British team visit India-controlled Siachen

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 10/07/2012
Southwest face of Rimo III with the compelling central pillar. Doug Scott
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In August Malcolm Bass, Paul Figg and Simon Yearsley will travel to India to attempt the unclimbed southwest face of Rimo III (7,233m), in the rarely visited Rimo Group of India's East Karakoram.

Approaching the west side of the Rimo peaks requires travelling a little way up the Siachen Glacier, disputed territory that has been the scene of Indo-Pakistan conflict for nearly 30 years. Obtaining a permit is a huge hurdle and one that has not been overcome in recent years.

To visit this area a foreign expedition must form part of a joint team with an equal number of Indian climbers.

Fortunately the Indian leader of the Rimo expedition is Satya Dam, a renowned explorer, mountaineer, influential ex-military commander, past leader of an Indian Everest expedition, and liaison officer on Bass and Figg's Vasuki Parbat expedition, the ascent of which was nominated for a Piolet d'Or in 2011.

Currently, and crucially, both the Indian Army and Ministry of Home Affairs have approved permission, and the critical X-mountaineering visa is being processed.

The team will be accompanied by artist, Rachel Antill, who will be producing artwork and an independent film, inspired by the landscape.

The expedition is being sponsored by Lyon Equipment, Montane and Polartec, and has been awarded grants from the BMC, MEF and Alpine Club. It is also supported by Needle Sports and Swaledale Outdoors.

The 1972 Shimla agreement demarcated boundaries between India and Pakistan but was totally ambiguous in designating a clear border in the high and uninhabited wilderness surrounding the Siachen Glacier.

From around 1974 Pakistan began to encourage western mountaineering expeditions to visit this area, testing the waters in what India would later refer to as "mountaineering poaching".

India retaliated, sending a large Army expedition to the region in 1978. It  successfully summited Teram Kangri II.

After Galen Rowell's celebrated ski traverse of the Karakoram in 1980, which gained permission from Pakistan to ski the length of the Siachen, India protested in no uncertain terms, and a couple of years later began sending military patrols into the area.

In 1984 a Japanese expedition, given permission by Pakistan to attempt Rimo I, was stopped as Indian Army patrols landed on the high cols west of the Siachen, blocking access.

War began the same year and in order to indicate that this area firmly belonged to India, in 1985 its government gave permission for an Indo-British expedition. The team was jointly led by Harish Kapadia and Dave Wilkinson, other British members being Jim Fotheringham, Victor Saunders and Stephen Venables.

During this expedition Fotheringham and Wilkinson made a long and committing crossing of a high pass to gain the east side of the Rimo group, and then complete an alpine-style first ascent of Rimo III by its northeast ridge.

In 1989 another Indo-British expedition visited the Rimo group, where Nick Kekus, Doug Scott and Stephen Sustad planned to attempt the southwest face of Rimo III. 

However, after several members summited Rimos II and IV, the expedition was inexplicably cancelled. Despite a number of applications from strong western mountaineers since, a permit for the coveted southwest face of Rimo III has not been forthcoming.

Although a ceasefire is now in place, one solution that could enable both armies to withdraw in conditions of honour and dignity would be to turn the whole region into at Transboundary Peace Park. It would save many lives, huge costs and an magnificent area that is of little real use to anyone except mountain visitors and climbers.

There are currently around 170 Transboundary Parks in the World and it would be fitting if this number was joined by the Siachen Glacier region.

Those interested in the complete history of mountaineering and exploration in and around the Siachen, and the development of the conflict to the present day, can do no better than read Harish Kapadia's Siachen Glacier, The Battle of the Roses (Rupa Publications, India, 2010).



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