BMC supported expeditions - what was achieved in 2014?

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 22/12/2014
Malcolm Bass during an attempt on unclimbed Janahut. Simon Yearsley
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In 2014 the BMC International Committee awarded a total of £14,250 to 16 expeditions, and an additional three awards from the Julie Tullis Memorial fund. Supported trips visited South America, Greenland and various regions in Asia, with mixed success.

Notably, there were a number of ambitious projects, with some of our most talented climbers attempting objectives that could rightly be called "cutting edge" in current alpinisim.

In general the usual factors of weather and conditions prevented them achieving their goals.

But they were certainly not alone: compared to recent years, 2014 saw very few outstanding climbs accomplished in the world's mountains.

Tajikistan
Suzanna Walker's team to the Academy of Science Range in the Tajikistan Pamir made a number of first ascents and ski descents of 5,000m peaks that were largely overlooked during the Soviet era. A full news item appeared previously

An expedition organized by Becky Coles was unable to climb its intended goal, perhaps the last remaining 6,000er in the Muzkol Range. This was the fourth attempt on the peak in the last four years, the first by Coles in 2011. However,  members of the team were able to complete the first ascent of Peak Buffy (5,553m), as described previously in this news report.

Kyrgyzstan
Emily Ward returned to Kyrgyzstan's Western Kokshaal-too with a large team intent on exploring peaks from the Navlikin Glacier. As this looked very crevassed, they decided to move up the adjacent Kotur Glacier and reach the Navlikin by crossing a col towards the head. Various illnesses and unusually bad weather with heavy snowfall confined them to the Kotur, for which they had very little information. In total, they climbed around a dozen routes and noticed many map discrepancies, including a ca 5,100m peak not marked on any map. As it was right next to Pik Jjin, they predictably named it Pik Tonnik and got within spitting distance of the highest point on the final day of the trip.

After being airlifted by helicopter into the eastern sector of the Djangart Range, Jamie Goodhart's nine member team climbed 10 new peaks between 4,500m and 5,200m, and at grades from PD to D+. Although climbing in this fine alpine region has a relatively brief history, more than half a dozen teams comprising British alpinists have now visited.

Ed Lemon's three-man team hoped to access peaks at the head of the Jiptek, a valley of the Pamir Alai, which borders Tajikistan and lies a little to the east of the more famous Karavshin region. They first spent time trying to climb unnamed Peak 5,285m but were stopped by an impassible icefall. Access to the head of the Jiptek proved equally difficult and the team ran out of time before reaching its attractive mountains.

There is possibly more scope for first ascents in the former Soviet Union than in other mountain ranges, but it is also more difficult to find out what and where they are.

China
After several years of trying, Bruce Normand managed to gain a permit to visit the high, unknown peaks north of the Shaksgam River in Chinese Xinjiang. This area lies immediately east of the Gasherbrum group. As befits such a remote and expensive region, he formed a large group of multinational and autonomous teams. After exploring approaches and acclimatizing on a number of high points up to 6,184m, Normand and a couple of friends went to try their main objectives of Durban Kangri I (6,824m) and Burnag Kangri (6,82m). However, hopes were dashed by unusually warm temperatures, detached ice and rotten rock. The expedition ended tragically with the disappearance of two members from another group.

Pakistan
Peter Thompson and friends unsuccessfully tried Muchu Chhish (7,453m) from the south in alpine style.  This summit in the high Batura massif is very difficult of access and according to many tables, is one of the highest, if not the highest unclimbed peak in the world for which it is still possible to get a permit. Unfortunately conditions beat them, forcing a descent from ca 6,000m.

Conditions also beat Jon Griffith and American Kevin Mahoney during Griffith's third attempt on unclimbed Link Sar (7,041m) above the  Charakusa Glacier. The pair made a committing push, high on the mountain, in awful weather, completing the north face and getting quite close to the west summit. Then far too much fresh, bottomless snow on a very steep-sided ridge caused them to take a serious re-think and make a wise but difficult retreat, arriving back on the glacier "like zombies". The peak is an awesome challenge but an almost one-kilometre ridge to the main summit remains the great unknown.

