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Asia, India—Garhwal, Nanda Devi East, Northeast Ridge Attempt and South Ridge Ascent

Nanda Devi East, Northeast Ridge Attempt and South Ridge Ascent. Our attempt on the northeast ridge of Nanda Devi East failed because a lack of snow gave rise to objective dangers. We moved to the south ridge and made the first alpine-style ascent and the eighth ascent overall. This was the first British ascent and the first by a woman. Research showed that the Pachu Gad, a side valley from the Milam valley, had probably not been visited by a mountaineering party since 1905 when Dr. Tom Longstaff tried to reach the Nanda Devi Sanctuary from the east. With the two Brocherel brothers, Longstaff climbed out of the Pachu Gad by crossing a pass at 5300 meters on the ridge between Nanda Devi East and Nanda Lapak. They went on to descend into and explore the Lawan valley and reached what is now known as Longstaff’s Col. They climbed the first obstacles on the south ridge before turning back. The summit of Nanda Devi East was first reached by the 1939 Polish expedition, using Longstaff s route on the south ridge. There had been six subsequent ascents by this same route.

Starting on September 9, we two made the journey from Munsiari to Base Camp in the Pachu Gad in four days. On the 13th, we reconnoitered higher up. There was a distinct lack of routes leading to the northeast ridge. Longstaff’s account of crossing the Pachu Pass describes climbing snow, which in this season was conspicuously absent. The rock was very loose. Further around, the northeast ridge, which forms the Sanctuary rim, sweeps down in a huge wall to the glacier. Stonefall and avalanches explained the debris on the glacier. The only other option was to climb Latu Dhura and go over a subsidiary summit, a total distance of five kilometers over a heavily corniced ridge. A reconnaissance the next day of a route to the pass proved that that was not feasible. On September 17, we descended to Ganaghar to head up the Lawan valley and to climb the standard route. By September 22, we reached the site of Advance Base at 4700 meters, where we met Americans withdrawing after an unsuccessful attempt and Spaniards ferrying loads to Camp I. With a pre-dawn start, we climbed a wall and ridge well left of the route followed by the others on fixed rope. After a bivouac, we reached Longstaff’s Col at noon. Above, the first part of the route involves crossing a series of three pinnacles. At the top of the third at 5770 meters, a small snow platform offered a perfect campsite. On the third morning, we climbed down to a steep ascent of a loose 25-meter buttress. By noon, we were at a fine campsite at 6100 meters. On September 26, we climbed rock and snow steps that gave way at 6200 meters to an elegant corniced ridge. This merged into a wide wind-swept shelf, a potential campsite. Beyond the shelf, a mixed face led to the next section of the ridge. We descended from 6700 meters, where stong winds and cold made further progress difficult. We went back down to Base Camp for a rest. On October 1, we ascended to the col by noon and reached “Shelf Camp” at 6100 meters by five P.M., a height gain of 1400 meters. We rested on the 2nd, watching the Spaniards pass on their way to camp at 6500 meters. On the 3rd, we climbed to camp beside the Spaniards. The Spaniards made their summit bid from there, but turned back at 6900 meters in bitter cold. We found it prudent to make one more camp at a large black rock at 7000 meters on the ridge. On the 5th, startingat ten A.M., we climbed to the left of the route taken by previous parties, on excellent snow and weaving in and out of rock bands. We camped just below the black rock in an exposed but good campsite. On the morning of October 6, it was not until 9:45 that wind dropped enough to start climbing. Above the black rock, we followed the corniced ridge on mostly good snow to a second snow plateau, where the wind was very strong. Above, we climbed mixed ground with three difficult 25-meter pitches. The ridge was climbed on poor snow to a big boulder that blocked the ridge, which we bypassed on the east. The absence of snow on the final summit wall meant a diagonal line for two 25-meter pitches on rotten slabs on the Sanctuary side. Above the slabs, we followed the crest to the last rock outcrop and the summit (7434 meters, 24,390 feet) at five P.M. The descent required care on unstable snow sections. Three abseils were necessary before reaching our tent at 7000 meters after nine P.M. The descent continued on the 7th and we reached the third pinnacle at sunset. Advance Base was finally reached after midnight and Base Camp at 3:30 A.M., just four hours before the porters arrived for the walk out.

Julie-Ann Clyma and Roger Payne, Alpine Climbing Group