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

Asia, India, Ladakh, Saser Kangri I, Northwest Ridge Attempt and Saser Kangri IV Ascent

Saser Kangri I, northwest ridge attempt and Saser Kangri IV ascent. A nine-member team from the Indian Navy made a spirited attempt to repeat the long and difficult northwest ridge of Saser Kangri I (7,672m) in the East Karakoram. This elegant line, which features steep snow and rock climbing leading to a sharp corniced upper ridge, was first climbed by Indian members of the 1987 Indo-British expedition (leader Col DK Kullar), which also made first ascents of Saser Kangri V (6,640m) and Saser Kangri IV (aka Cloud Peak; 7,415m although sometimes quoted as 7,364m).

The Navy team was led by myself and included a number of highly competent Sherpa staff. We reached Panamik in the Nubra Valley on the 30th August and started the approach to base camp the following day. Access to the western side of the Saser Group is not straightforward and the expedition was forced to fix ropes on narrow, exposed tracks around rock buttresses. Base camp at 4,750m was occupied on the 4th September and by the 8th an advanced base had been established at 5,360m on the South Phukpoche Glacier. The team now moved into the combe beneath the west face of Saser Kangri I and the unclimbed Plateau Peak (7,310m) to its right, where despite very poor weather we finally established Camp 1 on the 12th at 5,880m. This camp was at almost exactly the same location as that used by the 1987 expedition.

The lower half of the ridge faces west and 13 ropes were fixed up the south flank (60° maximum) to the crest. The line was quickly extended to around 6,600m, two pitches below the rock band. Climbing through this rocky barrier proved very taxing in the prevailing high winds and spindrift, with only four pitches maximum completed a day. However, by the 20th September this section had been successfully overcome and Camp 2 established at 7,000m on the snowfield above. Unfortunately, the next section of the ridge, leading to the col between Saser I and IV, had always been hidden from below, so it wasn’t until the 21st that I led a group that discovered a maze of crevasses and serac walls blocking our upward path. These formations do not appear to have been present in 1987. Nevertheless, we opened the route to a point beyond the col at ca 7,300m, above which the ridge proved to have steep flanks and be highly corniced to the north. At this stage it seemed unlikely that further progress could be made and we opted to try the much nearer Saser IV.

On the 22nd Viking Bha- noo, Amit Pande, Rajkumar, and Sange Sherpa summitted Saser IV. They left camp at 5 a.m. and were on the top by 9 a.m. The same day the expedition learned by radio of the tragedy on Panch Chuli (reported elsewhere). Many of the dead were close friends of ours. Three of the Saser Kangri Sherpas lost relatives and were immediately sent home to Darjeeling. This sealed the fate of the expedition and abandoned any further attempts on Saser I.

In good weather at 5 a.m. on the 23rd, having left camp a little after midnight, Pema Sherpa and I reached the summit of Saser IV. During the coldest part of the night the thermometer showed a temperature of -38°C. While we descended to Camp 1 a third team set off for the top but soon had to retreat as the weather closed in. A ferocious storm raged that day and into the following morning, when the group made a very difficult descent, blinded by the blizzard. Fortunately, the mountain was evacuated safely and base camp reached on the 25th.

Commander Satyabrata Dam, Indian Navy and Himalayan Club.