi Phunchok Zangola, and Virender Singh, and Nepalese Phujung Bhote made the first ascent of the mountain, this autumn.

The group reached the summit via northwest face and southwest ridge. The route involved sections of hard ice at 70°. “Given the sustained nature of the climbing, an overall grade of D was felt appropriate,” wrote Lindsay Griffin for theBMC.

Hagshu NE Face: new Kishtwar climb by Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden
Slovenian alpine climbers Česen, Lindič and Prezelj first to climb the north face of Hagshu
Swiss Trio Finds FAs in India's Kishtwar
British climbers make first ascent of a prominent 6,000m peak in Ladakh

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Autumn 2014 | Koreans Heading Towards C4 on Lhotse South Face

Korean Lhotse climbers are back on the mountain with the aim to establish the final camp at around 8200m, before summit push. Communication from the team has been intermittent, but it appears that the mountaineers left for C4 on October 29th.

Korean route (black) on Lhotse South Face.

Veteran adventurer Hong Sung Taek and five less-experienced climbers have been climbing (and fighting for survival on) Lhotse South Face since last two months. After persistent bad weather and severe snowstorms during September and October, now harsh cold await the climbers as they resume the ascent. “It’s certainly colder than before, but not enough to cause a problem in climbing. We will try our best to not make any weather related excuses,” says the expedition leader.

Frequent avalanches have been running down the South wall because of excessive snowfall in Khumbu region, this autumn. Last week, the team posted a video of avalanches, they encountered since their arrival. It’s reported that snowfall is still persistent. But every cloud has a silver lining. Additional snow and colder temperatures have reduced the rockfall danger, considerably.

The Korean team reached Lhotse South Face BC during first week of September, amidst heavy monsoon snowfall. C1 was set up at 5800m without much difficulty. However, the establishment of next two camps, C2 at 6800m and C3 at 7500m, involved multiple challenges and consumed more than a month. Cyclone Hudhud’s offshoots further delayed the plans of reaching C4. The team consists of Hong Sung aek (47), Kim Tae Gon (42), Choi Jin Chul (42), Yim Jun Ho (36), Choi Hyung Woo (26) and Jeon Jae Min (25).

Climbing a steep Section on Lhotse South Face. Photo: Outdoor News
Lhotse South Face is steep. Photo: Outdoor News
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Friday, October 24, 2014

Autumn 2014 | No Summit Push on Makalu, Canadians on Nuptse South Face

Yesterday, British Makalu team decided not to go for the summit. They are getting off the mountain and preparing to leave Base Camp. With the exception of Korean team on Lhotse South Face, the eight-thousanders are empty now. Nevertheless some climbers are still active on lesser peaks. One such team is the Canadian pair, Ian Welsted and Jason Kruk, on South face of Nuptse (7861m).

Makalu Southeast Ridge
Makalu Southeast Ridge is a long route, with considerable time to be spent at around or above 8000m. Despite the efforts of Sherpa and climbers, the British team wasn’t in a position to launch the final summit-bid. Without specific details, the last dispatch from the team announces the retreat.

“Unfortunately, time, weather, and the debilitating and degrading effect of working such a challenging and problematic route has got the better of us, and forced a retreat off the mountain. With the onset of poor weather and the expedition time limitations, the reluctant decision to get everybody safely off the mountain and call it a day has been made!”

British BC at Makalu's Southeast Ridge; Source

Nuptse South Face
Canadians Ian Welsted and Jason Kruk arrived in Khumbu valley at around mid-September to climb the challenging Nuptse South Face in alpine style. They acclimatized on nearby crests and ridges before actual onslaught. However, their first attempt on Nuptse failed because of bad ice conditions. The two climbers are still at BC, awaiting improvement in conditions to launch another summit push.

Nuptse South Face; Source

Ian and Jason have been tested by adverse weather, alike the Koreans on nearby Lhotse South Face. The weather had continuously been snowy, and the situation was further worsened by cyclone Hudhud’s offshoots.

“Crazy, convoluted snow climbing, messed-up, massive cornices, make these the most heinous features to climb in the Himalaya,” commented Jason Kruk. “The Cyclone Hudhud dropped a ton of snow on an already snowy October. We've decided that the open snow slopes and ice lines are currently suicide.”

The climbers eventually decided to launch the summit attempt at the start of this week, only to be turned back next day. “We were forced down on day two of an attempt by poor steep ice conditions.”

The expedition, however, doesn’t end here. Jason wrote on Facebook, “Nuptse South Face is a hard mountain... I guess that's why it took the most prolific Himalayan climber alive, Valeri Babanov, three trips here to send... And he fixed rope...

