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Asia, India—Garhwal, Shivling West, Southeast Ridge

Shivling West, Southeast Ridge. Jim Fotheringham and I arrived at Tapovan at 14,050 feet on September 4. The next week was spent establishing Advance Base at the foot of the east face of Kedarnath Dome and making forays to find the best route up this huge rock wall. It became increasingly obvious that the climb would take longer than the very limited time we had in the area. We were becoming attracted to the superb southeast ridge of the unclimbed west summit of Shivling. We returned to Base Camp on September 12 and set out for Shivling at five A.M. on the 13th. We were not certain if there was a route through the mountain’s formidable lower defences of sheer, crumbling rock walls. From the Kirti Bamak we picked out a line up a wide gully, capped by a huge icefall guarding the snow basin which gave access to the southeast ridge. We started up the dangerous gully at eight A.M. It would have been preferable to have climbed it in the dark, but we could not afford another day of waiting. We were in the rockfall for about 1000 feet, cramponing up easy-angled hard snow. The gully was capped by a headwall of overhanging rock. As we gained height, the gully steepened into overlapped slabs with a thin covering of snow. Even though it was only two P.M. we stopped for the night to bivouac beneath a roof overhang, hoping for a frost to harden the snow. It didn’t freeze but the snow hardened sufficiently to enable us to cross the slabs to the crest of the ridge, where broken ground led to the top of a pinnacle and down a snow arete into the basin. We camped on the edge of the bergschrund below the southeast ridge. On the morning of the 15th, we cramponed up frozen snow runnels to within four pitches of the crest of the ridge. Then followed six pitches to the top of a small spikey gendarme at 20,000 feet, where we bivouacked. The ridge now steepened and the climbing became more technically difficult. The leader climbed without his sack, abseiling from his high point and then jümaring back up with it. We climbed only 650 feet that day and reached at 20,650 feet the foot of a smooth bulge in the ridge that was obviously going to present the crux. The two ropes were run out that night, with a long diagonal traverse towards the centre of the south face, to avoid the featureless section of the ridge. On the 17th we were faced with the most difficult climbing so far. Jim got the key pitch up a steep comer. Above, the angle relented but every ledge was covered with debris. We reached the summit ridge at five P.M. and decided to bivouac on the crest at 21,150 feet. We reached the summit (6501 meters, 21,330 feet) after two pitches on very steep snow on the sharp, knife-edged ridge at eight A.M. on September 18. A half-hour later we started down, first heading for the col between the two summits on a very steep and suspect snow slope on the north side of the summit ridge. We had hoped to find the way down the west ridge, but we missed the first-ascent route and descended the westerly retaining ridge of the north face, thus making a first descent as well as a first ascent. It had been a superb climb to a truly magnificent summit with 14 days of perfect weather out of the 16 spent in the mountains.

Christian Bonington