Hard British first ascent in Indian Himalaya

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 30/10/2010
West Face of Vasuki Parbat. Satya Dam

Unable to gain a permit for their original goal, Janahut, Malcolm Bass and Paul Figg turned their attentions to Vasuki Parbat and were successful in making the first ascent of the West Face and only the third recorded ascent of this 6,792m peak in the Indian Gangotri.

The pair, who were supported by a BMC grant, acclimatized on the nearby slopes of Bhagirathi II with the third climbing member of their expedition, New Zealand female alpinist Pat Deavoll. Then all three started up West Face of Vasuki Parbat, following a line attempted by Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden in 2008.

Fowler and Ramsden had faced extremely cold temperatures during their attempt and due to preceding bad weather were less than acclimatized for the ascent. On day six, at c6,400m, they decided to retreat.

On the third day of their attempt, Bass, Deavoll and Figg, having climbed relatively moderate difficulties, had reached a point around half-height on the face when Deavoll decided to descend, taking the haul line to rappel.

Just after she left, Figg received a resounding blow from a large rock but was able to climb up to Bass and the two waited until dusk before setting off again on increasingly technical ground in the colder conditions.

Just after midnight they found a sitting bivouac. While organizing themselves Bass's camera took a terminal fall and as Figg was not carrying one, the only photos of the climbers on the upper face were made with a telephoto from the valley by their liaison officer, well-known Indian explorer, Satya Dam.

Next morning Bass took a 10m fall, hitting his head. He felt a bit spaced and the two decided to rest up for the day. On the following day they passed the Fowler-Ramsden high point and climbed two hard pitches up a snow-free tower on very rotten rock. These were the only two pitches of the climb on which the sacks were hauled.

Day seven took them to a short rock wall and the crux of the climb, a fine mixed groove rated Scottish VI, 7. On day eight they reached the long serpentine summit ridge, and on day nine followed it north, over the main summit to the North West Ridge. In fact, they passed a metre below the highest point, leaving it untouched in homage to Vasuki - the King of Snakes.

Now out of food, they made another bivouac, and then continued their descent with the help of old fixed rope and in-situ anchors, most likely from a French expedition (see below), before cutting down north to the valley. A long stagger saw them at base camp by 10pm after a remarkable adventure.

Bass and Figg would like to acknowledge the generous route-finding advice given by Fowler and Ramsden, and additional support from the Mount Everest Foundation, Alpine Club, WL Gore Shipton-Tilman Award, Mountain Hardware, DHL and Wayfarers Meals.

The history of climbing on Vasuki Parbat is short. On the first recorded attempt (1973) an ascent was claimed by the Indo-Tibet Border Police, with three members reaching the summit. The ITBP has always been a strong climbing force in Indian Mountaineering. However, it has sometimes been economical with the truth about its achievements and on many occasions highly secretive about its successes.

The 1973 expedition is just such a case, where no coherent details have been forthcoming, and the Indian Mountaineering Foundation does not recognize the claim. This was still the situation when Fowler and Ramsden made their attempt in 2008, but also in 1979 when Nigel Cleaver's Welsh expedition made the second attempt on the mountain. This team, climbing alpine-style, reached 6,320m on the North West Ridge.

The second recorded ascent took place in September 1980, when Japanese Keisuke Nakai, Hiroshi Nomura and Masahiro Nomura, after fixing some rope on the East Face, climbed this wall to the North East Ridge and continued to both the Main and South (6,750m) summits, bivouacking five times before regaining their high camp.

A French team also attempted the North West Ridge in 1985, fixing plenty of rope an eventually joining the Japanese Route, which they followed to c6,200m before giving up.

The photograph shows the West Face of Vasuki Parbat with the ascent route taking the prominent snow ramp in the centre of the picture and then the skyline ridge back left to the summit.


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