Asia, India, Uttar Pradesh, Central Garhwal, Swachand, West Face, Attempt

Publication Year: 1999.

Swachand, West Face, Attempt. Malcolm Bass, Julian Clamp and Simon Yearsley (U.K.) attempted the west face of Swachand (6721m) during September and October. Swachand was first climbed by the Austrians Messner and Spann raft during the incredibly prolific 1938 Austrian expedition to the area. We ascended from the southeast via the Maiandi Glacier. The 1400-meter west face overlooks the Swachand Glacier and is steep and mixed. There have been no previous attempts.

Base Camp was established at Sundervan (4550m) below the southeast face of Shivling on September 8. Persistent rain and snow prevented ABC from being established until the 20th, when it was placed beneath the west face of Swachand at 5250 meters. Further heavy snowfall forced a retreat back to BC until September 27. On September 29, Clamp and I began up the face, reaching a bivouac ledge beneath a large overhang at 5850 meters as the sun hit the face at midday. Severe rock and icefall began and continued until evening, but we were safe beneath our roof.

In the early hours of the 30th, we hand-traversed left under the overhang, then followed a thin snow ledge across the wall until the angle above relented. We climbed steep mixed ground, including verglassed slabs (Scottish 6). The slabs led to a superb short ice gully (Scottish 4) and then to snow slopes above. We moved together up these, and reached the second major rockband on the face, where we dug a tent platform under a slight overhang (6070m). By midday, severe stone and icefall had begun again. On the morning of October 1, we climbed one mixed pitch above the bivy to gain access to an icy ramp cutting through the second rock band. It then became clear that the upper section of the face would be as exposed to stonefall as the lower. We decided to retreat from 6100 meters. We made a rapid abseil retreat in snowfall and reached ABC the same morning.

The quality of the climbing found on the lower sections suggests that the route would provide a magnificent mixed climb ideally suited to an alpine-style ascent. We don’t know whether the levels of stonefall encountered are typical of this face, or a product of the very poor weather conditions. The unspoiled and remote ambience of the upper Gangotri and Swachand glaciers add to the experience of climbing here.

Malcolm Bass, United Kingdom