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India, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Western Sikkim, Lama Lamani North, First Ascent, Northwest Flank and West Ridge; Tinchen Kang, Third Ascent

Western Sikkim, Lama Lamani North, first ascent, northwest flank and west ridge; Tinchen Kang, third ascent. In a 20-day round trip from Gangtok, between March 15 and April 3, we made three excursions on peaks in the Thangsing Valley of western Sikkim. Climbing with us were Kunzang Bhutia and Sagar Rai. The trip was an outcome of a trek to the popular Goecha La in the autumn of 2004, when we met Bhutia of the Sikkim Amateur Mountaineering Association. Both Bhutia and Rai are experienced young mountaineers who are active in providing training for local guides and teaching rock climbing to young people in Sikkim.

After the standard trek from Yuksum to Thangsing, we reconnoitered and acclimatized on Tinchen Kang (6,010m). We followed what we believed to be the original route of ascent, climbed in 1998 by an Indo-British military expedition with fixed ropes and camps. Deep fresh snow made progress on the rocky wall below the northwest ridge slow and precarious. Having reached 5,100m on March 21, we decided to return to our valley base the following day.

After a rest and delay due to bad weather, we set off on the 25th to make a reconnaissance of the unclimbed Lama Lamani group. On the 26th we traversed from the northwest side of the group to the south ridge to look for a possible line of ascent. There were strong winds on the ridges and fresh snow underfoot. On the 27th we moved up to a position under the northwest flank of the mountain, which seemed to offer the best route of ascent. Next day we made a pre-dawn start and by 10 a.m. had made the first ascent of the north summit of Lama Lamani (ca. 5,650m). The climbing on the northwest flank and west ridge had been around AD+, mostly over snow, with rock steps and a good icy ridge. It was windy and cold on the crest, but the views were exceptional. We descended by the same route, doing some rappeling, and reached base that evening.

After a day’s rest just the two of us set off for an attempt on Tinchen Kang. Due to cloudy conditions we had not gotten a good view of the glacier on the northwest side of the mountain, yet despite previous glimpses of apparently threatening serac barriers, we decided to try this approach. We understood the northwest face had been climbed the previous autumn by a group sponsored by the Himalayan Club, Kolkata (AAJ 2005, p. 379). Strong winds limited progress on the first day, and we stopped to camp at 4,850m, near the start of the glacier slopes. Next day, in cold and windy conditions and deep snow, we reached the crest of the northwest ridge (junction with the 1998 route) and camped just below it at 5,400m. Despite appearances, the glacier route had not been threatened by seracs.

Next day, April 1, we made a pre-dawn start. Again we had to face deep snow and cold temperatures, but no wind. Getting onto the bottom of the rock wall was delicate (around UIAA IV-but probably easier when snow-free). Two fixed ropes were in place on the wall and led toward, then through, a short chimney with loose rock. Above, we reached the crest at the top of the wall. We now faced an ice wall and couloir. (On a previous trip Bhutia and Rai had reached this point but turned back because they lacked good ice-climbing equipment.) We followed the couloir, which was in good condition, for 150m and then exited onto the upper snowfields. Straightforward snow slopes led to the final summit pyramid, which we climbed on the west side to avoid a wide bergschrund. We reached the summit just before 2 p.m. Alas, warm air and clouds blew in from the southwest and obscured the view. On the summit were two snow stakes and the top of a fixed line that was otherwise buried. We removed one of the snow stakes as a souvenir for our friends at base camp.

The weather improved during the descent and allowed excellent views. We downclimbed and made three rappels to descend the rock wall. We reached our previous nights camp by 6 p.m. but, because the walkout was due to start the next morning, continued on down to reach base camp at 11 p.m. These two climbs, each made in three-day roundtrips from a base at Thangsing, demonstrate the potential for alpine-style climbs in West Sikkim.

We thank the Government of Sikkim and the Sikkim Amateur Mountaineering Association for making this trip possible, and the Mount Everest Foundation, British Mountaineering Council, and UK Sport for their support.

Julie-Ann Clyma and Roger Payne, Switzerland