American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, India, Kumaon, Suj Tilla West, Second Ascent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

Suj Tilla West, second ascent. The Ralam valley lies between the more famous Milam valley to its west and the little-known Lassar Yankti to its east. It harbors the breathtakingly beautiful village of Ralam and a system of three glaciers, namely; Kalabaland, Sankalp, and Yankchari Dhurra. The area has several unclimbed peaks and many that have been climbed only once. It also has many stupendous routes that are yet to be attempted. None of the peaks rise more than 6,600m, but in terms of technical ice and rock challenges the summits are extremely inviting, especially to small teams of alpine climbers looking for some hard, technical climbs. Due to Inner Line regulations, these glaciers had never seen a western climber and very few Indian climbers till the year 2002, when the area was opened to foreigners. Some of the majestic peaks of this area are: Chiring We (one ascent); Chiring We I and II (virgin); Suli Top (one ascent); Burphu Dhurra (one ascent); Suj Tilla East (virgin); Chaudhara (one ascent). The roadhead for this valley is Munsyari, which can be reached via Almora either from Delhi, Kathgodam or Haldwani.

Resembling the shape of a needle towering high above the Yankchari Dhurra Glacier, and located deep into the lush Ralam Valley of the Kumaon hills, Suj Tilla is one of the finest pieces of mountain architecture in the Indian Himalaya. It had remained unclimbed even after four previous attempts by some of the finest mountaineers. The Indian Navy team that I led was comprised of nine members. Only my deputy leader, Lt. Amit Pande, was a seasoned mountaineer with several ascents to his credit. We reached Munsyari on September 16 and on the 19th commenced our trek along the Gori Ganga river. We used campsites at Paton, Liungrani, Kiltam, and Ralam, finally establishing base camp on the 23rd at 4,260m on a snow-covered meadow that overlooked the confluence of the Sankalp and Kalabaland glaciers. We started ferrying loads to advanced base on the 25th. This involved first climbing the 4,828m Yankchari Dhurra pass and then descending onto the Yankchari Dhurra glacier. We established advanced base on the 28th at 4,670m. The route ahead lay through a severely broken and serrated icefall. A pair of British climbers (Jim Lowther and Graham Little; see above) had preceded us on the mountain and made the first ascent of Suj Tilla West on the 29th, using a similar route to that we had planned through the southwest face. We established Camp 1 on the 30th at 5,350m, just above a line of huge crevasses. The entire face was prone to rock and ice falls and we had to do most of the climb before the sun hit it. The face had no let-up anywhere for even a tiny bivouac site, as it rose in a sheer wall of ice all the way to the summit. We would have to climb the one kilometer face in one go from Camp 1.

After five days of route opening and rope fixing, we made our first summit attempt on October 6. Starting from C1 at midnight, three members summited the peak after a continuous climb of 15.5 hours. They descended to Cl through a severe blizzard that raged all night and the next day. On the 8th, as the first team returned to advanced base, the southwest face remained plastered with a heavy and dangerous layer of loose snow, making it extremely hazardous for any immediate further attempt. None of the fixed ropes were visible and all traces of our route were buried. A second team of six members summited Suj Tilla West on October 11.

Lt Cdr. Satyabrata Dam, India

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.