We've resolved that despite the difficulty of the line, it's our only safe option for an ascent. As I type this (on Oct 22nd) it's currently snowing (again) on our mountain. This time we'll trade out some ice screws for more rock gear and give 'er hell.”

Ian Welsted on Nuptse South Face; Source
Jason Kruk on Nuptse South Face; Source

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Autumn 2014 | Makalu SE Ridge Summit Push; Video from Lhotse South Face

Excessive snow on Makalu's normal route forced all climbers to retreat. However, the British team is reporting good conditions from Southeast Ridge. They are likely to leave for the summit from C4, tonight. There hasn’t been any update from Korean team, who were on the way to set up C4 on Lhotse South Face. Meanwhile, the home-team of Koreans has published a compilation of video footages from the expedition, majorly covering the massive avalanches on this notorious mountain wall.

British tri-services team’s progress on SE Ridge has been led by a group of Sherpa, who established C3 on Monday. Yesterday, they worked on the route to C4. It's hoped that two members and four Sherpa would have made it to C4 earlier today, and they shall launch the summit push at night. In today's dispatch Base Camp, the expedition leader wrote.

This morning the summit team set off to establish camp four and stay there the night for a planned early next morning attempt at the summit. The summit team radioed in this morning to report they were in good form and with the weather window holding good for the next three days were optimistic for having a good crack at it.

C2 on Makalu SE Ridge; Source

On normal route, the bad conditions didn't let the climber go above C2. “We felt it unreasonable to press on in such difficult / dangerous conditions, so have called off our climb. Currently we are packing up our base camp and preparing to head out in a few days.” Garret Madison wrote on Tuesday.

Lhotse South Face is steep, difficult and dangerous. Korean expedition led by Hong Sung Taek has been working on the mountain since the start of September. Prolonged bad weather, excessive snow and frequent avalanches have made the climb further demanding. The team has now published a compilation of video footages (in Korean language) from the expedition. Watch the interesting movie "Surviving Avalanches" here.

Prior to bad weather stimulated by cyclone Hudhud, Koreans had established C3 at 7500m. They were planning to install a final camp C4 at 8200m before summit bid. However, there hasn't been any update from the team, recently.

Koreans on Lhotse South Face; Photo: Outdoor News

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Autumn 2014 | Makalu Summit-Bids

The winds recede and there appears to be a summit window on Makalu around the mid of this week. The teams have already launched the summit attempts; British tri-services team on Southeast Ridge and Madison Mountaineering team via normal route. However, it appears that bad snow conditions forced normal route climbers to retreat. British climbers are all set for a final push in next couple of days.

Southeast Ridge
The Sherpa and climbers of British tri-services team left BC on Oct 16th and are currently in C3. They had to reinstall C1 as the tents collapsed during bad weather. In a minor accident between C1 and C2, one of the Sherpa sustained a knee injury. He had to be assisted down to BC.

The team spent a night in C2 (6700m) during previous rotation. Their plan is to establish C3 and C4, and push forward to the summit. The home-team of the expedition shared following summit-push plan.

“Expectations are running high now, with Camp 3 established and a window of good weather with light summit winds forecast on the 22nd and 23rd. Colin, Dick and two Sherpa will push on “Alpine style” to camp four, beyond the crux of the Gendarmes, with a summit bid planned during the good weather window predicted. Chris and Gav plus two Sherpa will be in support close behind. The rest of the team will be strategically placed in support on the mountain.”

Going up SE Ridge on Makalu; Source

Normal Route
Garrett Madison, Vibeke Sefland and Lhakpa Sherpa started the summit attempt via normal route and were last 'tracked' near C1 on Oct 19th. However, as per recent dispatch from British team, it appears that the team was forced to retreat.

“News is that on the North side of Makalu, avalanche conditions have caused teams to retreat back to Base Camp with little likelihood of summiting from that side.” 

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Autumn 2014 | Two Slovaks and Three Nepalese Missing on Dhaulagiri

The severe weather stimulated by cyclone ‘Hudhud’ recedes in Nepal, leaving a catastrophe of great magnitude behind. Blizzard and avalanches killed several trekkers, climbers and natives in Western Region, whereas dozens are still missing. Rescue operation continues for retrieval of bodies and search and evacuation of missing persons.

An enormous avalanche hit Dhaulagiri BC on Tuesday, where the Slovak climbers was waiting for improvement in weather to resume the climb. They had already established C1 and C2 on the mountain. It’s reported that two Slovaks and three Nepalese have gone missing after the avalanche. Other stranded members of the expedition (07 Slovaks and 01 Czech) have been evacuated to Pokhara. Exact details of the accident are still vague.

