Koreans climb mega big wall route in India

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 16/09/2008
The Meru Peaks seen from the north east. Peter Thompson

Three members of a six-man Korean team have completed an extremely difficult mixed free and aid line - one of the most demanding at altitude in the Himalaya - on Meru South, a summit close to Shivling in the Indian Gangotri.

In 1992, Australian Glenn Singleman, together with Nic Feteris, set a BASE jump altitude record by launching from the top of the South West Face of Great Trango Tower, a spectacular event that was well-documented in the award winning film BASEClimb. More recently Singleman researched another suitable but higher wall that would allow him and his wife, Heather Swan, to break that altitude record. After some deliberation he came up with the North East Face of Meru South.

At 6,660m Meru South is the highest of the three Meru Peaks, the most famous of which is 6,310m Meru Central with its compelling, much attempted, but still unclimbed line of the Shark's Fin. Meru South is also a technically demanding mountain and has only been climbed once; in 1980 by a strong Japanese team via the long and difficult South East Ridge. The summit crest of Meru South has a number of sharp tops, all more or less over 6,600m. However, it is believed that the highest point, the one climbed by the Japanese, is at the southern end.

In 2006 Singleman and Swan successfully jumped from a point on the North West Ridge at c6,600m and little more than 15-20m below the most northerly summit. They had reached this point via a new route up the West Face, and as the primary goal was to BASE jump, they did not continue to the Main Summit, which they estimated was approximately 300m to the south over steep, exposed icy ground. Nor did they go to the little summit just above. Their chosen launch site was ideal: at this point the top c500m of the North East Face is a vertical or impending granite wall that Singleman noted had very few lines of weakness.

This summer the Korean team started up the initial spur of the Shark's Fin, and then traversed left onto the huge snow slope that characterizes the lower section of Meru South's North East Face. They fixed 1,800m of rope over 34 moderate pitches to reach the base of the headwall but were hampered by bad weather. By the time they were ready to make their final push, provisions were already low.

The headwall turned out to be considerably more difficult than anticipated and took nine days to overcome. Kim Sae-joon, Kim Tae-man and Wang Jun-ho climbed in capsule style, the last three days totally without food. The three climbed roughly 510m in 10 pitches, enduring regular rock fall and often fragile granite. It took 20 hours to overcome the second pitch, which was graded A5. Higher, another 50m section took two days and involved prising off a large loose section. They graded this pitch ED (Extreme Danger) A4. They exited the face a little below the Singleman-Swan launch site and continued up the ridge to the northerly top, which their GPS registered as 6,660m, the same height as the 'Main Summit'.

The weather deteriorated once back at the foot of the wall and it became precarious to remove all fixed lines and gear without jeopardizing their safety. However, they managed to clean c800m of rope. Twenty bolts and 17 rivets remain in place on the headwall, and the new route, named The Gate to the Sky (VII A5 5.10), enters the records as one of the hardest, high-altitude aid routes yet created.

This report was compiled with help from Peter Jensen-Choi and Glenn Singleman



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