American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, India, Himachal Pradesh, Gangotri, Meru Central Summit (6450 m), an Attempt on the Shark's Fin

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2004

Meru Central Summit (6,450m), an attempt on the Shark’s Fin. Conrad Anker, Doug Chabot, and I arrived in Delhi in late August on our way to attempt Meru’s conspicuous Shark’s Fin. Though this summit had been reached by the prolific Russian alpinist, Valeri Babanov, in a well publicized 2001 solo effort, the first ascent of a direct line up the east face was what the previous 20 or so expeditions (and ours) had had in mind. Most of those expeditions favored big wall tactics to try to overcome the final 500m of the namesake rock fin via its southeast face. Of the few that even made it onto the face, only a couple got their haul bags past the initial 550m ice slope. We thought the little attempted northeast face of the fin (often plastered white in photos) offered a far more attractive possibility of an alpine-style climb.

At 10 p.m. on September 13 we crossed the bergschrund at 5,150m and started up the exposed slope. At 2 a.m. on the 17th, after two days of ice and rock (with difficulties up to 5.10X) and one day of sitting out poor weather, we reached our high point at 6,000m. A respite of “easy” snow turned out to be completely unconsolidated and around one meter deep plastered over 60° blank granite slabs. Without any ice, conditions were absolutely impossible.

Incredulous that our luck had turned so unexpectedly, we started rapping. Sixteen hours later we were safely back in ABC. Though we’d climbed higher than anyone on the northeast face of the Shark’s Fin, the route had lost its appeal. We all felt the innocent-looking white patch that turned us around was most likely always a dead end and probably things only got worse above. Conditions would have to be really exceptional for the face to be “in.”

I wasn’t surprised that people have suggested a comparison to the notoriously uncooperative north face of Devil’s Thumb in Alaska. But it’s only true in regards to the number of attempts, grant dollars doled out to would-be ascensionists, and conditions on the northern half of the fin. The 500m of rock on the southeast face of the fin is always “in,” and as for the 800m of ice and mixed leading up to it, only high avalanche conditions have been a semiregular problem.

Having covered most of the lower 800m in one day during our attempt and considering Conrad thought the southeast face of the fin looked really “fun,” it would seem the most coveted line on The Shark’s Fin could be climbed without turning it into a dog-and-pony show. British climbers made a couple notable attempts in 1993 and 1997. Others, less inspired, left behind the pointless bolts we passed. I suspect the right people have simply been there at the wrong time and by all accounts, including our own experience with the weather, that’s most of the time.

Bruce Miller, AAC

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