Fowler-Turnbull ascent in Nepal - details

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 15/11/2011
Mick Fowler on the rising traverse between the two icefields. Dave Turnbull

Already widely reported, during October Mick Fowler and Dave Turnbull made the first ascent of a 6,310m peak in West Nepal known locally as Gojung.

Formerly referred to as Mugu Chuli, this summit is situated in the remote Kojichuwa Valley above the village of Mugu, a region little travelled by any foreigners, let alone mountaineers.

In their three and a half weeks in the area the four-man British team, which also included Graham Desroy and Jon Ratcliffe, saw only one other western visitor.

As you would expect, the climbing history of this valley is sparse.

The first mountaineers to carry out reconnaissance were most likely Mallorcans in 2008. Their goal was to inspect the (still) unclimbed Kojichuwa Chuli (6,439m), situated on the Tibetan border in the north east corner of the valley, for a serious attempt the following year.

However, during the trip they also noticed an outstanding 6,310m peak on the frontier ridge to the south, which they dubbed Mugu Chuli, unaware of any local name.

The Mallorcan team returned in April 2009 with both peaks on their "list". Fortunately, as it appears they were planning old-school siege ascents, they quickly decided Mugu Chuli was not for them, and turned to Kojichuwa Chuli, which they also found unsuitable for a fixed rope affair due to dangerous rock fall.

Just as the Spanish were leaving, Nick Colton, Ed Douglas, Julian Freeman-Attwood and Rob Greaves entered the valley and proceeded to climb six of the smaller peaks, from 4,900m-5,400m, noting a splendid ice/mixed line on the West Face of Mugu Chuli/Gojung.

In June the same year a Japanese attempt on Kojichuwa Chuli, from the 5,625m Kojichuwa La on the Tibetan border, barely reached above the col,

However, the Japanese were back the following year for a more determined attempt. In May 2010 they followed the North West Ridge from the col as far as a northern foresummit before retreating.

After a seven-day trek from a small airport close to Rara Lake, and a three-day period of acclimatization on peaks up to 5,300m, Fowler and Turnbull set off from their base camp to bivouac at the foot of Gojung's West Face.

Over the next four days they climbed the superb central ice line on the face. Benefiting from the effects of a previous heavy monsoon and very cold but stable weather, the two found the initial 300m couloir in excellent conditions and sustained at Scottish 5 or more.

The first large icefield proved easier, though of variable quality, and was followed by a rising traverse over ice/mixed terrain to reach the upper icefield. A final mixed barrier gave access to summit slopes and the two made their fourth bivouac (above base camp) close to the summit.

Next day started fine as they made a 10-minute ascent to the summit but it was now worryingly obvious that a storm was building in the west.

Prior to the expedition, getting off this mountain had always been the great unknown, but once in the valley the pair had scoped a suitably safe, though long, descent to the north.

Rappelling their ascent line would have been problematic due to the difficulty of finding secure anchors, so despite incoming weather they were committed to the original plan.

Making a difficult descent north east to the col between Gojung and Pt. 6,264m, they bivouacked, and next day crossed this virgin top to continue north along a relatively sharp frontier ridge.

By this time Turnbull had a throat infection so bad he could only communicate in hoarse whispers, and with the weather still not clear, the two were forced to bivouac again.

Fortunately, next day they awoke to a perfect dawn and started on the previously scoped line down the west flank. Part way they were forced to make a two-hour traverse across 45° slopes, now covered in 20-30cm of fresh snow.

The snow stayed in place, and after a long and hard day the two finally reached the valley floor, where they bivouacked for their eighth night.

Next day a tedious slog down-valley over snow covered boulders reunited them with the rest of the team.

In the meantime Desroy and Ratcliffe had explored the head of the valley and climbed an unnamed 5,800m peak on the frontier, west of the Kojichuwa La. This gave a loose scramble but fine views of Tibet and Kojichuwa Chuli.

The pair also attempted the unclimbed Pt 5,623m on the east side of the valley. Unfortunately, they were forced to retreat a couple of rope lengths below a col at the base of an easy-looking summit ridge, when snow and ice slopes disappeared into some of the worst rock imaginable. Ratcliffe described this section as a Lleyn Peninsula Craig Doris on steroids.

For Fowler, the c1,100m West Face of Gojung (1,500m of climbing, ED) was probably the hardest technical route he has climbed in the Greater Ranges since the ascent of Siguniang in 2002.

The photograph shows Mick Fowler on the rising traverse between the two icefields.



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