Thanglasgo Valley, Big Rock Candy Mountain, First Ascent, Dawa Peak, Kangsaimathung and Peak 2, New Routes

India, Ladakh
Climb Year: 2008. Publication Year: 2011.

Thanglasgo Valley, Big Rock Candy Mountain, first ascent; Dawa Peak, Kangsaimathung and Peak 2, new routes. Sheltered in the rain shadow of higher Himalayan peaks, the Nubra Valley is almost high-altitude desert, often expedition-friendly when other areas are drenched by monsoon. It was opened to foreign expeditions as recently as 1994 and remains relatively unfrequented. Previous ascents in this region have largely been made by Indian teams and visiting Sherpas, dating from the late 1990s. However, in 2007 a commercially organized Jagged Globe expedition picked off several new peaks.

In 2008 the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES), a London-based charity aiming to develop the next generation of leaders and scientists through the underlying principle of “adventure with purpose,” organized its first expedition to the Thanglasgo Valley, a deep natural thoroughfare that bisects the Nubra region from north to south.

We took 38 young explorers, novices between the ages of 16 and 18, and trekked south from Hundar (3,150m, close to the military road to the Siachen Glacier) as far as Wachen (ca 4,000m). There we split into two groups, one moving southwest for a day up the Palzampiu Valley to establish a base camp at 4,400m, while the other trekked for longer, up the Sniamo Valley to the south, eventually making camp at ca 4,750m.

After a long period of training and acclimatization, the expedition sped to a fast-paced finale. In the Palzampiu Valley a team repeated Samgyal (5,810m, first climbed by Samgyal Sherpa in the late 90s) via the northeast ridge, and William Ames, Will Blackshaw, and Simon Fowler climbed a new direct route up the north face of Dawa Peak (5,890m, ice up to 55°). This peak was first climbed in the late 90s by Dawa Sherpa, probably by the northwest ridge, which has now received several ascents.

East of base camp a summit of nearly 6,000m had no previously recorded ascent. It was guarded by an extensive rubble pile, which was deemed unsafe to attempt with the whole group, so we opted for a one-to-one ratio of leaders to youngsters. Leaders Simon Fowler, Chris Horobin, Liz Yeates, and I, with Will Anderson, Harry Eaton, and Luke Havers, summited via the north ridge—crevassed slopes up to 30°. At 2 p.m., in whiteout conditions, a disappointing yet unanimous decision had been taken to turn around, to avoid re-crossing the boulder field in the dark. However, with masterful timing the cloud parted just enough to reveal the summit no more than 50m away. A final burst of energy came from somewhere, and minutes later we were posing on the mist-enshrouded top and recording a GPS altitude of 5,980m. We dubbed the peak a distinctly non-Ladakhi name, the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Over in the Sniamo Valley, Kangsaimathung (5,770m) and what is still known simply as Peak 2 (5,717m) lay within striking distance of advanced base. Both had been climbed in 2007, but our group was able to establish new routes on each.

A large group climbed Kangsaimathung from the northeast at PD+. (The mountain had previously been climbed from the south.) Leaders Matt Bridgestock, Andy Cowan, Sarah Lewis, and Sarah Major, with Harry Andrews, James Couzens, Luke Daly, Amy Forrest, Livvy Hampsher-Monk, Sarah Keane, Naill McLoughlin, Debbie Morgan, Henry Renninson, James Richardson, James Wood, and Yuan Yang took a diagonal line from the glacier to a point 80m from the summit, then climbed a final 50° snow slope to the top. They were accompanied by two Sherpas and a member of the cook team, who had never climbed a mountain before. On top these three celebrated with a chorus of beautiful Tibetan chants.

Peak 2 is probably the same as Yanchan Kangri, summited by the Jagged Globe expedition. Bridgestock and Lewis, this time with fellow leader Katherine Baldock, took Andrews, Couzens, Daly, Forrest, Hampsher-Monk, Morgan, Richardson, Wood, and Yuan Yang across a moraine field to a gully filled with loose snow yet liberally scattered with crampon-scratching scree, leading onto the east ridge. Once the cornice had been passed with care, the crest provided a gently angled ascent over snow to the top (F).

The expedition finished with a five-day trek south to Leh over the Lasirmou La (5,500m), from where we noticed a ca 5,600m peak to the east that would provide an easy but worthwhile goal for future parties.

Andy Ruck, UK