A British first in North West Sikkim

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 09/12/2009
Kellas Peak from south east. Jeremy Windsor

For the first time in more than 75 years a party of climbers obtained permission to retrace the footsteps of historic British explorers such as Douglas Freshfield, Alexander Kellas and Frank Smythe, visiting the mountains in the north west tip of Sikkim.

Graham Hoyland, Mark Lambert, Anindya Mukherjee, George Rodway, Dukpa Tsering Sherpa, Phurba Sherpa, Thendup Sherpa and Jeremy Windsor, a team that had received an Alpine Club grant and BMC approval for its innovative venture, headed north from Gangtok by 4WD to the district capital of Lachen, then on to the roadhead just beyond Thangu.

With the help of the Indo-Tibet Border Police and a number of bemused yak herders, the party moved west across the Lugnak La to the Lhonak Valley, then made a series of camps up valley in an attempt to make the first ascent of Kellas Peak (6,680m) on the Tibetan Border north of Jongsang (7,462m).

During the 1930 Kangchenjunga expedition, Gunter Dyhrenfurth, Frank Smythe and other members had named this shapely mountain after the highly prolific Scottish explorer, Dr Alexander Kellas.

Kellas, who visited the mountains of Sikkim from 1907 to 1921, made a prodigious number of climbs in the region and in 1910 completed no less than 10 first ascents over 6,000m, including 7,125m Pauhunri in North East Sikkim, at that time the highest summit in the World reached by man.

Through his professional interest in chemistry, Kellas became an authority on the effects of high altitude on the human system, and questioned whether Everest could be climbed without the use of supplementary oxygen.

In 1921 he explored approaches to Kabru (7,338m) to the south of Kangchenjunga and returned to Darjeeling just a few days before joining the first British Everest expedition. Sadly, during the approach through Tibet, he suffered a heart attack and died.

One of the great British mountain explorers of the time, Kellas was a retiring character, who most often climbed with local Sherpas and, unfortunately, wrote almost nothing about his mountaineering experiences.

This autumn Jeremy Windsor's party was able to reach Kellas Col (6,380m), a snow saddle on the border ridge south of Kellas Peak first reached by Alexander Kellas during one of his unsuccessful attempts to climb Jongsang. Members of the party also made the first ascent of Pt 6,252m, but frequent avalanches and difficult hidden crevasses put them off making a serious attempt on Kellas Peak.

However, the expedition was able to identify a large number of attractive unclimbed peaks in the Lugnak, Muguthang and Lhonak valleys, which should attract mountaineers for many years to come providing access to this area remains possible.

The accompanying photograph shows the unclimbed Kellas Peak from the south east. Kellas Col is off picture to the left.
 



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