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Asia, Nepal, Far West Asia, Nepal, Raksha Urai, First Ascent and Tragedy

Raksha Urai, first ascent and tragedy. In the remote Api-Nampa-Saipal region of Far West Nepal, there is a small north-south range of mountains named Raksha Urai, which consists of several peaks (see note below). The highest of the group is Raksha Urai III, quoted as 6,593m, and has been attempted by several expeditions in the past.

In the autumn of 2003 a seven-member French team led by Arnaud Clère (together with Nepalis—Gurungs, not Sherpas) succeeded in putting the first people on top of any of the four peaks. Three of their members and one Nepali stood on the summit of Raksha III, which they said is about 6,600m high.

Because they had been delayed in reaching base camp by Maoist extortion (see elsewhere), the expedition’s tight schedule left them only 10 days for climbing after their arrival at base camp. They set up base camp at 4,000m, east of the range near a stone hut designated on some trekking maps as Saipal village. While one party went exploring other mountains in the area, Clère, Catherine Coulaud, Gaël Farroux, and Keshab Raj Gurung attempted Raksha Urai.

They moved around to the northwest side, which none of the previous teams had attempted, to see whether they could climb from there up Raksha Urai II, which at 6,420m is the second-highest of the group. They quickly decided it was too technical for them, so they changed their objective to Raksha Urai III and returned to base camp.

They left base camp again on the 13th and bivouacked at 5,100m. The next day they moved up to a spot for their second bivouac below the col between Raksha Urai II and III. They bivouacked here at 5,800m and on the following day, the 15th, climbed to the 40-45° snow slope onto the col and then turned northward on Raksha Urai Ill’s south ridge.

Most of the ridge itself was snow-covered with many small cornices and loose rock. On the final 200-300m there were several false tops before the true summit was reached. The four climbers had left their bivouac at 4:30 a.m., were on the top at 12:00, and soon began their descent.

By the time they had reached a point 500m from the col, Farroux and Gurung were in the lead and Clère and Coulaud could no longer see them. When the last two were at a place where they had a view of the whole ridge above and the mountainside below it, they spotted one body 400m down the flank of the ridge and two tracks in the snow. They were too tired to try going down the very steep slope where the body lay. They returned to their bivouac to sleep that night and were in base camp the next day.

Elizabeth Hawley, Nepal