American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

A.A.C., Deep South Section

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  • Publication Year: 2010

Bhagirathi IV (6,193m), III (6,454m), and II (6,512m). During autumn, Slovenians Rok Blagus, Luka Lindic, and Marko Prezelj blitzed the Bhagirathi Group, making three significant first ascents. The trio was reasonably lucky with the weather; during a month in the area, only the first week was poor. When conditions improved, they set off for their first objective, Bhagirathi IV, a small summit, with no recorded ascent, on the ridge between two grander neighbors, Bhagirathi II and III.

The west side of Bhagirathi IV is characterized by an elegant rock pillar leading to summit shale bands, this shale forming an infamous obstacle on most Bhagirathi peaks. The pillar had been attempted several times in the past, notably by Slovenians. To the left, a broad, moderately angled snow couloir leads up the south-southwest face of Bhagirathi II, to a shelf that can be traversed right to the ridge just north of Bhagirathi IV. Gaining this shelf has sometimes been threatened by seracs, but in mid-September the Slovenians accessed it without much difficulty, via a steep, right-leaning ice/ mixed ramp through the rock wall below. From here they reached the north ridge and continued to the summit of Bhagirathi IV. The 1,000m route was graded D+ and downclimbed, with four rappels.

A week later the three squeezed a 1,300m hard new mixed route onto the southwest face of Bhagirathi III, between the original route on this face, now a classic of the Gangotri—1982 Scottish Pillar (TD+, 1,300m, 44 pitches, Barton-Fyffe)—and the 1993 Czech Express on the central pillar (TD+, 1,300m, Michalec-Slachta). The Slovenian route more or less shares three pitches with the Scottish route in the upper section but is independent of the Czech. The three climbed their line with one bivouac, overcoming difficulties of 6b, M5, and WI5 (and making two diagonal rappels), giving the route an overall grade of ED. After reaching the summit, they descended the original 1933 Kirkus-Warren route on the southeast ridge and then walked out north down the Vasuki Glacier.

After a well-deserved rest, the trio completed a hat trick of new lines by climbing the 1,300m south-southwest face of Bhagirathi II. The face had been climbed once before, at the end of September 1989 by Slovenians Andreja Hrastnik and Franci Knez. This pair worked a little on the route, before climbing it with one bivouac at ED+. This 1989 team climbed 26 pitches up to UIAA VIII+ to the crest of the southwest ridge (crux near the top) but descended without going to the summit. They named their 800m route Rolling Stones.

In 1984 Italians Vincenzo Ravaschietto and Andrea Sarchi, having equipped the first 300m with Egidio Bonapace, climbed the southwest ridge in four days. The central section was UIAA VI+ A2, the rest IV and 55° snow/ice; the route gave more than 1,800m of climbing to the summit.

Blagus, Lindic, and Prezelj started in the same gully system as Hrastnik and Knez. However, the latter soon moved right to a steep rock pillar, while the former continued directly to a huge corner system that gave hard ice and mixed climbing. At the top they bivouacked and continued the next day with several pure rock pitches of the 1989 line, before moving right and climbing more hard rock to the southwest ridge. A few rock pitches along the crest brought them to their second bivouac, and the next day, October 1, they climbed mixed ground on the right flank to reach the upper crest, which they followed to the summit. Once again they traversed the mountain, descending via the classic 1938 Austrian Route on the east face to the Vasuki Glacier. The ascent had pitches of 6b+, M8, and WI 6+, and an overall grade of ED+/ ABO. Marko Prezelj s photo feature appears earlier in the Journal.

Meru Central (6,310m), northeast pillar (Shark’s Fin), attempt. At the end of August, Marko Lukic, Silvo Karo, and I traveled to Gangotri, hoping to climb the infamous and still virgin Shark’s Fin on Meru Central. This line has already repulsed more than 20 expeditions, many of them strong teams. However, in 2008 Anker, Chin, and Ozturk reached a point just 150m below the summit, spending 20 days on the wall climbing in capsule style (AAJ 2009).

Assisted by beta from Anker’s team, we planned to climb fast, light, and in alpine style. After reaching base camp at Tapovan, we used unsettled weather to prepare advance base, acclimatize on the lower slopes of Shivling, and study the face. Our second phase of acclimatization was stopped by heavy snowfalls lasting almost one week. There was more than 1.5m of fresh snow at higher elevations, and our tent at advanced base was destroyed. The weather then became stable and very cold. Despite the face being plastered in snow and ice, and our having acclimatized only to 5,600m, we decided to make an attempt. The weather forecast was good, deep snow on Shivling made our acclimatization program dangerous, and time was running out.

The approach to the face took two laborious days; we waded through deep, soft snow, excavating our advanced base camp tent and equipment, and crossing the dangerous Meru Glacier. On September 17 at 1 a.m. we started to climb. Our plan was to make the ascent in four days, spending the first night in a tent, and then hoping to find small ledges on the steep upper wall that would accommodate sitting bivouacs. On the lower snow slopes we found channels of reasonably hard snow and climbed quite fast.

After eight tiring hours we completed the initial 700m snow slope and started to climb rock on the diagonal ramp. The granite was covered with snow in many places, making climbing and route-finding harder than expected (up to M8). The two climbers following had to jumar with gear for all three, and our two tiny 9.1mm Joker ropes got worn super-fast on sharp granite edges. We got increasingly tired and finished the rock ramp just before nightfall. We expected to find a good place to set the tent but instead spent one hour cutting a small ledge out of snow and ice on which to sit. We were so tired and unmotivated that we didn’t melt snow for drinks or cook soup. The night was cold and uncomfortable, and Silvo’s feet got dangerously cold; he sustained minor frostbite.Morning brought sunshine and an easy decision—to go down. We were tired, many things had not gone according to plan, and the hardest part lay above. Our tactic was wrong: we were climbing too fast, we were too heavy, we had unsuitable equipment, we were not acclimatized, and there wasn’t enough motivation. With hard and complex climbs like Meru Shark’s Fin, these “beginner’s” mistakes count.

Andrej Grmovsek, Slovenia

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