Alpine Club exploratory first ascents in Indian Himalaya

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 31/10/2014
Dave Broadhead at a 5,476m high camp overlooking the Talung cirque. The bulky mountain on the far left is virgin Kamen Gyalmo, while Chota Sgurr is the snowy top visible furthest right. Derek Buckle

Supported by grants from the Alpine Club Climbing Fund and the Mount Everest Foundation, four AC members made four first ascents in a relatively remote area of the Indian Himalaya, not far from the border with Tibet.

The Spiti River valley in Himachal Pradesh lies east of Lahoul. Spiti literally means "middle country", as it lies across the main Himalayan chain between Tibet and India.

Perhaps one of the most famous expeditions to the mountains of Spiti took place in 1860, when a member of the Survey of India carried a pole to the top of Shilla, a summit computed at the time to be over 7,000m. It remained an "official" altitude record for many years, erroneously as Shilla was later discovered to be 6,132m.

The highest peak is Gya (6,794m) northeast of the Spiti River and more or less on the border with Tibet. This complex mountain saw many attempts before a successful conclusion in 1998 by the Indian Army.

The second highest mountain in the region northeast of the river is thought to be Peak 6,531m on the Survey of India map, and has been referred to as Kamen Gyalmo.

This was the original goal of the AC expedition, though the most feasible approach, from the south, would take them close to the Tibetan border and gaining a permit from the Indian military seemed unlikely.

Until recently the area northeast of the Spiti Valley was closed to non-Indians, but the British team was eventually allowed to approach from the Lingti Valley to the northwest.

From its headwaters on the Tibetan border, the Lingti flows southwest to the Spiti River, and the peaks to its east have only been visited twice by mountaineers, both expeditions led by the guru of Indian Himalaya exploration, Harish Kapadia.

After acquiring Inner Line permits in Shimla, and with a fifth member, whose permit had failed to arrive before he left the UK and was therefore not allowed to go above base camp, Dave Broadhead, Derek Buckle, Mike Cocker and Geoff Cohen made an arduous five-day trek from the roadhead to a base camp at 5,130m.

From here they explored the Langma Plateau and first climbed a subsidiary top, Peak 5,782m, by a short steep couloir at WI2. They named it Fossil Gully due to the numerous fossils found around base camp and the combined age of the three summiteers being less than a dozen years short of 200.

They also made first ascents of Tangmor (5,920m), attempted by Kapadia's 1983 expedition, and the neighbouring, higher, Taklu (5,927m)

They then moved northeast and after establishing two more camps, reached a point overlooking the high cirque at the head of the Talung valley.

A long ridge ran east over several summits to Kamen Gyalmo, an impractical distance for a realistic attempt. The climbers were able to reach the first top on this ridge, which they named Chota Sgurr (5,924m), by its sharp north ridge.

They also made second and third ascents of the straightforward Langma (5,796m, first climbed in 1983) by different routes.



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