Fowler and Ramsden in the Indian Himalaya

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 11/11/2008
The unclimbed West Face of Vasuki Parbat. Mick Fowler

The Mick Fowler-Paul Ramsden combo, which has enjoyed much previous success in the Himalaya, was turned back from high on this year's objective, the rarely climbed 6,792m Vasuki Parbat in the Indian Gangotri. A combination of poor weather and cold foiled their attempt on an aesthetic line up a steep mixed pillar towards the right side of the unclimbed West Face.

Their first problem, as usual, was bureaucracy, peaks in the area now needing not only permits from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, but also from the local Utterakhand Government and Forestry Commission. The next problem was weather: whilst the pair made a speedy approach to base camp at 4,900m in the Vasuki Valley, once the tent was set up, a storm raged continuously for 48 hours, after which only a few centimetres of roof remained visible above the surrounding freshly fallen snow.

Apart from making conditions on the mountain a trifle difficult to say the least, a major by-product of all this fresh snow was that it stopped the two acclimatizing to any decent height before making their attempt. It was also impressively cold, the cook remarking that monsoons had increasingly been leading straight into winter. But when clear skies arrived, it was either go up or pack up. So up they went.

Starting up the face all slow and sensible, the two had climbed to around half height on day three and were beginning increasingly technical ground. By day five they were moving rather too slowly and getting more and more wobbly. Ramsden's feet were cold in his Everest boots. Fowler could feel his toes suffering mounting cold damage, and at one point, using a bare hand undercut for 30 seconds or so produced a frostbite blister.

On the morning of day six, two-thirds of the way up the face at c6,400m and at a point on the accompanying photograph just below where a snow/ice slope on the first snow-covered pillar left of the right skyline leads to a right-trending ramp above a steep rock wall, they came to the conclusion that lack of acclimatization was taking its toll: they may have been above the most technical part of the face but things were likely to go horribly wrong if they continued. The descent, which involved another bivouac, was made more exciting by a rock ripping through the tent fabric and smashing into the hanging stove.

Named after the shape of Vasuki, the famous king of snakes, the 6,792m summit lies immediately east of the more well-known Bhagirathi Group and may only have been climbed twice, the last ascent, from the east, as long ago as 1980.



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