American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

India, East Karakoram, Arganglas Range, "Thongsa Ri" (5,899m), First Ascent, East Ridge, Southeast Face; "Karpo Kangri" Central Summit (ca. 6,525m), First Ascent, South Face Icefall; "Gjungma Kangri" (6,287m), First Ascent, W

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

Arganglas Range, “Thongsa Ri” (5,899m), first ascent, east ridge, southeast face; “Karpo Kangri” central summit (ca. 6,525m), first ascent, south face icefall; “Gjungma Kangri” (6,287m), first ascent, west ridge, north face to west ridge, north face direct; Pk. 6,082m, first ascent, southwest ridge; “Snow Dome” (6,289m), first ascent, northwest face. The 2005 Maitri (Hindi for Friendship) Karakoram Expedition was a joint venture of Indian and American climbers. The Indians were Ameya Chandawarkar, Surendra Anant Chavan, Rajesh Gudgil, leader Divyesh Muni, Vineeta Muni, Shripad Sapkal, and Cyrus Shroff. The Americans were Sally Annis, Don Beavon, Dave Creeden, Marlin Geist, leader Don Goodman, Natala Goodman, and Dan Sjolseth. Our liaison officer was Maj, Samsher Sing, and we had four high-altitude Sherpas from Darjeeling. The expedition left Leh on August 3 and returned on September 1.

Our primary aim was Pk. 6,540m, tentatively named “Karpo Kangri” [by the Indo-British expedition jointly led by Chris Bonington and Harish Kapadia, which visited the Arganglas region in 2001; Muni and Shroff were part of this team and saw its impressive northern flanks rising above the Phunangma Glacier— Ed.]. From Satti in the Nubra Valley [where the road over the Khardung La from Leh meets the Shyok River—Ed.] we approached via the Satti Lungpa valley, which led to the Spang Chenmo Glacier, south of the area visited by the 2001 expedition. Although there are no records of climbing from this valley, we presume an abandoned campsite and garbage stash found just above our base camp to be evidence that it was visited in 1964 by an Army survey party. We established base camp on August 9 at 5,140m on the Spang Chenmo moraine and advanced base on the 14th at 5,480m. Two days later we placed a high camp at ca. 5,900m on the Lung Tung Glacier, which flows below the southern flanks of Karpo Kangri.

During this time we reconnoitered various peaks, and on the 14th Beavon, Vineeta Muni, and Ang Tashi made the first ascent of Pk. 5,899m, later named “Thongsa Ri,” by the east ridge. Next day Beavon and Geist repeated the route, while Shroff climbed the southeast face. By the 19th Annis, Chendawardar, Gadgil, both Goodmans, and Sjolseth had also climbed the mountain.

We made our first attempt to climb “Karpo Kangri” on August 17, using fixed rope. On the 19th Beavon and Geist climbed to the central summit (ca. 6,525m) via the south glacier icefall. They rose at 2:30 a.m. and reached the summit in 11 hours. They planned to continue to the east or west summit, depending on which appeared the highest. However, due to the lateness of the day, fatigue, snow conditions, and the prospect of an unplanned bivouac, they did not and reversed the route. Near the bottom they used the fixed ropes for descent. An early start and late return (they arrived in camp at 7:30 p.m.) meant they avoided most of the serious rockfall that made this route dangerous in the heat of the day. A subsequent attempt by Schroff and the Sherpas, employing fixed rope to climb to the east summit via the southern headwall of the east ridge, failed at 6,400m after a tremendous effort.

“Gjungma Kangri” (6,287m), which rises like a large nunatak out of the ice, was climbed on the 20th by the west ridge by Chandawarkar, Sapkal, and Ang Tashi. Using a variant approach, via the north face, Annis, Creeden, and Don Goodman also summited on the 20th by the west ridge. The following day Beavon, Natala Goodman, and Sjolseth repeated this latter route, while Gadjil, the Munis, and Samsher Sing climbed the west ridge. The first ascent of the north face direct was made on the 22nd by Beavon and Geist. They climbed the steep lower section unroped but belayed on the problematic upper headwall: a mixture of ice-covered rock, deep snow, and hard ice, including a few dry-tooling moves. On the 23rd Shroff and Ming Pemba Sherpa also summited the mountain, giving it the distinction of having been climbed by every member of the climbing team, as well as our L.O. and two Sherpa staff. Perhaps we should have named this peak “Maitri” after the friendships we established.

While the last ascent of “Gjungma Kangri” took place, Chandawardar, Gadgil, the Munis, and Sapkal traveled down the glacier and made the first ascent of Pk. 6,082m, via the south face to the southwest ridge. In the meantime Creeden and Sjolseth put in a long day scouting the glacier system south of “Snow Dome.” They reached a high pass and reported that it appeared to give access to the Rongdu Valley. Crossing this pass would enable the team to make a nice three-day trek and circuit of the area upon departure.

On the 24th Annis, Beavon, Geist, and the Goodmans climbed “Snow Dome” (6,289m) by the northwest face and long west ridge, with Don Goodman piecing together an excellent route, as he had done on “Gjungma Kangri.” They roped up for the steep glacier-covered northwest face, occasionally putting in protection.

We dismantled the high camps and descended to base camp on August 25. Forgoing further climbing attempts, all seven Indians and seven Americans, together with two Sherpas, crossed the unnamed glacier south of “Snow Dome” and crossed the pass explored by Creeden and Sjolseth to the Koyak Glacier. We found a reasonable descent to the Koyak Lungpa and on down to the Rongdu Lungpa, reaching the village of Rongdu on the 31st. During the last few days we saw jaw-dropping walls and cliffs that could keep a Yosemite climber busy for several lifetimes.

The expedition summited five peaks, explored numerous areas in the greater Lung Tung Valley, and completed a loop traverse connecting the Satti and Rongdu river drainages. It was a wonderful joint effort, with all 15 team members thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Don Beavon and Marlin Geist

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