American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Northeast Ridge of M-6

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1976

Northeast Ridge of M-6

Talbot Bielefeldt

WE began by finding that the road over Rohtang Pass to Keylang was closed by record snowfall, thus adding a week of trekking to the expedition. Then, the first day out of Manali, we ran into a police officer who said he had already climbed M-6. It seems that in September, 1974, the India-Tibet Border Police had attempted the northeast ridge of the mountain. Backing off, the Indians walked around the north side of the peak to the southwest ridge, which they climbed to the top for the first ascent.

We cabled the Ministry of Defense from Keylang for permission to attempt an unclimbed peak inside the restricted Inner Defense Line. Receiving provisional approval, we moved ahead, only to be hauled out by the police three days later. Lute Jerstad, Vijay Devasher, and liaison officer Lieutenant Dey returned to Keylang to make amends to the Deputy Commissioner of Lahoul, while the rest of us headed back for M-6.

Two obvious unclimbed routes remained: the attempted northeast ridge, and the direct north face—the latter a 2000-foot, 50° ice slope. It took us two days to retrace our steps and two more to ascend the Milang Nala and Mulkila Glacier to Base Camp at 14,100 feet. At the snout of the glacier we paid off the muleteers and made the last carry with porters hired from local villages.

Our planned three-day approach was now into day 13. An impressive effort by Wangyal, James O’Neill, Tom Ettinger, and Tony Case put Camp I at 16,400 feet and Camp II at 18,375 feet, during three days of intermittant storm. Lute, Vijay, and Lieutenant Dey rejoined us during this period, and after a snowbound rest day, the group moved up in strength on June 13. Deep snow made for slow going and decided us in favor of M-6’s northeast ridge (the one attempted by the Border Police) rather than the north face. (As it turned out, the north face seems to have a relatively stable line up a rocky rib. It remains an attractive potential route.)

Camp III (19,350 feet) was cut into the crest of the sharp ridge connecting M-6 and Mulkila (M-4). Over 500 feet of rope were fixed between the bergschrund and the crest. We occupied the camp that same day, breaking the acclimatization rule of “carry high, sleep low.” We paid for our haste, with three of the four scheduled to climb on June 15 being ill. (Eventually two strong members of the expedition—Trevor Pelling and Guy Rainsford—would lose their chance at the summit because of altitude sickness). I came up from Camp II to join Tony Case that afternoon, and we began the ascent of the ridge.

Worried both about the cornice collapsing on the south side of the crest and avalanche danger on the opposite slope, we plowed through deep snow across the top of the north face. We had been slow in getting ropes and snow anchors up to the higher camps and ran out of pickets and line short of the steep rock band that seemed the main obstacle on the route. Descending to Camp II on the 16th, we left the lead to Jerstad and Ettinger.

James O’Neill and Gene Howard joined Lute and Tom on the ridge on the 17th with additional equipment. Reaching the cliff band, the four encountered unstable rock and ice-filled cracks. Scratching over a couple of F6 moves in crampons, they reached the top of the cliff late in the afternoon, finally turning back near sunset at a false summit on the upper ridge. Darkness, icy ropes and slipping Jümars hampered the descent, and it was 10:30 P.M. before Sherpa Gyalgen could serve dinner at High Camp.

With a predawn start from Camp II, Bob O’Loughlin, Tony Case, Jim Bright, Namgyal, Wangyal, and I climbed to Camp III on the 18th. We were joined by Gyalgen, and the seven of us reached the false summit by ten o’clock. The remainder of the route was another deep-snow ordeal, and it was afternoon before the mountain was climbed.

The descent and march out were uneventful, aided considerably by cleared roads and by a series of truck rides arranged by Lieutenant Dey.

Western climbers may be put off by some of the conditions of Indian mountaineering, including the scarcity of maps and abundance of bureaucracy. Perseverance and a sense of humor help here, as do people such as our Ladakhi high-altitude porters and Nepali Sherpas. These did a magnificent job of herding their employers safely through the hazards of government cartography and village merchants.

Summary of Statistics:

Area: Western Himalaya, District Lahoul, Himachal Pradesh, India. New Route and Second Ascent: The northeast ridge of M-6, 20,600 feet, from the Mulkila Glacier. Ropes fixed through the crux above Camp III on June 17, 1975. Summit June 18.

Personnel: Talbot Bielefeldt, Jim Bright, Tony Case, Everett Howard, Lute Jerstad (leader), Robert O’Loughlin, James O’Neill, Trevor Pelling, Guy Rainsford—United States; Vijay Devasher, Lieutenant Sumasher Dey (liaison officer)—India; Karm Chand, Namgyal Cher- ing, Wangyal, Zorba—Ladakhi high-altitude porters; Dawa* (sirdar), Gyalgen*—Sherpas.


John Millar: “A Himalaya Summer” (conclusion); Austrian Alpine Club Newsletter, XXXIX, Summer, 1973.

Fritz Kolb: Himalaya Venture; Lutterworth Press, London, 1959.

L. Krenek: “The Mountains of Central Lahul”; Himalaya Journal, XIII, 1946.

A.A.J., 1973, pages 489-90. * Both men are named Dawa Gyalgen.

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