American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, India-Eastern Karakoram, Rimo I Attempt, Eastern Karakoram

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987

Rimo I Attempt, Eastern Karakoram. The Indo-Intemational Rimo-Shyok Expedition had three goals. Our plan was to approach Rimo I via the Depsang Plain, an 18,000-foot plateau which rolls off into Tibet and which no foreigner had traversed since Eric Shipton in 1946. We would then attempt the virgin Rimo I (7385 meters, 24,230 feet) by a route on the east side and finally raft down the Shyok River, which has headwaters in the Rimo area. The peak had seen only one previous attempt and the river had never been run. Our team was composed of 12 members: Indians Colonel Prem Chand, leader, Rajiv Sharma, Magan Bissa, J.P. Singh, Errol De Souza and Sashank, Australians Roddy McKenzie, Terry Ryan and Brett Ryan, Englishman Dave Read, New Zealander Peter Hillary and me from the United States. Although permission for our approach through a restricted area inside the Inner Line had been approved months earlier, we were still delayed for over three weeks while Indian bureaucracy sorted itself out and gave final approval. During this delay we watched the short Karakoram summer fade into autumn. The approach along the old Central Asian trade route was still recognizable from Shipton’s writings in Mountains of Tartary, although it is now littered with military debris and swarms of Indian military personnel, who for the most part seem to resent and distrust the presence of foreigners. As we ascended the South Rimo Glacier and established Base Camp at 16,600 feet on August 30, we thought we had left the army behind. We were wrong. Mail was censored and radio messages never sent to the outside world. They even sent a platoon up to Base Camp to monitor our activities. From Base Camp, the furthest point our ponies could reach, we still had 12 kilometers of glacial travel to reach the mountain. Advance Base was occupied on September 4 at 17,700 feet on the glacier, but the weather deteriorated and caused frequent delays for the rest of the expedition. On September 8, we occupied Camp I at 18,700 feet. The route from here ascended a snow-and- ice gully up the south face, but due to frequent storms and much fixing of rope in the hope of getting as many members as high as possible, we did not occupy Camp II at 21,300 feet until October 4. On October 6, we turned back from 22,500 feet due to deep snow, serious avalanche and crevasse conditions and stormy weather. By this time, the Indians had all vacated the mountain and our river descent had been cancelled because the river had dried up and frozen! Our leader Prem Chand had inexplicably begun to walk out from Base Camp, leaving the expedition under the leadership of Bissa. The day before the six foreign members got back to Base Camp, having cleaned the mountain and the three higher camps, Bissa and the others evacuated Base Camp, taking all the ponies, porters and most of the supplies. We were forced to leave 200 kilograms of our own gear at Base Camp and each carry 35 kilograms for the next several days as we tried to catch up to the main party, only one day ahead of us. We subsisted on porridge and noodles left over from the mountain. On the second day of the walk-out, a local army garrison confiscated all of our film, including a movie we had made to satisfy our major sponsor, Grindleys Bank of India. As of this writing, the condition and whereabouts of the film is still unknown. On October 16, we were relieved to arrive back in Leh, feeling like escapees from a prisoner-of-war camp.

Skip Horner

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