British climbers make first ascent of a prominent 6,000m peak in Ladakh

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 18/10/2014
Looking north to largely unnamed East Karakoram peaks on the far side of the Shyok River from the approach to Telthop. Chris Horobin
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British mountaineers Matt Barnsley, Roland Chuter, Chris Horobin and Bob Shiels made the first ascent of the 6,185m Indian summit of Telthop, one of the highest in a group of peaks almost due north of Leh.

Together with Chuck Boyd (USA), Dawa Narbu Sherpa, Tashi Phunchok Zangola, and Liaison Officer Virender Singh (all Indian), and Phujung Bhote (Nepal) the group reached the top via the névé-covered northwest face and southwest ridge.

Horobin has visited this Ladakh range immediately south of the Shyok River on a number of occasions, at first leading productive trips for the British Schools Exploring Society, and in 2010 making a private expedition to attempt Telthop.

On that occasion the team, which included Bob Shiels, never reached the mountain, bad weather, which destroyed the main bridge giving access to the valley, stopping them in their tracks.

This summer, approaching over the Kardung La (5,350m) via what is often dubbed the highest motorable road in the world, and then the Nubra Valley, the team was delighted to find the bridge intact.

It gave access to a steep-sided, narrow valley, with high rubble cliffs necessitating the river having to be crossed and re-crossed, often with no bridge.

Three days brought them to a base camp at 4,800m, and from there a further 300m of ascent led to a suitable advanced base at the foot of the glacier.

Access to the glaciated northwest face proved difficult by any means other than the steep snout, crossed on the left side via hard ice at 70°.

The team climbed the mountain in a single day from advanced base, hoping to slant across the lower face to the southwest ridge.

However, once on a glacial terrace at 5,500m the way to the ridge looked heavily crevassed, so they kept straight on up the face, weaving around crevasses and climbing good névé up to 70°, to reach the upper section of the ridge.

This had rock steps, which were avoided on the left by short sections of snow at 80°, but by mid morning, after a final scramble over steep loose rock, all reached the summit. Given the sustained nature of the climbing, an overall grade of D was felt appropriate.

Rather than reverse the face, once the climbers regained the point where they had first arrived on the southwest ridge, they dropped down the much drier southern flanks - extremely loose rock and scree slopes - to another glacier basin, from where they reached their valley and returned to camp early evening.

The history of exploration in this area features a number of British expeditions, but it is not officially straightforward of access.

Although some of the mountains can be reached directly from Leh by crossing the 5,550m Lasirmou La, this is longer and more complex. Most peaks climbed have been accessed from the north.

The area is restricted, and due to its proximity to the Siachen Glacier and the disputed Indian-Pakistan frontier, one of considerable military and political sensitivity.  

Officially, most peaks above 6,000m require an X visa from the Indian Government, and an Army Liaison Officer. In 2014 heightened military activity in this region meant that many planned expeditions to peaks of the East Karakoram, reached via the Nubra Valley, were refused a permit.

But the area is not only attractive snow/ice peaks (and rotten rock!). Last year British climber James Monypenney climbed two of the three summits of the previously virgin 6,000er Jungdung Kangri by separate routes, one of which they graded ED1 90° A2+.

Monypenny and his Canadian partner Cory Hall also attempted the third summit by a big wall route up an impressive 650m shield of granite.

However, at around two-thirds height, after many pitches of hard free and aid, they were forced to bail.
 



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