AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Asia, Nepal, Mahalangur Himal (Khumbu), Ombigaichen, First Recorded Ascent of Newly Opened Peak and First Winter Ascent

Ombigaichen, first recorded ascent of newly opened peak and first winter ascent. Ombigaichen (6,340m) is one of the new trekking peaks authorized by the Nepal Mountaineering Association in 2002. Our expedition consisted of Charles Burr (U.K.), Jo Cleere (U.K.), Marlies Sanders (The Netherlands), and myself as guide, with the assistance of Nepalese, Gyenye Lama, Ekka Rai, Syrendra Tamang, and Sonam Yeltsin.

We arrived in Kathmandu from Europe on November 12, flew to Lukla and trekked to Ama Dablam base camp, arriving on the 19th. Here, we spent two days in acclimatization and reconnaissance before moving up with yaks to camp at ca 5,000m. Half a day of load carrying by all the team across the debris of the Nare Glacier saw us established at our 5,200m base camp near an icy stream. Ama Dablam’s south face was to our northwest, while Ombigaichen lay to the north-east. The shortest and most logical route to the summit was the south ridge from the Mingbo La. This was because access to the La was relatively straightforward (a 200m snow/ice slope at 50°) and it would enable us to place a tent at ca 5,800m, leaving just under 550m of climbing to the top of the mountain.

We made our first attempt on November 30. Above the La a delightful snow arête led to the “first gendarme.” This was turned on its rocky right flank to reach a second snow arête leading to the “Snow Saddle.” Above, a steep snow/ice slope rose to a series of gendarmes, all turned on their extremely loose, rocky, right flanks. A final steep 20m wall led to the “first notch.” We left this section fixed.

Our second attempt took place on December 3, when Charles Burr, Sonam Yeltsin, and I were successful. On reaching the La we found that our tent had been destroyed by strong winds over the previous two days. Fortunately, we were able to locate the inner tent about a kilometer away across the glacier, and piecing together a couple of poles, managed a tolerable if short night.

Above our previous high point a short vertical rock arête led to more mixed ground and the second notch below the summit block. The last three pitches were spectacular and included a long (45m) steep pitch on completely rotten, loose shale interspersed with extremely unstable snow/ice mushrooms and an overhanging mushroom to finish. Several car-size blocks of ice fell during the climb, crashing noisily down the southeast face. The route was Alpine AD/D in standard and in common with nearby Ama Dablam, summiteers were rewarded with superb views of Everest, Lhotse, and Makalu. Extensive research, using all the normal sources, failed to reveal any previous recorded ascent of Ombigaichen

We noted that the southwest face would give a superb 800m snow/ice climb at around 55°. The Hunku (southeast) side looks loose and complex in the lower half, though the upper face is mainly snow/ice at 50°. The east ridge is the logical finish of the southeast face, while the west (Ama Dablam) ridge looks unattractive, with a number of overhanging snow obstacles. We were unable to properly observe the north (Chukung) face of the mountain.

Late autumn/early winter is normally an excellent period for climbing the lower peaks of Nepal. The main problem for us was the two days of high winds, which completely destroyed the tent on the Mingbo La, and the cold, which produced overnight temperatures of -20°C at the La. To conclude, there is huge potential in Nepal for new routes and new peaks between 6,000m and 7,000m but many of the new trekking peaks will be technically harder than the expedition peaks. For more information and photographs of this expedition see www.basecamp .co.uk/climb.html

Victor Saunders, U.K.