Fowler and Ramsden make first ascent of Kishtwar Kailash

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 23/10/2013
Kishtwar Kailash seen in 1993 from the summit of Cerro Kishtwar to the west. The Fowler-Ramsden route begins in the wide snow couloir on the right, and then slants left through mixed ground to the highest point - the left end of the summit ridge. Mick Fowler
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Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden have once again pulled off a fine ascent in the Indian Himalaya by climbing the previously virgin Kishtwar Kailash via the difficult southwest face.

Forming the last major peak at the eastern end of the Kishtwar Himalaya, Kishtwar Kailash (6,451m) had never previously seen a serious attempt.

In 1993, from the summit of Cerro Kishtwar immediately to the west, Fowler had a clear view of the mountain, but political tensions would make access more or less impossible for almost 20 years.

Together with Mike Morrison and Rob Smith, Fowler and Ramsden approached via Manali and the Darlang Valley, and then climbed the southwest face of the mountain in a seven-day round trip from base camp.

After climbing a wide couloir on the right side of the face, the pair slanted up left, climbing through the mixed headwall to the top, which lies at the northern end of a long, quasi-horizontal summit ridge.

The 1,500m ascent, ED and Scottish VI, featured spectacular situations and varied climbing, but was very different from expected, with many features and near vertical monolithic rock walls, around which the pair had to weave.

The two reached the summit after six and a half days, managed to descend a fair part of the route (by rappel) during the second half of the summit day, and returned to base camp on day seven.

The most significant difficulties came on day four, where the issue remained in doubt while the pair forced several hard mixed pitches up a couloir cleaving monolithic walls.

"It was all very challenging and appropriately rewarding. We smiled a lot "

Traditionally, Kishtwar Kailash was considered the highest peak in Eastern Kishtwar. However, the most recent Survey of India mapping now attributes Hagshu, attempted again this year, with an altitude of 6,515m (formerly 6,320m). Photographic evidence is not conclusive and more investigation is needed.

The granitic alpine peaks of Kishtwar lie in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, a region that for almost 25 years has been a scene of conflict between Indian armed forces, Pakistani militants, and separatists.

After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, considerable amounts of subversive energy and upmarket weaponry began to appear in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, leading to widespread insurgency.

Early in the next decade the area became more or less a no-go zone for foreigners.

Traditional access to Kishtwar was from the west, but in the early 1990s a couple of Brtish teams, including Fowler and Stephen Sustad, managed to access Cerro Kishtwar, either by approaching from Zanskar to the north, or from Manali to the east

However, after Fowler and Sustad's successful ascent in 1993, no activity on the peaks south of the Zanskar watershed was allowed until 2011, when Denis Burdet, Robert Frost, David Lama and Stephan Siegrist gained an official permit to attempt Cerro Kishtwar, approaching from the east.

While their two first ascents were notable, their bureaucratic achievement of gaining entry to Kishtwar proved equally significant.
 



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