American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Bhagirathi III, West Face, Ascent of Spanish (Catalan) Route

India, Himachal Pradesh, Gangotri

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year: N/A
  • Publication Year: 2004

Three Swiss, Simon Anthamatten, Urs Stocker and Reiner Treppte, made the third ascent to the summit of the ca 1,350m Spanish Route, Impossible Star (Juan Aldeguer, Sergio Martinez, Jose Moreno, and Juan Thomas; May 1984) on the west face of 6,454m Bhagirathi III. The Swiss initially thought the Spanish Route lay more to the left and therefore hoped to climb a new route on the pillar. However, they soon realized their “new” line was the 1984 route and decided to attempt this anyway, free climbing as much as possible.

The three fixed about 600m (the first two pillars) of the route and established a camp at the top of their ropes. Due to the prevailing weather, they were only able to free climb the first third of the route (at 6c), after which it turned extremely cold (-10° to -20°C), ice remained in the cracks and the team was forced to use aid (A3+). The climbers felt that in warm and dry conditions the second pillar would be relatively easy (around 6a) but the third pillar involved quite hard aid climbing and they were somewhat doubtful if it could ever be climbed completely free. Certainly, in their opinion, it would be at least 7c/8a. However, in this section there is a well-featured overhang, where the rock is quite loose, ca 10m to the left of the established line. Also, to the right of the line is a gully system, where avalanches, originating from the top of the wall, tend to fall. However, as this gully is overhanging, any avalanche would tend to pass well out from the wall, leaving climbers relatively sheltered from objective danger. The rock here is also poor but both these adjacent lines offer technically rather easier climbing. From their high camp the three Swiss climbed to the summit in four days. As the upper third of the wall is overhanging, there was no snow and therefore no water. This forced the team to spend the first couple of days fixing ropes above the portaledge, before climbing to the top with an open bivouac at 6,000m. Here the temperature was around -20°C and the wind gusted to 60km/hour.

In 1984 the Catalan team fixed some rope on the base of the pillar and then climbed the route in capsule style, making hammock bivouacs. Although they left a considerable amount of equipment on the route (ropes in the upper section, many pegs, rubbish on the ledges and an unnecessary bolt), the line was completed more or less using natural gear throughout. On the second overall and first alpine-style ascent, which took place later the same year, Americans Scott Flavelle and David Lane cleaned most of the route. Despite this, the Swiss found considerable amounts of old fixed rope (which they didn’t use and some of which they cleaned) but took the liberty of carrying a battery-powered drill to place a single 8mm bolt anchor at the end of each 60m pitch to facilitate constructing a better line for their fixed ropes. They spent a total of 18 days (out of 40 at or above base camp) climbing the route and feel that their style was acceptable given the conditions, which had already sent most other teams in the Gangotri packing for home. For a topo illustration of the routes on Bhagirathi III, see AAJ 1999, page 97.

Lindsay Griffin, High Mountain INFO

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