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Asia, India, Central Garhwal—Gangotri, Bhilangna Valley, Satling Peaks, First Ascents

Bhilangna Valley, Satling peaks, first ascents. A British team made several first ascents in the Satling group of peaks at the head of the Bhilangna valley in early spring 2002. With rock as good as Chamonix granite, virgin walls up to 600m high, ice couloirs, and dozens of miniature aiguilles, the Satling offers a veritable feast of alpine climbing at altitudes between 5,000m and 5,850m. The “Sat-ling” or “Seven Phalluses” were first spotted by the British team that climbed Thelay Sagar’s south face in 1992. Remarkably, no climbing expedition had been up the valley in the intervening 10 years, even though the often-climbed peaks of Shivling and Meru are only 15km distant over the Gangotri watershed.

Having established an advance camp at 4,980m on the Satling Glacier, Mark Davidson, Martin Moran, and John Venier climbed two rock peaks; The Rabbit’s Ear (5,530m, D- with one pitch of UIAA V) and The Cathedral (5,360m, D with five pitches of UIAA IV, V, and V+). Meanwhile Keith Milne and Gordon Scott, who were part of the 1992 British team, climbed the north couloir of The Fortress (5,541m). The ascent took 10 hours and featured three pitches at an overall grade of Scottish IV/V (TD-).

The main objective in the range is the triple-headed peak of 5,850m, which was provisionally named Brahmasar (Brahma’s Head). Davidson, Moran, and Venier made a bold attempt to climb its west ridge, which featured an ice and mixed approach followed by some immaculate rock climbing on a slender arete. After 15 pitches of climbing, including several of grade V and one of VI (TD overall), they were repulsed 60m under the summit when faced by a series of delicate traverses late in the day.

Meanwhile, Milne and Scott circumnavigated the peak to gain an easier approach from the Dudhganga Glacier on its southeast side. They climbed the South Summit at D- with two pitches of IV, but commented that, viewed from every angle, the final 100m to the highest Central Peak would give difficult climbing. Brahmasar also sports a magnificent 800m north ridge.

Weather conditions in early May were excellent and a good cover of winter snow simplified the approaches. The glaciers and snow peaks of this area have considerable scope for ski-touring at this time of year. Technical difficulties on the granite faces look to be of a high order.

Martin Moran, U.K.