American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, India—Kashmir and Ladakh, Brammah I, Second Ascent and Tragedy

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1979

Brammah I, Second Ascent and Tragedy. The members of the expedidition were Paul Belcher, Duncan Nicholson, Jon Scott and me. We began the four-day walk from Kishtwar to Base Camp up a good path beside the Munab River and then branched off up the Nanth Nalla to place Base Camp at the snout of the Brammah Glacier. We established Advanced Base at the head of the glacier with some difficulty because of the tortured, rock-strewn surface. We found the last piece of level ground in the south cwm underneath the northeast face of Brammah at 13,000 feet. This was the starting point of the climb: 5000 feet to the south col between Brammah I and Flat Top and then 3500 feet and two miles up the southeast ridge. We rejected the alternative northwest ridge as the approach was up steep avalanching gullies. (We may also have been influenced by the southeast ridge being the only successfully climbed route climbed to the top. It had been done by Chris Bonington and Nick Estcourt.) The initial problem was the icefall. Belcher and I gained the south col by a series of steep ice gullies and loose rock ridges on the left side of the icefall. A few days later, after a spell of bad weather, we all set off at three A.M. on our previous route. Belcher and I reached the col by noon, having pushed ahead of the other two as we had agreed to climb at our own pace separately. Belcher and I started up the ridge which was at first merely broad, easy-angled snow. We bivouacked after 500 feet before the slopes steepened. The route comprised 500 feet of steep hard snow, followed by a 1000-foot sharp rock ridge, punctuated with four gendarmes of vertical rock, the last and most fierce being 500 feet high. Beyond, the 1500-foot summit snowfield led to the top. The fourth tower was indeed difficult and of loose rock but we two made it to bivouac a second time at the bottom of the summit snowfield. The other two spent the night at the start of the rock section. The following morning, August 15, dawned clear, revealing a 1500-foot snow slope to the summit, shallow to begin with but becoming increasingly steep toward the top. The final steep wall demanded absolute concentration. We made it to the top (21,050 feet) after five hours of exhausting climbing. We arrived back at our bivouac sjte in the midst of a snowstorm to find Nicholson and Scott had completed the rock section and had moved in on our flat ledge, but they left us room enough to sit down and hang our feet over the edge. As the following day was fine, they left for the summit, while Belcher and I descended. I saw them climbing down the snow from the summit and so presumed they had reached the top. Two eve- ings later when they had not returned, we became really worried. The weather deteriorated the following day and we knew they must have had an accident. We started out at dawn, our enthusiasm dampened by the rain. We set up our bivouac on the south col in a snowstorm worse than we had encountered before. The day after, we continued up a short way but decided that we had to go back down. The mountain had become very unsafe and our return route was in danger of becoming impassable. Our rescue attempt was hopelessly ineffective with visibility down to a few hundred feet. After turning around, we were left with a feeling of total emptiness and remorse at cutting off the last hopes we had of seeing Scott and Nicholson again.

Anthony Wheaton, City University Mountaineering Club, England

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