American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, India—Himachal Pradesh, Rangrik Rang, Kinnaur

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1995

Rangrik Rang, Kinnaur. Little was known about the objective of our Indo-British expedition. No photographs were available, no eye-witness reports. We saw the mountain for the first time when we breasted a shoulder below the village of Charang, only a few miles short of the peak. P 6553 (21,500 feet), which has now been named Rangrik Rang after the Rangrik Tungma temple justbelow it, dominated a skyline of snow peaks. A complex massif guarded by a barrier wall was hinted at on the map. The challenge was to find a way through the barrier. We were finally successful in ascending the mountain, we British being the first foreign climbers allowed into Kinnaur since 1933. From Shimla, a private bus took us across switchback roads and through precipitous gorges winding among the Himalayan foothills to the village of Thangi at the foot of the Tirung Gad, the valley leading to our objective. This dramatic journey took two days with an overnight stop at the Indian Tibetan Border Police headquarters at Sarhan. There we were given the bomb-shell information that the northeastern approach to the mountain was out of bounds for security reasons. We left the roadhead at Thangi on June 3 with diminutive donkeys to carry the gear and ascended a track in the bed of a deep gorge flanked by granitic cliffs. A three-day walk took us to Rangrik Tungma, two kilometers beyond Charang. The Tibetan-style village of houses with mud-covered walls and flat roofs clung to a promentory between two rivers with a brightly colored chorten below it and the traditional gateway with prayer wheels at the entrance. Prayer flags and slightly incongruous solar cell panels decorated the roofs while a large satellite television dish reached upwards towards the sky. Rangrik Tungma means “God-made Temple,” for it is told that God came down to the valley and turned himself into a yak herder. Taking a yak halter, he used it to measure out a square on the ground and during a single night built the temple. The gompa (monastery) dates back to the 11 th century. The main chamber, lit by a single small window, is filled with magnificent effigies of the Buddha, sages and other gods. It is a Tara temple, which means it is dedicated to the female form of the Buddha or enlightenment, and consequently it is looked after by nuns. The expedition had a pujah presided over by one of the nuns. On June 6, we split into three parties, two going up each of the glacial valleys that flank the massif and the third climbing as high as possible up the hill immediately above the monastery. Britons Paul Nunn, Jim Fotheringham and I and Indian Muslim Contractor walked south up the Racho Thach Glacier on the west side of the massif to try to find a way through the massive wall barring the way to Rangrik Rang and the two flanking peaks we had permission to attempt. We reached 5000 meters on the northwest flank of a subsidiary glacier, but what we saw was discouraging. The barrier wall had no lines of weakness and was guarded by towering séracs, one of which broke off in a huge avalanche that swept the glacier below. Britons Graham Little and Jim Lowther had better luck on the Racho Khad Glacier to the east. They found that it led below the huge north face of Rangrik Rang with a possible route up a 300-meter-high ice wall to a col from which the long, snow northeast ridge led to the summit. On June 7, we established Base Camp at 4170 meters on a grassy platform beside the ruins of a yak herder’s hut, just below the confluence of two rivers raging from the two glaciers. A spring provided fresh water and there was a magnificent view of the snow peaks at the head of the valley, although Rangrik Rang was hidden by subsidiary peaks of crumbling rock. On June 10, we placed Advance Base at 4870 meters on the stone-covered glacier with a good view of the formidable north face of Rangrik Rang and the steep headwall below the col which gave access to the northeast ridge. The weather broke and most of us retired to Base Camp, leaving Little and Lowther to hold Advance Base. We all returned on the 14th. On that same day, Little and Lowther moved up to Camp I, which they had stocked in bad weather, at the foot of the headwall at 5260 meters. The following morning, supported by Indian Divyesh Muni and porter Pasang Bodh, they pushed the route two-thirds of the way up the headwall, fixing rope as they went from rock island to rock island. One run-out entailed 130 meters, necessitating tying two ropes together. The snow was of such poor quality that they obtained no secure belays. On the 16th, Nunn, Muni and Bodh, filmed by Jim Curran, put up another three rope-lengths on increasingly awkward ground. On June 17 Fotheringham and I completed the route to the col at 5700 meters, getting fine views of the mountains of Tibet to the northeast and even to Kamel on the east in Garhwal. On June 18, Contractor, Curran, Little, Lowther, Muni, Nunn and Bodh moved up to the col, and Little and Lowther continued on during the night to take advantage of the frozen snow to establish Camp III at 6000 meters in a notch on the ridge. The following morning Fotheringham and I, who had taken a rest day, climbed from Camp I and caught the others. By evening, all were at Camp III. The team set out at five A.M. on June 20 in four ropes of two. Jim Curran decided to stay at Camp III. The ridge, facing northeast, was in the sun from the start of the day, with the result that snow conditions were poor and at times dangerous with unconsolidated snow lying on ice. At 6200 meters, an ice wall barring the ridge gave a short stretch of steep ice climbing. Beyond the wall, the ridge stretched in a crescent towards the summit, which was reached at two P.M. The summit was quite flat. At the side of some rocks was a small pool of melt water. We were back in Camp III at seven o’clock. The descent was filled with incident. While we were descending the headwall from the col, it was swept by falling stones. Little was hit on the head by a large block and was only saved from death or serious injury by his crash helmet. Muslim Contractor was hit on the jaw, but fortunately it was only a glancing blow. Others had near misses. Meanwhile, on June 19, Indian co-leader Harish Kapadia, Kaivan Mistry and porter Prakash Chand climbed Mangla (5800 meters, 19,029 feet), which lies on the ridge on the eastern side of the Racho Khad Glacier, due east of Rangrik Rang. They climbed the northwest ridge. On June 20, they again left early to attempt the fine looking peak, Kimshu (5850 meters, 19,193 feet), which is on the ridge north of Rangrik Rang. After reaching the north col, Kapadia diverted south to climb a small peak on the ridge, Kunda (5240 meters, 17,192 feet). Mistry with porters Khubram and Suratram continued along the north ridge of Kimshu to 5780 meters, where they were turned back by loose scree and exposure. On the descent from Base Camp, the glacier streams were all in spate. The return down the Tirung Gad with the donkey train was particularly awkward. Having completed the first phase of the expedition, Fotheringham, Little, Lowther and I returned to the United Kingdom while the rest of the team moved to Spiti to climb Manirang. [See below.]

Christian Bonington

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