Putha Hiunchuli (7,246m), first alpine-style ascent from the north; Turka Himal (ca 5,800m). In early April Blue Eisele, Curtis Gray, and I visited the Dhaulagiri Range, hoping to climb a new route on the north side of Churen Himal (7,371m). To get there we needed to cross the Himalaya on foot from south to north, one of the longest approaches in Nepal: 240km of trekking and over 10,500m of ascent before reaching the Kaya Khola Valley. (Of course one can bypass this with a chartered aircraft.)
We left the roadhead near Beni with a staff of three Nepalis and seven donkeys. On day five we traded our weary donkeys for tougher ones. In all we crossed six passes. Three were above 4,250m and had plenty of pre-monsoon snow, into which the donkeys collapsed when they punched through, requiring us to shuttle their loads. On day 10 we descended into the arid, Tibet-like region of Lower Dolpo, leaving the lush jungles behind us. We were surprised to have gotten this far.
We followed the Barbung Khola to Kakotgaon, but were utterly confused about where to go next, as the Kaya Khola was a massive series of waterfalls coming down from unknown origins. We had virtually no information about previous expeditions to Churen or its western neighbor, Putha Hiunchuli (Dhaulagiri VII), and our maps were useless. Taking local advice, we headed to a pass, where nothing looked promising. Our staff wouldn’t continue, the donkeys had been given up, and Curtis bailed entirely. Blue and I were left to triple-carry our kit.
On day 21 we finished our carries along an exposed ridge and placed base camp on grassy fields 600m above the Kaya Khola, underneath what we thought was Putha Hiunchuli. From there we watched the approach to Churen get bombarded by rockfall. The unclimbed northwest face looked burly; instead we started up “Putha.” We were alone, as our liaison officer had not left Kathmandu. When we stood on the summit after an easy two-day ascent, we saw Putha in the distance and realized we may have accidentally made the first ascent of a ca 5,800m peak, which locals later referred to as Turka Himal. [Editor’s note: This peak is ca 12km north of Putha Hiunchuli, north of Kang Tokal on the west side of the approach valley.]
We rested and packed for an eight-day push for the real Putha. We guessed how to reach the mountain and got lost. At our second camp we saw evidence of other people and figured they had passed while we were on Turka. On day three we met a French expedition [see below]. They had chartered a plane and hired a dozen porters, high altitude workers, and two climbing guides. Blue and I passed them with packs on our backs and put a high camp at 6,400m on the east- northeast face/ridge.
Summit day was an agonizing blend of post-holing and uncertainty, but at 4:45 p.m. on May 6 we stood atop the highest mountain we’d ever climbed. This is probably the first alpine- style ascent of the peak from the north.
Six days later we reached the Juphal airstrip and took the easy way back to Kathmandu. Blue and I had covered some 400km, over 15,000m of vertical ascent, and worked nearly continuously for more than 40 days. Apart from the French, we saw only two other westerners the entire trip. When we arrived in Thailand, we took a real vacation.
Pete Dronkers, AAC