West Sikkim, Jopuno, west ridge.
After 12 days of unstable March weather in the Thangsing Valley and an unsuccessful attempt on the northwest ridge of Tinchenkang (6,010m), Sarah DeMay, Sam Gardner, Josh Smith, and I turned to the aesthetic unclimbed west ridge of Jopuno, a 5,936m peak just south of Tichenkang. From our 4,200m base camp the ridge appeared to start with a short rocky section to gain the glaciated lower crest, which quickly turned into a steep, sharp snow ridge leading to broken yet gorgeous golden granite. Above, the rock appeared black and loose before reaching the snowcapped summit. As best we could surmise, Jopuno had been climbed only once, in April 2002 via the south ridge, by Kunzang Bhutia and Sagar Rai (AAJ 2008, p. 120).
Leaving camp at 3:30 a.m. under a nearly full moon, we four moved quickly up snow- covered grass and talus to the base of the west ridge at 5,100m. We there broke into teams of two and began wandering up the lower glacier to the first major obstacle, a 12m WI3 pitch on the ridge’s north side. This led to the upper glacier, where steep snow, followed by a well-defined
icy and exposed ridge, led toward the band of golden granite. Josh and I roped up for the last 30m—a rightward traverse on solid water ice above an exposed face. We reached the rock at 5,600m and unroped.
The golden granite was more challenging than it had appeared from below, but the rock was solid.
For the most part we stayed below and to the right (south) of the crest.
At 11:30 a.m. we reached the start of the rotten, unpleasant black shale at 5,800m. The wind had picked up, and it was snowing lightly. We radioed Sam and Sarah, who informed us they had just reached the golden granite, but because the weather was worsening, were opting to sit and wait for us to return.
Josh and I continued cautiously through the black shale, treacherous because of the poor rock quality and lack of previous traffic. It was not uncommon for chunks of rock to slough off under hands and feet, and progress slowed as we tested and retested each hold before committing full weight to it. In addition, the new snow made the surface slick and forced us to keep crampons on. With 70 vertical meters to go, we reached solid snow and ice and eventually gained the summit at 12:45 p.m. in a near whiteout. Seven hours were required to reverse the route to base camp. The west ridge gives a sustained and direct route to the summit of Jopuno at around AD+. The team wishes to thank Barap Namgyal Bhutia and www.sikkim- holidays.com for help with trip logistics and base camp support.
Jason Halladay, AAC