Kyashar (aka Peak 43, 6,770m), first official ascent. Climbing new routes in the Himalaya isn’t what it used to be. Nowadays you just surf two browsers from the security of your own internet connection: one of these is a search engine and the other the incomparable Alpine Club Himalayan Index, which attempts to list every recorded attempt on every (Himalayan/Karakoram) peak above 6,000m. Our choice of first window was the list of 103 “New Peaks Opened to Expedition,” produced two years ago by HM Government of Nepal. Lurking under the name Kyashar was the long-coveted Peak 43, familiar to any trekker on the Mera La. However, HMG Ministry of Tourism had muddied the waters by listing Pt. 6,770m in the upper Hongu as “Peak 43.”
After flying to Lukla, Sam Broderick (US-Swiss), Andi Frank (Austrian), Kevin Riddell (Canadian), and I (UK) followed the standard Mera trek over the Zawtra La, up the Hinku Valley to Tangnag, and then on toward Mera La. Before this, we branched north to the Hinku Nup Glacier on the east side of Kyashar. By the time we reached Kangtega Base Camp on October 3 our hopes for the northeast face of Kyashar had been dampened by occasional views of steep snow flutes, mushrooms, and not inconsiderable sections of bare rock.
On Pt 6,261m, directly above us and across the glacier from Kangtega, Kevin and I took the southeast ridge, while Sam and Andi climbed up the southwest. Only Kevin and I reached the top, but all of us got a good, long look at the impressive east face of Kangtega (6,779m), the daunting northeast face of Kyashar, and the unstable north face of col 6,034m on the south side of the Kangtega Glacier, which we’d have to climb to get to the base of Kyashar.
Next, we set up a high camp at the base of the north face of col 6,034m to get a first-hand look at the snow conditions and for a more serious acclimatisation and reconnaissance exercise on the slopes on Kangtega. After a bad-weather break in base camp we all shared trail-breaking duties back to high camp and beyond, following the glacier below the impressive north buttress of the Kyashar ridge. Continuing through a zone of large crevasses brought us to shoulder at ca 6,400m with a view of Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Ama Dablam, and, most importantly, the west side of Kyashar. A short hike across from high camp to the base of col 6,034m helped convince us that while the north side of Kyashar might be climbable, it is not protectable in post-monsoon snow conditions. We packed up and headed down to base camp.
Kevin had by now decided he was not happy with the prospect of technical climbing above 6,500m but Andi, Sam, and I had no problem in deciding to attempt the west ridge. Logistically, this would mean a single, alpine-style bid from Tangnag, leaving the clearing of base camp to our Sherpa staff.
Armed with leaden, five-day, full-alpine packs we descended to Tangnag (4,356m) and then ascended moraine west of the village to a bivouac. The next day involved climbing 800m of snow slope below the south face of Kyashar. This was completed before sunrise to avoid rockfall and we set up camp 50m below the 5,800m col separating the long northeast ridge of Kusum Kanguru from the west ridge of Kyashar.
Above the col lay a steep, 150m-high rock buttress. Andi and I took our two ropes to fix the first pitches. The rock quality was execrable and the climbing vertical for one 25m section, but morale-boosting protection was possible. We climbed a third pitch, less steep but equally loose, to find the end of the rock section, then descended for the night. The following morning, October 18, we jumared our ropes and started up the snow ridge at 8 a.m. The corniced ridge looked unpleasant, but turned out to be relatively straightforward: strong melting made the footing mostly firm on the south side, and where this dropped vertically, tracks could be made on the deep, soft north side. Above 6,400m, where the ridge becomes steep and rocky, we moved left into a couloir on the west face. One pitch of soft snow, three of perfect ice, and a lot of firm snow led to a long exit slope. In the lead, I arrived on the summit ridge just beside the highest point, and, after checking that it wasn’t a cornice, belayed the team onto it at 4 p.m. The views of the Rolwaling, Solu-Khumbu, and Khumbakarna ranges were everything we could have asked for, while one glance down the northeast face confirmed that our final choice of route had not been a mistake.
After some compulsory food and drink we headed back into the west face and the lowering sun. Night fell in the couloir on the upper face, but the footprints on the ridge were clear to follow and the anchors in place in the rock band. At 1 a.m. on the 19th we were all safely back at high camp.
As the descent below the south face would require a 3 a.m. start, we enjoyed a semi-comatose 24-hour break. At the appointed hour we made two rappels and descended the snow slope to reach Tangnag in time for breakfast. Here we met Kevin, our porter crew, and a small army of other trekking groups, from whom we learned that every expedition in the valley after our own had been met near Tashing Ongma by some gentlemen with AK47s requesting a “donation” to the Maoist cause: Rs 1,000 per foreign trekker and Rs 500 per porter. While the porters returned to Lukla on time for Diwali, we completed our Hinku/Hongu/Khumbu experience by crossing via Mera to the relative solitude of the upper Hongu Valley. Snowstorm and avalanche danger on the Amphu Labsta brought us back to the crowded Khumbu, through which we descended to Dingboche, Namche and Lukla. The Kyashar team would like to thank the Akademischer Alpen-Club Zurich for the club’s generous support of the expedition.
Bruce Normand, Switzerland