A primarily-British expedition, supported by the Mount Everest Foundation, has made the first ascent of the West Face of Lama Lamani North, a c5,650m peak in Western Sikkim.
The team had hoped to explore the unknown east side of neighbouring Jopuno (5,936m) but found the approach unfeasible. Turning instead to Lama Lamani, they climbed the West Face in two independent parties.
After reaching a notch on the South West Spur of the North Top, Geoff Cohen and American Paul Swienton traversed left on snow to gain the summit, while Scots Steve Kennedy and Bob Hamilton continued up the harder mixed crest to reach the summit ridge, which they followed back left to the top. The route was c500m and the standard PD or AD-.
From the top all four descended the North West Face by a series of rappels and down-climbing on snow.
The team also climbed a peak of c5,600m near to the col between Lama Lamani and Jopuno.
These peaks lie close to Sikkim's most popular trekking route, a five-day journey from the historic village of Yuksom to the Gocha La (Heaven's Gate). The views are magnificent, particularly of Kangchenjunga and Kabru.
Lama Lamani North was first climbed in 2005 by Julie-Ann Clyma and Roger Payne, with two friends from the Sikkim Amateur Mountaineering Association, Kunzang Bhutia and Sagar Rai.
These four climbed the North West Face to West Spur, a little to the left of the route climbed by Geoff Cohen's party. They found difficult snow conditions and a grade of AD+.
Kunzang Bhutia and Sagar Rai were thought to have climbed Jopuno by the South Ridge in April 2002 but it now appears their route was on the North West Face and may not have reached the true summit.
Americans Jason Halladay and Josh Smith climbed the West Ridge in 2008 at AD+. They first negotiated an area of fine golden granite to reach a section of black shale at c5,800m. This gave treacherous climbing to the final snow slopes, and eventually the top, which the pair reached in a white out.
Inspecting photographs of the peak, Roger Payne feels that the highest point is a little further along the summit ridge and may never have been reached. He and Clyma set off last year to rectify this, creating a variation start to the West Ridge. However, they were forced to retreat just short of the top.
This year’s American-British party also tried the West Ridge of Jopuno but on reaching the last section of loose black rock decided to retreat.
Together with Tingchenkang (6,010m), Lama Lamani and Jopuno have been designated 'Alpine Peaks' by Sikkim authorities and it is easy to arrange permits to climb them. All three offer good medium grade alpine ascents and could become classics of the Eastern Himalaya.
If the authorities were to add several more to this limited, they would encourage considerably more mountaineering parties to visit the region. Currently, nearly all parties are trekkers.
The photo shows the West Face of Lama Lamani North. The route of ascent follows the mixed depression up and right of the climber, then back left on the skyline ridge. Descent was straight down the face on the left.