New icefall climbing. In 2004, Adam George, Philippe Wheelock, and I (all from Colorado), with assistance from Kelsang Phuntsok and Tashi Sherpa from Sikkim, Carlene Grant from Canada, and Andreas Prammer from Austria undertook what we believe to be the first waterfall ice climbing in Sikkim. Research by Philippe Wheelock confirmed no other attempts at climbing ice in Sikkim, and local residents also reported that no other ice climbers have been seen. With the assistance of local guide and outfitter Kelsang Phuntsok, owner of Wisdom Travels, Wheelock made an initial reconnaissance of northern Sikkim, where plentiful ice was discovered in the Lachen and Yumthang valleys. Ice conditions varied but was found to be best at elevations between ca 3,200m and 4,600m. Indian military presence along Sikkim’s north border makes winter road access very convenient and possible. Wheelock climbed a 75m, WI3 icefall in the Lachen valley with local Tashi Sherpa and Canadian climber Carlene Grant, who was traveling in the area.
Upon the arrival of George and me, the team set out for Yumthang Valley, where the ice was found to be in better shape. We were joined for a short time by Prammer. We based ourselves in the village of Lachung and made day trips to the higher Yumthang valley, where ice and we found mixed routes of varying length and difficulty. We put up 10 routes here, ranging from 60-180m in height with difficulties WI3 to WI5, including one partial mixed line at M4-M5. The largest concentration of climbs was found ca 4,300m in an area named the Terma Wall. This contained the highest quality ice and has potential for 20 routes arranged in two tiers.
Scope for longer and more difficult routes exists in the Yunthang valley. Last winter was reported to be warmer than normal and could account for many of the routes being poorly formed. Many routes were spotted but not climbed due to either poor ice conditions or approaches longer than those of other climbs.
In late February, George, Wheelock, and I trekked into Sikkim’s West District in search of ice. The west proved to be drier than the north, with only a few climbs spotted along the Yuksum to Gocha La trekking route. Due to poor ice conditions we didn’t climb, but we could have fine one to two-pitch climbs earlier in the season. January could prove to be a better month for ice climbing in Sikkim. The remote locations, variety of climbing and cultural diversity of Sikkim make for a truly rewarding trip. There is great potential for further development of ice climbing in this area.
Richard Durnan, AAC