Lapche Valley, reconnaissance. In order to find a place that is utterly unknown and to satisfy my curiosity, I decided to visit the unfrequented Lapche Valley, a small but independent mountain group located roughly 100 km northeast of Kathmandu. It lies between Jugal and Rolwaling Himal, or more specifically between the rivers Bhote Khosi (Po chu) and Tamba Khosi (Lapche Khola). Likely no serious attempts have been made to climb any peaks here, probably because the tiny 6,000m peaks of this region were not considered worth climbing. Long ago Kenneth Mason wrote a few lines on the existence of Lapche Kang in the classic book on Himalayan exploration Abode of Snow, but nothing more. Available maps include those from the Nepalese survey bureau and the AfvH’s series, both in 1:50,000 scale. The former, we discovered, is relatively correct in its details; the latter is less reliable. Both are outdated in some points, e.g. the main path along the valley was partly on the opposite side, the glaciers have shrunk considerably, etc.
The way to Lapche Khan in the confined area surrounding Lapche Khola valley, actually starts at Lamabagar, one full day drive from Kathmandu through Charikot up to Singati (a terrible dirt load in its final part), followed by two days’ walk along the trekking route to Rolwaling. From Lamabagar on a wide alluvial flat, you can look ahead to a huge narrow gorge geographically isolating the upper area. This area’s cultural isolation later became clear. Visitors, such as alien mountaineers, are an encumbrance to them, and even the notorious Maoists have been shut out from this high valley area, which is an exclusive autonomous locality.
We were a five-man party, all aged over 60, with the assistance of two Sherpas and 14 porters. Our target peak for our April-May expedition was located at the head of Phurkum Khola, a tributary of Lapche Khola. Two major peaks surround this bleak valley: Jobo Bamare (5,918m) and Chomo Pamari (6,109m). They are named on the maps and are known to some extent, and we suspected them to have been climbed already. But on close examination both of these beautifully shaped peaks look difficult, only fit for expedition-style climbs. We wanted a relatively unknown peak that could be easily climbed in a short period. Just from map-readings, we focused on a 5,811m peak at the junction of the ridge where Chomo Pamari stood and the branch ridge extending to Jobo Bamare. After three days’ march from Lamabagar, we saw that this virgin mountain was a nice triangular snowcapped peak easily accessible through mere glacier climbs.
Little can be said about our climbing, however, because we were interrupted at C1 by a group of villagers and monks who came up from Lapchegau, the main village in this area. They insisted that nobody was allowed to climb the sacred mountains within their territory, and they said that sinful people who tried to violate the mountains’ divinity must pay a financial penalty. We had confirmation that the Nepalese authorities allowed our mountaineering trip in this area within the framework of our trekking permit, but it seemed this region was half a half century behind, and too remote for such logic to hold. Eventually we gave up and did not go higher than circa 5,300m. Afterward we visited Lapchegau Monastery to negotiate a return visit for climbing.
There we found ourselves “back to the future.” It was possible to communicate with people on mutually understandable basis. We received a friendly welcome (as we had paid a discounted penalty) by some monks and villagers, including a monastery staff member well educated in India who was renovating the Monastery backed by an international foundation. Thanks to his assistance, we learned that they were ready to accept tourists for pilgrimage purposes, and also other visitors could freely walk around and climb any peaks in their domain. The condition was only to show respect by holding a Puja and paying a decent donation beforehand, as otherwise they believed calamities would follow. So, it was an error in our procedures that made them lose face. This seems to confirm the fact that mountaineers have been seldom seen here.
We enjoyed this still-primitive valley country with somber villages and people living in traditional Tibetan style, with nothing for visitors like shops and lodges, and many splendid mountains above. There are five tributary valleys stretching to surrounding ramparts of mostly 5,000m class peaks. Each would be a good place to set up a base camp from where one could ascend virgin summits less than 1,000m elevation from the valley bottom. There are only three peaks over 6,000m in addition to the two already referred to; the highest one (6,065m) of the Ralin Himal group is a marvelous white massif. I do not hesitate to pick it as the new target for my next visit.
What a nice experience to have roamed around such remote mountains located near the old approach route to Mt. Everest but well behind the crowded realms of Everest today.
Kei Kurachi, Japan
*Adapted from Japanese Alpine News, Tamotsu Nakamura, Editor