American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Trisul's Aleš Kunaver Memorial Route

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1988

Trisul’s Aleš Kunaver Memorial Route

Vlasta Kunaver, Planinska Zveza Slovenije, Yugoslavia

TRISUL, THE FAMOUS MOUNTAIN with its three summits, had long fascinated us. Trisul stands for the three-pointed trident of the goddess Nanda, Shiva’s consort. It is one of the highest peaks of Garhwal, which is said to be one of the most beautiful parts of the Himalaya. Garhwal is also one of its holiest regions; so many of the gods have their home there. That is the reason why you always see so many people, poorly dressed, with walking sticks and begging bowls, heading for the holy sanctuaries. But the gods and the Ganges was not why we chose Trisul. We had been drawn by the enormous virgin west face with great possibilities for climbing, skiing and paragliding.

We left for India on April 28, hoping to make the first ascent of the west face of Trisul I, to traverse the three summits and to descend from the top both by paraglider and by skis. We started from New Delhi on May 7 with a rented bus and at the end of two days got to Ghat at the end of the paved road. Sandi Marancic flew with a paraglider for the first time at the village of Ghat. News spread through the Nandakini valley like fire, “Flying people have come!” On the day of the harvest festival at Sutol, the biggest attraction again was paragliding. The view of the colorful paraglider soaring above the rice fields in the last rays of the sun made it a memorable holiday.

A five-days’ walk up the Nandakini valley brought us to Base Camp at 3900 meters. It was about 600 meters lower than we wished, but the porters refused to carry any higher because of snow and bad weather. From there we made two acclimatization climbs.

On May 17, we made a new route on the lower 1500 meters of the west face. The rock was of UIAA IV difficulty and the ice from 45° to 60°. In 14 hours we reached the big snow plateau below the main west face, left gear and descended to Base Camp. Marincic tested high-altitude flying and landed in Base Camp. On the 22nd, we made a second acclimatization ascent to the slopes of Nanda Ghunti and the Trisul snow plateau.

On May 27, we started on our main ascent. We climbed back to the snow plateau and rested there until midnight before setting on up the main west face of Trisul I. The first 1400 meters had ice up to 65° and rock of IV difficulty. The conditions in the lower part were good, but from the middle of the face on, we had green ice with rock bands. It was not until eight P.M. that we climbed the last rocks and emerged onto a small snow patch, where we bivouacked.

The next day we progressed slowly because of the tremendous efforts we had already put in. We climbed a sérac barrier to reach the snow slopes that would lead to the top. There we were caught by a severe snowstorm and thick fog. Although we had gained only a few hundred meters, we were forced to bivouac in the early afternoon. Luckily we found shelter in an enormous crevasse. Fantastic ice sculptures on the ceiling and walls kept our tired minds working overtime.

A splendid sunny day greeted us the next morning. We knew that we’d reach the top and fly from the summit. We took only two hours to get there. Breathing deeply and sinking into the snow, one by one we arrived on top. What do you feel when you get there? I must admit, the strongest feeling was one of relief.

Kisses, congratulations, the view of Nandakini, Changabang and all around made us jubilant. Our oldest, Vanja Matejevec, lit a pipe on top, like Tom Longstaff, the first to climb Trisul. In 1907 he had ascended the northern slopes, the easiest and most frequented route up the mountain. We named our route after my father, Aleš Kunaver, who in 1984 died in a helicopter accident with his German friend, Toni Hiebeler. He had been on Trisul in 1960. During that first Yugoslavian Himalayan expedition, he and his friends made the first ascents of Trisul II and III, but bad weather prevented their getting to the top of Trisul I. This was the first of his many notable Himalayan expeditions. And so, after 27 years we climbed a new route in his memory.

Cumulus clouds floating up the south face forced Sandi and me to hurry preparing our paragliders. There was almost no wind, but there was no time to waste. Sandi pulled out the lines, ran eight or ten steps and was gliding down into the valley. I followed shortly after him. In fifteen or twenty minutes we were together again, in Base Camp. We remembered just split images: high icy peaks all around us, the west face below our feet, rising cumulus clouds, grass coming up at us, the broad smiles of our cook and liaison officer while we were landing. (Vlasta Kunaver thus established a record. No other woman has taken off from such a high altitude.—Editor.)

The other four members of the expedition continued along the ridge, making a difficult traverse of Trisul II and III. They descended the slopes of Trisul III and returned to Base Camp a day later.

Summary of Statistics:

Area: Garhwal Himalaya, India.

New Route: Trisul, 7128 meters, 23,386 feet, just left of the center of the West Face. Summit reached on May 30, 1987. Kunaver and Marincic descended by Paraglider; the other four descended over the summits of Trisul II, 6690 meters, 21,949 feet and Trisul III, 6170 meters, 20,243.

Personnel: Lado Vidmar, leader, Vanja Matijevec, Slavko Frantar, Janez Kastelec, Vlasta Kunaver, Sandi Marincic.

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