Gangotri, Meru Central, east pillar attempt. Conrad Anker,
Renan Ozturk, and I left Delhi on September 6 hoping to make the first ascent of the east (or northeast) pillar of Meru Central (6,310m)—the feature known as the Shark’s Fin. After several days’ travel and a two-day trek to Tapovan base camp, we carried loads to an advanced base at the bottom of the route. We began climbing on September 16 with a two-person portaledge and 10 days of food and fuel. We planned to climb the route in a single push, so once we left the ground, we continued to our high point without coming back down, using a hybrid alpine/big wall style.
The initial part of the route consisted of steep snow and ice. After two days we were hit by a storm that pinned us on the ridge for five days in the portaledge, while avalanches tore around us. The storm dumped more than two meters of snow. We eventually resumed climbing, halving our limited rations. Progress was slowed by cold and the amount of snow and ice covering the rock and filling cracks. We spent almost 10 days on the face before arriving at the base of the overhanging prow. It lacked any real crack systems, so we were forced to climb difficult aid up to A4 with long sections of hooking and thin beak placements. Several leads took five or six hours, and the average daytime temperature hovered around 0 F. After several days of “mind riot” climbing, we ran almost completely out of food and fuel, and by our 18th day on the face had no option but to make a final push for the summit. Running on fumes— for over a week we’d had only three spoonfuls of oatmeal each for breakfast, two energy bars and half a liter of water during the day, and a single bowl of mush for dinner split three ways— we climbed 500m with Conrad leading thin, poorly protected ice and mixed terrain. Here, 150m short of the summit, we were stopped by an overhanging gendarme, which we had neither the time nor energy to climb. We’d climbed the Fin to the final ridge but did not summit.
Much like the rest of the route, the descent was epic. Suffice to say we were laughing hysterically when we finally made it to the glacier after two days of rappelling on barely any food, and then discovered that our advanced base—tent, food, and fuel—had been buried by the storm. We open-bivouacked on our final night. We agreed that overall it was one of the most difficult climbs any of us had ever been on, and certainly one of the greatest adventures of our climbing careers. We left with a lot more respect and admiration for each other, and the mountain.
Jimmy Chin, AAC