There are still a respectable number of climbers going to Pakistan, despite the political uncertainty, mainly because they know when they arrive in the mountains the people are just as kind and hospitable as ever.

India
No newcomers to the Indian Himalaya, Malcolm Bass and Simon Yearsley, made a valiant attempt on Janahut (6,805m), one of the highest remaining unclimbed summits in the Gangotri. Bass had first attempted this peak 10 years previously: this time he and Yearsley reached a point just 140m below the summit, as described in this account

Nepal
In remote east Nepal, Paul Vardy organised a small group to visit the Lumba Sumba Himal and recently opened Lumba Sumba Peak (5,740m). This mountain lies between the Kangchenjunga and Makalu Himals just south of a recently developed trekking route. Vardy, who had worked in the area immediately north of Taplejung, the gateway village to the trek north to Kangchenjunga, had previously walked to within two days of the mountain. Whilst the group ended up with only four days to climb the mountain, the weather gods smiled, allowing them to follow the north ridge to the summit.

When it comes to exploratory mountaineering in Nepal, the West and Far West hold the biggest potential. Northwest of Kanjiroba lies Patrasi (6,450m), a peak that had only received one ascent until this year. Bradley Morrell and Alex Zolobenko went to try the unvisited north face, but like most climbers in Nepal late autumn they were hampered by deep snow and low temperatures, eventually having to give up at 5,400m due to minor frostbite.

Greenland
Not far from the head of the Tasiilaq Fjord in East Greenland lies the Fox Jaw Cirque, an array of granite teeth that have seen a number of visits since the first known climbing took place 16 years ago. Cath Alldred, organizing her first expedition, found that there is still plenty of scope for new lines. Her five-member team climbed five routes, four of them new, and attempted another six. Read about it in this report

Liam Fleming and Olly Sanders went for a multi-discipline adventure on the south coast, making a committing, self-contained kayak around Cape Farewell, an undertaking interrupted by ascents of two new rock routes. An account of their 23-day, 270km voyage appears in this report.

Greenland holds a wealth of rock climbing objectives, much yet to be discovered.

Argentina
In January and February Peter Graham and Ben Silvestre were largely battered by the particularly poor Patagonian weather that prevailed during the season. However, they came away with a couple of established test pieces such as Exocet on Cerro Standhardt, and a repeat of the fine ice route Super Domo (WI5 M6), on Cerro Domo Blanco, a line put up only a short time before.

The consistently poor weather also thwarted James McHaffie's chances of attempting a free ascent of the southeast ridge of Cerro Torre, as climbed by David Lama. However, with Tim Neill he climbed Super Domo, making the third ascent, just ahead of Graham and Silvestre

After being forced to cancel original projects, the well-proven team of Chamonix-based guides, Jon Bracey and Matt Helliker, hoped to climb a big new mixed wall on the eastern aspect of San Lorenzo in Northern Patagonia. Unfortunately, due to weight issues, they decided to freight their equipment to El Calafate, but on arrival discovered the baggage had been delayed leaving the UK, and subsequently stuck in Buenos Aires, a four-hour flight away. Given  that it would likely take two weeks to release the gear, they were forced to abandon the expedition, fly home early, and make an expensive recovery of  their equipment at a distance.

Grants totalling £1,250, and in the form of Julie Tullis Memorial Awards, were given to the Powerhouse Charity, Reanee Racktoo and the Navlikin expedition.

Tae Catford and the Powerhouse Charity work with and on behalf of women with learning difficulties in east London, and in 2013 organized indoor sessions at Mile End Wall. Included in the participants were members with visual impairment and autism. A small JTMA contributed towards the cost of group entry and training for five sessions in 2014.

Reanne Racktoo is a young, blind female climber on the GB Paraclimbing team and was awarded a JTMA to assist with the on-going costs of national and international competition.

The international committee will be accepting grant applications up to 1 March for expeditions taking place in 2015.

The BMC is also hosting an expedition planning seminar on 17 January at Plas-y-Brenin.



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