Slovakian Expedition was only team on Dhaulagiri, this season. Image

Slovakian's website wrote on Wednesday night:

"We have new information directly from Sonam Sherpa, from the agency that provided services to our expedition in Nepal. Sonam unfortunately confirmed that Jan Matlák and Vladimir Švancár along with three Nepalese helpers remain missing after the avalanche. Other members of the expedition were flown to Pokhara by helicopter. Three local Sherpa unsuccessfully searched for them today (Wednesday). Tomorrow (Thursday), two members of expedition will also join them.”

Nepalese weather base camp
Photo from Base Camp. Source

Missing Nepalese have been identified as Bhoj Kumar Rai of Mauling VDC-5, Okhaldhunga; Dorje Sherpa of Juling VDC-2, and Gopal Rai of Gudin VDC-8, Solukhumbu district.

Last dispatch from Slovakians read, “Snowing, snowing, still snowing .... still waiting in BC for better weather :( We all believe that the weather will improve.

Ján Matlák (left) and Vladimír Švancár (right); File photo

Ján Matlák is a climbing and ski-mountaineering instructor. He led several expeditions to Tatra, Alps, Caucasus and Pamir. In Himalayas, he has attempted Shishapangma and Annapurna. Vladimír Švancár is also a seasoned mountaineering professional with multiple winter and summer ascents in Tatra, Alps and Pamir. 

Unfortunately, the hope of finding either of five missing persons (Jan Matlák, Vladimir Švancár, Bhoj Kumar Rai, Dorje Sherpa and Gopal Rai) alive didn't materialize. reports that the bodies of  Slovak climbers and the BC staff were found at Dhaulagiri BC, today. It appears that only Jan Matlák and Vladimir Švancár were inside their tent when avalanche came down. Other members of the expedition were in "social" tent which avalanche probably didn't hit with full force.

Heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of deceased men. Rest in peace.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Autumn 2014 | Bad Weather Halts the Progress

Cyclone ‘Hudhud’ hit the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on Sunday. While the cyclone didn’t reach Nepal directly, its effect stimulated condensed clouds towards Nepalese sky, resulting in rainfall throughout the region. Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) anticipated the effect to recede by Thursday.

The post-monsoon climbing season has already concluded on Manaslu, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma. While the former two mountains were in good condition and fair weather allowed majority of climbers to reach the summit, Shishapangma remained unclimbed because of dangerous snow conditions.

However, few teams are still active on less busier eight-thousanders, like a Slovak team on Dhaulagiri, the Koreans on Lhotse South Face and some teams on Makalu. All the expeditions remained in Base Camps during past few days because of bad weather and snow.

Makalu SE Ridge Base Camp in bad weather; Source


The Slovak team has established C1 and C2 on Dhaulagiri. However, bad weather forced them to retreat to BC on Oct 10th. “Snowing, snowing still snowing ...” the team wrote on 13th. They are well rested and ready to push towards C3, as conditions improve.


The Korean Lhotse South Face team has installed C3 at 7500m during latest foray up the mountain. The team is currently back at BC due to bad weather. They are planning to set up a final camp, C4, at 8200m before summit push. Koreans have been fighting difficult weather and frequent avalanches on challenging Lhotse South Face since early September, where the steepness of the wall averages around 65 - 70 degree.

Koreans heading up Lhotse South Face; Source


Makalu teams also remained in Base Camps recently due to bad weather. Until now, the British tri-services team had spent a night C2 (6700m) for acclimatization. The Sherpa have fixed and provisioned C1 and C2 and would be working on route towards C3 in coming days.

While the Brits remain on SE Ridge, couple of weeks ago Garrett Madison, Vibeke Sefland and Lhakpa Sherpa decided to switch to Makalu normal route. During first rotation on normal route, they spent a night in C2 (6400m) before returning to Base Camp.

Sherpa fixing route to C2 on Makalu SE Ridge. Source

The severe weather in Nepal resulted in a large scale catastrophe. Around two dozen trekkers, mountaineers, mountain guides and locals have lost their lives, whereas several others are still out of communication. Many groups have been evacuated to safe locations. Search and rescue is underway and the exact magnitude of disaster will be clear only in coming days.

Amongst the tragic updates from Nepal, there are reports about a tragedy on Dhaulagiri. It's reported that two members of Slovak expedition and three of their local helpers (BC staff) have been missing since Tuesday night. However, no further details are available as of now.

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