Romanians Cosmin Andron and Cristina Pogacean have made the first ascent of Ghandarbha Chuli, a snow and ice peak on the eastern rim of the Annapurna Sanctuary.
Ghandarbha Chuli (a.k.a Gandharva, and formerly the Gabelhorn, 6,248m) lies on the ridge connecting Annapurna III (7,553m) to Macchapuchhare (6,993m), nearer to the latter. There have been no previous official attempts.
Ghandarbha Chuli is on the permitted list as a peak that can only be attempted by foreign team if it forms a joint expedition with Nepalis. Including cooks and helpers the two Romanians had eight Nepalis on their expedition.
The team set up base camp on the 2nd May at 3,857m (GPS), at the confluence of the Modi Khola and the river that runs north from Singu Chuli (Fluted Peak).
Next day, with the help of some of their Nepalese companions, they made an advanced base below the glacier at 4,448m, and the following morning left before 4:00am, climbing moderate mixed ground, over unconsolidated snow and loose rock, up the left flank of a southwest-facing spur.
At 2:00pm they were hit by an electrical storm that produced heavy snowfall, but they continued to make upward progress, eventually spending an uncomfortable night in a half-erected tent at 5,438m, more or less on the crest of the spur.
It snowed overnight and next morning they left at 10:00am with the aim of finding a better campsite a little higher up the southwest spur.
After four-five pitches, but well below the point where the spur meets the west ridge at a triangular rock buttress, they were able to dig a proper ledge for the tent (5,586m GPS) and spend a day appraising the situation, while avalanches crashed down gullies to either side.
The weather cleared during the night, allowing the two to leave at 3:30am on the 6th. They avoided the triangular rock buttress on the right via a difficult traverse on unconsolidated snow overlying hard ice.
Reaching the west ridge, which proved quite sharp in places, Andron and Pogacean progressed to a large cornice formation, which gave a steep snow pitch (75° at the exit) to its flat top.
From there, the final section to the summit took an unreasonable amount of time given the distance, the pair slowed considerably by spindrift in an increasing wind.
They stopped just below the highest point, making a conscious decision not to stand on top.
Just to the south, Macchapuchhare is one of Nepal's most famous sacred summits, and is completely off-limits to climbers. A base camp discussion between the expedition Sirdar and locals had confirmed that the latter were rather unhappy about the Romanians climbing Ghandarbha Chuli, associating it strongly with its higher, spectacular neighbour.
As a sign of respect for local community beliefs, at 4:00pm Andron and Pogacean stamped out a small platform one body length below the top, where they left Nepali and Romanain flags attached to a snow stake. The GPS recorded 6,302m.
The pair regained their tent at 10:00pm, and after a tedious yet uneventful descent were back in advanced base the following evening.
On their return to base camp they found that locals were certainly not thrilled on hearing the news, but remained reserved rather than hostile. The Romanians felt they had made the best compromise.
The pair's rapid ascent from base camp is partially due to having been guiding in the Sanctuary immediately prior to their attempt, thus gaining valuable acclimatization. Andron was at university in the UK and later worked in China before becoming a mountain guide in his home country. Pogacean is a civil engineer.