American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, India, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarankhand (Formerly Uttaranchal) Garhwal, Kalanka, North Face Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008

Kalanka, north face attempt. This 2,000-meter face has only a single route, climbed by a Czechoslovakian team using fixed ropes in 1977 during the mountain’s second ascent. Several teams have failed to climb the north buttress, a line in the middle of the face. This buttress is one of the great prizes in the Garhwal, as are other untried lines on Kalanka’s north face. The left side of the north face was the line that most interested Kenton Cool and me. We guessed the snow slope to be about 800–900m long, and we hoped to climb in a single push through the night and the next day to the shoulder. We guessed the upper ridge to be approximately the same length but more technical and that it would take two days to climb. Descending would probably take two days, making the overall time on the face of five days. This turned out to be a little optimistic.

Our chosen line did not feature much rock, but did pass through two bands low on the face and around gendarmes on the shoulder, all granite. What rock we encountered was very compact and didn’t offer the chance for gear. In four days of climbing the only rock gear we placed was two wires and two pegs. The initial easier-angled section of the snow slope was relatively firm snow covering ice. Runnels carved by spindrift were firmer, but constantly poured powder. The section passing the first rock band was steep and gave unprotected climbing on insecure snow. The middle section of the face gave a mix of deep unconsolidated snow, hard ice, névé, and powder. The upper snow ridge leading to the shoulder was deep, bottomless powder following deep flutings with no chance of protection. On the ridge the snow was knee-deep and heavy, though, when we dropped onto the north face to climb beneath gendarmes, the snow was bottomless and nearly vertical. The whole face had a covering of ice beneath the snow that proved a problem when attempting to dig bivouac sites, as we could not dig deep enough to make comfortable ledges.

On September 15, the fourth day of our climb and following several poor bivies, we started with the final wallow up deep unconsolidated snow to the crest of the ridge (6,300m). We followed the crest to a gendarme, which we turned on the right by dropping down onto the north face. This proved insecure, as numerous flutings had to be dug through; levitation proved the best technique for coping with the bottomless powder. After we passed the gendarme, the ridge to the right looked dangerous and insecure and would no doubt take a long time to climb. But the left side of the ridge was overhanging rock, making the thought of trying it on that side unappealing also. Beyond the final gendarme the ridge leading to the summit looked technical and time-consuming. Given that we were on the last day of food and faced with another two to three days of climbing and two days of descent, we decided to go down. The descent took the rest of that day, and after a horrible night at our first bivy site, continued until we reached the moraine on the afternoon of the 16th. All of the approximately 25 rappels were from ice-screw v-threads, which, given the amount of ice on the face were often difficult to construct.

Weather: In hindsight arriving at BC as early as August 24 was a good move, although at the time we thought that maybe we had made a mistake, as the monsoon was still active. Rain and heavy mist were prevalent for two weeks, making acclimatization forays and time at BC uncomfortable, but never bad enough to stop us from getting ready for a settled period. The weather then settled to the most stable period I have experienced in India, giving warm, sunny days with only a small amount of precipitation in the afternoon. Arriving early meant that we were ready to take advantage of the settled spell. The weather remained stable for approximately two weeks, until a storm hit after we had left BC, dumping one meter of snow at BC and two meters at ABC.

Waste: We carried all trash from the climb and from ABC to BC. From BC porters carried out the waste, which was taken to Joshimath for disposal.

Logistics: This was the first time I have had weather reports sent via e-mail while I was on an expedition, but for climbing such a big face it is certainly worth the cost. Our agent was C. S. Pandy of Himalayan Run and Trek (www.himalayanruntrek.com). I found Mr. Pandy to be extremely professional and the service he gave without fault, though somewhat more expensive than what I was used to. Our LO was perhaps the most affable and approachable LO I have encountered. The bureaucracy was the usual hassle, as once again there appeared to be no dialogue between the IMF and the Indian Embassy in London, resulting in stress getting X-visas. I sent my passport to a company called Travco, who arranged the visa and did a good job, even though the Indian Embassy was, as usual, unhelpful and misinformed.

Nick Bullock, Alpine Club

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