American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, India-Garhwal, Kirti Stambh Ascent and Kharchakund Attempt, Gangotri Region

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1983

Kirti Stambh Ascent and Kharchakund Attempt, Gangotri Region. Our expedition consisted of Rick Allen, Ernie McGlashan, Malcolm McCullough, Beverley Hurwood and me as leader. We hoped to make the second ascent of Kharchakund (6612 meters, 21,693 feet) by the unclimbed north ridge. We also planned to acclimatize by climbing the northeast face of unclimbed Kirti Stambh (6270 meters, 20,570 feet), which lies between Bhartekunta and Thalay Sagar. We reached Base Camp at Tapovan on October 1. Kirti Stambh was a more elusive summit than we expected. Not until the third attempt was it successfully climbed. It involved ice of Scottish grade IV and rock of Alpine IV. The slabby rock was not an ideal base for holding snow. On one occasion we noted that the northeast face had suffered five major windslab avalanches. Despite this, McGlashan and Allen found an inherently safe route on October 4 and 5, climbing to 19,800 feet from a 17,000-foot bivouac. A second attempt was mounted by McCullough and me on October 7 and 8. We reached 17,800 feet for a bivouac. Unfortunately on October 8 McCullough was suffering from altitude sickness and a return to lower altitude was necessary. It was not until after the Kharchakund attempt that on October 18 we returned to Kirti Stambh. McCullough still suffered from the altitude. We three other climbers bivouacked at 17,800 feet. The next morning, having traversed out from the shelter of the cliff and ascended a snow ramp to join a gully at 18,000 feet, we were nearly struck by tragedy. I was hit by an avalanche, funneled down the chute from snow slopes above. I extricated myself from the snow before it poured over an ice slope and onto boulders 300 feet below, but I had to retreat, accompanied by McGlashan. Allen, after some deliberation, continued on alone, confident of safely negotiating the rock traverse and steep ice pitches solo, having previously climbed these difficulties with McGlashan. He reached the col between P 6254 (east of the peak) and the summit on the evening of October 19. October 20 dawned fine and he reached the summit of Kirti Stambh at 9:20 A.M. Meanwhile, two camps had been established up the Gangotri Glacier, the higher at 15,800 feet at the foot of the north ridge of Kharchakund. From the foot of the ridge, McGlashan and Allen set out on October 13. They had on the 12th reconnoitered the ridge from its northeast aspect and espied a gully leading onto the ridge. By the evening of the 13th, after slow progress in the unconsolidated snow of the gully and some tricky climbing above, they bivouacked. On October 14 their progress was even slower and they gained only 600 vertical feet. On the third day they crossed left over the shoulder on the ridge and into a snow couloir, which they climbed in two pitches. A rock wall now barred their way, but it was surmounted by a difficult slabby rib, which involved an extremely difficult pitch. The third day’s climbing took them only 600 feet above their previous night’s bivouac. They had completed 2200 feet of the 5900-foot ridge in three days. In view of the climbing difficulties and hampered by unconsolidated snow lying on slabby rock, they anticipated three further days of climbing to reach the col behind the great north tower and another day for the summit snowfield with its icefalls and bergschrund. The two climbers quit and abseiled down the ridge, not reaching Advance Base until October 16.

Roy F. Lindsay, Scottish Mountaineering Club

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