Saf Minal (6,911m), northwest face. John Varco (U.S.) and I (UK) made the first ascent of the northwest face of Saf Minal (6,911m) in the Indian Garhwal reaching the summit on October 5. Unlike its sister peaks Kalanka and Changabang with their 1,700m near-vertical faces of immaculate granite, Saf Minal is the twisted relative. The peak looks like a cross between K2 and G IV, and its near-2,000-meter sweep of black shale and loose mixed climbing offers a dark challenge. After acclimatizing to 5,500m on a small foothill, we set about our ascent in pure alpine style with no reconnaissance, fixed ropes, or camps.
We took the most striking line on the face, starting up a distinctive ridge before sustained mixed climbing on rock of dubious quality and over snow-covered slabs led to a system of ice couloirs in the upper part of the face. Following three days of reasonable weather, conditions deteriorated, trapping us in our partially erect tent. After 36 hours of cramped torment we opted to climb in the continuing storm, reaching the west ridge in the dark only 200 meters below the summit. To our surprise, the following morning brought perfect weather for our successful summit push, with cloudless views into China and the secretive Nanda Devi Sanctuary.
Having climbed in lightweight alpine style, things became even more interesting on our descent when the poor rock and traversing nature of the line took its toll. We staggered into base camp after two days of abseiling and tricky down- climbing, a cut rope, running out of food, and with only one stopper and a couple of cams remaining of our rack. I lost over 25 pounds on the ascent.
This climb was probably the most expensive but rewarding diet plan we’ve ever followed.
As far as we know this is the only ascent from the north side. A Japanese team made the first ascent from the easy snowy south side in 1975, and we know of no ascent since.
Ian Parnell, United Kingdom