Asia, India, Ladakh, Pangong Range, Chaukula, First Ascent
Chaukula, first ascent. On August 13 Chris Mothersdale and Trevor Willis made the first ascent of Chaukula (6529m) by the southeast ridge (Alpine AD). Chaukula is the highest of a group of mountains in the Rupshu area of the Ladakh Himalaya. It lies just north of the Indus River, about halfway between the two lakes Tso Moriri and Pangong Tso. As Rupshu is a border area, it has a strong army presence. Access is therefore strictly controlled and subject to military approval.
The six-person British expedition traveled eastward by road from Leh. The Chaukula group rises steeply above the road beyond Chumatang village, with the peaks hidden by steep ridges. However, where a valley cuts through these barriers, an elegant pointed snow peak can be seen; this is Chaukula itself. The approach on foot was from the southeast, starting at the roadside in Mahe village. A good trail led over the Yaye La to the valley of the Yaye Tso and then through a narrow rocky streambed to the valley of the Skam Tso. BC was located in this valley, with ABC at 5000m near a small spring just below the glacial moraine. From here, a climb through moraine led to the glacier snout and a clear view of the mountain. In four days equipment and food were carried via ABC to below the south face of Chaukula. There were no objective dangers such as crevasses or avalanche prone areas on the glacier itself. Observation from the glacier suggested that the rocks bounding the south face on its right (eastern) side would give the best line of ascent. On August 10 a fairly reasonable bivouac spot was found below the snow line on the south face.
The first team, Mothersdale and Willis, made a late (06:30) start from the bivouac on August 13. Conditions were good with no cloud or wind. From the bivouac at 5930m an unroped scramble on good rock led to a 40-meter-wide steep snow gully at 6030m. This was crossed with a rope and protection from ice screws. The next section of rock was steeper and looser. At 6200m the rock gave out to a snow slope that steepened from 40 degrees at the bottom to 50 degrees or more near the crest of the ridge. The ridge led in about 30 meters to the summit. Conditions allowed front pointing on the steep section, and Trevor and Chris reached the summit at about 11:00 a.m.
On the 14th the second team, Miriam Denney and Mike Ratty, moved up the bivouac in poor weather. Following an uncomfortable night they were slowed down by cold and limited visibility. Running out of time, they turned back at 6500m.
Mike Ratty, United Kingdom