A small Indo-British team of Susan Jensen from Scotland, Divyesh and Vineeta Muni (Mumbai) and Chamonix-based mountain guide Victor Saunders has made the first ascent of Chamsen, one of few remaining previously untouched 7,000ers in India.
Chamsen (7,017m) lies in the Saser Kangri Group of India's East Karakoram, and the successful climb puts Jensen, who has spent the last four-five months mountaineering and trekking in India, into a very select class of British females to have made the first ascent of a 7,000m peak.
The original aim of the expedition also included 7,287m Plateau Peak, but this was climbed for the first time in July by an Indian expedition from the Kolkata section of the Himalayan Club, as reported previously.
The Kolkata expedition approached via the South Pukpoche Glacier, leading to the start of the previously tried west ridge. The Indo-British team planned to make the first crossing of the Sakang Col (6,150m), southeast of Plateau Peak, and descend to the remote North Shukpa Kunchang Glacier, which rises to Chamsen, and also gives access to the eastern flanks of Plateau Peak.
To this effect the Indian members of the team employed six support Sherpas; Chedar, Dawa, Ang Dorji, Karma, Mingma and Samgyal. Also part of the expedition was Andy Parkin.
The col proved to be the key to the expedition, and after much reconnaissance and several attempts was crossed on the 10 August. It involved steep climbing and was exposed to rockfall during the heat of the day.
Descending the glacial cirque on the far (northeast) side, a valley between Saser Kangri II (7,518m) and III (7,495m) that presents high walls with overhanging serac barriers, the team established Chamsen base camp at 5,600m.
On the 14th the British members were planning to re-cross the Sakang Col to resupply, and were camped on the glacier about one and a half kilometres from Saser Kangri II, when at 10pm a massive avalanche swept down its north face.
As previously reported. but now with more detail, the main substance did not reach camp. However, the blast from the leading edge lifted Parkin's tent into the air and blew it into a deep crevasse.
Still in his sleeping bag, Parkin fell through the floor of the tent and 20m down the crevasse. In the other tent Jensen and Saunders were rolled 30m across the glacier, coming to a halt just before the same crevasse.
Several pieces of equipment were now missing, notably Parkin’s crampons and Saunders’ and Parkin’s axes and inner boots. In addition, all food and the stove had disappeared.
Fortunately the rope and a few slings had survived the blast, allowing rescue operations to begin.
It took several hours for Jensen and Saunders to bring up Parkin, his rucksack and the remains of the tent. Parkin had injured his back (later found to be a minor fracture of the sacrum) and was unable to stand.
Next morning, with the use of strong painkillers, Parkin was able to walk two kilometres to the junction with the North Shukpa Kunchang Glacier, where he was left in a tent at a safe site while the other two broke trail back to base camp.
Early on the 16th Divyesh Muni, Saunders and the Sherpas reached Parkin and carried him back to base camp.
Unlike Pakistan, Indian bureaucracy does not allow expeditions to carry satellite telephones in the mountains. Fortunately, the team had one and was able to call a rescue.
This was initiated on the 17th by the Indian Air Force, which displayed exceptional flying ability in low clouds and poor visibility. The team is indebted to the Air Force, its local agent in Leh, Rimo Expeditions, and various friends who worked around the clock to organise the rescue.
With Parkin safely in Leh, all remaining expedition members then had to endure a week of poor weather before, low on food and fuel, they managed to make the first ascent of Chamsen.
After establishing camps at 6,000m and 6,500m, at 10:30am on the 21 August the team reached the summit via the west ridge.
The expedition re-crossed the Sakang Col on the 24th and returned to Leh on the 29th. Apart from issues surrounding the illegal use of a satellite phone, they experienced no further difficulties.
Thanks to Victor Saunders for providing information for this report
Watch the expedition report on BMC TV: