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India, Himachal Pradesh, Central Garhwal, Kamet, Normal Route, Ascent

Kamet, Normal Route, ascent. In the autumn Sue Nott and I spent seven weeks on an expedition to Kamet. We were plagued by horrible weather. On the approach from base camp to advanced base we got trapped between camps for five days while more than 3½m of snow fell. We had been in India for 25 days and only seen our objective, the unclimbed east face, for 10 minutes. And we still hadn’t made it to advanced base, which is only a three-day hike from base camp in normal conditions.

Kamet (7,756m) is situated close to the Indo-Tibet border, and a peak permit for foreigners requires permission from both India and China. Receiving this permit would have likely been impossible without the help of Ibex Expeditions, our great outfitter. One condition of the permit was a strict six-week time limit. Our original plan was to acclimatize on the Normal Route (the northeast face, first climbed by Lewa, Holdsworth, Smythe, and Shipton way back in 1931), and, after resting, go for it on the east face. When nearly out of time, we had to compromise and go for the summit by the Normal Route. Two of the three teams with plans for this route had already pulled the plug. These large teams had many high-altitude porters and twelve climbing Sherpas. The mountain was covered with deep snow, and the avalanche hazard was high. On September 30 we left our one-tent advanced base at 5,500m and started up with light packs, five days food, and fuel. We found spectacular yet technically easy terrain on this historic route, but the upper snow slopes scared the crap out of us. Here, we broke trail in deep snow, finding sections of highly tensioned wind slab. These slabs would kindly remind us of our insignificance by giving off a more than subtle “whoop.”

After five days of hard work we reached the summit at 1:30 p.m. on October 4, in strong afternoon winds. Upon returning to Delhi we heard news of a tragic season: eight climbers killed on other expeditions. Though we didn’t get to attempt the east face, we had a great adventure and made many new friends.

John Varco